Friday, August 29, 2014


Let me tell you about a church.

It's in a minor city, and it got bombed in World War Two. And it's beautiful, and particularly special to Ms T and me, a treasured memory from the past, a symbol of the future.

Returning from London to Australia more than ten years ago, we passed through Lübeck for no better reason than Ms T's family came from there in the late 19th Century (it's a lovely little place, by the way, and very walkable).

On of the places we visited was the Petrikirche – St Peter's Church – whose restoration after its WW2 bombing was “finished” in 1987. I put “finished” in quotes because it won't ever be fully restored. The interior was destroyed and nearly all of it lost, and that's how it remains.

When you walk in, you're struck by the pure white of the interior, except that in some spots there are what look like discoloured patches. It took us a while to work out that those were the tiny, tiny bits of the destroyed decorations that the Lübeckers were able to find, painstakingly and lovingly returned to their original locations. It's very striking and very touching.

It's almost tasteless to make the Petrikirche a talisman for our personal lives, but that's what Ms T and I have done.

Five years ago, her auto-immune system changed our lives and our relationship, and for nearly all of that time, our futures have had a very constrained window: sometimes death has been imminent, at others times we've let ourselves think a whole six months or year into the future.

This year, due to an unexplained (and now, thankfully, arrested) weight loss, Ms T's lead specialists went on the hunt for possible cancers, because her main therapy, cyclophosphamide is so toxic. It took a bunch of procedures, biopsies, imaging and nervous waits to lay that to rest. And we have a future to think about; five, maybe ten years, I dare not think of more.

We're still here, still together, still loving, still married, desperately aware that things have changed. We talk all the time, and a lot of that talk is about what happened, where we are, and how we can get back what we once had.

We can't, we now understand. And the Petrikirche has become part of the evening talk, as we try to describe ourselves to ourselves.

With a structure still standing, we find ourselves walking through rubble seeking that which we can save. We find pieces, talk about them, find where they once fit in our lives, see if they can be put back, and talk some more.

Our small, private ruin is too broken for perfection, but far too precious to abandon.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Joe: sorry for everything but the thing that upset us

I'm sorry, Joe Hockey. I'm sorry if there is any suggestion at all, that I or anyone else I know doesn't believe you, and thinks your apology has all the sincerity of the school bully who would trip kids over in the hall and say “sorry”.

The audio is here, and I'm going to take the liberty of parsing the “apology” Hockey gave in a soft ego-stroking interview with Ben Fordham on 2GB – audio here.

Ben Fordham introduces the subject by offering the “out”: “Well, words can be taken out of context … the poorest people don't have a house, a roof over their heads, let alone a car to drive … Do you feel like your words have been misinterpreted, or were they words you shouldn't have chosen in the first place?”

Hockey: “I am really, genuinely sorry [pause] that there is any suggestion, any suggestion at all, that I or the government does not care for the most disadvantaged in the community.

Read that again. He's not sorry for being insulting or ignorant, he's sorry that someone else might have interpreted his words, which he then repeats.

“I'm sorry about that interpretation, I'm sorry about the words.”

Joe, this still falls short of apologising for the insult. In the first half of the sentence you're blaming the listener – “sorry for the interpretation” – and the second half, you leave open to interpretation rather than saying something clear and unequivocal.

Hockey: “And why? Because all of my life, as everyone who knows me knows, all of my life, I have fought for and tried to help the most disadvantaged people in the community.”

This is not actually responsive to the original insult. You're saying “You shouldn't be upset with me because I'm a nice guy”. Still falling short of an apology.

“For there to be some suggestion that I have evil in my heart, when it comes to the most disadvantaged in the community, is upsetting. But it's more upsetting for those people in the community.”

No, Joe, people were upset by you, not alongside you. The fake solidarity thing kind of rubs in the salt.

“So I want to make it perfectly clear to the community that if there's any suggestion that I don't care about you, or that I have evil intent towards you, I want to say that couldn't be further from the truth, and I'm sorry for the hurt.”

Once again, the apology is attached to “any suggestion that”.

Joe Hockey didn't apologise for the insult, or for being plain wrong. He apologised for the interpretation, the suggestion, for the words. 

He still thinks he's right.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Quit with the boomer sterotype, please

I suspect that some people who despise the ALP don't want to find themselves looking like filthy leftists, so instead, they're trying to frame political debates as generational debates. 

In other words: “boomers hate the upcoming generation, so” … we (the boomers) are killing free education, universal healthcare, and environmental action.

If you think you can keep your right-wing credentials this way, you're a more complete idiot than the “Western Sydney bogans” of uniform race, culture and political leaning that you believe exist because the AFR's Boss magazine tells you you're different from.

I mean it. I know V8-Falcon bogans who've fallen in love with nature and have more flexible political views than "hate boomer" hardliners.

Yes, I'm a boomer, and I hate hard-right anti-intellectual politics with the experienced hate of someone who's seen it all my life.

Since 1980 or thereabouts, I have marched in environmental protests of some kind of other. I also marched against the first introduction of university fees, and I have written on this blog about healthcare.

I've also put my own money into my environmental beliefs, by way of buying the business referred to in my profile.

We didn't buy Bunjaree Cottages to get rich. We bought it because it's about 14 hectares of mostly virgin bush in the Blue Mountains, because we wanted to protect it from the kind of person who thinks resorts involve concrete and lawn. A significant chunk of the property is a hanging swamp feeding a permanent creek that flows, eventually, into the Grose River.

Every now and again, I have to give a refund to people who don't understand wildlife and can't bear the ringtail possums running on the roof, or the antechinus that can squeeze so tight you can't keep them outdoors.

The same plot of land is home to lyrebirds, wonga pigeons, echidna and spotted quolls (the latter being an endangered species).

All of which means it's really offensive to find that because some media commentator has drawn a demographic line across political beliefs, a whole heap of people will accuse me of trying to undermine their futures.

Don't believe the hype, kids. The divide isn't generational – you are statistically more likely to be a hard-right voter than I am – it's a political divide in which business has completely captured one side of politics, only partially captured the other, and is therefore barracking for the side it owns.

The public demographers drawing “boomers versus the rest” lines across age boundaries are the owned creatures of business. They're taking part in pulling the wool, and it's working: you honestly believe you can characterise my beliefs and actions purely according to my age.

They – the destroyers of the environment, ravagers of health, despisers of education – have known how to divide and conquer since Machiavelli.

The political nastiness in Australia is not a synthetic boomers-versus-the-rest narrative. It's a simple ideology of the hard right, paid for by businessmen with no compunction about outright lies in service of their hip pockets, practised by politicians with no compunction about telling those second-hand lies, also in service of their pockets.

If you believe otherwise, you're a fool – and folly knows no generational limits.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Thorpe and Hildebrand (with a language warning)

The summary of the story (you can search Twitter if you need a long version) is:

Ian Thorpe: Yes, I'm gay*

*There's a long footnote to this that isn't germane right now.

Joe Hildebrand: We already knew you were, hur hur hur.

[general outrage]

Joe Hildebrand: But seriously folks...

Think on this: Ian Thorpe is popular, admired, successful, well-off, and he believed in post-millennial Australia he had to stay in the closet.

Think on this: the first reaction, before his “oh, shit, wrong call”, of one of those shit-scrapers that Murdochia thinks represents anything but the views of other shit-scrapers, is to make a joke about Ian Thorpe being gay.

He then tries to dig himself out of the shit-scraper world, with lines like these:

In all seriousness, Ian Thorpe coming out might actually be the biggest breakthrough for gay acceptance Australia has ever seen.” (Me: bollocks, with all respect to Thorpie: Ian Roberts had to break a bigger taboo. I still think well of Ian Thorpe for doing so).

APOLOGY: I am so sorry that apparently everyone on Twitter didn't know Thorpey was gay. Best wishes to your home planet.” (You lame coward, Hildebrand)

The reality: Someone well-known, popular and successful makes his “I'm gay” statement, and the lowest-rent arse-worm of a cohort of low-rent arse-worms called “News Limited Columnists” immediately makes a gay joke. It's his first response. The foot rises as soon as the “gay” hammer hits the nerve near the knee.

For stool-samples like Joe, the only excuse to be gay and get an apology for the kind of joke that makes 17-year-olds laugh is that you are successful, popular, and well-known. Any other gay – the ones that aren't Ian Thorpe – is still fair game for this pond scum.

The only reason Hildebrand backed down even to the lame degree he did is obvious: the damn fool managed to find a target that even the most Neanderthal of his knuckle-dragging followers liked.

Stick it to those ABC lefties, but leave Thorpie alone” scared him when “leave gays alone” wouldn't.

The lame school bully turned around, and none of his muscle were standing behind him, so he ran. The very pith and essence of “coward”.

In 1977, I got a kicking in Katoomba Street at 4pm in the afternoon. Because I'm gay? No, I'm not. Because I had gay friends. That taught me a certain degree of solidarity, and gave me (yet another) lesson in the gang-behaviour of the bully.

What a lame, weak, small man is Joe Hildebrand.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Newman's everywhere! (Some lunchtime silliness)

Sung to the tune of Queensland's Everywhere (you can find it here). And in honour of Denis Carnahan, there are some lines which scan only if you force-fit them!

Could somebody please help me,
There's some flooding on the way,
I thought I'd call triple-zero,
But they gave the game away.
They said there's a superhero, who has made them obsolete,
If you need someone to rescue you,
Here's the name you should repeat:

Who's your ambo?
Campbell Newman!
Who's your firey?
Campbell Newman!
Who's your hero?
Campbell Newman!
Newman's everywhere!

So you thought the Queensland Coast Guard
Had the hero game wrapped up
For saving lives and saving property
When the river was rising up.
You're deluded thinking rescuing's for the ordinary man.
Super-dooper Campbell Newman is
The only one who can...

Who saved Brisbane?
Campbell Newman!
Who saved Towoomba?
Campbell Newman!
Who saved all Queensland,
From the socialists?
Newman's everywhere!

There's no bushfire too rampant,
When Newman wears the cape.
When you need an Iron-human,
He's the first to chest the tape.
If King Kong attacked the Gold Coast, Cam would take it on the chin.
It's Australia's great misfortune that
There's only one of him.

Who's deluded?
Campbell Newman!
Who's ego's out of control?
Campbell Newman!

[pause music, scream the next bit with no rhyme or meter]
Who's a heartless cyborg who sends children to concentration camps?
[resume music]

That's Scott Morrison!
Newman's Everywhere!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

A debate poisoned by what we know

This is a recap of a previous post, but I think it's worth reiterating.

Australia is being manipulated and poisoned because politicians can now exploit what we know, and didn't know in an earlier age. 

In the 1970s – as I once confirmed with a researcher – Australia had no idea about the refugee boats that didn't make it.

That meant the refugee debate could be framed in terms of the boats that did make it. They were made – at least by sympathetic journalists like Ita Buttrose – into personifications of bravery, people who were so fearless, and Australia such a beacon, that of course we should accept them.

Australia back then crafted a policy to stop the boats by getting people here without the boat. Not by blocking them: by trying to process their refugee status quickly, and bring them.

Australia now has this burden of knowledge, which becomes a burden of guilt, which becomes the burden of political speech, which becomes the burden of atrocity.

Now, the world knows that some boats don't make it. The cynical racists among our politicians – of both sides – have used that knowledge against us, which doesn't make sense.

Think about it: if you tend to the Right, you're supposed to believe in individual agency as a core article of faith. Fretting about dangers is hypocrisy: the individuals leaving wherever they're leaving are doing so of their own free will.

When the Right witters on about deaths at sea, they do it solely to wedge the Left: because, forty years later, now we know that refugees might die on the trip, we agonise about it.

They – the Right – don't agonise. They don't care – any government that can send refugees back to their torturers is a cynical liar when it talks of preventing deaths at see.

It's the Left that cares, agonises, and lets itself get wedged by the idea that we can prevent the deaths at sea.

Here's the cold equation: we can't prevent the deaths. Preventing arrivals, transfers at sea, three-word slogans, “Border Force”, no-comment press conferences – these things do nothing to prevent people leaving, and some of them will be in boats that sink.

(Remember for a moment that mandatory detention was an ALP idea that must live in infamy forever).

And it's the ALP's mandatory detention plus the “Leftist” concern about deaths at sea creates the opportunity for the wedge: if we make Australia sufficiently odious the boats won't leave, goes the argument, when actually the Monsoon is the only thing that seems to change the boat departures.

And if we didn't know at all – if, as in the innocent 1970s there were no satellite phones, no call-for-help – our moral choices would be both simpler and, in local political terms, so much more wedge-proof. We would only have to concern ourselves with arrivals, not departures.

There is my solution to The Left's dilemma. We can't stop the departures. What people flee is too much beyond our ken. Stop being caught in the “stop the boats” question and instead, insist that we deal humanely with those that arrive.

Don't let the political debate be poisoned by our knowledge that some don't survive the voyage. Honour the dead, but give our efforts to the living refugees.

After all, they are heroes.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Banksia Wind

The banksia wind is special.

Maybe it's the other trees. Banksias aren't tall: they grow as a second-storey beneath the canopy of gum-trees or angophora. While the gums grow tall and spread their arms out to the light, the banksias are gnarled and low, bent, misshapen and tough. Other small trees bend their growth to the wind, living at an angle: banksias grow thicker to stay straight, drop branches and develop burly lumps. They're pigheaded trees, too stubborn to bend and usually too tough to break.

They sing in the wind.

First, there's the sound of the wind approaching, a susurration off to the right in the high leaves of the gum-trees. It's a wash that approaches in three-dimensional stereo: at first, a point of sound a hundred metres distant, washing towards you in the high leaves, like waves in the distance before they arrive at shore and break on the rocks.

And the swish-swish of the wind comes closer, becomes a wash that fills a whole hemisphere of the ears: a sound already unique when you stand among the gum-trees, the speech of the spirit of tall wood and rangy bark and loose leaves.

And then it's all around you. 

With an extra note: the hush and hum because the wind has arrived, and you're standing beneath the gums but among the banksias, and it's the banksias that sing while the gum-trees hiss.

The song of the banksia.

It's a song of leaves slapping against each other: argumentative? or the strike of hand-palms celebrating a momentary victory? Who knows. Then there's the violins of leaves out-of-reach of others, vibrating on their own, a million voices in a thousand keys. It's the shuddering flap of the leaves at the edge of branches, like cicadas too wet to drum. And it's the bass-notes of branches that vibrate but don't bend.

Of course it made us cry.