Tuesday, October 16, 2018

When the alt-left helps create the alt-right

There was more than one thing farcical about the vote in the Australian Senate on One Nation leader Pauline Hanson's motion in the Australian Senate that  "it is OK to be white".

The motion itself was farcical if actually a very successful example in wedge politics. . Of course it's okay to be white. That's just a loosely defined skin colouring. The decision by the opposition and cross-bench to vote against and defeat the motion on the grounds that the motion was racist code was silly because in doing so the Australian Senate has actually affirmed that it's not OK to be white.

Then we have the absolutely farcical position where the Government voted in favour of the motion and then revoked its vote. It is clear that the Government had not properly worked out a position, clearer still that Coalition Senators were trying to follow voting instructions that they were uncomfortable with and made a mockery of Senate independence.

Let me be quite clear. There was only one way to effectively handle Ms Hanson's motion. The Senate should have passed it unanimously  as self-evidently correct, while hammering the underlying assumptions behind the motion. Instead, we now have the position that it's apparently not ok to be white, whatever that might mean, feeding into a narrative that threatens Australia's social cohesion.

I am old enough to remember the Second World War if not personally but as a living memory around me. I am old enough to remember the revulsion created by the holocaust, the discrediting of the race based eugenic views  

I am old enough, too, to remember the White Australia policy and its progressive dismantling. This was a rejection of something that had been deeply embedded in the Australian consciousness, a most profound social revolution. It is something I take pride in.

I also remember the American civil rights movement, something that energised my generation, and its belated application to the Australian Aborigines. There is some distance to go, disadvantage and prejudice still exists, but progress had been made.

In the period after the war racist, perhaps more accurately ethnicist, views still existed in Australia but the more extreme views were pushed to the fringe where small groups played with Nazi symbols and preserved the illusion of a global Jewish conspiracy, of the supremacy of the "white race."  Now those views are back, somewhat ironically given the way that DNA and associated scientific advances have discredited the very basis on which racism existed. We are all mongrels, so to speak.

The left has been a major factor here with their simple guilt/identity focus. Consider the oft-used phrase white patriarchal male. As used, this is deeply sexist and racist. Sexist because it implies that all males are patriarchal, racist because it attaches implicit attributes to white males. I see little difference between this and Ms Hanson's "it's ok to be white". Both are code phrases into which can be read a range of attributes.

The difficulty is that when you create a them/us construct, when you demonise a group, you can create the very thing that you wish to attack. We saw this in the so-called "war on terror' where the rhetoric used and associated policies arguably turned a fiction into a reality. Now the left is helping create the very thing they wish to challenge. This is fine if your are Antifa, for there your very validity depends upon having something to fight. It doesn't make a lot of sense for the sensible left
who actually want to achieve social advancement.
I don't have a solution. I just wish some people on both sides would shut-up!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Australian confusions over religious and other freedoms

During the postal vote in Australia over same-sex marriage. one of the arguments put forward against a yes vote was that it would lead to further restrictions on freedom of religion. I had a certain sympathy with that view, if not for all the reasons put forward. For example, I thought that the support by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce for a yes vote, a stand which became effective company policy, made the position of any Qantas staff supporting the no position highly problematic. They had every right to do so, but it would not be wise to do so publicly.

Following the vote, the Australian Government established an Expert Panel, the Ruddock Panel, to examine and report on whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion. This decision reflected divisions in the Coalition over the same-sex marriage issue and appeared designed to placate the Christian right within the Coalition.

The terms of reference for the inquiry are set out below.
OBJECTIVEThe Panel shall examine and report on whether Australian law (Commonwealth, State and Territory) adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion.
SCOPEIn undertaking this Review, the Panel should:
  • Consider the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights.
  • Have regard to any previous or ongoing reviews or inquiries that it considers relevant.
  • Consult as widely as it considers necessary.
MEMBERSHIP OF THE PANELThe review will be conducted by an Expert Panel, chaired by the Hon Philip Ruddock, which will consist of:
  • Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM
  • the Hon Dr Annabelle Bennett AO SC
  • Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO
  • Professor Nicholas Aroney
The Panel will be supported by a secretariat led by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
TIMINGFollowing the Prime Minister’s agreement to an extension of its reporting date, the Panel will report its findings to the Prime Minister by 18 May 2018.
The report was submitted to the Government some time ago but has not been released. Recently a series of leaks have generated considerable controversy, along with demands for immediate release. The Government's stated position has been that the matter has not yet been considered nor an official position developed. Once this had been done, the report would be released. along with the Government's response. Given the highly polarised nature of public discussion in this area, this created suspicions that there was some deal on the way that would be announced after the forthcoming by-election.

The 20 recommendations of the  review have now been leaked. They surprised me a little. The fact that the Panel went for a minimalist position, one essentially designed to harmonise and make transparent existing laws, did not surprise me. I would have expected that, given its composition. What did surprise me a little were the varying exemptions from discrimination legislation for religious organisations across state jurisdictions. I did not know, for example, that students could apparently be excluded in some states on the grounds of sexual orientation. I think that this raises real issues. Further, and despite my comments on the minimalist approach, I was a little surprised at the apparent narrowness of the approach. I think that there are issues here that need to be discussed.

It's difficult to see what the Government might do with this report. It will not satisfy the right within the Coalition. The Government lacks the power to do anything effective to meet their concerns. The report's narrow focus has already focused attention on variations across the states and territories. One result may be the narrowing of religious exemptions that already exist. In all, I have the strong impression that the decision to set up the Expert Panel is another example of a decision made to meet an immediate need with long term adverse consequences.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Wednesday wander - Ancient Thera, John Peter Russell, a video shoot and the Parramatta Lanes

I am tired tonight. Today has been a catch-up day after a busy few days. So I only feel like rambling.

I was struck by the Artdaily photo of the temple of Zeus among the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Cyrene, now Shahat, some two hundred kilometers from Benghazi, northeastern Libya. Cyrene was a colony of the Greeks of Thera (Santorini) and a principal city in the Hellenic world.

Back in 2010,  I spoke of my trip to Ancient Thera. When I first studied ancient history I took the period of colonisation, the establishment of colonies around the Mediterranean by various Greek city states, for granted. It wasn't until I visited Greek Islands that I realised just how small and dry they were. Then the colonisation process became more understandable, but also more remarkable.

Staying with things ancient, I really would like to visit the new exhibition at the National Museum of Australia, Rome: City and Empire, which showcases 200 pieces from the British Museum. By all accounts, it is a spectacular exhibition including pieces not displayed in London because of space limitations that cover Roman history from the establishment of the city to the end of the Eastern Empire. That's a very long period indeed. some 2,000 years.

I was going to leave this item till the end, but then I thought that you might like to listen to it as you read. I am not naturally a musical person, but I have taken to having classical music on softly in the background as I work. I especially like this piece, in part because of the combination of the music with the changing impressionist scenes of Paris.

The story of the Australian impressionist painter John Peter Russell is quite a remarkable if sometimes tragic one. He was, among other things, the only Australian artist at the centre of the Impressionist movement in France. His famous friendships forever changed the way the world sees colour. Now Russell's life features in a new documentary, Australia’s Lost Impressionist – John Russell, to be screened  on ABC TV, Tuesday, October 30 at 9.30pm.

I wasn't aware of the documentary until yesterday's short video shoot on the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the New England University College where the shoot was carried out by director Catherine Hunter and cameraman Bruce Inglis, the same people who produced Australia’s Lost Impressionist – John Russell. Catherine mentioned the documentary during the shoot, so I hastily looked it up today. I also found that Catherine and Bruce have a very considerable body of work.

There are New England connections in all this. Aren't there always? Armidale born artist Thea Proctor was John Russell's cousin who played a major role in later promoting his work in Australia, while one project that Catherine and Bruce are working in is a documentary on another New England born artist, sculptor Bronwyn Oliver.

I wasn't completely happy with my role in the shoot. I had done some preparation, but the filming was being done partly for archival purposes, partly to provide stand-alone grabs for a short video to mark the 60th anniversary of the College. These two can conflict, so Catherine had to get me to stop and start again  with a clear opening response that would allow the grab to stand independent of what I had said before.

I came home from the shoot mid-afternoon and then left immediately for Parramatta for an alumni function being held in conjunction with the first night of the Parramatta Lanes festival. This featured performances by New England connected artists including Blush Opera's 'How to Build a Billy' perhaps better subtitled "I hate Ikea".

I enjoyed the evening, but it was almost twelve before I got home after what had already been a tiring day. Still, I'm not complaining!

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Randwick Council's problems with cats

Down here in the deep south Randwick City Council, the adjoining council to the little suburb where I live, has a problem with cats. A serious problem.

Now, it will be no secret that I have a cat. I had two if you count my share of Scrawny, but he died in January.

I inherited Avenger when the household broke up and he has been something a nuisance, but also a godsend: a nuisance because (among other things) he persists on sitting on and indeed marking my papers when I am trying to work; a godsend because he provides company.

We have worked out a reasonable working arrangement. Avenger is an indoor-outdoor cat. The house has a cat door, so he can get in or out when he wants. I feed him inside, but I don't need to keep kitty litter because he goes, very neatly, in the garden beds. I can go away for a few days without worrying because I leave food for him inside and he can access that and also sleep inside. He does that more now as he has got older. He is a good mouser, although he will insist on sharing his prizes with me, leading me to carry him promptly outside!

Avenger is one of the issues that I have had to address in considering a move. A large proportion of rentals carry a no pets allowed tag. Of those that allow pets, a considerable proportion allow outdoor pets only. Very few rentals also have cat doors.  All this brings me to Randwick Council's problem with cats.

Randwick Council has a sort of power-sharing arrangement between the Greens and Labor under which a Green councilor would become mayor for twelve months to be followed by a Labor mayor. The Green mayor stood down because she was going to run as Green candidate for Coogee in the next state election. Her place  was taken by Labor councillor Kathy Neilson. Her first action was a call for action to control cats.

Ms Neilson moved a motion calling for the creation of a committee to look at ways of keeping cats indoors as well as fines for cats that "run free or defecate in public." She also proposed higher registration fees for cat owners, The measures were designed to protect native habitat and fauna.

Independent councillor Carlos da Rocha who apparently works as a ranger supported the motion. He said he chased and would continue to chase misbehaving cats, adding that he did chase fences, They should be fined, maybe not as much as a dog, but they should be fined because they cause more damage to people's garden.

The motion was narrowly carried.

As I write, Avenger is again sitting on my work log demanding attention. I asked him if he damaged the neighbours' gardens or had indeed been chased by a fence-jumping council ranger. He just looked at me then jumped down for a snack and demanded to be let out. As he wandered out into the rain, I wondered just what he might be up to. Should i be concerned?

Story source: Southern courier, 2 October 2018


Wednesday, October 03, 2018

A certain weariness of the spirit

I have been suffering from a certain weariness of the spirit, a weariness that has affected my writing. It's not depression, rather a withdrawal of joy from life. I have been trying to work out why.

I think that it's partly a function of age. Unlike some of my friends who retired some time ago, I still live in the modern world. I am still working, writing and trying to contribute. I doubt that I will ever stop until the years condemn to the point that I have no choice. Rather, it seems to be combination of two things.

The first is shortening time horizons. I am by nature something of a campaigner, someone who wants to make a contribution. As time horizons shorten, priorities becomes more important as does recognition that I will never know the results of things that I campaign for. These are hard to accept, given that I still feel much the same as did all those years ago.

The second is just accommodating to the pace of change. I was born at the end of the war. I have been though the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties and now into the 2000s. Institution after institution, belief after belief, new vision after new vision, has been discredited and replaced.

It's probably always been the case that those living at any point believe in the divine rectitude of their own beliefs, that what they assert is right and will live for ever. I see this all the time on the social media feeds.

I know that's not true. I also know that there is no point in saying so. To a degree now. we are good at tearing down, not so good at building. We have, to my mind, moved to a more puritan age in which risk minimsation, harm minimisation, compliance have become central. I see no solution to this.

Those at least in the wealthy West no longer recognise the other. They are divided into chattering tribes who assert the rectitude of their own position and who believe, somehow, that the rest will recognise the validity of their position or, worse, must be compelled to comply. I sometimes feel that we live in an age of moral funk incapable of recognising shades, incapable of recognising that the world is not and cannot be made perfect.

I am sorry for the diatribe. I know that I am lucky. I am still relevant.

Next week I should start some contract work that will help fund my move home to Armidale. Tuesday I do a video to mark the eightieth anniversary of the foundation of the New England university College. Each day I get feedback from people who find my writing relevant. Few people could ask for more.

And yet, the weariness persists.