Elections and policy, this side of the ocean.

A bear, a beaver and a moose copyA bear, a beaver and a moose walk into a bar. Each pulls up a stool and when they’re good and comfortable the bartender hops over and asks what they’re having. The bear asks what IPAs they have on tap, ignores the American import and the east coast beer, and instead asks for the one brewed within five kilometres of the bar by men with beards who have given it an aggressive name and an IBU count that’s so high it’s essentially meaningless (after all, how many people know what the fuck an IBU even is?) The beaver’s had a long day at the office and asks what the whiskey selection is like, is deeply disappointed to find out how shallow the list is and settles with some good old fashioned Tennessee rye on the rocks. The moose, asks for a cocktail that he knows is sweet and fruity and full of alcohol, worries a little that the other two will judge him for it, decides he doesn’t care and would rather get something that he knows he’ll like. The beaver isn’t the type to judge him over a drink. The bear is, but also won’t admit how jealous he is of the moose’s colourful choice.

The barman, a rather bored looking wallaby, begins pouring the drinks and – partly since he hasn’t got anything better to do – tries to engage them in conversation.

“You lads voted yet?”

“Not yet,” mumbles the bear as he swallows a mouthful of beer and barely (heh) suppresses a grimace.

“Already done,” grins the moose (at least it looks like a grin).

“Don’t know if I will. I don’t know who to vote for,” says the beaver with a surprisingly deep gravelly voice given his nice suit, stylish haircut and small size.

“You should vote. It’s your ‘civic duty,'” claims the moose with mock gravitas.

“He’s right,” agrees the wallaby as he mixes together the moose’s drink, “we’ve got compulsory voting back home, so you’d have to. But it’s the right thing, exercising your democratic rights and all that. None of the parties appeal to you?”

“Not really,” replies the Beaver.

“What about the NDP,” growls the bear accidently menacingly (he is a fucking bear after all), “They’re promising to cut small-business taxes.”

“So are the Liberals and the Conservatives,” pipes up the moose.

(“That’s also not always a good thing,” throws in the Wallaby but everyone ignores him on this.)

“Are they? Well Mulcair’s promising affordable childcare for a million people.”

“A million children or a million parents?” asks the wallaby.

“Does it matter?”

“It probably does.”

“Not to me,” points out the beaver, “I don’t have kids.”

“But you might have them in the future,” responds the bear, taking another slug from his draught.

“But I might not.”

“But don’t you care about other kids and parents?”

“Not really.”

“What does NDP stand for?” breaks in the Wallaby before the back and forth between the beaver and bear gets out of hand, “National Democratic Party?”

New Democratic Party,” says the moose.

“Oh. That’s a stupid name.”

“Why?” splutters the bear.

“Just is. Trust me, I’m an Australian. We know stupid names. Use enough of them.”

That get’s a chuckle out of the beaver and moose at least, the latter of whom suggests the former consider the Liberals.

“They’re planning on investing in infrastructure.”

“By running a deficit for, like, the next five years,” huffs the bear.

“Just until 2019,” huffs the moose right back, “and we need the investment.”

“It’s still a deficit,” remarks the beaver, “do we really want to our government going into debt with the economy so fragile right now?”

The moose looks like he’s ready to dive into a long arduous debate about the benefits of government actually going into debt in order to invest in meaningful economic projects that will induce future growth, then thinks better of it. Takes a sip of his drink. The wallaby glances between the three patrons, expecting more but not getting anything out of them.

“That’s it?” he asks a little surprised, “Infrastructure investment or childcare?”

“No,” laughs the moose, “there’s more than that. I mean, yeah both of them have got some similar policies. Like they’re less concerned with terrorism.”

“They both say they’ll stop our air campaign against ISIS and let in more Syrian refugees. And both have said they’ll decriminalise weed if elected,” says the beaver.

“Yeah,” says the bear, “But the NDP are more opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership than the Liberals. And the Keystone pipeline.”

“And the Liberals might actually have experience governing the country,” adds the moose, “but Trudeau’s a career politician son of a career politician and people are pretty sick of career politicians. That’s helped the NDP and Mulcair a lot.”

“All right. So you voting NDP mate?” the wallaby asks the bear, glancing at the door a little surprised that no other customers have walked in yet.

“No, I’m voting Greens.”

The moose and beaver both make noises at that. The wallaby realises that at some point the beaver finished his rye, asks if he wants another, pours it while listening to the two of them tell the bear he’s throwing his vote away. The bear argues that he’d rather vote for who he wants to vote for than worry about strategy. Isn’t that was exercising your democratic right is all about?

“So, who you gonna vote for?” the wallaby eventually asks the beaver.

“Don’t know. I’m still not sure if I’m going to vote.”

“You should vote,” says the bear, “and it doesn’t really matter who for, as long as it’s not fucking Harper.” (That last part came out in a growl, the beaver and moose unconsciously shift another few inches away.)

“Yeah, fuck Harper,” agrees the beaver.

“And the horse he rode in on,” follows the moose.

“Too bloody right,” agrees the wallaby, not wanting to be left out.

The three of them talk for the next half-an-hour about why Harper is just the worst, how much damage he’s done to Canada, his attempts to prevent people from voting, his self-congratulating version of nationalism. Not being a Canadian voter, and not really being affected no matter who’s in charge as far as he can tell, the Wallaby doesn’t have a whole lot against Harper. He nods along as is required, and is reminded most of back in 2007, when Australians finally got tired of PM John Howard and seemed to widely decide he was the devil incarnate.

The bear and the beaver leave a little after the conversation turns to hockey (of fucking course) before the voting booths close. The moose orders another drink. The wallaby still looks a little confused about this whole election thing. Mentions it to the moose.

“Well,” the moose says patiently, “that’s because we’re a hypothetical anthropomorphic representation of the author’s experience of the election.”

“Sorry, what? Who?”

“The author, the guy typing this right now who’s in too deep to stop now. We’re a representation of what he’s seen and heard about the election. In other words, not a lot.”

“Huh.”

“Tell me honestly, you must have heard a few people talking about the election. Have you heard many of them talking about the NPD’s or Liberal’s platforms?”

“Not really. Mostly it’s just been ‘fuck Harper’ and ‘this is how fucked we are if Harper manages to hang on'” the wallaby said, barely needing to think about it.

“Exactly, I’ll bet even the few commercials you’ve seen have been less about different policies and more about telling people what arseholes the other guys are.”

“The ones I’ve understood, yeah. The French ones seem a lot more positive, but I might be mistaken. The whole ‘first past the post’ electoral system doesn’t help, does it?”

“No, I don’t think it does. Having a system where simply getting the more votes than everyone else rather than any sort of majority, especially one with three major parties and lots of small ones, is a messy system to begin with. Couple that with the fact that people are more concerned about getting the Conservatives kicked out than who actually wins, and you have a whole lot of negative strategic voting.”

“People voting for the local member most likely to beat the Conservative candidate for their area than the party whose policies they like or benefits them most.”

“That’s what the author seems to think.”

“Right. Reckons he’s got anything insightful to say about it? Being an outsider looking in and all that?” the wallaby said nonchalantly, looking around for a coffee that he’d forgotten about and was probably cold by now.

“Not really. Probably just that voting someone out is not the same as voting someone in, and people ought to realise that it might not end with the kind of results they want.”

“Fair ’nuff. Maybe we’ll have more to say about it after the election?”

“Maybe. Canadian elections aren’t the most exciting topic of conversation.”

“Aussie politics is feeling a lot more bloodthirsty after all this.”

“That’s a topic for another day. On the bright side, there’s probably a decent voter turn-out.”

“True enough.”

“Good for the bear voting for he wanted to.”

“Also true.”

The moose finishes his drink, pays and leaves.

Well done to the lads from the Land of the Rising Sun

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Japanese teams. I mean, pit’em against the Aussies and I’ll cheer for the Green’n’Gold every time, but against just about anybody else and odds are I’ll be hoping Japan pull off a win. Never been sure exactly why, mind you. Might be a bit of solidarity for a fellow Asian team (since, yeah, Australia is part of Asia), or it might just be that big old chip on our shoulders that means me and mine always support the underdog (and in a lot of the sports I care about they tend to be underdogs, also really hope that doesn’t sound patronising because it’s not meant to be). Not sure. Reckon it might be a bit of both.

So when I woke up yesterday to find out that Japan had beaten no less than South Africa (the bloody Springboks!) in the Rugby World Cup 34-32, well, I was feeling pretty damn chuffed for them. First win in the Rugby World Cup in 24 years and they’d done it by beating South Africa, one of the big countries in Rugby Union. Everyone was expecting the South Africans to stampede over the Japanese, but they wouldn’t let them, fighting hard in the scrum showing off some brilliant ball-handling. And that last try in injury time, fucking beautiful. As was the look on the Springboks player’s face after he failed to prevent it. Made my heart sing.

If my Facebook and other social media feeds are anything to go by, the rest of the world was cheering Japan on as well, ’cause fuck the Springboks if nothing else (you can’t sympathise with South African rugby teams, not matter how hard Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon try). This’ll be the game that we keep talking about long after this World Cup is over, and this Japanese team deserves to be talked about. And well done to coach Eddie Jones, you’ve helped these guys do something great.

Good on’ya guys. And good luck to you against everyone else. Except the Green’n’Gold, obviously.

View from across the ocean (14/9/15)

Well, it finally happened. Malcolm Turnbull has challenged Tony Abbott for the leadership of the Liberals and won. With a solid lead as well, 54 to 44. Australia has a new Prime Minister with Mr Turnbull’s victory that, judging by the #putoutyouronions posts appearing on social media, surprised no one but Mr Abbott and a few of his more die hard supporters.

So, now the corpse is in the morgue and the autopsy begins. Did the absolute fucking disaster of a first budget or his stubborn loyalty to Bronwyn Bishop do more damage to popular opinion of Mr Abbott’s leadership and government? Just how much of Mr Abbott’s downfall can be attributed to Joe Hockey and Christopher Pine? His tired stance against Marriage Equality? Biting into a raw onion like it was a fucking apple?

Then there’s the question of who’s gonna survive the presumed blood bath of the senior Coalition leadership and ministers. Joe Hockey and Christopher Pine will likely need to walk the plank. I can’t see under-performing George Brandis and recently-in-trouble-for-insulting-remarks Peter Dutton making it through unscathed. Will Mathias Cormann might have to pay for supporting Abbott in this spill as well. Scott Morrison is looking good for the Treasurer, putting his weight behind Mr Turnbull in his victory but deciding not to run as Deputy. Julie Bishop has earned a place as king maker, having decided to remove her support from Mr Abbott and handily won the position as Mr Turnbull’s deputy (you can’t help but wonder if her support was a necessary trigger for Mr Turnbull’s coup).

It’s expected that there’ll finally be a few women whose names don’t end in Bishop invited into the cabinet, and Mr Turnbull has promised a more consultative leadership (“first among equals” and all that). Let’s presume that this means remaining ministerial vacancies will be decided by bloody gladiatorial bouts in skimpy leather armour (regardless of age and gender, of course) in front of a cheering, betting Liberal caucus.

Political analysts, commentators and random amateurs with far-too-high an opinion of their own opinions like myself will be busily reading the stars, the tea leaves, the coffee grounds and the speech and press conference transcripts in order to predict the policies of the new regime. Is Mr Turnbull finally going to finally do something about negative gearing and superannuation reform? What’s going to happen now that we have a pro-marriage equality PM (who needed the support of his party’s right wind to get into power) and opposition leader? What about climate change policy, the pin that popped Mr Turnbull’s balloon the first time? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Nice to hear a politician talking about treating the public like it’s intelligent, and trying to do what’s right for the economy instead of shouting about their only two victories (“We stopped the boats!” and “We got rid of the Carbon Tax!”) over and over and fucking over.

Good onya Mr Turnbull. You were patient, smart and you won. Now please don’t screw this up.

I’m gonna go see if I’ve got an onion to take a picture of.

View From Across the Ocean (2/8/2015)

Not nearly the same, so stop telling him it is.

About a week or so ago I was mocked by a customer for being an Australian. He was a young man, just old enough to drink in British Columbia out with the family, and kept on calling me “mate” with a stupid grin on his face and a poor attempt to mimic my accent. “There you go mate,” he’d say. “Thanks mate,” he’d smile. “There you go mate,” he’d say again, just in case I didn’t hear him the last ten times. Kept on saying it every time I checked on the table. Now, I’m not averse to a little bit of ribbing over my accent or where I’m from. Some customers will call me mate once or twice in a good-natured way acknowledging that I’m not from around there. Usually I might be able to make a few jokes about the weather because of it (“it’s not that hot mate!”) or make fun of Caesars, the apparent national drink (“honestly, it’s like a nation-wide Stockholm Syndrome!”) I’ll frequently make fun of myself when a customer misunderstands or mishears me (“yeah, I talk funny.”) Nothing serious. But this kid, this kid was making fun of me. It was in his tone, and he just kept on fucking going. Got on my nerves pretty quick. But it was a minor issue, and I wasn’t going to call him on it. That’d only lead at best to lacklustre or lack-of-completely tip, or at worst a complaint to the manager (and “he kept calling me mate” would not be a particularly strong defence). So I put up with it, swearing up a storm when I was out of earshot in the kitchen but otherwise taking care of the table with my usual smile and care. Because that’s the job. You just gotta deal with shit like that.

Now, I wanna be very clear about something: this is in no way comparable to what’s been happening to Adam Goodes.

For those non-Australians who might be reading, Adam Goodes plays AFL for the Sydney Swans, was a goddamn recipient of Australian of the Year and is, very importantly, an Indigenous Australian. And over the past few years an alarming number of white Australians have been getting increasingly upset about this uppity Aboriginal who has no issue being proud of (and displaying) his cultural heritage and is quite willing to call out acts of racism when they happen. Honestly, man’s a fucking legend and an amazing player. Honestly, it is fucking disgusting how he’s being treated, what with the other team’s supporters actively booing him and the obvious targeted racism. Just as disgusting? All the white men telling him to just deal with it, telling him that it’s not racist, or telling him that he’s in the wrong for calling it for what it is when he experiences it. Ignorant, hurtful and indefensible behaviour. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be a bit of sledging and heckling in sports, but all those white commentators who have had the privilege to have had never needed to deal with racial abuse and think it’s just par for the course need to pull their heads from out of their arses and recognise that there are lines that should not be crossed, and calling out racial abuse for what it is should be lauded instead of condemned regardless of whether it came from the mouth of an old man or a 13 year old girl. She didn’t call him “mate”. She called him an ape. That was wrong, and someone needed to tell her that. Saying that he should just put up with it, ignore it and let it continue is wrong, because racism (alongside homophobia) should not be tolerated in any professional environment.

It is gladdening to see the Swans, their supporters, NSW Premier Mike Baird, so many other members of the sporting community and commentary, politics and now, at last, even the Prime Minister stand besides Mr Goodes. Enough to drown out the arseholes standing against him? I reckon so. Especially as long as good folk follow in Mr Goodes’ example and call out racist shit when they see it.

Who will rid parliament of this troublesome speaker? … Oh, sweet.

Seriously, why the hell was Bronwyn Bishop still the Speaker for the House of Representatives (the lower house of Australia’s Federal Parliament) for so long? For those beyond Oz’s borders, a few weeks ago Ms Bishop got in a bit of trouble when it was discovered that she (and two staffers) spent $88,000 of taxpayer money on a whirlwind two-week tour of Europe trying to get support for a plum new job. Then even more trouble when it was learned our supposedly unbiased and impartial speaker spent over five grand taking a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong to a Coalition Party fund-raiser, about an hour’s travel otherwise in her taxpayer provided commonwealth car. Yeah, let me repeat that. Five grand of taxpayer money to take a fucking helicopter because she didn’t want to be too late to a party. A fucking helicopter. It then took her 12 days to issue an apology so weak it could have been called Bud-Lite, showing a serious contempt for the people of Australia who were obviously outraged by her spendthrift ways. I mean seriously. A. Fucking. Helicopter. She lost the respect and confidence of the people and she lost the respect and confidence even of members of her own party.

Yet Prime Minister Tony Abbott failed to do the expedient thing and remove her, sticking by his chosen Speaker and merely putting her on probation. Meanwhile the Memes grew in number, everyone forgot about the Royal Commission into the Unions that had revealed some less than savoury donations to Labor Campaigns including Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s, and Malcolm Turnbull once again reminded everyone about how great life would be if he was still head of the Coalition with a simple picture of him boarding a train to Geelong instead of a chartered aircraft. And, of course, everyone wondered when the axe would fall and Mrs Bishop’s head would roll off the block.

Well, it finally happened. She resigned, citing her “love and respect” of the parliament and the Australian people (Baaahahahahahahaha) as the reason for stepping down. Thank god for that. We’re finally rid of her. Maybe the House of Representatives will finally have a someone in the Speaker’s chair who takes the whole ‘impartial’ and ‘unbiased’ parts of the job seriously. The big question now is how badly bruised Mr Abbott is by the whole affair. Badly, by the looks of it, with a few broken ribs and Labor not letting up. I’ve seen no shortage of Abbott government detractors gleefully celebrating the fall of Mrs Bishop and the splash damage done to Mr Abbott in her wake. Schadenfreude. The PM’s announced review into MP entitlements might do a little to earn a bit of trust and credibility back, but his continued allusions to Mrs Bishop being a victim of the system rather than admitting she did wrong (and she did very wrong) isn’t going to do her any favours.

Anyway. I was going to have a go at Senator Cory Bernardi’s continued crusade against Halal food in Australia (now targeting the Australian Institute of Sport, who responded like a champ by apologising to anyone who might have eaten non-Halal food thinking it was Halal), but I think I’ve hit the Coalition enough for now. See you all next week.

And the US Women’s Team have done it!

The pre-game shift was intense but manageable. Families decked out in the red, white and blue, a few young folk who may have been wearing the same kit since the Independence day celebrations the night before, the odd pair in blue jerseys sporting a rising sun painted on their cheeks, piling in to get a feed and a beer or three in them before heading off to the stadium where the price of hotdogs rises exponentially and the only alcohol available is a choice cat-piss or watered-down cat piss. The rush was over by about 3, the last of the customers off to watch the game live gone by 20-to. Vancouver woke up yesterday to a sky of red and yellow, a layer of smoke and ash from one of the many raging wildfires colouring the sunlight like stained glass. I growled out a greeting along the lines of “something’s on fire” to one of my room mates and remembered a few of the blood red sunsets I’d seen back home. By the time the day was over the city would be reminiscent of old stereotypes of London covered in smog and the air would taste like ash. But before then two teams of women, one from across the sea in Japan and the other from across the border in the USA, needed to sort out who’d be wearing the crown as queens of football for the next four years, and everyone was expecting a hell of a match.

And it fuckin’ was. One of the bartenders and I ducked into one of the places nearby to grab some food that we hadn’t had a hundred times before and keep an eye on the game, with her boyfriend due to join us there. We settled in to what I’d heard predicted time and again would be a long, low-scoring battle of attrition between two top teams. My co-worker ducked off not long after kick-off to the restroom. Not long after that the Americans had a corner. I was watching with some interest, expecting the Japanese to go on the counter-attack as soon as… Holy shit the Americans scored. A section of the back wall and corner of the restaurant burst into cheers and it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out where they were from. My friend came back.

“The Americans just scored,” I said.

She responded with some equivalent of “No way!”

Then the Americans scored again. The back wall of patrons exploded in cheers again. I think I swore quite loudly. My friend was shocked at how little time had passed since the beginning of the game. I began trying to assure her (and myself) that the Japanese could recover, that being 2-nil down wasn’t the end of the world. They could still win it.

Then they scored a third goal. Bloody hell. Was that the same girl who scored the second? I was sure it was the same who’d scored the first. Yep. Nup. Carli Lloyd scored the first two. Lauren Holliday scored the third. Right. Good. Bit of variety in their scoring. Could the Japanese still-

Nope. Carli Lloyd scores again, for her third and final goal of the match and the USA sit at 4 nil. I can’t see the timer on the television, since I’m a touch short-sighted (just barely legal to drive without glasses) so I check my watch. Christ. It’s only been about fifteen minutes. Great goal though, straight over the Japanese goalie who’d strayed too far from her line, kicked from the American half of the field. Even still, she almost reached it. Almost…

My colleague’s boyfriend arrived, we ordered food, and didn’t pay near as much attention to the game. I look over everytime part of the restaurant cheers, but the result had been more or less decided. The Japanese fight back, and a 5-2 loss has a little less sting than a 4-0 loss would. Maybe. Possibly. Probably still sucks. But goddamn, well done Team USA. A well-earned and well-deserved win. I’m positive the Matildas would’ve beaten you in what would have been a fantastic second outing, but such is life. They’ll get you at the Olympics next year. Yes, they will. Yes, they will. It doesn’t matter if I’m biased, so are you! Well, we’ll just see, won’t we?

We had to return to work before the end of the game and watched the trophy ceremony while preparing for the inevitable post-game rush of Yanks celebrating what was a fantastic victory.

Something that was a little disappointing was the number of people cheering for the Japanese out of an attitude of wanting “anyone but the Americans” to win. It seems a little bitter, doesn’t it? I myself was cheering for the Japanese, mainly because when given the choice I tend to cheer for an Asian team playing. We come from that group, and showing some solidarity for our fellow Asian teams seems like the right thing to do. I’d certainly rather a country cheer for the Aussies out of a sense of fraternity and respect than because they don’t like where the other team was born. Then again, I also quite like Americans. They’re polite, friendly, outgoing, helpful, generous, understanding and tip well. I’m quite happy to not judge them by the stupider members of their society (same as I’d appreciate them not judging every Aussie by their experience of Queenslanders). They also came out in force to support their national women’s team, which is a lot more than I can say for a lot of other nationalities with teams in the World Cup.

So, as I said. Well done Team USA. You played fucking brilliantly and deserved the win. Good luck in the future, and next time we meet the Aussie ladies are going to crush you.

View from across the ocean (28/5/15)

I said it a couple of weeks ago and I’ll say it again. Politics is weird. Bit more emphasis this week.

Let’s start with the Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce getting on TV and letting us all know that Johnny Depp, currently on the Gold Coast filming the latest likely far-from-greatest Pirates of the Caribbean film, had to either send his Yorkshire Terriers (delightfully named Pistol and Boo) back to Hollywood or they’d end up being confiscated by customs and, I shit you not, euthanised (the terriers were undeclared by Mr Depp and not noticed by customs ’cause he arrived by private jet. This has apparently garnered a lot of attention in the USA (because of course it would), though I haven’t seen much about it on the Canadian news I occasionally follow (admittedly I don’t follow a lot), so it’s probably not news to everyone. But goddamn, I like picturing the scenario that led to a government minister getting on national TV and threatening a celebrity’s dogs. I can just imagine some customs officer reading through some magazine during his or her lunch break, seeing a picture of Johnny walking his dogs and going “Shit, did he declare those?” then showing it to a supervisor who decides to send it up the chain (’cause would you want to make a decision about what to do about Johnny Depp’s goddamn terriers?) in a progression of similar scenes until it landed on the desk of Mr Joyce, who I assume immediately called a press conference (with the Facebook ‘like’ button or hashtags appearing comically in his eyes). He certainly seems to have enjoyed all the press a bit too much (enough to get Kyle Sandilands to call him a wanker, and Kyle Sandilands would know). Maybe he was just hoping that Depp would pack his bags and go with them. I mean, none of us want to see another Pirate of the Caribbean film, but this isn’t the way to stop it Mr Joyce. This isn’t the way. The dogs, as I understand it, have since been sent home on another private jet.

Credit where it’s due, when Mr Joyce wasn’t threatening famous people’s pets this past week or two he’s been trying to calm down the anti-Halal movement amongst some of the Coalitions fan-base. And members. Senator Cory Bernardi, whom I have previously indicated I have a very low opinion of (and that ain’t fuckin’ changing any time soon), has managed to wrangle a Senate Inquiry into the Halal certification “racket”.  It’s alright though, ’cause he’s probably had Halal food before and it didn’t bother him too much (on an Emirates flight and everything!) He just wants to make sure people have all the information so they can make ethical decisions about what they eat. Because if you’re gonna be an Islamophobe you may as well have the government giving you advice on best practice. Thankfully members of the government across the lines who aren’t complete fuckwits, including Cruela De Vil himself Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, have pointed out that getting rid of Halal certifications will make it awfully hard to export our beef to such mostly-Muslim nations as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. This would be bad for consumers, who’d see the price of meat go up to cover the loss of international markets making it more expensive to put meat pies on our kid’s plates (won’t someone think of the children!), and worse for the farmers who are already officially dealing with a major El Nino event and another big draught (won’t someone think of the farmers!) If you can’t beat’em with an argument about not being a bigot, beat’em with an argument about not ruining the lives of our farmers and small businesses.

Then there was the insurrection (love that word, don’t get to use it as often as I like) in Cabinet this week, over a proposal by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, backed by the PM, to revoke the citizenship of sole Australian citizens assisting terrorists. Those who stood against such a suggestion included such lofty figures as Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop and (dum dum duh daaah!) Barnaby Joyce. Unfortunately, Mr Dutton is still to be given the discretion to revoke the citizenship of dual-nationals for suspected crimes (not convictions, suspicions). I won’t go through all the reasons why I think that’s a bad idea, because other people already have far more eloquently then I’d be willing to. Suffice to say that while I, like so many others, would like to wash my hands of the Aussie-born arseholes posing with assault rifles, black flags and severed heads, revoking their citizenship is an impractical move that raises all sorts of issues regarding rights and discrimination, that is more likely meant to appeal to our knee-jerk intuition and secure a few more ‘tough on national security’ points at the polls than to actually discourage and prevent home-grown terrorism.

Then there was the budget. Good god there was the budget. The feel good budget. The fair budget. The budget of a desperate government knowing that it wouldn’t survive if it pissed off ninety percent of the voting public a second time. And, well, they managed to deliver, more or less. It’s certainly not the kind of budget to get economists jumping for joy. Too many cuts and some big, expensive plans for the future (like new tax write-offs meant to get small business owners on side) without any notable revenue raisers, or even the cauterising of the notable tax-dodges (like on high-income superannuation and negative gearing, something my generation will keep on griping about). Then there’s the piss-weak funding for everyone-agrees-this-is-a-problem-but-no-wants-to-do-the-hard-work-to-fix-it issues like preventing and reducing domestic violence. Oh, and of course there was the hope that no one in the media would pick up on the fact that Labor’s 18 billion dollar deficit was a “budget emergency” but a 44 billion dollar deficit isn’t.

Mr Abbott went and coined the term “Tony’s tradies,” an homage (a proper homage, where you don’t pronounce the ‘h’ and everything) to “Howard’s battlers,” the traditionally Labor-voting working class that kept former Prime Minister John Howard in the top job. Everyone seems to have ignored and forgotten it after having a good belly laugh (seriously Mr Abbott, surely you can hire someone to come up with better than that). The budget has certainly been better accepted than the last one, and the appeal to the middle class was probably the right way to go. God knows it’s nice to have a budget with a positive spin, trying to boost confidence instead of screaming that the macroeconomic sky is falling. All in all the Coalitions top players have done pretty well for themselves as well, bar a few slips here and there. At least they’ve done a far sight better than last year. Enough, at least, that Bill Shorten will actually have to start singing for his supper as Opposition Leader instead of just letting the Coalition do all the work for him. Can he do it? Maybe. I’m not filled with confidence over his past performances. We’ll just have to see.

Except Joe Hockey, of course. Couldn’t let a budget slip by without alienating another chunk of the electorate. This time? Mothers, wroughting the Paid Parental Leave system without their husbands’ knowledge. Ah well, such is life.

Joe Hockey and random talking Edited 28:5:2015
I really need to draw another Joe Hockey. The real man’s jaw is squarer than I do him justice. It’ll do for now though.

Truthfully though, the Opposition’s budget response was not any better, leaving me pining for the days Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan. Say what you want about how they came into leadership of the Labor party, they could put together a budget.

Continuing on. The recent yes vote in Ireland in favour of marriage equality has spurred on other nations to act, Australia amongst them. The Greens made a push in the Senate, and a few days ago Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek announced they would be sponsoring a bill in the Lower House. While I desperately hope it passes, and there’s good noises coming from all sides, there is more than a little doubt since it would be a ‘Labor’ bill being passed, rather than one that the whole Parliament could own (which Mr Abbott would prefer and would likely be more successful). Here’s hoping though.

In international news, the UK re-elected the Tories with a surprising majority, immediately filling my Tumblr feed with commentary from disenfranchised Scots who were just so disappointed with the rest of the UK. Seriously. I mean, I’m a left-leaning Aussie living in Canada, but it seemed to me like Cameron and crew were the best option in what is still a sensitive economic climate (but what the bloody hell would I know, yeah?) Shit, you guys have got an economically responsible government that’s being kept in check by a pro-Europe progressive PM with a decent track record on minority rights. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get one of those? Australia’s last one was in the bloody 80s. A definite negative, however, is that Mr Cameron has bowed to populist and party pressure to try and renegotiate the UK’s place in Europe and then hold a ‘in or out’ referendum on the matter, but no one’s perfect.

And, of course, there’s the FIFA scandal. Not much to say about this, aside from a very loud well it’s about bloody time. Funny thing, I’ve seen it a lot on the news over here in Canada where the FIFA corruption scandal is so shocking and alarming. There’s been very little about it on the Aussie news sources I kept up with beyond the occasional article updating on the allegations or calls for Sep Blatter to resign. I think for a lot of Australians the reaction’s been a bit like, “You say FIFA’s corrupt? Next you’ll be telling me the sky’s blue and water is wet.”

Alright folks, talk again soon.

View from across the ocean (6/5/2015)

Politics is weird. Been an interesting time keeping track of the Aussie news this past week or two. Did anyone hear about that piece of coal the government’s planning on giving to the royal family to celebrate the new princess? The really pretty one? Was that a joke? I think it was a joke. I’m not sure I can tell anymore. Here’s what the news looks like from where I’m at.

Leadership wise, PM Tony Abbott seems to have pulled the plug on possible leadership spills for the moment, though that could easily change from “probably still won’t make it to the next election, and wouldn’t win it even if he did” back to “seriously, why the hell hasn’t this guy been given the boot yet?” if the upcoming budget has even a whiff of the things that made the old one such a disaster. Far more interesting was the sudden and apparently bloodless change in the leadership of the Greens yesterday. Christine Milne (best known as the Tasmanian woman who took over after Bob Brown quit) sent out a message on Twitter (the Aussie Polly’s megaphone of choice for important and/or policy related announcements, because fuck traditional media and press conferences) announcing that she wouldn’t be contesting her place in the Senate (family reasons), and because of this had resigned from her position as leader of the Greens Party. A leadership ballot was held at 11:30 in the morning, same day yesterday, and some bloke named Richard Di Natale had won it by 12:30. Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlum were made co-deputy leaders (because for some reason the Greens need two deputies). Done and dusted and leaving those of us who care about such things blinking twice and thinking “the fuck just happened?” The new Greens Leadership certainly isn’t talking. It certainly seems quick and painless. Considering that everyone was expecting Adam Bandt to take the top job in the party, however, and the speed of the announcements and ballot, I couldn’t help but think of a line from that episode in The Simpsons when they go to Africa: “He took power in a bloodless coup. Only pillow-smothering.”

Mind you, all due respect to Dr Di Natale (he’s an old hand and Greens veteran) but, as best I can tell, lacks the kind of public awareness amongst the new, young Greens supporters that the very social media savvy Scott Ludlum, Adam Bandt and even Sarah Hanson-Young enjoys. So I wonder if the most popular question he’ll be asked after “what were the circumstances leading up to you taking over?” or “when was the rest of the party made aware of Senator Milne’s plans to resign the leadership?” may just be “so, who the hell are you again?”

Good luck to him. We need a strong third party to keep the two big players (bastards, if you will) in line and honest, and that hasn’t been the Greens so far with their protest party mentality. Hopefully the change in leadership will allow for a change in policy.

Then there’s the recent incident of the Australian Ambassador to France Stephen Brady’s long term partner, Peter Stephens, being asked to wait in the car instead of greeting Mr Abbott upon his arrival in Paris. Mr Brady was understandably upset and offered his resignation, which was rejected. There’s a few different theories, including one where it was simply a bit of protocol miscommunication. Someone reckoned that since the PM wasn’t arriving with his missus it would be incorrect for the Ambassador to meet him with his mister. Mr Abbott’s made clear he wasn’t aware of the request, believes Mr Brady to be a fine, distinguished public servant and overall top bloke, and that the snubbing happened at the junior official level. I groaned a bit at one particular quote: “I’m the Prime Minister and I don’t normally concern myself with trivia.” C’mon Mr Prime Minister, don’t start going all aloof with us again after you did so well skolling that beer.

We’re likely going to be hearing about a billion dollar cut to Australia’s foreign aid budget, a strategic and geopolitically unsound decision in my opinion, but hey, I don’t get to make those decisions and Joe Hockey’s pretty desperate for cash. Y’know, like all those African and South East Asian countries that are about to find it a lot harder to pay for health and education to help pull their large populations out of desperate poverty. Though it’s not like a lack of education and an endless cycle of poverty breeds resentment that can be radicalised against us, right? Right. Most of that money will be pulled from Indonesia, something that the Indonesians might take the wrong way. You may have heard that they executed two Australians recently, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, along with six others. Now, the deaths of these two men is something I am not really qualified to comment on and a lot of people have done a far better job of it. Suffice to say I am always against the death penalty and supported all attempts by the Australian government and public to prevent the executions from happening. Point at the moment though is that them in charge are going to have a hard time convincing the Indonesians (and a lot of Australians) that this isn’t a reprisal from killing two of our citizens. It’ll be interesting seeing how Julie Bishops handles it, especially cause she strikes me as having the stones to not even bother trying.

What I’m really interested in seeing, however, is the budget. Hockey and Matthias Cormann need to pull something special out of their arses or at least one of those is going to face a boot. Hearing a lot about cuts, but not a lot about revenue raising, so I’m not expecting much. They were supposed to get some help when the RBA dropped the cash rate to 2.0% but the market reacted poorly to the news, so that might not be as useful as people were expecting. And now the unemployment rate has risen slightly (SLIGHTLY!). Then they’re talking about adding the GST to software downloads (including Netflix), making something far more expensive for Australians than it should be more expensive, and reducing the value upon which an imported parcel can be hit with GST to less then its current level of $1000.00. That’ll be popular.

Meanwhile, internationally, the UK’s going to the polls and Angela Merkel’s got into a bit of trouble because it turns out she was helping the Yanks spy on their friends. What’s happing in Canada… heh.

An icon leaves us

Lap scan edited

The news came through on Friday that Leonard Nimoy, the man who was and always will be Spock, died at the age of 83. News sites, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and all the other places where our collective culture gets its information filled with headlines that generally were some version of “He lived long and prospered.” Forums and more artistic social media walls or feeds quickly filled with fanart, photos, quotes, tribute pieces and more than a few animated gifs. An important part of popular culture, an inspiration and mentor to millions has died, and the act of collective mourning has been amazing.

Now of the many fandoms that I might claim membership in, Star Trek was never one. I’ve seen enough episodes and know enough about the various series/characters/plots/context/surrounding-culture to be able to reasonably discuss it, but truthfully William Shatner’s role as Denny Crane on Boston Legal (particularly his platonic relationship with James Spader’s Alan Shore) had far more influence over me during my formative years than Captain Kirk ever did or ever could have. But that doesn’t change the fact that Leonard Nimoy, Mr goddamn Spock, has just died and it’s fucking hard to not feel that loss.

Mocked, parodied, tributed, influenced, referenced in. Star Trek has influenced popular culture at a level that only a handful of other franchises can claim to have reached, and the characters of its original series (movies, and to an extent the characters of the sequel series) will always be associated with the actors that played them. Try as he might in the new movies, Zachary Quinto will never be the Mr Spock (and that’s alright, let him build his own legacy). Add in his prolific career beyond Star Trek and social activism and Nimoy was, like few others, a secular saint. His death has left a grand hole in our cultural cosmology that I don’t see being filled any time soon.

It happens. People seem to have processed his death and worked, written, drawn and animated their way through it. He was an old man. He’d been sick for a while. Unlike the deaths of other icons like Robin Williams or Michael Jackson his mortality had been apparent for some time. We knew it was coming. That doesn’t make it less sad, but it does make it easier to process.

Rest peacefully Mr Nimoy. Sleep well Mr Spock.

Knights and flags and anthems and Taylor Swift on the radio. Happy Australia Day!

Australia Day Sketch - Edited

Seriously, Happy fuckin’ Australia Day. That weird holiday when people across the country are able to cover themselves in the Jack and Cross (a slang term for the Australian flag I just invented at this moment) without automatically being judged as racist bogans, parading how fair dinkum Aussie they are in a bizarre parody of national pride ripped heavily from July 4th episodes of American television.  Ozzie! Ozzie! Ozzie! and all that. I’d sooner deck myself in the green and gold, but that’s me.

The lead-up’s been a particularly strange one this year. It’s always a bit of a political wank, as both sides of whatever line you happen to be watching cloak their own ideas of “what it means to be Australian” (or some such crap) within the language of patriotism and nationalism. There were the usual articles about how for the Indigenous community Australia Day, the anniversary of the convicts being disembarked from the First Fleet (and, in the mature-rated history books, the crazy, drunken orgy that followed), is also the anniversary of the beginning of the bloody White European conquest of the continent. Some better (passionate arguments made quite reasonably, by members of the Indigenous community and supporters with proven records fighting for aboriginal rights, for a less culturally insensitive date), some worse (social media hipster liberals ’embarrassed’ by displays of national affection on a culturally insensitive date). But a lot of the air time seems to have been taken up by other controversies (loosely using the word here) this year.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten raised the old Republican debate in an Australia Day eve speech, reckoning that it’s about time we thought about cutting ties with the English Royal Family and figuring things out for ourselves. This is at odds with Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s reintroduction of rewarding people the government likes with knight and damehoods. One winner was (now) Sir Angus Houston, former Air Chief Marshall of the RAAF and Chief of the ADF, recently in charge of the search for MH370 (by all accounts a top bloke deserving of the right to put ‘Sir’ in front of his name). Another winner? Prince Philip. I shit you not, Prince Philip, the goddamn Duke of Edinburgh is now a Knight of the Order of Australia. ‘Cause he served in the Royal Navy and is the titular Duke of Edinburgh of the Duke of Edinburgh Award. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve to be a Knight of the Order of Australia, it just seems like pretty small change compared to some of his other titles. Given His Lordship’s (or is it His Majesty’s? Royal Highness’?) sense of humour, I’d like to know what his reaction was when he was informed. Apparently it hasn’t gone down well with Mr Abbott’s own government who, aside from not all sharing his monarchist leanings, are upset that he’s disregarded his own word to use the honour to award prominent Australians (rather than foreign royals).

At the same time, the old argument about the need to change the flag to one that doesn’t give prime position to that of a foreign country did the rounds (as it always does this time of year). While I’m partial to switching to some version of the Eureka Flag, a pattern with some real history and meaning beyond ‘won a magazine competition about a century ago,’ but I don’t expect we’ll see a change any time soon. Unless the Kiwis change there’s first. Fun stuff.

Then of course there was the joy that came from a proposal by the National Australia Day Council encouraging all Aussies to get up at noon (Eastern Daylight Savings Time I’m assuming) and sing the two official verses of the national anthem. Personally, I wanted to kick the shins of whoever came up with that jingoistic tripe. Not only do Australians have a long, storied history of disrespect, flippancy and irreverence for such displays (the ANZACs of the First World War, for example, had a reputation for refusing to salute no matter how hard their British officers tried), but we had to endure the long-winded complaints by pseudo-intellectual lefties like myself telling people exactly why it was such an un-Australian suggestion. We needn’t have bothered worrying. Nobody gave a shit, and nobody sang the anthem.

But the real controversy, the real issue that rocked the nation, was Taylor Swift’s inclusion then exclusion from Triple J’s Hottest 100 list. The Hottest 100 is an annual cultural phenomenon in Australia, receiving millions of votes and listened to at any party, pub or gathering worth a damn. Run by the major public youth broadcaster, it tends to act as a cultural litmus test of what is relevant that extends across genres, leaping from punk and heavy metal to dance and hip hop. Given that the Js are listened to by the kind of folk who eschew commercial radio for being too commercial (and are unable to recognise a tautology when they say one) there was plenty of anguish over a campaign started on Buzzfeed to get Shake it Off by Swift onto the list. Seriously, people were not fuckin’ happy, which only fuelled the anti-hipster fires. Triple J remained relatively mum over the issue, finally announcing before the broadcast that she had been disqualified because of the Buzzfeed campaign (and a social media bandwagon jump by KFC). And again, people were not fuckin’ happy. It was probably the right decision by Triple J, who couldn’t let the lovers and haters get away with “troll[ing] the polls” lest it set a precedent. I don’t imagine Swift is shedding any tears over her disqualification, she certainly doesn’t need the press like so many of the other artists on the Hottest 100 list, and it really was an act of trolling. Still, while I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Tay Tay I don’t hate her, and it would have been a bit of a laugh if she managed to win. It certainly wouldn’t have been as bad as last year when Royals by Lorde was beaten for the top spot by Riptide by Vance Joy. Lorde was bloody robbed.

Christ, are other countries’ national days like this?

Sad, but still proud.

The first thing I did when I woke up this morning was check the news. Sombre, tragic, but relieving. Not a lot of new information at that point beyond that it was over and three were dead. There was still an exclusion zone in the city, which would remain for much of the day. City-bound traffic was gridlocked, probably not helped by people deciding to drive to work instead of catching public transport. Every half hour or hour the newsreaders seemed to have a few extra scraps of information to give us. Confirming a name, mentioning a rumour, providing a little more background.

Yesterday my sister called my mum from outside her place of work in Bondi Junction, talked about all the cops effectively locking it down. Mentioned at the end that she needed to go back inside. She was holding a timer and the security guards were giving her funny looks.

Well. Shit.

I’m assuming by this point most people have heard about the siege in Martin Place, in the middle of Sydney’s Central Business District, which ended with the tragic deaths of two hostages (RIP Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson) and the decidedly less tragic death of the gunman who held them for sixteen hours (Man Haron Monis, may he burn in a particularly warm circle of hell). My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, the wounded, and the freed hostages. My city bled last night but thank god, the police and the other emergency personnel present that it didn’t bleed more. Those guys are awesome, and they proved it once again.

There are going to be a lot of questions being asked about the siege, and it’s going to occupy our media for a while. Probably sit in the international media for a while as well. Will this be considered to be a terrorist act in the history books, or just a lone nutjob publicity-whore with nothing to lose but relative obscurity? I think a lot of us are angling at nutjob. Why was a man with more than forty indecent and sexual assault charges, a conviction for sending insulting letters to the families of dead soldiers and a charge for being an accessory to his wife’s murder given bail? Because the Crown’s case wasn’t considered particularly strong. Wasn’t he on an ASIO watchlist? (If not, why not?). Is Fox News in the US really trying to use these tragic events to argue against gun control? Fuck those guys. How did our own media handle the event? Pretty well according to some, aside from the 2pm print edition of the Telegraph. How did our politicians do? Not too bad either. How will this effect Christmas shopping, upon which so many people rely for financial security? Not well, and you’re likely to get called a materialistic arsehole for asking.

It’s a sad thing to have happened. Martin Place is so iconic, so central. The Harbour Bridge might be Sydney’s smile, but Martin Place is part of its heart. The outpouring of grief is real and overflowing. But truthfully, I’m so fuckin’ proud of my city right now. Proud of the cops who dealt with the situation so calmly and methodically, who tried so hard to end the situation without blood but acted decisively when required. Proud of the news folk, who kept us updated but, for the most part that I saw, were careful about what information was revealed and how it was delivered (such as the using ‘gunman’ instead of ‘terrorist’). Proud of the speed with which so many Sydneysiders made clear that they weren’t blaming the Islamic community, and would support them against the racists and rabble rousers. Proud of the Islamic community. You guys know what you’re going to go through because of the actions of this one criminal, but you still choose to be part of our community. Our city. I’ll ride with you. Anybody that wouldn’t can piss off. They don’t deserve to live in our city.

There’s not a lot I can add to any conversation about the events yesterday and this morning that smarter, more involved folk aren’t going to be debating better than I ever could for days to come, but I wanted to say that. Because our city is strong, and I am proud of that.