It’s Boycott Barbie!

I heard something weird on the news today. The Australian Greens – who hold a balance of power in the Senate even if they can’t get out of a protest party mentality – were throwing their support behind a campaign called No Gender December, a movement run by organisation Play Unlimited. The goal of the campaign is to discourage the idea that certain toys should be off limits to children because of their gender and gender stereotypes by encouraging children to play with whatever they want to play. Basically buying them the toys they want, not the toys social constructs say they want. I quite like the campaign and agree with what it’s trying to achieve, and I personally believe that the gendered separation of toys is fucking ridiculous (boys vs. girls, boys vs girls, etc), a situation best resolved by consumers voting with their wallets. The weird part was when the Greens connected gendered play to domestic violence, with Greens Senator Larissa Waters stating that:

“Outdated stereotypes about girls and boys and men and women perpetuate gender inequality, which feeds into very serious problems such as domestic violence and the gender pay gap.”

Wait, what?

“While such serious problems seem so far removed from choosing children’s toys, it’s important that we think about this issue – especially when so many children’s toys are being bought.”

Quote sourced from article.

Alright then. No, no, this is still a “what?” moment.

I hate stuff like this. Listen I know there’s causal links between the promotion of traditional ideas of masculinity (and femininity) and domestic violence, but this instance is trying to turn correlation into causation. Most people will simply dismiss such a claim straight away. Unfortunately many of those people will then dismiss the entire campaign and movement (who at no point on their website that I saw actually make any claims that gendered play causes domestic violence), as many politicians already have.

That’s a shame, because it’s a good thing they’re trying to promote.

G20 Protests: The Good, the Bad and the Useless

The G20 summit has begun in Brisbane this week, a gathering of the world leaders from the top 20 economies. Funnily enough most of them were already in the neighbourhood attending an APEC summit, where some pretty important shit was decided (though just how decided is arguable). Hopefully it’ll turn into an interesting meeting, despite Tony Abbot and Joe Hockey’s endless intoning about how this’ll be all about something as vaguely pedestrian as jobs and growth. There’s already a bit of spice about with the PM’s embarrassment about being the only leader who doesn’t want to mention climate change, and a bit of military showboating with RAN frigates and a surveillance plane keeping an eye on four Russian warships steaming south towards international waters just outside our EEC. Good stuff.

Security’s a bit ridiculous, with bans on bows (of all types) and easily throwable objects like tin cans and eggs in the secure zone that covers most of the Brisbane CBD. There’s been a bit of grumbling and satire about the inability to boil an egg in the city at the moment, though nothing close to the level of the Chaser’s visit to APEC way back when. But there can be no collection of powerful men (and a few powerful women) without some protests, and distaste for the current political status quo and a desire to make that distaste known will find a way!

Free-Tibet supporters floated large black balloons with a banner asking the G20 to unite in forcing China to free Tibet, raising a few questions: 1. Do they realise that China is a G20 nation; 2. Do they really think anyone in the G20 still gives a damn enough about Tibet to ruin their attempts at becoming ascendant China’s best mate; and 3. How long before the One China folk turn up to chase them off?

A few people from Oxfam dressed up in life guard outfits and the comically oversized heads of a few of the leaders (including Merkel, Abbot, Obama and Modi) in order to warn against ‘inequality rising.’ Not exactly as dramatic as black balloons carrying a banner, but it’s pleasant, light-hearted and attracted a lot of people to take photos, and I’ve got a lotta respect for people willing to wear giant heads for hours at a time in a Brisbane heatwave for a good cause.

Far more serious is the protest about indigenous deaths in custody, which I assume is attempting to embarrass the government in front of the rest of the world. It’s a cause I most definitely support, but can’t help but wonder if this is the best audience for the protests. I can’t help but imagine that there’s not going to be a whole lot of coverage of an Australian death in custody protest, and that the gathered leadership is pretty good at tuning out name-calling like “Genocidal 20.”

Perhaps my favourite so far, and the one that seems most… appropriate? let’s say appropriate. The one that seems the most appropriate so far was on Bondi Beach, where hundreds of protesters buried their heads in the sand, symbolic of the Abbot government’s continued wilful ignorance and refusal to acknowledge climate change. I like this one. It uses an internationally recognisable location, makes it’s point cleverly but not obliquely and doesn’t accuse the other leaders of genocide (seriously, what’s with that?) I’m not exactly a big fan of most protests, but this one’s alright.

Finally, let me mention the folks from PETA, who sent a trio of girls stripped down to their briefs, some strategically placed stickers and a mess of green body paint to encourage the approaching international dignitaries to embrace a vegan diet. Now, I’m torn between having a go at PETA for continuing their trend of blatant sexism objectifying women in order to garner attention and controversy (especially because you only need to Google ‘PETA’ and ‘sexist’ to find a bunch of articles doing it better than I ever could), and making a joke about how threatening to put your clothes back on is hardly the best way to get a bunch of men to do what you want. That long sentence does both, so I’ll close this paragraph simply with this: Really PETA? Really?

I’ve always found a lot of these kinds of protests strange. I mean, I get that it’s an international audience but aside from the possibility of a mention in the BBC’s G20 coverage what exactly are people trying to achieve? I mean, Xi Jinping certainly doesn’t care if a handful of Aussies think he needs to extend more democratic rights to Hong Kong, Narendra Modi wouldn’t care about Tibet beyond maybe – maybe! – sticking it to China, and I doubt Dilma Rousseff is all that worried about the rights of indigenous Australians. Yes it raises local awareness, but local awareness is likely fleeting. A big part of the reason I like the Bondi protests is that it reinforces something already filling the media, that our biggest strategic and trading partners are concerned about climate change but the Abbott government wants to ignore it (and is even bragging about ditching the Carbon Tax).

There’s also the problem that with all the different groups protesting about different things at once they simply become a wall of white noise that’s even easier to ignore. This is a problem that has tended to effect left-wing protests in Australia (as well as the lack of achievable goals) over the past few years, such as during the Occupy Sydney/Martin Place movement and the March in March … er … marches.

So I’m not gonna bet on a lot of these protests’ success. But hey, I’m a political cynic.

Anyway, let’s see what the rest of the summit brings. Here’s hoping for a few more laughs.

Nope, can’t think of one.

Well, I’m gonna guess that it’s safe to assume everyone’s heard about the assault by a lone gunman on the Canadian Parliament and War Memorial (where an unarmed soldier was killed). A senseless act of violence, and apparently not the only senseless act of violence perpetrated in Canada by another senseless jackass cloaked in the figurative banner of Jihad (though the police are saying the two acts are unconnected). I can’t speak for the media in Canada, but the news down here in Oz was a weird – but not unexpected – mix of pollies (and people in the know) saying “we’re good, we take safety seriously and are confident in the strength of our counter-terrorism measures to stop something like this happening here,” and others saying “we’re so much like Canada! It could happen here too! Be afraid! Be very afraid!” This followed an incident earlier in the week when Australians were once again reminded that we should be scared of young, angry, Muslim men/boys, after a 17 year old twat from Western Sydney ranted on an Islamic State propaganda film. It seems radical Islam is still frightening.

I’m a firm believer that the greatest threat to radical Islam is moderate Islam, and one the best ways to strengthen moderate Islam is through inclusiveness, positive example and normalisation in our media, writing characters that for whom their religion is a defining characteristic rather than the defining characteristic. To strengthen the Islamic community within the greater community and combat ignorance. At some point in the future I’d like to write about this in a bit more detail, but had a thought I felt like sharing. You see while I was at work monotonously packing boxes (gotta pay for this decadent blogger’s lifestyle somehow, hookers and cocaine ain’t cheap) something occurred to me. I could not think of a single Muslim character on what is probably the pinnacle of western pop-culture, perhaps the most pervasive show in the world. I could not remember seeing any named, speaking Muslims in The Simpsons. Seriously, try and think of one. A google search brought up a kid named Bashir and his parents with the surname ‘Bin Laden’ (sigh) in an episode where Homer thinks Bashir’s dad is a terrorist (I’ve seen kicks to the face with more subtlety) from Season 20 in 2008 (showing just how long it’s been since I watched The Simpsons regularly). If the kid’s wikia page can be trusted he’s only appeared in four episodes, including the first, in the last six years. That’s it.

That’s a bit weird. I mean, I can think of Hindus, Buddhists, multiple Jews and atheists all part of a regularly recurring and literally colourful cast (even if it is a little light on Asian characters beyond the traditional stereotypes). But apparently there’s only one Muslim kid and his parents in the entire of Springfield, used in a blunt force morality tale about how ‘not all persons of Middle Eastern appearance are terrorists.” Doesn’t seem very inclusive or normalising.

Cheering for the bloke in the budgie smugglers

 

Live from the G20 summit!
Live from the G20 summit!

There’s a lot of reasons to not be happy with Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Hell beyond the insultingly unbalanced budget, classist education reforms, atrocious refugee policy and a cabinet made up, with a single exception, entirely of middle-aged to old white men, he’s given us plenty of reasons to not be happy with him in just the last fortnight. Something I can’t fault him for, however, is declaring that he’ll be picking a diplomatic fight at the upcoming G20 leaders summit with Vladimir Putin over MH17. Because someone bloody needs to.

The challenge was laid down earlier this week when Abbott declared that he would “shirtfront” Putin on the issue, personally confronting the Russian President about the murder of Australian (and a lot more Dutch) citizens by “Russian backed rebels using Russian supplied equipment.” My first thought when I heard this was, “what the hell is ‘shirtfront?'” Apparently it’s slang for a shoulder-to-body tackle in Australian Rules Football (I live in NSW, I follow Rugby League when the fancy takes me, I can count on one hand the number of people I know who I’d expect to recognise what ‘shirtfronting’ is). There’s some suspicion he meant to say “buttonhole” and got his terms confused. My second thought was, “good.” While I tend to agree with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten that Putin shouldn’t have even been invited (that would require support from the rest of the G20 nations though so isn’t really up to us), I’m glad to know that the government is at least planning on calling him on his shit. Because, as I said above, someone bloody needs to, and at the moment it just seems to be us and the Dutch.

The Russians responded to Mr Abbott’s tough talk with some tough talk of their own. They’d already voiced their negative opinions of Mr Abbott in state mouth-piece Pravda before the shirtfronting threat, and again afterwards. From what I understand it’s a bit of diplomatic foreshadowing, one side indicating an important part of the agenda and the other indicating their displeasure at its inclusion. The international relations equivalent of two boxers trash-talking each other to the press before a fight. The fact that everyone seems to have taken Mr Abbott literally and are expecting the him to strip down to the speedos and Putin to rip of his shirt so they can toe-to-toe down Brisbane’s main street certainly helps the image.

So the roo and the bear have been sizing each other up, and if the Pravda articles are anything to go by the bear found his opponent wanting… Or did he? Maybe. Friday morning Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had a sit down with Putin and managed to get a… promise? (that might be too strong a word)… that he’d influence the Russian-backed rebels to allow investigators in before the famous Ukrainian winter set in. There are also indications (such as his current attendance at the Asia-Europe Meeting) that Putin wants to re-establish some positive relations with the west even if his continued rhetoric (and the fact he occasionally shouts “WE HAVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS!” in his loudest diplomatic voice) has left many, including Australia’s leadership, taking everything with a grain of salt (or several dozen). The sanctions have certainly hurt the Russian economy, and their own counter-sanctions hurt them more than they hurt everyone else (for now). The Economist ran an article back in July that estimated Putin’s leadership cost the Russian investment market one trillion dollars in value. One trillion dollars. What’s more, Australia has been in a good position to press the Russians on this issue. While not a military threat, Australia has been able to impose economic sanctions (including on Uranium sales) without the same fear of reprisal that energy dependant Europe has faced. As a current member of the UN Security Council, Australia was also key to the rapid introduction and passing of the resolution allowing independent access to the MH17 crash site. We’ve also got a fair bit of international support, and the good relationships with China and India to keep them from weighing in on Russia’s side.

The kangaroo’s got a decent kick, and the bear hasn’t been eating properly. Still, nuclear power being run by a crazy narcissistic bastard seems like the most accurate description of Russia at the moment, so it’s still just a maybe.

What’s been jarring to me has been the number of people I know who seem to be on Putin’s side in all this. Ignoring all the people whose response to the upcoming firm discussion between the man in the budgie smugglers and the man who wants us to believe wrestles tigers was “like Russia actually gives a shit about what Australia thinks” (I’m frequently guilty of overrating Oz’s place in the world, but a lot of people are guilty of underrating), there were more than a few of my fellow lefties who saw this as yet another excuse to attack Abbott. Blogs and satirical websites posted articles that varied between light humour to outright attacks on the government’s international credibility, which were then shared on social media pages like Tony Abbott – Worst PM in Australian History, which then began appearing on my own feeds as my leftie and ‘progressive’ mates enthusiastically hit the ‘like’ buttons.

The theme of a real world leader like Putin putting a small fry like Abbott in his place seemed common and I just don’t get why beyond a bad case of seeing schadenfreude (SCHADENFREUDE!) where it shouldn’t be seen. Because Vladimir Putin is an Arsehole, with a capital A. He’s a misogynistic, racist, homophobic Arsehole with delusions of grandeur responsible for the murders of 298 innocent people including over three dozen Australians. And as I said, if Abbott’s planning on calling him on his shit than that’s something to be supporting.

Truthfully I don’t expect Abbott and Putin’s discussion to be anything history making, and I don’t expect to be seeing video of two shirtless heads of state beating the crap out of each other (though that would be the Best. G20. Ever.) But that doesn’t make the cause less righteous and I wish more people saw that. Cheer for the bloke in the budgie smugglers. Then we can all go back to relentlessly mocking him about his “Coal is good for humanity” remarks.

Banning the Burqa? Probably not a good time

It’s been a bad couple of weeks in the news for Australian Muslims, with a long stream of reporting on the terrors of home grown extremism. We had Prime Minister Tony Abbot announcing to the public that the terror alert was being raised from medium to high (meaning attack was “likely” but “not imminent”). Then there were the massive counter-terrorist raids in Sydney and Brisbane, preventing a plan which (according to the police) would have involved kidnapping a random member of the public and broadcasting their beheading. Just a few days ago an 18 year old “person of interest” who’d recently had his passport cancelled was shot and killed after he stabbed two police officers in Melbourne. This comes on top of the occasional reminder that there are 60-odd Australians (or 120-150 depending on who’s doing the counting) fighting with Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, as well as the government’s attempts to sell and push through a raft of new anti-terror legislation and amendments that have varied from adorably bumbling (y’aaaaw, he doesn’t know how the internet works) to genuinely concerning for a lot of people (like how the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – ASIO – would be liable if they kill or cripple someone, but hadn’t specifically been told they couldn’t torture people until recently) with the Islamic community feeling noticeably targeted.

Here in the capital of NSW (with a around half of Australia’s Muslim population) it’s been enough to get poor innocent white folk – the kind with only vague notions of a distant, mysterious and dangerous land known as ‘South Western Sydney,’ filled with mosques and kebab shops – quaking in their thongs (flip flops).

And then you had SA Senator Cory ‘If-you-think-I-sound-ignorant-now-just-ask-me-about-gays-and-climate-change’ Bernardi from the Coalition again calling for banning the Burqa, and Tas Senator Jacqui ‘Even-my-own-party-thinks-I’m-dumb’ Lambie both supporting him and possibly setting herself up as the heir-apparent of Pauline Hanson and One Nation‘s dubious crown. She certainly didn’t hurt her growing image as the new face of bigoted Australian politics when she struggled her way through an explanation of what she knew about Sharia Law and when she posted an anti-burqa meme (used first by far right group Britain First) to her Facebook page, which co-opts a photo of one of Afghanistan’s first female police officers, Malalai Kakar, who was murdered by the Taliban in 2008, in a way meant to look aggressive and threatening. The photographer calls it a desecration, though apparently Lambie reckons she’s honouring the fallen policewoman by using her image to try and scare people and dehumanise those who wear it (I don’t see the logic, and I don’t think anybody who thinks about it for more than five seconds does either).

In all honesty I hate the Burqa and the Niqab. They’re oppressive garments that rob the wearer of their face, their identity and their individuality, and that is wrong by my standards. But if they’re going to disappear from Australia it needs to be because the Islamic community agrees (which many of them do) and makes a determined effort to excise it from their faith and community (which many of them are), not because some dumbarse senator is worried that a Burqa-clad assassin is going to try and shoot up her office or some such shit. Certainly not because it conflicts with the western morals of a self-righteous inner-city white male like myself.

The rhetoric being flung at the Muslim community is not good. It doesn’t seem as bad as what was being thrown around right before (and after) the Cronulla Riots in 2005 but I think those very unpleasant days are what a lot of us in Sydney at least are remembering right now, and bizarre claims about the security risks created by a handful (relatively speaking) of Burqa wearers does not help matters. All it does is leave one side feeling even more targeted, victimised and isolated from the rest of the nation and gives the other side another caricature with which to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’.

I’m not saying these are discussions we shouldn’t be having at all. Far from it. I think inclusive debate allows us to hammer out social problems, reaffirms shared values and makes our communities stronger. But we need to pick times and contexts where one sides not pouring gasoline over the issue and daring the other side to strike a match, and ignorant fearmongering should never be used.

Besides it’s distracting us from our true enemies, those bastards in the English cricket and New Zealand rugby teams.

Kitty not a cat, Aldi and Dahl, turning the Valve

Couple things caught my eye this past week.

Weird stuff first, turns out Hello Kitty isn’t a cat. Seriously, not a cat. Because that would be ridiculous. It certainly makes the fact that she owns an actual cat herself a little less creepy. Adding to that, according to the complex mythology of the Hello Kitty world, turns out she’s a pom. Lives in the suburbs of London eating apple pie. I’m gonna call bullshit till we see the quality of her dental work, but that’s just me.

The folks running the Aldi Supermarket chain pulled copies of Roald Dahl’s classic kid’s book Revolting Rhymes from the shelf, because in the story of Cinderella the supposedly charming prince calls the poor girl a ‘slut’. Y’know, cause kids are fine with images of handsome princes chopping off the heads of people he doesn’t like, but say a naughty word and they’re guaranteed to end up delinquents and drug addicts and something else unpleasant that begins with D (for alliteration purposes). A lot of people seem to be having a go at Aldi for bowing to the pressure of a few wowsers, and I’m inclined to agree with them. Because it’s god-damned Roald Dahl. I pity the child that doesn’t get to enjoy his wonderful prose (revolting or otherwise) because mum freaked out over a word that rhymes with nut.

Third, the Australian Competition and Consumer (ACCC, the national consumer watchdog) is taking everybody’s favourite game publisher, Valve, to court over the returns policy of its popular digital distribution platform, Steam. More appropriately, they’re suing over its lack of a returns policy since Steam has long maintained a stance of not offering refunds or exchanges for games under any circumstances unless specifically required to by law.

Valve are saying that they’re cooperating with the Australian government, but I expect that a lot of people, and not just Aussies, are hoping for an ACCC win in this matter in the hopes that it might force the folks running Steam to change some pretty lousy terms and conditions. Australia is a multi-billion dollar market for games, and Steam has a market-share worth hundreds of millions. It might be bugger all when compared to the US, Japanese, Chinese and some European markets but it’s large enough to effect some change if the courts side against them. There’s been a lot of damn near unplayable and falsely advertised ‘games’ (notice the use of quotation marks) released under Steam’s Early Access and Greenlight programs, and I’ve heard a few people say that the possibility of returns might be the thing that finally forces some much needed quality control. Probably not, but one can dream.

Bitcoins are not going to be considered foreign currency

Bitcoin is an asset, not a foreign currency

Bitcoin had a bit of play in the Aussie news this week when the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) decided that it would be considered an ‘intangible asset’ instead of foreign currency for taxation purposes, so subject to capital gains and the Goods and Service Tax (GST), not surprising since it follows similar decisions by the USA and Singapore (but different to the UK which treats Bitcoin as currency). What does this mean? For individuals buying Bitcoins or products with Bitcoins for personal purposes (less than ten thousand dollars and not to make a profit), not a lot. But the 10% Goods and Services Tax would affect exchanges, mining Bitcoins for profit and business purposes, and make tax time a lot more complicated for businesses that accept Bitcoin payments (who might have to pay GST twice).

This has led to a whole lot of collective groaning by Bitcoin enthusiasts (Bitcointhusiasts?) who are concerned that an overcomplicated and expensive tax regime will push new Bitcoin businesses off-shore (though why they think the ATO would give a shit about that I cannot fathom), while others think that any ruling at all will give legitimacy to a product (tool/asset/I-don’t-like-calling-it-a-currency-myself) that suffers some serious image problems. Y’know, because it’s a largely unregulated and incredibly volatile speculative product synonymous with buying drugs on the internet. Those image problems.

Sorry. Bitcoin’s one of those areas where I find it harder to bite back the bias. Because I’m cynical (and not the only one).

Honestly though the decision to treat Bitcoin as an asset rather than a foreign currency isn’t much of a surprise, and the ATO are accepting public comment on the policies (that might not noticeably change anything, but they aren’t completely deaf). While a lot of people are obviously unhappy that government regulators (not just Australian) are starting to look at how to restrict, regulate and worst of all tax Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, it’s gonna keep happening and it’s got to keep happening before they can achieve any mainstream success.

After all given the volatility in the value of Bitcoin’s price, because of lack of accountability and regulation or because of heavy-handed and reactive government regulation (due to perfectly reasonable fears of a speculative bubble), why would major corporations like Google or Amazon start accepting it as a method of payment? Even imperfect regulations and taxation by enough nations, provided they’re relatively measured (so not what China did) and coherent, will go a long way towards stabilising the price and people will feel better about using Bitcoins if they don’t have to worry that the real world value of their funds will suddenly drop.

The News Last Week (18/8/14)

It’s that time of the week again, when I look at the things that caught my eye in the seven days past. Where shall we begin?

Pleasantly, I think. Microsoft has sealed a deal with Square Enix in which upcoming game Rise of the Tomb Raider (the sequel to last years fantastic Tomb Raider reboot) will be a limited exclusive for the Xbox One (also popularly known as the Xbone). The game will eventually be released on Sony’s Playstation 4, but Microsoft is not unreasonably hoping that this will boost sales of the Xbone which have been trailing the PS4 at a rate of 3 or 4 to 1 (depending on who you listen to) since it adds another proven franchise to their stable of exclusives. As an Xbone owner and someone who loved Tomb Raider, I can’t say I mind the news.

It took two days and a public rebuke from PM Tony Abbot, but Joe Hockey finally got around to actually apologising for his ‘poor people don’t own cars’ remark. I don’t know about you, but the apology still came off as a bit of an attention-seeking woe-is-me whinge. No Joe we don’t think you’re evil or have evil intent towards disadvantaged folks, and you’re honestly just making yourself seem more out of touch with the concerns of average Australians. But I’ve already talked enough about this.

A medical clinic in West Point, Liberia, was attack yesterday by an apparent armed mob. The clinic was home to 29 people (9 of whom died some days ago), who were being given preliminary treatment for Ebola before they were due to be sent to a hospital. 17 of the patients mingled with the crowds and left while the remaining 3 were forcibly removed by relatives. There are also reports of bloody mattresses being taken- wait, seriously? I know they think their President’s full of shit and this whole ‘epidemic’ is made up but you’d think someone would go “Y’know what? Let’s not touch the things covered in body fluids that might be infected with an incurable disease that spreads through contact with bodily fluids. Just in case…” It really shows how serious an absence of trust in your government can be in times of legitimate crisis, and this isn’t even the only case of patients being busted out by their relatives, or the only country where such distrust is posing a significant health risk.

Then there’s Ferguson, USA. What a nightmare. The shooting of an unarmed black male named Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer when he had his hands up and was surrendering, triggered protests (and riots) that were responded to by officers in armoured vehicles, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Things look like they’re getting a bit better since the Missouri state governor Jay Nixon put Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson in charge of the situation, an African American officer who marched with the protesters when he arrived in a well-meant and well-received symbolic gesture. Tensions are still high, something that all involved seem to understand, at least from the perspective of a white bloke on the other end of the world.
Edit: I’m not even gonna pretend I’ve got any perspective on this issue, just hope that it gets sorted more peacefully than it’s been so far.

ISIS (ISIL? The Islamic State?) has finally gone and convinced US President Barack Obama that they need to be broken, and American air power has begun supporting Kurdish soldiers and militia (why haven’t we given these guys a country yet? They’re tough as Israelis) as they push towards the stronghold of Mosul. In other good news (extremely relatively speaking), US personnel found fewer refugee Yazidi on Mount Sinjar, which was being besieged by Jihadist forces. While the situation is still atrocious, a great deal of aid had managed to get through and air strikes had successfully allowed many of the refugees to escape, so it wasn’t the humanitarian nightmare some were expecting.

PM Tony Abbot got in a bit of hot water over remarks about Scotland’s independence that did not go down well, saying “I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, not the friends of freedom, and that the countries that would cheer at the prospect of the break-up with the United Kingdom are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.” I understand why the Scots aren’t overjoyed, and it seems a lot of Australian opponents breathed a sigh of relief that he could stuff up internationally after his recent run of serious foreign policy success (*cough* MH17 *cough*). Personally, I don’t think it’s too bad. He’s not the only leader to tell Scotland to stay in the Union, he’s just the bluntest (and using language I’d normally associate with the Super Friends). And I mean, it’s Tony Abbot, a man about as subtle as a kick in the budgie smugglers. Should we have expected him to wink at Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and make a crack about not contributing to the rising divorce rate? I don’t think he should have weighed in at all, but since he’s an outspoken monarchist I’m not surprised that he did.

In an interview with SongFacts.com KISS bassist and frontman Gene Simmons told people suffering from depression “Fuck you, then kill yourself.” As you can imagine, and especially with the news soon after of Robin Williams suicide, this did not go over well. A number of people have responded with variations of the theme ‘Gene Simmons is a douchebag who needs to pull his head out his arse’ (Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx probably said it best with “I don’t like Gene’s words. There’s a 20-year-old kid out there who is a kiss fan and reads this and goes, ‘He’s right. I should just kill myself.'”) and Australian Radio station Triple M took the step of removing all KISS songs from their playlists. Simmons has since apologised on twitter for his remarks, but a lot of people are still unhappy.

And with that, let’s leave it and see what happens this week.

The news last week (4/8/14)

And so the world has spun right round (right round) another seven and a bit times. What’s been happening?

A tentative ceasefire between Israel and Hamas broke after it was believed a young Israeli soldier was kidnapped/captured (tomato/tomato), who has since been killed in action (though whether by Palestinian suicide bomber or in the assault meant to rescue him is unclear). Despite hopes that Israel might be planning on withdrawing ground troops now that it’s objectives are supposedly close to completion, and despite heavy international pressure (on both sides) for a diplomatic solution, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to talk tough, saying troops were being redeployed not withdrawn. Meanwhile confusing statements by the IDF and the collapse of a humanitarian ceasefire have left many Palestinian civilians stranded in live fire zones.

The bloodshed in Ukraine looks like it might finally be coming to a conclusion, with rebel strongholds Donetsk and Luhansk being brought under siege by government troops. They have a long way to go, since the rebels are still apparently receiving support from Russia (who just don’t know when to quit, do they?) but Kiev is confident of victory, or at least looks confident. Colonel General Valeriy Heletey, the Ukrainian Defence Minister has said that while they are close to the rebel controlled crash site they will not fight over the area until international forces have completed their search for remains and evidence. Dutch and Australian police have spent the last week combing the area for the remaining (up-to) 80 missing bodies.

In lighter news, the Aussie PM has apparently shelved his ridiculously unpopular Paid Parental Leave scheme until next year, rather than go through the embarrassment of having it voted down by members of his own party. It was unpopular with voters, unpopular with business (who were the ones who were going to pay for it) and it was unpopular with Coalition MPs and Senators, many of whom seem to be indicating it’s less breaking an election promise and more finally bloody pulling his fingers out of his ears and opening his bloody eyes.

In less lighter news Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is disputing claims by psychiatrist Dr Peter Young that the department specifically told International Health and Medical Services to not publish a report about the rates of mental illness amongst children in detention. True or not, a growing number of Christian leaders are calling upon Abbot and Morrison (who claim to men of faith, though I’m unconvinced it’s the Christian kind) to get these kids out of prison camps. What was that Jesus said about “As you do unto the least of these”?

God this is depressing.

Argentina has defaulted for the eighth time on July 30. There’s still a chance they can salvage the situation quickly enough to avoid serious damage to their economy (S&P reversing their downgrading of Argentine debt, for instance) if they can find a solution that both satisfies the so-called ‘vulture’ funds and doesn’t make the President and her government look stupid after all the time they’ve attacking said funds (and the New York judge, court appointed mediator and banks). I’ll admit I’m not feeling a lot of sympathy for President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her economic ministers (not quite a SCHADENFREUDE! moment, but not far off). Could be I find it hard to feel sympathy for a government that believes populist name calling and political melodrama are viable alternatives for, ya know, a negotiated solution that minimises or negates economic impact. Or it could be I don’t like her hair and taste in clothing. Who knows?

The Commonwealth Games have come to a conclusion and Australia’s made it through with a solid medal tally. Massive props to all of those who wore the green and gold. I’m gonna miss all the ‘I shoulda won! The ref was corrupt!’ rants from the losing boxers.

And that was a bit of what happened last week.