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.

“Oh, did my accent throw you off?” Or why I’m loving Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a lot of stupid bloody fun. A lot of fun. The combat is quick and frenetic, the air boost (a double jump mechanic) is a nice addition that adds another dimension to the battlefield, the enemies are varied enough to keep things interesting (though repetition is inevitable) and the loot is, as expected, plentiful. There are flaws, of course. Clearing the same areas over again to complete side quests can be a slog, as can be navigating ‘platforming sections’ around insta-death lava. The campaign feels a little short (something that will probably be ‘fixed’ with DLC). A few characters skip being fun and go straight to being annoying (for example I think the internet so far has come to the agreement that Pickle sucks, though I don’t have anything against the kid personally, but hey I loved Tiny Tina right from the beginning). The Borderlands series lives and dies on its sense of humour though (crude, full of pop-culture references and not everyone’s cup of tea) and The Pre-Sequel delivers not just in spades, but in Australian spades (which are generally poisonous, covered in sharp teeth and usually aquatic).

This isn’t surprising given that the game was developed by Canberra based company 2K Australia, and just about every review I’ve read makes mention of it. Locations like ‘The Grabba’ (which many a cricket fan will notice as joke on The Gabba), references to a ‘First Fleet’ arriving on the already occupied moon Elpis (also part of Australia’s colonial history), outlaw bosses called Red Belly (who wear armour based upon the bush ranger Ned Kelly), a quest that’s an ode to ‘Banjo’ Paterson given by an NPC named Peepot and the absolutely hilarious talking shotgun ‘Boganella’ (I think I’ve already explained what a bogan is) give the game a distinct cultural flavour.

Given my own self-superior Australian nationalism (that I’m sure has come through in previous posts) it’s not surprising that I’d enjoy seeing such a strong Australianess (that is now a word) in a mainstream game, but what I really love about The Pre-Sequel is that they got it so right. I think the fact that Australian writers were writing Australian stereotypes kept the referential humour on the right side of the line between funny and cringe-inducing. Part of this is because they don’t rely on the typical icons and symbols to create that Aussie image. There’s no glaring Harbour Bridge, Opera House or Bondi Beach equivalents, creating a Space Sydney for a few iconic money-shots (and it would be Sydney, since what the fuck does anyone remember about Melbourne’s skyline?). There’s not any space crocodiles, kangaroos and emus. Nor is there a Kraggon Hunter or Shuggarath Dundee. The real joy, however, comes from the fact that they actually talk like Australians do. I’m not talking about the slang either, especially since there’s more than a little would be considered ‘old-fashioned’ at best (can’t remember ever hearing someone use the word ‘bonzer,’ even ironically, but I hope it makes a comeback – it’s a lotta fun to say). What I’m talking about is that the Aussie NPCs have a consistent grammatically Aussie way of speaking.

I think I counter example first might help me explain what I mean a little better. A few years ago I was a reading some science fiction novel I picked up on the kindle store for 99 cents or some other small amount. I can’t remember which one exactly, and that isn’t important right now. What is important is that it was written by an Yank, with a couple of Yank protagonists that encountered a working class, salt-of-the-earth, old-fashioned slang spouting Australian. Anyway, the character used a word that stuck with me because it was inconsistent with the slang and background he’d been using up to that point. That word was ‘tussle’. Sounds a bit ridiculous, I know, but when this largely forgotten character said he’d been hurt in a fucking ‘tussle’ I… winced… maybe… I forget, but I definitely reacted. Because this hard-swearing, hard-drinking, outback-living stereotype would never use a word like ‘tussle’. He’d say he was in a ‘punch-up’. Or if he’s really fair dinkum (heh) he might’ve called it a ‘blue’. Hell, he might’ve just called it a fight. But no bloody way would he call it a goddamn ‘tussle.’ Same as there’s no bloody way we’d “throw another shrimp on the barbie,” since we say ‘prawn’ not ‘shrimp’ (and as much as we love seafood you’re far more likely to see a piece of lamb and a few snags on an Australian barbecue).

Y’see using correct sounding slang isn’t enough, you need to use the right words, grammar and cultural quirks. That’s what makes the NPCs in The Pre-Sequel so refreshing, especially Janey Springs (I’d assume named after Alice Springs) who is the most vocal of the Aussie vocals. Little things like that Janey uses ‘ruddy’ instead of ‘bloody’ and the matter of fact way she tells us “Yep, gonna hurt lots” when we act as a human spark plug, the speed with which Red and Belly speak with each other (we tend to speak very quickly), a Scav using the adjective ‘sick-arse’, the name ‘Scav’ itself (The Pre-Sequel’s version of Bandits from the previous games) which is just shortened from ‘Scavenger’ (shortened words being the bulk of Australia’s additions to the English language), an echo recording of a graphic designer (complaining about incorrect font used on the Oz kits) who appropriately sounds like a Bondi Hipster

I’m not foolish enough to imagine that the “foreign writers don’t know how we talk!” problem is unique to Australia. I imagine that Belgians grind their teeth at their portrayal on French television, and God knows Aussie writers aren’t always kind to New Zealanders (even in The Pre-Sequel there’s a distinct-sounding, ‘bruv’-spouting Gladstone Katoa). But that’s for other people to worry about. I also know that I’d be enjoying this game without the Australianess, if Janey was flirting with Athena in an American accent or in Chinese. As I said in the first paragraph, it’s a lot of fun. But right now, if you ask me what I love most about this game I’d tell you it’s driving through Burraburra with a familiar accent telling me how much Kraggons suck. And they really do suck.

I’m hoping though that any future DLC will include an enemy called a ‘drop bear’. That would be awesome.

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.

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.