The torch and the trainwreck.

Not gonna lie, I’m pretty bloody excited about the Olympics starting soon.

Now, going by all the people I’ve spoken to about the imminent start of one of the world’s largest competitive events, a few of you might read that and immediately think “Me too! Me too!” Some of you might even say it out loud, perhaps expecting a verbal reply from whatever screen you’re reading this on, a reply that will never come. A lot more of you would probably respond with a resounding “meh.”

The lead up to the Rio Olympics has been even more miserable than the lead-up to the Brazil World Cup and the Sochi Winter Olympics were. At least the Brazilians enjoy football and Russia only hates you if you’re gay, have skin a shade darker than fresh snow or a woman who doesn’t know her place is in the kitchen making Vladimir Putin some borscht. The Zika virus, an unfinished village, security concerns (including but not limited to kidnapped tourists, athletes and Bernie Eccleston’s fuckin’ mother-in-law), more than a little political upheaval (including but not limited to protests by the Brazilian people against spending all that money on fancy stadiums instead of schools, hospitals and probes into public sector corruption), and whatever the fuck’s going on with the Russian team (so the track-and-field team are unbanned but the weightlifting team are completely banned? Is that it? I’ve lost track). The London Olympic games opening ceremony was a celebration of British institutions (the monarchy, the NHS) and culture (James Bond, Dizzee Rascal and the Arctic Monkeys), while all that we’ve heard about the Rio opening ceremony is that they’re gonna fill the stadium with nearly naked samba dancers – in the hopes that a bunch of swinging tits will distract from the fact that half the lights don’t work and the toilets are broken. When Australia’s chef de mission, Kitty Chiller, got angry about the atrocious state of the athlete’s accommodation the mayor of Rio offered to put a kangaroo in front of their rooms to make them feel at home, a statement that I’ve since seen carried on international news and social media (as was the mayor blinking first and sending in repairmen until Miss Chiller was satisfied. Apparently you don’t fuck around with the Green and Gold’s chef de mission).

I love a good bloody trainwreck. And there’s no doubt that this Olympics has so far been a trainwreck. More spectacle than the games themselves are likely to be.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the games as well. Watching my fellow Aussies compete and/or win on the world stage is always something special, and I’m a competitive bastard. But it’s been tough to get excited really excited about them over here in Vancouver. Canadians just don’t care about the summer games all that much, not like we do back home. Honestly, they don’t get excited about many sports except ice hockey. As any experienced spectator will tell you the energy of the crowd you’re in is everything.

I’ll still watch the games and cheer on the Green and Gold. ‘Cause I’m an Aussie, and it’s in the blood. But what I’m real excited for is watching the spectacle of the Olympics themselves.

Now, we might be worrying (or hoping) over nothing. The games could be a flawless affair filled with completely intentional spectacles without a single athlete getting mugged. But that’s what I’m excited for.

Does that make me a horrible person? Absolutely. No doubt. I am fucking terrible. But it comes from a sense of morbid curiosity. If something is a disaster, I like to know why. I like to see it for myself, so I can form my opinions wherever possible. Not trying to excuse it, just explain.

So good luck Rio. We’ll be watching.

View from across the Ocean (14/7/16): Election results and other inevitabilities

Well, I feel like this week has been one long list of “it was going to happen eventually” moments, followed by a fair bit of “now what?”

Let’s see: the election in Australia has finally been called in the Coalition’s favour and Malcolm Turnbull is still the PM (and there was much rejoicing); over in the UK David Cameron has announced that Theresa May – the Eurosceptic who campaigned Remain – will be replacing him as the PM, then hummed a jaunty tune in what was possibly the most English way of saying “It’s your problem now! Peace bitches!” possible; Bernie Sanders finally – bloody finally! – endorsed Hillary, finally realising that he was beaten and that no one except the diehards who couldn’t take a hint (basically, Tumblr) were listening to him anymore; and hey, the Hague declared in the Philippines favour, telling China that “nah mate, you can’t fish there. Or drill for oil.” China doesn’t want to take the hint.

So, now what?

Well, in Australia comes the tough job of figuring out who actually won the election and why. I mean, yeah, Mr Turnbull is still top dog, but the Coalition has been gutted and the terms and conditions of the alliance between Liberals and Nationals has been updated (something that Barnaby Joyce is keen to keep secret… wonder why?) Labor did far better than most analysts were predicting, Shorten is secure in the leadership of the party and they’re setting themselves up for what’ll probably be short but bloody slog to the government benches. Over in the Senate, both major parties and the Greens lost seats to the Nick Xenophon Team (which really should have been named something like the Nick Xenophon Experience) and a resurgent, reawakened One Nation under Pauline Hanson (for fuck’s sake Queensland! This is why we can’t have nice things!) While the Coalition does have the slimmest of majorities necessary to run the lower house in their own right, they’re going to have to negotiate everything through an upper house that’s going to be hostile towards a fair bit of their ‘mandate.’ And I doubt they can pull of that double dissolution gag twice. So who won? In my opinion, moderate left progressives. But the explanation for why should get a post of its own.

In the UK, Theresa May is now the PM and she immediately came out and declared that the results of the Brexit vote will be respected. Brexit means Brexit and all that jazz. Far more worrying is that one of her most prominent appointments is Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, kinda crushing a lot of the hopes that they’d put someone capable of negotiating the best possible exit deal in the job. Yeah, it is not Boris. But Miss May still seems competent and calm enough, so the UK can still hope for a lot of sound compromises. We’ll just have to wait and see, and Miss May at the very least seems like the best option that was available. A lot will be answered by when she chooses to begin Brexit proceedings. On the bright side for the Tories, Labour is still a bloody mess.

In the US, Bernie Sanders did not follow through with plans to contest the primary all the way to the convention, finally realising that he lost (FAIR AND FUCKING SQUARE AS WELL YOU POLITICALLY IGNORANT FUCKING HIPSTERS). It’s not surprising, Hillary Clinton had already turned her attention away from the nomination and is gearing up for her fight against Trump and his Republicans, and even Democrats who supported Mister Sanders’ campaign, such as Elizabeth Warren, have joined the stage with Mrs Clinton against the great orange tide. What comes next? Well, the election for president builds up steam. Bernie fans either come together with the rest of the party and vote for the best possible candidate, or keep their fucking mouths shut when the Republicans come in and begin ripping the country apart with the super-duper right wing mandate they’re about to ratify. I don’t know. Hillary picks a VP, so does Trump this week for that matter (Governor of Indiana, I believe, is the favourite). I fucking hate American elections. Voters and pollies both just seem so fucking pathetic. Jesus Christ, I’m 25 and jaded by the political machinations of a country that doesn’t effect me at all. One question I want answered, ’cause I can’t be bothered googling it properly: How are we going to title Hillary Clinton? I used “Mrs” above, but are we going to use “Ms,” “Miss” or “Mrs”? They all feel really inappropriate, but I feel like it’s disrespectful to not use some sort of formal titling. Has she expressed a preference? ‘Cause obviously her opinion counts the most in such circumstances.

And then there’s China, who have already expressed plans to ignore the UN-backed ruling but nobody’s really sure how. Things are probably going to be a little gentle for a few weeks or months, while trade negotiations and G20 visits are going on, but everybody’s a bit worried about an escalation of Chinese military presence in the South China sea. Australia is rightfully concerned about confrontation with its largest trading partner. Canadian news and opinion has already moved on from what I’ve seen. Just thought I’d mention that, since I live here. Maybe I’m just not reading the right newspapers.

Anyway, talk more soon.

View from across the Ocean: A quick word on Brexit

There’s this song I really like by an Aussie guy called Chance Waters called ‘Maybe Tomorrow,’ an incredibly upbeat ballad about people predicting the end of the world. Here’s the film clip. It’s actually pretty delightful. As is the song.

Now this has really resonated with me for the past few days, what with half the internet screaming about the end of days because of the Brexit and Donald Trump and whatnot. Lot of anger and a lot more panic amongst the disenfranchised youth (yo! My people!) being sparked by the angry and disenfranchised elderly (yo! Not my people, but if you’re reading this you’re obviously cool anyway!) But honestly, given all the Yanks on Tumblr and Twitter and whatnot who began telling their British followers to “stay safe” you’d be forgiven for wondering if all it takes to bring about the apocalypse is one shitty referendum result. Where’s Idris Elba when you need him?

No doubt the result is shitty. It’ll undoubtedly damage the UK’s economy and diplomatic standing for years to come, and could bring about the dissolution of the Union that was narrowly avoided less than a year ago. There’s more than a few people quite rightly concerned that old white bigots around the world are seeing this as an example of old white bigotry winning and will be emboldened to push for their own white bigot goals even harder (La Penn over in France has already begun talking about a similar referendum taking place in her own patch). Right wing populism is on the rise and the left is in shambles or dealing with its own dumb-arse populists doing more harm than good (*cough*Jeremy Corbyn*cough*Bernie Sanders*cough*).

But, y’know. The world will either keep on turning. Or it won’t, and we’ll all be too dead to care anyway. So cheer the fuck up, aye?

And stop getting so pissed off at old people. Yeah, I admit, my first thought when I heard about the Leave Campaign winning on the back of the over-fifties was “would it be too unconstitutional if we set an upper age limit for being allowed to vote?” After all, most countries have got a minimum voting age, so why not set a maximum? Then I remembered two things.

First, recent democratic disasters have been avoided thanks to the older vote. It was old Scots that voted no on leaving the Union last September when it would have been a really, really stupid idea (jury’s still out on whether leaving now would be better), and it’s been old Democrats who’ve recognised that shit’s more likely to get done under Clinton than Sanders. Both of those have been against the wishes of the vocal youth vote and, speaking as a relatively objective outsider with an education in politics and economics, were the right decisions.

Second, only a third of you fuckers voted. Seriously, something like only 36 percent of 18-24 year olds voted in the Brexit referendum. Lindsay Lohan gave more of a shit about the referendum than 64 percent of you. You don’t get to whine about all the old bastards making decisions that you’ll have to live with if you didn’t even try and participate in the decision making process yourselves.

But the world will keep on turning. Things are going to be pretty shit for a long time. For everyone, since it’s fucked the international economy pretty bad. Except for all those Aussies right now planning English holidays now that the Pound has taken a nose dive.

But the world hasn’t ended. So cheer the fuck up.

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 (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.

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.

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.

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.