Friday, November 27, 2009

Turnbull is no crusader for moderate liberals

Not this time. He had the potential. But even as he started tying the rope for himself on the ETS, he was still reffo bashing and playing to an even darker, more right wing audience than the ETS doubters.

So it actually makes no sense that he made a stand here. And while it may be tempting for we of the left to allow him the glory of his purported martyrdom, seen in context his conduct has little to commend it.

He chose to join the party that hogs the nomenclature of 'liberal' while taking, in most cases, conservative positions. He then fought hard, successfully, to lead it. True, he argues that he came to reform and modernise, but if anyone out there had the contacts, wealth, reputation and sheer bull headed confidence to start a new party it would have been him.

More importantly, when things started to sour, post Utegate, he did not hesitate to go into the muck with the very worst of the Right's dog whistling, race baiting, divisive, misleading use of the wretched asylum seeker as political pawn. Never mind the ETS, this was the real test of his 'liberal' character, ethics and bona fides. He failed spectacularly. He got into bed with Sophie Mirabella, she gave him fleas then unsurprisingly joined the deserters yesterday.

The 'fleas' will never leave him. No matter how high minded he feels about his present stand, it will always stain his record that he failed a handful of miserable people, fleeing a well documented war, well documented concentration camps in Sri Lanka, well documented bigotry and official discrimination, and in the process failed small L liberalism and any notion of modernising his party.

Which begs the question- why such a vehement stand on the ETS? I think it is an incredible case of pride and poor political judgement, rather than a noble stand for the future of humanity. I may be wrong, none of us can see inside Turnbull's head. But leaving the policy aside, and my personal preference for progressive action on emissions, his conduct in relation to his party and fellow parliamentarians was appalling, aggressive, and ultimately delusional. And surely if he had offered a conscience vote on the issue there would have been enough votes to get the ETS over the line, while allowing the god-and-sheep botherers their own version of integrity.

He's on his way down now. I don't mean to dig into him too hard, because on his failings I feel disappointment as much as anything. I resent, but understand, the unpleasant pressure and political compromise that led him to the path he took on refugees. I don't believe he believed in the gutter trawling policy position he allowed attack dogs like Mirabella to take.

He may yet spring up in politics somewhere, in a guise that more closely matches his more progressive liberal politics, perhaps even a party or organisation that would swear itself off race baiting, flag waving, god bothering and reffo bashing. You never know. And if he does, good luck to him...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blood as Bear bites tongue badly

It happened so fast I barely turned my head and it was done. She was wriggling forward on a fold-out chair, not minxing, just moving to the edge to get down, when it unbalanced- slammed - forward, her mouth hit the edge of the table, her head flew back and she fell underneath onto the paving.

She cried hard, in wave after wave, for a long time. Blood streamed out of her mouth, reminding me of the rivers of blood when I once bit through my own tongue, slamdancing to Lithium in the Sari Club back in the old days in Bali. My shirt was bright pink. I swapped her to the other side so she wouldn't see it, I held her for a long time, swaying, trying to say soothing stuff, failing.

I plopped her on the couch, she sobbed and sobbed there until, exhausted and shell-shocked, she fell asleep. We didn't have any kids' painkiller. Parents, simple lesson, always carry some baby Panadol or Nurofen when you travel. I walked with one of our nice hosts down to the nearest Chemist. It was closed. He drove me to another, where I nearly bought the older kids version before learning that Baby Panadol is more potent. Went for potent.

Beloved administered a generous dose to a rewoken Bear, who was sobbing again. Then we had to go to a wedding and leave Bear and Mitts with our trusted friends. I felt a bit sick.

The friends were wonderful, and soon after we left Bear calmed, perhaps helped by the drugs. She sat up past bedtime watching Monsters Inc, whatever that is, then announced when she was ready that she'd like to go to bed. I meanwhile spent the whole wedding telling people how I was the kind of dad who sits next to his daughter but fails to grab her in time as she falls off chairs and sustains bloody injuries.

There is still a big flap loose on her tongue. The nurse at Royal Children's said it's fine. But every time I think about it I feel a little queasy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Institutional Care - stuff we still do

Watching ABC2 this morning brought out historical experiences involving trauma, separated families and socially-endorsed institutionalisation. It was very moving. So were the stories from the people who experienced that in the past.

The earnest voices talked, with grave condemnation dripping from every word, of a time when children would be removed from home and placed in institutional or foster care, not because they were being raped or bashed by their parents, but because dysfunction or socioeconomic circumstances meant they weren't able to take care of their kids. We didn't have the same social welfare back then, they said.

I thought 'What, 5 years ago?' And did it really get better under the dying days of Howard as the pressure on the unemployed, single parents and the disabled was ramped up exponentially? Because I've encountered, for example, a situation where the only thing preventing a child from being with their family was the need for a particular support (for example drug and alcohol monitoring, or anger management counselling), but because of a waiting list or some other funding-related obstacle that support was not available, and so a child, a vulnerable, developing child, was removed or kept out of their family home.

We've all observed (or quietly looked the other way as it occurred, the natural consequence of hard nosed policies endorsed by the polity at the ballot box) the state going hell for leather to recover debts incurred accidentally by poor people who are supporting children- that is, to be clear, hauling those debt amounts out of the meagre budgets that would otherwise put food in kids' mouths.

The link between poverty, dysfuction and the state removing children is still alive and well. Choices, based on considerations ranging from budget priorities to voter-friendly headlines, are still made to the detriment of the individual family as a coherent entity. Or to the detriment of the 'best interests of the child'.

The story also included footage and discussion of these poor institutionalised kids being forced to march, decked out in military gear. Awful, said the tone of the announcers. Well, it seems it's horrific if decades ago they were doing that to orphans and wards of the state. It's not horrific if a kid today is sent to boarding school, or enrolled in cadets and taught to march and fire weapons, that's different because they have a choice. Their parents might make it for them, and they might do so under illusions created by fallacious notions and glossy brochures, but they are somehow part of a 'choice' that distinguishes them from other institutionalised kids.

We're so much better today, aren't we? I don't even need to get started on asylum kids, those queue-jumping ratbags aren't worthy of empathy until they have permanent residency.

Sure, things are better. Even between when I went to school and got the cane for being punched in the head, or for not making my bed in time, and the present, there has been notable improvement. But with such ritual distancing of the past as we are seeing today, we seem to be saying we're now civilised, that such things can't happen today.

Which is utter crap.

Update: Senator Fielding reveals his own abuse at the hands of a scoutmaster. There are not many times when I'm going to give him credit, but I think discussing this would be extremely painful and humiliating for him and he's brave for bringing it up.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget - The Abject Horror of Total War

What do we remember? What are we trying not to forget?

It is never clear if we are remembering solely to honour the fallen, a worthwhile task in itself no doubt, or whether we are remembering the democidal horror of war, of total war in particular, and the extraordinary folly and evil that combines to unleash it on humanity.

Memory is selective. Reflecting on my past couple of posts, there a proposition out there that anyone who reaches for the 'Hitler/Nazi' analogy should automatically lose an argument. I have some sympathy with this, but there is also an argument that says we have not learned the lessons of the past, whether from Nazism, Vietnam, or the Great War, and that lively recollection and debate about their relevance does no harm.

History weighs on my mind in many of Australia's racial, ethnic and population fault lines. I don't think about it because I want to be specious, I think about it because I've always been interested in history and I feel a certain churn in my stomach when I see things I thought and hoped I wouldn't see in my country. The Right has long relied on an extraordinary link drawn between the brutal totalitarian dictatorships of the 20th Century and wet, soft, democratically accountable government interference in the economy or the like. If such a self-evidently long bow, no not even a bow, a bamboo suspension bridge drawn into a hoop, can be given credence by any sane person, what is it about the Cronulla riots, the targetting of anyone of vaguely mediterranean appearance for brutal violence, the overt racial nationalism, that doesn't bring to mind the horror of the late 1930s and the vicious, paranoid bigotry unleashed upon the Jews?

It is not that there are pogroms, or mass murder. It is however that one thing led to another.

Behind such particular, smaller scale, analogies and partisan arguments, played out in nations largely benefitting from a sustained pax, there is the big thing that happened in the two World Wars. There is total war. Slaughter of millions. Loss of entire generations. Loss of cultures, great historical buildings and artifacts, loss of humanity.

I don't think we remember that, not really, and I don't think it's an issue of left or right. My greatest fear is not World War II, the model of the rampant dictator who can't be placated, but of the Great War, the combination of belligerent (if not quite Hitler-esque) leaderships, appalling diplomatic blunders, and the suction created by a set of interwoven alliances that draws nations that have no real gripe with each other into an unending slaughter.

Over all the others, all the other sacrifice, all the blunders and all the worthy causes properly fought for, it is the Great War I remember.

It is the Great War that we are most at risk of repeating. We, being Australia, not America, not China, not Japan. Australia. Lest we forget.

More comment on what I've suggested here over at LP.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Learning to Love Ratios - border security edition




(all approximates)

Clues: Indonesia, boat arrivals, successful asylum seekers, overall migration, Australia.

Non-refoulement- just like Climate Change, only crunchy!

Barnaby Joyce is right, of course. The solution is we should send them home. They include terrorists, there are millions of hundreds of them, we can't fit them all, there's a queue after all, just inside the gate of the biggest Tamil internment camp, self determination is a lefty plot to overthrow the world and replace it with latte, imagine if we'd said yes to all those Jews back in the late '30s, after all?

Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, took place on this date in 1938. Jews weren't particularly popular with the moral majority back then...

Codified within the 1951 Geneva Convention and 1967 Protocol, the principle of non-refoulement arises out of an international collective memory of the failure of nations during World War II to provide safe haven to refugees fleeing certain genocide at the hands of the Nazi regime.

Memory indeed, lest we forget.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Stay at home dadding

I've take a few days off to cover Beloved's return to work, a day a week, up to the end of the year. I took the first last week. Though as longer term readers will know I was on a 4 day week for a while with Bear alone, this was the longest I've spent on sole care of the kids, now there are 2.

It was hard of course, but fun. I had learned a lesson from the early days with Bear that if you try to fit complex things into your day it can all go pear shaped. This is more flexible once you've been doing it for a while, know the routine inside out and can balance 2 poos in one hand while finishing off a Thomas the Tank Engine jigsaw with the other.

As a moment of relief from my gibbering, I present an old school friend, one of the recipients of the email that led to my reunion post, who is now a proper home dad and blogging about it: Aussie House Dad.

Beloved is sometimes pretty strained on those long days at home with 2 kids, especially when Bear decides to push the boundaries at crucial moments of stress. I did appreciate this, but lasted approximately 3 hours before my own best efforts started to deteriorate. Mitts was starting to holler for food (quite reasonably) and I was zooming around pulling lunch together in the kitchen. I'd agreed to make Bear some eggs (a fave, along with sushi -!?!) and the balancing act was getting delicate. Bear decided to start pulling everything out of the cupboard and the poor girl accidentally poured couscous everywhere. In a slightly raised, firm voice I said something like "If you do that again SWEETheart I will NOT have time to cook your eggs!"

She ran immediately out of the kitchen and I followed her, realising instantly I'd been a bit too harsh. She went straight to the naughty corner and stood there, looking mortified. I didn't have a mirror dear reader but I am sure I looked pretty mortified too! A few hugs later and we were back in business (with another hug for Mitts of course on the way through) and food did, eventually, get served.


Bonding. Through triumph over adversity (my incompetence being a specific case of force majeure in the children's lives that must be overcome) we will have us some bonding.