Monday, March 28, 2011

NSW State of Mind

“What we have seen in NSW is not just the rejection of a Labor government, it is the rejection of Labor's style of government.” - Tony Abbott

“We're talking about a state election - after 16 years I don't think they made up their mind on the basis of events in the last few weeks. I think they made up their mind a long time ago...The message here, I believe, is people want to see you make progress, not play politics.” - Julia Gillard

There's no question that the NSW election was a "bloodbath", "landslide", etc. etc. But you know what it also was?

Inevitable. We knew this coming up to the election, we knew this when the election was called, we knew it every moment Keneally spent in the campaign. Keneally knew it too. She knew it when she clearly started working on her winning, gracious concession speech. She knew it when she wrote a letter to The Australian in the style of Raymond Chandler.

There's a reason everyone felt for Keneally when she took over the leadership - it was already done and dusted. She was the rider chosen to ride the dying horse into the ground, and she was expected to be happy about it and thank NSW ALP for the opportunity.

She's NSW's Joan Kirner. And just like Kirner, her personal polls remained high while the ALP's as a whole went down the drain. One might ask why the ALP likes to keep their most popular leaders (oh, they also just happen to be female, but I'm sure that's nothing to do with it) for the shit sandwiches they're no longer sure they can feed to the electorate. Especially when they apparently want them to eventually go federal.

Keneally knew this was the case, which is why the only "sad" pictures they can get of Keneally from her concession speech are a selection from a scant few frames when Keneally stopped to look down at notes or looked up. Anyone who saw the speech knows there was very little negative emotion in her concession.

And of course, because it tells the story they want, the media are using these one or two images at every given opportunity.

Speaking of shit sandwiches, even ALP MPs are saying it was ridiculously inevitable. So inevitable in fact, they're kind of happy it wasn't as bad as they thought it was going to be. That's right, the worst election result in the history of the ALP, "not so bad".

So, that's why it's laughable that Abbott suggests that the NSW election is a microcosm of the federal situation. He wants people to forget the fact that Gillard is actually ahead in the polls after the announcement of the Carbon tax, using the very recent memory of the Carbon Tax rally last week (which itself was a bit of smoke and mirrors to reflect "community concern" that is not widespread) to suggest that this is a wave of national disgust at Labor waste, taxing and levies. And eventually, Labor won't be able to handle the heat because THEY WON'T BE ABLE TO AFFORD TO TURN ON THE AIR CONDITIONER.

Am I doing that right? I'm not sure I'm going hard enough on the crazy.

But it's bullshit. And I think everyone (except maybe the staff at The Australian) know that's the case. Does it mean that NSW Labor Right is on the nose? Yes, and rightfully (pardon the pun) so. And that's been something that's been becoming evident in recent days to the federal government in any case (they're running just a little behind the rest of us).

But in NSW itself, Barry O'Farrell could have promised to kill first-borns and he would probably still have been in with a chance.

The only way that this becomes about federal politics is if Gillard lets Abbott make it about federal politics.

My only concern?
"I believe the people of NSW know the difference between state issues and federal issues" - Julia Gillard
I really hope so. But I wouldn't bank on it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Who's the boss?

"We took the name Liberal because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary, but believing in the individual, his rights and his enterprise, and rejecting the Socialist panacea."

Robert Menzies
Regulating the price of milk, the price of beer, bank reform (and regulation), "direct action", a "small Australia"... do any of these sound the acts of a "liberal" party?

We know the catch cry of the Coalition at the moment is that Bob Brown is the real Prime Minister (something that in itself ignores the fact that Bandt is the Green in the House of Reps), based on the policy direction of the ALP, but who is the real leader of the Opposition?

Based on the activities of the Coalition in the recent past, I'm going to suggest it's Warren Truss (or, to make a hypocrite of me with my earlier criticism of the Brown/Bandt difference, Barnaby Joyce). I know Turnbull is often said to be the ALP voter's favourite choice for Coalition leader, but I can't help but feel that he wouldn't have been out there yesterday in front of those signs at the No Carbon tax rally with Truss (edit: and this confirms Turnbull's position).

There's a certain flavour of "countrymindedness" (the old Country Party slogan) to Abbott's Coalition.

Bob Brown is not the Prime Minister. But who's leading the Opposition?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Own goals and cheapshots


The "No Carbon Tax" protest rally (or #noCTrally for those of us on twitter) was held today in Canberra (and allegedly across the country, but the focus was on those bused in to the capital).

I'm not going into the politics of the debate itself, except to say I obviously disagree with it, and I feel that it's another appropriation of Tea Party methods, and the Republican-esque milking of it by the Liberal party is a sad reflection on the states of politics in Australia at the moment. I don't think it's ever a good sign that someone who could potentially have been PM (as we're constantly reminded) stands in support of a crowd that carries signs claiming the current PM is a bitch, liar, communist or fascist, or where sections of the crowd are apparently making anti-semitic comments and tying them to the carbon tax.

There are echoes of the billionaire RSPT rally in this, and I think it's equally as (in)valid as a reflection of the Australian public.

What I want to talk about, though, is the problem of a lot of the comments in response to the rally today, and maybe it speaks to the state of politics on both sides at the moment.

It didn't take a genius to see the mean age at the rally was probably about 60 (I'm really not joking about this - the fact a 70-year-old woman had to be treated by a doctor on site is an indication this was not your typical protest rally). Numerous comments were made about this, and on a purely "news" level, it's important to note.

And then, people who were clearly in opposition to the rally (me included), started to make jokes about the age of the protestors. It was humorous at first, Ben Pobjie (@benpobjie) making a commenting that the government was spreading rumours of "Midsomer Murders" being on to dissipate the crowd, several people noting (something based in fact) that most of these people were likely to be dead by the time any impact of climate change was felt (or possibly before the policy itself was even implemented). I myself tweeted, '"attention #noCTrally: your demands have been met, the BBC is filming new episodes of the Bill, you can all go home." *disperses*"' (retreated by a few people - someone cleverly pointed out that ITV actually made the Bill, but I digress). @ABCNewsIntern (an account I generally find hilarious, and a real minor celebrity on twitter) started with an hilarious comment, 'This week, "No Carbon Tax" rally. Next week, "Increase the Pension (Don't Make Me Eat Dogfood)" rally. Same people.' - and then proceeded to post over ten tweets of retirement denialism (you kind of have to see the stream to see what I mean).

A few of these tweets, particularly those above, made me stop. I suddenly thought - how does this look? We are sitting here and lamenting the disgusting personal attacks of this crowd (which is a fair call), and at the same time we're attacking this crowd based on their age. And they're voters. I mean, they're idiots (I will happily argue with you on this if you disagree), but apart from the suggestion that some may actually never feel the effects of climate change, age shouldn't really be a factor.

The science holds up, and the logic of the argument for a tax and/or a carbon trade system holds up economically. So why play the man? It cheapens the argument.

More than that, it plays into people's expectations of the left, and of twitter itself as a medium: that we're all out of touch greenies, that we're latte drinking young professionals who live in the city, that we're only interested in ourselves (the irony of this is ridiculous given the protestors today) and are not interested in those people on lower wages or (specifically here) pensions and can afford to pay for our idealism where "average australians" can't. It's also harder, and a touch hypocritical to then slam the crowd for making personal attacks on Gillard, Bob Brown (who responded magnificently to some in the crowd's suggestions that Gillard was his "bitch" with this letter), Garnaut, et al.

It's a small (perhaps petty) point, but I think one that should be made. Australian politics, I would like to think, or at least hope, is better than Tea Party protests and a bitter twitter stream response. Even if it's for a larf. See also suggesting that Christopher Pyne is gay for a joke, as rightly slammed by Mark Colvin (@colvinius) when it appeared on the "Q and A" on screen stream.

Which, I suppose, brings me to something else that my tweet stream seemed to go a little crazy over today:

Now, there are many reasons to hate McCain, and many reasons he would have been a horrible President. This is not one of them. It's a tweet from August 2009, at a time when America was largely apathetic towards Qadhafi. I think an "interesting meeting with an interesting man" is diplomatic speak for "that man is a fucking basket case". And lets face it, if you asked Obama about Qadhafi on the record a month ago, you would have got a similar response. It's called diplomacy. And if we're going to pin the US for supporting Qadhafi through hands-off diplomacy over the years, the Democrats are just as guilty as the Republicans. It's just a cheapshot.

The left seems to have taken to heart the long spouted accusation that they/we just don't "want it enough" to fight dirty. That our politics has got a stage where that's what we have to do to move anything, we have to wonder what kind of political system we, the people, are really encouraging as voters.

For further reading/listening, listen to the Life Raft Debate segment from "Save the Day", a This American Life episode, where Jon Smith argues that the dumbing down of education to maintain waning student attention is analogous to the current state of political debate.

Monday, March 21, 2011

We (don't) need a hero

This is the wonder, and shame, of the internet. A kid gets bullied, snaps, picks the bully up and throws him to the ground (thankfully not breaking the bully's spine or cracking his skull, more on that later), someone else records it all on a camera phone.

The video is uploaded to youtube and through this and various other channels goes viral. It builds hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of hits across various mediums. It gets covered on Australian news, it gets covered on US news, it ends up on The View. The kid (Casey Heynes) ends up on a special event ACA. The bully ends up on an apparently competing Today Tonight.

Virtually every time the video plays, someone says "wow, good on him, what a hero."

And then comes the rage at the fact the school has suspended him for "standing up for himself".

He "snapped". The language around his "snapping" generally empathises with his response - the weight of the teasing was just so heavy that he finally reacted, without thought. And good on him! He's been teased for years, and this was the instance that finally made him stand up for himself, and show them who's boss.

But, as John Birmingham points out, he didn't just stand up for himself. He responded completely disproportionately to what he was facing. He picked a child three years younger than him up and threw him onto the ground, with force. And while this may (I don't remain convinced it will, either, try being the "crazy kid") stop him getting abused at school, what about the 12 year old who could potentially have been fatally injured in this response?

We have to put this in context - in how many situations as an adult would "I just snapped" be reasonable? And, in formative years, isn't it important that when children or teenagers overreact, or act in a way that is inappropriate, that we coach them this is not okay?

Hence the suspension. But who cares about a suspension when you're the king of every oppressed child everywhere (or their parent, or an adult who is apparently living through their teen years), right?

So while we all hold Casey Heynes up as a hero, we have to wonder what reinforcing this behaviour does in the wider community. If Casey intends to confront everyone who attempts to bully him in the future with this kind of force, then he's going to have bigger issues as an adult than a punch in the face from a twelve year old. He's either going to end up in jail, or he's going to bite off more than he can chew.

What happens when the next person being teased takes a leaf from Casey's book, uses their advantage and picks up a piece of timber and beats his oppressor over the head?

But, beyond all this, what about the bully? What if he'd had his spine broken in that reactive move? Would we still be championing Casey "standing up for himself? It wasn't very far from happening. Anyone watching the video for the first few times will breathe in sharply, then try and work out, as the bully hobbles around, if he's actually walking on a broken leg, or possible more seriously injured.

And that's a fair concern. The school has just as much of a duty of care for the bully, and the bully, while acting in a heinous manner, had every possibility of being seriously injured in that swift fall to the ground.

The very fact that we're talking about this in terms of "the bullied" and the "bully" is loaded. The "bully" is a kid too, a twelve year old at that, and I dare say he's got a reasonably long life ahead of him, and a fair amount of growing up to do. But hey, once a bully always a bully, hey? Life's over at twelve kid - just be glad it's not actually over - you were on the wrong side of the narrative.

So what's my point? There's not a person alive who won't have some experience of bullying - usually from both directions. Whether it's verbal, emotional or physical. It's easy to remember, and empathise with, the time we were the bullied, rather than the bully. But I'd like to think in those few times, pre-adulthood, where I was in the regrettable position of being the bully (I must say, never physical), that if someone potentially fatally injured me, that they would be reined in, and appropriately disciplined. And so should I be for being the instigator. But the threat of permanent injury should not be taken lightly.

So, does Casey Heynes deserve some understanding for the way he reacted? Damn right. Does he deserve a suspension to think about how he reacted, and for his parents to heed the warning signs? Definitely.

Is he a hero? No.