Category Archives: Politics

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) – thoughts

Sydney plays host to a wonderfully titled “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” on an annual basis, and this year was my first time attending. I love events like this, and need to make more of an effort to go to these things in future.

Below are some of my thoughts on the topics covered over the two days.

Session 1 – New Religion v New Atheism – Peter Rollins and Lawrence Krauss

So, in the interests of full disclosure – I’m an atheist. I’m irreligious and it’s not that I have a war to reconcile some inner conflict with a set of beliefs or anything. It’s just that I have no space where religion would be. Equally, though, I’m not hostile to religion. I think using science to disprove religion is like using apples to disprove chocolate. In my mind there’s no question that evolution and the big band and all that are probably true based on the evidence, but that’s because I don’t trade in faith as a currency. Religious people do, so you need to barter in a currency they recognise. Merely telling them how wrong they are is not discourse, it’s throwing pitch from atop an ivory tower.

So I’ve always felt more aligned with Christopher Hitchens than Richard Dawkins, for example.

This explains why I knew little of Krauss beforehand, and nothing of Peter Rollins. The good news I now know Krauss, as a physicist, has written a book I will likely never fully comprehend. I’m still not sure what Rollins stands for… but I was engaged with his ideas.

In short, from what I can tell from his talk (and Wikipedia), Rollins is to modern Christianity what Jesus was to Judaism – a radical reformer (and equally, you know, not magical). Like most evangelical movements, he seems to (and I could be wrong here, which isn’t my fault – this stuff was incredibly hard to pin down) advocate for a direct connection to God, bypassing church structures entirely. He also seems to employ philosophy, psychological and catharsis as the basis for his dogma, which I guess means he’s a like a Buddhist Christian. Paradoxical, I know!

This session suffered from dual problems of the lack of clarity of Rollins’ argument – though to be fair I found myself wishing more Christians shared his open-mindedness – and Krauss being an arrogant asshole the whole time. I wish I could say something better, but…

Session 2 – The End of Men – Hanna Rosin

I love Hanna Rosin. I want to get that out in the open first and foremost.

I first discovered Hanna Rosin through her contributions to the weekly Slate magazine discussions on Mad Men. I liked her take, which was usually the most refreshing of the three commentators, and clicked through to her other works. You’ll notice i commented on one her articles in this blog, regarding the “77% pay claim”.

Rosin wasn’t served by just an hour to speak and I feel like we could have had a day in exploring the issues she raised. For those who don’t know – in 2010, Rosin noted a tipping point moment had occurred – in the US, women’s participation in the workforce was greater than men’s participation. Expanding on this idea was a question around whether the new work paradigm, with diminishing emphasis on labour, would suit women’s skills better. Rosin expands this in her book (of the same title), which I need to read in its entirety soon.

To be clear, Rosin’s not arguing for the end of men as a species – she rejects the argument that women would be softer and more gentler if men were swept aside, as well as the concept that men could just be harvested for sperm – but rather, that the end of the era in which being male was an automatic leg up, a dominant benefit, is ending. Results support this thesis and I can’t actually bring to mind any issues with this idea.

(The Atlantic – The end of men: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/308135/)

Panel – The world is not ready for women in power – Hanna Rosin, Arlie Hochschild, Dr Vandana Shiva, and Anne Summers

This panel was wonderful, exploring some great ideas but suffering from some pitiful questions from the floor and inadequate time to really get good discussion going. It was the only panel I saw but I feel like 90mins might be a better time for panels in future.

The takeaway quote from the session had to be, in my mind, Dr Shiva’s when she said “It’s not the end of the era of men, but the dawn of a new era of men”. I like this idea, because rather than calling it feminism – which to some is a dirty word – it’s just accepting a new normal paradigm is emerging and that we should get comfortable with it.

Session 4 – Some are more equal than others – David Simon

David Simon is a writer whose work I’ve enjoyed sadly only in the field of television. I really want to, and need to, get a hold of his books The Corner and Homicide, which were the inspiration for the shows The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street. In addition to these shows, Simon has penned the adaptation of Evan Wright’s book Generation Kill, about the First Marine Recon division during Operation Iraqi Freedom; and the show Treme, which deals with New Orlean’s slow and steady crawl back from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

The Wire, as a show, is revolutionary in my view. It firstly didn’t so much change the police procedural show as it threw it in the dirt, tore it up, and started again. If you haven’t seen it, start with Season 1 and thank me later.

SImon’s talk, with its title lifting from the allegorical novella Animal Farm (also, actual animal farm – thanks Archer!), focused on the concept of a two tiered America; a land of opportunity and a land of abject poverty within a few blocks on one another. Miles apart, but worlds away (the US is rated the 39th most unequal nation on Earth using the Gini coefficient).

Simon begins his talk with reference back to Marx – Karl, not Richard or Groucho. He will keep touching on the point but really he uses Marx the way I used Lenin’s seminal essay Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. As you would expect, the writer Simon is more elegant than this guy, and phrases it that Marx was a better diagnostician than he was clinician. He could diagnose the flaws inherent in capitalism but had no workable solutions to it (and there are people who feel that a full and unfettered socialisation of all industry with complete or near complete redistribution of wealth is still viable. They’re wrong, and every example in history right up to and including Venezuela shows this. Socialism fails to provide incentives to risk take or innovate, and cannot overcome this obstacle).

Simon then touches on, though he doesn’t expressly say this, but a period in liberal thinking after James Mill published his work but before John Stuart Mill had finished his input – socialism. Socialism came along and liberals felt that the idea of a social welfare safety net was a good one, and incorporated it into liberalism and liberal writings (albeit a less radical iteration than the one the socialists of the day advocated). Interesting fact: the first instances of the modern welfare state, shaped by this thinking, were implemented by conservative Otto von Bismarck.

Simon argues for a New Deal-esque fusion of socialism’s focus on equality and safety net, and capitalism’s respect for private enterprise and wealth creation. It’s actually, to me, a compelling point and it’s caused me to rethink my attitudes. See, as Simon points out, there’s little left when capitalism wins all the ideological battles, except to go on winning. Again, without expressing it directly, he’s invoking Marx’s argument that capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction.

Previously I dismissed, say, Russell Brand’s diatribe that did the social media rounds as “the Revolution has begun! (…I don’t have to do anything, do I?)” and had a fairly cynical response to it. Every generation has radical youth, but this current generation was affected by a lifetime of laziness courtesy of PlayStation and MTV (etc etc). It would make some noise, get bored and move on. But Simon’s argument – and if you watch no other video here, watch his – was that in total victory, capitalism would continue without regard to a social compact. The tension between capitalism and socialism made capitalism better, because of the investment of all sectors in the outcome of the economy as a whole. In the unopposed victory of capitalism, the only motive that’s survived has been “I, me, mine.” As a result, the more vulnerable aspects of society get shut out and left behind and we all celebrate a world where, as the misquote actually goes, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good”.

(This argument starts from the 11min mark on the video.)

If history has shown us one thing other than that socialism will fail to work in every situation, it is that sustained economic disenfranchisement often leads to violence and radicalism. And herein lies Simon’s argument – bring back the social compact, scale back the greed, and let capitalism not only engender wealth but also engender a helping hand for those who need it. He doesn’t want me to earn the same as a factory worker, but he wants me to be ok with some of my tax being used to make the life of the factory worker a bit easier but covering some of his or her medical expenses with my tax (As you can imagine, the idiocy of the Republicans and their opposition to the Affordable Care Act – “ObamaCare” – came up as examples of people who forgot this).

If we don’t, it’s not going to end well.

The idea was, as expected, dangerous but I also think paradoxically it actually wasn’t. There is little to lose by ensuring that we don’t end up as unequal as the US, and we don’t need to sacrifice capitalism to do it.

Simon does a much better job articulating this than I do, but I’m going to rewatch the whole thing and take more notes.

Also, I have to say, of all the sessions I went to, this had by far the best question at the end – asking if America was the template for other nations, or a cautionary tale. Recommend you stick around for the answer.

Session 5 – Australian film premiere of ‘The Unbelievers’ – Lawrence Krauss

The Unbelievers calls itself a documentary, but it’s not. It’s more akin to a rock tour film like “The Song Remains The Same” etc. A backslapping celebration of the partnership of Richard Dawkins (the evolutionary biologist) and Lawrence Krauss as they tour the world extolling the virtues of science and making religious arguments look stupid.

Whilst the film did soften my view of Krauss from the previous day, it didn’t assuage my concerns about the Church of Science and Reason or “Sciencism” taking hold. The film uses a raft of celebrities to open it, but having Cameron Diaz “like, you know” an endorsement for the unlimited benefits of science is a poor way to start. Moreover, the film is so one sided that it ends up indulging in the cult of personality for its two mild-mannered scientist leads. They’re rock stars, cry the film makers. Worship them!

There are genuinely funny and interesting moments in the piece, but when the film makers said the film was intended to reach the fence sitter, I have to wonder what it does to the fence sitter? Shame them into compliance? This is a film that preaches (irony! Go me!) to the converted and will do precisely nothing in changing religious people’s minds.

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Turning back boats, “illegals”, and the problems with the politics of immigration

Of late I’ve been slack and terrible and all that about blogging, to which I blame some totally viable scapegoating solution.

The topic of people arriving in Australia by boat is that, at least to me, it’s a campaign of fear and ignorance colliding with… a campaign of fear and ignorance. There’s very little attempt to analyse the situation objectively and dispassionately by both the anti-crowd (whom many suspect of being racist) and the pro-crowd (who have built their ivory tower out of papier-mache. In the interests of full disclosure; 1) my father’s family came to Australia as refugees from the former Dutch colony of Indonesia following the latter’s independence, and 2) I worked for the Department of Immigration in a role closely aligned with promoting the contested “Pacific Solution”. So I’ve actually seen the inside of the proverbial sausage factory, as it were.

Recently, the Coalition government has elected to use the terminology “illegal arrivals” to describe people arriving in Australia by boat. It’s a curious phrase; David Marr, writing in the Guardian, noted that it’s not clear how they’re illegal. All done in prissy David Marr fashion (watch ABC’s Insiders when he’s on; you get the sense he’s brilliant but an insufferable twat in person) of course. He also asserts that under the Howard government – which was also my tenure at DIAC – used this term as well. This is not correct; the terminology I remember well, because it’s so astonishingly public service that it burns an impression into your mind: “unlawful non-citizens”.

I’m conflicted here though, because just how much I can or should reveal about what we were doing back then I’m not sure of. Suffice to say that our efforts at capacity building in the region were ignored by a media that’s proving 110% of the information to pro-boat arrival types; and that no mention of the immigration officials rotating out on a two- or three-monthly basis to work in refugee camps processing asylum requests occurred during my time there. Or, in simple terms – I’m willing to bet most people hold an opinion on boat arrivals, but that the opinion is missing such a substantial raft of facts and figures that it can justifiably be dismissed as adorably quaint.

Instead, what I will do is this – make a case for why a harsh and unwelcoming regime awaits anyone who attempts the journey by sea is more of a humanitarian effort than people realise.

I’ll start with another caveat – I left DIAC in March 2008 so my information is, at this point, 5 years out of date. I’ve not read any of the Department’s annual reports (but to be fair, none of you have either, ha!) so nothing is adjusted for recent figures.

If you want to understand the core mechanics of what drives people to make the journey to Australia by boat, in risky and dangerous conditions, stop doing what you’re doing now which is making an emotional judgement. Your heart is for feeling, your head is for analysis so use the head. It’s not about escaping from diabolical persecution, or dreaming of the opportunities a free liberal democracy can offer.

It’s about economics. Migration itself has always been a primarily economic concept – and before you pat yourself on the back for that “a ha!” moment as you point to people fleeing war with naught but their trousers, allow me to finish – and so when both Labor and Liberal governments categorise boat arrivals as “economic migrants”, they are actually accurate and this tallies with my experiences.

Anyone who has done basic economics will know that a simple risk matrix will risk and reward on your x and y indices and the higher you go along one index, the higher you go along another creating a nice, neat diagonal line away from the start. People who have made a decision to migrate do so based on having sufficient tolerance for the risks (culture shock, language barriers, incompatibility of skills etc) in order to take advantage of the rewards (higher earnings potential; greater job satisfaction and security; better opportunities for their kids). People who elect to migrate illegally to, say, Australia take on greater risks but proportionately, they see that they will reap rewards that justify the risks.

This isn’t to say, just so it’s clear, that people who arrive by boat aren’t leaving behind a pretty awful situation – it’s not. It’s indicating that in fact it’s probably a tonne better here than there. A question needs to be asked though, and in my view it’s one that’s not asked enough – either because people don’t consider it (the ignorance component I spoke of earlier), or because people don’t want the answer.

If a person arriving by boat is a genuine refugee as defined by the UN Convention, then why have they not approached an Australian diplomatic mission directly? Let’s assume they’re Afghans (fun trivia: Every time someone talks about people from Afghanistan as “Afghanis”, which is often, they’re actually talking about the currency. The people are Afghans. You can now mock their ignorance with haughty disdain, as you know better!). And let’s assume that they worry about approaching the Australian mission in Kabul due to reprisals – a fair assumption.

To get here by boat, they have to make an overland journey which usually ends in a country we used to define as a transit country for illegal migration (as opposed to a source country). Typically this is in SE Asia. Several embassies and high commissions are accessible to these migrants along the road, but they don’t take it. Why?

Enter the service provider in the illegal migration trade. The facilitator. Colloquially best known as “snakeheads” (after a Chinese smuggling gang), these gangs operate networks to smuggle people into countries in a variety of ways. We know how this happen by boat, but it’s also possible by air. Airlines work closely with the Department (through “ALOs” or Airline Liason Officers, a rotating three month post in key source and transit airports in the region) to detect and stop this, and there’s a hefty incentive on airlines to be vigilant – if someone arrives unlawfully in Australia the airline is responsible for repatriating them.

At the time I was involved in this the usual cost per person to be smuggled by boat was around AU$50,000 per head. It’s hard to know what the cost is now; the relaxation of some of the border controls by Rudd did not lessen the risk to the operators, but rather made it more likely a person who arrived would be able to stay.

Realistically, someone exploring this option doesn’t have that kind of cash. It could be argued this only highlights their desperation but I can’t accept that argument. People in refugee camps in, say, Thailand are also desperate, but they’re not stupid about it. If you are facilitating arrival by boat for a significant sum of money, you’re likely to have to do pretty inhumane things to repay it. By which I mean, indentured servitude until the debt’s paid off, such as manual labour or sex work (I know the Department used to routinely raid brothels for such a reason).

So let’s recap. You’ve avoided refugee camps and embassies to seek out people smugglers for an extraordinary sum of money and significant risk that you could lose your life at sea. To be fair, you get some training on what to do if the Navy intercepts you – you ditch your documents and say as little as possible to deny the Department officers the chance to identify you and your nationality. You figure if they can’t prove who you are they can’t send you back and will eventually release you… right?

If the message is one that says “sorry, you will not be welcome by boat. You will not be allowed to stay. You won’t even set foot in Australia if you try”, it creates a disincentive for people to risk life, limb and liberty (I don’t mean by being put into an immigration detention facility or “IDC”; I mean by being a slave for years until you pay back your debt if you have one) in a rickety boat. As I noted earlier, we do have Department officials in refugee camps and we are one of the few nations that takes refugees in. I’d also note our net legal migration has been generally increasing each year (2009-10 it slid back from 172K to 168K persons per annum; I’ve seen no explanation for this but it may be GFC related?) so we’re hardly turning people away.

So I guess the conclusion you’d have to reach is that people arriving by boat are circumventing the existing processes for migration by claiming asylum (when they are not fleeing actual persecution) on arrival. I would find it hard to explain to someone in a camp in, say, the Lebanon, fleeing persecution from one of the competing factions in the Syrian civil war, that they have to go through a certain process and they miss out (because there’s actually a thought process behind the allocation of visas and there are quantities each year) because someone threw dice in Kabul and decided to take the boat route. To me that just creates an argument that why not go by boat. It’s easier. I hate to use the phrase “queue jumper” because of it’s unpleasant associations, but…

I won’t disagree that mandatory detention is a harsh solution, but as an effective deterrent to that kind of activity I think it kind of has to occur. Politics is about tough decisions and utilitarianism demands we sometimes make those decisions for the greater good. I would much rather that we bring in actual refugees from actual warzones (like we did in 2006/7 with the Sudanese refugees we settled in… I want to say Bathurst?) and bring in 175,000 legal migrants from all over the world who enhance the multicultural tapestry of our society than have people arrive by boat. In fact, I would rather we said to people, “look, you’re not welcome to risk yours and your families life to come here by boat. Don’t bother, we’ll turn you away… if you take that route. But if you apply through the correct channels… we look forward to your arrival and our society will be enhanced by your being in it”.

That way nobody’s being pushed aside, nobody’s risking their lives at sea, and we’re not taking on more people than we can create jobs and opportunities for. How awful.

On Tony Abbott, “missing” ministries and women

So, once again that drunken asshole “real life” has conspired to keep me away from blogging; perhaps it too finds this stuff intolerable. Whatever. Jerk.

This week, my Facebook feed has been populated by people losing their shit over a lot of nothing, then an oddly muted response to “something”.

So, let’s try and take a look at this with the benefit of reason. That’s the trouble with the leftist crowd; they have lots of heart and figure they can apportion the extra “caring” to the brain to use in lieu of thinking. Physician, heal thyself and all that.

Oh my fuck, there’s no Minister of Silly Walks! THEY HATE SILLY WALKERS!

The first exodus of common sense from public discourse was around the newly unveiled ministry. Abbott had stated his intent was to “clean up” the volume of ministerial appointments, consistent with his theme of.. um… consistency.

Accordingly, titles such as the Minister for <Issue> were wrapped up into broader portfolios. And people lost their most beloved shit. “He doesn’t care about issues,” they wailed, clutching a well-worn photo depicting loss and anguish to their bosom.  “He just wants people to suffer”.

OK, so despite asking people publicly and privately for examples of how these changes had lead to specific policy changes that supported these dire pronouncements, I haven’t seen a shred of evidence to date that the streamlined cabinet has negatively impacted anyone. It’s almost like the hyperbole was… completely unnecessary!

Far be it for me to suggest that maybe we should judge the government on how they govern.

Women’s representation

I’m not going glib on this one, because I think it’s a serious topic. There’s two parts, so I’ll address them separately.

1) Women in the cabinet – merit v quotas

So we’re clear, I really want a gender and race blind Australia. There’s no viable basis for discrimination based on arbitrary factors and let’s face it, on honest metrics women are outperforming us white hetero males substantially. Using low tactics to keep women away from positions of leadership and authority is pitiful.

So, having said that, I agree in principle with Bronwyn Bishop’s sentiment that equality, achieved through quotas and not “merit”, is simple institutionalised discrimination. And, ugly paternalism – white men need to give women something they can’t have on their own.

However… However… I doubt the implementation side of this. Abbott lamented a ‘disappointing’ lack of women on the front benches, suggesting though that they were ‘knocking at the door’. Bronwyn Bishop defended this saying that promotion was on merit alone. And if we were being objective, which is less fun than a tired and I suspect inaccurate charge of misogyny, we would suggest the cabinet reflects the government’s promise (and mandate) to be “stable”.

Except, I doubt there are not talented and experienced women who could have taken these roles. So whilst the theoretical high ground belongs to the Coalition over Labor, the practical ground – which is more meaningful – is firmly Labor’s. And, whilst the six ministers promoted by Gillard from 2010 (of which how many stood down with her? :)) were done so to fill a quota, they were highly competent and engaged women and I hope some of them get Labor leader or deputy leader positions.

(Of course, if they elect Anthony Albanese, he’ll be a Simon Crean for this decade).

The Coalition had better consider a ministerial shuffle in the 2nd year.

2) Tony Abbott as “women’s minister”.

What a load of arse. Responsibility for women’s issues sat with PM&C (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet; don’t underestimate a former public servant’s capacity to drop acronyms like… an acronym dropper) before being moved out in 2004. Plus, the Coalition’s pre-election briefing material advised that they would do this, so that women’s issues were not seen, or aligned with, welfare issues:

Whilst the current location of the Office for Women in the Department of Family and Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs provides an important link with the services and support provided by that Department, it risks marginalising the Women’s portfolio as simply a welfare concern.

I’m sorry but that’s actually not a bad idea. And the person with responsibility for women’s affairs isn’t Tony Abbott, it’s Sen. Michaela Cash of Western Australia. She should be in the ministry, I grant that but this is too factual and not juicy enough for impassioned, vapid leftists to rally behind as typical gross injustice. Won’t somebody please think of the children!

I would have liked to have seen science aligned with industry and digital economy, so that we could start to lead the world in alternative energy. I’d like to see a women’s portfolio that assumes most women are bright and don’t need white men to gift them advantage, and that inspires a future generation to enter politics. I’ll reserve judgement until we have results to review and assess.

People need to stop losing their shit over stuff they wish Abbott would do so they can hiss the villain. He may well preside over a cockup of biblical proportions; or he may confound expectation and deliver solid governance. My point is, you should judge the government on their governance, and not before they’ve had a fortnight in the job.

Green Tech, or how the market is probably going to do more to help the environment than the State

It’s time, I think, to make a confession.

I am a capitalist. An economic liberal. And I have a passing interest in sustainability and environmentalism. I am supposed to believe, from the prophets of self-righteous indignation like Naomi Klien, that these are irreconcilable enemies. That the capital is the enemy of the environment and of conservation.

Try as I might, I cannot agree. I might explain why.

On the surface, if you have a rudimentary understanding of capitalism it will make abundant sense. Trouble is, most people who are arguing about the politics of climate change don’t understand it, so I’m going to need to explain it a bit. (And honestly, if you’re new to economics and capitalism, I’d highly recommend Freakonomics for a fairly fun insight into how economic modelling appears everywhere and can explain, well, a lot.)

Capitalism, by its nature, creates and thrives of competition. Competition between producers of goods or services for consumers. Competition produces two positive effects for consumers, effects that socialism can simply never replicate. The first is to push prices down as efficiencies are pursued and adopted. The second is to drive innovation.  The good or service that is proverbial light years ahead of its competition attracts buyers, and whilst that can push the price in the seller’s favour it creates an incentive for competitors to produce similar goods, but better and cheaper. If you look at a fairly ubiquitous gadget – the smartphone – you will absolute see this in practice. Apple takes the concept of the smart phone, which was a business-only device most famously in the form of a Blackberry, and figures out that if you strip it back and make it a bit easier and more fun to use, more people would buy it. The parts and novelty allow you to command a premium price and Apple integrated it’s highly popular iPod device into the phone. Internet, social media, telephony and music, all on one device? Where do I sign up?

Apple revolutionised the concept through innovation, and created healthy competition from the likes of Sony, Samsung, HTC et al. Faster, better, cheaper models come out often and for the first time in years the Samsung Galaxy S3 was able to steal the iPhone’s crown as the top seller. Furthermore, Apple’s dominant share of the market has removed the incentive to innovate form them, which is why so many iterations of the iPhone come out with minor advancements. An Appleista will defend this as an instance of it being hard to improve on perfection, but that’s horse shit.

OK, so by now you might conceded that the theory of capitalism is well served by the smart phone example, but you’re still pretty firmly convinced that the market is actually the number one destructive force in this field. Certainly, participants in the market are contributing to the continual worsening of our planet’s ecosystem and I’m not sure I need to name the sectors and culprits. We know who they are.

But I don’t see that pointing to them as encompassing the whole marketplace is actually a useful exercise. Like any society, the market is not a homogenous blob (so, unlike Gina Rein… or Clive Pal… no, mustn’t) and so if we don’t generalise in one case, we shouldn’t generalise in the other.

You just have to know where to look to see that a new class of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are busily investigating, investing in, and lobbying on behalf of an emerging sector of greentech startups. Any major new industry takes a long time to get established, due to a variety of factors – the rules of the game aren’t yet written and you have to take time to eke those out. Circa 1996, when I was given my mother’s chunky Eriksson GH337 to take to parties to call for a lift home, that nobody else had mobile phones and it was seen as an extravagance. Even just 5 years later this had radically shifted.

You only need to look at a site like Green Tech Media (http://www.greentechmedia.com/) to see just how much is going on. Now, a lot of work needs to be done in this field but it’s where the innovation is coming from. Changes to regulations, improvements of essential technologies (solar energy is hampered by both the wasted, uncollected energy and by poor battery technology), and widening public awareness will continue to drive growth. A company in California, Fulcrum BioEnergy (http://fulcrum-bioenergy.com/) have developed a technique to produce biofuel from municipal waste, which has substantial benefits for the environment (beyond the obvious fossil fuel concerns, land waste is a significant source of methane which, although quicker to break down than carbon, is more reflective and contributes more in the short term to global warming). Stories like this aren’t hard to find, and they’re growing.

I am going to completely crystal ball this moment and claim that, in the next 5-10 years, a substantial green tech sector of the economy will exist, compete, and flourish. The “greenness” of a product (measured in efficiency, [low] waste output, and cheapness) will be a measurably metric for consumers. And we can stem some of the tide of damage we’ve inflicted.

I could be wrong, too…

The death of Labor. As in, we need it.

The Real World has had some things it needed me to do for it which has impeded my ability to blog. A fickle mistress, if ever there was one.

In a move in which precisely nobody was surprised, the Australian Labor Party ended a mixed-to-chaotic six year stint as the government of Australia. It was marked by power struggles; factionalism; rushed and poor policy decisions, union dominance, and a leadership coup that installed someone who couldn’t lead. 

(Note: credit must be given to the extraordinary dignity that Julia Gillard showed during the election campaign. An effect legislator she lacked the leadership skills to imprint her personality on the Parliament and to really lead with an articulated vision. In the modern age, she wasn’t cut out to lead but that doesn’t diminish the successes she had in my view).

I would argue that the election highlighted that the Labor party needs to die. As an entity. It has no real idea what it stands for. Its constitution is horribly outdated and irrelevant. It allowed a group that has no business dictating policy to dictate policy (the unions). It selects the least experienced candidates for seats. It does not seek to recruit prospective MPs from the private sector but instead parachutes union officials into seats where they have never lived.

Please don’t confuse this with an argument against a progressive party. That would be idiotic – the progressive/conservative dynamic is essential for any modern democracy and the history of party changes in Australia point to the benefits such an approach yields No, we need a progressive party; but that party is not Labor.

The constitution of the Labor party states that, “The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields.”

In the aftermath of the election, as Labor avoids any soul-searching in favour of blaming Kevin Rudd squarely, a repeated refrain from ministers is that the party, and/or Mr Rudd, strayed away from Labor values. This implies to me that had the party been more labour, most closely aligned to the core values of democratic socialism, income redistribution, and collectivist equality then they’d have won the election. Sorry for my foray into English exclamations from the 1970s, but poppycock! Th electorate did not vote Labor out of government because they weren’t adhering to core Labor values in sufficient quantities; they elected the Coalition because Labor was a sinking ship of disunity, confusion, chaos and an inarticulate vision.

So why then do I feel Labor needs to die off as a party and a new progressive party, free from the trade union strangehold which has kept the ALP in the 19th century on industrial relations for so long?

For starters – the world has moved on considerably from the period between when the Labor party was formed, and now. The ideological battle lines, between capitalism and socialism, are gone with socialism being shown as a woefully inept economic system favoured by people with an understanding of economics so detailed you could fit it on the back of a postage stamp. Drawing lines along antiquated class boundaries is of use to precisely nobody – Howard’s battlers, and the Coalition’s success in a chunk of emerging blue-collar seats in places like Western Sydney are proof positive of this.

Secondly, progressive political parties tend to want to represent the most at-risk and vulnerable segments of society. Undoubtedly this was blue collar workers… over a hundred years ago. Now, the mix of people are so diverse and across so many lines that the Labor Party, which would seek to represent them, just misses the mark with their rhetoric. Part of that is the trade unions fault – for example, it’d be hard for a lot of people to sympathise with their archaic view of 457 subclass visas, for example (not the claims of exploitation but rather the notion that it’s “stealin’ jobs”).

But Labor is so linked to the unions, so beholden to them, that it can never truly extricate itself from their grasp. There’s probably support for what I’m saying notionally within progressive ranks, some of whom latch onto Labor as a progressive party (but being a party fundamentally concerned with blue collars workers, in its constitution and its ties to the unions, an argument could be made that it’s not truly that progressive). But so long as you have that framework of socialism, collectivist action and nationalisation as a core tenet of your party, you will attract people who believe in that. 

Much has been made of the “presidential” style of Labor’s campaigns, and how much it learns from Democratic strategists and policymakers in the US. The Democrats would be a sensible role model for a new, centre-left progressive party in Australia – they have ties to the unions, of course, but the unions cannot impose their will on the party any more than the NAACP could. I may of course be biased, given my liberal leanings…

But I just don’t see how Labor can continue. Not in its current iteration, but at all. It does not provide much of a viable alternative in practise to the Coalition. It is more disorganised and fractured than the Coalition. And it has no clue as to what it believes, what it stands for, and how to get out from the domineering influence of the Motherland (sorry, I couldn’t resist a Soviet pun). Meanwhile the electorate is not served, good discourse doesn’t exist, and we have to listen to a bunch of lazy and insipid union officials as to what our best interests are.

No thanks. Australia deserves better than the Labor brand. The battle with modernity is over, Labor lost, it should look to Julia – not Kevin – for advice on what to do next.

Issues that do. not. matter.

There are three topics which I will mercilessly belittle anyone who disagrees with me on, because we shouldn’t be discussing them in the first place.

1)      Race

2)      Gender

3)      Sexuality

They’re all non-issues that don’t matter. Why? Because as an evolved species capable of compassion, empathy and motherfucking space travel, such base trivial concerns should be a distant memory. What should matter is your inherent decency and your capabilities as a human being. If you like bumming other men, have breasts, or dark skin – that’s fantastic. It’s no different to people who prefer wearing a tie to no tie. Broad scheme of things, none of these encroach on my personal utility nor do they diminish society in whole or in part.

Sorry, I should clarify here – they don’t matter in actual terms. That is, on the purest objective level, race/gender/sexuality are no different to basic sartorial decisions. I get that for reasons usually to do with insecure lowest common denominators – so, under-educated White heterosexual males confused about the gay dream they once had – discrimination happens and we have to try and resolve it. But instead of heaping scorn upon these tiny-penis’d men and their questionable value to society, we decide to instead circle the drain and keep these non-issues on the plate.

It’s just… it’s so breathtakingly stupid that we have to debate something that is so fundamentally benign to our well being! Nobody is actually harmed by a gay, black lesbian in society (just ‘pretend harmed’) so why do we let ourselves give into the base elements and try and debate them into a common sense approach? To all the bigots, misogynists and racists out there; you’re wrong, shut up and piss off.

If I had a genie wish scenario, it’d be for legal impunity for me to take a comically over-sized mallet to the malcontents causing trouble. I could wish for them to develop an intellect or some empathy, but the gratification I’d get after stoving someone’s face in with said mallet is too great to pass up.

I’m happy to make my own sandwich, thank you very much – and do you want one, whilst I’m up?