Friday, October 18, 2013

No time to play nice: talk about climate change

There's the climate change science, settled long ago. And there's the political debate, stalled in the 1970s because special interests want it that way.

Against an utterly unprincipled and untruthful status quo, those who believe climate change needs an urgent response silence their own voices in the name of sensitivity and civility.

What nonsense: the only right time to make a political statement is when it will have the greatest political impact.

The only reason there's a “good manners” brigade trying to tell you “don't say this now” is: they know it. They know that the best time to talk about catastrophic weather, and emphasise its connection to climate change, is when the electorate has a shining example right in front of it.

Talking about cold abstracts to someone wondering about the best way to spend his Super-Cheap-Autos voucher while watching the Bathurst 1000 will get nowhere. When the same person is looking at a dirty orange-black Sydney sky and wondering if grandmother's nursing home is okay – that's when they're paying attention. That's when they'll think “gee, maybe this climate change is a bit of a bugger, eh?”

That's when ordinary people are receptive to the political message.

That's what motivates the urge to silence. It's not about respect or feelings, it's about chilling the debate. There's a moment when a sale can be made, when a mind can be changed, and the deniers don't want that to happen. They don't want the climate change sale to be made: every success is a disaster to them.

What's sad is that the Left – however you define it – has assimilated the university debating society good-form-rules, and is easily cowed by the suggestion of bad manners or bad form.

As if.

As if the Heartland Institute or the IPA or the CIS or Menzies House think about manners and form while they prime their sockpuppets and roll out the astroturf. As if screaming “lord” Monckton, WhattsUpWithThat or Joanna Nova play by manners and form. As if “climate change is mostly crap” is a statement according with manners and form.

The Left is playing soccer in the climate change debate, while the right carries the ball and plays the contact sport.

It's time to abandon the idea that just because one side of the political debate is working with science, it needs to follow peer-review and good manners in the political battle.

If there's a win to be had, seize it.

If there are balls to kick, kick them.

If there's an eye open in front of you, stick your thumb in it.

Anything less is yielding ground to liars who won't accord the slightest respect to those they defeat.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

National security: the lie that's the thief of freedom

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: I'm more than 50 years old, and for nearly all of those years, “national security” has been trying to justify its existence with scare-stories to frighten children.

Look around the Australia you see right now, and ask yourself: is our lifestyle threatened more by terrorists, or by the toxic combination of right-wing politics and self-interested security agencies?

Well: in my entire life, Australia's terrorist toll is the bombing of the Hilton Hotel – attributed wrongly, with convictions overturned – and the bombing of the Israeli embassy in the 1980s. That's the crop.

Oh, there was once a post-911 fool who filled a Toyota Hiace with ANFO and set it off in the Dean's Park defence land to see what would happen. And there's been utterly incompetent plots to take over army bases, justly receiving their convictions.

But in my whole life, being tabloid-frightened by the idea that commies, Viet Cong, Serbian terrorists (in the 70s, look it up), hackers, jihadists, boat people, the Ananda Marga Sect (look it up) …

The net effect on “the Australian way of life is zero …

...except that the agencies wrap their dark wings around power and liberty, call it a success, and while local councils tap phone records to discover unregistered pets, and our communications are snooped and tapped, nobody is actually good at threatening us.

The Milperra Massacre – performed by the bikie gangs that hipsters now pay a tax to, to get their tattoos, or pay to provide a Harley-Davidson escort to their weddings – chalked up more deaths (seven) than Australia's entire terrorism toll.

But the world of “national security” isn't just about government agencies protecting their budgets: it's also about consultants to those agencies, protecting their budgets. And a consultant won't get rich saying “defund ASIO and ASIS by 20 percent because there isn't a credible threat”, will it?

And if there's no local client for consultant money saying “pour tax dollars into national security”, there'll always be an American client to foot the bill: because America has outsourced its vile trade in liberty and death to the private sector. And that private sector earns its every calorie sucking at the teat of the taxpayer in every damn country it plants its flag.

And as a result: Australia is bombarded by our terrorist threat, and we will lose our liberties and have our communications snooped on, and the kind of media that print a “think tank study” without criticism will work to lull us into accepting it.

I can tell you, from my interactions on Twitter, that the people giving this bad advice weren't even born – as in “I wasn't born when Andanda Marga was a thing, what's your point?” when most of the scare-stories were the tabloid staples of my youth. Which means the entire history of “they're coming to get us” scare stories is in the unreal past, whereas fear-of-bearded-Islam is a Real and Present Danger.

As was every other damn fake fear I was peddled in my lifetime. As the cartoonist Matthew Martin put it: national security is a bunch of turkeys with paper bags over their heads. They've offered not a damn thing to my personal security nor political freedom in fifty years, and I don't trust them now.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Requiem for a friend

Let me tell you about Pat MacDonald, what little I knew of her over a few years as a customer Bunjaree Cottages.

She was frail when we first met. Physically, not mentally frail – although her voice quavered, her mind didn't. She could drive a bargain like some people drive a train: a thousand tonnes of metal on rails. She also insisted that she bring her small dog with her (in spite of the official rules about pets), couldn't work a television newer than when AWA still built them in Australia, and was quite demanding as a customer at Bunjaree Cottages, where she would holiday a couple of times a year, always with a friend as her carer and the small dog as her companion.

In holiday cottages notionally described as “self care”, she never visited without calling on my attendance in some way or other. And her conversation and, dare I say it of a woman who had kissed eighty goodbye when I first met her, flirtatious nature, meant that chores weren't chores.

I knew I had to be on hand if she was a guest, because the phone would ring. I knew that the calls would be relatively minor things, like getting the TV working or helping her carer light the fire. And I knew I'd be rewarded with the conversation of a woman who must have really lit up the room, fifty or sixty years ago.

I never met dear Pat in, say, my forties. I was already fifty when my wife and I bought Bunjaree Cottages. Even at fifty, I was “this nice young man,” and so I stayed throughout our brief and occasional association.

Oh, and her reaction to my elder son, who met her when we once lugged wood from outdoors to indoors for her, made me proud.

He is quite tall, solid about the shoulders, thin everywhere else. And because his grandmother lived with us, he could talk to old ladies.

After he left and I stayed to socialise, she simply pronounced: “Now, that's what a young man should be.” And I grinned, because most of the time I try to balance fatherly harshness with being proud of my sons, and I like to hear them praised by others.

Pat never met my wife, Ms T: by a quirk of fate, her visits always coincided with a hospital visit or an illness. Which meant that many of our conversations included her solicitations after a woman thirty years – at least! – her junior, who was unwell. And I received compliments for caring for Ms T, which perhaps I deserved and which I certainly enjoyed.

Oh yes, I mentioned a flirtatious nature. Once, because I love little flamboyances of courtesy, I kissed the back of her hand, and she giggled as if transported across decades, and if nobody was watching, she'd hold her hand up for a repeat performance. I was happy to oblige.

Pat, your passing has quite upset me.

Most of all, I am touched beyond telling that your friends decided to call me to tell me, and relate the circumstances of your passing, to be  assured that you didn't suffer a long, slow, horrible death, but faded in a few days. 

I thought I was only your host. Post-mortem, I learn that I was your friend. I'm honoured.