Margaret and David: A Review of 28 Years of Reviews #atthemovies @abcatthemovies

With the announcement of the impending end of the partnership of Australia’s best-known and most enduring movie critics, I felt it was time to give them their due: a review.

While the cinematography, lighting, sets and even the direction always seemed to be on some kind of static autopilot for The Margaret & David Show, it was purposefully and cleverly designed that way to allow the principals’ performances to be the focal point. Their characterisations were entirely plausible, multi-layered and even at times inescapably loveable. They weren’t the archetypical film snobs, however, waxing endlessly lyrical about cinéma vérité and Ingmar and obscure Eastern Bloc auteurs: Stratton’s paternal prickliness regarding the overuse of CGI and handheld-style footage was balanced by his genuine and surprising affection for the occasional gun-toting cinematic rampage, while Pomeranz’s unashamed love for romance and farce was moderated by her once-in-a-while approval of slow-paced European existentialism. Their interactions were careful yet brilliant studies in plausible dialogue and masterclasses in improvisation; at one turn bickering like an old married couple over who finished the milk, at another gushing like honeymooners upon wandering down an alley and discovering a charming new restaurant, at yet another finding small, precious patches of common ground in what appeared to be irresolvable conflict. In doing so they didn’t just leave us well-informed, they inspired us all to examine ourselves and our own relationships as carefully and as deeply as they examined every film they discussed.

In the end, Margaret and David covered a great deal of ground, developed their characters more deeply and honestly than any director ever could have desired and left us all better acquainted with them, the films they loved and with ourselves. What some might call an overlong exploration of the opinions of two ordinary people, others might well describe as an extraordinary exploration of the human condition which was scarcely long enough.

I’m giving them four stars.

@richarddawkins – What if you’re wrong about feminism? CC: @rebeccawatson @pzmyers @opheliabenson

Shortly before I read The God Delusion in 2006 I watched a (now very famous) video of a then little-known (outside of evo-bio circles) author Richard Dawkins giving a speech at Randolph Macon Womens College. It was this appearance that piqued my interest and resulted in me reading the book & realising I’d been atheist for years and not known it; it also led me to the (at the time) wonderful, positive and refreshing world of online godlessness.

After the speech and some TGD excerpts, Dawkins took questions from the students. One of my favourite exchanges was his curt reply to (or regarding) a Liberty University student who was being taught that the university’s dinosaur fossils were only 3000 years old. Dawkins replied (I paraphrase), “Leave right away and go to a <i>real</i> university.”

Another exchange, possibly the most famous, was his reply to the audience question “What if you’re wrong [about God?]“:

“”What if I’m wrong?” What if you’re wrong about the great Juju at the bottom of the sea?”

Of course we 2014 atheists, post-Elevatorgate and the torrent of misogyny that’s driven more than one outspoken female blogger offline, might look back on both of these moments and see them as quaint from our current perspective; our reactions as hopelessly naive in the hopefulness, but in late 2006 I’m positive they stirred many conversations that mightn’t have otherwise happened (they certainly did for me; I was a decade past any form of religion at that point but still had some pseudospiritual vestiges wastefully lurking about in my head). That speech was a critical point for a great many people, spurring them to read TGD and other atheist books, to reevaluate their beliefs and to ask questions they’d not asked before – to seek answers they mightn’t have even known were possible to find. Perspectives were changed, as was the social landscape of the internet, not to mention many “real” communities: homes, towns, perhaps countries.

Dawkins appears to require his own RMWC moments regarding feminism and the problems the movement he helped create has with how it treats women.

First, he needs to talk to educated people about what comprises “real” feminism and stop assaulting this invented (or at least overblown) “radical” kind other people (chiefly anti-feminists, oddly enough – hardly unbiased sources) appear to be telling him is dominated by shrieking anti-sex harpies (I say “other people are telling him” because he certainly doesn’t seem to be applying his own intellect or investigative skills to the issue). Dawkins is well-acquainted with hysterical accusations of militancy and stridency just for having the audacity to be publicly critical of religion and its effects; he should try to empathise with feminists who receive precisely the same type of mistreatment from his ostensible brothers and sisters in atheist advocacy.

Second, Dawkins needs to ask himself “What if I’m wrong?”. What if he’s wrong about feminism, about rape culture, about the at-least very creepy behaviour of skeptic luminary Michael Shermer, about poster-child for misogynist fear and loathing, Rebecca Watson (her “page-o-hate” hasn’t been updated since May ’13 but rest assured the loathing hasn’t stopped; just check her twitter mentions) and about pretty much everything he’s tweeted about regarding feminism since “Dear Muslima” (which he did apologise for)? And he needs to ask properly, the same way he would if he was investigating some scientific phenomenon he didn’t understand – because it’s very likely he does not understand either feminism or the nature of the complaints against atheist/skeptic culture’s obvious woman problem right now.

Dawkins is already on public record with Ophelia Benson decrying threatening and abusive language and behaviour between atheists and secularists. This is of course a good (and long overdue) thing, but it’s not only a no-brainer to oppose that kind of incandescent hatred, it’s addressing the very pointiest and most extreme example of the sexist and misogynist treatment that feminist atheists and skeptics experience every day, online and in person, in many forms and at varying intensities. Dawkins should converse further with Ophelia and other atheist feminists about the real nature of the sexism problem within organised skepticism (not to mention the further problem of delayed, insufficient, flippant, insulting, rank-closing organisational and leadership responses to it). He knows that the problems caused by religion aren’t limited to the damage done by suicide bombers and murderers of abortion doctors; he should thus be able to realise that the problems of sexism and misogyny in atheism aren’t limited to those who issue graphic threats of rape and violence online.

TL;DR: I implore Richard Dawkins to employ his famously sharp intellect to interrogate his own understanding of feminism. Atheism globally has embraced the LGBT community and has in many places found with it common cause and common experience regarding stigma, religious opposition, marginalisation and ostracism by family and community follwing a “coming out”; it’s frankly baffling that it appears to be refusing to do so with women. As one who helped to create and inspire the global atheist community, Dawkins owes it to that community and to himself to honestly examine his prejudices and misunderstandings regarding what appears to be one of global atheism’s last and biggest hurdles.

#AUSPOL save the dole!

Don’t think getting kicked off the dole for six months at a time is just some character-building kick in the arse for lazy stoner punks – it will apply to all adult jobseekers under 30 who receive Newstart, the vast majority of whom want to work. Some of those people will have children to feed, clothe and educate while they themselves seek employment, but even those that only have themselves to look after will essentially be consigned to half-lives of desperation and poverty if the Newstart demolition is passed.

Removing the base of the social safety net might save some dollars, but the pressure on society and the state of a new underclass of disenfranchised, impoverished and increasingly desperate people will outweigh it significantly. Most unemployed are that way not through choice but through a combination of factors including economic climate, location, legislation, market forces and plain bad luck. Take away the one thing they can count on to fill their fridges, their prescriptions and their petrol tanks (yes, Joe, in their cars) while they look for work and you run the very real risk of turning good people who need a break out onto the street, placing pressure on already overworked public hospitals, welfare agencies and NGOs and perhaps turning them into desperate criminals, placing undue pressure on their victims, their families, the police and legal system and everyone else who has to deal with them.

People without work should be afforded a basic allowance to enable them to live while they look for work, not punished as part of some unjustified austerity drive. If paying unemployed people a basic wage is too expensive or frivolous for this government, perhaps they’d like to reconsider their baffling, dogmatic contempt for the rapidly-growing renewable energy market as embodied by their fear and loathing of the RET and the carbon tax, their propping up of the dinosaur that is coal as exemplified by their teaming up with a nakedly self-serving coal-miner to scrap the mining tax, or their general coddling of billionaires.

Whether we like it or not, welfare for the unemployed needs to be a non-negotiable fact of life in a wealthy nation, for the simple reason that there are never enough jobs available for all eligible workers to have one at the same time. It needs to be that way too: if capitalism is to function at all and as growth is a desired facet of capitalism, there must always be a pool of available labour to enable that growth. That means that there must always be a small percentage of the population unemployed, ready to pick up the jobs that arise in a growing economy. It is the duty of a capitalist state to ensure its labour pool can sustain themselves while they’re between jobs (of course a minority will just toke up and slack off, but I’d like to see how their malfeasance stacks up next to the rorts of our esteemed elect), not use them as pawns at the behest of a small and unduly noisome cabal of self-interested arch-consevatives.

So sign the petition, go and march, hassle your MP, get loud.

Welfare isn’t a handout, it’s just a hand. And taking it away is pretty much a fisting.

Kevin Andrews suddenly learns that everyone else knows Catch The Fire are batshit #auspol

Minister for Putting Single Mums in Their Bloody Place Kevin Andrews, among other Team Australians, has recently learned that the people of Australia don’t particularly like that the “World Congress of Families” is run by well-known slavering extremist anti-choice homophobic bigots Catch The Fire Ministries and has decided not to open their adorable little Hatesturbate For Jesus for them after all.

Catch The Fire Ministries, whose head douche Danny Nalliah infamously linked Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires to that state’s abortion laws (and will now have to find other high-profile fundamentalist scenery-chewers to mix the green cordial [red is SINFUL!] and run the games of “pin Satan’s pitchfork on the eternally burning lesbortionist,”) have since thrown K-Drews under the bus for being a sad wuss. Because how dare any public official in a secular democracy respond to public outcry over lending explicit government support to a pack of fringe-dwelling cultists whose lunacy is only exceeded by their self-importance.

I suspect that, much like a pair of cling-wrap Y-fronts, this is a transparent arse-covering on the part of Kev and his fellow Tory wingnuts, Eric “I Am The Politican Every Sketch Show Bases Their Politicians On” Abetz and Cory “Looky, I Wrote A Book Just Like God Did” Bernardi, who would surely have gone along had the public not had something of a issue with members of our government explicitly validating the dark-ages lunacy of extremist evangelist hooligans.

Not Catch The Fire but close efuckingnough, amirite?

Sarkeesian, Lewis’ Law and The Streisand Effect #yesallwomen

Anita Sarkeesian, the woman behind the “Tropes Vs Women” series of videos, had her life threatened – not for the first time – by someone who disagreed with her analysis of sexist video game conventions (which are legion). Along with graphic rape and death threats (which I won’t link to), the stalker also posted her home address and that of her parents.

Lewis’ Law states that the comments on any article on feminism justify feminism. What happens every time Sarkeesian releases a new video in her series is 100% confirmation of that law.

Although I don’t agree entirely with all of her analyses, most of Sarkeesian’s observations about sexist tropes and lazy stereotyping in games are insightful and many match my own experience, having played games more or less non-stop for three decades. But apparently there are “men” out there who feel the correct response to a disagreement with a woman is to threaten her and family’s lives. These brave anonymous dudebros have apparently not heard of The Streisand Effect, in which your efforts to censor something on the internet only give it ALL THE CLICKS.

Uzis are not for children #arizona (derr)

In Arizona, there’s a place called Bullets and Burgers where you can have a hamburger, ride a monster truck and then go and shoot a .50 calibre sniper rifle or a machine gun. 

In Viet Nam there are shooting ranges you can visit where they have available AK-47s, M-60s and other war-era weapons to try out. Pay a little cash, shoot off a handful of rounds, the locals earn some money from the legacy of beating America’s arse out of their country, you get to live out your favourite ‘Nam-movie fantasy (or, perhaps & hopefully, get some perspective and insight on the war), everyone’s happy, noone’s dead.

Yesterday, a 9 year-old girl visited Bullets and Burgers with her family and tried out an Uzi at the range. After a single successful shot, the instructor set the weapon to fully automatic. When the girl pressed the trigger the weapon recoiled, sending a bullet into her instructor’s head and fatally injuring him. The video at this Raw Story article shows the instructor did not have his hands on the weapon at the time.

The difference between those places and this tragic scene out of a Paul Verhoeven movie? Most of those Vietnamese ranges have the guns on short chains or mounted with a very narrow firing arc available, both to prevent theft and to prevent precisely the kind of recoil accident that happened when this small child was given an Uzi and told to let rip on full-auto. An Uzi isn’t large but (contrary to what every movie hero of the 1980s taught me) it’s still a two-handed weapon, even for an adult – spitting out 9mm bullets at a rate of 600 per minute produces significant recoil. With the weapon completely unsecured, that kid should’ve been watched like a hawk and the instructor should have had a hand on – not under – that weapon at all times. It’s the least you’d do, even with a kid using an air rifle for the first time.

Of course, aside from the carelessness that cost a man his own life, the existence of a family restaurant with an attached firing range where fully automatic military weapons are as unsecured as laser-tag guns is the base problem, and which needs to be urgently addressed. I am not confident any meaningful action will occur in response to this, however; the American NRA and their fanatical cadre of barrel-polishers routinely show that there are no depths whatever to their depravity when it comes to defending their right to be well-armed, deluded little toy soldiers with invasion fantasies (and, in the specific case of the NRA, their right to be bukkake’d with cash by the craven sociopaths who own gun companies and wish to sell their products as freely as toothpaste and crayons). They’re certainly not above scapegoating a traumatised 9 year-old girl.

School Chaplains: why can’t you lot just stick to the pulpit #auspol

It appears the Abbott government still wants to exclude secular workers from the School Chaplaincy program, despite widespread opposition and two High Court challenges.

Religious people have numerous avenues available if they wish to seek spiritual guidance for themselves or their children; this constant push by some of them to have exclusive access to other peoples’ children while in school is distasteful and extremely presumptuous (and possibly even un-Constitutional – while Section 116 has historically not been applied to state funding of religious schools, implementing exclusively religious programs such as this in state schools might be a different basket of loaves and fishes. While the Abbott regime might be able to use the general term “religious” to escape being accused of favouring of one faith over another, the very term “chaplain” has an exclusively Christian origin and I doubt very strongly that we’ll see a great many imams, rabbis or whatever those used-god salesmen-for-Xenu call themselves counselling state school students).  

Apart from the blatant discrimination involved in barring secular counselors from consideration, kids with serious problems (or even mild ones) don’t need Divinity lessons, they need trained professionals. Religious exceptionalism of this sort is highly likely to expose vulnerable children to inappropriate proselytising and unhelpful advice – when compared to the likelihood of a properly trained secular counselor attempting to proselytise their philosophy, it’s practically a stone-carved certainty.

If a counselor is appropriately qualified and experienced they should be hired; their religious status, just like their age, marital status and orientation, should be irrelevant to their practice. It’s not legal for the Commonwealth to refuse employment in any other area of operation on religious grounds; how such a proscription wouldn’t apply to state school counselors escapes me. This appears to be yet another example of a government operating by ideology and working off a checklist, with pragmatism, fairness and perhaps even legality being secondary concerns.

Evangelising students in school is not only preying on an audience that’s legally compelled to be there, it’s also based on the offensive and arrogant presumption that the evangelists have the right (God-given, of course) to undermine whatever religious traditions those kids’ families may already observe in their own homes or places of worship or whatever non-religious philosophies they may subscribe to.

Not only that, but those churches that evangelise more often than not subscribe to fringe conservative and flat-out fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture which have absolutely no place in our public schools, where there frequently is a plurality of ethnicity and culture.

I’m sure we can all imagine the outcry from decent Christian folk if Islamists or JW’s or Mormons were given privileged access to state school students (even if ostensibly to use their powers for good and explicitly not for the purposes of conversion attempts); it’s much better for all concerned (chiefly the kids who’ll need professional advice and support) if preachers (or preachers-by-other-names) stay in the pulpit.