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.

In Which Sophisticated Theology(tm) is served

Frequently, in the godless heathen circles of the internet that I frequent, theologians can be seen berating non-believers and non-theologians for criticising religion the way the vast majority of believers practice it, then recommending their own proprietary version of God be studied and apprehended fully before atheism (or even moderate faith) is a viable, intellectually honest option. The gods of many theologians however, far from being well-researched fleshed-out three-dimensional deities, might as well not be called “God” with a capital “G” as demanded by Christianity, so deist and impersonal and generic are they. Some might as well not exist at all, having been thrust even further from the realm of testability or even plausibility than the old fire n’ brimstone Hell-maker they apparently think nobody worships anymore (in which case they should visit Kentucky. Or Queensland. Or freakin’ Uganda).

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, analogise this: an attack by a theologian is pretty much like me saying “I don’t like this game called tennis” and then some sophisticated tennologian comes up and says “Stop attacking this easy-meat low-hanging fundamentalist tennis where everything is about hitting a ball with a racket over a net in attempt to get it past another person and reach a score of 40 before they do! You need to understand tennis properly before you can criticise it; here, engage with my highly rarefied and totes intellectual “Ground of Tennis” in which one simply places any spherical object on a table and appreciates its perfect ball-ness, attempts to ascertain the interrelated ballity of all spheroids and understands that the single quality of sphericality is all that is needed to appreciate the goodness and greatness of Tennis. The net, the lines, the ball-children and the tennis bats are all frippery and extremism and by criticising those elements, you’re not only ignorantly missing the point of Tennis but are behaving just like the fundamentalists you decry.”

It shouldn’t need pointing out that if we’re just discussing balls, we’re not talking about effing tennis anymore – and you, my dear sohpistry-coated spherologian, are just talking bollocks.

Pictured: theology

Pictured: theology



Abetz admits unrealistic job-search target might encourage unrealistic reporting

Employment Minister Eric Abetz has admitted there’s a risk that jobseekers might engage in “box-ticking” when asked to apply for 40 jobs a month.

“Risk”? It’s a certainty. If there simply aren’t ten jobs a week to apply for, people will simply lie and/or make stuff up to secure their dole – just as many of my generation did to fill up the almost-as-ludicrous “dole diary” back in the 90s. What, in all seriousness, is a jobseeker meant to do if they live in an area that’s seen employment flatline or even decrease since they’ve been out of work? If they want to keep their unemployment benefit (or qualify for it in six months’ time), they will fulfill that 40 applications requirement any way they can and if that means using slightly relaxed ethics, that’s what they’ll do.

Here’s a thing that may have escaped the attention of our erstwhile Employment Minister: unemployed people, for the most part, don’t like being unemployed. The pay sucks, the admin you have to go through to get it is exasperating and being dependent on the state for any great length of time is demoralising – even when representatives of said state aren’t painting you as some bludger who roasts a breakfast bud at 2pm then plays video games all day. Asking people to apply for ten jobs a week is essentially demanding that they apply for jobs that are completely inappropriate for them (or that simply don’t exist, requiring fabrication) or risk losing whatever meagre benefit the government will begrudge them. And that’s a separate matter entirely from having to spend six months essentially living in poverty before they even qualify for the benefit.

In some areas, such as our cities, applying for ten jobs a week will be easy, simply by virtue of there being more employers than elsewhere. Whether you’re qualified for half of them, however, is another story – and by that I mean that you’re neither underqualified or overqualified; after all, any pipefitter or engineering lecturer with two hands could pick fruit. Of course, whether you even want the jobs you’re applying for is another story again, but don’t let’s apply only for jobs that fit on our career paths, fit our skillsets or physical ability or mental aptitudes or just sound half-decent, lest we be labelled “job snobs”. Because I’m sure, like any one of his colleagues, if Mr Abetz found himself unemployed he’d go straight down to the labour exchange in his crumpled old dungarees, roll thin cigarettes from the last of his stale ‘bacca and wait for an empty flatbed truck to come along and whisk him and nine other stout fellows down to the quarry to break rocks just so he could feed his family…right?

By imposing such an unreasonable application target, Abetz and his government aren’t just increasing the risk of “box ticking”, they are absolutely guaranteeing that many jobseekers in economically depressed areas will apply for jobs they simply are not qualified for, or are too qualified for, or that they have invented, listing mates’ names and numbers as contacts at fabricated companies like, oh I don’t know, Vandelay Industries. Not only will this make a mockery of the whole operation (which is already being widely mocked), it will unnecessarily make many peoples’ lives that much harder – and I don’t just mean jobseekers.

What does it actually take to apply for a job anyway? On paper, not much for the jobseeker – a few minutes emailing an application letter and resume or filling in an online application form or perhaps just a simple phone call. Two of those a day and you’re sorted – sure, as a lifelong office administrator, fruit picker or draftsman you might have Buckley’s of getting an interview for the position of Chief Brain Science Researcher at Very Important University, but that’s not the point is it? The government is essentially forcing you to apply for jobs with the threat of abject poverty. But what of those on the receiving end? How many completely bogus applications are employers going to have to sort through to get to the real ones? How much time will be wasted and how greatly will suffer our precious productivity? |

And what of Centrelink staff at the other end of the process – will they be expected to call employers and verify every single application before approving someone’s benefit? I know for a fact that they didn’t when I was unemployed and trying to both find a job and fulfill the requirements of the much-loathed “dole diary”. Now that the requirements will be about double that infernal diary, does anyone seriously expect Centerlink staff, already famous for their underfunding and overwork, to be making 40 phone calls or sending 40 emails with regard to every single unemployed person on their caseload? I suspect that if they are, they’ll end up ticking boxes just as their charges do – after all, there’s no way their bosses are going to check their work.

#GunControl: you need it, but it’ll be bloody hard

In this Daily Kos story (via TPM) a bunch of open-carry extremists visited the “Grassy Knoll” in Dallas, Texas. You may remember Dallas as the place where President Kennedy was assassinated with a firearm in 1963; you may also remember said knoll as the place where, as the popular legend goes, a second gunman allegedly fired one or more of the fatal shots. Why were these people there? Well, as seems entirely unremarkable these days (in America at least), they were rattling off standard unhinged Tea Party/Christofascist talking points regarding Obama being a secret Kenyan Muslim out to secretly destroy America by teaching white kids hippety-hop, or whatever it is that populates the fever dreams they experience in between binge-watching Walker: Texas Ranger.

The True Pooka (a chap you should visit on the tube) linked to it on FB and it started a discussion about guns. If you’ve ever been involved in or witnessed a discussion about guns between Americans, you’ll know that this particular topic polarises opinion more than sport & religion combined – enacting meaningful gun control legislation in the US appears as Sisyphean as trying to undo the damage already accomplished in only half a year by the Tory government here in Australia. As I often do, I waded in to this discussion. As I often also do, I started writing a FB comment which would’ve been a huge TL;DR, so I’m doing it here instead. My focus was the gargantuan task of altering not just US laws, but attitudes to guns – a daunting task requiring a multi-faceted approach and a view to the extreme long term.

I think the existence of other tech-equivalent countries in the world (incl mine, Australia) where gun control exists and where spree shootings, school shootings and all manner of gun crime are exceedingly rare shows two things: that gun control is a thing that works without unduly restricting people’s freedoms (leaving aside that the legal right to be equivalently or better armed than your local beat cop is more an extreme privilege than a “freedom”) and that the problem the US has with guns will need to be addressed at levels deeper and wider than merely legislative and in the very long term.

Economically (which of course means “politically” as well), they’re big business, hence the NRA turning, within living memory, from a sporting shooters’ association into an outright lobby group for manufacturers & sellers of guns, opposing even the most mild regulation, making it far too easy to obtain them and contributing to the extremism and toxicity of gun culture. Waiting periods, mandatory training, restrictions on the mentally ill or convicted criminals, especially ones with violent histories, almost any restriction on the types of weapons available – opposed by the NRA.

Culturally, guns are fetishised to a worrying degree – the NRA report advising that schools should have armed guards and allow teachers to carry, that idiot woman posing in front of the US flag holding an assault rifle & a Bible and these open-carry extremists rolling up, heavily armed, to malls or the scene of a Presidential murder to blather about how much they hate Obama sums up a great deal about America that worries many non-Americans (as I’m sure it does other Americans). Guns are seen as nothing less than the bringers of justice & peace and the ultimate symbol of American freedom – things like free speech, religion, association, the right to vote (or to not vote) and the bald eagle himself can apparently take a back seat to the right to put small holes in things from a distance.

The right for a civilian to carry a gun on their belt is also a problem. Open-carry advocates might, by and large, have the best of intentions when they suggest an average citizen (by which they almost certainly mean themselves) could put down a murderer before he becomes a spree-killer, but I think they presume too much. They might well be a crack shot and exercise perfect gun safety and handling at the range, but without actual combat experience or even police-style weapons training, pulling your .45 and facing down a disturbed person with an assault weapon who’s already opened fire in a public place is not something Mr or Ms Average from next door is equipped to do, no matter how much they practice with targets or, Bickle-like, in front of a mirror. There’s a galaxy between “Are you talkin’ to me?” and actually discharging at  a living, breathing, moving, shooting human being. Invoking the angry well-armed loner from Taxi Driver may sound like a simplistic caricature, but that is the unfortunate impression that’s projected when open-carryists seriously suggest the average citizen essentially could fill the role of a trained SWAT cop and take down a spree-killer. That or that other American stereotype, the lone gunslinger breezing into a put-upon one-horse town to clean it up once and for all, squinting out from beneath the brim of his white Stetson and mumbling do-or-die one-liners.

It’s tempting at this point to use as an example the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre, in which a lone, deeply disturbed man armed with an IQ of 66, an AR-10 semiautomatic and some other weapons (obtained without a gun license, which the killer was ineligible for anyway) murdered 35 people at a tourist attraction in Tasmania in 1996. In Australia, a country not well-acquainted with such brutality, it was a dramatic wake-up call. The then PM, John Howard, instituted license restrictions, a complete ban on semiautomatic rifles and severe restrictions on other self-loading weapons as well as an amnesty and a buyback program. Australians responded and almost 700,000 banned weapons were turned in to the government – a resounding success for the program.

Why I say it’s “tempting” to use this as an example is because it’s simply not translatable. For all their similarities, Australia and America are gulfs apart on this issue. First, population: 20 million vs 300 million. Next, history: in 1788 Australia was settled as a British colony, just as America was, but we remained so until 1901 at which point we were federated as a nation via numerous constitutional conventions. America’s revolutionary past, filled with tales of heroic local militia resisting the tyranny of King George III (and hardly ever with tales of the vital support provided by Louis XVI of France – but that’s another history lesson), is well-known, oft-related and is a clear inspiration to many gun enthusiasts. Another significant difference is the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution, which reads:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

This amendment, seen as inviolate by many because it’s in the Constitution (never mind the fact that Constitutions can, in fact, be amended and amendments can be repealed), has been interpreted by the US Supreme Court to mean that the right shall be extended to all citizens, not just those in regulated militias. This is not to begin a discussion about the 2nd Amendment, only to point out a further point of comparison between our two countries. In essence, though, the difference is this: America shot their way out of being under the British bootheel, Australia talked its way out – but, considering we didn’t consider ourselves under the bootheel in the first place, we were happy to stay as part of the Empire and then part of the Commonwealth once the Empire dissolved in 1949.

Then there’s the health problem. The question of why people so frequently decide to vent their rage via bullets onto unsuspecting citizens in public places is a question also not often discussed in general terms in the US. Discussions of what motivates individual killers always follows a mass murder, but America has a peculiar problem with frequency – the question of why people want to kill others in large numbers in the first place can’t be answered simply by pointing to easy access to high-powered weapons. Is there something about American culture that drives men, sometimes boys – to such extremes of rage? What of the effect of seeing 24hr coverage of every mass shooting – does every Columbine create a Virginia Tech? Does every Sandy Hook create a Santa Barbara? Lonely, enraged, disturbed people become household names once they open fire in a school, a theatre or just the street. Is there some appeal in adding your name to the list? What avenues exist – or should exist – for people feeling such extreme isolation and rage?

The gun problem in America is multi-faceted, with politics, corporate interests and culture (including religion, civil liberties, patriotism, history and mythology) and the Constitution itself all playing a part in elevating the humble firearm to a symbol (to many, at least) of the very freedom to exist and to pursue happiness as guaranteed citizens by said Constitution. It’s not a problem per se that people like guns – people in other advanced nations like guns with far fewer problems – it’s that, in the US, the wrong sort of people find it too easy to obtain the wrong sort of guns and do the wrong things with them – and that decent people are all-too-quick to oppose any governmental measure designed to prevent that from happening and invoke both the literal law of the land and images of their heroic revolutionary past to do so.

That some people are willing to utilise their extreme gun privilege to publicly visit the scene of an assassination and invoke images of a president murdered with a firearm while toting their own high-powered weapons and discussing their irrational, unhinged and almost certainly racist hatred for a sitting president is also a problem – or, it should at least be seen as such. That it not only wasn’t but was a completely legal thing to do and really only received criticism in the left-leaning areas of the US press is a problem in itself – yet another in the increasingly dense cultural, economic, political and mythological thicket that will need to be pruned, extremely carefully and likely over many decades, if America is to grow out of the childish association of firearms with freedom and the regular outbursts of murder and grief that are its results.

BBC Gaza


The Beeb is notorious for underrepresenting anti-establishment views. Read this post today.

Originally posted on :

By Jonathon Shafi

As the crowds began to gather in Buchanan Street to stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza, it was clear that the demonstration would be vibrant, diverse and loud. About an hour before the assembly time, you could see groups of people arriving. Young, old, mixed. A group of young women started the chanting in earnest, rallying shoppers to the cause. Speakers from faith organisations, political parties, campaign groups and trade union leaders addressed the huge crowd that had taken the entirety of the top end of Glasgow’s main Saturday thoroughfare, before it set off on a march to the BBC which dominated the city centre in a sea of colour and solidarity.

As we approached the BBC, the pace quickened, and the mega phones cranked up a notch. People, thousands of them, had been enraged by the BBC coverage of the bombing of Gaza. There…

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Tony Abbott and the Lackwitted Legacy | @1RossGittins #auspol #notharrypotter

Ross Gittins at the SMH discusses the economic ramifications of the Coal Coalition’s ideological recalcitrance regarding climate change and inspires me just a little. Read the whole thing, then come back.

Sometimes I fear Australia has decided to go backwards just as the rest of the world has decided to go forwards. Take climate change. If the repeal of the carbon tax gets through the Senate this week there will probably be celebrations in the boardrooms of all the business groups that lobbied so hard for its removal.

But if they imagine the lifting of this supposedly great burden on them and the economy will mean it’s back to business as usual, they’ll soon find out differently.

Fine, anthropogenic climate change is bunk – granted solely for the sake of argument. However, there is a stark and obvious economic reality that you can’t be “skeptical” about: the world economy is shifting towards renewable energy. Rapidly.

Sunlight and wind don’t need to be found, extracted, refined, transported or burned. They also don’t produce toxic emissions, byproducts or waste and aren’t beholden to unpredictable fluctuations in global resource prices – fluctuations which can be caused by anything from localised civil unrest or industrial action to extreme seismological or meteorological events. The infrastructure used to deliver wind and solar energy is becoming cheaper and more efficient. Major economic powers are already committed to significant renewable energy R&D and implementation as well as significant reductions in carbon-heavy energy production. The developing world will soon be able to provide efficient, cheap, clean energy to its citizens in places it was not economically possible to do so before.

All this is of course known to the Coalition and its donors, enablers and ideas-men. The damage they risk doing to our economy (not to mention our environment, regardless of climate change) by bloody-mindedly attempting to delay the inevitable reality of owning a bunch of black shite nobody wants anymore – all the while trying to stymie the competition via carbon-coddling legislation and corporate welfare – is the price we will all pay for their own shortsightedness and obstinate denial. There’s been more than enough time for Australia’s heiresses and billionaires to understand reality and invest (and divest) accordingly; if this government has a lick of common sense it will be wondering if it wants its legacy to boil down to making all of us pay for a stark lack of vision, both on its part and on the part of those who dictate its policy.

ABC’s Four Corners on Abbott’s renewables scam – no wonder they’ve appointed ideologues to gut it #auspol

Last night’s episode of Four Corners (one of Australia’s finest journalistic organs) was both frustrating and heartening: frustrating because our government is ideologically and financially focused on the 19th century business model of dig it, burn it and sell it, to the detriment of the environment, to our domestic renewables market and to our great potential to be a major global player in the next industrial revolution (the “Saudi Arabia of renewables”); heartening because the number of people installing solar arrays in their homes is already over 10% in some states, are in some areas producing more than enough electricity to satisfy requirements and are showing coal-fired power stations to be the inefficient, highly costly and soon-to-be outdated things they are.

Much of the report contrasted the American attitude to renewable energy with that of our government here in Australia. While America is innovating and building large-scale solar farms in its deserts with some towns & communities headed towards total self-sufficiency built on renewable energy (and with Apple designing its next corporate headquarters around total self-sufficiency), Australia’s conservative government is sabotaging investment and research into renewables, sabotaging the Renewable Energy Target, has dismissed its climate commission and is looking to repeal the carbon tax. This is chiefly due to our government being deeply entwined in mining, especially coal, which powers most of our power stations – so deeply entwined that I suspect there’s no easy way out for them (let’s not forget that conservatives and billionaires in this country go hand-in-glove, so expecting a Tory government to suddenly want to wash its hands of coal-dust in favour of free, functionally infinite sunshine and wind is like expecting Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest businesswoman heiress, to start a charity devoted to providing asylum seekers with university education).

Of course, those who own and operate businesses based on fossil-fuel extraction and combustion (and those political parties and governments who both enable and benefit from them) have had perhaps two decades to adjust to a changing energy market and carve out a piece for themselves. Presumably through some combination of denial, myopia and being able to strongarm successive state and federal governments for subsidies, tax breaks and other examples of corporate welfare, they have chosen not to do so. By their own free-market standards (the ones they invoke when, for example, they blame those stricken by poverty or lack of opportunity for their own misfortune) they’ll have noone but themselves to blame if the market leaves them flapping in the breeze – however, as we all know, it’s highly impertinent to point that out. So I won’t.

I will, however, point out that it’s kind of appropriate that people who’ve made themselves obscenely, obesely wealthy by digging holes may well end up in holes of their own making. As demand for their black, dusty gold decreases while its price inflates, people are increasingly looking to the sky. Basic economics dictates that if a consumer can get your product elsewhere for less money or, especially, a different product that does the same thing for nothing, they’ll seek out that product. Coal costs large amounts of money to find, to dig up, to transport to its destination; sunlight falls from the sky daily in large amounts over most of the planet and wind is simply unavoidable. As the technology to harness and store solar and wind energy improves and becomes more common, it will become cheaper. And more people will buy it.

For a final thought, look to the third world – many impoverished and developing nations are blessed with large amounts of sunlight. A solar kit that would power a generous home or two in Australia could provide clean electricity for an entire community in just about any put-upon place on the planet (global charities, I’m sure this kind of thing might already be on your list). Do you think someone in a remote subsistence-farming village in Kenya or Cambodia or a remote Aboriginal community in Australia would care about the profit projections of Clive Palmer or Gina Rinehart if they could, thanks to a simple community-owned solar array, just flick on a light – or an oven, water pump or even a computer for, say, distance education? Solar and wind technology will soon improve to the point of being cheap enough to pay for itself very quickly and is already trivial to transport and install, with the raw materials already available at the location – for free – every day. This will enable previously disenfranchised people to strike from their lists of privations that simplest of things, that most basic of privileges: a light in the dark.

As the rest of the world, developing nations included, embraces cheap, clean power technology, Australia might just be left in the dark itself, with our neighbours, customers and friends looking on, scratching their heads and asking us why weren’t paying attention.