Michael Hutchence: I Got Him Wrong

Any of my friends will tell you that I am always the first to admit when I got it wrong.

No dissembling… or disclaimer… or trying to move the goal posts from this Little Black Duck. It’s hand up instantly to confess my utter wrongness.

Of course, you can’t put that righteous hand up until you realise you were wrong and in the current case, it’s taken me about 40 years.

I’ve never liked Michael Hutchence.

It was nothing to do with his talent – which was obvious – it was all to do with the following story…

Some time in 1980 I was at a really excellent party – possibly in Mosman. It was a big old house with a pathway that led down to a tiny beach on the harbour, and the whole night there was a stream of people coming and going between house and beach. It was warm and balmy with a hint of jasmine and amorous potential – a truly magical Sydney evening.

Returning to the house about midnight, my friend (Muth) and I encountered a very odd fellow indeed. He had quite bad acne, long greasy curls and an affected English accent. He engaged with no-one but stood in the middle of the kitchen in a kind of trance saying (over and again): “Hello. I’m Michael Hutchence, I sing up front for INXS. Hello. I’m Michael Hutchence, I sing up front for INXS etc.”

As he did this he continually brushed back his hair with his right hand in a kind of movie star flourish.

A few people asked him questions (like…what had he been taking?) but he continued to ignore us all.

Hello. I’m Michael Hutchence, I sing up front for INXS. Hello. I’m Michael Hutchence, I sing up front for INXS etc.”

So, naturally, I stood next to him and started dramatically brushing back my own hair and saying: “Hello. I’m Michael Hutchence, I sing up front for INXS. Hello. I’m Michael Hutchence, I sing up front for INXS.”

Muth joined me, and before long there about six of us in a line, all brushing back our hair and chanting the Michael mantra, which was quite a surreal moment and still strikes me as rather funny to this day.

Imagine then my surprise, a week or two later, when I turned on (I think) Countdown and there was this same clown singing up front for INXS… of whom I’d never heard to that point.

If you’ve ever seen the Simpsons episode where Krusty turns on the telly to see the Crazy Old Man singing The Ol’ Grey Mare, then you’ll know exactly how I felt in that moment.

And that, gentle reader, is why it was impossible for me to admire Michael Hutchence during his INXS career.

“What? Buy records put out by one of the loopiest wankers I’d ever met? Are you mad?”

I will own now to a secret enjoyment of some of their songs but would never have admitted as much back in the day.

Then, everything changed.

Last night, I just happened to start watching Mystify – the Michael Hutchence documentary which aired on the ABC. I’ve always been a sucker for a biography and, while it did leave out that scene from the Mosman party, I found myself enthralled by a really powerful story about an incredibly talented singer, lyricist and performer.

It’s a doco that was beautifully made, affording a wonderful insight into the bizarre world that only rock gods inhabit. In fact, as I warmed to him over the course of the show, I found myself regretting that I’d never been a fan of INXS and so had never seen them live.

Clearly I’ve missed out.

While there was reference to the pressure he was under, something not really mentioned in the film was the state of his mental health (notwithstanding the brain injury he suffered in 1992). It’s easy enough to diagnose from a distance but very few have any experience of his outrageous level of fame, and those who have didn’t report anything that might wind up in the next DSM. His was a complex world with no instruction manual.

And in the end he was a casualty. Or at least from my bourgeois perspective he was a casualty. It’s entirely possible that, in rock god heaven, he is still revelling in every moment of his brief existence with the rest of the 27 Club (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse).

So who did I really meet on that Mosman night back in 1980? A whacko, drug-addled pratt? Or a musical genius in the flowering of his muse?

For most of us mortals we’ll never tell them apart.

Our Glad

I feel deeply sorry for Gladys Berejiklian.

I’m about as far from being a Liberal voter as you could possibly get, but I tend to think all politicians in Australia are rubbish.

The main reason, I suspect, is that we don’t pay politicians enough. Accordingly, we get B graders – or even C graders – because anyone with talent and ambition has no interest in public office. The A-graders are running major corporations, or universities, or unions or hospitals. They’re judges or surgeons or partners in major accounting firms. Occasionally they’re even artists or writers (god forbid), but they are never ordinary.

They have real careers to pursue.

If we paid politicians a decent salary then I suspect we would dramatically broaden and deepen the pool of people interested in public life (assuming the inherently corrupt preselection system allowed that to happen).

Until that happy day, we have to put up with what we’ve got. And what we’ve got is a shambles.

The level of corruption that turns up again and again in Australian politics (on both sides) is just staggering, and I’d suggest (again) it’s because they’re not paid enough.

Let me rephrase that… not paid enough to satisfy their greed.

NSW backbenchers are paid about $200k per year (once all the benefits kick in) and the Premier makes over $400k. You’d think that would be enough for most (when the average wage is $89k) but apparently not.

Some of them can’t help but use their office (or insider knowledge) to further feather their nests and that just turns my stomach.

To my mind, there ought to be no greater crime than corruption in public office. And that’s why, with a fair bit of regret, I have to say: “Gladys…you blew it.”

Being as fair minded as I can be (as a traditional Green/Labor voter) I’d say Gladys has done a decent job as premier, but the instant I heard the fateful words: “I don’t have to hear about that,” I knew it was all over.

Those words came from a transcript of her late night discussion with secret boyfriend, Darryl Maguire. He was boasting about how much money he’d made exploiting his special relationship with her and, instead of immediately taking him to task, she turned a blind eye.

Many will suggest she was a victim of Maguire’s exploitation, and no doubt that’s correct. But no matter how you spin it, the rules change when you take public office. All of a sudden you are subject to the highest possible standards when it comes to behaviour, and anything that smacks of exploitation deserves the highest condemnation.

So too does condoning exploitation. I’m amazed it’s taken this long.

Because that’s what Gladys did.

She understood that corruption in public office had occurred but did nothing to stop it. And, sorry Gladys, for me that is inexcusable.

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time, and yet we heard about this at least 12 months ago. That’s a really long time to be getting the benefit of the doubt, and presumably the ICAC have a really strong case against her, or why else would this be happening when we so desperately need strong leadership.

Or is it strong leadership?

Anyone prepared to condone that sort of corruption, is corrupt. They may have done it for deeply personal reasons, but so what? You leave personal reasons at the door when you walk into parliament and that’s what she forgot.

It’s a shame. I very rarely have any time for conservative politicians (or any politicians really – they’re all terrible) but she seemed like she genuinely cared.

In the end, she cared more about her relationship than she did about the laws and the people of New South Wales whom she was sworn to protect.

Oh Glad… how could you?

Who Stole The Great Aussie Larrikin?

One of the chief sub-narratives of the Covid anti-vaccination movement is the assertion that the great Australian virtue of robust individualism – otherwise known as larrikinism – has more or less died in the C21.

Nowhere, they suggest, is this more evident than in the general sheep-like compliance with health directives to be vaccinated. A sentiment driven especially by those who organise demonstrations against vaccination and lockdowns.

Australia has always favoured the underdog against Authority – at least in retrospect. I doubt many would have sided with the convicts in the early decades of the colony but the convicts, ticket-o-leavers and free settlers vastly outnumbered the gentry and magistracy, and their egalitarian sentiments gradually gained currency, if always a generation or two behind.

By Federation at the turn of the C19/20 the Australian character was firmly established and both males and females revelled in their disinclination to follow the rules. Us Aussies were above all that crap and no-one could tell us what to do.

Or could they?

We were fiercely Australian but we were still British. When Britain entered the Boer War and the First World War we all signed up in our larrikin droves – robustly individual but willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our foreign-led community.

The sentiment continued throughout the Second World War, the Korean War and even the Vietnam War, but it was Vietnam, during the cultural revolution of the 60s where a different individualist narrative finally reared its head.

The spirit of the 60s required the individual to question authority in a way that had never quite happened before. The axiomatic rightness of Queen and Country was no longer quite strong enough to inspire all young men to jump out of trenches and run towards the machine guns.

So larrikinism changed. We used to be larrikins prepared to die for the King, but now we were either larrikins prepared to die for country – or larrikins who refused to die for anyone. Two different larrikin camps but both claiming the right to the larrikin narrative from the earliest days of the colony.

Fast forward to 2021, the narrative has further splintered to the point that no-one can properly identify the larrikin genealogy back to its first scions. We even see far right groups waving the Eureka flag and claiming its larrikin/socialist tradition for themselves in exactly the same way that exploitative thugs in the Middle East claim Islam as their flag and moral justification.

Exploitative thugs waving flags, in the end, are just thugs.

Even sadder, in these subtle propaganda days, is the way that robust individuals of good heart can be influenced, or even psychologically colonised, by people whose interests are inimical to their own but know how to press their larrikin buttons and exploit their actions towards ends they will never perceive.

The incitement of Victorian construction workers, in the name of robust individualism, by the forces of the radical right is utterly bewildering. These are people being told what to think by people who are telling them not to be told what to think.

Orwell would’ve absolutely loved this.

The deliberate confusion of narratives by a legion of forces with conflicting perspectives and motives is what we are dealing with in the modern world and none of it helps us to make up our minds about vaccination.

I’m not blaming or pointing the finger at anyone and I’m not trying to tell people what to think about vaccination. I’ve no doubt been fooled or hoodwinked plenty of times myself, so I sympathise with everyone. Mind you, I have always considered myself a bit of a larrikin but maybe that’s just a robust individual’s conceit…

All I ask is that everyone think about why they think what they think and who told them to think that way.

And why.

If you’re satisfied your thinking is truly your own, then maybe you truly are continuing the great Aussie tradition of larrikinism.

Anti-Vax Cowboys

I was shown an anonymous letter delivered to the doctors of a local medical practice today, claiming some bizarre authority in order to demand they “cease and desist” the use of experimental vaccines.

Sigh…

This letter, signed by “a concerned citizen” on behalf of “we, the people”, is a ridiculous mish mash of barely understood medical and legal concepts cobbled together (from a range of jurisdictions – “we, the people” refers to the US Constitution) in a vain attempt to intimidate doctors into stopping their very important work of vaccinating Australians against the Covid virus.

I’m deeply pissed off about this hare-brained intrusion into the important work of medical professionals, on numerous levels, but as a lawyer, I also believe passionately in the freedom of speech.

But where do we draw the line?

At what point is the right to freedom of speech extinguished?

Are we free to say anything we like? No matter how deluded, offensive or dangerous?

I would suggest that there is certainly a right to the freedom of speech, but there is no right to freedom from the consequences of exercising that right. As the drafter of the letter clearly understood when declining to put their name to the letter.

I would further suggest that the implicit threat in this letter – accusing doctors who continue to vaccinate of treason, conspiracy and breach of fiduciary duty liable to punishment – is a form of assault.

I note also that claiming to speak on behalf of the law of the nation, in this way, is a form of (criminal) fraud, plus a tort of harassment. Once again, it’s no wonder that no-one has put their name to this drivel.

They then take refuge in citing the law of God (like all scoundrels) and claiming to have secular powers to discipline doctors. I seriously encourage the real secular authorities to leave no stone unturned to bring these fools to justice.

Or do I?

I fully support the right of all Australians to express their views.

But I do not support their right to express their views by harassing doctors doing work supported by government, and by all reputable scientific authority, to the benefit of the nation.

Claiming authority you do not actually have is fraud.

Attempting to intimidate doctors from doing their legitimate and governmentally authorised work is a form of harassment that, in the current circumstances, ought to be regarded as aggravated harassment worthy of criminal sanction.

There is a limit to freedom of speech.

All Australians have the right to make uninformed decisions likely to impair their health and happiness, but no-one has the right to impose those decisions on others. If you are stupid enough to believe that vaccination is not the only way back to normality – no wuckers.

It’s OK, you don’t get the science but that doesn’t mean you have to drag everyone else down to your own level.

Don’t waste the time of those trying to bring the nation back into the light.

As for the real legal authorities… over to you.

Charlie Teo – It’s Not Rocket Science!

I admit straight away that I’m not a doctor.

I’m a lawyer. And a novelist.

But I’ve always raised an eyebrow at the way Charlie Teo is perceived within the medical community. And I hasten to add that this article has absolutely nothing to do with the proceedings currently against him by the medical council of NSW.

I know nothing about that.

Charlie is a neuro-surgeon. Some regard him as a meatball cowboy – even a charlatan peddling false hope for an outrageous fee. Others regard him as an absolute saviour holding out the kind of hope on which no-one can possibly set a price.

How do you set a price on life?

The debate comes down to this… there are brain cancer patients that (almost) no surgeon will operate on as they feel that their conditions are “inoperable”. There is no surgical option for these patients so the best medical advice is that they must await death with due stoicism.

Charlie Teo, however, takes a different view. He says to the patient: “Yes, I can operate. But there is X chance you will die on the operating table, or shortly after, no matter how hard I try to save your life. My fee is X thousand dollars.”

Some of Charlie’s patients die.

Some of them live for many years beyond their use by date.

Someone very close to me was given a devastating diagnosis over 20 years ago. No other surgeon would take her on so in desperation she turned to Charlie.

She has had two (quite expensive) operations on her brain, and is still alive. If she had not had the operations she would have died a very long time ago.

No other surgeon would have done this.

From a lay perspective, I am deeply impressed.

As a person married to a doctor (and therefore socially involved with other doctors) I am constantly amazed at how much animosity there is out there regarding Charlie Teo.

I don’t know how many times I’ve found myself in arguments with doctors regarding Charlie (whom I’ve never met). To my mind the antipathy to the man is bizarre. We’re talking about patients who have no option – given that no other surgeon will operate. I’ve spoken with other neuro-surgeons also.

A typical conversation goes like this:

Me: Why don’t you respect what Teo’s doing?

Them: Because he gives false hope and charges ridiculous fees. It reflects very badly on the rest of us.

Me: But he’s providing a service that no-one else would contemplate and giving hope to those with no other option.

Them: The science doesn’t support him. He’s a cowboy going way beyond what ought to be possible and charging untenable fees for it.

Me: No-one else would operate on my [close relative] but Charlie did…twice…and if he hadn’t done so, she would’ve been dead 15 – 20 years ago.

Them: What about his patients who died on the operating table, or shortly after?

Me: They knew the risk, and accepted it anyway because there was no other option. For some it works, for some it doesn’t. If it weren’t for Charlie my relative would have died yonks ago.

At this point the conversation usually grinds to a halt. There are some doctors/surgeons who are prepared to agree that I have a point, and others who shrug and assume I don’t have a clue.

They’re probably both right.

Frankly, I can’t help but suspect there is a certain amount of jealousy when it comes to Charlie’s notoriety and success. I’ve also heard (from very close sources) he’s a pretty arrogant chap with no concern for the feelings of colleagues being trampled in the wake of his ego.

This is a bad combination when it comes to maintaining good relations with his peers – especially those now judging him.

As I said, I wouldn’t have a clue about the current proceedings and make no comment on that.

I am amazed however, at how unpopular is a neuro-surgeon who has extended so many lives that might otherwise have long been over.















A Return to Magical Thinking?

The transition from the Mediaeval Period to the Early Modern Period – circa 1450 to 1550 – is very much characterised by the transition from magical to scientific thinking.

Obviously, this is a massive oversimplification, but it also happens to be – more or less – accurate. People used to believe that we were essentially pawns in a greater game being thrashed out by the gods – or just God – depending on your preference. The Earth was the mortal sphere where life and death played out with the eternal pre-life and afterlife the main foci of most philosophy and theology.

Indeed, philosophy and theology effectively held higher status than science in all thinking up until the end of the Enlightenment – a period lasting from the early C16 until the end of the C18. A period during which the scientific method gradually forced its way to the forefront of all cosmology.

I love giving the example of the Dutch, at this point. A tiny impoverished nation, dominated by the Spanish empire, announced in the early 1500s that they would accept anyone regardless of their religion.

Almost overnight, the Netherlands became a major power as the scientific free thinkers clustered within their borders and started contributing to their technology and economy. Catholic Spain, the greatest empire in the world in 1500 was almost gone as a military / political force by 1600 after their armies and navies had been devastated by the progressive countries of England, Holland and the German states.

Over the course of that century we saw the Reformation and Counter Reformation – a hundred years of conflict and recalibration as the basis of society was renegotiated.

But science won.

The societies that rejected dogma and accepted the scientific method were the societies that succeeded. All of you reading this article are inheritors of the scientific method and, by the standards of the past, enjoy a free and bounteous community solely because of this hard won success story.

And yet, in C21 Australia there are rumblings of discontent.

This is not to suggest that everything about our society is just peachy. There are a shitload of things I dislike about the way we’ve organised our socio-politics and economics. But the prevailing basis to all we do is scientific; ie, based on tested and retested ideas which have been proven correct again and again and again.

We build in accordance with engineering principles which stand the test of time.

We get onto planes because we trust the science.

We consult surgeons when we have a significant health problem.

Basically, our entire modern life is all about trusting the experts, but there are movements in particular areas which are now calling this into question.

There is an anti-elitist sentiment growing which disputes the findings of experts and even calls into question the entire scientific basis of modern life.

Alternative health therapies, for example, are massive business these days despite a total absence of scientific support (in many cases). People are willing to pay thousands of dollars for guru treatments which are placebo at best and lethal at worst, and yet the same people dispute gap payments of (maybe) $30 with doctors going beyond bulk billing.

This is not just a crazy fringe. For a significant minority there is a greater faith in unscientific methods than the methods recommended by the experts relying on science.

How did it get to this – this unravelling of Reason and return to Mediaeval magical thinking?

For a start, lots of people are making money from it. The Anti-vaxxer community are led by (mainly) young women trying to be internet influencers; ie, people who make money by driving internet traffic to their websites. Outrageous opinions are money in the bank for such people and every time you click on their pages they shout, “Ker-ching!”

But their business model is based on the fact that people believe them. People want to believe them. Trump based his entire presidency on doubting the science in favour of some other bizarre reality.

I suspect there is some aspect of the modern condition that behooves us to resent the status quo. To believe that the only way of fighting that sense of existential ennui is by seeking some alternative explanation for… pretty much everything. Even the moon landings are doubted despite absolute acres of evidence – not least that the landing sites can be viewed. (You can do it right now if you want.)

A significant minority of first world communities would rather believe the non-experts than the experts. But would you get on a plane built by a non-engineer? Would you drive your car over a bridge built by someone who reckoned gravity was bollocks?

No you wouldn’t, so what makes health science different?

Why are so many prepared to believe (a) that Covid isn’t really a problem and (b) that the Covid vaccines either don’t work or are likely to kill you?

I cannot explain this attitude. It defies Reason. It flies in the face of facts and figures yet people are prepared to demonstrate and challenge the law in support of ideas with zero orthodox support.

For everyone who doubts the efficacy of the various Covid vaccines, please ask yourself why. On what do you base your belief?

Is it informed scientific skepticism, or is it just an investment in click bait? We all want a return to normality (whatever that is likely to be going forward) but it has to be done properly. The dangerously seductive reasoning of lunatic demagogues like Alan Jones will only result in massive disruptions of the kind seen in the US, India and Brasil.

The experts tell us that Covid is real, that the vaccines are safe and that the only way back to normality is by reaching an appropriate level of vaccination.

Why would anyone doubt that in the absence of proper scientific evidence?

The answer to that question was easy in the Middle Ages.

Dancing With the Dragon

I am constantly shaking my head when I read the papers these days, especially when it comes to the way China is reported.

Australian politicians, military and intelligence chiefs, the tabloid media and other commentators all seem to be falling over each other to warn about potential war with China – our biggest trading partner.

Why are they doing this?

What madness compels them to antagonise the Dragon when our ongoing security is dependent on their goodwill and our prosperity is contingent on them continuing to do business with us?

We’ve seen any number of ignorant outbursts from Dutton, Payne and their ilk, and just this morning, an Australian General got onto the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald by predicting an existential catastrophe of Terminator 2 proportions – a “valley of hell”.

This is absolute lunatic behaviour.

Even if you genuinely did harbor such fears, what on Earth is there to gain by airing them in the press? This is like a Sydney Silky yapping at a Rottweiler from behind a fence – but if that fence is the ANZUS treaty, then god help us. One day the Rottweiler will get sick of the yapping and realise the fence isn’t actually there at all.

Of course, none of this is to suggest that China is blameless when it comes to matters such as human rights, political rights, expansionism, environmental neglect and cyber-espionage. They are not, but neither is any other major power in the history of international relations.

Neither are we particularly blameless when you look at the totality of human rights in our own country. (But that’s a blog for another time.)

Why are we so shrill regarding China’s excesses when we’ve hardly made a peep (diplomatically) about American intervention in the Middle East or Asia; First World domination of global markets; the decimation of the environment or any number of other legacies of the old colonial world – from which we’re still receiving dividends?

In particular, what is it about the Liberal Party and their fellow travellers that inspires them to lecture China (when we’ve never lectured anyone else, except New Zealand) while simultaneously urging them to buy our products?

And sulking when they don’t.

This is megaphone diplomacy of the most deluded and chaotic variety. It’s one thing to stand up for your principles but you have to be consistent. If you condemn one country but ignore the same behaviour in fifty others, what does that really say about your principles?

And, almost worse in an era of Realpolitik, what does it say about the professionalism of your political class and media?

If you’re going to deal with China then first of all you have to understand China, to the extent that any Westerner truly can. China has risen from the most abject poverty and humiliating exploitation to become (just about) the most powerful nation on the planet.

China’s current power and prestige would have been unthinkable at the end of the Opium Wars in the mid-C19 when Britain forced the Chinese to legalise (and buy) opium to redress the balance of trade. (Yes, that is a massive over-simplification, but accurate enough for today’s purpose.)

Around the same time they went through the Taiping Rebellion (with the greatest loss of life in the history of warfare, as many as 70 million), further Western predations, revolution, the Japanese invasion, another civil war and revolution, and finally some manner of stability after Mao Tse Tung’s victory in 1949.

They’ve had 250 years of profound disruption and now they’re taking steps to make sure that doesn’t happen again. In any First World culture we’d find that laudable – even noble – but when it comes to China we disapprove.

I hate playing the race card but I genuinely have to wonder: is that what entitles our politicians to yap so loudly? A post-colonial sense of superiority over those we dominated centuries ago?

If we really felt that strongly about China’s record on human rights or expansionism then surely we would refuse to trade with them at all, but that would cost us big time. So what is worth more to us: our principles or our strong economy?

Australia’s relationship with China needs to be managed so carefully. We have nowhere near the military power needed to rattle sabres with them so we need to influence them (if that seems like a good idea) in other ways: through trade, cultural ties and exchanges, and above all: intelligent and strategic diplomacy.

The very last thing we should be doing is nailing our colours to America’s mast and presuming to lecture China on their behalf (which is what we were doing when Trump was president). If Australia had the respect of both the Chinese and the Americans we could play a really important role as an arbiter – helping to find common ground and pathways to peace.

Instead we posture like amateurs – like some pisshead with little man syndrome trying to pick a fight in the carpark.

China is not perfect, but the reality is: the Dragon is here to stay and we have to live with it – especially if we want to do business.

It’s time we started behaving the same way towards China that we do with America, Britain, Europe and Japan. They’re not perfect either, after all.

And neither are we.

We Have To Talk About Cats…

It is with heavy heart that I write this blog.

I grew up with cats, so I can’t help but like them.

I was privileged to be the owner of Sauron (aka Blackie; aka Lord Thunderpurr; aka the Imp from the Pit; aka Conqueror of the Lamp) who was the coolest cat who ever lived. He was soooo intelligent, playful and loving.

That’s right, loving. Every day when I came home he used to run in through the bedroom window, get up on the dressing table, and put his arms round my neck while purring into my ear. I absolutely adored him and cried my eyes out when he died in 2000.

Thing is though, having reached the ripe old age of 60, I now perceive that there shouldn’t be cats in Australia.

I have made the decision that my current cat – Grishnakh – whom I also love to bits, will be my last cat. He’s about eleven now which means he has four or five more years, then that’s it. No more cats.

Neither should there be feral pigs, feral dogs, foxes, goats, horses, camels, rabbits or cane toads. They do unbelievable damage to our native environment and wildlife (over a million birds a day are killed by cats and god knows how many ground dwelling animals) so, sadly, I think it’s time we, as a community, made some hard judgments about those creatures we most value.

I am calling on everyone in Australia to make a similar decision. We will lose our native animals if we do not take the responsible decision – hard though that be – to rid the country of cats, and all other damaging feral pests.

I’m not saying it has to happen overnight. There will be breeders and others who make their living from cats so it would be deeply unfair to require them to go out of business overnight. I am proposing that Australia commits itself to being cat-free by 2040 with no more cat sales after 2025.

As for feral cats, there needs to be an aggressive program of deleting them from the environment. I’d do the same thing for other feral pests but cat lovers need to confront the fact that cats are by far the most destructive to native wildlife so that’s where our focus needs to be.

My heart bleeds for Blackie, and Grishie, and for all of your poor pussycats who can’t help being what they are.

They know not what they do.

The River of Our Times

The number one news story in Australia this week has been the eruption of anger over an anonymous letter which accuses the Attorney-General (Cth) of historic rape back in 1988.

He denies it ever happened and the alleged victim took her own life last year so is no longer in a position to pursue or explicate the matter. The police, apparently, spoke with the alleged victim on a couple of occasions but decided there was insufficient admissible evidence to support a prosecution. We are also told that the last time she spoke with the police the alleged victim decided not to pursue the matter.

At the time of writing, no-one has come forward to claim responsibility for the letter.

Ten years ago, I suspect an anonymous letter making such allegations would have been significantly less newsworthy, but there has been quite a revolution since then. A very good revolution – mostly.

I’ve written before about the centuries – millennia even – during which women have been subjected to the violence, whims or even ownership of men. I am perfectly happy to see this patriarchal milieu wither on the vine and I do understand the role of radical views in achieving any sort of social evolution…

But what I do not want to see is an over-correction – a kind of revenge on current men for the sins of the past.

Because that does seem to be happening in a few subtle and not-so-subtle ways, and the reaction to the Christian Porter case is perhaps an example.

We operate in this country under the rule of law.

The rule of law – meaning everyone is equal under the law – is the number one reason for our stable society where we enjoy personal security, property and political rights more or less undisturbed. This is in massive contrast to most of the rest of the world where cadres, cartels, cabals or subcultures come to dominate at the expense of the majority. Am I right Burma? What do you think North Korea? Somalia? Venezuela? (Oh that’s right, none of you would be allowed to read this.)

These countries (and scores of others) are dominated by the warlord culture – which means only some people have rights, but even that small majority are reliant on the whim of the warlord.

But just because we are lucky enough to live in a country under the rule of law is no reason for smug complacency. The forces of darkness are forever trying to take back control and new warlords are forever vying with the old ones to manoeuvre into pole position.

And the warlords are never individuals these days (with one spectacular exception in America). They are ideas. Isms. Popular movements that capture the zeitgeist and push themselves to the forefront – become major currents in the stream of our culture and sweep all of us along.

As often as not, these ideas are net positive and we all evolve, but they can have negative consequences and I would suggest that the desire to give full support to a victim (laudable as that is) can have consequences that go beyond just the circumstances of any given case.

No-one knows what happened that night between Christian Porter and the alleged victim. Possibly not even Christian Porter as he only knows what happened from his own subjective perspective. Mind you, he claims that sex did not even occur so maybe we’re not even dealing with the vagaries of consent here – which can be the most complex and problematic issue in all of human relations.

But despite the fact that no-one knows what happened, a proportion of the community have already found him guilty, and some will believe him guilty forever – no matter how many enquiries are set up to establish his innocence.

That’s not at all to suggest I think he’s innocent. I wouldn’t have a clue. But I am a lawyer and my highest faith is in the rule of law. It disturbs me greatly to see such a groundswell of opinion against someone – ironically unpopular through his own perceived misogyny and certain other insensitive acts and comments which are now coming home to roost – without any evidence beyond an anonymous third party accusation.

If we truly value the rule of law above everything else (and we really should) then we ought to be sceptical of anonymous accusations and give proper weight to their probative value. To do anything less than that is to surrender to the populist yearnings of those warlords who would seek to send the river of our times in different directions.

Directions which may not suit us.

Anyone who’s read my blog (or literature) over the years will know I am very far from being any kind of Liberal Party supporter – but that’s not the point here. Everyone deserves due process.

Even the Commonwealth Attorney-General.

Political Reality 101

Political Reality 101

Given my status as an internationally recognised commentator on all political and cultural phenomena, some of my friends and colleagues have asked for my opinion on why people think it’s okay to say anything they like on the internet (and even in real life!), irrespective of who it might marginalise or harm. And what is the government doing about it?

*draws deep breath*

Okay, obviously this comes up in the context of the president’s quite breathtaking behaviour since losing the election, especially the incitement to riot and sedition at the Capitol on 6 January.

More profoundly, it’s all about the fact that large numbers of people seem to genuinely believe things that other people find laughable, ridiculous or even dangerous.

How can people within the same communities be so divided in their genuinely held and deepest beliefs? As I’ve said elsewhere, if a community loses sight of its most fundamental values or becomes polarised on those values, it is no longer united. It is no longer a viable community because it no longer shares a common narrative.

Has this happened to America? And if so, how? Could it happen here?

At the risk of sounding glib (NEVER, I hear you cry!) I blame the internet. The so-called democratisation of publishing and information, while giving everyone a voice, has seen the simultaneous erosion of the traditional media’s influence. We are now awash in an ocean of didactic opinion where fact-checking, objectivity and other journalistic standards have all but vanished as the traditional media (those parts of it that remain) devolves to stay relevant to an ever more divided audience.

So what divides the audience?

There has long been an understanding (and even acceptance) of “left” and “right” politics within a polity. Historically, the right are understood to represent the vested interests who want things to stay as they are, and the left are those who want change so that they can have a greater say in the ordering of society and the distribution of its resources.

But what we see today goes way beyond simple left and right. The community is now fractured into thousands of micro-movements on both traditional sides of politics (macro-left and macro-right), most of them just as antagonistic to their fellow micro-movements as they are to the opposing macro.

And of course, these micro-movements were forged on the internet where communities of opinion form and mutate constantly. In the absence of a trusted, objective news source, the communities of opinion become sources of information which underpin and enable the micro-movements.

They effectively become echo-chambers in which people only ever hear what they already think with ever more extreme versions of their “reality” given precedence and prominence by the social media algorithms. Eventually they become radicalised by the “self-evident truth” of their community and have only contempt for others.

But where does the rage come from?

It’s one thing to have a radically polarised or even twisted view of society, but quite another to feel justified in breaking the law or fomenting violence in furtherance of that view. We’ve all seen footage from America in recent times where the president’s supporters have been whipped into a fury on his behalf, with some of them calling for civil war.

You cannot reason with these people. They only hear what they want or expect to hear and any attempt to convince them they are not wholly correct in any aspect of their world-view inspires anger. It’s as though they’ve been desocialised to the point they regard anyone with different views as antagonistic “others” – unbelievers who must be shunned or even exterminated. That’s the next step for those calling for civil war.

Clearly, this has enormous implications for elections. People who genuinely believe that the forces of darkness have stolen control of their country will feel justified in taking non-electoral action to take it back. Especially when they continue to get their news and information only from the increasingly militant echo-chamber of choice, calling for a perverse patriotism.

So how do we fix this problem?

Much as I deplore the recent actions of the president, I feel it would be a big mistake to continue with a second impeachment. He deserves to be impeached, and I daresay his actions could even be deemed seditious and criminal, but now is a time for healing and that process will be massively compromised by inflaming the grievances and passions of his most radical supporters.

Beyond that, there needs to be an objective source of truth that people can trust to inform their opinions. No doubt there will always be micro-movement echo-chambers (where there’s a web there’s a way), but their influence needs to be countered to remind people of what unites them and shine a light into the alternative realities which take shape in the cyber-dark.

Turning our attention then to Australia, while our community is not yet so divided as America, the micro-movements are clearly at work – not least in the media, such as it is. The Australian media, certainly the Murdoch side of it, has lost any pretense at objectivity and has become itself an echo-chamber of opinion rather than fact. Even their cartoonist, Warren, is a blatant propagandist rather than socio-political commentator in the fine Australian tradition. Am I right Dan Andrews?

As for that fine Australian tradition, I grew up in a political landscape that certainly had its left and right divisions, but they weren’t really that far apart. Liberal and Labor were more like a couple of football teams that people barracked for every few years and then forgot about. Losers might be annoyed on election night but they’d get up next morning and nothing had really changed. I used to be amused by that but now I see we were utterly blessed to live through such a time.

I suspect the major parties are a little further apart now – driven by the micro-movements infiltrating and polarising their platforms. I can see a time when both parties will become irrelevant because they do not embrace the realities of their radical infiltrators and the media (and social media) are already howling for harder lines. Newer, harder parties (just like the Nazis in 1930s Germany) will appeal to those with harder opinions and the majors will have to evolve or wither away.

To that end, I can see the stirrings of evolution in the current government – especially as it takes on the media. The Liberal Party has emasculated and decimated the ABC to limit its capacity to report objectively because objectivity does not square with the message the apparatchiks controlling party thinking wish to convey. They even justify their actions by accusing the ABC of an unbalanced “lefty” approach to reporting. It is not taking a leftist approach to reporting simply because you refuse to join the government’s echo-chamber. Facts are facts and do not change at a demagogue’s whim.

As O’Brien said to Winston in Room 101: “You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. But I tell you Winston that reality is not external. Whatever the Party holds to be truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party.”

It’s coming.