White Line Fever

George Burgess was just given 9 weeks suspension in the NRL for a pretty ugly eye gouge.

I’m going to say that’s not enough.

His really nasty eye poke – which could so easily have cost Robbie Farah his sight in one eye – copped a measly 9 weeks, which seems suspiciously neat when you think he will be eligible to play in the finals, which Souths are all but certain to make.

And this is a guy with form in the eye-gouging arena! Why isn’t the NRL making an example of this idiot? Some might suggest my use of the word idiot is a tad harsh but the reality is – he was busted for eye-gouging only a few months ago in a test against New Zealand, and clearly he hasn’t learned from the sanction.

That, in my opinion, is the definition of an idiot.

Mind you, if there are bigger idiots, it is the NRL judiciary.

Do they not realise that they are setting the sanction bar for the entire league? The vast majority of players never get to strut their stuff on national television. The vast majority of players from under 6s through to All Age play their footballing lives in obscurity without the television cameras on hand to track their actions in minute detail.

That means they can get away with murder, and on the off-chance they get busted – they’re looking at maybe 9 weeks out after jeopardising some poor bastard’s eyesight. A life sentence against a 9 week holiday.

I’m saying Burgess, after two such incidents, should be rubbed out of the game – never to play again. Why should players with the rest of their lives to live – be subjected to George Burgess and his evil ocular tactics?

Why should children be risking permanent injury due to George Burgess’s example?

Why should obscure players in Group 7 or Group 15 be exposed to life-shattering injury so that George Burgess can be rewarded with the (likely) prospect of finals football in 2019?

The even bigger question is this…

What exactly happens to footballers when they cross the white line?

I include myself in this question. I’m a pacifist and lawyer in my 50s – still playing O45s football. I’m totally opposed to violence and I’ve thrown only one punch in my adult life (which missed), and that was on the football field, the week my first wife announced she was leaving.

Mind you, throwing a punch at someone (who totally deserved it) is a lot different from gouging the eyes of some helpless bastard with his arms pinned. Just putting my own evil in context…

Still, when people cross the white line, they change. Violent acts they would never dream of in polite society become acceptable, even normative, in a sporting contest. This has happened even to me so, while I am disgusted with George Burgess’s actions, I am not entirely unsympathetic to the fact that brains change in accordance with context.

A mate of mine is in the army commandos and I have occasionally asked him about what it’s like going into action. This is a fellow who leads a comparatively normal life in Australian civil society, but on several occasions has been asked to go into unbelievable peril on behalf of our politicians and their geo-commercial masters.

This takes one hell of a brain change – dealing with life/death problems every second of every day for several months. And how do they re-adjust when they’re back home?

Is it any wonder that so many veterans are dealing with PTSD and other complications when they are so constantly transitioning between observing the speeding laws, and some cunt trying to kill them?

But I digress…

To get back to the NRL judiciary, you got it wrong guys. Robbie Farah could’ve lost an eye because George Burgess was trying to win a sleazy advantage for his team in a game that would otherwise have been forgotten.

The fact that George Burgess will likely play finals football this year is just wrong.

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Between the Wolves

The Lowy Institute’s latest report features some interesting data regarding Australia’s perception of China and America. In particular, that our confidence in President Xi to do the right thing has dropped to 38%, but our confidence in President Trump to do the right thing has dropped to a measly 20%.

(I’m surprised it’s that high.)

As America rattles its sabre at Iran, China continues to over-build its influence in the Pacific and Africa, and throws its weight around in the South China Sea. Both are engaged in a potentially crippling tariff war and Australia stands between them, tugging at their coats and saying: “Guys! C’mon guys!”

Because that seems to be the extent of our diplomacy, while always seeming to err on the side of the Americans (whom we trust only half as much as the Chinese).

The problem for us is that China and America are our two most important trading partners and we can’t afford to upset either of them while our current prosperity depends on them.

That’s right – prosperity.

The great fortune of Australia is that we are a tiny little population (by world standards) occupying a vast land mass bulging with minerals. The quarry we call home also just happens to be incredibly beautiful and is a safe, strong democracy (for now) – which makes it a desirable tourist location. Add to that the fact that we are a comparatively clever country, and it all adds up to Australia being (approximately) the 12th biggest economy in the world, shared by just 25 million people.

That is the secret to our prosperity.

And yet it’s all being jeopardised by our geopolitical and trading position – approximately halfway between two slavering wolves.

If we want to protect our livelihoods, and maybe also enhance the safety and happiness of the rest of the world, it is time we started to use our influence to moderate the behaviour of America and China. We need them both and we need them to get on.

As far as America is concerned, we need to assert our independence. Does that mean tearing up the ANZUS Treaty? Probably not, but we should never go running into American wars just because we’re allies. If that maniac Trump wants to start WW3 in Iran we should be the first pulling him back. Our loud and public disapproval might just be enough to give him pause for thought.

It might help with China also.

I suspect they see us right now as America’s bumbling sidekick, but if we showed our independence of America (especially when America is acting so irrationally) then China might see us as an individual voice rather than just another tuneless tenor in the US choir.

The actions of both America and China are destabilising the world right now at a time when the most powerful nations are needed to show leadership. The problems of the world, including climate change, overpopulation and massive economic inequality are getting worse and leading us down a slippery slope towards oblivion.

I reckon we’re screwed within two decades unless we get our noses all pointing in the same direction to resolve these problems, and us just tugging at the coats of the wolves is not helping.

Both America and China need us, for now, so now is the time we must assert ourselves to convince them to use their strength to help turn it all around.

What we most need is vision and if the Americans and Chinese can’t see the possibilities for themselves then we will go up in both of their estimations if we at least have the guts to throw some light on the problems.

Religion and Politics

As I have written before, the Israel Folau case is not about religion.

It is a contractual dispute which he is trying to characterise as a denial of religious rights in misguided attempt to claim the moral high ground.

I was just disgusted to hear about his GoFundMe campaign. A man as wealthy as Israel Folau does not need public support, especially when he’s deliberately conflating the issues of contractual obligation and freedom of speech and religion.

Accordingly, I was delighted to hear that GoFundMe had closed him down for being in breach of their inclusivity policy. They did not want their site to be used to support freedom of hate speech.

Now we learn that another crowd funding effort has been started on Israel’s behalf by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), who are kicking in a hundred grand to get the ball rolling.

My question is why?

The ACL are not entirely stupid. They would fully understand that the substantive issue at stake has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with a refusal to comply with a contractual obligation not to bring the game into disrepute in a manner against which he had previously and specifically been warned.

So why are they buying into the dispute when they ought to know that it really has nothing to do with religion?

Could it be they just want the publicity of being linked with (for the moment) a major celebrity? Like a shirt front sponsor?

Or could it be they are trying to pour petrol onto the linked debate regarding so-called religious freedom in the wake of the marriage equality outcome? Any forum will do, even if it’s likely to be a loser?

As I’ve said before, this also is a conflation of issues. The fact of marriage equality has nothing to do with the freedom of religion. Since when does a couple’s right to marry have anything to do with another person’s right to practise the religion of their choice?

It does not.

What the religious right (of whom the ACL are a major player) really want is the legal right to go on saying nasty things about the people they don’t like and to discriminate against them in the workplace and in schools (and refuse to sell them wedding cakes).

They will take any opportunity to further this crusade, and linking themselves with Israel Folau’s petulant cause sounds like good business.

What this demonstrates to me, however, is the complete hypocrisy of the ACL. They want to further the interests of Christianity, but in so doing they want to spend a hundred thousand dollars on just one rich person’s ill-conceived court case.

I, for one, would have a lot more respect for the ACL, if they gave that money to people who genuinely needed it.

As Jesus himself (apparently) said:

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19: 24

I’ll bet the directors of the ACL are all rich.

Just like Israel Folau.

The Root of Our Culture

What is the root of our culture?

Where is the well from which our deepest values spring?

What qualities of men or women do we most admire, respect and revere?

I ask these questions because I’m still shaking my head at the fact that some American nobody will make enough money from semi-streaking at the Champions League Final to retire by the time she is thirty.

According to experts, this woman (I refuse to name her) by running onto the field in the female version of a Borat posing pouch (advertising an internet porn site) will make about $US 6 million.

In fact, I’m not judging her. Good luck to her if she is able to gauge the zeitgeist and strike while the iron’s hot.

I’m judging everyone else.

I’m judging the people who make it possible for her to make so much money from her criminal and opportunistic actions.

Why on earth are we rewarding this sort of behaviour? Why isn’t there legislation to prevent her benefiting from her crime? Because it will only encourage others to do the same.

When you understand that anyone on planet earth with just $32k is actually in the top 1% of wealth, it is sobering indeed to think that, the way our culture, values and economy works, this 22 yo non-entity will make $6 million for a ten second semi-clad gesture.

As I said, good luck to her, but all of you out there who joined her Instagram (or whatever social media) following…

You disgust me.

And I say that as a person who is very slow to judge anyone or anything. God knows I’m an arsehole of the first water but even I will raise an eyebrow at the idea of people being rewarded – obscenely rewarded – for nothing.

Fame ought to be allocated to people who’ve actually done something that makes them extraordinary – not just frittered away on unprincipled zeros able to manipulate social media algorithms.

When you think that there are people out there devoting their lives to looking after the sick; building things; generating art, music and literature; upholding rights or fighting for rights they don’t have; and doing all these things in comparative obscurity, it deeply disturbs me that so much attention is given to someone who didn’t even get all her kit off.

This very ordinary woman has become rich and famous in the same week that millions are fighting for their rights in Hong Kong, Julian Assange is being deported to America, and everyone in the world with less than $32k continues to lead lives of exploitation, darkness and misery.

I genuinely think we’ve really fucked this up.

Rocketman: The Elton Movie

So many people tried to tell me how amazing Bohemian Rhapsody was.

It wasn’t bad, but I did think it was a bit of a lame and sanitised homage to Freddy with insufficient detail on the others (especially Brian May). It was also a tad bland – but if you pushed me to really identify what was wrong, I would have struggled.

Until tonight.

Tonight I saw Rocketman – the Elton John story – and was blown away. The missing ingredient in Bohemian Rhapsody was magic – and Rocketman had it in bucketloads.

* * *

The biggest mistake Bohemian Rhapsody made was this – they forgot they were making a film. They were so busy trying to be accurate and fair they even made Remi Malek wear a stupid dental prosthesis which stopped him from talking properly. It’s like hiring George Clooney to play Chewbacca! The end result was a bland documentary that was mildly entertaining, but it didn’t feel like a movie.

In very stark contrast – you knew from the opening moments that Rocketman was entirely different. Gorgeously shot – dramatic – other-worldly – it straight away took you inside Elton’s life experience from his confronting and unsentimental childhood all the way to his breakdown in 1990.

Every step of the journey was told through the prism of his songs and it was just masterful the way Bernie Taupin’s lyrics were occasionally used to counterpoint the on-screen action. There were several intensely moving scenes crafted around Elton’s song-writing even as other dramatic segues were occurring in his life – not least the development of his song-writing relationship with Bernie and his marriage to Renata – which was over in a flash.

In these comparatively liberated days it’s easy to forget that homosexuality was still against the law back in the 60s and 70s when Elton was growing up – it must have been hard being a public figure (and sex symbol) all the while knowing the fate of (say) Oscar Wilde was still a possibility. Elton’s sexuality was clearly a major part of who he was growing up and the film dealt very tastefully with that without getting either preachy or overly graphic.

Probably the toughest aspect of the film was the way it dealt with his father and mother. That was unflinching and raw and I couldn’t help but admire the restraint with which those relationships were portrayed. It would have been easy for the writers to really put the boot in there but they held back while still giving you a powerful feel for Elton’s dignified devastation.

Elton must have been delighted with Taron Egerton’s performance. He was just superb and that pretty much sets the benchmark for a rock biopic portrayal. As does the movie itself. It will be a long, long time before another movie tells the story of a rock star or band without going too far down the bland documentary path or the overly fanciful and self-serving path.

Rocketman told a fantastic story in a fantastically cinematic way – giving the fans a wonderful insight into the creative process and the chaos behind the scenes. If I have one bone to pick, the film did fail to mention his greatest shame of all – being a Watford fan. But it would be churlish of me to criticise too much when I was so thoroughly entertained and educated.

I gave Bohemian Rhapsody 3 Stars – it did fairly well what it set out to do. Rocketman was way more ambitious and will be in my head a very long time indeed. I look forward to the writer and director now taking on David Bowie.

4.5 Stars (on the basis that I never give 5)

Freedom for the Religious Right?

Since the election there seems to be a groundswell among coalition MPs in support of a bill guaranteeing religious freedom.

The groundswell, such as it is, appears to be inspired by two specific incidents: the Israel Folau case; and (on Malcolm Turnbull’s watch) the gay marriage plebiscite.

However, the call for religious freedom rights, in both cases, is inspired by a fallacy. Neither the Israel Folau incident, nor the gay marriage plebiscite, did anything to endanger religious freedom. What we are seeing is a deliberate attempt to characterise enlightened social policy as an attack on religion, when in fact, it is simply an expression of communal priority.

There is no attack on religion. There is however an attack on outdated opinions which conflict with rights the community at large has determined to be more important than the right of religions to judge and exclude.

In other words, you can practise any religion you like in Australia, but that doesn’t give you the right to judge and exclude others on the basis of their sexuality. And why on earth, in 2019, should anyone want to?

* * *

But to my mind, the bigger question is why would the religious right be deliberately misconstruing the issues of marriage equality or the legality of same sex relationships as attacks on religious freedom?

These people aren’t (entirely) idiots, so I am going to assume they know that the right of all people to get married is not an attack on religious freedom. How is person A’s right to get married an attack on person B’s right to practise religion? It’s not.

I am going to assume they know that the ARU cancelling Israel Folau’s contract for being in breach of its fundamental terms is in no way an attack on his freedom to practise his religion. How is person A’s right to their own sexuality an attack on person B’s right to practise religion? It’s not.

How is the right of any person A to get married, or express their sexuality, in any way an attack on the rights of completely different persons B who have never even met or (maybe) even lived in the same state?

What the religious right are effectively saying is this: the rights of other Australians to marry whoever they want, or have sex with whoever they want, is somehow an attack on their right to practise religion, even though it does not affect them personally in any way at all.

They are also making this claim despite the fact that the majority have decided that marital equality is important and that sexual orientation is up to the individual. Making law on the basis of majority will is fundamental to a democratic society.

So the religious right are also saying: they want the parliament to enshrine their right to judge and exclude despite the fact that the majority have determined the rights of all Australians to marry or express their sexuality to be inalienable.

Obviously they can’t just state it as baldly as that so they are hiding their claim behind a façade of victimisation. They are suggesting the rights of others are an attack on their rights – even though they are not remotely affected by the rights of others. So therefore, it’s only fair that their right to go on judging and excluding be enshrined in legislation, notwithstanding the democratically determined rights of others.

Why is no-one calling out Israel Folau or the religious right on this?

There is absolutely no basis in fact or law for the asserted need for religious freedom which is, in reality, an attempt to enshrine the right of the minority to discriminate against life choices determined to be entirely legitimate by the majority.

Nice try religious right, but surely Australians aren’t so stupid as to give in to your dinosaur bigotry.

Election 2019: Game of Groans

I don’t know which outcome disgusts me more – the federal election or The Game of Thrones.

As I continue to process the outcome of the election, it strikes me that the choice came down to two different issues: climate change and retirement income policy.

Eighty-one percent of Australians were concerned about climate change, but large numbers were also concerned about perceived depredations (rightly or wrongly) on future retirement incomes. You couldn’t vote for both environmental protection and retirement income protection, so you had to make a choice.

Australia, as the driest continent, is extremely susceptible to global warming. We can see the Murray Darling drying up. We can see the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. We can see the horrors of soil degradation and extreme weather events both here and around the world. We can feel the unseasonal heat as average temperatures ramp up every year. And we are constantly warned about mass extinctions and the impact on biodiversity as habitats are destroyed both by human incursion and rising temperatures.

And yet, somehow, none of those threats were as real to voters as the threat to their future hip pockets.

Because that’s what turned the election in the Coalition’s favour – Labor targeting franking credits, capital gains tax and negative gearing. It was NOT a retirement tax as characterised by the Coalition, but it WAS a potential handbrake on those with aspirational sentiment.

The Labor Party must have done their analysis in the formulation of those policies and I daresay they determined that relatively few people would be much affected, and not many of those few would have been likely to vote ALP in any case.

I suspect they believed those policies (apparently aimed at the rich) would have been popular among those in the median household income range and would therefore offset any vote losses in the retirement class.

What they forgot, is that Australians – those in the Sensible Centre at least – have always been aspirational. They may not enjoy franking credits, capital gains or negative gearing right now, but they hope to in the future and don’t want to see the Gravy Train derailed before they have a chance to get their own snouts in the trough!

They also forgot that Australians have always perceived themselves as inherently classless, but implicit in an attack on the (perceived) rich is a recognition that there are in fact two classes (or more). I suspect that would make a lot of Australians across the spectrum quite uncomfortable and a vote against Labor was therefore a vote denying a class war – a vote in favour of unity.

So if Labor had been right, and their policies had been embraced by the majority, what would that have said about the evolving polity? Could it have meant that we had become a nation newly divided into classes (haves and have nots) with a dwindling sense of aspiration?

If so, that would be just about the saddest day in Australian political history.

But maybe it was anyway.

We may have rejected a class war, but in so doing we rejected action on climate change. And the tragedy is, that decision was to some extent forced on Australians who would have been quite happy to vote for the environment if the Labor Party had simply left it at that.

In making the election about class and aspiration they muddied the political water so badly that voters couldn’t see the Murray Darling drying up or the Reef bleaching. They sensed instead a profound attack on their culture, which just happened to affect their future wealth (or their hope of future wealth) also.

That made the choice impossible for some, and the result will be another three years of Coalition policy that favours the climate science deniers and the coal lobby – who are desperate to sell their coal reserves before they entirely lose their value.

Fortunately, the market continues to put its faith (and dollars) into renewables despite the government removing subsidies and other incentives to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

And for an old greenie like me that may be the final irony – the free market coming to the rescue of the environment when the politicians (through being in the pockets of the lobbyists on one side, or through policy incompetence on the other side) have entirely failed.

Although neither failure is as disappointing as the pathetic conclusion to The Game of Thrones. Take away the original writer (GRR Martin) and you lose the sense of story momentum and integrity that has enthralled millions of TV viewers for years. Almost any of whom could have written a better ending than the festival of shark jumping I sat through over the last two months.

Like the election, at least its finally over.