Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

If you're my baby...

While there's often a love-hate relationship between pop culture figures and real people, between representation and reality, sometimes pop culture captures reality perfectly. As Keisha, Mutya and Heidi of the Sugababes cavort in an elevator for the "Push the Button" clip, each couples off with a hapless, dorky man and coaxes some hot dancing out of their unexpected dates. So far, so pop. But what interested me was the pairing process. Keisha finds herself a hot black man while Mutya and Heidi pair off with two luscious white chaps. Keisha is dark-skinned, while Mutya and Heidi are white.

This populist - and popular - version of multiculturalism is pernicious, especially in American cultural products. The Sugababes are British, but America's screen-segregation is far more pronounced. Black women date black men. White women date white men. There's a bit of crossover between Latino-white and Latino-black, but white and black skins almost never get cozy, except indirectly, through the medium of the Latino mid-point colour. Whites and blacks can be mates - they make for good buddy-cop movies - but rarely intimate partners. While the concept of intermarriage in Western countries is tainted by the immediate past, where miscegenation was seen as the favoured method to dilute the toxicity of native/slave blood, the present system is not much better. If people stay within their own cultures, ghettoes of privilege and poverty form and become more entrenched. If multiculturalism translates to parallel nations in the same county, antagonism can easily flourish. The images of France burning provides a useful rejoinder to segregation masquerading as tolerance.

The statistics from the US bear out what the Sugababes help visualise. America's rate of intercultural marriage between the dominant and poorest ethnicities are extremely low. In 1990, only 5.5% of black men married white women. In 2000, the figure had crept up to 9.6%, with black women marrying white men in only 3.8% of cases. Why? One reason is economic class. Ghettos of inequality exist throughout America. It's an ethnicised phenomenon - in settler societies, class is often based on culture. Unhappily for America's black population, the successive waves of immigration - Asian, Latin American - have jumped from bottom to middle, leaving African-Americans at the bottom of the heap. If you don't make it out of poverty in those areas not colonised and dominated by whites, like sports or music, or become employed by the saviours and employers of the urban poor the world over, the drug and crime gangs, there's nowhere to go. Intermarriage - and the equalising effect that would have - is hindered by class, the social stigma of cross-cultural dating and effective geographic segregation within American cities.

The phenomenon of 'white flight' has been well-documented since the 1950's, where black Americans move into white areas, sending middle and upper class whites out further into the safety of the burbs and gated communities. Australia is by no means free of white flight. Sydney has seen an exodus of whites from what Mark Latham dubbed the city's Middle Arc, as Asian immigrants arrive. Australian demographer Bob Birrell has shown that these whites head either further into the city, if they have the means to price themselves away from immigrant neighbours, or further out into the burbs, if they don't. Sanitised by shows like "Seachange", some leave for the country or coast. Of course, the seachange phenomenon can't be attributed directly to a fear of immigrants, but it's important to acknowledge that the phenomenon of white flight exists and is influential. These days, Melbourne's inner-city suburb of Carlton has been recolonised and thoroughly gentrified by Anglo-Saxons and rich immigrants, but only after the poor Greek/Italian influx of the post-war years grew rich enough to head to the suburbs in belated pursuit of the Anglo-Saxons.

White flight stems from a fear or dislike of cultural "invasion" which the unkind would dub racism, and those more understanding would call fearful ignorance. During the post-war years, when Australia began replenishing its decimated male workforce with Southern European immigrants, assimilation policies were in place and immigrants were discouraged from forming community organisations, using their own language or living too close to other immigrants. In a more enlightened time, the policy has been rightly condemned as alienating and unforgiving. These days, we're multicultural, and proudly so. During my time in Japan, I went to the Australian pavilion at the Aichi World Expo earlier this year and watched as my country presented itself favourably to the world. Key themes were sport, mateship, nature and multiculturalism. From an embarassment fifty years ago, Australia now flaunts being of mixed race. And with good reason. Culture-based inequality is far less present here than in America or Europe. Race riots are rare, generally coming from the one culture white Australia still hasn't included, the lingering skeleton under the carpet - Aboriginal-Australians, who have moved from tribesmen to inmates under the rule of white Australia, as C.D. Rowley acidly observes. Ethnic cleansing through intermarriage was advanced and developed to a far greater degree here in Australia than was ever the case in America. Australian academic Gary Foley has written that

"With the overt chains of slavery removed, white America felt compelled to construct a system of racial, social and economic apartheid that persists to this day. The sexual component of this white fear removed any notions of assimilation that might
involve a genetic 'absorption' of black people into mainstream American society."

While the Australian system of forced, reproduction-focussed assimilation has been roundly condemned by contemporary historians, the rate of intermarriage between the white majority and Australia's most economically disadvantaged culture remains far higher than in America. The 1996 census revealed that an astonishing 64 per cent of Aboriginal families involved a union between an Aboriginal and a non-Aboriginal partner.

Traditionally, White American males feared that black men would steal white women; hence the obsession with the presumed huge penises of African-Americans (a myth not borne out by fact) and a continued obsession with black sexual prowess. In Black Like Me, an astonishing book of the early sixties, John Howard Griffin darkened his skin and walked the streets of the segregated South of America as a black man. When white men did approach him, they would continually obsess over his sexual feats, an obsession hiding a deep insecurity.

The Sugababes film clip could easily pass as a multicultural document - the sanctitity of culture is preserved, the defences maintained against the past of white cultural colonisation of the assimilation era. But what it also represents is a prissy unwillingness to contaminate, a reluctance or inability to step outside cultures. Having said that, I have to acknowledge my hypocrisy: I've got no first-generation migrant friends. All my second or third generation friends have been Australianised; their faces have abandoned the tautness of their parents - the first generation, on their guard- and relaxed into Australian grins. Is assimilation truly such a dirty word, when it's not imposed, when it isn't bureaucracy so much as demography? Isn't it a far better outcome than a tribalised Australia full of paranoid Anglo-Saxons fearful of losing their top-ranking, marginalised Aborigines and aspirational Asians?


A tacky thought - if the government had to be involved, perhaps it could just produce glossy advertising along the lines of Singapore's Government-sponsored dating programs. Perhaps something like:

- Don't hesitate, miscegenate!
- If you're my baby, it don't matter if you're black or white. Or whatever.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

In praise of Bill Gates

There's something drastically wrong when we have to turn to Bill Gates to point out the deficiencies of the free market. But who else can the poor of the world turn to for cures to the diseases which help keep them in poverty? There is no money in third-world diseases. Big pharmaceuticals focus on drugs which alleviate the diseases of the rich, many self-inflicted like heart-attacks, strokes and cigarette or diet-caused cancers. Diseases of the rich generally kill us in middle or older age. In 1991, nearly a million Americans died of heart disease. The biggest disease of the poor, malaria kills between one and two million people a year, taking many of its victims as children. But while heart disease is under siege from the research and development community, backed by the deep pockets of the profit-driven pharmaceuticals, malaria research has languished. Between 1975 and 1999, only four of the almost 1,400 new drugs developed worldwide were antimalarials, and all were at least in part the products of publicly funded research, according to a report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies 2004. Yet 350-500 million people are infected with malaria each year, primarily in Africa. In turn, that has a massive economic impact on the Too-Hard Continent, cutting the region’s gross domestic product by about $12 billion annually.

Bill Gates doesn't pull his punches. “For far too long, malaria has been a forgotten epidemic,” he says on the website of the Gates Foundation, an organisation he set up with his wife, Melinda, to try to change these grim statistics. “It’s a disgrace that the world has allowed malaria deaths to double in the last 20 years, when so much more could be done to stop the disease.” The Foundation has produced a report showing that anti-malaria research totaled just $323 million in 2004 – less than 0.3% of total health research spending worldwide, and "far less than the amount needed." The Gates Foundation has nearly doubled that figure this year, giving anti-malaria initiatives an additional $258 million. That figure was in turn dwarfed by George Bush's commitment of $1.2 billion to anti-malaria programs in July this year, and the public-private parnership, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has secured $4.4 billion US dollars of funding to fight the big three diseases of the poor. While it appears that malaria is at last emerging from the gloom of obscurity, it's not the private sector that deserves praise. The market most certainly did not provide.

In rich countries, research in HIV/AIDS drugs has progressed to the point where the disease is no longer an automatic death sentence. Contracting HIV is still life-threatening, and treatment is expensive, but the disease has been brought low, demoted from the certain killer of the eighties to a new phase as a severe ongoing illness which can kill. But that's a benefit of being born in the West. AIDS has decimated Africa and is extending its reach into the rest of the developing world. Dampened in the West, it rages in full force throughout the poor South, killing three million worldwide - 75% of those in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the dead could have lived for much longer, if not for the obstructionism of the pharmaceuticals. The cost of drug development, concerns over their intellectual property and the almighty profit motive has led big pharmas to abandon the dying poor in favour of the dying rich. In 2001, South Africa forced 39 pharmas to see reason and back down from a lawsuit over the generic copying of brand-name drugs, a move widely seen as a victory of principles over profit. But the South African government has been notably sluggish in seeing the need for anti-retroviral drugs, and has previously refused to acknowledge the link between HIV and AIDS.

There are positive developments. As developing countries like India rise out of poverty, defying all odds, tariffs and corruption, many are investing in the diseases endemic to their population. India has been billed as a biotech giant in waiting, and Bangladesh is on the move too, establishing Beacon Pharma as the first local high-tech pharmaceutical. At present, Bangladesh has historically been almost 100 per cent dependent on the import of high-tech anti-cancer drugs, hormones, vaccines, and insulin. Across the border, Shantha Biotechnics developed India's first genetically-engineered Hepatitis B vaccine and started selling it in 1997. While Africa's biotech industry is tiny, there are patches of hope. South Africa's AIDS Vaccine Initiative is trialling two vaccines. But rather tellingly, it's the first country in the world trialling a vaccine against the HIV-1 C subtype, found most commonly in Africa. In the West, the most common HIV strain is subtype B and so, once again, most Western research has been directed towards curing the rich.


Some critics doubt that Gates' about-face march into philanthropy is genuine. But he's only the latest in a long line of ruthless tycoons like Rockerfeller and industrialist-idealists like Carnegie who have softened into giving as their personal extinction approaches.


Interestingly, Western afflictions such as whiplash aren't as popular in many other countries. Research suggests chronic whiplash may largely psychosomatic, and that car-crash victims in countries in which the concept of whiplash isn't as widely publicised report lower head and neck pain following the crash.
People are strange

From an article in Wired on Timothy Archibald's book, Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews:

The Huskette has a $300 KitchenAid mixer motor inside it. We thought it was silly to spend $300 on something with only one use, so we made this detachable. So, if you wanted to make cookies, you can detach the mixer from the machine, hook it to its original base and bowl -- clean it off, of course -- and you can get to work in the kitchen. We aren't kidding. We did have a kinky cookie bake with our local BDSM group last year during the holidays. - James from St. Paul, Minnesota

What I love about this picture is the juxtaposition of the domestic and the sexual, the presence of the dog, sprawled and bored and thoroughly domesticated, the bookshelf littered with diagonal slashes of books, the boots, a leash and then an unforgiving juggernaut of a self-built sex machine. And the fact that the Huskette doubles as a cookie mixer, presumably so you can deal with friends unexpectedly dropping in. It's so mundane and so extraordinary - the thriving sexlives of the suburbs.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Just wondering...

As monthly line rental fees push young people and professionals into mobile-only arrangements, I wonder if the subsequent decline in landline usage may have an unexpected benefit - far fewer spam calls. Or is it just an untapped market for the offshore and local telepest farms? Are mobiles safe? Not being listed in phonebooks helps, of course. But if people's phone rages are mollified somewhat by the distribution of calls across households, I can't imagine the anger generated by spam calls to mobiles. Mobiles are more personal. More selective. They wouldn't dare intrude. Would they? Could they?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The war that missed

In March 2003, the United States invaded a Middle Eastern country in an attempt to reduce the threat from rogue states and radical Islamists. Unfortunately, they missed the real threat, and the US army took out the neigbouring local loudmouth instead. The country America should really have been gunning for, if any, was Saudi Arabia, the world’s near-monopoly exporters of fundamentalist Islam.

During the decade and a half of triumphalism that followed the crumpling of the Soviet Union, the US has opened its arms and shared its vision of success. Namely, democracy and free markets. With the implosion of communism, the major economic and political system rivalling capitalism, the US has turned the less pointy end of its foreign policy into a Democratic- Free-Market-Building machine the likes of which the world hasn’t seen before. From Africa to Eurasia to Asia, the US has led the charge to preach the gospel of the victors to the world. Except in one very special place. The lucky region is the Middle East. Prior to the Gulf War sequel, these governments have strangely evaded the USA’s democratic roving eye. Obviously, the rationale is oil. Despite America’s attempt to become more self-sufficient in energy, SUV sales and the country’s continuing love affair with the car keep it tied to the turbulent Middle East.

The House of Saud sits atop 25% of the world’s proven oil resources, and makes a pretty penny from exporting energy. More than enough to buy the trappings of modernity – fast cars for princelings, sleek silvered buildings for expats and oil barons and huge, energy-hungry desalination plants. But money doesn’t trickle down very fast in a tribal society. If the Saudi royal family wasn’t careful, it could become the enemy pretty quickly. There’s a generation of jobless, restless youth with time to kill. The country is a textbook case for the entry of fundamentalist preachers. But the Saudis are clever. Indirectly, they’ve found their citizens a better enemy, a greater Satan.

After claiming dominion over the territory that would become Saudi Arabia only to lose it two or three times to a rival family, the House of Saud made an enduring alliance with Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, a radical preacher. Wahhab’s faith and power lent credence to the Saudis, and this time, the tribal royals clung to their conquered land long enough for oil to be discovered and become enormously valuable. The alliance has endured, and Wahhabi Islam has long been the official religion in Saudi Arabia, holding sway over the two holiest Muslim cities, Mecca and Medina. But there’s been a tension buried in the politico-religious alliance since the beginning. Wahhabis believe Sunni Islam has been corrupted and strive to maintain an ascetic purity across the whole Saudi culture. Known as the Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the religious police enforce a version of Shari’a law that approaches the Taliban. No cinemas, no male-female socialising, no Western music. It’s a zealous purity that doesn’t fit with the known excesses of the Saudi princes, who womanize, drive fast cars, drink alcohol and enjoy life in the time-honoured fashion of the obscenely, undeservedly rich. But still the alliance glues the society together. How? Petrodollars. The government has given many, many millions to the Wahhabis, who have used the funds to create a movement worldwide in scope.

William Dalrymple writes in The Guardian that:

The Saudis now dominate as much as 95% of Arabic language media; 80% of mosques in the US are controlled by Wahhabi imams. While limiting radical Islam at home, the Saudis have promoted it abroad, principally by funding hardcore Wahhabi and Salafi schools in the Muslim world, most concertedly in Afghanistan, Kurdistan and Pakistan. In Pakistan, a recent interior ministry report revealed that there are now 6,607 madrasas, up from 245 at the time of independence in 1947. The great majority are built with Saudi funds and it was in these madrasas that the Taliban were trained. Saudi Arabia later became one of only three countries to recognise that unpleasant regime.

Throughout South East Asia, Islam has been indigenised – softened, recombined with animism and indigenous religions. Dress codes are relaxed, Islamic laws less stringent. My cousin, a tropical ecologist, worked for many years in Brunei, a small Islamic country buried in the island Borneo and told me recently that this is changing. Saudi-style clothing is coming into vogue. Brunei’s relative permissiveness is changing. There’s something in the wind. It’s the new preachers, the faith-filled zealots. With increasing clout in the Government, the fundamentalist preachers are achieving real change - recolonising South East Asia with a new, fierier brand of Islam.

The Saudi government’s policy of outsourcing dissent has been domestically successful, but internationally disastrous. It’s polarized the world into camps, driven a hitherto slightly friendlier USA back into the Cold War mentality it so recently emerged from and pitted militant Islam against the West and moderate Muslims alike. Next war, perhaps the US could aim a little better. Real friends don't stab you in the back. Or is this just another doomed marriage of convenience which must be settled with a currency beyond US dollars or oil, the currency of good ol' red American blood?


I seem to be writing worthy, earnest posts of late. This may be because I have a final round journalism interview this week. Wish me luck! New incarnation: Earnestpax - Boldly penning opinion as if I've got something authoritative to say!

Monday, November 21, 2005


I interviewed an existentialist philosopher a few weeks ago and I asked him what the meaning of his life was. What he said was simple but it stuck with me.

“That is a very difficult question. I do know one thing about human existence that many of us have forgotten. It’s the philosophical conviction that humans are creative, and many of us have forgotten that, many of us live like consumers.” (He says consumers with distaste, easing over the word.) “In a technological society, we can use readymade cloth, food, furniture, and people have forgotten that we are creative, we create our lives, we can create meanings, we can create values. We can live like an artist and not like a scientist or a consumer. That really gives meaning to my life. I wake up in the morning and I suddenly realise I am the creator of my own world, I am here to create, I am not here to imitate. That’s very important. It makes me feel more authentic. It is very important to be yourself, it is very important to be authentic, so you don’t get lost here and there.”

I keep thinking about what he said because it resonated with where I am at present. It's so easy to live as a consumer, moving from paid experience to paid experience. The 21st century has been proclaimed by a few futurists to be the Age of Entertainment, in which the majority of new jobs created will be devoted to filling the senses of consumers. But as entertainment booms as the third long, decadent wave of the Industrial Revolution, it makes consumers more than consumers. It makes critics of us all.

Amongst youngsters like me, market research (however reliable that is) has found that music has taken up where religion and class left off, as the force which most young people conceive of as the biggest impetus to their identity, and following that, their differentiation from 'the herd'. So where once we had divisions rooted in history, now we have identity rooted in choice, in the nature of our consumption of entertainment. As a Johnny-come-lately to music, I was always been amazed at how snobbish and scenelike a genre can become, until Ben of got me hooked on indie and soft, pleasing electronica. Now, I find an astonishing streak of snobbishness in me when I'm talking to someone about music, even though I'm still an unfashionably late adopter of new bands. Despite ushering me into the fold, Ben has remonstrated with me over this, even making me CDs containing hidden pockets of Kylie in order to make me question my snobbishness (God, Slow is a classic, innit?).

I wonder if becoming critical is destroying our creativity. Criticism is inherently weighted towards passivity and negativity. In part, this is a reflection of the massive surge in the creative industries - something has to be pretty special to break through the consensus of mediocrity. When it does, you see a rare awe dawning on the faces of gig-going hipsters, a rare lowering of the guard. On the other hand, you could argue that only by immersing yourself in the stream of culture, only by comparing and competing and appropriating can you begin to innovate. Unheralded geniuses are rare and get a lot of press to make up for the early lack.

One of my writing lecturers at uni was a bitter man. I didn't understand why he constantly namedropped film directors until I heard he always wanted to be a filmmaker but didn't get there, and ended up as a teacher and critic. My greatest fear is no longer death but mediocrity.

To veer off topic slightly, I recently read an article arguing that the reason that the latter half of the 20th century has seen no Einsteins and no Newtons (although arguably Richard Feynman counts) is that genius is far more evenly distributed and far more common. My uncle has an IQ of 150. Average IQ scores are going up about 10-15 points per generation. But that means that it's harder to become a name brand amidst a proliferation of excellence. It means that it's no longer enough to excel at one field. Now, the polymaths are celebrated - the broadest people, able to turn their hands to many trades, those capable of reinvention. Newton was a polymath, Da Vinci as well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Thoughts on the IR changes

I've been trying to come to grips with Howard's IR changes, amidst the clamour of those on the left who think that after July 1st, it was only a matter of time before he unleashed his fascist tendencies and those on the right who think the changes are well overdue. According to the liberal educated view, both the industrial landscape and our civil liberties will be irrevocably changed for the worse. There's some truth to that view, but it's been overstated. The main problem I can see with the IR changes is Howard's reluctance to protect the minimum wage. Who'd want to move to an American style system, where the working poor are increasing, those poor sods who work full or more than full time and are still trapped in poverty? To have a system like that requires a very American dream of escape through hard work, through placing the responsibility for success or failure solely on the shoulders of the individual. Australia is a more modest country. Our dreams are smaller. Howard himself spoke of a relaxed and comfortable Australia as his aim. This is not how to get there. Without a Big Dream to offset the damage freezing the minimum wage relative to inflation will do, he's shooting himself in the foot by hurting his aspirationals/battlers (however they like to be named: victor or victim).

But the rest of the IR changes are a slightly different story. To me, they seem to be an attempt to rebalance the scales in favour of businesses. No great surprise, considering the increase in political donations from industry (another American trend), the roots of the Liberal Party and the dry economic rationalist philosophy Howard channels. His move towards a new, more flexible system promoting individual enterprise bargaining really drives the knife into the union movement, caught between its own entropy (see Latham's savage critique of the machine men who were formed in the heat and ire of the union institutions), declining interest from youth paralleling recent wage rises, and the rise of the professionals and aspirationals (were they once called tradies?). As an aside, white-collar professionals generally don't have unions. They have associations - the Australian Medical Association, the Media Entertainment and Arts Association and so on. With exceptions - teachers, media workers and social workers, for a start - these associations often seem to be more conservative than blue collar unions, which in turn appear to be generally shifting rightward in tune with society. Associations work within the system more than the oppositional politics of blue-collar worker unions, many of which have suffered from the flight of manufacturing overseas.

I'd argue that these changes may potentially be exactly the kick up the arse that Labour needs. Beazley has been listening to his many critics (even Latham) who decry his small target policy, and has attempted to install a backbone. But Howard's changes may ironically end up serving Labour's political long term interests more than his own. Short-term, he's solidified the ALP and resident unions behind their leader, and long-term, the attack on the union movement may mean that what Crean started to do - disentangle the ALP from the constant factional warfare of the unions - may be hastened. When Latham lashed out at the "machine men" culture inside the party, he was really attacking the influence of union factions, the bland men specialising in institutionalised in-fighting. Latham somehow got through the pack of groupthinkers and factional heavies, but he was an anomaly. Howard thinks he's undercutting the union movement that gives Labour life. In fact, he may be strangling the vine that is holding Labour back from fresh thought and fresh approaches to today's world. Third Way politics didn't come out of unions, it came out of universities. The Democrats and British Labour party don't draw on unions to produce their crop of politicians in the same way we do. This may be the unwanted change that will rejuvenate Labour. Then again, it may not.

On a wider scale, these IR changes can be seen as an adaptation to global trends. Australia used to have a manufacturing industry until employers figured out that the poor next door are keener, more eager and require less pay than comfortable Australian workers. Don't fuss, said economists and industry observers, never mind, we've still got our high-tech IT sector. Those cheeky developing world people have no chance of competing with our universities and our brains. (A nice strain of implicit racism runs through that argument). But then India sat up and realised that it had a population who spoke English and were very eager to get ahead. After quietly pumping out graduates, India can now compete for IT business and ask for peanuts in return. All Australia really has, in terms of comparative advantage, is its agriculture and resource sectors. Biotechnology, perhaps. Tourism, of course. The creative industries? In our highly concentrated media sector? Please. Frankly, in global terms, our wages are too high for the work we're doing. Other people can do the same work for less. Perhaps this is the start of a great levelling. We're going mad with consumption and debt. Consumption drives our economy along in a mad, self-sustaining rush, a bubble of sorts. But we're consuming with blithe ignorance of what people in the rest of the world have to do for a living. What they would much rather be doing is our jobs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A bad pun

Why don't celebrities start promoting drugs? Perfume and clothing lines are a direct link to chemical wonderlands. And I'm not just talking the hottest new line of cocaine (now with 50% fewer nosebleeds and heavily reduced washing powder!). Nup, celebrities need to get into pharmabusiness. But because most prescription drugs have to have stupid ingredient names like Xanax or Tylerol or Aqualan that sexify Latin, my first prescription (ha) is...

Parishiltomol! A new combination pain-reliever and profile-booster tried and tested by most of Hollywood! Simply take one before bedtime, film the process and rake in the dollars from With new and improved essence of heiress, Parishiltomol is guaranteed not to leave unsightly stains on your tongue and dissolves readily under gentle pressure.

Ah, enough.

Monday, November 14, 2005

On editing bitchily

I wrote a story on domestic violence recently, a topic I know little about. So I did a fair bit of research, interviewed a number of people and wrote an article. I was happy with it, despite having a niggling feeling that I hadn't really come to grips with it. Most of the people I talked to were strongly feminist, as you'd expect. I think they saw working in the domestic violence area as a way to fight the patriarchy, right there, on the front line. That's reasonable, given the fact it's a gendered form of violence: generally, men dish it out and women receive it. But whenever I pushed one of my interviewees on why these men would do such things, the answers provided went something like this: These men hurt their partners because they are insecure, violent and abusive. Because power and control are important to them. Because they like degrading their spouses. Because they want to stop them leaving. A few times someone mentioned that prior abuse gave some indication. But the general picture was not on the cause, but the effect, on the victim.

I became quite frustrated at this. The picture I was getting seemed too glib, too filled with blame and polarization. The men were Satanic. Evil. End of story. There were too few solutions and too much focus on bandaids and picking up the survivors. I was stoked when I finally managed to extract a quote that actually humanised the humans who hurt other humans close to them:

“Feminists generally say domestic violence is linked to patriarchy,” says S, a psychologist, “but I wonder whether there are a lot of men out there who cope with roles as men OK except when it comes to women and children, because that makes them vulnerable.” There’s a perverse logic to it. “These men feel that if they destroy that person’s sense of self so they can’t leave, if they destroy what they were attracted to, that makes them secure,” she says.

This quote mollified me and I sent the article in. A couple of days later, I got back an edited copy. It had been eviscerated. Much of the colour and life, much of the reality I'd tried to inject had been sucked out and replaced by a very correct, very boring, very unreadable type of prose. My prized quote was noticable by its absence. So was another on the disproportionate damage done to indigenous women and communities by domestic violence. A catchy phrase I was proud of had vanished. It read: It's not a battle of the sexes, it's a battered sex.

I argued for my article's life and the editor, a friend of mine, gave me back most of what had been chopped, saying it had been given to a few subeditors with a particular interest (read: dogmatism) in domestic violence.

Goddamn but I hate dogmatism. As if there's one particular ideology that is World's Best Practice for thought. When was the last time the Left was able to produce an overall world view? A correct view? Isn't it debate that drives things forwards. Debate, not fucking censorship. Not primly choosing the words designed to minimise impact, designed not to offend. No wonder the Left is so lethargic and boring. Like all moralisers, they've simply stopped thinking.

That same day, the editor sent me an article to see what I thought; he prefaced it by saying it had rant tendencies, and made the mistake of telling me it was written by one of the people who sucked the life out of mine. She was writing on the Industrial relations changes, coming straight from the Howard-Is-Hitler school. Beginning from reasonable premises - the IR changes will threaten the minimum wage - she ended up by suggesting the anti-terror sedition laws will make striking illegal. She slagged off the new Fair Pay Commission's leader for being Christian. Not for being hypocritically Christian, just for being Christian. Needless to say, a vengeful gleam in my eye appeared and I had a lot of fun inserting fierce objections in red and suggesting that her excesses be reined in. An hour later, I felt a tad guilty and hypocritical and replaced some of her borderline arguments.

On Sunday, I went to volunteer my services as a proofreader, and the editor introduced me. Doug, this is C and A. They were the ones who edited your article. He didn't mention the fact that the article I'd sliced belonged to A, but I knew, and perhaps she did too, and there was much shamefaced mooching and eyes slipping past each other. Editing is a lot of power. I wonder how many noses I've put out of joint in my time.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

ID v. Science: a largely unnecessary debate

So, I've been trying to write up an interview of a man who specialises in several things I know nothing about, namely heavily mustached German philosophers and Kurdish nationalism. Somehow, I ended up here. The internet is wonderful for meandering. I really don't know why it's called web surfing. It's more like hopscotch. Or skimming stones. Anyhow, it's an evangelist website for American teens, complete with diagrams:

Not quite as exciting as the Sistine Chapel. But so simple. So Powerpoint.

I prepared a decent sneer worthy of a Happily Lapsing Catholic. Part of lapsing, as Mel has told me recently, is that you are never, ever lapsed. Only ever a recovering Catholic. There is a section labelled "About God". I was really, really hoping it would be something like this:

"Hi, I'm God. I'm omniscient, omnipotent and the All-Encompassing Creator. But don't let that put you off. I've been around for quite a while. You might know me from such prodigious feats as creating the world in seven days. Phew. I was quite pleased at pulling off the difficult engineering feat of constructing a woman from a rib. Basically, I'm your local deity. Look me up sometime. And welcome to my website. Feel free to look around. Leave me a message or send me a picture of your firstborn."

Or something. But sadly, nothing like that eventuated. I did find a neat little description of Intelligent Design, via the famed Watch Analogy. Have you read it? It reminds me of the old chestnut about a tree falling in the woods. This time, the argument goes that if you find a watch in the woods and no-one is around, it's logical to infer a watch-maker, because it's too complex to make itself.

Most scientists and liberal opinion-makers have treated Intelligent Design as a trumped-up joke. Which it is, if it were to be treated as plausible competition for evolution in schools. But what I find interesting about the whole debate is that it represents an attempt by Christians to come to terms with evolution, to reconceptualise evolution as a major tool that a creator may have used to produce humans. While it also represents a flexing of the Christian political muscle that's been accumulating mostly unheralded for several decades, it still represents an accomodation with science, similar to the acceptance of the Copernican revolution or the printing press. At last, it seems, Christians are making their peace with their monkey brothers. The Casios to our Rolexes, or something.
Be watchful
Walking through the leafy streets of East Melbourne today, I noticed a neigbourhood watch sign. The signs are commonplace, everyday. But today, for some reason, I actually noticed the sign. Here's what I saw:

East Melbourne is an anachronous sliver of wealth stuck in the unwashed teeth of surrounding suburbs. It's wedged between the jeering and cheering of the MCG and Fitzroy's running battle between the landing gentry, the retreating artists and the housing commission flats. East Melbourne wears a quiet satisfaction by day which gives way to a quiet vigilance by night as hatches are battened down and plasma screens given a sanctifying kiss before bedtime. In short, it is a place ripe for a neighbourhood watch. It is a place where one's home, one's castle, may come under siege, as the poor attempt to leap a rung or two without doing the work.

The Neighbourhood Watch was an early precursor of Be-Alert-Not-Alarmed. Vigilance is key. A watchful citizenry has the benefit of going without uniforms. Together we can defeat crime. Together we have more power than if we are isolated, waiting in our bedrooms wondering what the noises are downstairs. Beneath a kindly civilian face can lie the heart of a policeman. We all have this power. We must keep watch. Scrutinise those we don't recognise in our area. A home invasion is a mental rape. The poor are violent. Increasingly, they don't know their place. Drugs goad them onwards. Ethnicity too. The gun laws are too strict. Johnny knew what to do..