Just a little heads-up

Morning. You’re looking well.

I just wanted to flag that there’s a thing up at my “other” site, Songs You Should Rediscover Today Because They Are Awesome, all about France Gall’s ‘Laisee Tomber les Filles’.

Speaking of which, I now also have a public Facebook page, which you can go be at if you want. No pressure.

But hey, while I’m here: here’s me talking about Utopia in the SMH, and here’s me being snarky about “Cost Per Orgasm”, a concept beloved by the adorable jerks in the MRA/pickup artist community, and  this week’s 10 Things at TheVine round up is at the end of this post because dammit, I get up at 5am to write the thing and I need validation.

Oh, and I totally got published in the Weekend Standard Magazine in the UK, which I am insanely delighted about.

Will do a proper blog post writing thing shortly, honest.

 

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Are you worth your Cost Per Orgasm?

Originally published at Daily Life, 17 August 2014

Dear all women,

The very notion of human value has a long and dignified history, until the first time someone swapped money for another human being over whose body they could exert complete control.

However, in these more sophisticated times it’s often difficult to know exactly how much someone is worth in dollar terms – which are the only terms that matter.

And sure, there are some useful rules of thumb – you’re worth 70% as much money as a comparable man, for example, going by the accepted gender disparity in Australian salaries – but what if you want to know specific dollar amounts? Are you economically worth it, in the eyes of men (which are the only eyes that matter)?

Well, you’re in luck!

Sex_Lead-620x349

Dawson Stone – a brilliant economist and sociologist and definitely not a sad, terrified little man peddling pick-up culture nonsense on the internet – has come up with a helpful metric by which men can work out whether you’re worth ejaculating inside of.

(The site is here, and you can click on it if you must, but remember: your clicks are only worth 0.7 of a man’s click, and why must you women go disturbing men with your intrusive page views?)

“Here is how it works. You tally up 100% of the money you spend on a woman during the course of ‘dating’ her and divide that amount by the number of times you have sex with her.”

He then breaks it down into how the sort of shitty semi-male who doesn’t even realise how much women are just wasting their time when clothed might fare:

“If you are a traditional beta male, you buy a woman three expensive dinners at ~$200 each, and try to close her on the third date. If you were successful and had sex twice, your CPO would be $300 ($200 * 3 / 2). As a beta, there is a decent chance you don’t even close. You could argue that you should only use the money spent on her (divide the numbers in 1/2) and your CPO is still $150.”

Because he is awesome and cool, he explains that his is obviously better. And why would he – a forty-something year old man who’s attempting to sell his patented pick-up tips on the internet – have any motivation to mislead you?

“I have diligently tracked my CPO for the last 4 months. It was $44.15, $20.82, $36.75 and $37.20… My CPO might seem a bit high, but in my defense, I always have 1-2 women in my monthly rotation that are out-of-towners. In fact, in my most recent 4-month period I had an unusually high number of women (eleven) that were out-of-towners. Most of them are struggling college students, so I do buy their plane ticket. But I plan in advance and can usually get a ticket for between $200-$250. If it wasn’t for this variable, my average CPO would be closer to $10-$12.”

Numbers don’t lie, ladies. And it’s worth remembering that these are American dollars, so at current exchange rates you should really be looking to get a man off at least once for every $12.91 he spends in your vicinity.

Now, there are worthless semi-men who might respond “But Dawson, what if I disagree with the notion that all romantic interactions with other people can be reduced to a direct financial exchange, since I am not a broken, hideous monster angrily cry-wanking on a blog about how scared I am of women?”

Because Dawson is very, very smart, he’s already thought of that.

“Sex is about money! If sex wasn’t about money there wouldn’t be alimony, child support, pre-nups, palimony, engagement rings, and weddings that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I could go on forever.”

And that’s a great point: so the lesson that Dawson Stone has taught us is that sex is, frankly, too expensive.

Why, not only are we internet sex-alphas expected to break a $20 note every time we shrug one out, then there’s also alimony, child support, and weddings that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Heck, I could go on forever!

Fortunately, there’s a cheaper way to get the most bang for the least buck for awesome cool guys like Dawson that find dealing with women an onerous and tiresome condition for getting the sex to which they’re naturally entitled.

A 60-sheet box of Kleenex Facial Tissues Extra Care is a mere $2.40 (and they’re the ones with aloe vera in them – go on, treat yourself!). Divide that by 20 orgasms (at three sheets per: one to collect the ejaculate; two for the lonely, lonely tears) and it gives you a CPO of a mere 12 cents per orgasm! You can’t beat that price!

You’re welcome, Dawson. No need to thank me – not least since I’m sure you’re already across this, in both a metaphorical and stickily biological sense.

Wash your hands before writing your next economic opus, though, there’s a good chap.

Another temporary 10 Things while sites migrate…

Yes, TheVine is tidying up the internets again so, in the interests of putting things in places they can be seen, here’s a sneaky 10 Things. Or you can read all my old 10 Things bits here.

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10 Things: Revvin’ up the class war with Diamond Joe Hockey

Joe Hockey and his sweet ride

Your slightly-delayed plunge into the heart of current affairs darkness

Diamonds are the poor’s best friend!

Diamond Joe Hockey, your federal treasurer, is very, very good at thinking things that are not true reflections of reality.

For example, he thinks that the budget will somehow pass – which, three months and counting since it was presented, seems ambitious.

He thinks that Australia is in a debt crisis which – as we never tire of pointing out – absolutely nobody else does, including the sorts of economists that he’s been perfectly happy to champion when it suits him.

(And to parenthetically repeat the same tired thing we keep saying: there are things that could be done to address our level of interest repayment that would be good to do, since that stuff does get more expensive, but a) it’s prudent, not urgent and b) that’s not at all what the government is doing right now in any case.)

But the biggest delusion that Diamond Joe has is the notion that poor people are much better off than the rest of Australia, based – as best I can work out – on the following reasoning:

1. The poorer someone is, the less tax they pay

2. I, as Federal Treasurer making $397,869 per year before adding my additional $150k-odd salary as an MP for North Sydney, pay a large tax bill every year

3. Poor people don’t get hit with these sorts of bills

4. Therefore the poor have it better than I do

…or he might just straight up not give a shit, of course. That’s also a possibility.

In any case, he wanted to increase the fuel excise earlier this year, a move that was blocked in the Senate (somewhat controversially, by the Greens) and was bitching and moaning about how this was a tax that was going to affect the rich more than the poor and was therefore equitable. Keep in mind that this tax didn’t pass, by the way.

Here’s what Diamond Joe Hockey, your federal treasurer and grown adult, said on radio yesterday: 

“What we’re asking is for everyone to contribute, including higher-income people. Now, I’ll give you one example: the change to fuel excise. The people that actually pay the most are higher-income people, with an increase in fuel excise, and yet the Labor party and the Greens are opposing it. They say you’ve got to have wealthier people or middle-income people pay more. Well, change to the fuel excise does exactly that; the poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far in many cases. But they [Labor and the Greens] are opposing what is meant to be, according to the Treasury, a progressive tax.”

Oh Diamond Joe, you adorable melonhead.

Where to start?

How being poor in Australia works

First up, let’s very quickly abandon the use of “progressive” when talking about a flat tax.

Flat taxes (as in taxes that are not staggered by income) like a fuel excise always hit those at the bottom more heavily because the effect of spending an extra $10 on petrol makes a much smaller difference if you make $1500 a week compared with $120. All flat taxes punish the poor for being poor by making them poorer. This principle also applies to the proposed Medicare co-pay, of course.

In fact, the Australian parliamentary library research paper entitled Petrol and Diesel Excises, published in 2000, said as much: “petrol and diesel excises are regressive in that people on low incomes pay a higher proportion of their incomes in the form of excise than people on high incomes, given the same level of fuel use”. So the literal opposite of “progressive”, then.

It’s also worth adding that the figures that he used to make his claim showed the opposite of his claim: even accepting that individual high income earners are spending more on petrol, “households in the highest quintile spent 1.37% of their income on petrol and those in the lowest quintile spent 4.54%“.

Then let’s move on to the fact that most of Australia’s jobs are in and around the biggest population centres, and most of the affordable housing is not.

Australia’s population clusters around the five biggest cities, and poor people tend to live out of the city and away from the desirable coasts – in Brisbane and Sydney that’s the outer west, in Adelaide the outer north and south, in Melbourne the outer north and west, and in Perth there’s a cluster around the airport in the industrial eastern suburbs.

Where the cheap houses are not, however, is in the inner suburbs near all the jobs and easy transport.

The further away from the CBD you get, the lousier the public transport becomes. In Sydney and Melbourne the outer suburban public transport is, to use a technical term, shit. In Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, it’s basically useless: if you need to be somewhere by a specific time, such as for a job you need a car. This is especially true if you also have a family and want to see them at all.

Poor people tend not to have great jobs where they can lob in whenever they fancy it. Many have shift jobs with inflexlible start times and stern supervisors who don’t take kindly to “sorry, there’s trackwork on this week”-style excuses.

So for the working poor of Australia, if you have a low-paying job and you live a distance away from it, a car is a necessary investment if you want to avoid being fired.

And what sort of car do poor people buy? Do they buy excellent brand new hybrids with great fuel economy? No, they do not: they buy old second and third-hand shitboxes that guzzle fuel, because they are cheap.

So, to recap:

A significant majority of Australia’s poor people drive a lot by necessity as they live and work in distant, badly-serviced areas, and they drive old inefficient cars.

So, Joe, let’s try that again: explain why the rich will be affected more by fuel excise than the poor. Go on. Give it a shot.

Beep beep, beep beep, yeah!

Of course, there’s also the fact that Diamond Joe is already perfectly aware that lower income people are driving cars. How do we know this? Not just because the demographics are blindingly obvious, but because the federal and state governments are using said demographics to sell big showy infrastructure projects.

And note that these big showy infrastructure projects are not, say, new rail corridors or dedicated bus lanes or bikeways or any of those other utopian bullshit: projects like the Perth Light Rail, Brisbane Cross River Rail and the Melbourne Metro have all been axed, as have planned (and much, much needed) expansions and developments on the Sydney rail network.

No, instead we’re getting big disruptive expensive road developments. The East-West in Melbourne, the second lane to the Southern Expressway in Adelaide, West Connex in Sydney: there’s no shortage of the things.

Governments love that stuff because they get to look all masculine with shovels turning earth, they get to go “this is a huge boon for employment!” and not mention that the bigger the project the more likely the investment is coming from (and profits will be going to) companies outside of Australia, and that they don’t work especially well if they work at all.

Either they charge so much for tolls that people actively avoid them (there’s no drive in Australia more peaceful and solitary than 20-odd minute drive along the toll roads from Brisbane airport to the city – and it costs only slightly more than would a similar-length massage) or they merely facilitate the congestion they seek to alleviate – after years of forcing traffic onto alternative routes while the things are being built, of course.

And if those new roads happen to raze low income areas, bringing with them with noise, traffic and compulsory acquisition at below market rates – well, it’s not like those people are voting for the Coalition in the first place, are they?

Then again, Diamond Joe couldn’t care less about what you think

Of course, Diamond Joe doesn’t need you and your stinking legislation to make random, painful cuts. He can just stop paying people whenever he likes because he’s the treasurer and therefore has access to the money-spigot.

That’s his latest threat to the Senate: start passing some shit without negotiations, or I start cutting and there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing! Mwaaa hahahahahaha! [thunder crash]

“Either we make the decisions now or you end up doing what [Premier] Campbell Newman and [Treasurer] Tim Nicholls have had to do in Queensland, and that is take emergency action in order to address the problem you inherit.”

Cool, Joe. Just start cutting, then, rather than obeying the tenets of democracy. Let’s see how much the Australian public will thank you at the ballot box.

And given the shakiness of the Liberal governments in Victoria and NSW, who both will be facing state elections inside of a year, we’re certain the party are really, really keen for you to basically dare voters to punish the party further.

He’s also doubled down on his claims today, saying he’s sorry if you’re too greedy and stupid to understand facts. You know, ones he made up.

“The fact of the matter is that I can only get the facts out there and explain the facts, how people interpret them is up to them,” he said, factfully.

So, remember: you’ve got the weekend of August 30 and 31 down in your diary for March in August, right? It’s going to be the biggest yet – with heaps of regional centres joining in, because we’re an awesome country and we’re all in this together.

Mark your diaries, like and share on Facebook, and start working on your posters now!

Cooler heads, keep on prevailing

On the slightly more plus side, the Gaza ceasefire has been extended by another five days, even in the face of the occasional rocket fire and air strikes, as both sides claim they are close to reaching some sort of agreement over a more lasting truce before wading back into long-term peace negotiations. Baby steps, team. We’re taking baby steps.

The negotiations are taking place in Cairo and Azzam al-Ahmad, head of Palestine’s negotiation team, explained “We had two options: not to reach an agreement, or to extend the ceasefire. And in the final minutes we decided to extend the ceasefire by five days until Monday.”

It appears that some positive outcomes have been negotiated – including breaking the siege to allow supplies to travel into Gaza and allowing their fisherman access to the Mediterranean – but security issues are the sticking point. It’s not 100% clear what those are, but they’re thought to include Israel requiring the disarmament of Hamas, which… yeah, that’s not going to happen.

Still: every day without missiles is a good day, and this is more positive discussion than has happened in months. Fingers are painfully crossed.

Meanwhile, in African pandemics…

In perhaps less positive news, Nigeria is now definitely seeing cases of Ebola after late diplomat Patrick Sawyer inadvertently brought the disease on a flight from Liberia to the continent’s largest city, Lagos.

There are now eight confirmed cases in the city – including the guy sitting beside Sawyer on the plane and the nurse that treated him when he collapsed in the airport – and the WHO has calculated the the total number of cases including the outbreaks in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are 1975, with 1069 deaths.

On the plus side, Lagos is richer than most other African countries and actually has facilities to treat infectious disease. On the other hand, it’s also a huge, largely undocumented and transient population in a city with no sanitation service, scattered medical networks, a less-than-corruption-free government and a nasty civil war brewing with the Boko Haram terrorist organisation. So, y’know, swings and roundabouts.

A good, hard trucking

And in our other favourite nightmare zone, Ukraine, the Russian aid convoy we talked about yesterday has been refused entry amid perfectly legitimate fears that it’s the precursor to a military invasion.

Russia insists that the 280-truck convoy contains nothing but humanitarian aid and that they just want to help. Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has countered that unless the aid is directly provided by the Red Cross, it ain’t crossing the border.

There’s also some doubt that the convoy is moving at all: Moscow insists that it’s heading to the border, although was coy about where exactly it was, while there are reports that they’re parked at Voronezh military base in Russia. Which isn’t likely to make anyone feel too relaxed about it, frankly.

Reports that Ukraine officials have also denied entry to a giant wooden horse could not be confirmed at press time.

Oh good, the internet’s full

And while today’s delay was due to technical problems – the site’s being migrated, y’see – it wasn’t due to the larger, more far reaching problem that the internet is now full.

See, as with the Y2K panic, back in the early days of the world wide superhighway digital net matrix, an arbitrary number was set as the maximum amount of “routes” that your commercial router could use to get through the interweb tubes. That number, which was obviously too high to ever be reached, was 512,000.

And guess what’s just happened?

It’s mainly because people are not just using computers to get on the internet: there’s tablets and phones and presumably neural implants if science fiction hasn’t been lying to us. There’s also a limit on the amount of IP addresses available, although making them alphanumeric has put that particular doomsday scenario on hold for a bit.

The newer routers have a much higher arbitrary limit so this only affects companies with older hardware in their voluminous server farms. So just the ones that have been around a while. Like, you know, most of the ones that the internet is based upon.

Get ready for more regular outages, internetanauts!

Mono-X-treme!

And finally, let’s get totally patriotic with a baby echidna. They’re called puggles, you know. Puggles! Oh, echidnas, you are truly the most underrated of monotremes and you are awesome. And happy Thursday! 

The Whirlpool

The WhirlpoolAs my Facebook feed filled with people mourning the death of Robin Williams, seemingly by his own hand, I thought back to a conversation I had with my psychiatrist less than a week ago.

I only see him every few months now, more for a catch up than anything particularly medical, and he remarked on how mundane my issues were: professional stuff, logistics for my upcoming wedding, other domestic trivia, normal life stuff. And he also pointed out how it contrasted with what we’d discussed not 18 months earlier when I’d been explaining, in some detail, how I planned to kill myself.

“You’ve written about how difficult it is to go through therapy,” he said, “but have you thought about writing something about how much it’s helped you?”

And I said no.

How insufferably smug such a piece would be, I pointed out. If anything, it seemed to be tempting fate – like those New Idea happy couple celebrity photo spreads that turn up on the newstands just ahead of the divorce announcement.

And, I added, it’s hardly a big selling point to say to someone “once you get over your overwhelming desire to vanish, you’ll have the energy to deal with sorting out your mortgage”.

And then the Robin Williams news came through, and I was reminded of how much I’d notice every suicide when I was seriously depressed. “The writer and humourist Spalding Gray opted out,” I’d tell myself,  “and he was a hell of a lot smarter, funnier and more accomplished than you. Can’t help noticing you’re still here, though. Why is that?”

And so I wrote this.

In my experience, depression is a condition as mundane and annoying as diabetes: once you have it under control and make some lifestyle changes it’s pretty straightforward to maintain, and if you ignore it, it will absolutely, undoubtably kill you.

Everyone has their own metaphor for it. A friend of mine once referred to depression as “soul cancer”: deeply personal, infuriatingly hard to treat, and coming back just when she thought she’d beaten it. Others talk of the Black Dog or The Pit or The Tunnel.

For me, it’s always been a whirlpool. I can hear it rushing away behind me and the closer I am to the lip the more effort is required to paddle enough to retain my position, and I know that once I finally tip over I’m never going to be able to row my way back up again.

And there is nothing more tiresome than someone’s depression memoir (summary: depression is arse) so I’ll spare you the tales of unceasing lethargy, the inability to care less about anything, the bone-crushing certainty that things would never relent, much less improve, the vast swathes of wasted time. I’ll also leave out the nightmarish effect it had on the people I love most – my parents, my siblings, my partners, my friends – and the emotional debts that I’m never going to come close to repaying.

Instead, I want to tell a story that doesn’t get told all that often. It’s about how I found the right doctor and how then things started to get better.

I’ve seen psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors on and off since I was 15 years old and dealing with my father’s death from cancer, and every single one of them was useless.

Some were well meaning. Some were indifferent. Some attempted to convince me that I was a special precious snowflake that just needed to learn to love my own precious specialness. Some told me that the problem was that I was insufficiently motivated to try, with which I’d have argued had I any energy left after getting out of bed and putting on pants.

None of them – not one – was any help to me whatsoever.

Similarly, the medication I was put on was at best useless and at worst harmful. Most gave me side-effects that I was assured weren’t important enough to worry about, like the inability to concentrate and comprehensive sexual dysfunction. Being told that the ability to experience orgasm was trivial did little to convince me that these people weren’t idiots.

In any case, I had convinced myself through hard experience that meds and therapy were useless and dangerous for me and therefore I had zero intention of ever riding that particular pony again. Until I got seriously, suicidally depressed once again despite things being objectively decent in my day-to-day life and seriously doubted that I had the fortitude to cope.

My GP, bless him, listened to me as I broke down in his consulting rooms. He knew me well enough to know what a difficult, bloodyminded bastard I am. And he made a referral.

I saw my shrink for the first time and poured out how much I hated therapy, was not going to consider meds, and what a waste of time this all was and how I’d be better off walking into the ocean.

And he listened. And he asked some questions. And he took me seriously.

And then he said that he could help.

It would be hard, he made clear. There would be dead ends. He’d need me to trust him, and to be honest about my expectations and my experiences. And meds would probably be involved, but that he understood and agreed with my problems with side effects. “By the time someone walks in here, they’ve probably tried all the obvious solutions and they haven’t worked,” he explained.

And it did take a while. And it was hard. But – and this is important – it was not quite as hard as I expected. And each step made the next one easier.

So what’s the point of this?

It’s to let someone – maybe you – know that if you’ve been through the wringer of meds and shrinks and feel like it’s all bullshit, then you’re absolutely right. Those people you saw, unfortunately, were the wrong people. It’s like online dating: almost everyone you meet will be wrong for you. On the plus side, you’ve now eliminated them from the search.

And once you find that right person and things click, you’re more than halfway there.

Go to your GP and tell them that you’ve seen nothing but jerks so far, and add you’ve only got a finite amount of strength for this fight left so they’d better find you a therapist that’s pretty damn good. Be clear, and be blunt. And if you meet that therapist and think “…you have no idea”, go back to your GP and tell them to try again.

It made all the difference in the world for me.

These days I feel like I’m a mile or so upstream from the whirlpool. I can still hear it, and I probably always will. But the current is lazy and right now I can maintain my position without paddling furiously.

One day, if I’m not vigilant, I might drift further down and then I’ll be dashed to pieces. But not today.

Seriously. One more go. This could be the one, you know?

For help or information regarding depression, call Lifeline on 131 114 or visit beyondblue.org.au.

A rogue 10 Things (until the Vine is successfully live again)

Friends, I take 10 Things very seriously and god knows it take long enough to write. So while The Vine is undergoing some technical rejiggery, here’s today’s column (at least until The Vine is back live again).

10 Things: Awwww, did the mean media make Diamond Joe sad?

Joe Hockey sad

The diamonds are his pretty, pretty tears

Poor Diamond Joe Hockey. All he wanted to do was pass a budget that would reward the wealthy for all their lifting, punishing everyone else for their recalcitrant leaning, and stop spending money on all that dumb “helping people” stuff that’s totally for jerks – and then the media come along and start bullying the government for figures under Freedom of Information requests! Why, the very idea!

Now, usually the Treasury make their modelling public when they issue a budget, because it means that the media can very quickly do their traditional “what does this budget mean for YOU?” spread with pages and pages of pretty infographics and some photogenic families and go-getting young people and elderly couples and so on.

So everyone thought it a bit odd back in May when the budget announcement was not accompanied by these figures, despite this government loudly insisting that it’s all about accountability and transparency.

Of course, now we know why: because it would have lead to multi-page spreads showing shocked elderly people wondering which cat food they’ll be eating for the rest of their lives, young people facing a mortgage’s-worth of debt to complete a degree and families wondering how bad the baby’s cough should get before they consider seeing a doctor, with a mining baron criticising their laziness from atop a throne made of discarded environmental laws.

And that’s not quite as good a look.

So, in other words, the government knew full well what its budget was going to look like, who would be the winners (the very wealthy), the not-winners (the upper-middle class) and the absolute losers (everyone else), and they deliberately withheld that information because they felt that there are limits to both transparency and accountability.

And oh, the tantrum that Joe threw yesterday!

Those figures don’t tell the whole story! What Fairfax said “does not represent the true state of affairs”! They “fails to take into account the massive number of concessional payments such as discounted pharmaceuticals, discounted transport, discounted childcare that goes to lower-income households”!

OK, said the media, show us the “whole story” using the supposed Cabinet documents which you’re claiming absolutely exist and show something other than that the government was entirely aware that lower-income households would be hit hardest by the budget.

And then things went eerily quiet, except for a statement via a spokesperson explaining that documents prepared for Cabinet are not covered by Freedom of Information laws.

So, to recap: Diamond Joe totally rejects the data that Treasury prepared for Diamond Joe, insists that he has much better data that refutes it, and won’t show it because he doesn’t have to. Which is a level of plausibility similar to that of Mark Mangan, who lived up the road from me when I was a kid and who insisted that he had every single Star Wars figure that was ever made, except they were in the attic and he wasn’t allowed to take people up there.

Seriously, Joe: your political capital is pretty much vapour at this point. Maybe people would actually respect you more if you gonaded up and said the truth: that of course treasury did the modelling, that obviously the government realised that the budget would favour the wealthy over the majority, and that this is precisely the point.

What, you think that we’ve not noticed all the welfare cuts, Work for the Dole schemes, plans to let unis raise fees and GP co-payments? We get it: this government wants to punish everyone that’s not wealthy and reward those that are. We understand what’s going here. This little dance just makes you look like a fool.

The Ministry of Love

The government might not care about you, but you know what they do care about? Love. Specifically, heterosexual love. More accurately, married heterosexual love – the only kind of love there is!

Your family services minister Kevin Andrews wants de facto couples to stop dithering and get married because de factos split up at a higher rate than married couples. The statistics, he assures us, don’t lie. Of course, he doesn’t provide any actual of these non-lying statistics, because that’s not something this government does.

However, it does make a certain immediate sense to think that maybe, just maybe, there’s a difference in the level of commitment between couples that spend a shitload of money and effort holding a public commitment ceremony in which they commit to making a lifelong commitment to one another, and couples who don’t.

Still, the divorce stats demonstrate almost half of those couples turn out to be wrong, so maybe making the commitment doesn’t somehow magically fix everything for some reason.

Marriages end, people split up, and it always sucks. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. Breaking up is arse.

Here’s the thing, though: So. Fucking. What. Question mark.

First up, Kev, before you suggest marriage as the cure-all panacea to human unhappiness, might we suggest that perhaps de facto relationships start for reasons other than making a lifelong commitment? It’s not that people don’t care, Kev. It’s simple household economics. You know, of the sort that Diamond Joe gets furious if papers dare to ask about.

For one thing, because housing is incredibly expensive in Australia – especially the biggest cities – a lot of people initially start living together less because they think they’ll be together forever and ever and ever and ever, and more because it’s cheaper than living separately and less disruptive than being the non-rent-paying part-time tenant in a sharehouse. You want to ensure people don’t live together too early, Kev? Start with doing something about spiralling rental costs.

Secondly – and I’m going to make this as clear as possible by using capital letters – BREAKING UP IS OK.

In fact, in almost all cases, breaking up is better than not-breaking up. It’s sure as hell more common. Think about it: how many breakups have you had? Now, how many unbroken lifelong commitments have you had? Is the first number greater than the second?

Kevin Andrews’ statement about how de facto splits and divorces are a stain on our society only makes sense if the point of all relationships is to meet and then stay together until at least one person dies – which is a ridiculous and largely impossible aim.

US sex and relationships advice columnist and stone-cold genius Dan Savage wisely said that “all relationships end until you’re in one that doesn’t, and you only find out which one that is when you’re dead”. Sure, nobody goes into a serious relationship thinking “sweet, this is going to be the ultimate love of my next-three-to-five-years!” but the idea that it’s better to stay in a situation that everyone hates than get into a situation where everyone’s far happier is just plain stupid.

“Look, people can enter into whatever relationship they want. That’s a matter for them,” K-dog said to News Ltd. “It becomes a question for the government and the community when relationships break up. The people who suffer the most out of relationships breaking up are kids.”

Kids suffer when parents are unhappy, Kev. And parents are unhappy if they’re forced to endure each other day in day out after their relationship has died. Again, if you really want people to be happy and therefore make things easier on the kids, charging $845 to apply for a divorce seems like adding insult to injury.

But you do get $200 towards you marriage counselling! $200! Why, that’s almost enough for a single session! Love is saved!

By-the-by, what was Kev’s pre-ministerial gig?

Relationship counselling is not a terrible idea, of course. But it’s also not a popular idea, as evidenced that 98,600 of the 100,000 vouchers he’s made available are still going begging.

And we’ll just quietly cough and suggest that a family services minister whose main idea for family services is to offer relationship counselling vouchers for relationship counselling services including the Catholic relationship counselling organisation founded by the family services minister and his wife might have something of an agenda at work.

Yes, they’re no longer financially involved in the Marriage Education Programme – but, as the About Us page makes clear,

“The Marriage Education Programme is an organisation approved and part-funded by the Federal Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. The Marriage Education Programme is a member Agency of the Catholic Society for Marriage Education and Catholic Social Services Australia.”

…so your voucher can go a little way to clawing back the money you’ve already spent on the service that Kev and Mags founded. Thanks, Kev!

Seriously: ending a committed relationship is painful and expensive and stressful and time consuming. No-one does it for kicks. Pushing an agenda to slow the rate of divorce and of de facto breakups without addressing the reasons people split up (hey, maybe one of the parties has to move away to find work, since that’s something the government now thinks is perfectly reasonable!) is just plain stupid.

Gotta spend money to recover money!

If there’s one thing that we all know is a terrible idea, it’s having an educated and skilled populace. After all, what has knowing stuff ever done for us?

That’s why we all appreciate that universities are, at best,  fripperies – pointless luxuries that have absolutely no bearing on the quality of human life. You know they’re worthless empty buildings, which is why surgery is carried out by enthusiastic amateurs on buses and sewerage systems were designed and built by helpful municipal elves.

So it just makes sense to stop funding them, and to make it cripplingly expensive for people to go there. Hey, we don’t subsidise the rollercoaster ticket prices at Australia’s Wonderland, so why should we support someone working tirelessly for years to learn to save human lives? They’re basically the same thing, right?

After all, the first question on applications for entry to a PhD programme in any discipline is “Are you enrolling in this course of higher study for a) shits or b) giggles?”

This is the opinion held by people who decide whether or not the Australian government should fund unis. And they should know, since they already have their degrees and therefore already have all the professional and personal benefits that accrue as a result. Privilege is only privilege when someone else has it, after all.

And if you’re one of the handful of Australians who got a degree, had a HECS debt and then fled the country like a dirty traitor, then get ready to start paying your debt back.

Christopher Pyne has already started work on putting together a debt recovery arrangement with the UK, because fuck you people. The Grattan Institute has caculated that a system could bring in as much as $177 million over two years. As the already-reduced budget for higher education is $8.97bn for 2013-14, that means we could recover a much-needed 0.001% of the money over those two years, minus whatever it costs to implement a worldwide system of income garnishing and debt recovery.

And on the face of it there’s a certain “that seems reasonable” element to it – hey, those of us that stayed in Australia gots to pay our HECS here after all – but there’s a serious question mark over the whole “would chasing after this money cost more to implement and enforce than it would ever hope to actually recover” thing, and the answer appears to be “yep, easily”.

Professor Chapman, director of policy impact at the Australian National University’s Crawford School, told reporters that bilateral debt recovery arrangements were “too much trouble and too political”. He also suggested that it would be easier just to make all overseas workers over the threshold pay the minimum payment of $2k a year instead, since it’s easier – and thus cheaper – to calculate. Debts get paid, cash goes back in the system, no need for expensive departments calculating tax rates on overseas currencies. Everybody wins!

But that ignores the fact that Pyne knows all too well: greedy students need to be punished for their damn book-learnin’ one way or another.

Dollars vs sense – see what we did there?

Of course, if the government wanted to save some pin money they might want to stop hiring celebrity speakers to address the Defence Department at $10k-plus a throw. Especially when they’re currently offering staff a below-inflation pay rise.

Negotiations are going on at the moment with the 20,000 civilians employed by the defence department, in which it’s been patiently explained that they’re getting a bump that in no way keeps parity with inflation. And that seems like reasonable belt tightening by a government desperately trying to maintain our financial survival – at least, it does provided that the government wasn’t also doing things like, say, dropping $50k flying out celebrity chef Shane Delia of Maha to knock up a spread for Diamond Joe’s gala G20 dinner in New York, which happened in April.

Now, let’s be honest: the government does have to spend money on flashy things so we don’t look cheap in front of the other countries. It’s just that it can’t simultaneously cry poor and then get a fancy new watch in the same afternoon.

But that’s because we’re not actually in a budget crisis. We can absolutely pay $10k for someone like Wil Anderson to MC an event (and he’s worth it too. Seen him live? The dude’s sharp as a tack, and it’s not an easy gig).

And that’s because there is no budget emergency. Just a common-or-garden class war.

Gaza: the fighting has stopped… for a bit…

…but it could all be back on by the time you read this. However, right now Israel and Hamas have agreed in principle to an Egypt-brokered 72 hour ceasefire that could kick in this morning, Gaza time, and open the way to some sort of a truce.

Representatives have agreed to travel to Cairo for meetings, and there is hope that it might even see the end of the siege of Gaza (although that’s only on the Egyptian side – which will inflame the already warm tensions between Israel and Egypt but let’s let that be a problem for down the road).

In the event that this actually does end the four-week war (and yes, it’s a fucking war) then the final tally is 64 Isreli military and three civilians vs over 1,800 Palestinians. So, y’know, draw your own conclusions as to who is a bigger threat to what.

On the sorta-plus side, those numbers are going to make it easier for the Israeli government to sell the idea to its people that it’s negotiating from a position of strength and therefore can stop the missile strikes. Conversely, Hamas need to find a way to sell a similar argument to not only the people of Gaza but the Palestinian people generally and especially the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which whom they’re attempting to hammer out a deal for political unity for the future of Palestine despite deep cultural differences. And that’s going to need some serious finesse.

But: let’s not look a gift truce in the mouth right now. Gaza might know a moment of peace shortly. God knows its people deserve it.

We R Legion

Meanwhile the war is continuing on the interwebs with Anonymous deciding that enough is enough and taking out various government sites, including that of Mossad – the Israeli secret service.

They’ve been clear that this isn’t an anti-Israel thing but an anti stop-bombing-the-shit-out-a-tiny-civilian-filled-stretch-of-land thing.

“As a collective ‘Anonymous’ does not hate Israel,” an anonymous spokesperson told Mother Jones in the US, “it hates that Israel’s government is committing genocide & slaughtering unarmed people in Gaza to obtain more land at the border.”

And it’s a PR win for the group, but we all know that Denial of Service attacks are annoying rather than destructive, right? You’re stopping people seeing a website, not bringing down their internal computer systems. If anything, the biggest disruption that’s going on is giving their online content managers an excuse to duck out early.

Plaguewatch!

If you were hjoping that the whole Ebola thing in western Africa was pretty much sorted… um, maybe you’ll want to postpone that Sierra Leone holiday for a bit.

Corpses have been reportedly lying in the streets of Liberia for days, not least because burial and medical teams have been fleeing for their lives after ebing run out of town by terrified communities. In fact, the army had to move in to protect a team clearing two corpses from a street in the capital of Monrovia.

Meanwhile Nigeria have their first confirmed local case after Patrick Sawyer collapsed and died after getting off a plane from Liberia. Now the doctor that treated him has tested positive for the virus in Lagos.

Oh, and now it’s been reported that the flight that brought Sawyer from Monrovia to Lagos also had stopovers in Ghana and Togo. So… um, yeah.

Ever played the iPad game Plague Inc? It’s really fun and interesting, right up until the point where you realise that it’s using WHO data and is basically playing out a series of terrifying human futures…

Except that you’re not going to die of Ebola

That being said, you have zero chance of catching Ebola unless you’re exposed to fluids from someone with the virus. And since you’re probably not in Africa, you can rest easy. Seriously, you’re going to be OK.

That’s worth making clear because already the internet is being flooded with panics at the moment. Ebola is very contagious, absolutely, and it’s got a higher than 50% mortality rate and is a horrible way to die… but you have to catch the thing first. Which you won’t, unless the virus is running rampant in your community. Which it isn’t.

And yes, Australian airports are already on the look out for anyone looking flu-y when they arrive. Plans are in place.

So, y’know, chill.

Moment of Joy

And finally, a tiny hamster in a tiny house. Yes, this is what we’re reduced to. I hope you’re happy, internets – happy like a Tuesday. 

Malcolm Fraser interview

First published in Time Out Sydney, August 2014

Australia’s 22nd Prime Minister asks, how many dangerous ideas can one person have?

Vale, sir.

Vale, sir.

Malcolm Fraser has been remarkably busy since leaving the Lodge in 1983. His legacy as PM is overshadowed by the circumstances under which it began – the Constitutional Crisis of 1975 that saw the dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s Labor government – but over the last three decades Fraser has been a tireless advocate for refugee rights, Indigenous rights and greater Australian involvement in Asia.

Needless to say, these values do not align with the current government. Technically Fraser is no longer a member of the Liberal Party; he resigned in 2009 in protest of the party’s lurch to the right with new leader Tony Abbott. And he’s not shy when it comes to sharing his feelings on the matter.

Over the space of a half-hour conversation with Time Out, Fraser expresses his genuine, heartfelt disappointment in the current state of politics and is scathing about the “Abbott and [Julie] Bishop” government, and expressing his genuine concerns about the current geopolitical environment and the risks of continuing with our current military alliance with the US – which is what has inspired his new book, Dangerous Allies, and his upcoming appearance at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

“The major point is because of the uses of [the US-Australian joint satellite tracking facility] Pine Gap, which is capable of targeting drones almost in real-time and contributes to the arming of a number of highly-sophisticated US weapons systems, what used to be a defensive facility has in many ways become a thoroughly offensive one,” he explains. “And you’ve also got that [US] task force in Darwin, and the Prime Minister here talking about America maybe increasing the number, maybe establishing another task force close to Townsville.”

So we’re making ourselves a target?

“We’re not only making ourselves a target, we’re making ourselves totally complicit in American actions,” he declares. “We’ve abdicated our soverienty to America. If they go to war in these circumstances, we go to war. And that wasn’t perhaps as important when it was in South Asia or the Middle East, but this is our part of the world – and if there’s a conflict here of a serious kind, it would end up being between China and the United States. Japan, it seems to me, would be the most likely trigger.”

The rhetoric has been heating up betwen Japan and China over a disputed and largely deserted island chain in the East China Sea, and the US has already made clear that they would back Japan if matters escalate. And that’s where we could be drawn into war with China, whether we wanted it or not.

“If America uses those troops in Darwin, even if an Australian Prime Minister says ‘look, we’ve joined America in too many wars that have ended in failure, we’re not going to participate in this one’, I don’t believe such a statement would be believable if Pine Gap’s being used to target missiles on the mainland of China,” Fraser points out. “They’re being targeted from Australian soil.”