Conflicting knowledge

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Stan Grant (pic stolen from The Australian, cos he is one).

I love Stan Grant. There is no other way of saying that. He says shit that everyone needs to hear. Which is why I tuned in to listen to his interview on ABC Conversations yesterday.

And I was surprised to hear him say this;

“The number of aboriginal graduates is almost four times higher than the number of aboriginal people in prison. That means that for a young aboriginal kid growing up today they are four times more likely to graduate from university than to go to prison.”                   – (Conversations, ABC local radio, 30 Nov 2016 at 33min)

Contrast this with Bill Shorten’s comment earlier this year that young indigenous men are more likely to go to prison than university.

So who is right? Are young indigenous people more likely to end up in prison than university? Or are they four times more likely to graduate university than go to jail?

Grant said that the number of indigenous graduates has risen steeply in the last couple of decades to 30 000. This is four times the number of indigenous people in prison. It does not, however, logically follow that an indigenous person is four times more likely to go to university than prison.  You’re a prisoner for a couple of years (usually) but a graduate for life. I think Grant would need to compare the total number of indigenous Australians who have ever been to prison against the total number of indigenous graduates.

And, as stated in the link above, there’s actually no way of knowing that figure. We can only estimate how many Australians have ever been to prison, based on how many have been imprisoned in the last five years (the only statistics we have on it).

Stan Grant is completely right in his message though – indigenous Australians suffer ‘soft racism’ – the racism of low expectations. His statement aims to fight that myth. However, I don’t think drawing attention away from the racist criminalisation and imprisonment of Aboriginal people is the answer. Australia needs to recognise the desperate caricatures of Aboriginal people for what they are – bog standard bullshit. Aboriginal Australians are as diverse as everyone else, and yes, of course, the middle class is flourishing. But there’s still a huge problem with disproportionate imprisonment. That’s not going away.

Cautionary tale…

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‘Woah! It’s lucky that the earthquake happened in the middle of the night!’

In civil defence terms, making sure that your city’s residents reliably spend half of every twenty four hours tucked up in their bottomless sleeping bags watching, ‘Cats that Make you LOL’ is a pretty good tactic.

It’s also a popular one. The first Christchurch earthquake in 2010 happened at around 5 in the morning, an occurrence that was treated as an almost zen joke;

‘If massive lumps of masonry fall onto the footpath but no-one is there to be squished under them, did they fall at all?’

Ah, yes, they fucking did actually. And if that quake had struck during daylight hours it would have likely killed scores of people. Just like the second one did, six months later. In terms of a drill, it doesn’t get better than this. The 2010 earthquake demonstrated some of the city’s most dangerous weak spots.

But for some reason nothing was done. Buildings were left open, life carried on as normal.  I’ve said before, at the time of the first Christchurch quake  it seemed as if the city was too invested in the idea that it didn’t get earthquakes to notice that it just had a fucking enormous earthquake.

Wellington, on the other hand, is carefully checking to make sure that, should/when another quake occurs, the city won’t dissolve on top of its residents. Top thinking right there.

Supporting girls (to just smash ’em)

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Hot tip! Always place newly dislodged teeth in a glass of milk!

-Just smash the shit out of the little fucks. Also, stop whinging. And get my smokes.  – Typical bullying advice for girls, circa 1980.

In the 80s whacking bullies was standard operating procedure. For boys and girls. I know, because I went through primary school like a pneumatic claw hammer. It didn’t entirely prevent bullying – at best my approach earned little more than a short reprieve while everyone searched the long grass for teeth. However, for a buck-toothed ginga with a short fuse and a hillbilly squint, thumping someone was definitely a legitimate option.

In 2016 things are different. It’s still OK for boys to hit girls, it’s just not OK for them to hit back.

How modern.

You see, in 2016 we give girls the tools to manage challenging situations in a mature and non-violent way. We engage with children to educate them about bullying. We empower them to recognise and manage it. We give them strategies to de-centre power relationships, embolden support networks, foster cohesiveness. In this way we have meaningful discussions about bullying.

Unless you’re a boy. If you’re a boy you can still just whack ‘em.

Oh sure, it’s not acceptable but it’s accepted.  You see, both girls and boys are are subjected to the regime of decidedly adult polite fuckspeak above, but only girls are expected to take any notice of it. In schools across Australia you might recognise this fuckspeak as ‘peer support’.

Peer support expects children to behave like adults. This isn’t new. Modern childhood is increasingly considered little more than an inconvenient larval stage where school is just preparation for The Main Event (the soul-crushing banality of heavily-mortgaged suburban ennui, counting the steps until your febrile, rest-home death on your Fit-Bit).

Where was I? Ah yes….

The focus on childhood as the preparation for a productive adult life means girls especially must learn to behave like ‘successful adults’.

They are expected to behave like responsible young women. They must have a high ’emotional IQ’. They must talk in an inclusive, respectful way. They  must manage and negotiate. They must rise above the petty squabbling of childhood. They’re still expected to be compliant and to learn well though – some things never change. This is why campaigns like ‘peer support’ are presented as school work, in class time: peer support is to be taken seriously. Girls must take everything seriously. They are little women.

In short, girls must modify their behaviour to maximise their social mobility. This is the politically acceptable form of adulting, the Life Matters version of My-First-Hot-Pants*.

Adulting isn’t new to boys. They’ve always been expected to behave like ‘young men’ in the playground, i.e., occasionally smash kids. It’s not condoned, but it’s expected. Boys are not expected to take ‘peer support’ seriously. Whacking someone remains firmly on the table.

This is how we normalise violence against women in a society where women have economic independence – we de-weaponise them.

If we are truly interested in equality we should recognise ‘peer support’ programs for what they truly are – a burden on girls who are expected to administer this playground regime of ‘self-moderation’ and ‘respectful dialogue’. The result is predictable. Girls internalise their failure to ‘manage’ violent playground behaviour. They get belted and feel guilty for it.

Perhaps in that respect it’s the most honest form of adulting yet.

*There are other forms of ‘adulting’ too – witness, for instance, the bedazzled nine-year-olds doing the bump-and- grind at the school Christmas concert. When girls make and re-make themselves through the modification of their ‘look’ they are behaving like adult women: commodifying themselves, mobilising their self-actualisation through consumption.

And just like with adult women this commodification is often little more than a direct transfer of ‘sexuality’ for power. (N.B – It’s still objectification if you pay for it yourself.) The hypersexualisation of girls is nothing more than the expanding commodification of female bodies – we make ourselves as products. Girls know that playing with their ‘look’ represents economic mobility.

It’s worth noting that the hypersexuality of girls is often presented as some weird, pseudo-paedophilic novelty, or a dystopian morality play. It’s not. That’s a distraction. It’s just every day materialism, embodied.

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She’s so Charlie! (don’t worry chaps, she’ll still worship your tight arse, but she’ll just imagine it’s on her terms. Terms she will forever associate with the smell of industrial toilet cleaner).

My left wing media bubble

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I had a feeling this was coming…

I think it was when my left wing media bubble told me that Trump is a sexist misogynist, and that was the most important thing to know about him. The final days of the campaign even helpfully presented the choice in cartoon form;

Trump; Rapist, bigot, racist etc.,

Clinton; used private email server.

Ho ho ho.

My left wing media bubble even infiltrated Trump rallies, producing nuanced ethnographies of how ‘nice’ and polite his supporters were. I learned that Trump’s baseball cap sits on his head in a gently amusing way. His supporters are generously built, and often wear clothing from the nineties in an un-ironic fashion. It is these unwitting dupes who’re engaging in the ‘post-truth’ future.

My left wing media bubble told me that it’s not their fault they conflate T.V infotainment with reality. It told me to feel sorry for them, wallowing in their half-arsed, endlessly reproducing simulacrum.

It didn’t mention the other side of the ‘post-truth’ future – the inescapable conclusion that all sides might be full of shit. Trump was positioned as an inveterate liar but he lied in an honest way. Clinton represents a government of impenetrable sophistry that results in things like the lack of prudential legislation that lead to the sub prime mortgage clusterfuck, or tap water you can’t drink.

The US government has presided over an ever increasing polarisation of wealth and opportunity. Attempts to claw back some sense of dignity for those ‘at the bottom’ are personalised and denigrated as welfare. My media bubble might think we’re in a post-truth world, but there’s a truth that people live every day.

It’s the one where 18 year olds go into the army because it’s the only job they can get, only to come home broken and forgotten. It’s the one where ordinary people pull their own teeth out, or work three jobs and still live below the poverty line. And it’s not just really poor people either. It’s the lack of wages growth for the upper working class, or the general discomfort over America’s intervention in….exactly what in Syria? It’s the people who hear that free trade means they can buy cheaper goods, but still worry they won’t have a home to put them in. It’s the people for whom the government is far less relevant than their church.

They are well aware who will bear the pain of austerity or structural adjustment or whatever you want to call it. They are unmoved by claims that Trump is a sexist, racist bigot*, because, guess what? They’ve been subject to sexism, racism and misogyny this whole time! America might have its first black president, but he’s been there for two terms and guess who’s still getting shot by police? Statistics show that black and Latino voters predominantly voted Clinton, but they also show that many eligible voters simply didn’t vote at all.

Clinton also made a mistake in treating her campaign as a holiday length episode of Oprah’s Book club. Her campaign mobilised the idea women should vote based on little more than the fact that Trump is a smutty pervert, as if all women are primarily concerned with their pussies. And by the way, America has had smutty presidents before. At least this one is honest about it.

She also told everyone, at length, how hard she’d advocated for some of America’s most vulnerable, which just reminded everyone that the most vulnerable still need to be continually advocated for. She also failed to address very real questions about her government’s role in Syria, circulating rumours and stories about arms deals and a fraught relationship with Russia. But you know, hands off my pussy!!

Oh sure, here in Australia we’re all poking the borax at the US for voting in an overgrown oompah loompah. Ho ho ho. But it was easy to see. Clinton represented the establishment.

*He obviously is a racist, sexist bigot, which actually is pretty uncool.

Are writing competitions a scam?

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Twelve thousand entries. No, make that thirty thousand. Yes. That sounds better….

At the beginning of 2015 I won an art prize. I decided to invest my modest winnings in something even less appealing than visual art – creative writing. 2015 was my year of writing competitions.

My rules were simple; Only Australian competitions and only in 2015.

I chose three of the most reputable Australian writing competitions; The ABR Jolley Prize, the Overland Short Story Award for Emerging Writers and the Olga Masters Short Story Award – Two ‘big’, one small (the Olga Masters Award). All had an entry fee under $30.

I worked on my pieces and submitted on the due date. About a week after submitting to the Jolley Prize I received an email informing me that the deadline had been extended.

It got me thinking; why extend the deadline? Were they short of entries? How many entries did they want?

Research revealed that the Australian Book Review Jolley Prize attracts about 1200 entries, according to, you guessed it, the Australian Book Review. In 2016 the total prize money is $12500, with $7000 paid to the winner and the rest in other prizes.

So, if there’s around 1200 entries, at $20 a pop, that’s $24000. $12500 is paid out in prizes, leaving $11500 to pay for the administration and of course, reading fees. This all seems reasonable, until you consider the following;

– how do you know how many people enter?

– how do you know that all the entries are read?

I’m assuming the competition could be audited by Fair Trading, but there is no information on ABR’s website about terms and conditions, or how the competition is administered. In fact, there is no requirement to justify the outcome. The judges’ decision is final.

Now, in my opinion, the winning short stories were excellent, however, it’s unclear whether they were chosen from 1200 or 20 000 entries. Perhaps they were simply chosen from a much smaller pool of entries, say, perhaps the first two or three hundred entries, after which the ‘reading budget’ was maxed out. Or everyone got bored and stuck into the sticky wine. Who knows?

Writing competitions are classified as a competition of ‘skill’ rather than chance. In this way, they evade Australian gambling regulations. However, with a completely opaque judging process, who’s to say the outcomes are in fact based on skill rather than luck?

In the art world, trading in subjective artistic judgement is a well-established form of money laundering. Politicians and business people sell one another ‘important’ but obscure works of art that store well under the chaise lounge or beside the pool chemicals. It’s a simple and effective way to transferring money for ‘nothing’.

Writing competitions are a variation on the same theme. Entrants pay their money, wait until the jackpot pot is full (let’s extend the deadline for entries!) and then wait to see if they’re a winner. How, where or even if the works are ‘judged’ remains a mystery.

On that note, I’m starting a writing competition. Who’s in?

 

 

Opportunity Knocks

 Prominent ears and moustaches

A selection of headlines and bylines from the NZ mainstream media, regarding Gareth Morgan’s new political group, The Opportunities Party (with some artistic licence provided for clarity)….

Morgan Compares Self to Trump! (stuff.co.nz)

When asked who he most resembled, Donald Trump, Ghengis Kahn or that sidekick chicky from Zena with the fringe, Morgan compared himself to Trump, saying he was not really like him.

Gareth Morgan; good for ‘local colour’ (nzherald.co.nz)

John Key’s opinion of Morgan, who has consistently provided informed criticism of his National Government, is that he’s cashed up and good for a laugh. Don’t pay any attention to him.

Gareth Morgan Only Relevant to Cats! (thespinoff)

A searching treatise on Gareth Morgan’s new political party, completely comprised of cat-puns! It’s hilarious! Forget Morgan’s long-time, studied engagement in some of the most pressing issues of economic management and social justice, THE MAN DOESN’T LIKE CATS! Stand-by for Morgan’s position on leaf-blowers and microwaving vegetables with the Glad Wrap still on.

Morgan Too Arrogant For Parliament* (stuff.co.nz)

Gareth Morgan thinks he is Socrates. And he thinks he’s so clever he can solve all New Zealand’s problems single-handedly. He thinks politicians won’t solve New Zealand’s problems because they don’t want to ‘disturb the voters’.  Also, his son is rich, not him. Also, he’ll never make it. Also, he’s not very good at political spin, which, as a journalist dealing in political spin, clearly makes him an idiot.

*yes, really!

Sure, it’s easy to pass off all this negativity as normal New Zealand treatment of anyone who has,

A) given some thought to something,

and,

B) decided to do put some skin in the game.

Belting the shit out of their own is what kiwis do best.

However, I think there’s more to it than that. Anyone who is subject to such an immediate (clumsy and feeble) attempt at marginalisation by the media is obviously a very real threat to the status quo.

I know bugger all about Morgan (except his economic thinking, of which I know almost bugger all) but his appeal is evident from space. Morgan appears to be continuing an informed, intellectual interest in some pretty important social issues that the government keeps telling New Zealanders they don’t really care about.

Watch this space.

Insta-hipster

IMG_5808.jpgOK so as I post this picture I recognise that for many people, perfectly formed, naturally leavened #sourdough is unattainable. I also recognise that for some,#gluten is not an option. I keep those people in my thoughts today.

Of course there are some people who openly choose to live without home-made bread in their lives. My post is not intended to denigrate or belittle those who buy artificially leavened ‘bread products’ from Australia’s monolithic supermarket duopoly.
I also accept that with work, parenting and financial commitments, home-baking can become virtually impossible. The very idea that home-baked bread is a ‘choice’ implies responsibilities that fall disproportionately to women. #feminist

That said, I celebrate this loaf today with reverent #humbleness. I am participating in #grateful-guilt, the new, improved Christianity 3.0. Grateful-guilt is a perfect melange of religiosity and fetishisation, sans  the embarrassing deities. It enables me to feel sufficiently righteous for my fortunate circumstances. Like old fashioned Christianity before it, #grateful-guilt justifies my class position.

By being #thankful for this loaf I recognise that it represents my physical labour, which I give freely, rather than for wages, thus signifying my incorporation into the middle class – a position more ordained than attained.
This loaf, and others like it, is part of my post-commodity future. It signifies my movement beyond the shallow, didactic strictures of producer-product. I make my own stuff. My products are imbued with the value of my own labour (rather than the invisible labour of the people who made the iPhone I used to document it). In this way I can translate some of the value of my labour into maintaining my class position. The alternative would be to recognise that I’m an unemployed feckless tit who couldn’t operate a whipper snipper without taking an eye out #wabi-sabi.