Rob Smith’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame

It seems that Rob Smith’s first post to this blog was quite well received. My blog stats for the weekend are usually quite low, even when I post on the weekend – my usual readers apparently having more of a life than I do.

Within the first few hours of the statistical day clicking over, Rob had around a couple of hundred hits, thanks mostly to being discovered by someone using StumbleUpon (Rob says “thanks”, K-ady.) I bet if I didn’t shamelessly promote Rob’s post over at this thread at Pharyngula, it never would’ve happened. *Grumble, grumble, teeth-grind*

I didn’t think Rob’s post was quite that good!

rob_smith_15

My 15 minutes beats your confected envy, poor atheist…

At any rate, in the interests of traffic, I’ve secured a promise from Rob that he’ll write again for this blog. Indeed, he’s already got a topic in mind and further to that, he’s noticed that Alister McGrath’s The Twilight of Atheism (2004) has sat on my bookshelf, as yet unread.

The idea has got into his head that he could fill in as a guest book reviewer for when I’m too busy to read anything other than that which could turn out to be a waste of time. I guess that also includes Ken Ham’s The Lie: Evolution (1987), which made it onto my shelf for the princely chimney-sweeply price of ten cents.

But I digress. If Rob is or isn’t to write book reviews in the future, it’s very much up to him. What he has promised to do, in his own words, is to write a post…

“…refut[ing] the straw-men put about by New Atheists like Christopher Hitchens, on the topic of Christian positions on pre-marital sex and masturbation.”

(Rob Smith, last night.)

By “Christian positions”, one hopes that he doesn’t mean “missionary.”

Between Rob’s apparent popularity and that of the topic of sex on the Internet, I can feel my own posts being eclipsed already.

~ Bruce

How to talk to an arrogant New Atheist – Rob’s First Post!

Ever wondered just how to deal with that arrogant, intolerant New Atheist that heckles you so? Maybe you have one for a neighbour, or sadly, one of your family. Maybe you chat around the blogs and forums and keep running into them.

They can be very frustrating, these New Atheists. What with their mocking and what not.

Hi. I’m Rob. I’ve been allowed to use Bruce’s WordPress account to write this post.

I’m not a theologian, but I do like to read a bit of liberal theology from time to time. I love Jim Wallis and I think Obama marks a defining moment in the history of religion. I’ve been an on-and-off again elder at youth group and in my spare time I organise the unregistered charity, Hymns for Neglected Greyhounds.

I’m not a blogger, otherwise I’d have written this somewhere else. (Gee am I glad that Bruce is just an ordinary atheist and not a New Atheist, otherwise I’d never have gotten around to posting this. Perhaps I can coax his defection to liberal theism at a later point. Kidding!)

On with my first post!

How to talk to an arrogant New Atheistrob_smith

By

Rob Smith Continue reading “How to talk to an arrogant New Atheist – Rob’s First Post!”

Dear Borders

Sorry Borders, but I can’t see myself shopping from you anymore. It’s not working.

You know, I used to snob you off once. Like the way cynical young lefties can be repelled by a Big Mac, I was repelled by you.

When I saw You’ve Got Mail, I wanted Meg Ryan to snap Tom Hanks’ neck when her character found out who her Internet boyfriend was. I was backing the underdog. I didn’t like mega-chain-stores.

But hey. That’s just me being a cynical lefty with pie-in-the-sky ideals. I had to snap back to reality at some point and Borders is part of the reality of anyone strolling down Rundle Mall looking for books.

Borders, when you first came to Adelaide, I knew that at least in the US you had a reputation for being a corporate pig. I knew about the way you shut down Michael Moore in the 1990s when he used the dirty word. “Union.”

I remember hearing in 2001 and 2002, the tales of Borders employees in the US who had been subjected to intimidation to coerce them against union activity. This isn’t the kind of stuff that endears you to someone who protested against the various “waves” of IR reforms brought out by Peter Reith only a few years earlier.

But hey. We have and had different IR laws here in Australia, even if it was Howard’s lot in power at the time. I could rationalise us getting closer.

And then the ladies started wanting to hang out at Borders. Like it was the movies or something.

I don’t know about fashionable hangouts, but I know what I like. Women.

So that’s how I was broken. Like some weak willed husband in denial about a kind of perverse mutual attraction with the neighbour’s wife, I let the flirting begin.

By 2003 I had weakened further. I started to go into Borders with people who’s names I can remember. My friends.

Apparently my friends didn’t get the missive about the IR concerns. They had however, checked the other bookstores for what they wanted first and their foray into Borders was only ever a single way-point between locales in a night out.

At this point, I’d never spent a cent. You hadn’t given me reason to. Then in 2006, with a younger brother about to get into Uni, I was on the lookout for Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit as a Christmas present. He’d enrolled in a degree in the humanities.

Dymocks in Rundle Mall didn’t have it in. So that’s how you got me to fess up some cash for the first time.

Dymocks, where I had bought most of my popular science books from back in the 1990s. Dymocks, where I bought Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for my mother. Dymocks, who had an association with SBS as far back as when it was the best channel on telly (WTF were they thinking taking Des Mangan away from Saturday nights?) Dymocks, where I would browse the sci-fi and fantasy section with friends after school so long ago.

All it took was a moment of weakness and I jumped over the fence for a quicky with the neighbour’s wife – an analogy that only works if the neighbour’s wife is a corporate lawyer and my own wife is a super-sexy music teacher who practices cello in the nude.

All along the signs were there and screaming “NO! STOP! IT’S WRONG!”

One of the things in a relationship that I think is a benchmark of health is the way you prepare food for your loved ones. I love to cook for mine and if I couldn’t do it properly, I’d do what I could to minimise the consequences of my failed gastronomy.

Dymocks doesn’t try it. You have a Gloria Jean’s in store and even though I’ve never bought anything from them, the fact that they donate to Mercy Ministries leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Just seeing their little shop while looking for books is like passing through the kitchen on the way to the corporate lawyer’s bedroom and seeing a bottle of some harsh Nescafe roast.

At least this ugliness is at the back of the store and has nothing to do with the business that we’ve had. Back behind those escalators, those escalators that like the legs of a beautiful woman, lead up to… CDs, DVDs and non-fiction. That’s where you caught me the first time. Where I broke my fidelity.

But like all doomed affairs, there comes a point when the cheater is given a moment of pause. A pause to realise that what you are doing is wrong.

borders01It’s not just the lovely legs your escalators mimic, Borders. Your layout is probably the best of a bookstore anywhere in Adelaide. It’s very attractive. But Dymocks’ isn’t anything to turn your nose up at and besides, layout isn’t everything.

A few weeks ago I bought Dexter by Design by Jeff Lindsay, from you. Up until earlier this evening, it sat with receipt and the copy of Dubliners I also bought, when I decided to plonk them into a new bookshelf I’d recently purchased. It was then that I noticed that I’d been charged $36.50 for a book with a $21.99 sticker on it.

Now, I could probably take the book and the receipt back in and get the difference refunded. You might say that leaving you over a fifteen dollar discrepancy is a bit trite, which would be true if that’s what I’m on about.

Back in the mid-1990s, I met a girl at that wonderful music store of the time, Verandah Music. She led me up the stairs at the back, up to the vinyl section with me in tow… Jaw agape.

I wouldn’t turn my nose up at many a woman’s body, but from that angle she had one of the best layouts I have ever seen. Everything in the right proportion and positioned perfectly as if a sculptor had spent years in the decision making process.

Borders, your store layout and everything that you have got going for you is like her legs and arse. Beautiful.

Thinking everything was going fine, I went with her to the park lands. I opened a bottle of champagne, she lit up a joint and we relaxed and started to get to know each other (not in the biblical sense obviously – it was daylight.) Things inevitably gravitated to the topic of politics.

“The Port Arthur Massacre wouldn’t have happened if we all carried guns like they do in America”, she said…

Anyone in sympathy with my progressive leanings will, as I did, see this as somewhat of a facepalm moment. While I didn’t literally put my face in my palm (the little man in my Cartesian theatre did), I allowed things to progress politely while allowing my executive functions to successfully cockblock me.

Borders, that fifteen dollar discrepancy is the facepalm moment. The point at which I take a reality check and realise that I’ve been doing something very silly in seeing you behind Dymock’s back.

So I’m having to call an end to our affair. No more perusing that philosophy section to see if you have got a copy of The Critique of Pure Reason that doesn’t come with side-notes and explanations. No more impulse shopping while waiting to see if Shermer’s Denying History will make it to your shelf.

No more denial of why I avoided you in the first place.

I’m going back to Dymocks if she’ll still have me. For you and me, it’s over.

~ Bruce

Bruce Everett is an Adelaidian with odd tastes in books, who struggles in not giving in to corporatism and banal franchise while making his income stretch to accomodate his principles. He still struggles to live down his cheating on The Muses through his affair with JB HiFi down the other end of Rundle Mall.

I blame Julie Bishop

I’m pretty sure that the Liberal rank and file wish the performance of their elected representatives were better. One need only look at the polls.

Heck, I’ve got friends in the Liberal party who are disgusted with the way the Howard Government and now the Turnbull opposition is spinning the stories of refugees.

If the Rudd Government’s softening of asylum seeker laws precipitates an influx of refugees from the middle east simply by occurring in sequence (post hoc ergo propter hoc – it’s a fallacy!), then I guess it also precipitated the increases in refugees from the Middle East seeking asylum elsewhere in the world. I’m sure any time now EU nations are going to be filling up the message bank of Kirribilli House, screaming “RUDD! Look at what you’ve done! Your weak stance on immigration is filling Europe with an Islamic horde (and some oppressed Middle Eastern Christians who don’t have the same scare value)!”

In case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic. That was a reductio ad absurdum.

Considering how stupid this line of “reasoning” (my apologies to reason for the smear) being deployed by the right wing, pseudo-intelligentsia of the MSM and Australian Liberal Party is, I feel I really need to spell these things out. Please be patient – some of the people reading this post may not be as smart or as sane as you are.

That being said, with public opinion at about 36% of Australians believing this xenophobic delusion (the last time I checked), it’s probably not a state of emergency in as far as popular racism goes. Whatever the refugees are fleeing from probably entails an emergency (if I lived in Afghanistan, I’d be trying to get my family out!) and for the blithering, bumbling, flailing, trite, vexatious, intellectually barren Australian right, it’s a PR emergency. Australians should be humane about the former and merely unsympathetically self-interested about the latter (bad opposition makes bad governance easier after all.)

I’m happy to delay judgement on the current wave of asylum seekers until more is known and due process takes its course (and for the process to be subject to critique.) The debate is in no reasonable need of being rushed, at least not from any perspective other than perhaps those of and those sympathetic to the refugees (and even then, the general public isn’t in possession of the details to have a properly informed sympathy yet.)

In Neil’s words, people should hold their horses.

I’m not happy about all the hysteria (and I guess in a way, I’m regurgitating this hysteria on to you in the form of inflamed rhetoric – my half-felt apologies.)

Getting to my actual point…

I’m a carer and aside from being the kind of guy who cares about people (which makes all this stupidity all the more offensive), I’m a guy who needs his sleep. I can be, and have been kept awake all sorts of hours and naturally, when I do get to sleep, it’s bloody important.

So when a friend, who has acknowledged my sleeping patterns twice this week and woke me up at roughly the same time last Thursday night (twelve minutes later to be more precise), gets so excited that their critical faculties give way and they just have to ring me up and raise me from my valuable slumber, I’m going to get a bit pissed off. After only one hour of sleep, with drool running down my chin, I pick up the phone to be bombarded with a few excited paragraphs worth of “I just had to tell someone”, “Q&A”, “Julie Bishop”, “stupid”, “Ha!Ha!”, “OMG!”, “P. J. O’Rourke”, “real intellectual”, “Bishop”, “desperate”, “spin”, “pathetic.”

To be honest, I knew this stuff from the moment Julie Bishop dismissed informed educational philosophy as mere leftist ideology, claimed a sensible centre (as if the shifting political centre is necessarily sensible*), hyperbolised the history of Mao into mangled metaphor and pretended her academic proto-putsche was more than just a recycling of Howard’s ideologically motivated (and woefully unpopular) attack on values education in public schools.

So you can understand then that I don’t want to be woken up to be told something I already know. It took me over two hours to get back to sleep.

But such is the resounding strength of Bishop’s bombastic brand of cynical political point scoring, that it can echo into my most restful of states via the people who get contaminated by it. This is some seriously toxic crap.

Of course, this particular breed of political point scoring is designed to get past people’s critical reasoning (presumably to tap into their fears – which hasn’t worked for the Libs in a number of years) by means of emotional excitation – which explains both the enthusiastic schadenfreude of my friend overcoming rather obvious telecommunicative sensibilities, and the foam at the mouth of uncritical consumers of fine, paranoid screed.

I’m sure the former wasn’t intended by Julie Bishop. Nobody likes being laughed at after all. But I do hold her responsible – as I do for all contributions to Australian culture our politicians and media outlets make.

This crap the likes of Bishop put out is toxic. Not just xenophobic-toxic but bad-faith, anti-reason, anti-intellectual, anti-human-toxic. The selfish tantrums of a political movement with a massive sense of entitlement, yet none of the qualities to earn it – naturally divorced from realising how detrimental these tantrums are to the broader culture they are supposed to serve.

I don’t actually blame Julie Bishop of course. Her conduct as an MP is the problem of Australian right-wing discourse in a microcosm and in as far as she’s been an enabler of xenophobia, she has merely been actioning un-self-enlightened, inept opportunism. That I can say “merely” is testimony to the detriment of Howard’s contribution to our culture, which Bishop can only take crib notes from.

As was the case with Costello’s appropriation of Howard’s Muslim menace, and is the case with Malcolm Turnbull’s recent dog whistle politics. Howard could sell this crap to the Australian centre in a way his impersonators can’t, in a large part because of the fact that he could sell it to himself. Watching Turnbull and Bishop try to do the same while holding on to their fleeting integrity is pathetic to watch.

I want to shake the Liberal party. To yell at them, “Look at what you’ve done to Malcolm!”

Back in the 1990s, Malcolm Turnbull was a major contributor to Australian political thought. Unconstrained by caucus, he could tell you what he thought and the man clearly wasn’t a moron. Then came talk of a parliamentary career and subsequent pre-selection (the politics of the latter still showing signs of Turnbull’s integrity.)

Then compromise. Compromise with a bickering pack of spoiled political brats who had previously kept a lid on things out of a superstitious need to keep Howard in place like some kind of good luck charm. A superstition they don’t seem to extend to their subsequent leaders – and thus any aspirational party leader had better be prepared to be embalmed in right wing bile and preserved for all history in a state of compromised integrity. Even many in the Labor party have been similarly denatured.

Of course, the bile never used to flow through Howard. He was embalmed long beforehand and like the Curse of the Mummy, to this day doesn’t realise that he’s dead yet.

No. Caught in the gastric tubing of the Liberal party like some malignant polyp as Howard was, the bile had to flow some other way. Through the Liberal apparatchik of the mainstream media. News Ltd in particular. I’m not going to speculate on what gastric orifice they represent.

I could name names of those with conveniently timed opinion pieces that were coincidentally harmonious with as yet unreleased Howard government political statements. I could even point to the right-wing recipients of conveniently leaked government documents.

Many of you can probably reel off a list of names yourself. Between The Hun, The Tele and The Ostrayun there are quite a few.

But that’s not my point. My point isn’t what they are but what they aren’t. Where is the Australian right’s P.J. O’Rourke?

The Australian left is by far the better producer of political satire, but even they would have their hands full with the likes of O’Rourke. O’Rourke is intellectually honest – he says what he thinks and doesn’t whore himself to The Party. He’s rather witty and far fairer to his interlocutors than anything the Australian right ever cooked up. That I think he’s deeply wrong on things like abortion and stem-cell research and that I can’t endorse his libertarianism, nor the inability of the Cato Institute (of which O’Rourke is a prominent member) to recognise global warming denialism for what it is, matters not a bit to this estimation.

Imagine Adams versus O’Rourke. Imagine a Chaser stunt failing to ensnare him.

Imagine debate between Marr and O’Rourke on the most polarising topic you can imagine.

Can you see Bob Ellis going toe-to-toe with O’Rourke? Do Leunig’s limp caricatures wilt even more at the prospect of competing with O’Rourke’s critique?

At best, the Australian right has produced pseudo-intellectual hacks and try hard satirists who at best may be able to convince themselves and their uncritical fans that they are some kind of O’Rourke. They are no such thing. We wouldn’t need to import American opinion if they were.

Instead we are left with a broken political right, spraying pent-up venom on all and sundry, trying desperately to score a hit on those that they feel are responsible for the loss of their entitlements.

This insipid, anti-intellectual, toxic crap has flowed from the Liberal party, through the right wing media and into almost every corner of Australian culture causing untold damage in mostly as-yet unrealised ways. We are all the poorer for it. Even those of us that agree with the specific policy positions of the Howardista of yore and the current, impotent incarnation.

People are less thoughtful as a result of it. People become less considerate when subjected to it. It doesn’t have to be xenophobic to be harmful – the sheer spite and stupidity of it is sufficient to incite people to a less than beneficial excitation.

Which is probably why and where I should leave this topic. It’s not worth my or your attention and unless you’ve had a laugh, you’ve just wasted a good part of your time reading this. It sure wasn’t worth my getting out of bed for!

Julie Bishop, thanks a heap!

~ Bruce

P.S. You can catch the Q&A action here.

* Seriously, if you had on one side, a NAZI political population that wanted to wipe out all Jews and on the other hand a political population that said that the ethnic cleansing of a single Jew is unacceptable, you would tell me that wiping out half of the Jewish population is a sensible compromise? Clearly (at least not to anti-Semites), the polar position of no ethnic cleansing is the sensible position. No centre of a political continuum can be automatically sensible! This senseless centrism and the accompanying sanctimony is really starting to annoy me.