Saturday, November 12, 2016

Girl in the Attic - new online young adult novel

I've just started my latest project - the online young adult mystery novel "Girl in the Attic". Three posts in, it is already starting to attract a loyal following. As with all my books, it'll be taken down shortly after the last installment is posted, so read it here while you can!

Don't forget to follow me on Facebook!

Why HRC lost to the least qualified man - ever

It seems that everywhere I look, I see #Trumpwins followed by #everydaysexism - or something similar. That is a troubling thought. How could America's most qualified woman be beaten by America's least qualified man? What does it say about women's political chances in the future - in the US and in many other countries?

By now, many of you will be aware that 53% of "white" women in America voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton - and that was despite his talk of crotch grabbing and other sexual assaults, his many victims of such assaults coming forward, his general demeaning of women and his sexist verbal attacks against specific women.

I think the above statistic reflects a deep dissatisfaction with growing income inequality, the inexorably diminishing middle class and a frustration with the establishment that has allowed this to happen - on both sides of the two party system. It seems clear to me that the US zeitgeist was/is to vote for an "outsider". Sadly, in this race Trump (as abhorrent and objectionable as he is) was the only one to fit that description.

Yes, there was some sexism evident in the result. We all know there was. We as a species have a way to go before we have true equality between the sexes.

But if sexism were the only - or even predominant - issue, I think this would be reflected in how women, including white women, voted. Instead, it seems that a majority of the latter (and enough of the electorate - even if it wasn't quite a majority) voted for a man who is openly misogynist.

I think many, if not most, of the women who voted for Trump did so despite this misogyny, not because of it. The same applies to many of the men. This is especially true of the "swinging voters": those who are not "rusted on" conservatives or "dyed-in-the wool" liberals. These swinging voters who cast their ballots for Trump were not all from a "basket of deplorables" but rather many were from a sector of the populace that, rightly or wrongly, felt disenfranchised and alienated. And the total underestimation of the DNC of the need to field a candidate who would appeal to this (sizable) sector was ultimately their failing. Instead, they bulldozed through their "pre-chosen" candidate, curtailing the chances of the only other person who dared put his hand up - the "outsider" (and wildly popular) Bernie Sanders. And the voters - men and women - punished them at the polls for this arrogance.

While I think Hillary Clinton would have made a good president relative to the presidents the US has had in recent years (and an incomparably more qualified and capable one than the buffoon who is now president-elect), it seems that she was never going to win.

Yes, it was always going to be harder for a woman to win the White House than it was for a man. But I do not think this particular electoral result proves that "a woman can never win the White House". It proves that HRC could never win the White House - not in this election anyway.

Basically, the Democrats were never going to win by pushing an unpopular establishment candidate as their nominee - while ignoring all the warning signs. Nor were they going to advance the cause of feminism and equality by doing so with a female candidate who met that description (however well-qualified and capable she was and well-regarded by her loyal base). Indeed, I believe that in doing what they did, the Democrats have unintentionally set back the cause of feminism. I think it is trite to say that women need as many wins as they can get - and as few defeats - in order to change perceptions within our still male-dominated societies.

Those who backed Sanders and were shushed up for fear of trashing Clinton's chances can now safely point this out:
The most unpopular presidential candidate in history narrowly edged-out the second most unpopular presidential candidate in history.
The race was that close. And I believe anti-establishment sentiment - specifically among the "swinging voters" - ultimately won the day. The fact that Clinton also carried the baggage of decades of concerted muck-raking campaigns (emails, Benghazi etc.) by her political opponents is well-known and apposite.

Rightly or wrongly, Clinton was/is deeply unpopular - both with her ideological adversaries and, most importantly, the "swinging voters". No doubt sexism played some role in this with some voters - but it was hardly pivotal with so many other factors (real or imaginary) at play. She may have won the majority vote, but Clinton was so unpopular that she didn't do well enough to win enough electoral college votes - against a man who is almost universally reviled, even among a large number of Republicans who were desperate for their side to retake the White House. And we knew this from the start of the race (and before).

There should be no real surprise that the voter turnout for Clinton (and Trump) was so poor. The DNC gambled that fewer of Trump's supporters would turn up than Clinton's. They lost (even if they won the popular vote narrowly, they lost the electoral college vote convincingly).

Many are quick to point out that "we don't know if Bernie would have done better." Maybe. But I do know one thing: if anti-establishment sentiment determined the result (and I believe it largely did), then running an extremely popular anti-establishment figure against a very unpopular anti-establishment figure is the only choice that would ever have made any sense.

Had that figure been Elizabeth Warren, my money would have been on her, sexism or no sexism. Since she didn't put up her hand, the old "democratic socialist" from Vermont was the only feasible alternative, in my humble opinion.

But Sanders never had a chance with the way the DNC ran the primaries, now did he? The DNC didn't exactly hide its assumption that Clinton was the "heir apparent" and this was reflected in its rather perfunctory acknowledgment of his candidacy. Sanders certainly did not receive their support. He succeeded in building an unprecedented, massive, grass-roots following despite their actions, not because of them.

Even his supporters - many of them women and many of them feminists (men and women) were given the pejorative nick-name "Bernie bros" - an intellectually dishonest, rather underhanded implication of latent sexism for daring to suggest an alternative to the DNC's "heir apparent".

And the media played its role too: it gave virtually no air time to Sanders. His massive rallies barely rated a mention. He filled stadiums like a rock star while Clinton struggled to get a crowd worth photographing in a high school gym.

Well the world is now paying the price for this conceit.

So what does the fall of HRC say about women's chances in politics? Not much other than what we already knew: women will continue to have it tougher than men - at least in the US and similar countries like Australia. But the election of DJT is no more an indicator of derailment by rampant sexism than Brexit was. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous: it is an attempt to avoiding the simple reality that HRC was the wrong candidate for this election. It is a doubling down by the establishment on their own echo chamber worldview instead of a recognition of reality.


When I made predictions along these lines in a Facebook post back in March this year, I was told by one avid HRC supporter that I should mind my own business. "We've got this one," she said. I would say to her that it is now (as it was back then) abundantly clear that she/they didn't.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Nights of the Moon - 5 day free Kindle promotion

In a series of nightly letters written over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (the 'Nights of the Moon'), Leila reflects on her time on Irwin Island: the long hours, the isolation and loneliness, and the arrival of the charismatic, if distant and troubled, Edin.

As her account unfolds, it reveals the deeply complex web of relationships on the island - and the surprising role Edin plays in them.

Against a background of storms, looming violence and growing mental instability, Leila's letters show how, despite her introversion and social awkwardness, she is drawn into the world of her co-workers in a way that will change their lives forever.

Nights of the Moon is a drama and mystery, set in a tiny dystopian community that serves as a microcosm for modern Western society.

Download your Kindle here. Free from 28 August to 1 September 2016.

"A compelling tale about the oftentimes scary intricacies of human behaviour... Guaranteed to keep you reading all night." - Amazon customer

Friday, July 1, 2016

"We can't take them all": defending our refugee policy

The world's refugee crisis has resulted in some 60 million displaced people mostly due to conflict - in particular in Syria but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Albania, Sub-Saharan Africa, Iran and Ukraine.  The Western world has become the destination for many of these refugees, fuelling a sense of panic, resistance and hostility towards them in many of its countries.

We in Australia are experiencing a small fraction of this crisis, as some of the refugees make their way around the world, enduring perilous voyages across rough seas in rickety boats to reach our shores.  We have responded either by turning back the boats or imprisoning the refugees (in deplorable conditions) in offshore detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru, and promising never to allow them the right to settle in Australia (or New Zealand, for that matter!).

We have a government that is campaigning at the very moment on its proud achievement of having "stopped the boats".  At the same time, the government boasts that it has reduced to zero the number of deaths by drowning in those rickety boats.

The bipartisan adoption of this policy should tell you that it has broad appeal among our voters. Indeed, both major parties are adopting the same hard line in tomorrow's federal election, although only one side - the Coalition - can claim to have succeeded in "stopping" the boats completely (a short-term "softer" approach by Labor in the late 2000s is widely seen as having "encouraged" a resurgence of boat arrivals).  Certainly both sides now have a more or less identical policy platform as regards refugees, with the Coalition having adopted Labor's "offshore detention" programme (the so-called "Pacific Solution").

So how did we stop the boats"?  Very simply.  We made an example of those who dared seek asylum here.  We then sent advertisements back to their home countries warning further asylum seekers not to bother trying to come to Australia.

We have treated those who arrived here with great cruelty in order to deter others from seeking our help.  It hasn't mattered whether they have been men, women or children.  All have gone to indefinite imprisonment without charge, never mind trial or conviction.

The cruelty has been so great it has led some to self-immolate (ie. burn themselves alive).  We haven't even cared enough to provide appropriate, timely medical care (it's their own fault after all).  Others have gone on hunger strikes, sewn their lips together or doubtlessly tried to self-harm in myriad other ways.

In truth, we may never know much about what has happened to refugees attempting to seek asylum in Australia.  Because boat turn-backs have become confidential military operations while the conditions in the detention centres are shrouded in secrecy.  We get a few reports of the critical state of asylum seeker mental health on both Nauru and Manus.  And we know that Australian workers in those centres are suffering their own post-traumatic stress based simply on what they are seeing on a daily basis.  But otherwise we, the Australian public, are not permitted to know anything - presumably lest we get "misty-eyed about this".

Because hey, it's all justified isn't it?  When it comes to refugees "we can't take them all".  If we relaxed our policy (as the foolish Labor government did in the late 2000s) we'd be "swamped".  Our infrastructure wouldn't cope.  Our culture would be overwhelmed.  Punishing a few innocent people (and everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence) is a necessary means to stop these "illegal economic migrants".  Besides, we've stopped so many drownings at sea.

But something is wrong with this whole analysis.  And this should be obvious from a single fact:

Our nearest neighbours - Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea, have a combined population exceeding 260 million people.  The bulk of this population is desperately poor.  They are only a relatively short boat ride away from us.  Why aren't they streaming across the sea in their millions as illegal economic migrants?

Well here's the obvious answer: maybe it's because no one is trying to "bomb them back to the stone age".  Maybe, just maybe, people who aren't facing war or famine just tend to stay where they are, regardless of less than ideal economic circumstances - even grinding third world poverty.

But why would that be?

The answer is to be found in one word: inertia. Most people in the world still die in the city in which they were born. The bulk of humanity is afraid of change and will prefer their own backyards, however problematic, to an unknown. My father and his brother were the only ones on both sides of my parents' families to leave the former Yugoslavia when it was possible to do so. Why? Because they were a particular type of personality.

Unlike my parents, I have lived in Perth for 31 years and will almost certainly remain here until I die - despite many offers to work in exotic places ranging from the UK, Bermuda and Norfolk Island (not to mention other States and Territories in Australia). Why? Because I am not like my parents. I am more typically subject to the usual human inertia. Were people to start bombing Perth however...

So the belief held by refugee-fearing folk (both here in Australia and elsewhere in the Western world) that people from poor countries are determined to come to our countries at all costs, is overblown - if not entirely incorrect.

Most refugees from Syria and Iraq moved into UN refugee camps just over one of their countries' borders. Of the 60 million people who have been displaced by recent wars, less than 2 million are banging on Europe's door. I imagine there would be even fewer if the UN camps weren't over-crowded desert hell-holes with ever-diminishing resources and facilities and increasing security risks. At the peak of boat arrivals, Australia was receiving less than 20,000 people by boat annually.

There is, of course, also the very deep irony that those who make it all the way to Australia by boat without lengthy periods in UN camps are very likely the personality type that is most determined to survive by their own means.  It is no surprise then that the Australian Bureau of Statistics has found such humanitarian migrants to be the most entrepreneurial among new Australians.  By comparison, refugees taken from UN camps have been noted as (understandably) developing a high welfare dependency. So natural selection gives us boat people with the kind of "pioneer work ethic" that built Australia, and people who have not spent years getting used to living off aid. Yet we reject these people as "queue jumpers". We reject them precisely because of their initiative, dogged determination and higher likelihood of economic self-sufficiency.  Go figure.

For these reasons, we Australians need to stop punishing innocent refugees in order to deter the arrival of others. It is appalling in both morality and logic. We may have "stopped the boats" coming into our waters, and "stopped drownings" in our waters, but we haven't reduced the misery of the refugees: we've simply moved that misery out of sight and mind.

After all, who knows what happens to the people in the boats that have been "turned back"?  Who knows what happens to the people who decide not to try to seek asylum in Australia after seeing advertisements warning them of the futility of this action?

If we really want to stop the refugee crisis, we should start by examining its causes - including endless wars, particularly in the Middle East - and our indifference or contribution to those causes. We won't stop it by punishing some of its innocent victims.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Brexit and "demonisation"

Well the Brexit fallout is now upon the UK and prominent "Leavers" like Nigel Farage are attracting their fair share of criticism, indeed
"demonisation", both by "Remainers" and those suffering "Regrexit".

Is this fair?  Given how the Leave campaign was conducted and the possible (indeed likely) consequences, I say yes.

In the video below, Professor Michael Dougan outlines (precisely and accurately) not only the inherent dishonesty of the Leave campaign, but also the effects of the referendum result.  In particular he discusses the issues that confront lawmakers in deciding how, if at all, to implement the Leave decision, and the constitutional crisis now facing the UK as a consequence.

In these circumstances I think it is entirely fair to focus ire on those leading a campaign that was fundamentally misleading and dangerously divisive and irresponsible.

Consider Farage in particular. I see him as a figure who deserves "demonisation" precisely because he is somewhat "demonic" - albeit in the rather banal guise that bigoted nationalism and jingoistic patriotism generally wears.

The worrying thing for me is that people like him hijack real issues, like immigration and globalisation, for their own purposes, obfuscating them so they cannot be discussed in the absence of an agenda (in Farage's case, an "independent UK", whatever that means).  This is a process some have labelled "Trumpism" (see below):

I believe that's what has happened in Brexit. Farage set a lure, David Cameron fell for it, and millions were swept up in a proposal that had no plan and was never intended to have a plan.

And it is important to note that some serious economic, political and legislative analysis and planning were necessary to ensure any sort of safe, responsible exit from Europe. This should have been done well before any referendum. But nothing like this happened.  Cameron and the "Remainers" never expected a successful Leave vote, and so they didn't bother exposing the complete lack of any Brexit plan (or any other contingency plan).  Johnson, Gove et al didn't expect to win either - so they saw no need to create such a plan.  I don't think Farage was remotely interested in the specifics of a plan - whatever the outcome.

Compare the referendum on Scottish independence: debated over a two year period and accompanied by a 670 page white paper published ten months before the vote.  By contrast, the Brexit referendum was debated over a ten week period.  And the Leave campaign couldn't muster more than a 16 page pdf in large font - a total of 1293 words.

And so the UK is left with what is, frankly, a ludicrous, unworkable referendum result that, ironically, does not address any of the issues raised as motivators, but if implemented will cause a lot of pain. How long it might take to disentangle the UK from Europe - with all its current myriad complex regulatory and economic ties - is anyone's guess. But all the experts will tell you it's pie-in-the sky to imagine any result but a recession - likely on a global scale, never mind in the UK.

And that says nothing of the very real possibility of the total breakup of the UK.  Scotland is already talking of a second independence referendum.  Northern Ireland is in an uncertain (some might say untenable) position that does not really allow it to remain in the UK for any length of time.  Wales might have voted by majority to leave, but this seems more of a protest at being ignored by Westminster.  The heavily EU-funded country might hang on with England for a while, but I see it ultimately splitting off from England the way Montenegro split from Serbia.  Then the Balkanisation of the UK will be complete.  "Great Britain" will become "Little Britain" (see the video below).

But this is all predicated on Brexit going ahead. I hope it doesn't.

So forgive me, but I'm inclined to demonise populists like Farage who peddle non-solutions to social/political/economic/legislative problems - just as I am quite inclined to demonise those who peddle quackery instead of medical science. It is, after all, political science in which Farage is meddling - yet he is to this field what an anti-vaxxer is to medicine. And millions of decent people were taken in by his "solution" - with virtually no effective response from Cameron or the other "Remainers". All because the establishment (particularly the conservative side) were too arrogant to acknowledge this petty nationalist as a threat - and anticipate the rising tide of disenchantment with establishment politics (with which I can sympathise) resulting in an honest, but misguided, protest vote.

In my view, Farage and his ilk deserve all the trashing they can get. Not that it seems to bother them particularly (see below)...

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Shadow of Dusk - 5 day free download special

The Shadow of Dusk has now been published by Pikkeljig Press and is available for free download on Kindle for the next 5 days!

New cover for Nights of the Moon

Following the release of "The Shadow of Dusk", Pikkeljig Press has announced a corresponding new cover for "Nights of the Moon".  I love it!