Monday, November 15, 2004

Last Post Farewell

After two years of regular posting, this blog is closing for business.

In terms of an explanation, I’m afraid that I don’t have a good one. I certainly haven’t got that dream job, a la Jonas, nor have I decided to embark on something that might be a better use of my many spare hours of enforced “leisure”, a la meika and his novel. Fact is, the one-to-two hours this blog takes me to research and write each day are freer than Mr Humphries of “Are You Being Served”. The extra hours are simply going to be added to consolidated staring-into-space under-the-doona time (I don’t do daytime TV – for among other reasons, America’s white trash just aren’t funny any more; especially when they vote).

Another reason for closing up is financial – I only really use my landline phone for net dial-up, and I only really use the net for this blog. Going offline (and to mobile phone only) is therefore going to save me $50 a month. (Thanks, cunting Telstra, and your stratospheric annual landline “rental” increases).

My final message: thanks to all (?) you readers. Globally and locally, these are troubled times for anyone with a brain, and every indication is that they are going to get much worse. And there’s not a thing that you or I can do about it, except laugh. From under our doonas.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Does democracy need a burgeoning billion-dollar pornography industry to be truly democratic?

Asks George Pell, presumably rhetorically.

To paraphrase, and invert, the old argument about guns not killing people: Porn doesn’t produce pasty-faced, sexo-socially retarded wankers – fast-forward buttons on remotes do.

In any case, my immediate beef today is not with George’s usual set of hoary old admonitions, nor even with the transformative agency of the technology that he so wilfully overlooks. Rather, if George really wants to “go” Australia’s burgeoning (if you take his word for it) pornography industry, why doesn’t he cut to the chase, and name names? After all, it doesn’t take too much research to divine the identity of Australia’s number one smut king: Kerry Packer, of Bellevue Hill NSW.

Packer’s smut empire, through his ACP publishing arm, includes “The Picture” and “People” magazines, both of which – contrary to Pell’s doxy on the porn industry’s general thriving health – are in a downward circulation spiral: the latter has fall by about 75% since the mid-80s, due to a strong aversion by younger readers to the titles. So is George going easy on Kerry because Kerry’s about to go out of business – well, the smut business, anyway? Hardly: nothing is going to come between the wallets of Australia’s dirty old men and the pockets Kerry Packer, with the latest plan to revive the two magazines’ sagging circulation apparently being to have even more nudity per-page (same URL).

You’ve got to hand it to Kerry, for taking porn through the saturation barrier (by which I mean not so much a hydrophilic wet spot (Ewww!) as the absolute limit of porn efficacy). Australia’s dirty old men, now even dirtier – coming to (and then in?) a newsagent near you.

Another arm of the Packer smut empire – his Nine TV network – mightn’t be so obviously such. Channel-surfing last-night at about 7.50 p.m., I chanced across an unusually steamy image on the “Getaway” program, featuring the sights to be seen on an Ibiza beach. Several topless, nubile young women were shown in full frame, and far from fleetingly.

Now you straight blokes out there may call me a spoilsport poof for making an issue out of this. I admit that "yes", if it so offended me, I could have immediately changed channels, but I’m going to hold my ground on this one – I was waiting for the balancing, close-up abs’n’pecs shots of Ibiza’s beach-boys, but they never hit the screen.

Legally-speaking, the “Getaway” titty-footage (tittage?) would seem to prima facie offend the current Commercial television code of practice (PDF). In its 7.30-8.30 p.m. slot, the program could have carried a “PG” rating at most. The relevant “PG” provisions of the Code read thus:

3.2 Sex and nudity: Visual depiction of and verbal reference to sexual behaviour must be restrained, mild in impact and justified by the story line or program context. Restrained visual depiction of nudity is permitted, but only where justified by the story line or program context.

Dunno about the Code's saying the same thing twice, but it is clear, IMO, that last night’s “Getaway” boob-fest was in no way “restrained”. It was half a minute or so of TV footage that your pervy old “People”-reading uncle would have been all in a lather over. Which is just the way Kerry Packer - and through his tangential canards, George Pell – like things to be, apparently.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

"I have been with the Army taking their photos since Vietnam. I have never, ever, seen any racism."

Says self-evident fucktard, Townsville-based photographer Richard Fraley (the photo that he took is here).

More surprising – until you know the Townsville context, that is – is that local federal MP Peter Lindsay appears to utterly take photographer Fraley’s word for it:

Mr Lindsay said the photographer responsible was adamant there was no racism involved. "It was just a fun thing before the troops went overseas."

And if perchance the photographer’s word isn’t good enough, MP Lindsay offers a version of the “What goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas” defence:

But it's the spirit of thing that out in the general community, nobody would even turn a hair at. You go to a buck's party and you see that sort of thing done and as long as it's understood in the context that it was taken, people don't take offence.

Err, I think that the (presumably) heterosexual Lindsay is confusing gay sexual horseplay (= buck's party hijinks) with acts of racist humiliation. Which sort of confusion in Townsville, you’ve got to understand, is actually quite common.

Townsville, as well as being “probably the most racist town in Australia” (among towns of more than token size, the “probably” is most assuredly redundant), is also the gay-hate capital of Australia (again, with the possible exception of an outback hamlet or two).

Oh, and as is usually the way with such things, the city’s mostly un-prosecuted gay-bashers, uncaught defacers of Eddie Mabo’s grave, and at-large evildoers of so much more appear to enjoy police, military and political protection to the top. The mock-KKK photo was apparently done at the urging of older, senior officers (surprise, surprise), officers who have been already exonerated at an army inquiry (ditto). Meanwhile, check out MP Peter Lindsay’s official biography – the little smarmball was a tropical-strength proto-Silvio Berlusconi for more than a decade before entering parliament in 1996 – sitting on Townsville’s council from 1985, while all along boss of the city’s (at-the-time only, I’m assuming) television station.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Phonics and boomer-nomics

In April 2004, 26 Australians – mainly psychology academics – signed this letter (the five other signatories are here) (both PDF) to education Minster Dr Brendan Nelson, regarding the “phonics” vs “whole language” approaches to teaching reading. At the risk of over-simplifying the positions here, the former is the more traditional approach, while the latter has predominated in Australia for about the last 35 to 40 years*.

A natural first question here is that, if “whole language” has been so disastrous for Australian literacy, why has it taken four decades for a public fuss to emerge about it?

A fair question, indeed – and one for which this is no possible logical answer, other than sheer boomer hegemony; aka “We are going to spend out twilight working years fighting as rebels without a cause. Specifically, fighting an education system (which we both built and occupy all the top roles within, but never mind that) that teaches reading a little bit differently than the way we were taught, pre-1970. The nerve!”.

This would be funny if it wasn’t (i) so symptomatic of broader social trends (mass boomer scorching of the commons to bare earth as they retreat into retirement), and (ii) draining of the public purse. The expense I’m referring to here it not simply the recently-announced government inquiry – with its foregone conclusion – but the rich irony (itself a boomer-trademark, of course) of every one of the 26 above-mentioned signatories** having their windmill-tilting dissent funded by the Australian Research Council Networks (= the taxpayer).

To summarise my position, then. ARCN funding has (inadvertently, I assume) fomented a storm in a teacup, which is so for a least three reasons. First and foremost, GenX has, AFAICT, entirely passed through “whole language” primary schools, and well into adulthood without a whisper of concern from anybody, then or now. Secondly, boomers have been in charge for more than long enough to now make suspect their motives, as to “whole language” teaching having recently been discovered to be inadequate. Finally, the dissenters’ real motives seem plain enough: a research-grant carrot (which must have seemed all the sweeter knowing how scarce absolute research funds are (= suck eggs, rival GenX applicants!)), combined with a more general, pathological imperative to sabotage all remaining public goods while boomers still control the levers of power.

As a sidenote, there is this intriguing letter to the editor by Dr Marion de Lemos, one of the 26 above-mentioned signatories (and thus an ARCN funding recipient) who, judging by this October 2004 biographical note having her as “retired”, seems likely to have found her slice of the ARCN funding usefully spent around her home in Melbourne’s leafy Hawthorn East.

Marion writes:

I would like to make it clear that the signatories to the letter were not calling for a return to an old-fashioned method of teaching based on phonics, but for an approach to teaching based on the scientific evidence as to how children learn to read, and what strategies are most effective in teaching them.

Oh, the scientific evidence, that’s right. If teaching-training departments are really instilling something that is not based on scientific evidence (e.g. a flat-earth), shouldn’t Marion be a teensy bit more concerned? Not to mention a teensy bit more responsible? I mean, what has she been doing for the last 30 years, since she donned the tie-dye caftan in June 1968, to advocate that Australian pre-school teachers take up Maria Montessori's (paleo-hippy) teaching methods?

My, how the worm turns. Australia’s education landscape in 2004 is a simple binary: no private school student should apparently be without his/her own polo field, while the public school system is there only to be systemically undermined.

* Annabelle McDonald “Shop’s phonics classes fill in the gap” The Australian 10 November 2004, quoting Sydney early-learning centre operator Rogan Caroll.

** There are 49 ARCN funding recipients listed here. Of the 23 who were not also signatories to the above-mentioned letter, the majority are non-Australian based. For ease of reference, here is the list of 49, in alphabetical order, with the names of the 26 signatories (all Australians) in bold:

Professor Vicki Anderson, Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne VIC
Dr Timothy Bates, MACCS, Macquarie University NSW

Professor Dorothy Bishop, Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford University

Dr Caroline Bowen, Speech Language Pathologist, NSW

Associate Professor Judy Bowey, School of Psychology, University of Queensland QLD

Dr Lesley Bretherton, Department of Psychology, Royal Children’s Hospital VIC

Ruth Brunsdon, MACCS, Macquarie University NSW

Professor Brian Byrne, Department of Psychology, University of New England NSW
Dr Anne Castles, Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne VIC

Professor Max Coltheart, Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, Macquarie University

Associate Professor Veronika Coltheart, MACCS, Macquarie University NSW

Dr Linda Cupples, Department of Linguistics, Macquarie University NSW

Dr Molly [Marion] De Lemos, Honorary Fellow, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) VIC

Bernice Dodds, Learning Difficulty Centre, Royal Children's Hospital VIC

Dr Ruth Fielding-Barnsley, School of Learning and Professional Studies, Queensland University of Technology QLD

Dr Jan Fletcher, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia WA

Dr Claire Fletcher-Flinn, Department of Psychology, University of Auckland

Professor Uta Frith, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience & Dept. Psychology, University College London

Dr Steve Heath, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia WA

Dr Kerry Hempenstall, Psychology & Disability Studies, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology VIC

Dr John Hogben, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia WA

Associate Professor Virginia Holmes, Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne VIC

Dr Teresa Iacono, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University VIC

Dr Pam Joy, Child Development Unit, The New Children's Hospital NSW

Coral Kemp, Macquarie University Special Education Centre, Macquarie University NSW

Saskia Kohnen, MACCS, Macquarie University NSW

Associate Professor Bruce Knight, Faculty of Education & Creative Arts, University of Central Queensland QLD

Dr Suze Leitão, School of Psychology, Curtin University of Technology WA

Dr Michelle Luciano, Genetic Epidemiology, Queensland Institute of Medical Research QLD

Dr Genevieve McArthur, MACCS, Macquarie University NSW

Ken McAnally, Air Operations Division, Defence Science and Technology Organisation VIC

Dr Frances Martin, School of Psychology, University of Tasmania TAS

Professor Nick Martin, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, University of Queensland QLD

Dr Kate Nation, Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford University

Dr Roslyn Neilson, Language, Speech and Literacy Services, NSW

Professor Philip Newall, Department of Linguistics, Macquarie University NSW

Professor Tom Nicholson School of Education, University of Auckland

Dr Lyndsey Nickels, MACCS, Macquarie University NSW

Dr Kristen Pammer, School of Psychology, The Australian National University ACT

Professor Margot Prior, Department of Psychology, The University of Melbourne VIC

Dr Linda Siegel, Department of Educational & Counselling Psychology and Special Education, University of British Columbia

Dr Karen Smith-Lock, Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, Macquarie University NSW

Dr Ian Smythe, World Dyslexia Network Foundation,

Dr Rhonda Strainthorp, Institute of Education, University of London

Dr Morag Stuart, Institute of Education, University of London

Dr Geoff Stuart, Neuroimaging and Informatics, The University of Melbourne VIC

Dr Brian Thompson, School of Education, Victoria University of Wellington

Professor Kevin Wheldall, Macquarie University Special Education Centre, Macquarie University NSW

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Why do taxpayers put up with this?

The Medicare levy (plus, I’m guessing, a slice of the consolidated revenue as well) is there to fund two things – visits to doctors and treatment at public hospitals – yes?

Err, not exactly: it turns out that so-called public hospitals have been quietly getting into private-bit-on-the-side game. In a third-world country, this would be correctly recognised and abhorred as corruption, but in Australia in 2004, the main grievance seems to be that the bribes (for that is the correct word) paid to queue-jump for an operation in a public hospital are a bit too financially open-ended. Well, derr.

Would there be more of an outcry if public schools adopted a similar modus operandi? A plausible such set-up could work like this: 9am to 3pm would be spent as online study (= no qualified staff required to supervise) and play/sport (ditto), while 3pm to 5pm would be dedicated classroom time for the “private” students.

The school, its babysitters and teachers – who would split the “private” students revenue something like 40/20/40 – could scrupulously argue that the private students were in no way displacing public students. The media (inter- and intra-net) lounge where the private brigade spend their pre-3pm indoor hours would be built from dedicated funds, while recreation/eating breaks would always be scheduled for when the public kids were in class. Brilliant, eh?

As to why a family would chose to go “private” in a public school under my model, well, you do the math. Only two teacher-contact hours a day would certainly be a broad winner with the kids (and the effective bonus of two hours “free” babysitting would be a winner in all families with no at-home parent), but what about academic standards? Ah, don’t worry – the magic of the market will fix all that. Meaning that never mind the public kids getting nominally more contact hours, it is an iron law of economics that a service provided for “free” cannot exceed, or even be equivalent with, the quality of a side-by-side, paid-for service. In other words, the market will see to it that the quality of the “free” service is appropriately diluted. After all, the rationality of paying to queue-jump is predicated on the queue having ceased to be just that – instead becoming a dis-ordered, dis-informed rabble.

Only one thing has stopped, and will yet stop, my above scenario from becoming a reality. Most public school teachers have ethics – clearly unlike public hospital administrators and staff (to work, in whatever role, for an entity that accepts queue-jumping bribes is to be complicit in the corruption).

Meanwhile, there is a missing voice in all this: the taxpayer, who in good faith funds a public system, only to find that it is methodically being run into the ground by its ostensible servants.

Today is my dole form day. My state of mind at the moment is very pessimistic, as far as ever working again goes. Under my thinking, there are only another 640 or so dole forms to go and I’ll be home free (= of pensionable age). I’ve long thought that the taxpayers of Australia might prefer not to be paying for such a long period of institutionalisation-without-walls. Today, I’m not nearly so sure – not only did about 90% of Australian taxpayers recently vote for parties hostile to the goal of full employment, the great mass also seem content to stand idly by while the hospital industry openly and contemptuously pisses their taxes against the wall.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Revisiting the ignorance of the early '60s

Are we to revisit the ignorance and hypocrisy of the early '60s?” writes Kevin Summers.

As I’ve repeatedly written, in the context of that era as one of full employment, “if only”.

Clearly, Kevin “What generation gap?” Summers – a baby boomer fuckwit from central casting – supposes his above question to be rhetorical. It is unfortunate, then, that he drops the uber-ignorant clanger of referring to “Koori artist Albert Namatjira”. I suspect that even the most redneck National Party MP would know that Namatjira was an Aranda/Arrernte man.

But those darkies; they’re all the same, aren’t they, Kev?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Sweat lodges and boomer Xercide

The death of a 37 y.o. man in the South Australian outback was early on unfairly maligned as occurring through a bizarre ritual. As subsequent media reports have made clear (and a quick Google would show, in any case) sweat lodges are as mainstream as alternative medicine and baby boomers – or at least the confluence of these two groups.

That the dead man, along with a 30 y.o. man who nearly died, was not a baby boomer is just one of the unusual things in this story. While it is a stereotype to automatically lump New Age connoisseurs (= those who can afford to travel ~2500km return for an ascetic experience) as boomers incarnate, I would bet anything that the majority of the group of 11 would be aged 41 to 58. Certainly, one of the group whose arrival at menopause was being celebrated during the fatal incident (most likely, Maureen Collier) fits this demographic. As does a second group member, the man pictured in this Herald-Sun story; unnamed there, but with his first name (no last name) given as “David” on last night’s ABC TV news. The final boomer exhibit, Western Australian Dr Ralph Locke was not present at the outback camp, but can be linked to the 11 campers through the auspices of the Spirit of the Earth Medicine Society, a New Age cult/group-of-friends (take your pick) which is registered as a church.

As it happens, I’m pretty sure that the mysterious “David” is an ex of mine. Ewww, and all that – but it was 1987, and David (real name) had drugs/herbs which were both excellent and obscure (I’m talking eye-of-newt stuff, not the latest pastel-coloured pill from Amsterdam). This factor, for a young gay man then just out of the closet, was more than reason enough to go away with him to a New Age camping/ritual thing in the bush outside Melbourne. I didn’t participate too much in the ritual stuff, but nor did I ask any questions when David plied me with some supposedly ritual concoction when just the two of us were back in the tent. Whatever the stuff actually was (dissolved Rohypnol, or some herbal analogue), it had a powerful sedative effect. I’ll leave it to you, my readers to fill in the rest of that night.

Putting two-and-two together then, my guess is that the forthcoming coronial inquiry into teh death of Rowan Cooke (sp. Rowen Cook?) is going to come up with some interesting stuff. The current provisional explanation – that bore water poured over the hot rocks gave off toxic gases – just doesn’t make sense, given that the same bore water had been used without incident for a sweat lodge ritual earlier that day (Tuesday – that time not for a member’s menopause but for world peace), and also because (and here I admit I’m relying on high school science) out of all the sort of “bad” gases that bore water may become when it is heated to boiling point, the chances of it being both odourless (= no bad smell warning) and stupefying/sedating (as per the eyewitness recollection of Adrian Asfar (the 30 y.o. man who nearly died)) are a long shot.

By no means am I intending for any specific conclusions to be drawn at this point – it is possible that ordinary dehydration alone produced the stupefying/sedating effect, and that the supposed bore water gases are a red herring. What is so far completely clear is that (i) a GenXer is dead, and (ii) this GenXer, although described as the group’s “leader” was hopelessly out of his depth on this occasion. Oh, and (iii): as usual, boomers are almost certainly to blame for the whole nasty business – so stay tuned for a particularly juicy coronial inquiry (you ain’t seen anything squirm so much in your life as a boomer in the witness box having even suggested to them the impertinent concept of responsibility for an Xer’s life and well-being).

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Err, America – your post-9/11, rest-of-world goodwill has just ran out

Would a few tens-of-thousand differently cast votes in Ohio – so resulting in a John Kerry presidency – have really made a difference to the course of history? I think “yes”; in contrast to Australia’s recent election, in which the rejection of the Labor (= pseudo-Left) challenger was in no way a major turning/jumping-off point.

I say that John Kerry’s defeat matters not because of domestic US policy differences (if any), nor even differences in big-ticket international policy, such as the Iraq war (if any, times two). Rather, a Kerry victory would have had had the immense, if diffuse, value of declaring a kind of truce in the (mostly) undeclared battle between the American global hegemon and the rest of the world (and especially, the rest of the West).

“What battle?” Americans might well ask – isn’t there currently a trans-national war on terror, fighting which almost any country who’s anybody (okay, except the French) is on our side?

On 1 November 2004, this was a fair and reasonable enough assumption; it is simply churlish, after all, to call an alliance fighting a common enemy a “hegemon”. Today, however, things are different – at least from an outsider’s (= Australian) perspective, the enemy is now more within than without.

After September 11, no decent person in the West could have failed to have sympathy for America. It was an atrocity, and it was in no way asked for or deserved. Like estranged relatives temporarily coming back into the family after a shocking tragedy, the West (in particular, because transparent bribes/coercion were only secondary motives) rallied – militarily and otherwise – around the grieving core.

Well, guess what – that party/wake is now over. You made your bed; now lie in it. Automatic goodwill for America is, to paraphrase a saying from late 2001, “so November 1”. If there is another large-scale terrorist attack on American soil, I hope and trust that all you millions who voted for Bush will think that it was worth it.

Nothing in the above is meant to suggest that Americans should have consciously voted along terrorist-appeasement lines (in case it is not abundantly clear that the Kerry alternative/"alternative" was and would have been no such thing). All I'm saying is that because Americans domestically have rolled a little further to the Right, someone internationally has fallen rudely out of bed. And that "someone" is me – meaning probably hundreds of millions of "me", in fact.

Oh, and if Americans reading this don't like the tone of a foreigner picking around their electoral privates – well, now you know how it feels.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Melbourne Cup TAB “vandals”

Many journalists and sub-editors across the land clearly need a refresher course in basic dictionary meanings – whatever the persons (I’m assuming the plural) who glued the locks in 25 separate Melbourne TAB shopfronts may correctly be called, “vandals” (= persons carrying out acts of random destruction) is not among them.

Rather, the destruction here was exquisitely sensible and targeted, in terms of gaining maximum media exposure for minimum property damage and related economic loss. The number and geographical spread of outlets affected by themselves made the story a nationally significant one. Only the AFR today had the chutzpah to not make any mention of it – despite its screaming relevance in this story – presumably using the rationalisation that there was no business metrics-provable indirect damage on the day.

That this was almost certainly the perpetrators’ intention not only eluded the AFR, however. The TAB shopfronts’ owner, a much-morphed, privatised former government agency now called Tabcorp Ltd (“the fifth largest gambling business in the world”, its website boasts) apparently sees the events as not even deserving of a media release.

Instead, TAB spokesman Bruce Tobin’s extempore sound-bite is left to stand for the official record:

"It was just a senseless act of vandalism probably carried out by people who don't appreciate the spirit of Melbourne Cup day"

A roaming gang of letterbox-arson hoon types, who also happen to be fanatical wowsers? Yeah, right – and the fact that Tabcorp rakes in duopoly rents from the cesspool of human misery otherwise known as the Victorian poker machine business can’t have anything to do with it.

In reality, most pokie venues operate 24/7, a circumstance that seems to have partially saved them from being the glued front-door lock targets of first-choice. The fact that any disruption to Tabcorp’s poker machine business would be immediately share-price sensitive fills in the rest.

Tabcorp thus has been elegantly both shown-up and stood-down – that is to say, offered a paltry bet which it has stutteringly declined to accept.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Rocco Buttiglione affair

Somehow, Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi’s transparent, and now failed attempt to put an inmate in charge of the asylum – that is, to make Rocco Buttiglione the next EU commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security – has been widely parlayed as state/"state" (= here, the EU) overreach into an individual’s private religious views.

Is Buttiglione entitled to think that having gay sex* is a sin? Of course – inasmuch as Buttiglione can be as personally averse to it, and for whatever reason, as he likes.

When it comes to his views on others having gay sex, however, I’m confused as to why he has any – views, that is. Using the “Big Brother” diary room formulation of “This behaviour affects me because . . .”, I really cannot imagine an end to the sentence that a rational person would want to be saying in public with their name put to it.

Over at Troppo Armadillo, Don Arthur avoids this lacuna by springing to Buttiglione’s defence seemingly on the basis of his credentials alone:

Buttiglione isn't some ignorant Mediterranean populist. He has been a member of parliament, a university professor, and is fluent in several European languages. He has ties with the Acton Institute and the American Enterprise Institute in the US (both prominent right wing think tanks) as well as sitting on the Senate of the International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein.

Alas for Don – as seems so often to be the case when far-Right gay-hate is dressed up as something more respectable – the arguments advanced are funnier on their surface than a drag queen’s frock. So Buttiglione’s got links with two American right-wing think tanks? Who would have thought? And a wall-plaque from some two-bit tax haven as well? My, oh my – that must look great above his Copperart display cabinet.

Don Arthur also conveniently overlooks Buttiglione’s most important tie by far (and no, it’s not the Pope – as Australia’s George Pell has shown, being close to the Pope is hardly an exclusive club; in fact, when you’re a gay-hating brown-nosing Catholic with some temporal power, membership appears to be automatic). Instead I refer, of course, to Italian media magnate and PM Silvio Berlusconi.

I’m no expert on EU laws, but with all the recent argy-bargy over Turkey’s being democratic (or not) enough to accession the EU, it seems plain that the Union grievously lacks an effective de-accession process. For if it did, Italy would have long ago being kicked out off the nest, on the basis that it was no longer a functioning democracy (which is a priori, in my view, until Berlusconi either resigns all state power, or divests the vast bulk of his media interests).

As fascism invariably is during its early stages, Berlusconi’s threat to democracy has been grievously underestimated. Gay rights is a pretty good caged-canary-in-the-mineshaft proxy for measuring the current air quality – for which my verdict is “increasingly rancid”. Religion – of Berlusconi, Buttiglione, whoever – does matter, but in the opposite sense to an individual’s right to practise their own religious beliefs. As mid-20thC history abundantly shows, when the Catholic Church gets a whiff of state fascism, it can hardly wait to unbutton its trousers and consummate the arrangement.

* Buttiglione has been reported as believing that homosexuality (which I take as meaning the sexual orientation, as well as possibly also doing the sexual acts) is a sin. Catholic Church teaching, as I understand it, is that a homosexual orientation alone is not sinful.

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