Archive for category Australia
A senior public official today announced that over the coming months a large government department will be following more or less the same policy that it has been following for as long as anyone can remember.
“We are proud of our department’s record, and see no reason to change anytime soon,” said the official in the press statement accompanying the department’s quarterly report. “Over the next few months, the people of this country can expect more of the same mediocre services at the same almost-but-not-quite exorbitant prices.”
No party seems to be proposing any real changes to the current policy, however the announcement has sparked the storm of controversy in the political chattersphere that regularly follows these reports.
In response to the announcement, the Opposition’s spokesperson for the portfolio lashed-out at the government, saying that this was yet another example of the “brazen mismanagement” that we have come to expect, and warning that if something does not change soon, the fabric of our society might collapse.
The Minister responsible for the department backed the announcement and refuted the attack from the Opposition. The Minister said that the government has a “commendable record” in this area, and that the Opposition’s complaints were “nothing more than a self-serving political exercise”.
“If they don’t like it, they can come up with a better idea!” the Minister declared. “This is just empty posturing from an Opposition with no real ideas and nothing to do except attack the government.”
The department’s field has seen very little change over the past few decades, yet it has consistently been the subject of much debate amongst public figures. That debate is alive and kicking, as seen when the media’s go-to expert in the field expressed ambivalence about the recent announcement when interviewed on the evening news.
According to the expert, it is positive that the government has not gotten rid of any of the good work that the department is doing, but it is disappointing that the government has not taken the opportunity to take on board the changes that the expert has been recommending for the better part of the last decade.
“I’ve been telling them for years: listen to me,” the expert told Major Karnage, going on to lament that “my last three reports on this issue have been completely ignored, even though the government gave me million of dollars to conduct them.”
That expert’s regular sparring partners took their usual stance against the proposed changes.
“Those reports were rubbish!” said a renowned newspaper columnist, insisting that the “so-called expert” had no idea what the policy was even about.
Many other public officials made such comments as “why are we still talking about this?” and “seriously? That again? Don’t we have better things to look at?”
While no tangible change in policy is likely to eventuate, the issue is expected to fill many a newspaper column-inch over the coming days, as journalists find more and more public figures to give quotes that sound a little controversial when taken out of context.
***UPDATE: turns out this was all a false lead. For my analysis of the real story, click HERE. I’m going to leave this up though, because it was funny while it lasted.
Everyone’s favourite Australian ‘shock jock’ Alan Jones has been widely criticised recently for these comments:
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a conspiracy amongst students, left-wing radical students in Boston, and I think we have to think also very seriously here about our own student numbers,” Jones said on Sunrise.
“We’re very keen to have foreign students pay the way of universities in this country without a lot of discernment about who comes in. But I think the fact that we’ve been spared this kind of thing, touch wood, for so long highlights, as I said, the relentless work done by ASIO and all our police organisations.”
For example, one hipster blog had this to say:
Australia’s leading expert in poor taste and bad timing has struck again after talkback radio host Alan Jones suggested that there could be a link between the tragic Boston Marathon bombings and radical left-wing student groups. Speaking on Channel 7’s Sunrise program, Jones was eager to speculate as to who could be behind the blast despite the assertion from US authorities that they were yet to have any suspects. …
Shut up Alan Jones!
But lo and behold, he may have actually been right about this one!
The Boston Police Department has reportedly identified the two suspected bombers as Mike Mulugeta and Sunil Tripathi:
Update 3:00 a.m.: There was a mention on police scanners recently that the suspects in custody are Mike Mulugeta and Sunil Tripathi. The latter is a missing Brown student who was identified on Reddit as a possible suspect earlier this week. However, the chatter is not confirmed.
So who are these two? Well Mulugeta is proving a little elusive, but there are a few photos of Tripathi doing the rounds on social media. This one, for example:
That would be a Che Guevara shirt that he is wearing.
Guevara is not really an icon of Islamist terrorists or of right wing terrorists, so Tripathi does not seem to affiliate with either of the groups widely believed to be behind the bombings.
Who does idolise Guevara?
That’s right: left wing radicals. Just like Alan Jones said.
Who’s laughing now?
Something seemed curious to me, looking at the list of new ministers in Australia’s recent government reshuffle:
The Prime Minister used her sixth ministerial reshuffle to merge the Department of Climate Change with the Department of Industry, creating a new Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.
Dr Emerson has been appointed Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research – the role relinquished by Mr Bowen – while continuing as Minister for Trade and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy.
Mr Albanese, a Rudd supporter who escaped demotion after last week’s events, has taken on Mr Crean’s former portfolio of regional development and local government, while remaining Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and Leader of the House.
Mr Gray, a West Australian with close mining industry links, has been awarded Martin Ferguson’s old resources and energy and tourism portfolios. He also takes Mr Bowen’s vacated small business ministry.
Mr Gray’s special minister of state responsibilities go to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.
Mr Clare, the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, becomes a full cabinet member with his current roles. […]
Mr Albanese will be supported by Victorian MP Catherine King, who has been elevated to the outer ministry as Minister for Regional Services, Local Communities and Territories, and as Minister for Road Safety.
Gillard supporter and so-called “faceless man” Don Farrell has been promoted to the ministry as Minister for Science and Research, while fellow backer Sharon Bird becomes Minister for Higher Education and Skills.
Queenslander Jan McLucas steps into Kim Carr’s role as Minister for Human Services following his resignation last week.
Environment Minister Tony Burke becomes Arts Minister in addition to his current responsibilities, taking on Mr Crean’s other portfolio following his sacking last week.
Ms Gillard also appointed a number of parliamentary secretaries to assist ministers with heavy workloads…
I’m not going to even bother getting into the Parl Secs. Let’s have a look at that ministry.
Apparently the departments of Industry and Innovation are different from Small Business. We also have a Department of Higher Education and Skills, and a Department of Science and Research, both of which are different from the new Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.
Oh, and apparently that mammoth “Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, etc” portfolio also does not encompass Climate Change, which needs its own separate department as well. Or, for that matter, Resources and Energy.
Then there’s the fact that “Human Services” and “Regional Services” are different — perhaps because regional Australians are not human?
One would think that there is some doubling-up going on between all of these public service departments. Perhaps the government’s failure to deliver a budget surplus, despite record terms of trade, would have something to do with this gargantuan bureaucracy that they have been constructing?
Nah, couldn’t be.
I had an interesting experience last week, it happened a couple of times. When arranging something to do with friends, I suggested Monday night, only get the response: ‘you mean Christmas Eve??’
It was interesting because it showed me how everyone else must feel when I say something like that for the many festivals that I have over the course of the year (which is a lot more than non-Orthodox Christians keep). It reversed the roles a little. I wasn’t cognisant of Christmas Eve, you see. As a non-Christian, it really doesn’t mean that much to me.
I am aware of the fact of Christmas Eve, I know that 24 December is Christmas Eve, but I am not aware of it enough to have connected it to Monday night in my mind. I don’t generally plan to mark Christmas Eve with anything in particular – to me, it is just another night of the brief holidays that I have at this time of year. (Not that I’m complaining about the day off work, but I’m kinda complaining about the day off work. I’ll get back to that later.)
It’s not the forgetting Christmas that got to me though, it’s what comes after. You see, it seems as though the Jew forgetting that it’s Christmas Eve serves as a little reminder to everyone that the Jew is different. The tone of conversation changes from there because everyone is aware of that fact. We live in a modern, multicultural society and everyone knows that they should be inclusive. So they try to be. Which is really quite horrible.
Talking about Christmas: NOT offensive. But apologising for talking about Christmas: OFFENSIVE
Suddenly it seems as though everyone needs to apologise for everything that they do on Christmas. My friends start talking about the great ham they are eating or the tree that they decorated, then they catch themselves, turn to me and apologise.
This is not ok. Aside from the fact that they are doing nothing wrong, the reason it is not ok is that it is patronising. It’s a little reminder of the hegemonic status of Christianity compared with my practices. It would never even occur to me as a Jew to apologise to Christians for celebrating any of the Jewish holidays. It’s what I do, they don’t do it, so I need to tell them that [x] date is Simchat Torah and It’s my religious duty to be getting hammered and dancing around in circles carrying a Torah scroll, so I can’t come to the poker night. Or something.
Apologising is what people from the hegemonic culture do to minority cultures to make us feel ‘included’. What it does is exactly the opposite: it is a reminder of status. Think about it this way: if the reason that you were celebrating with your family was not a point of difference, but something that is shared between cultures – ie a wedding, birth etc – would you be apologising? I can’t imagine anyone saying:
Yeah the wedding is going to be amazing! I’ve seen the menu, the food is beautiful and… oh, I’m really sorry MK!
It just doesn’t play that way. But I have heard from several people something along the lines of:
My dad is making pork belly for Christmas, it going to be amazing! Oh, really I’m sorry MK!
Eating pork: NOT offensive. But apologising for eating pork: OFFENSIVE
It’s a similar phenomenon to eating out. I am not especially observant as a Jew and I don’t keep strictly kosher, but there are a few ‘red lines’ that I tend not to cross – no pork, no shellfish, and I try to avoid mixing milk and meat when I can. What this means is that I struggle to eat at some forms of Asian cuisine, which seems to have nothing but pork and shellfish. What this does not mean is that I am offended by other people eating pork or shellfish.
Yet in these scenarios, people start doing that apologising thing again. And then they act overly friendly to compensate, as if to say:
Hey MK, we know that you’re one of those strange ‘Jew’ types, so you don’t eat normal food like us, but that’s super ok, we can order vegetarian food for you and be really super friendly, just to show you how ok it is that you don’t eat pork. Because it’s fine. Really. Doesn’t bother us one bit. No, seriously! We’re ok with it. Are you ok? We’re ok if you’re ok. Because that’s what friends do. They’re ok.
Again, people do not act that way for other kinds of dietary requirements. I can’t remember ever being in a situation where someone was condescended to in that fashion for being vegetarian, or gluten intolerant, or allergic to nuts. It’s a particular brand of condescension that comes from all of the power dynamics playing out in the room. And I’m going to stop there, because I’m starting to sound like Foucault, and I hate Foucault.
Celebrating Christmas: NOT offensive
I don’t know who came up with the idea that non-Christians would feel less offended when people celebrate Christmas and then pretend that they are doing something else, but it’s a little silly. You can call it a ‘holiday tree’ if you want. You know it’s a Christmas tree, and I know it’s a Christmas tree. What are you trying to prove? The whole charade is ridiculous. I hate all of these initiatives to ban public Christmas displays, or have ‘Happy Holidays!’ written everywhere. It’s Christmas, you’re Christians, you’re allowed to celebrate the birth of Jesus if you want to.
I actually find the Christmas trees, lights, and songs this time of year quite beautiful. Believe it or not, it’s possible to appreciate other cultures and not just be offended by them all the time. Sure, Lakemba Mosque issues fatwas on saying ‘merry Christmas’, and I hear some equally stupid sentiments from some of the more zealous in the Jewish community, but really what does it matter? I say ‘chag sameach’ to my non-Jewish friends on holidays, they can say ‘merry Christmas’ to me. It’s no problem.
Forcing me to celebrate Christmas: OFFENSIVE
So I was driving around yesterday with two friends, trying to find something to do. There was nothing, the whole town was dead. Even the obligatory Christmas Chinese food was almost impossible to find. We tried almost every Chinese joint in the East, before stumbling across a little one in Bondi that had decided to open its doors to some hungry Jews on a rainy day. God bless them.
Which is fine, except that the only reason that everything is closed because of penalty rates. I’ve complained about penalty rates before, but this is yet another example and I want to do it again.
The bastion of cultural tolerance that is the Australian Labor Party and its affiliates at the Australian Union movement have decided that Australians should be with their families on the Christian holidays and on the Christian sabbath, whether they want to or not. For this reason, they have imposed inordinately high penalty rates that must be paid to anyone working on Christmas – and slightly lower, but a similar idea on Sundays – to the effect that businesses operating legally are more or less forced to close.
That means that all of us non-Christians out there are being forced by law to keep Christian holidays, or else be fined. THAT is extremely offensive. It’s a lot more offensive than the beautiful lights display projected onto St Mary’s Cathedral at night, I’ll say that much.
Sure a day off work is a day off work and I won’t complain about a day off work. I also bet that, were there not penalty rates, most places would still choose to close on Christmas. But people to whom 25 December bears little unusual significance should be allowed to go to work on 25 December if they so choose. But we don’t even enter into the discussion. As a regular viewer of Q and A, I have seen numerous Anglo officials from the ALP and the Unions saying something like ‘well we can’t take working people away from their families on Christmas!’
Newsflash: NOT ALL WORKING PEOPLE CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS.
At the risk of sounding like Foucault again: check your fucking privilege.
Browsing through the candidate profiles for the upcoming election, I noticed that the Greens are running an old, rich, white guy who studied commerce/law at UNSW, is a small business owner, used to work for the Reserve Bank, and is married with children. Meanwhile the Libs are running a young, public school-educated white guy who studied arts, worked in marketing, has ‘strong civil liberty, equality and environmental credentials’, and lives with his male, Danish partner, whom he plans to marry in Denmark.
Way to buck the stereotype there…
Chris HARRIS – The Greens
Harris completed Law and Commerce degrees at the University of New South Wales and has been self-employed most of his working life. He had a brief stint as a researcher with the Reserve Bank before starting his business in 1979. Harris was the first Greens Councillor elected to the City of Sydney in 2004, served as Deputy Lord Mayor in 2006/07, and retired at the 2012 election after completing two terms. Harris is married with two adult daughters and lives in Kings Cross.
Shayne MALLARD – Liberal
48 year-old Mallard was born and raised in Penrith where he attended local public schools. He has a degree in Australian History and Politics from Macquarie University and has had a career in marketing and public affairs roles and also working as a small business owner in the inner city. Mallard’s political career started as the NSW State President of the Young Liberal in 1993 and in 2000 he became the first Liberal elected to the former South Sydney Council. He was subsequently elected to the City of Sydney Council in 2004 and 2008, increasing the vote on each occasion. Mallard also contested Bligh against Clover Moore at the 2003 state election. Mallard stepped down as the Liberal candidate for Lord Mayor in 2012 to contest the anticipated Sydney by-election. Mallard describes himself as a progressive Liberal with strong civil liberty, equality and environmental credentials. He lives with his Danish-born same sex partner Jesper, and the two intend to marry under Danish law next year.
It gets better. On the Greens website:
Chris was also responsible for the City’s Affordable Housing Policy and lobbied the then Labor Minister Borger & the Federal member for Sydney to deliver a 100 apartment complex on the old South Sydney Hospital site at Zetland.
So he is also pro-development and lobbying against Labor NIMBY-ism. I think this is my favourite ever Greens candidate…
Eyebrows across the state were raised today as the NSW government announced its new plan to repair the state’s ailing transport ‘system’.
The Liberal government has come under criticism recently, with numerous claims that no real progress on transport has been made since they won power in last year’s landslide election. Government officials are heralding today’s announcement as the answer to these doubts.
“We are very proud of this announcement, and rightly so,” said Premier Barry O’Farrell. “How can anyone say that this government is doing nothing now?”
Mr O’Farrell observed that this is the third new plan announced this year, noting that the previous Labor government had generally waited at least nine months between transport plans.
Former Premier Nick Greiner, the head of Infrastructure NSW, pointed out the progress that the government has made since the previous plan.
“We are completely tearing-up Parrammatta Road now.” Mr Greiner said. “This is much more radical than the tunnel under Parrammatta road that we had planned before.”
“We have also decided to focus on expediting construction of the North-West rail link.”
Some residents of Sydney were not so sanguine.
“This all sounds wonderful, but who cares if they turn Parrammatta Road into a bloody super-highway?” asked Liverpool resident Cid Ne Seider. “It’s too bloody expensive to park my f**kin’ car anyway! This lot is just as bad as the last lot!”
Coogee resident and ADF Sergeant Neve Seth Welchman agreed, saying, “you know it’s a bad sign when you go on a tour of Afghanistan and find yourself admiring the efficiency of the public transport system in Kandahar.”
NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson also condemned the report, saying that Tony Abbott is a horrible misogynist and is not fit to be Prime Minister. Meanwhile, Greens leader David Shoebridge condemned the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and called for a complete ban on commercial fishing in the Tasman.
Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian rejected these criticisms, telling Major Karnage that, “this plan is so good, the people of Sydney will not know what hit them. In fact, they may not even realise that they have been hit!”
According to Mr Greiner, Infrastructure NSW is not taking its responsibility to the people of NSW lightly.
“We have just used the windfall from cutting the education budget to launch a whole new inquiry into our planning process,” he said. “We aim to have a new plan every two months by 2015.”
Mr Greiner also said that the government are due to begin construction on the new transport system by 2020, although he stressed that this is subject to the next transport plan, due to be released in December.
No real politicians were interviewed in the writing of this blog post.
As readers will probably have figured out, I like to follow Australian politics. As you may have guessed (and those who know me would know), I also like to talk about Australian politics. People I associate with know this, so they tend to engage me whenever an issue in Australian politics catches their attention — I even have some friendships based around these conversations.
So when there is a huge scandal in Australian politics that the whole world is talking about, I expect that it will come up somewhere. Sure enough, a lot of people have been asking me about Julia Gillard’s now world-famous speech calling Tony Abbott a misogynist. My answer has surprised a few people, so I now feel the need to write a post and justify it. Simply put:
I don’t really care.
It just doesn’t really interest me. I watched a recording of the speech and got bored after a couple of minutes. Since it was such a big thing, I went back and watched the rest later, but now I just want that 10 minutes back.
So why this uncharacteristic apathy? Well, I don’t really see this as anything new. The issue that was much more important/interesting was the resignation of Speaker Peter Slipper because of the revelation of lewd and offensive text messages that he sent his former staffer.
The Slipper issue I care about. In fact, I might care enough to write a whole post on the right to privacy and the dilemmas that this kind of situation brings up (ie should someone be forced to resign over what were really private comments, no matter how offensive they were?)
Gillard’s speech? Well, the reaction says it all really. Below are a few responses from friends on my Facebook and Twitter feeds (for obvious reasons, I am not mentioning any names and have slightly edited some of the comments for length):
Wow go Julz! She schooled Abbott #likeaboss
Julia Gillard strikes me as the sort of university feminist who screams “chauvinist pig!” when you hold the door for her and “woman-hater!” if you just let it swing back in her face.
Look, I just had to post it. Fucking brilliant. I could watch this over and over again. … There should be a whole channel devoted to this one video.
I look forward to the rude shock that the lefties who are currently engaged in self-congratulation and saying how amazing Gillard’s performance yesterday was will receive when they realise voters havn’t fallen for her BS…
Yes, Tony Abbott, you were just destroyed.
Gillard stands by Thomson after prostitute revelations. Now stands by Slipper after texts. Yet says Abbott is misogynist. #chutzpah
Amazing speech by our PM. Showing some serious leadership.
And so on.
What was really remarkable about these comments were that there was a very clear divide, but it was not on gender lines, nor was it even on the lines of people who are generally feminist versus people who aren’t. The responses that I have seen were split exactly down party lines. Labor supporters loved it, Liberal supporters mocked it.
And there is the reason why I find the whole thing boring.
Gillard’s speech was not a scathing attack on Abbott to expose his deeply held sexism, and neither was it a blatant display of hypocrisy in defence of a real misogynist.
What was it? An uninspiring partisan response to a successful partisan power-play. It was smart PR — a very clever way to divert the public conversation away from the Slipper debacle.
Abbott was trying to embarrass the government while also taking away the vote that they had from Slipper being speaker, Gillard was trying to defend her majority by recycling old allegations at Abbott.
I have annexed a breakdown of the arguments that Gillard used at the end of this post, but more important than what was there is what was missing: there was absolutely nothing about Abbott’s record in office or any policies that he has proposed which harm women, it was a purely personal attack on Abbott’s character. There is no real policy issue at all and it contributes little to the Australian debate, it’s just boring.
That is why its effect will never be anything other than to provoke cheers from Labor supporters and jeers from Liberal supporters. It was not aimed at ‘exposing Abbott’, so much as spurring-on people who already don’t like Abbott. The Liberals had a bit of a coup when Slipper’s text messages were made public and Labor countered with a clever diversion to mitigate the damage. Yawn.
Until I started this post, I had been filtering out the discussion around this issue. It has joined the categories of things that set-off my mental killswitch — like the carbon tax, Gillard “backstabbing” Rudd, and anything that uses the phrases: “clean energy future”, “working Australians”, “great big lie”, there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead”, ”
fair go”, “getting on with the job” etc etc.
Now that I am done, I am free to go back to not caring. Trust me, that’s a relief.
He has said, and I quote, in a discussion about women being under-represented in institutions of power in Australia, the interviewer was a man called Stavros. The Leader of the Opposition says “If it’s true, Stavros, that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?”
And then a discussion ensues, and another person says “I want my daughter to have as much opportunity as my son.” To which the Leader of the Opposition says “Yeah, I completely agree, but what if men are by physiology or temperament, more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”
Then ensues another discussion about women’s role in modern society, and the other person participating in the discussion says “I think it’s very hard to deny that there is an underrepresentation of women,” to which the Leader of the Opposition says, “But now, there’s an assumption that this is a bad thing.”
I have looked for a full transcript of this discussion and I can’t find it anywhere online. Abbott was not expressing a viewpoint in those comments, they were inquisitive and hypothetical. In context, they could well be completely innocuous. Then again, they may not be, but I will not make up my mind until I am shown a full transcript. A couple of soundbites extracted from a whole conversation is not sufficient to condemn anyone.
This is the man from whom we’re supposed to take lectures about sexism. And then of course it goes on. I was very offended personally when the Leader of the Opposition, as Minister of Health, said, and I quote, “Abortion is the easy way out.” I was very personally offended by those comments. You said that in March 2004, I suggest you check the records.
Doesn’t convince me. Whatever Abbott’s stance may be on abortion policy, there is no reason why he has to personally support it.
I was also very offended on behalf of the women of Australia when in the course of this carbon pricing campaign, the Leader of the Opposition said “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing…” Thank you for that painting of women’s roles in modern Australia.
Gotta hand it to the PM, this one is pretty convincing. I am very reluctant to attribute anything to a “gaffe“, but this does show that Abbott harbours a degree of subconscious discrimination. But then, there is the whole “gaffe” issue.
And then of course, I was offended too by the sexism, by the misogyny of the Leader of the Opposition catcalling across this table at me as I sit here as Prime Minister, “If the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself…”, something that would never have been said to any man sitting in this chair.
That I don’t agree with. I have no doubt that an unmarried male Prime Minister would be attacked on the grounds that he was unmarried.
I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition went outside in the front of Parliament and stood next to a sign that said “Ditch the witch.” I was offended when the Leader of the Opposition stood next to a sign that described me as a man’s bitch.
Now that is just spurious. So Abbott was photographed standing next to the wrong sign at an anti-carbon tax rally, what does that have to do with anything? I have seen several prominent Labor and Green MPs standing next to the flags of terrorist organisations and nobody batted an eyelid.
Note: this post was originally entitled ‘In defence of Yom Kippur’, but I started explaining why YK needs saving in the first place and that became an entire post. So please read this first and I promise that the defence is coming.
As I walked into my relatives’ home yesterday to break my fast, it was quite obvious to me that the whole function had been planned and organised by people who had not themselves been fasting.
How could I tell? Simple: after 25 hours of not eating or drinking, the one thing that you need more than anything else is some liquid. The human body can actually survive relatively well for weeks without food, but a couple of days with no water and *goodbye*. Knowing this, anyone who had been fasting would have drinks — and a lot of them — made very available for everyone leaving synagogue and coming to the social part of the evening.
As I walked through the door, however, I was greeted not with drinks, but with a whole range of food. This is not to say that I have a problem with the honey cake, chopped liver and other Ashkenazi fast-breaking treats — it’s just that it’s extremely difficult to swallow a mouthful of honey cake without choking when your throat feels like it has been covered in a layer of fly-paper.
I said the obligatory hello to the several relatives who caught my eye as soon as I walked in, but during this time my eyes were constantly searching for the elusive drinks table. I asked one of my interlocutors where I could find myself a drink around there, and he promptly pointed down the hallway, through a crowd of 50 assorted relatives and family friends, to the garden at the back of the house.
My face dropped in dismay. There was no conceivable way that I would be able to get to the drinks table without being stopped by at least one parent, two grandparents, one auntie and two or three cousins — each of whom would take up approximately 5 minutes of conversation before I could make a polite exit. Nevertheless, I have been fortunate enough to have had some rather intense commando-style training in moving through crowds with my head down, and this was definitely the occasion to use it.
A few minutes later, having managed to avoid eye contact with the vast majority of my kin, I arrived panting at the drinks table, only to discover that my cousins had hired a bartender for the evening to cater to the 70-odd guests and that — being a professional — he had a few bottles of mostly alcoholic drinks on the table and all of the glasses behind him. To my even further dismay, he was using those tiny glasses that people seem to think makes a function more classy, but I’m pretty sure are only used by restaurants to force customers to keep ordering more overpriced drinks as there is no way 200ml of anything can remotely quench anyone’s thirst.
At that point I probably would have started shooting my own family if it meant there was a drink at the end of it, yet I still had to wait for another 3 minutes while the bartender casually served other people as though he had all the goddamn time in the world and there wasn’t some guy standing there about to collapse from dehydration. When I finally managed to grab
him by the arms his attention, I ordered three glasses of sparkling water (there was no still) which, after what seemed like an eternity of pouring, I was finally able to gulp down.
Now I am not telling this story not just to vent — I’m getting to the point, I promise you.
Putting the drinks at the back and guarded by the bartender would seem like a perfectly natural thing to do when putting on a function of that size which was not a breaking-of-the-fast. For those of us who did fast, however, it was torture. This is relevant because it suggests — as was the case — that most of my family did not fast. In fact, most of my family were not even at any shul services.
I have done calculations before that put shul attendance on Yom Kippur in Sydney at about 50% of Sydney’s Jews, excluding those who cannot make it because they are too young, too elderly or too unhealthy. There are many reasons why the other half of our community do not attend and if you had the next week or two to keep reading this I could perhaps list most of them, but as it is I may have to settle for one or two.
One thing that I can say for sure is this: the men in my family may put in an appearance at shul, but the women don’t go. Similarly, the women do not fast. That is true across the board — my sister, my mother, my grandmother, my aunties, my female cousins — they all arrived at dinner much earlier than those of us who were rushing home from the ne’ila service for the reason of having been not at the service and not fasting. (Some will tell you that they fasted until the afternoon, but to me that is called ‘skipping breakfast’ and happens once a week, not once a year. Also, in fairness, my mother did go to shul — but I will explain that below.)
This, while perhaps unfortunate, is unsurprising. As you may have gathered, my family is not particularly observant of our religion. Despite this, almost without fail, they have seats at Central Synagogue. That is the major Orthodox synagogue in Sydney, which charges an obscene amount of money for seats that people renew each year but never sit on.
In a religion and a culture that is theoretically so focused on questions and discussion, you would think that at some point people would ask questions like “why do I pay $3,000 every year to attach a little chrome plate with my name inscribed onto a chair in a synagogue that I never intend to ever sit on?” But ours is a community that is never taught to ask these things — all we really “know” is that it would be “wrong” not to fork-out the cash.
I think I may have touched on this before, but I follow Mazorti and not Orthodox Judaism primarily because we do not believe in forcing the women to the back of the room and hiding them away, lest we be distracted from the important things — like peering over the shoulder of the guy in front to see where we are up to in the service, counting the amount of pages left, then crying a little when we realise that we have only gone through five pages in the last half hour because the chazzan loves his annual moment in the spotlight and feels the need to drag each syllable out as far as it can possibly be stretched and then repeat the whole line.
You know, because you can’t do that if you’re standing next to your mother. She might distract you, by being female and therefore quite possibly having cooties. Or something.
I, for one, can attest to the falsity of these entrenched tenets of Orthodoxy. I spent part of Tuesday night standing next to my mother in shul and still managed to not follow the service like a pro — I must have lost my place at least a dozen times.
Point is, if I were a woman and a member of an Orthodox shul (neither of which I am) I wouldn’t go either. I have been to Central on Yom Kippur and peered into that upstairs balcony from whence the womenfolk look down upon the service happening below and I know that what goes on there is not so much prayer as it is… let’s go with “discussion of secular topics”, to be polite. I have no idea why anyone would even need to go to shul to sit and chat when the same thing could be done anywhere else, so why bother?
Another consequence of the gender segregation in shul is that it breaks up families. One relative observed to me that he has a wife and three children and cannot be with them the whole day if they go to shul, so they don’t — and his wife has a very prominent educational role in our community.
Meanwhile, I have also been in the men’s section at the back of Central and found a lesser version of the experience of the women’s section. At least you are not totally excluded from the service and do get the occasional opportunity to reach out and touch the Torah scroll with your tallit as some dude walks by carrying it, but there is still a lot of gossiping and not much davening at all.
One thing it is most certainly not is any kind of spiritual experience — and yet the rabbis wonder why nobody shows up on any other day of the year.
Well, I think it’s a shame. I will stop here because this post is too long already, but bear with me and I will soon explain why I think YK is important and the kinds of things we could be doing instead.
The scandal over Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s character is set to explode as another incident from his past is brought to light.
Susie Somethingorother, who went to kindergarten with Mr Abbott, has gone public over an incident in 1960 when Mr Abbott – then aged three – refused to give her the red crayon. This marks the latest in a series of discoveries that seem to portray Mr Abbott as a bully who has a problem with women.
“I cannot recall precisely what I was drawing, however it may have been a picture of barnyard,” said Ms Somethingorother. “I do distinctly remember asking him very nicely for the red crayon and him shouting ‘no! I’m drawing a firetruck!’”
“The response was unnecessarily aggressive and entirely disproportionate to what was quite an innocent request. I found him very intimidating.”
Ms Somethingorother claims to have broken out in tears as a result of Mr Abbott’s conduct. She then proceeded to run to their supervisor, who castigated Mr Abbott for “not sharing like they’d discussed”.
In order to avoid further disciplinary action, Mr Abbott eventually gave the crayon to Ms Somethingorother. Shockingly, in the aftermath of the incident, the Opposition leader allegedly began referring to his former playmate as “Smelly Susie the tattle-tale”.
“It is a clear sign that Tony is a bully and hates women,” Ms Somethingorother said.
Another of Mr Abbott’s kindergarten classmates, who chose to remain nameless, corroborated Ms Somethingorother’s story.
“I don’t recall the precise incident in question, however that does sound like something Tony would have done. He was quite the schoolyard terror,” said the source, who claims that Mr Abbott always refused to let other kids play with his Flinstone Phone.
Mr Abbott has denied all allegations, however he initially claimed to have no memory whatsoever of the incident. As many “experts” have pointed out, if he does not remember committing the deeds in question, it is not clear how he can be sure that they never happened.
“Surely if he had genuinely not done it he’d remember not doing it,” observed the Age’s political editor.
Labor MPs have expressed serious concern over the incident, saying that it proves Mr Abbott is not fit to be Prime Minister, that he is a homophobe, that he hates women, that he eats children, and that he is “just a bad, bad man”. They also accused Mr Abbott of running a “relentlessly negative campaign”.