Friday, January 18, 2013

In which the pond practises the fine art of discrimination ...

Each day there are wondrous sights in the media down under, and surely none more wondrous that the sight of Gra Gra wondering just what Gillard and Abbott offer voters personally.

The pond immediately wondered what Gra Gra offered readers personally, but then decided to go AWOL. 

Life is too short to wonder continually at the hubris and cheek of the man who did whatever it took. What's even more marvellous is that he should find a home in that gold bar den of iniquity, the lizard Oz. There's a case for discrimination, and the pond discriminated by refusing to google up the offending column.

Maybe there'll be even bigger chances for discrimination in the near future. 

Maybe things will soon be going through a bit of a shake-up, if the figures that Crikey dropped in the pond's mail box yesterday are any guide. Apparently, The Guardian is the third most popular newspaper website in the world:

The Guardian already boasts a local audience of 1.3 million unique browsers a month compared to around 6 million for the SMH, 4 million for The Age and 1.8 million for The Australian.

The story was how the newly announced plan of The Guardian to extend its coverage to Australia was going to do damage to the Fairfax brand, but it only has to generate another .5 million browsers to match up to the forlorn junkies in search of a Gra Gra gutter fix at the lizard Oz.

The splash at the top of the page gives a different angle to Gra Gra's latest effort:

Naturally the only thing that caught the eye was Richardson calling himself a pundit. 

Now in debased popular usage, it's come to mean a source of opinion, a critic, and who can argue at the thought of Gra Gra as a member of a committee arguing over the shape of a camel. 

But in the beginning, it meant a person of great and varied learning, someone who had been admitted to membership in a scholarly field, especially in the humanities, someone who'd gained mastery in one or more disciplines, and it was a variant on the Hindu term of pandit, a learned man.

Pandit refers to a Brahman scholar or learned man, and is used as a title of respect for a learned man in India, and blowed if the pond will call Gra Gra a pandit. A pandit?

Roll on The Guardian, what opposition to do you have from the local pandits, or at least the few genuine ones to be found?

Speaking of pandits, the esteemed Kevin Donnelly weighed in with a piece explaining how jolly good it was for religious groups to be able to discriminate when it came to employment.

Schools practise what they preach, ran the header, and Donnelly sagely and gravely explained how the freedom to discriminate was an essential right, because one of the fundamental rights in any democratic and open society is freedom of religion.

At no point did Donnelly explain how it was right and just and proper for free religions to teach creationism or any of the other scientific theories clouded and befuddled by arcane mysticism, which might result in an epic fail for any student sitting an exam in science.

Instead, because Donnelly is a tub-thumper for Catholicism and all its woeful track record in the field of education, this kind of tosh is offered up:

Faith-based schools are not secular schools. 

Uh huh. Well there's the bleeding obvious out of the way. Do go on:

For the 1700 or so Catholic schools in Australia that enrol more than 20 per cent of primary and secondary students, this means that the school, its curriculum, its staff and the students enrolled should uphold and commit themselves to the church's teachings.

Uh huh. No condoms, no artificial contraception, which is intrinsically evil, no orgasmic acts outside of the context of marital intercourse (unless a priest in urgent need), no abortion at all, and so on and so forth, with many other relics from the middle ages as part of the church's teachings.

It gets even trickier when you contemplate the teachings of the fringe evangelical and pentecostal groups like the Exclusive Brethren or fundamentalist Islamics.

Now you might have already read - in The Guardian of course - Australia's blurred separation between church and state - about the way constitutional ambiguity has allowed religion an excessive influence in schools, while all Fairfax can offer is Donnelly explaining how the Catholic church should be able to continue to inflict its propaganda on the helpless young things in its charge, while dressing up this practise as "moral development":

Those seeking to work or those seeking to enrol children in such schools can be in no doubt as to the religious nature of such schools and that there is a requirement, as members of the school community, to live according to the tenets on which the school is based. 
And it is wrong to argue that the freedom to discriminate should apply to only those teaching religious instruction in faith-based schools. Education, as argued by Brian Crittenden, the one-time head of the School of Education at La Trobe University, is inherently concerned with moral development. 
All subjects, as well as what is known as the hidden curriculum involving a school's institutional practices and culture, contribute to that moral development. It is also true that teachers, regardless of their subject expertise, are role models and can have a significant and lasting impact on their students. 

Uh huh. Let's leave aside the "moral development" the pond received.

Let's leave aside the grand irony of a debased institution like the Catholic church offering itself up as a contributor to the moral development of the young, or to the notion that membership of Catholic schools should require living to those debased tenets and standards.

A simpler standard would be this: teach whatever kookiness you like to whomever you have in your clutches, except if you do it on the taxpayer's dime.

If you need the taxpayer's dime to maintain your educational institutions, you have to conform to certain  ethical requirements. Like no creationism, no discrimination in employment, and no befuddled teaching that contraception is intrinsically evil.

If you're not addicted to the taxpayer dime, fine, go your own way into madness.

But it's surely irritating that as a result of the Donnelly argument, the scientologists around the corner garner federal government money to pursue bizarre L. Ron Hubbard notions, that Hillsong can garner coin to inculcate its next round of clap happy singers, and that fundamentalist Islamics can demand money to drum in their religious beliefs, including whatever definition of jihad is in favour at the moment.

Donnelly provides the usual dissembling smokescreen by raising entirely different issues:

It should also be noted, in relation to discrimination, that not all rights are absolute and there are occasions when particular rights have to be qualified or curtailed. 
For many years, feminists have argued that women's health centres should be able to discriminate against men by denying membership. 
More recently, the argument has been put that swimming pools should have the freedom to restrict entry on particular days or at a particular time to accommodate the religious beliefs of Muslim women. 

Don't you just love it? Such a Catholic phrasing. The freedom to restrict! (Get your cilices at the door).

But actually, again it seems to the pond that these are simple issues, not to be clouded by idle chatter about feminists (always drag in the feminists when in the trenches).

If it's a public swimming pool, run on the taxpayer dime, then no restrictions should apply. Just as if it's a public beach, there should be no on and off days depending on your number plates, or your religion, or your desire to have men and women bathe separately.

If it's your own private pool or beach, feel free to discriminate as you will. Whether there should be private beaches is another matter.

The urge to discriminate, the desire to discriminate is universal, but it shouldn't be funded by the state, and no amount of gobbledegook should be allowed to blow smoke over what is essentially a simple point of principle. But blow smoke Donnelly does:

In relation to education, the reality is that several state and international covenants and agreements argue that parents must have the right to choose schools that uphold their religious beliefs. 
An international agreement, the Convention against Discrimination in Education, argues parents must be free to choose non-government schools as an alternative to state schools, and that parents' religious beliefs must be respected. 
''It is essential to respect the liberty of parents … to ensure that the religious and moral education of their children is in conformity with their own convictions,'' it says. 

Uh huh. As usual, it's worth reading the actual convention, adopted by UNESCO in 1960, and as usual available on the full to overflowing intertubes here, and you will see Donnelly has been at his cherry-picking best, turning a carefully worded qualification to his cause, and ignoring the meat in the sandwich.

In particular, let's just mention Article 1, and then Article 4 (d):

1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term 'discrimination' includes any distinction, exclusion, limitation or preference which, being based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth, has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing equality of treatment in education and in particular: 
 2. For the purposes of this Convention, the term 'education' refers to all types and levels of education, and includes access to education, the standard and quality of education, and the conditions under which it is given. In order to eliminate and prevent discrimination within the meaning of this Convention, the States Parties thereto undertake: 
 (a) To abrogate any statutory provisions and any administrative instructions and to discontinue any administrative practices which involve discrimination in education; 

Couldn't get much clearer could you? Though 4 (d) makes it clear enough in relation to teachers:

(d) To provide training for the teaching profession without discrimination.

Let's just throw in employment too, and call it done.

Because we wouldn't want to be involved in any discrimination, as per the aforesaid article 1, including race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth, yadda yadda.

Of course Donnelly and the Catholic church want to keep discriminating against gays, women, single mothers, and so on and so forth, because they've played that game for yonks, and the freedom to restrict is inherent in the institution. But it's a dangerous game:

''It is essential to respect the liberty of parents … to ensure that the religious and moral education of their children is in conformity with their own convictions,'' it says. 

So what? So now as well as Jews teaching the joys of circumcision, we should have Islamic fundamentalists teaching the joys of cliterectomies?

Enough already, enough of discrimination, and especially enough of governments funding this sort of discrimination. And enough of panderers like Donnelly explaining how discrimination is right and just through weasel word twistings of the meanings of UNESCO conventions.

And now, because the pond is bloody bored with the commentariat, how about a few words on the new season of Portlandia?

Is anyone watching? 

Er, m'lud the pond's copies of the program are sent by pigeon post, and just when will the networks get around to day and date releasing?

Well it's been hit and miss as usual, but the pond's favourite bits include Thor 83, ebytes as performance art, the birthday party, Martina Navratilova's review of the feminist bookstore, dressing as Portland missionaries to persuade people in shared houses to move from Seattle to nirvana aka Portland, the plan to re-take MTV and make it show video hits (the best bit there is the 'tween who disses them and Sonic Youth and Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon), and ... well, there are enough moments to keep watching. 

M'lud, I've explained ... it's a carrier pigeon.

Now you ask, this is all very well, turning the pond into a review of a minor cult TV show, but where is this heading? 

And truth to tell, each time the pond looks at Portlandia, it evokes a tremendous nostalgia for Adelaide. 

It's too late now, but wouldn't it have been great to have made a sitcom called Adelaidia (oh I know the wiki tells me that Adelaidia is a genus of beetles, but you get the point). The pond knows the exact spot for the feminist bookshop, the vegan eatery, and so on. 

Memo to Adelaide's mayor - if you persuade the show to re-locate, the pond wants ten per cent of the action.

And now, since we're wandering down memory lane, who on earth remembers John Laws as a hippie in Nickel Queen? 

What a hoot it is to remember the time the golden tonsils turned in perhaps the worst performance in cinema history.

That's how all these shock jocks and talk-back hosts start out, as depraved actors or hipsters or hippies or yuppies, and then the world has to suffer their sense of guilt and failure for years.

Topic for consideration: Alan Jones. 

Discuss in the context of guilt and failure. No more than five pages and no cribbing from Chris Masters. 

Discrimination is permitted, indeed positively encouraged. Kevin Donnelly will be pleased ...

Update: a kindly reader has suggested that Newtownia go into active development. Sorry Adelaide, too slow, you had your chance, but the pond loves to discriminate. The vegan butcher on Enmore road sealed the deal ...

(Below: the golden tonsils doing an imitation of Christ. You had to be there to believe it).


  1. If Richardson had referred to himself as a bandit rather than a pandit, I could've gone along with him.


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