Trump is only a symptom

About ten years ago, I was managing a seminar for one of the best trainers in the world. There’s an exercise called Secrets. The room is darkened and then everybody in the room, including most of the staff, has to put their hands over their eyes, or put their heads down on their desk.

Then the trainer goes through a list of questions.

“If you have ever … raise your hand.”

Because I was the course manager, I had to keep my eyes open to make sure the room stayed safe. So I was able to see how many hands went up for each question.

Most of the questions were gentle, even harmless, but all of the questions were designed to be cathartic. But a number of the questions cut right down to the bone.

There are things people carry around inside, a lot of hurt and guilt and shame and fear, but there’s no safe place to unload those feelings, so the exercise allows some relief. The participants get to keep their secrets safe, but they get to acknowledge that they are holding these things that keep gnawing at them — they get to own that part of their identity.

This particular time, however, when the trainer asked questions about abuse, about rape, about violence — nearly every woman in the room raised her hand.

Now this was not a unique group of women. These were adult women of all ages, from early twenties to late sixties. Some were students, others were working women. Some were married, others were single or divorced. Some were highly skilled professionals. Some were strong family women.

“Have you ever been raped?” “Have you ever been molested?” “Have you ever been the target of physical or emotional abuse?” “Have you ever been made to feel ashamed of your identity?” “Have you ever held yourself back…?”

And worse.

Observing this for the first time, I felt tears running down my cheeks because of the level of pain in the room. All those pale hands, silent in the dark. A testimony of unspoken hurt. I felt my chest tightening and my heart pounding — I felt myself getting angry, as angry as I felt when my son finally confessed to me how he had suffered at the hands of an abusive foster-parent. I wanted to find the perp and hurt back.

But no — all I could do was remain a silent witness. Stunned and horrified.

Later … much later, when the trainer and I went out to dinner, I had to ask. “Is this normal? All these women?” He said, “Sometimes it’s worse.”

Ever since that moment, I have had to look at women differently — with the knowledge that I am living among a population that is very much carrying a burden of oppression — not unlike the Jews in Nazi Germany, not unlike the slaves in the pre-civil war south. Not unlike so many populations here in this country and around the world.

White male privilege allows white males to exist in a bubble of ignorance and illusion. I have to generalize here, but I’m pretty sure that most men have no idea and even less understanding of just how steeply the landscape has been tilted — just how much (through our unconsciousness) we are deliberately punishing half the human race.

This week, what has been most appalling to me about Donald Trump’s despicable confession of being a sexual predator … is not the various defenses of those who are trapped in his sinking lifeboat with him. No — what’s appalling to me is how few men are able to understand that what Trump spoke about was the “normal” that women experience every day. What is appalling to me is how few men are enraged.

I have been simmering, smoldering, and finally boiling with anger the more I consider his words. I can’t get them out of my head. I can’t escape them. Despite my pacifist leanings, I still want to punch that vile bastard in the face with a jackhammer. Words are insufficient.

And if I’m feeling that way, I cannot imagine how the women who have heard those words are feeling. This isn’t a once-in-a-while occurrence. This is … just another Tuesday.

Sidebar: There’s a story about the filming of Django Unchained — that Leonardo DiCaprio was having trouble with all the racist language he had to speak. He wanted to apologize for it. But Samuel L. Jackson (allegedly) said, “Hey, Motherfucker. This is just another Tuesday for us.”

Well, I’m tired of Tuesday — and the rest of the week as well.

I grew up in a time when anti-semitism was freely expressed. I grew up in a time and lived in an environment where anti-gay sentiments were freely expressed. And eventually, that sensitized me to a lot of other prejudices — anti-black and anti-Muslim and anti-Native American, and so on.

But it wasn’t until that moment in that training room that I realized what a pernicious vile crime against women we have allowed in our culture.

Women alone will not be the solution here. It is up to men, good men, strong men, compassionate men, to draw a line in the sand and redefine what it means to be a man — and that can no longer include the reduction of women from their rightful place as leaders and partners in our society.

Trump is only a symptom. The real disease still festers in the rest of us.

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(via David Gerrold on FB)

Every woman.

Thanks to the US presidential election, there has been a lot of discussion lately about sexual assault, attitudes towards women and how men conduct themselves when they are in the private company of other men.  It’s really quite hard to ignore at the moment as the media is in the grips of what must be the very exemplar of a true media frenzy. For most women, the topic of sexual assault and sexual harassment hits us somewhere deep and personal that we’d rather not think about.  It brings ugly memories to the surface and dredges up life experiences that we’d prefer to leave quietly filed away in The Past™.  Many of us have these long suppressed and often ignored, but never forgotten, unpleasant memories of how we have subjected to the abysmally inequitable status quo that continues to exist in our society.  To varying degrees, most women I know have had a lifetime of unsolicited sexual attention.  All women live with the awareness of possible sexual harassment and assault every day – it is the background noise of our lives.  It hurts us, it scars us, it sure as hell scares us, and it follows us around our entire lives. And more often than not, it starts really young. So goddamn young.

I was 5 or 6 years old and at primary school, when a man we called ‘Window Willy’, lived in a house adjacent to our playground. He gained this nickname from his habit of flashing his penis at us little girls during our lunch breaks. Despite repeatedly reporting it to teachers the message always came back to just stay away from that area of the playground.

I was about 8 years old when one day, I was up at the Carina Terminus shops waiting for my mother in the haberdasher.  A man who was seated outside the shop had been staring at me through the window, and I thought nothing of it.  While my mum was busy with her purchase, he shifted the leg of his c.1970s very short shorts, and displayed his penis and scrotum to me – a little girl.  I told my mum and the lady in the shop… they just told me not to look at him.

I was an athletic, short, blonde, tanned and already busty 12 or 13 year old, when I came out of the surf at Stradbroke Island one holiday with my hair slicked back wet to my head, and a ‘friend’ of the family said I looked like Bo Derek.  My Dad gave me a towel and told me to cover up.

I was 13 when I had recently joined the Army Cadets and a Cadet Under Officer came over to me while we were at attention on the parade ground and fiddled with the lanyard attached to my breast pocket, saying it wasn’t sitting right.  Seemed innocent enough but then I caught the satisfied and smug look on his face as he walked away because he had touched up my boobs in front of everyone.

I was a little over 14 when I went to the movies in the city with a large group of (mostly male) friends one Anzac Day. The boy I was sitting with thought it was appropriate to pull out his dick and put my hand on it in the dark. I screamed, everyone laughed, I switched seats.

I was barely 15 when a 21 year old man, an officer of the same Cadet Unit decided to single me out. I was flattered at the attentions of this older guy, so it never occurred to me to object when he woke me up in my tent at 1am, and encouraged me to go for a walk with him.  He took me to his panel van and convinced me to ‘come talk with me’.  After a while he kissed me and that was okay, but when he started to grope under my shirt and and tried to pull down my pants, I had to fight tooth and nail to get out of there without pissing him off and causing more aggression… or god help me, violence.

I was nearly 16 when another CO – this time a 23 year old man – took me and two other 16 year old friends to the Gold Coast for a ‘night off’, while we were supposed to be on bivouac.  He bought two bottles of vodka and got us all drunk. I vaguely remember doing cartwheels and round-offs over a campfire that night.  I absolutely, 100%, clearly remember waking up in the early hours of the morning in his car with his hands inside in my pants and him saying, ‘Let’s finish what we started.’ Those words have simultaneously haunted and comforted me.  If things needed ‘finishing’, then maybe my fuzzy drunken memory lapse wasn’t covering up something even worse…

I was 17 when I was waitressing at the local Leagues Club, helping out some friends with their catering business, when a drunk footballer stood up and waved his dick at me to the amusement of his friends.  I ran and hid in the kitchen, shaking my head in disbelief and discouraging my black belt boyfriend from going out there and smashing his face in. One of the older women who was also waiting tables with me offered to take over that table.  He didn’t flash at her.

I was maybe all of 19 when a colleague who I had been reasonably friendly with, cornered me in the copy room late one Friday at work. He pushed me up against a photocopier and pressed his erection into my thigh saying that he thought I was really sexy and he couldn’t help himself.  Knowing that more than 80% of the office had left for the weekend already, I talked fast,telling him I had a boyfriend and asking him what his wife would think. I never scrambled so fast to get the fuck out of a place in my life.

When I was about 20 we used to hang out down at Fisherman’s Wharf for lazy afternoons of live music and cheap drinks.  After one of these nights, we ended back at my boyfriend’s best mate’s place.  My boyfriend passed out drunk in a spare room, leaving me in a strange house with a guy I had met only once before.  This guy. This ‘best friend’, decided this was a good opportunity to pin me down on the carpet, stick his tongue down my throat and have sex with me.  I was too drunk to say no… I was too drunk to say yes.

Thus began my life of never drinking to the point where I might lose control. Of my wits. Of the situation. Of myself.

I was 23 the FIRST time I felt the penis of a complete stranger digging into me when riding a packed train in London.  I’ve lost count of occasions when I have been on trains, buses, or in a tight packed crowd at a concert, and someone has pushed their erection into me, or an anonymous hand opportunistically groped at my breasts, or grabbed on my arse. What do you do?  What do you do?  Sometimes you don’t even know who did it.

I was 35 when a man in Pakistan at a tailor’s shop, slid his hand up my thigh.  I stepped away, only for him to sidle over to me and do it again. Culturally this was seriously creepy – I know how little men value women in countries like this. I was over 40 when a skeezy little Chinese guy in Shanghai pretended to sneeze – face first right into my chest. Fucker.

Thankfully, it happens less and less these days… perhaps because I’m getting older and I am no longer as desirable as the younger version of me was. Perhaps because I no longer frequent pubs and taverns without the protection of a group of trusted friends.  Perhaps, because like many older women, I have carefully cultivated a general ‘fuck off’ vibe, that I arm myself with whenever I leave the house.

I am not in any way tormented or traumatised by my experiences. Have my behaviours evolved to ensure my personal safety and to avoid situations like this?  God, yes.  I don’t go out by myself at night, I am careful about my alcohol consumption (even among friends), I dress fairly modestly most of the time – primarily because I prefer people to talk to my face and not my tits, but also because I don’t want to offer encouragement. Mostly I don’t think about these things because is just the background noise of my life – this constantly and habitually minimising risk.  I don’t dwell on these experiences or in anyway, nor do I feel myself to be any sort of victim.  I’ve never sought justice or expected sympathy over any of this.  These are just things that happened to me.  Sometimes I think the fact that I am not traumatised from these incidents is an indicator of how normalised sexual harassment and sexual assault is in our lives and in our thinking. Other times my thought patterns are more: ‘Yeah, that happened. I can’t change it. I wasn’t seriously hurt. I’m still here. Could have been worse. Who cares?’

Mostly I just don’t think about it at all… but at the moment, with the current media climate, I don’t know how NOT to think critically about my past experiences and how/if they have effected me. What I do know is that sexual assault of varying degrees is so completely pervasive in all our societies. It doesn’t matter what your background is –  it leaves no girl or woman untouched.  I may not have suffered the torment and horror of a complete stranger raping me behind a dumpster – but every single woman I know has stories of unwanted sexual attention.  Every. Single. Woman.

And now, whenever that simply horrid, overblown buffoon of a billionaire, wannabe President, opens his mouth – all I hear and see are these men from my past.  These men who took liberties with my person because I am female. Fuck them and fuck him. If this self professed pig of a man wins the White House and sets a shining example for people all over the world – how do we even begin to try and fix this if it?  I can’t believe he is even being considered as remotely suitable.

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I REFUSE!

andrea-mendez

When I was 5, I sat on the edge of my chair with my legs spread. I felt an itch between them, so I reached down to scratch, but my grandma grabbed my wrist to stop me and hissed: “Girls don’t do that!” I asked her why, because I had seen my father doing it, I had seen all the boys in primary school doing it, too. And it itched and I wanted to scratch it. Her answer was: “It’s just how it is. Girlsdon’t do that. Also, don’t sit there with your legs spread like that. Girls don’t do that, either.”

When I was 6, I spent a day on the beach with my family. I was excited about the new bikini my mum got me, but confused as to why she asked me to keep the top on when I went for a swim. She hadn’t made me wear it the years before, but suddenly, she was very fussy about it. “Look, I’ve got one on, too.”, she said to me. And I thought I understood: Women had to cover their breasts, because they were bigger than mens’. But I wasn’t a woman. I was a child. Later, I overheard a talk she had with my dad. “I don’t want old men to stare at her.”, she whispered. I interrupted them and asked her why she thought old men would look at me. Her answer was: “It’s just how it is. It’s because you’re a girl. And men do that.”

When I was 9, I got in a fight with my best friend. I went home and complained about it to my grandma, who lived with us. She told me I should have seen it coming. “That’s how girls are.”, she said. “A friendship between girls is always also a competition. Girls are jealous, manipulative and backstabbing. You can’t trust them.” But I had never fought with my best friend before and I knew we’d forgive and forget the next day, anyway. So, I asked my grandma why, and her answer was: “It’s just how it is. Catfights will happen. It’s normal. That’s how girls are.”

When I was 13, I fell in love with a boy from the neighbourhood. I couldn’t hide my excitement. He was on my mind all the time and I caught myself wishing we were together, so I could hold his hand and kiss him, too. I wanted to meet him, get to know him better, and I told my dad about my plan of asking him out. “Don’t do that.”, my dad said. “It’s not appropriate for a girl to ask a boy out.” Though I partly agreed, since I had never seen a woman proposing to the man in a movie, or read about a girl kissing her crush first, I still didn’t understand what would be so bad about being an exception, so I asked my dad why I had to wait for a boy to show interest in me in order to be allowed to openly requite it. His answer was: “It’s just how it is, darling. The man makes the first move. It’s always been this way. Boys like to conquer, and girls love being chased.”

When I was 17, I was part of a large group of friends. There was a boy who fancied me. I didn’t like him back, but I wasn’t used to anyone crushing on me, so I enjoyed the attention. He’d always tell me I was special. One of a kind. Different. “You’re not like other girls.”, he said. “You’re not a bitch. You’re funny, laid back, intelligent. You don’t just care about your nails or your hair. You get my sense of humour. You’re not like most girls. You’re my best guy friend. But with tits.” I was flattered in the beginning, but soon, I started to wonder if his compliments were any at all. I began to feel disgusted with him. I didn’t want to be his best guy friend with tits. So I asked him what’s so good about a girl like me, a girl unlike what he called a typical one, and his answer was: “That’s easy to explain. A pretty model type of girl is good enough to jack off to, but in the end, a guy wants some drama free pussy. You’re an exception. The majority of girls is superficial and slutty. The kind of girl you fuck, but dump when you’re ready to settle down. Or they’re just plain boring and prude. This sounds harsh, but it’s just how it is.”

When I was 19, there was a boy I regularly had sex with. It was nice. Not the breathtaking kind of passionate, ecstatic fucking I had dreamed of; maybe we lacked chemistry, maybe it would have been nicer if we had been in love; but I was alright with it. I adapted, obeyed and swallowed. Of course I did. In the beginning, he really put an effort in giving me what I gave him. He really tried. But his attempts at putting his tongue to good work quickly faded into halfheartedly rubbing me dry and at some point, he said: “I’m giving up.” I asked him why. His answer was: “It’s so hard to get a girl off. You women need ages to cum. It’s so exhausting.” I laughed and told him I needed about two minutes when I did it on my own. “Then stick to that.”, he said. “I’ve got a cramp in my wrist. Women are so complicated. It’s just how it is. I’m sorry.”

I am 20 now, and I’ve come to realize that my female identity has been shaped by a biased, hypocritical excuse based on ridiculous gender roles: “It’s just how it is.” All my life, I have asked them why, and all they said was “It’s just how it is.” And it didn’t matter whether I’ve asked men or women. Internalized misogyny is just as harmful. There were as many women as men who said: “It’s just how it is.” But that is not the answer I wanted. Not the answer I needed. These few words don’t fucking answer the countless questions concerning my gender identity.

Why can’t I sit with my legs spread? What’s so shameful about what I keep between them? Why must I cover my breasts? Why am I being sexualized long before I’m even told when sex is? Why am I being taught to mistrust other girls? Why do I have to compete with other girls? Why am I only a good girl when I’m not like most girls? Why do I have to keep quiet about the way I feel? Why am I not allowed to show affection like men do? Can’t I conquer a boy’s heart, too? Why must love be about conquering, anyway? What if I don’t like being chased? What if it scares me? Why do boys scare me, anyway? Why do you make me feel inferior to them? And why do I have to like a boy in order to be liked? Why am I being shamed for being a “slut”, them shamed for being “prude”? Why am I expected to adapt, obey and swallow without praise when boys who return the favour are considered grateful, dedicated lovers, heroes, almost ,because to the majority of them, it’s not fucking understood that if I make them cum, they should make me cum, too? Why am I exhausting to be with? Why am I complicated?

Is it because I’m a bitch? Because I’m an oversensitive little baby? Is it because I’m a slut? A prude virgin? Is it because I’m on my period? Cause women are just crazy? Cause I am jealous, manipulative, backstabbing, competitive or any of the other countless negative traits that are immediately connected with the female identity? All summed up, is it because I’m a girl?

I’ve asked them. And they said yes.

And when I asked “But why?”, they said it again: “It’s just how it is.”

“It” is that context, is a never ending circle of resigning acceptance of the circumstance that girls are being raised to disrespect their own gender from their childhood on. I was, and am, expected to accept the fact that being female automatically makes me inferior, and that I should be thankful for being treated equally, because that’s not the standard. I was, and am, expected to appreciate and take it as a compliment when people tell me that I’m not like other women. Because I was, and am, expected to look down on women even though I am a woman myself. But I refuse. I refuse to adapt, obey and swallow. I refuse to accept that “it’s just how it is”. I refuse to take this as an answer, and I will not stop asking why. I won’t ever stop asking why. Not because I want people to give me a proper response, but because I want them to question themselves, too. I want them to start wondering. Want them to start doubting the concept of the role I’ve learned to stick to before I knew how to spell my “typically female” name. I want them to think about it, lose their sleep about it, until they ask, too: “Why?”

In order to eliminate misogynic stereotypes, we must unlearn to understand them. We must refuse to accept “It’s just how it is” as an answer, until we forget what “it” stands for. Keep asking why, until nobody knows an answer anymore. “It’s just how it is” is not an answer. Neither is “It’s cause you’re a girl”. Or “That’s how girls are”. Because girls can be everything and anything they want to be. That’s how it really is.

—Mia Morgan, I REFUSE! A rant on how my female identity has been shaped by excuses and lies.

Artwork by Andrea Mendez (FB) and published here for safe keeping.

History Repeating Itself

At the entrance to Dachau, buried among the weeds and gravel, is an old railroad track. It’s uneven, hastily built, and ends abruptly at a small unmarked concrete platform.

Here, not even a century ago, thousands of people were herded out of train cars, across the platform, and through the wrought iron gate emblazoned with the words “ARBEIT MACHT FREI.”

These people were ushered through this gate with assurances that “everything will be fine,” that their belongings “will be returned,” and their families “will be safe.” Those who looked young and healthy were put to work for the Wehrmacht at tasks ranging from menial ditch digging to skilled manufacturing.

The rest – elderly, sick, children, or anyone who caused offense to the watchful SS – were marched down the long electrified barbed wire fence, across a narrow bridge, and into a low brick building. They were stripped naked, crammed into a “delousing shower room” with ceilings barely 6ft high, and suffocated with Cyclon B. Their bodies were then cremated in the room next door and their ashes discarded in massive pits on the edge of the camp. The pits, roughly 40ft wide and 20ft deep, became their own execution yard as ailing prisoners, formerly chosen to live, were thrown into the still-flaming embers to burn alive, choking on flurries of ash as their own skin melted away.

This happened.

Standing at the gate of Dachau three years ago, I found myself wondering what life was like, not for the people who perished in the Holocaust, but for the bystanders who watched it happen. I wondered if Germans in 1932 had any idea that in a few short years, they would be accomplices to the largest mass murder in human history.

How much did they know? As they watched their government devolve from a parliamentary republic into a party-dominated dictatorship, did they have any idea it was happening? Did they care? Were the promises of nationalism so intoxicating that otherwise good, decent people turned their backs on the most fundamental principles of democracy?

After all, Hitler did not run for office on a platform of “kill all the Jews and takeover Europe.” Instead, his speeches and letters reveal a penchant for fiery rhetoric, laying the blame for Germany’s economic troubles at the feet of minorities, promising nebulous change if the National Socialists gained a majority in parliament – not unlike a man we all know.

And like many politicians we know, most of Hitler’s contemporaries believed rational governance would ultimately prevail. In 1932, Heinrich Bruning, one of the last chancellors of Weimar Germany, remarked: “I have been accused of remaining silent for too long. Careful work seems to me more important than speaking, and I have confidence that the German people prefer that which is factual, serious.”

Clearly, they didn’t.

Bruning’s words echo those of President Obama who has, repeatedly, expressed confidence that Americans will “make the right decision” in November.

I have my doubts.

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, too many Americans believe that Hillary Clinton is untrustworthy. Despite her honesty ratings in Politifact, the fact that every investigation has turned up no intentional wrongdoing, and the ringing endorsements of every respected journalism outlet in the country, Americans are reluctant to vote for her because they can’t (or won’t) do the self-work required to see past their own biases. It is easier to believe 25 years of propaganda and 10,000 years of patriarchy than come to terms with Clinton as a do-good politician in her own right.

I am told “they’re both bad politicians.” Because somehow, I am supposed to equate a Yale-educated law professor, First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State with a privileged businessman who has zero political experience and has, on multiple occasions, proven himself openly hostile to immigrants and women. Somewhere in my mind, I am supposed to rationalize that those two things are the same… that even on paper, their wildly different qualifications and worldviews put them in the same league.

I am told “she’s a horrible person… look at what she did in Libya and Central America.” Because somewhere along the line, this election turned into a referendum on American imperialism. Somehow, Hillary Clinton was supposed to unravel 60+ years of American foreign policy in an increasingly complex world and turn the United States into a neutered European state. Somehow, she’s supposed to be different from every other Secretary of State and single handedly undermine both the Bush and Obama doctrines of interventionism and the prioritization of natural resources as national security imperatives.

I am told “we need to send a message by voting third party and tearing down the system.” Because governments are like video games… just hit the reset button if things aren’t going the way you planned. Because Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are both decorated, experienced, respected politicians with a proven track record of pushing legislation through Congress. Because Ralph Nader apparently didn’t peel votes away from Al Gore in New Hampshire and Florida during the 2000 election, thereby throwing the election to George W. Bush. Because getting money out of politics is more important than the real harm that will be caused by a xenophobic president who has encouraged the alt-right to acts of violence.

Yes, I have my doubts and I wonder.

I wonder what life will be like if enough liberals fracture the vote and Trump is elected. He won’t have dictatorial powers, but with the help of a Republican congress, a few Supreme Court appointments, and galvanized legions of conservatives, he will achieve at least part of his agenda and the alt-right will evolve from a fragmented group of racists to a legitimized socio-political force in the United States.

I wonder what my role will be in Trump’s new “great” America. Will I start to view my immigrant friends with contempt? Will my Indian and Russian and Korean coworkers have their work visas revoked? Will they slowly disappear, one by one, as they are deported to make way for “real Americans” to take their jobs?

Will I be asked, in a year, in five years, to turn on my neighbors? Will I tip off INS to investigate the Vietnamese family living behind me? Will I start to view them with suspicion and anxiety? If I don’t openly express my disdain, will I be belittled by angry conservatives and laissez faire liberals too frightened to do the right thing? Exactly how outcast will I be?

In a decade, will I be the one to help herd undocumented Mexicans and Salvadorans into busses? Trucks? Train cars? Do I keep my comfortable office job or, by virtue of my own beliefs and sexuality, am I downgraded to “half-citizen” and put to work touching the new classes of untouchables? Will I usher people back across the border and into a holocaust of drug wars, gang violence, and poverty? Will I forge an iron sign that says “LAW AND ORDER“ to remind these people how deeply their desperation for a better life has offended us?

And when the alt-right comes for me (and they *will* come), what do I say? That I’m sorry for being gay? That I’m sorry for chasing after the shreds of happiness that crossed my path? That I don’t know my boyfriend? How much of myself is worth destroying to preserve some semblance of life in a country that does not want me? How many bullets from legally purchased assault weapons will it take to kill me, sacrificed like an animal for these man-children to worship their own petulant rage?

These things I wonder.

I am told to “get over myself.”

That I should “go whine somewhere else.”

That “everything will be fine” and “the polls are misleading” and “things can’t possibly get that bad.”

That “Trump will never get elected” and I “shouldn’t worry.”

That we’d be better off with “four years of Trump than more of the same politics as usual.”

I wonder how many people said the same things in 1932, blinded by the false promise that Hindenburg would never appoint Hitler to be chancellor, unaware that in a decade or less, they’d be dead.

I wonder how many Germans in 1945, surrounded by the rubble of their cities and forced by occupying armies to view the horrors they helped create, wished they had voted differently 13 years prior. Wished they had said something instead of remaining silent. Wished they had worked harder to open their minds instead of scapegoating their neighbors.

Shame is a powerful emotion and humans go to great lengths to avoid it. Now, in these final golden days before the self-inflicted storm, we can meet it head on and acknowledge our foolishness at thinking a racist billionaire has any business in the White House.

Or we can let the storm come and, in a decade or two, confront our shame over the burning ash heap of the millions who will suffer and die under this unforgivable change in American politics.

Donald Trump and the alt-right are not just a 2016 election ploy: they are a movement embodying the ignorance, desperation, and suspicions of millions of Americans who refuse to admit their own complicity in their life’s failures. A changing global economy coupled with a recession and twisted media narratives designed to drive ratings at the expense of truth has bankrupted the morality of otherwise good people in this country.

Despite all the circumstantial differences, this election is our 1932. Weimar America, believing itself to be in crisis, has reached a moral crossroads. A demagouge has risen to prominence with divisive rhetoric, buoyed by a fringe party of radical nationalists, and now seeks the highest elected office in this country. And the electorate, unwilling to bear the shame of admitting thier own biases and mistakes, can hand him the presidency in less than six weeks.

Decades from now, people will stand at the ruins of Trump’s Great Wall, staring at a rusted sign that reads “LAW AND ORDER” and ask themselves: how did it happen?

This is the end of the line. The train is waiting, the platform is empty, the gates are open.

We’re here – and the fact that we’ve come this far is appalling, alarming, and devastating.

Adrenalin Reef Snorkelling Day Trip Review

I spent the week in Townsville for a conference and as much fun as industry conferences can be, I decided to take a day and head out to the Great Barrier Reef to spend a day looking at the fishes.  As it turns out, there is only one operator in Townsville that does snorkelling and SCUBA day trips and that is Adrenalin Snorkel Dive.  I was quite surprised a the lack of options, I thought there would be at least two or three operators taking visitors out to the Reef from ‘Queensland’s northern capital city’ (quote; Jenny Hill, Townsville Mayor), but alas… it seems to be these guys or head to Mission Beach several hours away.  So given that they’re the only mob in town, I thought I’d write up a detailed review that might be useful to future punters

I used to SCUBA dive in my early 20s and I was very tempted to do their ‘Introductory Dive’ for people who don’t have a PADI qualification, but was somewhat put off by the additional cost, the stress of trying to remember all that long lost dive shit, and hate dealing with hire snorkel equipment let along hire dive equipment (leaky masks, cheap inflexible snorkels etc – all leads to a less than ideal day snorkelling let along diving).  So I decided for the hassle free option of just snorkelling instead.

We were to meet at the Townsville Breakwater Marina, and given I don’t know Townsville very well, so I allowed myself heaps of time to walk there from The Ville Resort where we were staying.  Just as well, I was quite confused heading out there.  I saw one little sign that pointed from the pedestrian paths that head up the Strand, which read; “Adrenalin, this-a-way” and then was wandering through what felt like a gated community of apartment buildings?  It was not very clearly marked where we were supposed to go, so I was meandering through this residential area, and by the time I found myself at what looked like an abandoned demolition site, I was looking around for someone to ask if I was in the right place?!  Went past a strange set of shops – a barber and the Red Baron Seaplane place (none of which were open that early) and was about to turn back and see if it was somewhere else, when I then happened to see the Adrenalin boat through a chainlink fence… so happily was in the right place after all. Early morning confusion is not ideal.  Another sign part way through all those apartment buildings would have saved us, (myself and the German backpackers who were wandering around lost with me), a bit of ‘wherethefuckarewe’ at 7am.

But, we found the boat and were met by the crew.  There was Achim, who was obviously our Tour Leader for the day (you could tell; he did all the talking), two other dive instructors, and Jeff, our somewhat surly, hung-over looking, and somewhat disinterested ‘Captain’, who was driving our boat for the day.  After sorting out some equipment for sizing etc, we all dutifully climbed aboard and tried to find a spot to sit and chat with our fellow travellers.  The boat heads then to Magnetic Island (about 30 mins ride) to pick up more pax before heading out to Lodestone Reef.  The ride was, in my opinion, extremely rough and uncomfortable, even though the ocean was not particularly choppy and there were no white caps or anything like that.  It just felt like Jeff was hammer down to get us out to the reef asap, and don’t spare the horses.  Yes, it’s a two hour ride, and yes, everyone wants to get the max time out of the reef, but it was no two hour pleasure cruise – it was hang on and if you want a cuppa, half fill your cup.  There was sufficient warning about potential seasickness (take a few preventative tablets if you get motion sickness!), which of course no one heeded, and then at least three or four people who were looking mighty green around the gills when the Crew were offering fruit and bikkies as a bit of morning tea.

My initial impressions of the boat were quite positive – it’s a typical dive boat, equipment down the middle, quick dry padded seating along the sides, shoes off, quick dry marine carpet on the deck.  But I think it could use a bit of TLC.  The carpets in places are pulling up and could create a trip hazard, the toilet door which is held open by a tattered rope is a bit odd, the space for passengers to put their personal gear was also full of extra rental equipment, so all our stuff was a piled up mess.  The ‘Dry Area’ was anything but – the floor was wet, there were wet towels left about on the floor and the benches, and the later the crew were getting changed out of wet wetsuits in there too?!  What was the point.  Little things about the boat made me feel like I was on a predominantly blokey worksite – grubby handprints on all surfaces, paint flaking off, mould on nylon screens, water and cordial dispensers that need a good scrub… things that don’t matter to people who primarily care about function I guess. Anyway, the whole boat feels like it needs a lick and a polish – or at the very least a visit from an overly officious mother-in-law who likes to clean while everyone is busy at work.

So after two hours of bumping along with very halting conversation – did I mention how loud the engines were on this boat?  Four hours of droning in the day and I was yelling at Mr K when I got back; gave me serious pause to be concerned or the employees who are working with that noise four hours a day, six days a week, however many weeks a year… they’ll all be deaf by 45 (hey, wait… maybe that is why Jeff the Captain seemed so disinterested – he’s just gone deaf!)  Huge unaddressed Occ Health and Safety issue for sure.  Meh.  We eventually get to the Reef and it was a fantastic spot – after the long bumpy ride, I would not have imagined that 80kms off the coast, there would be a calm, lightly lilting haven to drop anchor and go diving.  The SCUBA peeps got their various briefs yelled at them over the engine noise on the way out there – no briefing for the PADI qualified, minimal briefing for the ‘working through their log books’ and what I strongly suspect is an insufficient briefing for the Introductory ‘have a go’, non-qualified divers (I’ll come back to that later).

The snorkellers who need the least briefing, and you would have thought would be easiest to kick off the boat and get them in the water quickly, were somehow last to leave the boat after the divers spent a bunch of time pfaffing around with equipment checks etc, and taking up space.  The Crew did a great job of helping everyone get sorted for their diverse activities given their varying levels of skills, ability and familiarity. Actually, I think the Crew are the strength of this whole outfit.  We did our first dive/snorkel at around 10:30am and stayed out on the reef until about 12pm when we were called in for some lunch.

And it was gorgeous – lovely weather (after setting out with it looking very cloudy and overcast, the sun came out for us), warm water (around 23-24C), light waves which didn’t hamper swimming, minimal current and about 25m visibility.

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I took these pictures on my day out with my dinky little Olympus TG3 Tough underwater happy snapper… the place is far more beautiful than I could capture with that.  Lodestone Reef has kilometres of simply stunning corals and a plethora of fish and marine life.  We saw more fishes than I could list, some small black tip reef sharks, starfish, sea cucumbers, an eel, some crustaceans – it was everything the Great Barrier Reef is talked up to be.  I was buddied up with one of the German backpackers – and he had never been snorkelling before, and I think I can say that this is as good as it gets anywhere in the world. It was truly spectacular.

We stopped for a lunch of sandwiches with cold meats and salads around midday and I noticed that of the five people doing the Introductory dive, (one was working through is PADI dive log so had dived before; for the others this was their first SCUBA experience), two of them had gone down, and come back up to switch to snorkelling instead.  It seems that they felt somewhat overwhelmed at being ‘thrown in the deep end’, so they ditched it.  I can understand that – breathing underwater is a unique experience and it can feel quite weird at first, but what you’re not prepared for is the inability to communicate and many people will freak out when they suddenly realise they are in this isolated situation, with very little preparation, and no way to adequately communicate if they have a problem… which is exactly what they both said when asked why they abandoned their Introductory dive.  Most people learn to dive in controlled water conditions – swimming pools, off piers or beaches, not in open water 80kms off land.  I’m not sure if it’s wise to be throwing European tourists into SCUBA gear after a 20 minute talk; it’s probably putting them off the activity for life.

Over our lunch break, we had a very comprehensive and informative talk about the different corals and different species we were observing on the Reef.  Even though I grew up in Queensland and have been skin-diving in Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and loads of places around Australia, I found this presentation to be really helpful.  It was definitely useful to many of the foreign visitors who have never seen this sort of marine life, and they had a much better understanding of what they were looking at in the afternoon dive after having the opportunity to hear this information from the Tour Leader.

After lunch, we had another dive/snorkel for about an hour and a half before the horn was blasted to come back to the boat for the ride back.  Now, the divers were all back on board by the time the horn was blown and most of them were dry and changed and happy – the length of their dive having been dictated by their air tank capacities, or the dive instructors telling them it was time to go; who knows, but they were all aboard.  It was the half a dozen snorkellers who had to rush back to the boat and were barely hauled aboard when the anchor was pulled up and the Captain gunned it to head back to land.  Which meant no time to rinse the salt off, no time to change into dry clothes, no time to grab a cuppa, before we were being thrown around like rocks in a lapidary tumbler for the next two hours.  I made the mistake of wanting to change out of my wet things for the long uncomfortable trip back, and was jostled around mightily in the only change space available – the dinky little toilet.  I should have just sat through the trip in my wet, sticky bathers because I hurt myself attempting to change with one hand holding onto a grab rail and the other trying to pull on clothes feeling like I was being agitated in a washing machine.

The ride back to Townsville was exactly as the trip out, bumpy and uncomfortable, and sitting sidelong to the boat, rather than facing forward or backwards, really doesn’t help you maintain your balance.  We did slow down a couple of times when the Captain spotted some humpback whales which was a cool and unexpected bonus for the day.  The Crew were circulating with more fruit, biscuits and fruitcake for everyone – diving, swimming or snorkelling is exhausting business if you are not used to it, so those snacks were much appreciated, but again, having a cuppa was a seriously questionable decision.

At the end of the day, we were given feedback forms and I was happy to tick all the 4 and 5’s for ‘Very Good’ or ‘Excellent’, but there was limited opportunity to provide any substantial feedback, especially considering you are 1) attempting to write while being thrown about as the boat bounced along and 2) you are handing the form right back to the guys you are reviewing and there’s less than 20 pax, so not hard to see who has written what.  Almost immediately after the feedback forms were handed in, I was disappointed to see a ‘tip jar’ placed on the table and a bit of spruiking encouraging people to leave a tip if they had a good time.  Like most Australians, who are unaccustomed to tipping, I was not impressed.  We have all shelled out somewhere between $240 for the snorkelling day trip to $350 for introductory dive daytrip PER PERSON and here we are being pressed for a tip.  Anyone reading this from the United States… in Australia, we have award wage structures that cover people working in hospitality and service industries, including the tourist industry, which ensures a decent living wage.  Tipping is not required to ‘supplement income’ the way it is in the US where people get paid a pathetic $2.15 an hour to work in a restaurant.  The fact that American tourists have trained tour operators worldwide to EXPECT tips at the end of an expensive tour is getting really tiresome.  I fully believe ‘when in Rome’, and pay my tips like a good little girl when travelling in the US, but if Australian service providers start expecting tips when we know staff are well paid for what they do, then they can get stuffed.  We tip when and if we want, for exceptional service only, where we feel staff went above and beyond what is expected for the price of admission.  /ENDRANT

Other than that slight unpleasantness, I have to say I had an amazing day out.  I was ill prepared for how rough the ride out to the Reef would be – but that is probably due to my more recent ocean going experiences all being on enormous cruise ships, with the occasional tender boat ride.  I would highly recommend this trip as a great way to see the beautiful Great Barrier Reef, and the experience has me looking up ways to renew my PADI dive qualifications.  🙂