I have been on holidays in the wilds of the Barrington Tops since Christmas Day, and I’ve been following what’s happening in the world via Twitter and online articles and publications. I have seen no TV and heard no radio. I was wondering how I was going to fill this column when so little appeared to have been happening.

Yes, there was a kerfuffle over a possible $5 upfront payment for patients attending bulk-billing doctors, more sinister silence over what is actually going on in offshore processing centres (Destroying the Joint flooding Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s joint with tampons, apparently), and debate over why there is an apparent rise in random king hits (or should that be coward punches) …

And then came Cory. But it wasn’t until Cory Bernardi came along with a new book to promote and had a good old, far-Right, misogynist rant that I was sure I could easily fill the required 700 words. Because, according to Bernardi, I am pro-death. Mind you, his judgemental spray led to a friend confiding that her own grandmother had died at 30 from the consequences of a knitting needle, leaving four children under five. So we should never forget it’s perhaps more a matter of whose death you are pro: the foetus, who neither knows nor cares, or the desperate woman?

Andrew P. Street pointed this out perfectly in The Guardian along with a compelling statistic about what happened to maternal mortality rates in South Africa after abortion was legalised. Whatever your view, Twitter leapt on Bernardi’s tirade like a half-starved pet left behind while its owner went on holidays, and my troubles were over. There was this lovely meme, backing up my grandmother-less friend’s point to the hilt.

Abbott Bernardi meme

But there were also many who responded to his dire (but spectacularly self-contradictory) warnings about single-parent families and the promiscuous girls and criminal boys they apparently raise (why not promiscuous boys and criminal girls, I couldn’t help wondering). Setting aside the obvious point that many single parents are created because they don’t choose abortion, the holes in this particular argument were large enough to drive a truck through, and so a few witty tweeps hit the accelerator and did exactly that. Here’s one that neatly revealed a further flaw in his argument:

Ivan Milat

And here’s my choice of tweet of the new year, making a similar point even more succinctly.

Bernardi tweet

Morbid preoccupations. Perhaps it is the death of the old year, or the fact that I am another year older (and so that much closer to death myself) or even just that (according to Bernardi) I am pro-death that means there has been a distinct morbid slant to some of the articles that have caught my eye. I loved this by the redoubtable Margaret Drabble, brought to my attention by Monica Dux, on the desire of the ageing to exit with dignity.

And, as a die-hard (sorry, couldn’t resist) fan of the Cazalet Chronicles, I also mourned the passing of Elizabeth Jane Howard. I was deeply irritated by the way her death was reported — most egregiously — by the media:

Kingsley Amis ex wife

But I am also disappointed by her stepson Martin Amis, who, after crediting her with inspiring him to write, described her as “the most interesting woman writer of her generation”! When was a man writer ever described as — well — a man writer? I bet Amis would hate to think he has anything in common with the likes of Bernardi (or vice versa), but they may be more in sync than they know.

Violent reactions. To return to the obligatory moral panic of the season, I really enjoyed this article by Catharine Lumby on the truth behind young men, violence, alcohol and king hits (or coward punches). She makes a lot of sense, something that is becoming increasingly rare. This just made me laugh:


Meanwhile, a century ago … And these next two made me feel uneasy. I had also been uncomfortably aware that the people of 1913 had little idea they were heading into four of the most horrifying years in history as the calendar clicked over, and this article from The New Yorker (via Mike Carlton) summed up my hopes and fears perfectly. I loved Adam Gopnik’s point that as passengers in history we never really have the foggiest idea what’s ahead of us.

And, in a way, this lovely meme featuring the wonderful Elizabeth Warren brings this column full circle and back to the worry that we may be about to fight old battles all over again. For whatever deity you believe in’s sake, let’s hope our conflicts remain ideological ones.

elizabeth warren

Happy New Year, and fingers crossed.

Peter Fray

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