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Dan Byrnes
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Note: This personal website was begun on 13 August 2008 as an adjunct on the domain - http://www.danbyrnes.com.au/ It replaces a different and older personal website which is now superseded. It will be a vanilla, no-frills website and will probably carry various family pictures and some family history information, and a little "blogging" as well. Anyone who can manage a website doesn't really need a blog, is the feeling. - Dan Byrnes

Dan Byrnes
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Opinions Opinions Opinions

Cooking at a friend's party one night, 1990s
Dan Byrnes cooking at a party


Opinions this month

By Dan Byrnes

Australian Liberal Party Update 2009-2010
Classic image from Michaelangelo
The day the Australian Liberal Party
started to take climate change seriously

Civil wars of the American imagination

Meanwhile, there is, apparently, a "corrosive civil war" going on in US Republican circles, conducted between pragmatists versus right-wing purists. That is, it's about ideology. This turns out to work as a "Stalinesque" purge of today's Republican moderates. It's clearer what the Tea Partiers are against than what they are for. They work against big government, higher taxes, ... the Arizona April 2010 legislation acting against illegal migrants (mostly Hispanics?) is recommended to be adopted elsewhere. A Non-American would have to say to Tea Partiers, a non-inclusive policy just doesn't work anymore in any developed economy. Those days are long gone.

It's said that Tea Partiers have been watching too much of the propaganda on Fox News. One website on rational irrationality (a blog at www.newyorker.com/online/blog/johncassidy/), critical of Tea Partiers, suggests that many Americans grow up with a set of values and sense of identity "that is historically inaccurate and potentially dangerous". The Tea Partiers wish to overlook indispensable aspects of American life, mass immigation, the separations of church and state, the essentialities of the roles of government. (This Non-American quite agrees.)

Blogger Cassidy notes that "the paranoid style" of political comment in the US was identified in 1964 by Richard Hofstadter. Using a few graphics, Cassidy also suggests that historically in the US (since the 1960s), citizens are more trusting of government(s) when economic trends are rising, more distrustful when trends are declining. Therefore, it would be easy to predict from the USA's current economic mess that a populist movement might soon rise, vehemently distrustful of government. Exactly as has happened.

This website notes that countering its critics, Tea Partiers deny they are racist, they want to take the high moral ground of punishing Wall Street. All in all, in Australia, the issues that excite Tea Partiers, sans ideology, would be called simply, hip pocket nerve issues, as seen from a mostly middle-class perspective. But it also seems that many Tea Partiers are greatly affronted by the sight of a black man in the office of US President.

Australia's hopeless One Nation Party

However, it must be noted that at the intersections of middle and lower-class perception, vis-a-vis economic life and issues about immigration, Australia has also seen a destructive right-wing populist movement, run by a brainless, ill-read, ill-educated woman named Pauline Hanson, named The One Nation Party. Shades of Sarah Palin!

One Nation was also (racially) non-inclusive, and followers liked to show off by waving the Australian flag. The One Nation delusion was that somewhere still in multicultural Australia, there is an Australian who IS The Real Australian, that is, someone of a white background, with a desirable set of values who perfectly typifies the Australian sense of identity. No such Australian exists! For the simple reason that life in Australia has grown too complex and sophisticated for such simple-minded formulae to prevail; Australians have happily outgrown an old and simplistic sense of identity.

One Nation wished not to capture the high moral ground at all, they wanted the highest ground of The Australian Sense of Identity, which would, suprise surprise, be an Anglo-Celtic (Anglo-Saxon) person.

It's the economy again, oh Intelligent Ones

The Tea Partiers are especially fearful about money. They are the stupid ones in Bill Clinton's now famous one-liner, "it's the economy, stupid". Fearful about their own sense of identity, they worry about what they are due as "inheritors" of American traditions (which is of course, their own, unacknowledged sense of entitlement, anti-entitlement and pro-rugged individualism in outlook as they delude themselves they are).

This Non-American would like to suggest that the Tea Partiers will possess an erroneous history of the American Revolution. In terms of social class, the Tea Partiers are simply the descendants of the colonial American lower orders who decided to follow the independence-seeking American elite (Washington, Jefferson, the Signers of the Declaration of Independence generally). What the Tea Partiers fail to realise is that the American Revolution involved three separate-but-related wars. A civil war (to purge American colonies of Loyalists and pro-British power and influence). A military war against Britain as conducted by Washington and defining "the real patriot". And a class war, to keep the rebelling colonial elite at the top of American society and to keep the property-owning, all-white voting franchise "managable" and small scale, that is, under the control of the elite. Despite their rhetoric about clawing back the economy, due to their education, or rather, brain-washing, the Tea Partiers with their lack of inclusiveness are falling for this same class-war tactic, yet again, as it is orchestrated today by the Republican Party elite.

Ergo, there is no progress here. For when this Non-American looks at the Tea Partiers, he sees people with the views Americans had about the time Andrew Jackson died (in 1745, before the gold rushes provided an upheaval to American life. Before railways grew really long. Before Southern Europeans, or Mediterranean people, emigrated in noticeable numbers to America).

And so with their unfortunate experience with One Nation, which is now defunct, Australians have already been through the sort of nonsense proposed in 2010 by America's Tea Partiers. It's worth mentioning that famously, this so-called party-founder, Pauline Hanson when she did arrive in Parliment in Canberra, built her first speech around her infamously ignorant question, "Please explain ... ". She was at least being honest. She literally didn't know or care why Australia had developed as it had, and she said so. She was horrifically ignorant, and remained ignorant, quite defiantly and as a matter of personal and political pride. Today's Tea Partiers in America are equally ignorant, and equally prone to adopting futile diagnoses, futile sloganeering.

In fact, today's USA has more and worse problems than the Tea Partiers are yet aware of. All the Tea Partiers are doing, internationally, is contributing to the wider world's convictions that the USA has lost the plot, lost its credibility, lost its self-esteem, lost its world financial pre-eminence, lost its former role in world affairs.

There is nothing that huffing and puffing on the basis of ignorance can do to improve any of this. Unless the USA's Tea Partiers get wise and develop a new political party free of the tired, hackneyed, over-sloganized, banal and intellectually and morally bankrupt, political and cultural baggage retailed by the USA's Democratic and Republican parties, the Tea Party will remain as futile as it is hackneyed, sloganized, intellectually and morally bankrupt - and non-inclusive.

New American battle hymns of whiny self pity

Ideologically, instead of providing a chorus of voices of reason, the US media with all this is foolishly playing both ends against the middle - hardline Democrats and Republicans versus moderates of all kinds. The problem with this is that when the middle melts, the ends have nothing to hold them together, and they drop off. Which is what the credibility of the USA has been doing for a long time now, melting, dropping off, dropping away. Rather what the Tea Party fears is happening. And it is.

Returning to the rhetoric of 1773, the Boston Tea Party, is going to do no one any good. Government in the US has to be bigger rather than smaller because the US population is large, the States are vocal, issues are entrenched, problematic and increasingly complex, services need to be delivered, technology has everyone in its complicated grip. And as Wall Street has recently and ironically revealed, a great many US citizens are too irresponsible to be trusted in an ambience of less supervision than currently reigns. By 2010, Oh Intelligent Ones, the free market is more expensive than it used to be.

All the Tea Party is doing internationally for the USA is worsening its reputation for pouring out whiny self pity when things are somewhat difficult. When life is less fun than usual. Deep down, what the Tea Party agitators are most terrified of are perceptions of their own vulnerabilities. Their world has let them down, their political demographics are changing, so it's bad world, it must be punished, or cured, or preached at. Maybe with fantasies of insurrection, even shot at. Yes world, the USA as the land of rugged individualism has gone soft as fairy floss at the centre. And most certainly, Jesus will also not be suggesting what to do. All this is a matter purely for the American Caesar, who is currently named Obama, so the Tea Partiers would be wisest to drop their anger kick and their religious kick, yesterday. - Dan Byrnes

Below are a few anti-Tea Party slogans sent in by one of this website's regular US emailers who happens to live in Texas - in the most multiculturally lively part of Texas he can find. It seems that the opposite of the US Tea Partier will be the tolerant-minded US multiculturalist! Which also would be a population numbers game ripe-easy to be surveyed. We can bet though that this is not something the US mainstream media is going to survey any time soon.
- Dan Byrnes, May 2010.

"The Tea Party's Yellow Brick Road"

"Let's Take Off the White Sheets and Embarrass our Mothers"

"George Wallace has Risen, Hallelujah!"

"From Burning Crosses to Political Activism"

"I got the Black President Blues"

"I got the I Don't Know which Way is Up Blues"

"I Don't Know Shit from Shinola but Opposition seems the Right Way" (In Australia, this is called, "I oppose, therefore I am".)

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Bagging the USA's Tea Party (2010)

Identity politics and feelings of economic distress

By Dan Byrnes, A Non-American (2 May 2010)

"Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action". -Goethe

The fact is, the much-vaunted, "world's best democracy", The USA, is having trouble facing the future. Here's some of how and why. And it's not just the Sarah Palin problem. Or the GFC (Global Financial Collapse of 2008).

During his presidency, after 9/11, President G. W. Bush plaintively asked on TV, "Why do they hate us?". It seemed he didn't know and couldn't work it out. But more likely, a cynical part of his drive for US unilateralism on the world stage, he was obliquely asking the American people to disregard their growing unpopularity worldwide and to treat it with contempt. It was an unpopularity he proceeded to energise and re-energise.

By April 2010, New York's David Letterman Show has re-invented the question, by regularly using a variety of depictions of only-in-America-type stupidities to explain why non-Americans are hating Americans, or at least, voting them down as popular or desirable company.

When a nightly TV comedy show starts explaining why Americans are so unpopular worldwide, it seems that the USA has serious problems, because the Letterman show lets go an issue only with reluctance after milking every shred of humour from the topic. Then to make things worse, along comes The Tea Party. (There's a wikipedia page on The Tea Party, so I won't bother here to explain how and why the Tea Party originated. Go Google!)

Suffice to say, The Tea Party is another idiotic US populist blowhard group, deeply into identity politics, upset about the ills of the nation, willing to agitate and publicize, but not willing to vote, not able to educate US voters, unable to explain the present status of issues to themselves or anyone else. Gripe gripe gripe. With any luck, the squeakiest wheel might be given some extra oil?

On the surface, the basic Tea Party list of complaints reads like a set of responsible concerns with political economy. It ain't necessarily so. Under the surface, it's about identity politics. All Tea Partiers know is that, as whites, they feel very ill at ease and want to blame someone. They feel "inchoate rage" about the apparent state of their world. (As noted Australian columnist Phillip Adams would say in a column of mid-May.) They also seriously remind the Non-American writing this item, of the political life and times of President Andrew Jackson, which was a long time ago by now!

Importantly, most surveyed Tea Party members feel the taxes they pay are fair. So this is no argument about lack of political representation after taxation, it is a protest about lack of quality in representation. How much the Tea Partiers are lobbying individual politicians around the USA is not clear to a Non-American, but if they threatened to create a new political party and to mount useful candidates, they might develop some credibility. The Tea Partiers won't be doing this, however, since it would take thought and commitment.

On TV I have seen one female speaker at a Tea Party rally feistily saying, "We want our economy back." Well, when I last looked, the American economy was still there, though it could be in much better shape. It seems that no one (not even "Wall Street", yet) has taken away her economy. All this sort of sloganizing Tea Partier is doing is making a fool of America on international TV on a daily basis!

It also seems that many US commentators have noticed that certain groupings - certain "demographics" as they can quaintly be called - of US citizens are avoiding Tea Party rallies in their millions - American Indians, Afro-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and presumably, Muslims. That is, the Tea Party membership is not inclusive. It is exclusive, or imagines that it is. It seems that the Tea Party membership is self-selecting from the white Protestant sector of the US population. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Tea Party membership is made up of WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) from the USA's lower orders (and older rather than younger, surveys tend to suggest). Upper-class WASPs, being already organised via the Democratic and Republican parties, have no need of anything like the Tea Party, unless of course they can exploit its mindless populism.

From a website dated 21 Feb 2009 we find the first Tea Partiers, claiming to be genuinely grassroots, were -- anti-stimulus package, anti-entitlements, wanted a taxpayer revolt, were angry about Wall Street bailouts (but nevertheless wanted Wall Street and banking practices cleaned up). They want home owners (mortgagees) to keep their homes, and are anti-foreclosure. They are anti-government (egged-on by memories of President Ronald Reagan), anti-government spending, want followers to move their money out of "too-big-to-fail banks" (a boycott). Much vehement blogging is going on.

On any variety of websites, with patriotic red-white-blue colours uncannily like the set of the satirical Stephen Colbert Report, Tea Partiers bill themselves as patriots, desiring to protect the US and its constitution. In fact, with friends like the Tea Partiers, the US Constitution takes unto itself perhaps the demographic which is currently least-qualified, of all vocal US citizens, and because of their biases, to help the US ease out of its current dilemmas. (California is bankrupt, Arizona is applying border-control measures impossible to implement, and four states and their economies facing the Caribbean are now being devastated by perhaps the world's worst oil spill, ever. Certainly, this is no time to be crying, as Sarah Palin has cried, "Drill, baby, drill.")

In fact, the Tea Partiers fear that the American Dream has become The American Nightmare, which it has. In fact, the Tea Partiers fear the erosion and the loss of The Great American White Protestant Ascendancy (which it is never called in the US, but that is what it has been, and now it is being rapidly eroded).

A Non-American does feel though that where the Tea Party has been getting so much media coverage, the situation has to be subject to manipulation by certain parties who are probably already fairly powerful in US politics. ("Only a pawn in their game", in terms of a well-known Bob Dylan lyric.) The Tea Party is known as a right-wing populist movement. One guesses that certain Republican party forces will be hard at work, but a Non-American might also suggest that certain Democrat Party echelons would also like to see a national playing-out of the Identity Politics Card - if only for "academic reasons".

White supremacy or just flat out treading water?

Is the Tea Party growingly a white supremacist grouping? This Non-American won't say so. Reports on attendances at Tea Party rallies suggest that the more affluent Tea Partiers might even be moderately well world-travelled. No, the Tea Partiers are not overwhelmingly white supremacist in outlook. They are, however, deeply fearful about their current (middle-class?) place in the American scheme of things. For one thing, they, and/or people in their nearby suburbs, have recently been pillaged by Wall Street. Tea Partiers, rather, don't quite know where to turn or who to scapegoat.

Which is richly ironic. President Ronald Reagan along with UK PM Margaret Thatcher did much to give the world into the hands of economic rationalists. As a decade or two went by, the economic rationalists made middle class life far more insecure, in the US, UK, Australia, in the EU. The current US recession has only made the Tea Partiers belatedly aware of the havoc the economic rationalizers have wrought! The Tea Partiers are victims of notorious US trends that have been afoot for decades. They are, self-evidently, slow learners and unobservant with it, since they give no sign they're aware that certain sets of problems have been looming for a very long time.

Ethnic status and political inbreeding

Here's another problem with US politics that is not discussed, as such, in the US - let's call it, the results of political inbreeding.

For far too long, the US political scenario has been drawing its talent from too-small, too-narrow a gene pool. It's hardly surprising that when a black president suddenly appears, some folks in the US feel shocked. (In the 1960s, some folks in the US had been shocked to find a Catholic with an Irish background elected as president.)

But today, against all the odds, we find that Barack Obama is distantly related to Sarah Palin. (Truly, humanity is just one large family.) This relationship would have to be on Obama's maternal side, since Obama is son of a black Kenyan father, and no Kenyans were taken from Africa as slaves to North America. Further, as we find from genealogy researched by William Addams Reitwiesener (see www.wargs.com/), Sarah Palin (nee Heath) and her genealogy (20 generations back) goes past few if any names especially famous ... to Deacon Joseph Bingham of Vermont (1709-1787) and Ruth Post (1711-1796), then past the name Howland (Mayflower descendants). (Some names in Palin's ancestry can also be seen in the ancestry of one-time presidential candidate Senator John Forbes Kerry). We find in Palin's case a common ancestor name applying to Obama, Lathrop/Lothrop.

Obama's mother Ann Dunham is descended from Rev. John Lothrop (1584-1653) husband of Hannah Howse (1590-1633) daughter of John Howse and Alice Lloyd. So does any Lathrop/Lothrop genealogy produce both descendants, Obama and Palin?

Yes, the Lothrops here can be found also on a website on the Lothrop founders of Barnstable Massachusetts. (Hannah Howse's genealogy can also be seen as connected to the genealogy of President Ulysses S. Grant.) Plain and Obama have comon ancestors named Lathrop/Lothrop.

There is richly funny irony here. If Tea Partiers complain that a black man is president of the USA, they can only blame the now-old-and-tired US political tradition of electing the descendants of the earliest American colonial settlers! In Obama's case, the odds against this happening are very large, yet it has happened. Ergo, US politics draws its talent from a relatively narrow (and mostly, very exclusive, ethnically non-inclusive) gene pool. Which is to say, the old tradition is still working perfectly! Albeit now with unintended consequences!

Somewhere here is a genealogical-political tipping point in action in US demographics. From here, anything at all can happen. (A black and female US secretary of state? A male black president? Where could it all end?)

It very much seems that deep down in the social structure of the USA, something is changing, perhaps too dramatically. But one might also say, these findings may merely be a question of taste in genealogy. Quite easily, these genealogical findings could equally be viewed as meaningless, or as significant. Whatever, we'd find that the faintest notion of "breeding" was quite irrelevant.

Fresh mental disaster in the USA 2010

From: An emailer in Sydney 21 May 2010, a member of a Sceptics group.

On slave transportation

Dear Dan, According to Wednesday's Sydney Morning Herald, the Religious Conservatives and Evangelists have just got control of the school curricula in Texas and all the say on what goes into text books, especially history and biology. They plan to revise the curriculum this week.
Skeptics have fought against this for many years. It's very important for all of the USA. Texas is so big that its textbook choices affect the size of print runs and the pubilshers' profit a great deal. Most other US states just fall into line.
It's so bad this time round that California may ban books printed to the Texas standards. Maths and science are downplayed. Creationism is taught in science classes. Military uses of science are highlighted. Prominent Confederates are given more space, and rival points of view downplayed.
Worst of all is glossing over slavery as a problem. Creationism has been called "intelligent design" for many years now, but this is topped by the slave trade now being referred to as the "Atlantic triangular trade".
Cheers, Signature

Anti-spin debate hots up for politics

Spin is no match for debate in a democracy
By RICHARD TORBAY, Speaker NSW Parliament, Independent Member (State) for New England

Sydney Morning Herald, June 10, 2010
(And it's about time someone spoke up! Let's hope this starts a useful revolution in Australian politics generally. This webmaster lives in Armidale and voted for Richard Torbay. It's marvellous to see him grappling with the issues! - Ed)

When a young and promising minister reckons he can do better representing people outside Parliament than within it, we should start worrying. Graham West's resignation as Minister for Juvenile Justice last week is symptomatic of the malaise in the political party system.

We no longer have a system where the parties are ideologically opposed. Their philosophies have merged. We no longer know what either side of politics stands for. Politicians have become neutered and isolated by their parties' control mechanisms.

When you preside, as I did, over a parliament where a Labor government tries to sell off the state's power assets and the Liberal-National opposition works with the unions to oppose it, you have to assume it is about expediency, not conviction. This is dangerous territory because it transfers the focus from policies to personalities, from the main game to pointscoring. Voters are tiring of it, rapidly.

In this environment, political parties go into overdrive to control individual MPs. A small cabal of influential colleagues and advisers surrounds the leader and runs the show, dictating how members should vote and the message of the moment they should deliver, regardless of the interests of constituents.

It might be called spin but in my view it is a straitjacket. It's homogenised politics and it doesn't work for anyone, the parties, the individual politicians or the people.

When the media and the voters rightly suspect they are being misinformed or fed only the most palatable facts, they pursue what's really going on. Recently, there has been plenty of blood on the carpet.

As Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the best experiences I have had in Parliament have been when the members are allowed a conscience vote. The level of debate is heightened, it is sincere and more honest and politicians more sure-footed representing the views of their communities than just trotting out the dismal party dogma of the day.

I would advocate the major parties unleashing their MPs and permitting more conscience voting and debate representing community views. That's what democracy is supposedly about. The focus ought to be on issues and outcomes, not personalities.

A clear and open process is not as frightening as the parties' control mechanics and bureaucracies appear to believe. When I introduced the Salary Package Amendment Bill, despite its potential for unpopularity and dissension, I was open about it and expressed my conviction that it was necessary to attract and retain good political candidates. The sky did not fall in and it passed through the house with bipartisan support.

Lies and cover-ups get political parties into trouble - they should know it by now. The truth might not deliver instant popularity but it generates respect. That is clearly missing at the moment. Written in stone should be: The people are not stupid.

The system now is democratically unhealthy. MPs who express individual views are threatened with extinction at preselection. Party apparatchiks are parachuted into seats, not as representatives but because they will toe the line.

To regain some credibility, political parties should revert to preselecting individuals who have served their communities in some leadership capacity and have local credibility.

The [NSW] upper house has ceased to be one of review. It is packed, mostly, with time-servers and party faithful owed a favour or three. No one in the upper house is directly elected. Unless the political parties seize the opportunity to preselect high-level leaders from business, industry, the professions and community service who can contribute to a worthwhile review process, there is no good reason to retain the Legislative Council.

Independents and the Greens should take little comfort from the ground they gained in recent polling - it reflects disaffection with major parties rather than a mass conversion.

I do not proselytise for independents, although I am one. As Speaker, I have had the privilege to observe state politics somewhat dispassionately. I am far more interested in presiding over a robust, open and properly representative democratic parliament than the Machiavellian manoeuvrings of political party mandarins who think and behave as if they are above the people who elected them.

(Richard Torbay is the independent member for Northern Tablelands.)

Recent poetry from Dan Byrnes

A Photo by John Fields
Dan Byrnes in his early 60s
Webmaster Dan Byrnes in his early 60s. Photo by John Fields, taken in Armidale Mall at Courthouse coffee shop during a chance meeting of friends.

Poem by Dan Byrnes on John Fields, 14-2-2013


(For John Fields, Vale, February 2013)

Man with a soul
man with a heart
man with a camera
man with a place to start

Man with an eye
man with an aim
man with a beautiful purpose
man with wit about the more helpful game

Man with an art before art got burned
man with a goal a little stark
to get to goodness before it is ever spurned
man who seldom missed the mark

- Dan Byrnes (otherwise indicated in these pages as -Editor)

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