Cracked up world


Tell you what, in my lifetime there’s never been a crazier patch of politics than what’s going on now – and crazy is putting it kindly.

Trump continues to do his Trumpish things, but still manages to plumb new depths. It affects all of us, and the world sits in a precarious place now because of him. There was a patch of about 10 days when I’d wake up in the morning wondering if world war 3 might have erupted overnight. It didn’t, or at least hasn’t yet, but no-one’s going to feel safe until he’s out of the job. Nutters like Kim Jong Un are a fact of life, but we expect – and need – leaders on our side of the fence to be more measured and intelligent. That hasn’t always been the case, but never in my lifetime have we suffered such an incompetent, unpredictable and downright nasty leader as Trump. Not even close.

Then this week gone we have seen the eruption of very ugly racist violence in Charlottesville, condoned more than condemned by the president. It’s a terrible state of affairs.

As an Australian I feel some existential threat knowing that someone as erratic as Trump has his finger on the button, but I’m probably safer than most. I really feel though for the great majority of Americans who are decent, compassionate and reasonable. They’ve had their country hijacked and their identity subverted by the values that Trump espouses and supports. They must ache with the loss and a sense of futility, but for all our sakes they must keep up the good fight. What it takes though is for Trump to be toppled. Until that happens the poison he preaches will continue to spread. All our best hope is that the Mueller investigation hits paydirt, but I no longer have faith that it will be a killer blow, even if it does. Even so, how much damage has been done? If he goes tomorrow, what damage has he done to the fabric of the nation? How much cannot be reversed?

I was shocked the other day to see footage of the ‘militia’ in Charlottesville patrolling the streets with semi-automatic weapons on their shoulders. These are basically racists, Nazis and Ku Klux Klan. How is it even permissible that any man, let along organised groups of them, let alone racists with guns, can walk the streets with impunity. That’s not a civilised society, but America started down that path many years ago and seem incapable from straying from it. Now, with Trump in the top job, it’s got a menacing edge. The extremes have been empowered, and are flexing their muscles.

By comparison Australian politics is just about comedic right now. You could run the Benny Hill music as a soundtrack to the ridiculous happenings in Australian parliament and it would be absolutely apt.

Any lingering doubts about the future of the Turnbull government have been dispelled in the last week. They’re done, and so they should be. Any credibility they had is long shot, and now their judgement has exposed as inept and totally divorced from reality.

Where does such a thing start? This government has been a travelling disaster zone for months now, perhaps years. No matter what he says Turnbull has proved he’s anything like a strong leader, and he’s the hostage of the party conservatives, afraid of doing anything constructive for fear of upsetting them. There’s an intelligent, sophisticated man inside Turnbull, but he’s disconnected from the man we see on our TV screens. The man we see has decided political survival trumps national benefit. The result is compromised policies and the promotion of initiatives against the will of the people, and counter to the national good. Effectively a hard right wing rump of the party dictate national policy according to their own conservative beliefs, and in just about every instance against what most people want. Our parliament is representative only in that idiots now get a more than reasonable say.

This combination of terrible judgement, cowardice and intransigence has been on display in the last couple of weeks.

First there was the pathetic decision to conduct a postal plebiscite on marriage equality. By itself it’s hard to have respect for any government who chooses such a weasel approach. In the wider Australian community this is no longer a thing. We have long accepted – and supported – the concept of marriage equality. There is majority support in the community, and I would guess majority support in parliament. Unfortunately, the moral conservatives who hold the whip hand wish to dictate their will on the people, and Turnbull, as always, was cowed into supporting an inadequate, and ultimately non-binding plebiscite to determine the next steps. Rather than just getting onto it Turnbull has allowed the dinosaurs of the party to put every obstacle in its way. Any chance of me ever voting for Turnbull disappeared at that moment.

Then there’s been the ridiculous series of pollies discovering that they’re dual citizens. At first it was a couple of Greens senators, who did the right thing and resigned. They were predictably mocked by the government until, surprise, surprise, that they had a few of their own in the same boat. Naturally they haven’t done the right thing, and have continued on pending a high court ruling. It has now got to an absurd stage when daily it appears another government minister is in trouble. It does little for their reputation.

It hit a crescendo the other day when it was discovered Barnaby Joyce was a Kiwi citizen. In the wash-up Julie Bishop – a minister I had come to respect and admire – launched into both the Labor party and New Zealand, claiming conspiracy. It was funny. I know it was meant to some attempt at turning the tables, but it was pathetic, and the only damage done was to the Libs.

They made the mistake, and to get hysterical and begin to blame others reveals both desperation and an utter lack of political judgement. I doubt there’s a single reasonable voter who bought that spiel, and for most it would only have confirmed the dire incompetence of the government. They can’t go on. They won’t go on. If they can survive that long the next election is still a while away, but if there is anything like a dead man walking then it’s this government.

And that, folks, is the cosy world we live in today.

Doing counts


About a week ago I had a showdown with HR. I’d applied to have my role re-classified, backed by my manager and her manager. HR had responded that after reviewing they saw no reason why it should be changed. That was unsatisfactory, and so a meeting was arranged to discuss.

I went into the meeting armed with facts. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I know in this I’m 100% right. I’ve worked in this industry years in a variety of roles. As I told them, I’ve actually employed people to roles similar to what I’m in now. They have an external, generic view of the function, whereas I’ve got an in-depth and intimate knowledge of it from having been hands on for many years. All the same, I knew I had to play to their rules. I couldn’t force the issue, I had to persuade them.

Fortunately, the HR rep I met with was reasonable and happy to listen. She admitted from her reading that the grading seemed justified, but willing to be proven wrong.

The problem, as I saw it, was that they at the role from the perspective of the award, rather than looking at an award from the perspective of the role. These awards are broadly defined and many of the terms and stated responsibilities very general. It’s very easy to tick things off because there is little – if anything – specifically defined.

Now it’s my belief that a role like mine doesn’t really belong in a standard award – I’ve worked within bands, but never before within an award. Even so, if it has to be then the award should be defined by the role, rather than the other way around.

I explained the discrepancy between what the award states and what I actually do. I said the award by intent is prescriptive: there’s a nail, here’s a hammer, now go to it. My role is much more architectural than that. I’m fully autonomous and the role is almost entirely discretionary.

I brought with me some random materials, evidence of things I had created from scratch. It was a hodge-podge of stuff: requirements docs, flowcharts, a business case, a proposed policy document, another a process proposal, some reporting and analysis I’d built, and so on. I made it clear that often I’ll have to take a lead on things, from project management to managing staff. There’s a huge amount of analytical work, and an awful lot of brain. I’m defining the structure that the hammer and nail is used to build.

I told her to re-think how my role should be viewed – basically as a business analyst, or business process analyst, and at the more senior end of that spectrum (not that I expect those sorts of dollars – that’s more than they’ll ever agree to). My manager was in attendance and basically supported everything.

At the end it was decided that my classification would be independently reviewed. I was sent my PD and invited to add in those elements I think missing from it. Like most PD’s it’s heavy on vibe and light on specific details and, as such, can be interpreted in different ways.

I added in the specifics, focusing on the project management elements – clearly a higher rated function – as well as the analytical and sheer creativity of the role. I made it clear that I acted independently, and even the hierarchy I was a part of was more dotted lines. I did also correct an important error. They had my role reporting into a more junior role when nominally I report into management.

We’ll see what happens now. I think I have a good case, and I can’t see how they can assess it otherwise. Problem is, even if they agree, any changes have to be approved up the line, right up to the CEO – which is clearly ridiculous. Every extra stage reduces the chances of it being approved, and certainly delays the process. I’m not holding my breath.

If I get knocked back then I’ll go to them with a counter proposal. Terminate my FT employment and re-engage me as a contractor or consultant, and at those rates. I doubt they’ll go for it, but it’s worth a try.

I continue to look for other work, and I’ve resurrected the start-up I put on hold 18 months ago. I believe in it, and I need to do something for myself. Doing counts. Problem is I don’t know how, but I can find out.

They’re watching you…


The last few weeks I’ve been making a call to a community organisation that isn’t in my phone address book. The other day scrolling through recent calls there was the number recorded, and underneath it Probably…followed by the specific name of the individual I’d been talking to. I’d never seen that before.

I puzzled over this, Fair enough had it recorded the name of the organisation, they’re in the phone book after all. But in an organisation containing dozens of people how does it know the specific person I’ve been speaking to?

Like many, I’m very aware of my online presence and identity. The idea that I’m being watched, that every move I make is tracked, is abhorrent to me, and more so since the Australian government legislated that ISPs must retain the metadata of its customers. It’s a privacy issue, but I also see it as an infringement on my civil liberties.

In my book you’re crazy if you’re not connecting online through a VPN, but even so that only limits the damage, it doesn’t eliminate it.

I read the other day about how Google is extending its online reach, to the point that they will soon know every site you visit. Like most people I have a Gmail account. Foolishly, as it turns out, my I use my Google ID (and occasionally my Facebook) to login into different online accounts. It doesn’t matter if I’m VPN if that’s the case. The solution is to browse incognito through a VPN, and don’t accept cookies, but that’s hard work. And even still…

We’ve all experienced targeting marketing whereby an ad will flash up on screen relevant to a recent search or your browsing history. Once they have that on one source it spreads to other online sources – I get those ads now on my phone, and even at work.

I compound the issue by having location services switched on my phone, as most people do, I’m sure. That adds a another very precise layer of tracking which I could easily turn off, except I track my steps, and of course use navigation and search for nearby handy locations. We are seduced into being tracked by the convenience of the functionality it offers.

At this point I’ve made a compromise – basically I’m allowing them to view a lot of my activity, but not all. I wonder at the wisdom of that.

But how does that explain my phone entry?

The only explanation I have is that it’s cross-referenced my email by my call history. I’ve sent and received emails from that person, and my phone has put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4. That’s scary.

These are the times we lose what we had


Seems like most Saturday mornings these days have become tribute sessions in my home.

I do the same thing pretty well every Saturday. I’ll head out the door near 10 and walk the short distance to Hampton shops where I’ll do the bulk of my weekly shopping – groceries, bread, and the few meat veggies I haven’t previously bought at Vic Market. I’ll come home, unpack my groceries and clean the kitchen while I listen to music through my Apple TV.

Lately, I’ve been returning home and playing the music of recently deceased musicians. A couple of months back I played the music of Soundgarden and Chris Cornell back to back. A few weeks back it was Linkin Park’s turn after the death of Chester Bennington. After hearing of his death yesterday I’ve played the select few songs of Glen Campbell this morning.

I don’t have a lot of songs by Campbell, but they’re great songs. Wichita Lineman has to be one of the most poignant and evocative songs of all time. He has such an easy voice that yet expresses the yearning the song expresses. Beneath it is the strumming of the guitar that sets the pace of the song and somehow allows you to picture the windswept, lonely plains the song evokes. This is in my top 50 songs, and this an ideal version (though the Clouds did a great cover about 20 years ago).

The other song I have of his is Galveston. To me, this has a similar quality. I don’t know if I imagine it, but I always picture a man about to go off to war and an uncertain future and looking back towards his hometown, and the sweetheart he has there. He sings with a melancholy hope that he may yet get back to what he realises he really loves. We never find out if he does.

See, that’s the power of the music. The words of the song suggest the tale but don’t tell it, yet the combination of voice and music and tone create that sense. That’s how we come to love music, how it plays to our memories and inspires our imagination, our longing, our own sense of wonder and belief.

Both these songs are Jimmy Webb classics. He must be one of the most prolific and successful songwriters of all time.

These are the only two songs I have of Campbell, though I have a wider appreciation of him. I was never a fan of Rhinestone Cowboy, but I might have had Where’s the Playground, Susie? on my playlist.

The deaths of musicians and actors and those others who have regularly featured in our life always make us reflect. It’s like a little bit of your own history gets buried with them. When you get to my age you begin to see the long trail. Glen Campbell was 81, and from an era earlier than mine, but I felt it keenly when Chris Cornell died at the same age I am now.

One memory that popped into my head yesterday was curious. I had a random recollection of flicking through my bohemian aunt’s record collection sometime in the eighties and coming across an album by Glen Campbell. I must have paused. I knew some of his songs, and his smiling, handsome face was familiar to me, if only by viewing True Grit.

My aunt will be dead near 15 years come next year, but memories like this remind you that other lives have come before. Whatever trials I experience, or you, whatever joys or whatever simple pleasures we experience others have experienced before. We hold it close to ourselves, but it’s common experience in different guises, generation after generation.

Once my aunt must have picked up that album and thought to buy it. She worked, she played, possibly she loved. She was a woman of strong opinion and independent ways, affectionate and adoring to us as children. She must have played that album looking out over the harbour from her apartment in Watsons Bay, which is when I would have found it.

It wasn’t there years later after her death when I packed up her house. What happened to that album? I don’t know. She went on for a while, and then she didn’t, and all she had was scattered to the winds. But I remember.

 

Re-connecting


Last Saturday I went to the MCG for the big game against Carlton. Nothing unusual in that, except this time I met up with my two nephews and niece.

It’s coming up to a year since my sister got her nose curiously out of joint and decided to disown me. That’s been no great loss for either of us, except that it means that I’m not invited to family functions, and opportunities to catch up with my nephews/niece – who I do want to see – have been few and difficult.

Up to Saturday I hadn’t seen any of them since May last year, bar the eldest, B, who I caught up with for lunch about five weeks ago. I kept in contact with my nephews by social media, and on one occasion with my niece. I send them birthday cards and Christmas presents. I try, but I’m not an active part of their life.

Despite that I’ve got a good relationship with my nephews. The eldest is a quirky character, but is both decent and sensible. The younger, R, is more sensitive and vulnerable. He’s a little bit lost and so treasures I think the tenuous link to me. Both of them know very well what their mother is like. I don’t know how much they know of my split with her – it’s not something we talk about – but as they have witnessed, and been the subject of her volatile, spiteful temper, I suspect they both well understand.

It’s different with my niece. It’s tricky for me as she’s going through a stage where a lot is changing for her. From a little girl she is slowly becoming a young woman. I’ve missed most of that and so haven’t really known how to interact with her remotely. On top of that she’s a girl while I’m a grizzled bloke, and there is less common ground between us than there is with her brothers.

It was great then to see them on Saturday. It was my eldest nephew’s birthday yesterday. Last week I contacted him to discuss it. He’s a Carlton supporter so in passing I suggested that perhaps we could go to the game together on Saturday, and his brother too (who is an Essendon supporter). He was keen on the idea, and later came back to ask if it was okay if their sister could come too. I could see my sister in that request, but of course, it was fine.

So we caught up outside gate 3 at the MCG just after lunch on Saturday. The first thing I noticed was how much my younger nephew had grown. They’re tall boys. The elder is my height, maybe a smidge taller, but has stopped growing I think. R is a couple of inches taller than me at 16, and still going. He’s a good looking boy as well. All he needs is a bit of confidence and he’ll be a knockout. That’s what I try and give him.

My niece was taller too, but still the bright and cheeky girl of before. She was dressed up in her Blues gear and all afternoon we would tease each other as the game ebbed and flowed, typically calling each other, and the other’s team, pooheads. As you do.

It turned out to be a great occasion. It was an ugly game at times, but turned into a thrilling contest. The kids were enraptured, more or less, as the fortunes changed. The older of my nephews is self-contained and undemonstrative, but I caught him getting excited, then groaning as the game turned. The younger was infected with joy as our team charged back to win a game we looked likely to lose. For all of them it was a rare and memorable experience.

We parted after the game. I’d have liked more time to sit and talk with them – the footy is too noisy for that – but at least we re-connected for a while. There had been the risk of becoming a stranger to them, but was alleviated Saturday.

Still, as the family go out to celebrate B’s birthday tonight I won’t be there. It’s sad, but hopefully I’ll be there for him for many years to come.

Go with grace


Father and son

A rumour went around yesterday morning that Jobe Watson, captain of Essendon Football Club, was about to announce his retirement from the game. It was on the cards. He’s 32, it’s been a tough few years, and his form is not what it used to be. I felt a slight quavering though when I hear the news: I didn’t want him to go. A couple of hours later he confirmed the rumour with all his usual grace, class and Watson wit.

No matter what sport you follow you have your favourites. I’ve been following Essendon all my life. I’ve seen a lot of great players come and go. I feel a great affection for many of them, champions and characters of the game, the guys you’d turn up to watch and cheer on as they strutted their stuff. Most of them were very good players at least, and a lot of them big personalities as well. Terry Daniher say, or Simon Madden; Vander and Bomba; Lucas and Lloyd, not to mention Wanganeen, Longy, and Harvs, and all those others I’ve celebrated over the years.

You love them all, but there’s some you just love a little more than the rest.

I remember when I was a kid I idolised Graham Moss. I remember writing a letter to the big ruckman after winning his Brownlow asking him to stay. He didn’t, but I’ve never forgotten Mossy.

Later on I would watch Merv Neagle, taken not just by his dashing play, but by his good looks and insouciant aggression. When James Hird came along I was one of the many thousands who thought he was a golden haired wonder, incapable of vice or misstep, and an absolute legend on the field.

One of my favourites in his playing days was Tim Watson. He captured the imagination of a lot of us. Not only was he a child prodigy, he was an intoxicating mix of skill, power and pace, like Dangerfield, only better. He was a great player for many years and starred in a lot of big wins.

Later on he went into the media where his good looks, intelligence and sense of humour found him many more fans. I listen to him still today and can’t think of a better role model than him – a decent, funny, charismatic man of great personal integrity.

Of course he is the father of Jobe, who shares many of his attributes.

Jobe followed his father into the game about 10 years after Tim left it. He struggled at first, but eventually became the captain of the club, as his father had been, and a champion too, just as his dad – and won the Brownlow medal that always eluded Tim.

I was pre-disposed to love Jobe. He was the son of a much loved legend and I so wanted him to be a chip off the old block. As it happened he became quite a different player from his father. Where Tim was dynamic Jobe was relentless. Tim could turn a game in a quarter of brilliant football, whereas Jobe would construct a match winning effort over the course of the game. Tim was dash and verve; Jobe was insight and deft touches. Both are greats of the club.

I have great admiration for Jobe Watson the player. He was a very good player for a lot of years, and a great player for about four of them. When he won his Brownlow it was by a clear margin in a year when he polled votes in 12 of the first 13 games. Unfortunately his Brownlow became the Brownlow of the players who trailed him by 4 votes in that year – but that’s another story I don’t intend to dwell in.

Most of all I love Jobe Watson for the man he is. It’s common these days for supporters of many clubs to have admiration, even affection, for Jobe, and that’s because of his class and character. Unfortunately for him, and for us who followed him, that class has been on display too often because of the dreadful circumstances the club found itself mired in. It’s too well documented, and I’m not going to add to it now, except to say that Jobe gained a lot of admirers for his grace and dignity and fortitude in the most trying of circumstances. Among other things he proved himself a great leader through that time, as the testament of his teammates so well affirms.

It’s unfortunate that his career came to that. Some of the best years of his footballing life were directly shadowed by the events of the saga, ultimately leading to a year out of the game. I’m glad he returned to the game, but it’s not a story he can escape.

He spoke eloquently yesterday. Footballers get marked hard sometimes. Jobe has always been an articulate, sensitive and insightful character. He brought that yesterday, together with the wit he inherited from his father. I can’t imagine him gone, and don’t want him gone, but I understand.

For me Jobe is not just a great footballer, he is a man of integrity and character, worthy of admiration as a human being. He’s been made well, the product of good education, affection and love. The Watson’s, for mine, are an almost ideal notion of what a family should be. They are all good people.

So in a few more games, and hopefully more than a few, Jobe will grace the field before he leaves it together. The fairy-tale finish would be a premiership, and I’m barracking hard for that, but regardless he leaves the game on his own terms and to a new life – to New York, and beyond. There’s few people I could more sincerely wish great luck to. I hope he finds all he hopes for, and all he deserves.

A card player’s journey


When I was a kid every summer for years on end we’d head down to the beach somewhere as a family after Christmas to spend two weeks lounging in the sun, body-surfing, and generally taking it easy. Looking back from this distance it seems like a special time. It has a glow to it in memory. It was family time, a time when I still felt the innocence and joy of being an irresponsible child yet, riding my bike and mucking up and accepting all the simple pleasures of that hedonistic lifestyle as my very due. It has novelty value now also, because it has become so unfamiliar.

One of the things we would always do is play cards in the evening. It wouldn’t be every night. We’d go out sometimes, or else there might be something on TV – likely sport – to watch. It was a regular occurrence though, perhaps every second night. We’d play 500, either solo or in pairs, or else another favourite game called Oh Hell (aka American Bridge). We were kids, but we took to it easily and had a lot of fun playing. Over years I acquired a proficiency in playing cards in general, and took great pleasure in the skill required to play a winning hand. I can safely say that playing card games is one of the things I’m very best at.

Later, as I got older, the occasions when we would play cards became much less frequent. Becoming a bloke some of the games would change also. I haven’t played 500 for a long while, and Oh Hell only infrequently in the years since, but I’ve played plenty of hands of poker with the boys, and the odd casino card game. The only variation to that was when travelling, where a pick-up game of cards was always likely waiting for a plane or sitting on a train. I remember 10 years ago travelling through Egypt and Jordan I fell in with some keen card players. We would play Hearts at every opportunity. Most of them were good players, but one of the girls – an alluring Kiwi – was an exceptional player. I loved pitting myself against her, and had many hours of pleasure sitting on a dhow playing, or in the shade of palms at a red sea resort, or in the hotel lounge, and sometimes even in the bus.

Now I’m learning Bridge.

How this came about is that a few weeks ago I’m at the Cheeses for dinner when afterwards Mrs Cheese says to Cheeseboy, what are you going to do? The inference was that he had no hobby or diversion, as he should, and I was the reference point – a keen writer after all, and a cook on top of that. To be fair to Cheeseboy he is not without interests. He’s coached the local junior soccer team for years now, and once was a keen cyclist. In any case in response to his wife’s question Cheeseboy blurted out: Bridge.

I admit to being confounded at that point. I know Cheeseboy pretty well, and we’ve been mates for years – but I had no idea of this secret interest. I think Mrs Cheese was just as taken aback.

Turns out as a kid, just like me, the old Cheeseboy had been a keen card player. Like me he spent years playing cards with his family back in Holland. He enjoyed cards but, as with me, finds little opportunity to play.

Somehow in those minutes after I told him that if he wants to learn Bridge then I’d keep him company. As always Mrs Cheese, who is extremely diligent and efficient, found a local club where we could learn and play, and made sure that Cheeseboy organised it. Last night was our first lesson.

In the weeks leading up to the lesson we would josh around in anticipation of it. Let’s face it Bridge, and Bridge players, have a certain reputation. I took the mickey from myself by suggesting I might find a ‘foxy’ widow who would look after me. We joked about playing with a glass of sherry or Pimms, only to discover that tea and Arnott’s Family Assorted was strictly the go. In one thing our expectations were proven absolutely correct: we were the youngest there.

We rocked up and had the ladies at reception quickly flirt with us, commenting on our relative youth. Inside we were introduced to our fellow trainees – all older couples – and our trainer, a very proper type, as befitting the game of Bridge.

I’m not sure we were entirely approved of. Too much levity. We’re mates and have a lifetime of chiding and gentle abuse. It was novel to us, and amusing in its novelty, especially in the myriad rules. One of the other guys at the table joined in the banter.

The game itself was fascinating, unlike anything I’ve played before. It has common elements, but what makes it different is that you play virtually with a 3D perspective. Playing cards over the years I’m used to watching cards closely, and my opponents. You keep a rough count of cards whilst figuring out your own strategy, and scrambling to deploy alternative tactics as needed as the cards fall in unpredicted ways. A lot of it is predictable though if you’re thinking straight and haven’t missed anything. The game is in your head.

Bridge has the added complexity of having to play two hands, yours and your partners when you’re the bidder. I found this additional requirement tested my ability to keep everything in my head. It was almost as if by taking on this also something had to come out. It was quite a challenge, but I assume a challenge I’ll adjust to.

In any case I learned the game okay, albeit in an incomplete version – other bits are added in next week. The one game when I was the bidder was testing, but worked out well. These are the sort of things I like to master. As always, it feels almost like a direct challenge to my intellect. I enjoy those challenges greatly, and I love winning. I can’t ever imagine ever being part of a Bridge club, so my playing career may be brief, but before I part from it I want to get it absolutely right.

I may even absorb the etiquette.