The discomfort of men


It’s Sunday, and I’m feeling more lazy than usual. After I took Rigby for a walk mid-morning I came home and thought about the things I planned to do, but my heart wasn’t in it, and so I ended up on the couch watching a movie.

I watched Lantana, which is a classic Australian film of sorts made about twenty years ago. Memories muddle over time, but I remember being deeply affected by the movie when I first saw it. I think I saw it at the cinema in St Kilda with a woman a few years older than me. I can’t remember her name, but I remember how casually sophisticated she was – full of stories and good living. We’d go out for dinner and the movies and would catch up for the occasional drink. We liked many of the same things, though we never ended up in bed together – our relationship wasn’t like that.

There was a particular scene I remembered from the movie that resonated when I saw it first and which stayed with me in the years after. The main character, a detective, is out for a jog on a Sunday morning. He turns a corner and runs smack bang into a man coming the other way, their heads colliding. After the initial shock, the detective turns on the other man and starts abusing him for not looking where he’s going – though he’s at fault. The other man cowers, then stumbles away. The detective, perhaps regretting his behaviour, picks up the other man’s discarded shopping bag and takes it to him. The man turns, weeping, and I remember the shock I felt at seeing that, like an electric charge. The detective feels something the same I think, but then – their faces bloodied – the detective comforts the other man in his arms.

This is a sophisticated movie. The story is complex and deep, the performances across the board are fantastic. Most of the characters are damaged in some way and some more than others. It’s a story about relationships and the entanglements we find ourselves enmeshed in, seemingly powerless to do anything about them. For me, it’s also about masculinity and Australian masculinity in particular.

The detective is at the centre of the story, and for most of it, he’s teetering on the edge, barely in control. He’s deeply unhappy and lost, trapped inside himself, inside the maze of expectation and inability to be vulnerable. Like a lot of men, his vulnerability is expressed through violence.

There’s a scene where he’s telling an acquaintance the story of how he ran into the other man on the street. He’s almost disdainful when he describes the other man weeping, claiming that even as he’s comforting him, he’s thinking, what a weak prick. The acquaintance asks, don’t you ever feel like crying. Yeah, of course, is his general reaction, but you don’t, do you? And this the acquaintance understands, you’re right, as if it’s a rule of male conduct: you don’t show it. He nods his head in that casual way as if it doesn’t need to be said: fair call.

It’s a beautifully revealing scene set inside a men’s urinal. And you know, I reckon most men, Australian men, anyway, and men of my generation at least would recognise that. We’re brought up to be hard and tough. To keep going regardless and not show anything. I recognised it the first time and hit close to home because it was set in a milieu I understood, contemporary Australia

I lay on the couch with Rigby snuggled beside me and watched and felt myself affected in the same way I was the first time. It’s the sort of story I’d like to write, with the nuance and psychological depth that makes it both raw and authentic to lived experience. The book I’m writing now is not dissimilar – there’s a surface story that propels the action along, but all the real stuff is happening beneath the surface.

It’s nice to revisit a film you admired before and find it stacks up still. It’s not always the case. If you haven’t seen it then maybe you should check it out.

Not the film I want to see


Like many Victorians at the moment, I have an uneasy feeling about the coronavirus. A few weeks ago, we had a couple of days of zero infections. Within a week those numbers had shot up, and now the risk is that they may get out of control. It’s a reminder of how infectious the virus is.

Last week a group of postcodes were locked down to try to contain the spread. These were the suburbs where hotspots had emerged, thankfully far from where I live (though somewhere I lived a dozen years ago is now locked down). Yesterday, the drastic action was taken to lock down individual buildings – the housing commission towers in the inner north. There were 108 new cases reported yesterday, and 23 were in these towers. They’re crowded, with few lifts and shared facilities, and so somewhere where the virus can easily spread and catch hold (as it did in similar blocks in NYC).

This latest action has attracted raucous opposition and controversy. The inhabitants of those buildings are migrants and people at the bottom end of the socio-economic scale – basically, the disadvantaged. The fact that police have been brought in to maintain what is a strict lockdown has drawn heavy criticism. It’s seen as intimidatory and unnecessary.

The government is in a no-win situation. We’re now at this point because of the mismanagement of quarantined returned travellers. The government must take some responsibility for that. Regardless, whatever they do has someone getting on a soapbox to complain about. Early on, they were criticised for being too strict and urged to relax some of the constraints. The government held firm. Then, when finally, the restrictions were eased, the critics came out blaming the government when cases of infection began to rise. Now that the government is cracking down again, the critics are saying that it’s unfair.

I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure many have the same view. I support the actions of the government to contain the infection because I think it’s necessary – and it’s backed up by medical advice. In circumstances such as these, what’s needed is firm and decisive action. The clock is ticking, and the consequences are catastrophic if you get it wrong. Far better, I think, to err on the side of caution, even if it means severe restrictions. Look around the world. We’ve been lucky, but it takes hard work and strong leadership to stay that lucky.

I’ve been disappointed in much of the rhetoric around the lockdown of the housing commission buildings. Till now, excepting the loonies, much of the commentary and perspective has been even-handed and foundered on medical advice. Now, much of it is being seen and commented on through a political lens, and much of it absurd.

These crackdowns have been given a racial and class slant because the suburbs locked down are more commonly migrant parts of Melbourne and nearer the bottom of the economic ladder. That’s doubly true now that housing commission flats have been added, with many now saying the inhabitants are being victimised because they’re disadvantaged. The use of police has also been slammed, with some pretty ordinary commentary towards them.

The reality is that this is an imperfect situation because we’re dealing with a dynamic and emerging risk to the community at large. The government must react swiftly to contain, and hopefully get ahead, of the infection. It’s not pretty because it’s unpredictable and because it’s better to do something now than wait to do it perfectly. These are extreme times and the political spin given by some verges on the imbecilic in the circumstances.

I’m sure the government will address and do everything it can to ease the fears and make this as easy as possible for the people impacted by this. I would guarantee that community workers and health professionals will be there to support and comfort the vulnerable people living in those towers. The government is good at that. I feel as if some of the criticism has been way premature, and some of it blatant grandstanding – and already there is commentary coming out of the buildings that they’re happy that something is being done to help them.

The fact is, right now, none of us knows where this is heading. All we can do is hope and do what we can to contain it. We could be at the start of something terrible, or these actions may curtail the spread and in a week or two, eliminate it. Because we don’t know we can’t afford to go easy. It’s tough, but it’s necessary, and if it means that the rest of us go into lockdown again, then I would support that.

I don’t know about others, but I look upon this with a mix of dread and fascination. It feels like a bit of a trope, the opening scenes of any number of apocalyptic ar zombie movies, especially now it’s in the towers. We all know how those movies turn out.

To live is not enough


A few days ago, I searched out the obituary of a man I’d never heard of until the day previous. I’d read a piece he wrote that stirred and resonated with me – not a story, but a piece of nature writing that was familiar to me because I’d experienced similar in my own past. It was beautifully written, and by itself, that was enough to mark it out, but what really hit home was a point of view that I could share with all my heart. I believed as he did and, as he wrote, felt as he did, too. The piece of writing was called The Gift, by Richard K. Nelson. It contained pure grace.

As so often, when I come across something that takes my attention, I want to know more. Probably half a dozen times a day I’m tapping at a device or in my browser searching for more information on this or that. I discovered that Nelson was an eminent anthropologist and writer who had passed away just a couple of years before. I read about his life and recalling the piece I had read formed an impression of him – confirmed by the picture shown of him, a pleasant-looking guy with longish blonde hair, a red-tinged moustache, and a look in his eye as if to say, okay, take my photo then.

He was a man who had an evident passion for his work and believed in an almost metaphysical version of nature if the piece I read was any guide. He’d written about heading out in a canoe to an island with his dog. His family was back on the mainland in a secluded home. He was on the island to hunt for deer, which was their sustenance when winter came. The descriptive writing is rich, but it’s the mind and attitude that hooked me. I don’t want to simplify it, but it was the perspective of a man who felt himself a part of nature, and not above it. Too many are oblivious to it, or view nature and all its bounty as a right to be exploited (an attitude that is ruining our planet, and our mentality). He saw it as a gift and was careful to pay it the respect due to it – as he learnt from the Inuit.

Yes, he gets a deer. Then on the following day has an encounter that is lovely, and he’s sensitive enough to know how lovely and rare it was. I could feel it, too.

There’s a couple of things in this that I unpacked in my mind in the days that followed. I had a visceral reaction to it, to begin with. I could feel it in my stomach, like something that was meant to remind me. When I thought of it, I felt in a heightened state of grace. I could understand it. I could believe it. I was sure that his take on the nature around us was as true as a thing as I could conceive of. We are a part of nature, and it has wonders in it, if only we open ourselves to it. The other side of this, unfortunately, is that the rapacious way of the world as it is leaves me increasingly bruised. Maybe things should be a certain way, but they’re not, and I doubt they ever will be. In the meantime, what we have taken for granted slides away from us…

The other thing I felt was raw envy. That was how to live: to be in life, to feel it trembling around you like a gift, and to be passionately involved in what you believe in. His work had substance. It meant something. He’s gone now, but reading his obituary, it was clear his life was well-lived. That’s what you aim for.

But once more, I found myself examining the life I’m in now. I’ve always been restless and curious, and always keen to see what was around the corner. I had a lot of fun because of that and learned much, but I’m at a stage of my life that what I’ve done before feels inadequate to what I need now. What I need is to feel engaged and my work worthwhile. I want substance, I want meaning, I want to feel as if I’m achieving something worth doing. To live is not enough.

This is not new, and it’s far from the first time I’ve written about it. I feel as if that if I do nothing, the conveyor belt will carry me forward through dull comfort until one day it comes to an end. It may well be pleasant enough in its way, but that’s never been enough for me.

I had a project go-live last night. Most of it went fine, but I was on my computer last night and this morning and sending emails and messages because a few things were off. I was frustrated that it should be left to me to discover these things when the vendor should be doing QA before ticking it off. It occupied about 5% of my mind. It will get sorted. I’ve given directions, set deadlines, and etc. It’s what my life is now though, even when it all adds up to some supposedly great thing for business. Mayhap, but there’s no grace in it.

I was watching a program during the week set in Berlin in the fifties, and the thought occurred, why don’t you just take off to a place like that and make something happen? I like Berlin, but could equally be another place. Shake it up and see what comes of it. Maybe. I don’t know how practical it is – I have no money. And I don’t know in the end if a metaphysical problem can be resolved geographically. But at least it would be different.

I got told yesterday that I’m back FT starting next week, and that will make things easier financially. Stick around, and it will probably get better. I still have the issue of a two-speed perspective when it comes to working – not caring about it in the same way and ready to cut it some slack, until my ego intrudes and starts making demands, and that cycle again and again. But it’s just my ego – I can do that better, I should be doing that, why won’t you listen to me – while I don’t really care that much.

Like everyone who has a yen to look, I just need to find what’s right for me – what will fill and satisfy and give value to the days I have left. That’s all.

 

Edit: thinking about this, what I seem to be describing is a classic mid-life crisis. Because I’ve had so much shit go down I tend to ascribe so much that’s happened to that. It’s easy to blame irregularities on that, but maybe it’s time for me to let that go. Shit did happen. Residual shit exists. It’s legitimate to ask questions. There are things. But, maybe I should accept things for what they are rather than blame them on things I can’t change. I don’t resile from anything I wrote above – but maybe I should accept it for what it is and deal with it as it is, and not the shadow I imagine.

Another week in iso


As far as living in iso goes, this has been an interesting week. I’ve actually got out of the suburb twice, experienced a power failure through most of the daylight hours, been crook, and even lost my glasses before miraculously finding them again. On top of all that I’ve got a go-live tonight (and I’m working today because of it).

Last Friday night, I took the train to Richmond and met up with my manager for dinner and beer at the Richmond Club Hotel. Had a chicken parma, a pint and a glass of wine, on top of metaphorically rubbing shoulders with a broader community (we’re very careful not to rub shoulders literally). We chatted about work and life in iso, before popping across the road to the Corner Hotel where we were ushered into Bandroom 2 and sat at a trestle table where we had another pint.

Most years, most Friday nights, the pub would have been heaving with people and real-life bands would have been preparing to perform before a packed and boisterous crowd. On Friday, we sat at one end of the table while a middle-aged man with his Asian toyboy sat at the other end (they objected to our presence, but spacing rules were enforced). At another table, a group of tradies in fluoro caught up for an end of week beer. It was pretty empty otherwise, and pretty antiseptic too – a far cry from the frenetic, sticky carpet days the Corner is known for.

That was last Friday night. Yesterday morning, I ventured into the city for the first time since leaving it in March. Usually, my train is standing room only, but yesterday there would have been 30-40 empty seats in the carriage. It was sparse in the city too, and the building where I work seemed almost deserted. I caught the lift to my floor to find that there were tarps everywhere and two of the doors closed off and tradies painting and renovating the toilets. Good time to do it, I guess.

In the office itself, there were only two other people. One had been working there throughout this period. The other had only returned the day before and was planning to come in a day or two a week, lockdown permitting.

I was there in part out of curiosity, but the main reason was to pick up the dock for my laptop. I was very diligent when I packed up my desk a few months ago. I thought I’d taken everything with me I needed, but I left the dock behind. At that time I thought we’d be gone 2-3 months and I could live without it. And, mostly I have, outside some flickering on the second screen. It’s coming on to four months now since this started, and with recent outbreaks in Melbourne, I don’t know when we’ll get back into the office – September t the very soonest, I would guess, and that presumes that the current outbreak is contained. That’s a big if at the moment.

So anyway, I figured if I’m going to extending my work from home, then I may as well set up properly. And so into the city to pick up the dock.

I was about an hour in the office, during which time I attended a couple of online meetings.

On the way out of the city, I stopped at a couple of stores to replenish stuff I can’t get locally, then caught a near-empty train home. Strange times, indeed.

Otherwise, had a low-level stomach bug most of the week, which was enough to prevent me from writing sooner. I just felt a bit off, and enough that you can’t be bothered doing things you don’t have to do.

On Wednesday, I was in the middle of a meeting at 9.35 when my internet crashed. I returned to the meeting using my phone, then went and investigated.

Turns out a fuse had blown. Replaced the fuse, but no-go. The fuse had blown so severely that the wiring leading to it had burnt out too. A strong scorched odour permeated the air. That meant that while my lights worked, nothing else did – no internet, no fridge, no stereo, no oven, no TV, no microwave, no coffee machine, and no anything else that plugged in. I worked from my phone and iPad but had to charge them up with a battery to keep them going.

A sparky came late in the day and put in an interim solution, but needs a new fuse box. No matter, with darkness coming on I had a heater that worked and a TV I could watch.

That same day I went for a walk with Rigby late in the afternoon. It was a sunny day, and I wore sunnies with my usual glasses clipped over my shirt. On returning, I went to exchange my sunnies for my glasses and found they were missing. I had a fair idea of what might have happened and so retraced my steps – twice. I figured that after cleaning up after Rigby the glasses must have come loose, and I was confident of finding them. Nup. As you’d expect, that pissed me off, especially since they had a graduated lens and old ones don’t.

Then yesterday, walking to the station on the way to the office, what do I find on the pavement where I was looking the night before? My glasses. I was confused. How did I miss them? I wasn’t checking the nature-strip mainly, but I’d have walked past the glasses had they been there. Did I not check the pavement? But I was sure I did. No explanation, but the good news is that I can see again and don’t need to cough up for a new pair.

I’ll take it as a sign.

I despair


The other night I spat the dummy and posted a rant to Facebook. What tipped me over the edge was the most recent round of cuts inflicted on the ABC by the government. There have been cuts just about every year since the Coalition came into power, despite the explicit promise back in 2013 by Tony Abbott that there wouldn’t be any – a brazen lie. The national broadcaster, ingrained in our culture, cherished by many, and lauded most recently over the bushfire season because it ‘saved lives,’ has been the subject of an ideological battle because they fear the combination of good sense and balanced reporting is damaging to their brand. And, to a degree, they’re right. They accuse it of being bias towards the progressive side of politics, but the truth is the ABC has been bending over backward (too far) to appease an unreasonable government. The real damage done is that most people who watch the ABC are educated, intelligent and reasonable – and what educated, intelligent, and reasonable person is going to look upon a corrupt government but with disdain?

It accords with a general theme of this government, sponsored by the hard right and the diabolical IPA. I’m utterly convinced that the primary goals of this government are to maintain power by any means and to reshape society to ensure that they stay in government for years to come. To do so they must disarm their natural foes – the intelligentsia, the educated, the progressive. To achieve this they diminish the channels in which their foes can express or be heard. They manipulate university funding so that quality will inevitably decline, and tilt it away from the humanities subjects that teach critical thought and historical perspective. They’ve long been an enemy of science, ignoring it altogether in the case of climate change, and sidelining it generally – the CSIRO, our peak scientific body and an absolute treasure trove of invention, had further cuts inflicted this week as well.

It’s all about dumbing down the nation and making it compliant so they can say and do what they want without scrutiny, and so that their mates get a free ride. You might think I’m overly paranoid and cynical, but the existence of a Donald Trump as American president shows anything is impossible – and much of this is right out of the Trump playbook. (The government even gave a job to the former head of Trumps border force last week).

Anyway, this is what I said:

I don’t know where to start. The government’s been after the ABC for years, and the latest cuts might have terminally gutted it. This is on top of more cuts to the CSIRO today, and the farcical changes to university funding last week. I’ve had it with a low-brow government that devalues science and learning, and hobbles diversity of expression. Don’t tell me it’s not political. It’s a fucking disgrace, and I haven’t even started on the environment and climate change. I’m calling it out. This will kill the society we cherish and I’ve had enough.

It was a bit more emotional and less measured than usual, but it stacks up.

It’s funny I put it on Facebook, where it’s more common to post cutesy memes and photos of nights out than it is anything too political. Twitter is the home of the crackpot rant, but that’s probably why I didn’t post it there – I don’t want to be just another Twitter crock jumping on my soapbox, and something like this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow there. On Facebook, it has more impact because it jars more and because the people who’ll read it know me personally. Many of them agree.

I’m seriously concerned about what’s happening to this country. Many of the things I love about it are being eroded by government and a mendacious media. Much of what I value and believe is being trashed by an anti-intellectual government more concerned about their wellbeing than the wellbeing of you and me. The fabric of this place is being frayed by constant snips to it. Disgracefully, these most recent cuts come under cover of the coronavirus and in a time when services like the ABC and CSIRO are most needed, and when we should be investing more – if only for the good of the economy – not less.

I was willing to hope that the government and Morrison might have learned something in this crisis but, to be honest, I never really believed it. I was right to doubt. Now’s the time for the opposition to throw away the rulebook and stop playing nice. This is the future of the country we’re talking about; there are no second chances. It won’t happen though because they’ve lost their purpose as well as their cojones.

Days of our iso-lives


It’s a bit scary how one day blends into the next at the moment. The days get marked off with not much to show for them. As far as I can tell, the only minor difference is the weather, and what I choose to have for dinner.

I can tell you almost exactly what day will be like because it barely changes. My eyes open at about 7.15, I make my coffee, feed the dog, and return to bed to catch up with the news and listen to the radio and maybe read a little. By 8.30, I’m dressed and sitting in front of my laptop. I have meetings until about 10.30 and might have a cuppa in between. Sometime between 10.30 and 11am I head off up the road for my morning walk. I go over and back the railway overpass to get my heartbeat up and then start back. Yesterday I actually stopped for a coffee at that stage, but that’s rare. More often, I’ll stop by the greengrocer or supermarket to top up on supplies.

I’ll work solidly till about 3pm once I get home. I might take a half-hour off over lunchtime and start on the night’s dinner. After 3, depending on pending calls and meetings, I’ll take Rigby out for his afternoon walk. By then he’s pretty well anticipating it and giving me the hurry up. We’ll walk for about 20-25 mins, varying the route to keep it interesting, and Rigby stopping every few metres to sniff at something unexpected and fascinating.

There’ll be things to catch up on when I return. Maybe a late meeting, or a call to make, or loose ends to tidy up. I’ll work up to about 5-5.15pm.

This is my favourite part of the day. Mostly I’ll be cooking or preparing dinner. I’ll crank up the Sonos and listen to a playlist, or more often an audiobook. Right now I’m listening to the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If I’m in the mood, I’ll pour a glass of wine or make a G&T. One or two nights through the winter, I might change this routine by running a hot bath at the end of the day.

I’ll eat dinner watching the news. From there on in I’ll be watching Netflix or Foxtel or maybe even playing a DVD. Depending on what’s on I’ll finish up with that anytime between 10pm and 11.30pm. Whatever time it is I’ll hit the sack then and read for up to an hour – in the evening it’s fiction. I’ll switch off the light, go to sleep, and do the same the next day.

There’s nothing wrong with it, or unpleasant, it just feels as if I’m not getting anywhere. But that’s life for the moment, particularly as COVID-19 has sparked up a little in the last week. This is how we live.

Vanity projections


I gave into vanity over the weekend. To be fair, that’s always an uneven contest. I’d love to dispute it, but I’m always mindful of how I look (despite indications to the contrary). Many to most things I couldn’t give a fuck about, but looking ugly, that’s a no-no.

And I was looking ugly, no two ways. I got sick of looking in the mirror every day and seeing an old man looking back at me. My hair was at that untidy, in-between length, and the iso-beard – well, I was starting to look like Ernest Hemingway. Not as silvery-white as his beard, but nearly as fluffy. I was prepared to endure a period of relative ugliness. I’d steeled myself for it – but then it got too much, and in one fell swoop I shaved the beard off.

The good news is that it made a big difference. The full beard made me look about my true age, which is getting fucking old. The problem (or the blessing) is without it, I look about ten years younger – and I’m accustomed to looking younger. In the raw looks department, you’d have been reaching to score me as a four before I shaved – now I’m about a seven if I squint hard.

I haven’t got rid of the beard altogether. I’ve got a mo and an artfully shaped small beard on my chin and running a little way along the edge of the jaw. I intend to shape the chin beard further into a blunt point. It’s greyish still, but in a noble sense, he said hopefully.

It may be that this improved appearance coincides with my hair looking better – though whether it looks better, or only appears to look better now that the beard has gone, is philosophical conjecture. It’s not where it needs to be yet, but getting there.

Anyway, my ego is happy now, for the time being. I feel a little dashing again. I know I shouldn’t 😦

From history


After dinner last night I was in the mood for a long movie I could immerse myself in. I scrolled through the films on my hard-drive searching for one that would resonate with me at that moment. It’s a peculiar chemistry. Sometimes, obviously, you feel like one sort of movie over another, according to mood and biorhythms – say a comedy over something too serious. Sometimes the opposite. Even so, they’re broad categories, and it takes something more to decide you (though there have been times nothing has spoken to me). I go on gut-feel, instinctive reaction. It’s like looking into a woman’s eyes and sensing possibility there, or more – and nothing at all.

Last night’s winner was Lincoln, the Spielberg movie on the president. I’d watched it before and enjoyed it well enough without it leaving too deep an impression. That was not long after it came out, and maybe it felt time to review it again. It suited my mood in any case, and the need to engage with something that might stir the mind. I wasn’t looking for distraction, I wanted to think. It was only much later did I realise how apt a choice it was given the BLM rallies in recent times. If that had any influence on my decision, then it was purely unconscious.

I had only a dim recollection of the movie. though I knew the general thrust of it. Watching it this time, I was struck by a couple of things I don’t remember feeling the first time around.

This time I found myself admiring Daniel Day-Lewis’ seamless performance. It may as well have been the true Abe Lincoln on-screen because there was nothing visible of the actor. I imagine that takes a powerful gift of humility and dedication. You see actors who always ‘play themselves’, and to some degree, that is true of most. Most actors have their idiosyncratic ways – gestures, tics, habits. Most of them absorb it into the performance, but some never transcend themself. The great actors are different. They become the character they portray. To do so must take imagination and the rare ability to subjugate oneself to the art.

To admire the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis was, in a way, parallel with admiration of the man he portrayed. Now, I don’t know how true a rendering of Lincoln we see on-screen to how he was in life, but there’s plenty of history and commentary that give us a fair idea of who he was. We know he was a monumental figure in American life. We know what he looked like, and we gather his folksy, wise ways. We know he was a man of fortitude and persistence. And we know that his death was mourned by thousands of Americans, unlike any president until Kennedy. Even many of his opponents mourned him.

In this movie, as portrayed by Day-Lewis, he is a man of great humanity. We know that to be true, I think, though it never stopped him from prosecuting the war against the south. What drove him to do that was his innate sense of justice. As cruel as the war was (and it was more terrible than most), it was necessary to bring justice to his country. We see that in the movie,He had a clear-sighted determination that most of his advisors and contemporaries lacked. He navigated his way through party politics and bigotry and ambition, knowing what must be.

Earlier I spoke of acting and how ego plays a part in it. I think Lincoln probably had a decent ego, but it was in balance within him. Most of the battles with ego occur inside us, striving to be ourselves or to prove it. Lincoln had no need to prove anything, and so his path is gentler, willing to be open and humble and ever-sensitive to others, but never veering from the course of action set himself. It feels as if he takes in people with his folksy manner and home-spun stories, but he is cleverer than any of them. Gradually they come to realise that. He was a great man and a wise leader, and you wonder what further difference he might have made had he survived the assassin’s bullet.

As always, when I see portrayals like this, I feel wistful. Oh, to have such leadership now. I can think of no-one in the world today, with the possible exception of Angela Merkel, who approaches greatness in any regard. Many have gone the opposite extreme – more terrible than we deserve.

Remembering Lincoln now given the tumult of BLM is timely. It was an education to watch and listen last night with knowledge of how it is now, and what’s been happening. What would Abe do about it? He would act with generosity, grace and wisdom – i.e. the opposite of what we’re getting.

These are times we can take lessons from a couple of great American presidents.

I was reading about FDR during the week, and how he came to power with the depression in full swing. The election that year was him against the incumbent, Herbert Hoover, who had presided since before the depression started. Hoover was of the austerity school of economic theory. He believed that private industry would drag America out of the depression, and steadfastly refused hand-outs or economic stimulus. Come the election the American people had enough of that and booted him out in a big win to Roosevelt.

FDR set about doing just about the opposite of Hoover. He’s famous now for the New Deal, which dragged America – and possibly the world – out of the great depression. What dd he do? He spent money by the barrel-load. To the millions unemployed and living in poverty, he gave hope, as well as the means to survive. He ploughed millions of dollars into great stimulus activities, the most notable being the Hoover Dam. In effect, he gave the economy a financial transfusion that got it up from its deathbed.

What’s less well know is that a few years later he reckoned the economy was safe, and at the Treasury’s insistence it was time to balance the books, and spending was cut. What resulted was something that came to be called the Roosevelt Recession in 1937-38. The reduction in government spending and investment led to a sharp economic downturn. It was only when Roosevelt defied treasury and launched into a new spending program that the economy began to recover. Money creates activity which makes more money.

This should sound familiar to anyone following the economic discussions today in light of the pandemic, though it’s a conversation that has raged since the 1980s. This is what we face now.

In Australia, JobKeeper and other stimulus packages are like a mini-version of the New Deal, but already the government is threatening to turn it off. If history is any guide – and most economists – then we know what will happen if they do that. This is not something we can risk for ideological reasons, or because our leaders lose their nerve. Go hard and keep going until we’re through.

Surviving work


So, the other day I got an update from work advising me that my current work hours – four days a week – would continue. I’m now partway through my third month in this situation, but unlike previous updates, this didn’t have a review date. Presumably, that means it is indefinite, or until we return to the office, which is rumoured to be August/September (a friend of mine working at the Vic govt has heard unofficially they won’t be returning until 2021!).

There was a short questionnaire coming out of the office last week asking for our work preferences for when we do return. There seems a clear acceptance that it’ll be a long time until we return to the work behaviours of previous times, if ever. They asked, basically, how many days do we want in the office, and for our preference on which days. Quite a few people put just the single day, and almost every one of them selected to work early in the week. I said two days and gave Thursday/Friday as my preference – because Friday is chilled anyway, and if I want to go out for a drink I need to be in the city for it. And who wants to work on a Monday?

Financially, I’m surviving, though it’s getting tighter. The other day I did my sums and figured I was out of pocket about $2200 since the reduced hours were set (that’s the net of tax). That’s been offset by a reduction of rent of about $900, and other reduced living costs – travel, lunch/coffee, social stuff. The rent reduction is yet to be formally ratified, however, and has now ended. If for some reason they decide not to grant the application I’ll need to cough up $900 I don’t have. And though I’m saving money in some areas, I’m spending more in others – electricity, groceries, and so on.

I’m wary of what’s to come. The JobKeeper is due to end in September, which will put huge stress on employers. Standby for a second round of job cuts unless the government chooses to do something about it. I’m fearful that my reduced hours will continue beyond that and, worst-case scenario, that my salary will be seen as an expense that can be cut. Most of my job is value-add, but not critical to the day to day running of the business. This is ironic when you consider that right about now I was due to receive the promised promotion and pay rise.

Obviously, I’m reflecting on my situation, and casting an eye towards other prospects. Not many going around at the moment, which is no surprise.

I spoke to my immediate team leader earlier. Budgets have been approved, but he has no idea what it means for me. He suggested maybe I could check if the vendor I work with closely might have interest in engaging me on the day I’ve got off. That’s how much the world has changed – we’re actually encouraged to find other work in our stand-down period. In this case, it represents a fair conflict of interest, I would think. I wonder if the very fact he’s mooted it as an option is significant.

This is one reason I’m reluctant to use up my annual leave plugging the hole. I might need it if somehow I end up redundant. Right now there’s about $12K worth. That’d tide me over for a few months if push came to shove.

Stay tuned.

The new puritanism


It’s hard to argue that the world hasn’t degenerated into absurdity. Nincompoops like Donald Trump get elected, followed by characters like Boris Johnson. The US lurches from one embarrassment to the next, while England commits virtual suicide by voting to leave the EU. Climate change accelerates while half the world denies it, or seeks to build more coal stations. Australia burns while the PM holidays, a pandemic the like of which none of us has seen for a century cripples the world economy, kills thousands, and turns our lives upside down while nincompoops keep on nincompooping. Then, a noble cause erupts on the back of a tragedy. The Black Lives Matter rally’s take off, not just in the States, but across the world, and there’s hope that it might drive real change, but even that is hijacked by the absurd and the ridiculous.

As I was discussing with a friend the other day, it’s been a tough two years for the thinking person.

I’ve held off commenting the last few days because what’s the point? But some of this just needs to be recorded for posterity. These things really happened.

So, where do I start? I guess the tame end of it is the ongoing controversy about historic statues across the world. Some of it is perfectly reasonable, and high time at that. One thing revealed through this is how many complete cunts there’ve been in history, and damn the context. King Leopold II of Belgium, for example – hard to imagine a more evil bastard than him. Then there’s sundry slave traders and small fry racists and dickhead characters here and there probably not worthy of commemorating, and no loss.

But it’s the nature of these movements that they’re broad and indiscriminate. They’re ruled by outrage and emotion, not by sense. They get carried with a sense of overweening virtue matched by historical necessity. The combination negates anything reasonable, and the cause loses shape, control is lost, and statues are defaced on principle, regardless of notoriety. And the problem with all this is not just that it’s pretty mindless, but that it threatens to trivialise what are worthwhile goals, and possibly even discredit them.

You may not like it in your seething, hot mess of emotion, but the fact is that you’ve got to win the hearts and minds. That’s your battleground, not the politicians – they’ll go where the votes are, and if you sway the hearts and minds of the middle-class, you’ll drive change. And the middle-class want to believe.

Through this period, society has woken up to what’s happening and reacted to it. A lot of it is opportunistic and almost laughable. Some may be sincere, but there’s a lot that is ridiculous. Take, for example, the Fawlty Towers episode Don’t Mention the War, which hit the headlines last week because it was pulled from TV screens in Britain. Now, the point of shows like this is actually to poke holes in the shallow aspirations and behaviours of the Basil Fawlty’s of this world. It’s a farce with a big slice of satire. It’s not promoting bigotry in this case; it’s exposing it. Predictably, John Cleese reacted in horror to the news, and ultimately the program was returned to the screen.

The classic movie Gone With the Wind is not so lucky. That was withdrawn from screening also because of its depiction of slavery. Where does this end? It may be a work of fiction, but the civil war, and the slavery they fought over, is a matter of historical fact. And if that movie what about the hundreds, thousands of movies – and books! – that portray unsavoury facts. It may be an unwelcome reality for many living today, but most of history is full of things to disapprove of, but you can’t just go and ignore it. The ancient civilisations – Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc., all had slaves. Serfs were a thing until a few hundred years ago. Then there are countless wars and oppression and violence perpetrated throughout this time. Where does the line get drawn? On what principle? On whose?

There’s talk of returning Gone With the Wind to the screens with a caveat before it starts. I assume that would count for hundreds of other programs also. Fine, if they must, but I wonder how much of that is necessary? Who watches GWTW as a how-to guide to slavery? Or to celebrate it? While acknowledging that we’re living through the stupidest time of the modern era, few people are so dumb as not to realise what they’re watching – a representation. And this is the danger of censorship – for this is what we’re talking of here – it’s anti-education when what we need is more education.

How are people to understand if they don’t see the context? How are they to appreciate history if we don’t represent it to them? I may be an idealist, but I reckon the best education is when one sees and learns for oneself. Knowledge comes when we make up our own minds, not when a popular construct is thrust down our throats.  Deny us that, feed us some politically correct codswallop, and we learn nothing.

I expect some common-sense to emerge out of all that, but just as I was beginning to relax, the latest news hit me. A preening bottleshop owner in Melbourne chose to signal his divine virtue that he would no longer stock the beer made by the brewer called ‘Colonial’. Get it? Colonial! We’re against that here.

For fuck sake, it’s just a fucking beer, and there are other interpretations of the word anyway. This brewer is innocent. Not racist. He just makes a decent beer. Now he’s the victim of this nonsense.

There’s been a predictable backlash, but the brewer is in a no-win situation. Either he continues trading as Colonial, and cops abuse for it, or he changes the name to something more politically acceptable and gets canned for giving in to the bullies. How did we ever get to this point? Because everything is one extreme or the other.

I don’t care one way or another what they call their beer, but I think it’s an unnecessary and trivial distraction from the main game. I want change. It’s overdue. We need reform and acceptance and education. That needs to happen in a practical sense – policies, laws, compensation. This other stuff is nonsense that runs the risk of alienating the cause. For many, I suspect, it’s the look of it that matters. For them, it’s the violence of expression that counts more than actual change. And if change eventuates, it’ll be derided nonetheless, or they’ll find some other target to attack. There’s a lot of look at me these days, and a lot of it’s cowardly and dishonourable.

This is what happens when you get purists – nothing is ever enough. And what we have today is a puritan class of the noble woke. If you’re not a part of their team, then you’re worthless. If you don’t agree with them, you’re obviously inferior and quite possibly wicked. They set the standards and broach no contravention of them. If you prove to be unacceptable to their cause, you’ll learn about it swiftly. Judgment is quick and violent, and a pile-on ensues. It’s nasty and unconscionable, in many ways.

Here I am – in many aspects, most perhaps, I believe in the same ultimate goals, but it’s the methods and their conduct I so often find unseemly. Yesterday, I watched online as somebody I think little of made a faux pas and then clumsily sought to extricate themselves from the mess. This was a so-called person of the left, but with some history – not someone I’d trust a lot, but then I wouldn’t care that much either. My policy is to steer clear of people like that. Everyone has an opinion. As long as it’s not too evil I don’t care much, and I can’t be bothered debating with them. That’s not the view of the mob. She was set upon as if by a pack of hyenas and torn apart, likely to never recover. I didn’t agree with her either, but gee, her sin wasn’t worthy of the punishment.

Then there was another, one of their own, excused for aberrant behaviour a few years back because he’d ‘fessed up and issued a public mea culpa and three hail Mary’s. He made himself abject, basically, and because of that – and because they like him, he’s cute, after all – he was forgiven.

I’d have told them to fuck off; I don’t need your forgiveness, you can shove up your arse. And that’s even if I did end up admitting my error. We have to live with ourselves and live up to our god if we have one, but I don’t see why any of us must kowtow to another.

Perhaps this is one reason it aggravates me so much. Not only is it anti-reason, it’s anti-individual. Many of these, not all, are not themselves. They’re a construct – a simulacrum – of who they want to be, or how they want to be seen – what is expected of them. In becoming a part of the collective something is sacrificed – an individual perspective, an independent mind. The urge to belong and to be seen as a good team player has a corrupting effect when we do or say things against nature just to join in. This seems encouraged, but it’s everything I don’t believe in.

I’m of the view, old-fashioned as it may be, that we should be teaching people how to think, not what to think. Give them the tools, the principles, the basic building blocks of knowledge, and they’ll come to understanding, and even wisdom, in their own way. And it will be much truer. That takes some strength of character, but I’m of the belief that if anyone learns right they’ll know in themselves the difference between right and wrong. That’s where it should come from – from inside. From being your true self. That’s what every person should aspire to – to be completely and truly themself.

But I digress.

The militant left is insular and hypocritical. And sickening, in a way. They demand obedience and suffer from many of the excesses they claim of their enemies. I want to believe, but I’m a moderate and believe in reason and just cause. For the priggish and shallow they’re complexities they have no time for, and they lack the self-awareness to know it. And a sense of humour, that’s rare too – but to appreciate humour you must appreciate light and shade, and that’s what’s lacking.