Twenty years of going backwards


Twenty years ago we were in the middle of the Sydney Olympics. I remember it so well.

I remember the feeling in the week leading up to the Opening Ceremony. There was a great sense of anticipation mixed with wonder. As Australians, we were aware that this was a big deal and that the show we put out to the world would come to represent us as a people and nation. It seems a heady thing, but I think we all felt that. At work, we would come together, getting a coffee or over lunch and wonder what we would see. There was some wariness, but also great excitement. Myself, I was confident that it would be fine.

Rather than going for a drink on Friday night after work, most of us headed home to watch the telecast. I ordered takeaway and settled down to watch it.

What I remember is thinking: we pulled it off. The ceremony was quirky and entertaining and touched upon Australian iconography, and all of it seemed true to our history and nature – or how I perceived it, at least. I laughed at times, partly because I was entertained, and partly because my relief had become fulsome pride. I had tears in my eyes at other times. I felt it fill and expand me. This is the Australia I believe in, I thought. When Cathy Freeman was revealed and lit the Olympic flame, it was a moment that transcended the event.

Over the next fortnight, I watch all the big events cheering the Aussies on, and we did well. I didn’t travel to Sydney, but I went to the MCG to watch the opening match of the soccer competition. There were fantastic moments that have since been inscribed upon the national consciousness. One was the 4×100 metre freestyle relay final in which Ian Thorpe guided Australia to a win in the final 5 metres. It was the event where Klim said we broke the Americans like guitars.

The biggest event of all was the women’s 400-metre track final. It was the event the whole nation held it’s breath for. In it, Cathy Freeman took on the world. She was favourite, having only been defeated only once over the distance since 1996. She was symbolic of many things – not just a rolled-gold medal chance, she was an indigenous woman representing much more than Australian sporting prowess. That she was also a charismatic figure added extra weight to the occasion. Every one of us wanted her to win. Every one of us tuned in to watch. Every one of us carried inside us a cruel knot of emotion, mixed equally of the fear that she would lose and the belief that she must win.

I wonder what might have happened had she lost? She didn’t, though. She opened up on the back straight and won easily. It was such a controlled race in the midst of all this crazy. The crowd simmered and roared, flashbulbs popping like crackers and broadcasters rode the emotion as they called her across the line. She seemed so calm. In retrospect, it seems like she was never going to lose.

It seems a funny thing to say, but I think it was a great moment in Australian cultural life. There was an excellent documentary on TV last week that commemorated the event, and which explored the symbolic intent of the win.

Australia has won many Olympic gold medals. We’re one of the most successful Olympic nations over history. There are many – dozens – of memorable gold medals to celebrate. This was different though because it caught a moment in time.

This was our Olympics. We came out in droves to support it, and in years to come it would be declared the best Olympics ever. One of the reasons for that is that we as people gave so much to it. It was our Olympics, and competing on our behalf was a young and charismatic indigenous champion. It was only a few years before that Mabo had been made law, and long-overdue steps towards reconciliation had been taken. Cathy Freeman was timely because she was a part of that wave – included, one of us, not excluded, as before. I think finally she represented hope, which is a grand statement.

It was the year 2000. A new millennium. We were riding high, economically and culturally. We had an LNP government, but the ambitions and vision of the previous Labor governments of Hawke and Keating were fresh in us. Life was good, and when Freeman won it felt meant to be, yes, this is our time.

It’s been a different story since. It’s almost heartbreaking to look back ad see how much has changed. I engaged with a journalist during the week when she brought up much the same. Yes, I said, we fucked up. She agreed – but pointed out, not just us, but everyone. She’s right.

I tend to look back and consider that things went wrong when John Howard became prime minister. He’s celebrated by the conservatives like royalty, but I tend to think in the pantheon of shithouse leaders – and we’ve had a few lately – then he is the very worst. Not because he was less capable. Incompetence is an excuse. He was always capable, but he’s always been a narrow, bitter, possessive type, more inclined to put his mark on things than to seek what’s best for all of us. He started the so-called culture wars. Where the government before him had been inclusive, he was exclusive. They had ideas and ambition and a concept of Australia as something more than a country at the bottom of the globe living off natural resources. But Howard rejected that because he was threatened by ideas he couldn’t grasp. Famously, he aspired to the ‘relaxed and comfortable’ world of the fifties. Very deliberately, he killed off the progressive policies of the government. Hawke and Keating had grown us as people, but Howard made us smaller.

As an Australian, I’ll never forgive him, especially when you consider what has come since. He corrupted our politics and lowered the bar to a degree that such utter fools and mediocrities like Abbott and Morrison could become PM.

It was not just Australia, though. I think a lot changed on 9/11. I know I never felt the same after that. Suddenly, there was the knowledge that I wasn’t safe. It felt as if we’d been naive before not knowing it, but what delight there was in that innocence. 9/11 ushered in corrupt politics and fear and the neo-conservatives taking over and a narrower, more partisan view of the world. Something had opened. Now it closed. It led to a succession of incompetent conservative governments in much of the world in recent times and in the background the looming spectre of climate change – now in the foreground.

Perhaps we were naive in 2000. Life will never be like that again. Even if the pendulum swung back – as it must do at some point – and we get some sensible, progressive government again, then I fear it’s too late. Climate change has done us in. Those vainglorious fools who refused to accept or do anything about it, who sought personal power before the good of the world, who rejected the science out of political expediency and led us down the garden path – that will be the legacy they leave to the rest of us who don’t deserve it. If there is to be a history, then that’s what it will record – too late.

 

Uncle Don


I dreamt last night that I was Donald Trump’s ‘nephew from Australia’. I went to visit him, and we went on a road trip together and hit it off fine. At one stage we’re walking side by side along a busy road with a lake on the far side of it. It’s pretty, and we’re talking and as we go along, he takes my hand in his. Though I’m in my early twenties, I accept it as a fond gesture. And in fact, all through my dream my experience of Donald is that he’s a friendly, generous and fun to be around sort of guy. And actually, quite a basic character when you strip away all the bullshit – which is an awful lot.

I woke with this dream in me and didn’t know what to make of it. Then I thought some more and it didn’t seem so strange.

Like much of the world, I despise Donald Trump, but I also pity him. It seems a generous position given all the terrible things he’s done, but when I look at him, I see a man terribly out of his depth. He’s not smart enough to know it, and certainly not to admit it, and so he blusters and pontificates to hide his ignorance and to supposedly portray the sort of character he wants to be. Unfortunately, the real tragedy in this is that he’s been allowed to get away with. He’s a prime analog for the emperor with no clothes, and so he swans around naked while his cronies and the corrupt and imbecilic who follow him fall over themselves to exclaim what a splendid suit of clothes he’s wearing.

This is one of the diabolical aspects of these times. I don’t know of any other era when someone so profoundly incapable would attain such a position of power, and maintain such power throughout. It says a lot about the fierce polarisation of ideology these days when someone so inadequate and dangerous is preferable to the power-brokers behind him than some liberal alternative. And it says a lot about the usual checks and balances in society that have allowed this – a critical media and an educated electorate.

I wonder sometimes in his reflective moments – if he has them – if Donald suspects he might be such a strawman? Does he ever look in the mirror and realise he’s a terrible fraud?

I think the truth about Donald Trump is that he’s not very bright (and has probably some form of Alzheimer’s), was badly brought up, and learned early it was more important to bullshit and bully and barge your way through than to get your hands dirty. I suspect he’s a man without any real values or convictions.

He certainly has a history of bigotry, but I suspect little of it is firmly held. It’s more a matter of convenience or some perverted sense of being cool, which I think is important to him. He’s a populist carried away on the tide of his own narcissism. Everything is status for him, and he can’t bear to be seen wrong or ignorant, which is why he invents such fantastic tales and why everything is always the best or biggest. He’s really a child who somehow has become the most powerful man in the most powerful country on earth.

That’s just my opinion and none of it excuses his behaviour, though it might explain some of it. If not for all the bullshit he might be a reasonable guy – but then, there’s a lot of bullshit.

Cracking the inner shell


Over the weekend, I watched an old movie. Old is relative – there was a time I’d consider an old movie being something from the forties or fifties. In this case – The Accidental Tourist – I reckon ‘old’ is around the late eighties. I guess that makes me old, too.

I remember watching the movie soon after it came out. For the most part, I liked it. It was an intelligent, well-made film, and it starred one of my preferred actors from the time – William Hurt (a very underrated actor). The character of Muriel (Geena Davis) grated on me a bit, much in the same way it grated on Macon (Hurt) initially. However, it was her personality that was instrumental in drawing Macon out of himself and in beginning the healing process – and, ultimately, to live again.

This is another movie I probably haven’t seen for 20 years, and it’s always interesting to compare the viewing perspective so many years apart. I’m sure last time I saw it it would have been an entertainment for me. These years later, locked in, the experience was very different.

I could see something of myself in Macon, certainly in terms in how I’ve been since being homeless, and for similar reasons – dealing with, and recovering from, grief. I used to be much more carefree, though there were many more reasons for it then than there are now. I want terribly to get back to that but seem incapable of it. I feel locked into myself with a boundary between me and the people around me.

There were other elements of the movie that tugged at me. Macon, at least, has a family to fall back on, however eccentric. I yearn to be enfolded in a family like that. I was, for many years, and accepted it without a second thought. You have a place in the family, and you know where you belong, and you know that if you reach out, there’ll be someone there for you. Love feels like a birthright and affection a given.

To watch the movie and to be moved by it in different ways was more of a reminder than a revelation. I know this stuff. I meander along dealing with it. I hope to change it.

Last week, I created for myself an internet dating profile on a site I had a lot of luck on once. I did it because I need an outlet in lockdown and a way of expressing myself. Love would look after itself, all I was after was a connection. I was very candid in my profile and the very act of writing it was good for me.

Before I published it, I shared it with some friends looking for feedback. This is not something I would ever have done before, but I do it now in the conscious effort to be more open, less guarded. I got great feedback. I was told it was honest and that any woman – any person, in fact – would be drawn to it. The reaction came as no surprise to me I found. As was commented, I write well and, even so, I felt as if the sentiments expressed were common.

It’s a funny thing, at that moment I felt a kind of revelation – though it was not something I haven’t felt before. I can be relied upon to express things well. I can be relied upon in so many ways because that’s who I am. I’m conscientious and alert and smart and methodical when it counts. All good things, you would think, but sometimes I feel as if the boundary I speak of is inside me.

Just by habit, I’m ahead of the game so often because I’m always calculating contingencies and plotting probabilities. God knows, I don’t always say the right thing – but I can be relied upon to say it with poise and style (or else, occasionally, deliberate and pithy bluntness). Generally, I know the right thing to do when nothing’s on the line – how to act, how to be, when to speak and when to stay silent. These are behavioural patterns if you like I probably inherited from my mum, who was always socially aware. I’m lucky in that I read people well, sometimes to their great shock. And I can write just the right thing in the controlled environment of an internet dating profile.

What it all adds up to is a certain knowingness that I think is one of my defining characteristics. I don’t know of anyone who’s ever seen me flustered, though I’ve definitely done anger. I don’t remember a time I felt panic, and I’m sure no-one has ever seen it in me. Mostly I say the right thing at the right time. I carry through. I’ve never failed to do what I said I would do, and have a reputation staked upon it. In so many ways, I’m a very functional human being.

But sometimes it infuriates me. There’s a large measure of control in being that person. It’s not conscious – it comes natural – but rarely does anything irregular or spontaneous leak from it. Listen to how measured I am describing it! The boundary is between the roiling, unpredictable self, and the self that translates that into rational and measured thought. Perhaps that’s why I write – because only then do I tap into that much more creative self. But this how I need to be I think at times like this – make mistakes, be unpredictable, go for it.

There was more of that in me before, and the truth of it is the control I speak of is what enabled me to survive homelessness and the despair that goes with it. I contained the blast to below ground, and it was a mighty effort – but I’ve been left irradiated by the job.

I commonly think that I need someone to show me the way – to take me out of that, as Muriel does Macon. I don’t know how myself, because knowing the problem doesn’t fix it and, in the meantime, everything keeps coming out smoothly.

The counterpoint to this, as it occurred to me last night, was how much I miss intellectual conversation and engagement on matters of culture and art and meaning. That’s the other side of me, questing and curious and restless.

It sometimes feels as if everything is contradiction, but I know well enough that what appears paradoxical is quite often in human nature perfectly natural. That’s not worth fighting or even wondering at. What’s worth doing is bringing the inside out.

In lieu of leadership


Last night in Salon magazine, I read an interview with a former GOP strategist who turned against the Republican party when Trump was elected. He’s now an active member of the Lincoln Project, who are basically disaffected Republicans who oppose Trump because he has trashed the values of the party. They’re old school types who uphold traditional virtues by force of character, and whose strident opposition to Trump is an attempt to redeem a version of America they hold true.

The interview was blunt and surprisingly scathing. Here was a man who had dedicated his professional life to the Republican cause. He’d been there when Reagan was president, the Bushes, and through the McCain and Romney campaigns. Then Trump came along, and he lost all belief.

One of the interesting things I found was that he admitted there’d always been a dark side of the Republican party, but it had been held in check – that is, until the events of 9/11. We all know what happened, but he contends that was the beginning of the end for the Republicans. The hawks were released on that day, and the dark side took over. Then along came Trump, and corruption, racism, and the politics of hate became the order of business. He calls it anti-American.

He is bitter in his condemnation of Trump, who he calls a gangster, and of GOP, whose only concern now is power and retaining it. In his reading, the Republican party has effectively lost its soul. He forecasts a bleak future for the party as a waning force, a party for white voters only.

I would commend you to read the article. It’s powerful and candid and, for an American, pretty bleak. There’s no happy ending being portrayed here, though he urges a vote for the Democrats. The poison has been released into society and the coming election, as he sees it, is the most dangerous time in American history since the Civil War.

It’s a fascinating read. It’s hard to get your head around how extreme the situation in the US has become. I’ve watched the events unfold over the last week and I shake my head at how it has so degenerated. The footage of the black man shot seven times in the back by a police officer was almost surreal, here on prime-time TV. You wonder, how could that happen? Then, you see all the white supremacists get up in their combat gear taking to the streets with their automatic weapons, unhindered, in opposition to the BLM protests, and it feels like a dystopian movie you’re watching – but this is America! Then one of them, a 17-year-old kid no less, shoots and kills a couple of BLM protestors – and is called a hero! (For those who know their history, it reminds me of Horst Wessel, who became a martyr and rallying-cry for Nazi Germany.) The whole situation there is obscene.

I wonder at the election, too. I’m sure there’ll be some attempt to corrupt the voting process, even as a ploy (which is described in the article.) Trump – and certainly his supporters – will not go quietly, and there’s a long record of corruption. Biden should win, but so too should have Clinton – and Biden is not the most compelling candidate. And though Biden leads the polls, it’s shocking to read that Trump is the more popular among white males – how can that be? And, even if Biden wins – and he should – then Trump has a few more months in power to create carnage, and you can’t rule out his supporters taking to the streets in protest, and worse. America is a country divided. I don’t know how they recover from this, because the poison’s gone deep.

Australia is not the US, but there are many parallels, as there are in other parts of the world. It’s the description of GOP of being only interested in power for power’s sake that resonated most because I think that describes the LNP here. It used to be different. There was a time that public service was a noble pursuit and that the highest aspiration of our government was to make a better life for its citizens. Nowadays, that comes a distant second to ensuring that power is claimed and then maintained. Policies are contrived not to advance the nation, but to further the interests of the ruling party and – most importantly – the vested interests who support them, and then to marginalise the opposition. The number one priority of the LNP is to stay in power forever, and whatever it takes.

I sense that not everyone believes or understands that. It’s the kind of ignorance that allowed for a Trump to be elected in the first place. There’s a complacent disinterest, rarely challenged these days by the media, which is mostly either lazy or part of the problem. So much either is unreported, or barely reported, and the government swats away unwanted scrutiny. There is so much to report on that if even half the Australian people understood it would make a difference.

Take superannuation as a current case in point. The superannuation guarantee, introduced by the Hawke/Keating government, has been a tremendous success since it was introduced. It means that millions of Australian workers have a relatively secure income once they retire, and don’t have to rely on the pension. It’s also created a great fund of savings which are reinvested in infrastructure projects, and so on. It’s a driver of growth and wealth.

By far, the most successful superannuation funds are the industry funds, generally run by the unions. Their fees are much less because they’re not designed to make a profit, unlike the private funds are and, for whatever reason, their returns are always much better. I have my money in an industry fund and am very happy with it.

The problem for the government is the union aspect. Having so much money at their disposal gives the unions clout the government wants to destroy. Never mind that millions of individual Australians benefit from this, it’s not in the government’s interest. For a few years now the government has been undermining superannuation generally, and industry funds particularly – they even had them dragged into a Royal Commission (which found nothing untoward). It’s obvious the intent of the government is to weaken the superannuation guarantee, even though it benefits working Australians and the economy in general. As so much with them, it’s ideological. If they can crush the industry funds, by hook or by crook, then their political cause is advanced, and their opponents debilitated.

It’s all about the politics. And by politics, I mean power.

Last night I tuned into Q+A. I used to watch it a fair bit until it went off by inviting nonsense, partisan panellists to the show. Last night I watched because it promoted that it would be tapping into the wisdom of older Australians – but really, I watched it because I saw Kerry O’Brien would be appearing.

For many years, O’Brien appeared in many guises across the ABC, but generally as political commentator and host. He had an aura of integrity, a fierce, probing intelligence, and was a vivid communicator. He’s become revered since, much from a sense of nostalgia I figure, as the ABC he was part of is not the ABC today. And the ABC commentators today, or indeed any commentators, are not what he was – bracingly honest and stubbornly intelligent. He held public figures to account and wouldn’t accept the mealy-mouthed response that is common today.

Oh, those were the days! You didn’t know any different then because the standard was uniformly good – though O’Brien was always most eminent.

So, I watched, wanting to see him again and hear his views. He didn’t disappoint. As always, he cut to the heart of things. It’s a pity he’s lost to us as a commentator. He spoke on a wide range of issues, but there was one thing he spoke of which goes to the nub of the ‘problems’ we have today: a lack of true leaders and leadership.

We don’t have leaders anymore. We have partisan hacks, by and large. And, these days, it’s the rare journalist who calls them out on their nonsense. I suspect that things will have to get really bad until we understand it, by which time it might be too late.

Dreams and long hair


I think the hardest thing for me being in lockdown is the utter sameness of life, from one day to the next, and from week to week. There’s nothing that disrupts the monotony because the opportunities for variety are so limited. You could do a time-lapse of my life right now, and it would be a suite of scenes repeated again and again. For me, it makes the routine of life close to meaningless because you recognise in its sheer repetition. It’s no different from life before – except that before there was padding in our life to hide the fact, and enough variety to make it less critical.

The other thing, obviously, is the lack of human connection. I see Cheeseboy every Saturday morning when we walk our dogs, but other than that it’s incidental contact with people in shops, and through remote meetings – if you can call that a connection at all.

As I’ve expressed before, I accept it, but I don’t have to like it.

I had a dream last night, which, when I woke up, left me feeling more positive. The details are blurry, but I remember I did a lot of moving around in the dream and that a lot of it was work-related. There was an incident when I’d been called away to do some urgent work and had to briefly relocate. I was returning with all my stuff under my arm. As I passed by a woman said: “you’re a good looking man, man”. Then I was joined by a friend who helped me with my stuff – in actual fact an Essendon footballer, Michael Hurley. When I got back to my (company allocated) apartment, I found someone else had moved there. He’d pulled rank and taken over the vacant property when they were short of space. He said I’d have to find somewhere else. I knew better.

I didn’t make a fuss, I just dumped my stuff on the floor and made a quick call. A moment later he got a call from the top asking him to vacate and leave the place to me. He was bitter and complained about my ‘friends in high places.’ I just shrugged. I knew my work was essential, and it was valued, which is why I knew this would happen. Then I woke.

It felt like the old me in the dream. A me I used to take for granted. And I woke still feeling that sense of being valued.

It puts a different spin on these sterile days. I’ve been growing my hair long – haven’t had it cut since before started in lockdown back in March. I started off curious and without any great need to get my hair cut since I was working from home. It had a symbolic element to it also. This was reverting to type, I thought, to my natural and untamed self. It was an assertion of independence in a way, of individuality. Isn’t it strange where we search for symbolism, and where we find it?

I feel almost the opposite now, and it’s been coming for a few weeks. I now look forward to getting my hair cut (I can’t until we’re out of lockdown). Besides looking a bit tidier, it would signify a brighter future – a redo, a start again, a let’s get out of this lockdown and live once more vibe. There’s the symbolism I’m reaching for.

It’s all probably a bit strange and empty, but in times like these, the vague meaning of dreams and invented symbolism take on a greater significance. If it feels good, I’ll take it.

 

Reconciling the self


Every weekend, I catch up with Cheeseboy to take our dogs for a long walk down to the beach and back again. We start off with a coffee, and by the time we get back to where we started, it’s about 90 minutes later. Rigby loves it, and for me, it’s a good bit of exercise as well as the social highlight of the week.

Mostly we catch-up on a Saturday, but it was wet and windy last weekend, and so we deferred it until Sunday. As usual, we talked about all manner of things. There’s little ‘news’ to report these days as all of us are doing fuck-all, but there’s never any shortage of conversation.

On our way back, we passed a family coming the other way up towards Hampton street. The parents were out front, with their young daughter – maybe 6-7 – on a scooter coming up behind them. As we passed, we heard the daughter cry out: “I hope you never die, mummy.”

We both smiled at. It was sweet and familiar, too. We remembered how it was when you’re that age and get your first understanding of mortality. It grips you suddenly with the possibility that what you love most might be taken from you. It’s a cold, despairing thought, enough to bring you to tears, particularly when it comes to your mother. There’s no-one more precious to you at that age than your mum, and you can hardly conceive of a world where she exists no longer. It strikes at your heart full of devotion, and fear not knowing how you could possibly cope without her to shelter and support you. It’s like the moon disappearing from the sky.

Those memories are strong for me still, though it’s been many years, and though it’s coming up towards ten years since my mum died.

I bring this up now because it was a nice moment, and because lately, I’ve noticed that I’m starting to reference things to how they were before.

This is new to me. It never occurred as a thing before, but now it seems perfectly understandable – not that I like it.

I first noticed when I was clearing things out. There seems a subconscious acceptance of the situation I’m in, and it takes me by surprise when I cotton onto it. It’s probably an honest appraisal, but I wonder where it’s come from – before I’d be kicking and screaming before admitting that I might not end up with what I hoped for. That’s how it is though, I’m letting go of things I never thought of before.

A practical example of that relates to some Le Creuset cast-iron cookware I’d owned for about fifteen years. They’re lovely pieces, and great to cook with, but I probably didn’t use them more than half a dozen times in that period. They were two big for my needs, designed for big family meals, and not a willing single guy. That’s okay, or it was because I always figured the time would come when I’d have that family, except it never did. And this time, finally, I seemed to have acknowledged that when I put them up for sale. It was a turning point.

I began to see other things in a different way. I’d see old movies and remember when I’d first seen them, recalling my life at my time and what was happening and all that has changed since. It was like hopping into a mental time machine. I found myself becoming nostalgic about TV series from another era. As part of my regular clean-out these days, I was going through the drawers of my home entertainment unit. I sorted all the Cds into alphabetical order (by theme), then started in on the DVDs. I’d bought a few over the years, and there were others I’d ripped and burnt, or someone else had done it for me. We did a lot of that once, before there was any Netflix.

So, I’m going through the stuff and sorting into piles to keep or throw-out and, as I’m doing it, a lot more memories come back. Then there’s this series of thirtysomething from the late eighties into nineties. It may seem an unlikely program for a bloke like me to like, but I was right into it. The appeal, I think, is that I expected that was pretty much the road I’d be taking. I wasn’t thirty yet but looked upon these programs as being instructive in a way while being very engaging. I could – in the heart of me – sympathise with much going on. I’d recently fallen in love for the first time. Otherwise, I was pretty busy enjoying myself and meeting people. I was a romantic at heart, but hard at it too.

Fine, I thought, I’ll enjoy myself, and soon enough that’ll be my life too. Except that didn’t happen either. And all these years later I’m remembering that, remembering what I felt and thought, what I hoped for – and what I was so certain of. The sense of then and now was insistent.

I’ve probably wondered similar things over the years, and a few times it might happen after all. Never has it been like this though – as if I nod my head to it, yep, you got me. I don’t know if I’ve got to a certain age, but it feels as if I’ve crossed a boundary. I’m not sure what to make of it, but a part of me feels sad.

Though this feels new, I think it’s a part of something that has been growing more evident over time. I’ve alluded to it in the past.

I think it’s most clearly seen when it comes to working and expectations of myself. As you know, I’ve thought of myself as the man – as juvenile as that sounds. I always wanted to be on the pointy end. Always wanted to wrestle whatever challenge there was to the ground. There was a lot of ego in that and maybe even a sense of status, but I enjoyed it too, and the rewards were pretty good at times.

I’ve had to get used being back in the pack in recent years. Even now, that takes some wrangling occasionally. It’s not real, though. It’s instinct that pushes me forward, plus some remnants of ego seeking to reclaim some of my mantle and show the world what I’m capable of. So there. In a way, it’s a way of staying young. It feels so imposing sometimes, but it’s the form of it I’m really interested in – except when piqued, I want nothing to do with the reality of it. I’ve crossed a boundary there, too.

I’ve been pushing for a while for a promotion and a pay rise. Much of that is practical – I need more money – but it’s true also that I deserve more. I’m after my just reward. I’ve felt pretty grieved thinking it wouldn’t happen.

On Friday I found out two things. Firstly, there’s a wage freeze. Not surprising perhaps, but they might have told us sooner. And, unless I can wangle a change in role, there goes any chance of a pay rise.

By chance, I also had my performance review on Friday. You know how it goes. I hate it, as a lot of people do. I get embarrassed rating myself – I don’t want to be a wanker, but you have to promote what you’ve done also. There were about five categories, and I rated myself as either meeting or exceeding expectations across the lot of them.

As it turned out, I was hard on myself. When it came to the review, my manager rated me as exceeding expectations across the board, and I didn’t stop him. It was the easiest and most pleasurable performance review I’ve ever had.

Here’s the irony, though. Any other year I’d be recognised as a high achiever and rewarded with a decent pay rise. But not this year. This year it’s nice, but no dice.

I had a bad morning Monday. Felt a little off then my wi-fi was playing up and then an email came through about new appointees and I knew they were walking in and earning more than me. One thing leads to another, and it all snowballs. I didn’t want to have a bar of anything.

Later I calmed down. I’d read something, and my mind went off on a tangent ranging far and wide and, I thought, that’s who I am. I’m not the narrow person defined by my role because, among other things, it’s just a job. I am who I am in my mind, and it’s my mind that defines and ideas that interest me. That’s always been the case, but now I’ve crossed that invisible boundary it feels an easier thing to accept. That was who I was before – this is who I’m happy to be now. It’s not something I want to deny any longer. I’ve stepped beyond that conventional image of self.

Part of that means stepping away from the status and identity that a job provides. It means accepting that I’m not the man anymore and probably never will be again – and realising that I’m not really interested in it really. It’s just habit, and not a habit I need anymore.

As for being aggrieved by the injustice of the situation? That’s harder because it triggers some primal sense of right and wrong – but hell, the world is full of injustice, and if I’m not kidding anyone, a lot of that comes down to ego, too – “how dare you treat me this way!” There’s fun in that, and no glory either. Being aggrieved is just an angry version of self-pity, and that I don’t want.

How long this relative acceptance will last, I can’t say, but I hope to remember this. It’s a process of internal reconciliation I’m coming to.

I still want my just reward though, if only out of fairness 😉

Without fear or favour


I don’t really want to comment on things like this, but sometimes I just can’t bite my tongue.

Yesterday, there were two government press conferences. One was for about 15 minutes, the other for ninety. One is occasional, the other is daily, as it has been for months. In one, the government refuses to answer questions they don’t like and turn on the reporter; in the other, every question is answered, and the press conference doesn’t end until the items have finished. One was a federal press conference, Morrison accompanied by Dutton, and the other was the Victorian government, with Dan Andrews responding.

Yesterday afternoon, there was a storm across social media as punters turned on the reporters asking questions at the Victorian press conference. They were accused of being rude and disrespectful, of interrupting the premier’s response, of banging on about the same questions again and again, seeking the gotcha moment. Some abuse was personal, and doubtless, much of it was informed by partisan beliefs – but not all.

In response to this tirade of criticism, journos rose up to rebut the fairness of the opprobrium, and decry the instances of personal abuse. They pointed out that it’s their job to ask tough questions and to hold the government to account.

In principle, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think there’s any place for personal abuse, whether you’re a journo or not. And certainly, it was welcome news to hear that they knew that their job was to keep the bastards honest. In reality, I felt disdainful and maybe a little bit disgusted. It seemed terribly precious as well as being tone-deaf. And not a little hypocritical.

This isn’t a golden age of journalism. It seems odd to write that in the week that Jonathan Swan has been lauded worldwide in his takedown of Trump in a personal interview. It was undoubtedly a masterclass, but perhaps it rings louder because that sort of performance is such an outlier these days? There are good journalists these days, but many fewer than there were even twenty years ago and, for the most part, the style is much different.

I doubt it’s escaped many how ironic it is journalists complaining about personal abuse when so many – and so many particularly the Murdoch media – takedown members of the public so routinely, and without compunction. Smears and innuendo are part and parcel of so much of modern journalism. I think this plays into the mentality of the time – quick grabs, controversial takes, tabloid headlines, clickbait and a general preference for the shallow over the deep.

For someone who’s been around long enough to know that it used to be different, it’s very sad. But many of these journalists parlay that as their business – to turn around and complain when it’s turned back on them verges on the absurd.

There is a deeper issue here, which so many of the critics yesterday attempted to make.

In Melbourne, you have a leader that answers every question posed to him respectfully, and who is subjected to journalistic bad manners and media intrigues and who is routinely criticised.

In Canberra, you have a PM who is selective in when he holds a press conference, and who has a history of being rude and obstructive and refusing to engage with the question or the reporter – and he gets away with it!

Andrews answered hard questions yesterday and took responsibility. Compare it to Morrison at the time of the bushfires when he was questioned, responding with the excuse “I don’t hold a hose, mate”. Witness how often he refuses outright to answer a question with an “I reject the premise of the question.” End of story – and he gets away with that as well. Yesterday he refused to answer questions from one journo, while Dutton turned on a journo asking a question he didn’t like.

This is the problem. We can all see how these leaders are held to a different standard of response. Andrews might be better served if he adopted the same tactics as the PM. The PM bullies the press gallery, and they’re too cowed to speak out. Andrews is reasonable, and so they show their claws. It’s pathetic.

There’s no argument in journo’s asking tough questions – but don’t pick and choose when you do it, and to who. Don’t wave that as your excuse when so often you fail to live up to that standard. Wake up! We see it!

The underlying issue here is media bias. Almost every media outlet these days is to the right of centre, even The Age. It’s particularly political when it comes to the News Corp newspapers – the Herald Sun here in Melbourne, and The Australian nationally, as well as the various regional issues. News value is weak, it’s all about creating clicks, controversy, and relentlessly driving an anti-Labor agenda. What that means is that they’ll amplify issues on the left and suppress the same problems on the right – so they go hammer and tongs against someone like Andrews, and play nice with Morrison.

In service of this, the government will brief their mates in the media against the Labor parties – such as yesterday, for example, when a false story was fed to The Australian about projected infections in Victoria. It’s rubbish, but it has the desired effect.

This is what we’re dealing with in Australia – and in the UK too, and to a degree in the US also. It’s insidious and undermines democracy. Abusing journalists is small time in comparison to this, and might actually be a wake-up call.

More need to wake-up.

NB. It’s telling also that journalists rose one and all yesterday in outrage against their accusers, but failed to fire a shot when one of their own – Emma Albericie – was treated so deplorably during the week by the ABC and The Australian. But, that’s right, she’s accused of being a lefty.

 

I’ll stand by Dan


I’m generally of the view that there’s no point in arguing with idiots. That eliminates a lot of social interaction for me, though I note that many diverge from that policy. Each to their own. One of the defining features of our times is that every moron has a platform now and – in my observation – the more moronic the intelligence, the more likely they are to shout it from the rooftops. Very democratic and not in the least enlightening. Like I said, I try and give them a wide berth.

Not everyone’s an idiot. There’s a lot of smart people around, and even online. They have views worth listening to, even when you disagree – that’s another area where I diverge from the rank and file. I like differing perspectives because they make me think and question. I may adjust my own opinion as a result, or respond with a considered and polite rebuttal. I’m happy to engage with them because it’s an exercise in free speech and I may learn something. I realise I’m very old school in this regard when for so many these days disagreement signifies stupidity and very often evil. There’s no grey area.

I’ve been engaging in civilised debate for the last month or so with someone I know and think is a smart fella. Moreover, he debates because he has a genuine concern about the subject at hand. In the past, we’ve found each other in accord on most things, and it’s only recently that we’ve come to opposing views about Dan Andrews and the virus gripping Melbourne.

This has become a very contentious talking point these days. He’s blamed by many for the emergence of the second wave. That anger is stoked by the news corp press, who take every opportunity to beat up anything negative of Labor and suppress anything negative of the LNP. Equally, there are many passionate Victorians, and even those outside the state, who are supportive of Andrews.

Now, he recognises that the media is bias, but has become very hostile towards Andrews. I take a different perspective, but, in any case, I ask him what does he want to happen? And who is there to step in? I urge calm, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it’ll all come out of the wash, right now let’s concentrate on getting things right now. It’s a civil debate, and we admitted what a pity it was we couldn’t do it over a bottle of red.

But then, someone else joins in, one of those dickheads not worth responding to, who called Andrews an arsewipe and anyone – such as me – who supports him. That killed the debate there and then.

I think my friend has become a little fixated, possibly because he can’t understand why so many people are in favour of Andrews. I think he’s misread the situation and is missing the subtleties, which can happen when you get so het up. I started to tell him why so many people were supportive – but then I thought, why bother? But here it is, for posterity.

Why does Andrews maintain such support?

  1. For many Victorians, and even Australians – he has vocal support Australia-wide – he embodies many of the qualities we want in a leader but have been deprived of for so long. He’s a smart, demonstratively decent human being to start with. He’s a great communicator, calm and very patient. As premier of the state, he’s driven a bold and successful agenda, and become known as someone who gets things done. He’s of a progressive bent, and of strong character. And not even his most bitter enemies could decry his work ethic. Through the bushfire crisis and this he’s seemingly turned up every day to do his bit. He’s the leader we want to believe in, and that earns him a lot of Brownie points.
  2. While the media has been responsible for inflaming tensions and demonising him, the more discerning members of the community recognise it for what it is: a political hatchet job driven by Murdoch and his minions. On top of that, in Victoria, the Liberal opposition is pretty feral. Whereas in the rest of the country the opposition parties have been generally supportive in a time of crisis, the Libs here have sought to disrupt, and have been very destructive of the status quo. For a lot of us, we’re over all that. There may come a reckoning one day, but today’s not the day – there are more important things to get done. I think that’s a general feeling the community (the Libs have shot themselves in the foot). Andrews gets some sympathy in the face of that.
  3. Many of the same people wonder why treatment isn’t partial. When the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney and let off dozens of infected passengers then anti-government rhetoric was subdued because it was a Liberal government responsible – depending who you talk to, either Dutton or the NSW government. Sad as it is, the media drives much of the narrative and it infects the community – no news that. Up there they buried it; down here they amplified it. This is about fairness.
  4. I think there’s general admiration for his stoic refusal to keep going. I think many believe he has a genuine concern for their welfare – he’s on their side. That’s a rare feeling these days. While some hate him, he engenders trust in many others. And the question becomes pertinent: if not him leading us, then who? There is no-one.
  5. Most of the drama is related to returned travellers and mishandled quarantine, for which they blame Andrews. A lot of the reports are sensationalist, and I don’t there’s a clear idea of what happened except, it seems, the security guards misbehaved. There’s a lot of complexity about this, and there’s an inquiry in progress to get to the bottom of it. Many say that Andrews should’ve resigned over this – my response is per point 3 &4, and to suggest that we wait until the inquiry is concluded before we rush to judgement.
  6. Much of the criticism Andrews draws about this is why he engaged security firms rather than the ADF. This is a nonsense complaint that only makes any sense after the fact. Victoria was not the only state to use security guards, but the only state that suffered from it. Surely, the security firms were engaged in good faith to perform duties that they’re specialist at and which they’re being paid to do? Only later does it become evident that the firms had marginal competence and breached the terms of their contract. That was not something any reasonable person would anticipate – bearing in mind that the Federal government uses private security firms to manage refugees – so there’s a strong precedent.
  7. I think everyone accepts that there will be missteps and misjudgements in an emerging calamity such as this. They’re inclined to forgive to a degree, though we’re now looking at 100+ deaths and climbing out of the second wave. That may be re-evaluated in the fullness of time.

Much of that aligns with my thinking. The only caveat I have is that if the inquiry finds that government ministers were culpable (most likely because they failed to react appropriately or oversee the operation effectively), then heads should roll.

I don’t think it is the time to be changing much and in fact, I think much of the commentary has been destructive to public confidence and unity. It’s led to confusion and empowered malcontents to do as they please. I think there are a lot of others who should be in the sights. However, down the track, when the facts are known, justice – whatever it is – must be seen to be done.

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.

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.