The end is nigh


I started watching Years and Years during the weekend and boy, did it strike a chord. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s an English program that looks at a family group based in Manchester. It starts off in present-day and then tracks the family for the next 15 years (our future) as the world and society deal with a series of challenges – political, economic and social.  It’s pretty full-on, but what surprised me most is how much it aligned with my vision of our dystopian future.

I don’t know why, but I imagined that I was a bit of a pessimistic outlier. I’ve never really been a pessimist, but the last few years have hit me hard. It’s only a couple of weeks ago I realised how alienated I had become from the world I live in. Most of what passes for discourse these days is superficial and antagonistic, and there’s fuck all intellectual enquiry. I have serious fears about our climate future, and in the back of my mind figure we’ve just about run our race. Politically we’re up shit creek, and that’s most of the world. Authentic leadership is a lost art, and in its stead, we have a variety of shonky and inept characters whose prime motivation is self-interest.

I used to think that would change, but I reckon the only thing now that’ll upset this wretched status quo is a catastrophe, and I’m not sure I want to wish for that. Politicians govern for the here and now. t’s all about political advantage and while there’ve always been shysters like that, there were fewer of them before and you could rely on them getting the arse at the ballot box. My idealistic soul held true to that right up to the federal election in May, then choked on the reality. The shysters were re-elected, and it killed a part of me. What chance do we have when we don’t boot out the charlatans when we have the chance? After that, we deserve what we get.

I still wonder how many are as bitter as me, but it was a surprise to find how many others are disillusioned and lost in these awful times. That’s the thing about being disaffected and alienated – you feel on your own and as if no-one else could feel what you do. It’s comforting that others might, but so depressing also.

I haven’t watched the full series yet, but what I’ve seen marries up very realistically to what I see of the world. The most out-there premise is a Trump re-election, but who’s going to bet against that after last time? It’s like a play where the characters take the stage and extend their performance from what we know to what becomes realistic conjecture. We know that Trump is a nutter and that Putin a machiavellian schemer – let them play out in the years ahead, what happens then? China is in there, and the contentious South Sea islands, as well as refugees and racism and labyrinthine social channels and fluid identity and language. And the continued rise of authoritarianism, let’s not forget that.

I was surprised that Brexit seemed played down – presumably, it happens, and I expect it will be worse for England than this portrays. The biggest surprise – in what I’ve seen so far – is that climate change is only a peripheral player. There’s reference to tsunamis being a modern invention, but beyond that, not a lot. Perhaps that’s in episodes to come. It’s all quite depressing.

I wonder if climate change was played down because this is an English program? If it was Australian then I ,think climate change would be front and centre, because as a nation it’ll likely hit us harder than most parts of the world.

There are few Australians walking down the street these days that don’t believe in the reality of climate change and global warming (those who don’t are at home with their heads in the sad, or in parliament). I’m always shocked when I come across a doubter. Forget the science, I’ve experienced the difference. Most of us have. It’s both warmer and more volatile these days, and the scale more tumultuous. Extreme weather events are no longer unprecedented.

It’s November and the, first bushfires started weeks ago, and more massive fires on Friday. The scale and ferocity of these are unlike we had before, and summer hasn’t even started yet. Prolonged droughts have contributed to this, and the damage compounded by governments who refuse to believe in climate change, and so don’t prepare for it (and defund those who might fight it).

Hundreds of homes have been lost, people have died. The images are apocalyptic. But this is the world now. Even if we do something now it’s not going to get better for years, and will get worse first. But then we’re not doing anything really and this is the best of it. I hate to say that’s my attitude, but it is. I’m like the people who wrote Years and Years. I’ve lost faith in our leaders and any real intent to make a difference. It would be nice to think this was a dystopian warning shot: watch out, this’ll happen unless you do something! Unfortunately, I’m now of the belief that when finally something might be done it’ll be too late to make a difference.

I believe I was born at a good time, and those after me less fortunate. I had the best of childhood, I think, and grew up to straddle generations. I had carefree years and was full of belief in myself and the world. I’ve lived to see the decline of all things that make for a healthy civilisation. I’ve lived a good life and there are years of good living ahead, but in the shadow of looming catastrophe – that’s not something I’ve ever felt till now. I will go and, unless there’s a miraculous intervention, it will get worse for those who stay. They’ll never know the life I had, or those before me. And then? Personally, I think there’ll be a breach. Something will break and much will be lost. What comes out of that is anyone’s guess.

Maybe, sooner than you think, I’ll be one of those characters waving a placard prclaiming the end is nigh. Maybe this time it’ll be real.

How not to protest


For most of the week, there have been quite violent protests at the Convention Centre where an international mining conference has been in progress. Hundreds of protestors have picketed the place hurling abuse and accosting attendees, upset at the impact mining has on climate change. Dozens of police, some with horses, have wielded batons and pepper spray fending off the protestors.

Right from the start, let me say it’s protests of this type that give me a sick feeling. I’m sympathetic to the cause and believe our politicians, and many of our industries are climate criminals. However, I think protests of this type are close to imbecile.

I see two particular problems. The first one is that this is an indiscriminate protest. Had it been a conference of coal miners, it would have made sense. This was a conference of miners of all different types. Now you’d have to be particularly blind to suggest that all mining should be banned. Like it or not, the fabric of our day to day life is composed of materials very often mined from the ground. The cars we drive, the pots and pans we cook with and the plates we eat from, the chips in our phones and watches and PC’s, the planes and trains we catch, the buildings we live and work in – all this and much, much more, rely on our mining industry. I’d suggest every one of the protestors either carried on their person something that had been mined or had something at home. It’s just stupid.

Add to that, not everyone attending the conference was actively digging things out of the ground. I saw one person interviewed (after being abused and harangued by the protestors) revealing that they were actually a sustainability expert. And in fact, that’s what this should all be about. We can’t stop mining; we rely on it too much, and even if we could, the world economy would fall apart. What it should be about is sustainable mining – mining that has minimal impact upon our environment and ecology; and looking to source alternative materials to replace those mined.

So that’s the first thing – it’s a dumb protest. But secondly, how it was conducted was plain stupid also.

Wave your banners, cry out your chants, even non-violent obstruction, absolutely ; don’t, democracy in action. But when individuals trying to go about their business are abused and manhandled and spat on, then that’s a no-go. I may be showing my age now, but save that for the real criminals, not our fellow citizens. It’s plain bad manners, and it plays very poorly in the burbs.

That’s the real stupidity of this. The protestors are probably celebrating today, saying what a good job they did disrupting the event, when, in fact, their real achievement was to drive the wedge deeper between them and middle Australia. It’s all very well to be sanctimonious and be ringing with idealistic fervour, but I’d have thought the purpose of protests such as this would be to send a message to the average Australian that could be understood and appreciated.

If there was a message then it was lost in the general noise of the protest. Many of those middle Australians sitting in their lounge rooms watching the news would have been offended by the way the protest was conducted. Only the converted would have approved, and surely they’re not the desired audience? As someone broadly sympathetic, it’s this woeful stupidity that disappoints me most.

Unfortunately, that’s the flavour of the times. I’m perhaps a member of one of the last generations capable of discerning nuance. By nature, I seek to assess and understand, but few others do these days. Movements are broad tabloid headlines without subtlety or sophistication. They’re emotional rallying calls with scant relationship to the rationale that inspired them. Thus there is violence between opposing forces and very little debate. And so if I disagree with you, I’m not someone who has a different opinion; I’m instead an evil person to be despised and abused. There is no middle ground anymore, very little critical thinking, and bugger all civility.

I have to say this is one of the things that causes me the most disquiet these days. Not only because it is so ugly, though that’s true, more so that it’s virtually impossible to come to a reasoned understanding when we’re so caught up in hurling abuse. Like it or not, change has to be negotiated in a democracy. Make the argument, don’t just state it.

The protestors this week fell into the trap that much of the progressive side of politics has in recent years. It’s why Trump got elected, why Brexit twenty-year-olds for, and why Labor lost the election. The progressive extreme is violent and noisy, and they offend the average bloke. In a way, Morrison and his ilk are right when they speak of the silent majority. They can be persuaded, but they’re over being hectored and abused and told what to think and feel by the sanctimonious left. How do they react? They defy it with their vote, just as they’ll defy the purpose of this protest in their opinions.

Now I’m guilty of this as well. I was bitter after the election defeat here and despised those I thought responsible for it. There are many reasons that Labor lost, and I’ve articulated that previously, but a good part of it was that middle Australia was sick and tired of being talked down to by self-righteous twenty year olds. And it was the same in Britain before us, and States before them. In effect, it was a vote of protest.

If we intend to win these people over it must be through reason, but that’s why I despair, because reason is so scarce these days, and it’s not getting any better.

Fools and buffoons


I just want to put on record that I think Greta Thunberg is a force of nature. Her passion, her determination, her stubborn insistence is an inspiration to the likes of me and many millions more, and a source of frustrated rage for millions of others.

By and large, she has the people onside. It’s a rare person these days who doesn’t believe in the fearful spectre of climate change. Unfortunately, many of those who oppose her are the dinosaurs that rule the world – mug leaders like Trump and Morrison, the right-wing media, not to mention vested interests, particularly in the fossil fuel industries. The rest are fools and reactionaries and the little men whose masculinity is threatened by a teenage girl with a mighty voice.

To see and hear Greta Thunberg speak at the UN yesterday was to witness a moment in history. How we look back upon it depends on how we respond now. It may be a turning point, but it may also be recorded the last futile words in defiance of a doomed fate. I tend to the pessimistic on this score – not because I’m a pessimist, but rather because self-interest and disorganisation are the ruling attributes of world polity in 2019.

Speaking of, our esteemed PM is in the states at the moment and making a right royal fool of himself. He’s cosied up to Trump and even attended one of his rallies – a bad look that betrays impartiality, and something that will badly both here at home as well as with the American Democrats. He was denied an invitation to the UN climate summit because of his government’s recalcitrant policies regarding climate targets and most recently snapped visiting a McDonalds in Chicago. Inspiration he isn’t. Embarrassment, definitely.

While much of this is cringe-worthy, there are consequences. Presuming Morrison is PM next year it’s more than likely he’ll have to do business with a Democratic government in the US. He’s started out on the wrong foot by appearing a Trump partisan. And in cosying up to Trump, he offers implicit support to the anti-China rhetoric coming out of the states. That’s how the PRC see it.

Let’s face it, Morrison is a buffoon, but surely he has an advisor smart enough to know the perils of his clownish behaviour? China is our biggest trading partner by far. We may have longstanding cultural links to America, but the days of American pre-eminence are gone, never to return.

Assuming there’s still a world in 50 years then the Chinese will be running it. Who would bet against their monolithic will when their ‘rivals’ are so disorganised and narrow-minded? And what the Chinese have is the long term view that no western nation can match. Democracy is a great thing, but populist electioneering that predicates short term goals undermine progress. It’s not democracies fault for it wasn’t always the case – only since politics has been corrupted by individualism. The ‘greater good’ exists but in isolated pockets in western democracies.

That’s very true in Australia also. The world may burn tomorrow but how good is it today? It’s a short term view that betrays future generations, not just in terms of climate change, but also economic prosperity. A truly wise Australian government would know it’s in our interests to stay close to the Chinese. Like it or not, our economic future is hitched to them. That’s not to say we should be compliant, as the Chinese will try and dictate. Retain our independence and use our currency wisely – not fritter it way in useless support of a Trump administration that may well be impeached shortly, and which in any case is corrupt and hopelessly inept.

One of these advisors needs to tell Morrison that ‘it’s not about you’. The bromance may flatter him, but the rest of us despair and the damage it’s doing may be terminal.

The cost of free speech


I don’t know that I’ve written much about Julian Assange over the years, but he’s always been someone I’ve taken a keen interest in. He’s a divisive figure, particularly so after the 2016 US presidential elections. Many blame him for Hillary Clinton losing.

If you discount the disengaged and uninformed – always the biggest part of any society – then people fall into one of two opposing camps when it comes to Assange, and Wikileaks in general. You either support the purpose of Wikileaks, to expose what is hidden and make news democratic; or you see it as the crime that governments purport it to be and a dangerous tool in the wrong hands.

I’ve always been of the former view. I haven’t always been comfortable with the methods, or the consequences, but Wikileaks has done much more good than ill. As a natural democrat, I want our governments to be held to account. Shining a light on shady dealings and shonky practices is never wrong. And when those practices are often corrupt or illicit or plain old anti-democratic then we as a people are entitled to know. When it comes to information I’m a socialist: we’re all entitled to a share of it.

Wikileaks was revolutionary. They exploded onto the scene, and their revelations had a profound impact on international discourse. The scale of information previously hidden was a shock to almost everyone.

Since then they have been under attack by international governments, particularly the US, been constrained by the combined efforts of financial corporations, and been subject to prosecution whenever the US got their hands on them. Chelsea Manning was imprisoned. Another whistleblower, Edward Snowden, fled, and now lives in exile. Assange himself until recently had taken refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, until he was kicked out after seven years. He’s now ill and in an English prison, battling extradition to Sweden on dubious rape charges, and ultimately to the US to face charges of espionage. That would be the end of him.

I’m profoundly disappointed by the general reaction to all this. As an Australian citizen, he should expect support from the Australian government, but that has been sadly lacking. It is as I expected, unfortunately – everyone knows the government is in the pocket of the Yanks. It’s just plain wrong.

Assange lost a lot of support after Hillary was beaten. In my mind, much of that is irrational. He’s accused of being in cahoots with the Russian attempts to subvert the election. Personally, I would understand if he was bitter towards Clinton given some of her rhetoric regarding him, but I hardly think he’s a Trump supporter. What he released might have been controversial, but none of it was untrue. In general, Wikileaks has acted without fear or favour, but the dump of information regarding Hillary’s emails lost him a lot of support.

This has also seemed to me an emotional reaction. As a darling once of the left, he broke their hearts by being seen as turning on one of their own. It was wasn’t meant to work that way. As long as he was attacking the establishment and the right-wing governments around the world, he was a hero; as soon as he turned on someone on the left of the equation, he became the villain. So he has remained, but the truth knows no allegiance.

Who knows what happens to him now, but he’s in a dark spot, and the actual purpose of Wikileaks has been lost in the prosecution of Assange.

I’m more sympathetic to him than most. It may be that he comes from my home town, and very much a product of it. There was curiosity value a few years back also when a friend looking at my dating profile on OkCupid found that Assange was highlighted as someone similar to me. There’s no doubt he’s a maverick. He’s complex and challenging and strong-willed. It may be he’s hard to like, though there are many devoted to him. I admire his independence and determination and resolution in seeking out the truth. He’s clearly highly intelligent, but also uncompromising and blunt, which does him no favours. I don’t know that he can be easily summarised, but that’s in his favour. End of the day whether he is likeable or not is immaterial, though it is something he will always be judged on.

He is a great figure of our times. What he has done has not all been good, but overwhelmingly has been. We should be thanking him for the truth he brought to bear. Instead, he is forgotten or dismissed. Odds on he’ll ultimately be extradited to the US where he’ll face trumped-up laws that basically infringe on free speech and the profession of journalism, and every chance he will be undefended by those who owe him a debt.

Ironic it would be that he is prosecuted by the type of tyranny he sought to expose to the world.

Places of the spirit


Of course, there are things that run through my head all the time. Often I think I must write about that, but mostly I never get around to it. Until there’s such an application that taps directly into my mind that will be the case.

Today I want to specifically reference the fire that has consumed Notre Dame, in Paris. I feel for the French, and the Parisians particularly, for whom this must feel like a blow to the soul. It feels an unreal event, an affront to nature, something that could never happen and should never happen.

I first walked into Notre Dame about 21 years ago. I’ve been to many cathedrals in my time, but this has always been my favourite. I’m a history buff and knowing that so many momentous events had happened right here was a thrill in itself. There was a deeper, darker connection than that though. I remember standing beneath the high roof surrounded by the immense stone columns and peering at the beautiful stained glass windows and feeling humbled by the meaning of it all. It felt a great spiritual moment.

Places like Notre Dame are living reminders of the wonder and mystery of our existence. We live in the moment so much these days, but Notre Dame had stood for almost a millennia. It teemed with life and history. With luck, it might have gone on for another millennium, or more. I guess that’s true for many such buildings and there are dozens of others who have left me just as impressed – but not so spiritually engaged. Notre Dame felt like a living place to me, not just of history but of humanity as well. I think of only one other place off the top of the head I felt so moved, the Pantheon in Rome.

Notre Dame has not been completely destroyed they say, though the spire has fallen and no doubt the wondrous stained glass is gone – as well as the old, middle-aged wooden structure. It will be rebuilt, as it must, but will it be the same place?

Update: it appears that while the roof and spire have gone and much structural damage otherwise, the bulk of the stonework has been saved – in fact, photos from inside are almost eerie with the area around the altar a pile of blackened ruins tumbled from the roof, while most of the nave seems untouched. Most importantly – and almost miraculously – the famous, magnificent rose stained glass appears undamaged.

The virtuous and the vicious


On Friday all over the world children skipped school to rally against the politics that have led to careening climate change. For many this was controversial. Politicians on the wrong side of that argument warned they should be kept at school. They were ridiculed as being too young to really understand, or as being puppets of the left. In truth, these accusers are the people the children are rallying against – the blind, the conservative, the corrupt and the inept. It’s come to the point that our children are protesting at what their parent’s generation failed to do.

It may be too late, but now there is such momentum that the naysayers are losing their influence. The organiser of this event, Greta Thunberg, is a formidable schoolgirl from Norway. She has managed to do what so many others well intended have not: she has electrified an issue and given it into the hands of those who will be most affected by its evil.

The tide has turned, I think, and it’s heartening to see such passion and commitment in those so young. There was a time when kids of that age would engage in the playful, mindless fun that comes easy when life is good. What need of passion or ideals if life is served warm to you on a plate? Times have changed and become more immediate. The pendulum returns, as it always must, having reached one extreme – the extreme being an era of poor, weak or corrupt leadership. It has led to the situation we find ourselves in now and our children roused, won’t have it anymore. If they survive the climate coming at least we can begin to hope our world might be in better hands.

For me, this was reason for hope and inspiration. But then came the other side of that.

I was at work Friday afternoon when the first reports of a shooting in Christchurch came through. Anyone who’s been in this situation knows how odd it seems. At first, you tend to think it’s probably nothing much. We have become inured to everyday violence, and there are so many nutters out there it comes as no great surprise. But then updated reports come through. Up to nine dead, you read. People begin to turn to each other. Have you heard what’s happening in Christchurch? And you go back, seeking more news, and it comes. It was a mosque that was attacked. Hospitals preparing for forty or fifty casualties, you read. Wow, you think. You catch eyes with someone. You start to feel it in your stomach: something awful is happening.

You go about your work nonetheless. Computers hum, phones ring, emails come and go, meetings are called. On Friday we had a late function. Going into it I saw the latest update – 29 confirmed dead, dozens feared to be. And you think: dozens?!

Finally, when I got home, I saw – 49 dead – and as I watched the full story unfolded, about how the gunman live-streamed his rampage to Facebook, about the garbled, racist manifesto he wrote, finally, that he was an Australian.

Such terrible events are hard to comprehend, but it was the news that the killer was an Australian from Grafton that gave it another edge. I felt fear and shame as well as sorrow and anger. I didn’t feel the surprise knowing he was an Australian that I did at the event itself.

Naturally, there’s an upwelling of grief and compassion across the globe at what has happened, mixed in with anger and despair. That’s been the case here too in Oz. New Zealand is our closest neighbour. We are cousins to each other. We know each other well, like family. But then one of ours has gone there and murdered so many of them and, unfortunately, it’s easy to see why.

This is a problem all over the world, divisive extremities, not just in Oz. Here though, as in some places, it has been leveraged for political purposes. It started with John Howard here, may he burn in hell, the first man to politicise asylum seekers and turn it into an election issue. He changed the conversation, and in so doing changed Australia. We went from being an open, warm society to a society protective of its good fortune and closed to the sorrows of others. That’s been exploited since by Abbott and Morrison, and throughout, by Dutton, aided and abetted by a media either complicit to the point of cheerleading (Murdoch) or being too weak or cowardly to properly stand up against the cold-hearted values being espoused.

When that becomes the language, when human life has been devalued to that of a statistic, when those poor folk caught in the crossfire and seeking a better life are demonised as either terrorists or opportunists, then it is easy to dismiss the woes of others. In a world where everything has become polarised everyone who is perceived as being not ‘us’ must, therefore, be against us. Multicultural as we are in Australia, in the eyes of the bigoted it means every one of colour, everyone not Christian, becomes suspect at least. And so in the demented minds of a few the events on Friday loom as a crusade against so-called enemies.

There’s no point saying not all Australians, just as there was no point proclaiming not all men. Most Australians aren’t like that, are horrified by what happened – but this lives within our society, and has been encouraged and been allowed to thrive when it should have been stillborn. We all have to take responsibility for that.

When the news came out Friday the deplorable Fraser Anning came out effectively blaming the victims for being Muslim, guilty of their own murder. Yesterday he attended a right-wing function only a few kilometres from where I live. Famously – now – a 17-year-old kid smashed a raw egg into the back of his head. It’s a moment that will go down in folklore, and ‘eggboy’ has been hailed since all over the world.

It’s an instructive moment. Here was Anning with his white supremacist cronies, swathed in swastikas, swaggering and pitched towards violence. These are dysfunctional, damaged members of society, drawn towards a toxic ideology because of a lack in themselves (if only being intelligence). They’re the sort of men who commit violence against women and others weaker than themselves. That’s the disaffected breeding ground for those who one day will resort to violence on a broader scale.

Then there’s the kid, perhaps a kid who marched on Friday, a kid who believes in an inclusive world and better selves, a kid engaged in what it means to be a part of a true society. Some of decried what he did as some sort of violence, but what I see is a kid who has made a mockery of Anning in this silly act, and revealed Anning for what he truly is. Anning turned and attacked the kid before his cronies piled on top of him and got him in a choker hold. The kid lost consciousness – he’s okay – and what the world saw was the gleeful violence so easily adopted.

We saw it too, in Australia. I’m always hopeful, even after such a terrible thing. This is our moment to be properly ‘woke’. They’re not just a ratbag few. They’re among us, and can’t be tolerated any longer. I reckon fully 95% of Australians are horrified by these people and are now just waking up to the danger they represent. It’s a harsh lesson, but the actions on Friday I think will rebound on the supremacists. We want to say, as the Kiwis have, this is not who we are.

I should add that I think it’s pulled the teeth from the government ahead of the election as well. Before this – sad to say – they’d have sought to exploit the divisions between us and them, lead by those good Christians Morrison and Dutton. They can’t do that now. Hopefully, no-one ever can again.

It’s a hard thing to say after fifty people are dead, but I think the pendulum is shifting back. I think the act on Friday was a sign of that, evil as it was. That’s poor comfort for the families of those murdered, but a small thing the rest of us can hold onto and hope is true. Better times will come.

Lost voices


In the last week two giant names in Australian journalism have passed away.

The first of these was Mike Willesee, possibly the finest interviewer of the last fifty years. Back in a time when political interviewing was an artform (a time, sadly, long past) Willesee was king. He would appear every night on our TV screens, mostly on A Current Affair (when it wasn’t a tabloid program), probing and interrogating a range of politicians and hucksters and very often bringing them undone. He was highly intelligent and very well researched and had a composed, patient, insistent manner. When he was on your tail you knew it you were in trouble – most famously John Hewson, caught out ahead of the ’93 election when questioned about the GST on a cake.

Growing up dad would watch the program every night, and over time so did I. Truth mattered then and our officials were held to account daily. I don’t think that’s been the case in Australia since Willesee’s successor, Jana Wendt. I think there’s a distinct connection between the decline in journalistic rigour and the knowledge and active engagement of the electorate, and democracy is the loser.

The other to have died, just yesterday, was Les Carlyon. Off the top of my head I can’t think of another Australian journalist anywhere near as good a pure writer than him. Everything he wrote was evocative. I read a lot of his stuff over the years – his books on WW1, both wonderful, plus his general journalism, particularly his heartfelt appreciation of great horses – and often times I would pause reading to truly appreciate his prose, and to reflect on the insights he shared with us.

He was a grand writer, but he had a way of seeing that told of his journalistic background. He was editor of The Age at 33, so he had more than just a way with words. That’s what made him so memorable – a wonderful writer paired with insight and sensitivity. I reckon he saw beneath the surfaces and touched upon the human truths which really are the basis of every good story. You read his stuff on the big race days or our abiding affection for the racehorses of folklore and what he understands is the essential meaning of these things, a meaning held deep inside which is something close to love. We want to believe. We want to belong. We want to love and share and celebrate.

His histories have that, too. He was a humane, incisive commentator who valued the uniqueness of experience.

He was 76. Sadly this means there’s no more of his writing to look for, but grateful for what we have.