Sunday, November 30, 2014

A lyric. I wish I could sing.

Copyright Richard Chirgwin. Really. This is all my own work, and my brain imagines a tune that I can't sing. Brains are shit that way. As are voices, and skill on the guitar when your arthritic fingers fear a difficult chord. 

Child (a lyric without a song)

Should I decide that I
Don't like the rules of time,
Don't want to grow into,
Someone I never knew:

This happy haze would be
The perfect place for me.
If I could find the key,
Then I would never leave.

I am a child, I am a child.
I have denied
The march of time.
The years, the tears go rolling by.
They are not mine,
I am a child

Your skin is warming me.
This promise, we believe,
This universe will bend,
This hour will never end.

We'll shed these scales tonight.
Our skins will shine so bright,
We will out-glow the stars,
Become: supernovas.

I am a child, I am a child.
I have denied
The march of time.
The years, the tears go rolling by.
They are not mine,
I am a child.

We don't need your stinking “narrative”

When a political writer says “this is what the Abbott government needs to do to improve its standing”, they aren't saying “it should stop lying and abandon a policy agenda that stinks”.

They're saying “the government could persuade people it's not lying, if it would just listen to me.”

I dislike it when people refer to Canberra as “the Beltway” in imitation of America, but the word does fill a gap in Australia's political slang. There is, in Australia's politics as in America's, a kind of closed-circle-insiderness that the word encapsulates.

As Victoria kicks out one government and installs another, the political insiders are cranking up their word machines and telling us that the Abbott government failed Victoria because it's made a mess of its “messaging” over the ABC cuts and the $7 GP copayment.

The obsession of political commentators with “messaging” and “the narrative” is not the application of a disinterested academic abstraction to political debate: it's a deliberate use of language to serve a deliberate end.

That end is to protect the commentator's role as gatekeeper between the government and the governed. There is no policy so toxic, no lie so brazen, no self-interest so naked that it can't be sold – if only the people in charge of the government's “messaging” can find the right “narrative”.

“Get the messaging and narrative right”, the commentators are saying, “and we will praise you. Get the messaging and the narrative wrong, and we will curse you.”

The commentators – pretty much all of them – believe that as the true insiders, they deserve the power to direct our votes and dictate our outcomes. The government is “framing” the “narrative” badly, and that, in the commentators' imagination, is why people have been gathering ever since the March in March to protest the actions of the federal government.

Why push the narrative over the truth? Because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate: people are seeing politics for ourselves, without needing to view it through the prism of the columnist.

It doesn't take much effort to find a commentator writing that people have stopped listening to Tony Abbott, nor is it an effort to find the same thing written about Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd or John Howard.

What if we are listening to the politicians, and deciding entirely without the commentators' help that a broken promise is a broken promise, that a lie is a lie, and that the “framing” doesn't matter a damn?

Australians are acutely aware of what politicians are saying to us: they're trying to lie their way out of broken promises. “No cuts to …” was unequivocal, and it doesn't matter which minister you send to stand on the tumbril and pronounce that they're not lying. “Framing” a lie in the “context” of a “narrative” makes you complicit in the lie.

We don't need the blather and bollocks to tell fact from fiction, truth from lie, or to have the political commentariat choosing our elections. We can do what we are doing: ignoring commentators trying to force-fit our understanding of facts into their framing, and make our own decisions.

Out of its political culture, Australia created a Beltway of insider journalists. That's who we stopped listening to. 

*I originally had a typo of indisderness for "insiderness". @ForrestGumpp from Twitter likes the former usage as symbolic of the narrative. I kind of agree!

Monday, November 24, 2014

The ABC: the partner-commentary of my life

About me and the ABC through the years:

1960s: The news programs I had to endure because of my parents.

1970s: I was getting a haircut when someone on the radio said firefighters were needed at Mount Bodington Hospital. I asked the hairdresser to finish quickly and went to one of the worst days of my life. The hospital was saved; someone at my high school died. The call had come over the ABC.

1980s: I tried for the last time to interest my father, raddled by Alzheimer's, in the cricket.

1990s: My wife listened to the “ball of the century” on the night our first son was born.

2001: The radio news woke me, but not Ms T, which meant I could warn her not to listen to the news or watch the television on 9/11.

2010: We listened to the ABC in the morning, as we always did, and were later sent to hospital to save Ms T's life.

2013: Bushfires again. This time, it wasn't a hospital in the line; I feared that my life and love, Bunjaree Cottages, would be in the cross-hairs. It wasn't, but I was the only person within 500 metres for most of a dreadful day, and the ABC told me what was happening, and a lot of things changed that day.

Forever: the voices on the radio in the car, from Sydney to Melbourne, to Broken Hill and Brisbane and beyond all of those.

So many of the biggest moments of my life – the things that change a person, not trivially but fundamentally – have been accompanied by the ABC.

I choose my father's death as example, not because of my admitted sentimentality, but because I can talk about poor, mad Stan without offending anybody or violating their trust in me.

In the late 80s, Dennis Lillee was still A Thing, but Stan was a wreck with Alzheimer's, a regular escapee from the hospital that bound him, and I? A reluctant visitor, it shames me to say. When he was at his best we maintained, at best, a hostile truce. We didn't like each other all that much, Dad and I.

That made hospital visits … awkward.

On the last visit, there was a one-day international, which Stan disapproved of. But it provided movement and colour on a TV, Lillee was still playing, and the radio in the ward was tuned to the ABC. So we managed a few words about the cricket.

I'd seen Lillee bowl at the SCG, so many years before, when Dad was fine and we caught the train to a test, and the transistor radio in his pocket provided a commentary to what I watched. The ABC again. Dad was sceptical about Lillee then, but he changed his mind.

And at the end of my father's life, here I was trying to talk about cricket, to drag him out of the Alzheimer's fog, to talk about anything because we didn't know how to talk to each other.

And the ABC talked in the background to my father's farewell. “I know what's happening to me. Don't think I don't. Don't come back.”

And 27 years later, the ABC commentated the worst day of my life, and its background speaks to the greatest loves of my life, and these bastards want to gut it.

Really I could have been more intimate. The words from the ABC have accompanied the very dearest moments – but that would involve too many people giving permission and sacrificing their privacy. This is the best example I could give.

There are no words for those that would rob the future of its timeline, its hashtags, its narrative.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sydney University's betrayal of education for money

In one media statement, the it-that-stinks who is the vice-chancellor of Sydney University illustrates why the privileged detested, fought against, and have piece-by-piece worked to dismantle that momentary mirage that was universal education in Australia.

If education is universal, then all the its-that-stink, all of the fellow-travellors of Doctor Michael Spence, a child of privilege of the first water, lose their power of life-or-death over the education of the poor.

Look at his Wikipedia entry and reflect that it doesn't note that Spence got his BA under the regime he is now working to fire-bomb.

There is the background of someone who wants to strip the universal right of the poor to attend university without crippling debt.

And his idea for replacing universal education? Scholarships, the money disbursed by government, managed by the university, and bestowed on those the its-that-stink consider “worthy”. In other words the children of privilege regain their God-bestowed right to educate the poor via scholarships rather than having it as their right.

In other words, right up to the Vice-Chancellor's suite – and you can bet the it-that-stinks doesn't live low – what Sydney University resents and has nurtured a resentment of ever since Whitlam, is that it can't lock its gates to the Westies. Let someone talk the talk of Penriff, if they have the academic record to walk past the Sandstone, SU had to say “yes”, and SU detests the very idea.

It detests it so much that a Vice-Chancellor who paid not one dollar to his own university education – look up the dates – wants to recover the upper-class right to dole out a piss-worth of scholarships just so long as it can turn itself into a poor-man's MIT, elevate its executive salaries, and for fuck's sake exclude rough accents of public schools within 5km of the CBD.

I'm sick of it: I'm sick to death of the rise of privilege being normalised by the minions of Murdoch. I'm sick of the lame, useless and failed economic theories of American Republicans being treated as holy fucking writ by Australian journalists who are nothing but cannon-fodder. And I'm sick of privileged dead shits having their opinions treated as anything but the outwelling of this giant, petulant tantrums of pricks who think their right to rule overrules anything the mere lifters of the country might want or aspire to.

Dr Spence's particular academic specialty, by the way, is defending the kind of intellectual property rights that are about to make medicines unaffordable. He's also an Anglical preacher. Go and work out how those two things make an ethical whole, and then find out: “will it blend?”

Friday, August 29, 2014


Let me tell you about a church.

It's in a minor city, and it got bombed in World War Two. And it's beautiful, and particularly special to Ms T and me, a treasured memory from the past, a symbol of the future.

Returning from London to Australia more than ten years ago, we passed through Lübeck for no better reason than Ms T's family came from there in the late 19th Century (it's a lovely little place, by the way, and very walkable).

On of the places we visited was the Petrikirche – St Peter's Church – whose restoration after its WW2 bombing was “finished” in 1987. I put “finished” in quotes because it won't ever be fully restored. The interior was destroyed and nearly all of it lost, and that's how it remains.

When you walk in, you're struck by the pure white of the interior, except that in some spots there are what look like discoloured patches. It took us a while to work out that those were the tiny, tiny bits of the destroyed decorations that the Lübeckers were able to find, painstakingly and lovingly returned to their original locations. It's very striking and very touching.

It's almost tasteless to make the Petrikirche a talisman for our personal lives, but that's what Ms T and I have done.

Five years ago, her auto-immune system changed our lives and our relationship, and for nearly all of that time, our futures have had a very constrained window: sometimes death has been imminent, at others times we've let ourselves think a whole six months or year into the future.

This year, due to an unexplained (and now, thankfully, arrested) weight loss, Ms T's lead specialists went on the hunt for possible cancers, because her main therapy, cyclophosphamide is so toxic. It took a bunch of procedures, biopsies, imaging and nervous waits to lay that to rest. And we have a future to think about; five, maybe ten years, I dare not think of more.

We're still here, still together, still loving, still married, desperately aware that things have changed. We talk all the time, and a lot of that talk is about what happened, where we are, and how we can get back what we once had.

We can't, we now understand. And the Petrikirche has become part of the evening talk, as we try to describe ourselves to ourselves.

With a structure still standing, we find ourselves walking through rubble seeking that which we can save. We find pieces, talk about them, find where they once fit in our lives, see if they can be put back, and talk some more.

Our small, private ruin is too broken for perfection, but far too precious to abandon.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Joe: sorry for everything but the thing that upset us

I'm sorry, Joe Hockey. I'm sorry if there is any suggestion at all, that I or anyone else I know doesn't believe you, and thinks your apology has all the sincerity of the school bully who would trip kids over in the hall and say “sorry”.

The audio is here, and I'm going to take the liberty of parsing the “apology” Hockey gave in a soft ego-stroking interview with Ben Fordham on 2GB – audio here.

Ben Fordham introduces the subject by offering the “out”: “Well, words can be taken out of context … the poorest people don't have a house, a roof over their heads, let alone a car to drive … Do you feel like your words have been misinterpreted, or were they words you shouldn't have chosen in the first place?”

Hockey: “I am really, genuinely sorry [pause] that there is any suggestion, any suggestion at all, that I or the government does not care for the most disadvantaged in the community.

Read that again. He's not sorry for being insulting or ignorant, he's sorry that someone else might have interpreted his words, which he then repeats.

“I'm sorry about that interpretation, I'm sorry about the words.”

Joe, this still falls short of apologising for the insult. In the first half of the sentence you're blaming the listener – “sorry for the interpretation” – and the second half, you leave open to interpretation rather than saying something clear and unequivocal.

Hockey: “And why? Because all of my life, as everyone who knows me knows, all of my life, I have fought for and tried to help the most disadvantaged people in the community.”

This is not actually responsive to the original insult. You're saying “You shouldn't be upset with me because I'm a nice guy”. Still falling short of an apology.

“For there to be some suggestion that I have evil in my heart, when it comes to the most disadvantaged in the community, is upsetting. But it's more upsetting for those people in the community.”

No, Joe, people were upset by you, not alongside you. The fake solidarity thing kind of rubs in the salt.

“So I want to make it perfectly clear to the community that if there's any suggestion that I don't care about you, or that I have evil intent towards you, I want to say that couldn't be further from the truth, and I'm sorry for the hurt.”

Once again, the apology is attached to “any suggestion that”.

Joe Hockey didn't apologise for the insult, or for being plain wrong. He apologised for the interpretation, the suggestion, for the words. 

He still thinks he's right.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Quit with the boomer sterotype, please

I suspect that some people who despise the ALP don't want to find themselves looking like filthy leftists, so instead, they're trying to frame political debates as generational debates. 

In other words: “boomers hate the upcoming generation, so” … we (the boomers) are killing free education, universal healthcare, and environmental action.

If you think you can keep your right-wing credentials this way, you're a more complete idiot than the “Western Sydney bogans” of uniform race, culture and political leaning that you believe exist because the AFR's Boss magazine tells you you're different from.

I mean it. I know V8-Falcon bogans who've fallen in love with nature and have more flexible political views than "hate boomer" hardliners.

Yes, I'm a boomer, and I hate hard-right anti-intellectual politics with the experienced hate of someone who's seen it all my life.

Since 1980 or thereabouts, I have marched in environmental protests of some kind of other. I also marched against the first introduction of university fees, and I have written on this blog about healthcare.

I've also put my own money into my environmental beliefs, by way of buying the business referred to in my profile.

We didn't buy Bunjaree Cottages to get rich. We bought it because it's about 14 hectares of mostly virgin bush in the Blue Mountains, because we wanted to protect it from the kind of person who thinks resorts involve concrete and lawn. A significant chunk of the property is a hanging swamp feeding a permanent creek that flows, eventually, into the Grose River.

Every now and again, I have to give a refund to people who don't understand wildlife and can't bear the ringtail possums running on the roof, or the antechinus that can squeeze so tight you can't keep them outdoors.

The same plot of land is home to lyrebirds, wonga pigeons, echidna and spotted quolls (the latter being an endangered species).

All of which means it's really offensive to find that because some media commentator has drawn a demographic line across political beliefs, a whole heap of people will accuse me of trying to undermine their futures.

Don't believe the hype, kids. The divide isn't generational – you are statistically more likely to be a hard-right voter than I am – it's a political divide in which business has completely captured one side of politics, only partially captured the other, and is therefore barracking for the side it owns.

The public demographers drawing “boomers versus the rest” lines across age boundaries are the owned creatures of business. They're taking part in pulling the wool, and it's working: you honestly believe you can characterise my beliefs and actions purely according to my age.

They – the destroyers of the environment, ravagers of health, despisers of education – have known how to divide and conquer since Machiavelli.

The political nastiness in Australia is not a synthetic boomers-versus-the-rest narrative. It's a simple ideology of the hard right, paid for by businessmen with no compunction about outright lies in service of their hip pockets, practised by politicians with no compunction about telling those second-hand lies, also in service of their pockets.

If you believe otherwise, you're a fool – and folly knows no generational limits.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Thorpe and Hildebrand (with a language warning)

The summary of the story (you can search Twitter if you need a long version) is:

Ian Thorpe: Yes, I'm gay*

*There's a long footnote to this that isn't germane right now.

Joe Hildebrand: We already knew you were, hur hur hur.

[general outrage]

Joe Hildebrand: But seriously folks...

Think on this: Ian Thorpe is popular, admired, successful, well-off, and he believed in post-millennial Australia he had to stay in the closet.

Think on this: the first reaction, before his “oh, shit, wrong call”, of one of those shit-scrapers that Murdochia thinks represents anything but the views of other shit-scrapers, is to make a joke about Ian Thorpe being gay.

He then tries to dig himself out of the shit-scraper world, with lines like these:

In all seriousness, Ian Thorpe coming out might actually be the biggest breakthrough for gay acceptance Australia has ever seen.” (Me: bollocks, with all respect to Thorpie: Ian Roberts had to break a bigger taboo. I still think well of Ian Thorpe for doing so).

APOLOGY: I am so sorry that apparently everyone on Twitter didn't know Thorpey was gay. Best wishes to your home planet.” (You lame coward, Hildebrand)

The reality: Someone well-known, popular and successful makes his “I'm gay” statement, and the lowest-rent arse-worm of a cohort of low-rent arse-worms called “News Limited Columnists” immediately makes a gay joke. It's his first response. The foot rises as soon as the “gay” hammer hits the nerve near the knee.

For stool-samples like Joe, the only excuse to be gay and get an apology for the kind of joke that makes 17-year-olds laugh is that you are successful, popular, and well-known. Any other gay – the ones that aren't Ian Thorpe – is still fair game for this pond scum.

The only reason Hildebrand backed down even to the lame degree he did is obvious: the damn fool managed to find a target that even the most Neanderthal of his knuckle-dragging followers liked.

Stick it to those ABC lefties, but leave Thorpie alone” scared him when “leave gays alone” wouldn't.

The lame school bully turned around, and none of his muscle were standing behind him, so he ran. The very pith and essence of “coward”.

In 1977, I got a kicking in Katoomba Street at 4pm in the afternoon. Because I'm gay? No, I'm not. Because I had gay friends. That taught me a certain degree of solidarity, and gave me (yet another) lesson in the gang-behaviour of the bully.

What a lame, weak, small man is Joe Hildebrand.