Friday, June 16, 2017

Late Blooming on Bloomsday

Me and My Shadow by Pants 






As is the custom here at Seat of Pants on Bloomsday, I opened Ulysses at a random page this morning and began reading. Page 598 of the 1971 Penguin paperback edition I have had since university finds Joyce having a pop at the concept of 'improving literature'. I've written before about the embarrassingly long time it took me to realise what a marvellous pisstake this book is. I'm all the better for the experience. It is one of the many benefits of ageing - along with not having to go to work and not being expected to achieve anything - that the slowest-dropping pennies frequently give the most satisfaction when they eventually land. You'd be astonished at how long it takes me to fully absorb proverbs sometimes.

Oh right. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. That's not about the numbers is it? I'm always saying that Australians operate the English language as if they'd learned it from a holiday phrase book. I am the very proof!

Now, back to Dublin and an entirely different level of dexterity with English. Leopold Bloom remembers his first poem,

'What lines concluded his first piece of original verse written by him, potential poet, at the age of 11 in 1877 on the occasion of the offering of three prizes of 10/-, 5/- and 2/6 respectively by the Shamrock, a weekly newspaper?

An ambition to squint
At my verses in print
Makes me hope that for these you'll find room.
If you so condescend
Then please place at the end
The name of yours truly, L Bloom.'

As a chronic myopic, I appreciate the notion of squinting at print as well as the delightful rhyme. My own ambition has faded along with my eyesight. The strange thing is that I'm working more diligently and joyously than ever. Are the two things related? I think they are. The liberation from any compulsion to find commercial acceptance has meant that I can do as I please. No deadlines. No constraints. I have all the time in the world and I don't need the money. I have often wondered why it took so long for my various projects to come right. The answer is that it takes as long as it takes and I don't know any other way to do it. What can I say? I'm just not a conformist. In any case, the competitiveness and content-slavery thing has killed forever any dim desire I might once have had to conjoin with the so-called creative industries.

I didn't have the sense to write a publishable novel when I knew people who worked for a very big literary agency in the mid-eighties. Just about anything with dry ink was publishable in London then. Neither did compos mentis fully manifest when I knew folks in the theatrical world and shared a flat with a not-too-shabby orchestral arranger. The musical that came out of me then was deplorable, given that I'd been in love with the form since I was a toddler. It seemed I needed thirty more years of living under my (now-expanding) belt before I could do either of these things properly. And it all started happening when I was as far from the thick of it as it's possible to get without bunking down with a team of huskies and far too old to be even visible. I have to think that there's a reason it's worked out like that. Not 'reason' in the philosophical sense. Reason in the sense that individuals get to play with it too, given an idle moment or nine.

I'm glad in so many ways to have done everything in an odd order. I spent my youth reading, listening, looking, travelling, hanging out, collecting experiences and trying, failing and trying again. Hopefully, failing a little better every time. I worked for wages as infrequently as I could get away with. I saved and got lucky with my very modest investments. And now I have a wealth of material to work through and no one to tell me what to do. I'm no worse off financially than most women my age who've drudge-worked their whole lives, had kids and/or got screwed in a divorce - and I didn't have to do any of the suffering. My house is not worth $2million and I don't have any letters after my name or prizes for my scratchings, warblings or doodlings. None of that is important to me. Well, I guess I would say that now wouldn't I? But it is true. Perhaps I have talked myself around to that point of view. Then again, I've always been a bit of a dilettante. I've never liked it when people go all serious. And yet I do like to work. At my own pace. In my own way. 

I pride myself on being solidly hoi polloi and yet, I find myself at odds with my peer group. They're all going on cruises, and/or playing golf and endlessly meeting for coffee. I love cruises but am no longer capable of credibly jogging around the upper deck for an hour in the moonlight or singing karaoke until 3am and then beating the Germans to a decent deck chair at dawn. In fact, I'm not sure that I could even hold out until nine for my supper these days, much less charm the captain at cocktails or win the belly-dancing competition. (Both of these things have happened. I have photographic evidence.) And I don't know that I would enjoy a cruise if I couldn't do these things. 

I've never played golf and don't want to start and meeting for coffee holds no interest for me whatever. I have to do it occasionally, but I much prefer activity-based human interaction. Once a week I go and play music with my friends Caroline and Bruce. We play for a couple of hours. Caroline has been a great sounding board for my newly rewritten musical. I have been playing her the songs as I've been setting them. Astonishingly, I can still remember how to do this. It's been nearly ten years since I last played the piano. Remarkably, I still know how to do that too. I play no better than I ever did, but no worse either. Mediocrity. Hare and Tortoise. However you want to look at it, it's working.

I've lived life arse-about and, you know what? I didn't even realise I was doing that until relatively recently. I just followed my instincts and set out from wherever I last landed. I did (mostly) follow feminist principles. There were a few years there when I thought I could have a bet both ways, but hey. I had the very good fortune of receiving a free education at a good university, which is where I met James Joyce for the first time and Virginia Woolf and so many other mentors who have stayed with me all these years. How sweet the slowest-dropping penny.

A great (Irish) blog pal of many years standing wrote this week that she doesn't believe in the concept of gender. I'm with her on that. It's a luxury that few of us can afford I know but I, like my friend, have worked hard and gone without to make it so. Opting out of the patriarchy is not without societal sanction. I, for one, believe that those of us who can afford to should set an example. I think I've been doing that all my life. I could have conformed. I knew how to do it but, like Yossarian, I just didn't wanna.

I wonder what I'd be doing now if I didn't have a life's work ahead of me. It feels right. It's my time. I'm not difficult to satisfy and everything I do pleases me at last. The long, slow-burning projects that have been with me forever, most of all. And now, it all seems to make a crazy kind of sense. Like a patchwork quilt. It's all coming together and keeping me warm on cold winter nights. Arthur Miller once said, it's okay to have regrets, as long as they're the right regrets. I'm not sure that I know what the right regrets would be for me. I'd probably have a few, if I thought it through, but then again, they'd most likely fall into the too-few-to-mention basket. I am working on not having any at all. And that means plodding away, every day, blissfully in my own little bubble of irrelevance. Can't say fairer than that.

Try as I might to avoid it, I can't help but feel 'improved' by reading Joyce. Not to mention inspired, encouraged, motivated and exhilarated. I hope he's not turning in his grave at the very thought. And I'm grateful that Ulysses finally found a publisher in the remarkable Sylvia Beach.

A very happy Bloomsday to you all.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Rhymes with failure

Finders Keepers (2017) by Pants

It's often said that the only word that rhymes with Australia is failure. As if to prove the point, it was the only one the erstwhile regent of rhyme, Noël Coward, could come up with for his 1952 song There Are Bad Times Just Around the Corner. To wit,

In far away Australia
Each wallaby's well aware
The world's a total failure
Without any time to spare.


To be fair, (see how I did that?), it is a long song, this sequence comes well into it and even Noël Coward is entitled to an off day.

There are other words that rhyme with Australia. There's regalia for example. How could a status-loving people not find a place for that? And what's wrong with azalea? Not so popular now but definitely a must-have in the suburban gardens of my youth. We're very into robust border protection. Surely we could weave azalea into the national narrative.

Bacchanalia? Now there's a word that ought to be of use. Beer and backyard barbecues might fit that storyboard, at a stretch. Paraphernalia? Perfect for a place that's all clobber and no body; never mind soul. Westphalia? Well, we try to be European and don't quite pull it off. And then, if you want to go all olde-worlde and invoke some Latin, there's inter alia. And that pretty well describes us. We could easily be dismissed as amongst every other thing going. The impression that we're really not trying very hard is unavoidable. We have usually failed before we've even broken into a sweat. Perhaps failure is the apposite rhyme after all.

This post was originally going to be about the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and it still might be, if I can find my way into it. If the gut response by the pale, stale, male, usual-suspect oxygen hoggers to this reasonable, modest and long-overdue ask is any indication, those dots should join themselves without too much trouble. Just in case they don't, my position is this,

I agree with everything in the statement - and then some. I'm strongly for treaty and reparation. Whatever the first peoples of this nation are asking for, it will be nowhere near what they're owed. We should think ourselves lucky and pay up. Whatever it takes. And let's move on, finally. I've written about this many times before and I don't think I have anything new to say - yet. Besides, there's an excellent roundup of writings on the statements and responses to it here.

The thing that interests me most, and always has done, is why my fellow white Australians are so pig-headedly resistant to truth and reconciliation. Other colonising hordes have managed it. Even South Africa. Everyone but us in fact. Pretty pathetic. And the litany of past failure itself is always cited as the very reason we shouldn't even try to get this done. Since we persistently meet Einstein's definition of stupidity, i.e. doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, there are only two possible conclusions that one can draw. Either we really are collectively stupid - and I don't necessarily rule that out. Or, the result suits us - perverse as that may seem.

There are some other possible reasons for our chronic inertia, and they're not nearly as complex as people make out. The narrative we've been running since we first rampaged across this vast continent, felling trees and replacing them with sheep, that we're a fair and generous people is hokum. The boundless plains to share fiction is now looking shabbier than last year's Ugg boots. With our record on the treatment of refugees, the whole world knows what we're really like and we should stop pretending otherwise. There's a huge dollop of shame and guilt in the mix and the coward's way of dealing with that is to protest innocence. We know how that ends. Sooner or later we'll have to fess up and face up. It's okay to be wrong. It's okay to be afraid. It is not okay to use those things as excuses for not acting honourably - for, like, ever!

You know that scene in Finding Nemo where the seagulls are all squealing mine, mine, mine? That is how we really are. Australians who own property are obsessed with its monetary value. We don't think of a house as a place to live anymore. A house is an auction item, a series of flattering photographs on realestate.com.au, a reality-show set hosting a moveable feast of flat-pack kitchens and bathrooms. 

Because we think of land as nothing more than a valuable commodity, it is something over which we seem doomed to constantly squabble. Whenever our first peoples have the temerity to remind us that all of their lands were stolen and perhaps we could have a think about how that might feel, we freak out and squeal, they want to take what's ours - apparently without a hint of irony. That threat has nearly always worked. It's the way we're programmed. We can't conceive of a different mode of thinking about land and belonging. We don't think of ourselves as belonging to the land, we think of the land belonging to us. No matter how long the deliberations and how carefully framed and modest the requests from Indigenous people are, they will always be considered too much. And it's back to square one we go.

I happened to be listening to an interview on the radio the other day. Whenever a white Australian presenter interviews a black American writer, sooner or later, there comes a question or statement that infers something like this,

You know, we don't get you Yanks and your social unrest because all is bliss on this side of the Pacific

That's honestly how we see ourselves. And, the rest of the world? Well it's a giant theme park. Nothing more than an entertainment.  A curiosity that has nothing to do with our lives - which we think of as the authentic version of being human. And sometimes, during one of these encounters with a being from this theme-park version of the world, the cultural cringe suddenly goes grand mal. ABC presenter Michael Cathcart's ignorant and crass questions to Booker-prize winning author Paul Beatty so infuriated Indigenous man Trent Shepherd that he shouted,

'Look at yourself. I want white Australians to look at themselves.'

That's the best advice I've ever heard on the subject. Because, to white Australia, non-white Australia is theme-park world too. Even the people whose continuous occupation of this place goes back at least 40,000 years are part of that other world. We see ourselves as the true mob. Because we earn a salary and pay a mortgage, and that is the only version of ownership that we recognise. Because we line up every couple of years and vote for people we don't know to make decisions on our behalf, and that is the only version of citizenship that we recognise. Because when we look in the mirror we see ironed clothes and salon hair. And that is the only version of decency that we recognise. As individuals, that level of delusion would see us diagnosed with a mental condition that would require some serious medication and a lot of therapy. But it's a collective delusion and that makes it normal.

There are calls this week for us to start a conversation - again. We are incessantly starting these conversations and never getting anywhere with them. I think it's time we shut the fuck up, took Mr Shepherd's advice and looked truthfully at ourselves, and then sincerely listened to Indigenous people. With a little self-reflection, opening our minds and our ears, not to mention our cold, cold hearts, we might break the seemingly endless cycle of grudging, misguided gestures resulting in failure. 

I returned to Australia after living abroad for nearly three decades a few days before then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered his 'Sorry' speech. I honestly thought I'd come back to a country finally ready to confront past wrongs. I've learned now that sorry, far from being the hardest word, can be as easily deployed as hitting pause on the remote when you want to stop a movie and go to the toilet. Nearly ten years later, the movie is still on pause and we're still in the dunny.


Leonard Cohen famously rhymed Hallelujah with do ya, so I'm trying to work that trope.

If you don't agree with us we'll impale ya
Cos we're Australia...

Perhaps not. I'm thinking failure may be the only possible rhyme for this moment. We need new words. Ones that we can string into a better sentence...




Friday, March 31, 2017

Chasing butterflies

Butterfly - photo by Pants

The Butterfly Effect is the name of a film, a band and, weirdly, a self-esteem programme for girls. Most famously, it's used in Chaos Theory to describe a seemingly inconsequential event that causes a big impact. In the world of Pants, it's also one of the terms I use for the marvellous moment when an idea in search of a host chooses to land on me. This quite often happens when I'm out walking - a fairly common occurrence for creative folk. The artist Agnes Martin said,

'Inspiration is there all the time, for everyone whose mind is not clouded over with thoughts, whether they realise it or not.'

As you can imagine, it isn't difficult for me to empty my mind. Especially now that I've divested myself of almost all worries and complications and settled in a seaside hamlet where everyone is semi-comatose most of the time. Still, there is no setting more likely to yield ideas than a quiet woodland when there's no one else around for them to bless or bother.

A while back, I took the big Nikon for a trek around Larrikin Forest and got lost. On a straight, single track. I was chasing actual butterflies and ended up on a road miles from the camping area where I'd left the trusty Subaru. Happily, a van was coming down the hill as I reached the road. I offered my best old-lady-in-distress wave and the driver stopped. Neither of the two young tradies within could locate with their 'smart' phones either our present position or the car park where the Subaru patiently awaited my return. I, naturally, have refused to get one of these fangly things because my five-year-old 'dumb' phone still works, costs very little and plays the radio. In any case, no phone works in Larrikin Forest. Which makes signposting on forest tracks still fairly important IMHO.

While I was waiting for the tradies to decide to rescue me - far be it from me to ask - a middle-aged power couple Lycra-peddled their way towards us. She powered on up the hill while he stopped to see if he could render assistance. Which he duly did by offering the important information that the car park was 2.4 kilometres back down the track. He said he would have walked back with me but his power wife had already powered ahead. Then he berated me for not having the kind of phone that would not have helped anyway. I tossed the tradies my best I'm-completely-exhausted look. Which I was, btw. It was a hot day and I'd already walked the track twice looking for the exit I'd obviously missed. We set off in the van and got lost again. We had to follow the road all the way to the highway and then track back until we found the road I'd come in on. Half an hour later, I was reunited with the Subaru and the big Nikon contained some photos of interesting leaf patterns and butterflies.

I've been working on a musical for the last 25 years. The ideas fairies have been slow in finding me for this one. But they've showed up in Larrikin's End and my daily walks around Lake Larrikin have yielded great chunks of tune lately. Progress has been good in the last year or so. Fortuitously, I've also acquired a new friend. Caroline has a music room and a, (somewhat grouchy but beggars can't be choosers), piano. I have an old stage keyboard which is good for working out melodies and harmonies but I want to play the songs on a real piano. All the time in London I had a baby grand, literally at my fingertips, but the tunes for the musical refused that invitation. That's how it is sometimes.

Classically trained flautist Caroline and folkie banjo-playing Bruce wanted to learn some jazz. I don't know much but I do know a bit more than nothing and I have a lot of sheet music and that seems to satisfy them. Once a week I drive out to the farm and we play together. It's been a long time between tinkles for me but muscle memory has sustained us so far. Caroline is also acting as a first listener for the songs for my musical. She read the finished script a couple of times, so she knows the piece well. Such dedication. She genuinely seems to like it. I imagine that helps. So far I've played her ten completed songs. The next in line had been sitting on the music stand for a couple of weeks. Shy little butterfly.

Bruce and Caroline have a lot of native foods, or bush tucker, growing around the farm. Last week, Caroline gave me a bag of riberries, fruit of the Lilly Pilly. Walking is one way to entice musical ideas. The other tried and true way for me is to set my subconscious the task of trawling for them while I sleep. This method works for poems and sagely gobbets as well. Often they arrive in dreams. I call these 'pillow ideas'. The day after Caroline gave me the riberries, I found a tub of cooked rice that I'd forgotten about in the fridge. It passed the sniff test so I put it back. I hate to chuck food, even into the compost bin. In the morning, my pillow idea was,

Make riberry rice pudding.

Lovely, I said, but where's my tune?

I made the riberry rice pudding. It was delicious. The first part of the long-awaited tune came as I watered the vegetables at my allotment the next day. There is order in chaos.

I've just had a text message from my phone-services provider asking me if I would provide feedback on my 'recharge experience'. Er, no, I won't be doing that. I will tell you instead. I went to the supermarket and bought a voucher along with my shopping because that means I spend enough to get discounted petrol. Then I filled the Subaru, came home and punched a few numbers into my phone. It went smoothly. It always does, which is why I won't be changing anything until I absolutely have to. 

Trouble-free minds attract more butterflies. You heard it here first. Well, probably not, but at least be reassured. It works.





Monday, February 27, 2017

Now for the latest fake news

And the winner isn't... (Kodakotype by Pants)

I was just saying to TQW the other day, isn't it rich and isn't it queer how there's a weird time/space continuum thing going on between Washington and Hollywood. We had been macro-dosing on LSD, but still. Something supremely spooky is happening there. Tinsel Town could be the last stand of political conscience. Clint Eastwood would be turning in his grave... What's that Barney? You say he's not dead yet? Okay. Fatty Arbuckle then. I'm pretty sure he's dead. Then again, he could be inhabiting the body of d.j. trump, currently MC in da big whitey house. You simply can't trust in dimensions these days.

We three are gathered on the Pants family sofa as usual for our annual Oscars fest. Barney is the surprise show this year. He's been fired as a Trump advisor. He assures us he's in good company. He slides back into his old role of general factotum as if nothing in the least extraordinary has happened in the last six months. Least said, soonest mended.

Charge your glasses, comrades, it's going to be a long afternoon, potentially only redeemed by a great deal of alcohol and some very fetching canapés.

Wait up, there's a naff alert, right out of the gate. A Justin Timberlake medley and close-ups of Nicole and Keith singing along and mum-n-dad dancing. Doesn't get any better than that. JT cedes the stage to host Jimmy Kimmel and does that weird angry/grumpy look that would get you thrown out of every acting school in the world but is somehow fine for a prize-giving ceremony for the best acting in the world? How we pray for a catastrophe on the scale of Hugh Jackman's opening number in 2009. Not to be.

We have to content ourselves with a Mel Gibson joke from Kimmel.

There's only one brave heart in this room and he's not going to unite us.

Guffaw. And then one that would be funny if it wasn't actually true in dimensions beyond our ken but would make perfect sense if we lived the kind of multicultural harmony we claim to inhabit.

Black people saved NASA and white people saved jazz.

At Seat of Pants, we've been complaining for years about how restrained and tasteful the Oscars have become. And missing Joaquin weird-outs, impeccably bad dresses (seriously, what has become of Sarah Jessica Parker?), with a desperation we'd have found hard to contemplate even five years ago. Maroon velvet jackets. We never thought we'd pine for them. Even a whiff of Jared Leto wouldn't go amiss at this point. Looks like Casey Affleck is trying to mess with convention at least. As much as he dares given he's up for an Academy award and accusations of sexual harassment in the same season. Probably not a record.

Meryl Streep gets her 20th nomination this year. We saw Florence Foster Jenkins on DVD here at Seat of Pants. It was one of two films we've seen this season. The other was La La Land, which we took in at the Larrikin's End Cinema/Squash Court. Research, people, research. For the record, we're with the Blah-Blah Bland brigade. It's pretty, fun, crass, not really a musical and better than Xanadu, just. Kimmel has to make a Streep joke, for reasons too numerous to mention. A spat with Lagerfeld did need to be cauterized as a matter of urgency. Kimmel obliged.

That's a nice dress, is it an Ivanka?

Two birds with one stone. Cut, print, moving on. I'm noticing something odd.

Guys, did anyone pick up on tonight's theme?
No. I don't think there is a theme this year.
Oh, come on, there's always a theme.

Note - if Hollywood is not hitting you over the head with a theme, something is very, very wrong. We hate all that dream big dreams shit. But, the absence of it is worse. Pointless is ground zero, non? And also a BBC television show that might not be half bad in one of those other dimensions we mentioned earlier.

We go through the motions. Mahershala Ali wins Best Supporting Actor. He thanks his teachers who apparently told him, It's not about you. Good advice for any human. It's a miracle that an actor finally took it up and made it work in Hollywood. Respect, Mahershala.

And that's as thrilling as it gets for the next couple of hours. Kimmel cracks the obligatory sexist joke,

This is the fun part of the evening before people start losing and you realise you've taped your dress to your boobs for nothing. We're thinking Casey Affleck has done no such thing, so will inevitably win for Best Actor.

Four-time Costume Design winner Colleen Atwood claims to be 'genuinely', (and yet somehow utterly implausibly), 'floored' by her win. You can't even count on Dwayne Johnson to break the dress code. 

Hacksaw Ridge gets the Oscar for Sound Editing. You can't go wrong blowing a lot of things up and I suppose we have to be grateful for white-soled shoes when we can get them. The guy's Mom was called Skippy. And he almost cries. I sure hope Skippy's enjoying a Miller Lite with Matthew McConaughey's Daddy. Is MM nominated for anything this year? He can always be counted on to go Fresno on us. What are they putting in the Vitamin B shots these days? Must be actual Vitamin B. How else is all this sense and sensibility explicable? How useful would a star gate be right now?

Next best thing. Mark Rylance explains that women are much better at opposing without hatred - the whole supporting/opposing metaphor thingy falls flat. Way too psycho-sensitive for Hollywood. But may go some way to explaining why the winning Supporting Actress, Viola Davis, rolls her Oscar up in her red dress. Less explicable is her speech.

There is one place where all the people with potential are gathered. That's the graveyard. Exhume those bodies of the people who dreamed.

Not quite what we had in mind when we waxed nostalgic about the absence of dreaming and dreamers.

There are lots of shots of Haraji P. Henson looking delighted. Lots of shots of Nicole and Keith looking like they think they're twenty thirty years younger than they actually are. Lots of shots of Mel Gibson looking confused. Lots of shots of Denzel Washington looking, well, very Denzel.

Finally the theme for tonight's show is revealed. It's Inspiration. Frankly, none of us here at SOP would have guessed that. Turns out that Charlize Theron's inspiration is Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment, because,

She makes a black-and-white film feel like it's colour. 

That so needed saying.

Barney, is there any of that Trump jerky left?

Finally, someone mentions the wall. That task falls to Gael García Bernal, self-describing as a migrant worker. It would be tragic if he could never work in the US again not to mention Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón. And if that wall was built, you can bet those guys would be the first behind it.

The will to live is on drip feed at this point until Zootopia wins for Best Animated Film. And the makers explain that they had the crazy idea of talking about the world through talking animals. Imagine. Now that's what we call inspiring here at SOP. We're cooking.

Barney, would you mind inspiring my glass?

You know things are dire when you find yourself hanging out for the In Memoriam segment. And wondering if they'll fit Bill Paxton in.

Barney, my plate could do with a little inspiration of the canapé variety.

Seth Rogen was inspired by Back to the Future? Different strokes. At least he's wearing non-reg shoes. And there's another shot of Haraji P. Henson enjoying herself.

Question - if we nodded off, would we miss anything?
That's a question?
Point taken.
ZZZ...

The Sci-tech awards. Hope springs. Someone who is responsible for the techy stuff that makes all this magic possible is bound to come on and tell us he/she doesn't know how it all works really but is sure that it's a spooky marriage of big dreams and super daring. No such luck. All we get is a picture of Matt Lucas's face needing no adjustment at all to play Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Javier Bardem was inspired by The Bridges of Madison County? Whatevs.

Emma Stone says her character in La La Land was inspired by an ant. That explains a lot.

Ah, Samuel L. Jackson. What would the Oscars be without him? Is that a  Royal blue suit? Good man. Lord, let it be velvet lest we give up on showbiz completely.

La La Land wins for Best Original Score. Original? Well if that means a combination of notes that no one has put together in exactly that order before, well, yeah, we can see how that might work.

Jimmy Kimmel is inspired by We Bought a Zoo? Oh, he's making a joke. Nice. Almost resuscitory. Almost.

Ben Affleck looks old. And fat. Sweet. Manchester by the Sea wins for Best Original Screenplay. Moonlight wins for Best Adapted. Ducks are lining up. Where's The Rifleman when you need him?

Speaking of which, Barney, the champers flutes are a little short on inspiration over here. Thanks old bud, we're going to need all our strength for the final push.

Damien Chazelle wins Best Director for La La Land.

Barney, how about some inspiration in a julep glass? Vodkamisu time, I think. Do you get the feeling that we're carrying this theme here are SOP?

Denzel's stopped smiling. Casey Affleck wins Best Actor. Casey says he was inspired by Denzel. Not a consolation, apparently.

Best Actress - Emma Stone. Who, we will recall,  was inspired by an ant.

Enter Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to state the appallingly obvious. Man they look old.

La La Land. Cue the self-congratulation masquerading as humility,

Repression is the enemy of civilisation. Keep dreaming your dreams...

Barney, my glass is gagging for some inspiration over here.

Oh wait. Something very weird is happening here. There's been a mistake. No, not the donuts falling from the ceiling in little parachutes or tourists bused in to receive blessings from the sainted Denzel. An actual bone fide miracle. A correction in the time/space continuum, if you will.

It's Moonlight that has won Best Picture. We can't even begin to unpack the ironic complexities tonight.

Best Oscars ever. Thank you Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Now, on to Washington...


Saturday, January 14, 2017

So, we round up the usual suspects...

I have just the thing, an apartment on the Gold Coast (Kodakotype by Pants)


The Oxford Dictionary defines 'entitlement' as

1. (mass noun) the fact of having a right to something.

and then offers the interpretations,

1.1 The amount to which a person has a right.
e.g 'her annual leave entitlement.'

1.2 The belief that one is inherently deserving of special privileges or treatment.
e.g. 'No wonder your kids have a sense of entitlement.'

Two stories running concurrently in Australia this week have been providing us with the kind of political ouroboros that we find gruesomely compelling. The first is linked to interpretation 1.1. The Government has been using an automated service to dispatch demands for immediate return of benefits money it says has been overpaid. The system is obviously and fatally flawed. Even the guy the Prime Minister hired to oversee digital transformation, (whatever that means in the post-digital era), says that if it were a private company, Centrelink* would either go broke or be shut down for committing fraud. Many of the people getting these demands say they don't owe anything. The Government apparently knows that it is demanding money that isn't actually owed from the nation's most marginalised people. And yet it has no plans to discontinue the practice, because 'it is working'. Well, yes, armed robbery generally does work if the aim is to collect a lot of money and scare the fuck out of the populace.

The second story relates to interpretation No. 2. The question of parliamentarians' expenses claims pops up fairly regularly in this country. Every now and then one of them does something truly over the top like take a helicopter ride a few miles down the road or use their taxpayer-funded credit card for a drunken night out at a strip club. A 'review' is called for, and duly promised. Last week a cabinet minister was suspended after it was revealed that she bought an investment property whilst on a work-related trip to the Gold Coast. It didn't help that the minister brushed off the $800K purchase as an 'impulse buy'. Tangerine lip gloss is an impulse buy.

I wonder if the image consultants who thought up the name of the agency overseeing benefit entitlements knew that a centre link is the piece on a leg iron that connects the two chains to the leg shackles. Perhaps that's the point. Anyone claiming unemployment or student allowance in this country is presumed to be a criminal. The Government plans to conduct 1.7 million of these 'compliance interventions' in the coming years. By my calculations, just about every claimant will get tapped. If a government agency is making that many mistakes, then we can safely assume that many more people will fall victim to this unseemly racket. Although our welfare safety net can sometimes look like it has been mauled by a Great White Shark, it still exists and people still have rights.

Add to the mix the peculiar spectacle of the Deputy Prime Minister saying that people who access social security payments must understand that they are getting 'other people's money', so therefore must comply with any and all demands, no matter how outrageous or arbitrary. On the other hand, we have a cabinet minister refusing to hand over her diary for last week. Her movements ought to be a matter of public record, especially since we're paying for them. And then yet another minister claiming that attending sporting events and parties on the taxpayer dollar is not only righteous but expected.

As I've been writing this, Sussan Ley has resigned as Health Minister. Bruised but unrepentant, she says,

"Whilst I have attempted at all times to be meticulous with rules and standards, I accept community annoyance, even anger, with politicians' entitlements demands a response."

There's that 'entitlement' word again. More of a 1.2 than a 1.1. Ley's meticulousness did not, on this occasion apparently, extend to evaluating her moral responsibility to her employers - the people. And a rather grim-faced Prime Minister has agreed to finally get around to doing something about this perpetual mess. Not only will the 36 recommendations of the last 'review' into parliamentarians' expenses be 'implemented' but an attempt will be made to clarify what exactly constitutes 'official business'. It has come to this. The privileged need to be given quite explicit guidelines on how not to behave like a complete cunt. It might be more useful to append a long list of what is not 'official business'. Accepting invitations to parties given by wealthy business people who wish to 'showcase themselves and have conversations in relation to important matters' should not qualify. Some of us would call that lobbying.

Either we have got the world's dumbest politicians, (and I wouldn't entirely rule that out), or they must know that they're transgressing. They clearly think it's worth the risk. Occasionally one of them gets caught. Cue dramatic dive onto nearest available sword. There may be a longer-term strategy in play. They just keep pushing the boundary in the hope that we'll eventually give up trying to temper their greed and amorality. With Donald J. Trump leading the charge now, the conventional view of what constitutes acceptable behaviour for a politician is about to be challenged in ways we haven't yet conceived. Not only are we no longer in Kansas, we could be so befuddled by the constantly moving goalposts, we could even come to believe that Kansas never existed in the first place. The endgame, a suspicious mind might conclude, is to re-establish the old notion that a small number of 'haves' ruling a mass of 'have nots' is the natural order of things.

In a rare betrayal of self-reflection one of our politicians recently gave us a glimpse into the way these people think. Sam Dastyari was caught out forwarding a bill for travel expenses to a private company because he'd maxed out his own allowance. When questioned by journalists as to why it never occurred to him to cough up himself, he said, 'I just didn't want to pay it.' And there you have the exquisite juxtaposition. The powerful senator, with the means and obligation to reach into his own pocket for a relatively tiny amount of money but not the slightest inclination to do so. Compare and contrast with a single mother being forced into a debt recovery agreement for a vast amount she doesn't actually owe. And you can immediately see why the word 'entitlement' needs two very different interpretations. Claimants of public money through Centrelink face jail if a machine makes a mistake while those grabbing their obscene overshare from the parliamentary purse may have to sit out a paltry penance on the back bench until their malfeasance is forgotten if not exactly forgiven. There is no question of them even having to pay interest on the misappropriated funds, much less serve jail time.

The concept of a 'meritocracy', as proposed by the likes of Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s seems almost twee now but I'm wondering if that didn't set the stage for the establishment of a new ruling class of people for whom the rules, assuming there are any at all, really are different. I'm thinking of the interview David Frost did with the impeached President Nixon in 1977, the one where Nixon, apparently completely believing this to be true, says,

'When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.'

Perhaps there's a hint in that of what was to come. The idea that there's any way to fairly assess merit without first achieving racial and gender equality is preposterous anyway. But somehow, it's embedded itself quite firmly in the psyche of the political class. They've proved themselves capable of high levels of self-delusion. They seem to truly believe that any which way you can manage to claw your way to the top can be attributed to 'merit'. There is no qualitative distinction between acts or methods. All that matters is the goal. Now with Trump as their standard-bearer, who knows how much further they'll advance that project? All that stands between us and authoritarian rule is the strength of our institutions. Dismantling them is a high priority for a lot of people running countries these days.

I've signed two online petitions this week. One calls for an inquiry into the Centrelink fiasco and the other for an independent anti-corruption regulator at the federal parliamentary level. (Just to be clear - I'm not a prominent Australian.) The second is more likely to succeed than the first. If there were to be an inquiry into the Centrelink scam, I would hope there would be some assessment of the institutional damage as well as the trauma suffered by individuals who've been egregiously set upon. As citizens, we have a right to expect that our institutions do not suddenly go rogue on us. One has to consider a possible motivation in all this might be to discourage people from claiming their due entitlements. There is likely to be an unintended consequence - it may well discourage people from undertaking part-time work. Most errors have occurred through crude and flawed data matching when people have worked for a while and claimed benefits when they had no work, as is their right.

If there is a review of parliamentary entitlements - the 1.2 kind - the scope should be expanded to test some of the other glaring conflict of interest issues. Sussan Ley's troubles began when she took a side-trip to buy an investment property - her third. Australian federal parliamentarians own an average of 2.5 properties per member. Is it any wonder that none of them have an appetite for reforming the laws that currently give them huge tax advantages when they buy and negatively gear investment properties? Sitting parliamentarians should be banned from owning investment properties.


*Centrelink is our national social security agency, within the Department of Human Services. When did we get all of these creepy names? I know, I know, the names are the least of it.