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.

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.