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.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Newman's everywhere! (Some lunchtime silliness)

Sung to the tune of Queensland's Everywhere (you can find it here). And in honour of Denis Carnahan, there are some lines which scan only if you force-fit them!

Could somebody please help me,
There's some flooding on the way,
I thought I'd call triple-zero,
But they gave the game away.
They said there's a superhero, who has made them obsolete,
If you need someone to rescue you,
Here's the name you should repeat:

Who's your ambo?
Campbell Newman!
Who's your firey?
Campbell Newman!
Who's your hero?
Campbell Newman!
Newman's everywhere!

So you thought the Queensland Coast Guard
Had the hero game wrapped up
For saving lives and saving property
When the river was rising up.
You're deluded thinking rescuing's for the ordinary man.
Super-dooper Campbell Newman is
The only one who can...

Who saved Brisbane?
Campbell Newman!
Who saved Towoomba?
Campbell Newman!
Who saved all Queensland,
From the socialists?
Newman's everywhere!

There's no bushfire too rampant,
When Newman wears the cape.
When you need an Iron-human,
He's the first to chest the tape.
If King Kong attacked the Gold Coast, Cam would take it on the chin.
It's Australia's great misfortune that
There's only one of him.

Who's deluded?
Campbell Newman!
Who's ego's out of control?
Campbell Newman!

[pause music, scream the next bit with no rhyme or meter]
Who's a heartless cyborg who sends children to concentration camps?
[resume music]

That's Scott Morrison!
Newman's Everywhere!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

A debate poisoned by what we know

This is a recap of a previous post, but I think it's worth reiterating.

Australia is being manipulated and poisoned because politicians can now exploit what we know, and didn't know in an earlier age. 

In the 1970s – as I once confirmed with a researcher – Australia had no idea about the refugee boats that didn't make it.

That meant the refugee debate could be framed in terms of the boats that did make it. They were made – at least by sympathetic journalists like Ita Buttrose – into personifications of bravery, people who were so fearless, and Australia such a beacon, that of course we should accept them.

Australia back then crafted a policy to stop the boats by getting people here without the boat. Not by blocking them: by trying to process their refugee status quickly, and bring them.

Australia now has this burden of knowledge, which becomes a burden of guilt, which becomes the burden of political speech, which becomes the burden of atrocity.

Now, the world knows that some boats don't make it. The cynical racists among our politicians – of both sides – have used that knowledge against us, which doesn't make sense.

Think about it: if you tend to the Right, you're supposed to believe in individual agency as a core article of faith. Fretting about dangers is hypocrisy: the individuals leaving wherever they're leaving are doing so of their own free will.

When the Right witters on about deaths at sea, they do it solely to wedge the Left: because, forty years later, now we know that refugees might die on the trip, we agonise about it.

They – the Right – don't agonise. They don't care – any government that can send refugees back to their torturers is a cynical liar when it talks of preventing deaths at see.

It's the Left that cares, agonises, and lets itself get wedged by the idea that we can prevent the deaths at sea.

Here's the cold equation: we can't prevent the deaths. Preventing arrivals, transfers at sea, three-word slogans, “Border Force”, no-comment press conferences – these things do nothing to prevent people leaving, and some of them will be in boats that sink.

(Remember for a moment that mandatory detention was an ALP idea that must live in infamy forever).

And it's the ALP's mandatory detention plus the “Leftist” concern about deaths at sea creates the opportunity for the wedge: if we make Australia sufficiently odious the boats won't leave, goes the argument, when actually the Monsoon is the only thing that seems to change the boat departures.

And if we didn't know at all – if, as in the innocent 1970s there were no satellite phones, no call-for-help – our moral choices would be both simpler and, in local political terms, so much more wedge-proof. We would only have to concern ourselves with arrivals, not departures.

There is my solution to The Left's dilemma. We can't stop the departures. What people flee is too much beyond our ken. Stop being caught in the “stop the boats” question and instead, insist that we deal humanely with those that arrive.

Don't let the political debate be poisoned by our knowledge that some don't survive the voyage. Honour the dead, but give our efforts to the living refugees.

After all, they are heroes.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Banksia Wind

The banksia wind is special.

Maybe it's the other trees. Banksias aren't tall: they grow as a second-storey beneath the canopy of gum-trees or angophora. While the gums grow tall and spread their arms out to the light, the banksias are gnarled and low, bent, misshapen and tough. Other small trees bend their growth to the wind, living at an angle: banksias grow thicker to stay straight, drop branches and develop burly lumps. They're pigheaded trees, too stubborn to bend and usually too tough to break.

They sing in the wind.

First, there's the sound of the wind approaching, a susurration off to the right in the high leaves of the gum-trees. It's a wash that approaches in three-dimensional stereo: at first, a point of sound a hundred metres distant, washing towards you in the high leaves, like waves in the distance before they arrive at shore and break on the rocks.

And the swish-swish of the wind comes closer, becomes a wash that fills a whole hemisphere of the ears: a sound already unique when you stand among the gum-trees, the speech of the spirit of tall wood and rangy bark and loose leaves.

And then it's all around you. 

With an extra note: the hush and hum because the wind has arrived, and you're standing beneath the gums but among the banksias, and it's the banksias that sing while the gum-trees hiss.

The song of the banksia.

It's a song of leaves slapping against each other: argumentative? or the strike of hand-palms celebrating a momentary victory? Who knows. Then there's the violins of leaves out-of-reach of others, vibrating on their own, a million voices in a thousand keys. It's the shuddering flap of the leaves at the edge of branches, like cicadas too wet to drum. And it's the bass-notes of branches that vibrate but don't bend.

Of course it made us cry.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Medical research lets the government wedge science

The Medical Research Future Fund is a sham, and medical researchers are falling for it. They already behave as if:
  1. The MRFF exists, and
  2. Medical research will suffer if it doesn't go ahead.
I'll bet Tony, Joe, Kevin and the rest of the toxic sludge of cabinet are in helpless fits of giggles. They've wedged the science community, with medical research distracted by the shiny and defending the fund's sometime-promise, while other sciences are being stripped of money today.

The big medical research charities have sunk either into a self-interested silence (shut up or the government will take it away), except for those that outright support a fund backed by a malicious attack on the poor. Of the 26 charities I've checked, everywhere from mental health to cancer support, none have directly criticised the GP co-payment.

Sorry, medical researchers, but you're backing the wrong horse if you think that “save what you can” is a sensible response to this budget.

Sorry, medical researchers, but you've been set to chase, catch, and defend a chimera. The government's purpose with the MRFF was political, not scientific: to recruit some part of the scientific research community that would defend the atrocious budget. And it's working.

Sorry, medical researchers, but if you support the MRFF you have to answer a very hard question. How many poor people will die because they can't afford the $7 co-payment that funds the blue-sky-sometime research fund that you're eyeing with avarice?

Research that already existed is getting cut, and you're letting yourselves get distracted by a shiny promise, and your distraction is a political tool of the government.

You're trading today's patient welfare againts tomorrow's political promise.

Even a brand-new medical research fund, starting tomorrow, doesn't cure people who are sick today. It will take years to get a result that can be put to a trial, and if the trial works, a couple of years to generate a result and become a treatment.

In the interim – say, the six years from 2014 to 2020 – it will be nothing more than a patent farm hoping to arbitrage what might work into what will generate money for patent owners.

And in the meantime?

People will die.

They'll die because the co-payment parlays into a cascading payment for anyone whose condition is more complex than a single GP visit.

People are going to die because of this government's policies, and the payoff of a medical research fund coming some day if the government keeps its promise isn't going to save them.

Because the whole thing is toxic, and if you believe that a promise to your special interest makes the budget less toxic, you've been tricked. You've been fooled, gulled, wedged: you've been persuaded to argue in favour of an attack on people who have no defence, because you've been given a promise by proven liars.

And you believe them, because your hope is louder than the whisper of good sense.

I will march against your Medical Research Future Fund because it's a whitewash designed to paint a patina of respectability on an odious impost on the poor. And no, I won't worry that someone might die in 2030 because I marched. Today's poor and sick need universal healthcare more than they need the promise of a liar.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The relentless diary of chronic illness

A point about chronic illness that's hard to grasp from the outside is the relentless sameness of it.

A really good chronic illness is so dominating. It commands the daily routine, and the weekly and monthly and annual diary. It changes everything, from high finance to housekeeping.

A chronic illness imposes its own shape on life. It embosses life with its own imprint, and it leaves precious little space on the paper to write your own story.

Its story – Ms T's illness – goes like this:

0530: Day starts with medications, some of which are soporific. Return to bed.

0630: More medications, more sleep.

0730: Wake properly, have breakfast. Rest of morning medication. Some of these make you feel ill.

0830: Return to bed to cope with nausea.

0900: Wake, shower (if well enough), dress, etc.

0930: Plan the day, starting (probably) with loading the washer.

Things will happen after 0930, but only slowly and carefully. If pain, nausea and diarrhoea are your companions, you don't undertake anything lightly. Trust me.

By 1000, you might feel well enough to plan, say, a shopping trip, and if nothing goes wrong by 1030, you will even commit to getting the 1050 bus. That gets you back home by midday as long as nothing goes wrong, in time to prep others' lunches (I am spoiled: if I'm working from home, Ms T always brings me lunch).

1300: With lunch over, take medications that mean a brief rest.

The afternoon will be occupied with trying to do things that must be done, fighting off the nausea of chemotherapy and the lassitude of so many medications, and trying to form a coherent plan for preparing dinner.

1730: Start preparing dinner, frequently with assistance. “Can you help me with the potatoes?”

1900: Dinner, perhaps with wine, and the TV news.

1930 to 2000 (depending): More drugs, shower or bath (if too unwell to shower in the morning), bed.

A high-quality chronic illness – not cancer, in Ms T's case, an immune system disorder that can only be held in check with heavy chemotherapy – might leave the sufferer with four hours each day that aren't dictated by the illness.

The chemo has its own life. Ms T has been prescribed cyclophosphamide on various frequencies between fortnightly and (thankfully, currently, quarterly).

And that doesn't count the diary items. Once a fortnight, sometimes once a week, there's a GP visit because of all those drugs need prescriptions. At least once a month, averaged over a year, there's a specialist appointment at a hospital. Twice a year, on average, there's a procedure that requires at least a day-surgery visit to hospital.

And there's the pathology, which never ends.

This is the invisible life that the nasty right-wing punishers and straighteners don't understand.

If you're chronically ill:
  1. You have no “normal life” into which might be slotted “employable”.
  1. You can't avoid GP visits. Some medications require a monthly review, even if it's an authority prescription.
  1. You can't avoid pathology, nor specialist or hospital visits.
  2. You will almost certainly be reduced to a single income, at least some of the time.

We're lucky. We have survived so far without needing more of the social “safety net” (a term I despise) than our medical system.

But I'm outraged that the rich are happy to consign others to – in effect – death, because they see chronic illness as some kind of divine punishment, rather than misfortune.

This government is made up of evil men who actively detest the people they govern, and want them to die.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Business Council of Australia's stupid crusade against the weekend

As well as a journalist, I'm a small business. I don't talk too much about Bunjaree Cottages in these blog posts, but it's there.

The Business Council of Australia scares me.

It'll go on the radio at every opportunity telling me that it represents small business, not only big business, but its prescriptions for the economy are a recipe for disaster.

Listening to 702 this afternoon while I wrapped up my day's work, I heard some muppet from the BCA espousing the abolition of penalty rates again. Because retail and restaurants and coffeeshops want it that way.

At some point, asked by Richard Glover about peoples' right to a lifestyle, the BCA spokesman rewarded us all with a lecture about being a 24x7 online economy (hang on, though, wasn't he talking about the needs of retail stores and restaurants and coffeshops?).

It's like the BCA doesn't understand the intersection between society and the economy.

Look, you idiots, if nobody has a weekend, any business that relies on weekend trade is done for.

Look, you idiots, if nobody has money for discretionary spending, coffeeshops and restaurants will suffer.

What it feels like to me is that the BCA is utterly committed to an ideological crusade against unions, and it doesn't care if a business like mine is sacrificed to its endgame, the abolition of the weekend.

It – the BCA – will damage the economy in the long term, erode society, and along the way (I confess my interest) suck the life out of a business like mine. Why? So it can pound its chest about beating unions.

They're idiots, and they scare me.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Speak truth – to the powerless

In the hands of fools, a good aphorism turns into a misdirection (including this one, although I'm not vain enough to consider my aphorism all that good).

Take the role of the journalist, which by old usage is “to speak truth to power”.

Either the Quakers coined the phrase, since they lay claim to it here, or they borrowed and popularised it.

Either way, it has nothing to do with journalism. The full book title from the Society of Friends is: “SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER – A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence”.

Nothing to do with journalism, then. But it got plagiarised and popularised, embraced, adopted, and extinguished.

Power” is, right now in Australia, engaged in theft, deception, oppression, and corruption. It doesn't care about truth, it only cares about holding its power to its chest, long enough to deal a crookedly-shuffled deck of cards that will put all the aces in the hands of its backers and ideological fellow-travellers.

The role of the journalist is not to “speak truth to power”, for a very good reason.

The powerful aren't listening. At best, they'll invite you in to tea to make you feel important. They'll pick winners from those that speak, those that rise, and make them insiders.

If you're insidered by politics, you'll be comfortably and painlessly neutered, captured by process, and you'll seamlessly and quietly stop thinking about speaking truth to power, to be instead captured by another aphorism, “the art of the possible.” Eventually, you'll become irrelevant or detested.

And before you tell me it can't happen to you, note: Peter Garret is still maintaining a distressingly neutered silence, even out of office. His aggressive stance has turned defensive.

Today's “art of the possible” in Australia is a vicious, nasty, small thing that involves robbing the public on behalf of the rich.

If you're insidered as a journalist, you'll become part of the Canberra Gallery, and most of your audience will be other insiders, which is pretty damn useless.

The job of the journalist is not to “speak truth to power”. It's to speak truth to the powerless.

Because the powerless are the readers. You know, the ones whose eyeballs your oh-so-detested sales people are trying to sell.

The powerless are the audience that needs the truth.

They're getting screwed over, ripped off, made to pay for the high lives of others. And meanwhile, they're not getting told the truth.

They're not getting the truth, because the technique of subversion works so well.

Make the journalist an insider, and truth dies on a crucifix whose nails are comfort, tenure, and leaks.

And the sign over the head, as ironic as Pilate's “King of the Jews”, reads “Speak Truth to Power”.

The only way the powerless can learn, organise, learn to hate, and refine their hate into organisation, is if they're told the truth.

Speak truth to the powerless.

Addendum: The more I think about it, the more that the application of "speak truth to power" to journalism exemplifies a brilliant, seductive and utterly cynical application of the phrase.

In short, it means "talk to us, not to them." Which both neuters journalism - since it confines it to a cloistered insider audience - and excludes the mass audience.

And it appeals to the journalists. Unless we're even more mentally disturbed than our peers, being close to power is nice. You wear better clothes than people on the sport or crime beats, get addressed by name by politicians in public, and get to live on the inside.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pwned by Apple, in my own home

[Everything that follows is fiction. I'm just having fun with the idea that Apple might want to own the world of “smart homes”.]

I was trying to get in out of the rain, and wasn't having any luck.

I was in a hurry because it was my wife's birthday, it was raining to flood the Holy Land, I'd only just managed to keep the flowers intact in one hand, I wanted the backpack containing my work computer indoors before it got damaged, my umbrella had started the afternoon in the CBD and was by now probably passing Newcastle and heading north...

It wasn't a good day.

It wasn't that the door of my home no longer had a key, I was used to that. But last week, the system demanded I reset the code to unlock it, and I couldn't remember the new one.

I'd have been worried, but “there's an app for that”, and it'd been installed when the gent with the screwdriver finished upgrading my home, and all I had to do was ...

“Siri, please open the door,” I said to the iPhone.

The phone asked for a password that I couldn't remember, so I asked for a password reset and waited for the confirmation message to arrive. Getting wetter.

Sure, there's a porch and I was notionally under cover, but this was not “oh, it's raining” rain, this was the kind of rain that floats small buses up against walls. I was getting wet, and not just my legs. The splash from the torrent had me crouched under the porch-lamp trying to shield the phone with my body.

With wet hands, getting the new password into the phone was a pain that took three attempts. And then the phone dropped a bombshell.

“Important security upgrades are ready for your iSmartHome application. Please install and restart your phone to continue” was the next thing on the screen.

There was no “later” button. Just a “Install and Restart” button. So I did.

The lightning was the kind I quite enjoy: if I'm on the inside of the house, sitting in the dark after dinner and maybe some wine, looking out the windows. With me on the wrong side of the door, it was jump-and-catch-your-breath stuff.

“You need to accept the updated terms and conditions on the iSmartHome application to continue,” the phone said to me, reciting the text on the screen.

“Siri, I don't suppose we could wait until I'm inside to do the legals? It's raining out here. It's also six degrees, I'm already soaked, and I'm cold.”

“You need to accept the updated terms and conditions on the iSmartHome application to continue.”

Have you tried to read a six-thousand word legal document in three-point type on an iPhone screen? Nor have I. I scrolled quicksmart to the bottom, checked the “accept” box, and clicked “OK”.

Then I waited.

The street – only a handful of metres away since it's one of those early-20th-century homes where the front door is set back only a few paces from the footpath – was becoming worryingly overflowed.

Eventually, the phone informed me:

“The free trial period for your iSmartHome Control Centre has now expired. Would you like to upgrade to the full version for $29.99?”

Nobody mentioned trial periods, but did I have a choice?

So of course, I clicked okay as a large gopher-wood craft made its stately way between rows of parked – occasionally on top of each other, now – cars. Perhaps I'm exaggerating, but …

“To complete the upgrade, please link your iSmartHome Control Centre to your iTunes account” was the next dialogue, as unicorns forlornly swam by trying to catch up.

One thing.

I didn't have an iTunes account. Hadn't bothered. Now I needed one. Great.

Swearing like I was on 4chan, I navigated the sign-up menus until finally I was offered a chance to return to asking the damn phone whether it would kindly have a polite chat to the damn home control system to open the damn door!

Oh, now it wanted a credit card number. Fair enough: rest my backpack on the doorstep, fish my wallet out of a pocket – not that one, somehow a medium-sized carp seems to have landed there, probably from someone's outdoor pond – squint at the card under the porch-light, try to read the embossed numbers that lose their silver ink ten minutes into the life of the card don't you hate that? – and try to key the numbers into the screen because I feel like such a goose yelling my credit card security code at my phone, and wait.


You know what? Tapping your feet impatiently when your shoes are full of water doesn't help. I couldn't think of better, so I kind of squished ineffectively while I waited.

The screen popped up a reminder, that it was my wife's birthday. I knew that (see above), and the flowers weren't faring well and I just wanted to get inside.


The rain seemed to be easing, at last. A raven flapped at me from the front gate – they don't hover well – but perhaps the expression on my face put it off. It left rather grumpily.


The lightning hadn't stopped, though. Just as I was starting to wonder whether that was affecting the phone's communications, the screen blinked and a message appeared.

We're sorry. This credit card cannot be used for purchases on the US store. Please contact our helpdesk for further information.” There was a number at the end of the message.

I was still leaning against the front wall crying when a motor scooter parked on the footpath and a delivery kid ran up the steps carrying pizzas in a heat-pack. He barely glanced at me as he reached for the doorbell.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The “job snob” myth

Well, yes, since you ask (I realise you didn't), I am qualified to comment on the “job snob”.

Apart from the things that I would count as my “career” – training in electronics, caring for stadium sound systems, the shift to journalism, six years as an analyst along the way – there have been the things I did merely to eat and pay the rent.

The short job as a general labourer in a theatre, I won't give in any detail. Suffice to say that the person I answered to cared nothing for OH&S, and I quit.

I had a couple of stints as a courier. Why not? I had a car, I know my way around most of Sydney without resorting to street directories or – these days – GPS, and it almost paid the bills.

And there were a couple of years in the 1980s when I was hosing out Luna Park for a living (there was a small premium for someone who will arrive at 4:30am without complaint).

I still think politicians – especially specimens like Tony Abbott (professional career: university to a brief stint as a journalist, then into politics) and Eric Abetz (barrister and solicitor, then politician) – are talking through the wrong end of a long arse when they bang on like this:

People have no right to hold out for the job of their dreams while they are on unemployment benefits.” – Tony Abbott.

Tasmanians … simply don't want to take the jobs that are on offer.” – Eric Abetz.

Abetz went on, in talking to the ABC, to support Abbott's idea that if you can't get a job in Tasmania, you should be applying for jobs on the mainland.

It'd be nice to see a shred of human decency in their vicinity, even if these guys are only carrying it around because it stuck to the bottom of a shoe when they last stomped on a beggar's face. Alas, no.

Look: it takes money to get a job. Let me pick a place in Tasmania, say, Devonport, and put the job interview in Melbourne.

Right now, the best available Jetstar from Launceston to Melbourne is $45 (not including its extras), making the flights a minimum $90.

But you have to get from Devonport to Launceston first – the train that leaves at 8am arrives at 9:15, which lands the flyer outside the typical “hot price” flight times. Oh, the train costs $24.50 return if you're unemployed and therefore on a concession, otherwise the return is $49.

And then there's Tullamarine to Melbourne. Take the Skybus, it's a $30 return.

To make the journey for the interview – let's just skip the business of moving for a minute – is in the order of $170. That's completely out of reach of someone who's unemployed. Especially since there's going to be that dreadful second short-list interview to go through.

Now, the blithely ignorant statements that someone looking for work should “go where the work is”.

That means moving house. You've just spent the last six months on zero benefits at all (the nasty, vicious, nocturnal emission of smug, sleek libertarians), you spent your last four hundred bucks on the interviews, you're borrowing from friends to get over to Melbourne on the weekend so you can start on Monday.

You've got no home sorted out yet, you're just about to leave all your furniture behind, and all that was available anyhow was in fast food, and you're still not sure how many shifts you'll get each week. And you're paying for accommodation in two places because you had to leave the wife and kids behind …

But no worries, you can send for your family and your stuff just as soon as your paltry wage lets you put together a spare thousand or two for the transport.

These guys are out-of-touch in that special way you can only achieve when your body inhabits an ivory tower, and your brain is off chatting to Ayn Rand sitting at the right hand of the almighty.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Healthcare, disruption and death

The other thing that the right has done with its toxic “safety net” label, a form of words so easily and unthinkingly adopted, is to make an association that public hospitals are for the poor.

Yes, I'm sure that a government member that's schooled to consider $20,000 lunches and $60,000 gifts and all the rest as normal – people in that class probably do think that way.

Now, I'll paint a scene: since Ms T has a minor procedure next week – an endoscopy – today we had to line up at St George Hospital for the pre-admission clinic (now there is a process that could be made much more efficient and cheaper, but that's for another day).

The talk in the waiting room – with no dissenting voices – was the likely horror that the government is preparing for us, by way of Americanising the health system. The only individual who didn't participate was the one that had an interpreter handy. Elsewise, the voices in one of The Shire's major hospitals were unanimous, that the government is on the wrong track.

And these weren't poor people. At least one of them was worth more on the hoof, once you count clothes and jewels, than I would usually spend on a car.

Hang on, what's someone like that doing in a public hospital.

It happens that St George has some a bunch of very good gastroenterologists, both on the diagnostic side an the surgical side. And in at least one case, Ms T's specialist, the focus is on the public system.

We first met him in the public system at RPA, he saved Ms T's life with a diagnosis that was, strictly speaking, way outside his speciality. Her gut had brought her into his care, other specialists were dithering about the diagnosis so much that she was in danger from the wait, so (let's call him) Axel made a call and got it right.

Which is why we followed him from RPA to the 45-minutes-distant St George. One of these days, he's the kind of doctor that will get an Order of Australia.

And he's still in the public system – that is, if someone says “you need the best”, they won't be sending you to the nearest private, because Axel isn't there, he's in the public system.

I think that's where he thinks he can do the most good.

I've never asked him about this, because in spite of a very-well-crafted persona that he presents to the world – confident, polished, in charge, smooth, articulate and all the rest – he's also modest. My family once encountered his at a farmers' market: his blush when I told his wife “he saved Ms T's life” was so delicious I'm grinning wildly as I remember it.

Back to the “safety net” theory.

The Liberal narrative that public hospitals are a safety net is not only insulting to some of the country's best doctors, it's manifestly untrue. It's untrue in a way that could only be adopted by journalists who have had very, very sheltered lives: they've never been told that your best or perhaps only hope is at RPA, so don't go to St Vincent's Private (since it would just be a transit trip anyhow)?

Ms T had, at one point, four professors considering her case – all in the public system. If, as is the endpoint of the Liberal philosophy, the public system is destroyed, the professors will still be there – but only if you're rich enough to be insured to your back teeth.

And the training of those professors – at least three of them regarded as gods of their specialties (guts, cardiac and immunology), as well as “Axel” – is down to the public teaching hospitals, and they're all still in the public system.

See, the public system isn't only a “safety net” for the poor. It's also a “safety net” for people whose malaise defeats the narrow silos of private health-care.

Before Ms T landed at RPA's emergency department, she was in the hands of a private clinic of note: one of its “names” gave the world the antibiotic treatment of helicobactor pilori. I don't blame them that they utterly mis-diagnosed Ms T, because it was them that sent us to emergency and saved her life.

The collegiate model, in which a big teaching hospital has access to a bunch of heavy specialists at call in the public system, doesn't just help the patients. It also helps the specialists and the teaching of those who will come after them.

Sure, the warriors of the libertarian right will say that America can produce hospitals that could replicate my experience at RPA that are wholly private. But – ignoring questions of equity – America's hospitals are an artefact of its history, exactly as Australia's hospitals are an artefact of ours.

It's absurd to think that you could take one template, impose it over an existing system, and achieve the same result without an atrocious amount of disruption on the way.

Healthcare isn't a taxi service: if you disrupt a working system in taxis, as Uber is doing, people will lose money. If you disrupt a working health system, people will die.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Don't let “universal services” be turned into “safety nets”

One of the ways the political right beats the left is by being more effective at choosing the battleground of debate – by getting others to adopt their definition of what the debate is actually about.

When it comes to Medicare, unless the ALP, Greens and other centerists claim back the language, their defeat is inevitable: it may come in this budget (I hope not – I hope the ALP finds its courage down the back of the lounge), or in ten years, but it will come.

Here are a few articles written by relatively well-heeled journalists on all sides of the political spectrum.

What these articles all have in common is that they cheerfully describe Medicare as a safety net – and many, many on the left also do so when they're defending it.

My cluestick: “universal” and “safety net” aren't the same thing.

Safety net” means “we reserve a minimum and usually inadequate standard of care for the poor”.

Universal” means “everybody”.

Two things happen when “universal” is ghettoed into “safety net”:

  1. The definition of what should actually exist inside the safety net is in the gift of the powerful.
  1. Because of (1), people will be marginalised.

The marginalisation won't, however, be the careless marginalisation that happens when lawyers define the mission of a charity (I've written about this here). It'll be a matter of deliberate policy: the government will pick winners and demonise losers as an exercise of power.

It's already on the agenda. If you don't believe me, read through the Commission of Audit report. It's all about picking winners and demonising losers.

There's another point to be made: narrowing what Medicare actually offers is also deliberately destructive: “this service is accessed by too few people, and is becoming expensive to deliver, so we are going to pass it over to the private sector”. The previous blog post I linked above provides an example of this in action.

By reducing the mission of Medicare, you reduce its efficiency and effectiveness at the edges. The edges get trimmed away – only to reveal the next edge, the next target. This isn't accident, it's strategy, with its aim being the dismantling of the public healthcare system.

Characterising Medicare as a “safety net” is an exercise in propaganda. It redefines the mission of Medicare in a way that is exclusively to the benefit of the radical right, because “safety net” and “universality” are exclusive. The same goes for things education, unemployment support, pensions and disability services.

Mainstream journalists – who approach the medicare debate from a standpoint of being well-paid and well-insured – adopt the language of “safety net” because they lack personal experience at the margins. Politicians of the right do so out of strategy; and politicians of the left do so because they feel powerless to drag the debate back onto their own battleground.

Often, battles of language are trivial, but the confinement of social rights into the “safety net” ghetto is an important battle that has to be fought, or the left will lose.