04 April, 2020

Who is John Galt? They all are now!

You might remember – although you probably don’t – a time around ten years ago at the height of the Tea Party cult. (By the way, whatever happened to them?)

Around this time, a whole lot of loudmouths who thought they held the world together – the bankers, the stockbrokers, the hedge fund managers, the lawyers, the talk radio hosts, the columnists, the talking heads on news channels – were threatening to “Go Galt.”

The expression was a dog-whistle reference to a character in the novel Atlas Shrugged – a libertarian masturbatory fantasy aimed at the feeble-minded – who removed himself from society. One by one, he took similar elites with him until, somehow, society collapsed without them. In 2010, they were essentially threatening to strike, although the word smacked far too much of workers’ rights for them even to countenance using it.

I always wished they would. I said at the time, they should go for it. If withdrawing such services was going to teach the mean old socialists a lesson about who keeps the world turning, I still say they should have done it. I think the lesson would have been the opposite of what they expected, so I’m sorry they never quite got angry enough to test their theory.

Cut back to present day, and a funny thing has happened: Due to spatial distancing and self-isolation requirements to reduce the spread of Covid 19 to manageable levels, they have all been forced to withdraw their services.

And they’re pissed about it! What’s more, nobody misses them.

The true heroes in these challenging times are just who any reasonable person would expect them to be: Doctors, nurses, paramedics, truck drivers, shelf-stackers, checkout operators, cleaners. You might notice a few minimum-wage positions in there.

This may be a naïve hope but it some good can come out of this global crisis, it might be a reassessment of what we value. It’s at times like this we begin to see the absurdity of betting on the price of crops that haven’t even been planted yet. Even the staunchest of free market rationalist governments have suddenly stopped regarding unemployment as a personal failing on the part of those affected by it.

Let’s try to keep up this new understanding of what’s really important.
  
 

18 January, 2020

10 reasons why the best rock stars are nerds

Being a rock star is of course the coolest thing you can possibly be. But it doesn’t mean everything about you is cool. In fact, some of the biggest rock stars you know are nerds just below the surface.

Jimmy Page
Page started his career as a session guitarist and can be heard on dozens singles that would be deemed far too poppy and cheesy for any Zep aficionado. Led Zeppelin themselves dropped several references to The Lord of the Rings into their early songs and Page is such a fan of Aleistair Crowley he bought Crowley’s former home.
Nerd score: 7/10


Brian May
The Queen guitarist is a Doctor of Astrophysics, a passionate campaigner for animal rights – particularly badgers – and plays a guitar which he built himself as a teenager out of timber from the family fireplace. With a sixpence!
Nerd score: 12/10


Metallica
Their image is heavy but Metallica are music nerds at heart. Their rhythms are meticulously crafted and they will never play eight bars of 4/4 where a mix of 5/8, 3/4, 12/8 and 6/4 will suffice.
Nerd score: 8/10


Frank Zappa
Although the bulk of his lyrics were aimed at frat boys, Zappa’s music was all nerd. Auditions for his band bordered on the cruel. Applicants were required sight-read ridiculously complex parts and then improvise over bizarre time signatures like 11/8. Having learned from his father, Dweezil has said that 4/4 is the hardest rhythm for him to play.

When Zappa discovered he had a namesake in ’cellist and composer Francesco Zappa, Frank made an album of Francesco’s work by programming it into his Synclavier – an instrument he used for composing parts that were practically impossible for a human to play.

In the early 90s, Zappa had planned to set up a consulting business to facilitate trade between former Soviet Union states and the west. Czechoslovakian president Václav Havel had named him Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism but the appointment was nixed by then secretary of state James Baker.
Nerd Score: 10/10


John Lennon
The working class hero was never really working class. He was brought up by his middle-class aunt and went to art school. He published two volumes of absurdist verse, prose and cartoons in his lifetime and another was posthumously published.

Having once described avant-garde as “French for bullshit,” he fell in love with conceptual artist Yoko Ono, and embraced her experimental style on the albums Two Virgins, Life with the Lions and Wedding Album.

Later, during his house-husband years, he would take Polaroid photos of the loaves of bread he baked and send them to friends.
Nerd score: 8/10


George Harrison
The Quiet One discovered Indian music almost by accident while filming the move Help! He took to it with a passion and studied the sitar under master Ravi Shankar. His interest in non-western instruments influenced almost all of late 60s music. He signed Radha Krishna Temple to Apple Records and inadvertently invented WOMAD.

He was a supporter of the Natural Law Party, a political offshoot of the Transcendental Meditation movement.

A lifelong Monty Python fan, he appeared as a reporter in Eric Idle’s spoof The Rutles, and financed Life Of Brian after big studios balked at the subject matter.
Nerd Score: 7/10


Jeff Baxter
The Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers guitarist has probably the most interesting side hustle of them all: he is a consultant to the US Defence Department, with a particular focus on missile defence. Stemming from an interest in how objects can be used for things they weren’t designed for, he wrote a paper in 1994 about how an anti-aircraft facility could be adapted into a missile defence system and passed it on to his representative. He’s been on the Pentagon payroll ever since.
Nerd Score: 7/10


David Bowie
Bowie’s earliest releases flopped at the time, and it’s probably just as well. He later admitted that if his first album had been a hit, he would probably have ended up in West End musicals. His first album is pure music-hall, with songs the likes of Uncle Arthur and She’s Got Medals that make his novelty song The Laughing Gnome sound positively hip by comparison.

Bowie was also a keen reader who could easily drop Philip Larkin quotes into an interview. He played the lead role in the cult classic Labyrinth, and in the 90s, set up his own internet service provider so subscribers could have their email address @davidbowie.com.
Nerd Score: 10/10


Art Garfunkel
Garfunkel is a voracious reader and keeps his books in chronological order of when he read them. He once walked across America by getting a friend to pick him up at the end of the day, drive him to the nearest motel, and drop him off at the same place the next morning.
Nerd score: 8/10


Sting
Gordon Sumner’s day job was as an English teacher. He practices tantric yoga (among other things if you believe the rumours), and learned to play the lute for an album of 16th century British compositions, released on Deutsche Grammophon.
Nerd Score: 14/10




09 January, 2020

We actually need celebrities to be political

The world destroying itself either through accident or design was not enough to completely overshadow something as really important as an awards night.

And ZOMG - did you see Ricky Gervais? He totally flipped call-out culture. Amazing!

Well, up to a point...


"You're in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world."

And Gervais does? He says "you," not "we," so I'm assuming he thinks he does.

And it's not as if Gervais himself doesn't do a good line in lecturing the public about animal cruelty - which I completely endorse. It just makes me wonder why he thinks he's different to the rest of them.


Predictably enough, the hit-and-miss Jonathan Pie has chimed in with his defence of Gervais, hitting a few more easy targets.


Now they both make a few good points. No-one denies that celebs who constantly bang on about some political hobby-horse can be pretty bloody tiresome. But the truth is, we need them.

We need them because there were people watching the Golden Globes who can spell Joaquin Phoenix without Googling it, and can list the entire Kardashian family tree from memory, who have no idea who the prime minister is.

If Gervais and Pie were half as in touch with "the real world" as they would like to think they are, they would understand this. Or perhaps they do, and are just using it for their own self-promotion. They're celebrities too, after all.

But what the educated elite (in which I include Gervais, Pie, myself, and you too most likely) need to understand is that these slightly embarrassing, not always well-informed speeches are not aimed at us. They're aimed at people who can recognise who designed Nicole Kidman's dress but not what party their representative belongs to. They're aimed at people who can dispute the legality of a touchdown or an LBW, but not of the government's actions. They're aimed at people who vote every week on Dancing with the Stars but never in an election.

They're aimed at a president who is a TV addict, and known to tune in to these shows just to live-tweet how boring they are, and it might be the only thing he hears that comes from outside his own echo-chamber.

Pie rightly suggests that Scott Morrison's views on global warming are more important than any celebrities. But let's take a look at Scott Morrison meeting a voter at a time when Morrison had been all over the news:


Now if Gary Ablett had spoken to this bloke, he might just have paid attention.
 


02 January, 2020

The GG will not save us

Since the prime minister’s ill-advised holiday timing and his government’s mostly inadequate response to a quarter of the country being on fire has prompted some people on Twitter to demand the Governor General – or even the Queen – step in and remove the government.

To all those making such calls, please stop embarrassing yourselves. That’s not how it works and you (should) know it!

The reserve powers of the Governor General do not include sacking the government for being a bunch of dills, nor should they. We had an election seven months ago. We as a nation need to own the fact that collectively, we chose this mob.

If you want to take it up with someone, take it up with your mate who fell for Morrison’s daggy-dad schtick.
Take it up with your neighbour who thought Bill Shorten was arrogant.
Take it up with your relatives who have never owned shares but managed to get spooked over franking credits.
Take it up with the students who re-elected the people who cut their penalty rates.
Take it up with a generation of renters who will probably never own property who were convinced changes to negative gearing would be bad for them.
Take it up with the shops and taxis that play 2GB all day, the airports that show Sky News, the cafes that provide the Herald Sun.

You may not have voted for this but enough of us did. We need to learn from it.

What we need to learn is you don't get a do-over whenever we feel like it. We’re stuck with this shit show for another 2 and a half years because of decisions we made last May. Remember this in 2022. You might also remember this next time people start advocating 4-year fixed terms.

The only way the Governor General could justifiably intervene would be if Labor and the crossbenchers combined in the Senate to block supply, forcing a 1975-style crisis. There are several problems with this scenario:

1: Labor would need to grow a spine. It would also force them to abandon their sense of injustice over 1975.
2: All the crossbenchers would need to resolve to work together with the opposition.
3: Parliament would need to be sitting, which is hardly ever these days.
4: Most importantly, it’s not a responsible course of action to throw the country into a constitutional crisis at the same time as we’re fighting a bushfire crisis. The government would much rather be playing politics than addressing the real crisis, and the first thing they would do is spin it that the opposition is blocking funding for emergency responses, which would actually be true.
Morrison as prime minister can be replaced, and he possibly will be if he doesn’t lift his game quick smart. But who would replace him? Dutton? Frydenberg? Porter? They would all be worse.

Your vote is for three years, not just a weekend.



26 October, 2019

I read the Mueller Report

When Robert Mueller was called to testify before a US Congressional panel in July, three months after his report was delivered, it went something like this:

Q: We haven’t read the whole report; can you summarise the juicy bits for us?
A: No. Read the report.


Well, I did. To the extent that it’s been released, I read every last meticulous footnote. It was a slog, which is why it took me so long, so I would be very suspicious of anyone who claimed to have digested it in a weekend as many did.

By now, I would have thought all this would be a bit dated but now the president and his attorney general, who both claimed the report exonerated Trump the week it came out, are now preparing an inquiry into the inquiry because that’s what grownups do.

For those who are interested, here’s my tl;dr version:

The report is split into two chapters, one on the subject of collusion and the second on the subject of obstruction.

That there was interference in the 2016 presidential election by Russian interests is never in question. Nor is it ever in question that there was contact between some of these Russian interests and the Trump campaign. However, the report returns an open finding as to whether there was direct collusion with foreign meddlers by the Trump campaign. It isn’t established beyond reasonable doubt that senior members of the Trump campaign willingly colluded with Russia, as opposed to simply being used as useful idiots. It also fails to show that candidate Trump himself had any direct knowledge of the cooperation at the time.

To quote a line from The Godfather Part II, the family has a lot of buffers.

On obstruction of justice, the inquiry has Trump, his campaign and his administration bang to rights. There is ample proof and the defence submitted by Trump’s counsel is thoroughly rebutted. The only reason it hasn’t gone further is because Mueller chose not to test the constitutional grey area of whether a sitting president can be indicted. It doesn’t mean Trump can’t be arrested at 12:01pm on January 20th.

It is perhaps for this reason, and to distract from impeachment investigations on another charge that has arisen since the report was published, that the Trump administration is looking to launch a counter-inquiry. However, if they are successful in their attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation, it would also negate over 20 criminal prosecutions which have arisen from it, seven of which have already resulted in convictions or guilty pleas.
  
 

27 September, 2019

Calm down! Trump isn’t going anywhere

With the Democratic Congressional leadership announcing an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump’s telephone call with the president of Ukraine, many of Trump’s opponents seem to think this is the moment they’ve finally got him. I’m sorry, but it isn’t.

The investigation may not result in articles of impeachment being drafted. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been careful not to go off half-cocked so far and it’s unlikely the House will actually impeach unless they can be absolutely certain. But that’s hardly the point.

Impeachment would be followed by a trial in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and led by a Trump troll in the form of Mitch McConnell. Does anyone seriously think they would convict? It’s not going to happen.

Trump is not without his critics in the Republican party but as the old saying goes, Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line. One of the most vocal Republican opponents of Trump during the election campaign was Lindsay Graham, who is now one of the president’s chief apologists.

The fact is if ‘Grab ’em by the pussy,’ didn’t end Trump’s political career, nothing will.

The one great service Donald Trump has done America is to expose what a bunch of shameless hypocrites many Republicans and their supporters are. They maintained plausible deniability for over 50 years but it was Trump who proved beyond reasonable doubt that all their talk about character, faith and family values was a load of bunkum designed to use Christian conservatives as useful idiots.

When the tape of Trump uttering those vile words and far worse was broadcast, his supporters rationalised it by saying the US elects a president, not a Pope. It would be a fair argument if the same people hadn’t clutched their pearls so over Bill Clinton’s infidelity.

The same people who continue to search for any excuse to charge Barack Obama with treason, have no problem with Trump publically begging Russia to hack the State Department, appeasing an unstable dictator with newly acquired nuclear weapons, or inviting the leadership of the Taliban to Camp David on the eve of the September 11 anniversary. It’s not that negotiating for peace is a bad thing. It’s ultimately quite sensible. But you know Republicans would have demanded Obama’s head on a platter for any one of those things.

Despite talking tough on Twitter and at incredibly disturbing rallies, Trump has shown he doesn’t really have the stomach to order military action. Again, this isn’t such a bad thing. A president should not treat America’s military like toy soldiers. But after attacking every Democrat since Carter for being wimps when it comes to sending the marines at the drop of a hat, Republicans suddenly see strength in avoiding war. They don’t really of course. They see strength in backing Trump no matter what.

The same people who reached for the smelling salts when Obama used the word ‘hell’ as an expletive, were happy to shrug off Trump’s ‘shithole countries’ comment. “He uses the language of the common man,” they said. In fact, the biggest change I have seen in America under Trump’s presidency (apart from people no longer being ashamed of wearing or carrying swastikas) is the fact that news channels no longer bleep out the word ‘shit.’

It’s pointless to expect any kind of moral consistency from Republicans because they have none. And that’s why impeachment proceedings will probably go nowhere. It’s not that they don’t know Trump is a corrupt idiot, they just don’t care.

A large portion of Americans, and fellow travellers internationally, would happily watch the world burn so long as the guy who flicks the match yells, “AMERICA, FUCK YEAH!” as he does it, and it upsets leftists

(which these days can be described as anyone more progressive than Mussolini).

These people are enabled by another large section of the population which expresses its disillusion in the imperfection of alternative candidates in the form of not voting. And how’s that working out for you?

This is not a fit environment for common sense to prevail. If intellectual, ideological or moral consistency mattered a damn, Trump would never have made it past the first primary.

The truest thing Trump ever said was, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” I don’t see impeachment going anywhere. It’s not that he isn’t a liar, a phoney, incompetent, and probably a traitor. It’s just that half the county doesn’t give a fuck.
  
 

06 August, 2019

The lyin' and the unicorn

With apologies to George Orwell for the title, a summary of Brexit so far...

"We want a unicorn!"

David Cameron: You don't really want a unicorn, do you?

"Yes! We want a unicorn!"

Cameron: Are you sure you've thought through all the ramifications of getting a unicorn?

"Stuff thinking! Unicorn or GTFO!

Cameron: Alright, if you're very good and re-elect me, I'll hold a vote on whether you get a unicorn...

[Cameron re-elected]

Cameron: Okay, you can have your vote on whether you get a unicorn, which I am sure you don't really want.

"We want a unicorn!" 

Cameron: Look, I really don't think it's a good idea...

[referendum]

"WOOHOO! WE'RE GETTING A UNICORN!"

Cameron: I see. You have voted that you will get a unicorn and therefore I will... [car door slams, tyres squeal]

Theresa May: Fuck!

"Where's our unicorn?" 

May: Well, we have this horse. If we just affix this silver horn...

"That's not a unicorn!"

May: Alright, we have a silver horn. If we were to get, say, a donkey...

"No! Still not a unicorn!"

May: Okay, fine. I believe if we were to find a zebra...

"NOT A UNICORN!"

May: Look, I think we can all agree that a species of the Equus genus with a silver horn protruding from its forehead, is for all intents and purposes...

"NO! UNICORN NAO!"

May: Look, be reasonable.

Boris Johnson: I can make a unicorn.

May: You can't be serious.

"YAY BORIS! HE'LL GET US A UNICORN!"

[to be continued...]

Spoiler: Unicorns don't exist.