12 September, 2014

Never not forgotten

I don’t need to remind anyone what date passed this week. It’s the date that has become shorthand for the atrocity that was committed on that day. And all over social media, we see the inevitable pictures of the twin towers, or lights taking their place, blended with stars and stripes, or perhaps an eagle and the caption “Never forget,” or words to that effect, in a suitably elegant font.

I don’t question anyone’s way of remembering, but I do note that all the iconography focuses on solely on New York. I see no pictures of the Pentagon, or of an empty field near Shanksville with appropriately patriotic enhancements.

Why? Well, at the risk of possibly upsetting people, allow me to theorise that it’s because it wasn’t on TV.

Like millions of others, I watched it live. It was about 11pm here when networks shifted to constant coverage. I could see that the first tower was beginning to collapse before the news anchor did. And like millions of others who didn’t even know anyone directly affected by the atrocity, I was traumatised by it – just to think that I was watching innocent people die and I knew that hundreds more were just about to. It was – to use a word in a completely literal and dispassionate form – spectacular.

And isn’t that kind of the problem? It seems like the spectacular nature of the crime and two of its targets are what people are commemorating more than the people who died. Yes, I get that it’s symbolism and that’s fine but we should be careful of worshipping the symbols over what they represent.

Now don’t get me wrong. If there’s one thing I can’t stand… well, forget that. There are lots of things I can’t stand but one of those things is a compassion hipster. That’s my term for those people who always pipe up saying, “Oh, you’re all upset about that thing that’s been in the news? I’m much more upset about this other, more important thing that you’ve probably never heard of.” Fuck those people!

It’s right and proper that people should remember innocent lives lost and bring those responsible to justice, regardless of the circumstances. But this is why we should perhaps examine our reactions. At the risk of sounding like a compassion hipster, there was another anniversary recently, of a time when nearly 3,000 Americans died more recently than 2001. Yet there was no grief porn splattered all over the internet – it was barely mentioned outside the areas that were affected. What’s the difference? Could it be that man’s inhumanity to man makes more memorable television to man’s negligence and indifference to man?

I think this is a discussion we really need to have one of these days. We should examine why we react differently to situations that are comparably unjust. We should ask why, if you were unlucky enough to be sitting on a plane that a psychopath chose to fly into a building, then we will remember you but if you were shot to death by a paranoid vigilante, well, you should have thought about that before being a black kid wearing a hoodie in the vicinity of a racist with a gun. And no, I’m not suggesting that there aren’t people who are equally and appropriately outraged by both situations – but there are some who aren’t and we should be bothered about that.

Have we learned anything? Probably not. America is again rounding up a posse to go and confront a terrorist threat. Again, don’t get me wrong, ISIS are the scum of the Earth. To borrow another line from Bruce Cockburn, if I had a rocket launcher, I wouldn’t hesitate. But let’s not kid ourselves about our motives. Only the extremely na├»ve would suggest that western democracies would be putting themselves on a war footing if not for the fact that two western hostages were decapitated on YouTube. As the reliably brilliant John Birmingham points out though, this is not a satisfactory reason to go to war.

As with September 11, video forces those of us safely ensconced in western democracies to witness the kind of threats others are used to living with every day. This is no accident. They want to provoke the west into a new confrontation and they’re doing it in the medium that we’re trained to respond to most. If you doubt this, try to find a report about ISIS that doesn’t gush over the production values of their videos. Yes, because that’s the story: production values!

If you think this is an overly intellectual way of looking at things, consider this: the Free Syrian Army, which stands in opposition to the Assad regime, are also fighting ISIS. And they also behead people. So, what exactly is it we’re upset about?

One other observation: The man suspected of murdering James Foley is 23 years old. That means he was 10 on September 11th 2001 and 12 at most when Iraq was first invaded. As the president said before he was president, we cannot afford to keep doing the same things and expecting different results.

11 September, 2014

Quotes of the century

"If [force] is to be used, it is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."
- Donald Rumsfeld, 7 Feb, 2003

"I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."
- Dick Cheney, 16 March, 2003

" I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."
- Dick Cheney, 20 June, 2005

"Our country... cannot afford to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result."
- Barack Obama, 1 August, 2008

 "These American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.
- Barack Obama, 10 September, 2014 

"The enemy have CNN just like we do."
- Falsely attributed to Colin Powell. Although, he did say this:

"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy."

It seems like the second consecutive administration is about to ignore his advice.


05 September, 2014

The Generic News

It works every night. Only the examples change... occasionally...

We're governed by idiots

Fundamentalists are crazy

Celebrities are people too

But wow, look what this one did!

Social media makes people do stupid things

Traffic's a bugger

Something something stock exchange

Foreigners, eh? They're a weird mob!

Somebody won the sportsball

Somebody lost the sportsball

Somebody's upset about why somebody lost the sportsball

Somebody got injured in the sportsball

Somebody got reported in the sportsball

Weather's a bugger

Don't despair though, animals are cute

Goodnight, and see you again tomorrow.

31 August, 2014

A polite request for advice from the prime minister

Dear Mr Abbott,

On the evening of Monday, 7th October last year, I had to take my wife to Melbourne Airport for a flight early on Tuesday morning. We could have travelled really early on the Tuesday, but we decided it was better to avoid any unforeseen delays and just stay at the airport hotel on the Monday night.

It was a purely personal trip, but as luck would have it, I had a work meeting in the CBD on the Tuesday morning. Naturally, I didn’t for a moment consider charging my employer for the accommodation, or even the travel, which I would have had to do anyway – the meeting the following morning was a happy accident of timing.

I never questioned my decision until last week.

The reason I’m telling you this is because as prime minister – or “team captain” as you’ve taken to describing your position – you set an example for all of us.

So I was intrigued to read that you explained your lateness to a parliamentary party meeting by saying that you had to pay a visit to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in order to justify a parliamentary expenses claim for a private visit to Melbourne the night before.

Therefore, I have two questions:
Firstly, is it true? I’ve heard conflicting reports, but you refused to answer (24:36 in video) a question on the subject because it was two days old. I think you’ll find the statute of limitations on rorting expenses is a bit longer than that. Just ask Craig Thomson.

Secondly, if it is true, then can you tell me if I’ve made a bad decision? My employers are the best, and although my income is humble, I consider myself to be very well treated. Have I taken the wrong lesson from my Catholic upbringing? Should I just grab all I can get while the getting is good? Like you, my wages are ultimately paid by the taxpayer, so does that make it a kind of victimless crime? I mean, I think I’m paid enough, but I’m not paid anywhere nearly as much as you are. And if you still have to fiddle your schedule in order to afford a stay in Melbourne, then am I, who technically qualify as a low income earner, just being a fool to myself? My claim, like yours, might possibly be legitimate - I just felt it would be immoral.

I’m sure you can appreciate my dilemma and I would appreciate your advice.

Of course, given the conflicting reports, it might not have happened at all. So please Mr Abbott, as my leader, my captain and as a man of morals, say it ain’t so. But please mean it. And no sneaky paying it back before making a statement, please.

30 August, 2014

Who are you?

I tend not to do comprehensive rebuttals of opinion pieces because it only makes them more important than they are and life is, on the whole, too short.

However, Des Houghon’s piece on the new Doctor Who can be singled out for being able to cram so much derp into such a small space. Warning: spoilers may follow for anyone who has not yet seen Peter Capaldi’s debut episode.

The headline, in a way, says it all in terms of missing the point:
Opinion: Lesbian kiss between Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint has appeal only for Doctor Who tragics.
Yes, hold the front page! Cult entertainment appeals only to cult - something that can be said of literally every form of entertainment from science fiction to musical theatre to jazz to rugby. And why don’t they make more musicals that appeal to rugby fans?

Has political correctness gone so far that it is now acceptable to promote interspecies lesbianism on prime-time television?
“Political correctness.” DRINK! Because, of course, everything that is portrayed on television is promoting it, in the same way that, say, Poirot “promotes” murder.

But let’s think about this for just a moment… There’s a matrimonial relationship between a human and an ancient alien lizard and the reason that’s weird is because they’re both female? Seriously??

I find it all very confusing and slightly off-putting…
In other words, you’re watching Doctor Who. It’s meant to be scary. If that’s the creepiest thing you’ve ever seen on Doctor Who, then you’ve obviously never seen it before. Just wait until you meet the Weeping Angels.
…especially the revelation that Madame Vastra, a lizard lady, has such a long tongue she can catch flies on the other side of the room.
I think I know where your mind might be taking this, Des, and if I’m right, then it’s far more disgusting than anything the episode portrayed.

By now you may have guessed I am no sci-fi fan.
Then why are you writing about it? Don’t you have journalism to do, or something? I don’t like golf. So I don’t write about it because everything after those four words is redundant.

You see, the problem is not that Mr Houghton is watching and criticising something he doesn’t understand – the problem is that they don’t make science fiction more appealing to people who like… well, whatever it is Des Houghton is into.

I think the latest Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi, is too old for the role at 56.
Says a man who has just told us he is not a sci-fi fan, so he should know. I’m sure the River Clyde is breaking its banks from Peter Capaldi’s tears.

He is a scrawny, improbable Time Lord…
Yes. It’s time they brought back those realistic, believable 900-year-old time travellers with a special machine that bends space/time to its will.

But one very important point that Mr Houghton is not alone in missing is that it was not a “snog” between the two characters. Vastra was breathing for her! Does Des Houghton, and all the other critics of the “lesbian kiss,” have a problem with paramedics giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to patients who happen to be of the same gender? Grow up!

Pathetic, isn’t it?
Realising you have a problem is the first step, Des.

29 August, 2014

A modest proposal for Qantas

Look, I’m not a businessman’s bootlace and I know it. Even allowing for that fact, I still think I’m fairly justified in seeing something odd in Qantas CEO Alan Joyce’s positive spin on the $2.8 billion loss his company posted yesterday.

In an interview on 7:30 last night, he seemed to suggest that maintaining a large share of the market was also a measure of success. And it certainly is, but to my simple mind, any fool can get a large share of the market by over-supplying their product and selling it below its value.

It’s almost as if Mr Joyce represents the logical conclusion of all those start-up companies that think they can pay people in recognition and exposure.

As such, here is my suggestion for the Qantas board:
Alan Joyce is far and away the most recognisable CEO in Australia. His exposure and recognition amongst CEOs is unchallenged. That has to be worth something, right? He also has 100% of the Qantas CEO market share. Therefore, I suggest that Mr Joyce be remunerated in recognition and market share too.

19 August, 2014

The almost-obligatory August 2014 depression article

I promised myself I wouldn’t write anything that hadn’t already been written far better by other people.

Before I say any more, one of those things that hasn’t been said yet is that articles about depression, while insightful and helpful to both sufferers and those who love them (which, between them, ought to be everyone), can also sometimes act as triggers. So if you’re familiar with depression, you don’t have to read any further. I won’t be telling you anything you don’t already know. Go and read the Over the Hedge ’blog instead – it’s great!

I don’t have much to say that I haven’t already said in these two posts before. While the growing number of online articles explaining depression are very helpful – they certainly made me realise that there are other people who get it, and can put into words what I couldn’t for 20 years – none of them ever tell you everything about depression because they can’t.

Depression affects everyone who experiences it slightly differently. Or completely differently. Depression is not like the common cold, where you know that if you get it, you’ll probably sneeze for half a day, have a runny nose for a couple of days, cough for a couple more days, while talking like a movie trailer voiceover, but after that you’ll be back to whatever “normal” normally is for you.

We are all talking about depression now because of the terrible loss of the brilliant Robin Williams. As such,  much of our talk about depression is framed according to the link between depression and suicide risk. It’s important to recognise the connection but it’s also important to recognise that not all sufferers of depression are suicide risks. It’s a complex thing.

As usual, I can only speak for myself and I am not suggesting anyone else’s experiences are the same. Having said that, I have seen at least one other express similar thoughts. Even in my darkest moments, I would never harm myself for one simple reason: I’m too scared. I was once down enough to make my dearest wonder if maybe she should hide all the sharp things and keep close watch on me. I assured her that she would never have to worry about that. I have never wanted to die, there have just been times when I wouldn’t have cared if I did. If anything should happen to me, do please suspect foul play.

Two lines from two songs, sixty years apart, sum it up:
“I’m tired of living and scared of dying.” – Oscar Hammerstein, Ol’ Man River
“And when I’m lying in my bed
I think about life and I think about death
And neither one particularly appeals to me.”
– Morrissey, Nowhere Fast
The reason I’m taking you on this tour of my darkest corners is to make the point that suicide is not necessarily a measure of the severity of someone’s depression. Just because a person hasn’t attempted self-harm, self-medication or other visible manifestations of a mostly invisible condition, does not necessarily mean they are suffering any less. As I said in the Monsters post, for a long time I survived largely because I didn’t know what else to do.

Awareness is important. Understanding is important. It’s also important not to regard the condition in a way that still trivialises it, just in a different way.

It should also be noted that being able to toss off 700 words on the topic is not a measure of how much anyone feels it either. And to those who don’t get it, that’s okay. We’re happy for you that you don’t get it. Sometimes, understanding depression or anxiety can be like asking a man to understand menstrual cramps or a woman to understand a kick in the balls. We can never fully understand how it feels, but we can empathise, knowing that we can’t fully understand. That is all anyone asks.

This is the bit where you’re supposed to give Lifeline’s number and link to Beyond Blue. I know they do good work, but having never availed myself of their services, I would only be being trivial passing on their details. If you read the earlier posts, you will know of an unfortunate experience I had with Lifeline, which was not their fault, but makes me wary of recommending them.

So if you need to talk, contact me. My email is thebillablog@gmail.com, or contact me on twitter. I am not a professional, I have no training in counselling, but I’ll listen, and we’ll scout out the best service to contact together.