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.

17 August, 2014

Neither Christian nor Grown-up

I wrote recently about how, despite the initial worries of certain segments of the left, the Abbott government is demonstrably not a Christian government.

We are spoilt for evidence of this, but Joe Hockey’s latest effort deserves special attention. In a further attempt to convince both the public but more importantly, the cross-bench senators of the wisdom of his budget, Mr Hockey has been on what the media insist on calling a “charm offensive.” If this is Joe Hockey laying on the charm, I’d hate to see him on a tin-eared galoot offensive.

Mr Hockey tried to deny that the poor would be disproportionally disadvantaged by changes to fuel excise on the ground that the poorest don’t have cars or if they do, they don’t drive very far. (Gee, why do you think that might be, Joe?)

Of course, it didn’t take long for it to be shown that as a proportion of income, the poorest spend far more than the wealthiest on fuel. Even I would expect Mr Hockey to be aware of this fact, mainly because it was his party that claimed pensioners were going to freeze to death because of the carbon tax. Just you just imagine how they would have screamed if Wayne Swan offered an argument of convenience that the poorest spent less whole dollars on heating than the rich because they live in far smaller houses?

As a good Christian, Joe Hockey should have known better to attempt such an argument because he should be aware of the lesson of the widow’s two mites, mentioned in the Gospels of both Mark and Luke.

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
- Mark 12:41-44
And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury.
And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.
And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all:
For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
- Luke 21:1-4
It would seem that by Mr Hockey’s calculations, your contribution is measured only by its comparison to other contributions and not, as Jesus suggested, by its comparison to what you have to give.

I’ve also written a few times about the government’s juvenile assertion that they are a grown-up government.

Again, evidence to the contrary is rife, but our prime minister’s comments on Scottish independence deserve special attention. He started out well, saying,
“What the Scots do is a matter for the Scots and not for a moment do I presume to tell Scottish voters which way they should vote.”
He should have left it at that. If he had, everything would have been fine, but then the Mr Magoo of international diplomacy couldn’t help himself, adding:
“I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, the friends of freedom…”
Um… WHAT??
We know Abbott is a master of avoiding questions so why choose this moment to be so candid? Clearly monarchist Abbott’s reflexive love of all things empire kicked in. If he had been alive in 1900, he would probably have argued against federation too. And he’s perfectly entitled to hold those personal views but you never take sides publically in another country’s affairs, especially not an ally.

Here’s how a grown-up would handle it: Write this down, Tony, in case you need to refer to it in future.
“That is entirely a matter for the people of Scotland. Whichever way the vote goes, Australia will maintain a strong and fruitful relationship with Britain and also an independent Scotland, should there be one.”

Was that so hard?

07 August, 2014

Addressing the issue

There are many articles about the government’s new plan to force ISPs to collect and retain customers’ activity data written by people far smarter than me.  One that I particular recommend is by Geordie Guy here: You want my metadata, George Brandis? Get a warrant.

The government insists it is “only” collecting metadata, which Tony Abbott says is like the address on the front of an envelope.  Attorney General George Brandis repeated the analogy in a truly cringeworthy interview where he insisted that recording the “electronic address” of a website in no way reveals the content of that website.

To choose an analogy close to Senator Brandis’ heart, that’s like saying an ISBN doesn’t tell you the title, author, subject and edition of a book.

Mind you, the address on a letter, while still being a grossly misleading over-simplification, is perhaps more apt than Abbott and Brandis realise – and not in any way that supports their case.

We all have Google Street View. Give me a random address on an envelope and within two minutes, I’ll show you a picture of the house.

From that picture, we can begin to build a profile of the resident. We can get an idea of their socio-economic status; their habits, like how often they weed the garden; whether they have the curtains open at a particular time of day; what type of car they drive…  It’s not innocuous information. It tells you a lot, and more than it used to.

And if metadata didn’t contain any meaningful, identifiable information, why would anyone want to have it?

There is no doubt we are being governed by luddites.  A perennial question of mine when it comes to idiotic policy is: Are they stupid, or do they think we’re stupid?  This is one case where I’m certain of the answer, and it’s both.  They are stupid and they think we’re just as stupid as they are.

Kirribilli House earlier this year

Playing the platitudes
I heard a grab of Bill Shorten speaking at the MH17 memorial today saying, “Remember not how they died but how they lived.”

I know that a memorial should be as much a celebration of life as mourning death, and I know that’s the kind of thing you’re supposed to say at memorials, but this is really disingenuous.  As if we would be remembering these people in this way if not for how they died.  I’m sure they were all lovely people and I have the greatest sympathy for all their friends and families, but the truth is that we would not be honouring them this way if they had died differently, separately and at different times.

Yes, we should remember them for how they lived but that’s not why we’re remembering them.  Let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that we’re remembering them as victims of an atrocity.