26 September, 2014

One day in September

This Saturday is Grand Final day in Melbourne. The Grand Final is championship game of the Australian (formerly Victorian) Football League and winning it is the ultimate achievement in Australian Rules Football. For my international readers (both of you – and yes, I am going to use that lame joke every time), it’s the equivalent of the FA Cup or the Superbowl, including all the ridiculous pageantry. It is a really, REALLY big deal.

If you’re into that kind of thing.

I’m not.

It’s terribly un-Australian of me but I do not like football. I didn’t like playing it when I was forced to in primary school, I do not like watching it, I do not like hearing about it.
I. Do. Not. Like. Football.

Now this is not to say that I begrudge other people liking it. I used to, back when people who liked football begrudged the kinds of things I liked, such as music and poetry and that kind of shit, but I’ve grown up a lot since then. I am not here to piss on anybody’s fun. If people enjoy football on any level, then good luck to them. I hope they all have a great day tomorrow.

I just wish they could do it without shoving it in my face.

My one tradition on Grand Final day is to see how long I can go without finding out the result. This is much, MUCH harder than you might think.

My record was 10pm, back around the turn of the century. I had been out to a movie with an ex-girlfriend and we continued to a nightclub where they blew it by playing the club song of the winning team. Way to kill the mood, DJ. On other years, I haven’t been able to go five minutes. You seriously have to hide if you want to avoid finding out. It’s on every radio in every shop. Don’t visit a friend, they’ll be watching. You can’t even go for a walk for risk of some yobs driving past yelling the name of their victorious team. This has happened.

It’s not until you try to that you realise how bloody hard it is to remain unaware of a particular piece of information without also being ignorant of everything else. Those of us who like to consider ourselves above such things can often be mocked for having heard of Snookie or the Kardashians. But there is such a thing as accidental knowledge. If you’re interested in important things that are happening in the world, and therefore access media that provide information, how can you not have heard of Perez Hilton? How can you not know that a princess is pregnant? The only way is to cut off all other information.They say no knowledge is ever wasted but really, some is.

That is why tomorrow, I am going to try to go offline. This is a lot harder than it sounds because I would prefer to remain connected to the news that I am concerned about – and there’s a fair bit of it about at the moment. Over the last six years, the longest time I have spent offline would have been during trans-pacific flights. For the first few hours I wonder what I might be missing, but after that, I adjust and realise that I really don’t need to be connected to instantaneous information all the time and I might just be able to do without it for even longer. Of course, as soon as I’m off the plane, I’m back on my device looking for signal. I could probably give up if I wanted to, but I don’t want to. And there are worse addictions to have.

This Saturday though, for the sake of being able to remain unaware of just one little bit of sports trivia, I will try to sacrifice my awareness of the rest of the world. As I said, I do not begrudge the rest of the country’s obsession with this event. I just want to option of not having to know something that has no relevance or importance to me.

Even US media, which can usually be relied on to ignore anything that does not directly
involve America or Americans, is no refuge from the Festival of the Boot.

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 naïve 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.