500 words – morons in the wheelhouse

I’m constantly baffled by why some people continue to be completely driven by ego. It is always to their detriment. Always.

Imagine, for example, if every scientist responded to legitimate criticism of their work with;

‘I’m familiar with all the work in this field. So, you’re wrong. I’m right’.

Oh, right then. Well, you’re probably on the money. Because that’s the kind of attitude that suggests a life-long dedication to learning. No, no, don’t get up, I’ll see myself out. After all, I’ve been around doors my whole life, so I know how they work. Surely this maxim will put me in good stead when I encounter every possible facet of existence on this planet and beyond. Surely.

Most people know they don’t know everything. Smart people have some inkling of exactly what they don’t know. Total fucking grasping idiots assume they know everything and their knowledge is exhaustive.

 

 

Politically, egregiously, disastrously wrong

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Meet Mong Bear.

At the tender age of three, my daughter designed this bear. I’m unsure of how Mong-Bear got her remarkable moniker, but let’s go with the excuse de jour; The Russians made us do it*.

I’m sharing Mong Bear with you all because I was recently asked how to encourage creativity in young children. I don’t think Mong Bear is quite what the nice woman in the hand-shibori skirt had in mind when she asked. And yet, here we are.

Mong Bear is a girl. All my daughter’s teddies are girls, including Bruce, the chain-smoking camel from Tennant Creek. Bruce went through a bit of a rough patch during in the plastic-sheet floods of 2012 but he perked up a bit with a touch of lippy. Bruce, however, is a ‘normal’ teddy – he came from a shop. As you can see, it’s going to take more than a smear of Cinnamon Blush to set Mong Bear to rights.

But here’s the thing; Mong Bear is  actually perfect. Like the squid that swims backwards or Gina Reinhart in a pair of safety goggles (think: shrink-wrapped polyp with windows), Mong Bear is the pinnacle of her species.

I know this because teddies, all teddies, are designed to make little people happy. And, four years on, Mong Bear has delighted, captivated and comforted my daughter in ways that a normal teddy could never do.

Mong Bear’s perfection lies in her design; she was made to the exacting specifications of a three year old. Armed with a pen and huge piece of paper, my kid and I thrashed out the blueprint for the World’s Most Loveable Ted. It went something like this;

Small ears.

Roundy eyes.

A head shaped like this.

No, no, more like this.

A biiiiig tummy.

A long thin body.

Arms, not too long. Shorter. No shorter. NO MUM! Shorter! Yes, short legs too. Very short.

Kids are acute observers of humans. Good teddies must be teddy-ish but also human-ish. That is, wobbly, myopic orange nerds that are at once too thin and too fat and evoke the suspicion that Teddy’s mum got stuck into the mint julep at a critical juncture. Mong Bear is eminently patient and cuddly, but also, clearly, requires thick glasses and endless operations. Perfect.

Mong Bear has provided my daughter with years of love and fun. But she’s also taught me an important lesson: Big People have no business designing teddies. Big People have troubling pre-conceptions about Cute and/or Fluffy and discernible limbs. Indeed, Mong Bear made me realise that, aside from the ones that look like animals, most store-bought teddies resemble Kevin Rudd. They are small eyed and biscuity, with wobbly heads and a penchant for being smarmy in Mandarin.

Three year olds do not design Kevin Rudd. (Maybe they should).

All children should design at least one teddy. They will, of course, need your help.

Now I realise that a lot of adults have trouble being creative in this way. So I’ve devised two simple guidelines;

  1. Your teddy should be completely unique – see above.
  2. the end result should look like it could win a heart-wrenching class action suit against the Federal government at some point in the future.

Now, get stuck in!

 

*Sometimes it’s way dodgier to explain why the name that sounds ‘good’ isn’t actually good at all, than to just cough loudly and say ‘Oh, yes she’s named after our daughter’s favourite bean sprout’.

Again

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No no, don’t get up.

It’s hovering around 40c again. I’ve got something to say about America, but I can’t make it come out, so this more of a stream of consciousness. If only it was enough to keep my zucchinis alive. But they’re foreign too, so it’s curtains for them!

What? She’s gone mad. It’s the heat.

I’m reading Paul Theroux, specifically, the Patagonian Express. Published in 1979 it’s a bloody interesting insight into the American expansionism of the era. Take, for instance, Theroux’s visit to Panama. The Panama canal zone, in case you didn’t know, was more or less a US colony. The deal was; we Americans will run the canal, the ex-Columbians and Panamanians can just kind of hang out and NOT BE COMMUNISTS.

But you see in the face of rapacious extraction and the looming control of international predatory lenders, South Americans in general started to get the feeling that they were being generally destabilised in order for the US to continue its interests. They also had quaint ideas about running their own countries. Sovereignty means not everyone gets a crack at doing a shit job.

What’s particularly interesting is that Theroux gives an everyday account of Panama, including discussions about Panama’s leader, Omar Torrijos. He wasn’t a communist, he was more like what we would today recognise as a centrist – he believed in social welfare and education. Most importantly, however, he represented the majority of people in Panama, instead of the small cabal of American interests.

Theroux left Panama, and I wondered how the transition panned out. So I looked it up. Torrijos died in a plane crash. And Noriega took over. You see I remember Noriega (child of the 80s) but not Torrijos. So that was interesting to me.

Now, coming back to 2017….because I live in a left wing bubble, I’m perpetually surrounded by earnest social media posts that sound something like this;

I’m compelled to speak up with love and respect about the harms that this blah blah has done and this is not the America I know and love, the place that welcomes everyone and we love everyone and this is a time for strength not division etc., etc.,

It’s worth remembering that this isn’t the America that many non-Americans know. They know a posturing, illiberal super-power, one that is admired and feared, exploited for its economy and reviled for the interventionism that feeds it. In short, there are a lot of people in the world who have a mixed view of the US. It’s not the one that pops up underneath an artfully composed flat-lay on instagram.

Theroux talked frankly about Americans lack of awareness of their place in the world and the shenanigans carried out by their government. I think this is perhaps more true now than it was in 1979. The political sphere seems entirely domestic. Americans are protesting about American women’s rights, American muslim’s rights, American LGBT rights, African American rights, American workers rights. And well they should. I’m just surprised at the domestic focus I suppose…

Maybe I’m must engaging in that thing where I claim to be more righteous than everyone else, because I’ve got some interest in global history. But I don’t think this is it. I think politics is a cultural thing, and I generally think most people want to do what they think is the right thing to do. It’s the juxtaposition between the ‘soft’ domestic politics and the ‘hard’ bundling people into diplomatic bags politics that intrigues me.

See, I told you this wouldn’t make a lot of sense. See what you can do in 40 degree heat.

 

Opportunity Knocks

 Prominent ears and moustaches

A selection of headlines and bylines from the NZ mainstream media, regarding Gareth Morgan’s new political group, The Opportunities Party (with some artistic licence provided for clarity)….

Morgan Compares Self to Trump! (stuff.co.nz)

When asked who he most resembled, Donald Trump, Ghengis Kahn or that sidekick chicky from Zena with the fringe, Morgan compared himself to Trump, saying he was not really like him.

Gareth Morgan; good for ‘local colour’ (nzherald.co.nz)

John Key’s opinion of Morgan, who has consistently provided informed criticism of his National Government, is that he’s cashed up and good for a laugh. Don’t pay any attention to him.

Gareth Morgan Only Relevant to Cats! (thespinoff)

A searching treatise on Gareth Morgan’s new political party, completely comprised of cat-puns! It’s hilarious! Forget Morgan’s long-time, studied engagement in some of the most pressing issues of economic management and social justice, THE MAN DOESN’T LIKE CATS! Stand-by for Morgan’s position on leaf-blowers and microwaving vegetables with the Glad Wrap still on.

Morgan Too Arrogant For Parliament* (stuff.co.nz)

Gareth Morgan thinks he is Socrates. And he thinks he’s so clever he can solve all New Zealand’s problems single-handedly. He thinks politicians won’t solve New Zealand’s problems because they don’t want to ‘disturb the voters’.  Also, his son is rich, not him. Also, he’ll never make it. Also, he’s not very good at political spin, which, as a journalist dealing in political spin, clearly makes him an idiot.

*yes, really!

Sure, it’s easy to pass off all this negativity as normal New Zealand treatment of anyone who has,

A) given some thought to something,

and,

B) decided to do put some skin in the game.

Belting the shit out of their own is what kiwis do best.

However, I think there’s more to it than that. Anyone who is subject to such an immediate (clumsy and feeble) attempt at marginalisation by the media is obviously a very real threat to the status quo.

I know bugger all about Morgan (except his economic thinking, of which I know almost bugger all) but his appeal is evident from space. Morgan appears to be continuing an informed, intellectual interest in some pretty important social issues that the government keeps telling New Zealanders they don’t really care about.

Watch this space.

Waving, not drowning

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 6.54.32 PMYesterday I stumbled into the tearoom and was greeted with three Young People, their fresh faces turned up to the clear, bright blue of the television screen.

‘Eeennggaah?’ I said

‘Swimming,’ they said, ‘Finals. Straya might medal’

‘Grrrr…. ‘ I said, lamenting the loss of distinction between nouns and verbs in that terrible caravan fire during season 573 of Home and Away.

I’d actually forgotten the Olympics had started. This is because I simply don’t give a shit. And, as I watched what appeared to be an extremely well organised bait-ball unfold on the television screen I realised I’m not the only one.

The Olympics aren’t dead but they’re dying. Competing with ever more immediate and fantastic feats of weirdness, from Donald Trump to cat-memes, the Olympics simply fails to capture the public imagination.

On top of that, Olympians, especially western ones, are the bodily representation of a freakishly unequal distribution of wealth. They are overfed, impotent show-ponies, a track-suited middle-finger to the global poor. Watching each hermetically-sealed pod of uber-buffs touch down on the seething miasma of South American carni-shambles is an embarrassing joke.

Consider the slapstick outrage over countries with ‘performance enhancing drugs’ – a perfectly managed scandal that diverts attention from those with performance enhancing vaccinations, performance enhancing chlorinated water and the absence of the requirement to actually do any real work in order to survive. The Olympics used to be a celebration of struggle and triumph, now it’s an overt display of extreme wealth and excess.

In 1984, as I carefully drew purple and pink borders around my Heroes of the Pool project I thought that any one of us skinny, scabby kids could grow up and represent our country in the Olympics. We all did. Sure, it wouldn’t be easy, but if we worked hard and ate whatever branded cereal product was heavily marketed to us, we just might get there.

That nationalistic myth of mobility and achievement is dead and gone. Kids growing up in Bundarra know perfectly well that the closest they’ll get to the Olympics is spending a life time in trackies. The dream is over. Rio 2016 just puts it up in lights.

 

 

Toorak calling…

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 10.13.25 AM.pngLa Trobe University hit rock bottom last week, suspending academic Roz Ward for deviating from the vapid political fuckspeak that now passes for public discourse in this country. Ward raised the ire of the burghers of Toorak with a passing joke about a Marxist Australian flag. Ever concerned with the opinions of right wing voters, La Trobe suspended Ward immediately and suggested she atone for her un-Australian behaviour by placing some children in a concentration camp or beating a man almost to death with an iron bar.

Let’s be clear….

Academics have the right to say what they like in the private domain, and should be able to speak their minds in the public, even if it makes Murray and Genevieve choke on their All Bran. As a nation we are being herded into an echo-chamber of venal, neutered political speech where public utterances are little more than a duplicate of the Lifestyle section of The Age.

It’s boring, offensive and dangerous. And it’s counter-productive. Every now and then normal people reach a tipping point and vote for some reactionary lunatic just for a change of scenery (that’s exactly my campaign platform b.t.w).

Australians need to talk openly, with each other, a lot, about everything. We are on the verge of a catastrophic environmental, social and economic spit-roast and this frantic, empty hand- wringing is nothing more than a heavily sponsored diversion.

And if that means that a small bunch of self-interested politicians and intellectual pit-ponies suffer a bout of confected ‘outrage’ then….WAAAAAA.

The Age of Entitlement

The Glitterati at Work, late 1960s

The Glitterati at Work, late 1960s

Let’s take a moment to reflect and rewind…

In 1992 I lived in a dramatically cold flat, the top floor of an old wooden house that was gradually falling to bits. Seven of us shared three bedrooms. Showers required a clean leap between wet floor and metal showerbox, lest one be grounded with a foot in each camp. Fortunately, we we could seldom afford the electricity bill.

Ah, the providence of poverty!

We were all around the same age, 15-17 and we’d all been working full time for a couple of years. I worked between 40 and 50 hours a week at a steam laundry. I counted and sorted incoming dirty laundry, mainly from the hospital, without gloves, shoes or religion.

My flatmates and I were all trying to stay alive until we reached 18, at which point we could get the dole when we inevitably found ourselves out of work. The dole paid $117 a week.

I had just over two years to go.

I began the job at the laundry about a year after the introduction of the National Government’s Employment Contracts Act, (ECA). The ECA did away with previously negotiated labour agreements, keeping just the minimum wage. There were no unions, no penalty rates and, as I was constantly reminded by my boss, I could be let go within the first three months without notice. Little did he know I’d let myself go already. The joke’s on you, sir!

I was relieved to make the three month mark, as it was the point at which every job I’d had since I’d left school had ended. Under the new Employment Contracts Act, Employees were free to negotiate a contract with their employers. The National Government of the time cheerfully reminded us employees that if our contract wasn’t satisfactory we could simply choose another employer! This was the Beauty of The Market!

As it turned out, The Market was flooded with keen young things lining up to scavenge through festering piles of sheets in a rainbow of early decay. My ‘bargaining position’ therefore, was poor. It should be said that it was better that most of the other women I worked with, because unlike them, I could read.

The Employment Contracts Act did away with penalty rates, so we could work 17 hours in a row and get paid the same amount for the first hour as we did for the last. Budgeting was a breeze!

I was under 16, so once I passed the 3 month probation my pay reached just under $6 an hour, before tax. This was, however, more than the minimum youth wage. I considered myself lucky.

I also got 50c “Dirt Money” payable upon delivery of an item covered in blood/pus/vomit. These items were sighted by the factory supervisor who sat in an elevated perspex office overlooking the factory floor, where he ate chocolate biscuits and children, and had furniture cobbled together by Dickens and Foucault.

My pay paid my rent, but only just. We shared groceries, helping to carry them home on a Monday night. I had a bowl of Weetbix for breakfast (we all agreed we would only eat one serving a day), and my lunch order – a bread roll with beetroot and a slice of cheese – cost $6. Most nights were dinner free, but on weekends my flatmate often worked the closing shift at KFC. So, two nights a week she would wake us up at 2am to eat the ‘last batch’ of chicken left over at the end of the night. Bliss.

I was 178cm tall and weighed 48 kilos.

1991 also saw the deregulation of the health system, bad news for those of us on a diet of newly retired KFC and nits. At one point during the year we all got scabies but the new GP charges meant it would cost each of us around $8 – $10 for a visit to the doctor. Rumour had it however that there was a German doctor in town who would see multiple patients in one appointment. She was clearly a communist. We split the cost of the visit and the prescription and were sent home with instructions to wash all our bedding in hot water. She might as well have told us to soak it in Dom Perignon. The scabies galloped on, undaunted.

Three months later, in a sleep deprived fit of itching hysteria, my flatmate scratched through her dermis and into the muscle with a hair-clip. The resulting infection festered for a week, causing a kidney infection that raged for another three days.

She grew more and more ill but was adamant that we should not take her to the hospital, as she couldn’t afford it. In 1991 the National government, as part of its ongoing privatisation of the healthcare system, introduced a per night charge for hospital stays.

The charge was to discourage people from using the hospital ‘unless they really needed to’ (disregarding the fact that Doctors are generally slightly better equipped to determine the ‘need’ for hospital admission than the average punter with an axe in their face).

Initially this charge was set at $50. I seem to recall health minister (soon to be Prime Minister) Jenny Shipley saying that it cost about $170 a night to stay in a full service hotel, so the $50 hospital charge was relatively cheap. This was perhaps unfair media treatment. With the benefit of hindsight Shipley may have chosen more considered words, but it’s since emerged that she was ‘doorstopped’ at home at the exact moment she’d started carving a glue-sniffer. The media can be unkind.

My flatmate was rightly nervous about going to hospital. Outstanding debts were swifty on-sold to Baycorp. In a penurious town there is no-one more zealous than the debt collector who is himself only one pay cheque from the other side. I distinctly remember discussing this contingency: obviously we had nothing BayCorp could or would take (they were famous for taking belongings at an address, regardless of the provenance), but they could ruin her credit rating, and she was the only one of us who was old enough to be on a lease.

The kidney infection continued unabated. My dear flatmate raged, fainted and puked her way through another three days while we waited for market forces to rationalise the extent and outcome of her illness.

Finally, after a week she fell unconscious. We borrowed a friend’s car, scraped together $3 petrol money and a carried her down the stairs and off to hospital, where we were told she was three hours from death. She was back at work later that week, the entitled bitch.