Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Optimism Requested

A regular reader responded to the last blog by asking me What Makes Me Happy? It is a tough question. General answers can be found in this post from last year, but as of right now… not a lot (which is reflected in my surly disposition). However these few things make me happy.
  1. Reading this book
  2. New music
  3. Careering through my pop culture list 
  4. Time to myself
  5. Revisiting classic films that I've missed (Look for a post on a few in the next couple of weeks)
  6. Arguing about AFL and TV shows
  7. The prospect of living in a Capital City again (hopefully) soon
  8. Time off from the PhD
  9. My subscription to The New Republic
Nine is not bad considering?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Things I Hate: Part I

You know what this blog needs? More cynicism!

  1. People who still use 'That awkward moment when..' meme and think its funny. It is not. 
  2. Politicians who comment on sporting news or celebrities and describe them as 'Great Australians' it is not your job to be a an arbiter of good taste so just shut up and do your job.
  3. Q&A. The worst television show in Australia. This includes Better Homes and Gardens
  4. Twitter trending topics that are about inane subjects. They make me want to commit pop cultural genocide to anyone born after 1991. I do not care about the #bestbreakuplinesever
  5. Anytime the word #fail is used in non academic conversation
  6. Anyone who asks if I'm 'okay'. Either way you know the answer to this 
  7. Any form of rugby
  8. Any form of 'lifestyle programming'
  9. People who describe me as 'far too serious'
  10. People who choose to demean the profession of politics
  11. Anyone who has an opinion on politics that is not an informed one
  12. People who give more weight to superficial rather than intellectual discussions
  13. Excessive photography of yourself
  14. Continual status updates via Facebook/Twitter
  15. Circular arguments
  16. Leigh Sales AND Chris Ulhman
  17. People who post YouTube clips of things that they hate or find annoying
  18. Commercial morning television (Read the paper or at least the headlines for fuck's sake)
  19. People who try to change my mind about things I hate
  20. People who complain about what I do or how I do it.
  21. Catherine Devaney
  22. Paris Wells
  23. Nick Vujicic

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Quarter Pounder

The year is almost 3 months old: one quarter over. 2011 so far has been shit. This time last year I was frighteningly optimistic, almost over confident and although things would not fall apart until the last week of the year. I doubt I will ever display that level of hubris again. Tragedy and disappointment does that to you.

However, I want to focus on the few positives I’ve managed to stumble upon so far this year.

Podcasts: This is the one hobby I’ve picked up this year thanks once again to The AV Club and its wonderful Podmass feature. It has allowed me to rediscover my childhood love of 1980s and 90s NBA basketball through the crazy mind of Bill Simmons. It also has given me one of the few opportunities to laugh this year with the team of Extra Hot Great. I have also enjoyed  many other podcasts, which discuss television criticism.

My Writing: My writing both here and at RampUp has improved enormously, and has allowed me to channel my overwhelming anger effectively. I have stopped using my writing as a passive aggressive way to get attention and have instead taken a more honest and direct approach.

Reading: I have actually got through 6 really good books this year with more to follow.

Yeah… that’s pretty much it. At least the football has started.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Tears of Hope Lost and Regained

Music makes me cry.

There are some songs that tap into emotions, an aural reflection of time, place and feelings that you cannot forget. Music is my saviour and the catalyst for opening me up to the rest of the world.

Meg & Dia seem to be the band that pries open my heart to let my emotions come pouring out in a torrent. They are worthy rivals to Tegan and Sara in terms of the finest songwriters in the world. This particular song resonates with me on so many levels.

The One comes off their latest EP It’s Always Sunny In Tillamook and encapsulates why I love the Frampton sisters so much. There is just so much emotion in this song, emotion that particularly resonates with me,

Today Meg & Dia released the first track of their upcoming album Cocoon called Love Is Dia’s songwriting is just extraordinary. In many ways whilst being musically related to The One in many ways Love Is is its polar opposite. ‘I know there is hope in hope itself’ is delightfully positive whereas in The One all hope is extinguished.

Both leave me sobbing. 

Monday, 21 March 2011

Christmas Day

When was the last time you read something positive about my disability? Yeah, it was a while ago.

I have not been happy since Christmas Day. Several reasons spring to mind, but the latest celebration of the supposed second coming of The Lord was a day I got smacked in the face. I was reminded that no matter how hard I try, no matter how hard I wish, I will never ever get what I want.

Prior to this I guess you could say I lived in an extended period of denial. My disability was a challenge I could conquer. My path might be different, but it would be a worthwhile one. It would be one that I could treasure and take ownership of. Christmas Day represented a perverse milestone, the first time I saw my disability for what it really was.

Disability when studied objectively is all about deciding what the most palatable ‘choice’ is.  I am currently looking to move out of my parents’ home (About ten years too late, but that is another story), and given my disability this is just so hard. I have the choice between having funding for personal care whilst being homeless, or to move into a house and have no funding. You see I’m not eligible for funding unless I move out of my parents’ home, and I cannot move out unless I can get funding. Do you see the logic there? Me either.

When I make that Sophie’s Choice. I will be moving to Brisbane. This is not bad, but again demonstrates the palatable choice phenomenon. I would much rather live in Canberra or Melbourne, but I cannot move that far away on my own yet, particularly when I know no one there, nor the respective State and Territory Disability Sectors (Just nationalise the system already!).

And what about when the ‘palatable option’ is emotionally devastating? You cannot just pack up and take off, make things right, or make a truly fresh start. This is when the palatable option is all about sitting, waiting, dealing with bureaucrats and stewing because it is impossible to make Sophie’s Choice. It is ironic when Sophie’s Choice is the only ‘choice’ I can make in my life. Disability does not do the word justice: try disempowerment.

This is a rather odd feeling. Perhaps this makes me bitter and twisted, but I prefer to call it revealing and realistic. For the first time in my life I know that I cannot do anything I set my mind to. If I could I would be much happier by now. But by the same token I know that once I can emotionally deal with this reality once and for all I will be much more calm and happier in the longer term.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

On Death Part II: The Hitch

A funny thing happened after I wrote about death. I forgot and was then reminded again yesterday that one of my heroes is dying. I have written at length about why Christopher Hitchens is one of my favourite authors. He is concise, yet deadly with his words. His prose is a weapon that vanquishes his enemies. The only enemy he cannot beat is cancer. On his book tour for Hitch 22 late last year it was discovered that he had stage 4 esophageal cancer, which is inoperable.

In true Hitchens form he decided to announce this through one of his Vanity Fair columns. I defy anyone to read it and not be emotionally touched by his words. Hitchens documents going through the ‘five stages of grief' with remarkable candor:

Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water….

These are my first raw reactions to being stricken. I am quietly resolved to resist bodily as best I can, even if only passively, and to seek the most advanced advice. My heart and blood pressure and many other registers are now strong again: indeed, it occurs to me that if I didn’t have such a stout constitution I might have led a much healthier life thus far. Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups. On both of these I hope to write next time if—as my father invariably said—I am spared.
That article was published in September and if that announcement were not made the casual observer would not notice he was sick. He has continued to write for Vanity Fair and for Slate to a high standard. In fact, just two months ago he wrote what I regard as one of his best pieces deriding the historical inaccuracies of The King's Speech. Hitchens has remained in his acidic top form as the cancer eats away at him.

So it was quite a shock to see Hitchens on the American version of 60 Minutes last week looking gaunt, and well... physically beaten. It only struck me then, that by the end of this year Hitchens words could be no more. That would be the greatest tragedy in modern literature. We need more people like Hitchens, whose arrogance is only matched by his intellect and the ability to meld these characteristics into the written word.

No one close to me has died, nor has death touched me on any profound level. The sadness I feel in contemplating the demise of the greatest author of his generation is perhaps the closest I have come so far. I guess you could say in that respect I’m extremely lucky.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Pop Culture Plans: Autumn & Winter 2011

I've been going through a pretty shitty time recently, and so have decided to take a break from the PhD until July so I can refocus, and plan a move to Brisbane. Part of my recovery is to actually begin to have fun again. This means I must get stuck into pop culture goodness for a while.

Books I Have Ordered & Will Read 
The Psychology of Love by Sigmond Freud 
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Primary Colors by Joe Klien
Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan by Edmund Morris
Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer by Peter Elkind
McCain's Promise by David Foster Wallace
Infinate Jest by David Foster Wallace
Barrel Fever by David Sedaris
Naked by David Sedaris
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris 
Eating The Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman
Skins Volume 2: Summer Holiday by Jess Brittan
The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons

TV Shows I Will Watch
Rewatch In Treatment
Start The Good Wife
Start Parks and Recreation
Watch all of Thirtysomething
Mildred Pierce
The Kennedys
Breaking Bad
The Secret Life of the American Teenager
Make It or Break It
Continue with the US season of my current shows

New Music/Events
Death Cab for Cutie: Codes and Keys (May 31)
Lenka: Two (April 11)
Washington Live Gig at The Tivoli (May 5)

Fiona Apple Untitled Album (Winter)

Good times ahead, hopefully

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

On Death

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,

Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better than thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death,  thou shalt die.
Death Be Not Proud John Donne
Death is a subject that has come up for me a lot of late for all sorts of reasons. I am no longer afraid of death and now I have embraced the inevitability of it. Death has a contradictory nature to it that to me is like politics. When it does not concern you directly, in the abstract, they both seem romantic, idyllic even. However, when they directly affect you it is in a gruesomely slow and painful way. Lately, I’ve been thinking about death in the abstract. Where I thought there was something noble in dying with dignity, I have now come to realise that there is absolutely no dignity in death.

This realisation came to me like all good ones: through a piece of art; specifically through the movie Wit starring Emma Thompson who also co-wrote the screenplay with acclaimed director Mike Nichols. The plot is as follows: 

Vivian Bearing, a demanding and uncompromising professor of 17th century English poetry specializing in the holy sonnets of John Donne, is diagnosed with advanced (stage 4) metastatic ovarian cancer. Being an academic, she treats the news with a certain matter-of-factness much like she would her own research. Indeed, her medical team - the renowned Dr. Harvey Kelekian and his fellow, Dr. Jason Posner, who happens to be an ex-student of hers - do treat her solely like a research experiment, with a "live at all cost" mentality. The doctors recommend an experimental treatment of aggressive chemotherapy, to which she agrees. In part out of her own choice but in part out of her own personal circumstances, she decides to go through the treatment alone. But as her treatment progresses, she wishes she had some more truly caring human interaction from people who see her as a person and not just a research experiment.

Based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Margaret Edison, this film is a tremendously harrowing experience and is uncomfortable viewing throughout, as the story chroniclles Vivian’s slow march towards death. Like me, she uses her intellect to rationalise her life’s journey, but it provides cold comfort. At the heart of the film lies the question of whether death is a triumph or an obstacle to be endured?

In the film’s most crucial flashback scene, Vivian as a student is discussing Death Be Not Proud with her professor, E.M Ashton. Vivian failed her essay on the poem because she used the wrong text and not the proscribed one.
E.M. Ashford: Do you think that the punctuation of the last line of this sonnet is merely an insignificant detail? The sonnet begins with a valiant struggle with Death calling on all the forces of intellect and drama to vanquish the enemy. But it is ultimately about overcoming the seemingly insuperable barriers separating life death and eternal life. In the edition you choose, this profoundly simple meaning is sacrificed to hysterical punctuation. 
E.M. Ashford: And Death, Capital D, shall be no more, semi-colon. Death, Capital D comma, thou shalt die, exclamation mark!

E.M. Ashford: If you go in for this sort of thing I suggest you take up Shakespeare.

E.M. Ashford: Gardner's edition of the Holy Sonnets returns to the Westmoreland manuscript of 1610, not for sentimental reasons I assure you, but because Helen Gardner is a scholar.

E.M. Ashford: It reads, "And death shall be no more" comma "death, thou shalt die." Nothing but a breath, a comma separates life from life everlasting.

E.M. Ashford: Very simple, really. With the original punctuation restored Death is no longer something to act out on a stage with exclamation marks. It is a comma. A pause. 
E.M. Ashford: In this way, the uncompromising way one learns something from the poem, wouldn't you say? Life, death, soul, God, past present. Not insuperable barriers. Not semi-colons. Just a comma.
'Life, death, soul, God, past present. Not insuperable barriers. Not semi-colons. Just a comma.'

Death is a part of life. Life is a part of death. Death has no grand meaning, it is just a breath: the end of one stage of being and the beginning of another.

There is something profound to this, but if I am entirely honest I have not figured out what that is yet. Life is to be endured, sometimes enjoyed, as is death I suppose. Like life, no one has any idea what death holds. So the question that leaves me intrigued remains:

If we are not scared of living, why are so many scared of dying?

Some would take this to mean that I am being fatalistic. I would argue that I am merely being philosophical. The process of dying itself is often grim, horrific and torturous, but what happens after is highly contentious and debatable. Many scores of religions have profited from what they teach others about the eternal afterlife. Are these teachings necessary?

Instead I find transformative art like Wit to be great for the soul.

Perhaps the biggest lesson of all is that you cannot be happy in death unless you are happy in life.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Glee's Creative Angina.

Back in May at the conclusion of the show’s first season I talked about the many problems of Glee. At that point the show had near universal acclaim, but I was not convinced. It seems that I was ahead of the curve, because the show has now widened the gap between its best and its worst. Consequently, Glee is not the ratings juggernaut that it was this time last year. My comparisons with The OC now seem particular prophetic.

The problems I highlighted seem to have only increased three quarters of the way through Glee’s second season. Glee has creative angina: it looks tired, old and bloated. It has added unnecessary second and third tier characters. The plotting between (and sometimes during) episodes is bipolar in nature, which disregards continuity almost completely. The biggest problem of all is that the show's three writers Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, and Brad Falchuk seem happy to rest on their laurels, wasting the talents of a potentially great show and reducing it to mediocrity.

Television critics in particular have discussed at length this wasted potential. In fact the debate about Glee is actually more entertaining than the show itself, and is probably the only reason I’m still watching the show. In particular this commentary by Salon’s TV Critic Matt Zoller Seitz sums up my feelings completely:

Problem No. 1 is that there's too much sizzle this season, not enough steak. You can say that about almost any Season 2 episode, but it's especially true of the so-called tribute episodes, which feel less like continuations of the show's ongoing story than glorified interruptions.

The show's much-vaunted inventiveness is starting to seem detrimental, too, because it's concentrated in the margins. I'm in favor of the series embracing its latent surrealist streak -- an inclination that links Glee with The Singing Detective and Twin Peaks -- but only if it has the chops to pull it off. Unfortunately, except for Grilled Cheesus -- an episode built around an earnest, Afterschool Special-style contemplation of faith that improbably turned out to be one of the series' boldest, silliest, maybe finest hours -- I have yet to see evidence that Glee can sustain that level of deranged genius for more than a few minutes at a time.

I suppose Glee has its teenie bopper audience to consider primarily, hence it does not stray too far from its mainstream formula. This is rather maddening for television viewers like myself who treat the medium both as a form on entertainment and as a way to be intellectually stimulated. There are more holes in the plotting of Glee than a slice of Swiss cheese. Viewers tend to overlook these if the show is fun and captures the viewers enough so they can get swept up in the story. As Todd VanDerWerff points out:

Whether or not you can like an episode of Glee increasingly seems to have plenty to do with just how much you’re willing to forgive the show completely rewriting itself in order to pull off whatever it wants to do in that week’s episode.

My frustration with Glee is not what the show is, but what it could be. It is the perfect vehicle for mainstream audiences to get swept up in theatricality of musicals. Musicals aren’t always sunny and vibrant; in fact the best ones have dark and desperate undertones. In the show’s pilot, Glee looked as if it might head in this direction with at least part of its story, but it lost the opportunity:
There are a couple of other shows lurking inside of Glee, ghosts of the shows that could have been. One is the deeply sentimental after-school special sans snark, the show that more often makes viewers cringe than say, “Hey, that was OK,” no matter the show’s intended audience of teenagers and young’uns. The other is the often very sad show about failed dreams and the people who cling to them desperately, usually best exemplified by Will Schuester and his realization of just how little his life has amounted to, outside of the fact that he seems to enjoy teaching and his students seem to appreciate him. That could be more than enough if it wasn’t for the fact that he wanted to be great at one time, but got sidelined by life and ended up as someone the teenage version of himself would barely recognize. That’s the guy we first met in the pilot, trapped in a flailing marriage and trying to right himself via returning to his show choir roots.

The thing that attracted audiences to Glee in the first place was that it took risks. It bended genres, stereotypes and creative norms. Now the show has become overexposed and excessively popular Glee seems to be straight jacketed by its success. It is time for Glee to think outside the box.
Narrative and character can be conveyed solely through acting, music, choreography and feeling. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg proved this. So did Once and Hairspray, Tommy and Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar and Pink Floyd's The Wall. And so, in its overstuffed, Attention Deficit Disordered way, did Moulin Rouge, a fragmented mess that works in spite of itself because the emotions are simple and epic—and the filmmakers and the performers take them seriously, even when they're making awful puns and mincing around like brain-damaged vaudeville wannabes.

You could make episodes of Glee in the spirit of any of the aforementioned musicals, Mr. Murphy. Or you could do an entire episode that was mostly one big dream sequence—the Glee equivalent of the Test Dream episode of The Sopranos. Or you could do a whole episode that had no music, only expressive (and charmingly awkward) dancing, and perhaps no words at all. You could do a whole episode with no songs, just rapid-fire dialogue that achieved its own sideways sort of musicality. You could do five little short films, one about a different character, and link them by a common event, a la Jim Jarmusch's great anthology film Mystery Train. You could have a character die slowly and send them off over a full hour with your own salute to All That Jazz (although hopefully you will have learned your lesson from Rocky Horror and used Fosse's masterwork as rough inspiration rather than as something to piggyback on).
And if you carried yourself with the swanky, imperious confidence of Dr. Frank N. Furter, the audience would follow. Yes, they would.
What, you think they're suddenly going to stop watching Glee because you started throwing curveball after curveball? Hell, no. They'd be on the edges of their seats every single week. They'd approach each new episode with a sense of nervous delight, wondering, "What the hell is Glee going to try to get away with this week?"
That's how the truly great shows do it, Mr. Murphy. They don't half-ass it like Glee, trying to please (or coddle) everybody, and often ending up pleasing no one.
Glee could be Dennis Potter plus Twin Peaks plus American Idol plus Hairspray plus about 10 other things that haven't been invented yet. Right now what you've got is a compulsively watchable show that's stunning about twenty percent of the time and disappointing otherwise, not because the remainder is completely worthless—far from it—but because that 20 percent set the bar so high.
So be crazy. Show us what you've got—everything you've got. Don't hold back. Don't play it safe. You've got the clout. You've got the riches. You've got the following.
But based on what I've seen over the last two seasons, you don't have the nerve.

To be sure Glee still has moments of genius when it rarely applies musical theatre to its creative processes. Some songs still make me cry like a baby, while others take the best pop songs to another level, and there are others no one could possibly fuck up. However, these moments are getting fewer and farther between. Great as these moments are, they are not enough to hide its flaws anymore.

Nowhere is the gulf between Glee’s best and worst more evident than its portrayal of physically disabled character Artie. In a genius move, the writers paired him up with the show’s best character Brittney, but in doing so have created infuriating characterizations of crippledom. In Glee’s Christmas episode Brittney, still believing in Santa asks Saint Nic to cure Artie’s disability and make him walk. This is dreadful and suggests that Brittney does not accept her boyfriend for who he is, nor does understand that his disability might be crucial part of his identity, and part of the reason she might have fallen in love with him in the first place. In another episode they use Artie’s wheelchair as a dance prop while Brittney shouts afterwards ’That’s my man whose legs don’t work'. Really Glee? You sure know how to piss this cripple off!

For a show so naturally attractive to me Glee is certainly torture to watch. The best musicals are meant to take the viewer inside a character’s soul so the audience can gain a greater understanding of the story. It is through song that a character can express their inner most pain, joy and desperation. The desperation I confront as a once loyal viewer of Glee is to wonder how long I can continue watching the show and hoping for the best?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Thursday, 10 March 2011


“Anyone can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way: that is not within everyone's power and that is not easy.” Aristotle

2011 feels like a non event so far, there’s little in the way of new albums, few current movies I have loved, few current books I want to read. The only positive thing to come out of this year up to this point has been my writing and my kamikaze approach to it. Starting from a low morale base this year has proven one thing: I am no longer afraid to piss people off, and I don’t have to hide my anger. Yet I think it is going to take a long time to move past this anger: it is possibly a life long struggle.

Why do people feel it necessary to hide despair? Pretend the world is okay and put on fake smiles? Construct versions of their identity that satisfy the world and not themselves? In many ways I used to be more guilty of this than most. What is the problem with being pissed off? Those who argue that whinging and complaining about one’s circumstances achieves nothing miss the point of it all. It is through anger and frustration that I personally achieve catharsis. The result of which you see on these pages most of the time.

Too often people confuse anger with other things. To be angry, may lead to depression, although that is not always the case. Anger for me is a way to face up to uncomfortable reality of life. I’m working on ways to continually express my anger in more a healthy way. Like with all emotions, if anger is not expressed correctly it builds up and then explodes into a torrent during a specific moment in time.

The song above represents my go to point for anger, resentment, sadness and bitterness. You know that when this song is on repeat or played often (particularly this version) that I am pissed off with the world. I withdraw, I write more, other communication is kept to a minimum and I become highly emotional. Various experts say some of these characteristics are bad, and that some are good. I’ve finally come to accept that for better or worse these traits are how I deal with negative events and that I must use them progressively, rather than mesh them together.

I’m mad as hell, and I don’t have the option of whether I can take it anymore. The pain will linger forever, all sorts of pain, not just one particular type. Whether it be in relation to my disability, being unsatisfied with my personal life or the frustration of life generally, I know that I as an individual am not strong, nor am I brave. I just survive some days because I have no choice but to survive.

A few songs, and a trusted few friends help ease the pain and subdue the anger at least temporarily. Learning to hate and to be angry should not be frowned upon. I hate far more people than I love. People I love hate me at times. Anger drives me sometimes, especially when few other things can.

I must embrace the anger as I have, for it may be here to stay.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

'Our Best Day'

I’ve spoken about the wonders of Marit Larsen before. She is definitely my favourite pop star in the world. It remains a crime against music that her talents are not widely recognised. Unfortunately she is between albums at the moment, but thank god for small mercies.

Yesterday Marit Larsen released a new song Vår Beste Dag (Our Best Day), a cover of a traditional Norwegian folk song. The lyrics were incomprehensible to me initially, but in a strange way I thought that made the song even more beautiful. Here’s a translation I found:

Come listen to the depths, as we row toward dawn
Hear, the jellyfish tuning its strings
Promising is the sound of fish ripples
This day may be our best day.
Our fjord still shimmers, fresh and blue
Your eyes are free, your back is straight
Much we must meet, much we must master,
But today, it may be our best day.

The lyrics would have you believe the song is optimistic, but the instrumentation is solemn and sombre. It is almost as if Marit thinks the best day might be her last: a feeling I can completely relate to. Now that I understand the song’s meaning this piece of art is truly transcendent. This song completely encapsulates the magic that is Marit. I’m hoping that her third album results in more material like this.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Women Deserve Respect Not Quotas.

What right does a man in his mid twenties have to comment on issues affecting women? Probably none. But males should also celebrate today’s International Womens' Day. Today is a day when all should recognise how far women have come to achieve equity in the past century or so, while still recognizing that they have a long way to go. Notice how I said ‘equity’ and not ‘equality’? Equality is bullshit. All humans are not created equal, so why treat them as such? However equity should be accessible for all those who are underprivileged in society, so that they can gain access to opportunity. Equity is not equality. International Womens' Day should represent an opportunity to promote equity and justice for women.

Popular culture seems to go out of its way to vilify women who are determined to push boundaries, in favour of identifying them as purely sexual beings. Feminism has its place to a degree; its origins highlighted discrimination against women based on their sex, and allowed women access to basic social and civil rights: in other words to achieve equity. As an outsider, modern feminism seems to me to have gone astray somewhere along the line.

Feminism should not be about promoting quotas to ensure one section of society gets represented in business or in politics in some sort of sexual gerrymander. It should promote topics of discussion, create debate and develop policies that are too often overlooked by the mainstream media. In some ways feminists have done an excellent job of this, almost too good to the point of cannibalizing women in the media for having contrarian viewpoints. In other issues, it seems that society’s attitude towards the sexual expression of women has taken a backward step, mainly due to feminist hegemony.

One issue that highlights these two dichotomies is the public’s and the media’s mistreatment of the so called ‘St Kilda Schoolgirl’. This 17 year old supposedly embarked upon a relationship with an AFL footballer when she was still in high school, and was then discarded by said footballer like a cheap piece of meat. The girl became angry, lied about being pregnant, stole naked photos of the footballer’s team mates and distributed them on the internet for revenge. Still not satisfied with leaking these photos, the girl then entrapped the footballer’s manager, only then to claim that she fell in love with him. All of this gets reported and exploited by the tabloid media, and a commercial current affairs program buys her story for several thousands of dollars, so the abused girl can share her story with the Australian public. There’s something drastically wrong with this picture as the world seeks to celebrate the achievements of women’s rights.

The thing that completely staggers me is that this girl has been vilified, and not the high profile institutions that continually seek to exploit her on a daily basis. By no means am I suggesting the girl is totally innocent, but given the circumstances I believe that the majority of her actions should be applauded and not condemned. In fact she is following in the tradition of her feminist ancestors by being willing to speak up, and refusing to be oppressed by male dominated institutions. The primary issue at hand is not whether she lied about her pregnancy, nor how or why she distributed the photos. It is the fact that her story is emblematic of the way the AFL treats Generation Y women in general: as sexual playthings for the organisation’s entertainment. Of course this attitude does not reside exclusively with the AFL, but in all sports and media.

This is why I am at odds with the current feminist agenda. Quotas and equality are rather meaningless at the best of times. This is especially true if the contributions of women to public debate are not respected and highly valued. Women may have won the right to vote, but when will they win society’s respect?

Monday, 7 March 2011

Gaining An Education

One of the more pleasant things I am doing during my extended period of reflection is catching up on movies I’ve been meaning to see, but haven’t got around to. Today, I saw An Education, a stunning film, which spoke to me with added poignancy. I identified with both protagonists equally, for differing reasons. It also helps that I wish to bed Carey Mulligan, or at least her character in the movie (I wonder if such an admission would cause legal trouble?).

The plot to An Education is as follows:

In the early 1960's, sixteen year old Jenny Mellor lives with her parents in the London suburb of Twickenham. On her father's wishes, everything that Jenny does is in the sole pursuit of being accepted into Oxford, as he wants her to have a better life than he. Jenny is bright, pretty, hard working but also naturally gifted. The only problems her father may perceive in her life is her issue with learning Latin, and her dating a boy named Graham, who is nice but socially awkward. Jenny's life changes after she meets David Goldman, a man over twice her age. David goes out of his way to show Jenny and her family that his interest in her is not improper and that he wants solely to expose her to cultural activities which she enjoys. Jenny quickly gets accustomed to the life to which David and his constant companions, Danny and Helen, have shown her, and Jenny and David's relationship does move into becoming a romantic one. However, Jenny slowly learns more about David, and by association Danny and Helen, and specifically how they make their money. Jenny has to decide if what she learns about them and leading such a life is worth forgoing her plans of higher eduction at Oxford.

This plot, in large part, is taken from a memoir by English writer Lynn Barber. She embarked upon a relationship with an older man named Simon when she was 16. Without giving the plot away, it is fair to say that the end of the relationship was rather inevitable. As a follow up to the movie I read a fantastic article by Barber that gave a personal insights behind the well conceived plot points.

As with the movie, the last two paragraphs of the article both delighted and unnerved me, close to the bone as they were:

What did I get from Simon? An education - the thing my parents always wanted me to have. I learned a lot in my two years with Simon. I learned about expensive restaurants and luxury hotels and foreign travel, I learned about antiques and Bergman films and classical music. All this was useful when I went to Oxford - I could read a menu, I could recognise a fingerbowl, I could follow an opera, I was not a complete hick. But actually there was a much bigger bonus than that. My experience with Simon entirely cured my craving for sophistication. By the time I got to Oxford, I wanted nothing more than to meet kind, decent, straightforward boys my own age, no matter if they were gauche or virgins. I would marry one eventually and stay married all my life and for that, I suppose, I have Simon to thank.
 But there were other lessons Simon taught me that I regret learning. I learned not to trust people; I learned not to believe what they say but to watch what they do; I learned to suspect that anyone and everyone is capable of "living a lie". I came to believe that other people - even when you think you know them well - are ultimately unknowable. Learning all this was a good basis for my subsequent career as an interviewer, but not, I think, for life. It made me too wary, too cautious, too ungiving. I was damaged by my education.

That last paragraph in particular perfectly describes my emotional transition from childhood to becoming an adult. Innocence and niavity is lost. Optimism is replaced by pessimism. Nothing surprises an adult. To hurt is to grow. The scars always remain as a reminder of necessary mistakes. Chances taken, but ones that are forever damaging. You learn more from being ripped apart than being put back together.

I am behind the times. Like Jenny, many learn these lessons in the grip of adolescence but not I. Perhaps I have undergone all the physical transformations associated with this period a decade or so ago, but it has taken me until now to learn the emotional lessons that my contemporaries learned long ago. The reasons are many, but I’m only just getting my education now. I hope I am a good pupil.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Linkage: Part I, 2011

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, viewing, and listening of late and thought I’d use this opportunity to recommend some things…

First fans of pop culture should read this article by the AV Club’s Noel Murray debating which medium is culturally superior, movies or TV? Personally I still think it’s the latter.

My early favourite for album of 2011 is The King is Dead by The Decemberists. This track is my favourite.

I watched this excellent documentary by Eugene Jarecki, noted for his other political work including Why We Fight, which is also a tremendous piece of cinema.

I have recently become a fan of podcasts. This is my favourite one, but there’s also this one which I’ve listened to since its inception. If any of you know any other good pop culture ones, please hit up the comments.

When I have time (probably in a few months) I am going to start reading a few classic novels. Starting with the Madame Bovary, then the Russians. Any more suggestions from literary types?

Finally this song has extra special meaning today.

'Frustration equals the gap between desire and reality.'

Friday, 4 March 2011

Crippling Views

There have many comments regarding my contrarian views of late. This is particularly so with the NDIS and my attitude towards people with disabilities. I realise that I can no longer afford to be relentlessly positive. My life and history tells me different. Too many brick walls have to shatter in my life for me to be optimistic anymore. I might lose a few colleagues, friends and admirers by adopting this position, but at least I will be honest with myself.

I don’t seek out to adopt contrarian views, although it is much more challenging and fun to do so. I see my reality and I try and speak the truth. If a policy is utter shit, then I will call it as such. If I disagree with many of my colleagues with disabilities because I believe their optimism is misplaced, I think it is important that this is articulated. Readers can choose to take these opinions on face value.

On Twitter the other day my favourite political exponent of the medium Latika Bourke stated that she would like to see wheelchair athlete Kurt Fearnley on Q&A. Immediately I expressed my opposition to this because ‘there are far better people with disabilities who deserve to be on’. She was offended by these comments and called them ‘poor form’. Why? Is it because Fearnley is in a wheelchair, and that makes him untouchable? I find him to be an arrogant obnoxious martyr, who promotes the causes of people with disabilities in ways that offend and disgust me.

The whole notion of a ‘disabled community’ seems archaic to me. Do we have a community of people who wear glasses? This I believe is the whole problem with disability advocacy. At the risk of sounding harsh my concerns as a citizen are different to every other person with a disability, and I have no interest seeking to be connected to people that I share only one characteristic in common with. I have many friends with disabilities, and they are all top people. I like them because they make me laugh, or they are intelligent or they are geeks like me.

I know its politically incorrect but I actually dread going to places where all I have in common with participants are their disabilities, for the same reason I dread talking to other strangers. I fell into disability advocacy by accident. I advocate not because I want or desire to, but because I have to for my own survival. Nobody else will say that a NDIS is a piece of shit, but I have to because I need to find a policy that will work before I run out of money to pay for carers and end up in a nursing home. There’s nothing positive about that.

When I write for RampUp I am doing so because it is my way to get my opinion out there and hopefully save me in the long term. If other people find this useful that is great. I will not belong to a community however, nor do I speak for them. Just like footballers who keep repeating that they are not role models, neither am I. If this offends you it is time to go elsewhere.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Time To Get Politically Aware to Save a NDIS

The Productivity Commission’s (PC) Interim Report into disability funding was made public yesterday. It is superficially superb but ultimately disappointing. Those in the disability sector hail it as a triumph. I see it as deeply flawed document, which may have potential, but that is unlikely because it is so politically ignorant. If this report were a car it would look like a new convertible, but it would stall once you turn the engine on.

As I have argued previously I’m opposed to the whole concept of an NDIS without proper investigation. The PC report has answered some of my questions by developing a rather monolithic and simplistic three tiered criteria. I have issues with these criteria, because although I fit into the criteria quite snugly, there is lots of grey area. I have trouble seeing where people with vision and hearing impairments fit in for example. What about those who have a mental illness? Further, are those with behavioural impairments (such as autism) going to be included? The report does not answer these questions. I have a feeling the people who fit into those last two categories will be left hanging yet again.

Aside from these concerns, I am happy with the policy methodology. It seems that the NDIS supporters have received what they wanted from this report. It reads like the National Committee for an NDIS themselves could have written it. As such, it promotes their interests, and those of people with disabilities, their carers and the service providers. Therefore these parties greeted the report with near universal acclaim. As usual they read what they wanted and ignored the most important aspect of all. How is this entire policy going to be implemented?

The greatest challenge for a NDIS to succeed is to actually get the program legislated and through parliament. Without this process the words contained within the report are a waste of everyone’s time. In the morning after glow, there are claims that an NDIS has ‘bipartisan support’. It does not. It actually makes me wonder if anyone championing a NDIS has even thought about the political struggle it will take to get this through. As pointed out in today’s Sydney Morning Herald ‘The Productivity Commission is proposing the most important social reform since Medicare without a plan to fund it…’

Many advocates have pointed out it is not the PC’s job to examine the political consequences of the policy. I disagree, but let’s say that they are right. This places a greater onus on the stakeholders who have a vested interest in the NDIS to sell the political advantages of the policy. Given the Australian political climate at this time, it will be a very tough, and I believe impossible, policy to sell. The key sections of the report’s overview read:

First, the Commission is proposing a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to be overseen by a new organisation, the National Disability Insurance Agency. This would provide disability-related services and supports to the community at large, but with a particular emphasis on funded supports for people with significant disabilities and their carers.

Second, the Commission is proposing a National Injury Insurance Scheme (NIIS) to address catastrophic injuries from accidents, such as quadriplegia, acquired brain injuries, severe burns and multiple amputations. The scheme would comprise a coherent set of state-based, no-fault arrangements for providing lifetime care and support, building on existing schemes. It would have the same basic goals as the NDIS, but would be funded differently…

The Commission has concentrated on two models, based on hypothecation from new or higher taxes, or from general revenue using a specific legislated formula. Most tax bases are ill-suited to hypothecation because they are either too small relative to the demands of the NDIS or involve significant inefficiencies. The Commission has ruled out all state and territory government taxes. At the Australian Government level, only taxes on consumption or personal income would be suitable. 
Given the difficulty of changing GST arrangements, the only realistic tax base for a new hypothecated tax would be personal income. Were the Australian Government to introduce a new disability insurance levy, it should be implemented by adding an increment to existing marginal tax rates, rather than involving different income thresholds or new complex tax schedules.

However, better still, the Commission favours an arrangement in which — according to a legislated formula — the Australian Government directs payments from consolidated revenue into a National Disability Insurance Premium Fund. This approach means that the Australian Government could use whatever is the most efficient tax financing arrangement at the time, or partly fund the NDIS from savings in spending elsewhere.

The Commission has not nominated a specific source of additional tax revenue or cuts in expenditure elsewhere. The reality is that the Australian Government will come under increasing fiscal pressure as a result of an ageing population (as shown by successive Intergenerational Reports), and the arrangements for financing the NDIS would need to be considered against that background

This arrangement would not be reliant on the vagaries of Commonwealth, and state and territory budgets. Because the scheme would commence in stages, not all the money would have to be funded by the government up front. The Commission considers that the funding of the scheme is manageable, taking into account a wealthy and growing economy, and the fact that Australian taxpayers only need to finance the additional amount of resources needed to fund a proper disability system….

In 2009-10, the Australian Government provided funding to the disability sector of around $1.7 billion, while state and territory governments provided funding of around $4.5 billion — or a total of $6.2 billion. The Commission’s preliminary estimate is that the amount needed to provide people with the necessary supports would be an additional $6.3 billion, roughly doubling existing funding.

Accordingly, the real (or net) cost of the NDIS would be around $6.3 billion a year. That could be funded through a combination of cuts in existing lower-priority expenditure and more taxes.
That’s right $6.3 billion a year to fund a NDIS. This is in circumstances where the parliament remains politically deadlocked, relying on three conservative leaning independents in the House of Representatives to pass any piece of legislation. Assuming this is achieved, the process has to be replicated in the Senate where the politically fickle Greens will hold the balance of power. In economically conservative times where there is a political uproar to introduce a levy to help follow citizens cope with floods, the public (and therefore the politicians) will not be keen to add an extra cost not already forecast in the budget, even if it does have good intentions.

In many ways an NDIS is like the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), the majority of people might believe it is a good idea if they actually understood it, but they are not willing to sacrifice anything in order to implement it. This is why celebrating the release of the report yesterday is sheer madness. The CPRS has had two separate reports and a Senate Inquiry in its various incarnations. Yet there is still no tangible policy. People are inherently more predisposed to saving the environment, rather than helping a bunch of cripples they do not know.

So the next challenge is to respond to the interim report, acknowledge the good work the PC has done, and suggest ways to improve it. More importantly those with a vested interest in the report need to develop a political strategy to convince the 228 Federal parliamentarians to adopt this policy.

Wish us luck we will need it.