Sunday, May 10, 2015

Stop, look, listen

Stop by Pants (2015)

As a junior sailor, I had to learn to interpret nautical flags. Not that we had any of those on the sabot, mind. A plastic bucket remodelled to crudely resemble an Edwardian coal shovel and some sawn-off polystyrene coolers shoved under the seats for buoyancy was as classy as it got. Neither did anyone ever hoist a flag in our direction. On Sydney Harbour, rich people in yachts just swore at children attempting to navigate a boat the size of a rum barrel and with comparable manoeuvrability through one of the busiest waterways in the world. Survival depended on being alive to risk.

One flag I have remembered down the years comprises a blue cross on a white background. Roughly translated, it means 'stop what you're doing and look at me.' I have occasionally had cause to raise the blue cross to friends when they appeared poised to capsize. It sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.

As children we were taught to 'stop, look and listen' when we arrived at a road crossing. It was good advice. It is very important to be fully engaged when attempting to share a confined space with double-decked buses and cement mixers (putty putty). I'm all in favour of daydreaming, but not whilst in transit in high density urban settings.

Switching to autopilot in the supermarket is usually fine and often essential to general well-being, especially if you live in a small town and are sensitive to spontaneous, high-pitched greeting noises occurring scant inches away. An audio book and a set of impenetrable headphones can be invaluable in this situation. I try to preserve my focus for the small print on signs that scream 'SPECIAL', and for the checkout, where 'the bank' very rarely makes errors in one's favour.

I always bristle whenever the weary checkout operator enquires,

'How's your day been so far?'

Where did they get that one from? I'm always nice to minimum-wage, zero-hours people. There but for the grace of a lifetime of parsimony and a lot of fiscal good luck go I. Even with my near-pathological standoffishness, I've a nodding connection with many of the people who work in the Larrikin's End supermarket. They're all much better people than the monster corporation that employs them deserves.

'Fine, thank you,' is what I usually politely reply, with a smile that is the emotional equivalent of badly drawn blood.

This morning, someone finally volleyed the answer I've been tossing about in my fantasies for years,

'Not too good. I've just come back from the hospital. My wife's got cancer and it's terminal.'

I ventured a surreptitious glance. He was right behind me in the next queue. An old guy. Swollen ankles. One of those walking sticks with a claw foot. Face baggy and grey from worry. He was not being facetious. It was not a prank.

I felt for Toby*, the checkout guy. He's worked there for years.

'That's no good,' said Toby, as the vile bar-code-scanning thing bleeped.

The marketing elf who thought up the inanity 'how's your day been so far?' surely must have considered that, at some point, someone who has just received the worst possible news will still need to buy dog food. That person may, in fact, be grateful for the opportunity buying dog food affords to forget that this is the shittiest of days.

'We'll find out more about treatments next week,' the man said as he handed over cash for the three tins of dog food. Toby must have been glad of the cash transaction. Mercifully, he dispensed with the obligatory, 'enjoy the rest of your day,' and merely offered up a meek but clearly genuine 'take care.'

Having a script is all well and good until routine decides to improvise. Perhaps the guy with the dying wife momentarily forgot that this wasn't an actual question - rather the retail equivalent of a salute. Maybe because of the nodding familiarity we all have with each other in Larrikin's End, his grief felt liberated to express itself with the most tenuous of prompts. In that moment, all hell could have broken loose. But it didn't. Thank fuck for express checkout lines. Cash only, one basket. Have a nice day.

Recently, an article appeared in the New Yorker flagging the hazard of (literally) being on autopilot.  A commercial airliner crashed on a short domestic flight in favourable weather conditions because the pilot forgot that you're supposed to push the stick shaker away rather than towards you when your plane is about to stall. The crew were all chatting away in the cockpit and no one was looking at the instruments. There's a comforting thought for frequent flyers. 

The article cites a new study of airline pilots' responses to emergency situations as tested in a flight simulator. Researchers concluded that the higher the level of automation, the less likely it is that a pilot will be able to recognise a problem and fly the plane manually. Not only are pilots' skills 'atrophying' - that is the word researchers used - it seems their minds are inclined to go the same way. The researchers found that when asked to 'sit and stare', humans get bored and switch off and concluded that it would be better if technology designers developed human-centred systems rather than have humans conform to a tech-centric world because we're just not built that way. Well, duh!

Perversely, pilots mostly don't fly the planes these days. Their expertise is usually required for take-off and landing only. They are the cinema projectionists of the sky except with sexier uniforms. Projectionists push a few buttons and then retire to the snack counter to ponder the minutiae of life while a plane slams into the ground in CGI Land. The worst thing that can happen if you're a projectionist is that someone will come looking for you to tell you that the screen has gone black and the emergency lights have come on. If you're a pilot that's you slamming into the ground in real time while you're talking through your marital issues with your co-workers. If a computer crashes, it's merely annoying. If a plane crashes - well that really isn't good.

Unless you're living in a padded cell, any disincentive to paying attention can be dangerous, particularly if there are large, moving metal objects involved. Research seems to be suggesting that increased automation leads to boredom and dullness of wit - states that most of us would find undesirable in any situation. Yet, the hunger for more and more automation persists along with an inexplicable desire to self-subjugate to it. When Business Council of Australia President Catherine Livingstone was asked to suggest a single measure to address the 'growing digital literacy gap between Australia and its competitors', she replied,

'Teaching four-year-olds how to code, introducing them to computational thinking, design thinking, problem solving. They're absolutely capable of it and that's when they should be learning those skills.'

At this moment I am waving the blue cross flag furiously. First of all, good luck with getting your average four-year-old interested in the fascinating patterns you can make with a bunch of zeros and ones. Yes, babies are wizard on the iPad but that is only because they've worked out how to watch the very hungry caterpillar eat a chocolate cake over and over again. If you want to introduce your four-year-old to 'computational thinking, design thinking and problem solving, I suggest you buy a jumbo pack of Lego and invite all the neighbourhood children for a play date - unless of course you would prefer them to revive the horrid memory of how you attempted to turn your own progeny into an instrument of the economy whilst they peruse nursing home brochures. And I'd keep quiet about how much fun you had when market forces still allowed an actual childhood as you're driving them to coding class.

It's time we citizens of this supposedly free society collectively push back hard on the stick shaker before we go into an irretrievable stall and while we can still remember how to fly our lives on manual. Oh, and if you want 'literate' infants, try teaching them letters and numbers - preferably using brightly coloured cubes. That way they can learn their colours, strengthen their motor skills and acquire some basic manners into the bargain. (Pass me the heliotrope block please - thank you.) And maybe very young children also need to learn that sometimes what you build falls down - for real. 



*Not his real name, obviously. This is most definitely Jason and Darren territory.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

FRANZAC!

Lest we develop a little perspective (2015) by Pants

This past weekend our cringeometer hit catastrophic. Seat of Pants has been on a media blackout for most of the week as Australia gorged on the banquet of bathos known as ANZAC* Day. It's a kind of la grande bouffe for the soul. Pretty gory for the uninitiated, I don't mind telling you. It's not that I haven't had time to get used to it. These last seven years should have been preparation enough. But somehow, it so wasn't.

In the brief moments when I charitably entertain the possibility that there just might be some sincerity and decorum to these garish proceedings, at least in intent, I am reminded that the Larrikin's End WWI memorial sculptures were hewn by chainsaw. That's right, chainsaw. No disrespect to John Brady, who did a great job. It's just that there is a very obvious disjunct between traditional mourning and well, you know, the unavoidable flashes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that seep into consciousness. There will be Aussies who will say something like our blokes were so tough they might easily have leapt fully gouged from the great hardwoods of our endangered wilderness forests by the magic of chainsaw midwifery. 

Now that the day has safely passed, TQW and I have settled in with a medicinal Chardonnay to approach the subject with our usual forensic zeal. Firstly, to the centenary events at Gallipoli itself. Apparently, there was 'less of the music festival atmosphere' than is typical for the traditional Gallipoli dawn service on this the centenary year of that disastrous allied campaign. Well, that's a positive. The less music-festivity at a day of significant solemnity, the better.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott cut his usual oafish dash. A few days earlier he'd been asked by reporters for his response to the tragic loss of life when a boat carrying refugees fleeing Libya sank in the Mediterranean. He dismissed the deaths of seven hundred or so men, women and children with a desultory, 'well I suppose we should grieve but...' Political considerations clearly prevented him from finishing that sentence to his ideological satisfaction. Nothing was going to stop him from offering up the wisdom of the Australian solution to those European softies before toddling off to shed some tears for people who stopped needing them a long time ago.

Whilst having no compassion at all for innocent families who died desperately fleeing murderous anarchy, he was suddenly brimful of sorrow for the eager young adventurers racing off to invade someone else's homeland for reasons that still aren't clear, even a hundred years later. In his speech at the dawn service, he opined,

We are here on Gallipoli because we believe that ANZACs represented Australians at our best.'

Include me out of that pile of hokum and the gratuitous dodgy grammar as well. Yes, I said hokum. I remember back to the sixties and seventies when ANZAC Day had all but faded away. Back then, there were still plenty of WW1 veterans living, often with the lifelong legacy of horrendous physical and mental injuries. Did we as a nation look after those veterans? Did we fuck! We waited until they were all safely dead to sentimentalise them and wrap tourism packages around their memory. And we're still at it. While the many and various dignitaries were busy misting up over those long passed diggers, stories like this one started appearing in the media. Stories of living veterans of more recent wars left without social or even financial support. Stories of (mostly) men returning damaged and dumped on families unprepared to deal with the trauma which often quickly turned to violence and/or self destruction. Stories of veterans left destitute and homeless. Lest we forget those poor buggers. The Department of Veterans Affairs doesn't even know how many veterans are currently homeless.

Obviously, to acknowledge the present-day suffering of veterans and their families would create a certain obligation to respond in some way. Ooo - messy and very costly. And there'd be thinking to do and, heaven forbid, a display of 'caring' that wasn't merely abstract! Where does one even start? To show some genuine compassion to real, living people who might not even be middle class! Fuck that for a game of soldiers. Our own prime minister couldn't find it within himself to express even a microbe of pity for drowned children whose parents rather arrogantly dared to interpret 'a better life' as one in which their toddlers were not forced to watch as their parents were beheaded.

I reject the ANZAC as my template for courage. I prefer to take as my role model someone like Muriel Matters, the Australian-born activist who devoted twenty years to the cause of women's suffrage in the UK. You want brave? Brave is a woman standing up to oppression alone and contributing to genuine social progress. I would prefer a day of commemoration for the pioneer Australian labour activists who brought the world the 8-hour working day. I would prefer to mourn symbolically the loss of those who fell defending their homelands in the frontier wars that aimed to and nearly succeeded at erasing the indigenous peoples of our conquered and colonised continent. Where, pray, are their memorials? Given the period of conservatism that immediately followed the First World War in Australia, it could be argued that social progress came to a grinding halt and didn't really pick up speed again until the late 1960s. Were we 'at our best' during all those years of the White Australia policy? I think not.

Lest we forget - and we will gladly, unless reminded - that the 'NZ' in ANZAC stands for New Zealand. The Kiwis were there too, apparently, but they rarely appear in the teary vignettes of derring-do that have filtered down through the mists of time to cloud our judgement. New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key appeared at Gallipoli fresh from a faux pas of his own, having been rumbled sexually harassing a minimum-wage female worker. All a big misunderstanding, of course. As he fondled a waitress's hair in full view of his wife and security detail, he is baffled as to how this could have caused the young woman any discomfort. It's grand to know that we have morons-in-chief on both sides of the ditch who'd have trouble distinguishing right from wrong on any day of the year.

PM Key's contribution to the solemn centenary was of an entirely different hue. He mentioned Australia with more than just a passing 'also appearing', which was magnanimous under the circumstances. He not only mentioned the Turkish people but even went so far as to honour them. Clearly, he had some vague sense that a people who had done no more wrong than to be a province in an empire that had foolishly picked the wrong side to be on in a very silly war, probably had some justification in shooting at people charging up their very steep hills in a distinctly warlike manner. He even thanked the Turkish people for putting up with the annual carnival of excess that is the ANZAC ritual. They really didn't deserve a hundred years of yahooing Antipodeans. Most years, Gallipoli is high on the list for tick-box tourists.

TQW - you're rambling again.

Pants - shut up and pour me another drink.

Okay, I'm rambling. Let's see if we can wind up by unpacking some of the beliefs that have sprung up around the supposed ANZAC esprit de corps.  It is widely held in our country that WW1 soldiers were fighting for 'freedom of speech.' Among the peripheral subplots to this year's ANZAC bonanza is the case of the young television presenter who got sacked for a series of tweets deemed 'inappropriate and disrespectful' (unlike the Australian PM's comments re drowned asylum seekers in the Mediterranean or the NZ PM's hair pulling escapades). Among the tweets - which at worst should be considered ill-advised, was one that suggested ANZAC Day was mostly being marked by 'poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers.' I seem to recall studying a highly acclaimed Australian play at school in the 1970s which is based on exactly that premise. If anything, it seems our 'freedom of speech' has been eroded since then. An official requirement to think in a specific way is the mark of a dictatorship, non?

And so to history studies and the web of confusion that seems to inform/inspire a lot of these commemoration/tourism packages. There have been reports, (okay, so we might have peeked), that some young visitors to Gallipoli believe that Australia secured a victory there. (We win everything physical, right?) The Pants household was living abroad in 1983 when Australia won the America's Cup and I've only recently learned that Alan Bond (disgraced businessman and a Brit), described the win as 'the greatest victory since Gallipoli'. We are all and always slaves to the limits of our education. Ma Pants recently related the story of a young person she'd heard of who'd been taught that there had been no victor in the Second World War. That young person took some convincing, by a survivor of the notorious Burma Railway no less, that the Allied forces had 'won' the war.

I get that modern teaching might be aiming for a more nuanced view of conflict but it does seem to me that a basic understanding of the bare facts of geopolitics might be useful if you're planning to stake an entire national ethos on one particular event. Having been around when ANZAC Day had almost gone the way of the crinoline, it seems obvious to me at least that its resurrection amounts to cynical political exploitation to serve a regressive agenda. The ignorant are easily controlled. There are any number of examples of the glaring hypocrisy that is the by-product of ANZAC obsession. The frightening thing is that Australians, on the whole, seem either incapable of recognising these or stubbornly refuse to examine them. Instead, we hound any and all dissidents. Self-delusional mythologising is like a cardiac arrest for the soul. Let's try to remember what it is we're really supposed to be not forgetting. Like oppression = bad for e.g.




* Please be advised that That's So Pants did not seek permission from the owners of this word, the Department of Veterans Affairs, for its use. You may be in violation of some law we don't know about by even reading it without official permission. Pants advises extreme caution.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Wucken Furries

The Big Scream by Pants (2009)

Charles M. Schulz said,

'Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.'

It is comforting to know that the Apocalypse will get here first. If I'm trusting anyone, it's the man who brought us Lucy van Pelt and 5-cent street-stall psychiatry services.

I think I worry more now that I have more spare time and less to worry about. Most things I stress over never come to pass. This is largely because my idea of a worst-case scenario is modelled on North by Northwest. I've proved myself right over the years about one thing - if disaster strikes, it will be a horrible example of mistaken identity and/or entirely someone else's fault. I'm belt'n'braces to the core. I also have less spare money these days. If there's one thing I know about mistakes, it's that they can cost, and cost big.

It's difficult to find useful statistical information about non-pathological worrying as it tends to get steam-rollered into the grand malaise of 'depression' and its lesser sibling 'anxiety'. I'm sure I'm not depressed and I'm fairly certain that I'm not unduly anxious. But I am inclined to work through in advance what exactly I would do if, say, every taxi in the world suddenly disappeared down a sink hole.

For the record, last time I booked the always reliable Larrikin's End taxi service to make an early morning train connection, I had pre-decided that if the taxi was five more minutes late, I would stop the next passing car and give the driver $20 to transport me. It would not be a request - more of a polite insistence. Please note that there was a plane connection following the train trip and there are only three trains per day from Larrikin's End to Melbourne. The later train would not have gotten me to the airport in time. A tardy taxi in this part of the world can have dramatic consequences.

Despite the lack of reliable data my, (admittedly scanty), research has picked up a general assumption that women worry more than men do. I'm also picking up the vibe that a worrying woman is considered neurotic whereas a man who worries is astutely managing risks. I've never missed a plane. I know men who have missed planes - a few times. I have been known to arrive at an airport the night before a pre-dawn flight. I have never had any trouble falling asleep in a chair, especially if I don't have anything nagging to keep me awake.

As a general rule, I will arrive at the airport two or three hours in advance of departure. I do sometimes worry that I will get bored, so I take a book. I stew that I might not want to read that particular book so I take a spare. I agonise that I won't feel like reading at all so I take my diary and a notebook. Then I worry that my carry-on luggage will be too heavy as it's already got my laptop and camera in it. You never know when you might suddenly want to take a picture of a plane. With this level of planning, time spent at an airport amounts to transcendental meditation.

I'm not a nervous traveller and never have been. Once I'm lodged in whatever conveyance will take me on my adventure, I go into one of those cartoon raptures where the screen goes all wavy and I start looking forward to my complimentary G&T and mixed nuts. I love flying, always have, especially the part where the plane goes really, really fast before it takes off. I've not been frightened roaring across mountains in a Turkish bus at night, or spinning through Delhi in an auto-rickshaw or crossing Havana in a crowded cut'n'shut or riding through Manila in a Jeepney that looked like it had been fitted out by Genghis Khan, or even skidding into Soviet-era Moscow in an Aeroflot crate during a mid-December snowstorm. Once you're in a vehicle going really, really fast, there is only one thing that can go wrong and absolutely nothing you can do about it. Ergo, no call for a Plan B.

I guess I'm not so much a worrier as a compulsive strategiser. If I can fix something before it goes wrong to the point of unfixability, I will. I try not to do this to the inconvenience of others. If I want the taxi to get me to the train twenty minutes before departure, what business is it of anyone else's? The driver should be happy that I'm leaving the 'just in time slot' for someone who doesn't mind missing the train and, consequently, the plane. When I book, I allow for fifteen minutes faffing time. If the taxi hasn't arrived at the exact moment I have booked it for, I call. If it hasn't come in five minutes after my first call, I call again. I have only ever had to call twice. I'd rather have the town think I'm obsessive than to learn via the bush telegraph that I had hurled my carry-on luggage through a window because it would no longer be 'needed on voyage'.

Most of my worrying can be curtailed by simply avoiding outsourcing punctuality. I have a strict rule. If I need something done within a comfortable margin of time, I do it myself. Considerable bloodshed is avoided if this simple rule is followed. On the rare occasions where I have to rely on external timekeeping, I allow plenty of contingency time and absorb the inconvenience. Right now, I'm not all that worried about anything. I have a laptop and a car that are both a bit on the old side but still working fine. In any case, I've enough put away in the likely event that they'll both cark it on the same day. Other than that, no wucken furries, as we say in Australia.

However, should I suddenly be gripped by an out-of-left-field concern, I have a strategy. Of course I do. For those unforeseen and fuliginous doubts that are probably more the result of watching back-to-back episodes of Sleepy Hollow than anything else, there is the virtual Guatemalan Worry Doll. Don't ask, just click.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

How many fossil-fuel enthusiasts does it take to change a light bulb?

Together in electric dreams (2012) Kodakotype by Pants

I googled 'I hate Earth Hour' and came up with surprisingly little. 'Surely,' I remarked to The Question Why, 'I can't be the only person who thinks this cynical and frankly pathetic gesture is worthy of at least a couple of kilowatts of scathing commentary.'

Earth Hour originated here in Australia. We excel at hypocrisy, glazed in pointlessness with a cherry of irony on top. Today, many of us will rush to our dazzling strip-lit mega-stores in our gas-guzzlers to purchase solar lamps recently arrived on container ships from China via a bit of recreational coral crushing on our endangered Great Barrier Reef. With these, we will illuminate our concrete patios where we will char energy-intensive bits of meat on grills fired by bottled gas.

Tonight we will want all of our neighbours to know that we care about the environment so much that we are prepared to sacrifice all common sense to tokenism. This, friends, is what makes us Australians. From our bogus foundation myths to our collective self-delusion that we are a fair-minded and compassionate people, we go to remarkable lengths to project the illusion that we are the polar opposite of our true selves. I often think it would so much easier just to do the right thing in the first place.

Even as we bask in solar-powered self-congrats, our political 'leaders' are squabbling over how low a Renewable Energy Target they can set and still keep a straight face while intoning, 'we take our environmental responsibilities very seriously.' Now, to TQW and me, this is a bit like arguing over how few children you can get away with educating or how many tonnes of raw sewage you can dump in Sydney Harbour before someone cries foul. Why would a government even go there when most voters were happy with the original target which, incidentally, said government had made an election promise to retain? In any sane domain, a wealth of free renewable resources coupled with a high youth unemployment rate and enthusiastic consumer demand would add up to a very big business opportunity. This conundrum so perplexed us here at Seat of Pants, that The Question Why and I decided to do a little non-extractive digging of our own.

According to a study conducted by researchers from Oxford University,  our 22 dirtiest coal-fired power stations account for nearly one quarter of our total carbon emissions. Half of these power stations are owned by just four companies. And surprise, surprise, the heads of these companies have been very enthusiastically contributing to the 'review' of the Renewable Energy Target. If they cared as much for the futures of their grandchildren as they appear to do for their potentially stranded assets, we might be in with a chance of saving the planet - something we apparently care just enough about to turn off our lights for one whole hour once a year. Gaia love a committed people.

TQW and I have both recently read Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything. We wish. Klein clearly hasn't been to Australia or she might understand that change seems as likely as snowballs hitting the sun. All it takes to screw with following the sensible and moral path to clean energy, which most of us actually want, is a couple of very bad people waving wads of cash and empty threats in the faces of our brainless, spineless politicians. So we content ourselves with distractions like Earth Hour.

Klein reminds us of the devious activities of some of the most gross, pilfering mega-wealthy who, not satisfied with fleecing us, are now determined to pull the wool they stole from under our eyes right back over those eyes. Back in 2007, 'Sir' Richard Branson launched Earth Challenge, offering a US$25 million prize for a technological climate fix,

'Could it be possible,' he pleaded as he playfully tossed a plastic globe up in the air, 'to find someone on Earth who could devise a way of removing the lethal amount of CO2 from the Earth's atmosphere?'

(Sure Richie Rich, don't put it there in the first place. Cayman Islands bank account details winging their way to you now.)

It did not surprise us to learn that the $25m prize money is as Virgin as the day it was minted. We are also reminded of Branson's 2006 pledge to spend US$3 billion over the following decade on new technologies to tackle global warming,

...  so that we can hopefully reverse the inevitability of, you know, of destroying the world if we let it carry on the way it's going.' (Klein, P231). The money would ostensibly come from 'the profits generated by Virgin's fossil fuel-burning transportation lines.'

Eight years later, we learn that less than $300 million has gone into saving us from, you know, destroying the world. Oh well, shit happens and all that. Of course, Branson might argue that he did specify the money would come from the 'profits' of his CO2-spewing conveyances rather than his personal wealth, (US4.9 billion currently according to Forbes). Having to rough it on a mere US$1.9 billion vs. inevitable, you know, destruction? We can see that would be a tough choice. P.S. if you've ever flown on Virgin and paid for a carbon offset - you've been, you know, had.

We at Seat of Pants count ourselves among the sceptics who have concluded, 

'Branson's various climate adventures may indeed prove to have all been a spectacle, a Virgin production, with everyone's favourite billionaire playing the part of the planetary saviour to build his brand, land on late-night TV, fend off regulators, and feel good about doing bad.' (Klein P251)

Which brings us back to Earth Hour. It strikes us as grossly unfair that everyone is expected to make the same, er, sacrifice no matter how much CO2 they emit. We don't much like the inference that we are all equally and individually responsible for the parlous state of the planet. According to a longitudinal study of 300 countries over a forty-year period, the top 500 million richest people are responsible for half the world's polluting emissions. On our fairness calculator, that means the Bransons of this world should probably live in darkness for the rest of their days and we heartily wish they would. Meanwhile, those of us who bother to watch what we consume all year round deserve to go on burning our single, energy-saving light bulb right on through 8.30-9.30pm tonight - and we will.

We have also recently read Linda Tirado's Hand to Mouth:The Truth About Being Poor in a Wealthy World. It is a terrific, defiant and often hilarious book about which we'll write more another time. Tirado resists being guilt-tripped into pointless environmental gestures which she rightly identifies as a middle-class vanity,

'... being poor means that you are inherently unwasteful. Poor people can't afford to buy a ton of extraneous shit and then throw it away barely used. So I don't really see the need to make the environment My Issue.'

We agree. We are far from poor but neither are we flush, (Barney has had a punishing week on the Futures market). We do know that poor people tend to pay much more for electricity and gas. If you are moving around between rental properties or you have a bad or non-existent credit history, you may have to pay security deposits for utilities which may be difficult to get a refund on. We have lived with coin gas meters and pay-in-advance electricity and done our washing at laundrettes so we know how much more expensive it is to live without savings. Financial stability is cost effective. There are substantial discounts for paying utility bills on time.

On the face of it, we seem to have gone off topic. Allow us to draw the threads together and hopefully affect a, you know, conclusion. The 'this' that changes everything of Naomi Klein's thesis is the vital and urgent need for the global majority to wrench back the levers of political influence from the capitalist puppet masters who would send us all to hell in a coal wagon. Klein contends that the clear and present threat of irreversible climate change could be the unifying motive for mass action to reset our political systems and in that sense, could be a gift,

'We know that we are trapped within an economic system that has it backward; it behaves as if there is no end to what is actually finite (clean water, fossil fuels, and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions), while insisting that there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually quite flexible; the financial resources that human institutions manufacture, and that, if imagined differently could build the kind of caring society we need... a broken bank is a crisis we can fix; a broken Arctic we cannot.' (Klein P347).

Let's change that, as opposed to the climate. Rather than observe Earth Hour, we've joined 350.Org's Go Fossil Free Campaign and signed The Guardian's Divestment Petition. We already have a 'green' energy supplier and we will get solar panels if and when the political goal posts stop moving for long enough for us to analyse the cost/benefit - given that we use so little electricity anyway. Just like every other day of the year, we won't be wasting electricity or water or food or anything else for that matter.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Everything is Awesome at the Oscars

Everything is Awesome (2015) photo by Pants

Or perhaps just beautiful, like at the ballet. Everyone who gets an award certainly thinks everything is beautiful. They all have beautiful lives and wives and children and god-bestowed fortune. Julianne Moore says winning an Oscar adds five years to your life. Probably more importantly, it adds five zeros to your bank account. I've chosen to post the picture above because it is the only animated, not to mention colourful, moment in the three-and-a-half tedious hours. If not for the mandatorily gaudy tinsel backdrop, we could easily conclude that we are viewing in black-and-white. Honestly, ever since George Clooney married that human rights lawyer, Hollywood's gone all dignified and causey. But I'm racing ahead.


Holiday season is well and truly over and it's February which means that my little family is back together again. Barney and The Question Why returned on Saturday from their ashram stay. Long-time readers may recall that Barney formed a lasting bond with The Maharajah of Katpur some years ago and is now on the path to enlightenment via the Elizabeth Gilbert method, with rather more emphasis on the eating element, judging by the size of his girth. I have not seen my pearls for some years either. 

Our day begins with a pre-Oscars perusal of Hollywood Reporter where we learn of the demise of the Mani-Cam.  Yes, we are baffled too so we follow the link to The New York Times where we learn that some bolshy leading ladies have indeed refused to allow their cuticles to be curated. Genuine actor activism. We learn also that Plastic Jesus is up to his old tricks, placing a life-size, cocaine-snorting Oscar on Hollywood Boulevard, presumably as a tribute to the late Robin Williams.

We miss the opening number as we are arguing over what canapés to have with our Chardonnay and completely lose track of time. I want abalone-wrapped quail eggs and mini Lindy's cheesecakes but Barney claims the drones are both on important missions for his new business partner - none other than David Walsh of MONA fame - so cannot be spared to fly to Mallacoota and New York. Well, DW is a big hero of mine so I content myself with Barney's Eggs Vladivostok and Vodkamisu. As Barney says, 'it's been good enough for you every other year.' Too true. 

It's a shame but we later find Neil Patrick Harris's Broadway-inspired opener on the internet and it isn't half bad. Not that we like 'not half bad'. In all honesty, we prefer dismally bad because it's much more fun to write about. The lyrics are rather clever. The video is difficult to watch as Larrikin's End is experiencing a raging thunderstorm which means I don't have to water the tomatoes and lettuces but also that our already dodgy internet connection is about as good as it gets in Dakar during a monsoon. It is also a shame that we miss it because, in defiance of Robert McKee's excellent advice, (thou shalt save the best for last), it seems the best was gotten over in double quick time.

We arrive just as NPH cracks the worst joke since Methuselah wore a onesie,

'This lady is so lovely, you could eat her up with a spoon. It's Reese Witherspoon!'

And then, we fall into a coma until...

Laurie Poitras wins Best Documentary for Citizenfour. This is thrilling news. We haven't seen the film yet but we have read Glenn Greenwald's book, No Place to Hide. The award is a triumph for global citizen rights. In Hollywood, however,


‘The subject of the film, Edward Snowden, could not be here tonight for some treason.’

Poitras now sensibly lives in Berlin where they mothballed the zeal for spying on each other a couple of decades ago.



The win for the song Glory - performed on a replica of the Edmund Pettus Bridge - incites tears and rage in equal measure as John Legend lets fly with a spirited, 'The struggle for justice is now!' which he underscores with the fact that there are more black men incarcerated in the United States today than there were under slavery in 1850. Pretty disgraceful. It's equally reprehensible that the Academy fell over itself to honour a film about slavery last year but disdains a film about freedom fighters this year.

It's taken NPH three hours but he finally comes up with a decent joke. 'Benedict Cumberbatch is the sound you get when you ask John Travolta to pronounce Ben Affleck.'

It's about the time for some poor sod you thought died before the Berlin Wall came down to be wheeled out. Any sighting of John Travolta is an alert. Who could forget last year's cautionary plastic-surgery shocker with Kim Novak and Barney hasn't slept properly since Kirk Douglas appeared a few years back.

I try to attract Barney's attention for some Chardonnay but he's constantly on the phone with David Walsh. He's reciting numbers like he's auditioning for Theory of Everything 2. Does he even know what 'skin in the game means?'

This year's relic is Julie Andrews. What a relief. She looks alive, more or less. There are no tubes that we can see. It's fifty years since The Sound of Music. Imagine! Lady Gaga struggles through a medley missing more than a few high notes along the way, and demonstrating exactly why Marni Nixon had such a long and productive career. Gaga's inner-arm tat clashes violently with that confection of a dress.

'What is that?' asks TQW, 'an Exocet missile.'

Could be an Exocet, or maybe a bugle?

Eddie Murphy is in the top five of highest paid actors of all time and doesn't need to work, NPH informs us. Just as well as, clearly, he can't remember how to.

Graham Moore wins the Best Adapted Screenplay award for The Imitation Game and discloses that he nearly committed suicide at sixteen because he felt 'weird and different,' unlike every other sixteen-year-old on the planet, obviously. He concludes with a defiant,



‘Stay weird, stay different and when you’re standing on this stage pass the message along.’

Oh, the arrogance of privilege. 

When will this festival of thought placards end? It's not that we don't agree with all these heartfelt statements, it's just that we're finding it a little tough to take from the same folks who last year insisted we dream big dreams and lose ourselves in the magic of, well, themselves.

Ben Affleck arrives with a much-needed Frank Capra invocation.

'There are no rules in cinema,' he lectures, 'only sins and the cardinal sin is dullness.' Oh, the irony.

Alejandro Iñárritu wins the Best Director Oscar for Birdman and injects some enigmatic Spanish-style mysticism into the proceedings. 'If someone wins, it means someone has to lose.' 

'That did need crystallising,' allows TQW.

Enter the insufferable Cate Blanchett to present the award for Best Actor to Eddie Redmayne. We have to admit that he does get Stephen Hawking's facial movements exactly right and, given that there is not an actual award for that talent, it's right that he should be given the Best Actor Oscar instead.

'This belongs to all the people around the world battling ALS,' he announces before leaping about like a cricket on meth, just because he now can, presumably.

'ALS?' queries TQW.

'The new name for motor neurone disease,' says Barney. Where does he get this stuff?

And now it's the turn of St Matthew of McConnaughey to present the Best Actress with her five extra years of longevity and a little statue to commemorate the moment. He doesn't say anything daft. Miracles do happen. After Moore finishes congratulating herself on her excellent choice of husband and children and her all-round good fortune, she redirects us to item No. 3 on our cause-of-the-day sheets - Alzheimer's.

Well, no surprises so far. You're playing tragic illness or crippled genius? Go right ahead and clear a space on the mantelpiece straight after the wrap party. Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown? Meryl Streep as The Iron Lady?

The relentlessly grooming-resistant Sean Penn has the ultimate honour of handing over the Oscar for Best Picture. None of us is in a position to pronounce on the merits of these films as I'm the only one who's even seen one of them. I watched Grand Budapest Hotel while waiting for my car to be serviced as there was a free screening at the library nearby. All the other participants were ferried in from retirement villages. It wasn't ideal as there was a lot of commentary and clattering of teacups. I liked it well enough and it certainly was colourful.

Birdman wins Best Picture. Sean Penn prefaces the announcement with a hearty,

'Who gave this son of a bitch his Green Card,'

artfully unravelling an entire evening of earnestness. You gotta love these people.

Accepting as director, Iñárritu counters with, 

'Two Mexicans in a row. Someone's gonna get suspicious.' 

Alejandro, if it was a fix, you certainly wouldn't be standing there, unless...

TQW and I turn to face Barney who is grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Owly-Cat.

'Our bank account just acquired five extra zeros,' he informs us. I guess his friendship with David Walsh isn't such a bad thing after all.



We are indebted to Sean Elder of Newsweek for supplementing those bits of our memory that were lost to indiscipline and/or Chardonnay.