The Root of Our Culture

What is the root of our culture?

Where is the well from which our deepest values spring?

What qualities of men or women do we most admire, respect and revere?

I ask these questions because I’m still shaking my head at the fact that some American nobody will make enough money from semi-streaking at the Champions League Final to retire by the time she is thirty.

According to experts, this woman (I refuse to name her) by running onto the field in the female version of a Borat posing pouch (advertising an internet porn site) will make about $US 6 million.

In fact, I’m not judging her. Good luck to her if she is able to gauge the zeitgeist and strike while the iron’s hot.

I’m judging everyone else.

I’m judging the people who make it possible for her to make so much money from her criminal and opportunistic actions.

Why on earth are we rewarding this sort of behaviour? Why isn’t there legislation to prevent her benefiting from her crime? Because it will only encourage others to do the same.

When you understand that anyone on planet earth with just $32k is actually in the top 1% of wealth, it is sobering indeed to think that, the way our culture, values and economy works, this 22 yo non-entity will make $6 million for a ten second semi-clad gesture.

As I said, good luck to her, but all of you out there who joined her Instagram (or whatever social media) following…

You disgust me.

And I say that as a person who is very slow to judge anyone or anything. God knows I’m an arsehole of the first water but even I will raise an eyebrow at the idea of people being rewarded – obscenely rewarded – for nothing.

Fame ought to be allocated to people who’ve actually done something that makes them extraordinary – not just frittered away on unprincipled zeros able to manipulate social media algorithms.

When you think that there are people out there devoting their lives to looking after the sick; building things; generating art, music and literature; upholding rights or fighting for rights they don’t have; and doing all these things in comparative obscurity, it deeply disturbs me that so much attention is given to someone who didn’t even get all her kit off.

This very ordinary woman has become rich and famous in the same week that millions are fighting for their rights in Hong Kong, Julian Assange is being deported to America, and everyone in the world with less than $32k continues to lead lives of exploitation, darkness and misery.

I genuinely think we’ve really fucked this up.

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Rocketman: The Elton Movie

So many people tried to tell me how amazing Bohemian Rhapsody was.

It wasn’t bad, but I did think it was a bit of a lame and sanitised homage to Freddy with insufficient detail on the others (especially Brian May). It was also a tad bland – but if you pushed me to really identify what was wrong, I would have struggled.

Until tonight.

Tonight I saw Rocketman – the Elton John story – and was blown away. The missing ingredient in Bohemian Rhapsody was magic – and Rocketman had it in bucketloads.

* * *

The biggest mistake Bohemian Rhapsody made was this – they forgot they were making a film. They were so busy trying to be accurate and fair they even made Remi Malek wear a stupid dental prosthesis which stopped him from talking properly. It’s like hiring George Clooney to play Chewbacca! The end result was a bland documentary that was mildly entertaining, but it didn’t feel like a movie.

In very stark contrast – you knew from the opening moments that Rocketman was entirely different. Gorgeously shot – dramatic – other-worldly – it straight away took you inside Elton’s life experience from his confronting and unsentimental childhood all the way to his breakdown in 1990.

Every step of the journey was told through the prism of his songs and it was just masterful the way Bernie Taupin’s lyrics were occasionally used to counterpoint the on-screen action. There were several intensely moving scenes crafted around Elton’s song-writing even as other dramatic segues were occurring in his life – not least the development of his song-writing relationship with Bernie and his marriage to Renata – which was over in a flash.

In these comparatively liberated days it’s easy to forget that homosexuality was still against the law back in the 60s and 70s when Elton was growing up – it must have been hard being a public figure (and sex symbol) all the while knowing the fate of (say) Oscar Wilde was still a possibility. Elton’s sexuality was clearly a major part of who he was growing up and the film dealt very tastefully with that without getting either preachy or overly graphic.

Probably the toughest aspect of the film was the way it dealt with his father and mother. That was unflinching and raw and I couldn’t help but admire the restraint with which those relationships were portrayed. It would have been easy for the writers to really put the boot in there but they held back while still giving you a powerful feel for Elton’s dignified devastation.

Elton must have been delighted with Taron Egerton’s performance. He was just superb and that pretty much sets the benchmark for a rock biopic portrayal. As does the movie itself. It will be a long, long time before another movie tells the story of a rock star or band without going too far down the bland documentary path or the overly fanciful and self-serving path.

Rocketman told a fantastic story in a fantastically cinematic way – giving the fans a wonderful insight into the creative process and the chaos behind the scenes. If I have one bone to pick, the film did fail to mention his greatest shame of all – being a Watford fan. But it would be churlish of me to criticise too much when I was so thoroughly entertained and educated.

I gave Bohemian Rhapsody 3 Stars – it did fairly well what it set out to do. Rocketman was way more ambitious and will be in my head a very long time indeed. I look forward to the writer and director now taking on David Bowie.

4.5 Stars (on the basis that I never give 5)

Freedom for the Religious Right?

Since the election there seems to be a groundswell among coalition MPs in support of a bill guaranteeing religious freedom.

The groundswell, such as it is, appears to be inspired by two specific incidents: the Israel Folau case; and (on Malcolm Turnbull’s watch) the gay marriage plebiscite.

However, the call for religious freedom rights, in both cases, is inspired by a fallacy. Neither the Israel Folau incident, nor the gay marriage plebiscite, did anything to endanger religious freedom. What we are seeing is a deliberate attempt to characterise enlightened social policy as an attack on religion, when in fact, it is simply an expression of communal priority.

There is no attack on religion. There is however an attack on outdated opinions which conflict with rights the community at large has determined to be more important than the right of religions to judge and exclude.

In other words, you can practise any religion you like in Australia, but that doesn’t give you the right to judge and exclude others on the basis of their sexuality. And why on earth, in 2019, should anyone want to?

* * *

But to my mind, the bigger question is why would the religious right be deliberately misconstruing the issues of marriage equality or the legality of same sex relationships as attacks on religious freedom?

These people aren’t (entirely) idiots, so I am going to assume they know that the right of all people to get married is not an attack on religious freedom. How is person A’s right to get married an attack on person B’s right to practise religion? It’s not.

I am going to assume they know that the ARU cancelling Israel Folau’s contract for being in breach of its fundamental terms is in no way an attack on his freedom to practise his religion. How is person A’s right to their own sexuality an attack on person B’s right to practise religion? It’s not.

How is the right of any person A to get married, or express their sexuality, in any way an attack on the rights of completely different persons B who have never even met or (maybe) even lived in the same state?

What the religious right are effectively saying is this: the rights of other Australians to marry whoever they want, or have sex with whoever they want, is somehow an attack on their right to practise religion, even though it does not affect them personally in any way at all.

They are also making this claim despite the fact that the majority have decided that marital equality is important and that sexual orientation is up to the individual. Making law on the basis of majority will is fundamental to a democratic society.

So the religious right are also saying: they want the parliament to enshrine their right to judge and exclude despite the fact that the majority have determined the rights of all Australians to marry or express their sexuality to be inalienable.

Obviously they can’t just state it as baldly as that so they are hiding their claim behind a façade of victimisation. They are suggesting the rights of others are an attack on their rights – even though they are not remotely affected by the rights of others. So therefore, it’s only fair that their right to go on judging and excluding be enshrined in legislation, notwithstanding the democratically determined rights of others.

Why is no-one calling out Israel Folau or the religious right on this?

There is absolutely no basis in fact or law for the asserted need for religious freedom which is, in reality, an attempt to enshrine the right of the minority to discriminate against life choices determined to be entirely legitimate by the majority.

Nice try religious right, but surely Australians aren’t so stupid as to give in to your dinosaur bigotry.

Election 2019: Game of Groans

I don’t know which outcome disgusts me more – the federal election or The Game of Thrones.

As I continue to process the outcome of the election, it strikes me that the choice came down to two different issues: climate change and retirement income policy.

Eighty-one percent of Australians were concerned about climate change, but large numbers were also concerned about perceived depredations (rightly or wrongly) on future retirement incomes. You couldn’t vote for both environmental protection and retirement income protection, so you had to make a choice.

Australia, as the driest continent, is extremely susceptible to global warming. We can see the Murray Darling drying up. We can see the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. We can see the horrors of soil degradation and extreme weather events both here and around the world. We can feel the unseasonal heat as average temperatures ramp up every year. And we are constantly warned about mass extinctions and the impact on biodiversity as habitats are destroyed both by human incursion and rising temperatures.

And yet, somehow, none of those threats were as real to voters as the threat to their future hip pockets.

Because that’s what turned the election in the Coalition’s favour – Labor targeting franking credits, capital gains tax and negative gearing. It was NOT a retirement tax as characterised by the Coalition, but it WAS a potential handbrake on those with aspirational sentiment.

The Labor Party must have done their analysis in the formulation of those policies and I daresay they determined that relatively few people would be much affected, and not many of those few would have been likely to vote ALP in any case.

I suspect they believed those policies (apparently aimed at the rich) would have been popular among those in the median household income range and would therefore offset any vote losses in the retirement class.

What they forgot, is that Australians – those in the Sensible Centre at least – have always been aspirational. They may not enjoy franking credits, capital gains or negative gearing right now, but they hope to in the future and don’t want to see the Gravy Train derailed before they have a chance to get their own snouts in the trough!

They also forgot that Australians have always perceived themselves as inherently classless, but implicit in an attack on the (perceived) rich is a recognition that there are in fact two classes (or more). I suspect that would make a lot of Australians across the spectrum quite uncomfortable and a vote against Labor was therefore a vote denying a class war – a vote in favour of unity.

So if Labor had been right, and their policies had been embraced by the majority, what would that have said about the evolving polity? Could it have meant that we had become a nation newly divided into classes (haves and have nots) with a dwindling sense of aspiration?

If so, that would be just about the saddest day in Australian political history.

But maybe it was anyway.

We may have rejected a class war, but in so doing we rejected action on climate change. And the tragedy is, that decision was to some extent forced on Australians who would have been quite happy to vote for the environment if the Labor Party had simply left it at that.

In making the election about class and aspiration they muddied the political water so badly that voters couldn’t see the Murray Darling drying up or the Reef bleaching. They sensed instead a profound attack on their culture, which just happened to affect their future wealth (or their hope of future wealth) also.

That made the choice impossible for some, and the result will be another three years of Coalition policy that favours the climate science deniers and the coal lobby – who are desperate to sell their coal reserves before they entirely lose their value.

Fortunately, the market continues to put its faith (and dollars) into renewables despite the government removing subsidies and other incentives to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

And for an old greenie like me that may be the final irony – the free market coming to the rescue of the environment when the politicians (through being in the pockets of the lobbyists on one side, or through policy incompetence on the other side) have entirely failed.

Although neither failure is as disappointing as the pathetic conclusion to The Game of Thrones. Take away the original writer (GRR Martin) and you lose the sense of story momentum and integrity that has enthralled millions of TV viewers for years. Almost any of whom could have written a better ending than the festival of shark jumping I sat through over the last two months.

Like the election, at least its finally over.

If I Had My Own Political Party

I did the ABC election compass the other night, the survey that takes account of your responses to 30 questions and comes up with a calculated average that pinpoints your position on the political spectrum. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself smack in the middle – left of the Libs and right of Labor. I daresay that pretty much sums up most Australians.

Thing is, this is one of those cases where an average turns out to be completely wrong. I would say that most of my political views are somewhere between the Greens and Labor – I’m environmentally Green, industrially Labor, but I also want to see fiscal responsibility and ministerial competence.

So, my approach to voting over the last twenty years has been a tad complicated. I always put the Greens first – I don’t want them to win, but I want them to have a say in the legislation I most care about.

After that, I’ve had to choose between Liberal and Labor – the parties likely to form government. Federally, I’ve always gone Labor, although sometimes with gritted teeth.

My problem with both main parties comes down to competence and a lack of genuine attachment to principle. They both tend to be made up of career politicians these days – people who go from university via the Young Libs/Labor into party back room roles and ultimately into parliament without ever having done anything but politics.

They know the system like the backs of their hands, but they know nothing about running a business, or building something, or helping a human being, or understanding the way the planet works, and their personal views are expressed only in the party manifesto.

They care only about power and will say or do anything to achieve it.

Even worse, to get preselection in one of the main parties, you have to do deals. That effectively means that any candidate for Labor or the Coalition is so compromised by the deals they’ve been obliged to make, they don’t have an inch to move policy-wise.

The best example of this was Malcolm Turnbull. He might have been one of our greatest Prime Ministers but he did a deal with the Devil (the Liberal religious right) and consequently was unable to mobilise any sort of policy program to engage the centrist sensibilities of most Australians.

He could have outstayed Menzies if he’d governed as the vast majority expected and wanted him to but was too emasculated by the deal to deliver on his tremendous promise.

So who are we left with?

The minor parties tend to be radical idiots, or fiscal idiots, or just plain idiots. Some of them (especially the One Nation Party) seem to be in politics mainly to make money from the votes they receive, or donations, or insisting that candidates pay ridiculous sums for endorsement and electoral paraphernalia. I daresay there are some talented, principled people among the minor parties/unaligned individuals, but I don’t know who they are.

The thing is, NONE of these people – major party or independent – properly represent me and my politics, so it’s really hard to vote for any of them.

Which got me thinking – what do I want from a politician or party?

Let’s focus on my perfect politician.

He or she, first of all, needs to be honest. The thing that most presses my buttons is corruption in public office. I’d make the penalty for that comparable with murder to both dissuade such behaviour, and to show my complete disgust for people who rip off those who elect them.

Next, I expect a requisite minimum intelligence, and worldliness. They don’t have to be formally educated but they must be savvy and capable of understanding/articulating the issues.

Next, I expect them to have achieved something outside politics. I am so sick of apparatchiks and party animals being raised up to the parliament despite never having actually done anything beyond learn the party ropes. For example, there are hundreds of lawyers in Australian politics, but how many have actually run a law firm or even made partner?

In my party I’d make a rule that no-one was allowed to stand for parliament until they’d reached the age of 40, or had been given special dispensation for having done something really impressive in their personal or professional life. That would get rid of the careerists who are the greatest blight on our political system.

Finally, they would have to be demonstrably passionate about standing for parliament, both in terms of the policies they wish to pursue and the contribution they want to make to a principled public life.

So what about the party?

I’m not interested in right or left – what I’m interested in is principle and competence. Members should be allowed to vote in accordance with their own convictions, but must be accountable to their constituency for their actions.

Party policy should be guided by only a small number of principles along the following lines:

• All people are equal under the rule of law and have equal opportunity to make the most of their lives.
• All people are free to live untrammelled by any rules except for those designed to protect the rights and happiness of others.
• We will endeavour always to help those less fortunate (including people from other countries) while also endorsing the right of all Australians to be as successful as they desire and merit.
• No individual or corporation will be allowed to do business in Australia without paying their proper share of tax.
• We have a profound responsibility to preserve Australia (and the earth) in its best possible shape for the future.
• We will make no policy unsupported by evidence, especially scientific evidence.
• We have a profound responsibility to promote knowledge and explore the universe.

That’s probably enough. If there was a party that espoused those ideals and only allowed individuals as described above to stand, they’d have my vote like a shot.

And plenty of others I’d reckon.

Election 2019: The Remorse Paradox and Doublethink Denial

I was very amused by Steve Dickson having to pull out of the election today – not because he was busted going to a strip club or his appalling behaviour there. My amusement stemmed from the way the One Nation candidate so pathetically tried to excuse himself.

There is a modern phenomenon I call the remorse paradox whereby people – mostly in the public eye, but it’s spread pretty much everywhere – use weasel words to avoid full responsibility even when making admissions.

Busted sportsmen do it. Politicians and pop stars do it. In Steve Dickson’s case the weasel words were as follows:

“The footage shown does not reflect the person I am. It shows a person who was drunk and not in control of his actions and I take full responsibility for allowing that to happen.”

“I found the footage difficult to watch as my words and actions under intoxication and in that environment, are not a true reflection of myself.”

In other words, it wasn’t him. It was some alternative version of himself. He’s taking responsibility for allowing that alternative self to get air time, but he’s not taking responsibility for what that alternative self did or said. So he acknowledges, sheepishly, that he deserves a bit of a slap for letting the genie out of the bottle, but he himself is not the genie.

What a load of crap.

I’m sorry Steve, but YOU are the person who said:

“I think white women fuck a whole lot better, they know what they’re doing. Asian chicks don’t. I’ve done more Asian than I know what to do with.”

YOU are also the chap shown chatting up a dancer after slipping money into her lingerie. Then YOU said:

“You need to slide your hand on my dick.”

This wasn’t the Devil speaking, or alcohol turning you into some sort of innocent automaton. This was YOU, unleashed, showing your own true colours in all their ugly vomitous reality.

And despite behaving like that, you continued to hold yourself out as a person worthy of being elected to the Australian parliament. Until found out.

Even then, you didn’t have the grace to admit your appalling character. The person on the video did not reflect the person you truly are.

It was someone else.

Have we really fallen so low? Is this now our political reality that people with such abysmal morals and outrageous behaviour can genuinely believe they deserve to be elected to (what ought to be) the highest office in the land?

Would Menzies have behaved like this?

Would Edmund Barton, Billy Hughes, Curtin, Chifley, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard…I start to lose confidence after that…would any of those, or any of their colleagues, in any kind of bizarro universe even dreamed of carrying on like Dicko?

Now, not even the One Nation Party want him!

But if that’s bad enough, even weirder is the apparent success of Clive Palmer.

We’re talking about a bloke who went out of business owing $300 million plus many, many millions in entitlements to Queensland Nickel employees – since paid in part by the federal government. But despite still being sued for all of that, not only does he refuse to pay, he boasts about his wealth!

And that’s not even the weird bit.

The truly weird part of this story is that a bloke who tramples on the rights of battlers while boasting about his multi-billionaire success, has managed to spend nearly $40 million on advertising and is genuinely looking at holding the balance of power in the upcoming election.

Is the universe going mad?

Can no-one see what is happening here?

Palmer has taken a leaf straight out of the Donald Trump playbook. Deny, deny, deny – no matter how obvious the truth – and keep hammering home the message that the ruling elite are the true baddies.

YOU are the ruling elite Clive. YOU are the emperor swanning about starkers and it’s time the battlers you’ve ripped off saw you for what you are rather than fawning in your wake and raising you up to the Senate.

I’m just disgusted at the state of our democracy.

By no means do I want it replaced because it’s very clear that open democracy under the rule of law is the only way to maximise happiness in a free society. But there are threats to our democracy which is encouraging the B-graders, the apparatchik manipulators, the doublethink deniers and the outright scumbags to stand for office.

How on earth do we stop it?

The flow of information is so compromised by media minorities, AI algorithms and fake news that no-one can really be sure what matters or even what is objectively true. We’re swimming in a lake of info-quicksand but I can at least still be sure that a vote for Dickson or Palmer would be a really bad idea,

Blues Fest Blues

I went to the Byron Bay Bluesfest last weekend.

I make a point of going every twenty years so this is the second time I’ve been. It rained every day in 1999 so we wallowed in a sea of mud, but at least I got to chat to Billy Thorpe.

The site has now changed so mud isn’t quite the problem it was, but just because the Bluefest was outstandingly good, that won’t stop me bagging it.

Other blogs, no doubt, will rhapsodise over the excellence of the organisation and quality of the music. That was pretty good, especially while sitting in the craft beer space with aural and visual access to two tents. But don’t come to this blog expecting gormless praise for that which is worthy.  The Book Hammer will always focus fearlessly on that which is less than cool.

* * *

Byron Bay and its vicinity has long been known as a new age oasis – a hotbed of hippy sensibility where we walk the streets wolfing down veggie burgers while wearing hemp and whiffing hash.

It’s very cool, very laid back, and very, very alternative.

And yet, when the Bluesfest comes to town and provides so much temporary employment, some of the vegan, peace-loving hippies turn into Nazis.

Seriously, I could not believe the number of young women covered in tatts, piercings and rainbow scarves shouting in shrill admonition at those who tried to bring in umbrellas or water, or dared to venture off the beaten track getting into the festival. Give ’em a uniform, they think they’re Hitler.

Then there was the behaviour of the fans.

Every time I tried to get near the front before a show, I’d think: “Cool! I can actually see.” But then the band would start and a sea of arms holding cameras and phones would shoot up and anyone less than six foot four would find their experience totally obscured.

Why on earth can’t people just live in the moment and enjoy the performance? It does my head in!

Then there are the gap-creepers – people who are utterly shameless about pushing into the little bit of space you’ve created for yourself to promote activities such as seeing or breathing. I lost count of the times people would push past me saying they were “looking for a friend” and then just stop in my little bit of space. In most cases they were six foot five and would then hold up their cameras or phones. Sometimes both.

If those people were bad enough, at least they weren’t wearing super-large hats or dinosaur suits that were nine feet tall!

Unbelievable.

“Look at me! Look how zany I am wearing a sombrero or stupidly obstructive costume inside a tent! What’s that? You think I’m insensitive? Well sorry, but I’m a creative free spirit and my need to express myself has greater validity than your need to see the artists for whom you’ve paid over a hundred dollars a day to watch!”

The very worst though, are the “indulgent” grandparents who think it’s a really cool idea to put one-year-olds up on their shoulders and wade into the mosh pit.

My god! The number of times I saw some irresponsible geriatric hefting a wailing kiddie onto his sagging shoulders and subjecting them to barely repressed violence at five hundred decibels. Are you kidding? When those kids are describing the ordeal (in Auslan) to a trauma analyst in twenty years time, I hope they’ll have been left enough in grandad’s will to pay the bill!

But once you got out of the Tents From Hell and headed for the carpark…good luck. On Good Friday the wait was about ninety minutes. No exaggeration…ninety minutes. It was okay for some as they lucked into the good lanes set up by the neo-nazist traffic controllers. For everyone else it was a nightmare that ended about 2.30 am.

On a slightly more positive note, the music was absolutely brilliant. There were any number of artists of who blew me away – especially Fantastic Negrito, Vintage Trouble, Yothu Yindi, Lukas Nelson, Gary Clarke Jnr, Tommy Emmanuel, St Paul & The Broken Bones, Backsliders and Miss Velvet & The Blue Wolf.

Iggy Pop was great but more from a “crossing him off the bucket list” perspective.

Best of all, for me, was the Marcus King Band. My god that was powerful! I saw them twice.

Finally, if I was Peter Noble and wanted the Bluesfest to be a success going forward, I would investigate the possibility of involving Phil Scorer in the administration. Phil, who won Glen A Baker’s RAM Magazine National Trivia Contest back in 1976, is surely Australian music’s greatest fan. The effort he put in to organise and inform his many friends for the festival was nothing short of miraculous and if the Bluesfest team had just a tenth of Phil’s passion and logistical skill there would be no limit to where the festival might end up.

Grandads brandishing toddlers would certainly be banned, and hippies in jackboots would at the very least be told to cool their jets.

Over to you Pete.