Between the Wolves

The Lowy Institute’s latest report features some interesting data regarding Australia’s perception of China and America. In particular, that our confidence in President Xi to do the right thing has dropped to 38%, but our confidence in President Trump to do the right thing has dropped to a measly 20%.

(I’m surprised it’s that high.)

As America rattles its sabre at Iran, China continues to over-build its influence in the Pacific and Africa, and throws its weight around in the South China Sea. Both are engaged in a potentially crippling tariff war and Australia stands between them, tugging at their coats and saying: “Guys! C’mon guys!”

Because that seems to be the extent of our diplomacy, while always seeming to err on the side of the Americans (whom we trust only half as much as the Chinese).

The problem for us is that China and America are our two most important trading partners and we can’t afford to upset either of them while our current prosperity depends on them.

That’s right – prosperity.

The great fortune of Australia is that we are a tiny little population (by world standards) occupying a vast land mass bulging with minerals. The quarry we call home also just happens to be incredibly beautiful and is a safe, strong democracy (for now) – which makes it a desirable tourist location. Add to that the fact that we are a comparatively clever country, and it all adds up to Australia being (approximately) the 12th biggest economy in the world, shared by just 25 million people.

That is the secret to our prosperity.

And yet it’s all being jeopardised by our geopolitical and trading position – approximately halfway between two slavering wolves.

If we want to protect our livelihoods, and maybe also enhance the safety and happiness of the rest of the world, it is time we started to use our influence to moderate the behaviour of America and China. We need them both and we need them to get on.

As far as America is concerned, we need to assert our independence. Does that mean tearing up the ANZUS Treaty? Probably not, but we should never go running into American wars just because we’re allies. If that maniac Trump wants to start WW3 in Iran we should be the first pulling him back. Our loud and public disapproval might just be enough to give him pause for thought.

It might help with China also.

I suspect they see us right now as America’s bumbling sidekick, but if we showed our independence of America (especially when America is acting so irrationally) then China might see us as an individual voice rather than just another tuneless tenor in the US choir.

The actions of both America and China are destabilising the world right now at a time when the most powerful nations are needed to show leadership. The problems of the world, including climate change, overpopulation and massive economic inequality are getting worse and leading us down a slippery slope towards oblivion.

I reckon we’re screwed within two decades unless we get our noses all pointing in the same direction to resolve these problems, and us just tugging at the coats of the wolves is not helping.

Both America and China need us, for now, so now is the time we must assert ourselves to convince them to use their strength to help turn it all around.

What we most need is vision and if the Americans and Chinese can’t see the possibilities for themselves then we will go up in both of their estimations if we at least have the guts to throw some light on the problems.

Religion and Politics

As I have written before, the Israel Folau case is not about religion.

It is a contractual dispute which he is trying to characterise as a denial of religious rights in misguided attempt to claim the moral high ground.

I was just disgusted to hear about his GoFundMe campaign. A man as wealthy as Israel Folau does not need public support, especially when he’s deliberately conflating the issues of contractual obligation and freedom of speech and religion.

Accordingly, I was delighted to hear that GoFundMe had closed him down for being in breach of their inclusivity policy. They did not want their site to be used to support freedom of hate speech.

Now we learn that another crowd funding effort has been started on Israel’s behalf by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), who are kicking in a hundred grand to get the ball rolling.

My question is why?

The ACL are not entirely stupid. They would fully understand that the substantive issue at stake has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with a refusal to comply with a contractual obligation not to bring the game into disrepute in a manner against which he had previously and specifically been warned.

So why are they buying into the dispute when they ought to know that it really has nothing to do with religion?

Could it be they just want the publicity of being linked with (for the moment) a major celebrity? Like a shirt front sponsor?

Or could it be they are trying to pour petrol onto the linked debate regarding so-called religious freedom in the wake of the marriage equality outcome? Any forum will do, even if it’s likely to be a loser?

As I’ve said before, this also is a conflation of issues. The fact of marriage equality has nothing to do with the freedom of religion. Since when does a couple’s right to marry have anything to do with another person’s right to practise the religion of their choice?

It does not.

What the religious right (of whom the ACL are a major player) really want is the legal right to go on saying nasty things about the people they don’t like and to discriminate against them in the workplace and in schools (and refuse to sell them wedding cakes).

They will take any opportunity to further this crusade, and linking themselves with Israel Folau’s petulant cause sounds like good business.

What this demonstrates to me, however, is the complete hypocrisy of the ACL. They want to further the interests of Christianity, but in so doing they want to spend a hundred thousand dollars on just one rich person’s ill-conceived court case.

I, for one, would have a lot more respect for the ACL, if they gave that money to people who genuinely needed it.

As Jesus himself (apparently) said:

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19: 24

I’ll bet the directors of the ACL are all rich.

Just like Israel Folau.

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.

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)