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.

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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.

The Shrieking Parrot

Few things give me greater pleasure than the sight (and sound) of a flock of lorikeets or cockatoos all going off at the same time as they cluster in trees to gorge on nectar. Shouting and bickering and carrying on – the cockies in particular sound like they’re tearing the very fabric of space-time with their prehistoric shrieking.

And speaking of prehistoric shrieking, I was amused this week by the antics of Alan Jones as he once again sought to bully into submission anyone opposed to his own interests (or those of his friends).

His performance interviewing Louise Herron (CEO of the Sydney Opera House) was just disgraceful – saying: “Who do you think you are? You should be sacked etc…” because she dared to take a principled position appropriate to her role and the dignity of a national icon.

I was surprised she didn’t respond by saying: “Who you think you are Alan? Presuming to take a stand on something over which you have zero authority.”

Because that exemplifies the ignorance and arrogance of Alan Jones (The Parrot, as he’s known at the ABC). He uses his platform as a radio announcer to shout his mouth off about everything under the sun, and has no qualms about choosing his targets (or the causes he wishes to champion) on the basis of his own interest.

He was, of course, notoriously busted during the Cash for Comment saga for taking money to make advertising sound like legitimate news or opinion, and to my mind nothing has changed. Jones has racing interests (and friends with horses in the Everest) so anything that promotes racing is fine by him. The fact anyone might disagree with him – even someone with a duty they hold sacred (or the hundreds of thousands signing petitions in support) – just sets him off squawking and spitting his famous vitriol until he gets his way, usually by intimidating politicians.

His performance on TV after the Opera House fiasco was temporarily shut down by light wielding protestors was vintage Jones:

They lost the argument, so they mobilised.”

The ignorance is breathtaking.”

If Jones was compelled to apologise to Louise Herron for his appalling behaviour, and only got his way by scaring the crap of Gladys Berejiklian, how exactly is that winning the argument? It’s like Hitler saying he won the argument over Chamberlain by invading Czechoslovakia.

The irony is breathtaking.

The thing that constantly amazes me about Alan Jones is his popularity with the people you’d think would most despise a man like him. Jones’ constituency is the battlers of Western Sydney – typically lower middle class, lower income, poorly represented in the higher education statistics, socially conservative and those with the most to complain about given the growing north/south divide in the Australian socio-economic condition. Somehow Jones is able to press their buttons and win their support despite being himself everything they’d normally hate. Uber-wealthy, highly educated and famously arrested in London for gross indecency in a public toilet. (There are plenty of other stories about him also.)

How on earth did a quintessential elitist like Alan Jones become the Battlers’ Champion? But that’s his way – he accuses others of the very things he could be accused of himself, and in so doing, manages to convey the impression that he is not elitist, bullying, misogynistic, nest-feathering, power-hungry and arrogant.

The true disaster though of a man like Jones having so much power is his disproportionate impact on elected governments. Both state and feds seem to cower in abject terror regarding his impact in Western Sydney where so many marginal electorates can determine an election.

They say you can judge the strength of a democracy by the freedom of the press – the Fourth Estate. If the press is free to scrutinise the affairs of government and comment in a manner to inform the electorate in their choices, all is well.

However, it is the hallmark of a totalitarian (or at least dystopian) society where the press functions mainly to distort the message and shepherd the electorate towards choices that are not in their interest, or otherwise serve the interests of the ruling elite.

Alan Jones squawking and bickering and terrorising politicians into terrible choices makes it clear that you can also judge the weakness of a democracy by the abused power of the Fourth Estate.

The Turnbull Tragedy

I feel very sorry for Malcolm Turnbull.

The man born to be Prime Minister.

So much manifest destiny – no-one since Hawke/Keating promised so much in terms of a genuinely brighter future for all Australians.

And not just Australians.

The truly transformative epoch Malcolm should have achieved could also have included our region – and anyone else who came within (or even near) our magical circle.

Alas.

Instead of a Golden Age we have one of the tawdriest shit fights in the history of Australian politics.

* * *

I am one of the 20% of Australians who can legitimately be described as a swinging voter – in that I have voted both Labor and Liberal in my time, but also Green and Australian Democrats (remember them?).

I would describe my politics as marginally left of centre but I am driven more by competence and particular issues than parties. As issues go, most important to me are the rule of law, responsible environmental management and sound financial management. In that order, but they are all so closely related it makes little sense to prioritise.

The Labor and Liberal parties have both, in the last 30 years, given regular lip service to the issues that matter to me, but both – in government – have behaved more or less the same. Mostly.

The Liberal party’s record on refugee policy – to my mind – is utterly shameful. But have the Labor Party done any different?

They’ve occasionally made noises about how bad the Liberals are but they draw the line at advocating a different policy and their behaviour in government is arguably worse than the Liberals because they knew they were doing the wrong thing.

Expecting the likes of Ruddock, Howard, Abbott and Dutton to abide by the humanitarian principles of the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees is like expecting a starving Labrador to guard a Big Mac. It goes entirely against their instinct, so fair enough, but the Labor Party knew what they did re offshore solutions was evil.

That’s why I was delighted to see Malcolm Turnbull challenge and defeat Tony “Turn Back the Boats” Abbott.

So many Australian politicians remind me of B grade high school debaters. They’ve (too often) gone straight from university into branch politics – backroom staffers – policy officers – apparatchiks – candidates, without ever having done anything meaningful or real.

The real talent in the country is running companies, universities, law firms, accounting firms, hospitals, media organisations, farms, doing science, creating art or any number of other useful occupations and doing pretty well at it. They don’t have time for politics and they aint gonna take a pay cut either.

That’s what made Malcolm different.

At last we had a man of intelligence and principle at the helm. A statesman, no less, with the competence and vision to forge the kind of future we needed and deserved. As a voter who tends to err on the Labor / Green side of politics I was perfectly happy to throw my lot in with Malcolm and I cannot begin to tell you how disappointed I am in his time in office.

Yes, he was undermined – torn apart in fact – by the rabid revenge merchants of the right. But the Malcolm Turnbull I thought I knew would have risen above all those B-graders and beaten them anyway.

If he’d appealed to the nation – so many of whom genuinely believed in him – then he might have had the confidence to take on the radical right and insist on the kind of policy program this country desperately needs. Instead, we look like returning to the short-sighted nastiness of the redneck (minority) rabble who want to isolate Australia geopolitically, give tax cuts to companies who don’t need them, prefer coal to the detriment of renewables and destroy the Barrier Reef.

You could have stopped that Malcolm.

You could have beaten the B-grade mediocrities, but instead you let them win by getting dragged into their bloody minded game.

As I said, I feel sorry for you, but I feel sorrier for Australia.

The Taste of Beer

There’s an ad on Australian telly at the moment where people in a pub all admit that they don’t really like the taste of beer.

“I only drink it because my mate drinks it,’ says one.

“I only drink it because my old man drank it,” say a couple more.

The implication is that no-one really likes the taste of beer and there’s some sort of terrible blue collar conspiracy to keep people drinking that terrible muck they secretly hate.

Well, I have news for the advertisers…

I love the taste of beer. I couldn’t give a rat’s whether Big Terry drinks it and yes, my old man drank it too.

But, to be fair…there was a time when I didn’t really care for the taste of beer. That’s when I was fifteen and first drinking it surreptitiously. Someone might have pinched a couple of bottles or cans and a few of us would congregate in the back lane with some stolen cigarettes… (Actually that’s wrong. It was the 1970s and five year olds could purchase cigarettes in those days.) …and tentatively sip at a warm ale.

It tasted like shit, but what sort of pathetic wanker stops guzzling our national drink because of that? I was not to be deterred. I continued to force it down no matter how acrid, insipid or rank, and then – around the age of nineteen – there was a magical transformation.

I remember turning to a mate of mine one evening at my local on the Upper North Shore (back when it was a real pub, before they turned into a soulless drinking barn) and saying: “You know what? I actually like the taste of beer.”

He looked at me like the idiot I was, with furrowed brow, and said: “You didn’t before?”

“Not really. I’ve always drunk it to get pissed…not because I like it.”

My mate just shrugged. He was used to me coming out with rubbish like that, but it was also a profound personal insight for me. I had never quite realised that I was a lotus-eating hedonist addicted to altered states and drank beer to achieve those states despite the appalling taste.

An appalling taste that I suddenly enjoyed.

Because beer is a journey. You’re supposed to hate it when you are young and unsullied. It is a complex tipple which requires a certain jadedness both of outlook and taste buds before it can be properly appreciated.

I have now achieved that jadedness and can discern the multifarious nuances…the deeply profound plurality of beer in its many guises. The bitter crispness of an IPA, the sweet, bubbles of a lager, the sour style of a real ale or the plutonic silk of a dark-heart stout.

Those who have not traversed this journey are not fit to call themselves men (or women). There ought to be some form of white feather we can hand out to those who don’t drink beer because genuinely liking the taste of beer means you’ve overcome a massive obstacle – like fulfilling a sacred quest, or stepping up out of a trench to charge a machine gun nest. Those who don’t make the grade – who do not drink beer – are lesser than the rest of us and do not deserve to be counted among the true heroes of our epoch.

And yet, there are advertisers out there who do not get what it really means to become an Australian man. They peddle alcoholic soft drinks as a means to a consciousness altering end, but what they fail to understand is that overcoming the taste of beer is the real achievement.

Because, in the end, it’s not how you get there…

It’s the journey that matters.

Life Theatre: Breaking the Sixth Wall

When we go to the theatre, both cast and audience know it’s theatre and know their separate roles. Occasionally, however, an actor will acknowledge the audience – which is called breaking the fourth wall; ie, smashing the glass in front of the stage through which the voyeuristic audience is gazing into the actors’ private world. There are many varieties of such interaction, ranging from the full-on participation of pantomime to a simple glance at the camera in film or TV.

Dramaturges of the C21 will now also refer to a fifth wall – ie, the wall between critics writing about a performance or even the wall between audience members able to (potentially) communicate with each other in real time regarding their thespian experience.

But I would suggest that there is yet another wall – a sixth wall which is the wall between ourselves and other individuals in the real world. For, as Shakespeare suggested, is not the world a stage and all of us merely players who come and go as our parts require? Do we not (sometimes) seem to watch ourselves from another vantage – playing out our lives as both actors and observers?

I have always been very conscious of what I call “life theatre”. I frequently find myself in little vignettes ripe with context or rippling with repartee. There are billions of examples I could use but here’s just one (which happened over 20 years ago):

A friend of mine was having an affair.

I was the only person in whom she’d confided (which was both an honour and a burden). The homme fatale was known to my friend’s husband and was an occasional visitor (with his wife) to my friend’s house.

Soon after the affair commenced my friend threw a large party and the homme fatale was in attendance. My friend advised her paramour that she had told me of their dalliance (because she just had to tell someone) so when I arrived that night I was collared at the door and led into the bedroom…where I was introduced to the homme.

We nodded, guardedly, both of us probably wondering why our mutual friend had wanted us to acknowledge the reality of their illicit liaison.

Later in the night (which was one of those amazing balmy nights that only a Sydney summer can produce) I found myself sitting at a table outside with seven or eight people including the friend’s husband and the homme fatale. As a drama merchant from way back, I couldn’t help myself… I drew the conversation around to infidelity in marriage and very quickly the homme and I were throwing barbs at each other – reflecting on one level the ordinary moral debate on staying true to the past versus how you might feel right now – but on another level the drama playing out between he and I, vying for (very) different aspects of our friend’s affection.

At the time, I couldn’t help but think: this ought to be a movie! This ought to be recorded for all time because it was just spectacular drama – both of us rising to the occasion and throwing thunderbolts at each other as our unwitting audience cheered our every word.

Just imagine how it would have gone down if I’d broken the sixth wall and said to those listening: “He’s only saying that because he’s trying to subtly justify the fact that he’s fucking our hostess!”

A different kind of drama would swiftly have ensued, but of course…I kept my mouth shut.

Thing is though, I am an author. Back then, I was unpublished so not to be taken seriously. But now I have several books on the shelves and have been read by tens of thousands. People ought to know that when they interact with me, they might be giving me ideas for scenes and characters.

Which leads to an important ethical question… What are the rules for authors living in the real world and brushing up against characters with foibles we might want to use?

Am I obliged to issue warnings – especially to dickheads with alarming opinions – that I am an author and they are giving me A-grade material?

In all seriousness, I wonder whether authors should be issued with special badges that we can wear behind our lapels and flash at appropriate moments in social situations. Our various interlocutors might then cease their rabid support of far right (or far left) causes; refrain from trying to sell me something; or desist in their evil attempt to apply neuro-linguistic programming techniques to change my mind or get into my pants.

It would also be a really good circuit breaker to smash down the sixth wall between all who are merely players in the seven acts of their lives.

As for my friend in the story above? Did she leave her husband and run off with the homme fatale? I could take the moral high ground and say: none of your business…

Or I could be an author and say: watch out for my next novel!