Viagogo Logo a No Go!

We saw Elton John at Hope Estate the other night.

Elton was amazing, as far as I could tell, but the night was very much soured by the fact that my wonderful wife (Kazzie) had paid top dollar for what she thought were the very best seats – right down the front.

To our amazement and disgust, her purchase order had somehow been diverted from the Ticketek site to Viagogo, and instead of VIP seats down the front, we got seats 200 metres from the stage at a face value of about 40% of what we paid.

Now, I am the first to agree that this sounds like an appalling first world problem, but how on earth does it happen?

How does a search on (what she thought was) Ticketek somehow get transferred to a scalping site?

Viagogo are supposed to be a big name in ticket sales but poor Kazzie had no idea – when she searched on Ticketek – that the very large amount of money she thought she was paying for the best experience was somehow being scammed?

Yes, scammed.

I have no problem with sites like Viagogo being allowed to exist, they serve a legitimate purpose for people who want to resell tickets they can’t use.

Or even people who simply want to resell tickets for a profit.

But I have a massive problem with a site that utilises some subtle algorithm or back-end script or confusing framing device that effectively transfers purchase orders from standard sites to their scalping site!

How many others spent way more than they had to, to try and get close to Elton for his final bow? We didn’t even realise we had Viagogo tickets until all the publicity about people having dodgy tickets blew up in December.

At least we did get in.

I tried not to let the experience sour my enjoyment of the evening – and to his credit, Elton put on one hell of a show. There was a lot of love in the air.

I just wish I’d been as close to it as I expected to be.

How does Viagogo continue to do business in this country without being prosecuted for business practices which defy any normal standard of commercial decency?

I understand they were thrown off google last July for their sneaky practices, obviously before we bought our tickets early last year. If they’ve been let back on then I hope there’s been a major change in the way they do business.

Upright is Unreal

There are any number of performers who seem to think a joke is funny simply because it rhymes.

Tip for new players (and, sadly, some old players) – a joke is only funny if it’s funny. Don’t expect me to laugh at non-funny jokes just because you’ve put it to music.

That said, I was always quite a fan of Tim Minchin – a superb satirist, sceptic and cabaret performer – who took the funny song schtick to a level rarely traversed in Australia. He was genuinely funny and very clever. He was also fearless enough to take on anyone claiming authority or power based on the unprovable, including the various churches, George Pell, alternative medicine and anyone stupid enough to believe in their so-called remedies.

Thumbs up Tim.

But he lost me. I was one of maybe seven people in the entire world who hated – that’s right HATED – Matilda the Musical. I suspect Roald Dahl may have hated it even more.

Every song sounded the same, even though the lyrics were impossible to hear when sung by so many screeching children. (What was WC Fields’ advice on that?) But most of all, I simply didn’t believe that anyone could be so deliberately cruel as Matilda’s parents. I haven’t read the original story, but I’m guessing there was a lot more subtlety and apparent justification. For me, the musical was unwatchable.

So I went off him. I guessed that maybe someone had driven a dump truck full of money up to his house and asked him to take on the work – what else could explain it?

When I heard he had written and starred in a new TV miniseries, I was not much interested. Naah, Minchin’s a sell-out, was my view. Nothing to see here.

Well, the ads for Upright did look interesting, and then my sister (who tends to have very different taste from mine) told me it was the best thing she’d seen in years. She even compared it with Breaking Bad, so grudgingly I gave it a go.

My wife and I were hooked from the opening minutes and binged the whole eight episodes in a few days.

This was seriously good Australian drama. Well written, brilliantly acted, gorgeously shot, full of layers. On one level it’s a standard road trip / mismatched buddy story and could easily have wallowed in cliché, as so many Australian productions have done before.

Minchin’s talent and sensibilities however allowed him to lasso the cliché beast and turn it to his own will – driving the conventions down different paths and defying the jaded expectations of those accustomed to standard tropes and resolutions.

It was witty, clever, unpredictable and simply wonderful.

I don’t want to say too much about the story for fear of spoiling, but I cannot recommend Upright highly enough. I’ve no doubt it will win numerous awards, not least for young Milly Alcock whose portrayal of Meg was jaw-dropping to say the least. She is certain to be a major star in the next few years.

Every featured character was interesting and drove the story and despite the occasionally OTT or surreal moments, the series never jolted you out of your suspended disbelief. And I do get my sister’s comparison with Breaking Bad – not that Lucky Flynn has anything in common with Walter White, but the lush desert scapes and the sheer intensity of Upright will have others make the same comparison.

Upright will massively increase Tim Minchin’s standing across the board – showcasing all his talents as writer, performer and musician – and take him to a whole new level as a multi-faceted polymath of the performing arts.

So Tim Minchin is restored in my eyes, which I’m sure will allow him to sleep much more easily.

A National Disgrace!

Australians woke today to the news that the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) had lowered their recommended maximum weekly alcohol intake from fourteen standard drinks to ten.

Seriously, ten standard drinks.

And a standard drink isn’t even a proper drink, like a schooner or a decent glass of vino. It’s a middy or bloody thimble of wine. What’s the point?

Who the damn hell do the NHMRC think they are, making recommendations that no-one asked for, and will have no effect other than to put thousands out of work? Brewers, wine producers, hoteliers and their staff, Accident and Emergency workers, booze bus police, drug and alcohol counsellors. Do the NHMRC think about any of these people and their livelihoods when coming up with their do-gooding drivel?

All that is bad enough, but what these wowser proclamations truly obscure is something far more insidious. Alcohol is not just a pleasant intoxicant and powerful social bonding tool, it is actually a measure of a nation’s vitality.

I remember reading an account written by a Hanse or Lombard merchant who had occasional dealings with the Vikings. He was deeply impressed by their vigour and capacity for random violence but was staggered to note that they were always drunk.

Always.

He could turn up at breakfast and the Vikings would already be smashed, and yet these same drunken oafs conquered all of northern Europe, discovered America, settled Iceland and Greenland, made incredible advances in shipbuilding, navigation, diplomacy, metallurgy, farming and invented their own runic form of writing.

Not bad for a bunch of early medieval pissheads.

They were going just fine until some idiot replaced all their cool gods, like Thor and Loki – full on drinking gods who knew how to have a good time – with mono-bloody-theism with its devoutness and abstinence. The Viking empire dwindled in direct proportion with the demise of their drinking culture.

Now Scandinavia is a teetotal basket case, infested with Lutherans and other non-drinking nonentities – and the NHMRC is trying to do the same to Australia!

We are being invited down the same nanny state path that led the Vikings to oblivion and I for one won’t stand for it.

I am calling for an increase in minimum weekly alcohol intake, from fourteen standard drinks up to thirty. Thirty proper drinks – not your standard thimbles!

Let’s get Australia moving again, filled with the spirit that drove the Vikings (and the Romans before them) to such incredible advances.

And if all that doesn’t convince you, let’s not forget that Hitler was a teetotaller.

Is that what you want NHMRC? A return to National Socialism?

Because only a bloody Nazi would want Australians to stop drinking.

Rage

We live in a sad world.

War, famine, drought, pandemic, environmental decay, mass extinction on the horizon. Communities falling apart through inequity, unemployment, mental illness, scary drug addiction, crime, political corruption…

And who the hell is doing anything about it?

Who can do anything about it?

Armed only with a triennial vote, the little people cower in the shadows as the titans of industry, economics and ideology wage their unholy wars way above our heads. All we are left with is a political class that exploits us, a media that sells us poison, and in place of gods we worship a cadre of celebrities and sportsmen who despise us.

We can never make a difference, we can never have meaning, we make no mark on history except as statistics.

And how do we respond?

Some despair, a few of us fight the tiny wars of irrelevance, but most are too weighed down by the mind-numbing reality of ignorance, decadence and exclusion that characterises our sad existence in the C21.

I was pondering all this, this morning – standing on the station awaiting my commuter train.

It’s a funny little community we have. All of us wrapped up in our own private worlds as we assemble on the platform. We know, more or less, where the train doors will open so we gather in the optimal areas and there are any number of written and unwritten protocols to govern our conduct.

Above all, you do not try to jump the queue as the train rolls to a stop. You stand behind the yellow line, and anyone who tries to push past his fellow commuters will cop a frowning indeed.

So, this morning, my usual reverie as the train arrived was completely disturbed by some interloper striding past those waiting behind the line to get to the doors as they opened – right in front of me, as it happened.

“Please don’t push past people waiting,” I told him, and to my amazement, he went completely berserk. Aggressive, shouting, how dare I judge him etc etc

I said nothing further – just shrugged as he carried on, clearly trying to goad me into doing or saying something that might justify his behaviour (or even an escalation – he was barely holding himself back).

Several people left the carriage in dismay but he eventually settled down and I found myself wondering about the inspiration for such an incredible over-reaction.

It wasn’t me that was pissing him off, was it.

As a middle aged lawyer, it is rare I encounter this kind of rage. Bizarre, visceral and howling – this guy had problems. Clearly there was some kind of personality disorder happening – exacerbated maybe by amphetamine or steroid abuse (if I can read the signs).

But there’s something deeper here, surely.

What I sensed, most of all, was a profound frustration – and I share his frustration for all the reasons outlined above. The world is deeply fucked, and the last thing we need is some arsehole lawyer in a suit reminding us how to behave.

I really feel for him.

Death of a Parrot?

Well, well…it looks as though Alan Jones is reaching the end of the road.

The relevance road is what I mean, before anyone accuses me of something darker. I mean only the end of relevance.

But that is a bitter demise indeed for poor Alan who has made a career out of whoring himself to notoriety. Anything for a headline eh Al?

He’s always been at his most shrill when desperate, and his words this week – in response to the school strike by teenage activists – show how truly desperate he has now become in a last frantic bid to stay in the headlines.

Let’s have a close look at his latest antics to really understand (a) how completely out of his depth he has become vis a vis the science of climate change; and (b) how badly he’s lost his touch when it comes to convincing the rubes.

He accuses teenage activists of being brainwashed because they are anti-coal.

As a wealthy elitist appealing to the battlers Jones has always accused others of the very things he could himself be accused of, and here he goes again – accusing people with strong opinions of being brainwashed, because they have opinions contrary to his own (or the economic interests of his uber-wealthy coal mining mates). Cash for comment still?

He never cites any science in support of his brainwashing argument (he wouldn’t dare). He simply says that activist youth are hoodwinked into having anti-coal opinions by their leftist teachers. I would be interested to know what he believes the agenda of anti-coal people to be. Is it just some vague lefty evil? (He doesn’t really say.) Or might it be a science-based realisation that over-reliance on fossil fuels is polluting our atmosphere, warming up the climate and acidifying our oceans?

Just asking Al?

He then suggests that activist students would be better off switching off their iPhones or washing machines if they were truly committed to saving the earth.

Really Al?

It’s come to this? You’re now resorting to B grade high school debating tactics to make a specious point that is just too pathetic…

He actually suggests that young people should elect not to use electricity if they feel so strongly about climate change.

Thing is Al, there are many ways of generating electricity, and that is exactly the point. We should be de-emphasising fossil fuel electricity and encouraging renewable technologies as much as we can. Surely you knew there were other ways of generating power?

If yes, you deliberately obscured it. If not, you are simply ignorant and I don’t know what’s worse. Either way, you should never be let anywhere near a microphone again.

[The students] should stop making vacuous noises about something they know little about.

Has there ever been a more perfectly ironic statement from a public commentator?

How would he respond to Greta Thunberg’s accusation that all world leaders are interested in is money and fairytales of eternal growth?

How dare you Alan?

Fortunately the advertisers are at last deserting him in droves. I’m way too old and cynical to believe they’re doing that because of their high principles. I think they’re doing it because they no longer want to be associated with the reactionary voice of aging irrelevance.

That is not the voice of the purchasing future.

But any way you cut it – fewer people listening to Alan Jones is a really good thing.

The Importance of Being Rejected

This is an article I wrote for the NSW Writers’ Magazine Newswrite back in 2011. The publishing world has changed profoundly in the last eight years, but I stand by the article I wrote at that time…

 

The Importance of Being Rejected: The Destiny Police and the Digital Future

As aspiring writers, we’re always hearing stories about famous books which were rejected a hundred times until some brave, inspired publisher was able to perceive the unique and wondrous genius that all the others had missed, and the writer lived happily ever after.

Occasionally these stories are true (or at least true-ish – Harry Potter anyone?) – more often they are not. I couldn’t say how many times I’ve heard people insist that The Lord of the Rings was rejected again and again before Professor Tolkien finally got his tome across the line, when the simple fact is: LOTR was commissioned after the stunning success of The Hobbit.

As usual, the ‘truth’ would lie somewhere in between (and a draft accepted by one publisher might be very different from the draft rejected by others), but the subtext behind these stories is dangerously seductive for the rejected writer, and that is: that publishers get it wrong.

“Good God!” thinks Reggie Reject. “If they got it wrong with Harry Potter or LOTR…no wonder they rejected my book!”

Rejection slips are painful – especially those impersonal two sentence emails: not suitable for our list at this time etc – so it is certainly a small comfort to realise that the book was only rejected because it was read (or not read) by some hayseed chewing philistine who trips on his/her knuckles when walking up stairs. But isn’t it amazing how many of these same philistines work in all the publishing houses?

And the agencies.

They’re all wrong.

No they’re not. The painful truth, which any writer capable of growing and improving must embrace, is that 99.937 percent of the slush pile has less literary merit than rat droppings.

I have been Reggie Reject more often than most, but once I stopped being defensive and accepted that everything I’d ever written was unmitigated, pointless drivel, I was ready to start making progress.

* * *

When I finished my first novel, back in 1997, I was exhilarated. I knew I had created a masterpiece and that the world would soon be smashing down my door, thrusting contracts at me and driving trucks full of money up to my house. I used to have this wonderful daydream where I signed away the movie rights in a magnificent office in Manhattan, and then settled down to enjoy a perfect life of writing, travelling and world acclaim.

The first rejection slip, I read with amusement – it was their loss. The second I read with bewilderment – two rejections? Was the world going mad? As the rejection slips piled up, I began to realise that the problem was far worse than just the ignorance and stupidity of the readers. The real problem was that the literary world was not ready for my genius.

Of course, the reading public were ready for it – clamouring for it. All my friends said it was good! And they shared my contempt for the evil powers-that-be, sitting complacent in their ivory towers with nothing better to do than trample the dreams of inspired, original writers. The Destiny Police.

As you can see, this way madness lies.

Fortunately, I didn’t give up. I started writing another novel, and gradually realised something wonderful: I actually knew what I was doing.

You need to write to learn how to write. Having written the first book, I had learned a few things – like how to set up the various story threads and start weaving them together; how to drop a plot kicker into a group of characters (and readers) who think they know where the story’s going. Best of all, I had found my natural storytelling voice.

Having learnt these things, I was then forced to reflect upon my first book. Maybe – just maybe – it wasn’t quite as brilliant as I had originally thought? I decided to re-read it and immediately started wincing and cringing at the purple prose and ham-fisted imagery. It had its good points, but it needed a lot of work (as some of those hated rejection slips had intimated).

This was a key moment in my development as a writer – realising that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. (At least, not yet.)

My second novel (a comedy about conspiracy theories) was finished, bizarrely enough, around 10 pm on 11 September 2001. The next morning, I learned about the horrific events in New York and realised the planes were hitting the towers around about the exact moment I was hitting the ultimate full stop. Well that’s just great…I finally write a decent novel and the world comes to an end! Conspiracy?

This time I went much closer. The publishers still rejected me but a few were quite encouraging. One fellow even tried to get it up at the publishing committee but was outvoted. Foiled again!

But the message was clear: several publishers and a couple of agents wanted to see more of my stuff. I was on the right track.

* * *

My third novel was accepted by the first fiction publisher I showed it to.

In the wake of the disappointment of my second book going so close, I took a couple of years off writing novels and started dabbling with screenplays, which taught me a lot about character arcs and how to tell a story with the minimum possible words. And it was great for my dialogue.

This time, when I went back to novels (my first love), I was a much tighter storyteller with a strong established voice. I understood the interplay of characterisation and plot and I really knew how to pace a story and tease the readers along. I also did something I had never tried before: instead of wallowing in my esoteric ‘art’, I wrote about something that other people might enjoy. In other words, I deliberately targeted a specific readership and set out to create a commercial success.

Mr Cleansheets was published in April 2010 by Vulgar Press, a small Melbourne publisher. This is the stuff of dreams – the Emerald City at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. All that work – all those countless hours, hammering away in lonely obscurity with only rejection slips to keep me warm – all leading up to the magical moment of a publisher saying: Yes.

People sometimes ask me: was it hard to get published? And I think: no…Mr Cleansheets was snapped up straight away. So that was another lesson: if you’ve got the right product, it’s easy to get published. If you don’t, it’s impossible.

* * *

To return to my original point – I am now a published writer with some small profile in the mainstream and a fan base who keep asking when my next book is coming out. It took 13 years longer than I had hoped, back in 1997, but if I pick up my first book these days, I can’t read two sentences without vomiting blood. And yet, 14 years ago, I thought it was brilliant.

I have finally understood why rejection is so important for the publishing and writing industry. Without rejection, writers have no incentive to improve – to develop into the writers they are capable of becoming. There is no way I could have produced the right product back in 1997.

And this is why I fear for the online future. People argue that the capacity of new writers to bypass the traditional publishing houses and publish their own books on the net is ‘democratic’ and opens up the reading public to alternative voices that might otherwise have never been heard.

It’s hard to argue against that without sounding like an elitist wanker, but what this means is that the slush pile (still utterly dreadful, for the most part) will no longer be euthanased by the Destiny Police. It will be alive – a roaring cacophony which drowns and out-clamours any voice worth hearing.

Even worse – far worse – new writers will no longer be rejected. They will self-publish first drafts and never learn from their mistakes, and voices which may have developed in time into something wonderful will remain halting and unrefined. The whole future, not just of publishing, but of writing itself is in peril.

And if writing dies, then reading will die. And if reading dies then knowledge will die, enlightenment will fade and the world will become ripe for the plucking by neo-medieval warlords who…

Sorry. (There goes that ‘art’ again!)

It is imperative that the online future includes publishers still insisting on quality and filtering out the undeveloped and the impure – forcing writers to reassess and lift their games if ever they are to be raised up out of obscurity and penury into that ivory tower of popular acclaim.

And you all thought the Destiny Police were the bad guys…

Sexual Politics 2019

I sometimes look at young girls in their 20s, leading lives of unprecedented equality and freedom, and lament the fact they seem to know nothing of the fight their ancestors went through to win the freedom they now take almost for granted.

But in a way, that’s how it should be. True equality is unconscious. It doesn’t need to be measured or weighed or even valued – it is sucked in with mother’s milk and seems as natural as earth, air, fire and water.

Because women have had it pretty bad for all of human history – and still do in most cultures outside the first world. It’s only in the last hundred years or so that improvements have started happening and to give a clearer picture of exactly what I mean, let’s take a snapshot of the condition of women in England in the year 1800.

The class system was real and there was no welfare state. Very few people had the vote and those were only propertied white men with an annual income that would see them in the top few percent of earners. Women, even aristocratic women, had no right to vote and no right to own property once they were married.

Women of lesser degree, if not married to a man with an income, were forced into penury which very often meant prostitution.

Women had no control of their reproductive systems so life, for most, was a predictable series of events: limited education – marriage – several pregnancies (any of which could be fatal) – motherhood – grand-motherhood – death. That’s not to judge these institutions in any way but that was the extent of a woman’s lot, which didn’t change until the Married Women’s Property Act in 1870 – the first piece of legislation to recognise the (very limited) rights of women.

South Australia, New Zealand and eventually other jurisdictions gave women the vote over the next 60 years, but the true clincher – the biggest change in male/female relations since the dawn of time – was the contraceptive pill, which became legal in Australia in 1962.

For the first time, women had control of their bodies in a way men had always had – and had never had to think about. This led to profound societal changes over the next few generations, which nevertheless still carried the sexual political baggage of millennia.

Marriage, for example, is very much a pre-pill institution – a licence to create extra mouths to feed in a village of limited agrarian resources. We no longer live in that limited village and sex is no longer a deterministic path to pregnancy. But we still live with so much of the cultural debris from the glacier of human progress.

Marriage is an obvious one but there are plenty of more subtle indicators around the division of labour. Women (including those in professional work) still do more than their share of household chores. And watch what happens at just about any dinner party in the first world. It tends to be the women who get up to clear the table while the men sit around talking. This is not an absolute rule, but it tends to be true. And all those men being waited upon probably regard themselves as entirely reconstructed.

So, when you consider political rights, access to the professions, independent incomes and general opportunity to live as one would like, we’ve come a long way but we’re not quite there when it comes to real equality.

All of that is preliminary to what I really want to talk about.

In the wake of the Me Too movement there have been any number of developments that throw further spotlight onto the ongoing depredations of men with unequal bargaining power, but is the long overdue correction starting to go too far?

I read an article the other day about university research into the objectification of women and how they felt about it. Let me be clear – any sort of unwanted sexual attention is unpleasant, and if it continues, after non-encouragement, becomes creepy and ultimately criminal.

But where do we draw the line?

The continuity of the human race is utterly dependent on men and women continuing to be sexually attracted to each other. In a perfect world, people would only be attracted to people who reciprocated. But our world is far from perfect.

People are constantly attracted to others who do not reciprocate – and part of growing up is learning to deal with rejection. But rejection can only happen in the context of unilateral attraction, and how does attraction commence?

Through objectification.

For the point of argument, let’s limit the discussion to heterosexual people of childbearing age. It is (almost) axiomatic that these people are (at least initially) sexually attracted to others on the basis of their physical appearance.

It starts with objectification, which becomes subjectification only through experience and reciprocation.

Without objectification the race would die.

I would regard myself as more reconstructed than the average male chauvinist dinosaur. I fully appreciate the role of radical views in normalising the majority to socio-political evolution, but let’s not over-correct in the pursuit of equality.

If men and women are too scared to fancy each other, then that’s an end to us.

Let’s not overthink this.

White Line Fever

George Burgess was just given 9 weeks suspension in the NRL for a pretty ugly eye gouge.

I’m going to say that’s not enough.

His really nasty eye poke – which could so easily have cost Robbie Farah his sight in one eye – copped a measly 9 weeks, which seems suspiciously neat when you think he will be eligible to play in the finals, which Souths are all but certain to make.

And this is a guy with form in the eye-gouging arena! Why isn’t the NRL making an example of this idiot? Some might suggest my use of the word idiot is a tad harsh but the reality is – he was busted for eye-gouging only a few months ago in a test against New Zealand, and clearly he hasn’t learned from the sanction.

That, in my opinion, is the definition of an idiot.

Mind you, if there are bigger idiots, it is the NRL judiciary.

Do they not realise that they are setting the sanction bar for the entire league? The vast majority of players never get to strut their stuff on national television. The vast majority of players from under 6s through to All Age play their footballing lives in obscurity without the television cameras on hand to track their actions in minute detail.

That means they can get away with murder, and on the off-chance they get busted – they’re looking at maybe 9 weeks out after jeopardising some poor bastard’s eyesight. A life sentence against a 9 week holiday.

I’m saying Burgess, after two such incidents, should be rubbed out of the game – never to play again. Why should players with the rest of their lives to live – be subjected to George Burgess and his evil ocular tactics?

Why should children be risking permanent injury due to George Burgess’s example?

Why should obscure players in Group 7 or Group 15 be exposed to life-shattering injury so that George Burgess can be rewarded with the (likely) prospect of finals football in 2019?

The even bigger question is this…

What exactly happens to footballers when they cross the white line?

I include myself in this question. I’m a pacifist and lawyer in my 50s – still playing O45s football. I’m totally opposed to violence and I’ve thrown only one punch in my adult life (which missed), and that was on the football field, the week my first wife announced she was leaving.

Mind you, throwing a punch at someone (who totally deserved it) is a lot different from gouging the eyes of some helpless bastard with his arms pinned. Just putting my own evil in context…

Still, when people cross the white line, they change. Violent acts they would never dream of in polite society become acceptable, even normative, in a sporting contest. This has happened even to me so, while I am disgusted with George Burgess’s actions, I am not entirely unsympathetic to the fact that brains change in accordance with context.

A mate of mine is in the army commandos and I have occasionally asked him about what it’s like going into action. This is a fellow who leads a comparatively normal life in Australian civil society, but on several occasions has been asked to go into unbelievable peril on behalf of our politicians and their geo-commercial masters.

This takes one hell of a brain change – dealing with life/death problems every second of every day for several months. And how do they re-adjust when they’re back home?

Is it any wonder that so many veterans are dealing with PTSD and other complications when they are so constantly transitioning between observing the speeding laws, and some cunt trying to kill them?

But I digress…

To get back to the NRL judiciary, you got it wrong guys. Robbie Farah could’ve lost an eye because George Burgess was trying to win a sleazy advantage for his team in a game that would otherwise have been forgotten.

The fact that George Burgess will likely play finals football this year is just wrong.

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.