Oxygen thieves

It’s not difficult to spot one.

They’ll be the one under the misapprehension that if they stop speaking they’ll die, which must make falling asleep a terrifying experience.

They’ll be the one that follows your comment about elephants with “Speaking of elephants, my neighbour has the fattest dog you’ve ever seen”. No non sequitur is a bridge too far in their quest to shift the focus of attention back to themselves.

They’ll be the one with an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes about how they took someone down a peg or two by being smarter, faster, wittier, more skilled or more prescient. “I said right at the start that it wouldn’t work and sure enough …”, accompanied by a smug shaking of the head.

They’ll be the one that waits until a proposition is about to be put to a vote before making a lengthy point of order that bears not the faintest relationship to the matter in hand.

They’ll be the one, when you’re obviously concentrating on a difficult task, who’ll sidle up to you and say “When you’re finished, remind me to tell you about my visit to the doctor. He says it’s pretty serious. Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt”.

They’ll be the one impervious to even the bluntest of hints that their listening skills are entirely non-existent.

Short of murder, which I understand is illegal and against which the ‘crime of passion’ defence is unlikely to succeed, there are some tactics that have proven useful.

The Audience Reduction Strategy – Try bowling up to them in a crowded local supermarket and loudly greeting them with “George, nice to see you’re out of prison. You know, I never did believe you were an axe murderer. Anyway, must fly.”

The Plague Strategy – “Oh, Mavis, I’d love to stop and chat but I’ve just tested positive and I’m off home to isolate.”

The Distraction Strategy – “Ah, Charlie, just the man I’ve been looking for. Frank (another oxygen thief) is over there and he was just saying he hasn’t seen you for ages and wants to catch up on all your news.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and polish my mirror which, I have to say, I’m very good at, being such a perfectionist. And then I have to nip over to Scott’s to give him the benefit of my experience. Of course I should call him ‘Prime Minister’ but ever since my successful campaign strategy for him, he insists on first names. Did I tell you how that came about? No? Well………….

Cain has a whinge of Biblical proportions

After all, what could I do? It’s all very well to condemn me but, at the end of the day, what with one thing and another, and all things being equal (which clearly they weren’t), Abel had the unfair advantage of innocence and an omnipotent being in his corner. He brought it on himself.

I mean, Abel plants a few things in the ground, puts his feet up and Nature does the rest. Meanwhile I’m chasing sheep all over the countryside, defending them from wolves, rescuing them out of bogs, saving ewes from breached lambs and all the rest of it and what happens? Abel presents a bit of wheat that looks more like grass and a few bedraggled cucumbers and I present a beast fit for the King of Kings, only for the vegetarian to becomes teacher’s pet and for me, the meat-eater, to become persona non grata. Where was that in the rules?

So, naturally I get a bit miffed and decide that next year it’s going to be a one-horse race. When the Boss asks where’s his golden-haired boy, I answer that I don’t know. I’m too busy minding my sheep to worry about that lay-about. And what do I get for my honesty? An Almighty bollocking, a tattoo on my forehead and a life on the road. (Goodness knows who looked after my sheep.)

What chance did I have? Mum and Dad had already been kicked out of their last house by the Land Lord for mucking about with apples and snakes. So I was thinking the smart money’s got to be on anything that doesn’t grow out of the ground or bite people. How wrong can you be?

Year of activism #28

This is a powerful piece from Moira Were that speaks to me, as it should to all men.

Letters to

A funeral is not a place I would think of immediately as a place to exercise activism, yet I got to see first hand how it could be a place to show a pathway to be a mental health activist this week. A working class man, a carpenter, a son, a brother, an uncle, a grandfather, a dad, a husband, a friend, a fisherman, a drinking buddy, a lover of Johnny Cash, a person with type 2 diabetes, a person with depression parted ways with this side of the planet by his own hand. There are so many reasons why this happens and it leaves a very long tail of grief behind.

Men’s health, in particular men’s mental health is faced with an enormous challenge in combating suicide. If you work in the construction industries you are more likely to suicide than die on site. Tradies, or men in blue-collar…

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In celebration of women who make my heart sing

I’ve always been a sucker for women singers across a wide range of genres in a way that their male colleagues have never quite achieved. Of course I have my favorite male singers and bands but there’s some je ne sais quoi about contemporary musical divas that strikes a deeper chord.

So I thought I’d share some of them with you and hope you too derive some of the pleasure I get from their work.

Lisa Gerrard – Of course I had to start with an Australian and there is nothing more exotic and unmistakable than her ethereal vocal range. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIoJ5MNOihY

Patti Smith – Not only is ‘Free Money’ one of the great rock songs of all time, Patti has been a pioneer over decades. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kNj8nOIc28

Patty Griffin – A great songwriter and a beautiful voice that crosses musical boundaries. Long Ride Home is a beautiful example. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdlFXfm7sQY

Chrissie Amphlett – Tragically no longer with us but an iconic Australian rock singer who pushed all the boundaries. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5SeYI_FoxA&list=PLPajZHHF-q8-lljEDlI8mnULF0V-whxP1&index=120&t=0s

Odetta – A timeless folk voice https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXQokJSqNWA

And finally, I have to include an English contender.

Dusty Springfield – Part of the soundtrack of my youth was Dusty songs like ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmoIywxxFFA&list=PL587A0831D47BAF57&index=13&t=0s

Join in the hit parade of great women singers.

Degree factories undermining literacy and numeracy

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that universities have become corporatised degree factories and this is having a long-tail effect.

A recent media article (behind a paywall, so I won’t post the link) states that nearly 10 per cent of Australia’s aspiring teachers are failing to meet basic literacy and numeracy standards, a significant deterioration in four years. It would seem potential teaching graduates are finding this out at the end of their four year degree, which cannot be awarded until they pass these basic tests mandated by the Australian Government (see example at the end of this piece).

Pair this with the fact that the OECD’s most OECD recent rankings showed the reading literacy of Australia’s 15-year-olds has fallen from fourth in the world in 2003 to 16th. In that time, numeracy figures fell from 11th to 29th.

And then throw in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) evidence that some 44% of adult Australians (not including recent migrants) are functionally illiterate and innumerate.

My recent blog piece The Kids Are Not Alright highlighted the certainty that, under current social and economic polices, millions of Australians will never have full-time paid work in their lifetime, partly because they do not have the skills or experience (including literacy and numeracy) to fill the jobs of the future.

The Barangaroo Project in Sydney provides a shining light on the the type of thinking we are going to need in order to provide livelihoods and dignity for our current generation of young people and into the future. Let the debate begin.

The Kids Are Not Alright (and that means we’re all in trouble)

If there is a potential positive to emerge from the virus, it is the opportunity to address some very unpalatable social poisons. So, as the Roman Emperor Claudius once said, ‘Let all the poisons that are in the mud hatch out.’ Here’s just a few.

1.Already we are into a third generation of families where no-one has ever had a full-time job and, with the way our society and economy is structured, these people are unlikely to ever get a paid job as long as their arse points to the ground (as we say in Australia). Where jobs do exist, as in the fruit and veg picking industries for example, young Australians are bereft of the physical capacity and mental resilience to undertake such work and/or they consider such work as beneath them as they wait to become famous. So we import backpackers and overseas contract labour to ensure we all get to eat.

2. Not only are the officially unemployed at least three times as numerous as the vacancies available, the vast majority of those unemployed people don’t have the skills or experience to fill the vacancies that do exist. This is underpinned by the dirty little secret that at least a third of them are functionally illiterate and innumerate. Any ‘solution’ will lack perfection. However the principles of flexible on-site training and gradual work hardening and transferrable qualifications and skills, underpinned by literacy and numeracy support, could be the building blocks for both introducing young people to work and keeping them sustainably employed. If there is hope beyond the difficult task at hand, engagement and retention are that much easier and as a society we all benefit. Regarding wages, as consumers we have to be educated into the idea that every ‘saving’ we make is someone’s (including our own children) job gone now and into the future.

3. Increasingly jobs at every level of society are part-time, casual or contract, which makes planning for any sort of stable future impossible. Throw in the inability to have continuous access to affordable housing, utilities, transport, health care and food and we have an increasing proportion of our community who are constantly one step away from personal and financial disaster.

4. Our social ‘safety nets’ are the envy of many nations but it’s a low bar. During the virus crisis, the Government decided to double unemployment benefit because millions of Australians were about to experience unemployment and the resultant poverty for the first time. In other words ‘good’ Australians couldn’t be expected to live on the pittance that ‘bad’ unemployed Australians have had to live on. That pittance hasn’t increased in real terms for 25 years, leaving over 3 million Australians, living in one of the richest countries in the world, existing below the poverty line. (Before you ask, I don’t believe a guaranteed minimum income is affordable or the way forward to build dignity and self-worth.)

5. As long as governments, businesses and the employed continue in their relentless search for what’s cheap and fast rather than what is in their community’s and family’s interest, nothing will change. Think throwaway T-shirts from Asian sweatshops, self-serve at supermarkets, disposable gadgetry, ticketing machines and the list goes on. Ask any business in Australia now that relies on imports what they think of the supposed benefits of globalisation (aka beggar thy neighbour) and you’ll get a very different answer than the one you would have received a year ago.

As the Government’s massive economic stimulus has shown, it’s not that we don’t have the money to fix these problem over the coming decades. The question is whether the current crisis has given us the humility to question everything about how our economy can best serve us all, especially the young.

Political Correctness and the PHEWMAN condition

As a PHEWMAN (Planet-destroying, Home-hogging, Elder White Male, Aka Non-person) I know my current mission, whether I choose to accept it or not, is to get out of the road and die as soon as possible. However, for the benefit of historians and alien colonists, I will continue to leave cryptic notes like this until a millennial sneezes on me.

My previous rave on Cancel Culture having caused outrage and comment from no-one to date, I continue my odyssey into irrelevance with a few words on Political Correctness. As a PHEWMAN, it is clearly a status I will, by definition, never achieve but I’m nothing if not aspirational, so here goes.

Borrowing heavily (i.e. plagiarising) from George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, these seem to be The Commandments of Political Correctness.

  • All people are equal, but some are more equal than others and are tasked with getting the others in line.
  • Whoever agrees with me is a friend, until I cancel them for getting out of line.
  • No person shall wear clothes that don’t look they come from an op-shop rather than a sweat-shop.
  • No person shall have a home until all people have a home that completes them as a person.
  • No person shall drink alcohol or take any other substance that disguises the fact that everything in the world is evil.
  • No person shall kill any other person without taking into account gender equity, race, ethnicity, sexuality and religious quotas.
  • Vegans good, carnivores bad.
  • The only good PHEWMAN is a dead one who’s left me something in his will.
  • If you speak your mind, fierce, growling dogs will tear you to pieces, after you have confessed to your shocking crimes, including speaking your mind.
  • If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear, incessantly and sanctimoniously.

So, watch how you go out there.

The virus and the fragile state.

Photo: ABC News (Patrick Rocca)

For those followers outside Australia, we are a Federation of six States and ten Territories, two of which are part of mainland Australia (Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory) and each State and mainland Territory has its own legislature.

I have lived in four of those States (Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia; I know, we’re an imaginative lot).

I was born in Victoria and lived there on and off for 29 years, hence my tragic association with the Melbourne Demons AFL club, which hasn’t added to its silverware collection since I was 13 years old. I’ve lived in South Australia (SA)  my current home  State, on and off for 32 years, with the remaining 8 years in three other States and Territories. To complicate matters, my English ancestors settled in SA in the 1860’s and remained there until the 1940’s. To locals, that is of no consequence; the bottom line is that we, unforgivably, left and there’s no coming back.

Fast forward to July 2020 and our hitherto heroic success with containing Covid-19 compared to other countries, assisted by an unprecedented peacetime National Cabinet arrangement between the Feds and the States and Territories in the national interest.

And then the State of Victoria went pear-shaped very quickly and is well into a second wave, driven by community transmission as a result of inadequate tracing, less than vigilant private security companies controlling quarantine centres (rumours of bonking and gambling with those in quarantine abound) and the early relaxing of social distancing measures to kickstart the hospitality industry.

To cut to the chase, Victoria is now a pariah State, with closed borders to every other jurisdiction, enforced by the police and military, and it is assumed that all Victorians are Typhoid Mary in disguise. The Prime Minister is going through the motions of national unity and universal brotherly and sisterly love but the average punter outside Victoria is furious that this may have set a national economic recovery back by at least six months.

None of this is helped by media and Government dog-whistling that this has emanated from Muslim communities in Melbourne. The State Health Minister announced that one of the triggers was the celebration of the end of Ramadan amongst the Sudanese community and then had to extract her foot from her mouth the next day when it was pointed out that 90% of the Sudanese community in Australia are Christians.

The current hysteria in a country where we have had something like 107 deaths from Covid-19 since the beginning of the outbreak (think about that number, my international friends) is alarmist and shameful in that it points to how easily national civility is punctured.

Statistically I have been counted as a resident of several States and Territories (and a subject of the bureaucratic nonsenses that entails) and as a citizen of Australia. None of these has ever trumped my allegiance to humanity, wherever it lives. That said, no-one is truer South Australian than me at the moment. 😉

Choosing the way to go

I first published this piece on my Six Crooked Highways blog on April 17 2020 but my views have not changed. The way matters are developing has, if anything, reinforced my view.

Lest you leap to the conclusion that this is just another woe-is-us piece on the world bequeathed to us by the C-word, list a while. It is my attempt to suggest a rational and compassionate way forward.

Much as The Who pined to die before they got old in ‘My Generation’, today’s younger generation tend to think they wished we had because then the planet would be a far better place than it is. Be that as it may, I find myself increasingly attracted to the sentiments behind it.

We have known for many weeks now that the virus is almost exclusively taking the old and the medically compromised, many of whom have remained on this mortal coil due to highly profitable drugs and eye-wateringly expensive health services. And of course many of the medically compromised are so as a result of the self-inflicted wounds of over-indulgence in food, smoking and alcohol. (I know of what I speak because I fit into both risk groups but if you thought this aside was to be an episode of True Confessions you will be disappointed.)

If we’d wanted the world to stay largely the same when it became obvious where the most likely deaths from the virus would occur, the logical strategy would have been to isolate those groups and let the rest of the world go about its business. But, being the illogical humans that we are, we didn’t. Instead we decided (slowly, to give the virus a sporting chance) to lock everyone down and wreck the livelihoods of 99% of the population for decades to come. As a result, the few remaining people over 12 and under 40 who didn’t already hate Boomers have now been given permission to go to the dark side.

How we got here, in my view, is that gradually the idea that we all should be allowed to live as long as possible, in any condition possible, has taken over any rational analysis by both electors and governments and abolished any notion of the cycle of life.

Most people over 60 have had more than enough time to live a productive life through spawning and nurturing the next generation, growing food, teaching, writing a novel or any number of other worthwhile pursuits (not including being a politician, operating cruise ships, being a computer expert etc). Absent major medical interventions and medications, most would pop their clogs in their seventies, with a smaller cohort winning the lottery of life into their eighties and beyond. The net result is we have developed an unsustainable health care system and an aged care system that is eating up an increasing proportion of our GDP.

Closely linked to this phenomenon is the dictatorial medicalisation of death by doctors and religious zealots. When anyone bothers to ask them, the vast majority of older people say they would choose to depart this life peacefully and painlessly when their body, and more importantly, their brain, fails them to the point of incapacity. Even when they leave strict instructions in this regard, their wishes are routinely ignored by doctors and families who refuse to come to grips with their own mortality and are, in fact, the real underminers of ‘God’s will’ or the natural cycle of life (whichever you prefer.) What we would do in the blink of an eye for a suffering pet suddenly becomes unthinkable.

So, ‘where to from here?’, I hear you cry.

In a nutshell:

  • Let social movement, business, education etc return to normal immediately, knowing that otherwise healthy people who are infected will survive, as they survive the flu, which is also never going to go away.
  • Provide palliative care only to infected persons over the age of 70 and offer them the option to depart this world peacefully and painlessly.

The positives to this approach include:

  • Rebuilding the economy and providing jobs as soon as possible and before it bankrupts us all.
  • Re-starting the education vital to our children’s and our grandchildren’s future.
  • Kick-starting a real community debate about the rational allocation of health resources in a time of crisis and more generally. To provide just one example, it would be more rational to give priority to a single mother who needs a knee operation so she can return to work to support her children than it would be to put a corona virus infected, obese, lifelong smoker and drinker in an ICU ward.

Over to you, dear readers.

Note: These are my thoughts and opinions only and I’m happy to hear your views. However, any comments I find abusive, obscene or moronic will be deleted and no further correspondence will be entered into.