Monday, September 1, 2014

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Budget Emergency

"No, I don't think you have to lie to get elected," Joe Hockey said to a ravenous pack of Panthers on the ABC's QandA program last night. The crowd erupted in jeers.

Later on in the program he admitted you could call the proposed $7 co-payment to see a GP a new tax if you wanted, but continued his denial that this added up to the Liberal Party breaking its election promises, instead saying that you could also "call it a rabbit" if you wanted.

Back in my journalist days we had a saying: "Bad news lasts a day, a scandal lasts a week". It would come up often - whenever someone chose to dig in, lie, or obfuscate when you could feel it in the air that an apology would do the trick. People can usually accept crummy news better than deception.

Hockey's meaning has been made overt in other statements - whether or not the government has raised or introduced taxes is irrelevant given the dire need to fix the budget and people should accept that.

It's an interesting study in communication. The government's belief, that they were elected to fix the economy and as long as their actions are in line with that people will understand, is clearly failing to connect with voters. Polls have slid. People have marched. Audiences have jeered. Most remarkably, Bill Shorten has turned into a person, sparked into being by community outrage. Much like the opposition before him, his fortunes rise on the government's missteps.

Why is that? No-one is surprised by the Coalition bringing a tough budget, reining in Labor's spending and pushing everything else into the back seat behind the economy. You can almost feel the bewildered frustration in Abbott and Hockey's responses these last few days: "why aren't you getting this?"

I think it comes down to three things: the (perceived at least) betrayal of trust through broken promises, the lack of articulated vision and a tendency to say random, ill-thought out stuff every day that conflicts with everything else they've ever said and get mad when people hear it.

They're all interconnected, but let's start with vision.

Abbott was an epic level opposition dude, masterfully destroying Labor at every turn. His campaign was, basically, "these guys wrecked it and are acting like children so put me in". It worked super hard but there's nothing in there that says what kind of Australia he wants. Stopping the boats was his big thing but that's arguably a fringe, populist issue designed to weaponise people's ignorance. When they took office, the Liberals remained focused on punishing Labor through things like Royal Commissions and carbon tax repeals - still no vision.

Today, their big thing is returning the budget to surplus.
Now, I know that surplus is preferable to deficit in the same way that a winter coat is preferable to a t-shirt, but my senses must first perceive the snow. Abbott and Hockey have approached our "budget emergency" as if it were as obvious and incontrovertible as a blizzard - they're staring out their frosted windscreens in disbelief while we rage against them for letting the air out of our beach balls. Now, perhaps we're inside with the heater on or maybe it's just not that cold, but we're finding it hard to listen.

Because money is a transitory thing. No (sane) person wants money because money. They want money because houses, because education, because comfort, because happiness.
This is the bit the government lacks. This hard budget will deliver a surplus, but what then? Why must we pull together for that goal? The Howard government fired surplus after surplus upon an eager populace and to what end? What did they build?
The election campaign was built on Gillard's ideals - Gonski, help for the disabled, tackling climate change. They did it poorly and lost, but there wasn't an opposing plan except for "not that" and "money". Big, abstract budgets get minimised by people - they focus on their personal situation and losing $7 if you get sick becomes the focus. The only way to combat that is with a reason why. Oddly, the Coalition has all the bits of their vision floating around out there - they want to empower individuals to contribute and be valued for their merits while helping to build an economy robust enough to provide a safety net to the true needy and withstand financial upsets - but they can't deliver it because of the other two things.

So, the other two things: Losing trust and saying weird stuff.

Lightning round of paraphrased statements and perceptions!

"The age of entitlement is over!" and 'everyone will shoulder the burden!'
This new catch-cry doesn't work when rich people will only shoulder their burden for four years and then be fine. Nor when so many effects will hit the poorest the most.

'Howard's budget was tough and they were hit hard in the polls too, so no biggie'.
Thrown out by Abbott only days ago and found to be false the next day by people who went back and looked at the polls. Further cements the idea he is making this up as he goes.

'We're on a unity ticket with Labor on Gonski'.
An example of the many promises thrown out by Abbott in the dying days of the election. Abbott is now fiddling around the edges by saying he didn't mean the Liberals would do the whole shebang as Labor had promised. This was always true, but it ignores the emotional truth of that statement. 'Unity ticket' is designed to neutralise education as a voting issue as both parties are the same. That's what people hear. You can't change that with the finer details. Further evidence of 'it sounds good so say it'.

'Australia was on notice that we would do everything to repair the budget'.
Used to imply that any broken promises are unimportant in service to a broader good and that people are cool with that. Attempts to sidestep reality of broken promises. The problem with this pitch is it exists alongside constant examples of the party refusing to answer questions of 'did you break a promise'. The two things cannot coexist.

'No cuts to ABC, pensions, SBS, dog-walking schools, etc'
Abbott bizarrely threw out a range of these promises long after it was clear the election was in the bag. They're right up there with 'no carbon tax' as so clearly articulated as to be inescapable. A prison of his own design. As said above, refusing to admit the obvious just makes one seem ludicrious.

'Y U so mad @ $7 GP payment? That's two beers! Also ciggies are totes pricey.'
Hockey's voicing the above is one of two things - a roundabout way of speaking to his base of welfare recipients as drunken bludgers or further proof of a complete lack of what words mean. Neither are good when you're trying to convince poor people to come along with you on the budget cut train. Also, please tell me where I can get two beers for $7.

I could go on for a long time, but you get the point.

Resulting perception: Abbott was elected in opposition to Labor rather than on merit or because he advocated for a society we desire.
He successfully categorised Labor as a bunch of children making it up on the run and entered a social compact with us all that he would offer maturity and "no surprises". Since being elected, he has been the opposite. His main contributions are Knights and Dames (came as a surprise, no-one asked for it) and his maternity leave scheme. His 'signature' idea, the scheme is utterly at odds with his party's entire ethos, offering assistance to people well off enough to fend for themselves. It's so gregariously apart from all other measures that it seemingly exists as originally characterised - an olive branch to the ladies in an attempt to combat perceptions that he's a misogynist. Beyond that, its very existence hamstrings the 'budget emergency - we all must help' narrative.

It's their most repeated problem: destroying their own messages. The GP co-payment is a good example. The sell is that we need to chip in to create a sustainable health system, cut the debt and reign in spending. When the budget came out, however, it was revealed that proceeds would go to funding an enormous medical research fund. There are now two competing ideas  - the one above and a "if you oppose co-payments you don't want to cure cancer" narrative which feels reflexively offensive in part due to being such a massive surprise.
The natural response is: "which is it?" If you care about a surplus you're mad at the proceeds going to a Big New Thing. If you care about medicine you're mad at the co-payment. Madness reigns and no-one created any of this save the government themselves.

There is endless evidence now to support any and all negative impressions people have of the government. Vague assertions that the Liberals hate poor people, don't believe in climate change and have a vendetta against the ABC can now be backed up with evidence they have provided. On the other hand, all positive impressions have now been betrayed. The mature hand on the wheel has found itself in a nasty skid.

None of the above, interestingly, gets in to the politics. You can believe wholehartedly with the government's ideology and still be stung by the structural problems in their communications.

All of the above adds up to an impression of a government that has no plan and is out of touch with the lives they're affecting. I'm on the record as saying politicians shouldn't make promises. This government made a lot though, and they can start digging their way out from under them with a few words, I think.

"Yes. We broke promises. We're raising taxes. We're sorry. But this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. We're all adults here and we're capable of pulling together. Now, here's what we're going to build..."

I can't imagine the next bit, but I'd really love to see it. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sam Simmons' Death of a Sails-Man: Review

A man walks into a bar - well, it’s a tent - where he watches a man windsurf while arguing with his subconscious about whether or not wanking directly into the ocean would be amazing.

The above is, obviously, not so much a joke as it is an accurate description on my Sunday evening just gone.

My mega-fiance Leen and I went and saw Sam Simmons’ Melbourne International Comedy Festival Show, Death of a Sails-Man, last night in The Famous Spiegeltent, which is currently pitched in Federation Square.

Leen bought the tickets and I did no investigation, so had no idea what we were walking into. Given the nature of the show, though, it was the perfect approach. I’d say you should do the same if I wasn’t currently writing a review that ruins your ability to do so.

Death of a Sails-Man is a hilarious show shot through with absurd, surreal humour, although there’s a surprising level of commitment to the premise. The DIY aesthetic keeps yanking you out of the story and reminding you that, Christ, I’m in a tent and it’s just a dude on stage with half a windsurfer, which further underlines the ridiculousness of it all and makes the whole thing jell together. It’s all anchored on Simmons’ performance, which sails a perfect line between giving it all to the character and winking out at the audience that, yes, this is really happening and yes, the sound guy exists. (Look, I’m really sorry about that last sentence, I’m really into seafaring puns right now.)
I cried enough laugh tears to fill the ocean in which Simmons may or may not have fucked a dolphin.

The show’s premise - a muesli magnate and corporate poet ‘s midlife crisis has sent him out into the ocean to windsurf, learn nothing and probably die alone without any phone reception - is quickly established. We then witness this happen through strangely-confident pelvis-based dancing, conversations with the subconscious and an endless flurry of weird props. At times this all convalescences into what I’d describe as some random and his girlfriend filming a music video they’re making up as they brainstorm the lyrics to a song they’re currently recording. It’s glorious. I won’t go much more into the content because, well, you should really see it and the current of absurd uncertainty is half the fun.

Shout out to Jennifer Wong, whose silent turn as Simmons’ prop assistant - struggling to move about unseen despite being constantly berated - is a great study in how a face can crumple from excitement into terror.

If you prefer your stand-ups to stand and deliver the jokes, this may not be the one for you. There is space here for joke-telling, and the batshit proceedings are full of callbacks and payoffs that show this has all been intricately planned by a mind that, while clearly odd, is committed to comedy and due diligence.

If you’re not into that vibe though. It’ll be hard to sway you because this thing is so hard to explain.

Though that, of course, is the whole point. Where else would this occur? How else could it? It’s so elementally exciting to watch someone create the thing they need to and get the chance to fall into that. I walked out of the tent last night inspired to get out there and create something for the sake of it, and that’s a special thing.

See Death of a Sails-Man before April 20.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Bolt, Brandis and Bad Faith: Changing the Racial Discrimination Act

Is there more to say about proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act than that they’ve been instigated by the hurt feelings of an all-powerful media commentator?

Not really. That central idea severs our ability to approach this thing from any kind of honest place.

Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt wrote a series of articles questioning people who identify as aboriginal despite their light skin, implying they did so for personal gain. The pieces were called “It’s so hip to be black” and “White fellas in the black”.

The Federal Court found Bolt had breached the act because the articles were not written in good faith and contained factual errors, adding up to a product that would offend a reasonable member of the Aboriginal community.

Bolt’s team argued the pieces represented genuinely held views, were a matter of public interest and within the laws of free speech.

In the court’s finding, it was pointed out that the breach did not stem from the subject matter, but “the matter in which the subject matter was dealt with”.

So the issue isn’t discussion of race, racism and the existence of different people but with, well, bad faith. Inaccuracy. Is that finding so abhorrent that our society needs to be legally inoculated against its menace?

The government has transparently named that finding as the motivating factor in its desire to alter the Racial Discrimination Act. They seek to repeal the bit that outlaws acting in a manner that may “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ someone because of their race or ethnicity and replace it with just ‘intimidate or vilify’.
More importantly, they’re adding a clause that exempts all that from any words or images “in public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic or scientific matter”. Try to imagine any discussion of race, in any forum, that doesn’t fall into those categories. Even those creepy dudes who stand on literal soapboxes in the streets warning against the islamic apocalypse could argue it’s a religious matter. Noxious dinner party guests drunkenly banging on about brown people who ‘just don’t want to work’while paradoxically ‘stealing our jobs’ could probably shoot for exemption due to ‘publicly discussing a social matter’.

Someone who could definitely qualify for exemption is Andrew Bolt, due to the speaking being done from his privileged, influential position of newspaper columnist and television host.

So that’s the heart of it, isn’t it? Do you believe Bolt's articles, found in court to be innacurate and in bad faith, should be free to be published without accountability?

It’s important to point out that, for breaching the act, Bolt and his employers were just asked to not reprint the articles and print an apology: to say sorry to the people they’d hurt.

This is the punishment the government now seeks to eradicate - the need for the media to apologise for inaccurate articles that unfairly portray people in a negative light based on race.
A glib, tweety interpretation: The government wants to revoke people’s ability to sue because they’ve been offended or insulted to appease a man who was offended or insulted.

The Racial Discrimination Act cannot eradicate racism, as racism lives in people’s brains. These changes could enable some horrid commentary, but will likely achieve little in the grander scheme. What the act can do is provide protection to the marginalised who have no other way to have their voices heard, or at least signal to the community that such a thing exists and that, dammit, we care about this stuff. This is how we establishia cultural norm.

It’s for this reason the government’s proposed changes are so befuddling. Andrew Bolt needs no assistance in getting his point across. In this instance his power is so absolute that the Prime Minister of the country has personally intervened to alter the law to his whim. Against someone of such privilege, of course people need an external mechanism to level the playing field.

Another troubling change to the act: the “reasonable person” who will act as the cosmic yardstick on whether intimidation or vilification has transpired will be removed from the attacked community (in the above case, “light-skinned Aborigines”), to the community at large. It’s another of those indicators of the underlying philosophy at hand. On the face of it, leaving the decision to the community at large seems reasonable, but it ignores the reality of our society in which white dudes have all the power - another little marginalisation in a long line of them. Feel discriminated against? Prove it to the community at large again through the complaints process - the one currently being shaped in defence of a white media dude who argues against any recognition of racial difference.

This goes to the heart of Bolt’s philosophy here - one espoused in the fallout of this case - that protections such as these enshrine racial difference in law and inevitably divide society across racial lines. It’s a valid point if you assume we’re living in a world where racism has already been eradicated and equality is already sorted. The reality is these divisions persist and we still need to descend into the muck of sorting it all out. It’s the same fallacy underlying the debate about female representation in cabinet or companies. Proclaiming that appointments should be on merit ignores that this clearly isn’t happening. If it was, you’d have to admit there’s only one woman in the land capable of serving in cabinet, which clearly isn’t the case.

Read the comments of any of Bolt’s column and you’ll see the end result of this idea. People decry that they didn’t steal any generations, we’re all one Australia and Aboriginal people need to stop blaming white men for their failures, especially because they’ve reaped such rich rewards from white settlement. These ideas ignore that white people - and I am certainly a white person - can empathise and recognise others’ problems without turning it into a question of direct, personal fault. To ignore these issues entrenches the problem. It’s not my personal fault that I won the lottery of white privilege, but it’s my responsibility to stop ignoring it.
I feel this way just because my mum taught me to treat people well, I’ve met people who are different and Spiderman comics said “with great power comes great responsibility”.

George Brandis’ proclamation that “people have the right to be bigots” is factually correct but betrays his position - white people need protection from being prevented from offending people. That may be the case but it does not exist in a vacuum. It’s hard to believe his stance as one of equality and freedom given the DNA of his decision as outlined above. Pinning the changes to the Racial Discrimination Act to some lofty ideal of enshrining free speech is false, as this isn’t doing that and the instigating finding against Bolt was not about that at all.

As a final aside which will entirely betray my status as a left-wing loony (admittedly already on full display here), we’re constantly told that gay marriage, the welfare of possums and abortion are minor, fringe issues that we either don’t have time for or are not a priority when there are important money things to sort out. The people saying this are now fiddling with the Racial Discrimination Act, restoring Knights and Dames and wringing their hands over bias at a public broadcaster the majority of people are proven to support. There’s no such thing as a fringe issue, there’s just a big list of everything that everyone orders a bit differently. That's why we need to protect people from being discriminated against by people whose list is in a different order but never realised a different viewpoint exists, but it’s also evidence that, if we really want, we can fix, change and break anything we damn well please with enough motivation. That’s pretty cool.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Homebrew Vampire Bullets

Have you ever done that thing where you’re jumping out of an exploding helicopter backwards while firing a gun in each hand and the fireball not only fails to injure you but also tousles your hair in such a way as to make you look amazing as you effortlessly land in the Australian desert and it also it lights your cigar for you?
Yeah, me neither. I feel like I have, though, because I’ve read Homebrew Vampire Bullets #0. It’s awesome. 

iPad screenshot elements not included
Here’s what it says on the tin:
“In the tradition of Alan Moore's Dodgem Logic, Tales from the Crypt, 2000AD, Oz Magazine and Metal Hurlant, Home Brew Vampire Bullets is an anthology of 75% R-rated (but not necessarily adult), uniquely Aussie myth spinning, prose, politics and pulp soundtracked by Rose Tatts, soaked in Melbourne Bitter and dyed defiantly navy blue.”
Homebrew Vampire Bullets (HBVB) is intended as a regular anthology of storytelling, both graphic and prose, featuring some epic level creators from around the traps in Melbourne. Issue Zero is an initial, digital taster of things to come. You can download it now for $1.99. ($1.99!)
This 60-page delight features a few self-contained comic strips alongside previews of things to come, such as interviews with creators as to their brainspace, concept art and, in one particularly enjoyable exchange, a lengthy back-and-forth between a words guy and an art guy on the best way to present a panel of female prison masturbation. That conversation is hilariously representative of the greater work – a crass distillation of Ozploitation that, beneath the back-of-the-porno-theatre smirk, displays two creators pouring their sweat and blood into making something incredible. Issue zero feels like an amazing set of special features on a DVD to a movie you watched in a half-remembered dream.
This thing is a mission statement and gives you everything you need to assess if you’re going to want to pick up November’s issue one (spoiler: you will). Garth Jones – full disclosure, we’ve haunted the odd beer garden together – is the man behind the enterprise in a ‘bringing the talent’ together way. He also provides art on the funny as hell initial chapter of Babalon Shokk, in which a dopey metal band turns up to a gig to find L Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons performing a Satanic sacrifice dicks akimbo. Christian Read provides words shot-through with Aussie slang for the piece, with some epic panel layouts and nifty numbering allowing a lot of heavy lifting to occur in only a few pages. The concept is sound and well introduced.
(As an aside, you can only start to sense how Americanised our pop culture is when you read a character say, “wanna root?” It feels weird. Australia needs to make more things.)
Garth and I grew up in the same outback town – largely in parallel until an eventual meeting over red cask wine – and now that I’m past the adolescent, jealous rage I held against such good-looking men who were succeeding at art things – I can say whole-heartedly that he’s done something special here. As described in #0, it appears he just looked up one day, realised he was surrounded by hordes of talent and the rest is history, but that underplays the work on show here from all involved.
We both retreated from harsh realities and boredom of growing up in a dusty, small town by building a funner life in our brains, but while his was fuelled by rock’n’roll – a truth that seeps out of HBVB’s every pore – I lent on science fiction.
That’s probably why, for me, the stand out work here is The Many Harold Holts of Space and Time, written by Ryan K Lindsay and drawn by Louis Joyce.
It’s perhaps unfair to give it the nod given that its unfair advantage of being one of the only standalone strips on show, but Christ, it’s beautiful. The art is staggering and the writing makes me want to stand and applaud while punching myself in the head that I didn’t create this despite how firmly it lodges in my brain as being right, just and excellent. It’s about how Harold Holt’s disappearance broke space/time and shattered him into, well, you should really read it.

See? Total eye party.

HBVB is a love letter to Australia and how batshit it is. If you’ve ever been in the bush you immediately understand why artists trend towards themes of post-apocalysm, mysticism, unknowable goings on and – even if you’ve always lived in the city – insane dickheads doing ridiculous things.
Look, I’ve written a lot here but maybe it comes through that my praise tumbles out in waves. This thing just made me excited for the medium, for the city and for the people involved. It’s great work and I’m looking forward to more. If you look deep into your soul and decide this isn’t worth $1.99 then you deserve to spend eternity in an RSL haunted by a demonic Bruce Ruxton (this also happens in the book).

*Slow clap*

See more and buy it here.

Monday, September 30, 2013

I am doing stuff - promise

On the off chance that there are people checking this blog for updates, smashing their fists upon the keys at my lack of output, I wish to advise the following:

I am writing with some regularity over at the Republic of Moreland - a blog with some buddies about our patch of the world (Brunswick and Coburg in Melbourne's inner north). Read things there! You can also contribute if you like, that's be grand.

I am also one half of the brand-spanking-new Level 30 podcast, where my lifelong friend Justin and I rebel against our third decade by talking endlessly about our nerdy pursuits. Our first episode heard us eviscerating Man of Steel. I predict a more positive followup. It also has the nice byproduct of, when you search "Stefan Delatovic" in the iTunes store, something actually comes up. That, alongside me recently having a tweet broadcast on Q&A, means I can die a happy left wing digi-nerd.

I also create word things in my day job with Victoria SES - mainly flood warnings. Those are the most important things I do. Never enter floodwater you guys - if you don't drown you'll still have taken a bath in turds.

(Seriously, I know no-one comes here for emergency information, but did you know most people who die in Australian floods do so because they go in the floodwater voluntarily? With adults, it's 'cause they drive in. With kids, it's 'cause they play in the stuff. Just awful. Give it a miss. Also, have you ever smelled a flood? MegaGross. Imagine that every flood you see has travelled through animal-crap-laden paddocks and old sheds full of chemicals and you, my friend, will have imagined a little thing called reality.)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why social media awfulness is a sign of better things to come

It's easy to see Facebook comments as a symbol of society's slide into entropy, but are they instead the growing pains of something better?

Facebook is supposed to be an endless party with your best friends and family where you all hang out and talk about what's going on. More often, though, it's like one of those parties where everyone's brought along an uninvited guest and you get stuck on the couch with an obnoxious stranger while your CDs are stolen.

The nature of the platform means it is not the curated shangri-la we imagine. Everyone's news feed includes opinions from friends of friends that don't jell with our own. That's fine in as much as it is like real life - it's impossible to tune out crazy people as you go about your business.
The difference is that Facebook is still a new forum and a lot of people seem to assume their own set of rules apply universally.

On Facebook, everyone assumes they're the one throwing the party, that the things they write are somehow sacrosanct and unchallengeable, the "this is my page so you can't tell me I'm wrong" point of view presents again and again.

More importantly though, with many of us living amongst friends selected over years, Facebook is the only place we encounter such violent dissent, and thus the issue of intention versus the way our message is received. (Facebook, then, is the equivalent of family gatherings.)

If you say, for example, "that's so gay" when you mean "that's so lame", someone might find that offensive. You're fundamentally not allowed to tell them they're wrong, but some people will. When you write something, the message is sent and you lose control of how it is read. Saying "that's not what I meant" doesn't cut it. That misunderstanding, to my mind, is the foundation of many Facebook disputes.

This came up for me in the last week when a story went up on the ABC website under the headline Broken Hill 'Perfect Place' for Asylum Seekers.
The article outlines a lawyer's view that regional Australia is a better destination for refugees than detention, offering them a better quality of life while injecting money and population into our shrinking regional centres. In the interest of disclosure: it's a viewpoint I share. It's certainly better than cramming ever more people into our straining cities, or locking people up indefinitely and expecting their mental health to do anything but disintegrate.

Broken Hill is my home town. I lived there most of my life and I'm still - via family, Facebook and my emotions - connected to the city's day-to-day existence. So when the story was shared on a number of Broken Hill-centric Facebook groups, I was privy to the comments they generated.

Some of the comments were spectacularly racist. Beyond that, they were racist in that casual, venomous way that's so hard to even interface with, let alone address, where commenters immediately jump to conclusions about the character of individuals based on an umbrella term like "boat people".

I'm going to intersperse the rest of this post with some of the comments that fell under that article, not all of them overtly rage-motivated, to illustrate what I'm talking about.

It's easy to get despondent about the state of the world when this sort of thing occurs. Social media gives us unparalleled insight into the minds of the community. So when Twitter is awash with rape threats or, in a similar situation,  we see the epic level racism on this year's US Big Brother, it appears that the society we imagine we inhabit is just a thin veneer over a bubbling pot of dark ages awfulness.

"what? U would want broken hill over run by ppl from another country, who may not be even able to speak English ... we are not talking a few families; we are talking hundreds of ppl," Jan Hayman

And look, in some ways that's true. No-one in their right mind would argue that racism isn't an issue in Australia unless they were trying to win an election. We no longer hang "whites only" signs on the doors, but just quietly make non-whites feel bad about going in. We're improving, but we're not finished. That itself makes the issue harder to grapple with, as any discussion of race or racism now involves declarations of race cards, political correctness or something else along the spectrum of people frittering away their responsibility to be a non-jerk either through bigotry or terminal over-reactionness.

"They don’t care about fitting in they get their benefits from the government and cause problems," Ally Whitelaw

At this moment in history, however, many still view social media as a private space. Conventional wisdom holds that people say terrible things online due to the freedom of anonymity, but on Facebook, people say abhorrent things under their real name, next to a picture of their own face, on a profile that often tells the world where they work and who their mum is.

"I think they should be made live in the swers away from any human contact besides there own kind and leave this town alone ... We should start a riot," Peter PWalks Walkins

They do this because they feel safe there. They treat the platform as a private conversation and say things they're no doubt saying at home or in the shed with their mates, but may not say at work.
You see this often when people's Facebook posts are reproduced and they insist that is somehow inappropriate, that it's unfair. I may see it with what I'm doing here.

"Don’t send them 2 regional Australia send the Bastards back 2 where they came from," David Sibson

Eventually, everyone will figure out that this isn't true; that Facebook is public, or at best, one step from being public. For now though, we have an opportunity.

"F**k them off back in the boats they f**king came in on!!" Kat Reardon

Despite the awfulness of it all, this public conversation allows us to see what's really going on and to address it. We can to interrogate these views and start changing them before they head back underground. We can have hope that this is the mechanism to expunge this last, private reservoir of awfulness from our country.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Roasting of Nicholas Delatovic

When my twin brother Nick turned 30 he invited everyone to come to a party and insult him as much as possible.

If you've seen any of the televised roasts that comedians participate in you'd be familiar with the concept - a group expresses their affection for someone by humorously ribbing on them, often as brutally as possible.

I couldn't attend unfortunately - our birthday celebrations were temporally identical but geographically distinct - so I wrote something and had excellent mutual friend Luke McGrath read it aloud on my behalf.

I reproduce the roast below, in the hope that these burns can endlessly sizzle through the halls of time.

(Incidentally, you should visit to keep abreast of Nick and Luke's various artistic endeavours - it's a good place for people who like things that rule.)


Good evening everybody,

I’m sorry I couldn’t be there tonight; I know you were all looking forward to seeing me. I just felt it was important that, on his thirtieth birthday, Nick enjoy an occasion where he is not overshadowed by the superior twin.

Happy birthday brother; Enjoy this rarity.

I don’t remember the time we shared in the womb, but the evidence speaks for itself. Nick enjoys 20/20 vision while I have been saddled with spectacles since the age of two. Stealing all the eye juice out of the womb was an act of selfishness that predates consciousness itself. Also, thanks for the scoliosis bro. No wonder I got out first.

From that moment it was all downhill. Nick stamped his way through childhood like an impatient octogenarian. Childhood flights of fancy would grind to a halt whenever he arrived. The neighbourhood kids would try to marry two cats and he would sweep in to tell us they were brother and sister and thus unable to wed. The universal solvent we’d invented was just water, he’d announce, before telling hijinks of any type to get off his lawn.

There was one exception, of course: Nick’s famous imaginary stories.

He would spend hours a day in a rock garden at the back of our yard, stepping gingerly from rock to rock, his face set in a grim expression of concentration. If asked what the fuck he was doing, which he was often, he would reply ‘imaginary stories’. X-man action figure in hand, he would rattle off the 12 part epic run he had concocted that would serve as a fitting bookend to the Dark Phoenix Saga. His imagination was unbridled, but came at the expense of developing the skills necessary for social interaction. This main side effect of this hobby, however, was feet as leathery and unwelcoming as a crocodile.

I was happy to see Nick enter the field of personal training. Less welcome were his repeated sermons outlining that, given our genetic similarity, I too was capable of achieving a high level of fitness. These speeches were mostly delivered as he walked around on his hands. Quite the salesman.

Equally unwelcome were Nick’s student days, where he embraced a philosophy of anti-capitalism with the fervour of a Frenchman who’s invitation to the opera has been lost in the mail.

I, with a house full of things and a life full of job, was an easy mark. I accepted Nick’s teaching that he could live off the grid with nothing but a fully equipped recording studio with a pleasant smile.

Visiting his home years later to find the floor obscured by heaving piles of comics and musical instruments, I learned that to be anti-capitalist you just had to stop short of buying any fucking bookshelves.

I could go on and on, but have lost interest.

So I will stop short of mentioning Nick’s childhood fear of being enclosed in a beanbag – to this day he insists this was fakery on his behalf, but that makes it no less funny.

Neither will I mention that, when our father moved in with his third wife, he gave Nick all of his pornography, telling him to ‘share it with his brother’. Our father’s questionable ideas of paternal bonding aside, I never saw any of it. For a boy of about 16, this sin was unforgivable.

A few years ago, I sent Nick a message on our birthday to extend my best wishes. I wrote “Happy birthday!” He wrote back “thanks”.

Regardless of this, a mountain of evidence that could stretch to the stars themselves, I love you Nick. Happy birthday; sorry I couldn’t be there. See you soon.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why politicians shouldn't promise

Rather than pouring hatred on politicians' broken promises, we should admit they're impossible to keep and give it all a miss

As a former journalist I can empathise with politicians, given that both professions occupy a regular place on 'least trusted profession' lists.

Both are held to understandably high standards. Both would need to be robots to avoid ever giving the appearance of bias, welded as they are to an unrealistic expectation that they are in no way humans of opinion. Both operate in the public domain, working for a public good, and thus the community feels ownership over their roles and work - often expressed as a license to complain bitterly.

Of course, the public should be holding both parties to account, just as each casts a critical eye over the other. Personally though, such accountability shouldn't extend to shouting at journalists at dinner parties.

But a big difference between journos and pollies is that the average newspaper reporter isn't required to make promises that they can't conceivably keep.

To make the obvious point; political promises are often broken, or, to adopt the Howard model, relegated to 'non-core' status.

Julia Gillard's entire career as Prime Minister has been coloured - and arguably hamstrung irrevocably - by her promise of 'no carbon tax'.

Tony Abbott elicited howls as he attempted to educate the public that measured press statements were fact, whereas heat of the moment promises veered 'gospel truth'.

Wayne Swan has been ridiculed for failing to produce a surplus that was only expected because he promised it would be so. Travelling back in time to become his own father would be no less torturous.

So, really, why bother?

Julia Gillard's promise of no carbon tax creates such anger because of its particular phrasing. Had she spoken honestly of not desiring a tax, but wanting to fix the issue, there would be no such lightning rod of a sound-byte  In fact, hanging politicians with their promises contributes to the broader problem of statements being cloaked in doublespeak, lest evidence be recorded.

Throughout Wayne Swan's surplus opus, did anyone really believe him? More accurately, did anyone honestly not foresee the possibility that delivery of such a thing may be outside his control? I don't think so. Instead, voters lampooned him for promising such a thing, then redoubled their hilarity when he failed to deliver.

There are a range of reasons why we now have a carbon tax and a deficit - some of them are out of the government's hands and some occurred after promises were made based on then-current evidence, rosily interpreted or not.

With the above in mind, wouldn't a more mature approach be to give promises the flick altogether? To have politicians stand up and say "this is my intention, and I will endeavour to see it through."

Such a system, of course, requires parties to have clearly outlined beliefs and ideologies, as well as a record of upholding those values we can trust. That way, rather than promises that are leaden with cynicism the moment they're spoken, we can vote for the party that is shooting for the Australia we most want to live in.

But that's a fight for another day.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Ultimate Chicken Victory

So the KFC in my hometown was just the worst.

Their lifeline, I think, was that in an isolated country centre of 20,000 people, they were serving a captive audience. It's kind of like when you buy a sausage roll on a country train and it costs $9.50 - what are you going to do about it? Grab a cheaper one as you rocket through the next town? 

So despite its awfulness, my friends and I would go to this KFC about once a week. What can I say? We were unhealthy nerds that needed a saturated fat fix on game night.
Each week, almost without fail, we'd meet at my house and catalogue how KFC and its dead-eyed denizens had mangled our order. One night they were out of buns. One night they were out of chicken. Most nights they'd just forget your fries or seemingly pile food into a bag at random and send you on your way.

This was such a long-running situation that, eventually, we had devolved into passive aggressive wolverines, rifling through the bag at the counter and checking for problems before leaving the store. I wrote an excessively long letter to head office and experienced a blissful two weeks where they paid attention to service before inevitably slumping back down into Hades.

See, I should point out that my standards for KFC are not super high. I'm not going to complain if the chicken is too dry, the burgers are too oily or if they give me massive heart disease - it's part of the deal. All I want is to point at something on the menu and then eat it.

After a kaleidoscope of complaints, I'd eventually figured out that asking for a refund was a no go, whereas asking for free food in compensation was a winner. I assume that monetary return could be tracked by head office whereas free food could be concealed, but I don't know. All I know is that if I ever asked for my money back they'd throw chicken at my mouth until I left.

So, one night, I order food for my fiance and I, and when I get it, I find her burger is not what I ordered. I gain the attention of the serving child.
"Hi dude. I ordered a Zinger burger and I didn't get it," I said.
"Yeah, we're out of Zinger burgers."
I explained that this could've been pointed out when I ordered a Zinger burger, been charged for a Zinger burger and been handed a bag under the pretence of it containing a Zinger burger, rather than what was, in reality, a bun with two crispy strips on it.

He was unmoved, unable to understand the source of my frustration.

In my mind, expected incompetence had now been reinforced by lies and false advertising, and my soul was seized by a white hot rage that could've incinerated any surrounding chickens into the rock-like, wafer-thin burger patties routinely pumped out by this particular establishment.

I asked for my money back. I was denied. 

"I ordered something. You took my money. I didn't get it. You lied and now you're arguing with me about it. Just give me my money back. That's totally fair."
The boy continued to act in all ways like his head was a fax machine that could only spit out the same faded message - "I can't give you your money back, EXPLANATION NOT FOUND" - over and over again. His instruction to deny refunds was clearly not reinforced by any subsequent knowledge.

So I attempted to force his hand by asking for the most ridiculous thing I could think of.
"Look, I'm not leaving until I get my money back. So either give me my money back, or give me all of your chicken," I said.

"If you won't give me money, just give me all of the chicken you've got ready back there.," I said, gesturing at the bulging pile of cooked chicken pieces behind him.
"Sure," he said, and started piling the chicken into boxes.

I stood there dumbstruck. I was sure he was going to opt for a refund in the face of my ridiculousness. Nevertheless, I soon walked out with over 30 pieces of chicken. I beat a hasty retreat before the people in line behind me realised what my impotent point-making had cost them.

I called my buddies on the way home, telling them dinner was on me. 
I strode in the front door hoisting swelled, oily boxes of fried chicken above my head, bellowing in victory like a viking. I recounted the story with animated glee as I waved my justly-reserved drumstick like a broadsword.

We ended up throwing about half of the chicken away as we couldn't get through it before it spoiled. My victory, however, is immortal.