Saturday, 23 June 2018

XXXTentacion, Eurydice, and the politics of death

I’m going to tell a story about my last week, and it’s going to be long. It’s not going to be particularly important coming from me, but I need to write it out and share it to make sense of the thoughts it has generated in my mind. The theme of this week has been violence and gender, and I’m not sure how to approach this topic due to the extremely high modality with which most treat it. It’s a topic that is anger inducing to some and potentially triggering to others. So as a content warning, this blog will discuss murder, rape and violence, as well as social attitudes. And have I mentioned long and rambly? It’ll be long and rambly. Good luck.

On my way to work on Tuesday June 19, I heard Triple J’s Brooke Boney announce that a name I had heard of only days before, XXXTentacion, had been shot and was in a coma. She discussed the artist as Triple J don’t normally play him, but the news was exceptionally breaking, having happened just minutes before. The brief news bulletin included something about a very troubled past, she mentioned the 20 year old having murdered someone at 6 years old, and also mentioned that he had some alleged assaults in his past. I didn’t get details and I noted particularly the very deliberate use of Brooke to say ‘alleged’ so I assumed there was some sort of court case happening.


I found it strange and it stuck in my brain, originally as a bewildered musing on how many guns America has and how normal it is that someone can just walk up and shoot someone else. These thoughts were cut off by the school bell and I went to class.

In the preceding days, my students had been making a PowerPoint when I’d taken them for music at the start of the week. They were given genres of music and were encouraged to research artist, songs and styles of the genre. Hip Hop wasn’t on the worksheet, but as a lot of the kids were hip hop heads and I enjoy the odd rapper here and there, I told them they could do that genre too.

I found myself musing at the state of the rappers when I saw more and more tattooed faces, bizarre hairstyles of usually neon pink and green, and a propensity to pose without shirts. Even though Tupac, one of my heroes from when I was the kid’s age, used to love the ol’ shirtless gangsta pose, the faces appearing on my screen had been missing some of his… dignity.

L’il Xan, L’il Yachty, L’il Pump?  Why were they all so l’il? In my day it was only L’il Wayne and L’iL Bow Wow. Kids these days, I thought.

But the other name that kept popping up on the powerpoint slides was XXXTentacion, which I thought was just the worst name for a rapper ever, but as I’m on the north side of 30 and the kids keep telling me - what do I know? Good kids, nice kids that seemed well brought up, seemed to respect him.

Anyway, flash forward to the day I hear his name again 3 days later, and he’s been shot in a car. By the time I’ve finished teaching my second period, students are coming up and telling me he is dead. (They have their own twittersphere. Imagine sneaky pieces of paper passed between one another times 1000).

I go up, have my coffee, this guy’s story rattling around my brain. Particularly the part about being involved in gang violence at the age of 6. The kid who gets (spoiler alert for Breaking Bad, but really if you haven’t watched it, it’s your own fault at this point) killed in Breaking Bad by the gangsters who’ve had him dealing drugs kept flashing to the forefront of my psyche.

I sipped my coffee and I made a post on Facebook, and it looked a little like this.

I barely think about this status until a few hours later, when after school I fire up the iPad to see some people think I’m making a joke by posting a tribute to XXXTentacion. Turns out, the alleged violence alluded to by Brooke Boney on the radio had a lot more evidence attached, none of which was circumstantial. And upon closer inspection of his lyrics, they did have overtones of sexism, violence and misogyny in many instances.

But my greatest mistake was posting a tribute post, even a harmless one with not a lot of thought put into it, at a time when a lot of people in my country and community were in mourning for another victim of crime: Eurydice Dixon.

Eurydice Dixon

Speaking of names rattling around my head, I have been saying the name Eurydice in my head over and over in the last week. Australia as a nation was sharing a shock after exactly 1 week beforehand on the night of Tuesday the 12th of June, a young, ambitious up and comer comedian named Eurydice Dixon didn’t make it home from work. She became the victim of a murder, and from police accounts, sexual assault. A tragic and disgusting act is an understatement. I had looked up the name Eurydice as I thought it was enchanting, and it turns out it does come from Greek mythology; the name of an oak nymph, daughter of Apollo, wife of Ortheus. Orpheus tried to raise Eurydice from the dead by playing sweet music. Somehow that made the real Eurydice’s story sadder to me.

The tragedy was compounded not two days after Eurydice’s passing that my city of Newcastle was rocked by another heinous unspeakable act - the abduction and sexual assault of an 11-year old girl.

Needless to say, the public wanted blood. Women and men voiced anger and shared around the alleged perpetrator on Facebook and comments of ‘tell your cousins in prison to get their shivs ready’ were seen. The general feeling was that the NSW Justice System wouldn’t dispense the justice that we all felt like doling out to the subhuman scum.

There was not a day that went by last week that I wasn’t disgusted by an example of my gender. If it wasn’t XXXTentacion’s alleged crimes being spelled out for me by angry women, it was a man choosing to take the innocence of a little girl for their own sick sexual gratification. It was a 19-year-old man who believed a little too much Incel rhetoric and took what wasn’t his to fuck around with - the life of a beautiful young comedian with a whole life to live.

But I was disgusted by other men also. The year 10 boy who said ‘ah well, MILF’ when one of his peers said that Megan Fox wasn’t attractive because she’d had two babies. The aging baby boomer in the comments section in the political Facebook groups I frequent (sometimes for the sole purpose of making myself angry) desperately trying to make the feminists, the postmodernists, and the Left in general the problem for creating this new culture. It was the men described by Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby, as she tells her story in the Netflix special Nanette, (which I absolutely recommend everyone watch as it is tantamount to genius). And this is the most important of all - it was me. I was disgusted with myself for my own faux pas of eulogising XXXTentacion rather than Eurydice. Why hadn’t I made a little post for her, as well? Why did the man get the attention, just because he was famous and successful in his art?

These were questions asked of me and other men in the 300+ comments of that original post. My friends from many walks of life, whom I’ve met in many stages of my life, argue amongst themselves about the issue of XXXTentacion and the separation of crimes from art, and how we treat the issue of gender after shocking, horrifying crimes of a gendered nature take place. But I stopped joining in on my own tribute. I did feel a little bit shit about my own silence. But still - after all of his crimes were mentioned to me - I still felt that maybe he was breaking out of that cycle and his death was a tragedy still. A 6 year old doesn’t murder.  At what point do we analyse the catalysts before these events before we are told by angry, sad people that we are making excuses for the perpetrators, and dishonouring the victims? The kinds of contexts that must exist to breed and socialise such a person as ‘X’ absolutely flabbergasted me. They are beyond my realms of imagination.

But that was, to me, the takeaway that I am going to try to share with male students or those men i see behaving like uncivilised neanderthals. Our realms of imagination only go so far. We can only see our experience. Men know what being a man like and women know what being a woman is like. Though science shows us we are NINETY PER CENT the same, the 5 per cent on the masculine and 5 per cent of the feminine behaviours are increasingly what drive us, what define us, what socialise us.

The Courtney Barnett lyricMen are afraid women will laugh at them; Women are afraid that men will kill them’ is a quote from Margaret Atwood that has beared repeating in light of recent events like Eurydice and the young Newcastle girl. It is a poignant and jarring reminder that despite sharing many similarities, men and women are still destined to walk different paths in many respects. And I do mean metaphorically, but men are actually starting to keep their distance from women on walking paths as well as a show of safety and solidarity. And because they really just don’t want to scare them. I know I feel that’s fucked up if we’re at a place we have to do that now, but here we are.

Some more disgusting men might even take my blog here the wrong way. They have a toolkit to discredit and dismantle men who try to stand up for feminist outcomes or even stand up for women in general. They reduce everything intellectual into its basest sexual form. If I’m standing up for women, I must be trying to seduce them. If I say men can do better, it’s because I’m a pathetic ‘White Knight’ trying to access the ‘Pussy Pass’. They know better - they’re alpha males who know that the only way to get women to love and respect (and the most important: to fuck) you is to disrespect them, place them on a level below you and never treat them as an equal. If you try to stand up for being a decent human being, you’re a ‘virtue signaller’ who only wants people to see them for the brilliant compassionate person they are and get pats on the back for it. Well fuck you, nameless commenter. Save your comment. The only person I am trying to attract is my wife, and we pretty much see eye to eye on this issue already.

The words ‘not all men’ are a hashtag that became a cliche that became a dictionary definition of missing the point. They spawned article after article after article. I don’t believe this is solely the fault of men (gasp!) but it is a failure of the way the entire issue is discussed and the rhetoric that surrounds the basic emotional reactions of people, men and women, when presented with stories like Eurydice’s, XXXTentacion’s, and the little Newcastle girl’s. I believe that anger does come from a good place. A moral place. I believe the majority of people know their right from wrong and are involuntarily outraged and sickened when they hear of violence. Or rape. Or murder.

As I’ve shown, this is a spectacularly nuanced topic that very rarely gets discussed in a careful enough matter. I feel this is not going to stop. I agree with Hannah Gadsby (seriously, though, one more time for the people in the back, watch Nanette. 5 Star review incoming. Have the Kleenex ready) who says that men are at a difficult and confusing time, identity wise. But so are women. We are writing the rules of our new society every single day. We are creating the world in which we leave for our descendants. It responds to us and the decisions we make every single day.

I guess after the catharsis that was typing out the rattling in my head in 2300-word form, I’d like to end on something positive. So I will reiterate my apology for my selective eulogising; for my silence when I have a powerful voice that everyone knows I’m not scared of using. RIP Eurydice Dixon. I can only hope that the cultural wildfire your death has started is a fraction of the laughter you could have created and the positivity you could have brought to our world.

The other positive thing I want to say to everyone is, please try to calm down. As our anger abates, look around and notice the people around you. The great majority of us are good, I’m certain of it. I teach many students, some who could become criminals, some who could become Prime Minister. They are largely good. Humans are. It is easy to lose our faith in humanity, after weeks like this. But you musn’t. We are good, all of us, with times of badness. I truly believe that and you may feel I am naive. But I’m just 30, I’m not old and crotchety just yet. The day we lose the respect that entire subsections of our society, be it races, genders, sexualities, lifestyles, ANYTHING are majority good people, is the day all our social divisions get a whole lot worse, and everything goes to shit.

I finished that long and rambly blog by saying what I wanted to say in a long and rambly way, so I’ll defer to the master wordsmith Kurt Vonnegut to say it better.

See ya later.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Send in the Crazy Clowns Craze

People are ridiculously fascinating. To my eye, 2016 seems to be plodding along as one of the most bizarre years in all of history. Aside from being one of the most bloodthirsty with regards to a lot of my favourite celebrities, a variety of crazes have swept the globe this year, fuelled by a now ubiquitous connection to social media, smartphone apps and a swelling memetic counterculture.

As soon as the majority of bandwagon riders had stopped hunting for Pokémon, the latest Internet phenomenon which began sweeping the globe, as you are probably aware of if you are connected to any kind of social media stream, is to dress up as creepy, crazy clowns walking around all menacing-like. The motivation behind this desire seems to be as divided as the many variety of clowns themselves – however it seems most in America have been bored teenagers wanting to spice up their evenings wandering around freaking out the normals. Some have attributed the clowns to a viral marketing campaign in order to generate hype for the remake of Stephen King’s It, though this has been disputed by a variety of sources as well.

Those Daffy, Laughy Clowns

Social media, being idiots who love being distracted by anything remotely unimportant, have embraced the craze in droves. Some people, like myself, are fascinated by the twisted nature of it all – the desire to scare others. Some people are scared shitless, like my coulrophobic (AKA clown-a-phobic) friends and relatives, who think that a subterranean race of demon clowns are choosing this moment in history to come out of their clown-cars and enslave us. Others are seeing the clowns in a more irreverent light (clowns being funny – a crazy idea, I know) and are tickled by the entire situation.

I am sure that without the near unlimited availability of text, video, and image data transfer, these situations wouldn’t sweep out of control in the manner in which they have been within the last few years. And note when I say out-of-control, I don’t mean I think you should begin freaking out that clowns are going to begin terrorising you every time you leave the house. I mean that these sorts of memes, activities, crazes and fads can spread at an unbelievably rapid rate throughout the collective consciousness of our entire planet extremely quickly. I like to picture it kind of like an idea virus, a simple activity, easily captured on the ever-present smartphone camera, which interests the basic underlying psychology of a large number of us on a collective level. Recent viral phenomena of the last few years including ‘planking’, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the Harlem Shake, and any of the recent multitudes of internet memes all seem to fall into this category.

The response of the second group of people to the clowns – the coulrophobes (hey, I like learning new words, OK??) – has been to enact the modus operandi of scared humans throughout history: respond with aggression, violence, and hate.

So it seems that in this situation, there are 5 kinds of people. There are:

1. Those who are fascinated by the clowns and want to know what drives their desire to want to hang out with other scary clowns and wander around with baseball bats and fake machetes

2. Those who hate clowns, have always been genuinely fearful of clowns, and are scared of what a bunch of fucking armed clown psychopaths could genuinely do to bring about the end of society

3. Those who think clowns are funny, clown pranks are funny, and want to see a bunch of freaky clowns walking around more often, because fuck it, why not? Somethin’ different.

4. People who don’t give a fuck about the clown thing, your silly internet memes, internet crazes in general, and who almost certainly won’t be reading this blog you young whipper snapper, get off my lawn! - (so who cares about them), and


Neil Strauss’ excellent analysis of the rise of the fear response within humanity, is an extremely nuanced take at how human brain chemistry works, how Darwinian social memetics change and cultural symbols transfer. A summary I took from it: the meteoric rise of anxiety, fear and hysteria regarding a lot of large social issues (think ISIS, Donald Trump’s presidency, Brexit economic collapse, global warming, all the goddamn bees dying) is a fundamental design fixture of human brain psychology, hardwired within us a survival instinct, which is being subtly (and sometimes overtly) exploited for the agendas of others (or in the case of our clown friends, for their own amusement). Fear and mass groups of people wanting to create fear meeting in public are a result of collective neuroses our culture, society and zeitgeist is experiencing.

In the end, just as there are dwindling numbers of Pokémon hunters roaming the streets at night just months after the game’s release, history has shown that all crazes end the same way – with barely a handful of people still continuing to stand out in the cold-arse forest with a machete for fucking hours just waiting for some hapless bystander to come by and be freaked out. Most of the crazy clown bandwagon riders will have well and truly moved on to the next ‘cool’ thing. None of which will probably be cool for very long, being that a) variety is the spice of life and b) the smartphone generation has even less of an attention span than their ancestors (which wasn’t that long to begin with - let’s face it).

And while you’ve spent the last few minutes reading about clowns, never forget the truly terrifying thing: That it seems America is about to elect a clown to be the most powerful person in the world, no matter what happens.

Happy Halloween, Everybody! (Yes, I know it’s not Halloween yet but the clowns don’t seem to care so I guess it’s just Halloween every night forever now. Night night!)

Thursday, 9 June 2016

How Bernie Sanders Cost Me Twenty Bucks

So, I appear to have definitely thrown away 20 bucks.

In Australia, where you can gamble on pretty much everything, including foreign elections, I chose to have a stab at 26-1 odds for Bernie Sanders to become the Democratic nominee and the US president, even though he had just lost many of the first Super Tuesday primaries. I am a bit of a tragic for American politics, and with kerazy Donald Trump running on the ballot, this one looked to be a real popcorn grabber.


This whole election has been interesting to watch from an outside perspective. The subtle methods of electioneering employed in America are truly despicable and insidious. There have been a few media blackouts in certain key points in the campaign, there is obvious partisan reporting in some instances, certain caucuses were difficult for people wanting to vote for candidates directly with large lines in Nevada and Massachusetts blocking access to small and ill-chosen polling places. To top all this off, the debate on large news networks has been so narrow and restricted, as forewarned by Noam Chomsky in his essay Manufacturing Consent.

Sanders has been a hope for the true economic Left since he began his run. He had big support and big numbers, and I truly think he could have gained the nomination if he rocked the vote (particularly with young people), but he just couldn't. He has had to run a pretty smear-free campaign, and nothing motivates feet to the pool booths like anger, as opposed to his choice to focus on empathy and unity. He targeted the banks, and big finance, and to anyone who was truly tuned in, this meant he was targeting Hillary Clinton, with her intimate ties to the finance sector. This did not, however, translate in a larger share of the popular vote, with Sanders losing the key state of California only a few days ago 55 to 43.

Americans now have the two candidates on their ticket that have their lowest favourables in history. Apathy will be rampant this election due to people seeing this as a being a vote between two rich douches who neither want nor need their allegiance to rule them.

And those people are right. Some, perhaps myself included, are beginning to wonder about Bernie, despite his stellar voting record and principled stances spanning 30 years. There is an argument that candidates like Bernie are establishment tools, kind of a Democratic 'sheepdog', herding members of the DNC who were exploring political options further to the left (such as Jill Stein of the Green Party) diverting their enthusiasm and activism early on in the process, until there is no time left to win ballot access for alternative parties or candidates.

The margin of error is controlled by superdelegates,  It was really quite distracting and confusing in the beginning of the primary elections and caucuses.

I'm winning already, yayyy!

If, like in 2008, a candidate polls very favourably and takes the nation's popular vote by storm, superdelegates are able to change preference at the July convention and put their considerable nomination weight behind their preferred candidate. In the meantime however, it's a bit like starting counting with a significant handicap. Groupthink is a thing and should not be understated especially among low-information voters. This person's winning already? Oh, it's Hillary Clinton, I know her. Sign me up! (For what it's worth, by the time Hillary had won most of the Southern states, her gambling odds were a paltry $1.40 : 1 to become the next US President.)

Appearing on the scene, presenting himself to undecided voters, and taking the nomination to the Democratic National Convention in July. This was Bernie's plan, and my plan for turning $20 into $520. I saw the fire and enthusiasm shown in the Bernie camp, and chose to optimistically believe that a crazy-haired socialist Jew could actually garner enough support to enact real change in the economic system of America, with perhaps even knock on effects for the globe.

It was long odds for a reason, and I knew that when I made the punt it was analogous to wagering the next PM of Australia would be Richard De Natale after July 2. A lot of noise was being made about #feelingthebern yet again, without a larger share of young people actively participating in the DNC primaries, Bernie was not able to challenge the much larger Clinton household name.

I suppose we are all naive when we make bets at long odds. This is why there are, like, 219 different apps in Australia to gamble on all sorts of ridiculous markets. Gambling is a fundamentally optimistic endeavour.

With that, I suppose I am glad I backed a long shot to win me five hundred bucks in a surprise upset at the posts. It felt nice having optimism that someone like Bernie who genuinely gives a shit could have a real go, cause a real upset, and dare I say it, treat the population of America (and those on the receiving end of America's foreign and economic policy [i.e. almost everyone]) like human beings, individual thinking adults capable of seeing the real problems facing the globe and addressing them. This may or may not be rationalising my idiotic waste of $20 but fuck it, it's a nice touchy feely end to my blog so I'm leaving it in.

It felt good for a while, but now we get to wait until November to watch the USA vote between a douche and a turd, once again. How far will the pendulum swing? Who gives a shit. Probably not far enough. I'm sure our election in Australia on July 2nd will be equally thrilling, if the zero people I've heard talk/argue/give any modicum of a shit about it is any indication.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Nation sighs in unison as it realises it has to consider Bill Shorten

A national cold front has emerged from the sheer gale force created around 2:45pm today as Malcolm Turnbull began talking about jobs and growth. A collective expulsion of breath coalesced in most Australian communities as voters nationwide realised they had to consider the other bloke to avoid any further nonsense like this interrupting their Sunday afternoons.

People everywhere have flocked to social media to lament the dreary conditions caused by the misty, heavy breath of resignation appearing in most Australian lounge rooms. One tweeter Twittered: “I can’t stop sighing now I realise I might have to vote for another career charlatan instead of someone who might actually do something, just to get this smug git off my TV.”

Jenny Window, of Raymond Terrace NSW, has been been feeling the effects the cold, gloomy conditions that the nation’s collective sigh has brought to her own street on her Instagram account. “Fifty-six election days? For f^@k’s sake. Now I won’t have any sunny backdrops for my #fitspo blog I’m hoping to make money off. Nothing but the creeping fog of despair. That won’t sell my f@%king new energy drink slash protein shake I’m hoping to invent.”

Meteorologists nationwide have predicted the windy, unfavourable conditions caused by the sigh will affect weather patterns across our great brown land all throughout the upcoming election cycle, branding the phenomenon ‘Bill Niño’. Climate scientists were not available to comment as they have all mysteriously been fired by the CSIRO.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

A Nation United


The year was 2025. Thunder rolled outside the lawns of New Parliament House in Canberra as a scrunched up piece of paper fell haphazardly next to a small office rubbish bin. Another near miss.

The newly elected President of the Republic of Australia sat with worry creasing his sweaty brow. He mopped at it with a small handkerchief emblazoned with a grand ocean liner. The thunderstorm had brought heat with it, unseasonable heat, coupled with dry lightning plaguing the countryside. The President missed the cooler thunderstorms of his youth.

Clive Palmer had been considered a joke by his political counterparts during his Senate foray a little over a decade ago. Oh how they had laughed. A wry smile appeared on President Palmer’s face as he reached for another blank sheet of paper monogrammed with his initials, next to the emu and kangaroo of Australia’s coat of arms. It was he who was laughing now. Oh yes.

The forming of the new Republic in 2022 had been a stroke of genius that the new President would not readily admit was not his own. It had propelled him to his current seat in the recently renovated Australia-shaped Presidential Office where the old Australian Houses of Parliament had once stood. The retained word ‘Parliament’ in the title of New Parliament House was largely ornamental - for the populism gained from the sense of nostalgia that many Australians still had for the traditions of yesteryear. That, and it helped less-informed Aussies understand the change.The forms and features of the old parliament had been abandoned and replaced with new legislative and executive bodies that dealt directly with the President. Clive had financed the lavish renovation to the buildings himself, as a sort of larger-than-life imitation of the United States’ Star-Spangled Office.

President Palmer had taken a fancy to the similarly redecorated Oval Office on his first diplomatic mission to a frail (yet sprightly) President Macaulay Culkin soon after his inauguration. The Republican President Culkin had taken Clive and a select few other world leaders on a Willy Wonka-esque tour of the New White House, which had been converted partially into a mega-mall sponsored by Wal-Mart in order to cover the national debt. This had delighted Clive very much.

But no, the Republic of Australia had been a result of a great many things, not least the chaos outside his (and most Australians’) windows. There had been a lot of underhanded schemes and back-room deals to change the political landscape before the real, environmental landscape had changed. The extreme weather was just the tip of the iceberg.

President Palmer winced as soon as he thought the word ‘iceberg’. The ironic events of 2019 still seemed fresh. It had not been his best publicity stunt. It had taken a lot of money under the table to Governor-General Murdoch to cover that one up.

What worried Clive, as he feverishly spilled his thoughts onto yet another page, wasn’t the escalating weather events, but the crumbling and defeated society which he had found himself in charge of. The society he had to speak to in… he looked at his watch. Five minutes. He had to put all his patented inspirational charm on in this address. His pen scribbled faster.

The Palmer United Party had sat in the shadows of parliament for years as the former top dogs of the Australian political system, the Liberal and Labor parties, bickered uselessly at one another about which member of the British monarchy had been made a Knight or Dame, or which hashtag to embrace on social media. They had grown steadily out of favour with an increasingly frustrated population. A burgeoning population, growing faster than ever thought possible. (Who’d have thought the terms worldwide exponential population growth would have turned out to be so important? Clive disliked politicians who spoke in those sorts of terms. ‘Why spend a fortune on five dollar words?’  he always liked to ask.)

A sharp rapping on the Australia Office door derailed President Palmer’s train of thought. “Is it time, Jenny?”

“Yes, Mr. President,” his assistant’s voice rang back. “The throng has grown in the last hour, and apparently hundreds of new viewers are joining the YouTube stream every second.”

Clive stood up and exhaled nervously. He surveyed the Presidential office, sweeping his gaze from the Velociraptor skeleton in the far corner, over the myriad scrunched up pieces of paper on the green-and-gold carpeted floor, finally to his latest speech attempt before him on his gilded desk.

The door knocked again. Clive re-read his final words, and decided they, too, weren’t good enough for today’s speech. It was time to speak from the heart. He picked up the paper, scrunched it up, and threw it at the rubbish bin. It almost made it.

The President walked to the double-doors that opened out onto a balcony nestled in the Great Australian Bight area of his office, swinging them open. The resulting cacophony from the crowd below sitting on the lawn was almost deafening. Cheers, yells, boos, cries for help, and angry calls for him to resign all coalesced into one roar. Clive immediately regretted not having been able to come up with the right words for even a little bit of his speech. He raised his hands in an attempt to silence the crowd, and to their credit, the din quietened significantly.

“G’day to all my fellow Australians, new and old,” began the President, hearing his words echo a half-second after he said them. The YouTube live stream was being transmitted across the globe. That would be annoying. He made a mental note to speak slower and more methodically.

“I am here before you today, speaking as your President, to mobilise our great nation.... strengthen us, for a big challenge ahead of us.” The crowd once again became loud, however Clive was thankful to be given a moment to decide how to properly phrase the next part of what he wanted to say. Who knew being a politician actually IN power would be so hard? Clive much preferred just waiting for the other blokes to stuff up or say something wrong.

“Our challenge, is one that we as a society are capable of facing, and it is one that we must do together, as Australians united with a common purpose.” The President scanned the crowd and saw the Orwellian double-speak and political weasel words were having the desired effect; the crowd looked wary and confused.

“We have had significant success in the short time that the Palmer United Party has been elected to lead this great nation, by you, the bright-eyed battlers with ANZAC spirit and a desire for mateship amongst a multi-cultural landscape. Since introducing our $19.95-a-week government service subscription scheme with free mobile phone app, we have reduced the amount of hospitals closing in metropolitan areas by a significant nine per cent, and our new nuclear powered wind farms are well on their way to providing enough power to the grid to meet our mining KPIs.”

The mention of ‘mining’ riled up the crowd once more, with jeers and angry swear words filling up the moments in which the President was choosing his next words carefully. His abolition of the mining royalties scheme, despite increasing his net worth threefold, had been his biggest media blunder since twerking in front of Kyle Sandilands. He struggled for a topic to begin anew with. Why hadn’t he written anything down? Good news, good news, what could he tell them which was actually good?

Raising his hands to quieten the crowd once more, Clive was suddenly struck with an overwhelming sense of his own power. Far from being a foreign sensation, Clive had relished any time he had felt in control of things from a very young age; it filled him with a raw confidence that had navigated him through business power lunches and senate backroom deals as much as it had given him the courage to seek his current station in life. His tremulous voice had become strong and powerful. It was time to lead the nation.

“Our big challenge, Australia, has been overcome. You have elected me and my party to take care of the nation, and that is exactly what we have done. As you continue to experience the benefits of your weekly Palmer government mega-subscriptions, including tri-monthly visits to the soon-to-be-opened Jurassic Park III, coffee and chocolate coupons, and lower tollway fees for your flying cars on our overcrowded SkyRoads, we can continue to abolish taxes, and return your lives to a state of economic freedom that once made this country great!” Clive had paused for emphasis on the last word, and thumped his chest and raised a fist in the air in the patented Palmer Salute. The crowd roared with approval and many reciprocated the gesture.

“With my new executive powers I aim to solve the problems that have riddled this great sunburnt land for decades with no solution offered by your pathetic previous governments!” The President’s heart was pounding in his chest, but there was no stopping him now.

“My asylum seeker Snowy Mountains Scheme II has produced thousands of jobs and dramatically lowered the burden on our neighbours in Papua New Guinea! My diplomatic relations between hostile nations has defused every sticky situation I have encountered, including my recent successful negotiations of the free citizenship policy to residents of Papua New Guinea! The opening of nineteen new hybrid power plants has all but ended debate on which energy source is best, because now they’re all being used to power the others! The environmentalists claiming that my shark cull had destroyed ecosystems by removing the apex predator were SILENCED when my research departments introduced the genetically engineered MegaSharks into Australian waters, which are proving to be twice as efficient as normal sharks! And teaming up with Al Gore, we have just finished shooting the documentary that will single-handedly reverse the dreaded bushfires and droughts we are experiencing!”

The crowd was frantic now, yelling and screaming with such such force that the President could not be sure they were happy or angry. He decided he didn’t care. His heart was beating faster. Years of cholesterol abuse were catching up with him.

“You, the people of our newly powerful Republic of Australia, voted for me because I will not be bullied, not by my opponents, not by the Chinese bast-- er, the Chinese, not by anyone! We will rise up stronger, more dedicated, and more invincible than ever! THAT is my promise to you, the people of Australia!” The president thumped his chest, grabbed the microphone raised it high in a Palmer Salute, and did what he’d always wanted to do since he was a teenager: drop a microphone on a grand stage in front of a legion of screaming fans (Clive preferred the term ‘fans’ to ‘voters’.) With that, he whirled around and strode off the balcony, slamming the double doors behind him.

The crowd’s roar was muted as soon as the doors were shut, and Clive Palmer sank back against them, trembling with excitement and feeling dazzled by his own oratorical prowess. Yes, this one was a good one. He began to laugh. Before more than a few hearty guffaws had emerged from his wide mouth, however, the door knocked again.

“Jenny, I’m post-speech. I’ve told you before, you’ve got to give me a minute.”

Jenny replied back with a distinctly noticeable tremor in her normally professional voice: “Sir, it’s… he says he’s your boss.”

It took a moment for this to actually process in the President’s mind. “Wait, I’m Clive Palmer. I don’t have a boss.”

It didn’t seem to matter. Clive heard the clinking of keys and quickly scrambled to stand up and compose himself. The hallway doors slowly slid open and an old man in a wheelchair was pushed into the room by a mortified looking Jenny.

Clive watched in disbelief. It was Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

“It’s lovely to have you in my office, your majesty, but I don’t know if you’re aware of what’s happened over the last few years… you’re not my boss. You’re in a republic now.”

The 104-year old Duke smiled weakly. “Ah my lad, you must be joking me. You’re still not aware of the deal?”

Clive began to feel frustration creeping up his face. “What do you mean, old man? What deal?”

“Well, you might not be as in charge of this whole country as much as you think. I was informed by Christopher you were… aware of this?” Philip punctuated his sentence by hacking into a tissue as he reached in his pocket for a Werther’s Original.

Palmer did not need to ask which ‘Christopher’ Philip was referring to. Biting back a mouthful of angry expletives, he turned to Jenny. “Can you ask my Vice President to come in here, please?”

Within a few awkward moments, Vice President Christopher Pyne walked in beaming, wearing a bright yellow tie embossed with a PUP logo. “Hello, Mr. President, that was a rousing and wonderful speech. And Sir Philip, so nice to see you!” He ushered Jenny out and closed the office door.

“You told me, Christopher, that we would finally be a nation united. You told me that the new executive branch would have me at. The. Top.” A quiet fury overwhelmed the President, taking away whatever may have been left of his post-speech euphoria. “Why has this former Knight of the Realm of Australia come to me claiming to be my ‘boss’?”

Vice-President Pyne gave one of his trademarked sardonic grins. “Well, Mr. President, uhh, maybe after your wonderful address, now is the time for a little chat.” He motioned toward the small sitting area near the Tasmania area of the Presidential Office.

“Look, Chris, I’m pretty busy actually, I just gave a speech and I have to deliver on a whole lot more of my executive orders, so if you could just nip this in the bud, that’d be great.” Clive sat down in his desk chair and adjusted the little lever so he could recline. He hoped it made him look relaxed as opposed to a Bond villain without a cat.

“Well, Mr. President, ahh, the thing is…” Pyne fidgeted nervously. “The thing is, he’s kiiind of still correct. When you and I were conspiring to take down the government a few years ago, there was one teensy detail that I may have neglected to mention to you.”

Clive looked from his Vice-President, to Philip and then back again. “...well? What is that?”

Christopher Pyne walked over to a bookshelf and picked up a large volume from the end of a higher shelf. “Well, if you can cast your mind back, Clive, to when we were working together around about ten years ago to undermine the other parties? And I was looking through all the bylaws of the parliament, trying to find a loophole? Well, it turned out that Tony had been doing the same thing at the time. I found this whole raft of laws that only apply if someone is a Knight or a Dame of the realm, is royalty... and they apparently supercede all national sovereign laws and authorities.”

Clive was perplexed. “What the hell do you mean? Give me that.” He snatched the volume from Chris and read:


I hereby decree that the unkempt southern colonies will be ruled by a council of my finest knights and dames, and they shall have divine authority over the land, its resources and its peoples from now until time immemorial. Furthermore...

The paper continued on at some length but the words were too old-fashioned to hold the President’s interest very long. He slammed the tome on the desk and looked up at the two men in his office who were watching his reaction with interest.

“The whole point of a republic, Christopher, was that we shed the old masters, and we rule ourselves. That’s what you said over and over ten years ago when you helped me with our coup. You were going on about how we had to detach ourselves from the monarchy and seize power, it’s how you won me over!”

Pyne, true to form, did not look sheepish in the slightest. “Well, it was always my plan. And for what it’s worth, we were successful. Mostly. A lot of the older parliamentary processes and laws simply can’t be overturned until we get our Senate to look at them… and it would be an enormous political disaster if you let this knowledge of the true reasons for the Knights and Dames thing out into the public. They’ll crucify you. And you’re still the President, sir. That counts for a lot. We just have to … you know, consult with the people at the top of the chain.” He motioned with a sideways nod to Prince Philip, who appeared on the verge of a nap in his wheelchair. Clive Palmer coughed loudly and the Duke awoke with a start.

“Look old man, I don’t know what you’re playing at, but we’re not recognising royalty around here anymore,” fumed Clive Palmer, President of Australia. “I’ll take this to the senate, political reputation be damned. I am the highest executive authority in this country, and no Knight or Dame is going to take that away from me!”

“Ah my dear boy, you’ll come around in time,” said Philip, opening another lolly. He popped it in his mouth. “They always do. We just need to make sure everything you do, is in the best interests of all of us. That’s how we look at it. Now, this Office won’t do for my quarters, I will need far more accessibility… Tony always took care of me that way, now where is that chap? A fine fellow.”

Clive Palmer’s fury could no longer be contained. As he opened his mouth to begin a monumental hissy fit that he didn’t care would not look Presidential, Christopher stepped in between the two men with his hands up in a peacemaking gesture.

“Mr. President, I can assure you, you still retain much of the power here, it’s just that Tony Abbott saw us coming, sort of... In a way. He didn’t know what exactly we were doing, but he put the Knights and Dames clauses into the legislation and copped a lot of media flak for it, just so that we wouldn’t ever be able to have absolute power to run the country. He cemented a few 200 year old laws a decade ago, and now we’re paying for it. But we’ll find a way to work around it, sir. We always do. Just think of it as… another minor obstacle for our cultivation of this great nation.”

The Vice-President, looking pleased with his rhyme, turned to the Duke of Edinburgh, who was on the verge of nodding off again. “Come on, Sir Philip. Let’s get you some rest and we can talk about the week’s itinerary.” He grabbed the handles of his wheelchair and began to lead him out the door. Philip looked up and began asking rambling questions. “Can we go fox hunting? Do you colonials even have foxes over here? I used to be quite the shot, you know. I will have to sire a new horse however, that fat man over there dropped a microphone on mine as we were arriving. Give it quite a spook. Where are the stables here? I should like to inspect them.”

Clive didn’t hear the answers as the two exited and the door was quickly shut behind them. He stared down at the old decree, trying to find some loophole that meant he could have his country back. Bloody royals! They always had their fingers in everything. He supposed they hadn’t created an empire that spanned half the world without knowing how to keep power in their hands. Pah! So much for a nation united. So much for his republic. So much for being a saviour for the working man. He felt his hands shaking and he slammed a fist on the old tome, and the brittle page ripped easily. In a fit of anger, he scrunched up King George’s apparently-still-binding decree into a tiny ball. He turned to his rubbish bin, lined his shot up and threw it with an angry grunt. It nearly made it in.

WRITER’S DISCLAIMER: The writer of this piece, WILL SKIS, would like to acknowledge no ill-will toward Mr. Clive Palmer. This article spawned from a random musing about what Clive Palmer would be like in charge of Australia, which originated in Will’s own brain. It is a light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek piece; thus any deep and meaningful social commentary discerned from this text is probably your fault as a reader.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

R U OK today?

You can be forgiven for thinking this is aliens trying to communicate in their native language. "Ruok?"
Today, I was stopped by a little old lady with a tiny little dog and a walking frame who politely asked that I help her cross the street. If this sounds like some story I'm about to make up, well, that was my first reaction too. Is this real? I'd heard of Boy Scouts helping little old ladies across the street to earn badges, but actually having a little old lady approach me for help crossing Sandgate Road on my way to uni seemed like something straight out of a sitcom.

Naturally, I smiled and told her of course I would help, so feeling surreal I took her to the edge of the street, and surveyed the morning peak hour gaps. I nearly had a heart attack when her puppy got a bit too excited on his leash before it was safe to go, almost pulling her into traffic in the process. This was going to be harder than I thought.

However, channeling my 9-year old self, my Cub Scout training (all 8...? maybe? months of it) kicked in, combining seamlessly with my muscle memory developed over a childhood of Frogger on the Atari. Sure enough, making sure the old lady was safe, I helped her wheel her frame thingy over in a blazing fast time with her dog enthusiastically straining on his collar adding precisely +1DP (dogpower) to our logistical endeavour.

I was late to uni, but I stopped to chat with the old lady who thanked me and told me her name was Lydia. She told me she was 92 years old and informed me that "my son would be very upset if he knew I crossed the road by myself." I smiled and told her I was walking to uni and was studying to be a teacher. She was very pleased and told me a little bit about her son who worked in agricultural science, who had just come back from Africa.

I helped her to the chemist and continued walking to uni thinking about what had happened, wondering what it would be like when I got old, whether it would matter if traffic was bad on Sandgate Road when I was 92 or if flying DeLoreans would make that obsolete, and before I knew it, I was walking across the bridge to the Hunter Building on campus and I saw a heap of these tied to the railings:

I thought of my morning detour with amusement, went to class and sent a few emails and I tied up a few loose ends with people. I saw my old lecturer from last semester and had a chat with him while he complained about some bureaucratic form the university was making him fill out. I saw a friend on Facebook having a rough time with a relative in hospital, and I invited him around to talk if he needed a sympathetic ear. We ended up having a great old chat and I am left here now he has returned home thinking about what a big R U OK day I've had. I decided to write this blog not to talk about how spectacular a Boy Scout I am, but to reach out to my friends and family in the spirit of the day and ask, R U OK?

Some people think this day is kind of lame. Text-speak grammatical issues aside, a lot of people have issues with being asked "Are you ok?" on a day like this, cynically (yet correctly) pointing out that the person inquiring hasn't inquired about their well-being until a national day kind of 'forced' them to. I understand that logic, but I want to just use this blog to give my A+ Willskis seal of approval to R U OK? Day.

See, a couple of years ago, I wasn't walking to uni of a morning with the opportunity of helping little old ladies walking across busy roads. I was in a dark place in my life. One of the low points. I had just been let go from a real estate writing job I had taken, for failing to pass an employee exam regarding the various styles and architectures of common Sydney homes. I had just also been the victim of a pretty bad violent assault at a night club while out with a group of friends from Bathurst. I've included pictures to show what I mean, but I have to warn you: they are pretty graphic/gory. I unsuccessfully tried to include 'spoiler' buttons but here's the spoiler in case you don't want to look at them -- I had my right eye socket fractured into a million pieces in June 2011, with the surgeon who operated on it kindly and quietly explaining that the blows I received were akin to my eye being hit with a pretty decent hammer blow.

Basically the night started like this,

and turned into this.

(Second warning: GORE).

"John McClane got nothin' on me."

Within the next few weeks, I was looking a whole lot like this.  (Again, if you're a big fan of my face, best not look.)

I thought I took the actual incident in stride (my friend can attest to me trying to make the paramedics laugh with bad jokes in the ambulance -- I can remember that like yesterday) but the doctors told me to 'be prepared for some Post-Traumatic effects'. They told me it would be weird if I didn't get PTSD, or some variation of it.

Anyway, my eye eventually healed after the surgery, there was no lasting brain damage, and I was set to return to work. I figured I would get a little leeway, but four days after returning to work with my gross eye I was let go. Things were shit, I was renting a very expensive glorified room as an apartment on my own, I had no income except the savings my recently deceased grandparents had squirreled away for years in order to leave to me and my brother, and I was in a big city that was becoming more and more intimidating and hostile seeming to me. I was NOT fucking OK.

I am still here writing this blog today, able to tell you about my new life as a uni student with a new spring in my step helping little old ladies like Lydia, because of the people who reached out to me in that time of need. I was anti social. I was depressive. I was irritable and unpredictable. I was a shadow of my former happy self, and a mockery of my potential self. Even as my eye healed, and the scars began to fade into what I now have (which I'm convinced has Harry Potter covered), I found my rose-coloured glasses of youth were lost (not unlike my actual glasses that night :S) and I discovered the true mental torment of depression, something I had long dismissed in people who evinced it like it was some kind of character flaw.

So thank you to all those that asked me if I was OK during the tough months, and indeed all the months that have led me to here, to now, to my fingers on this keyboard writing this blog after this very eventful and thought-provoking R U OK? Day. Thank you for those who saw the innate value of human connection, on all levels, from the superficial to the mind-numbingly deep. And thank you to those who continue this day and it's traditions. Mental health is one of the great challenges of this century whether you believe it or not, and I feel like only the true human compassion (like that which the little old lady sought in me this morning) is all we as humans have left in a world that seems to be afraid to care. So for anyone that does care, I AM OK right now, but I am still grateful for those who didn't abandon me when I wasn't. For all those that are feeling abandoned, I hope someone has reached out to you to help. And if they haven't, well, consider this me asking you all if you are OK. If you are, great! If you're not, and want to talk about it, I'm here to help, because I'm eternally glad for the people that were there to help me. So if you want to talk and no one's listening, leave me a comment, send me an email, tweet to me, send me a facebook message, whatever you like, and I promise I'll lend an ear (or my good eyeball). After all, what's the point of being human if you can't vent about it to other humans once in a while?

Until next time,
hoping you're OK!


If you would like to donate or participate in R U OK Day in your community or whatever, check this site out and it'll tell you all you need to know. And you'd be a fuckin' champion, just sayin'.