Mark Zuckerberg – From Super Geek to Super Villain

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.  What better way to fend off accusations that you have way too much power than by exercising it as capriciously as possible?  Like Mr. Burns blocking the sun over Springfield, Facebook decided to make their point as obnoxiously as possible by taking the ‘Pearl Harbour’ approach and disconnecting not only news feeds but anything that stood in its way.  If the goal was to make everyone hate Facebook, they succeeded admirably.

It’s breathtaking how disconnected from consequence Facebook are.  That they were happy to impact not just news organizations but hospitals, government departments, charities and support groups is a pretty spectacular form of skullduggery.  Even when they apologized, it came with the kicker that it was really our fault because the term ‘news’ could be interpreted broadly.  That is, having made a mistake up there with building the Titanic out of fly wire, they still couldn’t concede they were wrong. This should worry everyone.

I’ll admit that Facebook’s cyber-tantrum had little impact on me.  I don’t have a Facebook account and get my news from, well, news sources.  I have, however, seen the first ten minutes of ‘The Social Network’ so I feel more than qualified to comment on recent events.  Better yet, I’ve also seen ‘Star Wars’.  I’m not referring to the abominable prequels or the more recent evidence (if it were needed) of the immutable law of diminishing returns. I’m talking about the original Star Wars series in all its bowl haircut glory.  In ‘Star Wars’ terms, what Facebook tried to pull off was its ‘fully operational Death Star moment’.  

I guess that makes Mark Zuckerberg Emperor Palpatine.  If there were any lingering doubt as to Mark’s transition to the dark side of the Force, it’s long gone now.  Instead of conforming to the laws of the country in which they operate, companies like Facebook act like Empires or (more specifically) theEmpire; blowing up planets, killing Ewoks and throwing Luke Skywalker down a set of stairs.  Nasty stuff.  We should abandon the idea that companies like Facebook are going to behave the way we expect them to.  They won’t.  Take tax as an example.

In 2019, Google paid almost $100 million in tax in Australia.  I know this, because I Googled it.  (Touché!)  It sounds like a lot until you learn that this amount was paid on $4.8 billion in revenue.  The reason they pay so little tax as against their colossal revenue is that they attribute most of it to Singapore.  Perhaps they’re confused and think that Singapore is just outside of Moorooduc, but I’m pretty sure that ‘Google Maps’ would clear that up quick smart.

Facebook is no different.  In 2019, it paid $16.8 million in income tax based on revenue of $167 million.  Or, in other words, a hefty ten cents on the dollar.  It is, of course, more complicated than that – but it gets worse.  The amount of advertising booked exceeded $670 million but most of this isn’t counted towards its tax.  That’s because Facebook categorizes itself as a ‘reseller’ of advertising services.  I don’t know exactly what this means but I suspect it’s a bit like trying to reduce your tax bill by categorizing yourself as a turnip.  It works right up until it doesn’t.

 Facebook, Google and other digital giants have been feuding with Governments the world over about the amount of tax they do or, more to the point, don’t pay.  That will (eventually) sort itself out.  But when Facebook decided to pull the plug in protest against a proposed law that was before Parliament, they went from global mega-corporation to full-on super-villain.  Whilst a lot of people have expressed shock, I wasn’t surprised.  My only question is: what next?

Now that we’re all on the Facebook ‘naughty’ list, it’s hard to know what kind of dastardly action Mark Zuckerberg will take as ‘Project Mayhem’ goes into full swing.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Facebook soldered all the shopping trolleys together at the local Woolies before repainting all the parking bays so no one can open their car door.  It’s inevitable that they’ll campaign to kick us out of the Eurovision Song Contest because Australia is not in Europe (they know something about geography when it suits them). Perhaps they’ll set up one of their signature ‘fake news’ pages that claims that the Pavlova was invented in New Zealand and not Australia.  Having reached the bottom of the barrel, it’s clear that Facebook are determined to keep digging.  There is no depth to which they won’t sink.

Don’t get me wrong – Facebook has achieved plenty: it broke democracy for starters.  But Mark has well and truly jumped the shark this time.  The next time we see him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was wearing a turtleneck and stroking a hairless cat.  That’s once he gets back from his weekend playing ‘Pokemon Go’ with Kim Jong Un, of course.  Mark, when you read this, take a long hard look at yourself.  Unfriend yourself on Facebook if needs be. And then come back to the world where paying for things like content and tax are highly valued.  If and when you’re willing to do those things, then consider this my ‘friend’ request.

Reflections on the End of the World – Part Three

Last night I saw the shorts for the new film featuring Gerard Butler. Called ‘Greendale’, it’s one of those calamitously noisy films about the impending end of human kind.  I can’t say for sure what kicked it all off, but the footage showed human beings as they crawled over each other in a quest for survival.  Doubtless the studio will describe this as an edge of your seat adventure set against the backdrop of human misery and a looming apocalypse.  It does nothing for me.  In fact, after the past year, I wouldn’t describe scenes of desperate humans struggling to survive as ‘entertainment’.  I’d call it ‘Tuesday’.  Or, for that matter, pretty much any day of the week over the past year.

I’ve learned a lot since the pandemic arrived.  Mostly I discovered that hand sanitizer is a wily beast that’s not going to leave the nozzle the way you expect it to.  It might come out sideways, slantways or – if you’re not careful – creep up behind you when you least expect it and tap you on the shoulder before asking directions for the nearest pair of hands.  Surely there’s a list of all the hand-sanitizer related injuries of the past year, where the unpredictable liquid has made a beeline for the eyes of some poor hapless soul.  Never have I been more relieved to wear glasses than I have during hand sanitizer’s reign of terror.  

A lot of people have acquired a new skill whilst stuck at home.  A new language, a musical instrument – there’s been no end to the challenges people have taken on.  I, on the other hand, have gone the other way in that seemed to have forgotten how to drive. Last week, I sat behind the wheel for twenty minutes, unsure of what to do and waiting for a ‘zoom’ meeting to start.  That said, I have mastered the art of making coleslaw.  Granted, this is a skill that many others take for granted, but I really wanted to get it right.  It’s not going to help me much when – at some point in the presumably distant future – I land on the shore of some far-off country and people start speaking to me in a language I don’t understand.  It’ll do me little good when all I have to offer them is a weak smile and a bowl of chopped up cabbage.

My father has not acquired a new skill during these uncertain times.  Instead of learning Latin or mastering the lute, he used his lockdown to chop firewood.  He’s currently eighty-one years old.  Based on the quantity of firewood my father has chopped up, I’d say he’s planning to live to around one hundred and seventy.  It’s probably the first woodpile that can be seen from space.  I guess he’s being practical, but I’m beginning to regret buying him his own personalized lute for his eightieth.

I’ve learned that a dog really is your best friend.  As one of the wholly sanctioned options for leaving the house, our dog provided one of the few legitimate means by which to socialize with other human beings.  The ability to go to the park with the dog and see other people; to commiserate, encourage and generally be around in a socially distant way, was profoundly important. Other pets couldn’t compete. That said, I did see one brave soul attempting to take his cat for a walk.  It is fair to say that the cat objected to the leash and was being ‘uncooperative’.

The songwriter, Bill Fay, once sang; ‘Life is people’.  I think that’s true.  I also think that lockdown really made that clear.  I missed seeing members of my family.  Even though I feel I never see them enough, extended periods of not seeing them at all served only to emphasize their importance to me.  Work colleagues too. A zoom meeting is well and good, but is not substitute for seeing people in person.  

Now here we are in another lockdown, albeit of the ‘snap’ variety.  I’m sure it’ll be short and am confident that it’s for a good reason, but suspect that no-one in Melbourne can even hear the word ‘lockdown’ without a slight chill running down their back.  It feels too soon to go back there.  Lockdown 3.0 carries with it a sense of resignation. Like most sequels, there is a sense of diminishing returns – the adherence to wearing a mask has, much like the mask itself, slipped a little.

Two weeks ago, I was at my father’s house in Tyabb.  There was noise movement and kids were scattered everywhere.  My father made sure everyone had their picture taken in front of the woodpile he’d built, arguing that if it was good enough for the ‘Big Banana’, it was good enough to the ‘Big Woodpile’.  In my photo, I’m grinning and giving a big-old cheesy thumbs up.  As you do.  

I’m yet to watch that Gerard Butler film.  Presumably there’s a scene where he scarpers down to Woollies in search of toilet paper only to the find that there’s not a roll of two-ply Sorbent left anywhere. This, of course, makes no sense in that surely the people who hoarded the bog roll in the first two lockdowns have enough to last them to 2050.  Gerard will take matters into his own hands when he learns he can only get one packet of mince.  I think I’ll ignore that movie for the time being and find something more uplifting.  Lord knows we need it. At the very least, I have pictures of the world’s biggest woodpile to take my mind off things.

O Donald! My Donald! (With Sincere Apologies to Walt Whitman)

O Donald! My Donald! Your fearful term is done

Bookended by impeachments like a legal burger bun

Marine One’s near, the bells you hear, the people all exulting

But Twitter’s ban means you can’t say things false and insulting

            But O heart! heart! heart!

            O the strange things that he said

            Where every day my Donald lies

            No proof, not a shred

O Donald! My Donald! Rise up and hear the tweets

Rise up – for you the flag won’t fly – when you call others ‘cheats’

Relief as we ungrit our teeth – as the whole world now detoxes 

Rejoice as fleets of moving vans pack up those cardboard boxes

                Dear Donald! O Donald!

                My Oompa Loompa bruiser

                Forever now on history’s page

                Remembered as a loser.

The Donald does not answer, his lips are pursed and orange

His eyes are tight, he looks as if he’s sucking on a lozenge

Will you get your bond back? It’s something I don’t know

I’m sure you’ll take the bathroom fittings back to Mar-a-lago

                As you head out to the landing

                Your steps unsure, unsteady

                We rue that you did not explain

                The meaning of ‘covfefe’

Charles and Diana – My part in their downfall

A new season of ‘The Crown’ has been released. Season 4 of ‘The Crown’ covers the years 1977 to 1990 and, apparently, one of the episodes is set is set in Australia, based on a tour by the Prince and Princess of Wales.  This prompts the obvious question – who will be playing the (presumably) significant part of, well, me?

This is not the first time ‘The Crown’ and I have crossed paths.  Earlier episodes focused on Prince Phillip’s time in the Navy.  His friend, Commander Parker, lived out his days in Melbourne and was the chair of an organization that ran public speaking competitions for school kids, which is how I met him. It was weird to think that the kindly elder gent I met back then is now the subject of a fairly dramatic episode of ‘The Crown’.  Now, it seems, it’s my turn.

It was 1985.  Prince Charles and Princess Diana were touring Australia.  In response, we did the not-so-obvious thing and put on a rock concert at Hamer Hall when, for a more uniquely Australian experience, we should have invited them to a B & S Ball in Ouyen, with his Highness responsible for drawing the winner of the meat tray.  In retrospect, it’s obvious, but we seldom thought to have dignitaries watch circle work back then.

The concert included ‘I’m Talking’ (Kate Ceberano’s band), The Models and INXS.  And ‘Kids in the Kitchen’ which accounted for my attendance.  Being just fourteen, I wasn’t a member of the band.  Rather, I was in a choir that was to be wheeled out during the performance by ‘Kids in the Kitchen’ to give one of their songs some much needed emotional heft.

In the eighties, if you wanted to say something big, you’d stand on something big – preferably a mountain, building or, if you’re Cher (and let’s be frank – who hasn’t wanted to be Cher at some point in their lives), a naval destroyer.  For mystery, get some venetian blinds and – hey presto! – instant mystique.  For heartbreak, show flowers being thrown to the ground in slow motion.  In fact, pretty much anything in slow motion is shorthand for emotional turmoil.  Then there was the music.

As a result of something I like to refer to as ‘We Are the World-itis’, quality music in the eighties had to stand for something. And if you had something profound to say, it wasn’t enough just to say or, for that matter, sing it yourself; you needed a choir.  That’s where we came in.

The song was called ‘Current Stand’.  The chorus was incredibly uplifting and featured the lyrics: ‘Do what’s needed, meet still the sorrow, this is the way we stand’.  To this day, I’ve no idea how anyone might ‘meet still the sorrow’.  But it means something profound, reinforced by the sweet, sweet sounds of a choir. That’s how we ended up on the recording and, later, at a performance for Charles and Di.

I’ll be the first to admit, I was worried.  Having just turned 14, my voice was becoming a little– shall we say – unreliable as it transitioned gradually from pre-pubescent squeak to adulthood.  The stress of it all was so great that by the time it came to the day of the concert, I had a cold sore on my lip so large that it could be seen from space. 

The day itself is something of a blur.  It could have been that a lot was happening or, alternatively, it could have been the cold sore medication I was taking.  When it came time for the choir to strut our stuff, I gave it my all.  My voice had other ideas and I sounded like a wounded walrus, fracturing under the strain of a lethal combination of over-exertion and teenage hormones. I was horrendous.  After it was over, I was struck by a deep sense of shame.  

Having just witnessed my performance, Charles probably thought that Australia becoming a republic seemed like a pretty good idea. Later, we were escorted to a balcony when the Royal couple made an appearance.  Cue general mayhem.  Somewhere amidst the madness, I thought Diana glanced in my direction.  There was an expression on her face, a mix of pity and admiration.  Clearly, she knew that behind the colossal cold sore on my face was someone of indisputable quality and charisma.  Someone profound.  This was reinforced by the sound of ‘Current Stand’ by ‘Kids in the Kitchen’ playing in the background.

Clearly, this what they call in the biz, ‘the money shot’ around which the entire season of The Crown should turn.  Hugh Jackman will play me.  Granted, we’re the same age and he’ll stand about three feet taller than the other choir members, but he’s so talented that he can do anything.  And the part demands someone who can convey the emotional heft the moment requires…

I’ve just finished watching season 4 of ‘The Crown’.  It seems the producers have elected to focus on the couple’s 1983 tour of Australia rather than the altogether more compelling 1985 tour.  There’s no ‘Rocking with the Royals’, no ‘Current Stand’ and no Hugh Jackman in the highly prized role of the younger me.  Naturally, I’m disappointed.  So disappointed that might go right out and meet still the sorrow.     

Chinese Diplomacy – A Beginner’s Guide

Last week, a Chinese diplomat issued a list of grievances. Ostensibly, it was a catalogue of things we’re doing that are said to be ticking off the People’s Republic of China.  Some might consider the issuance of such a list to be disappointing, if not a little juvenile. I, on the other hand, find it refreshing.  It’s the kind of candor should be welcomed, if not celebrated.  That it has arrived in list form rather than say, for example, arising in direct dialogue, is little more than nitpicking.  

Whilst I expected them to take issue with foreign investment decisions, I was surprised to find ‘Pre-game entertainment at the 2020 AFL Grand Final’ made the list.  Granted, it was a little on the dour side and, with the benefit of hindsight, should have been a more upbeat.  Really, the AFL have only themselves to blame for ignoring my suggestion to bring back Angry Anderson and have him do some serious circle work at the Gabba in the Batmobile whilst blaring out ‘Bound for Glory’.  

Perhaps more surprising still was the position of ‘Pre-game entertainment’ in the list, coming in at number seven. Granted, I don’t think the Embassy stated that the grievances were in order of significance, but I think it can be implied.  If we haven’t already booked them, I strongly suggest we lock in ‘The Killers’ for next year and for every year after that, if possible.  Problem solved.

Hook turns’.  Sure, they’re pretty confusing for the uninitiated, if not a little intimidating, but if they’re that upsetting to the people of China then I, personally, would be happy to have another look at them.  Again, I’m a little surprised that hook turns should be given the kind of diplomatic pre-eminence usually reserved for territorial incursions, but I’m sure they are plenty of Melbournians who would probably agree with China. 

Item number twelve is as simple as it is understandable. It simply reads ‘MAFS’.  Whilst it would be easy to take offence at the fact that China regards one of our most significant cultural exports to be a catastrophic hot mess, I see it as an opportunity.  As with any list of complaints, what you’re really looking for is any common ground you can find.  And, I feel, most people will be ready to sacrifice the cesspool of human misery that is ‘Married at First Sight’.

Active wear outside a gym setting’.   Honestly, this feels like they’re being too sensitive.  I can recall back in 1979, when the Chinese President Deng Xiaoping said he found Faberge jeans to be an affront to human dignity. I, of course, have similar feelings about the re-education camps in Xinjiang, but each to their own. Apparently, there was something about Fabber-grabbers that really got up the collective nose of the powers that be in China.  Now it seems that disaffection has found a new home in the form of opposing gym clothes when not actually exercising.  Frankly, this historical prejudice against skin-tight apparel has me baffled.  In this instance, I think we should stand firm and suggest they build a bridge and get over it which, as luck would have it, is what the whole ‘Belt and Road’ initiative is all about.

The use of the term ‘Chinese whispers’ comes in at number ten, sandwiched between foreign interference laws and this country’s stubborn insistence on preferring VHS over Betamax.  I think we can all agree that, in this day and age, we probably shouldn’t be using a term as loaded as ‘Chinese whispers’ any more than we should refer to ‘Dutch ovens’. I, for one, would be happy to replace it with ‘careless whispers’.  Not only does it avoid insulting a nation of over one billion people, it has the added advantage of making you think of that wonderful saxophone riff from the George Michael song every time the phrase is uttered.  

Gratuitous Use of the Word “Girt” in our National Anthem’.  They’ve got a point.  Other than when singing our national anthem, under what heightened circumstances does anyone ever use the term ‘girt’?  Lucky for us, the list isn’t just a series of gripes. It also includes constructive suggestions; the adoption of which will resolve China’s issues.  It’s not what you think.  Rather than propose a slight tweak to ‘Advance Australia Fair’ to remove the offending term, the Embassy has proposed it’s wholesale replacement.  Apparently, the proposal to substitute our current anthem with ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ comes directly from no less than Xi Jinping himself, who is a massive Acca Dacca fan.  

Most disappointingly, is number two, which reads ‘Nuisance phone calls’.  If I may be so bold, they’re only nuisance phone calls if you don’t call back.  Treating Ministers of the Crown as if they’re telemarketers trying to flog rooftop solar should, perhaps, be on a list of our own.

I’m feeling inspired.  To all the members of my immediate family who may be reading this and are expecting a present this Christmas; think again.  This year, you’ll be getting a list of grievances. I promise that my complaints will be both many and varied, stuffed deep into a stocking.  Or, alternatively, perhaps we could have a conversation.  Wouldn’t that be something?

Trump’s Next Big Career Move

Soon it could be over.  In a very short period of time, the fate of the presidency will be known. There’s no way to describe the past four years as anything other than extraordinary unless, of course, you prefer ‘cataclysmic bin-fire’.  But if it turns out the world’s largest-known Oopma Loopa is suddenly out of a job this November, the question arises – what will he do next?  Or, more accurately, what won’t he do?

There’ll be a book, obviously. Having already published ‘The Art of the Deal’ – which he not only wrote but had translated from the original Russian, it’s inevitable he’ll write the story of the Presidency from his perspective, given that everyone who so much as delivered the milk to him has already done so.  But what would a (former) President Trump call his memoir?  Something punchy like ‘Donald J Trump: Witch Hunter’ or ‘Fake News v. Fake Tan’.  Or, in recognition of his antipathy towards the ‘Black Lives Matters’ movement, maybe ‘Orange Is Not The New Black’. 

It’d possibly be the first political memoir ever to be written ALL IN CAPS.  Or to have chapters only two hundred and eighty characters long. Or to feature an endorsement on the cover not from the author himself.  Presumably it will be something along the lines of ‘A lot of people are saying this is the greatest political memoir of all time.’  Doubtless, Kim Jong-Un will prepare the Foreword.  Whether it’ll be successful or not is another matter.  Sales figures, much like inauguration attendance figures, are likely to exaggerated if not wholly invented.

Most former Presidents build a library as a monument to their legacy.  Rather than a Presidential Library, I can see Donald Trump building a mud-wrestling arena.  Or, if he does go with convention (although I have to ask, ‘why start now?’) then it could well be the first Presidential Library to filled solely with comic books.  Or to offer a free taco upon entry. That’s probably a bit unfair – chances are that the Trump Presidential Library would be filled with books, albeit solely with remaindered copies of ‘The Art of the Deal’ and ‘Orange Is Not the New Black’.

A career in stand-up comedy beckons.  He’d be the kind of comic who avoids punch lines and is more ‘observational’ in nature.  Personally, if he were not in a position to cause World War III, I’d find him hilarious.  You can’t me tell that when you pull down on his comically-long red tie that water doesn’t come squirting out one of the buttons.  Or, notwithstanding that he once paid someone else to sit his high school exams, perhaps he could pursue a career as an educator, specializing in teaching Latin, given that he so clearly understands the meaning of ‘qui pro quo’.

He could voice your car’s navigation system. However, you’d end up only ever turning right, before turning right again and again.  But honesty matters with on-board navigation. It’s no comfort if you back into street sign only to be told that ‘a lot of people saying that this was the greatest example of reverse parking probably since Lincoln’ even as the airbag deploys.  Even when hopelessly lost, the Trump navigation system would refuse to concede.

Perhaps it’s not possible to contemplate a post-Trump presidency without thinking about his BFF (or, at least, his BFF whenever Vladimir Putin is out of town and now that Geoffrey Epstein is permanently unavailable): Rudy Giuliani.  I can see them pairing up as either private detectives or a country and western duo.  Ideally both. They’d sing sweet, sweet harmonies together at a performance at a redneck bar (although it may not have been a redneck bar prior to their arrival) before getting a message that some mystery needed solving and the pair of them would throw their banjos in the boot of Rudy’s Ford Festiva before launching an investigation.  

Starsky and Hutch, Laverne and Shirley, Laurel and Hardy – Rudy and the Donald would join that elite group of crime fighters. Scouring the countryside for incriminating laptops from hell, preferably obtaining them from someone with an enormously convenient case of face-blindness, the pair would turn in stories to the New York Post, delivered in hand-written pages shoved through the night slot.  Wherever there’s injustice, you’ll find Rudy and the Donald; if not perpetrating the injustice themselves, then describing those that do as ‘very good people’.  

He could go back to TV but I’m sure he’d be loathe to repeat himself and simply return to ‘The Apprentice’.  I see advertorials in his future.  There’s nothing that guy can’t sell.  He’d promote ‘Regeneron’, the experimental drug he took whilst suffering corona virus as well as the steroid that made feel fit enough to compete in the Olympics notwithstanding that it would have seen him disqualified.  

Of course, there’s the possibility that he doesn’t lose and there will be another four years of tweets and mayhem.  Nixon was in power when I was born.  Perhaps it’s just as well that Twitter didn’t exist then; no one wants to read ‘I AM NOT A CROOK’ followed by a smiley face emoji.  It’s been a tough year.  I just want something good to happen and for life to finally get back to something that approaches normal.  Here’s hoping.    

Bill Gates: Succubus of the Universe (Or ‘Things the Internet Taught Me’)

Sometimes I feel a little sorry for Bill Gates.  Not often, but sometimes.  You’d think that his spectacular success and billions of dollars would shield him from both wild conspiracy theories and his abominable haircut, but apparently not.  Even the most cursory glance at the Internet will tell you two things: firstly, pretty much everything is the fault of Bill Gates.  Secondly, there are a lot of different food delivery options out there right now.  That has nothing to do with Bill, but they’re everywhere.  

Since cashing in his (micro)chips, Bill has taken an interest in philanthropy.  Once upon a time in the not too distant past, philanthropy was considered a good thing and not something to be destroyed at all costs. In fact, the term ‘philanthropy’ comes from the Greek work ‘philanthropia’ which translates to ‘loving people’.  Not normally the kind of thing you’d expect to make people bubble over with molten fury, but these are not normal times.  Bill, so it seems, has become something of a target.

The claims about Bill are pretty wild.  So wild that they don’t bear repeating, lest it should inadvertently add further grist to the rumour mill.  Suffice to say, COVID-19 is Bill’s fault.  And his efforts to develop a vaccine will, apparently, either result in millions of people being wiped off the Earth or, alternatively, in Bill being able to control the thoughts who takes it.  I’m not sure what Bill would do if he controlled people’s minds. Probably tell them to always wear a pair of pressed Chinos and a sensible sweater.  Had he really wanted to control people’s minds, Bill would have stayed at Microsoft.

According to either an Essential Poll or, alternatively, something I managed to Google from the Internet, a staggering one in eight Australians believe Bill Gates was involved in the creation and spread of coronavirus.  Confusingly, one in eight Australians also blames the spread of the coronavirus on the 5G network.  It begs the question – is it the same one in eight who are blaming both Bill and 5G for the pandemic?  Are they completely separate groups, each of which regards the other as heretics? Or is there some kind of ‘Venn diagram’ with an unknown degree of overlap between the two?  

Worryingly, the results are particularly poor for the 18 to 35 year old demographic, with one in five blaming Bill.  Personally, I’m a little surprised that one in five 18 to 35 year olds have heard of Bill Gates, much less know enough about him to think he’s the source of all their troubles. I’d like to think that they’d misheard the question.  Perhaps they mistook Bill Gates for, I dunno, Satan or BTS (if there’s a difference).  Somewhat ironically, the webpage I looked at to research 5G conspiracy theories is chock-a-block full of Telstra adverts.  I’d never thought of Telstra as having a sense of humour, but there you go.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, humankind went through a period of philosophical and intellectual enlightenment often referred to as ‘The Age of Reason’.  This movement later culminated an album of the same name by John Farnham.  The video clip, in particular, really summed it up, as one J. Farnham stood on top of a large rocky outcrop whilst wearing a pair of leather pants and Ugg boots; sporting a mullet that could be seen from space. (Clearly, the Enlightenment did not extend to fashion sense.)  To make it even more miraculous, he was also wearing leather trousers.  Ever gone mountain climbing in leather pants? I didn’t think so.

But just as John Farnham eventually climbed down from that mighty apex, so too has humankind come down a notch.  We’ve moved from the Information Age to the Disinformation Age with barely a pause.  Remember when the Internet was ‘the Information Superhighway’?  Nobody calls it that anymore.  What we thought would be eight digital lanes of cruising comfort has turned out to be a gravel road loaded with potholes where, if you don’t hold tightly onto the steering wheel, you’re likely to end up in a ditch.  Quite literally, anyone can say anything on the Internet and there’s almost zero accountability. 

Some might expect me to defend Bill Gates.  Quite the opposite. Instead, I’ve decided to blame Bill Gates for everything.  Out of milk?  I’ll fall to my knees, raise my clenched fists to the sky and cry ‘Bill Gates!’ at the top of my lungs.  Can’t find a shoe?  Blame Bill.  A lot of people think that the Bermuda Triangle is some kind of supernatural phenomenon that eats boats but, guess again: Bill Gates.  In fact, floods, fires, El Nino, VHS rather than Betamax and the failure to screen ‘Bachelor in Paradise’ next year are his fault.  From this day forth, millions will curse the name ‘Bill Gates’ down through the ages until….

It just occurred to me that everything I know about Bill I read on the Internet.  Which, given all I’ve just said, should be treated with caution.  In fact, I’m writing this story using a Microsoft program.  Perhaps Bill’s not so bad.  Maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all.  Bill, if you’re reading this, the kettle’s on.  Come on over for a cuppa anytime.  

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

It was a routine trip to the supermarket.  Trouble was, I was about five days too late.  Having refused to succumb to panic, I was instead faced with having my choices substantially limited.  The place was eerily quiet.  Much as when you go anywhere that has recently experienced something deeply traumatic, everyone looked a little shell-shocked.  I’d seen footage of people coming to blows in order to secure a packet of 2-ply but it’d been hard to believe.  I’m not sure what this says about us as a nation, but we’re far less prepared for a zombie apocalypse than I’d thought.

 There was no rice.  Or, at least, there was no ‘traditional’ rice but lots and lots of microwave rice.  Clearly, whatever our dystopian future has in store for us, it will not include a microwave.  I’ve no idea what has to happen for the nation’s microwaves to all stop working, but some people are obviously picturing a future without electricity and are ready to start preparing their meals over an open fire.  Alternatively, rather than ‘survival’ mode, a fair number of people have accidentally gone in to ‘Survivor’ mode, where all they ever do is eat rice and sleep outdoors.  It’s a mistake that anyone can make.  If a member of your family tells you that you’ve been voted off the island, feel free to correct them.

There was very little pasta.  Except for angel hair pasta – which is obviously way too fancy and fiddly for a lock-down situation – and gnocchi.  I’m not sure what panic purchasers especially have against gnocchi.  Too starchy, perhaps?  I can imagine someone standing in the pasta section; cramming spaghetti, penne, fettuccine, rigatoni, macaroni, tagliatelle, linguine and pappardelle into their trolley, but leaving the gnocchi behind for fear of going overboard. Perhaps they feel that pasta is the secret to beating this thing.  Forget washing your hands, carb loading is the way to go.

There were no walnuts.  For the love of everything I hold sacred, what possessed my fellow citizens to hoard all the walnuts and, in doing so, deprive walnut-lovers such as myself to go without?  Clearly, having elected to eat pasta for the next three decades, they’ve decided a Waldorf salad is the perfect side dish.  Or, in the event that you do have to self-isolate, there’s never going to be a better time to bake.  Perhaps that was the reason there was so little flour left. People want to bake and definitely not make their own gnocchi.

Maybe people are simply looking ahead.  The fiscal outlook is nothing if not uncertain and negative growth is a distinct possibility.  But as bleak as things may be, there’s always the chance of a baking-led recovery.  I, for one, don’t know what the nation’s economy is going to look like when we come out the other side of this thing, but I do know that we’ll be perfectly placed to run a cake stall so large that you’ll be able to see it from space.  Sponge cake is recession proof.  That’s a fact.

 Then I stumbled across what once would have been the toilet paper isle.  All that remained was shelving.  The only people in the aisle were there to take photos.  I’d heard of runs on banks during the Great Depression, but clearly some people are preparing for runs of a completely different kind. The evidence suggests that some folks have drastically misunderstood the symptoms of corona virus.  

It goes to show where our priorities lie. Forget bottled water and canned tomatoes – just make sure I can continue to go to the lav in relative comfort and I’m as good as set in the event of a shut-in.  Given that the will of the nation has been so clearly been expressed, it’d be foolish not to listen.  Indeed, it’s only a matter of time before we ditch the cute looking fauna and crown a packet of Sorbent silky-white 2-ply as our national symbol.  In future, political parties will run on platforms that promise an uninterrupted supply of loo rolls.  Fringe parties will promise out-house stationery for everyone, regardless of cost.  But not everyone is impacted.  

My father did National Service back in the 1950s.  He often used to tell his children that at Puckapunyal, toilet paper was rationed out at two sheets per man per day.  Originally, I had misheard ‘sheet’ and regarded the arrangements as a little on the generous side.  Once I realized that the term was, in fact, ‘sheet’, I was mortified.  It simply didn’t seem possible.  I lived in terror that my father would introduce a similar rule in our house – for there could be no other reason for bringing it up so often – and that my profligate habits on the thunder-box would be exposed.  Humiliation would inevitably follow.  But it made me realize – my father has been preparing for this moment his entire life.  Whilst others are losing their minds with panic, my father can rest assured that a single roll will take him comfortably through to 2025.

These are strange times.  Perhaps it’s no surprise that people do whatever they can to prepare for what is, in truth, unprecedented.  But if the run on our supermarkets shows anything, it’s that people are ready to take action.  Hopefully, that’s something that will hold us all in good stead.  Best wishes to all. And bon appetite.      

The Adventures of Rudy Giuliani – Attorney at Large

I didn’t want to go.  But, looking back, what choice did I have?  It’s been seventeen years since I somewhat foolishly loaned Rudy Giuliani my copy of ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ and I’d begun to suspect I’d never get it back.  Granted, I no longer have a video player, but it’s the principle of the thing and I’ve learned that Rudy and principle are no longer on speaking terms, so I had to force the issue.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Rudy Giuliani – former mayor of New York and President Trump’s personal lawyer – would have an office somewhere in midtown.  But you’d be wrong.  What most people don’t get is that Rudy is a humble guy who needs little other than a desk, a window and a conspiracy theory to keep him happy. That’s why his office is in Doncaster, behind a Chinese Restaurant called ‘Kung Food’.  There’s ample parking, which is a bonus.

I squeeze past the skip bin and a small group of feral cats scatters as I spot a wooden shingle rocking back and forth to the right hand side of the door that reads ‘R. Giuliani Esquire – World’s Greatest Lawyer’.  I knock but there’s no answer.  The door’s unlocked so I gently ease my way in.  The office is small – a desk covered in papers, a typewriter and a large red phone; a coat rack and, beside it, a wooden perch on which sits a huge multi-coloured Macaw.  The bird lets out an almighty shriek and, suddenly, the door to the stationery cupboard opens and a body falls to the floor.

‘Rudy!’ I cry, as a small man picks himself up.  ‘Were you sleeping in the stationery cupboard?’  He explained he preferred to sleep at the office and that he took great comfort in being surrounded by highlighters, post-it notes and staplers as he slumbered.  The bird – who he called ‘Tootles’ – always told him when visitors arrived. ‘I want my video back,’ I said. His eyes narrowed and he bared his teeth, ‘You can’t prove I have it,’ he snarled.  The video was sitting on his desk, right next to his ‘thought of the day’ calendar.  I picked it up and waved it around asking, ‘How do you explain this?’  It was then his eyes began to glow a deep, demonic red and he seethed something about a ‘Deep State conspiracy’.

It felt super awkward. I decided to try and make small talk.  ‘How’s business?’ I asked.  ‘Got many clients?’ Rudy spun around and pointed to a framed picture on the wall.  ‘Just one client,’ he said.  ‘The President of the United States of America!’  I’ll admit I was a little worried.  The picture he was pointing to was not of Donald Trump but, rather, a blonde longhaired guinea pig.  Granted, the resemblance was stunning, but a guinea pig doesn’t have access to nuclear launch codes.

‘And what’s the President got you doing?  Conveyancing? Wills?  The occasional letter of advice?’  The Macaw lets out a shriek as if it’s laughing at my question.  Rudy leans forward to the point he nearly falls over again.  ‘I can’t say,’ he said.  ‘Top secret.’  On the other wall was a map for the Ukraine.  ‘Does that giant map of the Ukraine have anything to do with it?’ I asked.  Rudy spun his whole body around to face the wall, before spinning back again.  ‘There’s no map,’ he said.  ‘It’s just a bunch of lines on a page that, taken together, look a lot like the Ukraine.’

I’ll admit I was disappointed – I’ve known Rudy since we spent summers thinning fruit together in Moorooduc back in the 1980s.  He’s the kind of guy that’ll tell you all his deepest secrets before you’ve even had a chance to ask.  When it came to holding secrets, Rudy was a complete butterfingers. After a moment’s awkward silence, it came tumbling out.  ‘I’m doing some back channel work for the President in the Ukraine,’ he admitted.  ‘Back channel?’ I queried.  ‘What’s wrong with the front channel?’  Silence gripped the room once more and even Tootles the Macaw had nothing to say.  ‘Look over there!’ cried Rudy as he pointed to the window.  As I turned, I could hear him making a break for the door.  Quickly, I tackled him to the ground.  ‘Confess!’ I cried.

As we were rolling around on the floor, the large red phone started ringing.  The bird went totally berserk and Rudy begged me to let him to answer it.  ‘It’s my client!’ he cried.  Releasing him from my vice-like grip he scampered across the floorboards on all fours, before snatching the receiver from the cradle.  Even though I was on the other side of the room, the caller’s voice was so loud that I could tell straight away that it was Donald Trump.  ‘Yes, your majesty,’ said Rudy over and over again. 

He hung up and I asked what the Trump-meister wanted. ‘He wants Singapore Noodles and a bucket of crispy pork from Kung Food’, he said, nodding in the direction of the restaurant.  ‘And he wants me to head to the Ukraine right away.  And that, because of the sensitive nature of my work, I’ll need to avoid catching a plane and stow away on a freighter instead.’  Before I knew it, he was putting on a cape and picking up a Harry Potter wand.  ‘Crapius in excelsis!’ he cried before disappearing in a puff of smoke. Tootles shrieked and I grabbed my video, before getting out of there as fast as I could.

A Running Commentary on Running

This may sound crazy, but – unitard gravy fuzz-face caboodle. The other thing that might sound crazy is the idea of voluntarily getting up at 5am to go running every day of the week.  But that’s what I do.  In fact, that’s what I’ve always done – rain, hail but definitely not shine. Five o’clock in the morning isn’t the crack of dawn – it’s unambiguously pre-crack.  

There are obvious difficulties with running at that time of day.  Firstly, it’s dark. Reallydark.  You’re basically relying on intermittent streetlights to find your way.  You simply have to hope that something hasn’t been left strewn across the footpath by some careless passer by, lest you end up tripping over.  Which, at a certain age, is a singularly unpleasant experience. I’m not sure when falling over changes from being an ever day occurrence and no biggie to a minor catastrophe, but once it happens, there’s no turning back.    

The other palpable risk associated with super early morning runs is being mistaken for someone who is running away from something, rather than somebody undertaking exercise.  Luckily, this has never happened to me.  It must be something about my style – which I would describe something one notch above shuffling.  If I was running from something, I would be in some considerable strife. I’m not sure how to describe it – perhaps a cross between a three-legged panda and a Muppet – but graceful it is not.

The funny thing is, even though I’ve been running for years, I don’t really feel that I’ve gotten all that much better at it. I can run further than I used to. But I’ve become no more elegant than when I started all those years ago and I’m not sure I know any more than I did when I started out.

I was in my twenties.  The only time I’d exercised as a kid was at football training, which I’d stopped when I was fifteen.  I think I assumed that fitness would be something that was simply given to me, maybe for Christmas.  Then, as I entered the workforce, my exercise regimen consisted solely of walking to the train station and back.  And, if I felt really brave, carrying all the grocery shopping home rather than taking the car.  I decided that something had to change.

It was a challenge to get out of bed at first.  But I wanted things to be different, I think. At the time, I was living in a small, one-bedroom flat / oversized utility cupboard near St Kilda.  The challenge with early morning running in St Kilda is that you sometimes encounter people who are still enjoying the night before.  This can be disastrous.  

When approaching someone from behind, you end up doing all sorts of things to try and let them know you’re coming.  Clearing your throat, talking or using a horn are just some of the techniques I’ve deployed to ensure I don’t startle others. Mostly it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Suffice to say, that one gentleman dropped into a karate stance as I shuffled by, whilst a young girl who was too busy talking to her friends to notice that I was approaching, dropped her drink before unleashing the kind verbal tirade usually reserved for three quarter time when you’re sixty points down.

Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve run.  When I moved to Brisbane, I used to run along the river. The lovely thing about running in Queensland is that so many other people are up and about and getting exercise.  The streets of Elwood became so familiar to me that I’m surprised my footprints weren’t worn into the pavement.  The great thing about running on holidays is that you get to do all kinds of reconnaissance.  By the time you return home, you know where everything is.  

Sometimes I travel for work.  This takes me to various towns in regional Victoria and I always go for a run.  When I can, I take a photo of the place I’m in, as a kind of souvenir.  To prove I was there.  Often, I send these pictures to work colleagues as a way of showing how beautiful these places are and as an extreme form of humble-bragging to show them how early I got up.

I can’t imagine not being able to run.  But, at some point, it’ll be necessary to adapt. For me, running is time to think. This sounds improbable given that I’m always listening to music as I go, but I’ve always found it therapeutic. A way of keeping in balance. You’d be surprised how many of the world’s problems can be solved whilst listening to a playlist that features ‘Kajagoogoo’.

Subconsciously, I might simply be honing my ‘flight’ reflex.  Every once in a while, one of our smoke detectors will randomly go off.  I think it happens if an ant wanders in to the detector.  I feel sorry for the ant.  It happened the other night at about two in the morning.  One minute I was in a deep, deep sleep; the next I was bolt upright and running across the room.  My wife told me later she thought I was going to get a fire extinguisher. I’m not so sure.  Especially since I was three blocks away and in my pajamas before I turned around and realized that she hadn’t followed me. It’s a miracle she didn’t tell me to keep on running.