A Salute to Marsupial Debasement

Posters for the last instalment of ‘Sex and the City’ were somewhat confronting.  The protagonists looked decades younger than they did the last time we saw them.  In fact, given that this follows an earlier big screen adventure, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the sequel to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Welcome to Photoshop.  That there should be a computer program capable of erasing wrinkles and blemishes with a mere click of the mouse is a wonderful thing.  My only regret is that it’s limited to photographs and can’t be applied to everyday life.  That said, in reality it’s little more than a controlled form of graffiti.

A couple of months ago, there was uproar in Melbourne after graffiti by the artist ‘Banksy’ was accidently scrubbed off a wall by a council cleaning team.  Whilst some decried the lack of appreciation for art by the cleaners, to me it seems both the ultimate irony and perfectly inevitable.  As criticism goes, it’s hard to beat a wire scrubbing brush and a bucket of turpentine.  Whilst the resulting uproar unfairly belittled the cleaning team as philistines, I think that is way out of order.  Frankly, even if they don’t know much about art, they clearly know what they like.  Besides, if you decide to use a building wall to express yourself rather than, say, a canvas, you take your chances.

I’m not especially a fan of Banksy.  Vandalism is an immature act committed by mindless thugs, no-hopers and hooligans and should be decried and abhorred – with one exception.  As anyone who has had to drive a sizeable distance along this nation’s freeways can attest, the country side can feel as dull as a rainy Sunday afternoon.  We’ve all been frightened witless on occasion by television advertisements promising death or disfigurement should we so much as attempt to change radio stations whilst driving, must less a more complete loss of concentration.  That’s why I’d like to pay tribute to a very special breed of thug, no-hoper and hooligan – those that deface koala road signs.

    No doubt you’ve seen them.  Yellow road signs with a black, stencilled koala silhouettes, alerting the driver to the fact that, at any moment, their attempt to drive along the freeway may be interrupted by a random marsupial which, drug-addled as a result of ingesting eucalypt, wanders across the motorway in a bid to reach the nearest 7-11 for a packet of Twisties.

    However, there is something about the shape of the koala and, in particular, the position of the hands that make it something of an open invitation to the imaginative graffiti artist.  As a result, it is not uncommon to come across such as sign that has been ‘amended’ by an aspiring vandal by drawing an object such as a shotgun, beer can or something more illicit in the koala’s hands.  Either that or they white-out the eyes (who even has ‘white-out’ in this day and age?) or add a set of fangs to Australia’s most cuddly of creatures whose name is not Ian Hewitson.  

    It never fails to make me laugh.  Partly, this is because such signs are almost always located by the side of busy motorways and would-be vandals have to interrupt their journeys for the sole purpose of their artistic embellishments.  These are not crimes of mere opportunity.  They require commitment, devotion and, frankly, a very good texta.

    But whereas once these defaced signs littered the country side, they have become increasingly rare.  There are two possible explanations: one is a possible shortage of delinquent youths with a sense of humour, the other is a renewed effort to ‘clean up’ these signs.  The former of these is utterly implausible.  I refuse to accept that the current generation of youths have yet had all the life ‘facebooked’ out of them, their joie de vivre i-podded out of existence.  Clearly, roadside cleaning teams have elected to up the ante.

    I suspect that they sit in waiting at roadside depots, siren and scrubbing brush at the ready.  At the mere uncapping of a black marker, they set off; their tyres screeching, to save a national symbol from even the slightest despoilment.  These human photo-shoppers are determined to eliminate blemishes as quickly as possible.  It’s a shame; the absence of perfection is far more appealing.

    Listless youths should be free to do their creative best whilst we still have koala signs left to deface.  If, in years to come, these fragile marsupials become extinct or, heaven forbid, are forced to comply with upgraded safety standards and compelled to each wear fluorescent jackets and matching helmets, the signs will no longer be needed.  Sometimes the quest for perfection ought to be resisted.  It’s a lesson yet to be learned by the cast from Sex in the City.  The rest of us should do our best to spot this unpalatable trend and stop it in its tracks.  You don’t need to be an oracle or soothsayer to see the way things are headed.  All you need to do is be ready to read the signs – even if some nitwit has come along and drawn on it.

Rage Against the Machine

The campaign to bring back Telecom starts today.  The grand vision of a privatized entity, moulded by market forces to serve your every telecommunications whim and desire, can now be dismissed as a noble theory, thoroughly disproved by the cold hard truth.  The dream is over.

    A couple of weeks ago, I had cause to complain to a major telecommunications company (who, for the sake of anonymity, I shall refer to as the Smurfatron Mega Corporation) after they left me on hold for an entire hour.  Whilst an hour may not be that much using whatever method the people at Smurfatron rely on to measure the space / time continuum, the choice of music meant that the time on hold was better calculated in terms of dog years.  Upon reflection, it was not so much a complaint as an outpouring of frustration – fevered but basically transitory in nature.  In the first instance, I received an automated reply.  This, as it turned out, was a much better response than the one that followed a few days later:   

‘Webform: Business Complaint  (KMM80945265V32735L0KM)

Dear Mr. McCullough,

Thank you for your email dated 26/8/10, regarding High bill for your Internet.

Unfortunately we cannot process any complaint due to insufficient details. If you could provide us with the service and account number we can investigate and escalate through to complaints if we are unable to resolve the issue.

Yours sincerely,

Smurfatron Mega Corporation – wholly owned subsidiary of Wastrels Inc.

I am not one to take these things lying down, standing up or any other way you can think of.  Determined not to be defeated by organizational gobbledygook, I was quick to respond.

Dear computer,

Insufficient details?  Touché.  If anything, I was concerned that I had provided too much detail rather than not enough.  Hopefully you’ve not confused my complaint – KMM8094565V32735LOKM – with another complaint, such as KMM8094565V32735LOKL or, heaven forbid, KMM8094565V32735LOKN.  I appreciate that it may be hard to tell them apart.

Incidentally, I can only say that the sheer weight of numbers and letters suggests that lots of people feel as I do and have made complaints to your office.  For my part, I’d made a complaint in a moment of frustration.  In the cold light of day, I was prepared to consider that being placed on hold was surely an aberrant outcome that does not represent the normal workday operations of a telecommunications giant.  Your magnificent email, however, leads me to reconsider.

I was trying to respond to messages from the Smurfatron Business Centre to call and discuss my Internet account. According to the messages, I am on the wrong plan. For my part I confirm that, in layman’s terms, I am presently being ‘charged up the wazoo’.  

If the provision of a name and number is too much of an exercise in vagary for your company to cope with, then Lord have mercy on us all.  Please try harder.  I look forward to hearing from someone, indeed anyone, soon.

Upon sending it, I received yet another automated response to add to my steadily growing pile.  But these were desperate times that did not so much call for, as flat-out demand, desperate measures.  Willing to throw caution to the wind from a vehicle moving at high speed, I dialled the number for Smurfatron.  This time, perhaps only by chance, somebody answered.

    The operator calmly explained that my current Internet plan allowed 400 megabytes to be downloaded per month which I was exceeding.  Until that moment, I had thought a megabyte was a kind of dinosaur, much like a Triceratops but with wings and the ability (hopefully) to shoot lasers from its beady reptilian eyes.  It is, apparently, the computing equivalent of a horse and buggy.  Whilst I was busy taking my surrey with a fringe on top for a spin on the information superhighway, the world had moved on.  So much so that it was no longer possible to sign up for the piddling Internet plan I had – the least you could now ask for was, at 2 gigabytes, five times larger.  And, just to sink the boot in, slightly cheaper than my current plan.

    It begged the question – how could I possibly be on a plan that no longer existed?  That the Smurfatron Mega Corporation thinks that it is somehow appropriate to charge me for a product so inferior that it no longer survives is surely the corporate equivalent of a snatch and grab.  Leaving aside my own sense of righteous fury at having been the subject of a telecommunications punking, part of me can’t but help admire a mind so purely evil.   Genius aside, I just can’t be their customer any more.  Come back Telecom, all is forgiven.

A Roman We Must Go

I haven’t felt this confused since I watched Donny Darko.  What on earth just happened?  When you toss a coin, you either call it ‘heads’ or ‘tails’.  Nobody expects it to land exactly on its side. Whilst the dust is still in the process of settling, it’s apparent that the three regional former National Party MPs (who – for ease of reference – I shall refer to as ‘Paper’, ‘Rock’ and ‘Scissors’) wield an almighty degree of power.

It’s a lot of responsibility for so few shoulders.  Where do you begin?  Do you make a choice about which party to support in the formation of the government based on who has the greatest number of seats, primary votes or two-party preferred votes?  Or do you throw conventional wisdom squarely out the window and support the party that showed the most restraint in the use of ‘Photoshop’ technology for their campaign posters (let’s be honest – in some instances the difference between the picture on the placard and the actual candidate can only described and ‘gapingly, gob-smackingly enormous’).  Perhaps it would be best to flip a coin and shout ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ but, then, that’s what gave us our current predicament.

The temptation to go overboard must be huge.  In less disciplined hands, I can imagine a list that includes demands for a monster truck, the removal of all brown M and Ms and a public holiday in honour of their pet Spoodle.  In fact, perhaps we ought all be impressed that the demands of the regional independents do not, to date, resemble Van Halen’s tour rider.  It’s a reminder of what a fragile and unpredictable thing democracy can be.  Which is fair enough when you consider how long it has taken to perfect.  Although democracy was invented by the Greeks, it was the Romans who really took it up a notch.  

Although famous for its Senate, democracy had fallen from favor in Rome.  It made a comeback after the tyrannical Emperor Tiberius was succeeded by Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanics (also known as ‘Caligula’ to his friends – of whom he had many) in 37 AD.  Notwithstanding his later reputation for being as mad as a cut snake, Caligula’s ascension was greeted with joy by the Roman people, largely because they now had an emperor who wasn’t Tiberius.

He got off to a roaring start.  He reintroduced democratic elections and commissioned work on two new aqueducts as well as tax reform.  But in spite of his devotion to public works, there were early signs of trouble.  In 39 AD, he ordered the construction of a temporary floating pontoon bridge across a bay – a distance of two miles – so he could ride over it on a horse whilst wearing the breastplate of Alexander the Great.  He did this solely to antagonize a soothsayer named Thrasyllus of Menda who had once declared that Caligula had as much chance of becoming emperor as he did of riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae.  No doubt Caligula took great delight in declaring ‘In your face Thrasyllus!’ as he reached the other side.

Then trouble struck.  Caligula started having difficulty with the Senate, but rather than dissolve it, he retaliated by forcing senators to perform acts of servitude such as running along side his chariot.  Worse still, the power started to go to his head and poor old Caligula began to believe that he was a god.  But, classy guy that he was, he didn’t come flat out and declare it – he dropped hints, such as turning up to work dressed as other gods such as Mercury, Apollo and Hercules.  It is a shame, I think, that people rarely make their point through outrageous costumes.  Bob Katter excepted.

Caligula then demanded that the heads of statues be removed and replaced with his own head.  As you do.  Then things really went off the rails.  Legend has it that he once threw an entire section of the crowd into an arena to be eaten by wild animals because he was bored.  Historians regard this event as the very first example of a citizen’s assembly going horribly wrong.  He then attempted that most herculean of political tasks – reforming the Senate. Thank goodness he had the costume for it.  But rather than change the manner in which voting occurred, he tried to appoint his horse, Incitatus.  Presumably, he wanted to increase the ‘Nay’ vote.

By 41AD, he was declared an enemy of the State but before assassins could carry out their grisly task, Caligula committed suicide.  A sad end, no doubt.  Within four years, he’d gone from reforming hero to despot and his name forever associated with villainy.  However, not all democratic stalemates are resolved in so dramatic a fashion.  A few years later, Nero responded to plummeting popularity by singing in public.

Who knows how the current impasse is to be resolved?  Personally, I’m quite taken with the singing idea. It could be just like an Idol audition – starry-eyed hopefuls would be wheeled in before a table at which the country independents are seated, before giving it their all.  Then again, maybe it’s all too difficult and we’ll be returning to the polls sooner rather than later.  There’s at least one up side that I can think of.  If nothing else, another election means one thing: a second sausage sizzle.  This could well be the greatest and most unexpected boost to educational budgets in living memory.