BARFLY TOP TEN: I-94 Bar Adelaide correspondent Robert Brokenmouth
Almost everyone I know seems to be mourning people they loved who passed on this year. Some staved off the inevitable until later in their lives, for which I am only one of many very grateful folk. Other people are coping as best they can.
For many of us 2018 was a very mixed year. In many places great swathes of love came out, so the struggle was peppered with brilliant, unforgettable events, music, films and a few books.
Normally I just do some sort of Top Ten for the I-94 Bar, but this year has been memorable for far too many of the wrong reasons, which has annoyed me quite a bit, and I'm an old shit, so cue meme of Granpa Simpson shaking his fist at a cloud.
But let's start with Australia, the country which can't count on stable government, can't spot a recessionary bubble billowing up like a volcano, and increasingly puts local news first because that is, apparently, what we're really interested in.
Our country is, and always has been, a bottom-feeder, dependent on the goodwill of bigger, stronger countries, and generally, because we're not in the geographical way of other countries, we've avoided much of the global chaos of the last 70 years or so. Militarily, unless we have help, we'd be powerless to defend ourselves in anything other than a short term conflict (increasingly so over the last quarter of a century).
Why's that important? Because we're pretty damn comfortable here in Australia, and we make our lives look pretty damned attractive. All those Bondi Fucking Vets and Kylies and Jasons and Fixing Some Shitty House and Making Professional Chefs Gag and big open spaces in roadtrains. That's why lots of people want to force themselves here, irrespective of whether or not we want them (and, as with every other government of every other country, it is in our best interest to bring the most useful and best people to this country - as well as their families).
That's why ghastly holes like Nauru, and the passive aggression of our navy towards people-smugglers exist; to deter. It's a very low-level conflict - and the stakes are: our way of life against the possibility of it all collapsing under the weight of unrealistic demands for wealth and consumer goods (we do a pretty good job of demanding that all on our own, thanks).
Australia tolerates the Indonesian brutalisation of West Papua because we appear to need the co-operation of the Indonesians in (among other things) allowing us to stop migrants arriving without our permission. (here's context: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-09/west-papua-petition-australias-promise-about-to-be-tested/9025206)
But we don't tackle any of these issues properly. Of all the things we should have been debating for the last few decades, gay marriage wasn't one of them (and in my view, those who decided to make us vote, cynically hoping to split Australia into two clearly-defined camps, were wicked to do so).
Most people couldn't give a rats about who's living with who as long as it doesn't affect them. I don't give a bugger about my neighbours as long as they leave me alone. Ignorance is bliss. Had the Referendum not been introduced, at the end of a particularly dozy parliamentary session toward the end of almost any year, a bill for gay marriage could have been raised, passed and the few pollies present would have snoozed on; most people wouldn't have noticed until six months later, and those who would have been outraged would mostly have kept schtum for fear of being laughed at for being out of step with the new modern norms.
Enough. We pay too much attention to piffling things, to the wood in front of us but not the forest, to the people in our malls waving the flag of the country they came here from, protesting what is being done there - to which I say, don't bring your disgusting fight here. Go home and try to fix the place, or stay here and get on with your new life. If West Papuans escaped Indonesia's revolting behaviour and landed in Germany or Italy, and went around waving the West Papuan flag and handing out leaflets, how much attention would be paid? Pretty much zero. There are a lot of other countries closer to the Middle East than Australia (Indonesia, for one). We have far more common with the people of West Papua than (say) those of Israel or Palestine; surely we should prioritise refugees from West Papua? Particularly since we're officially condoning the pillage of the fucking place?
What should we be discussing, I hear you ask? Here's one: how to frack safely, and how to make sure Australia gets the lion's share of the profits (because the world won't instantly turn on the solar panels), and how to slowly - over a couple of decades, perhaps - turn off the coal power without causing stupid price hikes to please a vocal and idiotically idealistic few. In other words, a sensible transition. We wonder why the economy is shit and our electricity bill is so high ... our own stupid fault, of course.
Ideals have costs, like any industry, and costs need to be factored in before you open the shop door. Solar is wonderful, but it takes time and money to change an entire system, and we were and are still, a thoughtless, insular bunch all too ready to feed at the table without doing the actual growing, building or slaughtering. Someone else can do that, we shouldn't have to think about it.
What are our politicians doing..? Well, from here it rather looks like a kindergarten argument about who ate all the glue.
Here's another thought: a good part of Australia is fucking tropical, so surely we should be harnessing the rain a lot more effectively, and setting up desal plants so we can pump and transport water to our farmers and our bushfires, of which we seem so fondly forgetful every summer? Mmmm?
Shall we talk about national infrastructure, and the preservation of our heritage, and the advance of a new, modern melange culture? Shall we talk about all those vile, bland city buildings made, apparently, entirely from windows so that they cost the a mint to heat and cool, using disproportionate chunks of energy? Who approves these stupid, ugly fucking things? Why, it's us, isn't it?
Perhaps we could talk about the discrepancy between the number of terrorists actually caught and the number of arseholes who've killed women over any given period - I gather the latter might just be the higher figure (by a country mile), and I see no motions in Parliament to set up an enquiry, or motions to increase funding towards dealing with violent men. How about a National Enquiry as to why so many rapists seem to get stuff-all of a sentence, which means that the level of reporting drops ... even though the nastiness of them seems to be increasing. No, wait, a woman wore a shirt with the arms a tad too revealing, and we can't have that ...
This is us, folks, we're all in this together as a nation, no matter where you were born... heads bent, fossicking through a pettifogging rulebook when the right and wrongness of the matter should be fucking obvious. Similarly, gaol. What's it for? Punishment? Rehabilitation..? Keeping the buggers off the street for a while? We have no idea. Yet the answer should be obvious.
Shall we talk about the low amount the unemployed receive because it's increasingly difficult to live on? A far greater scandal is the companies who leach from the unemployed by pretending to help them find work. Sure, I know some companies are honest, but others are far too cynical, regarding their customers as little more than a source of their own income. One wonders just how much money is being spent on the leaches, and whether by simply shutting the useless ones down and reallocating funds to a higher unemployment payment we'd see better results.
This makes me ponder the government's robo-debt policy, rather like the persecution of witches, where you the accused had to prove you weren't a witch, otherwise you got burnt. Hurrah for Gavin Silbert, QC, "keen to launch Federal Court action to test the legal basis of the robo-debt program and the government's apparent unwillingness to provide particulars." (SMH) Strange how no other legal beagle has stepped up for this one... if one were a cynic one might think the Government had, one day over a taxpayer-funded dinner, decided to grab some of the dole back, irrespective whether or not there was cause, and sod the poor.
After all, the more dosh people have to spend, the more happy the economy, more jobs, the mortgage paid off quicker and the voters are happy, right? One rather begins to wonder why our Dear Leaders are happy for this unequal, dishonest situation to continue because it makes some of the poor feel they have to steal and rob ... which I suppose allows the government to say, 'this just shows you how much you need us! We'll spend more on law enforcement', instead of recognising the problems and addressing them. And, in turn, making people feel like they have a useful, worthwhile government.
Perhaps both L governments are unaware that giving more dosh to the poor means that 1) more mortgaged houses will be retained by the struggling owners, thus giving the banks more dosh, 2) the economy has a bit more tick-over power and 3) the retail industry will definitely sigh in relief. I dunno; it was John Howard who thought the poor were prone to a flash bribe, so maybe that's what the Libs are currently thinking.
Then there's all those cuts to mental health over the last few decades - again, both L governments. Today, for some strange reason, we see increasing numbers of disturbed people roaming the streets, occasionally attacking the innocent and the beloved in front of us. It's not just meth, but the reasons why people take it. You can't entirely eradicate this behaviour, but you can reduce its quantity and likelihood; our government (like those in UK and the USA) doesn't seem able to put these jigsaw pieces into place. I'm beginning to think our respective governments aren't actually there for the good of the people. But surely not.
Here: should our government publicise tax breaks for businesses who support the arts, encouraging big companies (and hotels) to allow students, actors, musicians, artists, photographers to use those forgotten corners (almost every large building has largely unused spaces) for creative endeavour? It's not Stephen Hawking-level science; in London, the rental prices are now so stupidly high that most of the galleries have either gone under or moved to the burbs; and that of course has happened in gentrified St Kilda, Darlinghurst and blah blah blah. Owners of more than a handful of properties might well be happier to take a tax cut in lieu of rent for allowing a gallery to remain open in a vibrant part of town.
However overseas, away from all the bumbling in Australia, all sorts of vile instability is stalking the planet. The over-idealistic and not-very-practical EU is taking a hammering, partly set up by Russia's jolly fun with Syria (fucking hell), and partly because the EU wonks decided to do away with border controls. A lovely idea, really, all countries without borders ... so long as everyone likes where they live and only travel to (say) Italy for a holiday - instead of hopping into a boat or a truck in their thousands to escape dearth, poverty, starvation and disease (for which you cannot really blame them).
Hell, if you were living in a mud hut and happened to see the village rich man's TV showing Bondi Fucking Vet, wouldn't you look around and think, "Whoa, where's that place?" Of course you would. Hell, there are thousands of British here who've overstayed their visas (they're also illegal immigrants, by the way) (oh, sorry, you need a reference: "There were nearly 10,000 Malaysians recorded as having overstayed visas in 2016-17, along with about 6500 Chinese nationals and 5170 from the United States ... About 3700 UK nationals overstayed, ahead of 2780 Indonesians and 2730 Indians."
Which, because I'm talking about people barging in and sitting down where they've not been invited and not being especially welcome, brings me to my Favourite Deaths of 2018.
By far and away my favourite death this year is that of that arrogant turd, adventurer John Chau. Filled with manly self-love (which Chau seemed to think was the love of Jesus for his fellow-man), Chau invaded the protected sanctuary of Sentinel Island without apparently caring that he could be carrying modern variant forms of diseases which he would be immune to, but that the islanders would not - in other words, simply by being there Mr Turd Chau could've wiped out the island's entire population).
A hero in his own mind, rather like Vietnam veteran Principal Skinner ('It's the children who are wrong'), Chau heroically waded through the surf to the islanders waving a soccer ball and hollering that he, and Jesus, loved them. One wonders what Chau would have said if the islanders had all been dead by Christmas by virtue of his criminal carelessness.
Pray for forgiveness, consoling himself that the islanders had been exposed to the love of Christ, and therefore might not go to hell?
Now look. If Chau had invaded a rare pussy-cat or doggy sanctuary with the same isolation/disease/extermination issue, this would be front page news for months, and the squealing from the shut-ins that the islanders, doggies or pussies should be punished would be laughed away.
No, the Sentinelese islanders showed great good sense by killing the arrogant arsehole. More arrogant arseholes have been calling for nonsense like prosecution, bringing the corpse back and so on; fuck 'em.
We're better off without John Chau, and everyone who thinks that their love of Jesus justifies their stupid annoying interference. Honestly, what is it about 'no, fuck off' that sets off their intimate juices and gets them all determined to Do Something About That Dreadful Situation?
Another favourite death of 2018 is that of Reynaldo Bignone, 90, who died in Buenos Aires in March, "while under house arrest after being convicted of crimes against humanity in multiple trials ... Mr. Bignone, a former general, was the fourth and last leader of a military dictatorship that illegally imprisoned, tortured, killed and disappeared tens of thousands of people. He was found guilty of numerous crimes, including killings, tortures and the kidnapping of babies from political prisoners."
In 1982, "Mr. Bignone led a methodical process not only to destroy evidence about the dictatorship’s crimes but also to justify its repression. He approved an amnesty that was effectively an effort to shield military officers from prosecution. Mr. Bignone’s convictions in 10 war-crimes trials led to three life sentences and seven sentences of 15 to 25 years. He was also acquitted in one case and indicted in nine others that never went to trial, according to data from the Argentine attorney general’s office."
Before being sentenced in 2010... [Bignone said] that there had been an “irregular war” underway in Argentina at the time and that the armed forces “had to get involved in the fight to defeat terrorism.”" (New York Times)
A cheery chap, fun to be around, kind to children and dogs I'm sure you'll agree. But on the other hand, Argentina? That's somewhere we don't care too much about, of course. So it's not relevant, or important to Australia.
My other favourite death this year is ex-President Bush. It's difficult to know where to begin with the 'Folksy Fondler' or, as he apparently liked to refer to himself, 'David Cop-a-Feel'. Quite a few ghastly things happened on his watch and, while in many ways he was a 'good' president, fumbling the military hawks and the Hussein creature in Iraq had so many ugly whoops-a-diddles that I fear the western world was exposed in the act of losing its moral authority ... Check out (sorry, 'google') the Highway of Death or the Haditha Massacre; Bush wasn't responsible for them, but the subsequent investigations without punishment for those responsible rightly enraged the Middle East. Sure, everyone makes mistakes. But do they have to be so fucking big, and so many? At what point do we stop and call it on either incompetence, collusion or general amorality? Just one quote should do it, I think; this from cnbc.com
"I will never apologize for the United States - I don't care what the facts are. ... I'm not an apologize-for-America kind of guy." - Comments during an August 2, 1988 campaign stop about the USS Vincennes' mistakenly downing a commercial Iran Air flight, killing 290 civilians."
I'll just let that one sink in. "I don't care what the facts are." Okay, that's Bush. But it might as well be Chau, or Bignone, or any one of the dildos who support/ed them. So, rest in peace, these fuckers? Rot in Purgatory.
And as for the "can't we let his family have some peace" sentiment I occasionally hear ... oh, get fucked. I call spades what they are, not 'flat bladed digging implements'. The Bush and Chau families are, doubtless, rightly grieving, but they should also understand that these people they loved most dearly did very bad things, and were (in my frank opinion at least) scum.
Rather puts piddling little Australia in its place; for all its vast open spaces, in world terms Australia is just another cubicle in a damned big office. As bad as Scummo or Tungball or Bud Abbott or Gilligan or Krudd or Howouldya were, Nauru and Manus Island aside I don't think they could quite measure up to the likes of Chau, Bignone or Bush.
Really? Don't say bad things about the dead? No; I have friends who've made mistakes too. Bad ones. I know what they were, and what they are, and what they're capable of. But I still love them.
But I don't shy away from the truth of the matter, which I think we do too much of down here in our little cubicle where no-one can see us. We're no damn different, not really. We still can't tell right from wrong. At the very least, if one person involved in a domestic claims that the other (for example) tried to set them on fire (as one woman alleged recently), and there was no evidence to hand, if you have no way of charging the alleged attacker, I think I'd be inclined to forcibly separate the couple and ban them from seeing each other ever again.
That said, the cops - Queensland cops, who have something of a reputation - "refused to charge him over an incident where her former partner allegedly brought a can of petrol into their home, doused her with petrol and held a lighter at her feet." Apparently police agreed "there was a ‘prima facie case’ against her former partner, but decided not to prosecute as there was a ‘low level of public interest’ in pursuing charges. A prima facie case is where the admissible evidence available is capable of establishing the essential elements (or ingredients) of the alleged criminal offence. It is ordinarily sufficient for police to press criminal charges against a suspect. The Sunshine Coast woman has now hired lawyers to do the work she believes police should be doing."
I mean, we all make mistakes, and shit, domestic bunfights must give the cops the biggest pain with their difficulty and rubbish punishments, but come on. Surely we can do better than this?
Never mind, the real world isn't looking into our cubicle. We can watch porn instead.
Now, the winner of the Inaugural Brokenmouth Dickhead of the Year (Soft Poo) Trophy goes (of course) to John Chau, for not thinking clearly about just about anything, it seems.
And the winner of the Inaugural Brokenmouth Dickhead of the Bygone Era (Hard Poo) Trophy goes to Reynaldo Bignone, for skipping the paragraph about what's wrong and right and all that malarky.
Now, to the Inaugural Brokenmouth Arsehole of the Year. So much competition! Putin making another sly move which the majority of the West won't comprehend ('Where d'you suppose the Crimea is, exactly? Near China, is it? or Indian Ocean?'), while Syria's al-Assad has certainly caused massive irruptions throughout Europe, but of course he had kindly Unky Vlad's hand on his shoulder.
Xi Jinping, totalitarian emperor of China, is another contender, from his thieving military shouting at small countries to his murdering military ... here's just a snippet or two from Human Rights Watch (about 2017; boy, I'm looking forward to the next instalment); "In June, the European Union failed for the first time ever to deliver a statement under a standing agenda item at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) regarding country situations requiring the council’s attention. This stemmed from Greece blocking the necessary EU consensus for such an intervention due to its unwillingness to criticize human rights violations in China, with which it has substantial trade ties. Chinese officials continued throughout the year to pressure governments around the world to forcibly return allegedly corrupt mainland officials despite a lack of legal protections in China or refugee status determination procedures outside China."
Good old Greece, eh? We (and the EU) should have pity on them in their self-inflicted over-reached enormous loan and now they can't repay and the students are revolting. Poor old Greece, they want to be thought of as a great power (like they were thousands of years ago) when so many of them are as corrupt as that Indian airport official some friends of mine encountered last year that frankly, if they exited the EU and reinstated the Drachma at a low level, their economy would soar.
Remember when monks self-immolating in protest against the Vietnam war caused all manner of horror? Of course, that was because we saw it on TV. Human Rights Watch comment; "Tibetans continue to self-immolate to protest Chinese policies. At time of writing, four had done so in 2017."
Mmmm, now, granted I don't watch the news every night, but I don't recall these self-immolating monks in my 2017 newsfeed. And more keep doing it, and no-one cares.
Wonder what else is happening in the real world? Oh, look, a cat caught up in a tree in a suburb near me! Much more interesting...
Then of course, there's palsy-walsy ol' Gautam Adani, the founder and head bongo behind the rather carelessly-set-up Abbott Point mine (lovely name, rather reminds me of a damp PM in budgies) in Queensland which threatens the Great Barrier Reef. You recall the Great Barrier Reef? one of only two reasons for foreigners to visit Queensland (the other is beaches, which apparently no other countries have). I love the way Adani's website bangs on about Renewables after deliberately spilling tonnes of muck into the ocean ... Adani is just so green! ... or take Kim Il-Sung, the original Dear Leader of, it seems, so many these days...
But wait, there's more, so many more ... the arsewipes who raped and tattooed a woman called Khadija in Morocco might be the teetering top of a never-ending pile of sewage posing as human beings; although India seems to have an equally never-ending pile of excrement in the shape of those wastes who rape a woman or girl and set her alight.
How could you even imagine doing something like that? What sort of careless evil are we tolerating?
And of course, there's the Orange One, the Great Cheeto, the man with the shitful neck-ties, the mouth like a cat's anus (after a self-satisfying licking session) and the tiny hands known to most of us as Kovfefe, The Great Lumpy Wizard. Strangely, when lined up alongside the above repellent individuals, Covfefe seems a bit like a blind drongo bumping into the furniture ... trouble is, of course, that everyone else - including the leaders of other countries - can see the bugger treading on the cat and knocking over the piano as well.
Which, sadly, leads me to only one choice; the noisiest, most paranoid, most openly demanding and despotic of lovers, and therefore the Not-Very-Auspicious Inaugural Brokenmouth Arsehole of the Year must go to 'core leader' (which rather sounds like he's in with Adani, or into recycling apples or something) China's new Dear Emperor Xi Jinping. Maybe he's still "motivated" by living in a cave near Liangjiahe village as a teenager, where he (it says here) 'organised communal labourers'.
What is it about these no-dick wanna-be-real-men that makes them, the Xi Jinpings, the Bignones, and the John Chaus of the world, think they have the right to rearrange everyone else's world according to their own? And hell, it's not as if these events aren't without precedent, nor without rather unpleasant consequences.
You know those Spratly Islands? Of course you do. Legally still owned by Taiwan, recently redeveloped into military bases by China, who thinks Taiwan is theirs as well, so anything Taiwan owns is therefore owned by China? Kinda reminds me of the Sudetenland in 1938; a distraction before the sturm (that'd be the Great Belt Road, sorry, "The Belt and Road Initiative"). And that Crimean 'incident' in the Kerch Strait just now? Reminds me a bit of the Gleiwitz incident, when the Germans heading over the Polish border with the intention of starting a war. Sometimes referred to as 'Operation Canned Goods'; look it up, it's fun seeing what folks get up to, especially if it can't happen to us. And it can't, because we're here in our Australian cubicle.
Of course, some situations will just continue - ghastly though they are, if they're nothing to do with us, we'll shield the kids and move swiftly along. Because involving everyone else is a bit like how an all-in-brawl on the footy pitch starts, or a football flying into someone's backyard becomes a murderous rampage. "He won't give back my ball", and so forth. Hell, Ireland managed - somehow - to stop the ramped-up 20C violence after 50 years imbecilic, futile savagery (I'm counting the modern stupidity as starting in the 60s, not the earlier 20C stupidity, which was less widespread). If the Irish can stop blowing everyone into hamburger, there might even be hope for the Middle East.
Which makes me think it's human nature that repeats, not history. Ever notice how we make so much fuss over the ever-increasing rules (is this The Third Testament?) which govern our proper behaviour here in Australia (as if, somehow, we're unable to tell what is wrong and what is right because the law doesn't specifically say something is illegal or what), while so many countries descend into despotism and barbarism? Maybe this is an indication that we too are descending into Third Testament times?
Want another example? Righto: the other week (according the ABC website) "Lawyers appealing former archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson's conviction for covering up child abuse ... argued that Wilson could not be convicted of concealing indecent assault, because the sex act described under 1970s law was an act of indecency and not an assault. Wilson's defence barrister Stephen Odgers SC said "unattractive as it is, there is no indecent assault" when you invite a child to perform a sex act.""
This line of reasoning was supposed to demonstrate that, somehow, if Wilson wasn't doing something illegal, then he shouldn't have been reported, which is what Wilson apparently did - he didn't call the cops. Which is to miss the point entirely - that if Wilson had been privy to Fletcher's disgusting behaviour, he should have realised within a heartbeat its abhorrent nature and should have dialled the boys in blue, possibly booting the bejesus out of Fletcher while the cops were en route (sorry, Officer, he fell down some stairs).
Even though there doesn't seem to be much evidence that Wilson did know about Fletcher's abuse, that's neither here nor there. The point is that throughout the civilised west there is a dreadful culture of 'I didn't do nothing wrong' because the rulebook didn't say it was wrong.
How we cling to the piffling rulebook. How we have abandoned our famous Australian individualistic streak - have you read Peter Stanley's book "Bad Characters" about the many WW1 deserters who like as not simply deserted for a party? One bunch of Australians broke into a bank and looted the paper money (using it as gambling scrip, and as toilet paper). We Australians wear the renegade and rebel shirts, and sleeve tattoos are a rite of passage similar to schoolies week - yeah, nah, yeah, come on, make-believe rebellion is a badge of conformity and has been since, oooh, I don't know. 1977 at least, and probably earlier.
Okay. I might be wrong about some of the above. But 2018 looks a like a much nastier place to me than 1978. Or even 1988.
Anyway. Back to the piffling minutiae we all crave. My top music from 2018.
New stuff rarely far from the turntable is the NJE, Dear Thief, Vomit of the Universe, the Kraftwerk box set (which I have temporarily mislaid in a haze of gin) and (Ed) Blaney.
Possibly because I'm an old shit, I've mostly listened to old shit this year.
The Fall, well, for obvious reasons I've gone a bit berko on The Fall and MES. Other older stuff equally close to the dread machine is early Tom Waits, Michael Plater, Roland Kirk, Thelonious Monk, Monks, the Animals, The Sonics, Townes Van Zandt, The Pretty Things and the Beatles.
And once in a while I'll blast out the Stooges and the first B52s LP.
New Books: Nina Antonia's 'Incurable'; Kristen Alexander's posts as she finishes a book on Australian POWs in Stalag Luft III; and that excellent series published by Mention The War, in particular Chris Ward's squadron histories (check out the new on on 75 (NZ) Squadron; they flew "more sorties than any other allied heavy bomber squadron, suffering the second highest number of casualties".
Old books: Golding, Nabokov, Billany, Colin Wilson, JK Rowling, Gerald Kersh, de Sade, Eric Williams, Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, and George Macdonald Fraser. And P.G. Wodehouse.
It's been a damned unsettling year and I'd like to think I'll be saying something more cheerful this time in 2019.
But it's more likely, I think, that I'll be playing a song by The Fall, with the memorably contemptuous line "blank generation ... same old blank generation ..."
That's us then, in 1977, and before we were born, and right now.
Oh, do excuse me. I'm just an old granpa, shaking his fist at another fucking cloud.