Don't Let The Gronks Get You Down, or: How I Learned To Stop Moping And Do Stuff

Yesterday Barack Obama gave one of his trademark Inspirational Speeches to a packed auditorium at the University of Queensland. As you might expect, it was heavy on big-picture stuff: climate change, the spread of democracy, LGBT rights and gender equality all got a run.

One of the speech's biggest themes, though, was what really snagged in my head. This comes from about half an hour in:

"Let me say to the young people here, combating climate change cannot be the work of governments alone. Citizens, especially the next generation: you have to keep raising your voices, because you deserve to live your lives in a world that is cleaner and that is healthier and that is sustainable, but that is not going to happen unless you are heard.

"It is in the nature of things, it is in the nature of the world that those of us who start getting grey hair are a little set in our ways; that interests are entrenched. Not because people are bad people, just that's how we've been doing things, and we make investments, and companies start depending on certain energy sources, and change is uncomfortable and difficult. And that's why it's so important for the next generation to be able to step in and say 'it doesn't have to be this way'. We have the power to imagine a new future in a way that some of the older folks don't always have."

Every now and then we get a reminder of the power of a good speech; Julia Gillard's misogyny effort last year, Scott Ludlam's welcome to WA in March, and Cate Blanchett and Noel Pearson's golden orations at Gough Whitlam's memorial a couple of weeks ago. The best speeches aren't the ones that say a lot of things you agree with already, so that you can share them on Facebook with the insightful caption "this". They're the ones that make you think, and help crystallise thoughts and sentiments you weren't sure how to express, while at the same time giving an outlet to powerful, visceral emotions that might otherwise stay bottled up. They simultaneously make your heart and your head expand.

Obama is by no means perfect, but something about this speech puts it in that category, at least for me. Not because it's extremely refreshing to hear a politician of his stature sing from my political songbook (although it is), but because it's so rare now to hear someone talk about the future -- and the people who'll live in it -- with optimism. 

I doubt I'm the only one who has to resist the urge to throw up my hands and say "fuck it" when confronted by the unrelenting tsunami of bullshit that Australian public life seems to embody. To recap all the multitudinous examples of Australian governments, media outlets, corporations and various iterations of authority going about their business with a special mixture of viciousness and mediocrity would take up more space than I'm inclined to fill, and you're probably familiar with most of them already.

What I've been thinking about since that speech isn't those regular acts of incompetent bastardry, but how we react to them. Whenever I find out about the latest ministerial fuckup or racist headline, my first instinct is to write up a Hot Take that pulls apart exactly why it's terrible, using my never-been-done-before blend of snarky wit and blind rage. Most people don't have jobs like mine, but plenty of people react to that kind of news in the same way; Facebook lets you do that because #socialmedia is the #future.

There are a few reasons why we react to industrial-scale fuckery like this. Most obviously it's easy, and it's fun. Pointing out that George Brandis looks like a boiled egg while outlining why his metadata legislation is hideous is one of the great joys of my life, and I don't intend to stop doing it any time soon.

More importantly, though, it's my way of feeling like I'm doing something. Unable to actually stop Boiled Egg and his ilk from passing dreadful laws, or being able to jettison them from the immensely powerful positions they occupy, I content myself with calling them names like Boiled Egg. That's fine; nasty people who do nasty things need to be called out, and the more people who do that the better.

But it's not enough to conscientiously point out all the ways in which we're getting fucked; at some point your anger has to catalyse into action. If the people in charge are rotten at their jobs, and it makes you mad, then you have to start thinking seriously about replacing them with people who'd be better. If there are systems in place which deliver such people into power on a regular basis, you have to start thinking about how those systems might best be dismantled, and what might replace them.

Anger can be extremely useful. Anger gets me out of bed in the morning, some days. Laughing at Tony Abbott running away from a press conference, or Greg Hunt using Wikipedia, or Joe Hockey saying that poor people don't drive cars - it feels good, and by gosh is it easy (seriously, those guys are practically paying my rent).

But if anger doesn't spark off a corresponding resolve to change something -- not just resist or oppose destructive forces and habits, but to create positive ones -- it just sits there. Eventually it calcifies into apathy and cynicism, and then you're stuffed, because apathy and cynicism don't build anything. They don't put probes on comets or cure diseases or get girls in rural Pakistan to school. Cynicism and apathy are admissions of defeat; giving in to them is a cue for shonks and pretenders to run wild, and they know it.

For the Tony Abbotts and Rupert Murdochs of this world, nothing is as useful as someone saying "fuck it, I'm done". That mindset eventually gets you quietly accepting that powerful people can act despicably and get away with it, and all you can do is carp from the sidelines. Power belongs to people like them, and impotent moral superiority belongs to people like you.

Nuts to that. I'm tired of being tired, of dreading the next few years and what might come after them. I'm tired of the closest thing to hope being the small sense of victory that comes when something dreadful gets derailed or postponed, or schaudenfreude when someone terrible screws up. I'm tired of defining my values in opposition to some smug prick's agenda, as though that's all they're good for.

It's extremely easy to forget, especially in times like these, that people of great intelligence and vision can -- and sometimes do -- occupy positions of immense power and influence, and use them to do a great deal of good. We forget that there are better ways of doing things than how we operate now, and that we have the abilities and resources to figure out what they might be. We forget that we have good ideas of our own, and that given the right opportunity those ideas can go very far.

That's why that speech by Obama yesterday will stick with me, I think. We should be aiming higher than trying to bloody Tony Abbott's nose, because we're capable of much more than that. We need that reminder, from time to time; that being political isn't just about giving the bastards a poke in the eye. It's about getting rid of them, and building something better in their place.

Read These Things: The Week's Best Articles and Other Stuff That is Good

Lately every second post I do on the Social Medias has been a link to some article I find interesting, along with some deeply insightful commentary like "YES" or "This". I'm gonna keep doing that because I'm a beautiful flower and you're not my Dad, but I'm also going to start doing weekly round-ups of fantastic pieces of writing I've found, partly so I have a place to go back to them easily and partly because they're awesome and everyone should read them. Each recommendation will include links to the writer's Twitter handle or blog and the primary social media account of the website that published it, because publishing good writing is a Good Thing and you should reward people who do it by giving them your Likes and whatnot.

Cool! That was easy to explain. Here's the first week's worth:

1. Why do we hate the poor?
by Amy Gray, for The King's Tribune

"Just get a job, any job. Problem solved. Here’s a job ad I found without knowing anything about your experience or abilities - go for it! If you are offered work where the pay is terrible, barely more than you have now after you take out the cost of working, you must stick with the job, even if it’s awful. Because having money is worth the cost of workplace harassment.

Can’t get work? Travel for work, then. Don’t talk about childcare costs or travel costs or how you won’t be able to pick your daughter up from school on time. Don’t you want this to be over?

Worried about high rent? It’s a no-brainer! Move! Move away from the school that cares so well for your child and the infrastructure that makes your lives liveable when you don’t drive. Don’t talk about the upfront expense of the first month’s rent and bond and removalists costs when you can barely scrape together each month’s rent now. Why won’t you help yourself? And worse, why do you keep explaining how all my simple solutions won’t address the myriad complexities that brought you here and keep you here?"

2. The Right Kind of Blood
by Rosanna Stevens, for The Lifted Brow

"There’s a scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where Harry, trapped in the watery basement of Hogwarts, grabs a diary cursed with the spirit of his nemesis Voldemort and, using the fang of a basilisk, stabs the pages of the book to exorcise the darkness trapped within. From the stab wound an inky blood bubbles, and as the spirit is destroyed, a thick stain trickles over the book like a fast-moving bruise. This is the best metaphor I have been able to conjure for my period. In this scenario, once every month-ish I am Voldemort, the diary is my uterus, and Harry Potter wielding a fang is my period."

3. Sinking like a stone: the new generationalism in Australia
by Jeff Sparrow, for Overland

"To put it another way, the assertion of rhetorical authority is necessary precisely because real authority has vanished. The more the Liberals declare themselves to be adults taking charge, the more they seem like student Tories dressed up in their parents’ clothes. If you’re truly confident that you’re dignified and mature, you do not insist that the national broadcaster issue a public statement assuring viewers that you’ve never had sex with a dog.

There’s a Yiddish proverb that goes something like: ‘Surrounding yourself with dwarfs does not make you a giant.’ Along the same lines, possessing a bully pulpit from which you can abuse your enemies as children doesn’t, in and of itself, make you seem adult."

4. A Gentleman's Guide to Rape Culture
by Zaro Burnett III, for Medium

"Now, I stand about a finger of tequila under six feet. I work out and would say I’m in decent shape, which means when I’m out alone at night, I rarely ever fear for my safety. Many men know exactly what I mean. Most women have no idea what that feels like — to go wherever you want in the world, at any time of day or night, and feel you won’t have a problem. In fact, many women have the exact opposite experience.

A woman must consider where she is going, what time of day it is, what time she will arrive at her destination and what time she will leave her destination, what day of the week is it, if she will be left alone at any point … the considerations go on and on because they are far more numerous than you or I can imagine. Honestly, I can’t conceive of having to think that much about what I need to do to protect myself at any given moment in my life. I relish the freedom of getting up and going, day or night, rain or shine, Westside or downtown. As men we can enjoy this particular extreme luxury of movement and freedom of choice. In order to understand rape culture, remember this is a freedom that at least half the population doesn’t enjoy."

5. That Girl
by Heidi Pett, Kate Montague, Jessica Bineth and Jess O'Callaghan, for All The Best on FBi

This is an episode of a radio show and not a piece of writing but calm down it's fine. Click the title link to hear the episode in full or go here for All The Best's blog, which features transcripts and recordings of extended interviews with the piece's subjects.

"In New South Wales, abortions are legal if they put the mother’s physical or psychological health at risk. Most people therefore have to see a counsellor and have theirs under the “psychological health” banner. It’s a bit of a joke, to be honest. We didn’t have time to go under the “physical health’ banner, get letters from my doctor etc. So I just saw the counsellor and she filled out the paperwork. She was just going through the motions.

I told her about my friend’s husband. I was so wounded by it, and so tearfully angry. She shook her head. “He should not have projected on you like that,” she said.

The doctor and anaesthetist and nurses were all incredibly kind. For some stupid reason, I asked the doctor for an ultrasound. He said he’d do it, but he didn’t. Thank god. He informed me that I was fifteen weeks pregnant, and would I sign something agreeing that I would never have children if I went ahead with this pregnancy. I signed it, feeling numb."

6. Your Princess Is In Another Castle
by Arthur Chu, for The Daily Beast

"I’ve heard and seen the stories that those of you who followed the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter have seen—women getting groped at cons, women getting vicious insults flung at them online, women getting stalked by creeps in college and told they should be “flattered.” I’ve heard Elliot Rodger’s voice before. I was expecting his manifesto to be incomprehensible madness—hoping for it to be—but it wasn’t. It’s a standard frustrated angry geeky guy manifesto, except for the part about mass murder.

I’ve heard it from acquaintances, I’ve heard it from friends. I’ve heard it come out of my own mouth, in moments of anger and weakness."

7. Rape Joke
by Patricia Lockwood, for The Awl

"The rape joke is that he was your father’s high-school student—your father taught World Religion. You helped him clean out his classroom at the end of the year, and he let you take home the most beat-up textbooks.

The rape joke is that he knew you when you were 12 years old. He once helped your family move two states over, and you drove from Cincinnati to St. Louis with him, all by yourselves, and he was kind to you, and you talked the whole way. He had chaw in his mouth the entire time, and you told him he was disgusting and he laughed, and spat the juice through his goatee into a Mountain Dew bottle.

The rape joke is that come on, you should have seen it coming. This rape joke is practically writing itself."

Annabel Crabb Tsks At Students For Protesting, Recommends They Use The Internets

UPDATE: While ranting sure is fun, I've written a more substantive follow-up piece in defence of student protest that's probably more worth your time. Find it here, for

Good news, fellow members of The Youth! All those tantrums you’ve been throwing about the looming cuts to tertiary education have finally caught the attention of someone important! In her recent column for Fairfax, Annabel Crabb took student protesters to task for the recent protest actions you might have read about, and finally raised the question the nation was burning for someone to ask: “How can it be, as even our phones get smarter, that protestors are somehow getting dumber?

Oh, you silly kids! Trying to preserve the remnants of your future from being ripped away by rich old white men who got their education for free! Don’t worry, Aunty Annabel is here to hold your hand and tell you exactly where you’re going wrong. Since you’re too immature to unpick the finer nuances of Crabb’s argument, allow me to guide you through the special blend of loving condescension which we will for the moment call “Crabbsplaining”.

First, some background. Displaying a knowledge of the post-Cold War era that borders on the shamanistic, Crabb writes: “The advent of the internet has deluged us with a mighty, confusing, exhilarating torrent of information, bringing with it previously unimaginable ways for human beings to come together, to talk, argue, share knitting tips and to deliver to vast audiences a tiny but resonant truth about something happening in their own backyards”. This is a very important point to make, as it establishes for the reader that the internet is a thing that exists, that the internet has changed some aspects of society, and other insights originally made in a Powerpoint presentation to Fairfax executives in 1998.

 "As we can see on these magic screen portals, the Internet is definitive proof that all science is the work of witches."

"As we can see on these magic screen portals, the Internet is definitive proof that all science is the work of witches."

She then rightly points out the methods used by student protesters in recent weeks, such as the National Day of Action and snap protests in response to the presence of government ministers on campus, are useless and positively counter-productive. That protest you had on Q&A? Boy, did you screw the pooch on that one. Crabb has some choice words for you about that:

“Are poster paint and your parents' third-best manchester really the best tools the modern environment offers? And has any strategic thought gone into this stuff?”

See how phrases like “poster paint” and references to your parents imply that you’re children who can’t be trusted to make your own decisions? That’s Crabb’s Big-Person Writing Skills at work, it’s alright if you don’t understand. The same way you’re too young to understand that when it comes to drawing attention to an issue, hijacking a live TV program with a huge social media footprint is a very un-strategic way to go about it. That’s why one of Australia’s most widely-read columnists went out of her way to tell you so, and why footage of the protest has a measly 190,000 views on YouTube.

Speaking of that Q&A protest, remember what host and Wise Old Man of Australian politics Tony Jones said at the time? “That is not what democracy is all about and those students should understand that,” Jones grumbled good-naturedly, ruffling your greasy mop of hair as you upset his Democracy Sanctum with your yelling. That’s absolutely right, kids; democracy isn’t about disrupting the status quo to bring about change! It’s about sitting quietly and waiting your turn while Christopher Pyne spins carefully-crafted lines of bullshit to distract from the fact he’s a clown in a suit cleverly disguised as an Education Minister.

Between them, Crabb and Jones prove that a couple of wealthy middle-aged men mocking a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl on the front page of a major newspaper aren’t the only ones looking out for you and your tiny, tiny minds. It’s something all the serious professionals in the mainstream media, no matter what their political leaning, keep in mind as they sadly shake their heads at the uniformly terrible decisions you make when trying to shape your own future.

That’s why they’ve spent the last few years calling you “slacktivists” for signing online petitions and sharing articles on Facebook instead of getting off your lasy arses and going protesting. And that’s why, now that you’ve gotten off your lazy arses and gone protesting, they’re telling you that you’re doing it wrong. It seems very confusing, I know, but once you’re over 40 and earning a certain amount it’ll all make perfect sense.

Instead of marching, Crabb suggests that we use our mad internet skillz to “paint a picture of what universities would look like if these changes get by the Senate. To explain what goes on in a young person's mind when deciding whether to go to university, and illustrate how the prospect of a commercial-grade debt might have a different effect on a poor student than on a wealthy one”.

What a wonderful idea! How did we forget about that big friendly roundtable where government and policymakers are just waiting to sit down with students and listen to their concerns with the attention and respect they deserve? Like former Education Minister Amanda Vanstone calling students “bullies and thugs” in the Herald today? I’m sure journalists at the country’s biggest newspapers and television stations will report on the findings, the same way I’m sure they’re beavering away to present well-researched and balanced articles on the reasons students are acting to safeguard their futures.

Or maybe a flashmob? We love flashmobs, am I right fellow 18-to-29 year-olds? Eh? Eh?

Honestly, I’m glad a grown-up finally came along and put us in our place. For a moment I was worried we were going to take the fight for an affordable education into our own hands and assume responsibility for continuing the defence of Australia’s social democratic consensus, warts and all. Now we can go back to our snarky Facebook posts and petitions, safe in the knowledge that even if we’re bowed under by crippling debt in the name of a perverse and morally bankrupt free-market ideology, we won’t be annoying our betters. Thank goodness the adults are back in charge.

Dadrock is the future

I know bog-all about music. I had a few guitar lessons in Year Nine, but I also played cricket for three years and somehow Michael Clarke can get a sponsorship deal with Milo and I can't, so there you go. More importantly, I never learnt where to look for good music. I grew up in a town where nightlife is a choice between two shitty clubs around the corner from each other in an abandoned shopping plaza. (One's called Altitude; one's called Down Under. One's upstairs, one's downstairs. The reviews on TripAdvisor are pretty special if you've got the time.) The only source of anything resembling good music was Triple J, which I came to rely on like a saline drip and which explains my torrid late-teens infatuation with Karnivool. 

When I moved to Sydney, though, I found the live music scene disappointing for a long time. I ticked big overseas acts like the National and Frightened Rabbit off my bucket list, but there didn't seem to be any local bands to get excited about. Triple J led me to disappointingly vanilla servings like Cloud Control, Boy and Bear and the Jezabels, and the Living End was playing every festival fifteen years after they should've stopped. 

There was also an irritating sense of respectability that seemed to infect the punters at big gigs, like everyone was watching each other. I wanted to thrash around like a mad bastard, get sweaty and doused in beer and have fun, for Christ's sake, but there was some unwritten code of etiquette that said such behaviour was not the done thing. I got tired of going to gigs where people were paying north of sixty bucks to stand and nod with their arms folded. 

Worst of all, I couldn't find any music about Sydney. Bands from places like Glasgow and Brooklyn wear their hometowns on their sleeves. Whether they're proud or nostalgic or embittered with their city, they engage with it. They tell stories about the streets they grew up on, the rivers they got drunk beside, and those sounds filter back and become part of their city in turn. The Australian music on Triple J, though, sounded like was recorded in some no-place. I was living in Sydney and listening to music that told me more about the Bowery and the suburbs of Ohio than about Marrickville. The fabled Underground Music Scene I had assumed was bursting out of every pub didn't seem to exist.

Then I started living with a guy who is five parts indie music, four parts green politics, and three parts beard. About a month ago he got me onto a Melbourne band called Dick Diver, whose latest LP, Calendar Days, was named the Guardian's best Australian album of 2013. I'd never heard of them and, going on the fact they've only got about 4,600 Likes on Facebook, neither had almost anybody else. They had songs with names like "New Start Again," "Gap Year" and "Keno"; sad, funny little songs about being bored, being poor, fucking and fucking up. 

I was hooked, and after a bit of digging on the Interwebz I realised these kinds of bands are everywhere; tiny little ragamuffin outfits playing in dive bars, putting EPs and albums out on Soundcloud and Bandcamp and charging five or ten bucks for their work. They share drummers, bassists, singers; they form and dissipate and re-form as something else just as quickly. Twerps, Royal Headache, Full Ugly, Big Dingo, Total Control, Unity Floors, the School of Radiant Living, the UV Race, the Bed Wettin' Bad Boys, the Stevens - a whole school of them, practically invisible unless you know where to look. 

Putting a name on the kind of music they make is difficult; the term "dolewave" is sometimes used, but it doesn't ring true to me somehow. For want of anything better, and because I like how it sounds, I'm going to call it Dadrock.

Dadrock is an acquired taste. It's guitar-heavy, abrasive and usually sounds like it was recorded through an old sock. The singers are aggressively atonal, and often have strong Australian accents where most bands go to lengths to iron any 'Strayan out of their vocals. The bands who play it have a common fascination with the significance of mundane things; the songs are anecdotes about going to the shops and seeing an old girlfriend, staring at the TV and having nothing to do on a Saturday night, and standing on the edge of a circle of people by yourself at a house party.

In Adelaide, Bad//Dreems are making music that explores how dull and generally fucked-up Adelaide is, to the point of it being a kind of manifesto. "Scratch the surface here and you find another world, far removed from the leafy inner suburbs. The empty jail on the edge of the city. A decade long bikie war. The Family. This is the weird murder capital. The weed capital," is how they describe the mindset behind their debut EP, Badlands, and when they sing "I am bored, I am lonely, I am scared, I'm scared" on Tomorrow Mountain, it's Adelaide they're talking about.

Old Mate are another Adelaide band who just write about the boring, crappy things that happen to them. "I got fiiiiiiiiiiiiired! And I didn't know whyyyyyyyyyy!" they sing on one song, surprisingly called I Got Fired. On The Alma, they take about five seconds to capture how fucking dreadful work drinks are: "Dudes in t-shirts and it's ten degrees/I have to get out, I have to get out". I've never been to Adelaide, but after listening to Bad//Dreems and Old Mate I can picture what it must have been like to grow up there.

Same with the gloriously-named Scott and Charlene's Wedding. After writing songs about feeling sad on the Epping Line, the guy behind it moved to New York a couple of years ago and made a whole album about being a quietly bewildered expat where your accent makes people think you're English. Sydney outfit You Beauty have made a concept album about a washed-up footy player who falls in love with a breakfast show host, and is saved from alcohol-soaked oblivion by Ray Warren in a pub.

This kind of stuff isn't everyone's cup of tea, and that's fine, but I can't help but wonder if the reason these bands don't get much attention is how unapologetically Australian they are. Not Australian in a John-Howard's-Little-Battlers kind of way, but just being who they are; young kids from the suburbs making music about stuff that happens to young kids from the suburbs. We like to forget that we're this weird little accident of a country on the wrong side of the world, with our own stories of love and boredom and confusion. We don't have to be triumphalist about that, but we shouldn't ignore it altogether.

That's why I love this music. It says more about who we are - as young people living in crappy sharehouses in the city, scrambling to pay rent, trying to get paid for what we like doing instead of pushing spreadsheets around, staring into our phones - than anything I've heard before. It's honest. 

Or I'm full of shit. Either way.


Mike Carlton's Twitter game is off the hook

Mike Carlton is a 68-year-old columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald, best known for hosting the drivetime and breakfast timeslots at 2UE for a number of years.  As a well-known media personality with generally progressive views and an active Twitter presence, Carlton attracts a lot of negative attention from conservative keyboard warriors and other people you just somehow know not to sit next to on the bus. He deals with it in a fairly rigorous manner.

Not many prominent individuals openly tell people to go fuck pineapples. Politics aside, it is a rare and refreshing contribution to the debate to hear someone telling someone else that they could be better spending their time off Twitter, fucking pineapples. That Tweet piqued my interest, so I went back through some of his older ones to get a better feel for his unique style.

In 2007 Carlton's fellow 2UE presenter and longtime rival Stan Zemanek, a right-wing shock jock of the Alan Jones variety, died of a brain tumour. When asked if he would set aside their feud to attend Zemanek's funeral Carlton replied: "I'd only go to check that he was actually dead". Whatever your opinions about that, you cannot deny his commitment to the YOLO. This man does not give a fuck.

That's him chatting to David Oldfield, one of the brains behind One Nation. Note how Carlton tags @smh (ie. his bosses) in a Tweet where he calls someone a "ridiculous little pissant". Dude loves the word "pissant," incidentally. Here he is just calling everyone a dickhead.

The best part about that last one, for me, is the lack of explanation. Why does Gerard Henderson think he is a dog? Is this why Mike Carlton doesn't like him? Did Gerard Henderson wake up one day in the body of his labrador John Galt, leading to some hilarious and ultimately heartwarming Freaky Friday-style escapades? No one knows.

I thought I'd have to dig a bit to find this many, but none of these Tweets are more than a month old. He has more than 7,000 of them. If he keeps this up, Mike Carlton will insult one in every 12 people on Earth before he dies. I would move to a cave and sleep on my own body hair to avoid the possibility of ever being insulted by Mike Carlton if I didn't know I would wake one night, shivering in the cold, to see a black shadow looming over my inert form whispering, "you know who lives in caves? Pissants."

You can find Mike Carlton at @mikecarlton01 if you like being simultaneously entertained and terrified.