Wednesday, 13 July 2011

thoughts of a madman (part I)

Over the duration of my adult life I've struggled with reality, with Truth: what I perceive as opposed to what everyone else believes.
As an objectivist I've developed a range of tools … coping mechanisms … and I've done OK.
I'm a survivor. A functioning survivor and a pretty smart operator.
I don't wish to dwell on my journey, but since about age 17 – when I sought help from a fellow traveller in addressing a suicidal phase (poor bastard didn't know what hit him!) – I've made a conscious and mostly successful effort to dismiss all those busy, negative distractions that buzz around in my brain: rather, to focus on the world, on other people, better systems, communal solutions and pathways …
I've even experienced the priceless good fortune of loving and being loved, more than once.

Yet, in my heart, I remain a desperately lonely creature.
And, as I age, this occasional madness becomes more frequent, more invasive, more wrenching.
That's why I'm posting this. Why I feel compelled to explain, as best I can, where I'm coming from.
It's important and, yes, somehow satisfying, to testify that my personalised version of madness has many more pluses than minuses.

I'm depressive and/or manic and/or bi-polar (for starters).
Is it strange that I'm OK with it? That experience has equipped me to cope?
These days depression sends me a series of signals, usually weeks in advance, so I can gird my loins and partially protect the space in which I dwell … and prepare recovery strategies.
Likewise, I know (days in advance) when the dark, stifling clouds will lift.
This is a purely personal perspective and I don't dismiss for an instant the pain felt by other sufferers, or the immediate impacts in my own life for that matter; I simply wish to record this manifestation of what goes on in my brain from time to time.

What are the triggers?
There are several; they usually work in some randomised combination to cripple my energy and motivation, to make every day an ugly crevasse which can only be traversed using my last ounces of strength and will … to make me lose hope in the future of a world I love.
Brain chemistry plays its role, no doubt. (Human physiology remains largely beyond my expertise, yet I can 'feel' it when the synapses start to speak their own, impenetrable and ferocious language.)
As do my immediate financial circumstances. (Well, I'm only human … heh)
But the 'stuff' that most powerfully colludes and combines to produce despair is largely produced by 'other people' (whose actions I can't control, nor wish to).
A deeper analysis of human politics can wait for another time, but to summarise the local AND global shit that brings on my black dog: brutality, cupidity, vacuity, dishonesty, self-centredness, an obstinate (borderline pathological) refusal to learn from history.

You don't need to take this personally, because I'm not attacking anyone – though experience has taught me that many will seize every opportunity to get precious.
On the other hand, feel free to take offence. Might do you good. :)

(SO. That's a pencil-sketch of my relationship with depression.
Its counterweight – mania – has equal 'value' and even more power in terms of my relationship with the world, but let's revisit that another time.)

Another important element of my madness is an increasing aversion to both 'crowds' and noise.
'Noise' speaks for itself: I increasingly crave peace and quiet.
A 'crowd' may comprise as few as four people (depending on variables) but may extend to a dozen.
I love people, I love energy, I love listening to interesting stories – and the infrequent opportunity to share my own.
But I no longer have the will to penetrate the random combinations of racket and ego, banality and pissing contests, in communal spaces.
Bottom line. I've heard it all before (20, 30, 40 years ago). It's mostly garbage.
I don't need it – and no longer feel compelled to put up with it.
So I increasingly treasure personal, 'small' interactions more than ever.
Am I missing out? Definitely! I still love people and value them.
But the exceptions require a risk I can no longer take.
Feel free to be 'offended' if I say No more often these days.

Phew. ^^All that has burnt me out a bit.
I'll post again soon, with a much greater emphasis on the positives – and there are a few!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

wikileaks: the truth isn't always easy

(As I posted to a forum earlier today – slightly edited.
I could write several thousand words about the serial impacts of WikiLeaks but this is not the time.)
Up to a point I understand why people are concerned about WikiLeaks' fairly indiscriminate dumping of information – but find it a real stretch that they are seen to be more a part of a problem than part of a solution.
The keys to a series of secret libraries are now, for the very first time, in our hands.
It might serve us well to remember that these data represent stuff that has happened already. Raw truth.
Not 'policy'. Not ideology. Not terrorism or sedition. Facts.
Information is power! In the case of WikiLeaks, information originally funded by the public purse – then concealed. We own it!
Don't shoot the messenger.

Since when have governments ever occupied the moral high ground?
Why are so many people now defending their non-existent 'right' to be protected from a higher level of scrutiny?
Have we become that compliant? That submissive?

"To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated at, regulated, docketed, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, weighed, censored, ordered about, by men who have neither the right nor the knowledge nor the virtue.
– Proudhon, Pierre Joseph

Society has adopted centralized, nationalistic government as a default. They get stuff right. They get stuff wrong. Rarely do they perform with brilliance. Rarely do they achieve efficiency.
Realworld justice remains largely a pipedream.
Selectively going to war, bombing villages and killing people is still considered a legitimate, mature course of action.
We bumble along, collectively unable to achieve a higher level of function.

However, just because we can't do any better doesn't mean our systems and our track-record should be protected from scrutiny.

Fiat lux!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

fuck it

I was drafting a good post this morning; my first for a while.
Got around two-thirds through it (say 300 words done) … then lost all power at 9.40am.
Not uncommon in this part of the world, despite regular scheduled outages for 'maintenance'.
And I didn't worry too much, as blogspot annoyingly autosaves every few seconds.

Fine, you bastards!
Got me off my arse and out of the house, attacking a few gardening chores …

Anyhoo, with rain looming, I rebooted 15 minutes ago and now have real problems with the blog.
Safari repeatedly quits every time I try to edit anything.
I can no longer access my new post, nor (it appears) edit any others.
A proper cold reboot hasn't helped either.

Fingers crossed this one is OK. Let's see …

First test. The above loaded OK. Let's try access via the 'Edit Posts' page …
Second test. Hmmm. It appears the link to 'Edit' now only affects this morning's work: probably a corrupted file that hits Safari right in the digital solar plexus.
The Good News is that I was able to capture the text via a preview option, so I can get back onto it later. :)

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Realpolitik: why I just might preference Labor last for once*

Some thoughts on a single issue: asylum-seekers.

Matter of fact, they don't 'scare' me. (rofl)
I don't give a stuff if they have paperwork or not.
I don't care if they were wealthy or poor in their former lives.

I've been marginally involved with a few refugees going back to 2004 and have found them to be, without exception, empathetic and intelligent people who would make solid citizens.
Due diligence will of course weed out the exceptions … IF they exist!
(Shove any ignorant-dumb-fuck-redneck stereotypes up ya clacker.)

Population pressures?
From a few thousand refugees? (again: rofl)
Let's apply some due diligence to Australian-born citizens.
There's plenty of privileged, whinging local scum we can tow out to sea … hopefully in leaky boats. :)

But (sigh) the chickens of Realpolitik have come home to roost on this issue and, if nothing else, I'm a realist.
Whoever wins the election, offshore 'processing' is going to happen.
So, this being the case, can someone explain to me why Labor is so opposed to using the existing facilities on Nauru?
1. I know it's extremely 'remote' from the mainland: but that would help placate Julia's beloved xenophobes!
2. Nauru wants it. And is willing to sign up to the UN Convention.
[President, Marcus] Stephen has said his country would be willing to sign the convention and expressed interest in reopening the centre, which was built by the Howard government as the centrepiece of its so-called Pacific Solution.
3. The multi-million-dollar infrastructure already exists, so why reinvent the wheel?
(a) rollout would only take a month or two, as opposed to years (need more capacity? provide more capacity!);
(b) it's about time Labor took an interest in saving a few million dollars here and there (rather than wasting our money on incompetence), particularly in light of their newly-discovered and wholeheartedly cynical adoption of the warm&fuzzy 'sustainability' mantra.
4. East Timor is a third-world nation with its own problems. Given recent (joint) history and their clear opposition to the plan – plus the facts outlined above – it's a seriously dumb option.
(Which doesn't surprise me a bit, 'cos it fits.)

* even 'True Believers' can only be pushed so far.

Monday, 25 January 2010

the last refuge of the scoundrel?

According to the dictionary, I'm a patriot.
According to my heart, I'm a patriot.

Why, then, on the eve of Australia Day, do I feel so disconnected from so many fellow-travellers?
Why do 'Aussie patriots' almost invariably piss me off?
You know, the ones who 'protest their faith' so loudly, so colourfully, so trenchantly … so feverishly?
The ones who believe love of one's country can be expressed only in terms of hate?
The ones who express their national 'pride' by using a national symbol as fancy-dress while getting shit-faced drunk and declaiming 'love' for a nation which has never really existed?
Why would I happily ship these xenophobic oxygen thieves to a yet-to-be-invented Australian version of Gitmo Bay, never to return?
Coz, you know, FUCK OFF! WE'RE FULL.

I must admit, I've never really liked 'our flag' for aesthetic reasons.
Sorry, I don't think it's 'beautiful'. Despite a couple of redeeming features, it's ugly.
But I understand it. I acknowledge its history. I respect it as a symbol for many things, bad and good.
I've never seen it as a weapon (or a fashion statement) to be used for purposes of team-bonding, intimidation and exclusion.

Appended is an extract from recent article (posted up this morning) by Marieke Hardy on a 'newish' phenomenon (fad?) which I feel has really gained traction over the past 10 or 15 years - and, perhaps, is yet to peak.
To paraphrase, The Ugly (confrontational exclusionist) Australian is enjoying a new lease of popularity.

I have little doubt John Howard sowed the seeds - standing on the shoulders of an hysterical sacrificial lamb known as Pauline Hansen - but seriously, folks, Honest John's broader target market had every opportunity to turn away, ashamed at the divisive, supremacist agenda of a national leader.
This era of Fugly Nationalism may well prove to be his most pervasive legacy.
Yes, more recently, his successor Kevin Rudd has had ample opportunity to publically disown the fugliness devolving from the Howard model.
In not doing so, he's a collaborator.
Yet this really isn't the time for an argument over who to blame … it's time to grapple with the matter, to strive for a better quality of 'patriotism'.

Blue singlet patriotism gets a little off-colour

Walking down the main street of Tamworth the other morning - gamely dodging yodelling couples in his 'n' hers double denim begging for loose change - I passed a man wearing a rather fetching navy blue singlet. Written on the front were the following words: "THIS IS AUSTRALIA. WE EAT MEAT, DRINK BEER, AND SPEAK F-CKIN' ENGLISH!" My first thought - outside of "I wonder if he's single/looking?" - was that it must mean January 26th was just around the corner. Of course, I realised with a start: Australia Day is upon us. Time for those racist t-shirts to be dusted off and paraded about by small-dicked rednecks.

It may be frowned upon to burn the Australian flag, but wearing it as a cape whilst off one's face on Bundy and dry is fine, apparently. So is wrapping it around your head as a turban, pinning it around your tits as a boob tube, and writing "If You Don't Love It - Leave" underneath to deter pesky gatecrashers threatening your way of life (said product advertised as follows on a shopping website: "A fantastic way to publically (sic) show your pride in our great country ... with ATTITUDE!"). It's not racism, god forbid we call it that. No, it's patriotism, a thumb in the face of those fussy UnAustralianlt;sup>(TM) types, a way for true-blooded men and women to unite against a common enemy: fear.

And overall it's a great pity, as I am very fond of my country. I like the people in it, I like the frank, robust way they speak. I like the inimitable, flat, overcooked air of our childhood summers and the impetuous, heart-on-sleeve way in which neighbours rush to assist others in times of natural disaster. But the last thing I'm going to do on Australia Day is wave a flag or get some sort of idiotic boxing Kangaroo tattooed to my calf. Because the very idea of national pride has been soiled by the t-shirt wearers who disguise hate in the name of allegiance. And I don't know if we'll ever get it back.

Yes, I agree with Ms Hardy.
We're not alone. Many others have noticed this trend.

What are we going to do about it? What can we do?
Is this cultural shift, indeed, the shape of things to come?

Saturday, 2 January 2010

let's get on with it: beyond the cargo cult

Cargo cult is the name given to a large number of intense and short-lived religious movements in the South Pacific islands. They are called cargo cults because they all speak of the arrival of large shipments of Western goods. In Pidgin English, a language that consists mainly of words from English and the island languages, the word kago refers to goods found in shops, as well as telephones, cars, jeeps, and airplanes. A cargo cult begins when a leader takes on the role of a prophet. The prophet preaches that a time will come when all the evil will be gone and ancestors or gods will return, bringing cargo with them in ships or airplanes to improve the well-being of all the living. Followers may build docks or runways to receive the cargo.
[World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia, V 9.0. Emphases are mine.]

The broad theme of my recent posts is action.
Personal action. Collective action. Direct action. Ownership-in-action.
I'm not telling anyone what to do. I've made my own choices. You can suit yourself.

The challenges facing us are real. They're complex. They're inter-connected.
We made them. We can rescue ourselves.
Prayer days won't fix them.
Meditation won't fix them.
Tokenism won't fix them.
Spamming people with navel-gazing gossip about 'Blue Moons' and 'Portents from the Mayan Calendar' and 'Celestial Alignments' definitely won't fix anything. lolz ;)

Gettin off our arses and making a difference? Now, there's an idea!

I've had enough of people who say, 'Someone should …' or 'They should …' or 'I should …'.
Worst of all: 'You should …'!
Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda.
Waiting for 'salvation'.
What is this atavistic defect in our character that compels us to seek validation … to seek blessings … authority to act … leaders?
Why can't each of us be a leader?
Proactively becoming informed?
Making our own decisions?
Acting with courage and confidence – and, yes, compassion and wisdom?

This is not the time for a spiel on social justice or 'jed's handy hints on saving the planet'.
This blog contains plenty of those.
The message is far simpler.
Don't wait for Big Brother to fix anything.
Don't wait for ponderous political 'solutions': the planet will end up a basket case.
Don't wait for funding.
Don't wait for a bloody permit.
Don't wait for peer approval.
Most of all, don't wait for someone else 'to improve the well-being of all the living.'

Friday, 1 January 2010

let's get on with it: steppin on the gas

Project outline.
To deliver natural gas infrastructure to Warburton* with a nett positive 'return on investment' across sustainability benchmarks.

What's so damn special about this project?
To this point in time, decision-makers and industry experts have applied linear thinking to extending the pipeline from Millgrove to Warburton. (That is, constrained to terms of delivering a brand new, dedicated service comprising single-use infrastructure, the nett benefit doesn't 'justify' the outlay - amounting to a $4.6 million project cost.)

My proposal is that, in building the infrastructure, we develop its capacity to share other services: both at the build stage and into the future - NOT ONLY including the long-awaited optic fibre rollout BUT mains electricity as well.

Fresh thinking from all levels of government, business and other stakeholders.
Co-operation between all levels of government, business and other stakeholders investing in the project (including the possibility of partial ownership by locals).

Potted history.
Three or four years ago, Warburton Highway was plumbed with natural gas mains as far as Millgrove ('last town' before us).
Warburton missed out, mainly because the return on investment of extending the gas pipeline was considered too low by the State Government: we automatically failed the 'National Feasibility Test'.
(I do understand the bean-counters' logic, though it's never been convincing.)

To their credit various parties, including our State representative (Tammy Lobato) and a handful of locals have kept the pot simmering.

When the Federal Government announced the economic-stimulus-led-recovery early last year (including many billions invested in 'community-strengthening' projects) something clicked in my brain.
With the idea still taking shape - but also with an understandable sense of urgency - I emailed our excellent State MP Tammy Lobato on 10 June with my initial suggestion: of rolling out the gas pipe and the optic fibre pipe at the same time, into the same trench - achieving obvious gains in efficiency and splitting costs between different funding streams (in addition to inviting private investment).

Tammy wrote to the relevant State and Federal Ministers on my behalf.
Having waited 11 weeks for a response in the first instance and 19 weeks in the second, I found that my suggestion doesn't rate a single mention, even in passing.
Ironically, I'd been half-expecting a gentle Labor-style Realpolitik refutation of my technical naiveté.

So, a pretty piss-poor outcome you'd have to agree. 'Democracy' inaction [sic].

Turning to the positive, my original idea has evolved still further.
To quote from my followup email to Tammy (13 October):
"In the backwash from the Bushfires Royal Commission* it has also occurred to me that the same infrastructure rollout (gas pipe plus telco pipe installed in a single trench) could potentially include the 'backbone' mains electricity supply in fire-prone districts.
Provided it's technically feasible, this possibility value-adds the proposal immeasurably across the Triple Bottom Line.
Indeed, such a venture could provide a template for future rollouts across Australia and across the world."
*Six months after it started, the blame at the Bushfires Royal Commission has finally slipped focus from the failed warnings of the fire agencies and taken aim even further back in the chain, at the power companies.

In a sad postscript to the Commission's (unfinished) findings, the Toodyay fire in Western Australia this week - which destroyed 40 homes and 3000 Hectares - has been traced to a fallen powerline.

Encouraging news.
In addition to emphasising his support of the benefits of natural gas, Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson's response to Tammy's letter (see above) refers to legislation - the National Gas Law and the National Gas Rules - enacted by his government on 1 July 2008; their purpose "is to encourage investment in economically viable gas supply infrastructure without the need for an ongoing subsidy by the taxpayer."
In the light of a fresh discussion – a fresh set of parameters – Federal support may well translate into a little 'community-building' seed funding as well - particularly if we can roll out (at the bare minimum) dual services simultaneously.
Point of interest: guess who live in the most marginal Federal electorate in the country? ;)

Yes, I realise that such a combined and synchronised rollout would require unprecedented levels of flexibility and planning (and common sense?) from diverse – historically process-bound – public and private! bureaucracies.
Perhaps it's time we collectively dragged ourselves from our respective comfort zones and into the 21st century.
If governments can't do it alone, I'm sure we can help!

This project can and should transcend insular – dare I say 'obstructionist'? – number-crunching and finally address the S word – Sustainability – in reality.

Feedback welcome, as always: either here (add a Comment) or via email.

Further reading:
The Solutions We Need Now
Highly recommended. ;)

* Victoria, Australia; Latitude: -37.753530634370875 Longitude: 145.68950414657593

Friday, 25 December 2009


Just testing my RSS feed.
Happy Christmas everyone.

In breaking news, Hannah crushed me at TenPin Bowling on the new Wii.
I'm kinda over it already. :)

PS. RSS feeds now working for selected ABC and CFA links. A bit more to do yet. ;]
If anyone's interested, I'm using SlashDock.

PPS. (Sunday) Rather in the spirit of adventure rather than the usual self-indulgence, I've made this blog accessible by most RSS readers. Here's the link:

Still trying to get the new Upper Yarra Trading Post RSS feed working … facebook seems to do things a little, well, differently. ;)

Saturday, 19 December 2009

direct action (an interlude)

Copenhagen? Pffft.
A monument to profligate overconsumption.
A victory by sectional interests and an outdated economic model.

Tony Abbott and Direct Action©? Pffft.
(And stop stealing our labels, you vacuous sneak.)

Here's some honest, real-world Direct Action: an exciting example of how gardeners can help shape the future.

The community-wide effort began about 18 months ago when Ms. Clear, an energetic woman who works for the town government, sneakily started planting seeds in her spare time with a few friends. Any nook, cranny, and postage-stamp-size bit of land was up for grabs.

The campaign blossomed with the plants, and now the movement operates under the name Incredible Edible Todmorden and receives funding and support from the local council and businesses.

"It makes people interact with their town," said Estelle Brown. a local Web designer, as she snapped a pea from a vine growing next to the town's canal and ate it.

Prompted by my friend K, over the past few weeks I've been (reading and) thinking quite a bit about transition townships:* mostly what's realistically achievable right now (as opposed to exploring, adopting and implementing a documented future vision via differing levels of community engagement, structured or otherwise).
* – the pioneers – worth a look.

While the pollies and their lobbyist mates continue to play their agenda games I plan to spend a bit more time around my town planting out some stuff!!

a.k.a. The Phantom Cosmic Chiver
(With deference to Johnny Appleseed.)

kobenhavn: beyond the smoke and mirrors

Well, I've had my say on the Climate Change Summit – time to move on.

Over the past couple of years I've laboured the point that, given current technologies and resources and population trends, a sustainable planet simply cannot embrace continual economic growth.
That same old Elephant in the Room turned up at Copenhagen – indeed, I saw her lurking in every single telecast – but I've been unable to turn up an interview, nor even a concession that she was there! (Perhaps she fell into the junket.)

In repeatedly and perversely decoupling 'growth' from 'sustainability' our Western 'leaders' are being simply disingenuous. A fairly vicious word, but an accurate one.*

Now, I'm not a specialist in any academic discipline. But I know enough to do my share of damage.
The way I see it, everyone – everywhere – is entitled to a decent standard of living.
They're entitled to eat well, to live in relative comfort and safety, to work productively, to attain their potential, to enjoy friendships and leisure activities, to be looked after by their society in times of need.
Over recent centuries, as Western countries built their nett wealth (by whatever means – some more ethical than others), individual standards of living improved.
In these nations, affluence became the province of the majority.
All good so far?
In getting to this point, however, most of our neighbours have been left behind.
Surely no reasonable individual would deny them the opportunity to catch up, to enjoy similar standards to ours?
More importantly, reasonable individuals might finally agree that we've had it too good for too long: it might be time to wind back our aspirations, our 'standards' – and split the difference.

This nexus, to me, crystallizes the true 'outcome' of the Summit (and – since every debate needs a forum – another justification for it).
The collective WE need to determine the boundary between 'Standard of living' (which drives modern economic systems via the necessity to produce excessively and consume wastefully) and 'Quality of life' (which, however amorphous and fungible, comprises fundamental rights and values above wealth).
The latter state is not only achievable but indefinitely sustainable: for every single one of us.

Supplementary reading (recommended): The exploited and the exploiters

* lacking in frankness; insincere; covertly guileful; crafty.

some reflections on kobenhavn

In the leadup to the 'Climate Change Summit' I envisaged it as a necessary phase of social evolution.
As it draws to a close, my viewpoint remains unchanged (unchallenged).

You could term it a massive waste of resources. You'd be right.
You could label it a bit of a self-indulgent wankfest. You'd be right.
I share your cynicism.
And yet I'll maintain it was necessary – just as Kyoto was.
Some people just won't be told: they need to learn at their own pace – on their own terms!

"So, now that the rest of the class has caught up a little, we can all move to the next chapter."

The nature of politics being what it is, certain people (which we choose to term 'leaders') find it impossible to simply and quietly deliver positive change – despite the fact that this is what we pay them to do!
They need, like Lear, to vainly strut and fret onstage.
They need recognition. Plaudits, of course – but even brickbats will do, if it keeps them in the public gaze. It's their drug of choice.

Kobenhavn reminds me a bit of tending to the needs of spoilt brats, who soak up resources while the other kids just want to get on with it.
Like it or not, however, these 'leaders' – functional and dysfunctional alike – bear the responsibility of re-writing the rules in order to restore our ailing planet.

The Summit, seen in the best possible light, provides us with a new reference point – and could actually prove to be a watershed.
So, although I think he's been a little soft on our Government, I largely agree with Tim Flannery:
"It's only one step on the road but we are now really in the throes of tackling this very difficult problem and this meeting has been a very significant step forward. I wouldn't like anyone to undersell what's been achieved. I think it is very significant."

Many of us remain unsatisfied – but now that 'the world' has at least started targetting a genuine emissions benchmark (and a 'tolerable' level of global warming), people of goodwill and commonsense (the vast majority) can use this standard as leverage: to reduce our footprint further still and to pressure our notional 'leaders' to become a little more forthright, proactive and accountable.

MEANWHILE, we must not allow ourselves to be distracted by the carnival lights and show-biz gimmickry … by what some psychologists would term displacement activities.
There's work to do.
Let's get on with it!

Friday, 18 December 2009

too feral for facebook? lolz

I've spent roughly 40% of my life alone: let's round that off to 20 years.
Some of this time has elapsed within the protective envelope of a 'relationship'; some on the outside.

Mostly, I celebrate being an outsider: 'a complete unknown'.
This status carries a lot of power!
Not simply independence – to do my own thing in my own time and, yes, to indulge my weaknesses – but the rare opportunity to evolve and live by a unique set of principles, which happen to include loving people and serving them.

Infrequently (perhaps for a nett total of four or five years) I've ached for companionship and intimacy.
These periods are admittedly tough and call on my deepest reserves of strength and, yes, courage.
Everyone needs an anchor.
Being alone and 'ungodly' in the truest sense, one is forced to 'anchor' oneself regardless of circumstances.
(Physician, heal thyself!)

Life's a real trip, isn't it?
After working my way through a very long, dark tunnel I reached a point this year where I got the overwhelming feeling that I'd already met the love of my life – and lost her.
This persistent (and enfeebling) sensation is finally tapering off – she and I have, I suspect, diverged too far on our separate paths – yet it leaves a void that can hopefully can be filled in time (because that old and painful ache is creeping back).

If love can be compared to a structure, acceptance (tolerance?) might be the glue that keeps it together. Once this bond starts to disintegrate, often through natural attrition, it can rarely be restored – weaknesses, for example, become character flaws.

Though I continue my 'journey', I'm more comfortable with 'who I am' than ever before – and my pathway into the future becomes clearer every day – but, seriously, who'd want to share a life with an increasingly feral and feisty post-SNAG like me?

As a part-time marketer I can truly understand and respect buyer resistance to this particular 'product' – myself – but as always it's a two-way deal.
The shelves are stocked with a range of talent but none of it seems to promise what I'm after.
I have my own needs.
Sexual attraction is important (can't help that!) – yet above all I crave the connections of companionship, intellectual empathy and shared values.

Hmmmmm … where do picky people (with a distinct aversion to 'shopping') go shopping?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

arse-shifting season

Been a weird and exciting few months here @ jeds backyard.
Lots going on in a variety of spheres, locally and globally … all grist to the mill, as always.
I've lost track of the number of times since June that I made a mental note to 'blog about that' – but then the tide of happenstance invariably swept in and my thoughts became so much flotsam.

Well, anyone who knows me will appreciate I'm a stubborn bastard who keeps his promises.
I've told a few mates that this blog will breathe again – just need to shift my arse! (and the aforementioned 'flotsam' has collected in a convenient wee whirlpool just outside the kitchen window).

But where to start?
Let's start with an email I sent to a mate on Tuesday.
It's been slightly edited for this context.

I got up early today as usual, feeling great, and thought I'd spend a couple of hours 'updating' my long-neglected blog.
Guess what happened? Nothing. I simply didn't know where to start!

There's so much going on in the world at present.
Copenhagen is a multi-layered joke.
Western society has started its traditional Xmas binge as the planet continues to buckle.
Billions still go to bed hungry (if they HAVE a bed), including maybe a couple of hundred thousand in Australia.
The banking system which brought the global economy to its knees a scant 12 months ago - and was bailed out by trillions of taxpayers' dollars - continues to profiteer off working people yet has the sheer audacity to demand 'the market' should never be regulated.
Peace-prize winner (and wannabe saviour of the world) Obama is - like Rudd - showing his true colours.
Locally, the forthcoming bushfire season looks increasingly nasty (see Copenhagen, above).
And so forth.

What's my point?
Well, going back to your original questions, sometimes the challenges appear so huge that we lose perspective and become a little paralyzed.
With so much that needs changing, where does one start?

In my heart, I know what the answer is: it's what I've always done –'start somewhere … anywhere!' - but occasionally we all need to set the 'big tasks' to one side and focus on simpler, more straightforward stuff.

Here's an interesting analogy. Our Conure parrots love fruit, so I put a couple of small green (unripe) apples in their cage the other day.
They were so tough that the poor birds couldn't bite into them and they got really frustrated.
So I went back in and carved a section off the apples, exposing the inside: once someone had 'made a start' they were fine.

More to come … this side of 25 December. Promise!

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

some reflections on 'the working poor'

What's going on with many of our nuclear families?
Both parents working and still falling behind financially; many using charity to supplement their income / lifestyle.
The gap between income and 'needs', at least for many, increasingly unbreachable.

[H]unger [sic] gnawing away at children and families of the working poor,23739,25693743-5012465,00.html

McMillan says charities as far away as Hervey Bay are sending someone south weekly to collect food, as a new "working poor" emerges in the long queues.

The "working poor" includes families, he says, where both parents have a job. But after clothing their children, paying a mortgage and filling the family car with fuel, the parents are often caught short on food.

(Do your own search if you like; find your own link/s.
The above is simply an apposite, contemporary report.)

I'm not a nostalgic: the post-War years through the 70s were far from ideal.
Many aspirational 'working-class' families (like mine) went without many 'basic' goods – TVs, certainly, but also appliances like vacuum cleaners and washing machines – we now take for granted;
women were in many ways second-class citizens;
domestic violence and sexual abuse were all too often trivialized or swept under the carpet;
many smart kids missed out on a university education because they couldn't afford it.
Et cetera.

So I'm not suggesting that Then was 'better' than Now.
Yet I'm really curious to find out Why – 30, 40, 50 years ago – most families could survive and pay off a mortgage on a single income when, these days, a combined income is often insufficient.

I've read that the ratio between household income and housing affordability has stretched to breaking point; i.e., property is way over-priced and mortgage repayments are in many cases unsustainable.
I've also read that society's idea of 'essentials' vs 'luxuries' has changed: that our collective addiction to consumption is the culprit, since 'too many' expect to own a McMansion, a widescreen plasma, an X-Box, a boat … three or four cars in the driveway!, the nett effect of which is a shrinking disposable income.
(Begs the question: when did FOOD become a 'luxury'? Well …)
There's also the fact that many parents are so 'time-poor' that they feel compelled to purchase take-away and / or prepare packaged, 'convenience meals' for the family. Quite aside from the health impacts – increasing obesity and diabetes in kids for example – these foods aren't cheap.
'Labour market reform' suggests many people – particularly the unskilled and semi-skilled – simply don't earn enough.
No doubt there is a host of other contributing factors.

I've tried to keep this post apolitical and honest: I really don't have any answers.
I'm starting to conclude that, in an increasingly secular society, consumerism has replaced religion as 'the opiate of the masses'.
And, being addicted to revenues, governments of all persuasions are pushing the 'production–consumption' mantra.

Yet that's only a symptom.
What's the disease?
You tell me.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

a letter to the editor; a letter to you

This is an open letter to those who want to support their community but 'don't have time'.
Just shop locally – as often as you can.
Every healthy community needs a healthy local economy.

Here's some context.
I'm convinced that Coles and Woolies/Safeway do indeed practise anti-competitive behaviour and that a grocery duopoly - often spawning local monopolies - is not healthy for the end-user nor for local communities.

The nature of capitalism being what it is, what else can we expect?

If, say, the local Safeway uses its purchasing power and economies of scale to start a price war against an independent supermarket OR greengrocer OR butcher OR service station, the attack can only succeed if consumers support them.

Many of us do indeed transfer our 'spend' away from locally-owned businesses: if these can't 'compete' (in what I consider to be unbalanced fight), they're gone.
Your average small independent greengrocer, for example, normally doesn't buy and sell (frequently export-subsidized) produce from Europe or North America, as the Big Two do.
Nor does your local independent refrigerate its stock for months and market itself as 'The Fresh Food People'.
Nor can a small business exert pressure on (often Australian) suppliers to force shelf prices down, or push a growing range of 'home (generic) brands' - keeping any (arguable) 'competition' within a single store.

That said, an increasing number of us don't jump ship.
We recognise that it's often worth paying an extra 10 or 15% for groceries if it means sustaining a business which, in turn, spends most its money - business inputs, sponsorships and profits - locally, rather than 'exporting' its spend to farmers and factories in Italy or China and profits to shareholders across the globe.

How many of us, driven by the savings, abandon their local hardware or nursery and scurry off to Bunnings every Saturday?
How many get their business stationery and equipment from Officeworks rather than 'the local bloke'?
Similarly, fast food from the corporates? Clothing from Target or DFO? Books from Amazon?

At the end of the day, it's our choice - and that's capitalism; that's 'democracy'.
But we shouldn't complain about the consequences unless we, as consumers, are prepared to do something about it.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

'the paradox of choice'

We are spoilt, aren't we?

Why does the multi-billion-dollar 'self-improvement' (self-satisfaction, self-fulfilment … self-gratification!) industry exist?

A few thoughts I recorded earlier this year.

To quote the synopsis from the above clip: choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

Stretching the topic to a higher level (or lower, depending on your POV) I believe that values transcend choice – or, ideally at least, should.
Barry made his point very well: a surfeit of choices doesn't necessarily improve our satisfaction levels; indeed, they somehow? frequently increase our dissatisfaction.
Again, why?

Choices in what or how we consume don't essentially improve who we are; that is, our character … OR what we in reality need to lead a contented life.

… So, what's the missing link?

Learned values enable us to judge what really matters.
All too often, the self-styled (all-too-often affluent) 'victims' of our market-driven Western society are increasingly obsessed by (what I consider to be) superficial matters – from 'the burden of choice' and 'the cult of celebrity' to tax-brackets to 'download limits!' – and then all too often piss and moan about what's Missing in their Lives.

WTF? Life-coach, anyone?

I think Barry slipped in the magic word ('values') once or twice but it slipped through the cracks.
Perhaps that's the real missing link in this suitably-named paradox?
Moreover, he also made the point that the 'curse' of choice is - indeed - a product of affluence.
Around three-quarters of the world's population probably crave this affliction!

I think people need to simplify their lives and get a grip on what's really important.
Or at least start thinking about it.

As I mentioned a few days ago, do we - en bloc - really want Freedom any more?

Saturday, 13 June 2009

a vignette on the politics of education …

Information is power. Education is power.
(I'll apologise in advance for the forthcoming series of generalisations.)
It's an increasing sign of the times that we proles, collectively, know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
'We' don't want power any more. Too much responsibility. ;)
'Hey, Big Bro, I'm an honest citizen!: absorb all my personal information and stick it on a 'smart'-card; feel free to 'stuff up' (wooops) occasionally and leak it; scrutinise all my financial transactions; monitor me with videocams in every public place.
Because, since I've been so comprehensively pimped, I really don't need to know your agenda.'

In return?
'I just want cheap consumables and plasma bonuses and 10GB downloads; 'economic stimulus' handouts and cheap air-fares and pretend news featuring Brittney and Gordon Ramsay.
But I want 'em NOW, goddamnit!'
(The grandkids? Stuff 'em.)

Inevitably, the ascendancy of 'wants' over 'needs' impacts on the quality of information which is delivered to us.
In the media?
Competition: 'bottom-line'-obsessed shareholders: cost-cutting: shortage of (educated) true professionals who know how to source and write up real news: sectional, dollar-corrupted lobbyists increasingly in control of the public information-stream.
Consequentially, shoddy writing and dubious material rulez.
(The Truth? like whatever, dude.)

A priori, in the classroom? Same deal!
Market economics, craving drones but cloaked in the garb of Political Correctness, for example.
Due to budgetary pressures and inadequate ('flexible' & borderline arbitrary) 'outcomes benchmarks', too few students are allowed to 'Fail' any more.
Hence, in this (education / empowerment) resources void, there is little pressure on students to learn from one's mistakes and get it right next time.
No, the real pressure is on the institution - on the teachers - to achieve (frakkin) 'outcomes' ahead of imparting genuine, lifelong knowledge.
Kids are too often rated 'Competent' with little or no genuine actual proof, then pushed ahead into the next grade.
(Should it prove more expedient to the school, they're simply abandoned: I work with an organization which tries to rescue some of these.)
Those who survive school end up, poorly-equipped, in the workforce (even in tertiary institutions) with their various bits of paper which, quite simply, lie about their accomplishments.
Inevitably, many turn out as reporters and school-teachers. (Most dangerous of all, parents!)
Almost every working day I deal with with 'professionals' holding at least one tertiary qualification who haven't achieved Year 12 literacy standards, who can't do Year 10 maths, who can't sustain a coherent argument, who believe in the 'powers' of 'crystals' … who can't drive a car properly (some even don't know how to lift the bonnet).

And so the wheel keeps turning.
The culture, as I see it, is badly broken.

Without a solid grounding English standards, for example, are mutable … or don't exist at all.
A believer in a truly inclusive society, I can live with (and even accept) the consequences of a widespread decline into vacuity - but that doesn't make it all right.
As a body, Western society has apparently taken the position that the individual's propensity to consume is more important than their personal empowerment – more important, for that matter, than the welfare of future generations.)
This will continue until we collectively cry 'Enough!'
Meanwhile, bullshit rules.
And I'll guarantee it's gonna get a lot worse before it gets any better.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Bob Brown vs the turds

Gunns have an ongoing 'special relationship' with a series of Tassie governments …
/Jed waits for a knock on the door/ ;)
… and nothing the Feds do would surprise me.

I've always been in favour of a sustainable forestry industry - and have earned a living from it.
The way I see this issue, sustainable forestry and Gunns' philosophy - and methodology - are worlds apart.
But, before anyone discounts me as yet another hippie (some of my best friends are damn hippies!), please read this through.

In my experience, a true 'green' has plenty of common sense and knows what s/he's talking about.
Where 'the environment' is concerned, passion is a bonus - not a foundation.
Many, on both sides of the 'debate', really need to do some homework.
(Yeah, I know, you can get a pheromone buzz from hysteria.)

Simply, Bob Brown is an absolute legend.
Australia owes him bigtime: even though half the country still don't realise it, history will provide the proof.
Sooner than most think.

No wonder the bastards at Gunns are trying to ruin him: that's the way they operate.
They're mafiosi; knee-cappers; profit-whores.

Some context for my point of view.
(My experience is exclusively within Victoria but the issue is surely a global one.)
I've worked in two owner-operated sawmills and done marketing work for one.
I lived in a dedicated Timber Town for several years and talked to a few independent millers who lost their allocations (some to corporates) and closed down, due to circumstances beyond their control.
'That's progress,' you might say. Fair enough.
The writing was on the wall for unsustainable logging - in Victoria, at least - well over half a century ago when a future plan was mapped out. This has already expired.
(Joan Kirner explained this to me in 1985 during an extended discussion while she was the responsible minister. Smart woman.)

The savage irony of this 'progress', however, is that these independents largely focussed on value-adding and extracting the maximum from every log. And the few survivors still do.
Sawn F-rated / structural timber for houses. Dressed and moulded timber for architraves, etc. Kiln-dried boutique timbers for furniture, sculpting, woodcraft.
And so forth.
One mill actually specialised in redeeming low-grade logs as fence palings and tomato stakes.
All the legitimate residue became firewood … woodchips … even sawdust, which sustained other small local businesses.
I learnt how they did it. I helped them do it.
Being relatively low-tech, they also employed a lot of people 'per log' (and, incidentally, supported any number of community efforts).
In about 1993 I spent a loooong day walking three coupes (in separate locations) with a contractor as a guide, who explained his practices and accountability in detail - and showed me how these principles were applied.
One of his coupes was adjacent to a property owned by a State MP (at the time) who had flouted any number of codes - without penalty - in clear-felling his 250 hectares within a local catchment.

The wood pulp and woodchip industries have never been about value-adding. They've never been about a sustainable environment. They've never been about empowering communities. (That's us, BTW.)
So, what are they about?
The way I see it: high-volume inputs (regardless of quality);
high volume (low-quality) outputs;
minimum employment;
fat profits (subsidised as required);
'special' favours from their suckhole mates in government;
bashing up their opponents (whom, in due course, will prove to be genuine heroes).

I could go on - about the CFMEU repeatedly betraying its membership base (and the ALP its constituents); about the deliberate downgrading of sawlog for chipping in Gippsland during the 80s (which may still continue) - but I'll pull my head in for now.

Bob Brown. Legend. GO YOU GOOD THING.

[Edits 11/6/09: 'value-adding'!]

Monday, 8 June 2009

Chasers vs mediocrity and bloody hypocrites

I'm a Chasers' War on Everything fan.
I believe it generally offers leading edge comedy during an age of mediocrity, soft targets and cheap laughs.
Indeed, the humour is frequently crude and they fail from time to time - but at least they take risks.

At the same time, I accept that many don't like it.
And choose not to watch it.
(?)Maybe not!

I also realise that the 'Make a Realistic Wish' sketch (broadcast on ABC1 here in Australia last week) was hurtful to many people and, in retrospect, I wish it hadn't been screened.
For their sake, not for mine.
I have a couple of friends who have lost children in heart-breaking circumstances and my own brother died before his time from an incurable disease.

Without defending the skit itself I'm seriously pissed off, however, at the double standards employed by the self-righteous hacks in the commercial media.
And, for that matter, by that terminally righteous arbiter of public conscience, the great rudd hisself.

Like maggots, ACA and TT prey on human frailty (as do the gutter press and the paid fascists of talkback radio).
Always have. Always will.
'Funniest Home Videos' exploits real injury to real people. No, seriously folks, it's a hoot.
Ratings whores, anyone?
Now 7 and 9, plus any number of filthy, bottom-(bogan?)-feeding commercial radio stations, plus the parasitical scum of tabloid 'journalism' (heh: spot the irony) are riding this controversy bandwagon for all it's worth.
Playing both sides as usual.
Re-cycling the less tasteful parts of the sketch for society's vicarious outrage.
Or pain.

Bloody hypocrites!

The great rudd hisself is an admitted sinophile.
Does anyone else find it sickeningly ironic that the little nonce is on the warpath against Chasers just as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre?
Hundreds - if not thousands - died on that day.
As far as I know, none died during this marginally infamous comedy sketch that so outraged the community.

[Edits 11/6/09: 'value-adding'!]

Thursday, 26 February 2009

more light; less heat

We can never protect ourselves from every single scenario.
You 'didn't need to hear this'? Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt. Wrong.

History has repeatedly taught us how vulnerable we are at times, yet our instinctive reaction to natural disaster is to target a series of scapegoats to focus the blame - since the Causes are too difficult! - and then invest in an exercise to 'ensure it can never happen again.'
Even when we know, deep in our brains, that it probably will.
Much as it's human nature to seek them, there are no easy answers.
Particularly for those of us who choose to live in Paradise … in the middle of one of the most combustible forests in the world.

Blame 'the greenies' all you like if it floats your leaky McBoat.
In joining this tiresome game, I'll take a slightly more rational course: I blame the increasing ascendancy of 'Wants' over 'Needs'.
We stomp across the planet in our quest for repeated self-gratification then wonder why systems start to break down.
It ain't rocket surgery.
Overconsumption: climate change: erratic weather patterns: stuffall rain: drier bush: reduced opportunities for strategic FRBs (… which are, incidentally, endorsed by your 'greenie' scapegoats).

I expect a lot of really useful outcomes from the Royal Commission.
Hundreds of people should never die in vain.
But we'll never be invulnerable.
That's one piece of useful knowledge reaffirmed during my few hours of 'mortality' last Monday.

Something that seems to have gone 'AWOL' over my lifetime is personal autonomy, yet - unless we are prepared to take full responsibility, in every sense, for the consequences: our destiny - we simply don't deserve 'autonomy'!

Invest a few minutes in this article.
Most of the Comments are also worth reading.
(The intro follows. I'd dispute its claim that It is the other side of the story, since the 'story' is way too complex for a dualistic debate, yet it offers a series of valuable insights that need to be brought to the table.)

Hazard Reduction: The Blame Game
February 18th, 2009

The Bushfires in Victoria were a paradigm-shifting event - gripping, terrifying and devastating for dozens of communities and hundreds of families…The news was shocking in its magnitude and the disaster will have enormous consequences for land management and housing development across the nation. Professor Poongschtok is an alias for one of Real Dirt’s most informed readers. He knows what he is talking about so his piece may be long but every word is worth reading. It is the other side of the story.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Ockham's Razor*: sorting the wheat from the chaff

(Before I start: if any of the following terms are unclear, feel free to look them up in a dictionary or use the 'define' option in Google.)

The best lies are half true.
Compare, for example, the mainstream (official) analyses of '9-11' with the alternative ('truthist') viewpoints.
Both 'sides' have much to gain by obfuscation in serving their respective agendas.
The best way to achieve this level of confusion (disharmony, conflict) is to blend truth and fiction in roughly equal measures, mix well - preferably by the light of the new moon! - and serve: with extreme prejudice.

I had my say on 9-11 several months ago - that the real truth is all there … but isolating it is much like separating egg yolks from an omelette.

Moving on …
I've had a bit of free time over the break and have spent too much of it doing research.
I'm now a lot more savvy about subjects as diverse as glyphosate, passionvine hoppers, the GM food agenda, water ownership …
However, what I'd like to focus on today is Globalism.
From time to time, I've had my say about this too. In fact, the subheading above sums up my world view: '… ACT GLOBALLY'.
This is something I believe in with all my heart: that we can all contribute to our planet in a positive way.
In promoting this ideal, occasionally I've made it clear that I believe all levels of government in Australia have 'lost the plot'.
They've embraced a sectional-interest-and-market-lobby-driven platform - as opposed to one that is people-driven; they buy our compliance with middle-class handouts and hide behind secrecy provisions; they still can't (won't) recognise the all-too-obvious connection between economic 'growth' (consumption) and environmental unsustainability.

Well, yes, everything I've written is (of course) true.
There's more government-bagging to come! And I'll continue to deconstruct The Emperor's New Clothes - in the interests of transparency! - until Conroy's goons (try to) shut me down.

However, today I'm going to switch my focus to the fringe-dwellers who feel compelled to believe in secret or cabalistic conspiracies against us - as opposed to the obvious conspiracy by the mechanics of 'market forces' to disempower us.
I've read a lot about (what I'll arbitrarily term) the New World Order over recent weeks; this reading supplements what I'd already known about exclusive cults (Freemasonry, the Illuminati, etc.), about the UN's Agenda 21, about privatisation of essential services, about debt-for-equity swaps, about corporate welfare, imperialism …
There's literally tens of millions of 'conspiracists' who believe - god bless 'em - that a secret plan has been in place (for up to 2000 years) to control the planet. According to which source you read, this plan is currently being shaped by any combination of the following: Jews, bankers, communists, fascists(!), fabian socialists, the UN, the IMF, environmentalists, green politicians, catholics …
over the past couple of days I've learnt that even shire councils and the feminist movement are complicit!
Yet there's nothing in any of these allegations which can't be explained by the ongoing struggle between capital and labour.

Here's a bonus irony: the anti-NWO movement seems to be a morass of half-informed, fundie christians. Heh … just like the NRA!
I won't charge these 'truthists' with feeble-mindedness, because there is, indeed, too much truth layered between the lies and assumptions. Furthermore, many people have lost what little they have - their jobs, their homes, frequently their self-esteem - due to the behaviour of one or more of the above groups - and it's human nature to blame someone.
No wonder Australia's One Nation party flamed briefly a few years back! It opportunistically rode this tidal wave of resentment and hatred.

No, the biggest problem I have with the Global Paranoia Movement is its lack of integrity: clear analysis and objectivity.
Take Agenda 21 as an isolated example: released by the UN in 1992, A21 offers us (as global citizens) some policies and pathways toward achieving a more sustainable future: protected natural environments, reduced consumption, increased equity, etc.
In order to achieve this, it 'requires' a degree of intervention by governments, worldwide, to secure such a future.
(I term this the Benevolent Big Brother effect; though I'm ambivalent, I concede it has an important role to play.)
As a body, the Conspiracists have selectively cherry-picked elements from A21 to convince the ignorant that it's little more than an attack on personal liberty.
In doing so, they have alienated people like me who believe we can have the best of both worlds - despite the cynicism and opportunism of regulators - by taking ownership of the problem of poor governance! By Acting Globally in our own Backyards!

The nett outcome of these poorly-constructed conspiracy theories is that the baby goes with the bathwater and the real enemy rejoices …
Divide and Conquer!
Patriots vs nationalists! Environmentalists vs trade unions! Social conservatives vs (small L) liberals vs feminists. Low-paid, unskilled workers vs immigrants!

In discovering 'who to blame', it's best to put reason ahead of emotion.
Apply Ockham's Razor: shave away the irrelevant and spurious data - if you can - and you'll discover the truth.

Friends! The conspiracy is clear - but it's no secret!
It's simply the ugly face of market economics.
As always, there's a fairly clear solution:
1. the people, united, will never be defeated;
2. know your real enemy: (BTW, who is underwriting the Global Paranoia Movement?).

*Ockham's razor (sometimes spelled Occam's razor) is a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar, William of Ockham. The principle states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. …'s_razor

Thursday, 25 December 2008


Inevitably, Australia's interpretation of the 'welfare state' has evolved - in some ways for the better.
If you think about it, the philosophy of 'mutual obligation' has a lot of nett benefits … as long as it applies to everyone!
It never has. It never will.

It's long been my contention that the ¿service? I term 'Clink' - the sound made by a single dried-out brain cell rattling around an empty skull - needs a bloody good reaming out.
In fact, it needs a Senate enquiry followed by an overhaul.
Somewhere over the past 20 years Australian society - the collective 'we' (comprising taxpayers, 'leaders' / legislators and administrators) - has lost sight of the original intent of 'welfare' as a safety-net.
Clink has become exclusivist, obstructionist and adversarial rather than inclusive and helpful.

In achieving this sorry political ideal Clink has devolved into a sanctuary for incompetence.
(As with education and health, alas, too many good operators have given up and moved on.)

Clink imposes the strictest of requirements on its 'clients' while failing to meet the lowest standards of professionalism.
Too much power, too little accountability. It's as simple as that.

If I ran my business the way they ran theirs, I'd disappear up my own backside (just like them).

My evidence is merely anecdotal: I know eight or ten Clink 'clients' fairly well; I've heard depressingly familiar stories from many more.
Most of them simply can't get consistently accurate (honest) information or consistent responses out of these bozos.
Here's a typical scenario:
1. 'Client' X calls on Monday and (after waiting in a queue indefinitely) receives 'advice A'.
This information usually doesn't tally with Clink's documentation, so …
2. She calls again on Tuesday and receives 'advice B', which invariably contradicts A.
3. Then she sacrifices other commitments and turns up to an appointment on Thursday with sufficient documentation to cover the requirements of both A and B.
Guess what?
4. Advice C both contradicts and supercedes the earlier advice. Trip wasted. In total, hours wasted. Clink accountability? Zero.
5. And so the cycle continues.
These days, one of Clink's core functions is to break people's spirits.
They'll never own up. They'll never tell the truth. Stuff the lot of 'em!

Without a doubt, it's a political thing. It's a policy thing.
Driven by the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the market agenda: Labor and Liberal.

Don't get me started on 'Work for the Dole' (still operating under a different title). Suffice it to say, WFTD was never about getting anyone 'working' - and even less concerned with building better (more employable) citizens.
Don't get me started on Clink's role in cooking the books to help successive governments publish favourable employment stats.

If mutual obligation had an ounce of validity, any number of dysfunctional, agenda-serving ministers from the Howard and Rudd governments (Reith, Andrews, Ruddock, Downer - plus Conroy and possibly Garrett for starters) would be out on their arses.
(A couple of the former might even be serving prison time.)

That's enough ranting for now.
I've got a lot more to say about where the unemployed, the disabled, aged pensioners, single parents (etc.) fit into the global economy - in terms of their generally small enviro-footprint AND the Return on Investment they offer in terms of a more sustainable future - but will postpone this argument to ensure my key point is made …
Clink is f*cked. Clink needs fixing.

To close this particular attack, I'm going to cite, completely unedited (and with permission), a post I read the other day about how Clink 'functions'.
It was part of an online discussion pursuant to Kevin 747's Umpteenth Plan: to reduce homelessness in Australia by 50% by 2020.
(We all know - and most people (by now) hope - Kev'll be long gone by then.
I'll be happy to bet he'll be chairing that Nirvana of Inaction, the UN - prattling on smugly, happily and bi-lingually.)

To put the following into context, Y asks a question - "What changes would you suggest?" - and Z responds in beautiful detail …

What changes would you suggest?

Wow, where to begin?

Okay, to start with they can stop referring to the people using a Centrelink-provided service as "clients" and "customers". Its a ridiculous, politically correct waste of time that I (personally) find insulting to my intelligence. If I was a "customer" of Centrelink, I'd be taking my business elsewhere because their "customer service" sucks. But you can't go elsewhere, so they can drop the pretense of being like other large institutions (banks, shops and other businesses). I don't care what they refer to those people as, so long as it doesn't give the impression that they have any kind of choice in the matter.

Second, they can fix their computer systems. Centrelink's system doesn't (currently) interface properly with the system used by Job Providers. Job Providers log someone in as having turned up for job training and it doesn't show up on Centrelink's system, so they cut off your payments.

Third, they need to recognize that mentally ill people are mentally ill. They might not remember they have an appointment (Alzheimer's), they might be aggressive to staff (paranoid schizophrenia) and they might not even understand WTF you're saying to them (impaired cognitive function i.e. brain damage). The mentally ill person also can't help that they're flapped in the head.

Forth, the Income and Assets test needs to be reversed. Instead of you having to prove you don't have any money, they should have to prove you do before refusing payment especially in cases where the mentally ill are involved.

Fifth, I've also discovered that up to one third of the social services sector consists of people employed solely to inform members of the public that they can't actually help them and to distribute lists of other organizations that might be able to.

Sixth, if the people who work at Centrelink are supposed to be professionals, they need to be able to exercise some level of discretion if, in their professional opinion, a situation warrants a non-check box response. I know adding some flexibility opens the system up for cheating, but you can cheat it easily already just by knowing which boxes to tick on the forms. End result is that you still have a system that can be abused, but that can actually function for non-standard cases as well.

Here's my own personal scenario from earlier in the year:

What should have happened:

[Dad] Apply for Aged Pension, granted.
[Me] apply for Carer's Payment, granted.
What actually happened:

[Dad] Applied for Aged Pension, rejected, appealed rejection, rejection upheld, appealed again, gave up appeal in frustration, applied for Disability Support Pension, rejected, appealed, rejection upheld, applied for Newstart Allowance, granted, applied for exemption from looking for work due to sickness, exemption granted, applied for Disability Support Pension again, granted.
[Me] Applied for Carer's Payment, rejected, appealed, rejection upheld, appealed, rejection upheld again, applied for Newstart Allowance, granted, applied for exemption from looking for work due to sickness, granted, exemption expired, applied again for exemption, granted, applied for councelling session with psychologist due to impending mental breakdown, attended sessions with psychologist and bitched about Centrelink, psychologist diagnosed severe depression, anxiety, hypertension, grief, asked how I was still standing...exemption expired, applied again for exemption, granted, got Dad some money, made a few calls, got a new job, called Centrelink manager and suggested they attempt auto-copulation for making the whole saga stretch out for six and a half months.
Yeah, I lied and cheated the system and my Dad (who is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease) would be on the streets if I hadn't, so I did what I needed to do and make absolutely no apologies for it.

You know what I needed? Some bloody time off to get my Dad's affairs sorted out and find him a nice nursing home to spend the next few years in while he turns into a vegetable. Knowing that he'd be flapped if I just handed everything over to the social welfare system, how could I do that and still sleep at night? I don't even particularly like my father, but I wouldn't wish Centrelink on my worst enemy.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

the spirit of christmas: a vignette

Like many atheists I don't get really excited about this time of year.
I'm not curmudgeonly about it.
I love sharing the happiness of kids.
I enjoy catching up with mates for a drink and a good rant and some special food.
I even look forward to seeing the odd relative. (I have plenty of those.)
And let's face it, after a few drugs of choice, some of those hymns and homilies can sound pretty damn good.

Yet it's difficult to seriously embrace superstitious behaviour … and harder still condone full-tilt consumption! … when these two factors, among several others, contribute to the deprivation experienced by billions of my neighbours - and ongoing damage to my planet.

Here's a little reality check which helped put my personal 'festive' season in perspective.
I picked up a hitchhiker today: a male, maybe late thirties to early forties.
During the three or four minutes we spent together, I learnt that a bare fortnight ago he had separated from his wife of 18 years.
Upon his return from an extended visit to relatives in the UK she pulled the pin.
He lost his family, his house, his car.
At some stage he had lost his business.
He was living between caravan parks and trying to pull the strands of his life back together.
He was friendly. He joked a bit. He even patted my car … something no one else has done (aside from me) since I owned it.

I'll probably never know his real story. I'll certainly never know his wife's side of the story.
But I felt incredibly empty inside when I dropped him off at the bus stop.
I'll admit that I wished him a good christmas.
And he reciprocated.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

customer service: part II – the solution

I've had my (valid) rant about predominantly crap service (see my last post), so let's move on to affirmative stuff.

Never a massive John Lennon fan, I agree it can often be a very good thing to Imagine a better world …
(as long as you're prepared to get out of bed and do something about it!)

So let's imagine a society where every person put everyone else ahead of themselves.
No self-servers, no queue-jumpers, no precious little personal agendas or self-centred 'emotional' responses.

(Of course, everyone's entitled to a little 'ME-time'. It's noted, so don't panic.)

To take a wholistic approach to customer service: the problem embodies the solution!
Your life, your family, your society, your planet, your universe has NEVER been about YOU … or me … or someone else:
It's always been about the entire fucking system!

I can't claim to have perfected the approach - and, indeed, I have more than my share of faults (e.g. I'm in the Guiness Book of Records under World's Worst Housekeeper!) - but it's one I strive for every day.
How does it work?
It ain't rocket science.
Try life at the back of the queue!

Example 1: Pay it forward.
(No, I don't believe in 'karma' but this is all about 'doing the right thing' - and satisfaction is its own reward.)
Be spontaneously helpful.
Trust people to fulfil commitments - at least once. :)
Offer respect up front - don't wait for it.
(Yes, you'll frequently get your fingers burnt!
Yet you'll also learn a hell of a lot. About others. About yourself. About how to 'do it better' next time.)

Example 2: Learn to say 'Yes!' most of the time.
Personally, I'm more than a little bored with those 'life-pilgrims' who've spent half a lifetime 'learning to say No'.
Engage with people! 'Learn' to enjoy helping them!
Your colleagues, your community, your planet really need your participation!

Example 2a: Be generous … with your time, with your talents, with your beer fridge.

Example 3: Children aren't chattels!
Indeed, they have a lot to learn and do need to follow the directions of loving parents for their own good, but they have every right to have their say and be respected as equal human beings.
'Children should be seen and not heard' is simply a bullshit model.
I can't stand parents who repeatedly shut their kids out of social interactions or otherwise disrespect them.
Parent, teacher, mentor, whatever your role … caring for kids is not about you; AND it's certainly never been about control.

Example 4: Leave your baggage at the door.
You've probably noticed that I'm a keen student of human behaviour.
Based on my direct observations over the past 40 years or so, I'll assert that about two-thirds of conflict situations (including poor service) arise from poorly contained, misdirected, self-centred emotions (usually combined with poor communications skills - see below).
Don't take your problems out on anyone else!
Leave your issues at home.
Having the proverbial 'bad day'? FFS, Let It Go!, get a bloody grip or simply walk away.

Example 4a: Forgive! - even if you can never forget.
Just as I'm bored with 'life-pilgrims' who believe the universe revolves around their own backsides, I'm equally pissed off with the many who bear a grudge over inconsequential matters or a healthy difference of opinion.
Grow up. Just bloody well grow up!
In case you haven't noticed, there's plenty of real shit going on: if you can't handle being part of the solution, stop being part of the problem.

Example 4b: At every opportunity, work to build your communications skills!
Effective communication is something I'm pretty passionate about.
If nothing else, be clear in what you say or write - and make every effort to keep everyone in the loop.
In social and commercial situations alike, failure to do all these things amounts to a serious deficiency.
No more, no less.
So fix it. This is not difficult!
To avoid prolixity I'll move on with this humble offering: Imagine a world where all communications were both clear (in every sense) and sensitive to others.

Example 5: Power is over-rated.
Take yourself in hand before you even think about pushing other people around.
Shed your personal agenda and move on to seek collegiate or co-operative solutions.
Believe me, being relatively 'powerless' is a truly liberating experience: having 'nothing to lose' sets you free!

Example 5a: Be humble. Listen.
It's human nature to assume a default position (or defence) based on our knowledge-base and past experiences and prejudices; humility enables us to develop (evolve) as human beings.
I have a good friend who occasionally seeks my advice on handling 'difficult' clients or improving his customer service - and I'm happy to share what I know.
Every so often he offers up a strategy that I hadn't considered before: I'd be a complete fool not to listen, to value his contribution and add it to my toolbox.

Example 6: Tell the truth! with minimum collateral damage.
The truth means a lot to me and, as I gracefully age, its importance grows.
Honesty isn't for everyone, nor will it ever be - and that's a shame, because (again) telling the truth is liberating.
That said, try to Tell the truth with full empathy with - respect for - the feelings of others.
Occasionally this won't be possible, so do your best.

Example 6a: Speak up! Stand up! Be courageous.
When you know you're right, don't take any shit.
If something's clearly WRONG in the world, in your community, in your family, have your say and make it stop!
If something's clearly GOOD in the world, in your community, in your family, have your say proclaim its worth!
Literally half the world's problems could be solved pretty rapidly if we all had the guts to speak … vote … act the way we think.
Have the guts to take a position and take a risk.

Example 7: ALWAYS keep your promises!
My daughter and I have shared definitions for undertakings.
There's a 'Hannah Promise' - like Mary Poppins' 'pie-crust promise': easily made, easily broken.
Then there's the 'Daddy Promise' - written in stone; a commitment never to be breached.
Critical where kids are concerned, I reckon Daddy Promises should apply to grownups too!
Incidentally, NEVER show up at 6.30 to pick up your kids from childcare that closes at 6.00.
This is a complete betrayal of trust (and really ought to be capital offence).

Example 7a: ALWAYS meet your daily commitments to the highest possible standard.
Return phone calls, emails and messages promptly.
Never let anyone down, regardless of the relationship.
For example, being a 'volunteer' is no excuse for unreliability. If you can't deliver as a professional, just don't offer.
Develop a service model for family, friends, colleagues, customers and suppliers - even strangers - that will uplift them.
Push yourself to excel at everything important you do.
Take pride in setting an example for others.

Example 8: When you're wrong, Apologise!
Don't hide, don't blame anyone, don't obfuscate!
Own up and take responsibility on the chin - and then do your darndest to make good: the apology is otherwise meaningless.
Again, yet another monkey off your back!
We all make mistakes. I should know.

Example 9: Always seek to improve.
This is a principle that helps you personally, in addition to everyone you deal with.
Taking opportunities to learn how to 'do stuff' will keep your brain functioning at its best; and help you serve your planet better.
It's not only good for you, it can be a lot of fun!

Example 10: Remain skeptical - 'cynical' if you like, but never bitter!
In case you haven't noticed, there's a large pack of idiots, parasites and users out there; not just in government, business or religion.
You're doing no one any favours by promoting them.
For example, NEVER forward an 'Alert!! / Panic NOW!!!' email without doing your homework on its veracity.
Equally, try to ensure your beliefs are underpinned by your knowledge and experiences, rather than your emotional needs.
And never forget that 'lobbyists' are paid to push an agenda. Right or Wrong - they just don't care!
Lobbyists who tell lies for money are the true scum of society as their (notional) 'integrity' is for sale to the highest bidder.

I'll reserve the right, as always, to update this post over time.
Feedback welcome.

PS. (20/12/08) I thought I'd covered pretty much everything already (in terms of the 'broad brush') but have made some inclusions above.
I've also gathered up a few extra 'values' which complement the others. There is a little built-in redundancy so bear with me:
Strive to be perceptive in every sense of the word: your physical presence and movement, your driving habits, your awareness of the needs (vulnerability?) of others in all situations;
Be courteous at every opportunity (I see courtesy as empowerment rather than servility);
Be willing to protect (or simply support) those who need it - yes indeed, sometimes you'll need to take a risk and reach out;
Try to ensure, within your ability to do so, that everyone gets a fair go - even if it's only their fair share;
Learn to lose gracefully - you can't win 'em all (and you shouldn't!);
Be patient! - not everyone will automatically absorb and understand what you require of them (and why should they?) - the more you invest, the better the return;
Embrace Diversity! Differences! Debate! - cultural or philosophical differences should never divide people of goodwill! and the bastards who are screwing up our planet - screwing with our lives - thrive on division!;
DON'T WHINGE! - 'debrief' by all means, cos it's a great safety valve, but (FFS) KNOW when to STOP!

Friday, 14 November 2008

customer service: part I - the reality

Sensational service underpins my business.
I've always taken pride in delivering fast, excellent service to my clientele and new customers alike.
I take a real interest in their progress and celebrate their successes.
Most of them are friends. Some are good friends.
I enjoy challenging myself to turn around work as quickly as possible and finding efficient, elegant solutions to technical issues.
I always promptly respond to phone calls and emailed enquiries.
I'm generally happy to go the extra mile to satisfy customers' needs … by working out-of-hours to achieve the 'impossible', perhaps, or building solutions to help their budget work.
Sometimes they need some simple advice - or a referral - or a 'translator' to explain some technical jargon.
Information is power! and customers are entitled to know what's going on.
I never charge for such 'consultancy' services … even when I need to conduct my own research on behalf of others.
In fact, though I realistically can't afford to - and shouldn't! - around a third of the work I perform is charged out either free or at my 'community rate'.
To simplify all this: I'm a professional. I love my work. I love to help out.
'It's all part of the service!'

I was having a chat yesterday with my very good friend S about the many 'gaps' in Australian culture which encompass knowledge, skills and behaviour rather than socioeconomic inequities (although the latter is definitely relevant up to a point).
Here's my thesis: I believe it's accurate to claim that most Australians simply don't understand the simple principle of customer service.
Yes, we know what we expect of others … yet we simply aren't that good at meeting their expectations!

Using the KISS principle, let's start with the commonly understood interpretation of 'customer service': it's how a business and its representatives respond to your needs.
Irrespective of the size of the business - one employee or thousands - I am repeatedly disappointed by their lack of interest in my needs as a customer.
Poor service takes many forms and I won't dwell on anecdotal evidence. Here's a handful to go on with:
A tradesman who doesn't return my first and only call has lost me as a customer (as well as those I whinge to).
In the retail environment I expect to be acknowledged as (treated as) a human being.
A straight question to a salesperson merits a straight answer. ('I don't know but I'll find out' is fine with me.)
Surreptitiously taking over my telco account without my permission is fraudulent! (Yes, this happened to me. Cheers Optus!)
If I choose to do my grocery shopping 'off-peak' to avoid the queues I get bloody pissed off when I end up in a queue.
Whenever I telephone a company with an enquiry or a complaint, why should I be expected to wait at their convenience?
(Feel free to substitute your own experiences!)

To reinterpret: why must the customer repeatedly 'pay' for a business's deficiencies?
Why is the whole notion of 'customer service' so poorly interpreted within our economy?
And why aren't we doing anything about it?

Now that the traditional definition is covered, let's expand the theme.
Ten or 15 years ago, in response to the demands of the market god (see this - 8 November), government departments, educational institutions, charities and other not-for-profit organisations started relabelling their user-base as 'customers' and 'clients'.
Did this change anything? Did the culture improve? No - and NO.
More 'benchmarks'. Sweet. Ample 'workshops'. Cool.
Same old mediocre service in shiny new packages.
Walking the Talk remains the province of the minority.

Again, I won't dwell on anecdotes since everyone can provide their own - so here's another handful, all very recent.
When I present (as a 'customer') at reception and four staff are jabbering I'm entitled to expect that one just might divorce herself from the drivel to serve me - promptly, courteously, professionally.
And when a local government uses my money to destroy a much-loved kids' playground to build a better one, it shouldn't take more than twelve months to 'serve the customer'.
And should an extremely busy individual be expected to spend 20 minutes plus trying to send a fax to a government department because the number is continually engaged?

Face it. In most cases 'customer service' is getting worse - yet we're all talking the talk more than ever.

Why is this shit happening?
A couple of closely-related reasons.
The market knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
In other words, there's a damn good reason why so many non-essential products are so cheap - aside from the slave-labour involved in production and our collective failure to realistically charge for raw materials.
On the retail side, fewer skilled staff allows more competitive prices, higher turnover … ad nauseam.
To put it another way, the market inherently and systematically undervalues humanity.
'god' just wants us all to be productive / consumptive little cogs in this pervasive, fragile, structurally-'needy' machine that lacks either brain or heart.
It's been proven repeatedly that trained, skilled, professional employees not only add real value to a business … they become more empowered in their personal lives.
Some even start to question the morality of capitalism and overconsumption … and then proceed to disengage just a little … eventually, perhaps, even find a better quality of life.
The market can't have that!

As a society we are increasingly collectively selfish.
What I want is more important than what you want!
Too few of us offer respect unless we get it first. (Even then, it's all-too-often 'conditional'.)
We increasingly eschew volunteerism - leaving the dwindling few to carry the load - and then complain when a community project fails or the Country Fire Authority doesn't show up in time.
We 'shop 'til we drop.'
We demand our middle-class welfare.
We stomp across the planet on the back of cheap air-fares and wonder why the Barrier Reef is dying and the Coorong is dead; why Summer's 'getting hotter' and the rain isn't falling like it used to.
We indulge ourselves silly and worry that our kids are turning into spoilt brats.

Enough! There is a fairly straightforward solution.
But I'll keep you in suspenders.