Untitled

The sun will rise, and later set

This hard road goes longer yet

My only witness, the damn black dog

At my heels, until the fog

Ahead, three lights call me on

I would make it if I were strong

But the strength left me long ago

The body wants, the mind says No

Nothing but echoes and the dog

I remain lost in this fog

Animal Instincts

Today I am going to write about something I am very far from being proud of. In fact, its something I cannot stop thinking about which is probably a good thing as a lapse like this should have me thinking long and hard about my reaction.

Today while riding the bus with my toddler daughter sitting on my knee, I had the misfortune to sit next to one of those particular types of arseholes who thinks the bus is their own private lounge room.

This guy was man-spreading and so I asked him to sit normally. His response was along the lines of “I’m comfortable so kindly F*$& off!”. That sort of language in front of my impressionable daughter is bad enough but when he continued leaning in to me when going around the bends as well as letting his knee deliberately bump me for the whole journey really set me off. Its at this time, I should have been the better man. Sadly, to my own shame, I was not.

When it came time to depart, I leaned in closely and very quitely whispered to the guy exactly what level of F*$&wit he was and turned to get off, with my daughter in my arms. It was at this time that this hero pushed me in my back, forcing my daughter and I to fall into the seats opposite. Hence the animal spirits of the title. I let me daughter stay seated and turned around to absolutely clock this guy when another passenger got between us. Clearly words were exchanged and despite my martial arts training, I was ready to discard all rational thought and go to town on this guy but the passenger between us, plus the fact the arsehole was leaving by the rear doors stopped that. I am not saying it was elegant or that I am more noble that him, only that the situation quickly defused before it turned into one of those umpleasant youtube videos we see of two men wrestling on the ground over hurt egos.

By this time, my daughter was sobbing immensely and I realised just what sort of Neanderthal idiot I was being so picked her up and calmed her down. Not ideal at all and although the whole situation was started by some insensitive jerk, I was very far from being the better man. There was no high road taken.

Lesson learnt? By all means, respond to danger to your children quickly and appropriately, but once that danger is past, ratchet down quickly and try to be the type of guy you would want her to marry, rather than the type of guy she fears.

I am NOT Charlie Hebdo if that is the only choice I have.

 

I write this article today in the afterglow of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine, as well as the sieges that occurred in the aftermath around Paris. And let me state at the outset that I clearly think terrorism is awful, tragic and sadly inevitable for the foreseeable future. I in no way condone violence against anyone, but most particularly for something as inconsequential as being offended by something they say or write.

However, having said that, and in light of the worldwide response to the Paris attacks, I wanted to question the idea behind people voicing their anger at this bloodshed with signs saying Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie).

I am a supporter of free speech. Most people are. For me, free speech means being able to say, write or in this case, draw, whatever you want. I would draw the line at something designed to promote violent crime such as a paedophile recruitment notice or other such things. Equally, with that right to say what you want comes the responsibility to acknowledge that your free speech may offend some people. (Again, I reiterate that I do not condone murder as a response to free speech you do not like).

The artists and writers of Charlie Hebdo therefore can draw whatever they want and can offend whomever they want and, even if I disagree with what they draw, for me to be consistent with my beliefs, I have to agree with their right to do so. I stress here that I do not need to agree with their content. Speaking more broadly about other publications, just because you have the right to be racist, bigoted, homophobic or anti-Semitic does not mean you should be. Just because you can offend someone does not mean you should.

Satire serves a purpose to shine a light on absurdities and incidents in the civic square that need a light shone on them. When it works, it’s very effective but when it does not work, you just look like an arsehole. Or a bigot. Or a racist. Or an anti-Semite. In the rush to do something about terrorism, and I understand that rush, people are metaphorically standing next to Charlie Hebdo and saying, “yep, I’m with these guys. I am Charlie Hebdo!!”.

If our only response to terrorism is to passionately identify with their targets, regardless of the beliefs of those targets, then surely the Muslims of the world could do with us passionately identifying with them since there have been far more Muslim victims of Jihadist terrorism than non-Muslim. The solutions to terrorism are as complicated and nuanced as their cause. Simply jumping on a social media campaign to assuage our feelings of helplessness seems somewhat lacking and I think Charlie Hebdo would have had some choice words for those who suddenly found them acceptable who in the past did not.

From Tragedy to Farce

 

I have held off writing this post for a long time. I was worried that my blog would turn into an anti-liberal whinge session where you, dear reader, would be continually pummelled into political submission, and where I, your earnest scribe, would be sitting here wondering what happened to all the feel good posts about cats, film reviews and holidays. NOTE: I have not posted anything about cats but trust me, I will be getting one in a few years when I move out of my rental and when that happens, look out!

Anyway, back to this post. This one is about clowns. There are five types of clowns. The whiteface, Auguste, contra-Auguste, character clown and the Liberal Prime Minister. Actually, I confess. It’s not really about clowns but it is about Tony Abbott. Again! Hence my initial apprehension. Below I am going to touch on just a few of the issues that surround this poor excuse for a leader at the moment.

“No Cuts to the ABC or SBS”

The Libs have hated the ABC for a long time, but it came into particular focus when they exposed them for lying about the Children Overboard.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children_Overboard_affair

The night before he was voted into office, Abbott went on SBS (oh the irony) and said the above quote about no cuts. Low and behold, he announced that the ABC budget would be cost by $254 million over the next 5 years. Not a great deal but still, it’s a lie. He then tried to defend himself by saying it’s not a cut, it’s an efficiency dividend. WTF? He does not even have the courage to admit he lied or the intelligence to come up with a good excuse such as “the situation changed and I needed to go back on what I said to balance the budget”.

Don’t get me started on their proposal that they get to choose the Editor in Chief position. Government interference in editorial control anyone?

School Chaplaincy Program and the Separation of Church and State

Yes, even today in the 21st century, this is still a topic for discussion. Despite Australia being a multicultural and multi-faith country, we have a catholic and former priest in training PM (no problem with that) saying that the state will only fund religious leaders in the school system (BIG problem with that). Now one of my close friends used to be a chaplain in a school but I am sure even he would agree that religious leaders do not have a monopoly on ethics or counselling skills.

The cost of this silliness is about the same as what is being cut from the ABC but it seems some policies are too important to cut and state sanctioned religious counselling of our nation’s youth is one such policy.

GP Co Payment

One of the things that separate us from the animals is free healthcare. Look at the countries that have functioning civil societies and they have one thing in common; socialised health care. We as a society have decided that we are happy to pay taxes so that the government can use its bulk buying power to purchase cheaper drugs and doctor services. It’s a trade-off between that and stepping over the leprosy infected body that slumped up against your door overnight so when Abbott decided that he will charge people $7 for every visit to the doctor, you bet his popularity is going to fall. It doesn’t sound like much and in isolation, it’s not. But with a young child, I have been or have taken her to the doctors at least 15 times this year. $100 is nothing for me but for a single mum with two kids, that’s unacceptable and I am more than happy for some of my taxes to go towards the health of her children. The Liberals tried to wrap it up as an integral part of the Medical R&D fund they wanted to get up and running, but this sort of blackmail never works and especially from a bunch of hypocrites whose grasp of science is faltering at best. And don’t get me started on your lack of a Science Minister, cutting of funds to the CSIRO or that your Environment Minister gets his understanding of science from Wikipedia and won’t be attending the Paris Meeting on Climate Change. Again, WTF?

University Deregulation of fees

Another great thing about Australia that Toby Abbott is trying to ruin is our cheap education. Ideologically, you can argue that the conservative side of politics does not believe in government funding education for the masses. This idea leads to education being available only to those who can afford it. But an educated workforce, particularly in the information age, is a public good, not a private one.

Sure, universities should be able to compete with other universities in the global marketplace but universities are not about competing with other universities to have the best mass spectrometer or science professor or even the most Nobel prize winners. Their job is to produce the best educated workforce to take the country forward and our league tables suggest that we ain’t there. Interestingly, those same league tables suggest that the US is not there yet and they have had expensive degrees for ages.

Paid Parental Leave Scheme

This was a great idea that went too far. Abbott had a woman problem. Actually, let’s refine that. He has an old school attitude to women which has become a problem in the 21st century. What’s the best way to change that? Throw money at them. Now, I am as supportive of helping women achieve equality as the next person and ordinarily would support him in this but when its progressively skewed to help higher earners rather than lower earners, does nothing to alleviate the problems with expensive childcare after the first 6 months and is unaffordable to boot if we do have a so-called budget emergency, then it just appears to be what it is;- a short term thought bubble to get him out of his sexist hole he dug himself. Let’s have real reform, real equality, and less misogyny.

This whole experiment has been a failure and if the Libs actually knew anything about science, and sadly they do not, they would know to throw the microbes in the bin and start again.

Tokyo Refugees

The film opens with our main character almost beaten to death and dumped by the river. Things look grim so thankfully, the movie jumps back 6 months into the past to give us some back story. Osamu (Aoi Nakamura) is a carefree university student who is more interested in partying and flirting with girls to worry about his studies. That is until his attendance card does not work one day and he finds out that he has been expelled because his tuition has not been paid. His father having run off with a Philipina bar girl, he gets kicked out of his apartment and finds himself on the street, having reluctantly joined Tokyo’s homeless.

At first, he becomes a Net Café refugee and finds living hand to mouth extremely difficult before he is taken advantage off by a cute girl who is a scout for a host bar. It’s here that his life takes a radical turn. Osamu becomes a host himself and has trouble with the lifestyle, not wanting to take advantage of a cute patron and realising that it’s a job that leads nowhere.

Despite himself, Osamu develops a relationship with the cute patron and starts to get a taste of how things could be if he could get back on the bandwagon that he was pushed off before. However, due to a run of bad luck for one of his ‘friends’ and trying to help out, our protagonist lands himself on the wrong side of his yakuza-wanna be boss and we begin to understand how he got himself dumped by the river beaten to a bloody pulp.

It’s here, by the river, that he starts to breathe and live again and the kindness shown to him from those on the very bottom of Japan’s social ladder stands in contrast to all those who he came across before his descent. Japan is a country where everyone has their place, and if you fall out of that place, the world can be very unkind. Although this was a good movie, it left me feeling depressed and I think that was the intent. There is no happy ending here but if it can make you think about what circumstances brought that homeless guy to his little patch of cardboard on Shinjuku-dori next time you pass him by, then it has achieved something.

7 ½ shochu shots out of 10

It All Began When I Met You

After a few back to back heavy hitting dramas through this year’s festival, I needed a light-hearted lift and this hit the spot. If you have seen Love Actually, you know the basic premise:- take a collection of characters, some single and some in a relationship, add drama, sentimentality, a special day such as Christmas and voila, sweet movie delivered to your door. Is that all it is? Well yes and no.

The allusion to Love Actually is pretty accurate. If not an exact copy of plot, it hits very similar notes. Made in celebration of the centurion anniversary of the beautiful Tokyo Railway Station (its renovation was completed last year), its cast of characters include a cynical and grumpy CEO and an aspiring actress, an orphan who needs to believe in Santa Claus but not for why you think, a couple going over a rough patch in their long distance relationship and two single women, separated by two generations, who pine for their dream guy. Lastly, a dying father who tries to make the very most of his remaining time with his family.

This is the kind of movie that makes you want to move to Tokyo in winter and walk the snow covered streets hand in hand with your cute beanie and mittens wearing girlfriend but like really cool movies in New York, it’s not always like that. This movie, in the end is about love and that is a good thing. The human spirit needs a lift sometimes and what’s more uplifting than love at Christmas time.

Check this one out.

7 ½ Christmas carols out of 10

Our Family

Another hard family slog, and I mean that as a compliment. Reiko (Mieko Harada) has been becoming forgetful and making some silly decisions and when her eldest son announces that he is to become a father, she embarrasses herself and him at a dinner with the in-laws. Her husband, Katsuaki (Kyozo Nagatsuka) is a pretty typical Japanese husband, working too hard and not very talkative. He does notice her odd behaviour however and takes her to the doctor the next morning and it’s here where the story begins to move forward.

The family receives a diagnosis of a brain tumor and its left to the elder son to organise things. Dad is a bit of a write off, having always relied on his wife and the younger son has been a bit of a loser always sponging off his mother for money. See the pattern here? Oh yes, one more thing to add to the drama;- it seems that the elder son was once a shut in, hikikomori. He shut himself off from all outside contact when he was younger. Does this family have any hope?

This movie could have very easily shot off in the direction of a critique of the Japanese medical industry and the commonplace lying to patients about their true health but it doesn’t. It remains focussed on this shattered family and getting a cure for the person at the very heart of that family. Based on semi-autobiographical novel Bokutachi no Kazoku, and directed by the award-winning director of The Great Passage, it works in delivering an observation of a family’s helplessness in the face of cancer, but strength in coming together.

7 ½ family hugs out of 10