Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Victorian Lockdown and the Politicisation of the Corona Virus


Dear Friend,

I’ve been thinking a lot about the conversation we had about the Corona virus when we last spoke.

You mentioned a letter that Melbourne doctors had written to Daniel Andrews. As soon as I got back to my car I looked it up on my phone. And there it was at the top of the list of search results – from The Australian. The Australian is Murdoch’s flagship and I stopped reading it many years ago because I don’t believe a word they say. In the Australian context one of their primary goals is to bring down Labor governments everywhere, and they don’t let facts get in the way.

The next one on the list with mention of the doctor’s letter was Quadrant – a known right wing, conservative outlet. Interesting I thought. The only other reference to it was in The Chronicle – another Murdoch paper based in Queensland.

Then I searched the three media outlets that I regularly use to get my news – starting with The Melbourne Age.  Independent. Always has been The Age’s mantra for decades – and no mention of the letter.

So I checked the ABC – nothing. Then I checked the Guardian. Nothing. I eventually found the letter via Twitter at https://www.coviddoctorsnetwork.com/

I thought the letter itself was quite reasonable, and I’m not going to quibble with doctors who are working in this field.

But what worried me was the fact that The Age, The ABC, and the Guardian all had no mention of it. (And still don’t today a week later.)

Why not?? Do they think it’s fake news? Not worth mentioning? They don’t want to rock the boat, and present an alternative view? If that’s the case that would make them just as guilty of bias as the Murdoch press.

Whatever the reason it really worries me. In Australia now we are being fed news that is incredibly biased towards one side or another. If I read only the Age, the ABC and the Guardian I don’t even hear about this letter to Daniel Andrews. If I read the Murdoch press and watch commercial news or Skye news I am bombarded with it as part of their usual anti-Labor propaganda. And this is an example of how the whole COVID-19 issue has been politicised. Indeed just about every issue in Australia gets politicised in this same way. Unless you are making a conscious effort to consume news from a range of media outlets you risk being subject to propaganda and I think Australia is in real trouble here.

And of course filling in the gaps is the uninformed and opinionated morass of social media to further muddy the waters ….

Something else you said at our last meeting seemed to suggest that you didn’t think the reports of mass graves of people dying from COVID-19 or mobile freezers in NY being used to help out collecting the mounting number of dead bodies were true.  This quite stunned me. 

For the record, media outlets from all sides of politics provide lots of references to what happened in NYC:

NY Bodies

And similarly there are countless stories on mass graves for COVID victims from all sides of the political spectrum. I started searching stories about Brazil, but then found reference to similar situations in Bolivia, Iran and even the UK.

BRAZIL

BOLIVIA

UK

IRAN 

I mentioned an article from NZ that I found useful. It helped me realise that as a lay person my opinion on all of this is not worth much. It is just that – an opinion. And an unqualified one at that! The article, from a Professor of Epidemiology, is here if you’re interested.

The original letter from the 13 Victorian doctors has now garnered in excess of 500 signatures supporting their position. But I do wonder what the other 30,000 plus Victorian doctors think …

For all our sakes let’s hope that Victoria is soon through this nightmare.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Aging and Sadness

 


I’ve been looking at old photographs and have been quite moved by the fact that everyone looks so much younger – my wife and I, our children, friends, even our parents – everyone! Everyone looks so beautifully youthful. And there’s a tinge of sadness as I contemplate all the years that have passed and I’m trying to work out why.

It’s not as if those years have been filled with tragedy – quite the opposite in fact. There have been sad times but overall life for me has been full of joy and wonder. So the sadness is not rooted in any disappointment about the past. It seems to revolve squarely around the fact that

I am not young anymore.

Why is there inherent sadness in this fact? I am not sick, or about to die. In all likelihood I have many years of health left to enjoy the time ahead. But I have less time than I used to. Is that it? That I can longer pretend that the end is far off in a distant future?

Is the quality of ‘young’ intrinsically better than oldness? Is it somehow better to look young and youthful than it is to look old and a little weathered? And if so, why? Looking older of course is a constant reminder that you’re time is limited, or that you have been around for many years. There’s a sense of loss in there – a loss of a feeling of invincibility; loss of that feeling that there is lots of time left to enjoy people and places.

One could see this as positive – I enjoy my life. I have no reason to want it to end. I want it to go on for as long as possible. I could count my blessings. (I do.) But still the sadness of aging lingers. Is it because I don’t look young? That I feel a little irrelevant to the generation before me? That I am adjudged to be in some sense passed it?

You do however sometimes hear people my age talk about the advantages of being over 60. And I totally subscribe to this. There is something really pleasurable about knowing who you are; knowing what you think; having fewer doubts; knowing that you can express opinions better than ever before. And maybe even that you think more clearly than you ever did. But would I rather be younger with the accompanying angst that comes with it? Probably. Why? Because that would mean I had more time.

So it’s the shorter timeframe thing again. I look back on those photographs and am reminded that I probably won’t have another 30 years of memories. But who can tell? I may well. There may be decades of memories left to create and in 30 years I could be looking back at photos I took today. And what – feeling even sadder because I’ll be even older?

And in the background Gordon Lightfoot coincidentally sings:

It’s cold on the shoulder; and you know that we get a little older every day!

When I was 23 I returned home from 14 months travelling overseas. A family aunt asked my on my return, “Apart from feeling a little wiser and a little sadder, how was your journey?” I asked why she assumed I would be sadder and she said no one ever came home from that kind of journey without being sadder. In her view it was as if having such an out of the ordinary experience was ipso facto  going to result in a degree of sadness. In time I came to agree with her.

Over the years I have learned too that sadness is quite a precious emotional state and is closely related to a sense of beauty and appreciating the things we care about. So I’m not disheartened by the idea of being sad when looking at my past, or because I’m so much older now. I think there is a sadness attached to growing older but it doesn’t have to be debilitating. I’m just trying to disentangle the roots of that sadness. But in the meantime, as Don Henley and Merle Haggard sang:

Wear it like a royal crown when you get old and grey.
It’s the cost of living, and everyone pays.

 

 

 

Thursday, July 09, 2020

The Role of Culture


In another COVID foray into forgotten drawers and corners, in amongst another pile of papers, a letter written by someone called Joyce tumbled out - a letter written to my Dad. I vaguely remember Mum and Dad having a friend called Joyce but I never met her.

In this letter to Dad Joyce had written, "thank you so much for sharing your son's memoir with us. I would now very much like to meet this 'cultural chameleon' son of yours."

I was a little bamboozled by this.  I knew I had written a memoir for a university assignment some decades back, but I have no memory of giving it to my parents to read.

Anyway, I eventually found a copy of it on an old floppy disc. It’s kind of like the story of the first part of my life through the lens of culture. I've put it up on the web and amongst other things it offers a great explanation of why I like to travel so much.

I wrote it in 1991 so an upgrade is needed that includes the last three decades.

My professor at the time was one Jerzy Smolicz, a Polish- born sociologist and educationalist acknowledged widely as a major contributor to cultural understanding in Australia. He really liked this memoir and I’m proud of what he wrote:

Michael – I was pleased to read your long and illuminating essay – and I can see that you are only halfway there! Portugal still to describe; Ireland still to visit. I think that you have described very sensitively the array and variety of cultures that have influenced you – while you continue to maintain a strong Australian identity, but of the kind which permits you to adjust your personal cultural system through interaction. A very perceptive memoir.

The memoir is OVER HERE ;)

Saturday, July 04, 2020

COVID-19 Continues


I wrote below about my concern that the Black Lives Matter marches may precipitate another round of COVID-19 infections. I am really happy to say my fears were misplaced. There have been a couple of cases around the country where people have caught the virus after the marches. But they did not get or spread the virus at the marches. Photographs and aerial footage of the events show that most people were really disciplined in keeping the appropriate social distance and wearing masks. So kudos to all involved.
In most of the country the Corona virus has become a low level background irritation. In Victoria there has been a resurgence of the virus and many suburbs, and apartment towers, have been put under total lockdown – similar to the kinds of conditions people in places like Rome and Madrid had to endure.
This all seems to have come about for a number of reasons, but principally due to poor training of security staff supervising those in hotel quarantine, and poor messaging about the pandemic in languages other than English. And a few cases of unbelievably stupid and selfish behaviour by a few individuals who mixed in their communities when they knew they were COVID positive.
I think we should try the very simple and effective tack taken by the Vietnamese government:  lots of slogans and posters to the tune of
·         If you love your country you will stay home
·         If you care for your community you will stay home
Get the message through that this is not about you and your rights as an individual, but about the collective – something that Asian cultures would grasp more readily than more self-centred Western cultures.
So this menace is far from over. Acoustic Tull have at least started practising again. We have a gig on July 26th. After July 20th I would be allowed to travel interstate again (ie fly) but I’m unlikely to do that before September. So for a while yet it’s stay local, live for the minute, and don’t look too far ahead

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Bits of Life


I’ve always written. From the age of 7 I kept a daily diary. Admittedly my first entries at that age were fairly scant on detail. Whole days could be summed up thus: “Got up. Went to school. Played football when I got home. Went to bed.” Marvellous economy with words 😊
Fast forward 25 years to life on the inside - a Dutch winter on the third floor circa 1986. I was struggling with feeling captive – I had to live in a Dutch winter to realise how much of an outdoors person I was. In desperation I took to writing my life story to pass the time. And I think I did a reasonable job of writing about my life from birth till the time I left school.
Browsing through long forgotten corners as one does in this time of COVID I came across a copy of it. What struck me was how much detail it contained that I have completely forgotten. So here’s a tip – don’t leave writing about your life till too late. You DO forget things as time passes.

Two snippets:

DAMIEN LEAVES HOME (1966)


We moved back to Adelaide and went to live in a house that none of us liked very much. It’s only real asset was its proximity to the school Shaun and I would go to, and Celine’s college. The house was a small insignificant affair where we were to live for just a few months. Leaving the country had been a hard decision for my parents to take, and was made even harder by Damien’s departure for life in a monastery at the ripe old of age of sixteen. He would be living in Sydney, some 900 miles away. Now Damien and I had had little to do with each other over the years, save for times when I hassled him enough for him to lose his temper with me. And yet the strangest thing happened on the day he left for his new life far away. He departed from Adelaide airport and I don’t remember saying goodbye to him. However I do remember very clearly this overwhelming feeling of sadness coming over me as I gazed out at the plane he was sitting in before it drew away from the terminal. I withdrew from the crowd of people who’d come to say goodbye, climbed up on a small wall and stood looking at the plane and cried silently and secretly to myself. Maybe I had just picked up the obviously heavy emotional vibes that were floating around (my mother was distraught), but it’s almost as if I knew that day that there was an exceptional bond between us that I’d only just discovered, and that I’d miss him very much. It was a turning point in my relationship with my big brother; from that day on I felt closer to him than any other member of our family.

SCHOOLBOY REBELLION (1968)

CC image: Lawrence Jones
We would as a matter of course heap shit upon our parents for being too strict, or not letting us do what we wanted when and where we wanted. These parent slagging sessions were important for gaining respect within the group - it showed that you were a rebel. Teachers too of course were prime targets for this kind of shit slinging. Things came to a head at school one day when this thin pale looking character wearing a darker suit than normal joined our class in the middle of a Science lesson. He turned out to be a recently arrived English immigrant who was as it happened a little more advanced than the rest of us along the road to rebellion. He was right into pop music, played guitar and wrote his own songs and poetry, and was willing to speak his mind in class. He made a great impression on all of us. His style of rebellion was bolder, more direct, and came with intelligence. It wasn't long before we all clamoured to be his friend and were proud to be seen to be his friend. The school’s response to this new figurehead was to try and isolate him from potential disciples. Any group that was hanging around him in the playground was split up by the teacher on yard duty. In fact the teachers seemed to have isolated a potential core of troublemakers that counted about 10 kids with the English lad, Michael D, at our head. We were not allowed to mingle in the school ground in groups of more than two or three and at least my parents were warned to discourage any close friendship with this new disturbing influence. It was silly really. We were already on our teenage rampage before he came along. All he did was give it focus.

Michael and I became close friends. Basically it was a friendship forged through hours of listening to and talking about pop music. We spent hours on  sunny afternoons in darkened rooms listening to Cream, The Animals, The Rolling Stones, Vanilla Fudge et al and extolling the virtues of these our new idols. I remember telling Michael one day on the bus to school that I had bought my first ever record: Love Is All Around by The Troggs. He was suitably impressed. He had seen The Troggs perform in England - or so he said. It was always a point of discussion just how true were the many wonderful stories he used to tell. 




Monday, June 15, 2020

Culture and Racism


My previous post generated some interesting discussion elsewhere about being disconnected from culture and racism. My response:

In an interview with Leonard Cohen not long before he died the interviewer was trying to get Cohen to state which side of the fence he was on in relation to a number of issues but Cohen would not be drawn. He said that he had learned for people to outline their points of view and present them as an alternative and better option wasn’t very helpful. Better he said to learn what we have in common and enquire of the other how they’re feeling about things!
When I was a teacher at Marymount an invited Aboriginal speaker looked out the window of the school hall and told the kids, “See that tree out there? That tree and me are the same thing. There is  no difference between that tree and me. I am that tree.”  We all thought he was quaintly mad of course. But I have heard similar sentiments from and about Aboriginal people many times since over the years and I have learnt to accept that I can and never will understand the deep spiritual connection Aboriginal people have with land. Their own patch of land. Remove an Aboriginal person from that land and you remove that person’s reason for existence.
But we as non-Aboriginal people just have to accept that we cannot and never will understand this. Our culture and world view is just too different.
When I studied Aboriginal culture as part of my Masters years ago Stephen Harris, an Australian researcher into Aboriginal culture, said that if  you searched the world for 2 groups of people who were the most different from each other you would choose white and black Australians. He thought it was a cruel irony that two peoples so different from each other ended up having to share the same piece of land!
As for racism, I’ve come to believe that my opinions about racism as a privileged white person are largely irrelevant. Only the opinions of people on the receiving end of racism count.

Monday, June 08, 2020

All Lives Matter


The Black Lives Matter movement has spread with a vengeance to Australia. Given the appalling record of treatment of Aboriginal people by policing authorities here over several decades this is hardly surprising. Australians were quick to show their solidarity with black Americans and capitalise on the worldwide outcry over the murder of George Floyd and large Black Lives Matter (BLM) rallies were organised for every Australian capital. Admirable and understandable, but the timing is tragically wrong. Still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic the Prime Minister and chief medical officer urged people not to take part. Large public gatherings of this kind are notorious for allowing viruses to spread, but people turned out in their thousands.
 In another time with no pandemic hovering over us I’d have been there too. But this was a time when something bigger is at stake. It’s not about me. It’s not about people of colour. It’s about the entire community. History provides examples of how such large public gatherings enabled pandemic viruses to launch a second wave (Spanish Flu 1918).
To their credit BLM organisers urged everyone to wear masks and practice social distancing. In QLD police actually handed out masks to those who needed them. And from all reports crowds in all states did for the most part practice social distancing. But it’s the 10% who didn’t who are the problem. They may have infected those around them and tracing those they have been in contact with could be a nightmare – even with the COVID-19 Tracing App.
The night before the demonstrations arch government conservative Matthias Cormann went on TV to say that he thought BLM protesters were being selfish. Normally when this man speaks I cringe and revile at his manner and opinions. On this occasion I found myself quietly, embarrassingly, thinking, ‘I agree with him’. BLM protesters put the legitimate concerns of a section of the community above the needs of the whole community. In 10-14 days’ time we’ll find out if we are to be punished for that selfishness. It may be the virus is so scarce in Australia that these mass demonstrations won’t make any difference to the number of cases. If so, that would be miraculous.    
In the meantime BLM organisers and the AMA are asking all who took part to self-isolate for 14 days. I wonder how many will. Right now I’m angry about it. I feel the BLM marches have jeopardised the health of the entire community and acted to ensure that the economic recovery required for all those who’ve lost their jobs will be put back several weeks – if not months. And more people could die unnecessarily. But I really hope I’m wrong. Check back with me 2 weeks from now ……

The Victorian Lockdown and the Politicisation of the Corona Virus

Dear Friend, I’ve been thinking a lot about the conversation we had about the Corona virus when we last spoke. You mentioned a letter th...