My First Podcast: “Look Back In Wonder”

This is actually kinda funny. After noodling around with what I wanted to do podcast-wise, and even announcing here a while back that I had three different podcasts in mind, it turns out that the first cab off the rank is going to be a different one entirely. This is it:

Look Back in Wonder is a song by song journey through the back catalogue of David Bowie. In each episode, I’ll interview someone about the Bowie song that means the most to them. The people I interview will come from all walks of life, united by our common love of Bowie.

So I need your help for this. If you have a story you want to share about a Bowie song and what it means to you, get in touch. Email me here to let me know what song you’d like to talk about. If we can at all make the scheduling work, I’d be happy to talk to you. (I live in Melbourne, Australia, so if you do too, we can probably do this in person. If not, well there’s always Skype and such.)

What’s coming up

I have a variety of plans, and the point of this site is to tell you about them, so maybe it’s time I did that. I have a variety of balls that I’m currently juggling, and here’s a list of them:

Websites

Aside from this site, I have two others – The Centre Cannot Hold and Reading Orders (plus a third one that’s getting near a launch) – aside from this one. Both of these are getting worked on and having new material added to them at least once a week.

Podcasts

I’m in the process of setting up a bunch of podcasts, with two taking primacy at the moment. (There are two others, but one is research heavy and the other is vastly more ambitious, and thus, they’ll be along later.) More news on that as we get closer to launching.

Apps

I’m currently in the process of building my first app, and once that’s completed, I have ideas for more of them. Again, more news on these as it comes to hand.

Writing

I am working on some writing projects with various people at the moment, but all of these are longer term projects at the moment – although I’ll probably push one of them closer to launch when I finish the app, and then go on alternating between them as I go forward. And yes, more news as launches draw closer.

That’s my 2017 as it stands at the moment, although it’s possible that some or all of these projects will be delayed by contract work, because I often need to prioritise short term income over long term income. But these jobs are almost always short term in nature, and I’ll always be returning to the projects listed here.

Stay Angry

One to ponder, on this Day of Australia and Invasion and Survival (and Rum Rebellion Anniversary):

Have you ever been on the phone to some poor call centre drone, trying to get someone to hear your complaint, only to have them tell you to calm down? Or even hang up on you, if you should – heaven forbid! – dare to swear in the course of expressing your feelings?

Sucked, didn’t it?

It’s a neat little trick, the way that we’ve all been convinced that whatever point we’re making is instantly delegitimised if we should commit the simple human error of being angry while we make it. (Unless we’re a member of the current federal government, apparently. They seem to be able to spew hateful bile without any consideration.)

Never mind that there’s nothing like being told to calm down to get anyone’s hackles up. Never mind that it’s not like the people actually responsible are even going to hear our complaints – one of the major reasons why call centres are so popular with companies and government agencies is that they insulate those in power from our complaints. From our anger.

Hell, complain too often, and you’re just a crank who can be ignored entirely, all your anger delegitimised because what reason is there to complain?

(While we’re talking about it: be nice to the people in the call centres, because their only sin is wanting a job. Don’t take out your anger on them unless it is truly deserved by them. Instead, try asking for their help with making your complaint, because you’ll be surprised at how many of them are ready, willing and able to help you stick it to their bosses – and know how to aim your complaints better than you do.)

So the next time you hear someone making a fuss about something that seems like a non issue to you, don’t tell them to be quiet, or nice, or polite about it. Remember all those times someone told you that, and how it made you feel.

All those people out there who are telling you to wait, to be calm, that the time is not yet ripe…

…they are either your masters or the sheep who serve them.

Everyone who says that gay people in Australia need to wait just a little bit longer to be able to marry; that racism would end of only indigenous Australians should stop making such a fuss about it; that Australia’s women should wait until men are ready to let them be equal…

…to blazes with their calm downs.

Apologise for your word choices if you must, apologise if you manner frightens people, sure.

But never apologise for an anger against injustice. Never.

I know, I know…

There’s nothing much happening here right now.

At least, nothing visible. There is work going on behind the scenes, but it only becomes visible to you on rare occasions, since it’s mostly very minor adjustments to the CSS and other coding. Trust me, it will be worth the wait – I’m hoping to be able to reveal a little more about this sometime next week, but I don’t know exactly when that will be as yet. I know this is annoyingly vague, but I promise, I’ll be revealing things to you as soon as possible.

2017, here we come

In fact, here we are.

Worn out from worry and grieving, but nonetheless optimistic that a new year is a new chance to get things right. I don’t know about you, but I have big plans for this year. That’s the reason for this new site: a place for me to just speak about stuff. I have other, more specialised sites for other purposes, but this is for announcements and thoughts.

Some of the former will be along as soon as they’re ready; the latter will be along as I have them.

Australia Federal Election 2016: What Happens Next?

The short answer is “counting continues”. The long answer is that “counting continues, and it’s a much more complicated process than you might think”. But before I go into how votes are counted, it’s worth taking a look at how they’re cast, because understanding that is important to understanding why counting takes as long as it does.

Starting at the Start:
Voting actually commences before polling day, in several different ways.

There are pre-polling centres across Australia (and the world, but I’ll come back to them) where you can vote ahead of time for whatever reason (say, if you have to work on polling day). Many, but not all, of these are also polling booths on election day. In the cases of those that are also polling day booths, these pre-poll votes will have begun being counted by now, after the polling day votes are counted on election night. In the cases of those which are not, these votes will have been sent to the divisional office to await counting.

There are also mobile pre-polling booths, which primarily exist to serve people in hospital who cannot physically attend a polling booth otherwise. These booths operate throughout the pre-polling period and also on polling day, finally reporting back to their respective divisional offices. (If you look at the results for nearly any division across the country right now (that is, on this Sunday after election day), you’ll see that the majority of votes from these mobile booths have not yet been counted.

There are postal votes, for people who can’t get to a polling booth. These are individually addressed: for each division, postal votes go back to the divisional office for their division. Postal votes are allowed two full weeks – up until the second Friday following polling day – to arrive at their divisional office.

Finally, there are international votes, which are chiefly held at Australian embassies and consulates across the world. Most of these operate pre-polling and polling day services. These votes will be sent back to Australia, and then separated out to their respective divisional offices.

The Big Day
Polling day is when the majority of the country votes and eats sausages (or the local and/or dietary equivalent). According to surveys, it’s also when the majority of voters decide who to vote for, which implies that the gut rather than the mind drives a lot of our electoral results. After the business of voting finishes – it runs from 8AM to 6PM in most locations (and if you go too early in some of them, you’ll be there before the sausages are ready) – the business of counting the votes begins.

Spare a thought for the poor bastards doing the counting on election day, because they are the unsung heroes of this story. The AEC hasn’t updated its staffing practices in a long time – and unfortunately, what we have doesn’t scale well. FT employees on election day start at 7am, and work until they’re allowed to go. They do get some breaks, but they’re not allowed to leave the premises during their entire shift. (They also get paid a fixed amount, irrespective of how many hours they work – this year’s crew got ripped off there.) It’s a pretty shit job, no matter how many sausages you eat.

On election night, the only votes counted are those cast at the physical polling booths on that day for the division the booth is in. (Some few polling booths serve more than one division – counting is particularly slow at those booths, because the staff have to split up and each of them works on only one division’s votes). Very few divisional offices are also polling booths (they mostly lack the space for it), so votes that are sitting at the divisional office do not get counted on election night. This year, with a very high pre-poll vote, that means there’s a good chunk of votes still to be counted – 25-30% in most divisions – so this election is still, potentially, anyone’s game.

Also, on election night, Senate votes are barely looked at. This year, we have a count only of first preferences of above the line polling day votes only counted on election night. I’ll come back to this.

They don’t work the Sunday, never have. No idea why not.

You Keep Talking About Divisional Offices
I do, and it’s because they’re very important.

Divisional offices are where all votes are centralised for counting. So not a lot of counting gets done on Monday, because the Monday is largely taken up by logistics. Monday is when all the polling booths return their votes to the divisional offices, and they each need to be checked to make sure that the numbers match. (A counting of ballots, rather than votes, if you follow me.) From these, the absentee votes (votes cast in one division that belong to another division) have to be separated out, and sent on to where they should be. In most divisions, this means nearby and intra-state votes get sent directly to their divisional offices, while votes for divisions in other states are bundled separately, but sent to their respective state head office to be dispatched to their divisions (which usually means an extra day for the travel and sorting).

From Tuesday onward (sometimes late Monday for the smaller urban electorates), divisions start receiving their own absentee votes, which must also be checked off and then added to the counts.

Throughout this period, postal votes will continue to filter in – the AEC allows until the second Friday following the election for all of them to arrive – they are also each checked off and added to the count.

International votes, like other absentee votes, go to state head offices first, then out to divisional offices. They usually take longer to arrive due to the vagaries of travel times and international freight schedules – some of them will take more than a week to arrive, and the AEC cannot declare a count completed (which is different from declaring a result) until they are all counted.

Plus, all of this is complicated by human error – which is less about votes miscounted than mislaid. It’s not uncommon for a division to receive votes intended to go to another division with a similar name, and these need to be redirected to their correct location.

What About the Senate?
The Senate votes take much longer to count than the lower house votes, for a number of very good reasons:

  1. Before you can even begin counting Senate votes, you need to separate the above and below the line votes, because these two groups are counted apart from each other (and totalled at the end of each count). Currently, all Senate votes go into the same ballot box on polling day – the AEC could save quite a bit of time and money just by putting them in separate boxes.
  2. There are a lot more candidates. Even the simpler above the line vote usually has twice as many candidates as a lower house vote, and below the line there can be more than a hundred candidates.
  3. More candidates mean more eliminations, and thus, more rounds of counting. A lower house seat might have a dozen candidates – at most, it gets counted 11 times. A Senate vote, with over a hundred candidates, is likely to get counted more than twice that.

And because the Senate does not determine who forms the government in our system, it is also generally given a lower priority in counting than the lower house. Each day at each divisional office, there will be at least one count for each house, but the lower house will inevitably be counted before the Senate – although towards the end of the count, the pace picks up, and the Senate votes will be counted multiple times each day as candidates are eliminated.

But Wait, There’s More!
And all of this does not take into consideration the possibility of recounts, which are certainly going to be demanded by a variety of parties in some of the seats with narrow margins (Batman and Cowan, for example, are both very likely to go to recounts based on what we’ve seen so far in the count). There is no set number at which the AEC must have a recount, but generally any result with a margin under a hundred is going to be recounted.

And then, of course, there’s still the possibility – at this point, the likelihood – of a hung parliament when all the counting’s completed in any case. In which case it will be up to the crossbenchers – projected to be at least six of them right now, with possibly more to come – to decide who they want to back. If anyone.

Which means we might go back to the polls yet again, and who knows how that will come out. Probably an even closer result.

Oh, and after all this, the joint sitting of both houses that’s required to try to pass the bills that served as the trigger for the double dissolution in the first place will still need to be held, and will quite likely result in those bills being defeated anyway, because on current numbers, there’s no way that the LNC – even if it wins the election – has the combined numbers in both houses to get it through.

Mourning never ends

I truly believe this. Because mourning is not an entirely conscious process. Like any emotion, a lot of it goes on in the background. It’s not always on your mind; but it is always on your heart or soul.

(Yes, this is about David Bowie as well, but more obliquely. His passing has caused me to think about these things anew.)

You’re moving along just fine, and then you see something, or smell something or hear something, and it all comes back to you. And when it does, you feel a species of guilt, because we all know in our hearts that mourning never ends. If the way the people who are gone live on is in our memories, then to have forgotten them (with one’s conscious mind), even for a second, is to have killed them. And we apologise inwardly, invoking and palliating the shades of the departed, because it feels like our forgetting them has hurt them the way that their deaths hurt us.

All but one of my grand-parents died before I was more than 12 or so. (My maternal grandmother didn’t die until I was in my thirties, and I got to know her – somewhat – as an adult.) At that age, it’s less that one cannot process death as that one bounces back more quickly. You are young and bright and energetic, and sad that you will not see them again, but your emotions are still so inchoate that the simple fact you can’t put a name to it protects you from the worst ravages of grief. That’s how it seems to me at this remove, at least.

In the mid-Nineties, a friend of mine – the very queen of snark – committed suicide. I had feared that she might (and went on spend years wrestling with the guilt of not having done more), but it was still a shock and a blow. I cannot hear any version of “Tomorrow Wendy” without thinking of her, even today. Hey hey, goodbye, old friend.

One of my aunts died after a protracted struggle with cancer. She was, well, to us nephews and nieces, she was our second mother. She was kind and giving and supportive, and I honestly do not know how she did it. She wasn’t a saint, don’t get me wrong, but she was an excellent human being. (The thing that sticks in my mind: on the day of her funeral, one my cousins couldn’t make it due to other commitments. A young man in his early twenties at the time, he wept unashamedly about that. And this was a cousin on the other side of my family, related to her only by my parent’s marriage. She was that kind of person.)

One of my father’s cousins, who was basically an uncle to my brother and I, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was a great guy, smart, incisive, funny. He’d been a school teacher most of his life, and before that, a member of the first ever graduating year at La Trobe University (which was my alma mater also). I’d barely seen him for twenty years, largely because I spent a lot of my twenties far from most of my family (emotionally, and sometimes geographically), but I cried at his funeral, which was so crowded with his family and friends and former students (and their families and friends) that the church wouldn’t fit us all.

Freddie Mercury died. My girlfriend and I had been away for the weekend, and only learned it when we got back to her place and her sister told us. We lay together and cried on each other’s shoulders.

Gough Whitlam died. Non-Australians won’t understand this, but Gough was one of the titans of Australian politics, a man whose works and legacy you could not fail to have an opinion about. Love him or hate him, his death seemed like the end of an era.

Robert Anton Wilson died. No single author has ever affected my thinking or the way I view the world as much as him, no one wrote books I more eagerly re-read or shared with others. (If anything that I’ve ever said meant a damn to you, the odds are about 50/50 that you’ve him to thank for that. I was merely a messenger.)

David Bowie died. Yesterday.

I could go on. I could talk about Paul Hester, or Hunter Thompson, or Roger Zelazny, I could bring up Isaac Asimov, or John Lennon, or that kid you went to school with, but there’s no need. My point is made.

People in your life die. Artists who you never met, but whose work has touched your life, die.

We don’t need to know them personally, because like all those we love, we know their hearts. Family, friends or distant strangers, they are the ones Who have brought hope to your heart, fire to your spirit or electricity to your brain. Who made you smile on your worst days, and who appreciated your smile on your best days.

Mourning never ends, so their absence will forever make you sad. At times, it will reduce you to tears and sobbing.

But ultimately, grief is a cause for hope. Because the reason mourning never ends is that love never dies.

Perhaps you’re smiling now, smiling through this darkness…

A Remembrance of David Bowie

Start here:

It’s perhaps a little late for it, years into his career, but perhaps that’s just when it felt real enough. When stardom was in his grasp, and all he had to do was reach out and take it. In retrospect, “Star” sounds like a mission statement, even a manifesto. Bowie started the song in 1970, tinkered with it on and off over that year and the next before finally recording it for his upcoming album. 1971 was a cusp year for Bowie, and a sense of make or break pervades the entire album of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. (Tellingly, Bowie’s vision of stardom includes both make and break. Bowie would both be Buddha and kill him on the road.)

Star” is one of the most optimistic songs on the album, full of Warholian ambitions. Bowie sings of a Transformation, even a World Mutation (the capitals are quite audible). Did he intuit, even then, that one day he’d need to kill Ziggy? It’s hard not to feel that he understood, already, the need to be protean. Bowie as shapechanger, as trickster, switching effortlessly from heart-on-sleeve passion to above-it-all cynicism and back again. Endlessly. (Ask any student of the tarot: death is just another transformation.)

Bowie, at every point in his career, is an outsider artist. Even in his Eighties incarnation, as pop music royalty, as one of those who sat enthroned above the system, there’s a sense of subversiveness. At any point, like his goblin prince Jareth, he’ll reveal that his authority figure status is just another act, just another character. (If you cower, he’ll be frightening. Yes and, right?) And even if that never happens, at some point he’ll be bored with it, and go do something else.

To me, and I suspect to many another misfit, that was the most alluring thing about Bowie. It’s not that he made it okay to be weird, or to be artistic, or to be queer, although he did those things too. It’s that he made it okay to be, in the eyes of the external world at least, inconsistent. Bowie’s integrity as an artist was writ most large in his unpredictability. He was always Bowie, but what Bowie was changed constantly. Other artists might become golden oldies, but Bowie was always mercurial. Bowie was Ziggy and Jareth and the Thin White Duke and so many more, sometimes simultaneously. It’s never better encapsulated than here:

Which one is the real Bowie?

I don’t think it matters.

In the end, this is what I’ll remember him for. Not for being perfect. Certainly not for easily comprehensible lyrics. But for being himself, even when that self was a surprise to everyone around him (and at times, it seemed, to him too). For taking himself so very seriously, and not seriously at all. For the stream of his consciousness. For his endless reinvention.

He did not die. He could never die. Death is just another transformation. David Bowie simply moved on:

Sometimes I can’t believe it

I have always tended nocturnal. I have been known to refer to the sun as “the big light that comes on when it’s time to go to sleep”. Moreso in summer, when it’s merely a common sense way of avoiding the heat (so long as you’ve no reason to be up early the next day). It suits me. I sunburn easily and I hate the heat and humidity.

But I don’t live in New York, and Melbourne is a city that does sleep, at regular and sensible hours. So as much as I love it here, and appreciate the weird beauty of the suburban night, the nights are long and empty of human contact. And then I sleep all day, or until mid-afternoon or so, and my friends are tired after work, or have something on, or have kids to look after, and I can maybe come visit, but not too late, because there’s work or school or both (depending on the household) tomorrow.

(It makes you stealthy, not so much from a desire to be a ninja as from a desire to not be an arsehole.)

The internet helps this a little – I have friends in other time zones to talk to, some of the time at least. But there’s no one I can pick up the phone and call unless it’s an emergency. (That’s not a criticism of anyone but me, by the way.) And I love missing the days’ heat, but the nights can be cold in more ways than one.

I used to get a fair amount of writing done of a night, but not so much these daysnights. Now I just wander around on the interwebs, reading things I’ve read before, failing to reach inbox zero, and playing games. And missing the world, because it’s gone to sleep without me.

I used to go clubbing three nights a week, week in, week out, and honestly, I still would if I had a crew and venues that played music I like. (It’s been a surprise to me, over the years, to find how little it takes to satisfy me.) I suppose I probably also lack the stamina, in my late forties, although I suspect it would come back if I worked at it. (You can have your gym, I have mine.) And my hair wouldn’t smell like smokers afterwards, either, which would be nice.

I don’t really want to change, in many ways.

But the life I’m living is… unsatisfying.

I don’t really want to change… but I need to.

Damn Me

Sometimes I feel like my footsteps erase themselves behind me. Not always. But often. Most of the time, even.

I’ve felt that way, on and off, for twenty years or so, but more often as time goes on. I’m barely here anymore. Barely real. I lived, back in the Twentieth Century, but here the Twenty-First, I merely haunt.

All my stories are old and shop-worn, all my habits of steering conversations away from the awkward questions are distressingly well-practiced. It’s not that I don’t recall much of the last few years, it’s that there seems to be so little worth recalling. Memory is hollow.

I don’t know how exactly this happened. I can’t pinpoint any single thing that made this happen, no event or choice that decisively shaped me. I can’t, at this point, individually identify all of the snowballs that made this avalanche. I just know that I am buried under it.

I have become things that would have been an absolute anathema to my younger self, like cautious and content and complacent. (I’m fucking terrified as I type this, but I know it must be done.)

It’s not that I no longer want the things I once wanted, although I have come to understand that they won’t come as easily as the me of my early twenties thought. And yet…

I’ve come too far for anything else. I’m still not ready to be normal, and I doubt that I will ever be.

But as much as I’m still in that ocean, more and more I’m treading water instead of swimming.

And it’s funny, because all this noise and splashing is for an audience that hasn’t been fooled by it in a long, long time.

And it’s sad, because all this noise and splashing, all this attention-seeking, is just a way to hide.

I don’t exactly know how to change this. I really don’t.

But I’m going to find out. Because, however much I’ve clung to the notion that there was only one, there has to be more than one way to be a grown up.

We’ll talk again on this, and soon. I’ll play you my theme songs, and hopefully you can suggest some better ones for me.