THE AMERICAN WAY: if it moves, shoot it?

This week Australians have been intrigued and haunted by the mysterious disappearance of Melbourne woman Jill Meagher in the early hours of last Saturday. The intense media scrutiny of the police investigation allowed us to follow the story to its arguably inevitable conclusion, with Friday’s confirmation that a man had been apprehended and charged with Jill Meagher’s rape and murder. It’s such a sad story, but even more so because here in Australia we’re lucky, relatively speaking, that this kind of thing just doesn’t happen that often. We rarely hear of anyone being snatched from the side of the road – from anywhere for that matter. Most of us wouldn’t expect it to happen while making our way home from Friday night drinks with friends and colleagues, much less from the footpath of a major arterial road in a busy inner-city suburb where there’s still more than just the odd person here and there, even at close to 2am. And we certainly wouldn’t expect it to happen less than 500m from home.

But as horrific as the Jill Meagher story is, I still can’t help but think how relatively safe and sound we are in this country. That belief was only further enhanced by yesterday’s home page. Of the ten headlines on that one page, three referenced stories out of the US about gun-related deaths. Three stories in one day – all from the same country, all from the same 24 hour period and all involving deaths resulting from firearms discharged by civilians. And that’s just the ones we know about.

On Thursday afternoon four innocent people were killed and four others wounded by a disgruntled sign-writer’s employee in Minneapolis. He’d just lost his job half an hour earlier. Thirty minutes was apparently all the time he needed to let the news sink in and hatch a plan, then go to wherever his gun was and come back intent on killing. Really? Just coz he lost his job? Is that really all it takes to tip someone so far over the edge that they’ll kill innocent people and themselves?

On Thursday evening, a father in Connecticut took a call from his sister – who lives right next door to him – telling him she thought someone was trying to break in to her house. Logical first reaction? Grab your gun, go outside and see if you find anything – and if it moves, shoot it. He did find something – a person wearing a black balaclava. It did move and trigger-happy Dad proved he’s clearly a fan of the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach. Turned out the masked man was his own son, who lived right there in the same house as Dad and looked for all the world as if he were about to break into the house next door… i.e. his aunt’s house. Yep, I’m lost too. This complex web of intrigue is just too weird for me to get my head around. Suffice to say, this kid clearly never heard the saying about not shitting in your own nest. Afterwards, a spokesman for the Connecticut state police had this profound statement to make: “All in all it’s a tragedy’’. Understatement of the year! Sadly, he wasn’t focussed on the real tragedy – something far bigger than what he was commenting on.

Then just after midday Friday, the American FOX News channel was broadcasting live coverage, being filmed from a local affiliate station’s news chopper that was following a high-speed police pursuit. The pursuit had started shortly after the driver had ‘car-jacked’ the vehicle in Phoenix, Arizona. It ended about 100km later when the guy stopped the car, casually got out, rummaged around inside for something, started to walk away, then appeared to get spooked. At this point, he ran erratically into the desert, before stopping suddenly, looking around, putting something to his head (almost impossible to tell exactly what it was from chopper-cam) and falling down.

And then the apologies began. Profusely.


American firearm assaults per 100,000 people by state

The bulletin’s newsreader explained to viewers after all of this that there was meant to be a 10 second delay in place so ‘graphic images’ like that could be yanked from the screen if something “went awry”. I don’t know about you, but I can think of so many things that could go awry when the topic is a car being driven along a freeway at such frightening speeds that it makes the trucks it passes, which were presumably travelling at or near the legal Interstate limit, look like they’re barely moving. If the network was so concerned that something might “go awry”, why broadcast live coverage of this stuff in the first place? What’s so fascinating about a high-speed freeway pursuit anyway? But I digress.

So anyway, we have the newsreader apologising. We have the FOX network’s PR machine pumping out more apologies. We have the Executive Vice President of News personally apologising. Clearly everyone’s really, really sorry. They “messed up”, apparently. Even though the delay that was supposed to’ve been in place was the only precaution the Executive Vice President could cite for how they should’ve been able to avoid the situation, he also said “Unfortunately, this mistake was the result of a severe human error and we apologise for what viewers ultimately saw on the screen.”

But why?

What exactly were they sorry for? It was grainy footage, shot on an extreme zoom setting from a helicopter hovering high above, of a man pointing something at his head before falling to the ground. For all the clarity the picture delivered, he could’ve been pointing his own finger at his head, or a stick or a banana. His head didn’t seem to explode, there was no visible blood and there was no sound of a gun shot. That the guy had just shot himself in the head and was now most likely dead was a fairly simple assumption to reach, but that assumption certainly wasn’t anything to do with the ‘graphic nature’ of the footage. In fact it was only the obviousness of what had transpired – combined with viewers’ vivid imaginations, plus the human condition of not being able to look away from a car crash – that introduced any element of ‘graphic’ to the footage at all.

But I still don’t get it. Why all the bowing and scraping and profuse apologies? More than two centuries after its introduction, Americans still cling as tenaciously as ever to the Second Amendment – why shouldn’t they also see one of the potential outcomes of that “right to bear arms”? Why be so apologetic about it? Why shouldn’t they see the outcome of this ‘right’, first hand? They hear about gun-related violence every single day – the US suicide rate is in the top 40 of the world and its homicide rate is one of the highest of any developed nation. How many Americans have died at the hands of someone who’s ‘gone postal’? Obviously it’s happened enough for that phrase to now mean virtually the same thing throughout the entire English-speaking world.

If it only takes them half an hour to take in some bad news, go away and come back with a gun, intent on killing, you have to wonder how stable these people were to begin with – and if that’s something that can’t be quantified, it also begs another obvious question: why do Americans continue to latch on to this “right to bear arms” bollocks when they’re clearly surrounded by so many unhinged people, shuffling about within their communities unidentified, ready to snap in the worst possible way at any moment?

So the FOX News ‘apology’ was just another example of how America’s oft-quoted rights and values only really extend so far: ‘the land of the free’ – except if you’re enslaved, in whatever context; ‘the right to free speech’, so long as you don’t offend religious sensibilities; ‘the right to bear arms’ – but only as long as no one ever has to actually witness how that ‘right’ could ultimately play out. Surely the real apology due to the American people should be about their ease of access to firearms in the first place and that this car-jacking bloke was just one of many who’ve found it so easy to get one – legally or otherwise.

Yes, all of these horrible situations were tragic, but individually they’re not the real tragedy. The real tragedy is that a nation of 314 million people has such easy access to firearms, presumably with very little training around proper use.

The real tragedy is that the United States continually falls back on an amendment made to its constitution 221 years ago, which sought to provide for “the right of the people to keep and bear arms”, yet repeatedly fails to acknowledge the deadly outcome that this so-called ‘right’ has lead to, time and again. Surely there are some rights that need to be rescinded? Or at the very least, revised? Geez, even just reviewing this one might be an idea? In almost every conceivable way, the world of 2012 is a vastly different one to the world of December 1791. But what are the chances? Apparently the only amendment to the US constitution that was ever repealed was Prohibition, and it was also the only amendment ever made that took away the people’s right to something. So how would millions of gun-toting, constitution-loving, rednecked, Second Amendment fans respond to any suggestion of reduced access to firearms? And even if “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” was repealed, how the hell would they get all the guns back anyway? Where would they even start?

Saying all of that, with the amount of gun-related crime right here in Sydney recently I’m guessing John Howard’s 1996 gun buyback scheme possibly isn’t the template to reference.

THE NON-COMMERCIAL IMPERATIVE: Triple J fans’ misguided uproar over a record company takeover

With so much cool and such passion for music, it’s little wonder Triple J listeners and Facebook subscribers to the station’s Hack program were today up in arms about Universal Music’s recently announced takeover of EMI.

J-fans are a funny mob, aren’t they? All at once, proponents of individualism and anti-capitalism, possessive of their ‘non-commercial’ status and fiercely loyal to the independent heritage of their favourite radio station. J-fans, like the station’s on-air announcers, are laid back in that too-cool-for-school kind of way that you always expect from chilled-out uni students, bohemians, the chronically unemployed-but-in-a-totally-cool-way and anyone else with a left-of-the-middle artistic, social or cultural bent. Both groups enjoy using terms like “dude”, “man” and “chill out”; newsreaders commence bulletins with “hey” or “hi there” as if they’re sitting opposite you, personally delivering a (very brief) summary of key world events; and the announcers all use the same J-chic terminology in their frequent discussions of the things they very frequently discuss – every album they talk about isn’t an album or a CD, it’s a “record”, as if their real jobs were as full-time recording artists and despite most of them being too young to even know what a vinyl record looks like; and a collective of just about anything must be described as a “bunch” – a bunch’a cool bands, a bunch’a cool tracks, a bunch’a people, a bunch’a very cool music festivals, a bunch’a records.

None of which is to say I dislike anything about Triple J. In fact it’s the only radio station I listen to these days, just as it was almost 20 years ago. But it hasn’t always been that way.

It was 1994 when I made the discovery – 102.1 on the FM band in Newcastle. It was the start of a heady five-year love affair. Immediately it was clear to me that Triple J was very much home to the “indie” crew – uni students, anyone whose wardrobe was entirely comprised of second-hand clothes and true lovers of music – but not just any music. It was all about the difference. It was indie, grunge and alternative, all the way. Just as they are today, being Australian, being almost (if not entirely) unknown and/or being unsigned were key ingredients for a band’s success with Triple J listeners. No Top 40 or classic Aussie rock here, then. In fact as far as I recall, there was very little pop or dance music and practically no R&B or hip-hop – at least, not if it was deemed ‘commercial’. I suspect the only definition a J-fan had for ‘commercial’ back then was if something made 2Day-FM’s playlist or sold in sufficient quantities to hit the Top 40. Sounds like a pretty flimsy and vague definition, but the result for Triple J in the mid-90s was a pretty watertight and definitive sound.

At the time of that first life-changing encounter with the Js, I was only 20. I’d already dropped out of Uni and had only recently left the ranks of the chronically unemployed. There was nothing cool about my wardrobe or where I lived. Up to that point I’d never voluntarily consumed a single mouthful of beer, much less enjoyed it. And I was more likely to be found sweating my Friday and Saturday nights away on a dance floor somewhere – or at home watching tele – than in a pub or at a live gig. Almost without exception, the only music I ever bought was throw-away pop schlock and the kind of dance music that was only ever popular in the UK and Europe. I used to have a theory that my interest in a piece of music was inversely proportional to the amount of meaning in its lyric or the number of real musical instruments used in its construction.

That first five years truly changed my life. So many songs and bands discovered during my initial stint as a Triple J listener have stayed with me to this day, still sounding as fresh and different as they did the first time I heard them, all of them so evocative of time and place. The wonderful Portishead and their 1994 début album Dummy with all its amazing sounds and two of my favourite songs of all time, Glory Box and Sour Times; French band Air and their seminal – and still sublime – 1998 début Moon Safari; the drum’n’ bass of Alex Reece’s Candles; without Triple J I’d never have discovered an awesome Melbourne band called Rebecca’s Empire and So Rude (the lead singer, Rebecca Barnard, even went against the Triple J grain in another way – while the majority of bands and artists on their playlist were relatively youthful, Ms Barnard was already 36 by the time Rebecca’s Empire was really noticed). The wonderful You’re Gorgeous by Babybird still makes me smile – even giggle a little – 16 years later. And the list goes on – The Fauves, Eels, Lewis Taylor, Me’Shell NdegéOcello, Primitive Radio Gods, Olive, Republica, Beth Orton, Deadstar, Kinobe, St Germain, Moby. I’d potentially have none of this musical fabulousness in my life, if not for Triple J.

That first period of torrid infatuation with the Js was also when I discovered the brilliant Richard Kingsmill – surely the ABC’s in-house Glenn A. Baker. His The J Files program became compulsory listening of a Thursday night. In late 1997, just months out from Kylie Minogue releasing her brilliant Impossible Princess album – back when even she was being dubbed “indie” – Kingsmill devoted an entire J Files episode to Kylie’s career, previewing select tracks from the new album, as well as playing a handful of old favourites – old favourites, it must be said, that had likely never been anywhere near Triple J’s playlist before, nor have they been since. But even so, that was my first sign. Even in 1997 while the Js were still predominantly indie-flavoured, it wasn’t without the occasional dash of ‘commercial’.

I gave up on Triple J around 1999 – not for any particular reason, I just wasn’t listening to the radio as much. There was heaps of awesome ‘commercial’ pop and dance music around at the time and it was eating up most of my available listening time, not to mention much of my salary. In 2007 I started driving to work again, meaning two daily doses of drive-time radio. For almost three years I flitted about between Sydney’s overwhelming choice of FM stations, but was left feeling distinctly hollow by all of them. Generally this was because, regardless of a station’s genre or tagline – “sounds different”, “the best of the 80s, 90s and today”, “Sydney’s home of rock” or “Sydney’s #1 hit music station” – I’d end up hearing exactly the same bunch of songs hundreds of times a week. The tedious playlist repetition and the dizzying array of banal ex-comedian announcers, with their endless phone pranks and other cheap tricks, were inescapable! Eventually I decided I needed something betwixt and between, so I tried to force a rediscovery of Triple J on myself. I gave it a really good shot, but I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The sound of 1996 – “my Triple J” – was gone! Obviously I didn’t expect to hear 15-year-old music on Triple J, but it seemed the whole ethos of the Js had changed. Somehow – naïvely I suppose – despite the rest of the world (including the majority of Triple J’s youthful audience) having moved on by more than a decade by then, I guess I’d expected to find that the unique and eclectic Triple J style, its very point of difference, had remained firmly rooted in 1996. The human mind rejects what it does not understand. I didn’t understand this new Triple J, so I rejected it.

Skip to September 2012. I’m now older, wiser (sort of) and certainly a great deal more jaded than I was in 1994. About a year ago I also found myself wanting for more, musically. I gave the Js another go and it was like a revelation. Four years ago, I got it wrong. Plain and simple. It wasn’t the ethos of the Js that had changed – it’s still the same as ever. They still embrace new music with gusto – Australian bands, unknown or unsigned bands, interesting stuff from overseas that’d be unlikely to get airplay elsewhere. They still spend more time on the music, the musicians and the musical process than any other station – they’re truly staffed and listened to by music fans. The playlist still caters to fans – from the casual to the aficionado – of so many musical genres. In short, the sounds may be different but the reasons for playing them remain the same.

Which brings me back to Friday’s announcement of Universal Music’s takeover of EMI and today’s general up-in-arms response from some of the Triple J fan base. When the Facebook page of Sophie McNeill’s Hack program posed the question “Does it matter that one major record label will have so much power”, there was a flurry of responses to the effect that Triple J doesn’t play what’s on commercial radio anyway, so why should it even matter? Why, indeed? Possibly a valid question if the issue was with what’s played on commercial radio versus what’s played on Triple J. But the question was actually about how many big record labels exist and how much power they wield. If Triple J’s current Hit List wasn’t so liberally sprinkled with titles from the four major record companies – Universal, EMI, Warner and Sony – it’d probably be a moot point, with little relevance to the playlists, programmers or listeners of Triple J. In fact, of the 90 titles on this week’s list nearly 50 of them are distributed by one of the ‘big four’ or one of their subsidiary labels.

In the end, it’s probably still a moot point to the average J-fan. Based on much of today’s response, despite all their pretensions to anti-capitalism and support of the Occupy movement, many clearly don’t care where the music comes from, who controls its distribution or how much money the record company moguls make – just as long as they still get the music.

Misguided? Perhaps. Conflicted? Maybe. Disingenuous? Possibly just a tad. But it might also encapsulate the Triple J ethos perfectly – I don’t care where it comes from, as long as I still have the music.

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT NEW. Matt’s Old Man Rant about the ways of the modern world: Old Tech


Old tech? My beautiful iPod Classic…

A month or so back, I walked into a pub one afternoon. I’d come straight from the office and had to go two or three blocks to get there, so the iPod was out and the noise-cancelling headphones were wrapped firmly around my ears as I walked. The music was still blaring as I bounded two-at-a-time up the staircase to the third floor. Arriving at the bar with a great thirst – more because I’d gone 48 hours without a drink than from all those stairs – I slid my headphones down my neck, put my iPod on the bar and gave a cheery “Hello!” to the girl behind it. Even as she was returning my smiley greeting, she was eyeing off the iPod. “Gee”, said she, “you don’t see too many people using the old iPods any more”.


What?!? The “old iPods”? Any more? Don’t see too many people using them?! WTF!? Yes OK, so what I just said was exactly what she said except with the words in a different order… so sue me! I was in shock on multiple levels!

As if she hadn’t already sufficiently floored me, she then started reminiscing about her own history of iPod ownership, starting with the very first click wheel model from 2001 and progressing through various iterations of the Shuffle, Mini and Nano models. “Those were the good old days” she told me matter-of-factly, before advising that “everyone just uses their iPhones now, obviously”. Everyone except me, clearly. If I didn’t already feel like a total loser by then, the “obviously” could’ve tipped me over the edge. “Well… obviously” I agreed, a distinct sense of resignation in my tone.

Everything’s come full circle, hasn’t it? Olden days tech hardly ever changed – at least it didn’t change nearly as rapidly as modern technology does. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for the same car design to stay in production for thirty, forty, sometimes fifty years. The basic function of a vinyl record player – spiritual ancestor of the iPod – has remained largely unchanged since the first gramophone record was sold in 1892. The electric light bulb has changed little since Thomas Edison filed for his electric lamp patent in 1879. I guess it just proves the old saying, “some things never change”. Probably because there’s no need to change them. While much has been superseded, there’s still some old tech that’s seemingly timeless. Mod-tech, on the other hand, seems transient at best. But I digress…

So I skulked away from the bar dejectedly with my two over-sized pints (not both for me, I hasten to add) and pondered on everything that’d been said. Imagine her talking about my beautiful iPod Classic as if it was old tech like she did…. callous wench. I found myself softly caressing my pocket-sized mobile music collection with my mind, just to reassure it that I still loved it and, in fact, that I very possibly couldn’t live without it. How old can it be, after all?

Then the true horror of my situation hit me. The callous wench was right! My iPod Classic is old tech. Generations 1-5 of the original iPod were on sale for between eight and twenty-three months each; just a fortnight ago, the iPod Classic – the sixth gen iPod – had been on sale for five years. Admittedly I’ve owned two of them during that time – a 120GB 2007 model and the current 160GB 2009 model, but there’s still no getting away from my beloved device’s status as old tech. Let’s face it, anyone who uses an iDevice for their music these days is unlikely to use anything but an iPod Nano or an iPhone. Or maybe an iPad. Other than mine and my friend Michelle’s, I can’t remember the last time I saw another iPod Classic.

But what possible use could I have for the paltry storage capacity of a Nano or an iPhone? My 160GB Classic is 75% full, holding the entire contents of my enormous music collection. That’s twice as much as the largest-capacity iPhone could handle and almost eight times the capacity of the biggest Nano. My Classic affords me the convenience of being able to load new purchases directly onto it, without having to pick and choose what music remains and what gets removed, or risk it automatically removing something that I later want to listen to. At the click of a button, it always gives me the option of choosing from any of its 25,000 tracks. Why would I want to replace it with an inferior device – either one with less storage capacity or one that requires more work on my part to get my music on and off?

With all the hype surrounding the new iPhone 5 and the corresponding updates to the iPod’s Touch and Nano models, I was sorely disappointed to learn of no such update for the Classic – I fear my old tech could well be nearing the end of the line. I’ve come a very long way from my days as an anti-iPod ~ anti-iTunes / pro-Winamp ~ pro-Sony MP3 consumer. When everyone at work was given an iPod Shuffle back in 2005, I really did try to like it – it was free, after all! But for the life of me I just couldn’t get my head around iTunes, no matter how hard I tried. The Shuffle’s 512MB capacity was also greatly inferior to that of my Sony MP3 Walkman and its sound quality was too awful for this audiophile to cope with. It was thusly relegated to a drawer.

Size obviously does count though, because it was the Gen 6’s massive 120GB capacity that drew me back to the iPod fold, even though I was still doubtful of ever getting my head around iTunes. In the end, of course, I did. Yes it has its restrictions, as with any Apple device or interface. But I’m used to it now. I’m familiar enough with its machinations to not have to think about it. And I can carry an entire roomful of music around in my pocket. Even with daily use, my Classic still works exactly as it did the day I bought it. Finding any of its 25,000 tracks is effortless. There’s almost nowhere I can’t use it. It plays seamlessly and never stops unless I specifically instruct it to.

Old tech? Pfft. I’ll be the judge of that!

BUSTING THE MYTH: Life’s too short?

Let me establish something upfront: anyone who uses the term “lifes to short” is dead to me.

If I need to explain why, you’re dead to me too. Simple as that.

You may be thinking, “lighten up Matt, life’s too short to get hung up on unimportant crap like correct grammar and the factual accuracy of clichéd statements”. Unimportant crap!? How very dare you! But let’s not go there – it’s this “life’s too short” palaver I’m more interested in exploring.

Life’s too short. Hmmmm… but is it? Is it really? Coz I think not. I’d argue that, in fact, as a general rule life is actually pretty long. In this post I’m taking on the persona of someone I’ve frequently been compared with in order to bust this myth once and for all.

Now it’s true that in some very specific and usually tragic circumstances, life does indeed seem too short. A stillborn or SIDS baby’s life is too short. A young person taken by terminal illness or in a pointless accident – their lives were too short. Even my dear old Dad, who parted company with life at the age of just 69 – his life was arguably too short as well.

But, all other things being equal, most of us weren’t stillborn. Most of us don’t concede defeat in our teens or twenties to either illness or a nasty twist of fate. And a very great number of us won’t have the grim reaper tapping us on the shoulder before we hit 70.

As I stare down the barrel of 40, I have vivid (if fleeting) recollections of things that happened in 1976, when I was just two-and-a-half years old. I can think back to events of thirty years ago when I was all of eight and it seems like an absolute eternity, an entire lifetime ago.

If all goes well – that’s to say, if several decades of poor diet, drinking, smoking, extended interludes of physical inactivity, weight gain and a certain penchant for genetically acquired old man-style diseases don’t eventually catch up with me in any of several thoroughly undesirable ways – I fully expect to be able to reflect on those same memories thirty years from now. By the time I’m 68, I wonder how many lifetimes ago my eighth birthday in the McDonald’s party room at Carlingford Court will seem then?

I love that the w-w-web is full to the brim of pages authored by people who like nothing more than to publish lists of stuff. Makes researching this topic so much easier – or does it? I went trawling the interweb for the most common triggers for the old “life’s too short” chestnut. One list I found, specifically dedicated to the “life’s too short to…” theme, cites things like eating bad calories, drinking bad coffee, not laughing, not having joy in your life, not travelling and not having a pet. Another list says life’s too short to judge yourself by others’ opinions of you, to multi-task and to be a yes-man/woman (i.e. someone who always says yes to everything without processing what’s being requested first). Still other lists suggest life’s too short to stay in a controlling relationship, to run ourselves down without adequate rest periods, to not fill our lives with happy memories to look back on, to not take that dream holiday we always wanted to go on, to give up something we’ve always enjoyed because someone else makes us, to spend too much time in front of the television while it’s still light outside and to not find one thing to smile about every day. But I think my favourite list includes numerous things that life is too short to tolerate, including vagaries such as people who bring you down, unnecessary miscommunication, your own negativity, an unhealthy body, pressure to fit in with the crowd and this particular gem which I think is my favourite thing not to tolerate of all: people or beauty ads that make you feel inadequate.

It wouldn’t be practical to call out every single thing I found. Suffice it to say that the list is, quite literally, endless. While there were a few recurring topics – travel well, find love, variations on the smile/be happy/have joy theme, & cetera – most seemed specific to the individual author’s life-stage or experiences. Note to self: need to re-jig the online research strategy for this one.

Now, for the time being let’s set to one side the fact that some of these arguments are entirely lacking in any logic whatsoever. Case in point: “life’s too short to not have a pet”. Kinda bordering on a double-negative there. If we flip it around a little, the statement is actually that “life’s not too short to have a pet”. Ummmmm… yeah, I guess that’s true. How that one even made it onto the “life’s too short” list in the first place,  I’ll never know. As for the others, most of the examples I’ve mentioned would be nye on impossible to quantify in terms of the amount of time they’d suck out of your life – which, you’ll recall, is already too short – or to ascertain how anyone came to conclude, or even calculate, that life was indeed too short for the said activities.

So I tried to work it out. I took some common life elements along with some of the examples above and did some rudimentary calculations. I based the calculations around the average time you’d reasonably expect these activities to take up, against a backdrop of the overall life expectancy of an Australian – currently 81.2 years, according to the United Nations. My calculations revealed some very interesting results and it’s now clear that the average Australian has sufficient longevity to:

  • go through thirteen years of primary and secondary schooling six times over;
  • go through an average of four years of tertiary education more than twenty times;
  • waste time in 150 wrong jobs (assuming end-to-end wasted time in wrong job of approximately six months);
  • take that longed-for dream holiday approximately 160 times (assuming longed-for dream holiday period of approximately six months + bottomless pit of cash);
  • go through almost 250 bad relationship breakups (assuming an end-to-end breakup period of approximately four months);
  • drink almost 18,000 bad coffees (assuming end-to-end purchase and actual consumption time of approximately ten minutes, five times per week);
  • experience more than 164,000 moments of inadequacy due to people or beauty ads (assuming average period of inadequacy of approximately five minutes, once a week).

I don’t know what you’re thinking right now, but I’ve not seen any compelling evidence to suggest that life is, indeed, too short. In fact, it seems to be quite the contrary and if we look at it from a different angle it’s practically irrefutable.

A couple married for 81.2 years would be said to’ve had a very, very long marriage. Someone who’d been working for 81.2 years, or who was still working by the time they reached 81.2 years of age, would be said to’ve been working for a very, very long time. If you went on a road trip and it took you 81.2 years to reach your destination, that journey time could reasonably be described as very, very long. If you booked a flight where the approximate flight time quoted was 81.2 years, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to describe it as a very, very long flight. If you started a post-graduate adult learning degree and didn’t graduate until 81.2 years later, you’d quite rightly be accused of having taken a very, very long time to conclude your studies. If the Titanic had taken 81.2 years to sink after hitting that iceberg, aside from there having been a much better chance of the Carpathia getting to Titanic in time and saving all on board, you could also have said that the ship took a very, very long time to go down.

Clearly, 81.2 years is a very, very long time. It’s not a short period of time whatever way you skew it, certainly not relative to most of the things people say life’s too short for. If anything, I’d say life’s too short to constantly keep thinking of things to make the statement that “life’s too short” about.

81.2 years is a very, very long time – for anything. We have all the time we want to spend on whatever we choose to spend it on. If you want to spend every moment of it full to overflowing with activity and excitement, go for gold. If you want to waste time watching tele while the sun’s still out, or relaxing, or being hungover, or doing absolutely nothing – do it! Whether we know when we’ll be hit by that bus or not, it doesn’t change the fact that 81.2 years isn’t a short period of time. Human beings have a natural tendency to bitch and moan about things they don’t enjoy doing, often comparing these activities with wasting time. But you know what? To some extent, that’s just life. We all have to do things we don’t especially enjoy from time to time. If it’s so bad, you have two choices: keep doing it, or stop doing it. It’s up to you. You can only go one of two ways. Just don’t go making factually inaccurate references to the length of your life in order to justify your decision or how you feel.

Conclusion: life is, in fact, not too short.



Life's Too Short image © Noah Kinnard.

Elephants Don’t Belong In Rooms

There are so many aspects of me, my life and my outlook on things generally that make me a bit unique.

Everyone likes to think they’re a bit unique in their own special way, but the reality is that most people are actually pretty similar. Most have partners of opposing genders, most generate offspring, most have a gaggle of extended family members and most, by and large, enjoy much the same things as they amble their way through life. My unique is… I dunno… different.

From the mundane to the truly unusual, there’s always been a degree of difference to almost everything about me. For example, my maternal grandmother was the only grandparent I ever knew, but I also knew her mother – most people know more than the one grandparent and few have the privilege of knowing a great-grandparent. I also have a really tiny nuclear family and have no cousins whatsoever – most people have cousins. I’ve been a massive fan of Doctor Who since I was about 8 years old – most people haven’t been and aren’t. I’ve never enjoyed, been interested in or been any good at sports of any description – most people are, at the very least, interested in one sport or another even if they have no actual talent for it.

And the list goes on. I don’t tend to like what others like just because pop culture dictates it should be so; in fact, if something I like later becomes popular I tend to like it less from then on – no, I can’t fathom that one either! I really couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks of me, my likes and dislikes or my choices in life. I’ve hated peas ever since I was a small boy. I detest small talk and I loathe talking on telephones. I’m obsessed with music. I love cars. I do my own thing, enjoy my own company, have a vivid imagination and could very probably keep myself occupied for weeks on end, without the need to be surrounded by people and without ever feeling the slightest bit lonely or bored. At times I can seem brash and confident – isn’t bravado a wonderful thing? The reality is I don’t really care for socialising, much less with people I don’t know; actually, I don’t really like people very much at all, as a general rule. I have some reasonably laissez-faire attitudes towards sex and monogamy and a somewhat unorthodox approach to relationships – that is to say, I haven’t been in one for more than a decade, I don’t miss it, I’m not actively seeking one, nor do I feel my life is any the lesser for not being in one. Add to all of this that I’m not exactly “in the marrying way”, as might’ve been said of me in the olden days, and by now I’m sure you’re starting to see the kinda unique picture I’m painting.

And I also recently suffered from a mental illness.

There. I’ve said it. I’ve formally outed myself to the big wide interweb world – I recently suffered from a mental illness. It’s time to tear the covers off the elephant in the room. That great big, fat, grey elephant that’s been standing over there in the corner for however long now. Everyone’s known it was there. Every now and then, friends and colleagues might’ve thought they saw its trunk, or a bit of one of its giant ears, peeping out from under the covers. But they’d look again and it’d be gone. They knew they’d seen something, they just couldn’t quite describe what it was.

I’ll tell you what it was: the long-overdue diagnosis of severe clinical depression. Thanks to the wonderous invention that is the interweb, I was able to undertake a range of tests online to help me establish, with greater or lesser degrees of accuracy, what was likely to be going on. I think I more-or-less knew what it was for a week or so before I eventually stopped stewing on it and took myself off to my GP for his professional opinion. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what had triggered it, nor when it had started, though with hindsight I suspect the signs were there years ago. Once the diagnosis was formally made, I was shown such care and respect by my management at work and was able to take three whole months off. Of course I dressed it up as ‘long service leave’ to everyone else because I just couldn’t talk about it at that point – I still didn’t really understand what was happening to me or how things were going to pan out, so the last thing I needed was a barrage of questions. On my last day at work before going on leave I fessed up to my nearest and dearest and from that point onwards – with them at least – it was a frequent topic of open and honest conversation.

Luckily while on my twelve week sabbatical, I found myself in the care of a psychiatric professional who didn’t want me to spend time rehashing the past or trying to recall every bad thing that had ever happened in my life and decide which one was the ’cause’ of my present situation. He didn’t wear a white coat and I never found myself laid out on a long leather sofa while he looked on, taking notes. He simply gave me a set of practical tools to take away, learn, practice and embed in my day-to-day life. All going to plan, the tools would not just help with my recovery, they’d also help me avoid ever going back to that awful, dark place again.

I’m happy to say the plan worked an absolute treat! The tools are still in use as and when I need them, but I’m all back to rights again. I’ve become fit, I’ve lost almost a quarter of my body weight and I think I’m more-or-less back to ‘my old self’ – my old pre-depression self, that is!

But I have to admit I’m still slightly devastated by one reality of this situation – although being diagnosed with severe clinical depression felt reasonably unique at the time, if only because I’d never been through it before, I was genuinely surprised to discover that it’ll probably go into the annals of my history as the least unique aspect of me. Of all the other aspects of me that I absolutely embrace because they truly make me just that little bit ‘different’ to the majority of other people, it seems being diagnosed with depression is quite possibly one of the least unique things that can ever happen to anyone.

Almost a quarter of all Australians will either experience or be formally diagnosed with a depressive episode or illness during their lifetime. And yet there’s still more stigma attached to this topic than exists around murder, homosexuality, abortion, HIV/AIDS and any number of other topics that impact far fewer people. There are so many organisations and initiatives out there that I have a newfound respect for and can’t give enough support to – Lifeline, Beyond Blue, R U OK Day – in fact last week’s second annual R U OK Day was, by all accounts, a resounding success and seems to me to be a perfect fit for twenty-first century life. Spread the word via social media, make the tagline catchy, keep the message simple – if the tagline and message can be the same thing, so much the better.

The concept behind R U OK Day is so important and so very simple. Everybody needs help some time. Asking for it is nothing to be ashamed of. I have first-hand proof of just how well things can turn out if you can only bury your ego, accept that it may all be a little confronting and ask for help.

And if you’re the one who’s OK but you think someone else might not be, please remember one crucial thing: that invisible line you think you can’t cross coz they might be fine, coz asking if they’re OK might embarrass them or, worse still, make you look like an idiot… THAT LINE DOES NOT EXIST! Whether to protect them or to protect yourself, you imagined it. You created it. There is no line that shouldn’t be crossed if you think someone may not be OK. Your question, those three little words, could mean the difference between their sadness and their happiness, between them seeking help or avoiding it, or quite literally between life and death. It’s not hard. It doesn’t take long. It’s no skin off your nose. It’s just three small words. And not just on September 15 either. Whenever. Wherever. Three small words. No shame. No embarrassment.

Elephants don’t belong in rooms. Believe me, I know…



Charlotte Dawson’s “Twitter hell” lead to “a brush with suicide”, apparently…

I have to say it – I’m almost shocked. I almost can’t believe it. All the media space this garbage with Charlotte Dawson and the online trolls has gotten over the past week or so is just too much.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: what a load of old shit!

Charlotte Dawson. A New Zealand woman whose biggest claim to fame is being the plain-speaking (read: bitch) judge on Foxtel’s Australia’s Next Top Model, a program which even at its peak is watched by just 112,000 people.

One hundred and twelve thousand.

The poor thing had such a time of it with cyber-bullies and so-called online “trolls” a few days back that she actually did what they told her to do in all of their highly educated, eloquently expressed Twitter tweets – she caved in, gave up and apparently popped some pills. Just to prove she was serious, she apparently also tweeted that she had indeed caved in and given up and even posted a photo of a hand holding a bottle of pills. Top marks for the melodrama. Well played Charlotte Dawson.

Because it was well-played. One minute poor, downtrodden, abused and vilified Charlotte Dawson is being whisked off to Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, presumably in response to some kind of so-called overdose; the next, she and her pumped stomach are up and off their death bed for an exclusive interview with 60 Minutes! How wonderfully unplanned. And all this media coverage too – how marvellously fortuitous. She’s so very lucky that she felt so much better – and so quickly too! – that she was able to record an interview with a program which, even on a bad night, attracts an audience ten times bigger than the program she’s most ‘well known’ for. Again, well played Charlotte Dawson.

Notwithstanding the fact that Charlotte Dawson sees fit to call it how she sees it as a judge on Australia’s Next Top Model – and in saying this I mean to suggest only that she would seem to have been instrumental in the development of whatever reputation she has – this ridiculous situation has done one thing and one thing only: it’s proven that both Charlotte Dawson and the majority of the Australian media are as brain-dead as the “online trolls” accused of Dawson’s “cyber-bullying” in the first place.

The fact that the situation received so much airtime and press space says more about the local media’s reliance on social media as a catalyst for news creation than it does of the situation itself, which was little more than a bunch of faceless online entities engaged in a bit of dummy spitting, bitch slapping and name calling. To be fair, it also says quite a lot about Charlotte Dawson, her own head space and her relationship with what used to be referred to as “the virtual world”. Frankly, it’s a relationship that she needs to reassess.

Because Charlotte Dawson, it seems, is as obsessed with the so-called Twitterverse as the rest of the mindless pond life who inhabit it and who subsequently use it to air their mostly pointless one line thoughts any number of times per day. By all accounts, she’s not shy of tweeting and re-tweeting controversial comments at all hours of the day and night. She’s apparently quite happy to tell others when to get a grip, but in a classic case of not practicing what one preaches, it seems Charlotte Dawson doesn’t know how to disassociate real life from Twitterlife.

Charlotte Dawson didn’t know who these people were. She probably didn’t know them at all. It’s likely she’d never met a single one of them in her life, nor had the remotest chance of ever doing so. And so they start posting comments like “please kill yourself”, “please put your head in an oven”, “please hang yourself”, all extremely well thought-out, eloquent comments I’m sure you’ll agree. All the product of some finely attuned, rational, educated adult minds, there’s no denying it.

Is it just me, or does anyone else just want to grab Charlotte Dawson by the shoulders and shake the crap out of her while screaming “IT’S ONLY TWITTER CHARLOTTE DAWSON, FOR FUCK’S SAKE, IT’S NOT REAL LIFE, GET THE FUCK OVER IT!”. Seriously – anyone? Or just me?

Coz it’s not real, is it? It can’t be. There’s no genuine, interpersonal relationship. There’s no direct line of sight between one user and another. Sometimes there isn’t even a real picture or a username based on life from which to associate an actual face with an actual name. It’s all just a bunch of words. Stupid, pointless, meaningless words constructed – usually it’s atrociously poorly constructed – by brainless morons who believe that telling complete strangers – celebrity or no, online or no – to kill themselves if OK.

Seriously – WTF? It’s not that I’m struggling to comprehend how this whole situation could’ve even happened. The world is full of stupid people and stupid people often have very big, stupid opinions about things that they get all loud and shouty about. A lot of the time this happens online. Would any of these people have been even slightly likely to see Charlotte Dawson in the flesh and say these nasty, hateful things to her? Absolutely not. We’re talking about a generation of people who hide behind the antisocial barrier created by the interweb and social media as a means of growing the backbone they could never develop in real life to make pointless, hurtful comments to people they’ll never meet, about things and issues which, by and large, don’t matter in the overall scheme of things. Then they log off and don’t think about it again. Several hundred similarly stupid people then do the same thing and before you know it, thousands of stupid people have all done the same thing. One tiny, probably insignificant moment in time for each of them to compose – again, mostly poorly – their hateful diatribe, post it and go away. It’s not as if they all got together and planned it, like some covert attack under cover of darkness. It was nothing more than ‘monkey see, monkey do’, like most of the claptrap on social media and interweb chat rooms, forums and message boards going right back to the beginnings of the interweb itself. Stupid is as stupid does, it’s always been the same. And this was stupid.

What I’m actually struggling to comprehend is how any of this has been taken seriously! An almost 50-year-old woman – a ‘celebrity’, if you will – who openly and frequently utilises social media to broadcast her own (sometimes ‘controversial’) thoughts is brought to her knees by a bunch of fellow users who essentially tell her, in a variety of colourful ways, to go to hell, then pops up a few days later to be interviewed about the whole sordid affair by a program that will provide her, when the interview airs, with by far the biggest single viewing audience she’s ever had. Anywhere. Ever.

Gimme a break! Yeah maybe I’m a tad cynical as a general rule, but I tried not to be with this. I tried to assess it from every angle, objectively. But it’s a case of recursive occlusion I’m afraid – whatever path I took just kept bringing me back to the same place: it’s all an over-dramatised, melodramatic sham!

Here’s a thought, Charlotte Dawson. Next time it’s all getting a bit too much, why not consider stopping your tweets, logging out of your account (or even deactivating it), repeating to yourself “this isn’t real, this isn’t real, this isn’t real” (or “there’s no place like home”, or “what is it you can’t face Maria?” or frankly anything that makes you feel better), go have a real conversation with a real person who you actually know and forget all about social media forever. Won’t make for nearly as interesting an interview and 60 Minutes likely won’t be interested, but surely you’ll feel better as a human being which I’m sure is all you genuinely want.

But well played Charlotte Dawson. Deftly executed. Bravo madam, bravo. Topping performance, what!? And what a jolly effective set-piece those pills turned out to be too.

Of course, nobody needs to know they were only Vitamin C tabs – don’t worry, you’re secret’s safe with me.