Friday, January 28, 2011

A Flood of Antipathy

I'll say it right up front. I don't want to pay the flood levy. Call me un-Australian if you will but what's wrong with people donating money to worthy causes because they want to. There are many people who regularly, and I'm talking on a weekly basis, give money to various organisations which help people less fortunate than themselves. Even irregular givers, and those who spend their discretionary income on fuel for their jet skis and motorbikes, or on cartons of cigarettes and cases of beer, have dug deep into their pockets over the last few weeks to find some extra dollars to support what is the most immediate and worthy cause in our nation: the floods crisis.

The impact of the floods in Queensland and Victoria has not been overstated, so nothing more needs to be said. The generosity of Australians in times of crisis is well known and has again been demonstrated very clearly in their response to the flood disaster. At charity sporting events like the Legends of Origin game and cricket's KFC Big Bash, at fundraising concerts, through radio and television appeals, and at sausage sizzle stands around the country, Aussies have been coughing up for a very good cause. It is doubtful that there is anyone who has not made some sort of contribution to flood relief efforts. On top of all the donated money comes insurance which, although problematic due to mean spirited insurance companies, will also provide financial assistance.

Now the government wants to impose a one off flood levy. If you earn under $50000 a year you don't have to pay, but above that, you do. Presumably this includes all the families who were directly affected by the floods, and all the people who have already made donations to the various appeals. It's a small amount of money the government proposes to tax us; between one and five dollars per week, but it's not the money, it's the principle. The package announced by Julia Gillard includes government spending cuts to the value of two dollars for every one dollar collected by the levy. Why not have the whole thing funded by spending cuts? Or why, as every economist in the country, and around the world probably says, not simply borrow some money?

Heres' the argument. Suppose you are working on a plan to pay off your credit card debt by 2013. You are committed to this course of action as you believe it is necessary for your financial health. Suddenly and without warning, your car develops serious engine troubles and because you need your car, you have to get it fixed. The repair bill is in the thousands. How will you pay for it? Spending cuts aren't going to help, it's too much money and you need it now. You can't impose an engine repair levy on your friends and family, so you use your credit card right? And you say, oh well, I'll just have to adjust my credit card debt retirement plans due to unforeseen circumstances.

The recent floods were definitely unforeseen, a natural disaster which nobody could have predicted. So borrow some money to pay for infrastructure rebuilding Julia. We already pay income tax, and we've already donated money. You pay to fix the roads and bridges, that's your job. The reason why the government won't take on more debt when nobody would mind if they did, is because of politics. They promised to return the budget to surplus and damn it all they are sticking to that promise. The Prime Minister was questioned about this in light of the sensible view put forward by economists and every one else with half a brain, that the deficit should be added to, and said she disagreed with them, and had made up her mind to go down the flood levy path.

I think it's stupid and I resent it. I'm tired of governments and politicians who talk about making tough decisions to disguise the reality of their stupid, gutless and short sighted decisions. Ill conceived, poorly executed policies which achieve nothing. The next disaster to hit the Gillard government may well be the flood of antipathy towards it which results in its destruction. The great worry is that the opposition is just as bad. Maybe the next deluge to fall from the sky will wash away all the politicians.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cheer Up

There's nothing worse than being told by someone to cheer up when you feel miserable or angry. When a person tells you to smile because it won't hurt you, or because it'll make you feel better, your reaction will probably be like mine. A forced smile and an almost overwhelming desire to tell that person what to do with their cheery disposition and request for a happy face. It's very hard for some people to fake happiness, and I'm one of those people.

Sometimes you feel crappy and you want the world to know about it.Sometimes you have the poops and all you want is to be left alone. And as well intentioned as bubbling words of encouragement might be, they often don't actually help. One person's genuine, heartfelt attempts to cheer another person up, even if motivated by compassion, can have catastrophic consequences.

I read a story about a postman who tried to cheer up one of his customers and it struck me as a "surely there must be more to this story than meets the eye" piece of news. Although not in the cataclysmic consequences category, it does serve as a timely warning to those who wish to cheer others up. Be careful how you attempt to spread your sunshine.

A 52 year old United States postal worker told a woman that he would deliver the mail to her in the nude, to make her laugh. The story doesn't report on whether she laughed at the absurdity of the suggestion or if she encouraged him to do it, or indeed what her reaction was when he did rock up to her office with some letters in his hand but not a shred of clothing covering his body. Does nudity make people laugh? Have you ever seen a naked person in a public place and giggled at the sight? If a person dressed in their birthday suit handed you your mail, how would you react?

Simple gestures often work best for lightening gloomy moods. And personally, I prefer those simple gestures to come from people I know, and in case you're interested, in case you are considering ever trying to cheer me up when I'm in grumpy old man mode, on the outside chance that you might be mulling over more offbeat possibilities, you can rule out nudity.

Also, don't tell me to cheer up. I don't like being told how to feel and I don't think anyone does. Do I sound like I'm in bad mood today?

The mail carrier, by the way, was arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious behaviour. I hope the woman he delivered to sent him a note to thank him and try to cheer him up.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Windows to the Soul

Everyone has heard the saying that the eyes are the window to the soul but there is another window: bumper stickers. What are people saying about themselves and their view of the world via the stickers they place on, or leave attached to, the rear bumpers or windows of their vehicles?

Some stickers are funny, at least the first two or even three times that you read them. The one that says, "If you can read this, I've lost my caravan", is amusing. Others are more informative, telling you what causes the owner of the car presumably supports, or what footy team they cheer for, or what breed of dog they like. Of course it is not always the case that the sticker on the back of the car in front of you can be used to make an accurate assessment about the owner of the vehicle, but it is natural to make such an assumption. What else would one think?

What am I supposed to think about a man wearing a cowboy hat, and driving a Ford F-350 ute with the following stickers on it: a United States confederate flag, a rodeo sticker, and a sign that says, "keep honking, I'm reloading!" All this paints a pretty clear picture about the bloke and what he's in to, doesn't it?

Some bumper stickers really make you ask the question why. Why would a person put a sticker on their car which says "bad boy" or "bad girl"? Because they are bad and proud of it, or because they want to be bad? What about "zero to bitch in 60 seconds", "no sex, no ride", "gas, grass or ass - no free rides", "get in, sit down, shut up and hang on", or "don't like my driving? dial 1800 eat #@*%" ?

The answer is obvious. The people who put these stickers on their cars, think like that, they identify with the sentiments expressed, they make statements about themselves with those stickers. If you bought a car which had a sticker showing an outline of Australia with the words "*#%@ off we're full", you'd remove the sticker, unless you were a racist like the person who put it there in the first place.

It's hard not to judge people by their bumper stickers, but by plastering their vehicles with such decorations, they are asking for it, aren't they? Inviting judgement. They are not shy or ashamed about having such attitudes. Their bumper stickers are proud declarations, and that's a bit of a worry, don't you think?

Or is it all just harmless fun?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sell Out or Die

Byron Bay metalcore band, Parkway Drive, headlined a show at the Hordern Pavillion in Sydney back in September 2010. That gig was sold out. People wanting tickets on the night, at the door, couldn't buy any. Parkway Drive have been accused of selling out in another way. Some people say they make music to make money. (There's something wrong with that?)In other words, making more popular, commercially viable music in order to make more money.

This accusation is nothing new. Throughout the history of popular music, bands and solo artists have had their integrity questioned by alleged fans and music lovers whenever they have, in the artists' own words, "changed" musical direction.

Recently I watched Australian hard rock band Grinspoon perform. Grinspoon started their musical journey as a hardcore post grunge band but over the years they have developed into a more mainstream rock act. Some people don't like that they've changed. They are angered by the irony of Grinspoon performing a cover of INXS Don't Change. But what's wrong with a band growing, even changing their style? Writing and playing music requires creative force. Why should Grinspoon, for example, keep writing the same style of song about the same subject matter? People change and mature, so why wouldn't their music reflect that? What's wrong with a band trying to attract new fans to their music by writing a few radio friendly songs here and there? Or even all over the place?

Payable on Death is another band which began as a punk band in the early nineties and over time developed a style of their own with elements of reggae, hardcore, rock and rap all fused together. Some people say the old POD was better, and they wished they still rocked like they did back in the day.

Fans of groups like POD, Parkway Drive and Grinspoon (like me) love what they do. They have opinions about songs and albums they like better than other songs or albums, of course, but they follow the band. They grow with the band. If you start rocking with a band when you're a teenager, and they are a bunch of teenagers then the connection is solid, but you don't want your fave band singing about teenage angst and pimples when they, and you, are in their thirties or forties. Being a fan means liking the way the band does business. If your favourite band wants to go on writing new music and experimenting, or if they want to carry on producing the same beast in different clothes, then it's all good. If they want to start writing songs about the environment instead of songs about getting wasted at parties, then good luck to them. When interviewed about the band's last release, When Angels and Serpents Dance, Sonny Sandoval from POD admitted that they were no longer a bunch of kids playing punk in the garage. There's no selling out here. True fans know it. The critics can rack off and listen to something else.

What about bands who deliberately write songs to achieve, and then to maintain popularity? Nickleback comes to mind. They smashed into the mainstream with Silver Side Up and the modern classic single, How You Remind Me. They followed that CD with two more just like it, and fans lapped it up. Dark Horse was their last release and it was less popular than the previous three because it was different. Was Nickleback selling out with Dark Horse, or trying to return to their hard rock Metallica inspired roots? Speaking of Metallica, they are another band who have been accused of selling out and going soft, but they are rightly numbered among the great bands of all time, and Death Magnetic proves they are true masters of heavy metal.

What about stars who burn brightly for a short time? What would Jimi Hendrix have been playing had he survived the sixties? Would Nirvana have developed into the Foo Fighters even if Kurt Cobain had not killed himself? What might Jim Morrison have written songs about had he made it through the muddy swamp of drug addiction as Phil Jamieson of Grinspoon did? What do Hendrix, Cobain and Morrison have in common? They didn't grow up. They didn't live to go on writing great music. They killed themselves before they had time to mature as people and as artists. Maybe they had nothing left. Maybe they were afraid of being popular. Who knows?

Hate a particular band and their music if you must, but don't waste your breath on pathetic self righteous judgements about them "selling out". They don't care and neither do their fans.