Hitting Rock Bottom

In the middle of last week Melbourne had its biggest earthquake on record. It was the first time in my life I’ve experienced an earthquake. It only lasted about fifteen seconds at my house but that was certainly enough to get my attention. Up until corona, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the symbolism of such an event but nowadays I am not so sure. The literal earthquake came just two days after a metaphorical earthquake which made headlines around the world in the form of a mass protest by construction workers in the Melbourne CBD followed by days of police violence the likes of which we haven’t seen since this country was a prison colony. In a post back in May I predicted that Australia was going to have a severe political and cultural meltdown before corona was over. Boy was I right. It was fitting that the meltdown happened in Melbourne; the epicentre of our corona earthquake. On the day of the real earthquake, Melbourne equalled Buenos Aires as the most locked down city in the world a record we now hold by a comfortable margin. Melbourne used to call itself the world’s most liveable city. Turns out we are also the world’s most lockdownable city. Who knew? With the events of last week, I think Australia has finally hit rock bottom in our corona story. We are heading into summer now, vaccinations rates are up and governments are finally talking of getting back to normal. Nothing is certain in these times, but it would take something special for things not to be back to some kind of normality by Christmas. The long-term effects of corona will then become apparent and it is here that I think the earthquake may be symbolic. Things have happened here in the last year and a half that will not be forgotten and are going to need to find some kind of resolution. What that looks like is too early to tell but a political earthquake is certainly one of the options.

What was key to the Melbourne protests last week was that they were carried out by union members against a Labor state government. To know how significant that is you have to know that the Labor Party in Australia was built on union power which is still very strong in Australia. Like its counterparts in Britain and the US, Australian Labor abandoned its traditional economic platform in the 90s to get on board the neoliberalism train. However, that shift was carried out far more successfully in Australia than other countries and in the last few decades the working class here have not economically suffered anywhere near as much as in Britain and the US which is part of the reason why Australian politics has been a snooze-fest while Brexit and Trump happened. Although the Australian Labor Party is now also the party of the inner-city intelligentsia, it has still kept its working-class base. Until now. The first signs of the loss of that base came during the last federal election where the Liberal-National Party picked up an increasing share of the working class vote and won a surprise victory. I think that trend is now set to go into overdrive. With corona, the unions around the country have failed to stand up for their members in the face of vaccines mandates. Starting last week, the construction union became the latest one to sell out its members. The Victorian construction union is the most old-school in the country and is notorious for both its violence and its willingness to flout the law to achieve its aims. The membership was quite willing to turn those capabilities on its leader and let him know what they thought of his agreeing to mandatory vaccinations for construction workers. In fact, the CFMEU is probably the only institution in the country that could have carried out a protest such as the one that happened last week. The fact that a Labor politician was unable to know that is quite telling. It was an incredible political miscalculation. The important point in the medium term is that the union movement is going to face a political crisis and that crisis should directly impact the Labor Party. The 20-30% of the union workforce who did not want to take the vaccine but who have been forced into doing so are not going to forgive either the unions or the Labor Party. That should have a direct impact at elections in the years ahead.

In normal course of events, that should help the other side of the political spectrum except the Liberal Party has also betrayed its supposed values and its base during corona. The liberal Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, gave an absurd address to the United Nations general assembly last week in which he decided to highlight the fact that Australia was one of the few countries involved in the drafting of the universal charter of human rights. Not only that, Morrison stated that Australia puts its belief in human rights into practice right here at home. Really, Mr Morrison? Article 13 states that everyone has right to freedom of movement within their own country and also the right to leave and return to that country. Australia has been blatantly in breach of this article for most of the last eighteen months. Why would the Prime Minister make this a point of his speech at this time? You could argue it was just a slip up. But this dissociation from reality has been a feature of the Morrison prime ministership. He was famously on the beach in Hawaii during the massive Australian bushfires of 2019 and seemed genuinely not to understand why he needed to break his holiday and, y’know, lead the country during a time of emergency. During covid he has been little more than a cipher often just missing completely from the public view. He appeared unable to foresee the political consequences of not securing enough vaccines and he has been unable to bring State leaders together to agree on, well, anything. That he should get up and blab on about freedom and human rights while there were “anti-terrorism” police firing rubber bullets on unarmed civilians on the streets of Melbourne is stunningly naïve at best. This is the same Prime Minister who changed the words of the national anthem to “we are one and free” at a time when states borders were closed. You get the impression Morrison just hopes that if he ignores such problems long enough they might go away.

Will they go away? There is actually a possibility they will. The NSW state premier yesterday released a road map that she said was definitely not about “freedom day” but that included the dropping of all restrictions even against the unvaccinated on 1 December, which kind of makes 1 December just like freedom day except it’s definitely not a freedom day. This came just a week after stories started circulating about how the state’s vaccine passport app was not going to be ready in time for the easing of restrictions. Given that the passports are apparently only going to be in place for a month and a half, I’d say that means the government won’t even bother to roll the app out. This was certainly an about face on the rhetoric of the last few months and a clever bit of politics. If the Premier can pull it off, the other states will almost certainly have to follow suit and drop all restrictions too. That would mean life goes back to some kind of normal just in time for the start of summer. If things go well in the northern hemisphere winter, it may just be that the Australian government can bring The Plague Story to an apparent end . The vaccines were provided just in time for the summer off-season. Any corona surge won’t happen until the following winter by which time I’d say everybody will be over the whole thing. If that happens, it may be that things barely change and life goes on as normal. It’s far too early to say whether this will happen but it is now an actual possibility.

Another possibility is that Australian politics is about to receive a big shakeup. Both major parties have betrayed their base and their ostensible ideals in the last year and a half. Indeed, it is plain that there really is no discernible difference at all between the two parties; a fact which was also clear in the recent Canadian elections. Like Canada, Australia may just vote on party lines again. However, there is now a sizeable demographic ready to vote for an alternative. The only question is whether there is a politician with the smarts to win them over. In any case, I’d expect to see the minor parties do very well in the next federal and Victorian elections. There are a lot of unknowns moving forward. How bad is the damage to the real economy in particular the tourism and higher education sectors? What will be the mindset of people who think the vaccine will stop them getting infected when they do inevitably test positive? What happens if things get really bad next flu season? What if things get really bad in the upcoming northern hemisphere flu season? If the Melbourne earthquake is an omen for any of these things, we may see something seismic in the year ahead.

A Few Short Poems

I was rummaging through the cupboard recently and came across an old notebook containing some poems. I make no claims to being a poet. Every now and then a poem pops into my head fully formed and I scribble it down. Some of the poems in the notebook I quite liked and so I thought I’d put them on here for something different. The first two make a nice pair and the third one captures how I am feeling about my home city of Melbourne right now. See what you think.

Blood Brothers

I curled myself up into a tiny ball
So small
I almost disappeared

I have been distant from you
I have even been distant from my self
But this distance and this space allowed me to see
I saw the great space around us
And that we ourselves are so wide and large and tall
I do not want to cut us down

Necessarily, I come now from afar
And I may speak a strange tongue
If I come now bearing the knife
Know that I will not cut you down
But if I do cut you
Then we will be blood brothers
For I too have felt the knife
And I too have bled


I told you about joy
But you were thinking of your pain
I told you about pain
But you were laughing

Around sunset
We set out again
The sky was red
And we were out of step

Fools, we two
Two tongues wagging out of tune
Unable even to make sense of the dissonance

My ears could not hear you
And yours not me
Each other scarcely could we see
We were not made for such

So, it’s time
That you go your way
And I go mine

One day we may meet again
And see each other for the first

Til then


Check It Out

Check it out, said Jesus
The suits are back in town
Bring petrol, guns and ammo
We’ll burn the whole fuckin’ thing down
And don’t worry about that love stuff
Didn’t work out anyway
This is the bad muthafucker Jesus
Come back to save the day

Corona (archetypal) update

I wanted to throw in a quick post about Biden’s speech this week which represents a new phase in the evolution of the corona event. It came at the same time as this deeply weird article in the Australian media. In the article, the scientist who designed the Astra Zeneca vaccine admitted what has been obvious from the start which is that the vaccines do not stop you getting the virus. Thus, both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated can expect to be infected. She stated that the goal of eliminating the virus is over. This should have been good news because if somebody with a high profile is finally telling the truth, then maybe we can start to deal with this issue properly. Did the article point that out? Did it say that the only way forward is to assume that everybody will catch the virus and devise a strategy based on that fact? Of course not. It promptly went on to tell the reader that the unvaccinated needed to be “shunned”. This is both a non sequitur and a logical contradiction of what the expert had just said. If everybody will test positive anyway, your vaccination status is completely irrelevant. This new rhetoric against the unvaccinated marks a dark turn in the corona event and Biden’s speech, which announced new measures against the unvaccinated, was indicative of the new phase we are entering.

Readers of the posts in my Coronapocalypse series may have recognised the language Biden used. There were a couple of key quotes that mark the change in rhetoric that has occurred in the last month or so starting with the Israeli Prime Minister (Israel is the canary in the corona coal mine) and then eagerly picked up by Trudeau in Canada as well as the state premiers here in Australia. It was always going to be a very small change to take the language used about the virus and start to apply it to the unvaccinated. That is what we are now seeing. Let’s look at the key phrase from Biden’s speech:

“We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers.”

The vaccines, of course, are supposed to protect people from the virus and our leaders assure us that they do in fact protect people. Biden himself was at pains to point out how well the vaccines worked. According to this logic, the vaccinated are already protected against the virus. So, why would the vaccinated need further “protection” from the unvaccinated? This makes no logical sense just as the article in the Australian media made no logical sense. Of course, as we know by now, we are not dealing with logic here but with the archetypal takeover of the rational mind; specifically, The Devouring Mother. Biden’s phrase is the exact catchcry of The Devouring Mother who hides her intentions behind the pretence of protecting her children. Until now, the children have needed protection from a virus. Now they apparently need protection from the other children. Again, this makes sense within the archetype. The vaccinated are the acquiescent children and the unvaccinated are the rebellious children. So, the whole thing maps on to the archetype perfectly. The Devouring Mother is rewarding the acquiescent children and punishing the rebellious. What we are seeing with this new change of rhetoric and the new measures against the unvaccinated is the full and unvarnished manifestation of the archetype unencumbered by any last vestiges of science, logic or reason. I can’t make any sense of Biden or Trudeau or others except in archetypal terms. These people are supposed to be the leaders of their countries and leaders do not divide the public. What is going on now is punishment, pure and simple. Another quote from Biden’s speech makes this clear:

“We have been patient but our patience is wearing thin”.

Is this how a president, a public servant, a leader talks to the public? No. But it is how a parent talks. It is how The Devouring Mother talks. The rebellious children need to be punished. That is the explanation for these measures which not only don’t make scientific sense, they don’t even make political sense. Let’s take the current situation in Australia. Apparently each state government is going to individually implement its own vaccine passport. They will do this even though the federal government controls the data on vaccination status and has said it will not make that data available to the states as this would be a violation of the law. The solution? Each state will need to create its own system to track vaccination status. They will make people download an app and then upload their vaccination paperwork to the app. All this will need to tie in with the QR code system. Bear in mind that Australian government IT is famously incompetent and the states have about a month or two to get these systems up and running so the promised freedoms can be delivered to the vaccinated. Even if they miraculously get the systems to work, the whole thing is a disaster in the making. Twenty percent of the population will not be vaccinated and I’d estimate at least another 10% will not use these apps either because they can’t (elderly people who aren’t tech savvy) or out of moral principles. How many restaurants, cafes, pubs etc are going to be financially viable with a 30% reduction in revenue? Not many. Then consider that you’d need multiple apps to use if you travel interstate. The whole thing is a logistical and political debacle waiting to happen and a total waste of money. Our Devouring Mother-in-chief here in Victoria, Dan Andrews, called this a “vaccine economy”. If ever there was economy designed to fail, it is that. What that should mean by extension is political failure. I’ll be watching the upcoming Canadian election with great interest as this is the first time a western public will be able to vote on such measures. We have an Australian federal election due next year just in time for the failure of the vaccine program and the vaccine passport program to become a reality. That’s going to open up all kinds of possibilities.

I noted in a previous post that things were about to get weirder and now they have. We are now, I think, in the peak of the archetypal takeover. The Devouring Mother is out to discipline her rebellious children. Will it be a slap on the wrist or something far darker. We’re about to find out.

The Consumer Mindset

After I graduated from university, I did the Aussie-backpacker-in-the-UK thing. My first stop was London where I arrived with what, in hindsight, was far too little money. I didn’t have any contacts there and London was much more expensive than I imagined. Had things not gone well, I may have been flying home with my tail between my legs in short order. Fortunately, I managed to pick up a job almost immediately working as an administrative assistant in a small law firm. The principal was an Australian expat who was also from Melbourne originally, which no doubt helped my chances in landing the job. The offices of the firm were in Gray’s Inn, which is one of the four Inns of Court in London and which is over six hundred years old, three times older than the country I had just arrived from. Because of the location of the Inn, I would often go on foot to carry out various tasks such as lodging paperwork at the Australian Embassy down on The Strand. It was almost the perfect job for a young man wanting to experience the sights and sounds of London.

The work itself was mundane but what was really interesting were the people you got to meet and the aspects of human psychology that were revealed by the various cases we dealt with. I was amazed by how much money people would waste on matters which clearly had no merit. We had people coming to us with cases they were never going to win often because they were the ones in the wrong. As a lawyer there is a code of ethics you must abide by in such matters so that you don’t take money for cases that have no basis in law. But in practice there is a huge grey area and there is almost always some glimmer of merit in a case; some thing where the other person was to blame. In fact, that’s true of almost all cases. Both parties are at fault but both parties think they are wholly in the right.

I was reminded of my time at Gray’s Inn recently when an acquaintance spent tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees. It was obvious from her story that she was just as much at fault as the other person. But she thought she had been wronged and it was that grievance which led her to take legal action thinking that justice would be done. I did my best to talk her out of it explaining that the only people who win in such cases were the lawyers and that she would be far better off negotiating an end to the matter with the other person directly. But she had to learn the hard way. When it was all over, she complained of all the money she had spent even though she didn’t get “justice”. Actually, from an objective third party point of view, she did get justice as she was also to blame for what amounted to nothing more than a communication problem. As Robert Plant once sang: “Communication breakdown/It’s always the same/Having a nervous breakdown/Drive me insane.” Lawyers earn an awful lot of money because of such communication breakdowns.

One of Australia’s most famous lawyers, Geoffrey Roberston, once noted that the justice system does not guarantee justice, it only provides the possibility of justice. He needed to point that out because the average person seems to think the system does guarantee justice where “justice” means prove they are right and the other party wrong. That’s rarely possible, however, for the simple reason that there are always at least two versions of justice: yours and the other person’s. But the main reason the justice system doesn’t guarantee justice is because it would be enormously expensive to do so. In the real world, systems are set up according to cost-benefit considerations. We don’t optimise, we satisfice. This follows from the 80/20 rule which states that eighty percent of the value comes from twenty percent of the cost. Every extra percent of value after that becomes more and more expensive so that the last one percent costs more than the other ninety nine and the last 0.1% more than the other 99.9% and so on. That’s why murder cases get more resources than fraud and fraud gets more resources than traffic infringements. There are no doubt all kinds of crimes that occur every day that never get addressed because the system doesn’t have the resources to attend to them. Ideally the major crimes do get dealt with but even then there is still only the chance of justice not a guarantee.

It’s a strange fact of our culture that so few people understand this. People seem to think systems are these flawless machines that deliver a fixed result every time where the result just happens to be what they want. They think that if somebody does you wrong, the justice system will make it right. They think that if you get sick, the medical system will bring you back to perfect health. Actually, the justice system and the medical system are there as a safety net when things go wrong. The best thing you can do is avoid them. If you never have to see a lawyer or a doctor in your life you can consider yourself very fortunate. And you should try and make it so you do avoid lawyers and doctors. You can avoid the justice system, especially in business dealings, by making all expectations clear upfront and signing agreements and contracts that stipulate clearly what people are agreeing to. It’s far cheaper to get the lawyers involved at the start than at the end. Same with the medical system. Keep your health in order, eat well, exercise, practice basic hygiene and you will avoid the medical system as much as possible. That’s the best strategy. But many people seem to think that they must go to the doctor in order to be healthy even for things which are obvious lifestyle problems like high blood pressure.

No doubt there are many factors that have led us to this strange position but one that I think is a big part of the issue is that people apply the consumer mindset to such systems. The consumer economy works by providing an item that does a fixed thing for a fixed price. You buy a toaster for $30 and it cooks your toast. You buy a microwave for $150 dollars and it warms your food. Simple, linear and reliable. Of course, the consumer economy itself relies on an enormously complex system of mining, manufacturing, transport and electricity generation but all that is hidden from the consumer. With the rise of consumer society, people have learned to think in a linear, simplistic fashion. They then apply that model to domains where it doesn’t belong. They think that they can just pay a lawyer to get “justice” or a doctor to get “health”. But the legal system and the medical system are not the consumer economy. They are irreducibly systems and in systems there are no guarantees, only probabilities. They should be used as a last resort but that’s not the way that people think about them these days. Thus, the medical system and to a lesser extent the legal system have come to be seen through the consumer mindset.

When the system doesn’t deliver the desired outcome, some people blame the practitioner. Lawyers already have a low reputation for this reason but it wasn’t long ago that doctors did too. We used to call them “quacks”. My grandmother always used to say “we better get you to the quack”. Doctors and lawyers were seen as necessary evils. They didn’t guarantee you an outcome but they did guarantee that you had to pay them. Fancy offices at Gray’s Inn don’t pay for themselves after all. On current trajectory, I wouldn’t be surprised if we again start referring to doctors as quacks in the near future. That won’t be a bad thing. It will be a recognition that systems don’t guarantee outcomes, that self-responsibility is the best bet and, to use another favourite phrase of my grandmother, “life was never meant to be fair” (where “fair” means almost exactly what my acquaintance meant by “justice”).