WRITER’S BLOG: SHOULD I CONTINUE?

This is my 199th blog.  Though there is much to write and talk about (and not covid!),  I’m finding it difficult to get enthused about topics.  With limited feedback, I wonder if I should continue?  Readers, what do you think?  I’d really appreciate your views and thoughts.

The Joys of Blogging

I’ve really enjoyed my blog!  It’s given me a chance to work out my thoughts, highlight society and organisational issues I don’t think have been addressed well or appropriately, to speak out about personal issues (which I think most people seem afraid to do) and get feedback from readers that they have enjoyed it too.

Until recently, I’ve never found it difficult to find topics to write about, just making the time to write and being careful not to bombard people with issues.  I’ve found that an issue a week is about the right amount from any one writer.  When I was Sports Editor of On Dit, the Adelaide University student newspaper, I wrote a brief opinion of a sports issue every week, and enjoyed the challenge.  When I wrote for the Adelaide Advertiser on business as Head of the Graduate School of Management each month, I loved the opportunity.  I enjoy good opinion writers, such as Waleed Aly, Polly Toynbee, Ranjana Srivistava and Van Badham and they write around this frequency.

The Disappointments of Blogging

Perhaps my greatest disappointment has been that I’ve been unable to break through to get a larger audience.  I’ve often found that I wrote about an idea before other major writers picked it up, but it’s of little consolation when their opinion hits the mainstream successfully. 

The other main disappointment has been the lack of reader comments.  Actually, I’ve felt uncertain about whether I really wanted lots of feedback on each blog.  Could I handle the volume of comments and replies?  What if I was trolled?  This has turned out not to be a problem!    Surprisingly, people who do reply have agreed with my blog opinions, opinions I thought were not common.  Of course, responders may well be unrepresentative, but, like people everywhere, I’ve taken the positive comments as representative of all readers…and continued on!

A minor disappointment has been the difficulty I’ve had in promulgating the blog, as my tech skills are not great and I’ve been unwilling to engage deeply in tech to expand the potential  I’ve also eschewed pictures and videos, which I know are more powerful than words.  Perhaps this is the crucial block.

Writer’s Blog:  Temporary or Permanent?

Over the covid period, I’ve felt the focus of everyone is on right now, not the future, not bigger issues or, indeed, any other issues at all.  And I’ve doubted I’ve had anything to say that would be useful on this or other issues at this time.

Combined with Trump and Trumpism/populism, I’ve found it to be a very depressing period for advancing society positively.  Fear and fake news have dominated.  And I know that even if I write, not enough people are listening or hearing for it to make a difference.  

So reader, what do you think?  Should I continue or should I stop?  Should I try for a bigger audience (and how, as I have explored traditional channels on several occasions without success)?  Is anyone listening? Thinking?

MEMO ACCC: CAN SOMEONE STOP THIS MONOPOLIST’S MISLEADING ADVERTISING??

Tried to book some tickets for the Australian Open today, now that the details have been finalised and it finally seems that the tournament will go ahead with all the players available.  Had to book through Ticketmaster – the monopolist ticket seller.  After my shocking experience of their misleading advertising and customer service, I wonder how this behaviour can be allowed.  ACCC:  here’s a case for you to tackle.

So here’s what happened.  I was attracted firstly by the offer of AO tickets to Margaret Court Arena for $56, both in the press and on the website.  Went on to the AO website that links you into Ticketmaster automatically for ticket purchase.  I chose my day and even section of the stadium – all good so far.  Then:

  1. Tickets advertised for $56 turn out to be $145!

I went back to check.  Still advertised for $56 on earlier screens, but I see that is also the price for children (separately shown).  So I try another section of the ground, higher up, also showing $56 tickets.

2. Tickets showing ‘available’ are not available (‘Sorry’) when you try to pay for them.

I found some tickets at the very top of the section.  They were $56.  Great!  I clicked on them.  Got the message that they were not available for booking.  I tried another set of apparently available tickets in the same section.  Same message – not available.

I tried a different section where the seats were advertised (when I got to the section) for $44, probably due to being partially in the sun, but I was getting desperate.  This time I got a new message!  But still a ‘No’ – ‘you haven’t left two seats clear.  Please choose again’.  Actually, there were only 4 seats available – next to each other – and so this was not even possible.

‘Yarra Valley Classic’ Ticket Booking Experience

Disappointed, I tried to book tickets for one of the 6 warm-up tournaments being held this week.  At least I’d get to see some of the players.  Tickets were advertised on the website for $20 for adults and $5 for kids.  I chose the Yarra Valley Classic, as Ash Barty was to play in this one.

3.  ‘No search results for this event’

Searching on the Ticketmaster site initially revealed the message ‘no search results for this event’.  Rather odd, since it starts today…

I found another way to search by going to ‘Tennis’ within the Ticketmaster site…and all 6 tournaments popped up!  Great!  So I tried to book 2 tickets on a week day… and got the following outcome.

4. Ticket offer of $165!

For this tournament, I could not search for a section and was offered specific seats (front row Section 2!) with no other choice at $165!!.  As this was nothing like what I was looking for, I gave up at this point.

The Ticketmaster Monopoly Needs to be Challenged

I’ve had lots of problems with Ticketmaster over the years, but increasingly they seem to be the monopoly provider of tickets to major events.  Customers have little alternative choice.  As well, Ticketmaster generally charges outrageous commissions on credit cards, when this is almost the only way to book.

Actually, if the monopolist actually delivers the service at the stated price, I don’t mind.  But – and I have found this previously in trying to book tickets with Ticketmaster – you get directed to more expensive tickets, given limited time to make a decision, and feel ‘lucky’ to have survived the experience. 

In today’s experience, Ticketmaster:

  • misled me on the price I would have to pay
  • offered me seats which were not available
  • did not even have a proper link to the tournament beginning today
  • gave me no ticket choice for this tournament
  • offered me an outrageously priced ticket for what is, in effect, a practice event.

ACCC, where are you?  Surely I’m not the only one complaining about Ticketmaster.  Consumers are desperate to see this once-a-year event (as are most of the Ticketmaster events) and Ticketmaster is taking advantage of us.  Time to stop them.  Help!

2021: GLIMPSES OF UTOPIA

About 15 years ago, I wrote an article called ‘2020:  A Vision of the Future’ to provide a view of what life might be like if we followed environmentally sustainable practices.  The article wasn’t published, though it turned out to be reasonably accurate, but for households only.

Jess Scully’s new book, ‘Glimpses of Utopia’, shows us many examples from all over the world that exhibit new practices currently available for making our world more sustainable and more designed for people, rather than for organisations and profits.  It’s an amazing book that deserves a wide audience.  To encourage you, here are some of the main points.

Key Elements of ‘Utopia’

Scully is Deputy CEO of the City of Sydney, which is seeking to use more community-oriented and sustainable practices.  She argues that ‘Utopia’ for people requires:

  • Access to work
  • Access to green space
  • Good transport
  • Good education
  • Lack of crime
  • Affordable housing
  • A life with meaning, purpose, where potential can be achieved

In a society:    

  • Which is peaceful
  • Where resources are shared and
  • All work is honoured equally

From these criteria, she argues that the following areas need to be addressed:

  • Upgrading political systems, processes and values
  • Work that rewards humans (not organisations)
  • Recouping public investments
  • Reforming financial systems
  • Restoring the ‘commons’ (public resources and assets)
  • Rethinking house building and land valuation

It’s a daunting list, but under each heading she gives practical examples of how these issues are being addressed by different groups and governments all over the world.  They are impressive.

  1. Upgrading political systems, processes and values

Essentially, she argues that decisionmaking should be decentralised, opened up and made transparent, using modern technology.  Examples from Taiwan, Belgium, Argentina, Iceland, Chile and the US show how change comes from bottom-up groups pressuring politicians.   Processes such as participatory budgeting, citizen juries, spending local and online forums help involve more, different voices, using online tech to improve access, speed and efficiency.

2. Redesigning the world of work for humans

She argues we need to shift jobs focus towards ‘care’ (personal services) jobs, which employ many more people now and which provide what individuals need, away from ‘hard’ infrastructure (one-off) jobs, which sound good, but whose benefits are unclear.  Noting the huge increase in part-time ‘precarious’ jobs, she supports the Universal Basic Income concept, but believes it should be about providing Universal Basic Services (what people need, not money).

She notes that the Australian government supports people in jobs from school to retirement, leaving gaps at both ends.  She argues for government-run childcare (recalling the disaster of listed company ABC Learning in this field), fo the formalisation of domestic work and for proper, civilised aged care (the book was written before the aged care disaster from covid), consistent with a society built for people, not profit.

3. Recouping public investment

Scully notes that much public sector R&D (eg universities) is converted to private sector profits through start-up IPOs – social risk taking, but private profitmaking.  She believes governments should take stakes in such startups to recoup their early investment.  

She argues that organisations should pay tax!  The Panama Papers showed how corporations manipulate country tax systems, but emerging country-by-country reporting could change this. 

For efficient administration, she proposes a 0.01% financial transactions tax, a digital services tax and suggests that pollution and resource use should also have financial returns to the government/public to compensate for the private profit/society cost misalignment.

4. Reforming finance

She observes that money/banking has gone from a tool of trade, helping a business, to a profitmaking activity in its own right, where the profits of large financial institutions do not return to the local community.  She supports the development of community banking and a number of very radical financial arrangements emerging to reduce or change the profits from the banking/financial process (eg blockchain, Islamic lending, peer lending).

5. Restoring the ‘commons’

Air, public land, sun, wind, earth, water and data are some essential ‘commons’ elements that enable people to live.  As public ‘common’ goods, they should not be privatised.  She focusses on the emerging issue of the private capture of data management, highlighting this as a future issue of a utopian world. 

6. Restructuring house building and land valuation

Cities are for people, but housing prices and land valuations from alternative uses (by corporations primarily) are making it very difficult for most people to afford to live in city centres.  She argues for mixed living communities – people from all walks of life and incomes living together – so everyone is aware of issues for the whole society, unlike on gated communities and slums.

She provides many examples of housing clubs, innovative architecture for building design, different land valuation processes and community land trusts as possible models for better future management of housing and land valuation for better society benefit.

2021:  Glimpses of Utopia?

The value of the book is in the breadth of ideas – with currently working examples from all over the world – that can be used to improve the spread of benefits more equally across our society…if we want to improve our societies.  I was surprised at her failure to directly address environment issues however, which my old article had promoted. 

2020 covid showed us how unequally benefits are currently distributed, how much some have suffered (eg aged care, precarious workers, domestic violence, apartment dwellers, hospitality, travel, transport industries) while others have benefitted greatly (eg IT industries, online businesses, office-based jobs, retirees, share investors, regional areas).

As 2021 begins, we have the opportunity to make major changes to the societies we live in…or go back towards the old ‘normal’, so clearly revealed to be failing us.  What will we do? 

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS POST-COVID LOCKDOWN

With Victoria at zero cases for over 30 days now, Australia with zero cases excluding international travel and an odd outbreak, being out of lockdown and free to travel outside Melbourne, we drove to NSW to experience a change of scenery…and to put money into the bushfire-hit towns.  Before we left, I reflected on what I had gained from the (8 month) covid period, what I had missed and how I wanted to live my life as a result of this traumatic period.

Covid Positives

8 months sounds long…but WW2 lasted 6 years…and that followed the Depression, which didn’t really end till the war arrived some 10 years later.  We’ve had it easy.  And, with a large house, our own garden, beautiful suburbs, family close by, good technology, good health, lots of friends and interests, we had it much easier than most.  Also, attacking life, being positive, helps to see that there were many positives from this period, for me at least.  They include:

  1. Improving My Tech Use and Using It.

Spotify, Netflix, Stan, iView, Facetime, Zoom, apps, Google and YouTube have made so many possibilities available.  I now use Spotify for my morning exercise routine and  Netflix, Stan and iView for streaming series.  Not radical, but a big change for my life.  Facetime, Zoom, Whatsapp and Google Meet have enabled friend and organisation conversations more than before, with Facetime by far the best for me and Zoom great for multi-member conversations.

I’m not a big app user, but Trickster for bridge with friends and croquis café for life drawing have offered new opportunities for enjoying these activities.

Overall, these elements of technology, plus my willingness to engage in new options, have made significant positive changes to the patterns of my life, and I want them to continue.

2. A Slower Pace of Life

Our lives were ‘busy’.  We liked it that way.  But covid slowed us down, showed us what we valued and what we didn’t. 

Observing nature in our home, in our area, has provided much greater joy than previously (we loved it, but didn’t have the time to appreciate it).  Seeing each day, week, month, season unfold, observing and enjoying the changes, has given us as much joy as if we were travelling to new and different landscapes.

Taking time to cook and prepare food instead of just rushing a meal to get to another event or activity has meant we’ve enjoyed food even more than if we were eating out.  We haven’t had the people to converse with over meals, but we’ve enjoyed reflecting ourselves on the flows of the days and weeks.

Walking – critical for daily exercise – enabled us to enjoy others’ local gardens and parks.  Cycling – which I took up again last year for the Great Vic Bike Ride – has become a regular weekly activity.  It provides a different experience from walking, but you still appreciate the small details.  Who’d have thought I’d be a bike rider at 70…

FOMO’s departure is also positive.  In fact, so few people are doing anything interesting or different, that the reverse is true – FONH.  Fear of Nothing Happening.  Mostly conversations have been around covid, covid and covid.  Enough.  The climate emergency is more important.

3. Buying Less

Never a great shopper, I haven’t missed the lack of retail.  In fact, I’ve enjoyed it!  I don’t even miss the coffees that seem so critical to everyone else’s life.  I don’t want much retail to return…except Bunnings, Gazman and a few others.

Covid Negatives

  1. No Travel to Different Landscapes

Nice though it has been to stay at home, I have missed travel.  The travel I like is to walks and views in landscapes, not to cities or man-made building.  We jumped in June when we opened up prematurely and had 2 lovely weeks in the country.  We have returned from a similar week at NSW beaches.  I can handle being limited to travel within Australia.  I don’t ‘need’ to travel internationally any more (I’ve been lucky already).  But I do feel a ‘need’ to travel somewhere to see and experience different landscapes.

2, No Experience of Live Sport

I’ve enjoyed watching lots of live sport on TV, especially on our new large TV.  But I do miss going to games – basketball, football, tennis, athletics, golf and more.  There’s something different about being there.

3. No Brainwork

Strictly, this is an age issue, not a covid issue.  But the lack of organisation operations, the lack of focus on virtually any social or political issue unrelated to covid has been a real downer for me.  I can’t just sit and enjoy life, friends and family.  To me, there’s much more to life than acceptance and bread and circuses.  I need brainwork.

4. No Arts Experiences

Pre-covid, we had a full life of arts experiences – movies, theatres, music, writing, festivals, galleries and more.  Most arts organisations seemed either reactive or lacking the skills to provide online offerings.  Exceptions were the UK’s National Theatre Live, an Australian comedy stream and odd other events, notably (for me) Sydney Dance Company.  I’ve had mixed feelings about this.  I haven’t missed many ‘average’ events, but I’ve really missed those events which led to challenging and thoughtful discussions about the event – the performance, the acting, the playing, the writing, the idea, the innovation.  In a slower life, I still crave some art, but I don’t want as much as before.  I plan to choose more carefully…but that’s difficult when you have to buy before review or for a one-off event.  I know what I missed.  I know who reached out to me.  I’ll choose with more care.

Now…

I plan a slower life, carrying forward the new positive activities and skills.  This requires dropping other events.  I’ve found myself carefully thinking now, ‘Do I want to do this and why?’  The crunch will come when I have to say ‘No’ to ‘normal’ pre-covid activities or events.  We’ll see!

WHAT IF WE STOPPED TRADING WITH CHINA…?

It’s clear that China has chosen to bully Australia in 2020.  Australia has been outspoken in criticising China over many issues (Uyghurs, Hong Kong, Huawei, espionage, Confucius Institutes, mistreating Australian journalists, claiming international islands in the South China Sea, Belt and Road Initiative) and has also appeared to be a henchman for US foreign policy.  Using the Chinese proverb, ‘Kill one, scare 100’, now China has responded by bans and tariffs on all sorts of exports, using Australia’s treatment also to scare other countries. 

Clearly China is a much stronger economic power than Australia.  But, rather than give in on important ethical and moral issues (though we have so many problems ourselves, we can hardly take the high ground), what might happen if – instead – we tried to live without Chinese exports or imports.  What if we stopped trading with China?

Main Export Casualties:  Iron Ore, Gas, Coal, Agriculture, Education, Tourism, Wine

Minerals exports worth $80bn dominate our exports to China.  Agriculture ($14bn), Education ($12bn), tourism ($11bn) are other major exports, with wine at $3bn.  Exports to China represent 30% of all students at our universities, 25% of agriculture exports, and is also our main tourism and wine export market.

Main Import Losses:  IT and Telecom Goods, Furniture, Homewares, Clothing

By comparison, we import less from China, but the product range is very large, covering mostly elaborately transformed manufactured goods.  IT and telecom products ($21bn) are the main imports, followed by home and office furniture and homewares including electrical goods.  Surprisingly, clothing is not listed as a major item, though clearly much of our clothing does come from China.

What If We Stopped Importing from China?

As a retaliation, at first, this would seem to be catastrophic.  But, as covid has shown us, crises lead to great innovation. There is now a real desire for more local sourcing, as we have become aware of our vulnerability from global suppliers and as unemployment has soared. 

We used to be a major manufacturer.  Covid showed we could quickly manufacture again (plastics, PPE, vaccines).  Yes, it would be more expensive, but we would be employing Australians, re-skilling and becoming less dependent. 

Alternatively, we could find new sources.  Other Asian countries are low cost providers and Europe have always provided quality.  As prices increased, we would buy less, reducing our consumption, improving our environmental performance (less resource use, less waste, less carbon emissions, less transport kms) and our balance of trade simultaneously.

Though it would be painful and take time, there are other suppliers of all the goods we need and we are capable of supplying most products locally, if we are prepared to pay.

What if We Stopped Exporting to China?

Our few major mining companies (BHP, Rio Tinto, Fortescue) would take a big cut in short-term revenue, but they actually employ relatively few people, so few jobs would be lost.  These products can also be stockpiled, so sales might only be deferred, if new markets could be found.

Agriculture would be more problematic, as products have shorter lives, but even these could be stockpiled for a year or more, while seeking new markets.  (Remember the great wool and wheat stockpiles of late last century?)  New markets could emerge quickly, as China’s favoured suppliers could be replace in their old markets, albeit perhaps at lower margins. 

Much of the wine going to China has been lower quality lower margin wine (the pictures of Grange Hermitage are nice, but this is not the main market).  Wine can also be stored, so short term lost sales may return in later periods, especially if new markets (India?  Asia? New wealth segments?) can be developed.

Our education industry would have huge revenue losses too, but more local students could be enrolled and diversified marketing might attract a more diversified student mix than currently exists, with Chinese students dominating.  Reduced international student numbers might also lead to improved quality, as many short cuts have been taken to enrol marginal high fee paying students.  Teaching jobs would be lost, but many of these would be part-time or casual tutors.  The 2020 covid experience showed the system could survive a huge operational upheaval.  Online teaching might also increase new international opportunities.

Tourism from China has grown rapidly, but much has been run by Chinese-based operators on Chinese-only group tours arriving on Chinese airlines, providing little economic value to Australia.  In the short term, covid restrictions on international travel mean Australians will replace internationals travelling Australia so our ‘import’ costs (Australians travelling overseas) are reduced and replaced by similar spending within Australia, boosting local tourism, counteracting the fall of international travel.  The loss of Chinese travellers (or any other specific nationality) is not catastrophic overall.

The Outcomes?  Bad for China!

Clearly a complete ‘sanction’ on trading with China would be extremely disruptive.  Equally clearly, we have the means to replace imported products and diversification of exports is also possible, albeit with some time lags. 

A more likely long-term outcome is that China is creating the seeds of its own power demise.  Bullying one country leads others to be more wary.  Future Chinese exports will be jeopardised through perceived increased political risks.  China will be viewed as an untrustworthy trading partner, reducing its future economic and political power. 

China seems too smart to continue down this track for long.  Standing up to China will be perceived well and, after robust negotiations, China will back down on most demands.  Worse for China, never will we trust it again, as we have over recent years.  And our economy and society will be the better for it in the long run (this applies to being dependent on any other country, not just China).

THANK YOU, NICOLA GOBBO. YOU HELPED JUSTICE IN VICTORIA.

Disgraced by the community, recently disbarred by the legal profession and now excoriated by a Royal Commission into her adventures in the Victorian justice system, we should – instead – be thanking Nicola Gobbo for her great community service in helping to jail many major Victorian criminals.

What Nicola Did

Let’s be clear.  I don’t like Nicola’s basic line of work, her friends or her style.  She defended some of Victoria’s worst criminals, even when she knew they were guilty.  She befriended many known criminals, partied hard with them and also – it seems –  with the police!   

But, without Nicola providing police with information from her clients or their acquaintances, major criminals like Tony Mokbel, Carl Williams and many others (up to 1,000 cases are said to be impacted) would not have been convicted.  We all cheered when the Victoria Police Purana task force successfully prosecuted criminals and put an end to the gangland wars in Victoria.  Now the Royal Commission findings threaten to release known criminals and tarnish the careers of those brave police who took them on, and found a way to convict them.  The cases were not trumped up.  But the manner in which the evidence was gathered was outside the ethical norms of the legal system, by both Gobbo and Purana.

Do We Want Law Enforcement or Justice?

I believe that, if a person is guilty of a crime, they should plead guilty, not be defended and waste valuable taxpayer’s money on unnecessary court cases.  That would be true ‘justice’…but of course the ‘law’ doesn’t work for justice, only for a debated result between lawyers and judges.

By contrast, even priests are now required to report confidential revealed confidentially about sexual harassment to the police.  Teachers are required to notify social workers of children who they think may be being abused.  In each case, this is for the perceived greater good of the society – that possible criminal behaviour is picked up early and stopped.  We expect the truth to come out.  So why should police not be able to receive information from defence lawyers that a criminal act has occurred??  Is it ‘justice’ we want or merely ‘law enforcement’?

The Legal System is the Real Problem

Perhaps the real problem is the legal system, not informants (called whistleblowers in other industries…).  Society wants and expects justice, not legal or political shenanigans.  If the legal system was really interested in delivering ‘justice’ (the Victorian department is called the ‘Department of Justice’), getting correct, truthful information – by any reasonable means – would be supported.  Instead, under the guise of ‘legal ethics’, the system is tearing apart an unlikely Victorian hero, who has done more than most to improve our society.  Once again the whistleblower is shafted, while the society and the system reaps the benefit.

What Am I Missing?

Why is no one – no one – prepared to speak up for Nicola?  Why are they not speaking up for the Victorian Police, who stopped the gangland war?  Surely the greater good justifies the actions they took.  A travesty is being committed by the legal system in our name.

STREET LIBRARIES: DO THEY WORK?

 

My community street library has been operating successfully for around 3 months now.  Here’s what I’ve learned about how to make them work.

1.Consider your motivation and how large you want the library to be.

I started my library, partly to share books I thought were excellent, but didn’t want to keep just sitting on my shelf, and partly as a way to recycle our many children’s books which are no longer needed. 

I didn’t give size much thought.  I had a friend who liked building in wood, but you can order a wide range of ready-made ones.  Mine is quite small (holds about 15 books) and doesn’t really take large (A4 type) books, which children’s books often are.  Mine only has one shelf.  I’d chose a larger one if I did it again, for flexibility, possibly even with two shelves.

2. Start the library with your own books.

You will certainly have many books around that you don’t really need, so that’s a very good place to start.  But be prepared for them to disappear, never seen again.  This is not a ‘return’ library necessarily!

3. People seem to like light entertainment adult books more than good literature or reality.

Many of my books failed to move!  Award-winning authors such as Christos Tsialkos and Bryce Courtenay, biographies, business books and my own authored books didn’t move.  Children’s books weren’t replaced (a size issue?).

4. The library needs to be monitored for slow movers.

Each day I look at the selection and it changes every day, though I never observe anyone taking or depositing books!  I estimate the books change over completely (including my removals) within 2-3 weeks.  But, in a small library, slow movers clog the shelf and limit attractiveness.  So I remove slow movers back inside and replace them with others.  I want people to see significant new selections on offer each week. 

5. Rotating books between street libraries seems to work.

I’ve found three other street libraries close by.  Now, I take my slow movers to them and take what I think my library users will like.  It seems to work both ways, as I find my books gone from the other libraries when next I visit.

6. I find few books I want to read personally!

It wasn’t my purpose to find new books for myself…and I haven’t!  I’ve tried a few and read a couple.  I’m excited when I do find one I like, but I’m more excited that the library seems to be genuinely serving a community need.

7. Regrets?

Apart from the small physical size and the ego hurt that people don’t like my choices of books, my only regret is I never hear from anyone that they like it, or chat with anyone about the books they’ve chosen.  But the turnover makes it clear that there is a regular clientele.  Books come and go.  That makes me happy.

THE ENIGMA OF BODIES

Why are we so scared of bodies, of our own skin?

Perceptions of Bodies at Different Ages

A child has no fear or shame for its body.  We laugh at their natural nakedness.  And they are happily naked…until they are told something that makes them embarrassed – usually about their genitals or urinating.  Suddenly, they fear being seen in certain states or places.

A young person goes to the beach and takes most of their clothes off to publicly bathe in the warmth of the sun.  A boy goes topless without thinking, stripping to his one piece shorts.  But woe betide he should wear only his boxer shorts or, worse still, his speedo undies.  A girl covers her breasts and usually wears a two-piece swimming costume.  Woe betide she should wear her underwear instead, even though it might cover more skin.  Often skimpier is better for girls, whereas boys prefer long-legged ‘shorts’, rather like basketball uniforms.  Go figure.

Adults are expected to wear ‘decent’ clothing in public, though individual views of ‘decent’ vary greatly by age, religion, sex, fashion and the weather.  Yet, if we are about to have sex, mostly we want to rip our clothes off as quickly as we can.

But having sex in public open space is strongly discouraged and can even be illegal.  We get embarrassed to see people passionately kissing, let alone actually having consensual sex.  Yet sex is one of the greatest joys of life and it’s not dangerous!

I Like Bodies

I like bodies.  I like them unclothed, though, even being a life drawer  (meaning drawing people without clothes), it’s often a bit contextually embarrassing when seeing a real naked body. We aren’t sure where to look…because we are somehow ashamed or embarrassed by genitalia, bums or breasts. 

But bodies are us!  We come in all shapes and sizes.  If we were more accustomed to seeing naked bodies – like Swedes are with mixed saunas (always naked) or Germans (very matter of fact, rational) – we might worry about them – and our own body – much less. 

Life drawing models are themselves enigmatic about their bodies.  Happily naked during a pose, they rapidly cover up till the next pose.  Why?  We’ve seen everything they have.  They weren’t embarrassed then.  Is it the asymmetrical nature of the class – we have clothes and they don’t? 

Notably, when people do naked art gallery views, naked swimming, naked yoga, naked camping, the embarrassment about bodies disappears very rapidly.  The body just ‘is’. I love drawings or photos of naked people.  Yet, while we happily stare, admire and praise them in an ‘art’ gallery, seeing them being drawn, we seem to retreat to embarrassment.

From my limited experience, swimming naked is a much more sensual experience than normal swimming.  Sunbathing and exercising naked are similar.  When we walked naked from the Swedish sauna to cool off in the sea past some public people, it was initially embarrassing but, as our hosts weren’t embarrassed, why should we be…so we weren’t.

So What’s the Problem?

‘We’ are the problem. People. In general.  People who react inappropriately – smirking, frowning, turning away.   People who are themselves embarrassed.  People who make fun of the unclothed, whether because the naked are perceived to be beautiful or ugly, young or old.  And once it’s happened to you, you don’t want to repeat the experience.  So you put clothes on.

What To Do?

First, we should try to treat bodies as ordinary, normal, regardless of their actual shape, age or sex.  We all have one!  A naked body is no different from a clothed one.  No need to stare, to ridicule, or even to admire (though this is harder to ignore – such a beautiful sight)

Second, we should try to encourage nakedness in society.  It breaks down barriers.  Allow people to experiment with nakedness, become more comfortable with it.  Evidence suggests people become more confident about their own body and enjoy the activity more when they are naked!  Encourage naked exercise sessions, swimming, yoga, art gallery, theatre, whatever, at least in closed sessions.   

Third, remove naked actions (eg streakers, stripping) from being legal offences.  Take the shock element out of it and it will vanish! 

How much better that we have too much nakedness, too much of our own bodies, and much less war, guns and violence.  Make love, not war.

COVID CONTRADICTIONS IN MELBOURNE: I’M ANGRY

I’m angry and frustrated.  After 8 weeks of hard lockdown, which followed 4 weeks of significant lockdown, finally – yesterday – restrictions were ‘eased’.  But so limited are the changes, and so full of contradictions, with another 3 weeks before anything else happens, it’s very depressing.

The ‘Easing’ of Restrictions

So, with average case numbers down to around 15 a day, a 14 day average of 25 (against a target range of 30-50), very few community transmissions, here are the generous ‘easing’s:

  • No curfew (no justification was ever given for this anyway)
  • Up to 5 people from 2 families can gather outside  (previously 3)
  • Childcare to resume without permits (previously only certain ‘essential’ people)
  • Personal training for groups of up to two participants
  • Garden maintenance services
  • Outdoor swimming in pools
  • In-home childminding allowed for all
  • Dentists can resume non-urgent work (previously urgent only)

All within an unchanged 5km distance from home, and an unchanged 2 hours outside for exercise.

The Current Situation

Almost all daily cases are related to existing clusters.  Most of these cases relate to aged care homes and/or health workers.  We are rarely given the specific information of how many unknown community transmission cases occur, even though this is the main target for future easing.  Yesterday, there was only 1 – yes, only 1 – community transmission case.  There were apparently 31 over the last 14 days (the next target is less than 5 for a 14-day period…).

Most postcodes have zero cases.  Only a few council areas have more than 10 active cases.  In any country or area of the world (except possibly New Zealand, Taiwan and a few others with small populations), Melbourne would be a shining star.  Yet we continue to be treated as if we are criminals, with heavy fines for violations of the rules.

Contradictions in the ‘Easing’

  • If swimming is allowed, why not outdoor sports, such as tennis, golf and cricket (where players are rarely near each other at all)?
  • Why can’t we drive to larger outdoor parks and gardens for exercise?
  • If physios and dentists are operating, why isn’t hairdressing allowed?
  • Why can’t large, well ventilated retail stores, such as Bunnings, Target, Kmart which have good covid track records, open?
  • If builders and maintenance workers can go, why can’t people travel to holiday houses for maintenance (the fridge hasn’t been opened for 6 months…), if they observed the same rules there?
  • Why can’t cyclists cycle further than 5 kms from home (that’s about 15 mins or less for a reasonable cyclist)?

I’m sure there are lots more contradictions you can think of.  There have been lots with every set of new rules, which seem to change every few days.

What is the Government’s Aim Now?

In the first wave, the aim was to ensure the hospital system wasn’t overwhelmed, though this was rarely made explicit.  In the second wave, due to slow decisionmaking, covid almost got away from us.  Fear that this might happen again seems to be driving the current extremely cautious policy ‘easings’, though no one seems too sure what the ‘policy’ is. 

Implicitly it seems the real policy aim is to reach zero cases, as the rest of Australia has reached (more or less, excluding international travel quarantine cases).  If that is the aim, why not state it?  Why state ‘less than 5 community transmissions in a 14 day period’ (and why that level (scientifically speaking)?

Why Am I Angry?

I’m angry for lots of reasons.  Angry, because the government was too slow in getting control of the second wave.  Angry more, because it refused to admit it did anything wrong, and seemed unwilling to learn from its mistakes.  Angry, because the hard lockdown rules have been left in place too long (decisonmaking too slow again).  Angry, because for all the stated stakeholder consultations, the government doesn’t seem to be listening to those who are most affected.  And angry because, when the ‘easing’ has finally arrived, it’s so minimal for most people, it again fails to offer the hope and motivation that could so easily have been offered (decisionmaking too slow yet again!).

Hopefully, we the people will save ourselves.  We’ll act better and get better results and eventually force ‘our’ government to reward us.  But for now, it’s back to Netflix, Zoom and gardening.

THE PERSONAL JOYS OF COVID: RETHINKING ‘LOCKDOWN’

Melbourne will soon come out of a very restrictive 12 weeks of covid ‘lockdown’.  As I begin to wonder what ‘escaping’ to a ‘new normal’ life might look like, I’ve realised there have been many personal joys during this period, despite the restrictions.  I’ve wondered whether I will be able to hang on to or maintain these joys, or will they be lost in the ‘new normal’.

Some Personal Joys

I acknowledge first that I have been very lucky during this period.  I have a loving partner to share the pain with.  I don’t have to worry about money.  I have a large house with a big garden and green space.  I have a beautiful area to exercise in.  I have not lost my job.  I have lots of friends, all visually accessible by Facetime.  I have good technology assets, and (almost) adequate skills to access the vast available technological array.  We’ve been able to continue grandchild minding and some consequent personal family contact.  And, perhaps most important of all, I’m healthy.  So I start from a very privileged position. The

Everyone’s personal experience will be different, but I suspect each person has actually has found some unexpected joys during this period.  For me, they include:

  • Enjoying online activities – bridge, choir, webinars, podcasts.

Online bridge with good friends (here and overseas!) has been an excellent substitute for weekly bridge club sessions.  It’s a miracle that the choir has managed to engage its large community twice- weekly by adapting technologically, but it has and done it amazingly well.

Previously I had no time for daytime webinars (mainly using the new Zoom tech) or podcasts.  I was too ‘busy’.  Now I’ve listened to people and ideas I would not have known existed.  And I can now tap into this vast ideas reservoir, should I need it more in the future.

  • Accessing Netflix, Stan and Spotify for entertainment.

With no live theatre, cinema or music to attend, home electronic entertainment became important.  While ABC and SBS still provide significant value, some programs on Netflix and Stan have been valuable additions to my evening enjoyment (and I’ve had a lot of evenings to fill!) while Spotify helps my morning exercises.

  • Binge-watching major sporting events I would not normally ‘allow’ myself to watch.

I’ve been watching 2-5 hours of sport daily!  But these are events I’d always have loved to watch, but rarely had the time.  NBA basketball finals, US Open tennis, Tour de France, netball (yes, really!), rugby league (yes really since they changed the rules) and football (dropping down the list, due to the crazy and confused rules) have all been attractive and are mostly one-offs.  I hope I don’t find myself doing this once we are ‘free’, but it has been a wonderful opportunity to splurge on something I love.

  • Helping the local community.

Random acts of kindness – making cordial and cake, offering mulch, starting a street library for neighbours and looking after their children – have contributed to a closer street neighbourhood.  I‘ve also volunteered my brain to two large organisations and managed to assist both in a variety of tasks important to them.  I’ve found engaging my brain really gives me pleasure.

  • Appreciating the daily changes in the natural world.

Not travelling almost anywhere for 6 months is a new experience.  So I’ve seen and greatly enjoyed  – daily – the seasonal garden changes from autumn, winter and now spring.  Our garden also acts as part of a large suburban aviary, as many bird types swoop in for food, drink, a bath, a forage or a rest.  I also enjoy all the local flowers on exercise walks…and some overhanging or neglected ones seem to fall into my carry bag, bringing special extra joy.

  • Having time to enjoy daily activities/events.

With a limited daily schedule, each activity takes on extra importance.  Exercises, a Zoom, a knock on the door, a phone call are all major events now.  It’s surprising how much joy each of these can bring.  Even supermarket shopping is new entertainment (I don’t think this will last!). 

  • Falling deeper in love with my partner.

Spending much more time close together and already being deeply in love, this has been a surprise, after almost 50 years together.  But I appreciate her qualities even more and we are more considerate of each other.  As the ‘end’ for us draws closer, we appreciate how lucky we are to still have each other.

Which Joys Will I Take into the ‘New Normal’?

Technology skills and access will stay, along with a stronger local community.  A slower pace and enjoyment of ‘local’ will be there, if I want it.  But I do feel I have much unused energy in lockdown, so I’m sure there will be more on my schedule in any ‘new normal’.  The trick will be to avoid being overwhelmed by ‘busyness’, so that joy can be gained from everything I decide to do.  I’ve still got plenty of ‘free’ time to think about that!