Posts Tagged “Society”
Well, for Australia tomorrow is it. The time we’ve been waiting for. A federal election.
And it’s been reminding me of the last federal election - exactly three years ago, and long before Covid changed everything. It was called “The Climate Change Election” - and yet it returned to power a government with terrible climate credentials.
With Covid changing our lives in so many ways, perhaps it’s not surprising that it enters our dreams. I’ve certainly had some interesting dreams over the last two years: There have been public gatherings, coughing and sneezing, masks, injections - and even scarlet fever.
In 2020, Covid-induced work from home allowed me to see more sunsets than usual. In 2021, I added some sunrises to the mix (it turns out that, like sunsets, sunrises can be slightly addictive - though they’re still too early in the morning). So what better way to mark the transition to 2022 than watching the final sunset of 2021, and the first sunrise of 2022?
“The world envies us”. Ever heard these words?
Here in Australia they’ve often been rolled out by politicians to excuse failures: Yes, we might not have got it perfect, but we’re still doing better than the rest of the world. And there’s some truth to the words, but there’s also a lot of complacency - past success is not a guarantee of future success, and we can’t expect Australia to be immune to what other countries are experiencing.
Last year, Covid hit and made 2020 an exceptionally unpopular year. At that time, I feel like we heard a lot about “returning to normal”. Maybe this would happen later in 2020, maybe it was for 2021, but it was going to be sometime in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, Australia was (largely) CovidFree and we were told the world envied our freedoms.
Fast forward to mid-2021, there were major outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne, over half the population of Australia were in lockdown, and the message had changed to “living with Covid”. Other countries were managing it (which perhaps gave them a break from envying us), so why couldn’t we? Vaccination targets were established for re-opening, the vaccination program was sped up, and both NSW and Victoria are now officially “living with Covid”.
The politicians have been out in full force for months selling it. But what exactly is being sold?
This time last week, we were still in lockdown, with our curfew continuing to apply right up to midnight. We’d been told that we weren’t going to have a UK-style “Freedom Day” where all restrictions were ended at once - and we didn’t. But somehow the “70% fully vaccinated” target morphed into a moral obligation to the people of Victoria, and so we got a “Freedom Midnight”.
It was a big deal. A time to celebrate. It was supposed to be the end of lockdown. Not just the end of the lockdown Melbourne had been in since August, but the end of lockdowns in Victoria forever.
So how better to celebrate it than a moonlit walk?
Here in Melbourne, today is officially the last day of lockdown. With the highest total number of days in lockdown due to Covid, we’ve been declared the “lockdown capital” of the world. This has included six lockdowns, three short and three long.
Recently, as restrictions have eased slightly, I’ve been reflecting how lockdowns shrink my world, and how that then affects me when coming out of a lockdown. It can be a conscious effort to choose to go to places or do activities that I would have gone to and done without a second thought in 2019.
Six months ago, I wrote about a year of working from home. At the time, things were going well in Melbourne. Since our long lockdown we’d largely had the great summer we were promised. There had been a couple of scares, including a five-day lockdown, but most mask requirements were gone, we were able to have 100% capacity at the office, and were planning to return to full-time in mid-April.
Well, that lasted around six weeks, before lockdown #4 struck. There were a few opportunities to return to the office in June and July, but since mid-July it’s been back to working from home again.
So I wanted to talk about a (non-)typical week: Last week. A week in which I admired cygnets, saw deer, was chased by chickens, discovered a WikiLeaks bus, and even managed to get some work done.
For months now I’ve heard the narrative - presented with all the nuance that Twitter encourages - that calling a snap 3 - 5 day lockdown is the one infallible way to defeat a Covid outbreak. That led directly to claims that the current situation in Sydney (and NSW more generally) is largely due to them defying this orthodoxy for political reasons. And yet here I am in Melbourne, nearly three weeks into a lockdown that did all the right things and still has no end in sight.
This time last year, when Melbourne was in its second lockdown and case numbers were taking off, I heard a number of people asking why the numbers were still going up. The same is true of Sydney right now, which has been in lockdown for three weeks. People are scared and looking for someone to blame, and harmful narratives build.
Yesterday at lunch time I was out walking in my local area, and I saw some colourful autumn trees that I’d seen last year. In fact, I’d seen them on the day I first discovered my local bear hunt, shortly after transitioning to working from home for the first time ever. At the time our first lockdown was approaching, there was a lot of uncertainty, and I could never have guessed all the things that would happen over the next year.
Yesterday was also the day when my company announced plans to return to full-time office work within the next few weeks. And so, with that chapter coming to something of a close, I got to reflecting on a year past and all that I’d experienced and discovered and become.
Covid-19 restrictions were a cynical attempt by Democrats to undermine Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. No need to live in fear. It wasn’t really dangerous - it was just like the flu. And it would go away after the election anyway.
That’s what we were told. Guess what? It hasn’t gone away. Instead, this kind of rhetoric in the US has undermined public trust, brought partisan politics into efforts to control the spread, and left a body count.
Last week, I went to a concert for the first time in nearly a year. Indoors, no less, and with masks. And in 2019 that wouldn’t have been a significant event, but coming now it got me thinking about hope.
Near the end of March last year, as I was walking near my house, I saw a small, blue teddy bear hanging by a peg from a log. At the time I wasn’t to know it was part of the Bear Hunt movement, intended to entertain children with school closures and lockdown approaching. Nor did I know that I would end up visiting Bear Hunts in all weather and taking hundreds of photos of a wide variety of soft toys.
With the Covid-19 pandemic changing the world, it was only a few months in to 2020 that people were calling it the worst year ever. By the middle of 2020, this meant some writing off the year, then acting as if everything would be magically back to normal in 2021.
Well, as I write this, it’s 2021 here in Australia, and if anything the situation looks worse than it did a week ago. So I wanted to share a carol I wrote for 2020 (with apologies to Christmas).
It is said that our Northern Hemisphere ancestors were familiar only with white swans. When they sat round the fire talking about the swans they had seen, there was no need to specify the colour: The mere concept of a black swan was absurd.
However, sometimes these things are a matter of perspective. I happen to come from a land Down Under where Christmas is in summer, where mothers hop around with their young in a pouch, where spiny mammals lay eggs, and where the swans are most distinctly black. And so it was many years before I first saw a white swan.
Covid-19 has completely changed our world, and we don’t know how long the disruptions will last or what will come next. When people talk about living during a “historic moment”, this is what they’re talking about.
So I wanted to record some of my personal impressions, starting from the time when the novel coronavirus felt like a distant problem affecting other people, not something which would change my life.
Like the rest of the world, what I’ve been writing about has changed as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But I didn’t expect that would mean writing in defence of my favourite bat colony.
Melbourne is privileged to have a colony of flying foxes in a park by the Yarra close to the city. However, some residents have been worried by the risk of disease, so their MP has called for the colony to be moved on or culled. I don’t think anything is likely to come of it, but I still have strong feelings about it.
Two weeks ago it was International Women’s Day, and I was part of a large crowd from many countries watching the final of the Women’s Twenty20 World Cup 2020 at the MCG. Promoters, players, and fans alike were eyeing the record book, and #FillTheMCG had been trending on social media. Unlike England, Australia had been fortunate to qualify in a rain-hit semi-final, and were facing India in hope of a home title and a chance to confirm their dominance over women’s cricket.
It all seems so distant now: Australia have banned crowds over 100 and enforced social distancing, there is a blanket “Do not travel” warning for foreign travel, the borders are closed to outsiders, residents returning from overseas must self-isolate for fourteen days, and I myself have been in isolation with a mild fever (probably not Covid-19). As a result, I’ve been a little hesitant to write about it, but I think it’s worth remembering.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, when men first walked on the moon. You might have heard about it - it got far more attention than the anniversary of Apollo 8 orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve.
The anniversary was actually back in July, and at the time I attended various anniversary events and started writing, but somehow couldn’t figure out exactly what I wanted to say. Now it’s the end of the year, and, ready or not, here I come!
Last week, I went along to a local church’s Christmas play. Usually, it’s just a bit of fun for the children. I expected to hear claims about the True Meaning of Christmas, and was not disappointed (my take).
However, this time the superlatives were out. The Christmas story was “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. Baby Jesus was “The Greatest Gift Ever Given”. And this was all completely free, with no strings attached.
Last year saw the release of the film First Man, chronicling Neil Armstrong’s personal journey to the moon. Personally, I really enjoyed it.
However, it came in for some criticism for not including the planting of the US flag on the moon. I’d like to discuss why I think that criticism was misguided, but also to discuss what placing the flag on the moon really meant.
Recently, I was reading Brené Brown talking about the importance both of civility and of speaking truth to power. I think it’s important to be able to treat our ideological enemies as charitably as those we agree with. And on that note, I’ve seen a couple of Donald Trump’s tweets uncharitably interpreted in the last few weeks, and I’m sure there are more.
Alan Turing is something of a patron saint for my field. He is also well-known for his prosecution for homosexuality, and his more recent pardon. So when I saw that my local theatre was performing Breaking the Code, a 1986 play about his life, I made sure I went along. I expected to be both moved and upset by the treatment he received, and I was.
On Christmas Eve, 1968 - fifty years ago today - the Apollo 8 went into orbit around the moon. The three astronauts inside it were the first humans to leave the direct gravitational influence of the Earth, the first to orbit the moon, and the first to look back on the entire Earth. Understandably, it has since been overshadowed by the first moon landing seven months later - but it’s still an incredibly impressive achievement.
Last year, the common wisdom was that 2016 had been a terrible year, with one major factor being the deaths of various celebrities. Earlier this year, I discussed this in connection with long-dead celebrities, suggesting that we had forgotten how much life expectancy has improved in modern times. But my first thought was “2016 has to have been a lot better than 1916”.
Here in Australia, it’s Christmas time. The houses sport Christmas lights, the streets have Christmas decorations, and the shops are filled with busy shoppers buying gifts or completing their Christmas preparations.
But, in among the many Christmas traditions, one religion claims to have the true meaning of Christmas: A true meaning that has little to do with all the bustle and confusion. In past years, I made this claim myself. But how does it measure up?
After a protracted negotiating period, Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association have been unable to come to an agreement over a new Memorandum of Understanding. This means that, as of last Saturday, the majority of Australia’s cricketers are unemployed, including some of the best players in the world. And given the polarised nature of the dispute, with both sides questioning the good faith of the other side and doubling down on their own position, it seems unlikely it will be resolved soon.
In the current pay dispute I would say the public has been fairly supportive of the players. But one comment that sometimes comes up is how much they are paid. To some commenters, they should be playing for the honour of representing their country, and just agree to the terms offered and get back to entertaining us. And certainly headline figures suggests sports stars are making far more than the average layman. Is it too much? Is it unfair?
As a proud member of the Dandenong Ranges community, I have the right to look down on others. And all it takes is a short walk to put me in a position to do so. The grand vista, the pure mountain air, the absolutely natural gravel and asphalt paths: everything testifies to my superior position as I look down on the mortals below. Up here, I am free and surrounded by views. Down there is a flat plain stretching out to the city, with the occasional bump pretending to be a hill. And doubtless that plain is filled with countless humans scurrying back and forth like ants on whatever minor projects occupy them.
This experience of looking down on others got me to thinking about hill-climbing, about seeking views, about linguistics, and about comparing ourselves with others.
OK, now I know how unfairly I have been privileged in gaining the education which allows me to write this blog in tolerable English. It was all due to my parents’ reprehensible practice of reading to me at bedtime, which I should forthwith adjure and abominate.
(yes, that may seem like click-bait - but there’s some serious analysis here).
Last weekend I was in the Victorian Alps, and saw clearly the effects of technology. Yesterday, I spoke of the wonder of technology, but cautioned that it can be used for harm as well as for good. Today, I want to speak of some of the harm I saw.
The main history of the area is gold mining. The town I stayed in (Harrietville) was a gold mining town, and in fact still has two operating mines 150 years later. Some of the other towns I visited were also established in the gold rush era. Now they host tourists in the summer and seekers after snow in the winter, but the legacy of man’s frantic search for gold is still visible.
I learned today that Alan Simpson, co-writer of Hancock’s Half Hour with Ray Galton, died a couple of weeks ago.
Hancock’s Half Hour was one of the earliest sitcoms and is one of my favourite comedy programs. I continue to listen to it, despite knowing many of the events at 23 Railway Cuttings and around East Cheam by heart. Perhaps it shows my love of old(er) things: The show started on radio over 60 years ago, and finished on TV more than 50 years ago.
At the end of 2016, the common wisdom was that it was a terrible year. I’ve given it a month to settle, and I haven’t seen too many people retract that judgement.
As far as I can tell, 2016 was condemned for two reasons:
- Certain celebrities died.
- Unpopular political changes were made.