What’s all that about?

I have read my final Preston Institute post and decided it needs to be deconstructed and critiqued, like I usually do to others.  That voice I will do in italics.

Firstly – Apologies for the overly earnest opening. Really, this is a pretty self indulgent opening.

As I read news and retweet it out there into the ether as Preston Towers, I realise I don’t have the passion for the news and politics of Australia that I once possessed. Preston remains as a conduit of news for others, but the me behind it is just meh.  The same goes for this blog.

What is a blog anyway? Just a bunch of thoughts. It still blows my mind that thousands would read one of my posts. Thousands.  But honestly, I can’t think of anything else to say on this blog, which started off as a bad joke related to the activities of Gerard “Gringotts” Henderson.

This is why I have gone back to my first ever post, which was a firestorm of responses to contemporary, mundane, mediocre politics.

Geez that was woeful.  So much energy wasted on talking about Queensland. Queensland! That place that actually cares about rugby league.

I’ve also gone back to the way I introduced the blog, which was as follows:

By the way… Why The Preston Institute?

People of the outer suburbs have had many people talking about us – even Gerard Henderson in the Herald purports to speak about “Western Sydney” (here’s a quick precis from Loon Pond ), he speaks as someone who would be much too scared to walk through Penrith Plaza or sit on the beanbags at the Mt. Druitt Halfpipe Cinema.  Gerard, of course, for those who don’t know, is the Executive Director of the Sydney Institute.

Hence, I speak to you as Preston Towers, Executive Director of the Preston Institute. The Preston Institute will sit somewhere between the Sydney Institute, which appears to be a supper club for rich and powerful people listen to a revolving list of reactionary conservatives railing against the “elites” while tucking into their Confit of Suffolk lamb loin with smoked white carrot cream, fennel infused milk curd, Pantelleria capers, nasturtiums, green almonds and fennel pollen; and the Ponds Institute, which is a secretive place dedicated to keeping us all clean and young looking.  Hence, I will rail against elites while cleaning up things – all of which is dedicated to making you all young looking.

Looking back at it now, the shapes of this blog were all there. Bad Dad jokes, references to Gerard Henderson, Western Sydney.

That dinner sounds delicious, by the way.  Imagine being up yourself that much to accept an invite to the Sydney Institute. I would just laugh the whole night. But then I’d think of my father and realise that I was just being a wanker.

After all this time, nothing much has changed in the relationship between the outer and the inner of our cities.  To this day, the young and the funky of Sydney dream of a mention by that sour old irrelevancy in his Friday Rant.

This is true. New Sydney Push members on Twitter celebrating being published in that thing. I bet they crowed long and loud down at their pubs that Friday night.  Thing is, those specific members of the Push will never be as well known as Henderson.  That irony is quite the thing.

This is because, despite his mediocrity and faux intellectual chatter and approach to politics, Henderson is still an undeserved fixture in our media. Plus, his weird, anachronistic Institute stands as a symbol of Sydney, a rotten, conservative rathole of a place filled with old white people concerned about their investment portfolios and property values.

My dislike for Sydney is a constant theme in the blog and on Twitter. But I like the pretty and grungy bits of that dysfunctional dystopian hellscape. And there’s beautiful people in it. And then there’s completely selfish bastards who are obsessed with money.

My level of interest in politics now is summed up when I read Laurie Oakes and his ilk praising Pauline Hanson as a “sophisticated political operator”. I just roll my eyes these days, they still don’t get it.

Can’t blame them, I guess. Can’t be easy to work for commercial media organisations. So many compromises and silences to be done in the face of corporate owners and lawyers. Worse still, there’s us nobodies on Twitter and blogging, sniping at them for their mistakes. Didn’t happen in the good old days. 

Hanson is no different, just perhaps more cunning and has hired cynical deal makers like James Ashby.  Hanson and her type are already well known in the outer suburbs. They are the ignorant, the fearful and the troubled, people confused by today and see election days as a chance to register their protest vote.  Included in their number are the racists, the bigots and all the rest.

Back to the earnest prognostications. Truth is, I mostly encounter Hansonites during election campaigns, on the pages of local papers, election days or briefly as FB friends. Or, bizarrely, at a super expensive wine tasting day, where uber rich white bastards were saying how wonderful Hanson was for “speaking her mind” about Muslims. I’m glad I was rotten drunk at the time, because getting into a fight was probably not advisable. 

Add to that the uncritical breakfast TV watcher, who saw all the free TV time given to her by producers who like to snigger after she’s on, especially after having read the snarky tweets and Buzzfeed posts about “You won’t believe what Pauline said today”.

And why wouldn’t you.  Australian politics is damn boring to the average TV watcher. Just watch Insiders through the eyes of the average punter. They wouldn’t last a minute – except maybe in Talking Pictures, which is the best 5 minutes of political TV any given week. Also, Mike Bowers is one bloke I have met in the journo sphere, and is one of its best people. Jack the Insider is also a good bloke for a Carlton supporter.

But the views have gone out there. In that, it is fair to compare the rise of Hanson, TV celebrity as a small scale version of Trump.  On that same account, it is also fair to equate the rise of Facebook and its creation of echo chambers with the increased exposure of Hanson’s “whinge of the week”.

Fair, but also a pretty long bow. But hey, why not do the take that throws Trump into things. It should be easy to write a decent Trump Take.  People voted Trump because loads of Americans are stupid enough to be sucked into the greatest scam of the modern age. 

The thing about Hanson’s supporters, though, is that they crave being accepted and “listened to” by the mainstream, those in power.  And they continue to be shunned and ignored in almost every single thing written and said about them.  The only pieces I have seen that in any way get Hanson’s appeal is this superb piece by Bridie Jabour, as opposed to Margo Kingston’s piece, which starts promisingly, but then lapses into poor journo generalisations about “most ordinary Australians”.  But that’s it.

One of the best things about my blogging / tweeting is meeting some lovely, warm, genuine people. Bridie is one of them.  With Bridie, I can say I’m pretty biased about her work – but she is definitely one of those who get regional Australia. Margo, however, is one of the most patronising people I’ve encountered on Twitter. 

But also, this thing about being craved and listened to is something I share. I was flattered to get noticed for a brief time there. Who wouldn’t be? I’m just some teacher in a suburban school. But I know it’s time I returned to being That Bloke again.

The reality of Hanson is that she does what she has always done – scream about inequality and then beam when she is welcomed into the rooms of power.  That isn’t sophistication, what gets her into that room is the fear engendered in the Coalition by having so many One Nation Senators.  In addition, she will get played by the Government, who will give ground on minor things in order to get through legislation that will hurt Hanson’s voters and long term, Hanson’s popularity with those voters.   And because most press gallery journalists have next to no idea or genuine interest about people in regional areas and their concerns, they will continue to misread Hanson and her inability to think strategically daily.

Meh. Let’s see. This is more earnest bullshit I’m not sure even I fully believe. 

But none of that matters all that much, in the collection of molehills that is our political landscape.  In the landscape, the press gallery are the stenographers of our daily miasma.  They seem to me to resemble Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern endlessly discussing the flipping of a coin.

Bloody English teacher, putting in a Stoppard reference. And I’m possibly being a bit rough on the journalists. I’m not Andrew Elder, who does get genuinely white hot in his loathing of them. I just see people trying to do their best and being in a profession where now punters get to throw rotten fruit at them in the public square. Some deserve it, others don’t.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that kind of thing as a profession – we don’t need the looming treacherous mountain ranges that have now appeared in the US.

Bloody English teacher, damn metaphors.

There’s also nothing overly wrong with the coverage from a number of the journalists working on politics. They are in the bubble, gatekeepers looking in, not out. It’s hard to get in and most don’t show any interest in leaving that – and why would they. Speaking as someone who works in one of the most insular and bubblicious professions – teaching -I deal with such attitudes daily. It’s the compromise people undertake who want to make a decent living.

And blogging / tweeting provided a bit of escape from those binds. But that’s wearing thin after this many years.  A bit like this self critique, which is boring me now.

But in all honesty, I have given up caring about the advocacy of outer suburban voices in the media space.  The illusion of access to the media by Twitter and blogging was seductive, pointless and has distracted me – and honestly, inflated my ego – for far too long.   That’s why this possible probable final post is needed, no matter how much of a conflict I will feel as I walk away from blogging.

This has been, despite a fair few disappointments, an excellent experience for the most part – I was flattered by the lovely things said about my posts – when people read them – as well as my experience with Ausvotes / Ausopinion. Its founder, Paula Matthewson still daunts me with her volume of work in the opinion stakes.

And I’ve still not met Paula – she still owes me a beer or three. And, oh wait, here’s some more self indulgent quoting from Stoppard.  It’s been fun talking in this meta way. Laters.

But… I have found after all this time that I really should be doing other things. Perhaps write more about sport – more Footy Almanac things, rekindling my interest in writing about education, maybe a classical music blog.  Or maybe just… silence.

GUIL (retiring): I’m relieved. At least we can still count on self-interest as a predictable factor… I suppose it’s the last to go. Your capacity for trust made me wonder if perhaps… you, alone…(He turns on ROS suddenly, reaches out a hand.) Touch.

(ROS claps his hand. GUIL pulls him up to him.)

GUIL: (More intensely): We have been spinning coins together since – (He releases him almost as violently.) This is not the first time we spun coins!

ROS: Oh no – we’ve been spinning coins for as long as I remember.

GUIL: How long is that?

ROS: I forget. Mind you – eighty-five times!

GUIL: Yes?

ROS: It’ll take some time beating, I imagine.

GUIL: Is that what you imagine? Is that it? No fear?

ROS: Fear?

GUIL (in fury – flings a coin on the ground): Fear! The crack that might flood your brain with light!

ROS: Heads… (He puts it in his bag.)


Why is it so hard to understand Trump?

There’s been a lot of stuff said about the victory of Donald Trump.

A Lot. Of Stuff.  Here’s more. I promise it’s gunna be short.

But – this wasn’t a win for “Anti-Politics” or whatever shitpuffin expression used by people pretending to be outside the “political class”. We have seen this before.  Trump was just a front man with a new way of selling old manure.

I was surprised like most people that Trump won. I trusted the polls, the media coverage, the “surely no-one sensible would vote for that loon”, but didn’t realise that the media in the US have as little to no idea of how people think and act outside inner city zones as most Australian media.

The whole “surely people won’t vote Trump” sounded a bit familiar. Like it was 2013 and an onion eating fool with little to offer but negativity and “I’m not those guys who have done little for you” in a campaign.

Also familiar was this piece of advertising that was not commented on all that much in the lead up to the election. Maybe because it wasn’t weird enough, not filled with the anti-bank conspiracy guff that also emerged.


Pretty simple messaging. There’s no “heat of the moment” Trump here, no racist Twitter frog megaphones abusing journalists, just a simple message to those people hurting in the states clinging to an industrial and mining past that the Democrats and Republicans largely ignored in previous campaigns.  There’s little difference between such an ad and this one from 2013. cwjgq4wvyaeq3z4

And this simple, negative campaign stuff works if there’s some kind of dissatisfaction. If the political system is perceived to have not helped those outside the inner suburban areas of their nations, people get pissed off and they tip out the incumbents.  Also, American voters have this strange instinct to not help a President change things by voting for their opposition two years later.   There’s also the tradition of voters rarely granting the Democrats another president after they have had two terms to fix things. This is a political cycle in action.

Sure, Trump dogwhistled (and frankly, just whistled) to racists throughout the campaign, gained the support of a bunch of deplorable cockroaches from under the floorboards of the rickety American house of civil debate. And we saw his other disgusting personal qualities also came to the surface. All of that happened with Abbott too, all the way through from the time he took over as opposition leader.

But putting aside personal weirdness and disgraceful behaviour towards women – as voters have managed to do with both men, to the lasting disgust of many of us – both managed one big “success” – to undermine the way politics used to be done in their countries – Abbott with his relentless lies, negativity and lack of respect for the way politics was done in Canberra.  Trump did pretty much that same job – and it was easy to do against such an establishment candidate like Clinton.  It wasn’t hard to characterise her as “part of the problem”.

However, all these points seem to evade people who seem to think that West Wing isn’t as fanciful as a Doctor Who episode.

Yes, this will be a dreadful time for so many people. But right now it doesn’t seem massively different to my childhood, which was filled with the image of a completely clueless buffoon in Ronald Reagan lumbering around the White House, seemingly hanging out for his next nap while it seemed George H.W. Bush and various other murky characters ran things. It was that time where my general disinterest in daily US Politics took hold.  Studying the history of US and the world at uni just made me see even more clearly how the US prized their isolationism at a primal level.   And now that instinct has a vocal champion.

Trump is going to be awful and is bringing in awful people in a variety of positions. But this isn’t “anti-politics”. As we can see with the early cabinet appointments, it’s politics as usual, with the frontman bringing in new voters for the Republican machine. Trump sold the message that he’s different, but that was pure image bullshit, like Malcolm Turnbull’s Q and A leather jacket.  Sure, he’s also brought in a few loose wingnuts like Bannon inside, but if Bannon wants to bring in his weird Lenin style beliefs, he will quickly find the hard heads shutting that down. They will be saying “hmmmmm” to Bannon whilst they bring back all their machinery dedicated to repression and bringing their reactionary hammers to all sorts of progressive reforms. Cause that’s what the Republicans do.