Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Great Shark Hunt

Latest column in The Australian, in which I recall the heady days when Hong Kong was terrorised by a tiger shark and great shark hunter Vic Hislop was summoned to save the day

Shortly after taking up residence in Hong Kong in the early 1990s, I woke one morning to find Vic Hislop, notorious Australian shark hunter, in my bed. Fortunately, I was on the sofa.

He staggered out into the living room; short, stocky, smelling vaguely of stingray. Vic had just flown in from Queensland, and we had put him up for the night in the house my friends and I had rented in Sai Kung, a fishing village and expat hangout in the New Territories.

Nearby Clearwater Bay had been terrorised by a spate of shark attacks and my employer, The Hong Kong Standard newspaper, on a brilliant wheeze from my flatmate, colleague and this paper’s national chief correspondent, Hedley Thomas, hired Hislop to catch the suspected tiger shark.

Five steps to make Australia great again

Latest column in The Australian, in which I burn the midnight renewables to come up with five simple ways to make Australia great again. 

Recently I was on holidays and ventured north to my banana-bending, daylight-non-saving, cyclone-prone state of origin, the one-time hillbilly dictatorship known as Queensland. As a hard rain fell and biblical floods gathered, I spent most of my time watching television with my dad. This meant a non-stop diet of Andrew Bolt, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Latham’s Outsiders (before his latest self-immolating spontaneous combustion) and hour upon hour of question time.

And people, it got me questioning, where is the love? Where are the leaders? Between Malcolm Turnbull’s search for his inner mongrel and Bill Shorten blowing, sucking and turning his back, it was depressing stuff. We live in an age of political pygmies, paralysed in the eye of a sharknado of stupidity, self-interest and hypocrisy. My holiday passed in a blur of North Korean nukes, Trump tweets, radicalised ratbags, flash floods and gender fluids. The main climate change has been to one of fear and loathing. We the people must rise up and reclaim our nation. So I’ve been burning the midnight renewables to come up with a list of simple measures to make us great again.

What ever happened to the heroes?

Latest column in The Australian ... No more heroes anymore

It is said that a prophet is not without honour except in his own town. And in every age, heroes are beset by the slings and arrows of cowards, snipers and trolls.

It was a bad week for prophets and heroes recently. It began with the fall of a titan of free speech, the late great Bill Leak, and there is nothing I can add to the avalanche of accolades and praise and laments that followed the death of The Australian’s artist, cartoonist and satirist non pareil, save to register my disgust with the legion of online trolls, perpetually offended political correctness sticklers and armchair culture warriors who exulted in his death and danced on his grave from behind their firewalls of anonymity.

A few days later, the father of this paper’s national chief correspondent and a long-time friend, Hedley Thomas, died. Hedley Sr had been a helicopter pilot flying dangerous missions over the jungle during the Vietnam War. Before the war he had flown Sabres and Vampires. He changed to choppers after breaking his back from the infamous configuration and G-forces exerted by the ungainly fused-tail Vampires.

Hell is other passwords

Latest column in The Australian, in which I go slowly mad trying to remember lost passwords. 

To continue reading this column, please type in your password. Did that sentence just give you the heebie jeebies, the screaming meemies, the abject abdabs or provoke an incipient conniption fit?

Passwords have become the bane and precondition of modern existence, a daily exercise in memory dredging and hair-tearing, desk-pounding, expletive-laden frustration that at times can send one to the brink of an existential crisis.

Passwords, can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Without them, you can’t pass “Go” and you might go to jail. Lose them, and you could lose everything. Your finances, your secrets, your online personas, your very life and soul.

I lost all my passwords recently. Oh, I’d listened to all the experts, read the articles, was smugly self-assured that I was ahead of the password curve and doing everything humanly and digitally possible to protect myself and my treasured little snippets of gatekeeping gobbledygook. I’d recently updated all my key social media passwords. My staple had been a dead dog’s name and a series of digits (I had seven dogs and they’re all dead, hackers, and no, it wasn’t my birthday, and I’m broke anyway, so don’t waste your time).

Not particularly secure, but easy to remember. I changed them to things I thought I would remember, with digits and the requisite non-alphanumeric characters. Then I encased the lot in the digital steel of one of those safe apps, which cost me $10 or so, a hefty spend in the app world.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Songs in the key of old are easy listening

Home Truths column in The Australian, in which I advance my pet theory on music and ageing. 
For years I have advanced a pet theory whenever the conversation swings to music or ageing, or ageing music. Jason’s first law of techno dynamics states that you start to get old when you close yourself off to new music. I watched it happen to friends from as early as their 30s, with the musical shutters slamming down and them being content to wallow in their personal easy-listening golden oldies playlists, their inventories of coming-of-age anthems, getting-laid grooves and breaking-up-is-hard-to-do laments.
A jobbing DJ until recently, I made an effort to keep abreast of new sounds. Not so my mates. I would smugly note another old codger in the making as glazed eyes and bored expressions greeted my enthusiastic encomia about the latest rebirth of cool. Namechecking this left-field genius or that must-listen new album won no kudos. Ah, but let them stick a dime in their life’s jukebox, baby, and watch the flood of emotion take them over.

Donald Trump is to blame for everything

Home Truths column in The Australian, in which I realise bad luck and trouble can be laid at the feet of one tiny-handed speaker of post-truth to power. Blame Trump! 
After a 2016 of moderate to extreme suckage on both a personal and global level, 2017 dawned with a rosy optimism and a feeling that things could only get better. It was time to put to rest a year where heroes dropped like flies, zeros rose like champagne bubbles and my health and wealth barometer plunged sharply southward, and go forth into the new year and prosper.
But suddenly, in short order, everything has gone to the dogs. A blissful visit from my overseas-dwelling girlfriend was cut brutally short when her mother collapsed and was rushed to hospital for heart surgery. I was confronted with having to deal with the reality of divorce for the second time around. And then to top it all off, from a reasonably busy street outside a major shopping location in broad daylight, some bastard with a boltcutter stole my bike, the one gadget in my life that had brought some happiness and a sense of freedom (after a shaky start with a bad crash), allowing me to begin to get fit again after a bout of pneumonia.

Hang on, your call is important to us

Home Truths column in The Australian, in which I go to war with the illuminati of idiocy otherwise known as Optus. Eventually the forces of good (me) triumph over the forces of darkness (Optus). But the struggle was long and hard and somewhat sanity-sapping. 

Dear Optus,
In a previous article in this newspaper, I called you “an Illuminati of idiocy, your unblinking eye staring from a pyramid of pure stoopid”. It now appears I was too kind.
Our short and turbulent relationship began when, arriving back in the country after 25 years abroad, I acquired a prepaid mobile SIM card at the airport. Why you, Optus? Perhaps it was the slick branding, with your patriotic green and gold logo and your insistent importuning in the affirmative: Optus. Yes.
It’s not that I object to your company being owned by people from a place William Gibson famously described as Disneyland with the Death Penalty (yes, Singapore, I mean you). It’s not that on consumer websites, thousands of people seem to dislike you even more than I do, with a proliferation of “I hate Optus, worst phone company in the world” posts, or that you secretly cut broadband users’ speed, or that you broke the hearts of English Premier League fans with your pallid promises.

It's a sticky wicket once you hit 50

This column in The Australian, was meant to be a light-hearted and somewhat exaggerated look at hitting the big five-oh. But boy did I get under the skin of the 70-is-the-new-50 brigade. It was the number one read piece on The Australian's website that day, and the almost 300 comments are more entertaining and revealing than the column itself. 

In a little over a fortnight, I’ll be turning 50. And let’s be clear about this — 50 is not the new 40, or the new 30, or this season’s orange or the new black. Fifty is just 50, and it sucks. Half a century, the big five-o, call it what you will, the plain fact of the matter is, barring exceptional genetics and some luck, your life is way more than half over and there’s not much to look forward to except a long slow slide into decrepitude, forgetfulness and aching in the places where you used to play.
More people you know, and more of your heroes, start dying. You talk about the television shows and movies you grew up with, and get blank stares from younger folk (call yourself a millennial and I’ll punch you on the nose). You might still feel 21 inside, but you get out of a taxi in slow motion and you have become strangely invisible to the opposite sex (unless you are turning 50 and a squillionaire, in which case, party on, Bruce Wayne).