Monday, February 27, 2012

Mikhail Gorbachev and The Police

I have been listening to some eighties music lately. No - not hair metal or Roxette or Kylie - I mean the good stuff. I took music very seriously from about 1981 onwards. I'm not saying I was hanging out in smoky dancehalls or swapping deep cuts outside allnighter soul clubs - I was watching Countdown in the beanbag with my sisters, at home in Burnie. I was 13. But the stuff that appealed to me was almost never the stuff that was Top Ten. Some pretty far-out acts got a run on Countdown. We also used to watch Sounds Unlimited late on Saturday morning with Donny Sutherland, which was a much safer laid-back show that always seemed to have Richard Clapton on. And I believe it was the first home of Agro the puppet.

My first record was Glass Houses by Billy Joel, but soon after that I was buying Madness, Devo and Midnight Oil. In 1984 I discovered Talking Heads, and ended up owning everything they recorded (and side projects) by the time they broke up. Meanwhile Sally was the family Blondie, Cure and Culture Club fan, while Jacki was obsessed with The Police. At the time I had to pour scorn on all these try-hards, but fairly soon I was playing the girls' records when they weren't around. (Except Culture Club).

Now - the point I am labouring towards is - there is quite a strong current running through a lot of fairly mainstream 1980s music, when you listen to it now. And it's fear. No-one could really write a protest song any more like the very direct stuff of the 1960s, but just about every rock act felt the need to put into words their fear of a nuclear war. Global warming has neatly taken its place in recent times as a shared thing to fret over, but (the Maldives and Palau aside) it doesn't have the edge that a term like Mutually Assured Destruction gave the nuclear panic.

Midnight Oil made it one of their central themes. Frankie Goes To Hollywood had a very catchy dance anthem about it, Two Tribes, complete with a stagey video showing Reagan and Chernenko giving each other bloody noses. (Fun fact - Chernenko was as old as Methuselah when he succeeded to running the USSR, and only lasted five minutes, so I can date Two Tribes quite precisely).

I have just got around to buying a few key tunes (because you can do that now) from the early Police albums. Later, on Synchronicity and Ghost In The Machine the music got all prog-rock and gloomy, and Sting let his conscience-of-the-planet thing go wild. On the first few albums he was still trying to sound Jamaican with his "TCHA!" and his "yo yo yo", and the music was punchy and bright. But (and I had forgotten this) it often deals with apocalyptic imagery. Poppy but doomy.

Devo's Beautiful World was one of many, many music clips that borrowed heavily from archival Civil Defence programs on nuclear fallout, wind tunnel modelling of effects of blasts etc etc. It was a very, very pervasive theme in popular music. I was a keen collector of 7" singles, and I even have an example by Men At Work called It's A Mistake - the sleeve art shows cartoon US and Russkie generals with their thumbs on The Button. I and my fellow CND-badge-wearing earnest young people would all think to ourselves "if only Ronald Reagan and this new bloke Gorbachev would listen to Men At Work, maybe they would see some sense."
My kids have asked me lately about the Soviet Union. They are quite interested in history, and they see the name on old maps, and read about in the history of World War II. Now it's gone, and there are about a dozen -stans and the like, plus Russia, in its place. So I have given them a potted description of how that came about, which brought the whole period to mind again.

Having done that, and listened again to the music of the era, my conclusion is - thank you Mikhail Gorbachev. He was next in line after three Soviet leaders in succession expired and were slowly wheeled off to mausoleums. He could see the USSR was on the slide, and needed to make big changes to survive. He introduced market freedoms and freedom of expression in his country, and allowed travel abroad. He ended the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. As eastern Europe started to wriggle free of Communism, he refused to send Soviet troops, which would have been automatic only ten years earlier. That was a huge change.
In his 6 July 1989 speech [...] Gorbachev declared: "The social and political order in some countries changed in the past, and it can change in the future too, but this is entirely a matter for each people to decide. Any interference in the internal affairs, or any attempt to limit the sovereignty of another state, friend, ally, or another, would be inadmissible."
[...] By the end of 1989, revolts had spread from one Eastern European capital to another, ousting the regimes built in Eastern Europe after World War II. With the exception of Romania, the popular upheavals against the pro-Soviet Communist regimes were all peaceful ones. The loosening of Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe effectively ended the Cold War, and for this, Gorbachev was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold in 1989 and the Nobel Peace Prize on 15 October 1990. - Wikipedia
Above all (from my point of view in Australia), he went to talks with Ronald Reagan with a positive unilateral approach, proposing nuclear disarmament by 2000.
On 11 October 1986, Gorbachev and Reagan met in Reykjavík, Iceland to discuss reducing intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe. To the immense surprise of both men's advisers, the two agreed in principle to removing INF systems from Europe and to equal global limits of 100 INF missile warheads. They also essentially agreed in principle to eliminate all nuclear weapons in 10 years (by 1996), instead of by the year 2000 as in Gorbachev's original outline. - Wikipedia
 That's pretty huge, no? I almost feel like we should have a Gorby Day where we make an effort to remember what the world felt like before he came along.


We just had the hottest weekend in recorded Hobart history - 39° followed by 37°. Or maybe it got to 40° both days - depends how sensational you want to be about it. So I have renamed it Hotbart. Tomorrow we are expecting a top of 19, and then in no time we will back to the freezing sleet - so I don't expect Hotbart to catch on.

I have finished* the freelance job that's been keeping me up til all hours for the last 3 weeks. Finished it at 1.30am this morning, at approx 27°.

On Saturday morning before it got seriously hot, I took the boys to Little Athletics. Our involvement is nearing its end - we have agreed with the boys to skip it next summer. In any case, Michael recorded personal bests in the long jump, discus and 200 metres. Marcus did a monster discus throw of nearly 20 metres - that's a qualifier for the State Finals but you need two qualifiers, and that is the last discus competition for the season. I am just glad I was there to see it - I tend to miss a lot of Marcus's Under 10 events while I am following Michael around trying to be helpful with the Under 8s.

*Hopefully it will not come back. Hopefully.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I am busy like a beaver, like a bee, like a beluga whale - those guys are the busiest. And I have not been getting much sleep. I have been making mistakes - mostly small ones, but I got the time wrong for indoor soccer last night and we had to forfeit. I feel pretty bad about that, with all the guys missing their game. Apart from anything else its going to cost me $48.

I am doing a large freelance design job in my spare time, which has kept me up at nights. The Founders and Survivors convict history thing we are doing at my day job is getting more intense and I was there until midnight last night working on a video promo for it. We are spending nearly as much time making slick promo packages for it as we are actually making it - but they are essential because without them no-one will cough up money for us to finish it.

Some snippets of a my "digital story" are here. As well as building the whole thing (with a progammer and another designer) I am one of the 16 or so people who has been given an original song to make a clip for. I am doing it with very laborious hand-drawn animation, at the clunk-clunk-clunk low rate of 6 frames per second. Sadly I really do not like the song I've been given, and sadder still it runs to over 5 minutes. So that's about 2000 frames, and I can't afford to be too repetitive because the song got in first with that tactic.

In any case the animation is a fun job, but I am not being paid to do it over and above salary - it's just got to happen somehow while everything else still gets done. If I want it to be any good I am going to have to put my own time into it ... and I don't know if I'm prepared to do that when I don't like the song. Sigh.

The other new thing I am doing suddenly is Proper Soccer. I am now training on Thursday night, playing indoor soccer on Friday night (stuff-ups permitting) and playing outdoors on Saturday. I had my first proper Saturday game today and felt like I did quite well. I have lost a bit of weight since I've been training and am actually catching opponents when I chase them now. I am rediscovering my love for defending - I actually love the negativity. Getting in front of your opponent and getting a head or a toe or anything to the ball to stop him getting it - I dig it. We lost 2-1 though.

So - apologies for the long gaps in blogging. Sometimes real life intervenes.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

History of writing

Me: ... so until the Europeans arrived the Aborigines didn't have writing.
Michael: But Europeans didn't invent writing.
Me: No - but they carried the idea around the world on their ships.

At this point I went out to the washing line. Michael followed and delivered this from the back door.

Michael: The Europeans got it from the Romans. They got it from the Greeks, and they got it from the Egyptians. They got it from the Phoenicians and they got it from the Semites. Who got it from the Syrians.