Off Their Faces


Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021

An old friend* has been banned from Facebook. It’s not a temporary ban, of the sort the platform’s annoying algorithms and equally irritating geeks might mete out to people who fail to genuflect to the Great Cursor, or who post something Zuckerberg geeks deem disrespectful, like saying someone’s an idiot for being an idiot. It’s an all-time ban, or so it seems to my friend, who of course cannot find a human in the Facebook galaxy of the Meta universe – most likely there aren’t any, at least of a recognisable variety – to speak to about the ban.

His problem is that someone hacked his Facebook account so that a restart with updated passwords and the other impedimenta of virtual life was necessary. We’ve all been there, so we all know how irritating it is, and all wish that the Zuckerberg crew would spend more time and make more effort on providing online security and less on policing moral and other turpitudes as defined by Silly Cone Valley.

So, it should be easy, even if it’s a pest, to revive one’s virtual life on one’s choice of virtual platform. And it would be for my old friend, except that when he originally set up his Facebook account, he did what a lot of people do. He took a few years off his birth date. He did so for very sensible reasons. Who wants to targeted by algorithm-driven advertisements for little blue pills that claim they’ll (re)make a man of you, or for incontinence underwear, after all? Or to be directed to someone else’s assumptions about your musical and other tastes defined by your age? Most of us are perfectly capable of running our lives without the intervention of nerds, especially of the Californian variety.

I’m a little older than my old friend who is now in trouble because he’s lied to Facebook, but I’ve never bothered – on Facebook – to trim my age. If people can’t cope with the fact that I’ll be 77 just after Christmas, that’s their problem. I just ignore advertisements or ill-disguised sales pitches that don’t interest me. I’m sure a lot of people do. I admit to having shaved my age on some other platforms – in one instance, on a music streaming service, by twenty years, so I don’t get directed to the top pops of the 1940s and 1950s – but Facebook, well, I just try to leave the little geeks to their own devices, and to get on with my life as unmolested as possible.

According to my friend, Facebook won’t allow him to restart his account with a birth date that is different from the fictional version he concocted. They prove, yet again, that it really should be called Off Your Facebook.

He blogs too, my friend, and has been in the habit of posting his material on Facebook as well. I do that, to spread the word. I’ve told my old friend I’ll happily put his blog posts on my Facebook, even if I don’t agree with what they say, which sometimes I don’t, while he’s waiting for a flash of light from the heavens, or for Mark Zuckerberg to wake up.

*I know who my old friend is. No one else needs to, in this context. Especially the Zuckerberg storm troopers and their foolishly weaponised algorithms.

Fortunes of War

ARTS | Books and Films

Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021

We’re watching Fortunes of War, the 1987 BBC dramatization of Olivia Manning’s Balkan and Levantine trilogies. I should say, we’re re-watching it – on YouTube – three years since first doing so, al fresco, on a laptop computer lounging in the evening heat on our pool terrace in Bali. I’m also re-reading the book itself, having found it again in Port Douglas in August. Manning’s representation of events in the wartime Balkans and later Egypt and Palestine had always struck me as masterly; so unexpectedly finding the book was nearly as much fun as rediscovering Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, another achievement of our winter escape from the southwest of WA. 

Generally, in relation to filmed adaptions of literature, I’m one of those annoying people who either like the book or the show, but never both. I’m happy to break ranks with myself on that, in this case. The TV series – only seven episodes, each of them riveting – is as faithful to the original text as seems possible, given the different milieus, and that is truly a joy in this instance, since the historical facts both fully underpin the book and the TV series, and shouldn’t be messed with. Another pedantry to which I happily plead guilty.

It is surprising (to me at any rate) how similar are one’s subconscious constructs of both the book’s text and the TV series’ dramatization. Re-reading a book always reveals more between its lines each time, however often it is read. Revisiting a film does the same. It’s always fun spotting the differences you detect between readings or viewings.

Guy and Harriet Pringle, in the book, test the mind’s eye. It may help that reading if you have had some close to direct experience yourself of the lives and times of which the book is a mirror. In my case this was the shambolic just-post-imperial Middle East and the bitter lemons of the Levant a decade after Manning’s narrative. It’s very English (I mean this as opposed to British, a distinction that is too often overlooked or misunderstood).

In the TV series, Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson are magnificently cast. Thompson’s Harriet is a tad more outré in her approach to her new husband and his coat-trail of connections than Manning’s original creation. Branagh’s pedant-Marxist English lecturer academic is just as frustrating as you’d expect, in both the book and the series, especially perhaps in his stage production of Troilus and Cressida in Bucharest while the war presses in ever closer to doomed Romania.

I didn’t think that in the TV series Ronald Pickup was quite as believable as Prince Yakimov as that awful Russian émigré, wastrel, glutton and scrounger was in the book. That’s not a criticism of Pickup, who portrays the seedy hopelessness and social distress of his subject very well; it’s just that, in a sense, Yakimov is the hardest character in the book to translate to a visual medium. 

The film has one other thing that sets it apart from the book, as a sensory experience. The theme music, by Richard Holmes, is brilliantly skin-tingling, fully evocative of everything that the story tells.

Do Yourself a Favour, Gladys

Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021

I have some sympathy for former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, as, I think, would many people who implicitly understand that no one is perfect, least of all themselves. She did the right thing – eventually – when the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) named her as a person of interest requiring investigation. She resigned as premier and said she would leave state politics. Ethically, she had no option but to fall upon her sword. Taking personal responsibility comes with leadership. That’s something a lot of so-called leaders should think about.

Berejiklian erred in letting the known serial gouger, former state member for Wagga Wagga Daryl Maguire, into her private life. She was state treasurer at the time and Maguire was – as always – sniffing around for political favour and public money. He embodies the word grub, both politically and personally. She was mad not to disclose to her ministerial colleagues her personal relationship with Maguire. That was straight-out dereliction of duty by an elected official. She was daft not to say “WTF!” when Maguire told her things about his schemes to acquire wealth and influence at public expense, opting instead to tell him there were things she didn’t need to know about.

But she took the fall that was the inevitable outcome of this astonishing public negligence, and she is due credit for her courage in doing so.

Now prime minister Scott Morrison wants her to run for federal parliament in the conservative blue-ribbon seat of Warringah, won in 2019 by the independent Zali Steggall, who saw off former prime minister Tony Abbott who’d been there since 1994. The Liberals are desperate to retain-and-or-regain seats they see as their natural turf in the election that must be held by June 2022. The sky will fall in, d’you see, if they lose office. It won’t, of course. Most Australians, however they generally vote or plan to next time, understand that perfectly well.

Morrison, who is a living lesson in the problems of the Peter principle and whose grasp of ethics is as notional as his grip on verisimilitude, says the ICAC investigation of Berejiklian is a stitch-up, and that most people don’t really care what she did with or to whom, while in office in NSW. Neither does he see any difficulty with getting Berejiklian endorsed as the Liberal candidate in Warringah ahead of the ICAC decision in her case. He doesn’t like independent inquiries into allegations of corruption, as we know. That’s why there isn’t a federal ICAC. It would be too close to home.

Berejiklian should do herself, and everyone, a favour. There’s only one answer she can give Morrison: No.