Monday, February 28, 2011

She jests at Oscars that never felt a wound

A family torn apart - Kodakotype by Pants

This year, the Question Why and I approach the Oscars with more than a smidge of sadness, for our little family is at war. Those of you who have been with us for a while, (and you have our sympathies for that), will be aware that our erstwhile owly-cat was developing ideas far estranged from his appointed station. It was only a matter of time before Barney would venture beyond his various oligarchical interests and into the world of show (off) business. We cannot comment further on Barney's Version as the matter is now sub judice. We can say, however, that The Pants Rebuttal is in pre-production and looking for investors. In addition, we are not best pleased with having to make our own eggs Vladivostok and fix our own drinks. We can only hope the judge takes that into account.

But we are troupers and we prime ourselves for Hollywood's fright of frights with domestic chardonnay, the memory of last year's atrocities still alarmingly fresh. Doogie Howser trying to sing. To paraphrase Nora Barnacle - Doogie should have stuck to keyhole surgery*. Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin trying to get along and be funny at the same time - like trying to chew gum and swallow it simultaneously. And those weird, acrobatic representations of the Best Picture nominations. I can clearly remember 'he who is now dead to us' saying at the time that he thought powerful hallucinogenics must have been involved. For the life of me I can't recall whether he was referring to the them or us. No matter.

It's a new year and a new batch of films and, well, quite a lot of them are good. We never forget that good films often make for tremendously bumptious ceremony and are licking our lips in anticipation. We find it remarkable that people who are trained, honed and paid several fortunes to speak, seem unable to when called upon to do it in front of an audience. It isn't difficult to work out why films cost so much to make once you've watched a couple of DVD featurettes though. Clearly, they're painstakingly assembled word by word from exhausted actors who've been woken at 3am, spent eight hours in makeup having various prosthetics attached, and then arrived on set only to expire after gasping out a couple of incoherent sentences.

A few minutes into the red carpet preamble, the Question Why and I start to feel uneasy. Something's wrong. No one is wearing anything even vaguely sniggery. No guffaw hair or lol bling either. We are already clawing for amusement potential. Is Mark Ruffalo really married to a woman called Sunrise? Her dress isn't brilliant, but it's no way Sarah Jessica Parker. Sandra Bullock's frock comes with its own padded seat but the front is gorgeous and she's so gracious and charming, that we can't contemplate finding mirth there. As Wimbledon veterans, we know only too well the value of a little padding when you have to sit and watch the same people doing the same thing for hours on end. Cate Blanchett's wearing a very elaborate pincushion. Perhaps she's got a quilt on the go. Where's SJP? We've got candyfloss withdrawal already.

And then it gets worse. The opening sequence, a montage of the nominated films splicing hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco into an imagined narrative, supposedly dreamt by Alec Baldwin, is genius. Alec Baldwin is the Hollywood miracle. You can forget your Mickey Rourkes and your Jeff Bridgeses. Alec Baldwin, like William Shatner before him, embraced and exploited his own caricature, turning a tank into a bank. The most fleeting appearance of Alec Baldwin now brings with it a virtual canon of cultural knowing. And finally, finally someone at Oscar HQ has worked out that movie people might prefer to contribute some of their CGI know-how to the party rather than squirm helplessly in their seats as they watch their movies represented in dance and mime.

The Question Why and I are initially elated but very quickly disturbed. What are we going to blog about? Normal service appears to resume after the montage culminates in a triumphant Back to the Future segue that transports our hosts into Kodak Theatre. Five minutes of asinine pantomime banter between Hathaways and Francos, younger and elder appears to be setting the world to rights. We are only halfway through tuning our critical forks, and then it all changes again. We haven't even had the chance to work out whether or not there's a joke in James Franco's Nana thinking she recognises a fanciable Marky Mark. Just to clarify, we do know that was meant to be a joke. But we are only interested in the joke about the joke. The jury is in the bar and ordering doubles on that one.

The award for Cinematography gives us an early opportunity for giggles. Wally Pfister (what a funny name, chuckle, chuckle), arrives to collect his award for Inception wearing an interesting (tee-hee) tiara,

Kodakotype by Pants

We laugh until we realise we are hungry (approximately 0.5 seconds). We have to admit it, we miss Barney's cordon bleu catering. We can toast with chardonnay but we can't as easily chardonnay with toast, if you know what we mean. It is with a certain amount of spite that we begin to hope that Barney's Version is as roundly snubbed as we feel right now.

Kirk Douglas hobbles into frame, having been described as 'a living legend' but looking more like he has escaped from the obits sequence. He appears to be a living, er, cadaver. Astonishingly, he is nearly coherent, and almost funny. And not that embarrassing, considering.

We are just thinking what is wrong with Hollywood when, Melissa Leo arrives to remind us of
where we are,

Kodakotype by Pants

Accepting her Best Supporting Actress Award, Leo says, and we quote in delirious verbatim,

'When I watched Kate [Winslet, presumably] two years ago, it looked so fuckin' easy'.

They bleep it in America but aren't so quick here in Australia, where we get the full joy of the first ever Oscarfuckutterance at 1pm. The Question Why and I are not flustered as we have heard the cuntutterance on The Book Show already today before lunch even, and not for the first time. But then Leo, seemingly oblivious to, or maybe empowered by her groundbreaking addition to the Oscars nomenclature commenced to yell, then cry, then yell again and wave her Oscar about madly and proclaim, 'It's about selling motion pictures and respecting the work.' In other words, an each way bet.

Shaun Tan wins Best Animated Short for The Lost Thing. We love him and hope he does as well as Adam Elliot, whom we also love. Toy Story 3 wins for Best Animated Feature, kicking off a slew of sure-thing announcements. The King's Speech. The Social Network. The King's Speech, etc. We fidget with our toast soldiers, catapulting bits of our substandard eggs Vladivostok at each other and bickering over whose turn it is to get another bottle of chardonnay. Russell Brand and Helen Mirren are funny, and sweet.

Kodakotype by Pants

Okay, bored now. No frock fright. Where is SJP? No one drunk or stoned or suffering from a discernible mental illness. What is going on? 'Are we the only scallywags left on the planet?' posits the Question Why. Apparently. Then, blessed relief. Enter Oprah,

Kodakotype by Pants

... dressed as a bowling-ball bag.

Then it's back to Decorum Central. Anne Hathaway sings a little spoof aimed at Hugh Jackman, who, it seems, should have been up there with her. He appears none too thrilled to be chastised but an actual scowl would have been nice. He's obviously still feeling a little sheepish after his own atrocity of a routine two years ago. What? They're demonstrating judgement now? Where will this all end?

Hathaway continues to arrive onstage in a series of what we can only describe as 'gowns'. This is actual finery as opposed to some pinched queen's idea of spiteful humiliation. The poise, the elegance. It's all too much. What were all the ill-advisers doing this year? (Don't worry, it'll look great on. It's amazing what a little Blu-Tack can do). They can't all have rushed to Colonel Gaddafi's sartorial aid.Where is SJP?

A medley of songs, arranged sumptuously for orchestra. A genuinely clever musical mash-up turning bits of dialogue into song. The Question Why and I are in uncharted waters here. We are having to resort to to supplement our vocabulary which, it must be said, has not been compiled for tasks beyond ridicule. We think what we are witnessing might be dignified, sophisticated even. And then we realise with horror that what we are seeing here is actually tasteful. We're not sure that this is even legal, which is why we've come to the conclusion that Barney is somehow implicated.

We can only hope against hope that sanity will prevail and the Best Actor and Actress announcements will be preceded by interminable, hideously gushing testimonials from a selection of previous winners like last year's which left us gagging on our vodkamisu. No such luck. Short. Tasteful. Appallingly so. This is like watching a theatreful of Roger Federers.

And then, a grand finale of statements of the painfully obvious. The King's Speech. Natalie Portman. Colin Firth. The King's Speech. The edges of our seats remain conspicuously under-occupied. We aren't watching next year, not unless SJP is in every movie.

*Nora Barnacle apparently announced, on the publication of husband James Joyce's Ulysses, 'Jimmy should have stuck to singing'.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Freedom - just another word for nowhere else to go?

Escaping from a bad book by Pants

During the Christmas holiday I made a third, unsuccessful attempt to read The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen's acclaimed book of ten years ago. It's rare for me not to give a novel a fighting chance to win my affection. Few are the books I have failed to finish. Even when I'm not enjoying one, I persevere because a novel is a journey with the end as its destination and I have already bought, or more likely these days borrowed, my ticket. You can hardly say you hated Paris if you only got as far as the airport.

However, sometimes you just know you'd be better off deciding to go somewhere else instead. I won't be writing a review of The Corrections, now, or ever. I tell this story merely to indicate that I was not well-disposed to the author when I set out to read Freedom, his latest effort. And it was all downhill from there I'm afraid. I made it through all 576 of its pages. I did want to write something about it because of its status as an, or even the important book of the moment. It was done under extreme sufferance, believe me.

But this is not going to be a review, at least not a conventional one. There are plenty of those out there already. I did think I was going to write a review when I sat down which is why I copied out many, many paragraphs of the most turgid prose and dialogue imaginable, as if somehow expecting to logically dismember it to show you why I think this is really, really bad writing.

And then I thought, hang on a minute, this must be patently obvious to anyone who's devoured a few cracking tomes and has actually spent a little time listening to humans form sentences. So why does every literary critic from Äänekoski to Žužemberk think Freedom is not only a Great American Novel but the Great American Novel? It just doesn't add up. And then I thought, whoaa, something else is going on here, right? How else would you explain the deluge of unctuousness and grand claims for this novel. Supposedly, it examines some of the most important and vexing issues of our time. What? Via witterings like this?

‘In my own way,’ Walter said, ‘I guess I was part of a larger cultural shift that was happening in the eighties and nineties. Overpopulation was definitely part of the public conversation in the seventies with Paul Erhlich, and the Club of Rome, and ZPG. And then suddenly it was gone. Became just unmentionable. Part of it was the Green Revolution – you know, still plenty of famines, but not apocalyptic ones. And then population control got a terrible name politically. Totalitarian China with its one-child policy, Indira Gandhi doing forced sterilizations, American ZPG getting painted as nativist and racist…’ and on and on and on.

Quite honestly, can you ever imagine anyone saying anything like this in an actual conversation with anyone? What if I tell you that Walter is in fact talking to his best friend and former college roomie who lived with him during the time he's recounting?

There's really no need to relay any more. It's all like this, pretty much. The characters all sound like they're reading verbatim from either a personal growth manual or an inter-governmental interim report that's about to be justifiably shelved. And they all sound the same, for all of their miserably unennobled lives. Walter speaks in the same stilted, declarative voice throughout, his tone untempered by either time or circumstance. In an actual person, that would be unusual. In a main character in a novel spanning twenty or more years, it’s unforgivable.

Walter's wife Patty is relegated to the ungainly situation of having to explain herself to us autobiographically in the third person, ostensibly as a form of therapy. Presumably Franzen tried, and failed, to achieve a credible 'voice' for her any other way. It's quite pitiful to read the reviews that found this incongruous device acceptable, even refreshing. Given that the omniscient perspective bestowed on the male characters allows them to free range the most hideous and implausible of thoughts without the responsibility of owning them, it seems particularly disingenuous to confine poor Patty to reflection. And given the claustrophobic confines of her world, it's torture for the reader. Not Tolstoy. Not even Toy Story. Not even close.

The rolling exposition trundles by like one of those three-mile-long super freight trains leaving you, the reader, to play the hapless sedan parked by the side of the road while countless identical carriages of indeterminate content pass by. And there you are at a crossroads, waiting to continue your journey, apparently for ever.

So what's going on here? A partial explanation may be found in a theory proposed by John B Thompson in his book about publishing trends, Merchants of Culture. He suggests that publishing businesses are under unreasonable pressure to grow profits in today's stagnant market, a problem which he calls 'the growth conundrum'. They can't publish more books because each new book requires editing and marketing resources, which are finite and add to costs. And they can't rely on existing best-sellers to contribute to growth because their commercial value has probably already peaked. In response to this problem, they have come up with a profit-salvaging product - the 'big book'. Thompson defines this as 'a hoped-for best seller' which 'exists in the space of the possible nourished by hope and expectation.’ In other words, it's a bet, backed to the hilt by buzz and hype, which will hopefully convince sellers and buyers alike that this book is crucial. You can listen to Thompson talking about this phenomenon here.

It makes sense. Franzen won the National Book Award in 2001 and was short-listed for the Pulitzer in 2002 for The Corrections and hadn't published a novel since. Anticipation had reached a frenzy not seen since the days of Harry Potter sequels. Undoubtedly, it was the perfect 'big book' candidate. Any book successfully proposed as a Great American Novel is, by definition, a 'big book'. Popular contenders for the Great American Novel have been a bit thin on the ground since the turn of the millennium. The last book seriously canvassed for this title without a crown was Cormac McCarthy's The Road in 2006. A beautiful, poetic book, exquisitely and tightly written.

How times have changed. Lionel Shriver responded to Freedom in The Independent with justifiable consternation, "Great American Novel" = "doorstop of a book, usually pretentious, written by a man," she said. And she's absolutely right. This is a naked emperor of a book. I can understand the public being taken in, but the critics? So, what's gone wrong in the last five years? Is this really as good as it gets?

Sadly, I think so and here's why. I think the American psyche is in free fall, its convictions reduced to a defensive hotchpotch of beliefs, fears and hatreds. I think hyper-conservatism has fostered a retrofit of a pale-stale-male national perspective circa 1960, to the complete exclusion of any other viewpoint. It's like Mad Men leapt out of the TV and swallowed the continent.

I think the wound to America's cultural confidence inflicted by 9/11 was much more severe and lasting than previously imagined. One thinks of the devastation of the twin towers as striking a symbolic blow to American commerce but, in reality, the financial sector hardly skipped a beat. It was the artists and intellectuals who couldn't process what had happened. (I submit in evidence John Updike's abysmal 2006 novel Terrorist.) But the destruction of the towers was just a punch on the nose, the real body blow appears to have been inflicted by the 2008 financial crisis. The free-market economy in which the nation gullibly invested its self-esteem was found to be not only weak but corrupt too. There is very little goodness to believe in here. And clarity about the principles of decency is fundamental to the moral core of any novel about society.

The other problem, as I see it, is that the liberal left has lost the plot completely. A country where even Democrats are conflicted about whether or not it's a good idea to spend money on educating its children and alleviating the suffering of its poor, sick and old is in real trouble morally. And without clear conviction, there is no firm narrative and strong voice. What you get instead is a lot of qualified, bureaucratic, frequently incoherent hypothesising coming from so-called leaders. The arguments are not being distilled, dispersed and debated, leaving writers without cogent theses and antitheses to explore. Freedom is a book that doesn't seem to believe in itself.

I should add, so as not to sound completely anti to all my lovely American friends, who are amongst the smartest people I know, that the articulation crisis is not confined to American letters. Last year I read A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks. Here's a typical slice,

[Gabriel, a white lawyer, is talking to his client Jenni, a train driver of mixed heritage, over a not-strictly-ethical first date]

‘Do you understand natural selection?

'I think I was off school the week we did that one.'

'It’s like this. Species change because, as they breed, minute errors occur in cell duplication which give minor variations to the offspring. Usually the change dies with the individual. But once in a million times this tiny change gives the individual an advantage in this world, so he’s favoured in breeding. The change is passed on and becomes embedded. The species has evolved. To survive better than your competitors, you need only minute advantages. But some freak change happened in human ancestors. It was not microscopic, it was gigantic. We needed only to keep half a step ahead of other primates and carnivorous land mammals with strong incisors. But instead of that, we produced Shakespeare, Mozart, Newton, Einstein. We only needed a slightly more agile gibbon and we ended up with Sophocles. And the flip side of this colossal and totally unnecessary advantage was that the human genome was, to use our favourite technical term, fucked. It’s unstable, it’s flawed, because it’s ahead of itself. One in a hundred pays the price for everyone else to live their weirdly hyper-advanced lives. They’re the scapegoats. Poor, poor bastards.'

Easily as clueless and nauseating. Maybe Britain is suffering from the same malady?

Oh, and just one final coffin nail before I'm done. I'd have thought a 'big book' and Great American Novel to boot might have warranted a fact checker capable of spotting this howler,

[Walter's Swedish grandfather Einar has sent his relatives back home Christmas letters in which he]

‘lambasted the stupidity of America’s government, the inequities of its political economy, and the fatuity of its religion – drawing, for example, in one particularly caustic Christmas greeting, a cunning parallel between the unwed Madonna of Bethlehem and the “Swedish whore” Ingrid Bergman, the birth of whose own “bastard” (Isabella Rossellini) had been celebrated by American media controlled by “corporate interests”.'

Let's leave aside the gratuitous sexism as it is rampant throughout the book so why quibble about ONE instance? This is factually wrong on several counts. The child born to Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini before they married in 1950 was their son Renato Roberto Giusto Giuseppe, known as Robin. Isabella and her twin Ingrid weren’t born until 1952. And far from being ‘celebrated’ in America, Bergman was run out of town, not daring to return until 1958, two years after she had won an Academy Award for Anastasia. Given that this reporting is from the narrator, and can't therefore be attributed to character bias or unreliable memory, it's an obvious and gauche error. The prosecution rests, your honours.

Nobel Laureate Albert Camus knew a little something about freedom. One of the many things he said about it was,

'Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.'

Oh yeah.

I think it was the wonderfully witty Lionel Shriver who also suggested that a certain cohort of grossly over-feted contemporary male authors might benefit from closer editorial attention. Camus certainly knew how to slenderise prose. The publishers of 'big books' in the future might look to investing a little less on red wine and a little more on red pens, that is if they don't want to send readers spiralling back to the twentieth century in search of a satisfying read. While we're on the subject, here's something Ernest Hemingway supposedly told F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934,

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

St. Google of Oracle informs me that Franzen’s birthplace of Western Springs, Illinois is a mere 23 minutes (30 in traffic – provided you don’t get into a road rage scenario with Walter Berglund that is) from Hemingway’s in Oak Park. It’s a pity Franzen didn’t inherit Hemingway’s enthusiasm for prose pruning along with his natal zip code.

I feel I ought to make some gesture towards psychic cleansing, so I have today reserved from Larrikin's End Public Library two novels by Lionel Shriver. I would also like to send an open txt msg to Toni Morrison - please write 'big book' of 2011. Thank you.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Afraid of the light

Max Afraid. Kodakotype by Pants from 'Mary & Max'

It was Plato, I believe, who said something along the lines of it's easy to sympathise with a child who is afraid of the dark, but the real tragedy is when adults are afraid of the light. Actually he said 'men' as I recall, but the Ancient Greeks had a nasty habit of ignoring women in their intellectual musings - not so different from modern Australia, actually. I'm afraid of a growing number of things, but light isn't one of them. If only there could be more of it. Sigh.

I am not currently an economically productive person by official standards. Quite a lot of that is my fault, admittedly – but not all. I would happily work in my old vocation of peripatetic (or very pathetic, if you prefer) manager of local government projects but no one here will have me. I hadn’t factored in the enormous cultural gulf in operational methodologies that exists between the Australian and British experiences when I set my sails a couple of years ago. Whereas most inner-London councils are stocked with people who write poetry and played in punk bands in their respective reckless youths, in Australia they’re all MBAs with a fetish for pinstripe.

It's true that doing a crazy art course for a year did nothing for my credibility, but after I'd survived that, I tried hard for six months, and then progressively less hard, until I petered into a state of thinking, well ... the right opportunity will find me ... it always does ... if I need it ... zzzzzzz

I went for a two-day-a-week job here in Larrikin’s End a while back. I read the stated salary as net rather than pro rata, and even then was shocked. I would never have applied if I'd realised the whole weekly wage was only marginally more than my previous hourly rate.

Having been shortlisted, I found myself facing an interview panel consisting of four people in identical button-down shirts featuring a nautically themed corporate logo. Two were men and two women - and you could hardly tell them apart, but not in a coolly reassuring, androgynous seventies way. It was more like Max Headroom had reproduced inappropriately. I thought I’d stumbled into Shell Oil by mistake - after the nuclear accident.

The interview lasted over an hour and involved scenario questions so convoluted, I wondered if I might go home with a commemorative mug for my trouble. It was the final question that flummoxed me though. I was asked to list the functions of a local authority. No one’s ever asked me anything like that before. Game over. I’m crap at interviews anyway and I’ve always managed to avoid them in the past. I came from an era when people just hired their friends. You know what you’re getting that way. This all tightened up in the mid-nineties so I switched to working contract.

I once secured a job where I was responsible for an operational budget of over 20 million fine English pounds on a project worth ten times that by dropping in for an informal twenty-minute ‘chat’ with the director, whom I didn’t actually know. Fortunately, he could read and applied this particular skill to the perusal of the curriculum vitae I had helpfully supplied earlier. This told him all he needed to know about my ability to do the job. Meeting me was just a formality to satisfy himself that I (i) existed (ii) was not obviously a psychopath.

I finally gave up on getting a decent job when I went for a position and was told that the departing post holder had a PhD in ‘community engagement'. See, to me, that's like saying you've got a doctorate in 'forming whole sentences' or 'not being a total cunt'. There's nothing that complicated about conversing with the general public. You just have to know what you’re talking about, be honest and not act weird. When the public sector comes on all corporate and academic, well, it’s no place for the likes of me.

So, I’m officially non-productive. That’s not to say I don’t do anything. As you know, I can usually be discovered industriously converting thoughts into by-product with complete ambivalence to the existence of the external economy. The internal economy, however, is a phenomenon I can’t ignore. For the last couple of years, I have had to rely on the state to supplement my subsistence with a partial unemployment payment. I don't have any bad feelings about that. Being an old socialist, I do not regard the word 'entitlement' with anything but affection.

The state clearly doesn’t expect much of me since it hardly ever bothers to contact me. It's an odd position to take, given that it gave me an astoundingly good education for free. I have a ‘workplace consultant’ whose last job was as a hairdresser. She works for a quasi-private sector organisation that claims to be not-for-profit but is ever expanding, so obviously does turn over 'a profit'.

There are three of these businesses in Larrikin’s End (pop. 6,000), contracted to provide ‘unemployment services’. This means they maintain a suite of offices and a staff of up to six ‘consultants’ each. You never see anyone in any of these offices. Their banks of computers remain unpeopled, as do their training rooms. I can do a quick calculation in my head and I would guess that around $1.5 million is being spent annually on maintaining these offices that, as far as I can see, only duplicate a service that already exists. Access to free internet and all the local papers are available at the public library.

I have given up trying to explain to the hairdresser what the ‘public sector’ is. She thinks there are only two types of job – trades or retail. I see her once a month and she tells me about her boyfriend and what new white goods she plans to buy. If she has any expertise in the general area of human resources, she's keeping that particular light firmly concealed under the deepest bushel it's possible to imagine.

The government agency that dispenses my fortnightly alms is called Centrelink. It sounds like a type of leisure park and actually looks a bit like an indoor bowls venue, except with desks and without balls. The people at Centrelink phone about every three months to find out if ‘my circumstances have changed’. I feel a bit like a Dickens character, sitting out my days in contemplation of my expectations. Like Pip's, 'my circumstances' lumber on without fear of fortunate change.

Today I received one of these rare phone calls. I had to verify the various elements of ‘my circumstances’ that are of particular interest to Centrelink. After confirming my name, age, address and that I had not done any paid work in the last three months, I was asked to confirm my educational attainment details. I relay this conversation, to the best of my recall,

She : You have stated that you have a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Me : Correct.

She : Is this qualification current or does it need to be upgraded for employment purposes?

Me : It’s a Bachelor of Arts. It doesn’t qualify me for anything.

She : Do you need to upgrade to enable you to get a job?

Me : (thinking this is a bit like the American in Paris who just asks the same question in English but much slower and louder, expecting to get a different result). It’s a certification of a general education, not a qualification.

She : But, I just need to know if it’s a current qualification.

Me : (thinking it’s very bad to argue with stupid people who control your purse strings but equally bad to indulge stupidity, temper my response with a highly ameliorative tone). Well, it hasn’t been revoked by the university if that’s what you’re asking. (Honestly, we are at a loss).

She : So, I’ll put yes, the qualification is current.

Me : Yes, I think that would be a good idea.

So, my question would be, just how low is the bar now? I’ve got a ‘workplace consultant’ who doesn’t understand the term ‘public sector’ and a Centrelink operative who doesn’t understand the concept of a ‘tertiary education’. Having had time to reflect, I’m guessing the basis of the question is to determine the number of people who require ‘upskilling’ to render them ‘job-ready’ but what’s with the robot act? Surely, someone working for Centrelink at client level has a basic enough education to recognise a simple contradiction. Aren’t we all supposed to be schooled for deductive reasoning? Did she not get that the statement I made negated her question, indeed trumped her question?

Not that I'm guessing she had a PhD in 'community engagement' but, if we're so into 'qualifications', how about a Certificate of Proficiency in Listening or a Diploma in Practical Reasoning?

I've never been afraid of the dark before, but hey, I'm getting there ...