"All sorts of entertaining" - Elizabeth Seckman

"Michael and his pals make me wish I lived in Adelaide" - Cherdo

"If I had a daughter, I'd send her to Australia to meet him (and marry him)" - Robyn Alana Engel

"An Australian version of me. Only younger. And Talented. And better looking. Okay, nothing like me." - Al Penwasser

"Whom must I fuck or pay to get a quotation at the top of your blog post?" - Janie Junebug

Monday, 30 May 2016

You Can Help a Man Achieve His Dream

My bucket list used to be seven pages long. I was obsessed with all those adventurous things you could do to get the most out of life. Since then, I've culled it dramatically. I've shortened it from just a list of cool stuff to do to a list of things without which I couldn't really consider my life complete. The oldest of these is to travel at least once to every continent.

Many people know that this is a goal of mine, as I talk about it a lot. Earlier this year I got to cross Asia off the list with a five-day trip to Singapore. But what no one's ever heard is where this dream came from. It's pretty embarrassing, so you have to promise not to laugh. Promise? I'll assume you promised. When I was very young, I was watching an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (hey, you promised!). Sabrina had graduated high school (or college, I forget) and was applying for a job as a journalist. The sassy black manager of the journalism place turned her down, giving this speech...

"Listen kid. You got a lot of spunk, I'll give you that. But you're missing one very important thing that you can't learn in school - life experience. Rita over there has her own fashion line on the side. Lucy had dinner with the President last week. James has been to every continent..."

I couldn't have been any older than eleven at the time, so I'd never heard this concept of life experience. To me it sounded like something akin to The Force - something magical and mystical that you can only achieve through rigorous effort. I can't really tell how profound an effect that completely innocuous moment had on the rest of my life, but at the very least, something clicked in my brain that made me equate "traveling to every continent" with "experiencing the most of life".

The reason I bring this up is that I now have a very real chance of being able to earn myself a free trip to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics. South America - along with Africa and Antarctica - is one of the three continents to which I haven't yet been. So I REALLY want to take this opportunity up.

One of the pub trivia companies I work for (named Quiz Meisters) has entered itself into a competition called the Small Business Olympics. The first prize for this competition is $75 000 and a trip for two to the games. The geniuses at head office, fully aware of the power of networking and viral marketing, has made this offer to all of its hosts around the country - get as many people as you can to vote for Quiz Meisters and if we win, we'll give one of the two spots in the trip to Rio to the host that got us the most votes. Make sure the voter puts the host's name and venue into the section that says "I'm voting for this business because..." so we know it's from you.

So far, Quiz Meisters is looking to be in a very good position. An early count saw them with 25% of all the votes cast in the comp. I had contributed a good deal of those votes. Then I saw this.

I was certainly doing very well, but now... I have an enemy. "Skip" Strudwicke is the much-loved state manager for South Australia. He was SA's first Quiz Meisters host and knows practically everyone from every show. The show he does on Wednesdays is the biggest show in the state. He hosts the annual Ultimate Trivia Challenge Grand Final, which sees 200 of the best quizzers come to what's essentially a cross between a quiz night and a college dorm party, and if that's not enough he also runs the music for the Adelaide 36ers basketball team home games and has contacts through them. Like his superiors, Skip is quite a tastemaker. He's good at making things go viral amongst his circles. Shortly after this post, I saw this on my Facebook news feed:

Gah, why is he so likeable?! I need your help to combat this evil, wonderful man. Please go to biz.vote/qm (if you're on a phone) or https://www.olympicsforsmallbusiness.com.au/qm/quiz-meisters (if you're on a computer) and put in a vote for the business. When you get to the part that says "I voted for this business because", you can put anything you want as long as it has the name "Michael D" somewhere in it. Also, feel free to put in a fake email address when they ask for it. I wouldn't want to repay your kindness with endless amounts of spam ;)

And lastly, if you're feeling very generous please share this around. Maybe on your own blogs (probably the best) or maybe on your social media (#SendMichaelToRio). This has literally been a lifelong dream and I'd love to be able to cross this off my bucket list.

Friday, 27 May 2016

New Experience Challenge Week 24: An Exciting Opportunity

(Originally published 18/06/14)

I have trouble telling people no. It's a serious weakness. So when Dad came to me one night and told me our family friend Tony was going to call me with a business offer, I was very apprehensive.

'He's started selling coffee. He wanted me to sell it with him and I told him no. So he said he'd give you a try. He reckons you'd be good at it with all your promotional work and stuff. Just warning you ahead of time.'

Tony is one of those western people who thinks he's an eastern person. He meditates in a weekly class where he's the only white person, he drinks and eats all sorts of herbs which contain the sound "asha" or "rishi" and he's dumbfounded by a lot of western humour. He brought me along to his meditation classes for a few weeks, but I stopped going when I realised that I was 21 and had better things to do. Since then he's contacted me a few times about catching up and I keep telling him I'm busy. Mostly because I am.

But anyway, I heeded the warning. The first couple of times he called me I just didn't answer.On the third time I thought I'd better pick up. There's no way you can pull off 'Oh, I'm sorry I missed you' that many times.

'Yeah, Michael, it's Tony. How's the stand-up comedy going?'
'Yeah, alright. Still plugging away at those open mic nights. Haven't got a proper gig in months, but...'
'Hey, that's great! Listen listen - do you drink coffee?'
'Not really...'
'That's ok. My wife Teresa, she's gotten on board with this great new brand, it's called Organo Gold. It's all based off this secret ingredient called the Rishi Mushroom. She's been doing really well, so I've gotten on board too. But listen, how would you like to make some extra money?' I was in a corner on that one.
'Yeah, that would be nice.'
'Well all you have to do is sign up to this program. You can help sell this coffee, you can get people to work for you and you can get a percentage of whatever they sell. How does that sound?'

Now I've been involved in a pyramid scheme before. For a few months back in 2012, I was a door-to-door salesman. I started at a dingy little place called ASAP and then - by sheer coincidence - my resume was found online by a much more respectable place called White Rhino. But despite the differences between their professionalism, ambition and success, they both had one thing in common - the promise of untold riches limited only by your own desires. It's a system that certainly can work, but only if you're a certain type of person. The type for whom money is the most important thing in life. I learned a lot during those few months and I'm glad for it. But if I ever get a job like that again, it'll be too soon. If only I didn't find it so hard to say no...

'Oh, well look it sounds nice, but I wouldn't have the time to do it justice.'
'It takes as much time as you want. You can fit it in around your work. I know you've got a busy schedule.' At the moment I'm only working on weekends, but he doesn't need to know that.
'I don't know, what would you need me to do?'
'Well come around to my place, Teresa will give you the presentation. We'll show you how it's done.'
'I-well... um... oh, alright.'

So that Wednesday I went to their house to hear the spiel. The first thing they did was offer me a coffee. Oh, so trying to hook me in early were they? It's alright, I knew what I was doing.
'I'll have a tea thanks.'
'Green tea?'
'That's great, because Organo Gold do a great green tea. It's not bitter like most teas and it's got great health benefits.'

They sat me down on the end of their dinner table and took up a seat to either side they showed me a nine minute video explaining the brand. It told me how a brand of expensive coffee could make me rich. It featured a bunch of suited, charismatic people of all ethnicities talking about the people they knew who joined up and became wildly successful.

"My sister joined up and she's now a diamond-level seller."
"My niece started doing it in her spare time and now she's the third highest earner in the company."
"I knew a guy who never finished high school and now he's got his old teachers working for him."
"My sister's daughter is still in primary school and now she's getting dinner requests from the Pope."
"My mentally challenged uncle accidentally put his name down during a seizure and a year later a West African tribe started a religion in his honour."

Next, they talked about the secret behind this amazing success. The Ganoderma Lucidium - better known as the Rishi Mushroom.

"The Ganoderma was a sacred mushroom that was only given to Emperors. It's a completely organic product with amazing magical health benefits. Some attribute it as the reason that the Emperors lived to be over 150 years old."

Finally, they finished with an interesting sentiment.

"People see our salespeople brandishing their index fingers and say "You people are so full of yourselves. You think you're number one". We never said we think we're number one. That finger represents our mantra - that we aim to own 1% of the coffee market in every country we enter. We're nearly there and I can't wait for the moment when our salespeople can move on to the next target and start holding up two fingers."

The presentation ended and my tea had cooled down enough to drink. I gave it a tentative sip... and I had to admit it tasted bloody good. Sweet, not bitter, exactly like they said.

'Now Michael,' said Tony. 'One thing they didn't tell you about is how good it is for you.' He showed me a brochure. 'See, it says here that you need 17 cups of water to neutralise the negative effects of one cup of coffee. Normal coffee dehydrates you. It creates an addiction and gives you withdrawal symptoms. It raises stress. Organo Gold coffee calms you down, keeps you hydrated and you won't get addicted to it at all. It actually balances out the pH levels in your body so that you're not too acidic.'
'Is that so?'
'Yeah, that's right! And you know what? I used to have a bit of arthritis in my hands. Since drinking this stuff I haven't felt any pain at all.' Teresa piped up -
'Yeah, I gave this to my cousin who suffers from diabetes and after two months, he's stopped taking the um, what are they called... injections, the insulin.'
Tony again - 'Our next door neighbour used to be on crutches, he's thrown them away now.'
'Some people are using it as part of their treatment for cancer.'
'You know that guy who got cured of AIDS? He drank about four cups a day.'

And at long last they ran me through the remuneration process. No surprises there, just the standard pyramid scheme layout. Get a percentage of what you sell. Hire people to work for you and get a percentage of what they sell. And so the pattern goes until one box of coffee earns you more than the annual salary of the people making it.

'So,' said Teresa, closing her reference material. 'What do you think?'
Ok, it's that time of the day. I have to work out how to tell them no without hurting their feelings.
'Well, I-'
There was a knock at the door. Teresa looked at her watch and said 'Ah, Maria's early. We're still not done here.' Tony got up to get the door while I hurriedly asked who Maria was. In walked a middle aged Italian woman who I assumed could only be there to hear the same spiel as me. We chatted for a bit about a variety of things other than coffee and then Teresa said
'Ok Michael, so call me back in a couple of days and we'll keep talking about it. I'll leave you a sample pack so you can try the rest of the range. They don't give you the green tea, I don't know why.'
Hm, maybe it's because that's the one I wanted.
'And I'll catch up with you soon!'

In case you were hoping for it - no, my new experience for this week was not becoming a coffee salesman. It was simply to sit in on a pyramid sales pitch. I still haven't called them back. I don't know what I'll say when I do. Perhaps I could get my mum to ring them up and say that I'd died?

No, that wouldn't work. They'd come around with a percolator and say "Don't worry, just give him some of this."


This post was part of a new bloghop called Flashback Friday, where on the last Friday of each month, we dig up an old post which has been buried deep in the RSS feed and needs to see light again. If you'd like to join the hop, join the Linky list below.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Therapy Is Not a Dirty Word

Has anyone ever quietly pointed out to you that you have a bit of food stuck in your teeth? Or that there's something weird going on with your hair? Something you didn't notice yourself but are glad someone was there to pick up on? You're usually embarrassed, but at least thankful that someone pointed it out to you. I think it's safe to say that our perspective of ourselves is very different from others' perspective of us. Sometimes it just takes that outside point of view to help us to see things that we couldn't on our own.

When I was 17 (cue the song), I went to see a teenage psychologist. Nothing was going well at home or at school and I was finding it really hard to function anywhere. During those sessions, I happened to mention a friend of mine who was also struggling.
'Do you think this friend would benefit from seeing a professional?' the psychologist asked.
'Yes I do,' I replied.
'Do you think he will?' she asked. I thought about it for a second.
'No, I don't think so. I think there's still a stigma attached to the thought of seeing a psychologist. It implies that you can't deal with life and you need someone to handle all your problems for you.' As I said this, the psychologist grimaced. I could tell that this was something of which she was painfully aware.
'Yes I think you're right, and I wish that would change,' she said in a rare show of emotion.

A few years later, I was sitting down to dinner with most of the members of the Buttercup Gang. One of them was casually confirming what I'd hypothosised in that therapist's office.
'I'm just saying, who needs to see a psychiatrist?' he said. 'If you've got issues, sort them out yourself! You don't need to pay someone $100 to tell you things you can work out for yourself. It just means you can't handle life.'
The rest of us exchanged glances that were both disapproving and knowing. There were eight people at the table that night and I happened to know that at least half of them (including me) had seen a professional therapist at some point in the past. And yet we were all happy, wonderful people. We all silently lamented his claim that we couldn't handle our own lives.

Cut to earlier this year. I found myself in a really bad headspace. I was being plagued by what I called "demons" - a barrage of negative self-talk that I couldn't seem to shake and that would make me very depressed. It would happen mostly when I was idle. One of my many jobs is handing out free food samples in grocery stores, and I'd often find myself standing there for the duration of the four-hour shift, nobody approaching me, giving me time to mull these awful things about myself over and over in my head. The worst part was that sometimes this self-talk wasn't even anything specific. I just felt... inadequate. Inadequate as a person.

Remembering my comments in the psychologists office at age 17, I resolved many times to try and see someone about it. But then the demons would go away on their own and I would think "Ah, it's not that bad, I can manage." It's very easy to forget what pain feels like after it subsides. But then it would come back and I would become even more resolved; "Okay, I definitely have to see someone." Finally, after the worst attack yet, I made the call. I spoke to our family GP - one that had known me since I was born but that I hadn't seen in years because he's always in high demand. We spent a couple of minutes catching up before he asked the question;
'So what brings you in here today?'
'Well... I'm worried about my mental health.'
There was a look of surprise on my GP's face, but he was very understanding about it. I described what I'd been going through and my own thoughts about it. He gave me a questionnaire called a DAAS - Depression, Anxiety and Stress - survey and told me to fill it out at a time when I'm feeling low. It was one of those questionnaires that makes a series of statements and asks you to rank them into "Never", "Sometimes", "Often", "Always" etc. There were statements like "I find it hard to keep control of my feelings," "I find it hard to get excited about anything" and "I feel my heart beating without any physical exertion." I filled it out and brought it back.
'Well Michael,' said the GP at my next visit. 'I've added up the scores. This tests for a person's levels of depression, anxiety and stress. For anxiety and stress, you scored very low - which is good, the lower the better. But for depression, you scored in the range that we would consider appropriate for someone with mild depression. This is certainly enough to qualify you for a referral to a psychologist.'

Our wonderful, amazing system of healthcare in Australia covers us for 12 visits to a mental health professional in a period of one year. The amounts that the system will cover us for vary from doctor to doctor, but as I intended to pay for these visits myself, I agreed to go to one that had no GAP. That means I was able to get 12 visits to a psychologist absolutely free. The first visit was, as this new psychologist called it, a "getting to know you" session. One where he just collects information and sets up a plan for future sessions. I got along with him really well. He was clearly just out of school and inexperienced, but I could see he'd be able to help me out. At the end of the session, he asked me a question that took me off guard.
'The last thing I'd like to know Michael, is what do you hope to achieve by the end of our sessions?'
I hadn't actually thought of that. Part of the problem was that I didn't know exactly what was wrong. It felt like trying to find a light switch in the dark. But then I remembered that that's the point. The reason one should go to a professional is simply to have a set of eyes looking in from the outside. One that can help you see things that you can't from your point of view. There's nothing to be ashamed of about that. It's nature. Humans get ahead by teaming up to solve problems. I simply told my psychologist that I'd like to get a better understanding of what I'm feeling and why. Because understanding it takes away its power.

It didn't take very long at all. I was retaking that DAAS test at the beginning of each session, just to get a snapshot of my progress. With each session, my scores for everything got lower and lower, to the point that in the last three or four sessions, I had zeros across the board. My psychologist wrote a letter to my GP saying that my scores had "plummeted" and that in his professional opinion, what I was going through wasn't depression. It was just stuff I wasn't dealing with at the time. I wouldn't have gotten to that point if I was afraid of the "stigma" of mental health. I didn't view it as "I can't deal with my own life". I viewed it as "I'm missing something and there's a person here that's trained to help me see it." If you're struggling too, I encourage you to seek help. It takes more strength and courage to do that than to try and handle it yourself.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Waiting On a Diagnosis

I got a phone call from my Dad.
'Hi Michael, the crash repair place got back to me.'
'Yeah? What did they say?'
'I've got some bad news.'
I wasn't expecting that.
'...What is it?'
'They estimate the damage on the car to be about $3600 worth. They also reckon the car is valued at around $3900. Normally what they do when the values are that close is pay you out the value of the car and sign it as a write-off.'
'What? But it's just the side door! There's no damage to anything else! How could they value the whole rest of the car to be worth $300?'
'Relax, they haven't decided anything yet. The insurance company will be sending someone out to give it a proper valuation on Friday.'
'Okay, but... I like my car.'
'Well hopefully, the results come back positive.'
I sat back and considered my situation. My first car was in hospital and it was looking like the doctors wouldn't be able to operate. I was suddenly in the position of needing to work out a succession plan. I was already borrowing my late grandma's old car, which was small and smelled of moth-balls. I wanted my friend back.

I bought my first car on April 25t2012. It had taken me ages. In Australia, you can get a learner's permit to drive at age 16. You can get a provisional license at 16 and a half and once you've done the required learning hours. Then after two yours of that, you can pay to get your full licence. Me, I didn't get my learner's permit until I was almost 17. By the time I upgraded to my P's, my L's were two days from expiring. And then when I did get my P's, I was borrowing my parents' cars to get places. I was 20 years old when I finally decided I needed to buy my own wheels.

My parents both owned a type of car commonly called a "City 4WD" - a car with the body and function of a 4-wheel-drive, but which doesn't really have the toughness or grunt to do any serious off-road driving. I did all my learning in those cars, so I wanted my first car to be the same thing. I loved the height the vehicles as well as their practicality. I wanted to be able to just chuck everything in the boot, take the seats down if I needed to to fit in a bike or other equipment. If my friends and I were going away for the weekend, I wanted to be able to chuck everyone's gear into it and take it along. I wanted it to be the go-to car, which everyone defaulted to when it was time to decide whose car to take. But not too many people shared my vision. So when I came home two days later with a big blue Mitsubishi Outlander, having parted with over half of my life savings for what was just my first car, my parents thought I'd made a big mistake.

But my parents eventually saw what I saw in it. I immediately got good use out of the boot space by holding all my equipment for work in it.

Over time, the car became a defining part of my early adulthood. There were times I've had to get changed in the back seat as I rushed from one job to another, countless dings and scratches on the paint, each with their own story, trinkets hanging from the mirror and the sunshades that came from other countries and time spent sitting inside it with the amazingly-effective heater going on bitter cold winter nights. I had it decked out with little plug-ins and add-ons which meant I could almost run my life from in there. I have a double-adapter plugged into its cigarette lighter, in one end I have the car's GPS and the other I have a USB charger with three ports. On the windscreen, right next to the GPS is a cradle for my massive phone, on which I can call and text people using voice command while I'm driving. And I have a little device that plugs into the headphone socket of a phone and broadcasts its audio onto the car sound system. Friends can come in and blast their playlist on Spotify, or they can just pick something from the stacked CD folder under the passenger seat.

My ex reminds me all the time about our first New Year's Eve together that year. It was well past midnight and I'd agreed to drive a friend to her home in the Adelaide Hills. As we made our way up those winding roads, I realised I was literally falling asleep at the wheel. So when we got to my friend's house and she disappeared inside, I turned to my girlfriend and said "I made need to get some sleep in the car here before we head home or I'll probably end up killing us both." Being a responsible person, she was completely on board with that. So I reclined my driver's seat and said "Well, goodnight," falling asleep instantly. I woke up three hours later to find my girlfriend staring at me, shivering so hard her teeth were chattering, covered in whatever she could find to use as a makeshift blanket. "C-can we g-go home now?" she stammered painfully. She claims she never used to feel the cold before that night, but now she can't stand it.

Eventually, after three and a half years of owning the car, I finally had an opportunity to use the car for its number-one intended purpose. My friends and I planned out a road trip to Victoria. We were to drive the 730km to Melbourne, stay there one night, then spend the next three days winding along the Great Ocean Road, stopping to set up tents in local caravan parks along the way. Four of us went, and we discovered that my car was big enough to hold all four of our gear as well as ourselves. The 3-port USB charger came in real handy with four people constantly needing their phones charged and the radio transmitter got a work out too. It's possibly my favourite trip ever and I've been to Singapore, America and Italy.


In the end, it was such a stupid thing to do. Our house has an open two-lane carport in which we keep four cars. My sister and I have to move and swap our cars around to make room for each other and other things like the washing. Often when I move my car, I won't even turn on the engine. I'll just take off the hand-brake and the parking-brake and push it to where it needs to go. But stupidly, arrogantly, I thought I could do the same thing while the car was on the driveway. What's worse is that I didn't even get into the car to take the brakes off - I just leaned in through the driver door. The moment I put it into neutral, it started to roll backwards. The open door caught on our brick fence and snapped around until it was just dangling from its hinge. It tumbled onto the road - where there were luckily no cars coming - and had managed to pick up enough speed that it hopped over the gutter and onto the footpath on the other side of the road, coming to a stop just inches from the neighbour's fence. The next day, I got that call from Dad and I had to face the real possibility that my time with my first car had come to an end.

It wasn't all doom and gloom. As I thought about my friend in the hospital, I thought about how much it had been through. There was a big scrape on the left hand side where I'd misjudged the room I had in a parking lot and scraped a pylon. There was still a hint of the awful smell that came from the time I left it parked with the windows open a crack and then it started pouring with rain, soaking the whole car's interior. The brakes were creaking and there was often a thump that came from somewhere under the car when I accelerated too fast. I started to think about buying myself a new friend. A better friend. One with leather seats. I have a lot more money now than I did back then, so I could afford to get something a bit better than that bottom-of-the-line Outlander. But on the other hand, I've been saving up to buy my own property for a long time. Having to buy a new car would blast all the savings I'd worked so hard to make. The thought of a new car excited me, but sacrifices I'd have to make didn't. And one of those sacrifices would be to say goodbye to my old car, whom I love.

Friday came and went and I didn't hear anything back. I had to painfully wait out the weekend, driving that uncomfortable car that belonged to my grandma. I've been driving it for almost a week and yet I still haven't been able to get those tiny side-view mirrors right. I'm having to be very careful when I'm reversing to remember that the car extends further than the rear window. I had to perform one of those back-seat clothes changes on Sunday and - shock horror - I had to take stuff out of the car before I left to endure I had enough room to change. Then, late on Monday afternoon, Dad called again.
'Michael, I've just had a call from the crash repair.'
*gasp* 'Yes?'
'...They can operate. They'll start fixing the car as soon as the parts come in.'
I let out a sigh of relief. The car would be okay. I was still excited at the thought of getting something new, and sooner or later I will. But like the faithful pet that's been in the family since before the kids were born, I don't want to put her down just yet. The old girl still has life in her.

Monday, 16 May 2016

How Should You Vote in the Upcoming Election?

Australia recently announced its federal election for 2016 and the moment it happened, the posters went up and the spam mail was sent out everywhere. On Friday I got this flyer in the mailbox. It was addressed specifically to me and it came from my local member of parliament Chris Pyne.

Somewhere it was on file that I'm 24 years old and am therefore classified as "youth". So Pyne's office sent out this targeted flyer proclaiming that the Liberal government is investing hundreds of millions of dollars into a number of new programs that will help youth secure work or start their own businesses.

This is a timely initiative. From what I've heard, people my age are graduating from university, having slogged for four years or more through all the deadlines and grades, and yet are struggling to find employment in their chosen fields. However, this doesn't affect me at all. I chose not to go along the path of tertiary education, choosing instead to go straight into the working world and try to find a pathway about which I'm truly passionate. I've never struggled to find work. I've had periods where there's not a lot of work coming in, but that's just the nature of the jobs I pick. In fact, I often joke that the reason none of my peers can find jobs is because I've taken them all. So while I think that introducing programs to help youth find work is a great idea, it only benefits people who happen to not be me.

So then an interesting question occurred to me: Should we be voting for the party that best serves our own needs or the needs of the greater population? The whole point of our system of government is that a person is elected to represent us in parliament. Each member of parliament represents around 100 000 people and the assumption is that the member's desires and beliefs reflect the desires and beliefs of the majority of those 100 000 people. What if I've misread what's going on around me and it turns out that there really isn't any sort of youth jobs crisis? What if those hundreds of millions of dollars could have been better spent elsewhere but it's not, because the people have voted them in based on that policy? Could voting for the party out of empathy for my unemployed peers actually end up being detrimental?

Consider this:
Say for argument's sake that 60% of voting youth were finding work just fine. The other 40% are struggling. 40% of youth being unable to find work is a huge number. But the other 60% decide that they want to start families. There's only room in the budget to accommodate one of those groups. Party A is offering to assist the unemployed, while Party B wants to help start families. Everyone votes for the party that serves their own needs best, so Party B gets in. The 60% group get help starting the families they badly want and the 40% are still no closer to finding a job. Is this a good or a bad outcome? Is it good because the majority of people had their needs met? Or is it bad because finding work is a greater need than starting a family?

I tend to lean towards the former - that the needs of the many outweigh those of the few. But there's a huge flaw in that belief. What of those whose needs can't be heard? Here's Scenario B:
Party A wants to invest a nine-figure sum into programs that help the disabled and the elderly. Party B instead wants to put that money into roads and infrastructure. Everyone votes according to his or her own needs. But not only do many of the disabled and elderly not have the mental capacity to vote, but even the ones who do are far outnumbered by the rest of us that are able-bodied. Party B wins in a landslide and the lives of the incapable get worse and worse as each election passes. In this case, I believe firmly that empathy needs to be taken into account when voting.

Finally, consider Scenario C:
60% of youth find it hard to get a job. Party A is offering to help them with that. But also, 60% of the elderly are living in poor conditions, and are struggling to survive with their current retirement benefits from the government. Party A isn't willing to help them, but Party B is. The catch is if Party B helps the elderly, it won't be able to help the youth. One of the groups may have to give way to the other. Should either of them put their own problem aside? Or should they both be selfish and try and get their own dire needs met first?

This of course uses the unrealistic assumption that only one demographic can be helped at a time. But the question I feel is still valid. When voting in someone to represent you in parliament, should you be selfish or selfless? Is it possible to find a party that strikes a good balance between the two? Would ranking issues in order of necessity help you make a decision or just make it more complicated?

I hope you find it easier to make a decision than I do.

Friday, 13 May 2016

How Long Have You Been Blogging?

For most of us, it's a labour of love. More often than not, we pour our hearts out onto the the keyboard and what results gets seen by dozens, sometimes hundreds, if we're lucky even thousands of people. Then it disappears into the murky depths of the internet and isn't seen again.

So after some discussion with a few people who take part in the monthly Question of the Month bloghop, we've decided to start a new initiative. It's called Flashback Friday - a time of the month where you can republish and old post of yours that maybe didn't get enough attention, or that you're really proud of, or you think is still relevant etc. Personally I can think of a whole bunch of these.

If you'd like to join us, we've decided to make this happen on the last Friday of every month. That means the first one will be on the 27th of May. Enter your blog's name into the Linky List below and grab the code so you can put the list on your page and spread the word.

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Monday, 9 May 2016

Be Like Tom

I get a lot of what's generally called "incidental exercise". I can't stand getting out of bed and going for a jog just for the sake of it. But I get a lot of fitness through my day-to-day happenings. I do football umpiring, which requires two nights per week of training, and then I do multiple games on the weekend. I've taken up a martial art, which I do on every Wednesday I'm available. I'll sometimes go bike riding with my friend Mitchell. And on the weekend just passed, Mitch and I got together did a grueling 12km obstacle course called True Grit.

In true grit, competitors have to jog through a vinyard, pausing every once in a while to complete an obstacle, which can be as simple as monkey bars or a rope climb or as inventive as dragging tractor tires around a course or crawling through a mud-filled pipe.

Really, I have no right to be as fit as I am. With the amount of actual effort I put into getting fitter, I should struggle a lot more than I do. But my secret isn't in my physical fitness, it's all mental.

We had a mantra while doing the course this year - "Be like Tom". Tom being Australian footballer Tom Rockliff, current captain of the Brisbane Lions. Since the '90s, the captain of the Lions has been known for just being tough. It started with Jonathan Brown, a man who it was said could inspire the rest of his team to walk a bit taller when he was around. He'd put his body on the line all the time. Towards the end of his career he even crashed into a pack so hard the he crushed his cheekbone and had to have surgery. There was even a legend that went around that as a kid, Brown's dog bit him... So he bit the dog back. He was a tough cookie.

When Brown retired, Rockliff took over. Rockliff was tough in a different way. While Brown was all bash-and-crash and would make you scared of being tackled by him, Rockliff just has the drive and determination to play through anything. Early last year, Rockliff broke a rib during the first quarter of a game. We didn't know until he tweeted it after the game. He missed games after that, but he rushed back into the team after only two weeks, he was just that keen to play (and was that needed). In his return game, not only did he re-break the bone, he also managed to puncture his lung. This time, the viewers could see he was in a lot of pain. But still, he played out the whole game. It was inspiring.

That's my secret - Be like Tom. Like Tom, I've gotten injuries and kept pushing through it. At True Grit last year, when we were about two thirds of the way through the course, I managed to blow out both my calves within 100 meters of each other. We were just jogging along and - BANG! - my left calf snapped. I kept jogging. I just couldn't stand the idea of stopping. I was kind of limp-jogging when 100m later - BANG! - the other calf went. Still, I jogged. It was bloody painful, but I did. We got to the end of the course, where competitors would slide into the river to wash off all the mud they'd accumulated, and when I hit the cold water my legs cramped so badly that I cried out in pain and literally couldn't move them any more. I had to slowly paddle my way to the river bank using just my hands and try to keep my head above the water.

Another time, during a game of footy, a guy crashed into me so hard the my own rib dislocated. I couldn't play out the rest of the game, but I fully intended to go and play a game of mixed netball that I was due to play after that. Unfortunately (or fortunately according to some people), this was before I had my driver's license and I was relying on my parents to drive me places. My mum flat-out refused to take me to play another sport while I had a dislocated rib. I chucked a tantrum at that.

When I did the City-to-Bay fun run - Adelaide's biggest - a few years ago, I had never before run that distance in one go. Yet I finished all 12kms in 65 minutes - much slower than all the professional runners, but much faster than all the regular Joes. One time at Christmas, the boys in my extended family were ribbing each other on their respective levels of fitness. It turned into a bet to see who could run at an almost-sprint on my uncle's treadmill for five minutes straight. My uncle predicted the result. "Michael will be able to do it. Not because of his fitness, just because of his mental capacity. His sticking power." In the end, just to prove a point, I sprinted for six minutes instead of five.

So that's my secret, sticking power. I don't like giving up, because once you give up, you've given up forever. It's an attitude I noticed in Tom Rockliff as well. So that's why as Mitchell and I were wincing with each footfall on the sand dunes and staggering over balance beams and under nets, we kept jokingly shouting to each other "Be like Tom!" "Remember Tom!" "Tom! Tom! Tom! Tom! Tom!"

Friday, 6 May 2016

Twenty Things to Do If It Were Really Your Last Day on Earth

  1. Cry
  2. Donate everything you have to charity (even your used underwear)
  3. Tell someone you're madly in love with them
  4. Place a dead fox on your boss' desk
  5. Try hallucinogenic drugs
  6. Watch season 4 of Breaking Bad
  7. Get to the top of a really tall mountain by helicopter and just sit
  8. Try to solve a Rubik's cube
  9. Listen to everyone else tell you what they'd do on their last day on Earth
  10. Win the lottery and then listen to Alanis Morissette's Ironic
  11. Discover the secret to immortality
  12. Commit atrocious crimes
  13. Eat a baby to imbibe its youth
  14. Go through all 254 entries to the A Life Examined blog
  15. Write your memoir pretty quick-smart
  16. Challenge a friend to emulate William Tell, but instead of a bow and arrow use a shotgun
  17. Place yourself in cryogenic suspension until society discovers the secret to immortality (because you had a whole day to do it and you couldn't even get that done)
  18. Find out how many of the booby traps on Home Alone the human body can actually handle
  19. Poke a grizzly bear in the eye
  20. Just end it early

Monday, 2 May 2016

Question of the Month: Blogging Advice

Each month, a bunch of us get together to answer a question set by the talented Michael from A Life Examined. This month, Michael wants to know "What are three pieces of advice you'd give to people starting their own blog?"

Blogging's a hard thing do give advice on. There's so many different reasons blogs are started, so many different things that are written about and a really large array of possibilities for content. But if I were to give three pieces of advice that I found to be really helpful but are still as universal as possible, they'd be this.

  1. Spend every moment you can visiting and commenting on other blogs. At least at the beginning, those people will be your blog's biggest source of traffic. They can also provide ongoing content. I once had a joint blog post with Cherdo at Cherdo on the Flipside where I answered questions about Australia that were posed by her school students. But it's VERY important that this interaction is genuine. It's no fun to go to a new blog and say "Nice post!" before leaving a link back to your blog. If you do that, I hope your blog withers into obscurity.
    If you get that part right, it's a great way to make new friends. When I went to Canberra last year, I met up with someone who until then I'd only known online and she took me to Questacon. We had a great day.
  2. Links. Links everywhere. Search engines like web pages that are linked back to more than others. If you place links in your comments when you comment on someone else's blog post, that's an extra point. If it's a blogger you've never met before, there's a chance they'll follow the link and you'll get a new regular reader. just make sure that that's not the sole purpose of your commenting on others' blogs. That would be disingenuous. You're aiming to make a new friend, not gain a new hit.
    Within your own blog, post links to old posts as often as you can (as demonstrated in point one) to help get more use out of content that would otherwise fade into obscurity as you pump out more.
  3. Pictures will increase the interest level of of your post a thousand times, but if you can make your own pictures, that will also give your blog its own distinctive style that that will set it apart from all the others. Cherdo is great at that, as well as Bryan & Brandon from A Beer from the Shower.
We come up with a new question each month, so if you'd like to join in next month, join the list below. We'll email you during the month with the next question. It's a lot of fun.

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