Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bacon in the End Times of the American Empire

Y'all know I keep a fairly keen weather eye on the American polity and general zeitgeist.  I guess apart from having so many friends there it's for the same sorts of reasons that 2000 years ago a culturally engaged citizen of Judaea might be very keen on knowing what's going on in Rome.  By the way Australia, I'm happy with this analogy as is.  Let's not take it any further and be the birthplace of the next Big Religion, OK?

Anyone who has spent more than an hour on the internet in the last few years will know all about the US-centric phenomenon that is BACON MANIA.  Bacon not just as an object of obscene comestible lust but also as a sort of geeky statement; as kitsch, fashion, an in-crowd/cognoscenti sort of thing, and a mad fad that has spun off more websites, pages and products than a whole room full of young hotshot marketing and Web 2.1 startup nerds could come up with over a chatty hilarious long night of pizza and bucket bongs.  The pizza would have bacon, and possibly the bong water too.

It's a phenomenon already commented upon, certainly, so I shall simply steal the most-quoted paragraph by way of explanation for those who may not be quite aware of the depth to which this bacon mania has infected the suppurating pores of the reeling American Hegemony.

"There is: bacon ice cream; bacon-infused vodka; deep-fried bacon; chocolate-dipped bacon; bacon-wrapped hot dogs filled with cheese (which are fried, then battered and fried again); brioche bread pudding smothered in bacon sauce; hard-boiled eggs coated in mayonnaise encased in bacon -- called, appropriately, the "heart attack snack"; bacon salt; bacon doughnuts, cupcakes and cookies; bacon mints; "baconnaise," which Jon Stewart described as "for people who want to get heart disease but [are] too lazy to actually make bacon"; Wendy's "Baconnator" -- six strips of bacon mounded atop a half-pound cheeseburger -- which sold 25 million in its first eight weeks; and the outlandish bacon explosion -- a barbecued meat brick composed of 2 pounds of bacon wrapped around 2 pounds of sausage."
 ~ Arun Gupta

Hungry at all?  I bet quite a few of you are, such is the power of bacon, and the list goes on.  However I was moved to write when I spotted something so outrageous to my sensibilities that I - link-bait hardened internet denizen of yore that I am - was actually shocked for a second.  It is THIS:

 To save you the trouble of going and being horrified by the product endorsement page, in essence it claims inspiration from a published report on infant brain development pointing out that early stages were vital, that the brain was 60% fats, and that a food very high in fat and protein (bacon being 65% fat) could be of huge value to infants.  They go on:

".....Yet babies are not able to consume this most delicious of meats because they lack teeth and digestive systems that can break down solid foods.  So we consulted with pediatricians and began to experiment with drying and grinding bacon into a fine powder, then applying a patent-pending process to concentrate this powder into the most essential nutrients and ingredients for brain development. This potential infant superfood was then added to a test....."

Claims are subsequently made of amazing functional development.  By now, I hope, you've realised that this is not a real thing.  But many, many people did not when it hit the interwebs in - clue - a very early date in April.  There were two reactions, broadly, and the disgusted one was not really in the majority.  Most people seemed to think it was perfectly OK, miraculous even, a "why didn't someone already think of this" moment.  Huffington Post was certainly taken in, their article starting "So this exists".  It was so wildly successful a ruse that the 'makers', who are a real live company of "bacontrepreneurs" had to publish again saying that "the FDA had pulled the plug" on them and their claims.....and apologised to both those parents who wanted in on the trial release for their kids and the media who were conned.

I recently re-read an article from 2009, one of a few such at around that time, proclaiming that the bacon mania was at an end.  Well, that was wrong.  Still the answers remain for the begging.  Indeed, why?

"But bacon tastes goooood..."

Celebrity chef, traveller, writer and unrepentant omnivore Anthony Bourdain has called bacon a "gateway protein" for its legendary abilities in luring vegetarians back to the fold; but then again he's the guy that gave us the line "If you're slower than me, stupider than me, and you taste good, pass the salt".  It has been said that bacon possesses six ingredient types of umami which elicits an addictive chemical response.  And we all know how totally immersive the practice of modern marketers is now, right?  They now do their jobs right inside the very molecular level of the 'food' that is sold to us every day. The salesmen run the product now, to meet the market.  Or at least the market as they would have it.  It has been a very deliberate ploy on the part of fast food manufacturers especially to create addictive behaviours, leveraging the sort of studies that they knew all about but which we are only finding out about lately that show, for example, that high-calorie foods can be as addictive as cocaine.  There's also that saying in the foodservice industry in the US - "if in doubt, throw in some bacon and some cheese".

But this isn't the reason for bacon mania.  Bacon has pretty much always tasted 'good', even if it did used to actually taste a whole world better than the torture-facility-raised, synthetic-hormone and antibiotic-laden, chemically 'cured' product that passes muster most places these days.
(Garbage in = garbage out, as they say).

The taste and the price (it can be very, very cheap, and is hugely subsidized in the US) stand as enabling factors, but the mania is not caused by them.

I think that bacon mania is a cipher, an outward projection of the mass-consciousness that expresses and encapsulates as a meme a poignantly terrible - or terrifying -  combination of reckless, desperate desire, dashed hopes, a disrupted sense of self-worth and a pernicious, creeping nihilism in modern America.  It has spread beyond that Fair Land's borders to be sure, but it's there that we see its cultural roots and centre.

Bacon is, after all is said and done, Death.  Beyond merely being deceased and partly-decayed flesh, the thing that is modern bacon speaks to us of great darknesses of the soul.  No-one is truly ignorant of the Dark Side of bacon, whether they understand full well the horrors of porcine production facilities (but choose perhaps to avert their inner gaze of conscience therefrom) or simply its misused and overblown role in the average diet as emblem and embodiment of the high-fat, high-salt, health-destroying denial of self-nourishment and the triumph of sensual addiction over personal and social wellbeing.  Everyone knows that in the modern sense, bacon hurts.

Once upon a time not very long ago, the process of raising pigs, mainly done by smallholders in mixed farming, and the timeworn noble tradition of honouring the sacred offering of this life and carrying it forward - preserving the flesh that we might carry over valuable protein, fat and sustenance in leaner times, to augment and enhance our staple foods - was a far more natural practice; one which was well understood and respected.  One which was respectful of the life of the farmer, the butcher and charcuterer, the cook, the consumer and most especially the donor animal, in a way that our industrialization of flesh as product has completely erased.  Bacon used to be a most valued, almost venerated thing.  Perhaps we overeat of bacon partly in some perverse attempt to regain some of that lost meaningfulness in our lives, that more spiritual and communally-sensed sort of nourishment we imbibed at the hearth, the heart of home and community.  Maybe we seek it in this quitessentially concentrated caloric-bonanza superfood.

Most every educated American (so, most of them) know about hog raising today, about the industrialized hell that is the CAFO.  I am struggling to think of a greater insult to all that is natural and sacred, a more egregious blight upon this earth than a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, and perhaps the nastiest is the intensive indoor piggery.  I'm not going to even attempt to describe the apocalyptic nightmare that is a modern pig farm of up to 800,000 'production units', or the effects such a life has on the pigs or their soon-to-be-consumed flesh. The effects on human health of living anywhere near these monstrous abominations are legion. That's how so many of the smallholder communities were destroyed; not just by being bought out or monopolistically out-competed by corporations suckling at the teat of government largesse, but simply by building a CAFO nearby, and making all the residents so sick they have to leave.

But for a CAFO to exist, there still has to be a market for the product.

CAFOs, social and farming malpractices aside, the substance itself is now so far removed from being a natural product, so laced with the incredible cocktail of drugs the pigs are fed and all manner of chemicals to cure the meat and - yes - enhance the flavour that has been bred and fed out by a program aimed at producing carcass weight at all costs that most modern bacon is virtually toxic to our bodies in and of itself.  Never mind the overindulgence in fat and salt, the denatured compounds in modern bacon maim our health just as surely.

We love this stuff though, right?

Does the bacon mania exist despite the traumatic blight that is its production and its place as the poster-food of the obesity and other health epidemics sweeping a majority of the population into an increasingly impaired and helpless future - or does it exist in part because of these things?  Is it that we are just dumbly addicted and in a spiral of denial about the ills of baconophilia or is the horror somehow causative?

Bacon is America.  The turkey might be the official mascot of American food, with the whole Thanksgiving rites and so on, but really it should be the pig. The pig speaks to the tough, survivor side of the American image.  Not a particularly elegant animal, but street-smart, resourceful and one of the last animals you'd want to pick a fight with - also, fated to squeal with delight as it wallows in mud.

It's the bad-boy, rebel thing.  Wearing your love of bacon on your sleeve says "fuck you Diet Dictocrats, I'll eat what I want, I can handle anything thrown my way".  Perhaps no food is more guilt-producing than bacon.  Prohibited by different religions, decried as unclean, disdained by doctors and dietitians, and produced in one of the most environmentally rapacious and soul-destroying methods ever devised by man.  But America has a deep and abiding hatred of being told what to do, or not to do, by anyone.  Bacon is bad?  Fuck you, it tastes good, and I can.

Bacon's cheap ubiquity celebrates the American Dream: That everyone has an opportunity to get wealthy and wallow, to live 'high on the hog'; the physical and chemical reactions that such a fullsome rush of flavourful umami and mouthfeel produce elicit an enormous, but fleeting, sense of wellbeing; one that we might well argue is slipping further and further from our grasp as time grinds forward.

For we know, deeply, America knows - everyone knows - that the End Times are nigh.  Climate change, the collapse of the mass hallucination that is global finance and money, overpopulation, water and arable land shortage, peak oil, and every single bit of it directly caused by our profligacy and greed.  Produced by the logical, natural extension of what has come to be the prime underpinning of the American Libertarian Capitalistic Way - self interest.  But while the bacon flows, all is not lost.

We (affluent baconivorous Westerners) can make ourselves morbidly obese and lay waste to the land; modern medical science will save our 'bacon' as diabetes kicks in or we need our second heart bypass.  While America remains the currency leader, in monetary and aspirational culture terms, Americans can choose between their self-protective responses through bacon.  They can haughtily lift a middle finger to the environmental doomsayers and Big Government health do-gooders, or perhaps more softly just self-soothe, with a nice extra serving of salty/sweet, toothsome cured bacon.  And maybe just an extra serve more.  Is there a more perfect solace to be found anywhere in the sensorium of the carnivore than bacon?  We know how far we will go to delude ourselves to get what we need, as addicts.

While the bacon flows, all is not lost?  Yes, but the bacon mania is also a syndrome emanating directly from the certain knowledge that all is very soon to be lost.  We know, at our core, that the CAFO and such modern industrialization of 'food' production took us to a whole new level of arrogance and distance from the world we actually inhabit.  We know, without doubt, that we cannot go on like this. We know that addictive consumption is the root cause of everything wrong with how we live; a neat encapsulation of the self-love we do not make real through moral action, yet crave so powerfully that we compensate by gorging ourselves on the oleaginous fruits of this holocaust, and calling it a good thing.  By shouting the mantra, all together now; "OMG....baaaacooon!!"  It's the only way we can handle the truth.

This is that other definition of decadence.  You know, as in decay.  In the decline of Empires, the pattern is nearly always the same.  Both bread, circuses and sacrificial rites increase; the denial of the imminent reality rupture becomes ever more strident amongst a large swathe of the populace, judging those who would cry out for reason as Cassandras, doomsayers and buzzkillers.

So anyway, for me, bacon is perhaps a perfect summation of all that ails us in society right now.  We treat those pigs with the same attitudes as we treat our fellow man.  And we drool with delight at feasting on the potent flesh of victory over our adversary, and our power over nature.

Still, I don't think it's too late.  We could just, if we get a few things changed pretty radically pretty soon, save our bacon.


My personal bacon recycling fund is still open here:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Snap, Crackle, Pop!

Last night I physically felt my mind change.  I cannot recall another such episode of such a swift,  radical and pervasive shift in the way I understand the world which was not precipitated by a major crisis of some sort.

What did it feel like?  Well, actually, my sinuses popped - you know, where your hearing suddenly gets louder like when you're descending a steep hill in a car or coming in to land on an aeroplane.  As well as that, the sensation was at first noticeable in my head, the brain region, as a vague sensation of uplifting, like the top plates of my skull were gently being pulled up counter to gravity, and as I consciously noticed that, I imagined I felt some very subtle but pervasive thrill of having a teeny, tiny, indeed sub-microscopic switch thrown in every cell of my body, cascading outwords from my centre-line (or chakras, if you prefer) in a matter of no more than 60 seconds or so.  Slightly crackly-electric, with the minutest snaps of spark imaginable.  Then, I had the thought 'out loud' as it were.  I thought "Wow, my mind has just totally changed".

Waking up this morning the afterglow remains.

Is this something that happens to us all the time and we just don't notice, or is it an instance of something truly rare and noteworthy?  That's probably not something we can ever answer, philosophy and the Mind being what it is, but it's a relevant-seeming question nonetheless.  I'm not going to try answering right now though.

So what happened exactly? It was a confluence of stimuli that set this momentous sensory and nomos-disrupting event off. I can roughly enough point to a conversation 24 hours prior about firestick farming and the various ecologies extant in Australia before white settlement, the arrival and enjoyment of a couple of inspiring and entertaining manifestos by Seth Godin and a documentary TV program that touched upon, among other things, systems theory and the notion of 'ecosystem' as a thing.

I'm not sure I actually got much - if any - new information of earth-shattering importance in all this, I suspect it was more a case of a whole tranche of closely-related puzzle pieces falling before me in a certain, pleasing pattern and resonating with some inner sense of 'truth' I seem so fond of.  Which is ironic, when you see what I mean.

The more I think about it, the less sure I am that I'll be able to explain anyway. Still, I'll try, since I obviously care enough to want to write here about it. (breathes deeply)

We don't often spend much time questioning the deeper assumptions behind our thinking and worldview, but last night I saw just to what extent so much of my expectation of How Things Are was bound up with the idea that natural systems tend towards a point of equilibrium. The thing is, I know that this idea is not some immutable law of nature, because I know there are so many examples and evidences to the contrary.  I have spoken of the mysteries surrounding this idea in different ways before. But it's a really pervasive idea, this underlying-system assumption.  Learning a little more about the historical background behind our theories of ecosystems, feedback loops and computer science (from the documentary) poked me stumbling into a wall of all the assumptions I still rely on in probably half my daily doings that I knew were erroneous but was too lacking in conscious integrity to even see, let alone change. 

And prior to that I had just felt like I'd totally agreed with Seth Godin that We Are All Weird; that essentially the whole cultural and societal move towards 'mass', in the sense of 'mass marketing' or 'mass transit', as has been the case this last many decades in every sphere and facet of society has well and truly had its day.  That a situation where 'normal' used to be an increasingly centralised notion and besides, a desirable state, is no longer at all the case.   More and more, in large part enabled by a fabulous wealth of choice in all things and the speed and reach of communications tech, we are choosing to find our own personal definitions of 'normal', so increasingly we are all becoming outliers on the bell curve.  Fattening the normal curve, if you like.  Now we CAN meet and hang out with people that share our own peculiar foibles and preferences, via this thing you're looking at now for example, so this new tribalism, albeit a really fluid one, is the new normal.  We are all weird now.  And the great freedom of that is that we're getting so much better at respecting others' weirdness.

There was an auric, tingly static hiss as these two things came into each others' proximity in my environs.

I think that might have been the snap, crackle pop bit. For once you bring that light of clear mindful awareness to bear on the murky quantum bubblefoam of unquestioned, hackneyed determinants of perception that we all carry round and wear like dirty spectacles in order to navigate the world, the sudden increase of energy agitates the foam and just like your bowl of rice bubbles, a series of rapid gas explosions occurs. A chain reaction of fizzing, bubble-forming-bursting activity ripples through our reality catchment filter destroying all the dried-out, rusted-on synapse connections made of outdated beliefs and wrong knowledge, until eventually deceleration becomes noticeable and things settle anew, to a new ecosystem of mind. Minus all the gas.

Which is a neat segue, back to where this point started. Ecosystems – indeed any systems with feedback loops in them, tend not necessarily towards some point of equilibrium, nor necessarily straight down the vortex of entropy. It is not always the case that order emerges from chaos, or vice versa. It is that these two things can happen, and so can anything else.  Anything at all.

This whole overlay of certainty about things like the inherent stability of natural systems – an environmental notion I've long said is outdated first and foremost because the planet is changing so quickly lately as to be beyond return to any 'pristine' state anyway – is simply fallacious.  Things can indeed just fall apart, and there is pretty much no firm bet that any new order will fill the vacuum.  More chaos can ensue. Order may not give way ultimately to chaos either. Order can breed more order.  Fractal geometry is pretty and it occurs in nature, but not all nature is fractal.  This samadhi applies to Everything.

Now I see how pervasively I have taken on this one little seemingly natural law, that there would be some underlying pattern if we could just see 'small' enough; a hope I harboured subconsciously, hidden away from conscious reason. How I'd just taken it in faith like gravity or the laws of thermodynamics, and how sneakily we can employ really bad reasoning subconsciously to make ourselves feel comfortable.  I took a circle and made it for me a square, and then decided that since I thought I had gotten rid of this worldview mistake (by doing so consciously) that my sight was clear.  Now I doubt pretty much everything I see or think about in a new light.  Everything.  This is the simplest way to describe what's happened in my head: a piece of enlightening reason, falling under the category heading of You Can Never Know Anything Anyway, has rattled, slipped, ground and at last perfectly meshed itself down from the ground of my intellectual appreciation and wonderment into my very deeply felt subconscious.  My Interface With Real Stuff level. Not only do I Get It, but it now sits as me, sans internal unexamined conflict.

Truly, I feel broken open, and it actually hurts a bit in the chest and abdomen today.  Vulnerable, unsure of myself, and sublimely, newly, unexpectedly free.  The weight of that limitation, the circumscription of a notion that there even might probably be a certain pattern I could perceive here or there, that is somehow useful or good for me to do, as a reassurance of the explicability of the world, has been lifted.  And all along I thought that the first notion; that this idea of a trope towards stability was freeing.  It was like a faith-in-god thought, really, in that it was there as some comfort in the face of a terrible mystery.  Of something too large and unfathomable.  Nope; it was just a defense against the immensity and an attempt to support my ego; my separateness from the Big.  Now, I can relax a whole new stratum of me, one I didn't even realise was so tight.  Ahh.  Or was it just a hot flush?

Hope I get a rest before we barbecue through to the next oniony layer.  ;-)

Thanks for letting me share.  Hope it made some sense, somehow.  This is definitely one of those posts I'm not re-reading just now.  I have to just go with it.  Enjoy!

EDIT: OK, so I re-read it and fixed a couple of lines for grammar and extra readability.  I don't dislike this post.  But I'm glad it's over now.  If I am blessed with another, say, year on the planet, I'll enjoy looking back at this one, I'm sure.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Colin Barnett Story

He's the man of the hour right now, today, what with all this nascent Queen-welcoming, CHOGM - hosting, Amity-beach-mayor-impersonating (kill the shark!!), high-handed treatment of Indigenous landowner etc etc behaviour of his making news lately.

I'm going to let myself off a leash just a little here in this paragraph too, I hope you don't mind, and you know how distasteful I find name-calling but once I had this thought I couldn't un-have it and it feels dishonest not to disclose it up front.......doesn't Colin look just a teeny bit like bufo marinus to you?  (You know, a cane toad?)

Anyway, here's my Colin Barnett story, set back in the late 1980s so adjust your set design accordingly.

INTERIOR: Greenpeace Perth offices, half a flight of rickety stairs down from Joynt Venture (yes the notorious bong shop) on Hay St.  I'm sitting with our uber-dude, salty old sea dog Roy.

Let me describe Roy to you.  Everybody knows Roy.  He's that tall, large-framed guy with a long beard, woolen beanie perpetually affixed in all weathers, with a mainly calm and reassuring presence, but with an oddly soft and high speaking voice.  A man whose never-seen anger you would fear if you thought about it, but whose outbursts generally took the form of a slightly bumble-footed mania, a squall of incensedness that would blow over as suddenly as it had arrived.  A man who had what seemed like only one set of clothes, to go with his one life companion, a gorgeous and highly evolved Malamute called Ben.  Roy is my boss, as head of Greenpeace Perth, and was one of the Original Greenpeace folk.

Roy is sitting behind his desk, leaning back so as not to appear overly fatherly in his advice to young idealot me, as he explains one more time that I don't have to do this at all if I'm not ready, it's no bad reflection on me if I want to watch him do another one or two first.  He's talking about doing a school talk as a representative of Greenpeace.  As well as canvassing for donations and magazine subscriptions (how I earned a measly living at the time) and the odd local protest action (when the US brought her nuclear fleet into port for example) we did such community outreach to schools and other groups.  A standard-ish spiel with some suitably graphic and emotive video to play, outlining Greenpeace's ethos, activities and questions for society to address.  Saving the whales was still very much the hot-button emotive issue, as well as the anti-nuke fleet thing locally (Sydney and other cities had become nuclear-free zones after all) and we still rode a wave of cachet on the back of the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior 5 years earlier.  Did you know the French called it Operation Satanique?

No, Roy, really, I think I've got it.  And I know you'll be there to back me up if anything I can't handle happens, and yes I'm nervous but also really excited to be doing it.  I mean (I thought to myself) how cool is this to be the public face of Greenpeace ffs at the age of only what, 20, hanging out as equals with legends like Roy and all Guildford Grammar!!  I'd been in Perth long enough to know that this is THE boys' school.  Populated by wealthy pastoralist's and rural magnates' sons boarding there during term and a good smattering of old money from the big smoke as day kids as well.  Conservative but not overtly so, very high educational standards a greater priority than that, and it was to be my first flight at the controls.  Roy would simply wait off in the wings and only swoop in in the event of an imminent major crash.  That was the plan.  And yes, it's time to get in The Van for the 45 minute drive out to the Grammar.  Let's go.

INTERIOR: Greenpeace van, in post-peak hour traffic.
No really, Roy, I'm fine.  Thanks.  I've had enough coffee.

EXTERIOR PAN: The manicured trees and expansive lawns that surround the functional but graceful early and mid-twentieth century architecture of the school.  Glimpsed in the distance in the manner of a spectral, watchful presence from the glorious past, an original building from the century before.  Just reminding us of the relative gravity of the surrounds.

INTERIOR: Backstage anteroom of a lecture hall.  The subdued rabble of a well-enough disciplined bunch of 16 and 17 year old boys filing in next door can be heard, the occasional wry admonishment from a teacher chivvying the stragglers and outliers.  Present in the anteroom are myself, Roy, and the Economics Master (if memory serves - forgive me on the little details after all this time) who organised our visit.  the Master is warm and brisk, but seems oddly distracted and not quite engaged with our discussion as to the order of proceedings.

In through the door behind us comes two men.  One is clearly faculty, ushering the second man in - a roundish fellow, with (in my memory's eye) just a touch of bufo marinus about him, who has an air of not-quite-sureness about him surveying the room and our little trio, despite being led directly here.  He sees before him a smiling neutral-coloured bespectacled teacher type, a swarthily bearded gent in practical clothing and beanie looming there like an oversized refrigerator momentarily shifted from its habitual place for cleaning and a stringy beanpole-type young man sporting jeans, boots, a black t-shirt emblazoned in great rainbow block letters with the word Greenpeace beneath his jaunty summerweight homburg-lidded face.

Ah, Mr Barnett, welcome - this is Eric and Roy from Greenpeace WA; you'll be sharing the stage with Eric today, I understand....

FREEZE FRAME: blackout but for spot downlight on the trio of Roy, Colin, myself.  Colin and I with hands extended towards each other - eyes locked but heads ever-so-subtly troping towards the Econ Master as if enlightenment, or at least confirmation of the sudden mutually held sinking feeling of having been expertly set up lay in that direction.  A series of dramatic camera POV swings on this freeze - over each person's shoulder, showing the faces of the opposite numbers.  Colin is still off-balance but quickly regaining his sense of composure, Roy is halfway between resignation at a typical upper-class trick and suddenly panicking that already the Econ Dude has conversationally confirmed me as speaker - no switching available now! - and I'm doing my best to hide bafflement at the new twist by leveraging the psychological advantages of height and pretending like I knew this would happen anyway.


Mr Barnett is head of the chamber of Commerce in Perth and we all thought it would be more interesting to have you both here at the same time to contrast the issues of economic development and environmental awareness you see, I hope you don't mind (smirk); so we thought if we could get you each to do 10 or 15 minutes opening remarks and speeches and then the boys have prepared some questions during our studies this last Colin and I lock hands, sharing a moment of genuine and deep cameraderie; a minor reflection of that ancient gladiatorial moment as strangers suddenly are made foes for another's cruel enjoyment.

I now don't remember much in the way of detail.  It comes iin flashes - an auditorium of the oldest, most mature and well-dressed looking schoolboys I'd ever seen, about 150 of the buggers it seemed, all intently focussed.  A pair of lecterns on a stage.  Roy going to say what we both knew he was going to say to me but him stopping himself one last time and instead just sucking it up, doing his best confident smile and squeezing my shoulder.  The video - I did play the 7 minute mainly anti-whaling video, and saw that hardened as most of these boys wanted to be, there was some effect that got through.  Mainly what I remember though, was that I knew my shit.  I was of course a True Believer; having lived the environmentalist life a couple of years already and being a fervent learner and natural spruiker, coupled with an already battle-hardened canvasser's experience stood me in good stead.  I mean, I spent 4 or 5 hours every evening dealing with all the objections the public can come up with to Greenpeace's mission and an environmental consciousness above profit motive, unlike poor Colin who would be used to preaching only to a fan base.  I leaned heavily on the simple premise of no environment = no economy, and to put it most simply, I fairly frigging wiped the floor with him.  Aided and abetted, in fact, by the way that most of the questions from the boys (many at the urging of their pastoralist fathers, I'm sure) were squarely-aimed 'gotcha' questions designed to shoot holes through my agenda, but I was FREAKING WELL ON FIRE just getting off on the glory and revelment of having such a rapt audience and my quarry on the ropes for the whole 3 rounds.

I did not glance across at Roy once, the whole time.  I would have lost the mojo, been distracted and started second-guessing myself with "what would Roy say?" and all that.

There was morning tea afterwards with some faculty members, and a slightly surprised, but impressed Econ Master.  Colin did not grace us with his presence and Roy dragged me away very quickly before my ego could undo any of the good work.  Smart man.

INTERIOR:  Greenpeace van, smoking a cigarette whilst driving in light traffic, sun coursing down on a gorgeous Perth day.  Neither of us is speaking.  I am beaming quietly, so much that my face hurts slightly, but I am also getting that adrenalin comedown, and starting to want more coffee, anything, to keep the buzz up and stop the little tremors of anticlimax.

Well, I'm happy for you to do the talks on your own now.  They won't get any harder than that one, I think.  That was pretty much all he said.  I've no idea what he said to others back in the office but in my presence all he said was "it went well" and forswore gainsaying any of my wild-eyed commentary about it.

I have a feeling I didn't make much money canvassing that night.  If memory is serving and if history is a guide, then the pub was probably a pretty lively place for me after work that night too.

And for years afterwards, as his career put him more and more in the media spotlight, the first thing I'd remember when he popped up on the news was another freeze-frame moment.  My POV, looking across the stage at him after I'd just laid out a masterfully succinct precis of how if we can't eat then we can't have an economy, opening the floor with my glance to his right of reply, and seeing that "fuck you" look fleetingly pass like a rushing cloud across his amphibian jowls as he formulated some weak riposte about the necessity of business to *pay* for environmental actions and remediations etc etc.......unkind of me, wasn't it?

Now when I see him I have a pleasingly neutral sensation.  I seem to have worked it out of my system, to the extent that only the rantings and ravings of a friend taking up bitter (and entirely laudable, understandable) opposition to Mr Barnett's idiotic stance on this 'rogue shark' bullshit non-issue has prompted me to remember this episode afresh, the first time in ages.

And that's my Colin Barnett story.