Diary

Gadfly
A bird in the handcuffs

As America grappled with the coup at the Capitol, Australia began the year with a coo of its own as the whole nation found itself obsessed with the survival of a pigeon. To recap this classic tale of Nanny State v Freedom of Flight, a man named Kevin Celli-Bird – because there is no subtlety in this poorly written reality – found a pigeon in his backyard, which was identified as a racing pigeon from Oregon. This meant it had flown some 13,000 kilometres to Melbourne, no doubt fleeing police violence against Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland. Those political leanings may explain why the Department of Agriculture announced immediately that it had no choice but to kill the pigeon.

This is the same department that several years ago threatened to execute actor Johnny Depp’s dogs, Pistol and Boo, over a customs spat, which does raise some questions. Does the Department of Agriculture just really hate animals? Is this some residual trauma from when the department’s parents lied about the family dog going to a farm upstate when it was old, and the department discovered that lie and now thinks no one should have a pet if it couldn’t have a pet? It seems Agriculture has become even more hard line since Barnaby Joyce was turfed from the portfolio: the department didn’t even offer the pigeon the opportunity to film an apology video in exchange for its life.

Luckily, Australian pigeon rights advocates sprang into action, galvanising support and doing actual goddamn research for five minutes instead of just announcing the death penalty. Pigeon Rescue Melbourne discovered the pigeon wasn’t actually an American with Antifa leanings, but rather just a local bird that had been misidentified. The execution order was stayed, and we could stop worrying about the future of this pigeon and instead rejoice we have a government that values the life of each and every Australian pigeon.

In unrelated news, while the country obsessed over the life of a pigeon, the two little girls from Biloela, Kopika and Tharunicaa, and their parents, Priya and Nades, have been in a detention centre for more than 1000 days.

Match fit

Quarantining is hard. Ask any Melburnian – a city of five million people forced to contend with their own thoughts and soul-search for seven months. So, tennis players being made to quarantine ahead of the Australian Open can be forgiven for having emotional breakdowns in their hotel rooms. Indeed, they have it even tougher, lacking access to the basic ingredients for breadmaking and with nothing new to binge on a par with Tiger King. It’s probably why Spanish player Roberto Bautista Agut likened quarantine conditions to being in jail, which either speaks very highly for jails in Spain or poorly for Australian hotels.

Kazakh player Yulia Putintseva took to Instagram to share her criticism, holding up a cardboard sign with “We need fresh air to breathe” written on it in Comic Sans, a font choice that suggests her quarantine needs to be extended. Clearly Covid-19 has affected her sense of taste.

In a strange twist, Putintseva was this week accused by Victoria’s Police minister of feeding mice in her hotel room, after she was moved when she discovered a mouse in her first room, only to claim she saw another in the second. “As I understand, there may have been some feeding going on,” Minister Lisa Neville told reporters. Disney+ executives have sprung into action to develop a heartwarming series about an intrepid mouse and the angry Russian tennis player who befriends it. Sadly for Putintseva and her fellow players, it won’t be ready to stream before they are freed from their hotel rooms.

It is estimated that quarantining 1200 tennis players and staff will cost $40 million, which Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley claimed midweek the Victorian government would partially cover. This came as a surprise to the state government, and it unequivocally announced Tennis Australia was paying the entire quarantine bill. This is the exact reverse of what occurs when two Arab families have dinner together and spend all of dessert fighting over who will have the honour of paying. The solution, which should have been worked out generations ago, is to make that decision before the reservations.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic made a series of requests for quarantining players, which included fitness and training material, decent food, and private houses with tennis courts for training. Premier Daniel Andrews has, however, made it clear that Victoria does not negotiate with tennis players. Nick Kyrgios called Djokovic “a tool”, which is kind of like being called “a conspiracy theory believing nutcase” by Craig Kelly.

You say it best, when you say nothing at all

Remember in high school when your friend did something that was clearly wrong, and you wanted to call them out on it but you were also a little bit spineless and confronting them wasn’t something you were really up for, so instead you just ignored them for a while and hoped it would hurt their feelings to no longer have you to talk to? Yet you also wanted everyone to know you disagreed with what they did, and so you ingratiated yourself with the other former friends of that person who had made their disdain public, and with that association you were hoping you could also be seen as having taken a stand, even though you very clearly avoided doing just that? Then remember how you felt bad about your own lack of courage and wished you were a better person?

Remove that final concern and you have the approach Prime Minister Scott Morrison has taken towards condemning Donald Trump’s attempt to overthrow Joe Biden’s election. Morrison didn’t say outright it was a bad thing; he didn’t even speak to the outgoing American president, even though he had just received a lovely gift of a Legion of Merit from Trump just a few weeks ago, which is kind of like being called “a tool” by Nick Kyrgios.

Instead, Morrison bravely called up Vice-President Mike Pence and had a conversation in which Trump was basically ignored, much the same way a fart is ignored in a conference room. Morrison’s refusal to condemn outright Trump’s insurrection stands in stark contrast with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who issued an explicit condemnation, putting Scott Morrison in the unfortunate position of having even less character than Boris Johnson.

The most we got from Morrison was something of a condemnation of the violence of the Capitol assault with the caveat, “But it has been a year full of violence, you know, in many ways last year in the United States” – drawing a comparison between men with Viking helmets and zip ties planning on kidnapping members of the senate to Black Lives Matter protesters who were calling for an end to police brutality. In fairness, Morrison showed a heroic level of restraint, stopping himself from adding there were “very fine people on both sides”, which in Australian politics is known as “pulling a McCormack”.

Made in Trump’s America

On Thursday, Trump delivered his farewell speech, fundamentally failing to understand how farewell speeches work by claiming this “is only just beginning”. Trump said he became president because there were towering new summits waiting to be scaled, although the only thing scaled in the past four years was the boundary wall to the Capitol by his supporters.

To his credit, the outgoing president did condemn the assault on the Capitol, but it was unclear whether the condemnation was due to the fact the assault took place or because it failed. A known fan of assaults, as long as they’re sexual, Trump went on to praise himself for having spent his career as a “builder looking at open skylines and imagining infinite possibilities”, by which he meant putting up giant towers with his name on them at which future generations could aim their middle fingers. He also hailed the return of a “beautiful phrase: Made in America”, as his supporters wore red MAGA caps and waved flags made in China.

Finally, speaking of the incoming administration, the linguistically talented Trump offered some parting wishes: “We also want them to have luck, a very important word.” Thankfully the Democrats already have “luck”, or as Mitch McConnell calls it, “control of the senate”. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 23, 2021 as "Gadfly: A bird in the handcuffs".

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Sami Shah is a multi-award-winning comedian, writer and journalist.