The power of query in sorting out data in Sheets

I get a lot of requests for writing various queries, focusing on different information. Although I am always happy to help out, I am also interested in potential of creating spreadsheet templates that people can copy and use themselves. One template I developed recently was build around interpreting different data exports.

Often these export files have a lot of information, which people get lost in. Although they could just delete the columns that they do not want, the feedback is that that process is tedious. Therefore, I created a spreadsheet where users can import a CSV and then select the fields that they want to work with. I did this using a QUERY formula and a series of checkboxes associated with which columns to SELECT and which columns to ORDER BY.

="{QUERY(Sheet1!A1:CJ,"&char(34)&"SELECT "&JOIN(", ",QUERY(A3:D,"SELECT C WHERE D = TRUE"))&" ORDER BY "&JOIN(", ",IFNA(QUERY(A3:E,"SELECT C WHERE E = TRUE"),"Col1"))&char(34)&",1)}"

Users can then copy the query formula and run it in a separate tab.

The current workflow can be summarised as follows:

  1. Create a copy of the Google Sheet template.
  2. Import the data spreadsheet (File > Import > Upload > Browse > Open > Insert New Sheet(s) > Import data). This will bring the data into a new tab ‘Sheet1’
  3. In the SUMMARY tab, refresh the formula in cell A3, then use the checkboxes to select which fields to be displayed and the field(s) to order by.
  4. Copy the formula created in Cell B2 and paste it in Cell A1 in the data tab, adding ‘=’ at the start to activate it

Although this works fine, I was left wondering if it was possible to instead display the data dynamically, rather than copying and pasting the formula. I imagine that I would need some sort of ‘TO_FORMULA’ type of function, where the text is translated into a formula.

As always, thoughts and comments welcome.

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Stories happen only to those who are able to tell them, someone once said. In the same way, perhaps, experiences present themselves only to those who are able to have them. Paul Auster ‘The New York Trilogy’

I remember going to Andy Warhol’s Time Capsule exhibition and seeing his film Kiss. It captured something in so much detail that I was left unsure exactly what to think about it. I had a similar experience reading Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy.

The ‘trilogy’ includes three separate novels – City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986) – that serve as something of a whole. However, as Robert Briggs discusses, the trilogy is not straight-forward.

Nevertheless, a few points of correspondence can be found between the three stories, which could define Auster’s collection as not so much a nonidentical or uncertain trilogy as rather a trilogy about the nonidentical and the uncertain. So, although there is little continuity between genre and character, there is a certain persistence of duplicitous identities.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

In a discussion on BBC World Service, Auster posits that ‘triptych’ might be a better word for the series, but does not have the same sound, therefore trilogy it is.

The novel has been described as ‘anti-detective’.

The re-working of the detective story as a search for the ultimate language shows that it is not the final and speculative textualization that is most appropriate for the postmodern world, but instead, the text that is written about the text. Stories about stories and books of questions, as opposed to books of answers, are the forms that best typify the difficult reality of our times. The New York Trilogy participates in the deconstruction of the legendary tower of the ancestral city and its language, as it describes the Babel-like shattering of the contemporary metropolis at the same time that it expresses the crisis surrounding linguistic representation. Its ideological structure of a wandering through and a detachment from pre-existing principles forces the postmodern subject to question the basis of all legendary archetypes.

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

For me, this is where a gun is oddly both just a gun as well as something more, and you are never really sure which it is. Auster has said that the genre serves as a means to an end in the same way as Beckett uses vaudeville in Waiting for Godot. Whereas detection fiction is usually about answering question, Auster flips this expectation by using it to ask questions. This approach creates a feeling of excess, where there is always too much happening. Our desire for sense and control is always challenged. Take this quote from the end of City of Glass:

For the most part his entries from this period consisted of marginal questions concerning the Stillman case. Quinn wondered, for example, why he had not bothered to look up the newspaper reports of Stillman’s arrest in 1969. He examined the problem of whether the moon landing of that same year had been connected in any way with what had happened. He asked himself why he had taken Auster’s word for it that Stillman was dead. He tried to think about eggs and wrote out such phrases as “a good egg,” “egg on his face,” “to lay an egg,” “to be as like as two eggs.” He wondered what would have happened if he had followed the second Stillman instead of the first. He asked himself why Christopher, the patron saint of travel, had been decanonized by the Pope in 1969, just at the time of the trip to the moon. He thought through the question of why Don Quixote had not simply wanted to write books like the ones he loved— instead of living out their adventures. He wondered why he had the same initials as Don Quixote. He considered whether the girl who had moved into his apartment was the same girl he had seen in Grand Central Station reading his book. He wondered if Virginia Stillman had hired another detective after he failed to get in touch with her. He asked himself why he had taken Auster’s word for it that the check had bounced. He thought about Peter Stillman and wondered if he had ever slept in the room he was in now. He wondered if the case was really over or if he was not somehow still working on it. He wondered what the map would look like of all the steps he had taken in his life and what word it would spell.

All in all, it is a novel that attempts to find a means of coming to grips with the world.

One must understand how the universe functions before one confronts it with the force of creativity; this is the writer’s task. In citing Samuel Beckett, Auster defines his own ideological and literary bent, thereby depicting his profound critical acumen and his feeling for the mission of the artist: “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.”

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

Another interesting feature of the novel is the place of ‘New York’. This is as much as an internalised space. Clara Sarmento makes the comparison between New York and Walden’s forest.

The confining within the walls of New York is very similar to the solitude of the forest found in Henry Thoreau’s Walden, recollections of which dominate the Trilogy. In both these works, the authors achieve perfect isolation within the spaces delineated by the city or the forest that endows them with a transcending ability to observe and reflec

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

In the end, the New York Trilogy feels like one of those conversations that you forget how or why it actually started once it has finished. Auster’s style has a music and rhythm to it in which you can easily become consumed. I like how Robert Briggs captures this in his reading of the novel:

Even though you might start off reading fiction, you can’t expect, in the end, not to find yourself writing the story of your life.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

While Gary Matthew Varner argues that the book is ‘rhizomatic’ in that is ‘nullifies endings’:

What makes Auster’s Trilogy endless, and rhizomatic, is that it “nullif[ies] endings” (Deleuze and Guattari 25) … Readers may not want to begin reading Auster’s book at any point in any volume, but the Trilogy nevertheless nullifies its own “endings.”

Source: Paul Auster’s rhizomatic fictions by Gary Matthew Varner

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Highly productive individuals, teams, and organisations don’t get to that level merely by accident. It happens through hard work on process which, in turn, leads to consistently-great outcomes. Doug Belshaw ‘Trello Kanban’

This year I was seconded to help in the technical team. In some ways, I am doing much of the same work as before in responding to issues pushed to us, whether it be debugging problems and supporting schools. One change though has been a focus on the technical changes and enhancements. As a part of this, I was asked to complete Atlassian’s online courses associated with the use of Jira and the agile methodology.

In 2001, a group of developers published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The manifesto outlines four key values associated with the agile mindset:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Source: Manifesto for Agile Software Development

In unpacking these values, Atlassian provide six tips to build an agile mindset:

  1.  Show respect for all team members
  2.  Communicate openly and clearly
  3. Look for ways to innovate
  4. Actively improve your skills
  5. Your work doesn’t have to be perfect
  6. Have a plan, but always be ready to pivot

Although there are many agile frameworks, Atlassian focuses on two in particular: Kanban and Scrum.

The Kanban framework allows teams to visualise workflows associated with work and improvement. It focuses on columns of cards, which allows all involved to easily see the progression of various tasks. (For example, Doug Belshaw introduces Kanban with three columns: To do, Doing, and Done.) Associated with each card, there are details, checklists, attachments, labels, work in progress (WIP) and collaboration through comments. I have discussed the use of Kanban boards in the past in regards to Trello.

Scrum is about iterative delivery of batched improvements. Groups of issues are organised into sprints with a clear focus and a set number of WIP points. Unlike Kanban boards, sprints are time-based, with future work added to a backlog. In addition to the boards, there are certain structures and processes. This includes regular meetings focusing on what has been completed, what needs to be completed and any obstacles, a review of accomplishments, and a retrospective that focuses on what the learnings from the sprint. Associated with the boards and meetings, there are roles central to the cycle, including the product owner and the scrum master. The product owner is in charge of recording requirements and identifying priorities for the business, while the scrum master acts as a coach, responsible for the performance of the team.

Personally, I had dabbled with using Kanban in my work before. I had also explored the idea of agile management in education through Richard Olsen’s Modern Learning Canvas and Simon Breakspeare’s Teaching Sprints. However, I had never dived into the world of scrum and sprints as a part of my current work. One of the reasons has been that it has not been the methodology of the teams I have worked in.

One of the interesting challenges I find with any agile approach is how it works in practice. According to Atlassian, best practice is to make the habit front and centre. This involves using Confluence for documentation and communicating everything by using the @name from the various cards. This then allows the use of various reports to improve processes and outcomes. The problem with this is that it often places other things in the periphery. If all I did was project work, it would be perfect. However, I feel like I work in a dual operating system. I manage my time between the push for enhancements and improvements, and the pull associated with everyday support. The problem is that it feels that both sides are often oblivious of the other. In regards to agile, this often creates scope creep where things are often added that occur outside of project planning.

In addition to this, it would be nice if Jira (or Atlassian) was the only place where I worked. The project I am a part of has many different signals, including email, Google Drive, OneDrive, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat and Ivanti’s HEAT. There are often times when I am not sure where I am meant to look. For me, I think that the various cross-messaging is often akin to football and a team defense where everyone plays their role producing an outcome where the whole is greater the sum of the individuals. However, when there is not buy in across the board, then the system fails.

Another interesting consideration is the structures of something like scrum. In their introduction to the topic, Chris Sims and Hillary Louise Johnson talk about the optimal size of teams:

So, how many team members should a scrum team have? The common rule of thumb is seven, plus or minus two. That is, from five to nine. Fewer team members and the team may not have enough variety of skills to do all of the work needed to complete user stories. More team members and the communication overhead starts to get excessive.

Source: Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction by Chris Sims and Hillary Louise Johnson

I am in a team of four and this creates some confusion at times about who exactly is doing what roll.

In the end, my biggest takeaway was that agile was a mindset, a way of thinking about continual improvement and development. I was subsequently left wondering if the best methodology is one devised based on the requirements of the particular context. With this in mind, I found Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup interesting in that it offers mindsets as much as approaches.

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He found out that those processes wrongly known as “monologues” are really dialogues of a special kind; dialogues in which one partner remains silent while the other, against all grammatical rules, addresses him as “I” instead of “you”, in order to creep into his confidence and to fathom his intentions; but the silent partner just remains silent, shuns observation and even refuses to be localized in time and space. Arthur Koestler ‘Darkness at Noon’

Growing up, I remember my grandfather recommending Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon to me. I think our conversation was around capturing war through fiction. It was one of those recommendations which I noted, but for one reason or another never got around to reading til now.

Darkness at Noon is based on the Moscow trials. This was a series of show trials held in the late 1930s involving Nikolai Bukharin and twenty of his Soviet government colleagues were accused of a host of crimes, such as plotting to assassinate Lenin and Stalin, carving up the Soviet empire, and restoring capitalism. Darkness at Noon revolves around a fictional old Bolshevik, Rubashov, who has been arrested and tried for treason.

The novel was written quickly after these trials in difficult circumstances, starting it in the summer of 1939 and finishing in April 1940.

Koestler describes the unfolding of what he calls ‘Kafkaesque events’ in his life; spending four months in the concentration camp in the Pyrenees and being released in January 1940, only to be continuously harassed by the police. “During the next three months I finished the novel in the hours snatched between interrogations and searches of my flat, in the constant fear that I would be arrested again and the manuscript of Darkness at Noon confiscated”.

Source: Darkness at Noon by Wikipedia

A German copy of the finished manuscript was sent to Switzerland and an English copy was sent with Daphne Hardy, Koestler’s girlfriend at the time, who – even though she had no prior experience – had actually translated the novel. The German copy was lost until 2015, when it was rediscovered, so it was Hardy’s translated copy which was eventually published.

The original title for the book was The Vicious Circle, but this was rejected by the publishers, Jonathan Cape. Hardy was unable to contact Koestler as he was still trying to make his way to England, suggested Darkness at Noon, taking it from the book of Job:

They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in the night.

Source: JOB 5:14

Whether it be secret meetings between agents, the process of interrogation or communicating by code in jail, the novel paints a picture of life under communist rule. It explores the fraught nature, where one moment you maybe marking others for death, only to then be marked yourself. At one moment, the butcher sacrificing lambs so lambs will no longer be sacrificed, only for the tide to turn and then to become the lamb that is being butchered.

He is damned always to do that which is most repugnant to him: to become a slaughterer, in order to abolish slaughtering, to sacrifice lambs so that no more lambs may be slaughtered, to whip people with knouts so that they may learn not to let themselves be whipped, to strip himself of every scruple in the name of a higher scrupulousness, and to challenge the hatred of mankind because of his love for it—an abstract and geometric love.

Source: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

This fragile environment is epitomised by the discussion of execution of Bogrov over his interpretation of the choice of submarines to be developed.

Bogrov advocated the construction of submarines of large tonnage and a long range of action. The Party is in favour of small submarines with a short range. You can build three times as many small submarines for your money as big ones. Both parties had valid technical arguments. The experts made a big display of technical sketches and algebraic formulae; but the actual problem lay in quite a different sphere. Big submarines mean: a policy of aggression, to further world revolution. Small submarines mean: coastal defense – that is, self-defense and postponement of world revolution. The latter is the point of view of No. 1, and the Party.

Source: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

It does not matter if the party and No.1 later changes tacks, therefore absolving Bogrov of the difference of opinion, it is always about being in line with the messaging.

Beyond communist life, Darkness at Noon delves into the world of the internal dialogue. In a space where everything is for the party, this is always an unknown. In part the novel investigates the alienation associated with psychological torture. An example of this is Rubashov’s discussion of monologue as dialogue:

He found out that those processes wrongly known as “monologues” are really dialogues of a special kind; dialogues in which one partner remains silent while the other, against all grammatical rules, addresses him as “I” instead of “you”, in order to creep into his confidence and to fathom his intentions; but the silent partner just remains silent, shuns observation and even refuses to be localized in time and space.

Source: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

More than this though, it is an investigation into how and why somebody might come to the position of admitting guilt for something that they know is not necessarily true.

The show trials were both a symptom of this corruption and proof of the rot that was undermining the whole system, and the most loyal party members among the accused had confessed because the ideological ground beneath their feet had been cut away and they had nothing more to believe in. It was their resulting psychological collapse that Koestler wished to explore, rather than the mechanisms of the trials themselves.

In turning against the party they had lost their sole source of support and, unable to resist any further, confessed to their “crimes” as a “last service to the party.”

Source: The Eerily Prescient Lessons of Darkness at Noon by Michael Scammell (Lithub)

It is interesting to compare Koestler’s investigation of the internal dialogue with George Orwell’s 1984, a book written after Darkness at Noon, but also about totalitarian regimes. Orwell was clearly influenced by Koestler, having reviewed Darkness at Noon in 1941 for The New Statesman:

Brilliant as this book is as a novel, and a piece of brilliant literature, it is probably most valuable as an interpretation of the Moscow “confessions” by someone with an inner knowledge of totalitarian methods. What was frightening about these trials was not the fact that they happened – for obviously such things are necessary in a totalitarian society – but the eagerness of Western intellectuals to justify them.

Source: The Untouched Legacy of Arthur Koestler and George Orwell

Unlike Koestler, whose exploration is largely after Rubashov has been arrested, Orwell provides an insight into Winston Smith’s inner thoughts and decision to betray the party as they happen.

Although both had become disillusioned after spending time fighting in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell had a different take on Communism. For him, it is largely about power, as Adam Kirsch explains:

Koestler’s reckoning with Communism is very different from Orwell’s vision in “1984,” which was published nine years later. In Orwell’s dystopia, “Ingsoc,” English socialism, is not really an ideology at all, just a tissue of lies and a tool for mass hypnosis. The Party’s leader, O’Brien, famously tells Winston Smith, after his arrest, that the core of its appeal is pure sadism, the pleasure of exercising total power over another: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Stalinism, for Orwell, dressed up this power worship in a lot of meaningless doctrine that people learned to repeat without thinking about it—what the novel calls “duckspeak.”

Source: The Desperate Plight Behind “Darkness at Noon” by Adam Kirsch (The New Yorker)

In some respects, the novel is dated, especially in regards to Communism and its threat to society. However, as Adam Kirsch captures, at some point every political creed faces the question of what evil means are justified for noble ends:

Its central theme will probably always seem timely, because every political creed must eventually face the question of whether noble ends can justify evil means. As Koestler saw, this problem reached its pure form in Communism because its avowed aim was the noblest of all: the permanent abolition of social injustice throughout the world. If this could be achieved, what price would be too high? Maybe a million or ten million people would die today, but if billions would be happy tomorrow wasn’t that worth it?

Source: The Desperate Plight Behind “Darkness at Noon” by Adam Kirsch (The New Yorker)

Place between Nineteen Eighty-Four and Stasiland on the bookshelf.

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Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point, with this touch rather than with the point setting the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity, a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according to the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux. Walter Benjamin ‘Task of the Translator’

Each January, on the Sizzletown podcast, Tony Martin tides over the holiday season with an unplugged version. This involves going back through his movie diaries from the 80’s. Each listing includes the name of the film and a five star rating. The podcast is basically him making sense of these ratings. One of the things that I find while listening is how much the rating seems superfluous to the explanation as to why he provided the rating. Personally, I always find it hard while listening to music or reading books as to how you make a judgment call. Often I am more interested in different ideas and beginnings and how this all changes in time.

Back in 1997, I went with my step-sister to see Romeo and Juliet at Knox City. Before the film, we went to JB-HiFi. This was before it had been floated on the stock exchange and stores were still somewhat rare. In addition to inquirying about a mobile phone (something else rare at the time), my sister bought a Celine Deon CD. I on the other hand bought Double Allergic by Powderfinger. My sister was mystified. She had never heard of Powderfinger. As time passed, I am pretty sure she found out who Powerfinger were and for me they went on the back burner.

In her review of JP Hartley’s novel, The Go-Between, Ali Smith argues that ‘books are go-betweens’.

Books are, in essence, go-betweens, works which conjure rhythm and release across time and history, across places of familiarity and those foreign to us; and personally and individually, too, it’s all a going-between, for every person who picks up a book for a first, then a second, then a third time.

Source: Rereading: The Go-Between by LP Hartley by Ali Smith

I would argue the music is the same. Different music, touches different people, at different times.

In Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘The Task of the Translator‘, he discusses the purpose of translation. Instead of conforming to the reader, the translator should conform to the source and target language of the work. The purpose is to highlight the relationship between the two languages, and how they complement each other. In his discussion of this, he gives the analogy of the tangent touching the circle:

Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point, with this touch rather than with the point setting the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity, a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according to the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux.

Source: Task of the Translator by Walter Benjamin

I wonder if there is something in this ‘tangent’? Each listener hears an artist at a particular point in time from a particular point of view, in some ways they translate it into their own world.

In Raymond Williams’ Marxism and Literature, he talks about the notion of the ‘dominant, the risidual and the emergent’. For Williams, culture is always in one of three phases. As WIlliam’ touches on:

By ’emergent’ I mean, first, that new meanings and values, new practices, new relationships and kinds of relationship are continually being created. But it is exceptionally difficult to distinguish between those which are really elements of some new phase of the dominant culture (and in this sense ‘species-specific’) and those which are substantially alternative or oppositional to it: emergent in the strict sense, rather than merely novel.

Source: Marxism and Literature by Raymond Williams

Thinking about this idea in regards to my purchase of Powderfinger’s Double Allergic, this was clearly an emergent practice. They were on the up. Although they were popular, they were not popular enough to be a household name. For example, I did not jump onboard when they released Internationalist or Odyssey Number Fiver, their ‘popular’ albums.

The question that remains with this is what about those who may have jumped onboard before? For example, what about those who bought into (as my friend’s brother did) the release of Parables for Wooden Ears or invested into them when they were playing covers in Brisbane?

As listeners, we are not only a part of a whole, but we are individuals as well. For me, we hear artists not only as a part of a particular moment in time, but also as a part of one’s individual experiences. Personally, I often find myself seemingly late to the party. For example, I find myself stumbling upon an artist only to become mesmerised by their next release. I did this with Methyl Ethyl’s Are You Haunted. I remember stumbling upon Jake Webb with the release of Triage, however Are You Haunted and I seemed to meet at the right moment. More recently, I had a similar experience with Kimbra. I had listened to and liked Primal Heart, but there is something about A Reckoning that met me at a particular moment.

So What about you? How do you go about ‘rating’ music or rating anything?

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Basically there's night and there's day, and you try and go between that, and you find the twilight zone—and there lies the Go-Betweens. (Robert Forster) David Nichols ‘The Go-Betweens’

There have been many side-effects associated with the pandemic. One has been to jump into untouched classic literature, like Proust. Alternatively, some, such as Kevin Smokler, have suggested returning to a favourite artist, while others, like Colin Marshall, have discussed the process of choosing one artist and listening to each album, once a day for a week. I tried Proust in regards to literature, but like so many before me, waved the white flag after the first two books. Moving on, I decided to dive into an artist I thought I knew, but knew that I had never listened to deeply. The artist I chose was The Go-Betweens.

I am not exactly sure why I chose The Go-Betweens as my deep dive. I had always known The Go-Betweens, but was not sure I really knew The Go-Betweens. One thought was maybe Kriv Stenders’ documentary, Right Here. I initially watched this on ABC iView. I think that I was captured by the discussion of the myth that surrounds the band. Another thought was listening to Missy Higgins’ cover of Was There Anything I Could Do on her album of Australian covers, Oz. Lastly, I was left thinking about Damian Cowell’s comment on the Take 5 podcast:

Use your power wisely … Treat them to an anchovy.

Source: TISM’s Damian Cowell’s songs from the 90s zeitgeist by Take 5 podcast

Although Cowell was speaking about Custard, I could not help but think about The Go-Betweens.

The first question that needs addressing is who were or are The Go-Betweens? First, there is the name. David Nichols’ captures some of origins in his book on the band. The obvious reference is to L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between, a story about Leo Coulston who is somewhat unknowingly entangled within an affair which leaves his life forever corrupted. However, some of the other ideas were that the music was a go-between ‘night and day’:

McLENNAN: Oh; we were driving along in a car one time; going to the Exchange Hotel. We drove over the bridge there and we were just thinking of a few names and 1 think Rob came up with the Go-Betweens. Because, we since found out, we went between two types of music, maybe, or …
FORSTER: Basically there’s night and there’s day, and you try and go between that, and you find the twilight zone—and there lies the Go-Betweens. – Page 20

Source: The Go-Betweens by David Nichols

Or between different styles of music:

To be a go-between was far from a negative role in McLennan and Forster’s eyes. They were in between so many places, swamped by a cultural flood. While they faced the reality of Brisbane, the heat, parental pressure, and the influence of punk rock, they also yearned for New York in the 1960s and 1970s, Paris in the 1920s and 1950s, and were fascinated by Timothy Leary Bob Dylan, Tom Verlaine, Françoise Hardy, Samantha Eggar, Richard Hell, Blondie, and the Erasers. All of this was siphoned through a strange, anomalous Brisbane rock group called the Go-Betweens. – Page 52

Source: The Go-Betweens by David Nichols

Interestingly, coming back to Hartley’s novel, Ali Smith describes it as a book about books:

The Go-Between is about books as much as it’s about memory. It’s a model of the importance of rereading (and God knows we treat books lightly – we wouldn’t, after all, expect to know a piece of music properly on just one listen), knowledge and innocence so much part of its structure as to make it a knowingly different book on revisiting. Above all, though, it is a text which works like a charm: books are, in essence, go-betweens, works which conjure rhythm and release across time and history, across places of familiarity and those foreign to us; and personally and individually, too, it’s all a going-between, for every person who picks up a book for a first, then a second, then a third time.

Source: Rereading: The Go-Between by LP Hartley by Ali Smith

Replacing the word ‘books’ with ‘music’, maybe the The Go-Betweens are music or a band that go-betweens, across places familiar and foreign. In the end, the name seems to act as a catchall for whatever meaning listeners are willing to apply.

Going beyond the name, the narrative of the band seems just as disputed. The easy answer is to focus on myth surrounding the two songwriters, Grant McLennan and Robert Forster. They met while studying at University of Queensland, before deciding to form a band on Forster’s behest. Interestingly, Foster was interested in creating a band as an idea:

If a musician couldn’t be found, a friend could be taught. It then followed that a group could be cast like a play or a movie. – Page 25

Source: Grant & I by Robert Forster

Although many compare the partnership between Foster and McLennen as some sort of Australian Lennon and McCartney, there inspiration was as much groups like The Monkees and the ‘band as a flagship’:

FORSTER: Grant and I used to look at products. As a game, I’d go round the kitchen and pick up something like Vegemite. And we’d rattle off five or ten advertising slogans. Products around the kitchen. We were flying! We thought we were geniuses. The band was always the flagship: “If the band becomes famous, everyone’s going to be interested in these ideas. We’ve got to get famous.” The group was the get-famous thing—once that happened, we could go. ‘‘Surprise, surprise, everybody, yeah, we’re pop stars but we’ve got all these other ideas and we’re goddamn flickin’ geniuses. You thought you were only getting two moptop pop stars, what you’re getting is Truffaut and Godard! We’re the Orson Welles of rock.” It didn’t happen. – Page 70

Source: The Go-Betweens by David Nichols

However, The Go-Betweens story is far more complicated than a story about two songwriters.

In My Rock n Roll Friend, Tracey Thorn makes the case that The Go-Betweens are really a classic trio whose true story starts and finishes with Lindy Morrison.

It is Lindy, Robert and Grant who are the original Go-Betweens. It is their band. In the future they might get in backing singers, or keyboard players, or violinists, or sax soloists, or a full-blown bloody orchestra, but the essence remains. They are a classic trio, whatever anyone might say later. – Page 40

Source: My Rock n Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn

Morrison was the drummer for much of the eighties, before McLennan and Forster dramatically pulled the pin on the band. She defied the “fantasies of a chic little French girl” that Foster and McLennan may have intially had. Instead, she provided a particular edge and perspective.

Underplaying Lindy’s contribution does not just do her a disservice: it is self-defeating. It makes them a less interesting band, saddling them with a dull identity when they had a bright and interesting one. It is their final act of self-sabotage. – Page 200

Source: My Rock n Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn

In addition to Morrison, there are others, such as Amanda Brown, Robert Vickers and John Wilsteed, whose legacies served in making the band more than just a duo. Let alone the later additions of Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson when the band reformed in the late 90’s.

Although I listened to all the albums in order, I feel they can be organised into two groups. The original line-up featuring Morrison on drums ending with 16 Lovers Lane and the reformed line-up.

The Original Line-Up

Send Me a Lullaby
Before Hollywood
Spring Hill Fair
Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express
16 Lovers Lane

Reformed Line-Up

The Friends of Rachel Worth
Bright Yellow Bright Orange
Oceans Apart

I am not sure if it was because, out of all their albums, I had listened to 16 Lovers Lane the most, but listening to the early albums in more depth and detail felt a little like one of those word puzzles where you change one letter each step until the whole word has changed.

Send Me a Lullaby is an albums that feels like it is trying to find itself.

Released in 1981, it now sounds very much of its time: jerky, influenced by all sorts of even jerkier-sounding British post-punk bands like Gang of Four, the Raincoats and the Slits.

Source: The last time I saw Grant – Griffith Review by Andrew Stafford

Beyond Hollywood adds hooks and texture to develop a more complete sound.

Where Send Me a Lullaby was fragile and occasionally faltering, yet still possessed of an uplifting resonance, Before Hollywood is a more complete album. Endearing as their vulnerability was, the Go-Betweens now play with confidence and solidity, though still with an edge . . . [here] they offer ten deceptively simple pop songs that pack an emotional impact just below a skin of finely wrought and realised melody and rhythmic attack. – Page 209

Source: Stranded by Clinton Walker

With Spring Hill Fair, gone is the contrast between fast and slow of their early albums. This is replaced with the attempt at a slicker pop sound.

With synthesized rhythms—about half the drum tracks are programmed—and “slick” sounds, the album sounds the way a major-label debut is supposed to sound. There may, then, be no readily identifiable reason why Spring Hill Fair doesn’t quite seem to come up to scratch. Perhaps it‘s that the diversity of the songs prevents it from coming together as a cohesive whole.

Source: The Go-Betweens by David Nicholls

Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express parks the technological experimentation, instead going for a more organic approach.

The production credit for Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (what a wonderfully pretentious title) was going to read, ‘The Go-Betweens and Richard Preston’. There’d be no drum machines, no piecemeal recording, no acquiescence to a higher authority – we were experienced enough in the studio, and flying on the strength of our demoed songs and Richard’s easy, collaborative ways. Our intention was to expand upon the crisp, woody sound of Before Hollywood, to include a grander, more exotic range of instrumentation – vibraphone, oboe, piano accordion, and, at Grant’s suggestion and to my apprehension, a string section. But he was right; we were making music and living lives that demanded strings. And we had a crack rhythm section, with Robert’s swinging melodic bass and Lindy’s signature rolls and fills, inventive and sturdy under every song. – Page 113

Source: Grant & I by Robert Forster

Tallulah is an experimentation in sound and texture. For me, it sounds like a search for the right formula, something of a ‘what if’ album.

Among fans of the Go-Betweens, there’s a school of thought that every second album they made was better than its predecessor: the first exploring a style, the second perfecting it, before they would immediately move on to a new form. In this way, the Go-Betweens’ parameters kept expanding, like Chinese boxes.

Source: The last time I saw Grant – Griffith Review by Andrew Stafford

16 Lovers Lane trades in the funk grooves and distortion of Tallulah, instead replacing this with a bed of acoustic guitars. Although it is heavily produced, leading to some songs being difficult to reproduce live, it still feels subtle and subdued.

I had trouble with 16 Lovers Lane for a long time. It wasn’t until the late nineties that I recognised the album for what it was – a pop record, a far but tine side of what we were as a band. With its spiralling guitars and narcotic groove it became an influential album in noughties pop. On its release my fear was that the production obscured the grit in the songwriting, the added heart Grant and I had put into our lyrics. – Page 140

Source: Grant & I by Robert Forster

I find listening to the reformed albums, The Friends of Rachel Worth, Bright Yellow Bright Orange and Oceans Apart, interesting. There are the usual hooks and melodies, but no matter how much I listen, they do not gel like the early albums.

I wonder if they miss the ‘Go-Betweens drama’ as Amanda Brown has put it or if a part of this disappointment is my own listening experience? I was left wondering whether maybe they missed the flourishes from the likes of Willsteed and Brown? I also wonder if there is something about getting six, seven and eight records in? This also left me thinking about the challenges in listening back through a whole catalogue? When asked about album reviews and music criticism, Caroline Polachek suggested that:

Music criticism is not a review of the album you just made, its a review of your career up to that point. – Caroline Polachek

Source: This Generation’s Caroline Polachek by Switched on Pop

Maybe it just is not possible to listen to their later albums without comparing or even placing them within the context of their time.

One of the things that I found interesting about doing this deep dive is that growing up with the singles, it can be hard to appreciate evolution that I imagine most bands go through it. In addition to this, it provided a deeper appreciation of the music. Bopping along with the jangly guitar of their ‘striped sunlight sound’, with mentions of love and emotions, it is easy to be lulled into their music. However, to come back to Cowell’s point about anchovies, I found that digging into The Go-Betweens more akin to zucchini chocolate cake. When you move beyond the surface, there are often ingredients that surprise you. Maybe this is what made them what they were, while at the same time prevented them from ever quite making it into the mainstream.

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Air is the medium of our natural and spiritual life, of our relation to ourselves, to speaking, to the other Luce Irigaray ‘Way of Love’

In a podcast unpacking biofortification, Jeremy Cherfas explores how science has not delivered on the promises, especially regarding yield. One of the interesting points raised is the idea of ‘hidden hunger’, this is where people get enough food, but not enough micronutrients.

One aspect of malnutrition is hidden hunger, a lack of micronutrients in the diet resulting in poor health that may not manifest for months or years.

Source: What is wrong with biofortification by Maarten van Ginkel and Jeremy Cherfas

This idea had me thinking about our digital diets, where we often get too much information, but not enough critical content. This can subsequently leave us with ‘hidden hunger’. Although we may spend time clicking and consuming social media, there is something missing.

One place I have found myself continually going to over the last few years has been The Minefield podcast featuring lecturer in politics and journalist, Waleed Aly, and, philosopher and theologian, Scott Stephens. Their weekly discussions diving into wicked problems always leave me thinking differently about the world around me. In part, this is for the way in which they never quite agree, but always find some sort of consensus. (For me, their dialogue represents what Angus Hervey describes as holding on tightly and letting go lightly.) I was therefore intrigued to read their Quarterly Essay Uncivil Wars: How Contempt Is Corroding Democracy

At its heart, Uncivil Wars argues that democracy cannot survive contempt. Democracy, Aly and Stephens explain, is about cultivating a common life even in the presence of serious disagreement, while contempt is about having no life in common at all. They suggest that, to make this argument requires a careful consideration of both contempt and democracy, but it also requires us to think about the conditions in which we are going about our democratic lives. So they divide their argument into three stages.

First, we draw on the insights of moral philopsohy to make clear what we mean by contempt and to identify precisely what makes it morally suspect. Along the way, we engage with recent philosophical and policatical arguments that seek to validate contempt in certain circumstances. Even those arguments, we note, require participants in public debate to practice a high level of restraint.

Next, we show that such restraint is rendered completely unrealistic given the environment in which our public conversation takes place. We argue that the machinery of public discourse, dominated by media and social media, is powerfully designed to manipulate, inflame and commodify our moral emotions, impelling us towards an unrestrainted contempt for each other.

Finally, we argue that such contempt is ultimately incompatible with and thoroughly corrosive of democracy itself.

Source: Uncivil Wars by Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens

Aly and Stephens describe contempt as being personal, judgmental, comparative, performative, an enduring disposition, a way of acting and feeling towards others. Breaking this down further, they identify three particular types of contempt:

  • Patronising Contempt. This is ‘knowing without being known, speaking without being addressed.’ An example is Malcolm Turnball’s dismissal the Uluru Statement from the Heart where he showed contempt for indigenous people with the way in which he rejected it.
  • Downward Contempt. This is contempt that focuses on hierarchical order. An example of this is slavery and the prioritising one group over another.
  • Moral Contempt. This is contempt that is not necessarily pre-existing, but arises out of a situation. It is the staple of tabloid journalism. It is also epitomised in the Robodebt’s contempt towards those receiving government payments and cancel culture.

Aly and Stephens point out that these three types are not mutually exclusive. For example, the response to Yassmin Abdel-Magied a few years ago mixes cancel culture with a downward contempt of gender and religion. In the end, these three types are brought together by there deep dismissal of others with no place for forgiveness. Oddly, contempt is often self-fulfilling.

For Aly and Stephens, ‘air’ is more than the oxygen we breathe, it is the space that occupies the space, it is where democracy exists. They use a quote from Luce Irigaray to capture the way in which our public life is beholden to the air that we breathe.

Air is the medium of our natural and spiritual life, of our relation to ourselves, to speaking, to the other – Page 67

Source: Way of Love by Luce Irigaray

Sadly, actions such as ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ in the open air of Twitter serve as moral contagion and help build outgroup animosity. Social media acts as a contempt machine and helps push us all towards the tabloidisation of everything.

Aly and Stephens use a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson discussing the way in which Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 made everyone culpable for slavery to capture the situation.

We do not breathe well. There is infamy in the air.

Source: The selected lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rather than tending to the air, media platforms suck everyone into a game where virality is the goal. Every speech act is reduced to a positive or negative response, this leads to a situation where contempt occurs before moral considerations of the other. This leaves us incomprehensible, unknown and unknowable to others.

Although there are always limits, the problem is that in the modern world this has become the first questions we ask. Little room is left for complexity and consensus. For Aly and Stephens, our focus should be on ‘thick democracy’, the reciprocal act of hope, interdependence and attention.

Democracy lives by and through such incidental acknowledgements of the moral reality of other persons.

Source: Uncivil Wars by Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens

Borrowing from Simone Weil, they talk about the importance of being attentive to the best of arguments of the others view, rather than a caricature. Weil talks about the symbolic language of lovers and the way this cultivates the relationship. With this, we need to think of democracy as a marriage that is continually cultivated.

We have become profoundly unreal to each other and therefore inattentiveness to the moral reality of our fellow citizens. This is perhaps the greatest irony. For all the talk of the attention economy, attention is precisely what our social media saturated age disallows. We are living in a time of contempt and the future of our democratic life depends on whether we can resist it.

Source: Uncivil Wars by Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens

With the movement away from platforms like Twitter and Facebook, it can be a useful time to consider what such spaces serve and what a constructive alternative maybe to borrow from Doug Belshaw. What might it mean to form what Eli Pariser has described as ‘online parks‘:

We need public spaces, built in the spirit of Walt Whitman, that allow us to gather, communicate, and share in something bigger than ourselves.

Source: To Mend a Broken Internet, Create Online Parks by Eli Pariser

All in all, Uncivil Wars is a thought provoking book, which demands attention and consideration.

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The one thing we can be confident of is that history is not over, and that wherever the most exciting new ideas of the next century come from, it will almost certainly be from someplace we don’t expect. The one thing that’s clear is that such new ideas cannot emerge without our jettisoning of much of our accustomed categories of thought—which have become mostly sheer dead weight, if not intrinsic parts of the very apparatus of hopelessness—and formulating new ones. David Graeber ‘Debt’

Debt is philosophical inquiry into the nature of debt. It continues on from the work of Marcel Mauss, who initially pushed back on the myth of barter. Debt is made up of two parts, the first addresses the different myths and lens for thinking about debt, while the second provides an overarching history.

In the first part, Graeber explores what it is we talk about when we talk about debt. He discusses the myth of the barter economy stemming from Thomas Paine, the primordial debt to society, the redemptive debt to god, the moral nature of hierarchical debt, and the human debt associated with death and slavery.

In the second part, Graeber divides the history of debt between four stages: the axial, the middle ages, the capitalist empires, and the present, which is yet to be properly determined. This history encapsulates Europe, the Middle East, India and China. It also regularly brings in other examples too that serve to contrast things. All in all, he traces the existence of debt as relating to sex, violence and politics.

For me, one of the interesting things was how fragile the various systems are. It often feels like ‘this is the way it always was’ when the mortgage comes out of my salary, but then after reading Graeber’s book I was left thinking about how these things continue to change.

The other point of interest were the stories we tell about money and how they serve as a form of colonialism. For example, Batman’s treaty involves the exchange of goods for land:

Batman’s party met with Aboriginal people several times, presenting gifts of blankets, handkerchiefs, sugar, apples and other items, and receiving gifts of woven baskets and spears in exchange. On 6 June, Batman met with eight elders of the Wurundjeri, including Ngurungaetas Bebejan and three brothers with the same name, Jika Jika or Billibellary, the traditional owners of the lands around the Yarra River.

For 600,000 acres of Melbourne, including most of the land now within the suburban area, Batman paid 40 pairs of blankets, 42 tomahawks, 130 knives, 62 pairs of scissors, 40 looking glasses, 250 handkerchiefs, 18 shirts, 4 flannel jackets, 4 suits of clothes and 150 lb. of flour.[4]

Source: Batman’s Treaty – Wikipedia

However, this possession was not just about ‘land’, but also the way in which land was envisaged.

Overall, Debt serves as a start of a conversation, a book to be mined. Although there are always going to be limits or conjecture to such a book. See Juan Conatz’s review for an example of an alternate view.

David Graeber’s Debt, The First 5,000 Years, is an interesting and thought-provoking book. It is worth reading as a history of debt, credit, and money. However, it has a mistaken basic concept, that debt is at the center of human economics and society, generally downplaying the significance of human labor (which was correctly emphasized in Marx’s economic theory). For this reason, Graeber has a mistaken analysis of the Great Recession and the current economy. He presents a limited and nonrevolutionary vision of a post-capitalist future, quite in contrast to the revolutionary anarchist-communist (libertarian socialist) program of Kropotkin and others.

Source: Review of Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber by Juan Conatz

Personally, I find books like this hard as I do not have the background to be critical. For me, it is as much about debt as a topic as it is about how we got to now.

Debt is one of those books that I had seen referenced to over the years, however I had little idea what to expect when I took it on. I guess I had never really thought that much about the concepts of debt and money. However, on completing the book, I am not sure how I could see the world again without considering it.

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Something happened today that led me to finally write this reflection on my ‘one word‘ for 2023, I accidentally marked all my posts in Inoreader as read. This in itself might not seem like much, but for so long my RSS feeds have been the dots that have seemingly helped me make sense. I have worked tirelessly over the years to collate my list. Yet, lately, something has not quite seemed the same. Althought I had seemingly given up keeping on top of my feed, I was still going through every now and then to flick left and right. However, after clearing my lists, that is no more.

It feels like so many have spoken about quitting Twitter of late and moving to Mastodon. That is fine. However, I think there has been a bigger change in the social media space for me beyond the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk. Although with a focus on RSS I may not be constricted by the usual templated restrictions associated with social media, I have come to feel that my habit of staying on top of my feeds has come to serve as its own sort of restriction.

For nearly seven years I have maintained my Read Write Respond newsletter. This involved reviewing all ‘my dots‘ across the month to identify the key points. This served as a regular point of reflection. Although there have been changes in that time, such as including quotes, a focused section, extending the summaries, writing a monthly update, over the time I feel that the dots and habit itself have somehow come to take more precedence than the greater purpose that they were meant to serve. I was intrigued by a comment that Ian O’Byrne wrote about his newsletter:

Each week I write a love letter to the Internet. You can subscribe here. Spoiler alert!!! It’s not all good.

Considering the Post-COVID Classroom | Dr. Ian O’Byrne

I had long described my newsletter as:

My newsletter of ideas and information associated with all things education, mined and curated for me and shared with you.

I just wondered if this really mattered anymore? A few years ago I wrote a piece on ‘becoming informed’:

I would argue then it is a constant state of becoming more informed. In an ever changing world, with goals forever moving, it is a case where we can never quite be fully informed.

Secret, Safe and Informed: A Reflection on Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the Collection of Data | Aaron Davis

Although I still agree with this, I wonder if the real challenge is learning to live in a world where you do not and cannot know everything? I feel that my newsletter had become my means of trying to control the present, rather than admitting that it is ok to not know that latest update regarding artificial intelligence or whatever it maybe. This is not to say that artificial intelligence is not important, but that maybe in trying to stay informed about everything, you never really know anything.

So to return to the beginning of this piece, for a few years now, I have been choosing one word as a focus for the year. As the new year comes and I am not sure what the new word will be, I always feel there is something that stands out. This year, the word that stood out was ‘vulnerability’. This was solidified while reading Nick Cave’s Faith Hope and Carnage. I was struck by Cave’s discussion of vulnerability and the willingness to being open to failure:

It’s not so much the creative impulse itself that is so compelling, but rather doing something that feels challenging and vulnerable and new, whether that is ceramics or a different-sounding record or The Red Hand Files, the In Conversation events, Cave Things, this book, whatever. There is a risk involved that generates a feeling of creative terror, a vertiginous feeling that has the ability to make you feel more alive, as if you are hotwired into the job in hand, where you create, right there, on the edge of disaster. You become vulnerable because you allow yourself to be open to failure, to condemnation, to criticism, but that, as I think the Stoics said, is what gives you creative character. And that feeling of jeopardy can be very seductive.

Faith, Hope and Carnage | Nick Cave | Page 224

I think that over time I have become wedded to the present, rather than opening myself up to going deeper into various ideas. Therefore, some of the ways that I envisage being more vulnerable include:

  • Putting my newsletter on hiatus.
  • Write for myself and when I can, rather than feeling I have to.
  • Reviewing the dots and feeds that I consume, accepting that sometimes it is ok to miss out.
  • Read more books and get deeper into ideas, a return to responding.

As always, please let me know if you have any further suggestions.

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Some bands peak early. Almost all the great ones, however, take several years to hit their stride. Andrew Stafford ‘Pig City’

Andrew Stafford explores the Brisbane music scene between 1975 and 2005. The book discusses the place and politics that laid the foundation to the music scene. Stafford dives into groups such as The Saints, The Go-Betweens, The Apartments, The Riptides, Died Pretty, Kev Carmody, Tex Perkins, Screamfeeder, Custard, Regurgitator, Powderfinger and Savage Garden. This is tided together with investigations of various cultural and historical institutions that were integral to the change, such as the Curry House, Triple Zed, the Fitzgerald Inquiry, and the Livid Festival.

Although I had read David Nichols’ The Go-Betweens, Robert Forster’s Grant and I, Tracey Thorn’s My Rock n Roll Friend, and Clinton Walker’s Stranded, I did not really appreciate the politics of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Although not quite East Berlin described in Anna Funder’s Stasiland, it certainly seems a world away from the Melbourne music scene. For me, it really put criticisms of ‘Dictator Dan‘ in perspective.

I also enjoyed Stafford’s book for the insight it provided to various artists, such as Custard and Powderfinger. For example, I was shocked at Darren Middleton’s glam metal beginnings:

Darren Middleton was recruited to add the requisite metallic flash after the band discovered him strutting his stuff in a glam-metal band called Pirate. Middleton, now probably the least showy member of Powderfinger, has never heard the end of it since.

Ian Haug: He was doing the shred thing, dancing on the tables with a wireless guitar. He was into Dokken and all those terrible bands and we thought he was just the sort of idiot we needed! He was really funny.

While I was intrigued by the endeavor of the COW (Country Or Western), Dave McCormick’s band before Custard, to be the something akin to the Wild Bunch.

Robert Moore had imagined COW as a musical collective similar to the Wild Bunch behind the first Massive Attack album, where a virtual reserve bench of musicians would be on call to play gigs or recordings. Often the band would be joined on stage by backing vocalists the Sirloin Sisters, twins Maureen and Suzie Hansen; at other times, former Go-Between John Willsteed and occasional Queensland Symphony Orchestra violinist John Bone would jump up to add their own flourishes.

All in all, Pig City is a great read that helps with appreciating some of complex the roots to Australian music.

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