Saturday, 28 August 2010

Reflections on the election: before and after thoughts

As political junkies from way back, we always watch the election results all night. It was a sober and anxious night for us. I must state at the start that had I been Kevin Rudd, I would not have announced the indefinite deferral of the emissions trading scheme, and had I been Julia Gillard I would not have had an immediate election. Politicians ought to know by now that although journalists may greet you with an initial acclaim and wave of enthusiasm, they only do so in order a) to titillate the nation and B) to soften you up so that they can roast you slowly and then carve you up into mincemeat.

Kevin ought to have pointed out repeatedly that the reason for the failure of the ETS was that the Opposition, Greens and that moron Fielding in the Senate had defeated it twice, and reiterated that they would try again as soon as an opportune moment arrived. People tell me it was not a very good scheme, and a tax would have been better, but I found it all very complicated, and (possibly in common with many others) I lack the expertise to evaluate the rival proposals.

As for the tax on the super profits of the mining industry, the howls of protest were highly predictable. The mining industry has a lot of power and influence, and can bring great pressure to bear on governments. Which they did, but it does not mean that they ought to be successful. These are national and not renewable resources, we are talking about. What is more, you cannot tell me that the mining industries could not afford to pay more tax. That magnate who crashed his plane and killed himself along with all those on the plane had a personal fortune of almost one billion dollars. He was also facing corruption charges in Queensland. I don’t feel too sorry for him and his ilk. However, any new tax needs to be carefully planned and considered.

And Julia Gillard should have ignored those so-called pundits who raved on about her not being elected by the people, and told us all that the government needed time to settle in and to rethink this, that and the other before the election – which after all did not have to be held early, as it was not due until 2011. Journalists ought not to be allowed to run the country or to make such decisions – THEY are NOT elected.

I did not notice anyone referring to the fact that there was no call for an early election when John Gorton was knocked off as Prime Minister in March 1971 by his party in favour of that superhero Billy McMahon, who was Prime Minister until defeated by the ALP in December 1972. Nor was there any such clamour when Paul Keating successfully challenged Bob Hawke for the leadership in 1991. The election was heId in 1993 and won by the ALP. In the latter days of the Howard government, during which there was constant speculation that Peter Costello might be about to challenge, I do not recollect any suggestion that should he do so successfully, he would be in duty bound to call an early election. I don’t remember any such confected and idiotic outrage by the press then, although in those days there was far more attention paid and analysis given to policy and legislation. For some reason this campaign was characterised on the one hand by a stupid and trivialising focus on the wearing of budgie smugglers, the 36 hours without sleep, the cycling, running and swimming, and on the other by an obsession with hairstyles, frequency of blow-drying, high heels, clothing, special interviews in the AWW, marital status and childlessness. None of the above really have anything to do with intelligence or capacity to run the country, nor about the important choices facing voters.

However, as, unfortunately, I am not in control of world, let alone national events, events rolled on inexorably. More to the pity.

In addition to all the focus on trivialities, the campaign was negative and in many respects, based on fear. Now I am as scared of WorkChoices as any rational human being, having long recognised that a single individual in an ordinary job has little bargaining power, and that is why trade unions were formed, to give some collective protection to workers.

And as for boat people, that is a genuinely difficult issue, to which there is no simple answer, and I swing in my views, from pity for those who flee war, or persecution, to worry about how and to whom priority should be given, and concern about the difficulties in determining the veracity of claims, and to concern about the level of immigration in recent years and whether such a level should be sustained or decreased. There are so many matters to consider, such as housing, infrastructure, jobs, and the water supply. Then there are the social issues, such as religion, the capacity of the nation to absorb and assimilate those from a different culture, or from a religion which does not give equality to women, both theoretically or in practice.  I believe we are right to be wary of it, and should have policies designed to educate and assimilate, and we should loudly proclaim that we are a nation with a secular and democratic constitution in which all people, citizens and non-citizens, have equal rights which cannot be denied on account of religion or cultural belief. Our processes need to be scrupulously fair and open, and there should be safeguards against fraud and abuse.

There are better ways of resolving such problems than resorting to tactics involving fear and loathing, and it is an enormous pity that considerations of party advantages have outweighed rational and compassionate ideas and policies. There seemed to be little attempt to appeal to people’s better instincts, and to the consideration of the general well-being rather than narrow self-interest. We cannot cast the blame on others: we must acknowledge our own failures.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

If only I had a mass audience...

In these parlous times we are threatened by practically everything, not the least of which is the prospect of Tony Abbott governing the country. If I had access to a mass audience I could disseminate the following opinions, and force them down the throats of my fellow citizens - just like all the shock jocks do, but with considerably less damage to the polity and with far greater advantages to all those qualities of fairness, compassion and democracy which we claim are our national characteristics.

To those who criticised the Rudd Government about its failures in the administration of the home insulation scheme, I ask why there has been no public outcry about of those who ripped off the system, the nation, the taxpayers. They were the ones who caused the deaths, by their use of unqualified and untrained workers. They ignored industrial health and safety laws, and avoided their duty of care to their workers. Why do the newspapers, television and the right wing commentariat not expose and denounce these people who ripped off and fleeced the nation, thus undermining a very good policy and programme, which must have saved vast numbers of people quite a lot of money on their power bills, enabled them to live in more comfort, and been good for the environment? They should be prosecuted for their failures, their frauds and for their criminal negligence.

And yes, yes, I know that the scheme should have been better administered and supervised, but is it not startling, in this blessed land of ours, that so many were prepared to rort the system and rip off the taxpayer? Presumably the scheme gave jobs to many of those who might otherwise have been out of work because of the GFC. Why do journalists not identify, denounce and denigrate the rorters?

And as for the Schools Building programme, yes, again it should have been better administered. But just imagine the outcry which would have arisen if all the school principals had been required to undertake and manage the contracts, the costing and to supervise the actual construction, irrespective of what they might or might not have known or understood about such matters. In addition to their normal workloads. Who are all these rip off merchants? They should be prosecuted for fraud. A pox on their houses!

But Oh No,  it is much more fun to denounce government, and to do the utmost to undermine the efficacy and standing of democratic systems and processes. Enormous scope is given to whingers,  doom-sayers and spiteful, malicious journalists who concentrate on trivialities rather than undertake any serious policy analysis. Avaunt, say I.

There are some miserable sods out there who advocate submitting blank ballot papers, as though it were a gross outrage and imposition to be required to participate in an election, and to have a say in deciding who governs the country. Shame, I say. If it is so bad here, go and emigrate to a dictatorship and try that for size. Just don't go whinging anywhere near me. Try counting blessings instead. Or pray to be saved from the political equivalent of a fate worse than death.

Saturday, 7 August 2010


With a mixture of caution and elation, I announce, that if all goes according to plan and no disasters occur, I will actually go on a group trip to Spain. The money has been paid, and the travel insurance taken out. Today I went to the first of three intensive Spanish classes.

Several years ago I went to a series of Spanish classes, but stopped when there was no class at my level available at a convenient time. Naturally I have forgotten most of what I had learned. We never did advance beyond the present tense, although we seemed to spend a lot of time on irregular and orthographically changing verbs, as well as the usage of the two forms of the verb to be. I hope that in the next few weeks I can learn quite a lot more. Italian is a great help and it is possible to guess with more than a sporting chance of being right.

There are nine of us in the class, and guess who was the oldest? We are a mixed lot, and two of the women are mother and daughter, intending to travel together in a few weeks. There is a girl with a Columbian boyfriend, and another young couple - he a naturalised American and she Australian, both very keen on Mexico. Another young man turned up late, wearing short shorts and T-shirt. It was a very cold day, and in the morning we had no heating, so we all froze.

To me learning a language is endlessly interesting, and we students, in both my Italian classes, frequently discuss word derivations, usage, and history. What struck me today was how little grammar was understood by many of the students. Concepts such as the conjugation of verbs, classes of verbs, irregular verbs, parts of speech, nouns, prepositions, the use of gender cases in nouns and adjectives, the concept of the infinitive form of the verb, and the definite and indefinite articles were evidently unknown or unfamiliar to many. It makes me wonder just how our language is being taught. Is this why we hear so frequently things like 'Me and him went to the football game'  or 'Joe gave it to her and I'? Or is it yet another aspect of American usage being adopted here? I noticed such usage in Anne Tyler's books, and in a relatively new Australian novel - not as part of the dialogue, but as part of the narrative.

Discovering the different ways in which another language is used is a challenge. Not saying, for example, 'I like dancing', but instead 'dancing is pleasing to me'. I always have to think this construction through and as often as not I get it wrong, even after all these years. Most of us still struggle with the use of the subjunctive tenses. May it come more easily in the future.  The teacher, Ana, is necessarily doing a lot of grammar. The teacher in my previous classes used what was termed the immersion method, to make the students come to grips with the language straight away, but also partly because so few people had a knowledge of grammar. You were expected to plunge in, to speak and write. That method has many advantages, but I needed more verbs, and more than the present tense.

I rang to enquire about the old computer. Obviously it had not yet been given any attention. They phoned the next day to say the logic board had gone bung. Whatever that means, but it sounded ominous. I decided to get it fixed, at what seems hideous expense, as I simply cannot face even trying the cheaper and simpler solutions.

As I typed away yesterday, I suddenly noticed that the T key was not working. The top of the key has come loose. Amazing - it is only a month old. More dealing with computer support people! Of course it is under warranty, and I expect it will be replaced. Nevertheless I feel aggrieved.  I have switched over to the old one.

All of this reminds me that this week there were two obituaries in the Sydney Morning Herald which could have done with better proof-reading - ie by a person rather than by a spell-checker. One referred to someone as saying something 'self-deferentially' instead of 'self-deprecatingly' and the other, about a man who escaped from Nazi Germany a said he was 'interred' in May 1940, firstly at a racecourse and then on the Isle of Man, before being sent to Australia on the Dunera. Once the ship had arrived in Australia, its passengers were  interned.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Not quite as planned

You never know what the day will bring.

It was a wild night. The wind howled and it felt as though the roof would lift off. It was horrid and scary. There was much damage around the city. Perhaps it was a portent.

My moods, temper, disposition, attitude and decision-making capacity have been fluctuating wildly for the last week. The causes are various. Blame can be distributed variously between myself, Dr P (always a good target), the body politic, the weather, too much or too little sleep, the sore hip or the ambient air. Who knows? Maybe it is fluctuating hormone levels.

Tonight I should have been writing my Italian argomento for tomorrow's class. But it was one of those occasions where I was unable to seize the moment of inspiration, to write down the words, the thoughts, the sequences as they bubbled forth. By the time I was free this evening, the bubbles had all burst.

This morning I went to a dress rehearsal of Bellini's opera, La Sonnambula.  My kind friends who helped with the computer gave me their two tickets, as they are in Queensland this week. I asked another friend if she'd like to go with me, and she said yes. Yesterday when I rang her to arrange the time we should set out together, it transpired that she had failed to note the event in her diary, and had arranged to play bridge instead. This vexed me a little because ours was a prior arrangement. It left too little time to dispose of the spare ticket.

All I could think of was to offer the ticket to someone at the Opera House.  The Opera House shop seemed a good place to start. The first woman I approached accepted the ticket. She was amazed and delighted, especially as it was free. She was a Canadian tourist, here for an education conference, but doing the tourist thing today. The performance was excellent, the singing wonderful and the music gorgeous, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Afterwards, we parted company. We will never see each other again, but for those few hours we were a part of each other's lives. It felt good.

On the bus trip home my thoughts bubbled, and I wished I had thought to bring pen and paper. Never mind, I thought, once I get home I will be able to write. But no. Dr P and domestic harmony considerations delayed the creative surge yet again. Friends rang to let me know of the sudden death of a friend - a former colleague. In one of those strange coincidences, I had been thinking about her this week.

By the time I was free, the flow had congealed and I was too tired. I needed my old computer, with the on line Italian dictionary. The computer man has not yet been in contact. Time to hassle him, evidently. I do not yet know how to select Italian as the language in which to write. The Help and the new Text Book were unclear. I retreated from the computer, and sat down with pen and paper. But it was no good!  Unfinished and badly expressed ungrammatical sentences littered the page. Best not even looked at.

Tomorrow looms ominously.

Apart from having lost all that usable time and creativity, why is it that it takes twice or three times as long as anticipated to get anything done?