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Category Archives: current affairs

Brer Abbott and The Undead

What a good name for some Gothic band to take!

I refer of course to Tony Abbott’s ghost cabinet — a cabinet of Dr Caligari.

An Abbott, two Bishops and Nick the Impaler
A Cadaver, a Barney and Kevin the Tailor

That refers to the famous couplet on Richard III:

A Cat, a Rat, and Lovell the Dog
All ruled England under the Hog

Yes, we have an alternative at last: the pit or the pendulum, the devil or the deep blue sea, Scylla or Charybdis, Hitler or Stalin… Of course the latter is particularly unsavoury, is it not? Unfair on both counts — but don’t blame me: I’m not the one who compared Copenhagen to Munich while fully aware of the spurious nature of the analogy but nonetheless knowing it would push the right buttons in punter-land. That was Tony yesterday to Alan Jones. And interviewed on Lateline last night the neuro-linguistic triggering got a typically Abbott overkill: he even underlines the cue words by raising the stress above the rest of the utterance, a kind of phonological CAPITAL LETTERS TRICK.

Peter Hartcher noted inThe Sydney Morning Herald:

…He has rejected the counsel of the Liberal Party’s founder, Robert Menzies, that ”the duty of an opposition is to oppose selectively”…

Abbott will not engage on Rudd’s terms. He will not mount an intellectual case. He will not present detailed policy alternatives.

He will circle Rudd, throwing jabs from all directions, never presenting a stationary target. He proposes deregulating the job market, for instance, but refuses to be specific: ”I am asking questions here,” he told Sky News yesterday, ”not making policy.”

”I want to make a fight of things,” he said. ”I think I have got the frontbench to do that.”

With the climate sceptic Nick Minchin in resources, the hardliner Eric Abetz in industrial relations, Barnaby Joyce free-ranging and veteran warriors like Bronwyn Bishop and Kevin Andrews on the front line, nobody would disagree with him.

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Two non-fiction books that have impressed me lately

star_icons25 star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25 1. Tariq Ali, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (2008)

Yes, I know: Tariq Ali, famous 1968 alumnus and “wild man” of the Left. But even London’s Spectator, hardly famous for Marxist leanings, concedes, while also drawing attention to the book’s very pleasing style:

… Tariq Ali’s universal cynicism might have been oppressive, but in fact his narrative is funny and gossipy, the high points being his own encounters with key players, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir and Indira Gandhi. He believes that the country’s satirists, writers and poets serve as Pakistan’s collective conscience and uses writers and poets such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Habib Jalib and Ustad Daman to provide the moral compass for his wanderings.

Political turbulence has revived interest in stories from an earlier period of Muslim in the region, Ali says. He relates a 16th-century story that — with some modifications — sums up life in today’s Pakistan with painful accuracy. A man is seriously dissatisfied with a junior magistrate’s decision. The latter, irritated, taunts him to appeal to a senior judge.The man replies, ‘But he’s your brother, he won’t listen to me’. The magistrate says, ‘Go to the mufti’. The man replies, ‘But he’s your uncle’. The magistrate says, ‘Go to the minister’. The man replies, ‘He’s your grandfather’. The magistrate says, ‘Go to the King’. The man replies, ‘Your niece is engaged to him’. The magistrate, livid with anger, says, ‘Go to Hell then’. The man replies, ‘That’s where your esteemed father reigns. He’ll see to it that I get no satisfaction there.’

The government, the political parties, the civil service, the mullahs and the army all have reason to be angry with Tariq Ali and The Duel will outrage as many in Washington as in Islamabad. But Americans should read it for its explanation of why so many in Pakistan hate the US, blaming it for the dire situation in which they now find themselves.

In fact this sprightly romp should be read by anyone who wants real insights into Pakistan. It is as good a primer on Pakistani politics as you will find, with the caveats that it is not the whole story, it is not always accurate and Ali’s prejudices are his own.

Yes, but he makes more sense of this part of the world (including Afghanistan as these stories are inseparable) than most. I see a great love for his subject despite what the Spectator calls cynicism – and indeed cynicism seems to me quite rational in this case.

See also Democracy Now and The Independent. There is also a one hour YouTube and some shorter ones you may access from there.

star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25 2. Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Biography (2005)

THE biography – a touch presumptuous that! But this is nonetheless a feast of a book which until recently I had just nibbled at for reference purposes. Some say Ackroyd speculates too much, but I find many of the speculations fruitful. It is also very grounded in excellent social history. Here’s a quick taste.

… Of his earthly life there was much less certainty. In the sixteenth century, the mortality of the newly born was high. Nine per cent died within a week of birth, and a further 11 per cent before they were a month old; in the decade of Shakespeare’s own birth there were in Stratford 62.8 average annual baptisms and 42.8 average annual child burials. You had to be tough, or from a relatively prosperous family, to survive the odds. It is likely that Shakespeare had both of these advantages.

Once the dangers of childhood had been surmounted, there was a further difficulty. The average lifespan of an adult male was forty-seven years. Since Shakespeare’s parents were by this standard long-lived, he may have hoped to emulate their example. But he survived only six years beyond the average span. Something had wearied him. Since in London the average life expectancy was only thirty-five years in the more affluent parishes, and twenty-five years in the poorer areas, it may have been the city that killed him. But this roll-call of death had one necessary consequence. Half of the population were under the age of twenty. It was a youthful culture, with all the vigour and ambition of early life. London itself was perpetually young.

The first test of Shakespeare’s own vigour came only three months after his birth. In the parish register of 11 July 1564, beside the record of the burial of a weaver’s young apprentice from the High Street , was written: Hic incipit pestis. Here begins the plague. In a period of six months some 237 residents of Stratford died, more than a tenth of its population; a family of four expired on the same side of Henley Street as the Shakespeares. But the Shakespeares survived. Perhaps the mother and her newborn son escaped to her old family home in the neighbouring hamlet of Wilmcote, and stayed there until the peril had passed. Only those who remained in the town succumbed to the infection.

The parents, if not the child, suffered fear and trembling. They had already lost two daughters, both of whom had died in earliest infancy, and the care devoted to their first-born son must have been close and intense. Such children tend to be confident and resilient in later life. They feel themselves to be in some sense blessed and protected from the hardships of the world. It is perhaps worth remarking that Shakespeare never contracted the plague that often raged through London. But we can also see the lineaments of that fortunate son in the character of the land from which he came…

See also Looking at Shakespeare, in 3 Different Ways.

 

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Afghanistan – on the dollar trail

Last night Four Corners showed this French documentary which had featured earlier at the Venice Film Festival 2009.

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While most live as above just nearby an amazing array of MacMansions – except they are far bigger – are sprouting in one section of Kabul. Guess who owns them. Meanwhile a newly built hospital wing is literally falling apart because of profiteering and shoddy materials.

… Eight years after the fall of Kabul, reporter Paul Moreira went in search of the promised schools. Despite repeated requests to authorities, he had trouble finding a new school that had been completed. Still on the trail of the aid dollar he found a hospital that was supposed to be refurbished. Instead it was literally falling apart. The aid money intended to pay for the hospital’s renovations had been wasted and the work was shoddy.

In other parts of the capital Afghans go hungry, their children sit in open air classrooms while Moreira finds evidence that aid dollars are being spent on banquets feeding an array of businessmen and government officials.

However, there is one construction sector that is in full swing: that of luxury villas. In one district of Kabul, poor residents are being evicted from their homes. The buildings are then destroyed and the land sold cheaply so that massive villas and homes can be built for the wealthy. Why are these people being sold the land so cheaply?

Where is the money coming from that is used to build their palaces? The answers will shock you.

As NATO and its allies struggle to keep the Taliban at bay, the corruption and mismanagement of the reconstruction program is forcing many Afghans to think again about who is their real enemy. Is it the Taliban or is it the Karzai government and its supporters?

The level of corruption, the total absence of any sense of public service, is the major argument used by the Taliban in their propaganda. This first hand account of life in Afghanistan today explains why the insurgents are making so much headway – not just in taking back territory but in winning the hearts and minds of the people…

There were some courageous individuals trying to be open and honest, but the odds are against them. So sad – and bad.

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2009 in current affairs

 

Something else to brag about…

… and other miscellaneous bits.

1. Something else to brag about

Australia ranked No. 2 for quality of life.

AUSTRALIA has the second best quality of life in the world and could pip Norway for top spot next year, the author of a UN report on migration and development says.

Australia was ranked second among 182 countries on a scale measuring life expectancy, school enrolments and income in the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report 2009, published yesterday.

The US slipped a spot to 13 and Britain was steady at 21, based on the latest internationally comparable data from 2007. Niger ranked lowest, followed by Afghanistan and Sierra Leone…

2. Who’d be Malcolm Turnbull right now?

The latest Newspoll isn’t good news for the Libs.

octpoll

3. Gerard Henderson gets it right!

In my opinion anyway, and I quite often disagree with Gerard Henderson.

… The 60th anniversary of the Communist Party victory in the Chinese Civil War was celebrated last week with an ostentatious display of military power of weapons and personnel.

Contrary to some views, the Rudd Government’s 2009 defence white paper is not directed at China. Yet the Chinese leadership should not be surprised if nations such as Australia focus on the possible reasons for China’s military build-up.

Australia’s one-time infatuation with Mao’s China is a thing of the past – as is evident in Bruce Beresford’s fine film Mao’s Last Dancer.

It should not be replaced by passion born of China’s wealth and the business and cultural possibilities this provides.

So far, despite criticism from the likes of Palmer and Hanson-Young, Rudd has got Australia’s China policy about right.

4. Local but global: October’s South Sydney Herald.

Nothing by me in this, but many good articles as usual. It’s been getting better, the old SSH.

Here is your copy: SSHOCT09.

 

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I find this case odd and disturbing. Do you?

I usually avoid “celebrity posts” but I am intrigued by the recent Roman Polanski extradition story. This article makes some strong points, I feel.

Polanski, who was then aged 44, pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, spent 42 days in prison in Chino, California, and was due to be sentenced to time served when it became clear that the deal his lawyers had negotiated with the prosecution was not to be honoured – and he would have had to spend much more time in jail than had been agreed. He fled the United States in 1978 and has never returned.

Seven years ago, after Polanski had won an Oscar for his film The Pianist, the case came again under scrutiny in the US. Gailey was tracked down to her home in Hawaii where she had settled with her family.

In a television interview, she did not exonerate Polanski for taking advantage of her – ”what he did to me was wrong” – but said she had felt more damaged by the media’s subsequent handling of her case.

”He did something really gross to me but it was the media that ruined my life,” she said. As to what punishment she felt Polanski should now suffer, she said: ”He made a terrible mistake, but he’s paid for it.” …

The real victim in this case has called for compassion. But compassion is unfashionable at the moment. The desire to exact punishment, regardless of how the actual victim is affected by it, and to justify that punishment with some grandstanding rhetoric, is the fashion of the moment.

Child sex, like the Middle East, is a subject where the normal conventions of debate degenerate very swiftly into name-calling and deliberate misinterpretation. There is no reason to believe this case will be any different. But the victim still has a right to be heard, even if what she says does not satisfy those seeking vengeance.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2009 in challenge, current affairs

 

Waltzing Matilda 21st century style – current reading

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Circular Quay 1938

Illustration from A D Fraser This Century of Ours 1938

How the wool industry dominated this part of Sydney back then.

The past is another country,

I am in retrospect/introspect mode at the moment. My gut feeling about my country is very much this:

"For all their embrace of enterprise," writes Davis, "Australians want to live in a fair society — an Australian-style egalitarian society, not a US-style harshly competitive society."

Now that truly resonates. It comes from an Age review of Mark Davis’s The Land of Plenty: Australia in the 2000s (Melbourne, MUP 2008) which I am currently reading. Mark Davis hitherto has been best known for his spray Gangland published ten years back. It didn’t impress me overmuch, I have to say, but his recent book certainly does. I’ll have more to say when I have finished it.

Meanwhile there is an extract on Crikey.

Australians have always been dreamers and thinkers, who, over the past 200 years, have worked to make this one of the world’s innovative democracies. One of the world’s oldest continuous democracies, most Australians lived under democratically elected governments by the mid-1850s, and the nation as a whole has been a democracy since Federation in 1901. In 1856, three Australian colonies in Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria introduced the world’s first secret ballot, a system that was known as the “Australian ballot” on its introduction in the United States in 1888.

In 1856, Australian workers were among the first in the world to campaign for an “eight hour day”, a measure that was progressively adopted across various industries and states until it was formally granted to all workers in 1948. In 1899, Queenslanders gave the world its first Labor government, intended to represent ordinary working people rather than powerful vested interests. In 1902, Australian women became the second in the world to get the vote — New Zealand had led the way in 1893.3 American and British women had to wait until 1920 and 1928 respectively. In 1907, the “Harvester Judgment” helped enshrine the principle of a basic wage, a world first that laid the foundation for the wages arbitration system.

Progress continued through the twentieth century. In 1973, in another world first, the Whitlam government appointed an adviser on women’s affairs, a lead that was followed after 1975 by all state governments. In 1982, the Fraser government introduced freedom of information legislation, the first of its kind for a Westminster-style government. In 1993, in another pioneering move, the Keating government legislated to ratify the overturning of the doctrine ofterra nullius, by which Australia had been considered untenured land pre–white settlement. In an innovative twist, white law was able to reach back before white settlement to recognise law that had come before.

Being Australian is an ethical project. It was in these pioneering moments that the specifi c combination of traditions and ideas that makes up Australian values — egalitarianism; the “fair go”; the idea that one person is as good as the next, irrespective of background — was founded. What all these reforms had in common was that they were levellers that sought to protect the small from the powerful. These ethics were to a degree oppositional. Australia, perhaps more than anything, offered the chance of an escape from nineteenth-century Europe and especially Britain, with its industrial squalor and workhouses, intractable class differences and rapidly worsening inequality, brought on by economic laissez faire.

This colonial outpost wasn’t just a sunnier and more bucolic new beginning; it also gave a chance to a basic fairness and equality of opportunity at odds with the prevailing ethos at “home”. Nor did these reforms simply happen by themselves, as if the universal pursuit of fairness is an essential Australian national character trait. Rebelling miners, small farmers, unionists, feminists, judges, politicians, intellectuals and others all played a part in struggles for social justice that have rarely been doctrinaire. Australian people, on the whole, haven’t aspired to ideological purity. They’ve aspired to become middle-class…

See too a WordPress blog.

Part of the mix too are several of Jim Belshaw’s recent posts, some of which are first-rate in terms of thoughtfulness. I am sure Jim would find Mark Davis stimulating if sometimes annoying.

 

Yes it is remarkable

… thanks to Nicholas Gruen for this.

gdp swan