Roaring mouse

Every so often an idea comes to one with a blinding flash of the kind that makes you want to say to Saul Tarsus “call that a blinding flash, THIS is a blinding flash”. And so it was today.

You see today our glorious leader announced that Australia is to buy JSF, purchase some 5000 of the new F35 fighter jets. Maybe it was 500. Or 58 rising to 100. Whatever, $12 billion worth for the first lost.

Immediately the nitpicking started, as you just knew it would. People pointing out that the plane was nowhere near ready, all sorts of problems, yada yada yada, you know what they are like.

And others asking “where is the money coming from?” (obviously forgetting that only the Liberal Party is allowed to ask the Labor Party that question when those Socialists want to spend money on hospitals, schools, disabled people, the elderly, those sort of namby pamby things they should know there is never enough money for). Anyway, they babbled about the budget crisis that the Liberals said Labor had caused and they were fixing, so how could we afford $12 billion on planes that weren’t built yet. How silly, Mr Abbott explained so nicely that previous governments had “put the money aside”. Sitting in a flying piggy bank I think he said, and I didn’t even know the Budget had one of those.

But still the naysayers kept up their silly chorus. Why couldn’t this money be spent to make the country a place worth living for instead of one that wanted to kill people? Oh, I get so cross with these people.

Anyway, I saw this photo of Tony Abbott, wearing suit and tie and big cheesy grin, thumb in air, sitting in cockpit of a pretend mock-up of one of these big toys, and suddenly it hit me. Remember the story of the Emperor’s new clothes? Well, why wouldn’t it work for defence? I will never see the actual planes, destined to arrive over the next 35 years or so, nor will most people in Australia. Nor will I ever see the credit card receipt for $12 billion. All I have seen is Abbott in a fake plane SAYING he is going to buy real ones. Everybody will just assume he has. As will our potential future enemies, whoever they are (since our PM has been wandering the globe assuring every country they were our new BFF).

SO – we don’t need to actually go ahead with the purchase. Do you see? We pretend we have invisible planes that can be seen only by the truly patriotic Australian, and we will all see them. As will our future Best Enemies Forever. I mean, who is going to dare invade a country that says it has 500 (pick any number you like under this strategy) of the best fighter jets in the world eh?

And better still, the plan would work for the whole defence area. Collins class submarines? Sure, dozens of them, patrolling our waters, running silently and deeply. Sea Sprite helicopters? How many do you think? Oh, and aren’t they amazingly quiet, and doesn’t that invisible paint work well? See what I mean? Need spend no actual money at all on this stuff (unless you wanted to get the equally invisible Green Army to build some tanks out of wood and canvas like the Americans did in England before D-Day to fool the Germans into thinking the Emperor of India was indeed clothed in tanks), would really be a little quiet mouse of a country, but one everyone was afraid of.

And the beauty is, Mr Abbott, two birds with one stone, magic pudding, you can spend the same money on health and education and old people etcetera. Good thing it was put aside eh?

What’s that Mr Abbott? You don’t want to spend it on those things?

Oh.

Play up play up

7

The last football match I went to, forty years ago, was Coventry Reserves playing Preston North End Reserves (starring an ancient Nobby Styles) in 1974. I say this to demonstrate my lack of interest in football as a spectator sport rather than for any historic interest (other than the aforesaid young Nobby) in that game itself.

Oh, I have watched on tv the odd cup and grand final since then, read an occasional analytical piece on, say, “the future of rugby league” – I always aim to be able to hold my end up for two minutes in a discussion on any subject, part of being civilised. But no more than 2 minutes on sport.

So here is my two minute’s worth. When one team is successful in a season, more so in two, other teams strive to copy, and improve on, the reasons for their success. Aim to, say, handball long distances, flood defensive zones, work in pairs, whatever the tactical secret has been, but do it faster, stronger, more accurately. There is a limit, you see, to innovation, set by line markings, offside laws, restrictions on tackling style, and so on. Unless, like William Webb Ellis, you are going to catch a ball and then decide to run, changing a game forever, you are stuck with the limits placed upon you by the rules of the game. Indeed the beauty of football, as of any game, and arts such as music and poetry, is of maximum achievement within the limits of a framework.

But this tells you more than you want to know about football if I am any judge of my audience. It was a rather long-winded, and a little pretentious, introduction to yet another pensee on politics. But be fair, sporting metaphors are obligatory for any serious political pundit.

Political parties learn from each other just as footballers do. If one political party has success, a run of election wins, its rival will copy its tactics, try to do them better – more effective tv ads, more door-knocking, better slogans, bigger billboards. But there is a difference – in principle there are no sidelines, offside rules, tackle laws. Should be no reason why one player wouldn’t comment “only one team is playing football out there”. The other might be playing, oh, say cricket.

It is curious then that in practice the parties behave as if there were Hoyle’s Laws of Politics. More than curious. In politics, the best strategy would seem to be to NOT copy what your rival has done, but to try for something completely different. If your opponent is removing environmental protection you should restore and add to it; they support private schools, you support public ones; private medicine triumphing under one party, socialised medicine should look to triumph under the other.

But this isn’t what happens these days in Australia (or elsewhere) although once upon a time it did. Instead the managers, coaches, of the political teams strive for the tactic of me-too-ism. Anything you can do we can do better is the approach. Money for new babies? More money for new babies. Cheap power? Cheaper power. New roads? More new roads. And so on. The umpires, sorry, voters, are asked to decide on the winners of the political game when both teams are performing almost identically.

Why is it so? Well because there other interests at play in this sporting life. Interests that have come, in recent times (perhaps they always did!), to be the people who actually add guidelines, rules, to the political game. Both political teams these days are playing strong within constraints imposed by a third umpire upstairs. The rules are – taxes, especially for the rich, can only be cut, never increased; regulations must be removed not written; defence spending must always increase, American alliance must not be questioned; development always trumps environment; private always trumps public. And so on.

Curiously, perhaps, these laws of the political game just happen to suit the financial interests of the pool of people from whom the third umpires are provided.

Let is be clear here. The problem is not that there is a group of people with financial interests who are taking part in the political process in order to advance those interests in competition with other groups in society with other interests. That after all is the broad definition of politics. No the problem is that we have a situation as if one group of footballers on a field decided on the rules that all the others would play by, rules which favoured them.

Leaving sporting metaphor behind (at last!), the political reality we now have is that what was once a political spectrum all the way from far left to far right, from A to Z, is now a spectrum that runs only from far right to extreme right, from Y to Z.

The other day in Australia, after consternation about the order of the Labor Senate ticket in WA and its apparent lack of relationship to candidate ability, Bill Shorten called for some reform of the Labor Party he leads. The only thing he spoke of (as did others) was the link between party and unions. But the party actually needs to be recreated as a progressive social democrat party with Green links.

No one suggested this? Why not? Well, you know the answer. The party is constrained by the invented rules. If the Party attempted to return to its roots – to improve pay and conditions for workers, push public ownership, look after the disadvantaged, tax the rich more than the poor, and, in partnership with The Greens, protect the environment, support progressive social policies, culture, science. Whatever Mr Shorten’s personal beliefs and preferences, whatever those of some at least of his colleagues, any attempt to put distance between Labor and his conservative opponents, to give the public a genuine choice, would be met with a storm of booing, disqualifications, bookings, sending-offs, by the third umpire. The media will not permit any attempt to again expand the political spectrum, to suggest policies that will advantage any interests except those of the super rich.

Bill Shorten I think knows the rules of the game, knows how he must play the game, as well as Nobby Styles knew how to play football 40 years ago. So do all of us. No doubt who wins every political game these days.

Eating people is wrong

7

I first entered the hallowed halls of a university a long long time ago. So long that my lecturers were monks in full monkish gear, there were theologians, we ate in a Refectory, wore gowns and mortar boards for graduation, and lived in “colleges” (well, some of us did, the wealthier ones); there were cloisters (sort of!) somewhere, and a tower where bells were rung for the call to prayers (no, made up the bells).

In those far off times a university was basically for training priests (no, I wouldn’t have fitted in well!) but, human nature being what it is, I’m betting an equally significant part of its function was status and networking. Third sons of noblemen, smart young fellows from provincial towns, illegitimate sons of bishops, mixing together (drinking and wenching in taverns as much as talking in tutorials or libraries), making impressions, building up useful contacts, planning careers. Oh sure, some religiously dedicated souls, but they were destined for caves on mountain tops, or small parishes in Cheshire, not the corridors of ecclesiastical and secular power.

And so it remained for hundreds of years. Oh the student body no longer comprised priests, and the courses were widened, a little, from theology to classics and law, but the networking function remained the same. The graduates of Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Harvard, Sydney, Melbourne, with the old university ties to prove it, could be assured of welcomes from those of the same alma mater in Board Rooms and Cabinet Rooms, and the glittering prizes that resulted.

Not a case though of the piece of calf skin or parchment signalling merit, intelligence, ability, knowledge. Not a case of the best and brightest converging on centres of excellence, academic melting pots where the poor boy from the sticks competed on the level playing fields of Oxford with the rich boy from the home counties. Oh, no, the war for success in life had already been won on the very unlevel playing fields of Eton.

Oxford (and the others) was not there to demonstrate merit, but to confirm status. To have gone to university was not a demonstration of intellectual prowess but a demonstration of wealth, breeding, school history, correct pronunciation, correct dress, correct use of knife and fork when eating. The student ranks were drawn from the right kind of families and would become the right kind of people. Would become the next generation of rulers of society, under one title or another. Would eat the little people, from public schools, red brick colleges, alive.

Eventually though one or two people here and there realised that this closed shop education, while undoubtedly efficient, was producing ruling classes as inbred (intellectually and genetically) as the Egyptian Ptolemies. That there needed to be some infusion of new genetics into the courtyard pond, some little fish among the big fish. And, further, that universities should provide advanced education in a whole range of new disciplines more important to society than a little Latin and even less Greek. And, finally, most difficult of all, that, heavens, it is like confessing a murder, female persons might benefit from a higher education.

It also came to be realised that stirring up this rich educational stew with all its new ingredients would not only benefit the likely lads (and, shudder, lasses) from the boondocks, but would also benefit society as a whole. Not just because applying the best minds of a generation, irrespective of their breeding, to all kinds of scientific and other investigations in an intellectual ferment generated inside the ivied walls, would lead to great advances in many fields, but because those minds would question the unquestionable, provide new ways of thinking, looking at the world.

Oh bliss was it in that educational dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!

Couldn’t last of course. For two reasons. The kind of people who were still, recognising the right tie colour (light blue, dark blue, matters not the shade) among the born to rule, running things, had two strong objections to this new style of university (well, three counting its universality). First, if god had meant research to be free and open he wouldn’t have invented copyright. All this nonsense about science for science’s sake, “pure” science. Why, science is applied or it is pointless. And, furthermore, applied by the corporations run by boards of people like us to make money. Big money.

And second, the last thing people running a tight ship in which there is a place for everyone and everyone knows their place, stowed away neatly, before the mast, after the mast, and don’t you dare enter the wrong mess, the lower ranks have such unpleasant eating habits, is free-thinking. Goodness gracious, if the monks in the medieval universities had allowed free thinking there would have been atheists in the ranks in no time. Questioning of the order of things. Questioning whether kings were divinely ordained to rule, whether the poor were meant to be always with us, whether the Sun went round the Earth, whether it was really compulsory to vote Tory or die in foreign fields for king and country, whether it was possible to keep burning fossil fuels without destroying the planet, all kinds of dangerous questions. It’s what comes of people getting above themselves, trying to rise above their station in life.

A while ago a study by a major accountancy firm was released which concluded that Australian universities had to change their “business model” or most wouldn’t survive much longer. “Business model”? University? Do those words belong together again now as they did before? Oh yes.

Slash funding to Pure Science and the Arts. No more free university education, no more scholarships, huge loans which students must repay. More fee paying students from overseas who, paying big fees, expect a parchment at the end, guaranteed. Bring big business into universities, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and owns the music copyright.

We are back, in fact, to where we began. Training now for the priesthood of big business rather than the church, but still a religion, the religion of capitalism. No questioning that religion today, just as there was no questioning the religion of 600 years ago. And networking back where it belonged – between people wearing the right ties, using the right spoon, born in fact with the right spoon in the mouth. The Vice-Chancellor’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world again.

Big people eating little people is wrong. For one brief shining hour you could learn that in universities. But the simple folk don’t do that any more.

The nobles are back in charge.

Substitute

9

All those photos of psychopathic morons proudly showing the bleeding bodies of lions, giraffes, bears, wolves, elephants they have blasted with high-powered penis substitutes? Guess they think we will be envious of their prowess.

Makes good people not envious but sick to their stomachs seeing these vicious fools posed with their killing machines with foot triumphantly on top of the body of their victims. Makes them determined perhaps to try to stop this evil.
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Monkey magic

13

We all know the nature of monkey is irrepressible, right?

And the nature of the lion is to hunt, of the vulture to pick up the leftovers, of the hyena to scavenge the scraps.

Regular readers know that I don’t have “a deep burning hatred” for the neo-conservative scum (oops, sorry) now infesting the Australian corridors of power. No, not at all. Liberal and National Party politicians, and the right-wing think tank vermin (again, “oopsy”) that advise them, simply can’t help being what they are. When they demand the scrapping of the minimum wage, want additional payments to see the doctor, talk nonsense about natural CO2 and demand scrapping of a price on carbon, refuse legal advice to refugees, rewrite school curricula, dump spoil on Barrier Reef, remove limits on hate speech, sell public assets, remove financial and environmental regulations, invade other countries, clear-fell heritage forests, and so on, this just reflects their nature.
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The moving finger

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The last three blog posts have been examples of my writing where the words just flow on to the screen (ha, nearly said “page”, old-fashioned, eh?).

Richard Sheridan said “You write with ease to show your breeding, but easy writing’s vile hard reading”. Well, I see what you mean RB, but on this blog the reverse is true I think. Posts that I struggle with, feel I have a duty to write, must contribute to some debate, keep Watermelon in the forefront of public conversation, I suspect are a struggle for you, dear reader, to read.
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Arrows of desire

8

Watching Australian politics since the election of the Abbott government has been like watching one of those comedy routines, Benny Hill perhaps, or The Goodies, where the film is run backwards and the comedians are seen jerkily and rapidly moving back into the landscape, finally disappearing backwards over a hill.

Tony Abbott and his clown troupe running the clock backwards has astonished not just Australian citizens who had thought they were living in the 21st century, but civilised people everywhere who had thought we were too.
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On the way to the Forum

1

The Romans knew that invading and conquering people was no good unless you could almost immediately get them to love you, at which point you had created a prison in which the inmates could be given the key, would keep themselves locked up with hardly any need for guards.

Basically they had discovered, 2000 years early, the proposition that no two countries with McDonalds (or in this case fish sauce) ever go to war with each other. That is, you bring Roman culture to the barbarians, and next thing they are too busy sitting in bath houses, and worshipping Roman gods, to go to war. And too interested in profits from trade with the motherland, and the status and luxuries that went with being more Roman than the Romans.
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Doctor, doctor, gimme the news

6

All over this planet, millions of species representing the end point of 4 billion years of evolution, living in ecosystems representing the end point of millions of years of ecological interaction, are being made extinct at a rate probably unprecedented in the history of Earth, and towards an end point seen only a few times in that history.

An incredible 100,000 or so species are estimated to be going extinct each year towards a total loss in just a few decades of at least half those existing just 100 years ago (when the extinction rate first gathered pace). My feeling is that estimates like “a half” represent scientists being cautious. That really the planet is faced with the extinction of 90% or more, and the last time that happened was a quarter of a billion years ago. The last time anything like the extent of the events of these two centuries happened was 65 million years ago as a large meteor exploded against the planet. The last significant set of extinctions was around 25,000 years ago as the climatic events of the end of the ice ages drove many large species, especially mammals, to extinction.
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The contrary assumption

1

Saw a quote yesterday, and, as is so often the case in my near-dotage, didn’t write it down in case I decided to use it later, which of course I did just 24 hours later. So forgive me a little inexactitude in the interests of a Meloncholic Muse. It was from a right wing politician in Australia (or America, Argentina, Angola, Azerbaijan…) bemoaning the fact that the Left in Australia (Albania, Austria…) liked to sign international treaties.

It was related, I think, to the Tasmanian election, and the determination of the Liberals to turn thousands of hectares of World Heritage forest into wood chips and scorched ground. Or perhaps it was related to the UN Refugee Convention. Or Human Rights. Whatever, it was related to the nerve of any agreement having the temerity to presume to limit the activities of an incoming Liberal government hell-bent on destroying whatever stood in the way of its neoconservative religion as surely as the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas that stood in the way of their religion.
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