Monkey magic


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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Doctor, doctor, gimme the news


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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Desert profit


“My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.” Duke of Wellington, letter from the field of Waterloo (June 1815)

Tacitus some 1700 years earlier – “They rob, kill and plunder all under the deceiving name of Roman Rule. They make a desert and call it peace.”

At Xmas I came across a sad piece talking about Xmas 1913, looking at what a number of young men were doing that Xmas, and what would happen to them in the Great War. That is, die.

The essay beautifully makes the obvious point that 1913 marked the end of the old world. Nothing would ever be the same again – “What the war changed most, as Philip Larkin suggested in his great poem “MCMXIV”, written in 1964 for the half-centenary of the war, was the social deference born of ages; a blind trust in authority; a belief that everything was most likely to advance towards a better world. “Never such innocence again.””
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Police Academy 9


Here we are 8 days since the election that swept Tony Abbott and his Neanderthals to power (although not quite in the Qld-style landslide they and Rupert Murdoch were hoping for) and they have, astonishingly, not yet rolled into Government House to be sworn in.

For the media, including the ABC, the election seems not to have happened. They (rather like a Japanese soldier still hiding out in the Philipines and following the Emperor’s orders 50 years after the end of the war) are still bashing Labor, stirring up leadership tensions and ignoring policy issues, while Rudd supporters still trot into tv studios to talk about the future of the Party they damaged so badly, Graham Richardson is still billed as a “Labor powerbroker” (the word “power” being wrong), and scum from the RW think tank the IPA, busily planning the Hayekian paradise, are merely identified as “conservative commentators” by the ABC, rather in the way they might identify Genghis Khan as a “Chinese Horseman”.
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Visigoths and Vandals


It is August*, and the citizens are aware of the barbarians at the gates of their civilisation. The Visigoths have a bad reputation, but they have been secretly chatting to the slaves and convinced them they are really good guys, big supporters of the Lower Orders in fact. So one night the slaves open the locked gates and in come the Visigoths who then proceed to rape, pillage and generally wreck the joint, just as their reputation had suggested. The slaves, and this will shock you, ended up worse off.

Forty five years go by. Not very long, really, sufficiently short for old codgers like me to have seen the Visigoths in action and to think, oh shit, not again. But yes, this time it is the Vandals at the gates. No shenanigans with slaves this time, no need, all sorts of silly buggers have been played by the rulers of the civilisation, the politics is a mess, and next thing you know “The Vandals are coming, the Vandals are coming”. Who proceed to try to outdo those wimps the Visigoths and thoroughly trash the joint, so thoroughly that the year 455 is generally considered to mark the end of the once mighty 500 year old Roman Empire.
Yes, Rome, what did you think? Oh, I see, you thought you could see analogies with the citizens of Australia terrified of the arrival of Coalition barbarians on 7 September? Well, I hadn’t thought of that but now you mention it…
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Would you believe…


See, there are people who believe… I’m sorry, you’ll laugh. There are people who believe that the money that tobacco companies used in advertising, promotion, sponsorship, to make their brand logos well-known, in order to make huge profits (including of course recovering as costs or tax deductions the money spent on promotion), is much more important to society than the vastly bigger amounts of money the public have to spend to deal with the costs of tobacco addiction.
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Society offenders


Why are people so intent on blocking wind farms in both England and Australia in recent years?

Well, some of it is clearly genuine stupidity. While, it is well-known, not all stupid people are conservatives, it is undoubtedly the case that all conservatives are stupid. Add to that natural stupidity the pungent anti-science of the Tea Party style no-nothings in recent years, and you have the perfect recipe for believing any kind of crap nonscience that people of ill-will feed to you. If some clown pretends that there is a link between wind farms and an imaginary disease, then no matter how much proper science disproves this pretence, British Conservatives and Australian Liberals and Nationals will believe the clown every time. If only someone would tell them that gravity is a communist plot and a chap calling in to Alan Jones say it is well-known you can jump from high buildings but our socialist prime minister has covered it up!
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500 miles


So this is blog post number 500 and I thought I should do something to mark the occasion, bit of a retrospective.

But no cause for celebration that I can see. I began the blog in late 2005, following a year or so of writing a column for a couple of local newspapers. It seems a very long time ago, and much has happened in personal terms as well as nationally and internationally in the last 8 or so years.

I began blogging in an attempt to add my voice to the many other new voices which were beginning to emerge, in Australia and around the world, to challenge the mainstream media voices. I not only began this blog but began contributing to the new Huffington Post, the first attempt at a commercial version of a blog, and to the ABC, Australia’s public broadcaster, as it caught up with the new medium of blogs.
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You’ll go riding on the horses


Next year the carousel (I grew up calling such things “merry go rounds”) in the heart of Canberra is 100 years old. It is a classic of its kind, lots of old-fashioned horses, with names, and two elephants, in which children, brave enough to go round and round, but unsure about the whole up and down thing, can sit, with or without parents.

But for the children on the horses, giddeyup, it also has the advantage that parents and grandparents, left bravely behind on the ground outside, can be comfortingly seen and waved to, still in exactly the same place (“don’t move”), on every circuit. “Hullo”….. “Hullo” ….. “Hullo” ….. However brave you are, or are not, it’s comforting to know cuddles are not far away if needed. And if you know that, then the ride can, should, must go on forever. “Not yet, don’t stop yet” you might hear as the operator shows sign of heading for the Off Switch, and he might, fearing unpopularity, let it go round just once more.

Reminds me of the inexplicable failure of governments to do anything significant to deal with the now obviously runaway climate change. There we all are, going round and round, being reassured by politicians that nothing need ever change, that we will go round and round, exactly the same way, forever.

And we keep calling, “Not yet, don’t stop yet!” if a politician even looks as if they might be heading for the Off Switch, even the Slow Down Switch, we scream in protest.

And so the Merry Go Round keeps going round, in spite of ominous rumblings from underneath, puffs of black smoke, the smell of hot oil, the happy music sounding increasingly like a dirge. No maintenance you see, and it can’t run forever. The Operator looks more and more anxious, but there is no denying the cries “Not yet, don’t stop yet!” And the politicians, unmoving, waving and smiling happily to the riders, ready to cuddle away any doubts. Don’t you worry about a thing little girl.

So round and round we go, merrily riding on the horses yeah yeah.

Yes Prime Minister


I wrote the original version of this piece in July 2011, at a time when Julia Gillard had been PM (and won an election in her own right) for less than a year. Now as we approach three years, and the next election, I thought it was time (also prompted by the excellent recent post by Rodney Lever on the same topic) to re-evaluate, see if my view had changed. And to spell out in more detail my reasoning. See what you think.

In the last 70 years (a period which neatly uses the war years as the start of modern Australia, and allows me to consider only prime ministers serving in my lifetime) Australia has had 13 prime ministers (excluding the temporary Mr Forde, Mr McEwan) just as both the US and UK have had 13 leaders each. You would have to say by any objective measure, and ignoring sniping by people like me, we have been by and large very lucky and very well served by our baker’s dozen. We have avoided having any real dunces (unlike the US with Ford, Reagan, Bush and Bush) or crooks (Nixon). Our 13 also exceed the average quality of 13 British PMs (who avoid the US highs and lows) over that period.

I have, in the past, tried to separate out tops and bottoms. But this would be invidious among a continuous spectrum, and besides I find my opinion alters over time (Fraser up and Keating down for example). So let’s try to assess them over a range of qualities (not including IQ which I reckon averages high and pretty even).

OK, how might we judge the best of these thirteen? Lack of ideology; flexibility of mind; ability to relate to people; difficulty of political circumstances faced; ability to work with colleagues; concern for ordinary people; concern for minorities and the powerless; awareness of the big picture; ability to embody some aspect of the country; hard-working; willingness to take expert advice; someone I can imagine having an intelligent conversation with; someone I could imagine having a beer with; someone who can achieve outcomes; someone who can stand up to vested interests.

Applying those filters quickly begins to whittle down the big thirteen. McMahon, Holt disappear immediately, lightweights who were barely up to ministerial level, let alone PM. The next seven go for different reasons. Rudd and Gorton because of inability to work with colleagues; Howard because of his narrow-minded stubborn ideology; Keating because of his obsession for free markets and against environment; Fraser because of the unprincipled way he seized power, all go out in the first round. Then it gets hard Whitlam and Chifley are reluctantly, because of the magnificent achievements of both, eliminated in the second round. Chifley because of the miner’s strike. Whitlam because his best days were the duumvirate with Lance Barnard. After that he saw himself as the Emperor leaving his cabinet to do their thing, which after 23 years they were mostly not up to in the face of the Murdoch onslaught.

Which leaves just four in the grand final of Australia’s Got Prime Ministerial Talent – Curtin, Menzies, Hawke and Gillard. Now any of those would be a Winner you could argue for, give a standing ovation to, and I reckon you, my fellow judges, might easily disagree with me. Curtin is there because he seems by any measure one of the most decent, and  was the only one faced with stopping Australia being invaded in wartime in face of the self-interest of UK and US. Menzies, not because I think much of him (or his over-rated wit), but because you simply can’t ignore 18 years in The job. Hawke, again not because I think much of him but because, in contrast to Whitlam, he put together an extraordinarily good team, arguably the best in Australian history, and kept the public and media onside 

But, drumroll, my Winner is, on the basis of consistent performance overall – Julia Gillard. Yes, I know, I was surprised too. I fed all the data back into my PM “Difference Engine” (the very latest from Mr Babbage), and waited while the cogs whirred and spun, differences calculated, levers pushed for carries. Yes, it was still Julia by a nose. Do the calculations yourself (and get Ms Lovelace to double check, be analytical) I am sure you will agree.

So, what did the print-out show? That she’s really the only one who has had to deal with complex minority rule (Curtin did briefly in simpler circumstances). That she has had to deal with an Opposition determined to smash parliamentary conventions, and also in extraordinarily unprincipled moves force out two members of parliament to try to destroy the majority.

She has had other problems shared with other PMs, for example family difficulties (eg Hawke, Chifley), a persistent rival (again Hawke, plus Howard, Gorton), virulent press opposition (Whitlam, Keating, but I’ll come back to this), difficult world financial circumstances (Keating, Hawke, Rudd, Chifley), but no one else has faced them all simultaneously. Nor carried them off while remaining calm and pleasant and working well with all her colleagues except her predecessor and several of his supporters, and succeed in passing record amounts of legislation, much of great importance (carbon price, NBN). A number of them have given fine speeches, but none perhaps as significant as Gillard’s now world famous “misogyny speech”, the response to the constant nasty misogyny from the Opposition, outraged that a woman dared to be in charge.

Oh, look, I am no longer the starry-eyed boy who has political heroes like I once did (Jim Cairns, JFK). Julia Gillard is no Chifley or Whitlam in terms of Labor values. Her lack of interest in environmental matters is stunning. Her approach to asylum seekers leaves Fraser gasping. Her hard line on unemployed and single parents would have had her thrown out of Chifley’s cabinet. Her unconscionable pursuit of the Religious Right, in such matters as same sex marriage and school chaplains must have Whitlam and Hawke shaking heads. And so on and so on. Some of that has been forced on her by circumstances, some seems to be flaws in her thinking. But then all of them have had flaws of various kinds. If there is to be the perfect PM we haven’t quite found him or her yet.

So, best PM in 70 years, but there is another unique feature that distinguishes Ms Gillard from all her predecessors. No, not the size of her ear lobes, her hair colour, her clothes, her voice, her glasses. Give in? She has been subject to more personal abuse, vilification, hatred, death threats, than all of her predecessors put together.

At the same time she has been subject to the most one-sided unfair media coverage and constant virulent media attacks we have ever seen. The move by John Howard to not merely “neutralise” the ABC, but move it so far to the Right as to be able to run in harness with News Ltd has been decisive. As has the role of other media barons, their tame shock jocks, and their supportive “think tanks”. Not a government decision goes damningly uncritised, not a move is fairly reported, not a motive nastily unquestioned, not a fake leadership challenge left unturned. At the same time, the most incompetent, secretive, and low target Opposition in our history, has been not only left unchallenged, unquestioned, but praised in glowing terms, given dream runs, soft interviews, prominent soapboxes, on media outlets.

Both media and Opposition are determined to remove a vaguely left wing government and replace it with a hard right one which will undo all the advances Gillard has made and turn Australia into a ground as fertile for big business profit as America. If they succeed, and I reckon the chances are they will, then the baker’s dozen will end with her, a unique sequence come to an end. If Tony Abbott seizes the top job, then we will have not only taken on Tea Party politics from America, but their roller coaster leadership sequence in which some excellent, or at least above average, Presidents, can be succeeded by real dickheads, people who struggle to read a children’s book about a pet goat.

Anyway, over to you. Have I gilded the lily, overegged the pudding?