Play up play up


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.

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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The moving finger


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


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


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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Pixels made flesh


“What do we want?”
“A slogan.”
“When do we want it?”

Went to the Canberra “March in March” protest today, so need to write about it. Everyone else has written about their own experiences among the 100,000 plus people who marched in cities and towns all over Australia in last three days, so I should too. 100,000 people, by the way, virtually ignored by the media (except to complain about one or two signs, out of thousands, with a rude word or two, in order to discredit the event), but whose actions, just 6 months into the term of a new government, are unprecedented.

The Canberra event was much like the other events everywhere. It all had a pleasantly amateurish feel – no professional protesters or rent-a-crowd here. Ordinary people with no second names (“I’m Jim” “I’m Lisa” and so on) standing in front of an “open mic”, most clearly for the first time, saying in a few stumbling, and in one case tearful, words, why they had made the effort to come. Young and old, radical-looking and very conservative, men and women (about equal numbers), straight and gay, Aboriginal and “indigenous” (as one Aboriginal speaker put it), local Canberra and “from Goulburn” “from Newcastle” “from overseas”, healthy and not-so-healthy.
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Green parasols


‘You have come down here to see an election – eh? Spirited contest, my dear sir, very much so indeed. We have opened all the public-houses in the place. It has left our opponent nothing but the beer-shops — masterly policy, my dear sir, eh?’ The little man smiled complacently, and took a large pinch of snuff.

‘And what is the likely result of the contest?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘Why, doubtful, my dear sir, rather doubtful as yet,’ replied the little man. ‘Fizkin’s people have got three-and-thirty voters in the lock-up coach-house at the White Hart.’
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The buck stops here


“The man who is not a socialist at twenty has no heart, but if he is still a socialist at forty he has no head.” (Aristide Briand (1862-1932)) Well, Aristide, Prime Minister of France 11 times, was certainly a Socialist when young, but perhaps felt himself as an international statesmen becoming more right-wing as he became older.

It is an aphorism that is endlessly quoted, with knowing smirks, by the Right, most famously by Churchill, trying to counteract the opposite observation – “Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative.” – by John Stuart Mill. And trying to counteract modern studies showing that politically conservative people have on average a lower IQ than politically progressive people.

Not the point I want to discuss though, though related.
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Worth defending



“In 1969 Robert Wilson, director of the National Accelerator Laboratory, was testifying before the US Congress. He sought funding for a particle accelerator (forerunner of the Large Hadron Collider at Cern where the Higgs boson was discovered in 2012). Asked by Senator John Pastore how his project would help defeat the Russians, he responded: “It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another . . . are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets . . . new knowledge has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.”

was sent to me by my old friend Rob Banks, who knew that I would enjoy it.

It made me think of this, from H.H. Kirst’s “Gunner Asch goes to war” (What, you don’t know Kirst and his great creation Herbert Asch? Shame on you. Rectify at once, if you can find it, and the later works):

‘Sergeant Asch said “I’m not going to die for this sort of Germany”
“But who’s asking you to?” said Kowalski
“There must be another Germany, which is worth dying for”
“Man!” said Kowalski “Perhaps one day there’ll even be a Germany which is worth living for!”‘

Something to bear in mind as we are in the year marking 100 years since the war to end all wars began. And in Australia we are just a year away from the commemoration of ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) troops (as well as British troops) landing at the start of the failed attempt to invade Turkey. An event now commemorated by Anzac Day on 25 April, and said to mark the true beginning of Australia’s nationhood. An event so important to the Right in Australia that the Education Minister (a title impossible to use seriously) appears to want the whole education curriculum built around it.
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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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