Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

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World-renowned and much-loved Australian satirist John Clarke has died suddenly at the age of 68.

Known and hugely appreciated for his regular appearances with Brian Dawe on the ABC, puncturing the double talk and pomposity of politicians of all kinds, Clarke is believed to have died from natural causes while hiking in the Grampians mountains.

He will be terribly sadly missed, by his many fans, and the body politic more widely. This well-known excerpt displays Clarke in full flight, demonstrating his superb comic timing.

Here’s Clarke brilliantly channelling “Treasurer Scott Morrison” on the coming Budget, just five days ago.

He was also the brains behind the genius that was “The Games”. Still the funniest show about the nonsense of government and quasi-government activity ever made.

Do yourself a favour:

John Clarke has been farewelled today with innumerable heartfelt messages from his fellow performers and, uniquely perhaps, from the political sphere that he pinioned so caustically, and yet, somehow, so affectionately too. It was obvious from the twinkle in his eye and his ineffable timing that this was a gentleman, perpetually at the top of his game. He never resorted to nastiness. He didn’t have to.

Genius is definitely not too strong a term.

kennedyIn recent times, we have seen an upsurge in a rejection of the status quo and the success of populism, overwhelming the accepted norms of political discourse. The litany of events is very obvious … Erdowan in Turkey becoming progressively more authoritarian, the election of Syriza in Greece to oppose the EU-imposed austerity, the British public voting (albeit narrowly) for “Brexit”, the near-defeat of the Liberal-National coalition Government in Australia, the ascent of a virtual fascist to the Presidential run off in Austria, the likely ascent of the far-right National Front in France to a run-off in the coming French elections and the inability of a left-centre candidate to even make the frame, the rejection of Prime Minister Renzi’s attempt to rationalise decision-making in Italy leading to his resignation, the likely future success of the ultra-right in Holland, and above all, the election of businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump to the most powerful position in the Western world, President of the United States.

In reality, this trend can be traced back even further, to the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union (although this was also a more complex situation than mere discontent with the failures of the incumbent power structures). It could also be argued that the ultimate example is the steady move towards a command-capitalist model in China, with attendant liberalisation – creeping, at times reversed, but inexorable in its trend – of the media, of criticism of Party officials, and of the material expectations of a growing middle class. Indeed, in unleashing the forces of capitalism on Chinese society, Deng Xiao Ping can be said to have headed off a more dramatic and cataclysmic change in China.

When people are asked why they are participating in these quiet (or not so quiet) electoral revolutions they invariably answer with comments like “I am just sick of all of them”, “I am tired of the status quo, we need someone to shake things up”, “Politicians have failed us”, “We need someone to fix things up.”

The danger, of course, is that the people wreak major changes based on their discontent, without necessarily taking the time to consider whether those changes are what they really want. Fed a diet of rubbish and lies by both the media and their political leaders they simply cannot work out what is true or not, and therefore fall back on their gut instinct. And their gut instinct is that they are being badly led – which they are.

This is emphatically not to say the people are stupid – not at all. It is simply to note that in their desire to punish the under-performing elite they place rational decision-making of what might come next as secondary to their desire to give the establishment a damn good kicking. They argue, if questioned on precisely this point, that “it couldn’t be any worse”.

Winston ChurchillThe fact that it could, definitively, be much worse, is ignored because of the same anger that created the switch to populist idols in the first place.

Churchill’s warning that “democracy is the worst form of Government, it’s just better than all the others” is forgotten as the public elevate people who do not essentially subscribe to democratic ideals to run their democracies, with as yet untested outcomes.

In Russia, for example, the putative glasnost and perestroika of the Gorbacev era has now been thoroughly replaced by the quasi-fascist rule of Putin and his cronies, with uncertain outcomes that could be argued to threaten peace in Europe, at least. The Brexit vote at a minimum calls into question the “Union” part of the European Union, which is now on the nose throughout most of the EU, and the great dream of a peaceful, co-operative Europe that transcends mere trade freedom seems to lie in tatters. We might also note Churchill’s prescient remark that “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” People used to understand the limits of Government to “fix things”. No longer, it appears.

How did it come to this?

It is important to see this collapse of the ruling consensus as more than any desire to attend to this particular problem, or that, because the matters creating the angst vary from theatre to theatre.

Unquestionably, above all, the refugee flood around the world (and not just from the Middle East, at all) has created great tensions – great fear of “the others” – because it has happened at a time when the world seems to be collapsing into an ongoing conflict between the West and extremist Arabist/Muslim sects. But when massive population shifts occurred immediately after the Second World War there was considerably less social angst about an inflow of refugees, although by no means was there none, as any of the Italians, Greeks, Albanians and others who were shipped en masse to Australia (and America, and Canada) can attest. But it produced no mass revolution against the status quo. As recently as the late 1970s, huge inflows of refugees from the communist takeover of Vietnam produced barely a ripple of protest. So something different is happening here.

Unquestionably, economic uncertainty is playing its part.
The lost of traditional jobs has devastated some areas,
and not been replaced withtightrope anything else. That politicians seem unable or unwilling to recognise and successfully the problem is a staggering failure. During the 1930s, a huge “whole of Government” effort in some countries prevented the compact between the governing and the governed from breaking down altogether. The “New Deal” in America being the best and most successful example. But the mass unemployment caused by the breakdown of capital in that decade led inexorably to World War 2 and all that meant. That Western politicians can look at societies with 50% youth unemployment, can gaze on as we witness the wholesale collapse of traditional industries, can make mealy-mouthed contributions when someone brings up the obviously inadequate funds to support the aged and the ill, and yet imagine that such a cataclysm could not occur again? This is the ultimate desertion of responsibility.

It seems to us that the world is experiencing a “perfect storm” of fear – endlessly beaten up by politicians and the media – at precisely the same time as politicians are struggling, and usually failing, to come to terms with the stresses and strains created in economies by “instant” international banking (which can change the dominant rules of a market in seconds), globalisation (which has led to the wholesale demise of “old” industries in the established economies), a series of scandals that imply that our political leaders are little more than a series of ever-hungry pigs with their snouts so deep in the trough that their eyes can’t see anything over the top, and, and this is critical, a failure of leadership.

On the one hand we have the populists, with their broad brush stroke slogans, their breathlessly simple solutions, and their fellow travellers that constantly beat the drum praising the perspicacity of their chosen flag bearer. Only he (or she, in the case of Marie le Pen) have the strength and vision to ram through “the change we need”. And like parched wanderers in the desert, the people turn inevitably to the promise of relief. Tongues hanging out for any water, no matter how brackish.

But this is just a mirage of “we can fix it”. It’s a big lie. A big con. So big, indeed, that people swallow it, because surely no-one could be so ruthless, so uncaring of the effect they are having, so roguish in their pursuit of power, as to promise relief with no real idea of how to deliver it. But they can. As Stalin so chillingly said, “one man’s death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”. The same hideous calculation is made by the populists when they promise change they cannot deliver, and solutions that are paper thin in their analysis.

But what has the response of the liberal democracies, the “ruling elite”, been to this challenge? It has been to bury themselves in perpetual over-intellectual obfuscation, to sneer at the populists as if they do not represent a threat, to blithely fiddle as their Rome burns. It has been to bleat “but we are doing our best”, when Blind Freddie can see that their best is woefully lacking. It is to lock themselves in their ivory towers – towers made of parliamentary walls, and TV studios, and offices – and to make little or no real attempt to explain to the people why they are doing what they are doing, and that is assuming they are doing anything much, at all.

How has this situation been allowed to persist?

The reasons are many and various, but in our view they come down to this:

THE FIVE GREAT FAILURES

The failure of vision

Politicians are no longer driven by a desire to create better societies – to serve their people – but by careerism. There is no doubt that no one succeeds in climbing the slippery pole without a strong streak of self-regard, but until the relatively recent past politics was still full of people whose primary, over-riding motivation was the betterment of their electorate, and more widely, humankind. There were more “enthusiastic amateurs”, drawn from all walks of life, chock full of useful experiences. To be sure, they never turned their noses up at the perks of office, nor the thrill of handling the levers of power. But at the core was a desire to conserve what was good, and to develop what was promising, and – based on evidence – to eschew what was failing. It is highly questionable whether that still applies to most politicians today – certainly those of reach the top of the heap – and the people smell the rot with absolute accuracy.

The failure of honesty

It is now a dispiritingly long time since any politician, anywhere in the West, dared to say “Actually, we’re not really sure what to do”. And yet, in huge swathes of decision making, it is perfectly clear that our leaders do not know what to do. The pace of change, and the relentless news cycle, is leading them to pretend they know what they’re doing when they really don’t. In vast areas of public policy – balancing the structural changes in economies, achieving unanimity on climate change, reducing the proxy conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, preventing a new Cold – or Hot – war, it is plain they are thrashing about, confused and dispirited. And yet, turn a camera and a microphone on and they act like Mastermind contestants with all the answers.

This has two linked effects. Firstly, it destroys trust, when it becomes clear that the assurances and calming words are so much hogwash. Second, it removes responsibility from the public to be part of the solution to intractable problems, leaving them reliant on blowing up the entire system when they are – inevitably – disappointed, as they had no part in devising the solution, and no ownership of the outcome.

The failure of communication

Politicians seem to no longer be able to phrase their goals in simple language, without succumbing to the temptation to reduce everything to focus group-led slogans.

It would be hard to think of a single major Western politician – with the possible exception of Angela Merkel, although her days may well be numbered – who still has the required “common touch”, although Justin Trudeau in Canada is undoubtedly a standout exception – and he, it should be noted, is of the left, and is an intellectual, thus giving the lie to the assertion that all this change is merely a revolt against “left intellectualism”.

A politician like Churchill, for example, could be autocratic, even waywardly so, but he never forgot the absolute need to take the people with him. Perhaps in war-time this need is more obvious. But in the recent past – much as we disagreed with some of her policies – a politician who widely admired Churchill – Margaret Thatcher – also had the ability to communicate broad themes in a popular way, while making changes that many argue were long overdue in Britain despite being sometimes achingly difficult.

Where are the democratic politicians who offer us soaring rhetoric, yet rooted in common sense, to enliven and inform civic debate? Certainly Obama offered the soaring rhetoric, but outside of campaign mode he so often failed to return to those heights, and was too often hidebound by a toxic combination of an obstructive Congress, a swingeing economic crisis, and his own innate conservatism.

The cupboard is depressingly bare.

The failure of thought

The West, in particular, but by no means exclusively, is failing itself. The essence of democracy is free, vibrant and deep debate, the development of philosophy, the parsing of solutions. One of the inevitable results of the dumbing down of Universities – through the diversion of their funds increasingly to commercial “applied science” rather than humanities such as literature, politics, and philosophy – even theology – has starved our system of thinkers. The problems we face are massively complicated, yet those who used to work diligently behind the scenes in thousands of “thinking hives” are increasingly no longer there, and no longer contributing. Political parties are increasingly less full of thinkers and increasingly full of yar boo sucks partisans. Where political thought across the political divide was once welcome and respected, now it is virtually unheard of. While politicians of different ilk may well be friendly “behind the scenes”, for them to acknowledge the thoughts of an opponent as having value, of being worthy of consideration, is apparently political death. Little wonder the public don’t trust them, faced with such ludicrous and childishness obstinacy.

The failure of media

Our media organisations have become helplessly addicted to the brief, and the sensational.

Whilst this was always true of the tabloid media, it is now true of all media.

The people they employ are largely intellectual pygmies, and in television in particular they are in the job because they look good and can follow a producer’s brief.

Across all types of media, they don’t scare the horses, because they rarely ask any hard questions. Hard questions require that the journalist has knowledge and the politician can address that knowledge intelligently, taking whatever time is required. Neither is true, and anyway there is no time.

There are exceptions, to be sure, but they are very few and far between, and becoming more so. The success of the series “Newsroom” showed the public’s deep desire for a form of journalism that is principled, erudite and independent. But of how many journalists today can those three qualities be said? And increasingly, anyway, mainstream media is being over-taken by social media, where the provenance of any story is impossible to divine, and where the impact is so transient that clear nonsense is forgotten almost as soon as it has trended, but not before it has added to the dominant zeitgeist, whatever that may be. If we are in the era of “post truth politics” – a terrifying concept in itself for admirers of democracy – then the most brutal criticism of all must be levied at the media – all of the media – that simultaneously tolerates and encourages the situation.

So what’s to be done?

It may indeed be way too late to close the stable door after watching an entire herd of horses bolting in all directions. Or to mix our metaphors, we may all be just a bunch of well-boiled frogs who should have acted to redress the decline a long time ago.

Yes, we will be accused of being pessimistic because it appears “our side” of politics is currently losing, and we will also be accused of succumbing to conspiracy theories.

In fact, we confidently expect we will be today’s Cassandra, doomed to wail on the battlements while all around mock us.

But in our view, the first step in redressing this danger – the danger of the collapse of modern liberal democracy – is to acknowledge the problem and seek to persuade others to address it. Others, we note, regardless of their native political bent. This is a task for all of us, whatever our political persuasion.

As we do not have the influence to turn the ship around on our own, we simply point to the mounting evidence, and suggest the general shape of a solution.

It will take a mighty effort to reverse the trends outlined here. But as Horace said 2000 years ago, “A journey, once begin, is half over.” To begin this journey, we have to agree that there is a problem, yes?

NOT meant to be served cold. Not, not, not.

NOT meant to be served cold. Not, not, not.

 

When one leaves the country of one’s birth to travel to somewhere else permanently – well, as far as one knows it’s a permanent move – it is inevitably a wrench, no matter how exciting the “new start” is. Nowadays, one considers oneself more Australian than British, but a deep affection for the land of my birth, with all its quirks and wonderments, persists and will never leave me.

Initially, of course, one misses friends and family enormously, no matter how one makes new links overseas. This is an experience known to millions worldwide, and when yours truly made the jump it was long before such things as Skype and so on. Even email was in its infancy. (Some would say ‘the good old days’.)

But distance can make the heart grow fonder, and welcoming one’s nearest and dearest to experience the new life one is creating is a joy. We will never forget going to the butcher’s with Mum and asking what she’d like for her first “Aussie BBQ”. She shyly indicated some lamb chops – one of her favourites – but was horrified when we simply told the butcher we’d take the whole tray. A lamb chop at a pound apiece was a luxury for her back in Blighty, but lamb isn’t something we’re short of Down Under. We also regularly piled her plate up with King Prawns, which are plentiful in warm Southern oceans, but an eye-widening world away from the tiny shrimps she enjoyed so much growing up in East Anglia and South Wales, coming in little pots sealed with melted butter.

Other friends have variously loved sweet and peppery pumpkin soup served in hollowed out pumpkins – a ridiculously kitchy 1970s thing to do, but a revelation to those visiting from a country where it’s called “Squash” and mainly served to pigs as fodder – and one memorable Christmas with friends disappeared into a comforting blur under the influence of vodka and homemade fruit punch cocktails that complemented the rock lobster.

But for all that entertaining overseas guests always offered a frisson of pleasure, everyday life proved less amenable in some important ways.

It was some time before one could get past asking incredulous barman to microwave our pint of English ale to bring it nearer room temperature rather than struggling with the ice-cold version served in Australia. (The precise time to do this in a 600w microwave is 47 seconds on full, by the way. Just in case you need to know. Then stir the beer with a straw or something to distribute the warmer beer at the outside of the glass to the middle, and wait 20 seconds before drinking – if you can.)

Everyone in Australia knows that Brits drink their beer warm. To see someone actually do it would frequently stop all discussion in the bar, and produce much sad shaking of heads.

Nowadays, of course, one has come to appreciate the frigid beauty of a lager-style beer on a forty degree day – or plenty of them – but like stout, (Guinness is also served everywhere at near-freezing), British ale is meant to be drunk at room temperature to release its gorgeous flavours. Now, at least, one can easily buy bottled ales that one can keep and serve at any temperature one likes, but it would be great to be able to have them served at the right temperature in a pub, especially during Melbourne’s frequently chilly winter. Still: one adjusts. But in the early years nothing emphasised one’s distance from “home” as a pint of Boddington’s served with pearls of condensation on it.

Globalisation, though, has its upsides. In the early years, friends were obliged to stuff their suitcases with packets of Paxo Sage and Onion stuffing and Colman’s Bread Sauce so a Sunday roast chook still tasted something like a roast chook should. One dear amigo, stopped at customs with at least 20 packets of Bread Sauce in his suitcase, had to patiently explain for some time that it wasn’t cocaine artfully packaged, and that if the packets were confiscated there’d be hell to pay from his irascible host.

Better than cocaine any day.

Better than cocaine any day.

Eventually, bemused, the customs guy waved him through, and the immortal phrase “Bloody Poms” was heard clearly in a stage whisper as he exited the green channel, head held high. Nowadays both items are freely available in Aussie supermarkets, where they walk off the shelves and into the grateful pantries of expatriates and their ever-patient families. The same is true of Heinz Salad Cream, which goes perfectly with both french fries and mashed potato, to the eternal horror of Aussies who were brought up with slightly healthier food habits. A bottle of HP Sauce peeking out from the shelves now restores a beatific grin when sausages are on the menu. And despite a wonderful range of home-grown biscuits on offer, still nothing complements a cup of tea quite like a McVities Digestive. As the immortal ad campaign once said, “a drink’s just too wet without one”.

Once upon a time one was thinking of a starting a business called pommygrub.com but neither international transport nor the internet were up to snuff in those days. Needless to say, time marches on.

We might have to order ourselves a pot of Marmite for Christmas. I mean, Vegemite is great, but there’s only ever been one Marmite. And some Bara Brith seems indicated for Christmas afternoon. As it says: “From a bakery in the heart of Pembrokeshire, Tan Y Castell Bara Brith is a delicious and traditional fruit loaf baked with fruit, tea and mixed spices.”

You can take the boy out of Wales …

Traditional Welsh recipe for Bara Brith

Bara Brith translates to ‘speckled bread’ and is an especially rich fruit loaf made with tea. Produced all over Wales, but especially in my “home country” of Pembrokeshire, the spiced fruit loaf is delicious when spread thickly with good Welsh butter.

bara-brith

Bara Brith ingredients

  • 450G/1lb self raising flour
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 175g/6oz Muscavado sugar
  • 1 medium size free-range egg
  • 1tbsp orange zest
  • 2tbsp orange juice
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 300ml/½pt cold tea
  • 450g/1lb mixed, dried fruit
  • Extra honey for glazing

How to make Bara Brith

Put the mixed dried fruit into a mixing bowl, pour over the tea, cover and leave to soak overnight. The next day mix together the sugar, egg, orange juice, zest and honey, add to the fruit. Sift in the flour and spice, and mix well. Pour the mixture into a buttered loaf tin, 1.2L/2pt. Bake in a preheated oven at gas3/160c/325f for about 1¾ hours. The loaf should be golden in colour and firm to the touch in the middle. Baste with honey whilst still warm. Allow to cool thoroughly before storing in a cake tin.

The recipe for Bara Brith can be altered slightly by adding a few flavours. When soaking the fruit, substitute ¼ of the fluid with a whisky liqueur. Replace the honey and fruit juice with 2 tablespoons of marmalade. Alternatively, replace two tablespoons of fruit with chopped stem ginger, and replace the juice and honey with lemon marmalade, and the orange zest with lemon.

You’re welcome.

In loving memory of Simon Titley, who would have understood.

Australian politics is … different.

Lambie

An outspoken Tasmanian senator has compared her conservative counterpart to an “angry prostitute” – before apologising to sex workers.

Independent Jacqui Lambie has a history of clashing with government senator Cory Bernadi.

Senator Bernardi was this week critical of Labor Senator Sam Dastyari, who had a travel bill paid by a Chinese donor.

But Senator Lambie compared Bernardi’s outrage to a “prostitute lecturing us about the benefits of celibacy”.

“Before I receive unfair criticism from the sex workers, I apologise to them profusely for comparing them to Senator Bernardi – I know that is a really terrible low-down thing to do,” she told the Parliament.

“Prostitutes are far more honest, sincere, humane, compassionate and better bang-for-buck than Senator Bernardi will ever be able to deliver.”

‘Different universe’

Senator Bernardi, one of the ruling Liberal Party’s most vocal right-wingers, laughed off her colourful comments.

The thoroughly dislikeable Senator Bernardi, who some are calling "Australia's answer to Donald Trump." We think that's more likely to be Pauline Hanson, but there we go.

The thoroughly dislikeable Senator Bernardi, who some are calling “Australia’s answer to Donald Trump.” We think that’s more likely to be Pauline Hanson, but there ya go.

“God love her,” he said. “She operates in a different universe to the rest of us. But I’m pleased Senator Lambie has acknowledged that I’m not for sale.”

The conservative politician also said that Senator Dastyari’s position as manager of Opposition business in the parliament was “entirely untenable”. And Attorney-General George Brandis has called on Senator Dastyari to explain a string of payments by Chinese interests, suggesting he may have been “compromised”.

Senator Dastyari insists the payment was properly declared and has since donated the amount to charity.

Meanwhile, we are all left laughing gently and appreciatively at Senator Lambie’s straight talking. Or to put it another way, as Australians are wont to do, “That woman calls a spade a f****** shovel.”

This is not the first time Ms Lambie has attracted attention for her colourful comments. She once described on talkback radio her ideal man as well-off and “well hung”, attracting approbrium and applause in roughly equal measure.

As we have said before, we rather like Ms Lambie, without agreeing with barely a word she says or an opinion she holds. On the loathsome Cory Bernardi, however, she is spot on.

Testing times for the Government with its plan to hold a nationwide vote on “gay marriage” (or “marriage equality” as it is better termed).

With the Nick “Team” Xenophon votes in Parliament now definitely against the plan, Labor will be extremely unlikely to back the plan, even if there was ever any rarely chance of them doing so. They could, theoretically, still decide to abstain, allowing the Government to escape with a win on the floor of the Senate by default, but their current rhetoric would seem to make that unlikely, and they would be roundly criticised for allowing a measure to pass that they have stated categorically they believe should be scrapped.

Our view is that the Government will still “test” the Parliament with a vote – judging that a defeat in Parliament will be less damaging to their stocks than just giving up on on their manifesto pledge altogether.

The likely breakdown of votes can be seen below, courtesy of The Age’s neat Senate-working-out interactive map, assuming Family First vote in favour of the plebiscite as their last best chance to get the people to reject marriage equality, and we are basing Lambie’s likely vote on the basis of her earlier statements that Australians should have the right to vote in a referendum on gay marriage but she would ‘fight like hell’ against any changes.

 

 

Looking dicey for Turnbull gay marriage vote.

Looking dicey for Turnbull gay marriage vote.

 

Assuming the above scenario works out then it seems virtually impossible for the Government to avoid a free vote on the topic in Parliament as an alternative to the plebiscite, though when that might be is problematical. They could theoretically take a bill to reform the marriage act to the next election, so they can claim a mandate to make the necessary changes if they win again, but that would seem to drag out what has already been a marathon national debate way too far.

There is clearly a mood in the country for change, even though pockets of strong and principled resistance remain. But the case has now been argued endlessly and surely the reform side has won.

As one caller to talkback radio in Melbourne put it last week to the relevant government minister, “For heaven’s sake, just get it done!”

Yes, that was us.

All of which also frees up a staggering $160 million which was going to be wasted on a non-binding vote to be spent on something else, or at the least chucked back into the empty government pot to go towards reducing the deficit. That sweetens the pill for the Government somewhat: umpteen million taxpayers will be pleased.

girl runningA friend writes to Wellthiswhatithink with an encouraging and uplifting story of humanity shining through in a crisis.

Like most countries in the West, Australia has its own concerns about relations with our Muslim community, and concerns about the problems in the Middle East; this little story shows a kinder side of the problem.

“With the Olympics in full swing we recently took the kids to Doncaster Athletics track for practice – watching Usain Bolt had inspired them! – and there were a few people doing laps.

I noticed a little girl (no more than about eight or nine) running around the track on her own.

Suddenly I heard the most horrific screaming coming from the back straight of the track. I turned around and saw the little girl hysterical, screaming and crying and red all over her face then I realised that the poor little thing had lost concentration – the clever folk running the stadium place a metal barrier about four feet of the ground at two different points of the track allegedly to protect the first two lanes – and the kid had run face first into a metal pole.

I ran over to her (shocked that others were just standing there and watching) and her face was really swollen. She was shaking, screaming and had blood pouring out of her mouth, two teeth knocked, blood pouring out all over her face and clothes. The pain and distress must have been terrifying.

With a couple of kids of my own, I knew the most important thing was to calm her down. I told her she was going to be ok and placed my daughter’s shirt to her mouth to stem the bleeding and she basically started to faint as I carried her back towards the main entry looking for her family.

By this stage all my guys were with me and I sent them off to find the parents. By now I was frankly getting very concerned for the child’s safety. Suddenly an ashen faced woman and her equally pale young son came running towards me speaking a language I didn’t recognise. I tried to explain that we would take her to the Community Centre (which I noticed was open and had a small group inside) which was next to the track.

When we got to the Community Centre a group of young Muslim families were having afternoon tea (dressed in their traditional clothing) and they helped take the child from me, and one of the group (who might have been a Doctor, as he certainly seemed to know what he was doing) took charge and they started to help revive the child.

I asked the mother of the little girl what language they spoke and she said, in stumbling, broken English but loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘Hebrew’.

I didn’t say anything more and they continued to stem the blood from the girl and care for her.

The ‘Doctor’ didn’t look up from his work, but he had heard the mother. He just said, very quietly and intently, almost to himself but I knew he was talking to me, ‘We help everyone’  and they continued to do what they could. Nothing else was said and they washed the blood from the child’s face, and I was mightily relieved to see that she was now conscious again, and a lot calmer.

I advised the Mother to take the child straight to the Royal Children’s Hospital and she was so incredibly appreciative – she said thank you in her own way to all the people that helped and took the little girl off to the hospital.

I must say we were all shaken – and covered in blood, also – but it just goes to show that people really are people, whatever their social or racial background, and they will help others in need, and I felt genuinely touched by what I saw.”

We thank Simon so much for sending us this encouraging anecdote. Coming in the week that also saw that heart-rending photograph of the little Syrian boy sitting dazed and bloodied on a chair having been pulled from the rubble of an air strike, it struck us as well worth re-publishing.

If only – if only – we could all always see the human beings – the children – in our stories. Every one of them an individual. Frightened. Hurting. Deserving of our care.

Innocent.

And so, Dear Reader, in this “nothing is secret” era of social media, we have Instagram to thank for revealing how at least some Aussies voted yesterday. Somehow, whilst we can’t in all conscience condone it, it does reassert ones faith in our fellow electors.

People “spoil” their ballot papers all over the world. Only in Australia is it this funny, and this bang on the money!

Meanwhile, the real election is just too fucking disastrous to comment on today. We are working up to tomorrow.

ballotVoting in Australia’s Senate is notoriously confusing. Last time we saw all sorts of odd people elected on next to no initial support. So bizarre were the results last time that the Parliament even changed the voting system this time round.

But there are still a number of interesting opportunities for voting in the Senate this time, and some really horrid dangers too.

As we say, the voting system has changed. The simplest way to do your civic duty now is to vote for AT LEAST six groups ABOVE the line.

So … what to do with your precious vote?

Well, because the quota comes down to 7% in a double dissolution election (when we vote for ALL the Senate and ALL the House of Representatives at the same time) we can pretty much predict what’s going to happen.

The Greens are bound to win one Senate seat in Victoria, and Labor and the Coalition would normally split the others, but there is also a real chance one micro party will also manage to get a quota.

Micro parties have had a bad rap recently because of the “Preference Whisperer” at the last election getting all sorts of odd people elected. But they do bring focus onto important issues that often don’t get the attention they need, so frankly we would suggest you at least consider putting these micro parties in the order you like best and THEN next preference the Greens (to try and get a second Greens Senator elected, unless you happen to hate the Greens) and THEN Labor or the Liberal/National Coalition after that:

  • ARTS (a party set up to promote the Arts in Government)
  • DRUG LAW REFORM (favour decriminalising drugs)
  • MARRIAGE EQUALITY PARTY (self explanatory)
  • AUSTRALIAN PROGRESSIVES (generally good progressive policies)
  • RENEWABLE ENERGY PARTY (self explanatory)
  • SEX PARTY (against religion fiddling in politics and in favour of a relaxed attitude to sex, basically)
  • VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA PARTY (self explanatory)
  • NICK XENEPHON TEAM (a centrist independent grouping based around the South Australian Senator Nick Xenephon)

And THEN, as we say, put the GREENS and THEN add EITHER THE ALP or THE LIBERALS after the Greens. (Ending up on one  of the major groupings means your preferences can’t become “exhausted”. And information on all the above parties can be found on Wikipedia.)

And then we strongly suggest you STOP numbering boxes! So you number a maximum of 1-10 boxes above the line, stopping at your ultimate preference between Labor and the Coalition.

Why stop there? Because most of the rest of the options are truly appalling in our honest view. And we don’t want any of them elected accidentally. So we would simply recommend, don’t number past 10 above the line.

However we strongly urge you to completely reject our advice if you see fit. It’s a secret ballot, and it’s your vote, so do as you like 🙂 Just please make sure you Vote! People died for that right, remember.

Jo

 

At Wellthisiswhatithink we have often bemoaned the brutalisation of politics. The way “anti politics” has become the new norm. A politics which is little more than cynicism, mistrust, name-calling and sloganising. It is seen most clearly and more than ever in the mindless forwarding of memes that brook no discussion, because no discussion is possible.

Those with an agenda to drive will accuse this blog of descending into vitriol on occasion. We reject that accusation. Politics is a serious matter, and you cannot “do” politics without disputation. Indeed, disputation – the contest of ideas – is the very core of freedom. And if we have, and it can be demonstrated, then we will recant and apologise.

But there is a difference – a gulf – between healthy disputation and hatred. And hatred has become the new normal, and relatively recently, too.

Whether it is in America, France, Denmark, Norway, the UK or Australia. Whether it is a discussion of guns, of racism, gay rights, of female emancipation, the European Union, or, most obviously, immigration, refugees and specifically Islam. The attitude that “you are with me, 100%, or you are evil and worthy of whatever abuse I choose to throw your way” has taken deep root. With the ascension of Trumpism, most obviously, we see how the inchoate mass rage generated by mindless sloganeering translates into political power, and then political violence. Democracy is a fragile flower, and it is wilting.

This article discussing Jo Cox’s assassination – for that is what it was – says it better than we can. We strongly recommend you read it. Because hatred is never funny. Hatred is never smart. Hatred is never right. Hatred is never appropriate.

Sure, “politics is a contact sport.” It doesn’t have to be murder.

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/06/a-day-of-infamy/

In slightly better news, #ThankYourMP is trending in the UK. Many people simply saying thank you to their MP, whether or not they vote for them. Well done, whoever thought that up.

Everyone knows Australia’s legendary reputation for things that bite, sting, chew and generally act in an anti-social manner. Great White Sharks, innumerable venomous snakes, an entire nightmare full of horrid spiders, jellyfish, even an octopus that kills people paddling in rock pools.

 

Australia's redback spider

Redback spider bites are relatively common in Australia, with around 2,000 people bitten each year.

But this one takes the, er, biscuit.

An Aussie has taken himself to hospital after a venomous redback spider bit him on the penis. Yup, you read that right.

The tradesman was using a portable toilet on a Sydney building site on Wednesday morning when he was bitten.

A spokesperson for St George Hospital confirmed that a 21-year-old man was treated for a redback bite.

The redback spider, closely related to the black widow spider, is distinguished by a long red stripe on its abdomen. And its bite causes severe pain, sweating and nausea.

The BBC spoke to the owners of the property who confirmed that the man had been bitten on the penis, as described in various media reports.

He was later discharged from hospital in a stable condition.

Although there are recorded cases of deaths from redback bites, none have occurred since the development of anti-venom in 1956.

Still, no. No thanks. Nu-uh. Nope. No.

FailYesterday we reported on how Facebook sometimes very obviously fails to protect individuals or groups from hate speech on its pages, even when it claims to do so.

Meanwhile, we continue to oppose racists who pop up spouting their hateful filth on otherwise reasonable threads.

Today, we were talking with the racists about the many refugees who have made a fabulous contribution to Australian society, like Michael Gawenda, one of Australia’s leading journalists and editors from Poland, Tony Le Nguyen, the Vietnamese actor and social activist, and Matur Gak, a doctor from Sudan.

When these stories were offered as evidence for the irrationality of their fear of refugees, this was the response:

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 2.07.26 pm

 

We may be mad – obsessive, quixotic, take your pick. But we are not prepared to let people assert this sort of nonsense un-challenged.

So this was our reply:

I am not sure why you would assume 95% of refugees going to Europe are male. Where do you get your facts, from? NaziOpinionsAreUs?

The United Nations has registered over 4.2 million Syrian refugees, a step in seeking asylum from other countries, and has a demographic snapshot of about half of them. Of the 2.1 million registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon there’s a pretty even split in gender: about 50.5% are women and 49.7% are men. For men and women, the bulk of refugees (a little under a quarter each) are between the age of 18 and 59.

It is true that in 2015 there were a surge in young men, about 62% of all migrants that have traveled to Europe in this year were men. A little under a quarter, 22%, were children and 16% were women. This is caused by two factors: firstly previous refugee flows from Syria and Iraq were heavily biased towards women, the men traveled later. Secondly, young men in 2015 were fleeing round-up forced recruitment drives for the Syrian army, and most of these young men would have been shot or made to fight their own people had they not fled.

I know you are utterly ignorant of these facts. What I don’t understand, when they are freely available on the internet by a simple Google search, is why you persist in repeating vile rubbish. Do you think you’re funny? Are you just having what passes for you as fun? Well, you say or do what you like. Most of the rest of us want to get on with building a peaceful, productive and happy country. One that the ANZACs would be proud of.

(It is Australia’s national holiday next week, to remember the Australians and New Zealanders who have fallen fighting for their country. These types often make a big play of their support for the Day. Pointing out how their opinions are exactly the crap the ANZACs were fighting against is another vital piece of agit-prop. And one they never care to answer, in our experience.)

 

The day ANZAC was most obviously co-opted by violent racists - the Cronulla riots of 2005. As the New South Wales then Returned Servicemens' League President, Don Rowe, later explained: “We were absolutely disgusted. That is the last thing that Anzac is interpreted as being. The Anzac spirit is mateship, looking after one another . . . you certainly don’t go around waving flags and call yourself an Anzac and go around belting people up. That’s totally the opposite to what Anzac is.”

The day ANZAC was most obviously co-opted by violent racists – the Cronulla riots of 2005. As the New South Wales then Returned Servicemens’ League President, Don Rowe, later explained: “We were absolutely disgusted. That is the last thing that Anzac is interpreted as being. The Anzac spirit is mateship, looking after one another . . . you certainly don’t go around waving flags and call yourself an Anzac and go around belting people up. That’s totally the opposite to what Anzac is.”

 

Before you ask “Why bother arguing with racists?” we’ll give you the answer, because that’s easy. Racism must be opposed wherever it rears its flithy head because other people read racists’ poison and without a countervailing point of view they become convinced by it all too easily.

That’s how fascism happens.

And that’s what has happened in large parts of the American public, right now. It can happen anywhere. In any culture. Of any type.

Racism and fascism are Siamese twins, and they rise unchecked when logic, rationality and patient, evidence-based debate flies out of the window.

My father fought in a World War for six long years to protect a civilised society. We will not allow his sacrifice to be tossed away on the funeral pyre of populist bullshit, nor the efforts of millions or others.

 

The Pacific island of Nauru

The tiny, barren island nation of Nauru holds refugees while Australia processes their asylum claims.

An Iranian asylum seeker has been fined for trying to kill himself during an attempt to move him and his daughter from an Australian-funded detention centre on the island of Nauru.

Sam Nemati, sole guardian of the eight-year-old girl, admitted the charge and was ordered to pay A$200 ($155; £109).

Mr Nemati had been in the detention centre for two years.

Australia relocates all refugees trying to reach the country by boat to Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The process is extremely controversial despite being supported by both the Liberal-National Coalition Government and Opposition Labor party.

Nauru is a small Pacific island nation about 3,000 km (1,800 miles) north-east of Australia. It was previously administered by Australia but gained independence in 1968.

Deterring a ‘Method of protest’

Prosecutors had originally sought a two-month custodial sentence for Mr Nemati, arguing that such a sentence could be used as a deterrent, as reported in Australian media.

“We are concerned that this method of protest is being used and want to stamp out this practice,” prosecutors said.

The pair moved to Nibok Lodge in January, where Mr Nemati said his daughter would have more children to play with. But authorities said they were not authorised to live there, and moved to evict the pair on 21 January.

Mr Nemati became distressed when officers began removing his belongings, and attempted to take his own life. He was taken to hospital for medical treatment before being charged and subsequently detained for two weeks in February.

Old penal code

The law against attempted suicide in Nauru is based on the 1899 Queensland Criminal Code. But while Queensland has since repealed that particular law, attempted suicide remains illegal in Nauru.

Other existing offences under the code include witchcraft, sorcery and fortune-telling.

In early February, the High Court upheld Australia’s asylum policy as legal under the country’s constitution. The ruling paved the way for around 267 people, including 37 babies, to be deported to Nauru. Despite this, huge numbers of people have protested the establishment of “concentration camps” to hold asylum seekers, pointing out that it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia, and urged the government – as a minimum move – to bring asylum seekers to the Australian mainland.

(BBC and others)

Wellthisiswhatithink says: Just another example of the breathtaking brutality of this detention regime, which is a shame to Australia, inhumane and unsustainable. Although in general Australia has a generous refugee resettlement program by world standards, the country is extremely wealthy and can definitely afford to do more. This type of thing is ruining our international reputation.

 

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

Image copyright AP The couple were in Australia while Mr Depp filmed the fifth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise

A date has now been set for Johnny Depp’s wife Amber Heard to face a court trial in Australia for allegedly smuggling her two dogs into the country.

The case, which has been amusingly dubbed the “War On Terrier”, will be heard on 18 April in Queensland.

The actress is facing two counts of knowingly importing a prohibited product in breach of the Quarantine Act. A court official has confirmed that Heard is required to appear at the hearing.

Heard came under fire for failing to declare Pistol and Boo, the couple’s Yorkshire terriers, to authorities on their arrival in Brisbane in April. Under strict Australian laws designed to keep disease at bay in the ecologically diverse but fragile country, dogs entering from the US must be declared and have to spend 10 days in quarantine.

The case sparked global attention after the terriers were threatened with death by Australia’s Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, unless they went “back to the United States”.

Mr Joyce – who is known for his blunt and populist style – said he did not care if Depp had been voted the “sexiest man alive”, he still had to adhere to quarantine rules.The animals, which had allegedly travelled by private jet to Queensland, where Depp was filming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, were quickly whisked out of the country as the story hit the headlines.

We don't imagine Ms Heard would have any difficulty fitting in at Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre at Wacol, Brisbane.

We don’t imagine Ms Heard would have any difficulty fitting in at Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre at Wacol, Brisbane.

In July she was charged with two counts of illegally importing the dogs into Australia and one count of producing a false document. Penalties range from a hefty fine to more than 10 years in prison.

An earlier hearing set for September was adjourned.

After the incident in May, Heard vowed never to return to Australia, although reports earlier this month said she “respected Australia’s laws” and was looking forward to “attending the hearing of these matters”.

Twelve witnesses are listed to give evidence but it is not known whether Depp is one of them.

It would be easy to laugh at the nonsenical overtones of the matter, but that is to mask what is, for Australians, considered a very important issue. Struggling to this day with the deletrious effects of innumerable species of flora and fauna introduced by well-meaning but misguided predecessors, Australian society is near-fanatical about protecting its eco-system and thus its quarantine procedures.

Until the advent of better air filtration systems on modern jetliners, for example, arriving in Australia by plane was always accompanied by a cabin attendant walking through the plane from rear to front spraying the entire passenger complement with insecticide. Bins at Australian airports are regularly filled with tourist trinkets made of wood, skins or other bio-hazardous items.

If she’s guilty – and we would never assume or pre-judge such a matter before the courts – then in our opinion, Miss Heard would do well to “cop it sweet” as Aussies say, and cheerfully cough up whatever fine will (probably) be levied, accompanied by a fulsome apology. Any more whingeing and that other famed Aussie characteristic – cutting down the tall poppy – will rapidly be evidenced.

 

As we said back in July, "if this isn't the next Prime Minister of Australia, then god didn't make the little green apples, and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime ..."

As we said back in July, “If this isn’t the next Prime Minister of Australia, then god didn’t make the little green apples, and it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime …”

We have long been a supporter on this blog of the urbane character (and political philosophy) of Australia’s new Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull.

We predicted, regularly, (some would say, ad nauseam), that Tony Abbott would not make it to the next election, and we were beating that drum longer and harder than most, and that the very talented Turnbull would replace him.

So why were we so sure?

The answer is easy. As Prime Minister, from Day 1, Abbott was hoist by his own petard.

The very same ability that made him able to connect with the people over the terminally unpopular Gillard and Rudd governments – the ability to coin simple, aggressive phrases that seemed to sum everything up – was exactly the wrong ability to bring to The Lodge.

It is easily forgotten that Abbott did not really win the last election. Labor lost it, through a hideous morassive mixture of internicene squabbling, incompetence, and failure. In reality, this was the most “drover’s dog” election since Hawke defeated Fraser.

Here are the psychological moments that killed Abbott’s leadership:

The flags

flagsSurrounding himself with the Australian flag as he constantly “stuck to message” on combatting the “death cult” of Daesh (ISIS) didn’t ring true with the Australian people, even as they simultaneously and constantly noted his “strength” on defence and security issues.

But Abbott was badly advised. The ridiculous tableaux-style presentations smacked of a gung-ho triumphalism that sat badly – deep down – with a people who have proportionately suffered more in war than most Western nations, and who understand that sending young Australians overseas to fight wars should never be a cause for celebration, even mutedly, and especially not in a manner that smacked of Americanism. He struck the wrong note, time and again, as social media went into overdrive wondering how many flags he could squeeze into every press conference. Would the photographers need to start using wide angle lenses?

In advertising we have a phrase to condemn clumsy communications. “Ooops, your strategy is showing.” While the flags were symbolic – and not in the way Abbott intended – the continual harping on about the threats to Australia eventually started to rebound on Abbott. That the PM’s Chief of Staff Peta Credlin and her crew couldn’t see that happening was just one of many mis-steps the Abbott team made.

Slugging pensioners to visit their Doctor

patient doctorThere is no question that Australia’s admirably robust health system is low on cash. The problem will have to be addressed.

Attempting to plug the gaps by hitting the poorest and most vulnerable customers of the system – who were over-heavily represented in the supporters of the Government – was an idiocy of breathtaking proportions.

The Paid Parental Leave Scheme nobody asked for, or wanted

baby-money1Way to go Tony.

Announce an unfunded, wildly generous and extravagant scheme without any thought to how it could be implemented or even whether your own party agrees.

Then dump it when the very people it was supposed to help make it perfectly clear they think it’s madness, and anyway what they really want is more childcare places, not money in their pockets, because no matter how much money they’ve got they can’t find a child centre with room for little Johnny and Jane.

Big thinking, for sure.

Just big dumb thinking.

It makes you sick

budget cuts health spending doctor holding piggypankDespite promising – repeatedly – before being elected that he would not cut health spending, Abbott duly introduced a vast range of cuts to the health budget.

Each one upset someone.

There’s no easy way to trim expenditure on health spending. But usually the public want to see it balanced by reinvestment in more modern facilities, in more efficient care, in better health outcomes. This was the story Abbott abysmally failed to sell.

Oi! That’s my tele you’re messin’ with, bro.

logos abc sbsAbbott swore he wouldn’t inflict cuts on the ABC and SBS, both of which are national icons and hugely appreciated.

In the event, he cut $43.5 million from them. Needless to say the networks reported the pain, again and again.

It was not a big enough cut to make any major difference to the national plenty, but plenty big enough to hurt the corporations and enrage their loyal audiences. So why do it? Only Tony can answer that for you.

Children in detention

Abbott and his advisors were right that Australians, taken as a mass, were and are deeply concerned about refugee arrivals. Australians are a long way from anywhere, feel isolated in a sea of Asian countries, and from “the Yellow peril” onwards the population has had a dichotimal view of immigration.

kidsWhen you add to that emotional confusion the horrors of the live trade in people across the storm-plagued seas around Aussie shores, “Stop the Boats” was a popular policy.

What was not popular, though, was the government’s tight-lipped refusal to comment on “operational matters”, for which the arguments were weakly made, and which simply made them look simply shifty and secretive. Why should we not know what was being done in our name?

What was not popular was the refusal to let journalists into the detention centres on tropical northern island nations from which leaked continual stories of mental illness, suicide, clashes with the locals, murder, rape, and worst of all, the distress of children left to rot behind barbed wire.

Australians are a generous and compassionate people. They might want to stop the boats, they were much less comfortable with the inevitable out-workings of that policy.

“Shirt fronting” Vladimir Putin

putinOutrage over the shooting down of MH17 by Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine was real and universal.

But as further evidence that Abbott could turn any gold into dross, his blokey threat to “shirt front” Russian president Putin just made him – and the country – look ridiculous.

When what was needed was austere, cold anger and statesmanlike comments, what we got was a one-time amateur boxer sounding like he was still holding court in the Students’ Union bar.

Captain’s Picks

It is hard to overstate the utter derision of the Australian people at Abbott’s repeated preference for thought bubbles, publicly announced, over carefully-plotted policy.

pphillipWhen he revived Imperial Knighthoods people snorted in disgust. They are – and were always – a rotten echo of a colonial era that Australia has long since rejected.

At a stroke, he made himself look ridiculous – and looking ridiculous is the most damaging thing any politician can do to him or herself.

When he then proceeded to announce that his first choice for a knighthood was Prince Phillip, the die was cast. It was weeks before the hoo-ha died down, sucking vital oxygen from the Government’s agenda.

We’ve upset the old. Now let’s upset the young. Oh, and their folks.

student-loansAbbott forced students to repay their debt earlier by lowering the wage they need to earn before payments kick in and increased student debt by increasing the interest on their fees.

It wasn’t just the youngsters who were pissed off.

Up and down the country their middle class parents – most of whom remembered the days of free tertiary education they enjoyed, and which they knew full well current Government Ministers had enjoyed as well – were depressed and irritated too.

All they saw was life becoming even more un-affordable for their offspring, which would inevitably increase the burden on them too. The dramatic unaffordability of the first home market didn’t help.

The “economic crisis” disconnect

Abbott came to power talking about the “structural deficit” in the Australian budget, as an excuse for a stingingly brutal first budget which was duly heroically mishandled by both himself and Joe Hockey.

BBQWhilst things hadn’t been exactly looking financially blooming for most Australians, in reality people were feeling reasonably well off.

To get people to go along with the budget, Abbott desperately needed to convince people that a Government taking in less money than it gives out – permanently – was an unsustainable proposition.

At the time, we advised him to focus on the credit card argument – to wit, you can’t live “on tick” forever, sooner or later the credit card payment falls due. Instead, demonstrating the tone deafness which characterised his hold on the highest office in the land, Abbott comprehensively failed to explain why such a dramatically recessionary budget was necessary. That failure to engage was the moment his fate was ultimately sealed, because so much else flowed from that glaring failure.

Abbott isn’t now out of power because of Turnbull’s shenanigins or, indeed, a “febrile” media or any other excuse. He’s out of power because he just wasn’t very good at his job.

Which will be the hardest thing of all, we are sure, for this intensely driven and self-critical man to accept.

We will now make our first prediction of this new era.

The Liberal/National Coalition will win the next Federal Election. You heard it here first.

Gull

One night about a year ago Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink turned the late night TV shopping channel on.

It was an accidental act, in truth, but we found ourselves taken by the subject matter: to wit, buying a new camera at what looked like an amazingly low price.

NikonIt turned out, of course, that it wasn’t an especially great price, and we could have walked round the corner and bought it at the same price and got some professional advice into the bargain.

But no matter. We had always wanted a nice camera, as opposed to taking snaps using the iPhone, not that the remarkable and ubiquitous little device didn’t actually take nice snaps, but this one seemed very swish and a nice colour, and the front pointy bit went in and out really far, so in we dove.

Anyhow, as a sign for how ludicrously busy all our lives have become, this weekend is almost the first chance we have had to play with the camera, at Smiths Beach on gorgeous Phillip Island, in Victoria, Australia.

Of course, as you will have discovered previously, Dear Reader, the new technological age sits somewhat heavily on our prematurely aging shoulders. Fresh from wrestling with things that go bing, we now found ourselves poking with uncertain, stubby little fingers at a camera for which a high-flying degree in advanced sub-atomic particle physics would be inadequate preparation.

There is not one, not two, but fully three ways to make the telephoto thingy whiz in and out. meaning, of course, that it does so when one least expects it to.

Press the wrong button, and the playback screen turns into a mass of statistics and charts telling you why you have just messed up the last shot taken. Trying to get back to just seeing the photo on its own again without the accompanying science takes fully half an hour of increasingly frantic thumbing through the “destructions” as Mrs W calls all manuals, which as with most things seems to be written in a sort of pig-din Japlish which defies easy translation.

The little diagrams of buttons on the camera would be very helpful if one didn’t need a magnifying glass to see which buttons they refer to, (dagnabbit, knew we left something out of the beach bag), as the whole booklet is clearly written for people with A1 20-20 vision aged 18, which as it emanates from the Land of the Rising Yen is somewhat curious as we never yet met a Nipponese who could see past the end of their nose without glasses as thick as the bottom of a Coke bottle, so quite who the manual is aimed at is something of a mystery.

Meanwhile the little twirly thing on the top offers you fully twenty “shooting modes”, and heaven forbid you should try and photograph a sunny Aussie beach in “Night Portrait” mode, as the seagulls flying by suddenly all look like Ring Wraiths or Dementors come to drive us back into the cottage.

Plumping for “Scenic” seems like a safe option, until you realise the sub-Menu offers you fully fifteen variations of scenic to choose from. Choosing between “Cloudy” and “Dusk” looks tricky to the untrained eye …

Seagull at dusk. Or cloudy. You choose.

Seagull at dusk. Or cloudy. You choose.

Then, when one finishes the hour-long process of turning the damn thing on, one realises that there is actually more to taking a good photo than pointing and pressing. More digital photos (and before them, bazillions of miles of film) must have been taken of waves crashing on rocky seashores than almost any other subject matter you care to name. One very quickly realises that taking a good photo of a wave is clearly nigh-impossible. There is that wildly improbable nexus of the right camera, the right setting, the right moment, and that indefinable “eye” that true photographic geniuses have.

Which we, Dear Reader, do not.

Looking west at Smiths Beach

Luckily, the world is such an intensely beautiful place that it is impossible to entirely stuff up photographing it even with one’s new techno-rich clicky thing. We did, we think, nevertheless manage to make the photos quite big and a suitable format for desktop wallpapers. Feel free to nick any you like.

A Spring day on a beach in rural Victoria is probably the best balm for the soul imaginable. Even when your camera is just another way of reminding you that the world is hurtling ever onward to a place where you no longer really belong.

No, these photographs are not very good.

DSCN0218

Looking East

But the world is. The world rocks.

(Gettit? The world rocks. Oh, never mind …)

 

An intake of refugees from Syria would provide an economic boost to a host country like Australia, according to a leading economic commentator.

While a humanitarian crisis has been declared as millions of Syrians seek to leave their war-torn country, nations that agree to take in refugees are also likely to benefit economically. 

Speaking at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday, Helen Joyce, international editor of The Economist, said the Syria situation is the greatest migrant crisis since the Second World War. 

“At The Economist we are in favour of the free movement of labour, capital and people,” Joyce said.

“If you’re a Syrian refugee camping out in large numbers in other countries, then that [working] capital is locked up and cannot be used by other countries.”

Joyce said the Syrian refugees should be moved to a stable country and given the right to work, a development that will benefit the entire host country.

“The evidence suggests that immigrants pay in more [money to the state] than they take out, providing they are allowed to work,” Joyce said.

“Let them in and let them work so they can integrate to become an Australian, German or British citizen.”

Joyce also stressed that the Syrian refugees are “motivated people.”

“You don’t get on a boat to do an incredibly dangerous journey unless you are a motivated person,” Joyce said.

“I understand that it’s politically unpalatable to say this to people who believe that immigrants are taking the jobs, but the evidence we have says that immigrants are not stealing the jobs.

“Immigrants are coming in and increasing demand and helping the economy. Real leadership from a politician would mean making this argument,” Joyce added.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics have also stated that the idea of refugees taking Australian jobs is a myth, as humanitarian migrants have the highest rate of business ownership of all recent migrants, meaning they are creating more jobs for the Australian economy.

(Yahoo Finance)

The decision follows the Federal Court’s move to overturn approval of Indian mining giant Adani’s $16.5 billion Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland.

“This government will repeal section 487.2 of the EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act which gives activists the standing to sabotage decisions,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament on Tuesday. The change was approved by federal cabinet on Monday night and went to the coalition party room on Tuesday.

Despite widespread community reaction, it is expected to be introduced to parliament this week.

It has been argued that the $20 billion investment in Carmichael could create 10,000 jobs, although estimates of jobs created in coal mines have previously been hugely over-estimated.

Summarising the Liberal-National Coalition’s position, Attorney-General George Brandis said the laws as they stood allowed “radical green activists to engage in vigilante litigation” to stop important job-creating projects.

“(It) provides a red carpet for radical activists who have a political but not a legal interest, in a development to use aggressive litigation tactics to disrupt and sabotage important projects,” he said. “The activists themselves have declared that that is their objective.”

Senator Brandis called on Labor to support the bill. In response, manager of opposition business Tony Burke urged the government to table legislation so Labor could scrutinise it. It will be interesting to watch and see if Labor just rolls over on this issue, again showing how close, in reality, the two major political parties in Australia really are.

Phil Laird from the Lock the Gate Alliance said the law change would also ensure farmers could not challenge coal mine approvals.

“The laws are there for a reason, to level the playing field between landholders and the community and the big mining companies,” he said in a statement.

Liverpool Plains farmer Andrew Pursehouse said the government had now approved three open-cut mines on some of the best food-producing land in the country. “Now they want to limit who can go to court to challenge it,” he said.

(AP and others)

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

This proposed change to the law sets an ugly precedent and tells us a lot about the mentality of the Government.

Why should environmental objections – or, indeed, any lawful legal objection to development – be limited to people in the immediate vicinity? For one thing, pollution is no respecter of artificially created legal boundaries. Water pollution can spread far from its original source, and once in the environment chemical pollutants can end up hundreds if not thousands of miles from the source. (Witness the radioactive material from Fukushima reaching the West Coast of the USA, for example.) Air pollution can spread over thousands of miles. And why would it only be the interests of those near the Great Barrier Reef, for example, if a development was proposed that threatened its existence or well-being? Or Kakadu?

More and more, the Abbott Government acts like a petulant child every time it finds itself opposed.

abbottAbbott himself – and Brandis, amongst others – adopts a discordant, hectoring tone that is superior at best and utterly dismissive of any opposition to their whims at worst.

This attitude is very unpopular with voters – rightly so – and is one of the main reasons the Government is so “on the nose”.

As it stands, it is clearly un-electable again.

That recognition is what’s feeding into renewed concerns about Abbott’s leadership, as swathes of anxious Liberal MPsDeputy opposition leader in the Senate senator George Brandis face losing their seats if opinion polls stay anything like they are now. We have always said that having been near-mortally wounded in the first challenge to his leadership it has always been a matter of time before another came along.

In our view, there is a strong argument that until “clean coal” technology actually eventuates – which it may never do – that the environmentally and socially-responsible thing for government’s worldwide to do is to slow-peddle on new coal developments. For one thing, they are likely to be only marginally profitable, hence the reluctance of many banks to get involved in financing them. This doesn’t deter coal companies from trying to establish new mines, of course. After all, they’re coal companies. It’s what they do. Turning around a company from its core purpose to do something else is so difficult that very few organisations ever even attempt it.

That doesn’t mean the rest of us need to fall into line.

Unsurprisingly, as it’s made from trees, Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel. According to the United Nations Environment Program, coal emits around 1.7 times as much carbon per unit of energy when burned as does natural gas and 1.25 times as much as oil.According to the groundbreaking, peer-reviewed “Carbon Majors” study, tracing all historic greenhouse gas emissions back to specific companies and entities, the coal industries of the world own 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions from 1854-2010.

Renewable_EnergyInstead of fiddling with the law to remove legal protections put in place by their own Howard Government (how ironic) the Liberals and Nationals need to take a leadership role in moving away from coal as it’s default answer to energy, both here and overseas. As Greenpeace note: the world doesn’t need more coal, it needs an energy revolution. We have enough technically accessible renewable energy to meet current energy demands six times over. 

Our Energy [R]evolution blueprint shows how renewable energy, combined with greater energy efficiency, can cut global CO2 emissions by almost 50 percent, and deliver half the world’s energy needs by 2050.

The case against coal is very strong. This American argument lays it out in terms anyone can understand. Yes, moving away from coal requires investment, political will, bi-partisanship and imagination.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, no matter what coal industry lobbyists might say.

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Fresh back from chucking umpteen bazillion dollars at Adelaide in a desperate attempt to shore up Coalition support in South Australia, where about four Coalition seats look very vulnerable to voter anger over the decline of the ship-building industry – Hey! Remember “We’ll build 12 subs in Adelaide” before the last election”? Guess that was a “non core promise. Also called “bullshit” – Tony Abbot was today in Geelong assertively announcing “Everything we do is focused on jobs and growth.”

“Everything we do”? A cheery message to a regional city that has seen it’s car manufacturing industry decimated and it’s ship-building in decline.

Sadly, this was also the day that saw the jobless rate “jump” – the ABC’s word, not mine – from 6% to 6.3%. Against expectations. And a major news item, unsurprisingly.

Could Abbott have chosen his chest-beating words more carefully? Assuredly.

Does he ever come into contact with the real world outside the Canberra bubble?

We wonder, frankly.

We’re with the kid at the front.

Gold medal winning Paralympian denied assistance because she wasn t disabled enough

Tracy Barrell is an Order of Australia recipient, a gold medal-winning Paralympian, and a strong campaigner for those living with disabilities.

A gold medal-winning Paralympian has been told by the Australian government she wasn’t ‘disabled enough’ to qualify for an assistance card. Tracy Barrell is an Order of Australia recipient, a gold medal-winning Paralympian, and a strong campaigner for those living with disabilities.

This is not disabled in today's Australia

This is not disabled in today’s Australia?

Ms Barrel was born with no legs and only one arm due to a medication her mother was given for morning sickness during her pregnancy. Despite her disabilities, in 1992, she won two gold medals for Australia at the Barcelona Paralympics in the Women’s 4×50 metre Freestyle, and the Women’s 50 metre Butterfly.

But when she recently went to apply for a companion card from the Australian government, she was rejected on the grounds she ‘didn’t have enough evidence’ and wasn’t classed as disabled enough.

A companion card allows people with disabilities to be accompanied to certain events and venues by a friend, family member or carer without them having to pay.

“I wasn’t able to receive one due to the ability that I was still able to use my prescribed aids – my skateboard, motorised scooter and modified car,” Ms Barrell told The Daily Mail.

The single mum-of-two used a combination of the above to live her life as independently as possible, but said she still faced hurdles every day. A friend has since organised a Change.Org petition to push for a review of the decision.

Ms Barrell’s two sons are her biggest help and she does not have a full-time carer. However she struggles to get out of the house and battles with situational depression.

The card would allow her to participate in more activities without the financial pressure of having to pay for someone to go with her, or help her out.

Champion.

Champion.

‘I do brave it and do these things myself, but it would be a hell of a lot easier if I had help,’ she said. Ms Barrell told The Daily Mail she felt she ticked all the boxes for the card eligibility and was ‘distraught’ when she found out she had been rejected.

“I cried all day,” she said.

She hoped her story would open up the conversation about the support disabled people receive in Australia, and help inform the public about everyday struggles people with disabilities face.

“It’s not even my battle anymore, it’s everybody else’s battle too and that’s what I really stand for.”

Wellthisiswhatithink update: We are pleased to report that following social media pressure a card has been awarded.

The key question is, of course, why it took a campaign to achieve this. Please share this story widely to ensure that other disabled people are not put through what Tracy went through.

(Yahoo, Daily Telegraph and others)

Really love this blog from Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink (aka Jenie Yolland) on the classes she runs in Melbourne, Australia teaching people to express themselves and learn a new skill by making their own art glass plates and platters.

Article on Jenie’s classes – click here and enjoy a good read!

If you’re heading to Melbourne soon, or you live here, I warmly recommend them. Cheap as chips, and she spreads such joy!

 

 

Jenie Yolland's workshop

Jenie Yolland’s workshop

 

Jenie Yolland workshop

Jenie Yolland’s workshop

 

Some lovely photos of students’ work throughout the article – and students enjoying themselves – enjoy!

#jenieyolland #glass