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Poor planning causes overcrowding

Population Minister Alan Tudge has suggested that Melbourne and Sydney are experiencing significant pressure from excessive population growth. He’s probably got a point, but his ‘solution’ — forcing immigrants to live in areas with less population pressure for at least five years after permanent residency is granted — demonstrates Tudge’s complete lack of knowledge of the subject matter he is responsible for implementing on behalf of the Australian Government.

That’s not to suggest for a minute that there are not any other places worth living in across Australia — there are thousands of them. Small towns do generally have a greater sense of community, and clearly if immigrants move into regional communities with lower levels of population growth, there is an increase in demand for goods and services in those communities. That’s not a bad thing, but according to former Border Force Commissioner Quaedvilieg, the proposal to link residency visas with residential locations is difficult to enforce, even if it is theoretically legal.

The Department of Home Affairs and Border Security produced a report in January 2014 that concluded

The migration program has been one tool with which governments have attempted to support regional development by helping to meet the skills needs of regional employers and of adding to the stock of residents living in regional areas. However, one of the key challenges in utilising the migration program to assist in regional development outcomes has been in ensuring that migrants who do settle in regional areas stay there over the long-term. But the extent to which migration-based interventions actually facilitate long-term regional retention remains unclear. In order to develop more effective policies and programs in this area, the academic literature suggests that it is therefore important to develop an understanding of the factors that contribute to regional retention.

Loosely translated — there is more work to be done than to just tell people they have to stay in an area for five years which isn’t necessarily the person’s first choice.

Tudge, like a lot of coalition politicians is taking population growth, in part caused by migration, and comparing it with the infrastructure difficulties that are encountered in Sydney and Melbourne (as well as other areas of Australia such as South East Queensland). The connection is to a large extent nonsensical.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932 and photos of the bridge in the ‘good ole days’ show rail lines where they are now, tram lines on the other extremity and six traffic lanes in between. While the tram lines were converted to traffic lanes, the Harbour Bridge was constructed with plenty of room for future expansion. It’s the same with the Storey Bridge in Brisbane, opened in the 1940’s with six traffic lanes.

Fast forward a few decades and the Harbour Tunnel was constructed to relive pressure on the Harbour Bridge. It opened in 1992 and has two lanes in each direction. By 2008, the tunnel was being used by up to 90,000 vehicles a day. Brisbane’s ‘Clem7’ tunnelwhich runs close to the Storey Bridge is also a two lane each way tunnel and has never met the traffic expectations of the proponents since it opened in 2010, probably because the ‘time savings’ do not justify the toll charge. Brisbane’s Clem7 could have been constructed with three lanes each way for another $20million on the $3.2billion construction cost, but the decision was made not to do so.

And there is the problem in a sentence. If you are buying clothes for your 2-year-old child, there is always the temptation to buy the next size up, even if it costs a little more upfront as the child will grow into the item of clothing and your dollar will go further. The alternative is going back to the store of your choice within a few weeks because of a growth spurt. Likewise, we know that (in this case) South East Queensland is growing rapidly. While a road tunnel with two lanes in each direction comfortably handled the traffic flows at the time it was opened and probably will for some for some years to come, it will reach capacity quicker than the three-lane tunnel proposal. Back in the first half of the last century they knew that cities, like children, would grow and built accordingly.

There was no need to build the Harbour Bridge, the Storey Bridge, St Kilda Road or any number of other pieces of infrastructure constructed in the first half of the last century to the scale they did, but they did it anyway. However as these structures that were designed with room for growth do eventually reach their capacity, there is frequently a decade or so of political infighting and sledging before the solution commences construction so we are stuck in a perpetual cycle of catching up to current demand.

In Melbourne, clearly the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne is at capacity — they are building a companion tunnel only 40 or so years after the bridge opened as poor planning has made it the only direct connection between Melbourne’s CBD and the western suburbs. The tunnel to act as a companion to the Westgate Bridge was first mooted in 2006 — it will apparently open in 2022.

While it seems that a lot of recent immigrants have settled in Sydney and Melbourne, it is disingenuous at best to suggest that infrastructure capacity problems are solely caused by immigration — it’s more to do with politicians lacking the vision that their predecessors from a century ago obviously had. After all, it’s not only recent immigrants that live in Sydney, Melbourne and other parts of Australia that are growing faster than the average.

The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government has a long history of dog whistling to turn opinions against those who don’t look like them (generally middle-aged to elderly white men). First we had ‘stop the boats’, then the ‘gangs of African youths terrorising Melbourne’ and now the same people are being blamed for failures of politicians over the past 40 years to argue the case for additional capacity when expensive infrastructure is built. Because in the long term it’s cheaper to build it once with some growing room — just like the 2-year old’s new t-shirt.

It’s time to call Tudge’s thought bubble out for what it is — racism.

What do you think?

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Climate recalcitrance

By John Haly

“Recalcitrant” is what Prime minister Keating once described Malaysian prime minister Dr Mahathir over economic considerations with APEC. In this century, “recalcitrance” has become a term more readily applied to the current persistently pro-coal conservative Government over issues of ecology.

On the 8th of October 2018, as I was leaving Korea, I noted the first Green Climate Fund’s Global NDA Conference at the Hyatt Conference Halls had commenced next door to where I had been staying.

Having addressed climate and economic policy failures by the Australian Government recently, I became interested in how these representatives of the global community were discussing climate investment opportunities to facilitate the reduction efforts against greenhouse gas emissions.

Later the next day, I learned that during the opening sessions it was reported that Thelma Krug, the Vice Chair of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) saidThe IPCC report is a bridge between the science and policymakers – limiting the temperature increase to 1.5℃ is not impossible.

At the same conference, Jim Skea, Co-Chair of the IPCC Working Group noted, “Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes.

Jim Skea, Co-Chair of the IPCC Working Group

There was an evident emergence of urgency arising within this conference that repeatedly referenced the IPCC Special Report of Global Warming. It is only with immediate and focused effort can we prevent global temperatures rising above 1.5°C. (The report is available at http://ipcc.ch/report/sr15/ which includes its summary for policymakers.)

The question on everyone’s mind is, of course, are we up to that challenge and can we do it in time? It is well observed in literature and public commentary that the greatest obstacle to adoption of climate change mitigation is not the science, but the political policymakers and their conservative media support. Notable is their reluctance to take scientific advice over significant business lobbying and financial donations. Hence the desire to either shift the climate change discussions away from the political arena or build a “bridge” the economic policymakers of the world have to cross. The later is what the IPCC report attempts to address.

Back in Australia, the IPCC report bridge to our policymakers seems to have suffered the same fate as that of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen in 1945 at the end of World War 2. It similarly, has been captured by allied forces (western political democracies such as Australia and America), and they are hell-bent on no one crossing it. Hopefully destroying that metaphysical bridge will be as difficult as was the physical one. Although that analogy is troublesome because when they eventually destroyed the Ludendorff Bridge, it was never rebuilt.

Regarding climate change mitigation policies, legislation, measures and institutions the CLIM index (for measuring these factors comparatively for 95 countries) places Australian 55th in the world somewhere after Mongolia and Egypt but doing marginally better than Belarus and Uzbekistan both of whom have economies that are heavily based on fossil fuels. Just as a point of comparative interest, the United States is 45th in the world.

Meanwhile back in South Korea (18th on the CLIM index), the participants at the Global NDA Conference know that the South Pacific and Asian regions have the most to lose if climate change is not mitigated.  Across the continent from the Korean NDA conference, the South China Morning Post had previously reported. “Australia’s new prime minister will not revive plans to embed carbon emissions targets in law, a thorny issue that triggered the ousting of his predecessor in a party coup.” It is not merely a matter of “revival” of policy plans but hostility to even considering implementing any. Pressure by the Institute of Public Affairs (the policy lobbying arm of the Liberal conservatives) to exit the Paris Climate agreement is exemplified by their policy propaganda piece, “Why Australia must exit the Paris Climate Agreement”.

In the early history of that “party coup”, it was evident the conservatives held out hope that Dutton’s potential rise to power meant an end to the Paris Climate accords. While the emerging choice of Prime Minister, Scott Morrison has ruled out exiting the Paris Climate accord, he has decided to deny any further funding to the global climate fund. Claiming in an interview; “I’m not going to spend money on global climate conferences and all that nonsense.” So I can assume it is safe to imagine that the Australia government was not contributing to the NDA conference in Korea, despite Australians having contributed to the IPCC report.

Australia’s recalcitrance in following the leadership of European and British nations in preference for American policy adherence is disheartening and irresponsible. The failure of leadership on climate change by Australian Politics is well recognised even abroad in other countries. Ironically, the delays on mitigating climate change risks instituted by one Australian Prime Minister had previously been considered a luxury we could not afford.

Strong opinions held by Malcolm Turnbull

While the political ideology denies the science in preference for economic overtures and lobbying of financially significant fossil fuel interests, the future of the planet and our collective ability to survive climate change is at stake.

Back on October 9th the Deputy prime minister and leader of the National Party, Michael McCormack stated:

I’m very much supportive of the coal industry. I understand the IPCC report, and I’ll certainly consider what it has to say, but the fact is coal mining does play an important part of our energy mix in Australia and will do so going forward. [The government is not about to change policy] just because somebody might suggest that some sort of report is the way we need to follow and everything that we should do.”

Since the report has emerged, the government has not backed down from this position and confirmed their rejection of the IPCC report to back away from coal power over the next 30 years.

For a country replete in land and sunlight for setting up solar power generation, the excuses against transitioning our energy supply are feeble. Options include intermittent power supplies provided by solar panels, to the 24-hour power supply of solar reflectors heating molten saltsWind and geothermal, although intermittent, backed by the hugely successful battery storage exemplified by the much faster supply response by the South Australian Tesla batteries set up by Elon Musk, is also potentially plentiful.  Scotland expects to harvest all its electricity via renewable means by 2020 and California expects to be complete by 2045. While this nation and state had both different starting points, what has made the difference is not technology, but a political imperative to pursue the goal to not continue to heat the planet.

We have untapped employable resources in Australia, with already 2.383 million people under and unemployed and not enough job vacancies to absorb even 8% of that number. We have the educational resources with 42 universities and 59 TAFE institutions dispersed across metropolitan and regional areas of Australia. This is, despite a concerted effort by conservatives, to restrict access to education. Spending money on innovation, employment and educational resources to boost climate change mitigation infrastructure is a clear growth strategy for our economy, according to the Treasury. Other Nations have demonstrated evidence that climate mitigation has been economically prosperous. What we don’t have, is the political will to act to survive anthropomorphic climate change.

Fear mongering about climate change mitigation by the Liberals, the IPA and mining/coal lobbyists is not based on evidence or the examples of nation-states on this planet. Climate change disharmony (evidenced by increasing global heatwaves, and abnormal climate events) on the other hand, are increasingly apparent. Scientists and experts at these conferences have for decades repeatedly warned us, time is running out, and we need to act soon and fervently. If big business lobbying and political ideology are all that stands in the way of averting a climatic breakdown, then we as Australians need to vote out of office anyone who even remotely risks the future of our planet, in preference for greed and power.

This article was originally published on:

Australia Awaken - ignite your torches

The predators behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership

By Stephen Fitzgerald

Most of the problems we face, in Western society, are a result of the ravages of corporate greed. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is another example of corporates expanding their power base to the detriment of the countries they overrun.

In the news today, you will hear the distant rumblings of the true intent, and the inevitable impact, of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If we participate, the TPP will leave Australia exposed to unfettered corporate exploitation and abuse.

Misnomers that hide what the strong and rich control, and aspire to control, help promote our world’s numerous political and social ills. “Spreading democracy” in the Middle East and Africa has been used to excuse much slaughter, ruin and higher risks of wider war for purposes not remotely connected with democracy. It’s all about money, power and control driven by greed.

The designation “trade” used by politicians and the media when talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact and the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement is another perfect example of a misnomer thanks to which a new shadow will be cast over the generally more fortunate parts of the world including Australia.

If signed and ratified, the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic agreements, which seek to organize business activity under one gigantic umbrella of new rules, are likely to change our living environment in ways very different from what elected officials have been misled to imagine.

They have been peddled as trade treaties, and hence as being wonderful for economic growth, job creation, social well-being and general happiness. But, the TPP agreement, which aims to tie a dozen pacific nations together is not in the first place about trade and may hardly be significant at all for stimulating genuine exchanges traditionally labelled that way.

The TPP accord is about power, not trade. More specifically, the agreements are about changed power relations between a collective of politically well-connected large corporations and the sovereign states in which these entities want to sink their roots. In particular, these treaties would allow huge corporations to engage in conduct unchecked by national rules of the participating countries. In eyes not fogged over through neo-liberal dogma, such a thing would be recognised as predation.

Corporate clout veiled in secrecy

The most striking aspect of TPP negotiations has been the utter secrecy. Only “cleared advisers” most of them linked with the businesses that stand to gain from the deal, have had access to the agreements, and critics among them have been sworn to remain silent about what they consider unacceptable.

We do know a little of what went on behind closed doors. For example, we have seen that negotiators have concentrated on controlling labour laws, environmental legislation and intellectual property rights. Since traditional tariffs hardly appear to be an obstacle to trade nowadays, what else could they do? But it does go to show that the TPP is primarily a political program.

It is political because it aims to change the power relations between transnational corporations and foreign governments. It is political because it will create patterns of colonial dependence through agricultural agreements. It is political because it seeks to place the governments of the participating countries under a kind of legal discipline that has nothing to do with the rights of citizens and everything to do with the ability of powerful corporations to become even stronger.

Many details of the TPP agreement have yet to be divulged, but what is clear is that participating governments can violate its intended rules only at their own great disadvantage. In effect, the legal stipulations tied to the TPP agreement will created a new element of corporate groups operating internationally beyond any kind of accountability. The TPP will not be about economic development but about wholesale power shifts.

Those who can still make a political difference in Australia ought to study the reason for and, the nature of such shifts. Numerous large, politically connected transnational corporations operate in colonizing mode in the context of recently evolved methods of profit-making in the current phase of late capitalism.

The political class of the participants of the TPP agreement and the Europeans, who watch from the sidelines with the companion TPIP treaty in the back of their minds, are still affected by the lines of seduction about unfettered trade always being good for everyone.

Hence corporate hopes are specifically vested on two areas opened up by the TPP deal in participating countries permitting rent seekers and financial firms to become the top predators. The TPP agreement will massively expand their hunting territory and give them fierce fangs in the bargain.

Power play by the corporates

A new category came into general use in the last decade of the 20th century named “intellectual property” for the purpose of maximising rent extraction and the creation of monopolies. The expected intellectual property stipulations of the TPP accord related to medicine have drawn much attention, as these will enlarge the oligopoly power of pharmaceutical companies.

Global public health is likely to suffer from this because, from what is already known, the new rules will lengthen the period before the use of generic drugs is permitted, and these are the only affordable medicine for patients in poorer countries. Nongovernmental organisation Doctors Without Borders has concluded in a July 2015 press release that “the TPP agreement is on track to become the most harmful trade pact ever”.

Then there is an even bigger beneficiary in the shape of the 21st-century global casino of speculating banks, which make untold multiples of capital with their money while bypassing the complication of investing in production. For them, the TPP deal is a dream come true. From what we know, the TPP agreement would ban capital controls, prohibit any kind of future taxes on speculation and block any move to separate investment from retail banking.

It would also block efforts to ban toxic derivatives that created the credit crisis of 2008. As with the manufacturers of controversial products, the financial industry will be given the means to demand compensation for regulations and policies that in their assessment may undermine their expected future profits. They will sue the governments who legislate against them.

It is difficult to understand why the TPP participants have not guessed that consequences of what they will be signing will bring social misery upon themselves as the TPP agreement is part of a full-spectrum dominance campaign. This leaves us with the puzzle of why those same participants have been mouthing job creating nonsense around the TPP rhetoric and appear unable to tackle intellectually the dominant power aspects of the treaty.

Perhaps this is because the world in which they exist is politically sterilised and those incapables, have been brain washed into believing they should give corporates whatever they want without question or analysis.

Since the political dimension to economic arrangements remains hidden in most discourse because political and economic reality are routinely treated as separate realms of life, few notice that what is justified by reference to “market forces” is frequently the result of heavy lobbying, political negotiation, interference and favours to corporates.

Politically well-connected corporations, paying for the election expenses of the political parties who help create their business environment, need not fear market forces. If the banks responsible for the credit crisis of 2008 and the subsequent global recession, that is still with us, had not been lifted out of “the market” by the state, they would no longer exist. They were bailed out by cohort governments with money from tax payers they had already plundered.

Buyer beware

Powerful corporations have been allowed to swallow the state; they have, as economist James Galbraith explains, created a “predator state,” which they naturally exploit for their own expansion. There is no frame of reference with which we can more convincingly define the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Politicians please read the small print and beware, if you sign up to the TPP you will be selling Australia down the river.

Sailing into irrelevance

The sails of the Sydney Opera House were being used as a billboard for a horse race a few days ago. Regardless of the value of the horse race, or the ethics about using a UNESCO listed landmark for promotion of gambling, there is a problem about the way it was done.

According to The Guardian,

Racing NSW applied to the Opera House to use it as a venue to promote a horse race on Saturday 13 October, but Sydney Opera House chief executive Louise Herron drew the line at projecting horses’ names, the name of the race and the numbers of the barriers onto the Opera House sails.

Then Alan Jones interviewed Louise Herron. A couple of weeks after Jones, and by association his employers, had been found guilty of defaming the owners of a quarry in South East Queensland and ordered to pay $3.7 million, clearly he hasn’t yet learnt that his opinion is not necessarily fact, and bluster doesn’t change the facts. Jones

was furious and took up the case for Racing NSW on his program. “Louise I’m sorry I think you’re out of your depth here,” he said. “You should put your resignation on the table today … if you can’t come to the party, Louise, you should lose your job.”

Jones also threatened to ring NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and demand Louise Herron be sacked. Berejiklian hasn’t sacked Herron but has overruled her decision to only allow horses’ colours to be displayed on the world-famous sails. Jones was reported as haranguing Herron by suggesting

who the hell do you think you are, you don’t own the Opera House, we own it … you manage it,” Jones said.

To that extent Jones is correct, Herron doesn’t own the Opera House. However, the NSW Government pays Herron to manage the facility on behalf of its owners — all those who live in NSW. So, by the same token Jones, the management of the Daily Telegraphor Berejiklian don’t ‘own’ it either.

All this happened on Friday 5 October and media reports the following Tuesday suggested that over 270,000 had ‘signed’ online petitions asking the NSW Government to reverse their decision. Accordingly it would be reasonable to suggest that a large group of the Opera House’s owners are aghast at the gambling promotion pushed by Jones and News Corp (with support from NSW Premier Berejiklian) being projected onto the building.

On Tuesday night about 1,000 people shone torches to dilute the projection and peacefully protested the use of the Opera House for the promotion of gambling. Racing NSW and the Premier claim they have heard the message ‘loudy’ and the stunt won’t be repeated. Waleed Aly also ‘went to town’ on the crass commercialisation of the Opera House by vested interests, including the two major political parties .

There is a significant cost to gambling across Australia. Tim Costello, a director of Alliance for Gambling Reform, detailed some of them in an opinion piece published in The Guardian. While Jones has given an half-hearted apology four days after the event for his bullying of Louise Herron, it still demonstrates that Jones and Berejiklian persist with accepting the cash over the ethics, and still steamroll those with alternative viewpoints.

Sadly, we should not have expected better. Also demonstrating an alternative world view of acceptable is the LNP’s Stuart Roberts. Roberts, Morrison’s choice for Assistant Treasurer and former ICT Executive, has been charging the Australian taxpayer (that’s you and me) over $1,000 a month for his 4G Internet connection since 2016. As the linked article reports, Roberts lives in a ‘semi-rural’ area behind the Gold Coast and the NBN has yet to reach his home. The article also reports that

Roberts told Fairfax Media he racked up a high bill [over $2,000] in May because he used 300 gigabytes of data, so had to pay for extra after exceeding his 50GB limit.

Optus currently offers unlimited 4G broadband for $90 a month, while Exetel offers 250GB a month for just $70.

Now it has become ‘an issue’, Roberts is apparently going to pay it back, despite claiming he had done nothing wrong. Those in his electorate that rely on Newstart are receiving not much more than $1,000 a month to live on.

Matthew Lesh, a research fellow with The Institute of Public Affairs has recently released a book suggesting that the major parties have a lot of difficulty in being relevant to those that live in the inner and outer suburbs of Australia’s major cities. Lesh suggests the politicians are aligning themselves too closely with the ‘inners’ and leaving the ‘outers’ to splinter groups such as Katter, Palmer and Hanson. Then, when the splinter groups can’t achieve what they promise (because they don’t get enough seats in parliaments across the country), people living in outer suburbs then get frustrated and disengage with the process.

There could be something to Lesh’s theory. In the electorate of Warringah, former PM Abbott has been the elected Member of Parliament for a considerable period of time. A group of people who live in the electorate, rather than disengaging, have a plan to crowbar Abbott from the seat at the next election by following the process used by Cathy McGowan’s supporters when they removed Sophie Mirabella from the seat of Indi in country Victoria. The President of WoW (Women of Warringah)

Louise Hislop, told Guardian Australia the group was created after Abbott’s refusal to engage on issues considered important to constituents, including climate change, plastics pollution, traffic issues, same-sex marriage and mental health services

Warringah, despite Abbott’s public posturing, recorded 75% support for the same sex marriage vote and it seems there is considerable community disquiet about Abbott’s role in the destruction of the Turnbull Government. Abbott’s schtick however does go down well in areas that support the Katters, Hansons and so on of this world.

If Lesh is correct, Jones, Berejiklian, Roberts and Abbott are all sailing into irrelevance as they clearly are not representing significant sections of their communities. Why do these people believe they don’t need to consider the views of others? It must be because those on the right are prettier and more confident!

What do you think?

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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To woo or not to woo?

By George Theodoridis

It seems to me that we have a pronounced, a phosphorescently obvious reluctance to employ women; and by “we” I don’t just mean we, the men, though I must admit we, the men, are by far the greater culprits of this reluctance but women also, some of whom surprise me with the vehemence of their reluctance; and it isn’t simply a reluctance, it is, when one looks a little closer, an utter refusal, actually. These women, I notice, are not mere agnostics to the view that women are just as capable, just as likely to be as excellent at their work as are their male counterparts, or even just as ordinary,  just as harsh and hard-hearted and just as banal and indistinguished as men; or to the view that women should be represented in at least equal numbers and – Oh, Zeus forfend! – with equal recognition and equal pay! Nor are they merely agnostic as to the view that women have the inalienable right to be given equal opportunity during the selection process. No, these women are in fact, anti-gender equality and anti-gender balance.

And if you don’t hear their assertion that “men can do it better!” in these very words, you will certainly hear it and feel it in the tone and sentiment behind their own phraseology: “I’m not interested in gender, I’m not interested in quotas, I am only interested in merit!” What they do not utter but you can hear the words bouncing off the walls of your brain is, “but men have balls!”

They insist that when they go about selecting the people who will sit at their board or at the various offices in their organisation, they look not at the gender of the applicants but at their merit as it relates to that position. That’s what they’re adamant about. Nor do they look at – these women will assert – anything else, like race, colour, religion, and other distinguishing marks about the body of the applicant.

And then, when one has a quick look at the phalanx of the men who surround them – all looking like they’ve been pushed out of the same factory and from the same mould and sees that this “merit” thing which their selectors said they so lovingly hunted for is glaringly absent, one is very tempted to ask them what wooing tactic or tactics they employed that has caused this ear-smashing bellowing consequence of “men, not merit?” and the screeching refrain, “we want balls, not vaginas and certainly not brains nor hearts!”

What method did they use?

That of the peacock, perhaps, spreading his colourful feathers across and doing a mating dance. In other words, was this selection process a case of hormonal needs.

Perhaps they’ve used Orwell’s anti-dictionary where ‘merit’ is defined as ‘wickedness’.

Or perhaps it was the old IQ compatibility test: S/he is smarter than me so I won’t choose him/her.

Or, were they inspired by the wooing tactic of some crass, barbarous, bullying, shock jock.

Or by Trump’s “angry clown method” of “I had one beer!”


The whole of Plato’s Republic is a search on an accurate definition of merit, of justice, of wisdom. The oracle of Delphi had pronounced him the wisest, the most meritorious man in the whole of Athens and, at his trial, his accusers turned that word to mean smartarse. “You’re a smartarse,” they shouted at him. “A conceited smartarse, going about our streets addling the minds of our youth!”

Socrates objected: “I was wondering why the oracle declared me the wisest man in Athens so I went around asking all those whom we call wise and discovered that though they, themselves said they were wise, they were, in fact, dumb. Then I thought about it,” he continued in his apology, “and discovered that the reason the oracle said I’m the wisest man in this city is because I was wise enough to know that I know nothing; wise enough to know that I am not wise!”

He was sentenced to death for being such a smartarse.

Merit, true merit, is often mistaken for smartarsedness.

This reluctance to employ the female of our species stands of course in stark contrast to the gusto and the alacrity with which we – we, men, in particular – abandon the splendid benefits of peace – serenity, laughter, love, the cooing and gargling of babies, the sound of birds, the armfuls of our harvest, the warm bed in winter, the cool gentle waters of a creek and rush off to the brutal killing fields of war.

Oddly enough we are loathe to create a board room in a corporation or a cabinet of a political party, or in the Presbytery of a religious body based on equal numbers of sex but that reluctance turns into untamed gusto and alacrity when it comes to deciding on our marching off to war; or to incarcerating children and their parents under the most brutal, inhumane conditions, or to removing those children from their parents, stealing whole generations of them and having them live lives of orphanage for the entirety of their existence. The same disposition of reluctance rules us when it comes to our treatment of the most vulnerable in our society, people who are often put into that state of vulnerability because of this disposition of reluctance on our part.


The first known and quite arguably the best ever satirist, Aristophanes, saw all this “reluctance v alacrity” game being played out in his 5th century BC society of Athens – Athens, the womb of civilization and the beating (though, at times a little too tentatively) heart of Democracy – and he, Aristophanes, didn’t like it. So he wrote a couple of plays to express this quite profound disgust of his. The one is called “Women of Parliament” and the other “Lysistrata,” both hilarious, both scathingly poignant, both are excoriating accounts of the character of the men who made the stupid laws of his country and who loved sending the youth off to endless and mindless war. Their reluctance of having any women interfere with matters of importance relating to the running of the city and the alacrity with which they placed the city on a war footing.

It was a melancholy sight for anyone with a heart, which like that of Aristophanes, was endowed with the sentiment to feel melancholy.

Reluctance and its antonym, alacrity fought each other ruthlessly before the satirist’s very eyes so he put it up on his stage for all to see. This was a contest which was as glaringly obvious and as shamefully destructive then as it is now, some two and a half thousand years later because it seems that we did not heed Aristophanes’ warnings and the warnings of many others around him, before him and after him – and here we are now, still shouting the catch-cry, “men do it better!”

Lysistrata came first. In 411BC, at the most gruesome peak of what was called The Peloponnesian War, a war that was indubitably a “man’s war” because it was the men who declared it and the women who hated it he wrote a play that has women take over the treasury (then held in the Parthenon) and keeping the males away from it until they signed a peace treaty of their own words.

It is a play by which Aristophanes shows his men where he thinks they keep their brains. They are kept, he suggested, in their testicles and consequently, they think by them and consequently that is why they go to war with such gusto and alacrity. Men think with their balls!

Not so the women, Aristophanes says. The women think with their brains. I admit that am certainly and shamelessly oversimplifying the play and the author’s intent but that is its essence: Men are mindless, and women are mindful. One lot thinks with their balls, the other with their brains.

Lysistrata, a middle-class intelligent woman gathers all the women she can get together from all over Greece, including Sparta with whom Athens is at war and convinces them all to deprive the men of sex until the men from all sides of the war sign a peace treaty. Peace came in no time.

Thirteen years later, in 391, when the war was well and truly over with the devastation of Athens and the final exit of the Spartan dictators from the Athenian parliament, the Athenian men began to behave in the same “balls-brains” way.

This time Aristophanes writes his Women in Parliament in which he has the women dressing up as men and flooding the Parliament – a place sanctified by and for men – and there legislate laws that make living fair for all. “Men wanting to visit whores must, henceforth, first visit the ugly ones and then the pretty ones,” is one of the new laws enacted by these women. Fair enough!

It’s a stern warning to men by the satirist of the day: If you love sex so much, don’t go to war!

A glorious line is uttered by Judith Dench, playing M, in Tomorrow Never Dies, some two and a half thousand years later:

Admiral Roebuck: “With all due respect, M, sometimes I don’t think you have the balls for this job.”

M: “Perhaps. The advantage is that I don’t have to think with them all the time.”

Wooing is a tactic used for mating. How we woo, how we try to convince people – men or women – to join us in our firm, or in our political party, or in our church, our boardroom or our bedroom determines what sort of person we end up with.

Men or women, when they are in too great a majority, they can and often do constitute a power which they can use against the minority. Lord Acton put it well: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” words that have become a well-worn aphorism, one which Orwell dramatised so brilliantly with his Napoleon in Animal Farm.

… Or did they woo the way the three witches in McBeth did? So as to hand a “hollow crown” to someone, a sinecure?

So the LNP want to help the unemployed. What could possibly go wrong?

By Nick Chugg

The latest “brilliant” brain-fart to escape Scott Morrison’s (or as I prefer to refer to him – ScumMo) orifice is a doozy.

As many LNP members have stated, we currently have the smartest most qualified party to ever grace the halls of Australian parliament.

Of course, according to Scotty, the LNP’s latest attack on the unemployed is all about “helping” them to get work and earn money. What could possibly be wrong with the LNP’s self-described “brilliance”?

Channel 9 reported the LNP’s latest attack on the unemployed. Of course, ScumMo coined it in more “double-speak” terminology – “helping” the unemployed. The grand plan is that unemployed people who refuse to take-on fruit picking work will have their “dole” cut for 4 weeks. (Sorry, Channel 9 – it is called ‘social security’ – not ‘the dole’ – and it is a right under social security law).

Firstly, one has to wonder how the LNP have managed to get around social security law and stop social security payments as a form of punishment. Particularly as social security is a right, inscribed into Australian law.

So, what will be the impacts of withdrawing a person’s social security payments for 4 weeks? Well firstly they would be unable to pay their rent or mortgage. Secondly, they will be unable to buy food and pay for any utilities and services such as power, water, gas, insurance, registrations, qualifications, transport, etc. The minimum outcome from stopping a person’s social security payments for 4 weeks is HOMELESSNESS! Homelessness is already a massive issue in Australia and adding to this problem is only going to make it worse. Although it may help the LNP’s mates and their share portfolios by filling up all the PRIVATE prisons the LNP have approved! Our society requires people to have money just to survive. So people without any money will be forced in to begging or crime just to survive. Combined this with the moves of LNP state governments to make begging and homelessness ILLEGAL, and you can clearly see ScumMo and the LNP truly have these people’s best interests in mind – NOT!!

It will certainly help the LNP’s unemployment figures as homeless people are unable to claim social security benefits (you need a permanent residential address to claim social security benefits).

With our current crop of LNP MPs being the smartest and most qualified to ever govern Australia we have to assume they are completely aware of ALL the negative ramifications of this evil, twisted, dysfunctional policy. The LNP seems to be masters of ignoring all academic, considered policies from sociologists, psychologists, ‘welfare’ specialists, NGOs and entities that actually deal with the unemployed. There are still 2 million unemployed and under-employed Australian’s fighting for <250,000 available jobs – of which 25% of those jobs are for highly qualified people with 5+ experience. Unfortunately, creating sufficient jobs for unemployed and underemployed Australians or enabling people to survive in our casualised workforce and society just seems beyond the “brilliance” of the LNP.

So let us assume a person decides to try and work picking fruit, rather than becoming homeless.

With less than 1% of rental properties being suitable for someone receiving Newstart or Youth Allowance, and no ability to save even a minor deposit what happens when an unemployed person force to do fruit-picking needs to find accommodation? What happens when they return to an urban centre to find work again after the 2-6 weeks of fruit-picking is over? As most fruit-picking jobs pay less than the minimum wage how will someone doing temporary work be able to afford two lots of rent? As surely under the current housing and rental crisis no one would want to give up their current rental properties! People on minimum wage are already in rental and mortgage stress, so what are the ramifications for someone on less than the minimum wage having to pay lots of rent, or rent and a mortgage?

Have you actually calculated how many people will end up homeless, ScumMo?

Remember this is the very same LNP which wants unemployed people to move to places where there is a greater chance of finding employment. Under social security law, if you move to a region with higher unemployment (and cheaper rent) you can have your social security cancelled for 13 weeks!

People on social security are already living well below the poverty line. How will they afford transport and relocation costs? Particularly as they have no savings.

So, are ScumMo and the LNP going to pay for their rent on their existing accommodation, relocation costs and transport, when people are forced to move into a rural area for a few weeks work; while the fruit picking lasts? It appears ScumMo is unaware of the rental crisis going on in Australia (most likely ignoring the state of play), where ~1% of Australian rentals are suitable for someone who is on social security. Also, landlords are reticent to rent out their properties to people who are working casually. Nor can casuals get loans or mortgages. Will the LNP provide monetary assistance to people they force to move to rural areas for fruit-picking?

So, is ScumMo going to guarantee landlord’s rental payments while he forces the unemployed to go and fruit-pick in rural areas? Will ScumMo also provide accommodation, schooling and/or childcare for unemployed single parents? Will ScumMo provide suitable accommodation or pay for pet-sitting while unemployed people are forced to travel to rural areas to pick fruit for a few weeks while the work lasts? Or will the unemployed have to share a mattress on the floor with their children and pets, sharing a room with 4-16 other people? (As is currently the case with many people picking fruit).

Of course, said fruit pickers will get a $280/night for accommodation, $188 per day for their food allowance and free childcare and pet care, just like all our politicians? Lol

Will ScumMo guarantee a minimum wage for every unemployed person forced to go and pick fruit? I doubt it, as the LNP currently allow people on internships to be paid far less than the minimum wage; and those forced into ‘work-for-the-dole’ programs, to not be paid at all for their work! The current stories from people on working visas and working-holiday visas to Australia tell a story of chronic underpayment, abuse, substandard accommodation, substandard food, and constant intimidation and threats. Here are just a couple of the many recent stories regarding the abuse of fruit-pickers and seasonal workers in Australia:

One-third of backpackers paid half the legal minimum wage, study finds

Aussies are being ripped off more than ever before, study shows

ScumMo, only 2 days ago you were spruiking you wanted to help people on social security. ScumMo, you and your criminal LNP cronies really are some bizarre form of bipolar, schizophrenic, evil, DUMB, psychopathic numpties.

On climate change, ‘we will adapt’: LNP

By Stephen Fitz

Record breaking hurricane slams Florida. Increased global temperature equates to energy in the atmosphere, equates to extremes in weather, ocean expansion, ice melt and rising sea-levels.

The Liberal Party’s rejection of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, and the subsequent climate change denial is a lie. The word on the street is that the Liberal National Party’s intention, all along, has been that we will adapt to climate change and do nothing else about it.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has launched a bid to secure further donations of as much as $400 million. With $100 million of that earmarked to double the funds set aside for the reef restoration and adaption plan.

“Adaptation plan” What they are saying is, the reef needs to adapt to increased global temperature. No mention of taking remedial action to prevent climate change. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation have shown their hand. They don’t care about rising temperatures … the reef can adapt!

The resistance by the LNP government tells us they have no intention of taking action to prevent climate change and their denial and inaction proves that. Their thinking is the same. Bring on climate change, we will adapt. Screw the electorate, screw Australia and screw the planet and don’t bother trying to fix the problem.

The Liberal government has lied to us by omission. Their intention all along has been to adapt and do nothing about reducing the cause of global temperature increase. Do nothing about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Along with big business they would throw us to the wolves and they need to be exposed for that betrayal.

Traditionally, right wing conservative government ideology is to cling to the status quo. Extreme right-wing governments have no intention of taking action to limit increasing global temperatures. They have lied about their denial of climate change and, one again, their intention all along has been to adapt to extremes in weather and sea level rises. This also plays into the hands of the fossil fuel industry as Morrison backs coal in defiance of the IPCC report.

The United Nations (UN) has urged if people want action on climate change, in some countries, that will require a change of government. In Australia that will mean evicting the extreme right-wing Morrison/Abbot/Dutton LNP government to the political wilderness and in America removing the right-wing Republican government. 35 million Americans experiencing utter devastation from unprecedented hurricanes in the Carolinas and Florida will agree.

Australians experiencing severe state-wide droughts, tornados in Queensland, extreme bush fires conditions, month early cyclones off Queensland, unprecedented extreme weather patterns and the hottest year on record will also agree that something needs to be done.

So, there we have it, the UN the IPCC and the scientists who have prepared 6,000 research papers, on the subject, are urging action on climate change. We have been told that we need to remove extreme right-wing governments to be replaced by more progressive thinking governments prepared to take up the challenge.

The solution then for this new government and, mechanism to gain across the board public support, would be a positive response. This aims at atmospheric Co2 management including, in particular, carbon capture at point of emission, removing Co2 from the atmosphere, reforestation, incentive-based emission reduction guidelines, electricity storage and support for alternative energy.

This has been promised by the Labor if they win the next election. Both government and big business need to take affirmative action on behalf of each and every one of us. If the fossil fuel industry wishes to survive they need to participate and work towards reducing or eliminating their carbon footprint.

What future does PM Morrison guarantee?

We are to face a federal election by May, maybe earlier. Our accidental PM hopes the electorate will then legitimise him as its very own prime minister.

The only reason he’s PM now is that he was foisted on us by a gaggle of Liberals hell-bent on replacing Malcolm Turnbull with Peter Dutton via a poorly organised coup by Dutton’s innumerate mates. The coup became so badly unstuck that it left us stranded with Scomo, as his colleagues choose to tag him.

Never known for taking a backward step in any situation, Morrison seized the prize as if it was his entitlement, and was soon out and about in baseball cap expounding on any issue that came his way in his characteristically voluble Dalek-like style, replete with that knowing smirk we have seen so often, starkly reminiscent of Peter Costello’s infamous grin. Doubt seems never to cross his mind; he behaves as if he is gifted with the omniscience of a sage – just listen to him expound on any subject at all.

Yet he is still to spell out what a Morrison Government will do, what it will guarantee.

What he does spell out though is the disaster that will befall us all should Bill Shorten win and legislate his “fair go action plan”: ”improving schools and hospitals, standing up for workers, easing pressure on family budgets, ensuring a strong economy and investing in cleaner and cheaper energy.” Morrison’s carefully considered comeback was: “Bill Shorten’s five-point plan is – more tax, more tax, more tax, more tax, more tax.” Clearly, he intends to emit the ‘more tax’ line every time Shorten offers a solution to the nation’s problems. It’ll be as easy as that!

Our newly minted PM wants us to believe that whatever Shorten proposes will cost taxpayers heavily. He paints a picture of money being forcibly extracted from our pockets in hand-fulls. In contrast, whatever he proposes will be free. Money will appear by some mysterious force from cracks and crevices in our burgeoning economy, stimulated by the inspired policies of his government. There will be no shortage of cash – our strong economy will see to that. Only Shorten and his high taxing outfit will screw us into poverty.

What’s astonishing is that Morrison and his sidekicks seem to actually believe that the electorate will swallow this nonsense and rush to vote for the no-taxing Morrison Government. They expect voters will blindly accept that the great economy the Coalition is fuelling every day will lavishly fund all of his initiatives.

So what are his initiatives? What is he guaranteeing?

He hasn’t said.

He insists though that as the economy is going gangbusters, there’s no need to worry. Just let it grind along throwing goodies into the bank like sugar cane into the cane trains ready for the mill. There’s plenty of cash to sweeten anything he wants to do. Indeed so much that just days ahead of the crucial Wentworth by-election, he’s brought forward by five years his tax cuts for small and medium businesses at a cost to the budget of $3 billion!

But what is it he wants to do?

It would have been comforting for Liberals to hear him quote Robert Menzies whom he said brought various groups together to form the Liberal Party, to unite them about what they believed in…“Because you can’t just be about what you’re opposed to. You’ve got to be about what you’re for: as a country, as a political party, as an individual, as a family. It’s about what you’re for, not just what you’re against.” What an astonishing utterance from a man who tells us every day what he’s opposed to – and it’s always got Shorten’s name written all over it.

What then does he believe in? Here’s the mystery. Let’s look.

The recent report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which amassed the opinion of thousands of the world’s climate scientists, starkly highlights the perilous state of our climate. Predictions of disaster abound. Look here and here. But what does Morrison believe? What will he do? The heat is now on him. Will he dare ignore their opinions?

Will he still fondle his lump of coal as if its continued use is of no import? Will he try to resuscitate his moribund NEG? How will he keep his promise to reduce household energy bills by ‘around $550’ and still meet his emissions targets?

Will he ever get round to developing a climate policy that has any chance of reversing our rising emissions and combating escalating global temperatures? You know the answer. He keeps trying to convince us that Australia will meet its emissions targets ‘in a canter’. So why change course when he knows we’ll sprint over the finishing line like Winx, way in front of the field!

If you need any more evidence of the antediluvian views of the Coalition’s climate dinosaurs, read the response to the IPCC report of Melissa Price, his environment minister. Although the report contended that global greenhouse gas emissions must reach zero by about 2050 in order to stop global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, and that the use of coal must be phased out by 2050, Price (who hasn’t read the report) insisted that the climate scientists were “drawing a long bow” in calling for an end to coal power, and that it would be irresponsible to do so. Morrison agreed. Expect him to do nothing.

If climate change is too hard for him, how will he manage social issues? Now that Philip Ruddock’s review into religious protections has been leaked after five months in hiding, we will see how he tackles its recommendations. Early signs are that he will go along with religious schools being able to reject children based on their sexuality or gender identification, in other words, to exclude gay kids. His convoluted response to date is that this is the law anyway – a guarantee that he will vacillate.

On another front, we still have to hear how he intends to tackle the disunity in Coalition ranks, the paucity of females on his benches, the continuing threat posed by the conservative rump that haunts his party, the ghostly presence of Abbott, Dutton, Cormann, and all the other miscreants. How can he purge his party of these disruptors? Will he even try?

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of Morrison’s prime ministership though is the unnerving way he floats from one issue to another, always supremely confident that he has everything under control, ever ready to smother any question, any problem, any matter (even advertising on the Opera House sails), with his obtuse gibberish, always embellished with that all-knowing, just-leave-it-to-me, smirk.

Meanwhile, as we cup our ears straining to hear his vision for our nation, his guarantees for our future, and his plans for the time ahead, all we get is perilous emptiness and sonorous babble: “A fair go for those who have a go”.

Therein lies the dilemma.

This article by Ad Astra was originally published on The Political Sword.

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4 cents a day

Former Chairman of the ABC Board, Justin Milne fell on his sword after sacking the Managing Director, Michelle Guthrie, recently. The discussion around this will continue for quite a while, especially if the ex-MD follows through on her threat to sue for wrongful dismissal.

Where that particular saga ends up is anyone’s guess and hopefully, when the government does appoint people to the vacant positions, they will follow the legislated process of ‘rubberstamping’ the recommendations of the independent panel that is responsible for research and character checking. In fact, it is probable that the current dramas wouldn’t have occurred if the recommendations were followed last time by Communications Minister Fifield.

It was interesting to watch the change in focus over the week when Guthrie and Milne walked the plank. On Monday, Guthrie was claimed to be someone who was completely out of touch with the demands of the job, by Thursday the narrative had changed to Milne apparently instructing Guthrie to sack journalists who were ‘critical’ of the government, an instruction Guthrie refused, demonstrating how ‘in touch’ she was!

It really doesn’t matter who said or didn’t say what to whom. Milne and Guthrie are victims of a process of the current government to eliminate criticism of their actions.

There was significant media coverage at various times suggesting that Turnbull and Fifield were not happy with perceived errors, criticisms or inaccuracies in some ABC current affairs reports. Fifield has also been regularly filing complaints with the ABC for trivialities.

You can’t really blame Milne for making the assumption that the government was ‘not happy’ with the actions of some of its journalists, albeit his subsequent actions were apparently wrong. However, it is important to note that most of the ‘inaccuracies’ Turnbull and Fifield complained about were actually factual.

Rather than going down ‘he says, she says’ rabbit holes, have a look at the core problem. Yes, the government of the day funds the ABC using taxpayer funds. So the current ABC ‘yours’ marketing campaign is correct — we all own the ABC.

The reporting of information that doesn’t necessarily reflect positively on the government of the day’s actions or behaviours is something that demonstrates that we as taxpayers are getting value for money. This is evidenced by the journalists we employ, who are doing their job and reporting fact without fear or favour to those that control the funding source. After all, one of the many criticisms of governments such as the one in North Korea is that adverse commentary, let alone dissent, on the actions of the government or questioning the government policies is strictly prohibited.

Ex-PM Turnbull has been reported in various media outlets as not directly asking anyone to sack anyone. He’s probably literally correct in that he didn’t get on the phone to Milne and order anything happen to anyone. But he didn’t have to. Waleed Aly’s recent opinion piece in Fairfax publications claims the recent ABC goings-on are part of a bigger issue. Aly writes about a phone call between Peta Credlin (in her role as Abbott’s Chief of Staff) ringing Chris Mitchell (the editor of The Australian) demanding the sacking of an opinion piece writer, a journalist wrongly caught up in the Centrelink ‘robo-debt’ fiasco and, after writing a blog piece on her experiences, having personal details leaked by the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government to the media.

In addition, the federal parliament has passed legislation allowing certain issues, say a hypothetical ASIO raid on the office of the Opposition Leader, to be retrospectively claimed as a ‘national security’ issue. Those that have filed their reports on the matter prior to the declaration would then potentially endure jail time because they reported on a ‘national security’ matter. ABC funding is also an area of implied editorial control by starving the organisation of cash to pay the researchers. At the same time, the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government claim to be promoting free speech for ‘persecuted’ right-wing Christian groups!

We could also discuss the undue influence in Australian politics of the likes of News Corp, who’s proprietor chose to forego his Australian citizenship to further his business interests; or radio announcers such as Alan Jones, who recently lost another defamation case through his lack of attention to facts in his commentary — but we all probably have better things to be doing for the rest of the day.

The ABC ran a campaign in the 80s saying it costs each Australian 8 cents a day. Their Chief Financial Officer recently suggested the cost had gone down to 4 cents a day. For our 4 cents a day (or $14.60 per year), we get reporting by some of the best practitioners of the journalism trade in Australia and relevant content targeted to most demographics in this country across many media platforms.

What we shouldn’t get is real or implied political interference because the reporting is perceived to be critical of the government or their policies.

Some will always believe that our government should be the best that their money or influence can buy, and they are entitled to their opinion. However, the recent interest in the ABC’s independence demonstrates that the majority of us want fair, unbiased reporting rather than self-censorship because of interference.

We also seem to have a tolerance for the demonstration of the maxim: if you don’t occasionally stuff it up, you’re not trying to do your job to the best of your ability. As the owners of the ABC, we need to remind all politicians that media independence is our expectation and criticism comes with the turf.

What do you think?

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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What is it with Heaven and Millennials?

The promise of an afterlife – to meet departed family and friends – appeals to many;
but especially for younger Australians. Why do they dismiss the evidence of physics?

Against all odds, it seems the concept of going to heaven holds far greater significance for the young than for those who are closer – numerically – to death!  We need to confront “the D word” itself, but let’s first get a handle on why the idea of paradise has gripped contemporary youth – more so than pensioners!

A national Essential poll shows 40% of all Australians believe in heaven.  But the crucial figure is that a staggering 51% of those aged 18-34 hold such a belief!  This compares to just 29% of the public who are over 55 years old.  The young are almost twice as fixated with an afterlife than those closer to pension age! Why is that?

Is it insecurity or religiosity?  One suggestion points to the fact that 40% of secondary students now attend private religious schools – a rate far higher than all other Western nations.  There has been an exponential growth in government funding for private Catholic and Anglican schools since the 1960s – from a base of almost zero.

Others suggest that a similar rise in Special Religious Instruction (SRI) and chaplains in public schools has led to the Christianisation of education across the nation.  These government-funded programs are run by evangelical Christian organisations in each state – with Catholic and Anglican private schools proselytising their own religions.  And do millennials then stay at home too long, with a childhood faith, instead of getting out into the real world?

Since colonisation, Christianity instilled belief in an afterlife.  It’s reflected on a daily basis in mainstream media, in film and on television – and in our obsession with sport.  No game passes without players pointing skyward when scoring a goal, or honouring a deceased team or family member with hands reaching towards heaven.

But the biggest problem is that we don’t talk about death!

Society needs to get over this end-of-life taboo – to discuss and challenge the sugar-coated religious myth that claims we will all meet up with our loved ones (and pets) when we die and go to heaven.  Before confronting the concrete scientific evidence (below) – and how we can better handle the emotional aspects of death – just dwell on this thought for one moment.

Isn’t paradise already just a little crowded?  Think about who those you would meet – not only the entire cohort of your departed relatives, your friends and ancestors – but all the people you have detested; and those who gave you so much grief during your lifetime.

Then there’s the rest – every human who died!  Research shows that, by 2050, an estimated 113 billion people will have lived and died on planet Earth; so heaven is already a seething mass of ‘souls’.  For eternity!

The average punter has great difficulty conceptualising ‘eternity’.  Most can’t even grasp the fact of our universe being 13.8 billion years old – or Earth a mere 4.5 billion!  The concept is starkly illustrated in a fascinating book, “A History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters.”  While fictional, it focuses the mind on a serious problem with infinity.

Chapter 10 sees our hero arrive in heaven, choosing to spend all his time eating luxurious food, having endless sex, and playing golf.  After several thousand years he’s sick of food and sex, and on each heavenly golf course, he hits holes-in-one on every par 3.  He pleads to be released from this endless “perfect existence” and asks if others finally yearn to be free; to actually “die”.  With a short pause for effect, the answer was plain. “Everyone!”

Books on near-death experiences and visits to heaven are legion.  A recent bestseller was “Proof of Heaven” by Dr Eben Alexander – a neurosurgeon, no less.  Alexander sold more than 2 million copies before his claims were debunked.  Among those who contested his story was Professor Sean Carroll, a particle physicist and high-profile science communicator.  Carroll said there could only be two possibilities for Alexander’s spiritual encounter:

(1) Either some ill-defined metaphysical substance, not subject to the known laws of physics, interacted with the atoms of his brain in ways that have eluded every controlled experiment ever performed in the history of science.  OR… (2) People hallucinate when they are nearly dead.

Professor Carroll’s detailed explanation of Physics and Immortality spells out precisely why an immaterial “soul” does not exist.  The physics are graphically demonstrated in his video address (at 20:00).  Carroll worked with the team that discovered the Higgs Boson at Geneva’s Large Hadron Collider.  He could not be more explicit;

“if there are other waves, particles or forces sufficient to externally influence the brain, then we would know about them … Within Quantum Field Theory, there can’t be a new collection of “spirit particles” and “spirit forces” that interact with our regular atoms, because we would have detected them in existing experiments … You would have to demonstrate evidence of a completely new realm of reality, obeying very different rules than everything we know about physics.”
(The 3 links above are needed to fully understand why there is no “soul”.)

But science does not devalue the need for compassion and empathy in the face of raw emotions that come with our personal experiences of death.  It is necessary to face up to reality – but there are alternatives to religion in coping with end of life crises. Discussing death openly and honestly – and publicly through the media – is a first step in helping to ease the extreme distress that many suffer with their own fear of death.

The ‘Golden Age of Athens’ pre-dates Christianity by four centuries – it led to a crucial period of new philosophical thought about life and death, about government and democracy, and how ordinary people could live a more fulfilled and contented life.

The philosophical principles of stoicism remain popular today.  It’s based on three central themes. “Perception”, how we choose to view events; “Action”, how we deal with events we can control (and those we can’t); and then there’s “Will” – training ourselves to deal honestly and ethically with events in our own lives.  Following the full regime of stoicism may seem daunting; but filtering the basic principles it becomes somewhat easier to apply.

The stoic approach to dealing with death – of family, friends, or oneself – is particularly relevant.  Initially, it may appear morbid to periodically remind ourselves of one’s mortality.  But if we consider this approach to death deeply enough, we soon come to realise the benefits of a greatly improved mental state.

The stark alternative for most people is to ignore the inevitable and to be completely consumed by grief when family or friends die unexpectedly.  Religion holds its privileged status based on fear – fear of not believing in God, fear of the unknown, and especially the fear of death.  It’s a cruel deception that society needs to overcome.

By sugar-coating mortality with the myth of everlasting heaven, religion simply deprives us all of the ways and means to better cope with the end of life.  While stoicism may not be the complete solution for all, it is clear that the basic principles of “philosophical ethics” – honesty, reason, compassion, and love – would be a far better alternative than teaching schoolchildren obedience to God and religious ritual.

Future generations would avoid the trap of today’s millennials who continue to shun science and instead cling to religious concepts of an afterlife.  A ‘soul’ that miraculously ascends to heaven, only to reunite with 113 billion other souls – for the whole of eternity! Just like our golfing hero, that sounds more like purgatory!

Brian Morris is author of ‘Sacred to Secular’ and specialises in secular politics.  He is a former journalist, and is director of www.plainreason.org which promotes science, reason and critical thinking.

Italy in the Maelstrom of the Euro

By Isidoros Karderinis

Italy joined the eurozone in 1999, with Prime Minister Massimo d’Alema of the “Democratic Left” party. This fateful participation, which entailed the complete loss of independent monetary policy, is undoubtedly the main cause of the disappointing performance of the Italian economy.

The country’s GDP currently stands at 1.75 trillion EUR and its growth rates are extremely anemic, reaching just 0.9%. Real per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to reliable calculations, increased in the period 1969-1998, in which the country had its national currency, the Lire, by 104%, while in the period 1999-2016, where the country had already adopted the Euro, fell by 0.75%. On the other hand, in the period 1999-2016, Germany’s real per capita GDP grew by 26.1%, making the citizens of that country the most gainer among the main economies of the eurozone.

Italy, at the same time, has the third largest state debt in the world after the USA and Japan, and therefore its rescue is impossible since it exceeds the capabilities of European states. The country’s debt, as a percentage of GDP, currently stands at 132% and in absolute figures to 2,336 trillion euro, while in 1999 it was 109,7%. So, one can easily notice a significant increase.

At the same time, since 1999, Italy’s steep downhill course in terms of development had begun. Fiat has ceased to dominate the European car market and the country has lost its leading position as a producer of white household appliances. Many factories were shut down and several large businesses have relocated to other countries. Millions, in addition, small and medium-sized enterprises, which based on the periodic devaluation of the currency, to offset the inadequacies of the Italian economic system, could no longer compete outside the Italian border.

What are these inadequacies?  Labour market problems, low public and private investment in development and research, high government bureaucracy, dysfunctional, costly and slow-moving justice system, high levels of corruption and tax evasion etc.

Unemployment is about 11% of the labour force, the fourth highest in the European Union after Greece, Spain and Cyprus. At the same time, unemployment among young people aged between 15 and 24, which, according to the latest statistics from the Istat statistical office, amounts to a very high percentage of 30.8%, reflects in the most clear way the deep economic and social crisis which swept as a hurricane the Mediterranean country of the European South.

Poverty has risen to its highest level since 2005. The latest Istat report has recorded 5 million people in absolute poverty in 2017. On a percentage basis, 6.9% of Italian households live in absolute poverty, ie in a situation where it is not possible to cover the minimum monthly expenditure for the acquisition of a basket of goods and services which, in the Italian context and for a family with certain characteristics, is considered necessary for a minimum acceptable standard of living.

At the same time, Italy has the majority of bank branches per inhabitant across Europe, which are additionally characterized by a wrong business model, surviving only by interest and corporate loans. Thus, given that the interest rates in the eurozone are zero, banks are operating loss-making, having accumulated insecurities (red loans) that currently reach about 260 billion euro (15% of Italian GDP), of which much is lost.

The Italian economy, the third largest in the badly designed monetary union, looks like I would say schematically, with a tired horse, loaded with debts and red loans, which breathes with difficulty on the uphill, full of stones and puddles, of the Eurozone, which is an incredibly rigid system, a space clogged with irons for 19 different countries in productivity, inflation, trade balance and technological progress.

Therefore, It should be understood that the eurozone is nothing else but a field of conflicting interests among the member countries that make up it. Thus, what is of great interest to Italy is not interest in any case for Germany. However, the reconciliation of interests over the years of the common currency has proved to be impossible. This is because Germany as the first economic power has managed to rule and dominate, using the Euro for its benefit, while at the same time the other countries instead of resisting and even colliding, bowing and obeying.

However, the cost of delaying Italy’s exit from the eurozone – which has so far prevented at least an apparent fear of the Italian political system for any short-term negative effects of exit – will ultimately prove to be far greater than the cost of rupture at the beginning of the economic crisis.

The recent decision by the coalition government of the Movement 5 stars M5S and Lega, formed in May 2018, to submit a budget for 2019 with a deficit of 2.4% of GDP is clearly in the right direction, because it is most important the reinforcement of the Italian economy by strengthening of domestic demand as well as the prosperity of the Italian people, and not Brussels’s strict, fiscal regulations imposed by Germany and which do not allow it.

Italy must, at last, cease to retreat to Berlin’s commands and fear the rupture with the German eurozone because it is able to return to the lire and thus regain its political, economic and institutional sovereignty. Despite the current problems, it still has the second largest euro area industry after Germany and the fifth largest in the world, with participation 19% at GDP of the country.

Italy produces from aircraft, cars, weapons, electronic systems up to perfumes, shoes and clothes. Italy also needs energy, that is cheap oil and cheap gas, which it does not have. But it could secure oil from its former colony, Libya, and gas from Gazprom. Thus, with low production costs and a flexible national currency, it would become extremely competitive.

To sum up, Italy, sailing like a shaken boat into the turbulent sea of the eurozone where blow powerful winds, will sink mathematically if its political leadership does not take, as long as it is still time, the groundbreaking and dynamic decision to return to its national coin.

Isidoros Karderinis was born in Athens in 1967. He is a novelist, poet and columnist. He has studied economics and has completed postgraduate studies in the tourism economy. Articles of his have been republished in newspapers, magazines and sites worldwide. His poems have been translated into English, French and Spanish and published in literary magazines and literary sections of newspapers. He has published seven poetry books and two novels. His books have been published in USA, Great Britain, Spain and Italy.

Safety Cannot Be Guaranteed

By Keith Antonysen 

Already when the Paris COP21 was being negotiated some scientists were stating that reaching a 1.5C increase in temperature past pre-Industrial times was not viable, Professor Kevin Anderson begins talking 31/2 minutes into the film.

Prior to becoming a climate scientist, he worked as an engineer on oil rigs. He has also done some studies in economics which he describes as being akin to astrology. Professor Anderson argues that energy use in areas other than from power stations has largely been ignored. Without mitigating against the release of greenhouse gases, temperatures of 2C or 3C increase can be expected.

Rather than being focused on temperature, Professor Anderson states we need to be concerned about the emissions budget, CO2 can take hundreds of years to be dissipated. The longer that it takes to mitigate against emissions the greater the effort will be needed to mitigate against greenhouse gases already emitted.

Professor Anderson states very clearly that while there is much discussion in relation to mitigation, there is no mechanism operating at present.

The IPCC has been meeting in South Korea to produce a Report on the current state of the global climate to be published shortlyor.

The first sentence in this article in The Washington Post states

“A much-awaited report from the U.N.’s top climate science panel will show an enormous gap between where we are and where we need to be to prevent dangerous levels of warming.”

The article agrees with the summation provided by Professor Anderson that technologies are not available to mitigate emissions being voided…

 “An early draft (leaked and published by the website Climate Home News) suggests that future scenarios of a 1.5 C warming limit would require the massive deployment of technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the air and bury it below the ground. Such technologies do not exist at anything close to the scale that would be required.”

As stated very recently by the Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres; we have till 2020 to make an extremely concerted effort to stop a runaway climate.

Scott Morrison needs to get his act together in relation to climate change, and Labor needs to improve theirs. There is no room for coal mines such as in the Carmichael Basin or extensions of coal mines or fracking generally.

Revealing the Naked Emperor: Prof Kevin Anderson (November 2017)

Words can fly and words can bite

By George Theodoridis 

Exhibit 1: Justin Milne to Guthrie (via email): “…I just think it’s simple. Get rid of her. My view is we need to save the corporation, not Emma…” Milne says these comments were taken out of context.

Exhibit 2:  PM Morrison to journalist Cassidy: “I expect the ABC Board to do better and if they don’t, well, they can expect a bit more attention from me.”

Exhibit 3:  Odysseus to Agamemnon, wrathfully: “Son of Atreus!  What words have escaped the barrier of your teeth!” – Iliad 4, 350. 

That’s Homer for you: “Our teeth are much like the topless towers of Troy the Greeks had to face: a barrier to hold back unruly or recalcitrant words,” he tells us. “Don’t let false words, fake words escape that barrier.” Homer also used the formulaic phrase, Ἔπεα πτερόεντα” (“Winged words”), throughout his two giant epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

If he were a modern-day Aussie, he’d put it in these words: “Words are like mozzies, mate: They fly and they can bite you on the bum. Take care what words you let fly out of your mouth!”

And there are two types of words, those uttered and those written. Here’s Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus addressing the Roman Senate: “Verba Volant, Scripta Manent,” he warned the good senators which, in English parlance it means “(Uttered) Words fly, written ones remain.”

All the words uttered in the Australian Parliament are written; so are those in the ABC act. They remain. They are immortal and they are there even after they are erased by some usurper of our Democracy, and they are still there even if nobody takes notice of them.

Emails or hard copy, words said in a pub, a boardroom or from a pulpit, words that mean nothing and words that change worlds, words of every hue and of every tone can fly forever. Unlike chocolate, they have no use-by date.

Laws and important notices in Ancient Greece were chiselled into stone or wooden pillars called “Stelae” and these were placed throughout the city, a practice which gave strength and legitimacy to Aristotle’s view that “all men are political beings.” All men (yes, women were excluded officially from the political process) were an active part of a polis and so they were all responsible for its health -social, moral, economic. They were, in other words, politicians and that’s the real meaning of the word. Solon’s laws were engraved on these Stelae and there they remained and thus they were easy to check and point to when matters became complex or ambivalent. They were there to remain all its citizens that they were politicians.

Words are great. They change their form from abstract, when they’re in one’s head, to sensate when they are written or uttered. They are great to make one happy, great to make one sad, great at praising someone and great at destroying someone. Most importantly, they are great when we try to express even our most subtle emotions:

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.”
Wrote Elizabeth Browning.

Words can be sweet and they can be bitter. The power of the pen does not rest upon its nib or the colour of the ink it uses but upon the words, it writes. And whilst words are certainly not the only means of communication and we well know what the gesture of a finger thrust hard into the air or a thumb bitten aggressively convey, words have the ability to communicate the most complex of issues in the most subtle way. 

The Spartans communicated using the shortest possible sentences, a type of speech called laconic speech. For example, you would hear soldiers daring their enemies with  “μολὼν λαβέ”  (“Come and get it if you dare!”) or a mother telling her son as she hands him his shield on his way to war:ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς” (“Return either carrying it as a victor or upon it, killed on the battlefield.”  

Their cousins, the Athenians across the isthmus, on the other hand, loved using lengthy orations even to describe the simplest of things, because nothing in the minds of the philosophical Athenians was ever simple. Consequently, Thucydides’ prediction was true and we now have little of what the Spartans have said and a great deal of what the Athenians did, from Literature to philosophy, to theatre, to law and to History. Almost all of the stuff he have now about Sparta and the Spartans was written by non-Spartans.

Both, written and uttered words should be freely expressed.

On the eve of his invasion to Greece, in 480 BC the Persian emperor, Xerxes once asked his Greek counsellor, Demaratus, an exiled Spartan king, if the Greeks will stay to fight an army as enormous as his.

Demaratus nervously, fearfully asked the great King if he would like to hear the truth or whatever would please his ears and heart. Xerxes answered that he wanted to know the truth. Still, Demaratus was afraid to speak it. To tell him the truth.

Demaratus did tell the Great King the truth about the nature of the Greek soldier but the King refused to believe him, which is another trait of a despot, to ignore the truth. Demaratus followed him against his countrymen and the invasion ended in an abject failure for the King.

Herodotus’ whole work, his Histories is an effort to show that societies whose people are free are better than those whose people labour under autocrats and tyrants. Fear and intimidation will almost always conceal or distort the truth. Freedom of speech was at the very core of being a Greek while its opposite, the fear of speaking it was at the very core of a tyrannical despot, ones like Xerxes and his father Darius. Demaratus had left Greece where he was able to speak his mind freely and ended up in Persia where doing so could cost him his life. 

A fair and just society is made up of fair and just citizens, the blood and soul of which are words that are the true reflections of the thoughts of its citizens and their expression is pure and undefiled by any interference by anyone.  No society can be fair and just if its citizens can’t do that. 

If we are to rightfully boast that we are a Democracy, then we ought to have another forum, another platform from that of the Parliament, a platform where the speech of our people, the true demos, can be uttered freely. That forum should be the media and the media should comprise journalists whose only concern is the pursuit of news and its true dissemination, again, free from any interference. The truth should reign free.

The ABC, we all thought foolishly, was a media platform where these vested interests were kept at bay; that this taxpayer-funded body was protected by legislation and that it worked free of manipulation and of agendas belonging to particular interests and not to its funders, the Australian demos. Recently we found out that this was not the case and that the ABC was in fact, run by a board put there by political interests and that these political interests were ruthlessly directing the trajectory of its work.

We know this because the words used by the chairman of its board, Justin Milne, demanding that one of its best-known journalist should be sacked, rose to the surface of public scrutiny, much like the sewage of a badly maintained plumbing complex.

The ABC, which though, I suggest might not always have given us a “no punches pulled” account of the facts, was and certainly is vital to us if we are to understand ourselves, as well as others and to respect the two most crucial elements of a humane society, truth and justice. This body must not brook any interference from anyone and to pursue, as its charter suggests, truth at any cost.

A society is not served at all well if its journalists are so afraid, to tell the truth, that they become silenced hostages of the powerful – effectively nothing more than palace eunuchs.

As I write, I am watching the President of the USA mocking in the most loathsome way, a woman who dared speak out about a sexual assault she suffered by someone who is after one of the most important jobs in America –it is a job for the rest of his life- in the most important field in the running of the American society, that of the country’s Supreme Court.

President Trump was mocking Dr Christine Blasey Ford who alleged that she was sexually assaulted by the Trump’s nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

And this is while the Senate is trying to assess Kavanaugh’s suitability to a seat in the Supreme Court. His words, Trump’s words, are a belligerent, bellowing cascade of bitterness, of hatred and of poison that has indeed, escaped the barrier of his teeth. They are nothing short of a vulgar, unabashed interference in the process of seeking the truth. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/02/trump-mocks-christine-blasey-ford-at-mississippi-rally)

Interference by powerful, vested interests. An aggressive attack on a person with little power other than that invested in the truth, an attack aimed at shutting down any other person who holds the truth but who is not powerful enough to utter it.

The ABC, like the ancient Greek stage, is the platform where the truth comes to see the light and breathe the clear air. This light and this air must not be subverted in any way. It must not be turned into a “truth maybe” or a “truth but.”

Fixing the mess in the Financial Industry

Kenneth Hayne’s Interim Report on The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry was no less shocking in its findings than we all expected.

Greed – the pursuit of short-term profit at the expense of basic standards of honesty was his central conclusion, a conclusion that explains how the disgraceful mess in which the financial industry finds itself had come about. It is as simple as that!

But greed does not arise out of thin air. It is people who create and perpetrate greed. In the case of banks and other financial institutions, it is not these inanimate objects that are responsible; it is the human beings that govern and run them.

So it was with a sense of curiosity that I read the form letter, personally addressed and signed by the new CEO of the Commonwealth Bank, sent to all its customers to inform us how he intends to make it ”a better bank”.

The CBA has given its new CEO a monumental assignment. Is he up to it?

The letter begins with the concession that ”…the banking industry, including the Commonwealth Bank, has been rightly criticised for mistakes we’ve made”, goes on to say he’s sorry for these mistakes, and that his job is to fix them.

So I looked for his solutions.

As if it was a novel idea, he said that the bank would now be ”…focussing on service instead of sales”. Really! In explaining how, he said that the bank had: “changed employee incentives to reward tellers for helping you, not selling products.” How innovative! Later on, he reassured us that from now on the bank would be …making sure that it would: ”only sell products that are right for customers”, and by way of reassurance, that it would be ”compensating customers where we got it wrong”. How generous. How about getting it right in the first place?

Then came the sweeteners: the bank would be ”removing ATM withdrawal fees” and ”providing greater transparency on fees and charges…helping you to avoid fees, save money and stay in control with smarter alerts and notifications”. Won’t that be nice! After years of gouging its customers with fees for no service, fees even after we’re dead, it will now help us save money! And what’s more, the notifications will be ‘smarter’. Thank the Lord for that! Now we’ll be able to see more easily when and how the bank is ripping us off, that is if we’re still alive. What a startling revolution in banking ethics and procedures we’re in for!

But that’s not all! Our CEO goes on: Now the bank will be ”safeguarding our privacy and security”, and what’s more, if there’s a data breach, the bank ”will take quick and effective steps to better protect us…” How electrifying. Has the bank ever workshopped how to keep our data safe in the first place? Now, like good firefighters, they will put out fires quickly and effectively when the place catches alight, hopefully with a full parade of bells and sirens.

He then goes on to tell us what great things the bank is doing: drought relief (that is if the farmer hasn’t already been forced off his land by shonky loan practices), assisting customers experiencing domestic violence (he doesn’t say how), and of course the bank will be assisting ”older customers to protect them from financial abuse”, about which the bank has a derelict record going back for years! What’s more, the bank will ”continue to give to customers facing financial hardship a range of solutions such as deferring, reducing or freezing home loan repayments.” Many out there will be asking why they didn’t receive such largesse when they were in strife.

Our CEO concludes by reassuring us that the bank is ”Getting back to basics”…simplifying our business, and exiting some…” Hopefully, it will exit giving shonky advice via self-interested advisors looking for kickbacks; offering badly designed, unaffordable loans that place life savings in jeopardy; and engaging in dishonest insurance transactions that avoid legitimate claims. A cynic might ask how a bank of the stature of the CBA could have ever been caught up in these fraudulent practices, so nakedly exposed by the Royal Commission.

So my response to our CEO, who concludes by saying that he wants the bank to ”…focus attention on doing a better job for us.” is to ask how it has been doing such a miserable job for so long, which took a lengthy Royal Commission to expose?

The simple fact is that those at the top have handed down the strategies employed by lower echelon bank employees. They knew full well that what they were doing was fraudulent, motivated by greed, and focussed on short-term profit. They have knowingly encouraged employees well down the food chain to do things they would not initiate themselves. They have turned many honest people into dishonest self-serving graspers.

Moreover, they have lied repeatedly to the regulatory bodies, and have even colluded with them to deceive the public and flout the law.

What I would have preferred our CEO to say is that he intends to clean out the senior executives who are responsible for turning a once-respected bank into a disreputable and untrustworthy commercial outfit, dragging down the lower echelon staff to their own grubby level of greed, dishonesty and fraud.

It’s shameful. Despite the assurances our CEO gave in his letter to customers, I have little confidence that he can and will get to the root cause of the bank’s severely damaged reputation, which resides at the top of the organization. Will he be able to remove the crooks that set this fall from grace in motion? Will he be able to change the bank’s culture from the existing one of self-interest, greed and short-term profit to one of a collaborative endeavour between the bank and its customers to protect and advance their interests to the mutual benefit of all? Will he be able to restore basic honesty? Can he fix the mess in his own bank, let alone make any impact at all on the monumental mess in the entire financial industry? Let’s hope he tries!

After all, we’ve heard from the Royal Commission, no one could be blamed for being extremely sceptical. Don’t be surprised if self-interest prevails.

This article by Ad Astra was originally published on The Political Sword.

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When Sputnik went ballistic

As its 61st anniversary approaches it is worth pondering the lasting impact on popular culture of a polished metal sphere whose 21-day orbit ushered in the space race and tightened the ratchet on the cold war. The sphere, known as Sputnik, marked the commencement of a new era.

On the 4th October 1957, citizens of the planet fortunate enough to own a radio, myself among them, uttered a collective gasp. The Soviet Union launched the world’s first spacecraft. named Sputnik 1, the 58-centimetre sphere, passed into an elliptical low orbit and forever changed earth’s perception of itself.

Sputnik, which emitted a single watt of power and is written thus in Russian, Простейший Спутник, marked the literal end of one period and the beginning of another.

The successful launch more than 60 years ago of this remarkable example of Soviet technology, is an event worthy of a brief analysis of its lasting cultural impact.

The football-sized satellite emboldened the United States to launch its own venture, which triggered the space race and a concomitant influence on popular culture.

A few years after Sputnik, the Soviets again trumped the United States when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth on 12 April 1961.

I recall imploring a cantankerous father to buy a set of Gagarin postage stamps which if mint, would today be worth a pretty pack of kopecks.

“Communist,” he snorted.

The following month Alan Shepard earned the moniker First American in Space, but it was the clean-shaven and crew-cut astronaut John Glenn who emulated Gagarin’s feat on 20 February 1962. More than a decade later in 1979 American author, Tom Wolfe declared Shepard and Glenn et al had The Right Stuff. Yuri Gagarin and his comrades apparently did not.

Sputnik spawned a new category of heroes. The Soviet cohort, led by Gagarin, bore the prefix ‘cosmo,’ their American counterparts ‘astro’.

Sputnik emboldened post-war children to throw away treasured Davy Crockett coonskin hats, and scour the dictionaries for words commencing with both prefixes. Cosmology, cosmos and cosmonaut entered the lexicon alongside astronomical, Astrodome, astrobiology and astronautics, to name a few.

In 1963 Japanese youth shared the global passion for shiny space-age newness, by empowering Astro Boy to take artistic flight from the pages of manga, onto the black and white screens of nascent television.

Around the world, designers, advertisers — especially for Campari — graphic artists, furniture and light makers and others, drew inspiration from the tiny orb. Meanwhile in the good ole’ US of A Sputnik breathed life into a genre of silly, speculative pulp, written in the preceding decades.

Science Fiction rocketed into a favoured form of escapism when it ‘slipped the surly bonds’ of penny dreadful novels and become a night-time television staple.

The monotonous Mixolydian mode of the beeping Sputnik monitored and re-broadcast by ham radio operators, became a tone poem for authors of the calibre of Phillip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin and Arthur C. Clarke. And while Gene Roddenberry died before dreaming up the sophistication of an astrometrics lab, courtesy of Star Trek Voyager, I’m confident Roddenberry would’ve approved its creation.

Stanley Kubrick produced Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 to the accompaniment of Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, the Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss and new music by the Austro-Hungarian contemporary composer György Ligeti. In the meantime in a mysterious cosmos far, far away, Sputnik inspired Soviet writers and artists to dream dreams of a serene, egalitarian space populated by a fragile humanity, with the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, its locus.

In 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky launched the fictional Solaris, Солярис in Cyrillic, (also spelt Solyaris) to the strains of J.S. Bach’s Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, and the electrosonics of Soviet composer Eduard Nikolayevich Artemyev.

As I sat in the Lido cinema located in a forgotten quarter of downtown Sydney, I imagined wandering the corridors of the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a few kilometres from the snow-shrouded Magnitogorsk, a locale I thought the home of Magneto of X Men fame. Солярис, Solyaris epitomised an art-space which I naively believed flourished behind the weirdness of the Iron Curtain.

In the same year of Solaris’ cinematic release, the impact of Sputnik began to slip from popular consciousness thanks to the song Star Man from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Artemyev’s electro plunking did not stand a chance against Mick Ronson’s soaring guitar licks. For chronologically challenged readers this pop milestone, written by David Bowie, is now 46 years old.

So as the second decade of the 21st-century edges to a conclusion, books, films, comics and a myriad of other cultural manifestations of ‘space, the final frontier’, owe an incalculable debt to a tiny device which carried less onboard technology than a $200 drone.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus and other stories is available at https://tasmania-40-south.myshopify.com/products/last-voyage-of-aratus-the-by-henry-johnston-pb
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