Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 74 — five years ago…

They say this weekend will be the last in lockdown here in The Gong. But we have a new Premier whose right-wing zeal exceeds by far his common sense or respect for medical advice, so he has been fiddling with the rules governing the timetable for opening up. Not everyone is impressed.

Cathy Wilcox, Sydney Morning Herald

I do wonder if this will be the Premier’s Ruby Princess moment! Of course I hope not, but it may be “interesting” to review the Covid-19 stats for NSW in 5-7 days!

Now to five years ago — just a couple of entries from October 2016.

Crossing the Bar: Tennyson

Posted on  by Neil

This was a favourite of my mother.

Sunset and evening star,
         And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
         When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
         Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
         Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
         And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
         When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
         The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
         When I have crossed the bar.

I quote it today as yesterday at Diggers I learned that an ex-student from The Illawarra Grammar School, Peter D (Class of 1974), has passed away. He had been very ill for a long time. I used to see him and his wife at Steelers and, until recently, at Diggers. He was 59.

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Body language, cross-cultural communication, Trump etc…

Posted on  by Neil

I see Tony Abbott has gone into bat for The Donald. That figures…

Mr Abbott defended Mr Trump’s policies, which include building a wall between Mexico and the United States to repel migrants, as reasonable.

“Many of the Trump positions are reasonable enough,” he said.

Mind you, I don’t entirely disagree with what Tony Abbott says there about T’s supporters. It is worth reading David A Hill Jr, I Listened to a Trump Supporter.

She was a family friend, a good person. In rural Ohio, everything was tight. Money, jobs. If you really needed quick cash, she’d put you to work doing landscaping. She’d pay fairly and reliably for the area.

She’s voting for Donald Trump. I disagree with her choice, but I understand why she rejects Clinton so fiercely, and why she’s been swept up in Donald Trump’s particular brand of right-wing populism. I feel that on the left, it’s increasingly easy to ignore these people, to disregard them, to write them off as racists, bigots, or uneducated. I think that’s a loss for everyone involved, and that sometimes listening can help you to at least understand why a person is making the choices they make, so you can work on the root causes.

Hat tip to Alex Au in Singapore for that article.

Meanwhile The Donald himself lately does seem to be verging on the barking mad:

Florida: Donald Trump has denied a slew of new allegations of sexually predatory behaviour in an angry diatribe of speech in Florida, accusing the women who made them of fabrication and the media outlets that published them as being party to a conspiracy against him…

Mr Trump claimed a variety of forces including the Clintons and the media were seeking to rig the US election.

“Their agenda is to elect crooked Hillary Clinton at any cost, at any price, no matter how many lives they destroy. For them, it’s a war. And for them, nothing at all is out of bounds,” he said.

“This is a struggle for the survival of our nation. Believe me. And this will be our last chance to save it on November 8. Remember that.”

Sorry. Did I really say “verging on” then?

OK, back to that second debate. I found myself riveted all through – yes I watched the whole show – by the body language, especially The Donald’s. What a study in proxemics!

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Pure monstering. The stills barely capture the effect that the pacing and scowling communicated. Not a nice man.

All that had me thinking again of what I learned from the 1990s on in my ESL studies and practice about cross-cultural communication, and the topic in fact came up earlier this week in conversation at Diggers with someone who spent considerable time in PNG and S-E Asia. A summary directed at business people is Different Cultural Communication Styles.

Factoring in personal space expectations between cultures enhances communication in any social or business setting. While Northern Europeans and European Americans feel most comfortable at an arm’s length away in a social interaction, Hispanics would consider that distance unfriendly. Knowing what is expected is helpful. Eye contact and touch etiquette also vary dramatically in different cultures. Asian cultures do not believe in touching in public settings, and they don’t favor direct eye contact. Like the Asian culture, Hispanics also view direct eye contact as a lack of respect. One significant difference between these two cultures is the way touching in public is perceived. Hispanics are a “high touch” society. Before meeting with a different culture, it is best to learn about these etiquette considerations.

That’s just one aspect. Oriented to schools is Communicating Across Cultures from the Victorian Education Department.

Interpretations of verbal communication can be culturally based. Misunderstandings can easily arise. For example in some cultures:

  • It is impolite to speak without being specifically asked by a superior, thus some students will not say hello, will not volunteer answers and will not answer generally directed questions.
  • It is not appropriate to refuse a request, thus saying ‘yes’ may mean ‘I am listening’, or ‘maybe’, or ‘no’. Avoidance behaviour rather than contradiction is used i.e. not doing what is requested is the polite response, as opposed to saying directly ‘no’.
  • Direct confrontation is to be avoided. It is more important to maintain the relationship, then to find an answer to an immediate disputed issue or problem. This contrasts with the anglo-Australian approach of trying to resolve issues by frank and open discussion of the disputed issue, clearly stating personal needs and preferences and direct bargaining tactics focusing on an immediate solution.
  • Asking questions when you already know the answer, which is a common teaching technique in Australia, can indicate a lack of intelligence in some cultures.

Then at the levels prom personal to international relations see the course Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts, particularly Michelle Le Baron, Cross-Cultural Communication.

The challenge is that even with all the good will in the world, miscommunication is likely to happen, especially when there are significant cultural differences between communicators. Miscommunication may lead to conflict, or aggravate conflict that already exists. We make — whether it is clear to us or not — quite different meaning of the world, our places in it, and our relationships with others. In this module, cross-cultural communication will be outlined and demonstrated by examples of ideas, attitudes, and behaviors involving four variables:

  • Time and Space
  • Fate and Personal Responsibility
  • Face and Face-Saving
  • Nonverbal Communication

As our familiarity with these different starting points increases, we are cultivating cultural fluency — awareness of the ways cultures operate in communication and conflict, and the ability to respond effectively to these differences.

In a multicultural society in an even more multicultural world these are areas we all need familiarity with. Back to proxemics:

The difficulty with space preferences is not that they exist, but the judgments that get attached to them. If someone is accustomed to standing or sitting very close when they are talking with another, they may see the other’s attempt to create more space as evidence of coldness, condescension, or a lack of interest. Those who are accustomed to more personal space may view attempts to get closer as pushy, disrespectful, or aggressive. Neither is correct — they are simply different.

Mind you, Trump was being “pushy, disrespectful, or aggressive”!

Related: My 1998 UTS Grad Cert TESOL assignment A Japanese Backpacker’s year in Australia may even amuse you.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 61 — good sense is out there

One does despair at times — when for example seeing the abysmal level of live comments when NSW Health is updating us on the Covid situation. So it is nice to find on YouTube that sane people — even sane young people — do exist, and that indeed some are in America!

Poor things!

But how refreshing to have found this young man. I will share two of his reaction vlog items.

The first is about how workers are treated in America, compared to other countries. He does not mention Australia, but I would hope we will never follow the USA in this respect, as much as some in the government here and of course the bloody IPA want us to. The second is about health care. Enough said really. What an honest, clear-sighted and articulate young man this Jps is!

On Facebook when I shared the following video — the first of his I had watched — I said: Have a look at this nice young man — and what he is watching even more so! And take another look at ourselves too…. You may well conclude that trade unions really are necessary and that anything the IPA wants we shouldn’t do….

Now the second on medical care. On Facebook I said:

I am so glad that I live in Australia where (for example) next Wednesday [today!] I have an appointment at the Wollongong Medical Centre for some necessary podiatry. Cost charged to me? $0. Had my second Covid jab on 9th September. Cost to me? $0. Had some medications made up at the chemist. Cost to me? Around $6 each. And so on…

Even if you have a specialist consultation and are charged, say, $200, Medibank will normally refund around 75% of that.

The American Way? Keep it! Not interested! The killer for me in this video was the cost per arterial stent in the USA @$19,000! I had a stent put in at Wollongong Hospital in 2011, including 9 days in the cardiac ward. Cost of my stent? $0!

I had then — and have since maybe 6 times — needed an ambulance. Cost to me? $0!

There are many intelligent comments on that video — and an advocate of revolution. That always sounds attractive but why should it be necessary? However, here in OZ…

DEFEND what we have zealously, people, and vote in a government without those who really do want to white-ant it, even when they make the right noises because they know attacking Medicare in Oz is political suicide. As it should be!

“You can’t go to the hospital to get help, it’s too expensive.” In what civilised country in this modern world does that make sense? It’s about time for another revolution over there guys. The American people are being walked over by these big companies and all you are doing is whining about it… Hell, a lot of you aren’t even doing that! Just shrugging your shoulders and saying ‘It’s capitalism; what ya gonna do?” ISN’T GOING TO CHANGE ANYTHING! Land of the free my ass!

In the present febrile climate too I think it does not hurt to look seriously at these.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 56 — what happened next in 2001

First — regarding the Albury Hotel

28 Oct 2001

… Last night I called into the Albury Hotel for the very last time; it was the last day the grand/jaded/notorious old watering hole to the gay community was open to the public. There is a private farewell party today, but 1) I am not sure I was invited and 2) I am all farewelled out. So I am giving it a miss. There was quite a good crowd there last night including a few faces I have not seen for a while.

albury

Sirdan, Malcolm, the Empress (who was not there, but see below for what he was doing) and I will probably pass our time in future at another venue where cider is served, along with various Irish ales.

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I may call in later to St Vincents Hospital to see how my friend Father John is getting on. He had his operation on Friday. John is an interesting character, a man of 70 whose life has been in the service of the Anglican Church, much of it in Islamic countries as chaplain to British Embassies. His insight into the Islamic world is deep and charitable; in fact when asked at the hospital what his religion is, he said “monotheist”. When they said, “The computer does not have that; do you mean Methodist?” he replied “Definitely not: you can put ‘Islam’ if you like.”

Speaking of hospitals, the Empress had a very interesting courier job last night, taking a sample of a certain exotic but well-publicised disease* to the lab for analysis. The person involved had been on holiday in the USA recently.

*Ebola?

28 Oct 2001

UPDATE

I went and saw Father John in hospital and he has come through well; indeed he expects to go home tomorrow.

After that I decided to drop in on the Albury’s final party. There was an invitation list; I was never sure I was on it, as I am in some ways a rather anonymous person there. It turned out someone of my first name was on the list, albeit apparently associated with the Bayswater Fitness Centre. Despite my denying any association with fitness centres, they let me in anyway; not sure what happens if the other N. turns up!

Sirdan, the Empress and Malcolm were there, with many a person I didn’t know and some I did. “Hugh La Rue” whose caberet act I have described in an earlier entry was there, but not performing, and recognised me. It was nice to see him again. I didn’t stay all that long–the free punch was dangerous I suspect. I saw a fair bit of the final “Pollie’s Follies” drag show and some of the acts were very good; one even actually sang. Miss Lucy was the first number after Pollie and did “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound of Music, with some quite remarkable leaps (in high heels) for such a large person.

A. was there. Not quite at war yet, but hoping; very much at home at a drag show.

So, there goes an association (with The Albury) going back about thirteen years–longer with a few visits when I was still living in Chippendale, so it must be sixteen years since I first went to the long-defunct piano bar.

The crowd today was still not as big as when the pub was at its height, but big enough. The Empress, of course, was at The Albury’s opening night as a gay bar–I am not sure how many centuries that is–and was determined to see through the last night. When I saw him last someone had given him a schooner of punch. I do hope we see him again…

Was that the beginning of the decline of Oxford Street?

Here is a retrospect from 2019 looking back twenty years — and more!

Second — regarding the 2001 election October-November 2001

November 5: Priorities…getting them right.

With carpet bombing starting in Afghanistan, and an upcoming election here (both pretty depressing), I thought I should mention that Mitchell’s famous Melbourne Cup Tips are now up. You only have a few hours to make use of them!

5 November 2001

It’s that time of the year again! Well, the election also… but, more importantly, the Melbourne Cup. My tips for this year:

1. Curata Storm
2. Marienbard
3. Hill of Grace

Mitchie told you so.

Very busy but satisfying day at the University of Technology Sydney, as a result of which I am quite excited about possibilities for the ESL research project Phase 2 next year.

November 7: Australian elections on 10th… and I am praying for a change of government

I have had the vote now for 37 years.

For the first half (approximately) of that time, being of mainly Scots/Ulster Protestant background, I voted Liberal, as did my parents and grandparents before me. For most of the second half I have voted Labor, except in the Senate where I have favoured one or other of the minor parties. For the first time ever I will not be voting for either major party in either House.

As Ian McPhee rightly observed today, there are no Liberals left in the Liberal Party. What we have are conservatives (like Costello) and reactionaries (like the Prime Minister). Of course there are precious few Labor politicians in the Labor Party either, and the crunch issue separating me from them, and the government, has been the obscene asylum-seekers “crisis”. I have canvassed that issue before on this diary, so do not propose to do so again tonight.

Further, while not excusing those responsible for the attacks of September 11, I find myself increasingly appalled by the crudeness of the response by the United States and by our government’s alacrity (supported by Labor) to leap into the action. (Of course I also wish our ADF members well.) Our “non-evil” weapons, to paraphrase George Bush, are likely directly and indirectly to exact a human cost far in excess of the 6000 in the twin towers. I just hope the causes of terrorism are addressed by the world community more effectively at some time in the future. I fear the present course will in sum probably increase the appeal of terrorism in those parts of the world that currently feel, for whatever reasons, obliged to take that path.

I hope that liberal and secularist religionists of all faiths will become stronger in their opposition to fundamentalism and fanaticism.

Back home again, I am impressed with much of the argument in Quarterly Essay 3:2001: “The Opportunist: John Howard and the Triumph of Reaction” by Guy Rundle. If you want an image of the kind of prat the Liberal Party throws up (and in this case out, after he fell on his face) look no further than Jonathan Shier. He embodied the mindset beautifully. He was just too nakedly prattish to succeed, but he was their man, very much their man.

You are free to disagree with any of the above.

I do lean more towards the Labor Party in certain policy areas, especially social welfare, health and education. I feel they could form quite a respectable government, if not an adventurous one. I also feel they will be quite conservative in terms of economic management this time around; their options are limited there anyway.

M, who experiences nausea everytime he sees John Howard, asks: “Why does Australia want tough leaders? What Australia needs is wise leaders, compassionate leaders.” Amen to that–but I can’t recall many: John Curtin maybe? Gough Whitlam? Not wise. Paul Keating? Flashes of wisdom but too much folly. Malcolm Fraser? Only since he retired. Who? Menzies? No, too deep a concept to sum him up, but he was much more of a Liberal than the current crop. Bob Hawke? Plenty of compassion, less wisdom. It’s a lot to ask, M. Depressing isn’t it?

If you want some idea of what wisdom looks like, revisit the International Declaration on Human Rights.

November 8: Responding to P P McGuiness

According to P P McGuiness, those eminent Australians (“elites”) who have expressed disagreement with the majority view (“out-of-touch”) on Australia’s current migration and refugee policies are, at heart, worshippers of Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mao “and assorted other mass murderers”.

It is always a bit rich when McGuiness attacks the “self-described intellectuals” and the “chattering classes”, as the Chairman of Free Balmain is all of the above himself. He was also in his youth strangely attracted to “assorted other mass murderers”, but in seeing the light he has adopted another -ism, populism and a species of ultra-libertarianism (pace Bernard Crick) that borders, in my view, on irresponsible government and social anarchy.

I am not looking for a man with a white horse, nor do I seriously see myself as an intellectual. As an ESL teacher who lives with a Chinese who would, had the populace been asked back in 1990, probably not now be an Australian citizen, I may be biassed.

Populism sounds like democracy, but is in fact as old as the hills and refers either to demagoguery or, more honourably, to the utopian concept of “direct democracy”. “Direct democracy” is another of those shattered myths of the hippy era, along with worship of Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh. When we elect a government we choose a set of elites (elected and non-elected) who we hope will serve the long-term interests of the nation. I see nothing wrong with that.

If elites and intellectuals are a critical presence, a conscience, in an otherwise ill-informed populace, they are merely fulfilling their proper function. It is because writers and such are articulate that we value them, though we all need to take what they say critically. If judges from time to time act on principle rather than political expediency, then cheer them on! Many of those who have spoken out on the boat people/asylum seekers are those who really are in a position to know what they are talking about–people with experience of the highest levels of diplomacy, the military and government. They are not mere journalists–or even ESL teachers.

In such ways we progress; but then progress is something else McGuinness would not believe in. Disillusion as an ideal is very romantic, but where does it leave us?

McGuinness actually writes well. Sometimes he writes good things well. Too often he writes seductive nonsense well. The latter is, in my view, what he has done today.

November 9: ..the case of David Flint

Professor David Flint has an opinion piece in The Australian today. It is worth a read; Flint gets a guernsey from his old school mate P P McGuinness in the Sydney High Old Boys’ Bulletin for October, incidentally.

Now I actually know Professor Flint. I have wined and dined with him and been a passenger in his car. He is a charming fellow. I really mean that. There is much else one could say about him, but one won’t. I even agree with some of what he says, but it is interesting how his hobby-horse infects all he says; he is a classic instance of the old school where the Church of England (especially the High Church variety) has been described as “the Tory Party at prayer”. He is almost a Dickensian character sprung to life, and in his own way another anti-elite elite, for he is elite (and dare I say a crashing snob to boot) as any elite could be! Perhaps we all become caricatures of ourselves in time.

Few people I have met so thoroughly inhabit a fantasy world, I really must say. It is a charming and cosy world, but it does not really exist outside his somewhat rarefied circle. It did once, perhaps, in England many decades ago, but bears no relationship to the Australia most of us live in. And yet his constitutional arguments are worth more than a passing glance at times, as he is a learned man, simply one who has devoted his learning to shoring up the essentially aristocratic world he has fantasised himself into. Such is my impression having observed him on several occasions.

I have also taken the opportunity to correct a spelling mistake in yesterday’s, and to clarify the notion of populism.

November 10: Australia votes…and so does Ninglun

So, I have just recently done my democratic duty. Now we wait. I am not optimistic about the outcome, though I do hope we may achieve the minor change that a Labor victory would bring, including (among other things) a somewhat harder ride for the present government’s rich and powerful friends–though they will continue to do very well I am sure– and a more liberal (in the true sense) approach to issues of multiculturalism, national identity, indigenous issues and social issues generally. I’ll stop boring you now.

On the way back from the polling booth I saw the almost terminally cute recent vice-captain of our school setting off to make his first vote. I urged him to vote the right way, which he said of course he would do. We did not actually discuss what the right way might be. (I do hope he did not misinterpret my words.) Another new voter of my acquaintance is in another electorate, in fact the same electorate, curiously enough, in which I voted Liberal on a number of occasions. (Come to think of it, even before I had the vote I scrutineered for the bastards–sorry!–in a local election; it was interesting, but I am not sure if it was legal, but the candidate wanted bodies on the tally room floor.) He was a local developer–you know the scene–and my father was a real estate agent in Jannali.

Curiouser still is that my old Presbyterian Church is a polling booth in that electorate.

With respect to yesterday’s diary, which may have seemed uncharitable, I should point out that I actually quite like Prof. Flint as a conversation partner and fellow-guest at a dinner. Pompous, indeed, but not without humour. I even agree with him that the Westminster system of government is better than the American model. However, while he seemed yesterday to rejoice in the fact that the American system stymied “elites” (or “pointy-headed intellectuals”/”eggheads” and other delightful American expressions), I actually think that is one of the things wrong with it.

I also do not want Australia to have an elected president; in fact I don’t want Australia to have any kind of president with the powers of an American one. If we become a republic (and there are still good symbolic reasons for that, even practical ones further down the track) I hope it is a minimalist model that gets up. Prime Minister Costello would probably see us right on that one 😉

Imagine what I might have said about Prof. Flint if I didn’t like him!

Finally, I decided to cheer myself and others up by buying a car. It had to be within budget, and although I won’t be driving it myself (though I may be allowed to use it), it had to be something a bit classic, I felt, and expressive of machismo. I think I have succeeded, and got change out of a ten-note too!

It is beside me as I write 🙂

November 11: Howard wins…wish the Melbourne Cup tips had been as good! Oh yes: 1815 Hansard!

Well, you can look forward to me getting back to book reviews rather than political rants now.

It’s over, but life goes on. The Senate could prove interesting with an increased Green presence.

I saw on NineMSN that there was in the New York Times some fairly scandalous reporting of our virtual reassertion of a White Australia Policy; I have looked, but all I get is this. And it isn’t too shocking. I do think we are going to regret the smarty-pants “solution” to the asylum seekers situation. (NB change of terminology, Mitchell.) There is the cost, the fact that they will not be able to stay forever in Nauru etc. and will probably end up, many of them, back here, and the fact that we will run out of viable dumping grounds.

Pauline Hanson is down and out at least. Bliss, joy!

Still, a government that brought us some honour over East Timor is not all bad. Let’s hope they respond to some of the serious criticism, especially that from eminent community members of whom many have been members of or supporters of the governing party in the past.

Kim Beazely, the Labor leader, has just conceded and spoke very well.

The car* is a success I feel. Sirdan thought it looked nice. (See last entry.)

*2021 — I have no idea now what this was about!

All examinees–good luck over the next few weeks….

I left out the bit about the 1815 Hansard — it was a reference to a funny incident at the Green Park Hotel concerning myself, Sirdan, and another friend — a rather opinionated one at times — PK.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 54 — more from 20 years ago

This time from October 2001.

02 Oct 2001

Despite what I said…breaking my silence

It has taken something really good (for a change!) to make me interrupt my break from this diary.

1. My nephew, who in an immaculate piece of historical research has demonstrated his descent on his mother’s side from Bungaree, who sailed with the explorer Matthew Flinders almost 200 years ago, has been honoured by having some of his research displayed in a Matthew Flinders exhibition at the State Library of NSW. He has also been interviewed on video, and that interview, along with some other things, will become part of the exhibit at the Museum of Sydney devoted to evidence of continuity of Aboriginal presence in the Sydney Region since European settlement.

2. Cafe Max was particularly lovely this afternoon….

04 Oct 2001

..house and site

M got into tidying yesterday, and became a bit…well…

Today I am on my way to coaching and called into Global Gossip Internet Cafe (of which I am now a member) in order to start the process of deleting the archives (except one or two) on Diary-X. (Internet Cafe saves hassles, is cheap, and makes a nice outing.)

I do this purge on Diary-X every few months, but in some ways it was nice to delete September! However, you can still read it on the Angelfire archive. That gives you September, but all the rest back to late 1999 can be found on that archive, for which see Diary Key below.

Really looking forward to after coaching. I have a book complete with proclamation (correctly spelt) 😉 Max is wonderful….

05 Oct 2001

…but I’ll rave quietly 😉

Our Prime Minister has called an election for November 10, nothing to do (of course) with his popularity going through the roof right now due to one rather dishonourable set of circumstances, and one other–the international situation. It’s not too hard to see the second one, but what of the first? I refer to a series of carefully targetted policy backflips, the cynicism of which even some of his supporters have noted. I also refer to the exquisitely absurd Tampa crisis, a mobilisation of moral panic and xenophobia which is simply breathtaking. In cost terms, we may as well have hired the QE2 and sent all the asylum seekers on a long cruise, but people really don’t seem to care. I’ve argued this one before (see September 2001 diary) and others have argued it better. So I’ll leave it there right now. Except to say I think Malcolm Fraser (ex-Prime Minister and Liberal Party one at that) has generally been quite right in his criticism of his ideological successor over the past few years.

J W Howard won’t be getting my vote–but I guess you knew that; then, neither will the Opposition unless they look a whole lot better. Yes, I will vote: it is compulsory to do so, but I will be studying the alternatives very carefully.

06 Oct 2001

A petition signed by many eminent Australians

In The Australian today there appeared a petition signed by two broadsheet pages worth of eminent and less well-known Australians, including a number I know, such as Nicholas Jose, William Yang, Helmut Bakaitis, Professor Ros Arnold of Sydney University, and of course Malcolm Fraser, ex-Prime Minister (same party as the present one). M. and I agreed we would have signed it ourselves had we had the chance, so here it is:

Australia and the Refugee Crisis

In today’s world, left shaken and uncertain by the terrorist acts of 11 September, it is more imperative than ever that Australia find just and humanitarian ways to respond to the growing refugee crisis.

We are outraged and ashamed at this country’s contemptible treatment of men, women and children seeking asylum in Australia, a country which has given a new home and new life to countless thousands of immigrants.

We are outraged and ashamed that our hard-won international reputation as a decent and tolerant democracy has been severely damaged.

We must not allow the events of 11 September and their aftermath to erode the principles of humanitarianism and justice that underpin our society. Rather, we must reaffirm those principles as essential to our democracy.

Confronted by a situation that is challenging for community and government alike, we call for Australia to abide by both the spirit and the letter of its international treaty obligations in offering sanctuary to victims of persecution who have fled the tyranny of their governments.

We call for a multi-partisan approach to address the global refugee crisis. We call for Australia to show regional and international leadership in developing a worldwide and long-term solution to this problem. This is one way Australia can act constructively in this volatile time.

Finally, we call for all Australians to draw strength and direction from the rich humanitarian heritage of our country, especially the value of the fair go.

I would sign that gladly, and I add that one reason I will not vote for either major party is that the current government has cynically manipulated the situation for supposed electoral advantage (that is, winning the One Nation vote for itself) and the Labor Party has connived in an unprincipled manner for the same purpose. Both stink, in my view, at least on this issue.

The 2000+ people who signed the above petition are not just ratbags, radicals or trendies, but include some of the most eminent and respected in the land.

I had an interesting discussion tonight with a military man who before long will be a lot closer to the action overseas than I am, and he agreed with this assessment of the current government’s handling of the so-called “queue-jumpers” 100%, I am pleased to say.

For further reading, see Peter Mares, Borderline, UNSW Press 2001. This book is excellent, and actually quite charitable towards Mr Ruddock, the current Immigration Minister, but gives inconvenient fact after inconvenient fact to expose the hollowness of the government line, made even worse by the manipulation since the book was written of the so-called crisis over the Tampa. (See September diary for more.)

But I promised not to rave too much…

[What follows] is from “Spectrum” in The Sydney Morning Herald 6 October 2001:

Barely-human nature

WORDS

By Ruth Wajnryb

Be honest. Can anyone truly look at a picture of a refugee family from the Tampa and still see these people as people? I can’t. I now see them in the terms in which they have been newly constructed in the language.

I try not to. I remind myself: these are people. They’re not refugees or asylum seekers or desperadoes or illegals or queuejumpers or boat people. They’re not cargo or contraband or human flotsam or victims of people-trading. They’re not part of a flood or a deluge that needs to be contained. They’re people.

It’s not easy. Over the past few weeks they’ve been languaged – packaged and presented up to us. Sometimes as deserving objects of our compassion. Sometimes as targets of our contempt. Somehow, along the way, they stopped being people.

They are the new dark hordes, a not-too-distant cousin of the yellow variety. They’re Middle Eastern, Afghans, Muslims (variously pronounced Mozlem, Muzlem, Moozlem. I am reminded that Churchill persistently mispronounced “Nazis” as “Narzies”. This allowed him to drag out the first vowel – one can only speculate why. I suspect that talkback radio’s “Moozlem” serves a similar purpose.)

How do you make a villain? Insanely, it helps to equate those-who-flee with the government-being-fled – a formula that would turn Einstein into a Nazi. It’s a peculiar way of thinking that serves only the one making the equation.

And what about us? We’ve constructed ourselves into a land on the brink of being deluged. Overcome by a tidal wave, a plague, disease. We have no will or power of our own; the pestilence will happen to us because illegal asylum-seekers will cause it to happen. Unless we act decisively, close the floodgates, send in the SAS. Make ourselves Tampa-proof. This is what we’ve been told.

This crisis seemed to be about 460 people, a ship, an island, a continent and a prime minister. But it’s not. It’s about language. The language we use to talk about these people has started to construct our attitude towards them. When and how and why did these people stop being people? How and when did these people become “illegals”? How did “illegals” come into the language as a plural countable noun? These are not people who have done, or might have done, or have yet to have it proved that they have done, illegal things. All these categories have been collapsed into one: “illegals”. Their entire identity – a wailing baby, an exhausted mother, a father trying to hold it all together, where they’ve come from, their memories, what fears they’ve had and still have, what hopes they hardly dare to have – all of this has been leaked out of the picture. Now they’re three illegals.

So it’s no longer possible to look at a picture of a refugee family without thinking: aren’t you just an illegal alien, a queuejumper, an economic refugee? Those clothes don’t look too bad. That haircut looks recent. Under the new rhetoric, there’s no neutral term for who they are.

The spotlight turned the people-who-have-been-smuggled into contraband. They’re like drugs, or weapons. They’re cargo. Stop the people transporting the cargo. Stop the governments making life such hell that people willingly become illegal cargo. Now they’re illegal cargo. They’re illegals.

Humankind has a long and colourful history of demonising, of stripping the other of their humanity, seeing them as animals or objects or vermin. (We needed a song, remember, to remind us that the Russians love their children.) Historian Colin Tatz says that atrocious acts such as genocide can happen only because the pathways to extermination have been made possible through language. Step 1 is to create “the other”. Step 2 places that other outside the human membrane. That’s what we’re up to.

I know they’ve been languaged because it has worked on me.

07 Oct 2001

More food for thought

The column above expresses some ideas that I have some sympathy with, in a mode I relate to professionally.

Ruth Wajnryb is an ESL teacher with considerable expertise in migration and cross-cultural communication.

Her analysis of the discourse in which controversy over “illegal immigrants” occurs is well worth noting.

Please consider it carefully. It is very sound linguistically.

Meanwhile today was quite delightful.

Yum Cha at the Emperor’s Garden was attended by the Empress, Sirdan, Malcolm, Mitchell and myself. Food was good, and conversation that continued in two other places was really good.

Mitchell got to hear Sirdan speak Afrikaans, and both Mitchell and I learned more about Sirdan than we had known before. His is an interesting story, from Zimbabwe to South Africa to London to New Zealand to Australia.

Malcolm and the Empress went to see a recent Australian film, The Bank, and loved it so much that they propose seeing it again at 11.45 next Sunday! I, and perhaps Mitchell (who is invited) may join them.

Conversation resumed with Sirdan, the Empress, Malcolm and myself at the Albury (where my drinking was modest and not all alcoholic–so I did know the way to Surry Hills!).

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The Albury

It should be added that a slight poetic licence may apply to Malcolm’s stories; I really did know the way home.

More food for thought

This link to an article in The Atlantic Monthly is worth a look. Harking back to Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies, originally written during World War II, the writer, from a moderate conservative perspective, brings us back to core problems confronting the existence of liberal democracy when faced with closed minds or societies both within and without. I find the ideas presented must be taken into account when thinking of the current world situation.

There has been a disturbing report of the latest boatload of asylum seekers, turned back to Indonesia by the Australian Navy–in itself arguably the right or wrong thing to do. The report claims that some of the people on the boat began to throw their children over the side. This is very emotive stuff. You know my interest in the topic, and I now include a link to Robert Manne’s latest column on it. I share his perception that public debate on issues such as multiculturalism has soured, and fear too that the present major parties–both of them–have contributed to this display of Hansonism.

“Children overboard” was, it turned out, a lie and a national disgrace.

I said to Ian Smith last night that I suspect my core ideas are actually Dickensian, by which I mean that the spirit in which Dickens viewed both religion and society is congenial to me. In fact I suspect I imbibed it at my grandfather’s knee–the same grandfather who counselled me when young to watch for the knife concealed behind the back when you saw people praying!

2021: See also In Remembrance: Ruth Wajnryb, Ph.D. (1948-2012).

13 Oct 2001

No politics today

However, that does not mean I won’t get on my soap box at some stage in the future.

While I was at the doctor’s surgery the other day I picked up a little book called Brief encounters: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Associated Therapies for General Practitioners by Alex Tahmindjis, and was interested having had a little experience in this area, directly as a client, and indirectly with others.

The book gave a good summary of depression, anxiety disorders, seretonin levels, and so on.

Improving one’s seretonin levels is one element in treating depression and anxiety. Tahmindjis discusses the role of such medication as Zoloft (which did not work well for me), exercise (which I should do more of), cognitive behaviour therapy (which I have had some experience of), setting achievable tasks (which I sometimes have problems with!) and touching.

“Holding hands boosts feelings of comfort and happiness. If you have a partner, start touching more… No partner? Well, how about friends…” True, isn’t it? Also, one can in such a situation hug in the mind, if you know what I mean; the book does not say so, but I suspect thinking about such a person probably affects seretonin levels too.

Now isn’t it nicer sometimes to think of things like this instead of politics, world problems and matters of intellect? It could be that such a grounding for oneself actually helps when it comes to dealing with other things. What do you think?

Much nicer than politics or the state of the world.

18 Oct 2001

Empress sends naked men…and other mysteries and ruminations

A few days ago the Empress, whose hard disk must be rather like a nudist colony, sent me some not unattractive images (three in fact) that purport to be Ian Thorpe in the nude, and in varying degrees of excitement. The other variation is in his body, which either is very changeable, or the images are fakes. I await the chance to have them authenticated by someone who may know 😉

Our friend A., a sailor, is among those going off to war. At first I wondered how he knew this two weeks ago, but probably he is on the ship that was going to the Gulf anyway to replace one that is coming home. The deployment of Australian forces in the War on Terrorism has bipartisan support here, although two of the minor parties, the Greens and the Democrats, have reservations. Some military experts also question the open-ended nature of the commitment, given that the Australian Defence Forces, while very good, are also very small. The question then is how long we can maintain a commitment, how many can be spared (given the Government still continues its rather odd policy on asylum seekers, the true cost of which is now emerging), and whether (though all deny it) conscription is further down the track.

Naturally we wish the men and women who go all the best and hope they all come back. Unlike the USA, it should be noted, gay men and women are officially among those serving–A. is one of them, and an outspoken one at that.

University exams loom. At the same stage, when I was seventeen and three months, I was a nervous wreck, absolutely convinced I would fail Ancient History (I didn’t) and having completed less than the whole of my Latin course. I passed Latin, but was told if the rest of my paper had been the same standard as my Horace, I most certainly would not have. I did not achieve the Distinction level in English I had hoped for, despite my tutor having encouraged me to consider Honours. I almost gave up on the idea, and was very flattered when the tutor rang me at home after the results came out, telling me to ignore them and do Honours anyway. I did–and got through.

At nineteen and three months (being born in July) I was in Third Year, doing the Honours English Course (I got a Distinction) and, despite again being convinced I would fail (Asian) History, I actually came first! Much to my surprise.

The following year I spent working in an Insurance Company, due to family finances going belly-up. But that’s another story.

Martin Place Sydney 1962 — I worked here in 1963

What a conservative, straight young man I was in those years. I would have run a mile from someone like me if I had ever met such a person. Not that I had much idea such people existed. I just alternated wanking, working and praying and hoped for the best, finding solace with my Christian friends at university and at church, questioning very little politically, and reading my Bible every day. I was a sweet, if naive, young person: cute too? Well, I’m not so sure about that…

Oh my –the things I put online twenty years ago, eh!

Update: on Children Overboard and the 2001 Election.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 46 — not too cheerful but still good…

God knows what joy Gladys Berejiklian or Brad Hazard, NSW Premier and Health Minister respectively, will bring us at 11am today! Yesterday was another record.

Needless to say all sorts of party political argy-bargy ensues and it is as plain as a pikestaff that some things could have been done better at both state and federal levels. I do not propose to add to that. But I do sympathise with this tweet from Stephanie Dowrick:

Who else finds it unbearable to hear @GladysB – on worst numbers day & with 12 deaths – lecturing “other States” about how they will have to “learn to live with #Covid”? Does she have no comprehension that it was a #NSW #Quarantine breach plus #Fed #VaccineFails that led to this?

I don’t have any doubt at all that infallibility is not part of the DNA of ANY of our politicians or — perhaps even more so — of our keyboard warriors or self-appointed pundits. Nor, such is the nature of things, are the true experts infallible — though they are a hell or a lot more worth noting than said pundits etc.

I had to attend the Wollongong Medical Centre yesterday — face-to-face!

Necessary trip to the medical centre and chemist this morning. The COVID security at the medical centre is much enhanced. You are greeted by a person in full PPI who asks if you have an appointment (I did) and QR code scanned or details taken — the latter in my case as I still have a dumb phone.

A positive note now, however, of a most articulate expert, a virologist in fact (which just might make him relevant!) and an interviewer who is cool, intelligent and really asks the right questions came my way from the US yesterday. This is totally admirable. The interviewer concerned is David Pakman, who impresses me more and more. I said when posting it to my Facebook:

Well worth careful watching. Unlike so many on YouTube or Sky or Fox, this person is qualified to talk about the subject! Information, reliable information, not loud-mouthing from click-baiting opinion mongers! Or drongoes.

Yes, a real honest-to-goodness virologist! How radical of David Pakman to talk to such a person — when he could have asked Alan Jones or Craig Kelly….

Except David is lucky. He has probably never heard of either twerp.

Incidentally, this virologist shoots down the Wuhan Lab Leak meme as a politically motivated distraction — and highly unlikely.

Vincent Racaniello, virology professor at Columbia University and host of the podcast This Week in Virology, joins David to discuss the pandemic, COVID-19, the coronavirus, vaccines, contagion, incubation periods, and much more.

Professor Racaniello contributes to this expert blog, which ranges beyond COVID. Looks like a reliable source.

Our local TV news, WIN, had a really interesting story yesterday too — for once the LNP has done something right! Even Labour Council Secretary Arthur Rorris thinks this is a great idea! And, the Union Movement generally.

A wind farm off the Illawarra coast is a step closer after legislation enabling development was introduced to parliament.

It’s billed as the opportunity of a lifetime for the region, with OceanEx Energy hoping to start the landmark project within six years.

To alter the tone considerably, I happily shared a meme yesterday and many friends endorsed it. Indeed, who are they? And why should we care?