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 — 42 — let’s go back 15 years

Surely everything in the garden was lovely back then? Well, one advantage/disadvantage of having such an extensive blog archive is that I can actually call that year back! Or at least, whatever I chose to blog about!

I was not all find of Prime Minister John Howard!

He has transformed Australia…

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

… and sadly this is true, except I would say “deformed”. The image above derives ultimately from The Arabian Nights, of course, though this one is from Marvel Masterworks. You know the story, don’t you? “In the story of Sinbad the Sailor, the Old Man of the Sea, hoisted on the shoulders of Sinbad, clung there and refused to dismount. Sinbad released himself from his burden by making the Old Man drunk.” Getting rid of the Garden Gnome may not be so easy.

Yes, that is what I thought of John Howard. hence my nickname for him — which I still rather like. The links in this post are to 2006 Herald stories, so they may or may not work.

A grey garden gnome

Scenes from life under the Great Grey Garden Gnome of Kirribilli House

1. Too late John, my trust has been destroyed. “Liberal Party supporter and mother of four, Debbie Bridgman, said she felt ‘ripped off’ by the Howard Government’s pledge before the last election to keep rates low.”

2. Howard begs MPs: don’t stray on asylum. “JOHN HOWARD pleaded with government backbenchers in his party room yesterday not to vote with Labor on new legislation to process offshore all asylum seekers arriving by boat. It would be a disaster if government MPs voted with Labor, Mr Howard said, calling on those opposed to the controversial legislation to instead abstain. But in reply, the small ‘l’ Liberal MP, Petro Georgiou, said he would be voting against the legislation because it breached an agreement struck with Mr Howard last year, and Liberal values meant voting on principles.” I’m with Petro on this.

3. Teacher morale at rock bottom, survey finds. Oh the joys of the Howardite workplace “reforms” and also of their (and our) naive preference for private schools! “NEWINGTON College has threatened to sue a parent whose company conducted a survey that found 43 per cent of the school’s teachers were considering quitting, and just 13 per cent have faith in the headmaster and council. The study was commissioned by the teachers’ representative body, the Common Room, after a failed attempt by the headmaster, David Scott, to force the 40 most senior staff to reapply for their positions on lower wages with shorter holidays. The author is a management consultant.” See too Funds review to exclude public schools.

4. This one is close to home, as much the same has happened to Lord Malcolm. This really, really sucks. You can work, teen told.

MATTHEW PEARCE has leukaemia. With it comes aching limbs, blood tranfusions, lumbar punctures and being forced to stay at home or in hospital, leaving the 16-year-old cut off from his friends.

But, according to Centrelink, leukaemia is not a permanent disability, making him ineligible for the disability support pension.

Matthew’s mother, Vicki, had hoped to receive the payment to help cover the loss of her income after she quit her job as a Perth cleaner to care for her son.

Instead, she received a letter last month telling her that Matthew had failed the assessment test which disability pension applicants must pass to receive the payment.

And it gets worse; read the whole story.

Why on earth do we tolerate this government?

I looked for hopeful signs, as I still do.

Two posts with heart in a troubled world

The first is a poem by George El-Hage of Columbia University, written July 29, 2006. It is on the Tabsir site and the title is “A Letter to the Children of Qana”. It is quite a long poem. Here is a short sample.

We sprinkled you with flowers
And wiped your faces with the covers of the holy books.
Alas, the Torah did not inspire us
Nor did the Gospel save us or the Qur’an console us.

All of us,
Both sides of the border,
We are all Cain
We are all Yazid
We are all Judas.
We are all vampires and murderers
And we are all responsible for your sacred blood and your innocent souls.

The second on the Killing the Buddha site is Searching for Sufis by Jill Hamburg Coplan.

…I was raised with two religions, neither one Islamic: Judaism and Zionism. In fact, I’m a not-so-distant relative of Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion. Probably it was rebelliousness, but I’d always felt a gravitational pull towards the Arab and Muslim side of things. Late in 1992, with Communism’s fall, I suspected that, as two minorities (“nationalities” was the preferred Soviet term), the Jews and the Muslims were heading for interesting times. Central Asia was also appealing as the birthplace of Sufism — mystical, ecstatic, meditative Islam. I’d read that Sufi mathematics, medicine, and poetry, developed in the medieval courts of Avignon and Andalusia, had spread from there to permeate Europe’s Enlightenment. Sufi masters were jesters and folk heroes. Carl Jung equated their mental-healing techniques with psychotherapy.

And how about this: Through the centuries, wherever Sufism held sway — like Ottoman Turkey — Jews could find safe haven. If I could find a Sufi, I thought, I could approach him with genuine respect, bringing my own real curiosity about mysticism, and produce for American newspaper readers a kind of encounter that might help them understand Islam in a different way than a demonizing story about a radical hostage-taker or half-crazed suicide attacker ever could. And if not, well, Judaism reserves its mystical texts and practices for old male scholars who’ve mastered everything else. Perhaps the more tolerant Sufis would open a door for me…

Read them both.

This short post was a bit depressing — still is! And now we are over twenty years into a new century!

A place to reflect on human folly…

…and the obscenities we visit on ourselves. Go to Death Tolls for the Man-made Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century. You will be drawn into a journey you won’t soon forget.

Now the buzz word among reactionaries is “woke”! But this is much the same and I am happily guilty of both.

Sam, this is so true!

Read Sam (Queer Penguin) on political (in)correctness.

There’s been much theorising (I couldn’t be arsed linking stuff today as I’m writing this in about 20 mins prior to my first Monday morning meeting – just trust me) that Howard won the 1996 election as a counter-offensive to the politically-correct Keating government; middle Australians (whoever the hell they are) felt left behind by the PC thugs who’d hijacked Labor for their own elitest and ultimately irrelevant causes, such as reconciliation, becoming a republic, multiculturalism and so on.

But am I the only one who reckons the PC pendulum has swung massively in the other direction? That these days the modern mainstream discourse is strongly grounded in the Right’s court? Between the ruling federal government (and, dare I say, several state ones too), highest profile media commentators and, increasingly, bloggers, there seem to be a whole new set of rules for dictating thought and opinion – what are the “right” things to think and feel and what are “wrong”.

No, you aren’t the only one. You are absolutely right, even correct! See also my earlier post PC but with a sense of humour .

OK, another topic….

Wisdom abounds if you would seek it…

Or so I like to think. I have been finding much in the challenging pages of If God is Love by Philip Gulley & James Mulholland.

President Bush, in the days after September 11, suggested we were fighting to defend our way of life. But what if our way of life is unjust and oppressive toward much of the world?

When we fail to acknowledge our complicity in the injustice in the world, we often replace real justice — economic and political equality — with retribution. What we seek is not to rectify injustice, but to defend our inordinate piece of the pie. The answer is “homeland security” rather than global equality. We seek an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth from people blinded by rage with no food to chew. Unfortunately, when we attack the poor, we seldom do justice. Ungracious justice is merciless, justifying the ugly and violating the principles we pretend to value.

It is nice to know such Christian prophecy (in the proper sense) still exists in the USA. Unfortunately, many Christians, locked into fundamentalism or narrow dogma or into a literalist view of scripture, reject what this utterly Christian book has to say, the true reason being, I suspect, statements like the one I just quoted, which Americans (and the world) really do need to hear.

Yesterday I mentioned that amazing software package that delivers me 4000+ classics, among which is Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ. (Note that The Communist Manifesto is also in the package, and so is The Origin of Species.) According to Wikipedia:

He was born at Kempen, Germany (40 miles northwest of Cologne) in 1380 and died near Zwolle (52 miles east-north-east of Amsterdam) in 1471. His paternal name was Hemerken or Hämmerlein, “little hammer.”

In 1395 he was sent to the school at Deventer conducted by the Brethren of the Common Life. He became skillful as a copyist and was thus enabled to support himself. Later he was admitted to the Augustinian convent of Mount Saint Agnes near Zwolle, where his brother John had been before him and had risen to the dignity of prior. Thomas received priest’s orders in 1413 and was made subprior in 1429.

His classic treatise on the religious life is shot through with the almost Manichaean dichotomy of flesh and spirit characteristic of that age; mind you, I suspect hedonism, or exaltation of the flesh, is equally wrong. A life predicated on crystal meth and sex seems to me as inhuman as any. But there is still much wisdom in the old Thomas.

TURN your attention upon yourself and beware of judging the deeds of other men, for in judging others a man labors vainly, often makes mistakes, and easily sins; whereas, in judging and taking stock of himself he does something that is always profitable.

We frequently judge that things are as we wish them to be, for through personal feeling true perspective is easily lost.

In another tradition altogether, ABC Radio National’s Encounter was quite fascinating this week. I happened to hear it early this morning, having woken very early. See Heaven Doesn’t Speak, an account of Confucius that was both fascinating and informative. This is part of the Australian mix now and we can all learn from it.

Confucius

Then right near the end of the month — strangely relevant today! However, I would no longer put much store in the 9/11 conspiracy theories Weiner toys with.

Let future historians decide how well we have been led…

When they do, they could do worse than attend to Bernard Weiner, whose “Twenty Things We Now Know Five Years After 9/11” was referred to me by The Poet, with the note that he would send “The Boys” to get me if I did not publish this here. No need, Poet. It is indeed a masterly summation, with some strong words thrown in with the undeniable facts.

In sum, we know that permanent-war policy abroad and police-state tactics at home are taking us into a kind of American fascism domestically and an imperial foreign policy overseas. All aspects of the American polity are infected with the militarist Know-Nothingism emanating from the top, with governmental and vigilante-type crackdowns on protesters, dissent, free speech, freedom of assembly happening regularly on both the local and federal levels. More and more, America is resembling Germany in the early 1930s, group pitted against group while the central government amasses more and more power and control of its put-upon citizens, and criticizing The Leader’s policies is denounced as unpatriotic or treasonous.

The good news is that after suffering through six-plus years of the Cheney-Bush presidency, the public’s blinders are falling off. The fall from power of Tom DeLay is a good symbol of this, and the true nature of these men and their regime is finally starting to hit home. Cheney is acknowledged as the true power behind the throne, and Bush is seen for what he is: an insecure, uncurious, arrogant, dangerous, dry-drunk bully who is endangering U.S. national interests abroad with his reckless and incompetently-managed wars, his wrecking of the U.S. economy at home, and with his over-reaching in all areas.

If a Democratic president and vice president had behaved similarly to Bush and Cheney, they’d have been in the impeachment dock in a minute.

And speaking of “Know-Nothingism emanating from the top”, check today’s Sydney Morning Herald front page story Weapons cover-up revealed: “The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, issued instructions to suppress a damning letter about the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the war, a former senior diplomat says.”

Sigh.

The Chris Lilley story took me back to the Howard era — eventually.

And what a miserable place that turned out to revisit! As you will see, I was not only still teaching then but in an area (ESL) that his particularly anal retentive philosophy impacted badly.

But to the Chris Lilley story. As I noted on Facebook: “I saw that original series “Our Boys” — it was one of the best education documentaries ABC has ever made. I was in awe at the teachers I saw in it, and what the school was doing in circumstances I may not have coped well with. At that time I was still teaching.

“I have definitely changed my mind about Chris Lilley.

“‘Young Filipe Mahe faced tremendous difficulties — the death of his dad, family illness and undiagnosed dyslexia — only to be ‘used to create a national figure of fun’. This background story to Chris Lilley’s ‘Jonah’ caricature is quite sad’.”

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That’s a still from the original Our Boys, showing the young Felipe. I went back through my own archives to see how I and others had reacted to Chris Lilley’s shows when they first came out. I am not totally ashamed, as I did have reservations.

Mr Rabbit, a teacher, younger than Chris Lilley who turns 40 next year, thinks Ja’mie is about as funny as childhood cancer.  Maximos, a former colleague of mine in SBHS days, could not watch after Episode 1. The Sydney Morning Herald critic Annabel Ross has a good valedictory on the last episode, screened last night.

As others have pointed out, it’s hard to know if Lilley’s critique is aimed at private school girls like Ja’mie or at the society that has bred them.

Ultimately, though, it all feels a bit so what. There’s been no redemption, no downfall, no real sense that Ja’mie has learned anything at all. But maybe that’s the point.

Ja’mie lives without consequence, and should temper tantrums and tears not win her arguments, the rest of her problems can usually be summarily dismissed with a breezy “whatevs”.

Ja’mie shed a third of its viewers over its Australian run, dividing critics, and attracting mainly brickbats in the US this week when it debuted on HBO.

The announcement that high school bully Jonah will be the next Lilley character to get his own series will doubtless delight many fans. But I can’t help wondering if, like Ja’mie, it will feel a little like more of the same.

Perhaps it’s time for Lilley to go back to the drawing board and unleash a new creation….

I watched the whole thing.  Having taught in state schools but also in three private schools – and the South African references were very pertinent to one of those – I found myself having to cringe but acknowledge the degree of truth in Chris Lilley’s merciless satire. His performance is truly amazing – for a guy pushing 40 now! Linguistically he has a great ear. But I did find the whole thing just TOO dark, too, well, cruel.

I had posted on Facebook earlier on another story from the Sydney Morning Herald: “This really has affected my reaction to that Chris Lilley character. I recall that episode of the excellent ABC documentary on Canterbury Boys High, which has unfortunately disappeared into the for sale only department — if indeed it is still available there. In the comment section I will place a summary of it, and in another comment a more recent video about the school.

“It does now seem cruel, mean-spirited even. And I feel soiled by the fact I actually enjoyed it.”

‘I knew that Jonah was me’: former Tongan schoolboy reveals anger and pain about Chris Lilley character.

You will find an account of the 2004  episode of Reality Bites: Our Boys Filipe there.

Welcome to Canterbury Boys High, Prime Minister John Howard’s old school and the setting for a compelling four-part documentary series, Our Boys, screening on ABC TV from Tuesday February 10 [2004] at 8pm.

Our Boys follows the lives of five teenage students and their teachers at this cash-strapped government school in south-west Sydney.

Filmed over a school year, it tells the personal stories of today’s public education system – a school ‘starved of funds’, boys ‘at risk’ and teachers going far beyond their traditional classroom roles.

Canterbury Boys has a rich mix of nationalities – 90 per cent of the boys come from non-English speaking backgrounds. Many are refugees or come from disadvantaged homes.

This week, cheeky, disruptive 15 year-old Filipe Mahe from Tonga has slipped through the net. He’s made it into Year 9 without being able to read or write….

Have a look at Canterbury Boys High more recently.

Yes, back when former PM John Howard was a boy Canterbury was a selective school like Sydney Boys High and Fort Street. Over time it had become a multicultural school serving a disadvantaged local area.

I thought again of the Howard era. I was none too fond of him at the time and have the blog to prove it!  On the sadly vanished Diary-X I wrote:

19-20 January 2004

Dear me, I was annoyed yesterday!

And rightly so, even if perhaps instead of notorious hypocrite I could just have said canny politician, and for being disrespectful I might have written totally despising. As Labor frontbencher Julia Gillard quite properly said last year, the evil of the Howard regime has been the imposition of a bleak political correctness of the most ruthless kind upon what once was a country showing signs of developing values and attitudes more in tune with the age in which we currently live.

It’s time for those who oppose Howard’s agenda to admit that he and his helpers have succeeded spectacularly.

The nation is in the grip of a neo-conservative political correctness that is out of touch with the values of the majority of the Australian people. It’s a political correctness that has elevated values that most Australians don’t share: individual selfishness and a strange envy of the less fortunate because they are receiving Government assistance.

It’s a political correctness that has produced greater divisions in our society between the haves and the have-nots, indigenous and non-indigenous, new migrants and old. And it is a political correctness that puts winning before all else, where ethics, integrity and values like equality and looking after others less fortunate don’t rate.

John Howard has won his culture war, for now.

My argument is that it’s time for Australians of all political persuasions who don’t like this new political correctness – from Green on the left, to small-l liberal on the right – to wake up to the fact that they have lost the culture war.

Australia has been changed for the worse by John Howard. We can make it better again.

Howard is guilty of squandering important spiritual advances made over the decades since the 1960s and 1970s. He has done this with deliberation, partly out of his own small-minded convictions, but even more so out of “wedge politics”, knowing that the paranoia unleashed some years back by the Hanson phenomenon could be harnessed as a key to power.

So I am glad I sounded off yesterday, and particularly glad that I transcribed the NSW Department of Education’s statement about values. That is a fine document, distilling much thinking — indeed much of the spiritual advance Howard is so antithetical to. True, it is a statement of principles: but isn’t it nice to have principles? Also, from my experience, state schools do try, often in very difficult circumstances to put these principles into practice….

Howard’s agenda:

1) To spend as little as possible on public education, skewing what funding there is towards the private sector, so that privatising education will seem both desirable and necessary some time in the future, and ideologically in keeping with everything else this government stands for. One therefore undermines public education at every turn, without seeming to do so, as Australians are in fact rather fond of their century and more of public (free, compulsory and secular) education: it has been a core Australian value.

2) The teachers have a powerful trade union. The government is intent on destroying the union movement, or having a totally compliant one. It is now the turn of teachers, wharfies and other undesirables having been dealt with some time ago.

If there are flawed values at work in all this, just look to The Lodge (or Kirribilli House) to see where they are coming from….

Blogging the 2010s — 104 — November 2010 — c

In this month, though by now in Wollongong, I was working on my last assignment as an amateur unpaid journalist on the South Sydney Herald — and it was of national import! I remain proud of my swan song.

In the matter of David Hicks

In 1999-2000 at least two young Australians were wandering about Pakistan. One of them was David Hicks.

david-hicks

The other was M.

m99

Both of them passed through places such as Quetta and Peshawar.

There is a picture of M in an arms bazaar in Peshawar dramatically holding an AK47. Both of them were in the Pakistani part of Kashmir at times. M’s six months in Pakistan (in two stages) was mere travelling; David’s was that and rather more. M took no courses and visited no camps. M has nothing to confess to; David famously confessed in order to be sprung from Guantanamo. I doubt that confession is worth much.

I have been reading David Hicks’s smiley-happy005smiley-happy005[6]smiley-happy005[8]Guantanamo: My Journey (2010).

One telling item concerns the picture of Hicks above, much used to confirm his evil activities. In fact it was taken in Albania where Hicks volunteered for Kosovo, ultimately seeing no action and under the overarching authority of NATO.

CIMG5056

He and some slipper-wearing mates are in fact clowning around with some empty weapons. The picture does not show Hicks in action on behalf of the Taliban in Afghanistan, though that is what viewers of the cropped pic were led to believe. An excellent example of framing changing meaning.

No, Hicks isn’t a hero, but neither is he the demonic supporter of terrorism we were led to believe. Some have no doubts that he is eevil: Miranda Devine for example. On the other hand see two good posts by Irfan Yusuf who knows rather more about the context of Hicks’s activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan than Miranda seems to: COMMENT: Why David Hicks matters … and OPINION: Artful dodger does himself no favours on David Hicks …  The Artful Dodger is John Howard and Yusuf is referring to Howard’s response to being confronted by Hicks on Q&A.

A recent episode of the ABC’s Q&A almost became a battle of the memoirs. John Howard was the sole guest, his appearance fitting very neatly in with his publisher’s promotion schedule. Howard was buoyed by audience responses to his mantras about the economy and his gentle pokes in the eyes of Peter Costello and Malcolm Fraser.
Then, out of the blue, David Hicks’s face appears via webcam. Contrary to the image Howard and others drew of him as a raving terrorist, Hicks calmly and in a dignified manner posed Howard his question.
Hicks wanted to simply understand why his own government showed indifference to his incarceration and torture at Guantanamo. Hicks also wanted to know what Howard thought of military tribunals. Hicks even ended his question with a polite “thank you”. Osama bin Laden would have been pulling his beard out at Hicks’s demeanour toward Howard.
It was obvious that Howard was rattled by Hicks’s very appearance, let alone by questions Howard avoided for so many years in office. At first, Howard played politician by avoiding the question, instead reminding us of how lucky we were to have a free exchange on an ABC that members of his government tried ever so hard to restrict and intimidate.
Howard also reminded us that there was …

… a lot of criticism of that book from sources unrelated to me and I’ve read some very severe criticisms of that book.

Also worth looking at: It’s right to write about Gitmo stay by Cynthia Banham; For the first time, David Hicks tells by Chris Johnston; David Hicks’ journey by Kellie Tranter…..

In the matter of David Hicks — 2

On the 8th I mentioned that I was reading David Hicks’s recently published account of his life. I now find myself preparing a review for the December South Sydney Herald.

In addition to the reviews linked to the earlier post I have been examining other resources on the subject of David Hicks. Any review of his book must include reference to the documentary The President Versus David Hicks. David Stratton:

The troubling documentary ‘The President Versus David Hicks’, which screened on SBS earlier this year and is only now getting a cinema release, is in effect a profile of David Hicks’ father, Terry. Faced with a situation no parent should have to contemplate, his son imprisoned for years by a foreign power which won’t allow his family access, his own government refusing to intervene on behalf of its citizen. Terry Hicks sets off, accompanied by film-maker Curtis Levy, to follow in his son’s footsteps in an effort to find out what happened to him.

We discover that David, a seemingly average Aussie kid from Adelaide, son of a broken marriage and with a failed relationship, and two children, behind him, converted to Islam and determined to fight what he saw as injustice towards Muslims, first in Kosovo, then in Kashmir and finally Afghanistan, where he became increasingly radicalised.

Terry Hicks is a wonderful character, a real Aussie battler, and very tolerant of some of the less attractive things he discovers about his son during his odessy. The film was made before David Hicks was formally charged, but it still raises once again all the questions about justice, respect for international law and the apparent indifference of Australian authorities to the fate of one of their citizens. This is a documentary which every concerned Australian should see…

The letters used in that documentary are glossed over somewhat in the recent book….

There has also been an opportunity to look again at the thoroughly admirable Michael Mori….

I’ve often wondered what became of Mori later. Here is the answer from Wikipedia.

Following Hicks’ departure from Guantanamo Bay to complete his sentence in Yatala Prison, South Australia – on or about May 20, 2007 – Mori was re-assigned as a staff judge advocate, or legal adviser, to the commanders of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. He has twice been passed over for promotion since taking on the Hicks case.[6]

Mori was presented, in June 2007, with an honorary membership of the Australian Bar Association for his defence of David Hicks.[7] In October 2007, he was awarded a civil justice award from the Australian Lawyers Alliance as “recognition by the legal profession of unsung heroes who, despite personal risk or sacrifice, have fought to preserve individual rights, human dignity or safety”.[8]

In September 2010, Mori took the navy to court, alleging that his 2009 promotion was delayed due to bias by the selection board.[9]

Now that guy is a hero!

I also have looked into Lex Lasry QC on Hicks’s trial: David Hicks Trial. The Parliamentary Library has a useful chronology: Australians in Guantanamo Bay…..

In the matter of David Hicks — 3

My South Sydney Herald project continues; the deadline is three days time.

Now I have discovered something about David Hicks’s guilty plea: it was what in US law is known as an Alford Plea: that is, a plea you make when you don’t necessarily believe you are guilty, or in fact believe you are not guilty. Now isn’t that interesting?….

In the matter of David Hicks — 4

This is the article to appear in December’s South Sydney Herald. The blog and the SSH hardly overlap, hence this preview….

Mr Howard vs David Hicks

A friend of mine was in Pakistan at the same time as David Hicks, and in many of the same places: Peshawar, Quetta, Pakistani Kashmir. There’s even a photo of my friend in Pashtun costume holding an AK47. That was a joke photo taken in a Peshawar arms bazaar. My friend went east and met the Dalai Lama. David Hicks went west and met Osama Bin Laden. My friend came home much sooner.

When David Hicks memorably confronted John Howard on Q&A in October he asked two questions: was I treated humanely? and was the Military Commission process fair? Howard answered neither question, applying the airbrush liberally  to what really happened to Hicks between 2001 and 2008.

After distracting us with a motherhood statement about what a great country we have to allow Hicks to bail him up like this, Howard spun first into irrelevance: “Now, having said that, can I simply say that I defend what my government did in relation to Iraq, in relation to the military commissions….” How did Iraq get into this?

He went on: “We put a lot of pressure on the Americans to accelerate the charges being brought against David Hicks and I remind the people watching this program that David Hicks did plead guilty to a series of offences and they, of course, involved him in full knowledge of what had happened on 11 September, attempting to return to Afghanistan and rejoin the people with whom he had trained. So let’s understand the reality of that David Hicks pleaded guilty to.”

TONY JONES: Mr Howard, on this question of him pleading guilty, Mr Hicks says in his own book that his military lawyer, David (sic) Mori, was told by your staff that Hicks wouldn’t be released from Guantanamo Bay unless he pleaded guilty. Was that your position?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I’m not aware of any such exchange but, look, I mean, there been a lot of criticism of that book by sources quite unrelated to me and I’ve read some very, very severe criticisms of that book…

Howard’s late-blooming desire to see Hicks returned to Australia had everything to do with VP Cheney’s visit to Australia in February 2007, when the deal that led to Hicks’s “conviction” was stitched up, and behind that was the 2007 Election. Howard knew the issue was losing him votes.

Colonel Morris Davis, the prosecutor in the case, recalls that in January 2007 he received a call from his superior Jim Haynes asking him how quickly he could charge David Hicks. (Now an attorney for Chevron, Haynes had in 2005 told Davis: “Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. We’ve been holding these guys for years. How are we going to explain that? We’ve got to have convictions.”) David Hicks was eventually charged on 2 February 2007, even though the details about how the commissions should be conducted weren’t published until late April. (Interview Amy Goodman and Col. Morris Davis 16 July 2008.)

Davis resigned from the Military Commission after prosecuting David Hicks, stating that “what’s taking place now, I would call neither military or justice.”

Howard assured us that the US had a long tradition of Military Commissions. He failed to mention that this particular Commission had been struck down by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Hamden v Rumsfeld in June 2006 so that what David Hicks was dealing with was a reinvented version, but as much a kangaroo court, to quote a senior British judge, as the previous edition.

More  airbrushing. And there’s more.

David Hicks’s guilty plea was an odd beast, an Alford Plea, something peculiar to US law. It is the plea of guilt you make when you don’t believe you are guilty but do believe the court is likely to find in favour of the prosecution. I may also add that David Hicks was never at any stage charged with or found guilty of terrorism. Some of the charges in Gitmo seem to have been invented specifically to justify the imprisonment of people there. Mr Howard passes over such technicalities.

Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, summed up his view of Guantanamo in an article published in November 2010.

…no intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed in the relevant communities such as intelligence and law enforcement. This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric–continuing even now in the case of Cheney–about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation and for secret prisons and places such as GITMO.

Curiously, one item in Hicks’s book that even he had doubts about has just been shown to be exactly as Hicks tells it: the existence at Guantanamo of a “Camp NO”, so called because it didn’t officially exist. Murders took place there, according to Marine Sergeant Joe Hickman (Harpers: “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides’: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle.”)

Nearly 200 men remain imprisoned at Guantánamo. In June 2009, six months after Barack Obama took office, one of them, a thirty-one-year-old Yemeni named Muhammed Abdallah Salih, was found dead in his cell. The exact circumstances of his death, like those of the deaths of the three men from Alpha Block, remain uncertain.

Those charged with accounting for what happened—the prison command, the civilian and military investigative agencies, the Justice Department, and  ultimately the attorney general himself—all face a choice between the rule of law and the expedience of political silence. Thus far, their choice has been unanimous.

Not everyone who is involved in this matter views it from a political perspective, of course. General Al-Zahrani grieves for his son, but at the end of a lengthy interview he paused and his thoughts turned elsewhere. “The truth is what matters,” he said. “They practiced every form of torture on my son and on many others as well. What was the result? What facts did they find? They found nothing. They learned nothing. They accomplished nothing.”

I have been reading Guantanamo: My Journey very carefully for around four weeks. I have also done a lot of fact checking. I especially recommend the report on David Hicks’s trial by Lex Lasry QC, available on the Internet, which includes the texts of all the charges and the final plea bargain. Hicks had a choice: stay in Gitmo or sign the admissions and go home. What would you do after more than five years? And no, Mr Howard, he was not treated humanely, and no, the system was eminently unfair.

Former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Danna Vale (Liberal, Hughes) got it right as far back as November 2005:

… The longer Hicks is in Guantanamo Bay, his imprisonment without trial will begin to creep like an incongruent shadow, jarring the Australian consciousness

Let’s get real. The case of David Hicks clearly fails the commonsense test. It fails the commonsense test not only in the educated minds of the legal profession, but in the gut feelings of ordinary Australians who believe in a fair go, and who believe that truth and justice and that old hand-me-down from the Magna Carta that says men are innocent until proven guilty, still deserve some currency in our world. Just like you, just like me, as an Australian, he is entitled to a fair trial without further delay. And, after four years in Guantanamo Bay, if the Americans cannot deliver this to David Hicks, in all fairness, we must ask that he be sent home.

In one of the more considered reviews of David Hicks Guantanamo: My Journey (William Heinemann 2010) Sally Neighbour claims that Hicks has airbrushed some parts of his story. At least she has read the book. I too find it difficult to believe he first heard of Al Qaeda after his capture, but endorse his recommendation of Jason Burke’s Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam as the best on the subject.

By contrast look at Miranda Devine’s recent review of Hicks’s book,  a sustained sledge against Dick Smith who assisted financially with David’s defence. Beyond that she descends into emotive claptrap or sheer ignorance, the latter being her inability to believe Hicks became a Muslim by looking up a mosque in the yellow pages and then meeting an imam. She doesn’t seem to have mastered Islam 101: one can become a Muslim simply by repeating “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet” to another Muslim. No course necessary. On this I absolutely believe Hicks, who, incidentally, no longer considers himself a Muslim.

One telling item for Hicks in the book is the famous picture of David with the rocket launcher. We all remember how this was used to demonise him and purported to show him in Afghanistan. It turns out to be cut from a photo taken in Albania of three friends playing around with empty weapons. Yes, he took part in the Kosovo war, but never saw action. Another photo shows him saluting the NATO flag, under which he was really serving then.

Guantanamo: My Journey is a book we need to read. I am glad it has been published. Like Sally Neighbour, there are some things I would like clarified, but I now believe it to be mostly truthful. Hicks was a bit of a fool, you know, even if a desire to aid oppressed people is quite commendable in itself. He was after all a 20-something at the time, and “under-researched” as he now says. He hasn’t killed anyone or engaged in any act of terrorism; everyone admits that.

One of the most valuable features of Guantanamo: My Journey is the extensive footnotes, a marvellously detailed documentation of the material in the book. I wish they had been set in their places at the bottoms of relevant pages rather than being gathered in the back. The book also desperately needs a thorough index.

David was pretty much a pawn. Heroes? Well, I’d nominate David’s father, and Major Michael Mori, his defending counsel, whose career after that suffered. (See The Marine Corps News 20 September 2010.)

PS: not in the article

David Hicks is accurate in his depiction of the Tablighi. I know this because I have taught one and did considerable research about Tablighi Jamaat at the time. With regard to Lashkar-I Taiba, Hicks may have polished the image somewhat, but it is fair to say that what he says about that organisation in the areas he found them may well have been true at that time and place. The organisation was not yet a listed terrorist organisation in Australia. Certainly David’s depiction of the Taliban is much less admiring in the book than it was in his letters home as seen in the documentary The President versus David Hicks. On the other hand Hicks’s explanation about his letters reflecting what he was seeing and reading at the time in the Pakistani press may well be true. It is also notable that Terry Hicks seems to take David’s rhetoric in those letters with something of a grain of salt. The book leaves no doubt about what David feels about the Taliban now. His account of the training he received in Afghanistan and Pakistan may be true but I do have some doubts about this.

Miranda Devine’s characterisation of David’s account of Guantanamo as “whingeing” is quite outrageous. Says more about her than it does about him.

My spellings reflect usage in The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.

The My ***7 Decade series – and another shot at 2007

I have enjoyed the gallop back decade by decade to 1947. The effect on my blog has been clear too:

Screenshot - 11_01_2017 , 8_48_36 AM

That’s this morning’s stats, and that peak on 4 January is the best day ever on this blog! The details for January thus far:

  1. My 1947: Shellharbour 173 views to 11 January 2016
  2. My 1977: Alexandra Road, Glebe 10
  3. 2016 – surreal year goes at last 8
  4. My 1997: Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills 6
  5. My 2007: retired and blogging 6

The Shellharbour post owes most of that to Shellharbour History in Photos on Facebook.

Yesterday’s 2007 post left out a dominant event. Who can forget it?

830pm.jpg

And then there’s this issue, surfacing again now thanks to Mr Potato Head:

That idiotic citizenship “test”

16 AUG 2007

My impatience with this particular piece of gross idiocy has been made plain here often enough. So has my enjoyment of the magazine The Big Issue. Both came together yesterday as I read the new Big Issue (the annual short story number) where I spotted in the “Hearsay” column the following from writer, director, actor, teacher and former Young Australian of the Year Khoa Do.

“In the world I grew up in, a lot of people and their parents struggled to speak English,” he said. “Now they are successful in a whole range of fields. My parents are always learning and always trying. Asking whether people who don’t speak fluent English can contribute to Australia is like asking whether a blind or deaf person can contribute. Of course they can.”

I sourced that to an article by Jonathan Pearlman in the Moruya/Bateman’s Bay News. (Good to see regional papers running such stories, though it was in turn sourced to the Sydney Morning Herald.)

…The Immigration and Citizenship Minister, Kevin Andrews, under pressure over the Haneef affair, has announced that future tests for migrants will place greater emphasis on integration, including factors such as an ability to speak English and a willingness to learn the language.

The rules could potentially have precluded vast segments of the population from immigrating, including prominent Australians such as the boxer Kostya Tszyu, the businessman Frank Lowy, the scientist Professor Sir Gustav Nossal – and Mr Andrews’s assistant minister for immigration and citizenship, Teresa Gambaro.

Ms Gambaro, whose parents were born in Italy and could not speak English when they arrived in north Queensland in the 1950s, yesterday voiced support for the Government’s plan.

“My family came with a very positive attitude and they did integrate and learn English,” Ms Gambaro, the MP for Petrie in Brisbane, told the Herald. “But we are talking about a different era. We needed manual workers back then. The need to speak English is different now … But I don’t think the intention is to preclude somebody based on one factor.”

Mr Andrews yesterday lauded the new immigration procedures and declared he would not “be scared off by people who don’t stand up for Australians”. “Look, I think the Australian people are quite clear about this,” he told Radio 2GB’s Ray Hadley. “They want us to be tough and they want us to make sure that Australia’s protected and they know that there are people in the world who have a different view.”

Mr Andrews said the procedures, to start early next year, would examine people’s willingness to integrate and were not an “English test”.

“We bring people now from all countries and all sorts of countries in the world,” he said. “Many of those countries don’t necessarily share our values … We’ve got to balance up bringing people from overseas but with an ability to actually be able to properly settle and integrate into the Australian society. I think that’s what Australians want.”

The pole vaulter Tatiana Grigorieva, who arrived from Russia in 1997 and won a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics, said she would not have passed an immigration test if English skills had been a factor.

“I would have struggled with any sort of test,” she said. “I think it depends how far you take it and how difficult the test is. I would probably have tried to learn English before I came. I am very glad I came to Australia. I will try to make this place a little bit better than before I came.”

Sir Gustav, who fled Vienna with his parents in 1939 and was Australian of the Year in 2000 for his work in immunology, also said he would have been barred if ability to speak English had been a factor. “I agree that people should learn English as fast as possible if they desire to stay here,” he said. “My parents had very little English when they arrived but were strongly committed to adapting and to learning the language. I have no reverence for people who want to ghettoise themselves.”

Kostya Tszyu, a Russian-born boxing champion who came here when he was 22, said immigrants should be encouraged to learn English but should not be barred based solely on language. “It took time to learn English. Sometimes now I even think in English. My parents came here in their 50s. It took them a bit longer and now they have no problem chatting to their neighbours. Now we live in the best country in the world.”

They want us to be tough and they want us to make sure that Australia’s protected and they know that there are people in the world who have a different view… Trouble is the Citizenship Test would achieve none of these aims. Any terrorist or mad bastard of any kind would have no trouble going through these particular hoops if he/she really wanted to, but in the meantime a far greater number of innocent bystanders would be disadvantaged by the fact, despite Kevin Andrews’ denial, that this is an English test, being in English. This stupid populism Ray Hadley may well have bought, along with many of his listeners, but I don’t. You don’t have to be a genius to realise how pointless the whole exercise is.

See also “Mum can be proud that she Singers well” by Khoa Do (4 August 2007).

…For the first decade of Mum’s life in Australia, that’s all she really knew. To put her children through school, to clothe and feed them, she worked in sewing factories – for many hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. It’s hard to learn English if you’re overlocking, stitching, cutting, labelling, hemming. Even if you have a set of learning tapes, as we had.

Throughout her life she has been trying to learn English with the Adult Migrant English Service. But she has had limited success. I remember the first time she went to learn English – she came back that afternoon and asked me to explain the meaning of an adverb. An adverb! Far out, how do you explain to your dear mother, who lived through the Vietnam War, fled the country by boat, raised three children on her own, spent a million hours of her life hunched over a Singer, what an adverb is? Especially when you were too busy talking about whether Spiderman would beat Superman, during the lesson on adverbs in year seven. Poor Mum, I failed in teaching her what an adverb was, and soon after she gave up on learning English.

… I think that for some people, learning English in the first few years of arriving in Australia is really tough. And as I begin thinking about the many people I know, I start to wonder whether their parents would have passed a test in English to become a citizen. Let’s see, there’s my doctor, Dr Tuan. No chance. His father and mother were from the countryside. I think about my friend, now a social worker. No chance. One of my close friends is a high school English teacher, the best in her school – and no, her parents wouldn’t have passed either. As I think about it, a lot of people I know have parents who would have struggled with a test in English. Ultimately, they would’ve failed in becoming Australian citizens and their children wouldn’t be here now.

You’re probably wondering what has happened to my mum and her English. Several years ago my wonderful brother got married, and he had two children. His wife is Suzie; she’s gorgeous and she’s Anglo-Australian. Their two boys, Luc and Xavier, mainly speak English at home. Mum wants to be able to speak to her grandchildren, so yes, she’s studying English again, in her 50s. Once again I find myself helping her out with her comprehension tests and grammar…

That our supposedly intelligent leaders (with some noble back-bench exceptions) have enthused over Anderson’s (originally Robb’s, for which read Howard’s) heap of steaming ordure is just typical, isn’t it? I think it shows just how far backwards we have come under the reign of the Great Grey Garden Gnome of Kirribilli House.

“Trust us! We are EXPERIENCED!”

Sure are… 😦

Government careers down path of superficial idiocy on citizenship test

27 AUG 2007

NOTE: Updated. I now give the resource book a qualified . Remarks below offer some qualifications, while others, especially about the TEST, still hold.

The singularly unimpressive Kevin Andrews was told how stupid this is over and over again. Go there and download whichever you choose; naturally I recommend (PDF) ATESOL’s contribution on behalf of ESL teachers — I can hardly improve on it. But The Garden Gnome wanted it and Andrews delivered and so the country is stuck with an English test that masquerades as something to do with benchmarks for attaining a successful Australian citizenship.

The Book of Knowledge (in English of course) does not appear to be available online yet*, so I have had to rely on the version presented today in the Sydney Morning Herald: I pledge allegiance to ? the Don. Nothing in there, it would appear, about the Eight Hour Movement or the Harvester Judgement, whose centenary occurs this year, but that is hardly surprising. Meanwhile not one person who represents any kind of threat to the Australian way of life will be deterred by this fatuous yet discriminatory exercise. But the government will seem to be doing something significant, and that is all that matters perhaps.

The Herald does provide these sample questions:

1. In what year did Federation take place?
2. Which day of the year is Australia Day?
3. Who was the first Prime Minister of Australia?
4. What is the first line of Australia’s national anthem?
5. What is the floral emblem of Australia?
6. What is the population of Australia?
7. In what city is the Parliament House of the Commonwealth Parliament located?
8. Who is the Queen’s representative in Australia?
9. How are Members of Parliament chosen?
10. Who do Members of Parliament represent?
11. After a federal election, who forms the new government?
12. What are the colours on the Australian flag?
13. Who is the head of the Australian Government?
14. What are the three levels of government in Australia?
15. In what year did the European settlement of Australia start?
16. Serving on a jury if required is a responsibility of Australian citizenship: true or false?
17. In Australia, everyone is free to practice the religion of their choice, or practice no religion: true of false?
18. To be elected to the Commonwealth Parliament you must be an Australian citizen: true or false?
19. As an Australian citizen, I have the right to register my baby born overseas as an Australian citizen: true or false?
20. Australian citizens aged 18 years or over are required to enrol on the electoral register: true or false?

You don’t need answers, do you?

There will be a nice little earner in Citizenship Tuition though. Perhaps I should set aside part of English/ESL

logo.gifM would have failed, I suspect, had he been confronted with this when he became a citizen. His citizenship, and his right to it, is nonetheless beyond question in my book. Such knowledge (where relevant) has come his way since through simply being an Australian citizen and an intelligent and curious participant in Australian life. Let’s face it: there are some items even in those 20 Questions that simply don’t matter, mixed up with other items that clearly do matter.Trivial Pursuit, essentially, as I have said before! Clicking the logo on the right could take you to the Australian government’s new citizenship test kit then…

Surely the real issue is what contribution people can make to Australia, not what superficial book-learning they may have about Australia.

I have added a new tag, you may notice. While tagging past entries I notice the citizenship test idea was first raised by Andrew Robb (Howard glove puppet?) in April 2006, when I described it as “one of those simplistic nostrums that occur to people over a few beers or while ringing talk-back radio”; later, in December 2006 the PM had embraced the idea — unsurprising really — as “designed to remove divisions in Australian society.” How that works is anyone’s guess; it may in fact have the opposite effect. I went on in December 2006: “Is this scheme going to address community issues in any significant way? No, it won’t. It is a facile scheme, in my view; but that is of course just my view.” Nothing since has led to a change of heart.

* A DRAFT Citizenship Test Resource Book is [was?] now available here. The Harvester Judgement is mentioned. I don’t have too much of a problem with the resource book, from a first reading. I think ALL Australians should have one. I suggest there is material in there that many fourth or fifth generation Australians would be unsure about. I still object to an arbitrary TEST based on this as being of much value. I also suggest the Resource Book should be made available — like the Road Rules — in a variety of community languages, as happens, for example, at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission site. There was a time not so long ago when it would simply have been assumed this would happen in order that the information therein reached, and was understood by, as many people as possible. A CD version for the visually impaired would be nice too, and a DVD/CD-ROM — why not if Spicks and Specks can do it? — or interactive web version, even better if also in a range of community languages…

It IS an English Test!

When you get to the “how to do the test” section at the end of the booklet you discover that it really is an English test. It even tells you how to learn enough English to pass, using AMEP to do so. Naturally, this advice is in English… No sense of irony, these people.

Finally:

Hollow desperation: John Howard on education — TV review bonus

14 MAY 2007

That’s my first impression of Howard’s attempt just tonight to undo Kevin Rudd’s progress on the schools front. I only have the news report to go on at this stage. I will follow it up later. Still following Kevin (the D-word one)down the yellow brick road, it appears.

“Perhaps in speaking about this issue, I’ll again be accused by my opponents of being captive to old ideas,” he said.

“Perhaps a well-ordered classroom where teachers have authority is an old idea, but more importantly, it’s a good idea.”

Mr Howard says the number of students who are under performing is still too high.

He says Australia needs to aim higher than minimum international benchmarks.

“The year three, five and seven literacy and numeracy testing implemented at the Australian Government’s request show that about 10 per cent of students are not meeting basic benchmarks in basic literacy and numeracy,” he said.

“Worryingly, performance actually declines at higher levels of schooling.”

Pure Kevin D. And yes, a well-ordered classroom is a good idea. John should take a year working in one of our more interesting schools and see what his politics actually does in the real world, with or without the principal having the right to hire and fire. Let’s see how good he would be at spotting and actually dealing with bullying in a school of maybe 1200 kids. Let’s see if he could come up with some brilliant scheme better than what is already in place. Let’s see if he knew what to do with the “stupid children.” (I might add I had little idea for the first five years or so of teaching.) Let’s watch him effect the miracle of making more than 50% of the children come out above average. Or Julie Bishop ditto.

Bloody wastes of space both of them…

“Soulless etc. Economic service etc.” Julie is explaining now on Lateline why Labor is wrong. What is “quality” Julie? Do you even know? Does it include actual critical thinking? Or is it just, as I suspect, a buzz word. “Labor is just about numbers.” This is such hypocrisy when the bloody government has been all about numbers and economics for the past ten bloody years! Except when they’ve been hijacking education (or trying to) in the interests of the most conservative “values”… Their values. And complaining about “ridiculous” Education Union submissions that point out that some really important aspects of education may not be measurable in standardised tests — a truism really: love of poetry is hard to measure, just for starters…

“Choice!” “Basic skills!” All the tired old mantras… God I am sick of this mob. And why are they complaining about Labor being bean counters when they want to standardise test the system to death?

But then I have just been watching The Bastard Boys. Some interesting values education could come out of the study of that, don’t you think? Michael Duffy has, predictable as tomorrow’s sunrise, shown where he stands on that, you may have noted. Since Corrigan is not unambiguously the hero and the trade unionists are shown as human, it must have been “biassed.” “Bias” is bad, if it is on the non-Howard side. On the other hand, hagiography is good, if it is on the Howard side. I thought the series remarkable. Corrigan did not appear as Satan after all. It did show that the unions had to change. It did show that the status quo before these events encompassed quite unreasonable conditions and perks on the waterfront. It also showed, of course, that there may well have been — indeed almost certainly was — a conspiracy here at the highest levels. It reminded us again of Peter Reith, God save us! It reminded us of how far this government has been willing to go on its ideological mission. If you want facts and documents about those 1998 events, go to The 1998 Waterfront Dispute on the Australian Politics site.

The irony of what Julie is saying (back to Lateline) is that all the things the government claims they OWN are actually just as attainable, so far as they ought to be attained, under Rudd’s policies, but without killing public education in the process…

Julie is spouting cliches upon cliches… Much of it is motherhood stuff. Of course bullying is bad, and of course schools are addressing it. But the Australian government doesn’t actually run a single school itself, so they can monster and blame whoever they like really… Especially if the monstering and blaming elicit the kind of fear and distrust which the Libs so love as they continue their ideological mission.

That was a rave and rant post, but that doesn’t make it wrong…

Next day

I have written again, as you probably have seen, in the light of what John Howard actually said, focusing especially on bullying in schools. Also, on Bastard Boys I am pleased (and surprised a little) to see Jim Belshaw is in broad agreement with my assessment of the program.