Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Post #11 Hire a Hall/Everything (Bashing the Bishop [of Rome]* - Why Benedict 16 (Ratzinger) Is Unfit To Be Pope) )

World Youth Day is, apparently, a misnamed six-day event, beginning on the 15th of July, 2008 and continuing until the 20th, in Sydney, Australia. This is how the event's website describes the projected proceedings:

Organised by the Catholic Church, World Youth Day brings together young people from around the globe to celebrate and learn about their faith on a more regular basis.

And, presiding over the event, Pope Benedict XVI, aka Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, former apprentice of the Nazi regime. I won't revisit the issue of whether Ratzinger was a Nazi or exactly what his connections to Nazi youth movements was. To make a serious dent in those issues takes more scholarship than I have time or resources for. I'll confine myself to what Ratzinger himself stipulates: membership of the Hitlerjugend and service as a Luftwaffe auxiliary in an anti-aircraft capacity.

I can't condemn any junior teenager for not having the nerve to tell Hitler to go to Hell. I know that in such circumstances I wouldn't have had the nerve and my "resistance" efforts would at most have been covert disobedience. And, after all, there were tens of millions of legal adults who, from fear more than enthusiasm, went along with the programmes of despotic regimes in Europe through the 1920's, 30's and 40's.

What I shall dispute is whether an unremarkable conformist is fit to be the lieutenant of Jesus of Nazareth. Such a person should be an extraordinary moral exemplar, not a sheep. You don't have to be a Roman Catholic, you don't have to be religious at all, to see something wrong in this picture.

And what topics will the catechistic studies of World Youth Day, conducted under Ratzinger's auspices, focus upon? I'll wager with confidence that the teachings pursuant to family life and procreation will receive a good airing. The old enemy, masturbation, will be subjected to pejorative analysis in working groups, as will the perils of extra-marital sex, the sacredness of the sexual act in marriage, the repulsiveness of homosexuality and the abominableness of contraception and abortion.

I doubt that urging young people to become conscientious objectors to war will be a major feature of proceedings. The Popes know better than Jesus; they preach that there are just wars. They sanction clergymen acting as mentors and comforters to warriors. They won't argue for a just system of taxation or for the thwarting of big business in its despoliation of the environment.

Well, here's a quick theological quiz that won't be featured in this event:

Question 1. Which of these is the greatest anathema?

A. Bending your arm to play with your genitalia.
B. Stiffening your arm to do homage to Adolf Hitler.

Question 2. Which is the greater injustice?

A. Using contraception to prevent the joining together of non-sentient zygotes and the transmission of disease.
B. Creating unwanted children and spreading disease.

Question 3. Which is the greatest abuse of human rights?

A. Allowing the progeny of rape/incest to be aborted.
B. Forcing a victim of rape/incest to carry and give birth to a rapist's spawn.

I know this much: Benny Sixteen will tick the "A" on all of them. And the last one in particular? Well, you'd have to be a sick bastard indeed to "support" abortion. I call it a form of homicide, without hesitation. I also allow that there are justifiable homicides. Benny thinks so, too, or he'd tell people to refuse to be police officers or to join the military. And discretionary abortion for "lifestyle" reasons and so forth? I detest it, but it is, ultimately, on the consciences of the procurers and performers of the deed. If there is a God, let them answer to Him for it; the state should not coerce women to give birth to children they don't want. The possible consequences to those children should be considered; there are worse fates than a quick trip to Paradise directly from the womb. The newspapers are full of them every day. For example, I saw a horrific report on the failings of child welfare in New South Wales which purported that one fifth of children there are in some degree of domestic peril.

One thing is manifest to me. A man of such ordinary moral fibre as Ratzinger should be more selfconscious of his limitations. The laying down of hard and cruel rules to others is arrogant enough without having the added provocation of hearing it from a veteran of the Hitler Youth. When the College of Cardinals offered the Papacy, he should have let that cup pass.

(* "Bashing the Bishop" is apparently British slang for male masturbation. The "bishop" reference is derived from the shape of the corona of the penis being similar to that of a bishop's mitre. I am indebted for this fine piece of etymology to the works of "Andy McNab" of Bravo Two Zero fame. )

Monday, 28 April 2008

Post #10 Hire a Hall/Everything (A Taxing Question)

The 20/20 summit has passed without most of us particularly noticing its beginning. It was like one of those towns you drive through before it sinks in that you passed a sign saying, "Welcome to...". I think the skeptics may be proven right about the whole thing being a flam. The treatment of taxation, or non-treatment is a feature of it that I found disappointingly prominent. I'll try to remedy Kevin's omission with a few pointers of my own:

1. One thing that gets me about the recent debate on "reforming" the economy is that the imposition of new taxes is seriously suggested as a solution for anything. The famous "carbon tax" that some people have been bleating about for the past decade is a good example. It basically means adding another tax to those already applied to carbon fuels to discourage people from using them. Stripped of the baloney it means you pay more at the bowser and for everything to which petroleum is a price input. The same goes for electricity generated using carbon fuels. Now, if the "market" could be dissuaded from using carbon fuels by taxing them they would have gone down a long while back. "Price inelastic" is the phrase that comes to mind. What is the consumer supposed to do; call the power station which is built for carbon-fuel operation and say: "The carbon tax has discouraged me from using your coal/oil-fired juice. Please only send solar or wind power to my home in future"? Actually, the Western Australian electricity supply now offers a "green power" option to some consumers and as some folk, who were lured into it, have now costs more than the carbon-fuelled juice.
The only way a change to clean power will occur is by subsidisation and tax breaks. The taxing option only turbocharges inflation. After all, who pays the tax? Not the oil or coal or gas providers. It's paid by Joe Blow at the bottom of the heap, who has no say in what fuel power staions use or what sort of vehicles the manufacturers build.

2.The second-most heinous tax I can think of (after death duties) is the "property rate" levied by local government. This has a particularly cruel twist. Because rates are determined by reference to the rents that properties may attract if offered on the open market, the owner-occupier who doesn't even own a rental property is coerced to pay according to what their premises might earn them in income if it was rented. That's really the limit! If a home was bought 20 or 30 years ago and has appreciated greatly in sale or rental value, the owner appears to be doing well. In fact they may be stuggling to find the funds to pay those value-based rates and in danger of losing their home. This is the classic trap of being asset-rich and cash-poor. After all, in the end, if you realise the value by selling up, you still have to find a place to live. Every place similar to the one you're leaving will be just as expensive. Unless you're seriously downsizing, you have a problem. Imagine losing a home you've put your guts into building up for decades, perhaps putting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and labour. All for the sake of an unpayable couple of thousand in rates. If rates were restricted to rental properties I'd say, "fair enough"; after all it's income tax deductible for landlords and they are (usually) making money from the property. If local government must exist, let its revenues come from the Commonwealth and State mainstream or the taxing of commercial properties.

3. Payroll tax is the dopiest of all taxes. I've heard all the arguments in favour of it. Stuff 'em! It's a tax on employment, pure and simple. It should be abolished.

4. How about really simplifying the income tax system by establishing a tax-free threshold of $26,000 dollars and a flat rate of 20% on every dollar above it? The compensating factor would be a slashing of allowable deductions. Let people spend their own money for their own welfare first; give everyone a tax-free income that you could actually live on.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Post #9 Hire a Hall/Everything (Res publica and monarchy/royalty)

Kevin Rudd has reopened the topic of the republic and the (ab)usual suspects have come out whining for their so-called "monarchy". Another twisted word which, along with the phrase "Westminster system", has been thwarting original thought about constitutional reform in Australia for many a weary year. The British royal sovereigns haven't been "monarchs" in the true sense of the word* at least since King John whacked his seal on the first Magna Carta. Any doubt about that was removed, along with King Charles' head, in 1649. And the "Westminster system"? Beats me. It seems to be as many things as there are definers of it. How our federal system, with a "basic law" type of constitution and a serious dose of Americana could be a Westminster system, poses a question I'll leave to those with a few decades to stew over it.

The people who sprout these bogusisms have a purpose, of course, and that's a lot easier to figure out. They are the enemies of change. They just don't want change ; any change. Their motives vary, I believe. Some are probably simply possessed of fixative personalities with an intransigent streak to back it up. Others like the current arrangements where the imprecision of the statute/convention overlap allows power to default (in a de facto and unrestrained manner) to the Ministers of the Crown. Those "monarchists" who are MPs usually fall into this category.

The interesting thing about the debate on constitutional reform is that it keeps locking into this pattern of "the monarch versus the republic". Why doesn't anyone see a distinction between wanting complete sovereign independence for our country and the debate over the type of head of state? I can see it clearly enough: We can have a resident Australian royal sovereign and be independent of Britain. In fact, just to show what a good sport I am, Her Illustrious Majesty Elizabeth, Queen of Australia, may kick on if she pleases. She won't even have to apply for her own job again! That's fairer than the Liberal/National coalition government and their sycophants were to many of our compatriots who became redundant for "operational reasons".

If Her Majesty doesn't care to relinquish the sovereignty of the United Kingdom in exchange for exclusive dominion over the Commonwealth of Australia (mystifying as such a response would be), one of her potential heirs may be willing. There is no need to bring all of the pomp and paraphernalia of the royal concept of Britain to this land; the style of the Governor-General would be quite appropriate. This will call the bluff of the purported royalists - do they genuinely support royal government or is that merely a blind for something else?

We can also tinker with the appointment process; plenty of royalties are elective, not hereditary. Thus we can elect the head of state and have a royal leader in the one go. Once this issue is resolved the dam will burst on all the other constitutional reform that is in abeyance. Perhaps that's why some people prefer to keep us talking in futile circles on this subject.

John Howard was a good example of this, making all of the solemn noises about loving the Queen, telling John Hewson that Australia would become a republic "over his dead body". The truth was put into public view during the Hollingworth episode. For the uninitiated, Howard recommended to the Queen that an Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Australia, Peter Hollingworth, should be apppointed to the Governor-Generalship. After the appointment, nasty stories began to surface about the new GG. He was alleged to have,
during his tenure as a bishop, blind-eyed a situation involving a priest who had taken sexual advantage of a 14 year-old girl who had been under the priest's tutelage. Hollingworth had also knowingly acted as mentor and patron to a priest who had engaged in paedophilia and wanted to continue in the ministry. He attempted to put the fire out by appearing on Australian Story and managed to throw kerosene on himself.

How did the great, self-proclaimed "monarchist", John Howard, respond? By leaving the carcass to swing in the breeze. "It's a matter for him", said Howard. He wasn't going to condemn his own judgement in recommending the man, so he let the fellow continue in office for months until ignominy, in its various forms, drove him to resign. Howard wouldn't tell the Queen to sack the bastard! Why not? Because saving his own political face was more important than the disrespect shown to the Queen by having a patron and protector of paedophiles inflicted upon her as her pricipal viceroy in Australia. When Howard visited the Queen in Britain during the course of Hollingworth's slow death on the vine, he came out of the Palace looking rather discomfited. The Queen had made her views known, one supposes. Now the great monarchist was never so fond of the Queen after that and he was noticeably less effusive when playing host to her in return.

People like Howard don't really give a damn about the Queen. What they do like is the nice, messy constitution that allows power to default into their hands. Power that would be constrained and checked if a new constitution was written. No more sending forces overseas on the strength of a phone call from the White House - the Parliament would be given power over the decision to make war. The same goes for the appointment of federal judges and various other discretions that are usurped by Cabinet Ministers. So, let's petition for an Australian royal government - and see how the "monarchists" cop that!

*All power exercised by one person at their own discretion.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Post #8 Hire a Hall/Nothing (Lost ...the plot and Community Stand-hards)

1. Yeah, I hate to admit it; I've been a fan. Last season, however, I encountered something that tested my suspension of disbelief beyond reasonable limits. Charlie and Desmond are heading out to the underwater station on a possible suicide mission to shut down the radio jammer. They use as a guideline to the station...the power cable that supplies the station. "Why not just cut it?", I thought. Then Charlie commits a needless suicide by shutting himself into the flooding compartment after the mad Russian detonates the grenade. He could just as easily have closed the hatch from the outside. I laughed at them then, not with them.

This season they've got a plot device where an entire aircraft identical to Oceanic 815 is in an trench off Bali - complete with 324 bodies aboard. Apparently Ben Linus has fixed this to cover what's really happened to 815. Well, a bogus flight recorder and some metal panels might pass. An entire aircraft? From where would it be obtained? After all, every one of those large jets is accounted for to the tiniest part: how could the fake possibly work? It couldn't. Yes, Lost has jumped that Dharma-logoed shark.

I'll keep watching it if I'm around a TV when it's on, but the bubble has burst for me.

2. Also on things televisual; I've been becoming increasingly weary of the late-night groaning, gasping, self-stroking, lip-licking, lingerie-gnawing, general-purpose pseudo-masturbatrices who infest the commercial breaks on free-to-air TV. They appear in order to sell what I call the "loser-lines". They exhort the viewer to text a number which will obtain for one "pictures of hot sexy babes on your mobile". If you're a loyal customer they'll send you some "moan tones". I shudder to think. Then there are the "6 sexy Russian babes" who want to infiltrate my mobile, the "girls gone wild", the (excruciatingly badly acting) bimbos who will fake an orgasm over the phone. There are also strippers (admittedly not as trashy as most of the others) who do their schtick around a dance-pole. There are also dating services which imply that the young and beautiful are waiting in droves for the viewer to call and proposition them.

But, worst of all, there are two male characters selling a nasally-administered impotence treatment who go by the names "Sniff and Stiff". They appear on a stage to play a grand piano; standing up, concealed behind the keyboard and, purportedly, striking the keys with their erect penises. As they take the ovation, an elderly man in the audience asks a "compere" if he can learn to play like "Sniff and Stiff". Don't get me wrong: I like a wank or a fuck as much as any heterosexual male worth his testosterone. But there is a time and a place. There's also a question of dignity. These two cretins don't even respect the midnight threshold which usually keeps the bimbos at bay. I've seen these bastards on as early as 9:00 pm.

It's part of a pattern. I've also seen an ad in prime time, for a retailer, in which the expression "No wuckers" was used. For those who don't know it, this is a bit of slang in the classic Australian style. You form it by starting with "No worries". This becomes the more emphatic, "No fucking worries". The next step is deliberate Spoonerism: "No wucking forries" (with the "u" and "o" rhyming). Finally, it's compressed to "No wuckers".

Why not complain to the authorities? Because they've farmed out complaints to industry bodies for the private operators and to a bureaucratic overview group for the two government networks. If you complain to them they rebuff you by saying that "community standards" have altered to the point where this stuff is now tolerable.

I once read an article about television in a very old bound volume of Meanjin, a venerable magazine which many Australians will know of. The edition was from the early 1950's and the article dealt with the issue of whether television should be allowed to be established as a service in Australia. I was amazed at the time of reading that anybody could have thought of stopping it. I now wonder what would have happened if a transmission of the typical fare of today could have been sent back to 1950 for the edification of the citizens. The cynical, unashamed stuff that really is broadcast. Not the placatory promises about the cultural and educational benefits of the service which accompanied its introduction; the real everynight thing. I am sure they would have been utterly repulsed and would have damned the thing to Hell. Even though I still watch some of it, I wouldn't mind if it didn't exist. The cost/benefit analysis is in. Television is a net loss.

Post #7 Hire a Hall/Everything (Adopt a Digger)

Anzac Day approaches. Now, Anzac Day is "our day of the year...", and it has acquired a stronger following as time has passed. But as rising generations take a growing interest in these matters, the original Anzacs, the First AIF, are reduced to one survivor; Jack Ross (109), who lives in a nursing home in Bendigo, Victoria. Within a handful of years there won't be a single surviving veteran of the First World War anywhere on Earth.

I've visited the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and seen the reconstructions, dioramas and antique weapons. I've also seen the great and tragic walls of names. But the human memory doesn't think in names engraved on stone. It works by visual and other senses that go beyond bare data. Nothing matches an image or a tangible form, such as sculpture, in making the subject vivid to the viewer. I had an idea once that would put a statue, in the personal likeness of each of the fallen in the grounds of the memorial. The AWM counts total Australian military deaths in war at 102,807 to date. That would be a shocking number of statues wouldn't it? Imagine them life-sized, put together in groups according to the conflict they served in and the units in which they were enrolled. They could be customised, given the sort of uniforms and basic equipment that they carried to battle, and each posed in a slightly different way. (Actually, it occurs to me in writing this that someone already had a very similar idea; the terracotta figures of 7,000 warriors, 670 horses and 130 chariots buried near Xi'an in China's Shaanxi Province.) Better still, those representing subjects for whom photographs were available, could be given the actual likenesses of those persons.

The AWM has a project underway which is collecting the photographs of as many of the "names" as they can. The statuary would be a consequential step. Now, here's the hard part: What's it going to cost and who's going to pay for it? Public subscription is the best way. Families could be invited to contribute over time to the erection of a statue of a relative by making payments as and when they could to a trust fund established for the purpose by the AWM. Those with no surviving kin could be listed on a website and people could choose from the list a name to dedicate their contributions to.

And where would these statues be placed? Perhaps the best place would be in the great sward of lawn in front of the Parliament House in Canberra. From this position the MPs could watch and be watched by the images of those who gave their lives in the wars our leaders sent them to. The sheer size of this installation would give pause to anyone inclined to send forth an expedition and remind them of their obligations to those who will be left behind by the dead. Here they would be in a place with constant, higher media exposure than the AWM itself, which is media-invisible apart from Anzac Day (25th April) and Remembrance Day (11th November).

A last thought: I first read of the famous monument to the 300 Spartans in a book which translated the inscription on the ancient memorial thus:

Go tell the Spartans, passerby:
We took their orders and we died.

That sounds like a reproach doesn't it? As in, "You bastards got us killed, are you happy now?"

I think I have a better translation for it:

Go tell the Spartans, passerby:
Obedient to orders, here we lie.

It is a statement of pride for duty done, not a reproach. And let us never give cause for reproach in the name of those who have died for us. Let us not allow them to become invisible in our land.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Post #6 Hire a Hall/Everything (An Australian Name)

Multiculturalism is a word that I would like to burn/cut out of the Australian lexicon with flamethowers and chainsaws. It's an idea which was apparently imported from Canada in the late 1960's and found fertile ground under the Whitlam and Fraser governments in the period 1973-1982 . When the Hawke government superseded the Fraser regime in 1983, this deceptively anodyne word had become embedded in the national political discourse. In the years since, it has become a dubiously sacred cow which has become anything and everything to those who want to draw sustenance from it. To those who are weary of it and its increasingly bogus incarnations it's a chook's neck well past its chopping date.

What is this multiple-culture-ism that we are supposed to pledge our support to? It seemed, originally, to mean allowing non-British immigrants to Australia to have pride in their national origins and to not be coerced to be ashamed of their surnames or accents. It meant supporting them in blending their cuisine, songs, dances and traditional arts into the lifestyle of Australia. At least that is what I believed it meant when I first made its acquaintance.

Now it seems to mean some things to some people that are hardly constructive. It is used as a justification/podium of defiance for failing/refusing to become fluent in English; for maintaining racial/ethnic/religious animosities from "the old country" and attempting to propagate them in Australia; for trying to drag the entire Australian polity into interventions in foreign squabbles; for sucking up money from the public trough for narrow-focus programmes . The main problem with it is that it's drifted from the truly cultural and the anchor-point of being Australian first. This is fine by some of the self-appointed "community spokespersons" who get to spend the budgets for those ethnically-targeted programmes. It also provides a nice handle for branch-stacking in political parties, which suits some candidates just fine too.

Culture is about behaviour and belief, not genetic traits which we call racial or ethnic. It is about discretionary behaviour, not the things bestowed upon us by our DNA. Now, I accept that it can be argued that using sun-shield cream is a behaviour and that it has a genetic origin. People talk about "deaf culture" and other disability cultures. I'd just make the distinction that there are physiological bases for these behaviours which, to some degree, mandate them. The kind of culture I'm talking about here is all about choice. Although most people acquire their first religious beliefs (if they have any) through infantile indoctrination, anyone can make a choice in their own head to change their beliefs. Race and ethnicity can never be changed.

Yet, when you criticise multiculturalism, the first shot that comes back is an accusation of racism; millions of people have now been brainwashed to believe that it is a synonym for multiracialism and/or multi-ethnicism. I see this word as a wedge between Australians, serving the exact opposite purpose of the original intention.

The saddest part of all is this: I see and hear people who were born in this country, even some whose parents were born here, saying: "You Australians..." or "These Australians". They usually say it to or about people of British Isles ancestry, who have now acquired the exasperating nickname "Anglos". Apart from displaying an abysmal ignorance of the ethnic history of Britain and Ireland, it shows that the sayers of it have been persuaded to believe that they are foreigners in their own country. I usually respond to this by asking, as moderately as I can manage, "Who are these third-party 'Australians' you're talking to or about? You are an Australian." Some are amazed to hear me claim them as compatriots. Others are hostile: "No, I'm (fill in the nationality)".

We used to have "New Australians". We should bring that back. The Ethnic councils and other organisations of that ilk should find all their funds by means other than governmental subsidisation. The word "multiculturalism" and all variants and derivatives of it should be purged from all official communications.

Reluctant as I am to point to the USA as a model in anything, particularly community relations, there's one thing I like about the place. When some nuisance/bigot is sniffing around some newly-met person with an "ethnic" name and says, "Karabodski? What kinda name is that?", the answer comes back, strong and proud: "It's an American name."

That's what we should be striving for: an unquestioning and unquestioned primary identity as citizens of our own country. That's what I want to hear: "What kind of names are Mokamba, bin Suleiman, Papadopoulos....?"
I'll tell you clear and proud: They're Australian names. And don't forget it, bastard.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Post #5 An interlude: "Mate! It came in right over my house!"

Skylab, 1979. It was supposed to land in the Indian Ocean. Some people around the planet became excessively concerned and all sorts of silly panics were started. It was the first predicted crash of a large piece of space materiel and the international media went wild for it. I was going to stay awake that night and see if there was anything to see. A new radio station had recently appeared on the dial: 96FM, the first FM station in Western Australia. They were giving regular updates of Skylab's progress as it approached its predicted touchdown point out to sea. I lay on my bed waiting for the news of any hitch in this plan and listening to the music. 96FM had an edge over their AM competition in signal quality and the fact that they played large slabs of music uninterrupted by advertising. I listened for several hours. Then I realised that it was approaching dawn and I'd been asleep for hours. Just conked out, as you do: mugged by Morpheus. I turned off the radio and went back to sleep, not overly annoyed, just disappointed; "I'll find out later what happened"' I thought. I certainly did.

The next day I discovered that the space station had disregarded NASA's views and decided to visit Western Australia, "The State of Excitement". It had blazed a trail over my hometown, Perth, and spread its mortal remains in the desert hinterland. An eerie recapitulation of the opening scenes of the movie, "It Came From Outer Space" and a precursor of the end of the shuttle Columbia.

There was a photograph of the burning station's progress through our skies on the front page of The West Australian with the caption "Skylab Roars In!" The rest of the day was the essence of exasperation. Every bastard I met: "Mate! Maate! Did y' see it? It came in right over my house!" Of course, it was a long way up and it appeared to come in over everybody's house. And they all told me.

When I was a lot younger I was called/hauled out of bed into a backyard where the lawn was covered with frost and directed to look upwards by my family members. Above was a rare sight of the ages: a perfect brilliant silver comet. In a perfect, clear, pre-light-pollution sky. I shall remember that comet until I die. It was just like the Star of Bethlehem shown on Christmas cards. I only watched it for a few minutes but its image is one of the few beautiful snapshots in my memory which has mostly preserved dark and brutal things.

I knew that the Skylab landing might have been one of those things: no-one died and it was a great stir. I could have been outside, even with a camera and/or an audio tape-recorder. I could have been on the roof. I could have....but I went to sleep. You snooze, you lose. I lost a memory that might have been. And it came in right over my house.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Post #4 Hire a Hall / Everything (Mmmh! Nucleear Powwer!)

Mmmmh! Nucleear Powwer! I think Homer Simpson is the truth about nukes. I also think about those Japanese nuclear technicians from a few years back who were carrying liquid uranium compounds around in slop buckets and chucking them into a vat like they were making soup in a prison-camp kitchen. They overdid it and started a lethal chain reaction all of their very own. It's the little guys who make the world work (The greatest engines turn - upon the smallest cogs!) and it's the little guys who can bring it down. Chernobyl proved that; Gorbachev didn't tell those boys to run risky experiments and neither did the Soviet Academy of Science.

A long while back, Mike Willesee had a "character" appear on his programme; a comedian who did an ethnic routine as "Luigi Risotto". I remember only one of Luigi's sketches; on nuclear power. He appeared in workman's clothes with a hanky tied around his head (a sort of "Italian" version of Paul Hogan's first efforts - "Luigi" wasn't really Italian, of course) and declared that he would clear up our concerns about nuclear power: "Firsta question", said Luigi, "Ees Yoranium sife?" There followed a long pause, then: "Nexta question!" The nexta question was "What izza yaleoh cike (yellow cake uranium ore)?" He produced a yellow-coloured cake and, pointing demonstratively to it, said, "Thees eeza yaleoh cike!!" He then took an enthusiastic bite of it and, after chewing for a few moments, spat it out in disgust. "Ahh! Taste-a horeebull!", he said, and that was it for our education on the topic.

The Australian government hasn't done much to surpass that effort. The information's all there, if you want to dig it out and educate yourself. But where is the forthcoming and public analysis for the lay person who, after all, will be the one getting fried when it goes wrong? Nowhere, of course. The Howard government made the formal noises, but they didn't really want us to be well-informed. They preferred that we trust their independent, impartial expert, Ziggy Switkowski, the independent, impartial nuclear scientist who makes a nice living from being on government payrolls of various kinds. So much for impartiality. ( Howard wouldn't insult the intelligence of the "mob" as he calls us. He never thought we had any.) What about competence? Well, as a Telstra subscriber I can, like millions of other such wretches, see how Ziggy goes on the practical side. yes, after seeing how good ole Ziggy squandered hundreds of millions of dollars, I'm greatly encouraged. Anyone still with a landline knows those crackling, roaring, staticky sounds quite well now: the signs of a deteriorating system. The money to maintain it went on mad foreign schemes and swill for the privatised Telstra pigs. For this declining service, I get to pay at least three times what I did before Ziggy and the other Howard saboteurs got to work. (Many thanks to Mal Colston for crossing the floor in the Senate to support Telstra privatisation. I don't often gloat over a dead man; in your case I'll make an exception, bastard.)

In a previous post I said we had to unhook from carbon fuels. The "obvious" next step to many people is nuclear. Those people are the same people who form the carbon fuel crew. It's really the same industry. Right now they make their money by extracting material from the Earth's crust and shipping it off to be burned or turned into industrial ingredients, like plastics. Dig it up. Ship it. They don't like to actually do processing if they can avoid it. Even when the same company does the whole process of extraction, refinement and delivery, there are corporate discontinuities. The real heart of the business is at the "dig" end. Uranium is the next best thing to petroleum and coal for these types. You dig it up and you...

Well, I say: Hail to hydrogen! Here's why: The gainsayers keep chanting that solar and wind can't cut it for base-load power. They want us to imagine how difficult it is to put solar and wind and other clean energy systems near our cities and derive the necessary juice from them. Maybe they are right. So why do we need to use those systems for direct supply? Why not put them where the environs are best suited to them and use the power to make hydrogen? Imagine this: a network of clean energy stations around our country producing hydrogen. The hydrogen is taken by road and rail to the urban power stations by tanker trucks and trains that run on hydrogen. They discharge their loads into tank farms that supply the power stations. The power stations contain generators fuelled by hydrogen. What happens when we burn hydrogen? We get water as the exhaust product. Hey, we can use that pure water! Pipelines can take it to the cities' reservoirs.

What's hard about that? Nothing unless you'd rather just dig and ship.

Here's another idea: Why don't we double up? All those wind turbines on pylons painted white...why aren't they coated with solar panels? And why do we allow houses to be built with black or grey roofs that soak up all that radiant solar energy...only to induce the inhabitants of the house to use air-conditioning drawing on mains power supply. It should be the other way around: in summer roof-mounted solar panels can generate power for air-conditioning and in winter they can supply power for heating. At least let's stop the practice of fitting heat-trap roofing! What about all those people with exercise bikes, churning the wheels futilely? Those things could be fitted with generators that feed into the mains and provide a nice discount off your power bill. In fact all kinds of exercise machines could be developed to charge domestic batteries or feed into the main grid.

We can cut wastage by other means too. One beauty that gets me is all those extractor fans in toilet cubicles. By all the gods! No bastard ever died from smelling a fart! The damnable things turn on with the light, often inseparably. This gross squandering of electrical power is even written into building codes. Who benefits? The makers of extractor fans. The electricians who install them. The middle-men who sell them. The writers of building codes who take bribes from these vested interests. Think I'm kidding? Read the news. It's plausible. Also, the government has decided to prohibit incandescent lamps. They should do the same with halogen lamps. And why allow the fittings to be sold that require them?

Rip out your toilet extractor fans (or at least disable them), paint your roofs white and/or put solar panels on them. Let's make a start on undermining the nuclear industry. The twin pincers are reduction in demand and activist consumer preference for clean power. Homer is the truth behind Ziggy and if we don't thwart them, the diggers and shippers will stick us with another toxic fuel cycle.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Post #3 Hire a Hall / Nothing (but don't get me staaarted!)

Yes, like Seinfeld. A show about nothing made into something. Okay, what about:

1.Indian crickets: They arrived in Perth, WA, in the late nineteen-seventies and their first wave was a real plague of Egypt. A cartoonist drew a caricature of one standing on its hind legs, holding a cricket bat; the cricket had a waxed moustache and a turban. In real life they were no joke; they were a real vexation. A mate of mine told me this yarn: One night he was in his bed when he heard a strange scraping/munching sound. He hit the light switch next to his bed. The noise stopped when the light came on. This performance repeated several times. Then he got cunning and worked out where the noise was coming from before he hit the light and then, walked towards the source of the sound. Looking carefully about, he saw a styrofoam tray with cellophane wrapping on his desk. He'd eaten a cream pastry that evening and left the wrapping on the desk. On the tray was an Indian cricket. As he watched the cricket it decided to kick on with its meal without the cover of darkness. The cause of the noise was revealed: The cricket's jaws and whiskers scraping the cellophane as it licked the remains of the cream off. The cricket eyeballed him defiantly as it munched on. He reached about stealthily for a weapon; found a magazine, twisted it to a coil and leaped forward, smashing the cricket to pulp with it. One down, infinity to go. They were insolent, energetic, completely unlike the familiar sedentary Australian crickets. They were voracious carnivores and cannibals. If you squashed one and left the body for a few minutes on the floor, you'd find its mates eating it when you came back. They were faster, the younger and smaller they were. Little ones the size of pin-heads would seem to dematerialise as you looked at them - they really moved faster than the eye could see. Mortein, an Australian standby as revered as Vegemite, barely bothered them. Improvised flypaper was the order of the day, and plastic ice cream tubs filled with water. The little ones were fast but if they fell in water they were gone. All sizes of them stuck to the adhesive traps. But, all victories were Pyrrhic: they had endless reinforcements. If you paid for heavy-duty fumigation it did the trick, until the next wave arrived. Today the indigenous cricket is a rare sight - its niche has been taken by the imported competitors. And yet, after those first few exasperating summer seasons the Indian cricket tapered off to a tolerable level of infestation. Their irritating song is still heard every summer but their numbers have stabilised. Something out there developed a taste for them, I think. An insect? Lizards? I know not, but I offer great thanks to them and all accolades of the polity. May the gods prosper them and may they feast rapaciously.

2.How about the date? After 7 years it's still "Two thousand and ..." Maybe Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick did decide for everyone when they said, "Two thousand and one - a space odyssey". I say: "Two thousand? Sure. But 'Twenty' thereafter." One good reason: count the syllables. After the first one you're always saying an extra syllable that "Twenty" dispenses with. And what about the decade? The "noughties"? Oh, spare me. It's because of the innumerates who want to believe that there should be a Year Zero and so forth. Once you understand all that, it's simple. Here's my offering: "The to-tens": the first year of the first decade of the Twenty-first Century/Third Millennium is 2001. The last is 2010. Thus, 1 to 10. (As in tootins.) And 2011 to 2020?The"teens".

3.Now let's do weights and measures: Metrics came to Australia in 1975. Thirty three years later we still hear "foot" and "inch". Two reasons for that. The great United parochial States of America is the first. Without their obstinacy and cultural influence upon us, things would move along. The second is the fact that we never really made them our own. After thirty three years we still stumble over "kilometres" and "centimetres". Something changed in Australian culture about the time metrication happened. We stopped with the nicknames. None of the decimal coins introduced in 1966 ever acquired an affectionate name like "Two-bob", "zack" or "deener". Any real Australian knows that Strine is now a subject for linguistic palaeontology. We say "guy" almost without exception, to the exclusion of "bloke". "Cobber" is long gone from normal discourse. "Sheila" the same. And so on. Strine is like those tourist-trap folk-dances and handicrafts found in other countries. We use it self-consciously, if at all. It's even becoming pejorative, perhaps in the way that "knave" (boy) and "harlot" (youth) became insults, centuries ago. Haven't you heard something called "blokey"? What about someone "looking after his cobbers"?

Strine is dead, but we could put some local flavour on the names of metric units to suit the stress-patterns of our vernacular and we'd be more comfortable with them. What about "kims" and "sems" for those two I mentioned? And why not just call 2.5 "sems" a "metric inch"? Who gives a damn what it is precisely in British or American obsolete standards? Let's call 30 "sems" a "metric foot"! That's for the textbook. We'll just call them feet and inches and we'll know what we mean. Have you seen those weird road signs (not at intersections) saying that the next town is 153.4 kilometres away? Sure. The roads managers put signs where the old ones were and dutifully converted to metric. Why not just move the sign 3.4 kilometres closer to the town? The old signs were put there to conform to the neat round numbers people prefer to think and speak in. What went on in their heads back in '75? And the great bugbear of them all.... did they really expect us to say that someone is "one hundred and eighty three centimetres in height"? What witness ever told a cop that the fleeing offender was "seventy-two inches tall"? We didn't say "six feet and six inches" either: we said, "six foot six". So here's my fix: "He was a metre eighty, officer." Who needs the three "sems"? If you think it's more, say, "a metre eighty five". No bastard ever got out the tape measure and checked did they? It's only a guess - so guess! We could even use our newly metricated feet and inches to say: "He was about six foot...I think." (Albert Facey tells, in A Fortunate Life, how an army doctor was amazed to find that Facey was, to the least part of an inch, exactly six feet in height. The doctor had measured many thousands of men and Facey was unique in that regard.)

Most people don't know how to guess weights/dimensions/distances worth a damn and nobody is likely to be exactly as the best-informed guess measures them. And, when the correct to the millimetre (mim) height is known, (say 1803 mm) we can say (if we must be precise), "a metre, eighty, and three". After all, we, the people, are the ones who have to say it. We should decide how. Why did we forget that and become so self-defeatingly particular and slavish where metrics are concerned?

Monday, 14 April 2008

Post #2 Hire a Hall / Everything (well not quite)

In olden days they used to say, "Hire a hall if you want to make a speech!" Now it's "Start a blog!" People should be careful about saying it. The recipient of the advice might take heed and do just that. But what to blog about? There's everything and nothing. Let's have a bit of everything to start:

China? I was worried when Kevin Rudd was so effusively friendly towards the Chinese during their visit in 2007. I thought he would do a Keating and put this jewel-in-the-crown Asian relationship before any human rights concerns. He's surprised me this week by defying them and saying "human rights" and "Tibet" in the same sentence - and right on their patch too.

The US presidential election? I don't make any pretence about it; I'm well to the left of the Australian Labor Party these days. So, if I was a US citizen, who would I vote for? Clinton or Obama? John McCain. Yes, that's strange on the face of it, but true. The history books may well show the old white guy defeating the first plausible female candidate or the first black guy with a real chance. No doubt the future will judge it to be a reversion to type. Perhaps the last gasp of the old right guard. They'll be wrong. It'll be a victory for common sense. The only "qualification" the other two have is a desperate thirst to get their hands on the controls at any price. I hope not.

Global warming? Who knows. The majority of us are sitting back bemusedly watching the savants/high priests hurling incantations and curses at each other. Who to believe? Most of us think there's something funny with the weather but, then, everybody always has. If we wait for those guys to agree before we act we'll wait till the heat death of the Universe. So what to do? Forget about global warming. Yes, forget it! What is the argument about really? More to the point, (and leaving aside whether it's real) why are people prepared to pay money to some stooge to gainsay global warming? After all, funding for scientific research is always damned hard to come by, unless there's a military/industrial payoff for someone. So, cui bono, when the stooge causes someone to waiver on believing in GW? The only visible beneficiaries are the carbon-fuel industries. Here's my simple answer to it all: Forget GW and talk about how we unhook from carbon-based fuels. We're going to have to one day; they're finite. The sooner we do it the better. That way, what's left can be used for materials, rather than put up the chimney. If there really is such a thing as global warming and cutting out carbon fuels ameliorates it, that'll be a nice bonus for the future generations.

Friday, 11 April 2008