Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

When political activism is triggered by falsehoods, what do we do?

November 6, 2016
I was curious about the alleged blasphemy which had been reported as triggering violent protest in Indonesia – none of our local news services cited the inflammatory words.
A bit of googling found several sites saying that it was because a Christian Governor had had electoral opponents citing the Koran to say Islamic believers should not vote for a non-Muslim, and he had responded that the voters were being misled by the use of the Koran verse. More digging found:

According to sites including the Sydney Morning Herald, some Islamic groups had urged voters not to re-elect Ahok, citing verse 51 from the fifth sura or chapter of the Koran, al-Ma’ida, which some interpret as prohibiting Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim. It is often translated as:

“5:51 O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends: They are but friends to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.”

Others say the scripture should be understood in its context – making allies a time of war – and not interpreted literally – its context excludes those who respect the ways and beliefs of Islam. e.g. http://www.answering-christianity.com/sami_zaatri/friends.htm and http://seekershub.org/ans-blog/2009/09/07/friendship-with-non-muslims-explaining-verse-551/

I wondered whether it was extreme sensitivity to allegations of anti-Muslim bias which led the newspaper and TV  reports I came across to avoid dealing with the misinterpretation of sacred words as a basis for violence. If so, it is a pity – much of the world’s politics is shaped by invincible ignorance or deliberate lies, and we really need some mechanism for dealing with that.

This is a serious topic which has not been addressed by our parties’ policies.  It is time we wrote to our representatives and called for legislative action to protect the ignorant from falsehoods in the political arena as well as in the commercial world.  Maybe even time to picket or pillory those who are caught out misleading the public.  If they should have known better, if they could have checked with reputable experts, if they chose to speak from ignorance while acting as demagogues – they are as culpable as if they had lied.

In this case it is worse than usual, as the protests could be used by those already nervously aware of the Koran’s approach to those who are not of the Christian or Jewish faiths (why not to be an active atheist or pagan in Indonesia or Dubai…) to fear that Muslims could be led to vote for radical candidates purely on the basis of their faith, and thus destabilise our political system.

What future for the average intelligence student? The problem with education “for employment”

July 10, 2016

Both our major political parties are talking about education to fit students for jobs in “the new economy.”  At the same time  Our Coalition Government wants to give Company Tax reductions to large businesses.  However, for large companies,  increased company profits invested in expansion tend to lead to job losses.

Not just from offshore subcontracting of labour to exploited workers with no leave entitlements, OH&S rights,  or superannuation. Consider  http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36376966

It includes a quote from a former McDonald’s senior staffer : “It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who is inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging French fries.”

The main item in the article is that 60 000 (probably OH&S nightmare) jobs have gone because Chinese factories invested in technology not humans – even at their pay rates the robots are cheaper.

These job losses are not just the semi-literate jobs.  Consider the rise in expert systems, even self-reprogramming learning systems: the first white-collar job robots are already here, even doing work for lawyers: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2016/05/16/meet-ross-the-newly-hired-legal-robot/

The students know about this.  They know that machine intelligence researchers are even starting to find ways to program the machines for creativity.
(see John Gero on Creativity emergence and evolution in design concepts and framework
and  https://www.jwtintelligence.com/2016/06/cannes-2016-creativity-and-machine-learning/  )

So why should the less bright and less creative struggle to learn the basics, if they are told education is “to get a job” and they know they are headed for love on the dole?   (Read Greenwood’s book, or at least a detailed review, if you haven’t come across a film or play adaptation yet )

It is time for the meme of “education to be fit for work” to die.  Move to “education to get tools to make more fun and happiness, or dodge trouble.”  Start classes in “Learning something new without a teacher’s help, and demonstrating it to others,” “Comparing and testing health benefit claims,”  “Bullshit detection,” “website reliability testing,” “effective complaints,” “Dealing with Bureaucracy 1:  Completing a basic tax return so you don’t pay your refund to an accountant,” and  “Dealing with Bureaucracy 2:  Complying with Dole paperwork requirements.”

Of course, you may end up with a lot of activists trying to improve the Nation because they realise that the  current socio-economic system is the source of much unhappiness.  They may even realise that money is just another social construct – and not a good one – and demand a world run on social obligation instead.
Would that be so bad?

Cruz Iowa “big victory”?

February 7, 2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/02/02/ted-cruzs-interminably-long-iowa-victory-speech-annotated/  said “Ted Cruz won a big victory Monday night at the Iowa caucuses.”   Most Australian media had American talking heads referring to a clear victory and Donald Trump coming second, with little talk of Rubio.

From http://www.iowacaucus.biz/, Marco Rubio took 23.1 per cent, Mr Trump 24.3 per cent and Mr Cruz 27.7 per cent of the vote.

Less than a 5% difference?  In polling terms, that’s experimental error.  In USA political terms, at the start of the long chain of preliminaries in  other – less farm-based – States, this is neck-and-neck.

I think the media have not done a good job of reporting here.  We have the right to feel insulted, and the responsibility to wonder about their hidden agendas.

 

I

A quote that got me wondering – and where I went from there.

October 14, 2014

The quote:

I decided to track down the source of an often quoted bit of “Children of Dune” by Frank Herbert:
When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.
 “Quand je suis le plus faible, je vous demande la liberté parce que tel est votre principe; mais quand je suis le plus fort, je vous l’ôte, parce que tel est le mien.”
Conversation avec Augustin Cochin.
but in French Wikipedia it says
Pierre Pierrard explique que cette phrase a été mise dans la bouche de Louis Veuillot par Montalembert sous la forme « Quand les libéraux sont au pouvoir, nous leur demandons la liberté, parce que c’est leur principe, et, quand nous sommes au pouvoir, nous la leur refusons, parce que c’est le nôtre.»  et citée le 3 juin 1876 à l’Assemblée nationale par Jules Ferry.  Elle a depuis, sous des formes changeantes, été constamment r.épétée bien que dès le 6 juin suivant Veuillot eût protesté et affirmé que cette phrase n’était pas de lui.
– that is, he probably didn’t say it.  But people in 1876 thought it was worth having him say it.

 Where I went from there

 Many countries have signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees

the term “refugees” applies to any person who:

“Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

I know that most –isms and religions have some extreme adherents, who honestly believe that the rest of the world should  follow their beliefs.  Some of these form groups devoted to achieving this.   Some of these groups believe that failing to follow their beliefs makes one less than human, and that non-believers should not have equal rights with believers – for instance,  it may be that atheists, agnostics, and miscellaneous pagans cannot get employment documents.  Some go further and believe that force should be used to make some others comply – for example, live peacefully with “People of the book” but use threat of death to convert everyone else.   Some go further still, and wish to kill  even those who hold to  a  different interpretation of their holy books while  following the same version of the divine, or whatever other social belief is important to them.

Being a devout agnostic, I am deeply aware of these groups. I have met people who assume that I am worse than untrustworthy because I don’t claim to have a god I believe in, even though those who lie about their beliefs or ignore their religions’ rules are much less trustworthy (Seen the statistics on child abuse?)  I avoid going to certain countries because  I don’t want to have to lie about beliefs in order to travel safely.  I worry about their spread.  Especially the extremists who believe that abortion clinics should be bombed, and that no non-christian should ever be President,

 I suggest that all members of the United Nations publicly state the following: 

We will only give refuge to those who commit to reciprocal tolerance of others’ belief and lack of belief,  and to recognition of all human rights.

The extreme case

Where people are  of a social or religious or political group that believes that unbelievers / some other group should be oppressed,  unless they will commit to leaving that group, they should be treated as they would treat others.    If their group generally  say that those who convert from their belief should be killed, they  must not be given refugee status unless they renounce that aspect of the belief, and if they later recant the death penalty should, logically, apply.  If they deny others’ evidence equal weight before the law, their evidence should so be discounted in the country of refuge.   If they would tax unbelievers more heavily than their own, they shall be taxed heavily in the country of refuge.

The moderate case – or is it?

Where people are  of a social or religious or political group that believes that unbelievers / some other group should be oppressed,  unless they will commit to leaving that group, they should be  denied refugee status.  If they are refugees from another such group of differing belief – well, that is fair exchange of oppression.

The interaction of this with overseas oppression

Where a government oppresses others in such a way as to make people become refugees, that government should not generally be assisted if another oppressive group attempts their overthrow.  Intervention should only be on a humanitarian basis. Refugees should not be sent back to an oppressive regime, as they have renounced the oppressive culture and will therefore be liable to greater risk.

If a self-proclaimed government attempts to invade other nations and enforces oppressive beliefs,  that requires immediate and forceful response from the United Nations – Peace Makers, not Peace Keepers.  The attempted invasion  is not just a war, it is a denial of human rights extending across borders, which is a much more serious and urgent matter.  If we stand idly waiting for someone else to fix it, we encourage all extreme belief groups to try their hand at the same game.

And that, I would pay higher tax to avoid.  I would travel to be a “grumpy old pensioner” on the battlefront, to embarrass the invaders until they stop that so that my grandchildren will be safe.   (Besides, it beats relying on the social system in old age, now that the illiberal and small-hearted are running the county.

 

Housing on the dole – or the minimum wage

May 6, 2014

 Fining beggars, cutting welfare, and moving young unemployed away from home.

The City of Perth recently suggested that beggars should be fined.  (They rapidly backed away from the resultant backlash, and started talking about “… if they don’t accept a referral to the Salvation Army…”)   At that time I thought – Our State gaols people for unpaid fines.  Someone poor enough to need to beg, and allergic to  religious types, can’t pay the hundred dollars, so goes to prison.  One way out of homelessness…

Now the Australian Government’s rushed “Commission of Audit” – consisting of the type of people you’d expect  to be appointed by a very Big Business aligned government – has brought in its predictable extreme list of possible actions.  As in the Pauline Hansen /  One Nation days, their suggestions are so extreme as to make vicious treatment of the poor look moderate, and a number of rich people are chipping in with ways to cut the welfare budget.

One of the ideas raised in the past week was to require young unemployed people to move from areas of high unemployment.

This reminded me of the City of Perth’s proposal, and I shall explain why.

 Income and homelessness

In Australia we have well over 5% unemployment, where that is defined as  not having had an hour’s paid work in the previous week.  

We also have cities where a report on affordable housing

“… prepared by Anglicare Australia, found single Australians on government payments are “seriously disadvantaged” in the housing market, with less than 1 per cent of properties examined deemed suitable. 

Single people with no children living on the minimum wage were slightly better off, with 4 per cent of listed properties found suitable, according to the study. ” 

The full report is at http://www.anglicare.asn.au/site/rental_affordability_snapshot.php   It includes figures for some areas where welfare income won’t even rent a shed.

Now, business claim that the minimum wage is sufficient, and the governments say that the various welfare payments are sufficient.

Welfare groups say that we need much more public housing, as we have at least 100,000 homeless (2011 figures plus local information).

Young unemployed people rely on support – and often housing – from a network of family and friends.  Couch-surfing and rental sharing are much easier where you know a lot of people. Life is cheaper when they help you with food and laundry facilities. So, moving young unemployed people away from their home ground will lead to more homelessness and begging.

Here’s a thought.  Social Science Fiction, perhaps.

If the payments are sufficient, let the Federal government and State governments accept responsibility for showing it is so.

Sell no more government owned land within 20 kilometers of a city – any buildings which are no longer required (say, an old hospital in Perth where a replacement is being built elsewhere) can be replaced by State-owned quick-built and easily recycled buildings (in this case, so when the new hospital gets too old, you have somewhere to rebuild.)    That way you can experiment with physical structures for the housing.  (By the way, NEVER sell government owned land within 20 kilometers of a city in Oz,  ever.  You will need the land later, and it will have increased in cost beyond the interest on the money you get today.)

Have large, mulitstorey complexes with communal kitchens and laundries, and a mixture of single and family accommodation.  Provide subsidised housing there for concierges/maintenance workers, police, nurses, teachers, cooks, lawyers  and social workers.   And hire some of these to work in the buildings as teachers for those who cannot attend school, social trainers, residents’ representatives, police, etc.

People on welfare can choose to surrender their benefits in return for secure housing, food and clothing and laundry (taking rostered turns at kitchen and cleaning and maintenance duties if capable – thus learning skills and responsibility), transport to education or job-seeking activities and to second-hand stores (to get clothing etc.), internet access for such purposes, education and work equipment costs, health care, etcetera.  One of the in-house jobs woud be the “knocker-upper” : some people do need a person to get them up on time to get to where they have to be on time, and to remind them to get to important appointments.  It is a surprisingly common problem, and naturally linked to unemployment and problems with bureaucracy.

Where welfare recipients have their payments suspended for “breaches” they can be put on daily work rosters – a contrast with the current system: six weeks or more with no income and no monitoring of behaviour (natural risk of crime or homelessness.)

If  residents get employment or other income, half of all after-tax-and- costs income above welfare is also charged, and once they get more than the minimum wage they have support to find independent rentals (they do, after all, have a “rental reference” now. )

It’s cheaper than imprisonment or fully institutional care, and for many of those who are  intellectually handicapped / brain injured / just unable to cope out of institutions it is more likely to be  a happy life than tying to live independently.  For those who haven’t learned how to run a home in our culture, it can help with gaining the skills they need.  For families under stress it may provide the added support the children need to get them to happy adulthood – without the shame of being officially “targets” of support.  For single unemployed people, it provides a better environment that many random share houses.  For the elderly, it provides support greater than fully independent living but less intense that nursing home care.

What is more, it will take some pressure off the lower end of the rental market.

The trouble is, the State and Federal governments want to send the needy to the Salvation Army, Anglicare, the Uniting Church Mission, … anything but admit that the problem requires serious action by something more than volunteer organisations.

 

A Challenge for “Corporate environmentalists”

April 22, 2014

Many organisations paint themselves Green, and proudly “Turn off the lights for Earth Hour.”  I would like them to try a more lasting challenge:

Make unironed clothes an “Environmentally Aware” corporate fashion statement.  Those creases and wrinkles come from cleaning, which shows intelligence,   or from being packed neatly, which shows forethought – but what is the point of burning electricity to take out wrinkles?

How many kilowatt/hours power irons and clothes steamers?  How many hours are spent ironing rather than doing life-enriching activities?  This is insanity continued by the social pressure to “look Professional.”

Join the movement:  use Earth Day to bring a little sanity to your workplace – and your local school, and anywhere you visit where they want to look “properly ironed.”

Do the politicians think we have no memory? Part 3

March 23, 2014

After an Australian election, if  one party gets a majority of the whole population vote but another party wins the majority of seats the losing  politicians regularly grumble, throwing around words like “gerrymander.”

Politicians say they want schools to teach students to understand and value our way of government.  They say they want schools to emphasise teaching of history, and it is an important part of our history that a great deal of care was put into setting up our system, which started peacefully and by negotiation well after the hasty and violent starts of the main European countries and the USA.   They say they want these things in the curriculum,  but I wonder whether they want voters to remember their schooling when they come to vote.

Background  to  the Australian Electoral System

(Skip this if you know it already)

It was a deliberate choice to have States’ federal Senate numbers equal regardless of population and representing proportional votes within each State, to prevent the tyranny of the majority.   They were certainly influenced by John Calhoun’s ideas on concurrent majority as an approach to the problem, ideas still discussed this century .   It was also a deliberate choice to have each voter  have as many preferential votes as there are candidates up for election in the State,¹ a change made in 1949, even though the mathematics and vote tracing were horribly curly in the days before computerised  counting.    A voter may vote for all one party first, or one Green, one Independent, one Labor, one Liberal, and one Euthanasia party candidate, then mix up the remaining candidates in any order as long as each candidate has ves preferred number on the paper.  If a candidate has more first preferences than ve needs (one-sixth-plus-one of the votes is the quota if there are 6 seats), ves surplus votes are distributed as first preferences in proportion to the preferences of the voters who gave ver the votes.  Candidates who get less than the fraction needed to get a seat are knocked out from least votes up, and at each step the loser’s votes next preferences are distributed and the scrutineers check whether someone has got the quota.    (Messy!  I’m not making this up – check with the Australian Electoral Commission)  No wonder they introduced “Or you can tick one party’s box and we will distribute all their preferences the way they have told the us to.”

It was also a deliberate choice to have each House of Representative seat linked to its own area (and electorates other than islands are single patches of land), and that the voters from that area  vote  for  individual candidates as individuals, though the candidates  could ally to parties.  That way, local interests could be well represented by someone known to the locals.   Also, in each area, the voter has preferential votes as in the Senate – so that if they like Alan but would rather have Jan than Ursula if they can’t have Alan, they can try for Alan but know that Jan will get their vote if he fails.  They just number the order of preference in the candidates’ boxes.  This means that you don’t get someone hated by 60% of the electorate into the seat just because the 60% have slightly different ideas about the best way to do things and vote for 3 other candidates first.  If they all prefer a 4th to the 40%er, they get their way.

Demographics

For philosophical reasons, State governments have been selling off State-owned housing in expensive areas, buying housing in less expensive locations,  and subsidising private rentals for those in need – who can seldom get private rentals in the prime locations.   In addition, those short of money sell out of high-value areas to free up the money, and the wealthy seek houses close to well-known exclusive schools and other valued social resources.  This has led to the service-providers (shop assistants, teachers, police, cleaners, etc) having to travel long distances to work, and tertiary students having to travel hours to their studies, with the associated travel costs – while the wealthy are within easy foot or  public transport access of resources.  This is fair in the  eyes of those benefiting from the user-pays  approach, and they see its good points:  after all, if the State provided enough low cost housing in the  upmarket areas, the dregs of society would lower property values.  An additional benefit is that the local State schools have a better class of student and parents and thus better outcomes than in the more difficult suburbs..

You got over half the total but not enough seats.  Problem?

True, there are many reasons people vote their different ways, but let’s pretend that wealth-aligned interests are usually enough to swing the vote.  Let us assume that the electoral boundaries are fair, with pretty similar numbers in each electorate, and thus there is no real gerrymander.  Our Electoral Commission does work at being fair that way.

Pretend there are 10 electorates.

Rich party has 90% of the votes in each of 4 electorates.

Poor party has 60% of the votes in each of 6 electorates.

% of total voters                   %  of total vote             seats / 10

R 36%        P 4%                                 40%                      4

R 24%        P 36 %                              60%                      6

total votes by  party                 R 60 %        P 40 %

Total seats by party                 R   4             P  6

Don’t complain.  This was part of the design of the Australian system, deliberately included to control concentrated power groups with regional agendas inimical to the wider society.   This is in the curriculum – the intersection of History with Society and Environment.   Why don’t the journalists call the politicians on this, rather than just quoting them?

I am so annoyed that I am going to shout.  

If  you want a greater proportion of the seats, have a better distribution of your supporters across electorates. 

A good start would be:  Get out of your enclaves of power, and make housing available for the “lower orders” closer to the places that they work.  If you can’t stop the worsening inequality, at least reduce home address’s value as a predictor of socioeconomic status.  

 

¹ I know, it is really “a preferential vote” but they used be allowed to number only a limited number of preferences and I wanted to make the distinction .

Spotted: double standards

March 17, 2014

https://www.facebook.com/DestroyTheJoint/photos/a.419017344812682.83661.418382174876199/659205887460492/?type=1

I have seen several posts about this, and thought it interesting that the conversation was about the questions of whether Tony Abbot could be a feminist and whether Michaelia Cash should see herself as a feminist (Being in the Senate House, not the kitchen…)

Seemed to me it is more an acceptance of the perception problem that confronts women in so many places: what is assertive in a man is aggressive in a woman; what is “reasonable use of flextime” for a man  is “making allowances” for the breadwinner woman.  A typical example is at http://www.feminist.com/activism/organizingyw7.html.

It is clear that, in the political arena of Australia, a male politician who appreciates clever and confident women and has several in high subordinate positions (wife, daughter, head of staff in his office, cabinet ministers when he is PM) will see himself as a feminist:  he is happy for them to have careers, and he will pitch in and take responsibility for his share of the work.  He just doesn’t notice the double standards and the problem of women’s social invisibility in meetings – after all, he is an alpha male and doesn’t have to experience it.  He is seen as more sensitive and even assertive  if he says that he is a feminist.

The female conservative politician who claims she is not a feminist is not claiming to have been given her job as a favour from some man.  She is cannily avoiding the trap of being seen as an aggressive harridan who wants to subjugate all men.  She is seen as more sensitive and assertive if she “resists the pressure” to say she is a feminist.  For a woman seeking right-wing support, being an avowed feminist is like being “too clever”  or “atheist” :  her male audience immediately expect her to be  unfeminine, possibly lesbian, probably aggressive, and definitely too big for her boots.

Therefore, I do not condemn Senator Cash.   She has no doubt learned from Julia Gillard’s fate.  She knows her place on the ticket, and is doing the right things to keep it.

A teacher’s personal viewpoint: not Aboriginal, not Migrant, not standard White Australian.

February 23, 2014

As a seventh-generation non-Aboriginal Australian, I have no attachment to other lands.  I have deep fondness for the land, air, sea and skies of my part of Australia.  However, I have no ritual or family ties to any place, unlike many Aboriginals.[1]  I n this essay I raise aspects of my life parallel to the experiences of many Aboriginals; it is important to remember that some Aboriginals experience far more extreme versions of these and other difficult  situations.

A. Disadvantages: commonalities with many Aboriginals [2]

My parents both suffered chronic illness, with my Father’s PTSD and alcohol abuse giving a background of violence at times of family stress – such as major exams.  My father smoked and drank heavily, but the family treated this as damage caused by his war-time experiences.  A difference in this area was that alcohol was treated by my parents as a useful social drug if not abused, and I was taught to recognise the early physical signs of its effects on me so that I could keep control.  Intoxication of any sort was seen as unwise, but understandable when you knew the background; tobacco was a simple addiction and to be avoided.

We lived on the Service Pension in a State Housing Commission fibro house, with wood stove, wood copper (no washing machine fittings), livingroom fire and chip bath-heater.  We had a second-hand black-and-white TV while my schoolmates had colour, second hand (old-style) school uniforms, and often ended the pay fortnight with meals of pasta, cheese, garlic and herbs.

My family in the State was my sibs, my parents, and a grandmother; we could not afford interstate telephone calls or travel.  None of our cultural group who lived nearby was willing to acknowledge us.  This aspect of my life was very different from the family approach and mobility common in Aboriginal kinship groups[3].  I still feel uncomfortable at large gatherings of my husband’s family.

My home language, lack of religion, preferred media use, and topics of conversation were so different from my classmates that, after Year 2, I was ostracised at best and bullied at worst.  I endured in misery until, in Year 10, I used superior force on my prime tormentor.  This ended the bullying.[4]

Academically, I struggled in Years 1 and 2, being poor at the valued activities.  In later years my terrible fine and gross motor coordination was less of an issue than in early primary, though I was bullied in part  for being bad at art, and at neat writing and illustrations in my written work, and sports. Most winters I was sick, sometimes hospitalised, and missed about half of the winter term.  From Year 3 my teachers mostly let me do my own things quietly, if I did not disrupt the class.  Many of my classmates were children of working men (never “working class”), were expected to get a job at 14, and distrusted those who finished high-school.

One of my sibs died before he was 18; another before he was 50, two years after his wife died.  Another was a marginal alcoholic, and is now living a health-care-card existence on his investments and savings.

I experienced unspoken prejudice as an adult in an “equal opportunity” workplace.  For example,   I found that behaviours accepted in men were described as aggressive in women, and experienced the classic committee interaction:

Problem introduced

Men speak

Woman speaks, suggesting a different approach

Men nod, and then speak again as if woman had said nothing

Man says rephrased version of what woman said, and it is treated as a good new idea.

 B. Advantages

1. Education

Both my parents were extremely bright – each of my parents had, they said, been the Dux of their State.  Both sides of the family put great value on education, sociological awareness, and the precise use of formal English in expression of complex and subtle arguments.  My father was a registered GP, despite being too ill to practise, but had woodworking skills.  We learned to make and mend, and to grow vegetables, and had immediate health care with medical explanations of the disease when we were ill.  The combination of practical labour with theoretical science underpinning was a common experience in our home.  Dental treatment was free and timely, as the State dental system was well funded at that time.

My home language being formal English, I took to serious reading quite naturally.  The complex conversations between my elder sibs and my parents, and the serious programs I heard on the radio, made the school’s “difficult” texts boringly easy by contrast; after Year 2 I would finish non-art classwork before the teacher had finished explaining it to the others.   The literate humour of my family and of the BBC rebroadcast on the ABC made my wordplay entertaining to some teachers, so they let me write creatively.  The science around the house meant that high-school science was partly familiar to me from the start, so again I shot ahead.

Being socially isolated, often ill, and poor, I had time to read;  having good examples of books all over my home I found my friends in the authors – of several races and religions – who helped me escape.  I added to them the gentle and witty people I met in the other media.  The community of thought was, for me, much what the extended family is to others.  In a sense, to paraphrase Robert Tonkinson[5] on the Martu, I self-identify as an intellectual first and an Australian second, if at all.  (Our culture was, like the Martu, at heart in conflict with the mainstream, but it was so in a socially valued way, and fit well with education and bureaucracy).

From this basis, reading of new findings or of history came to be as much fun to me as family gossip is to my husband’s relatives.  This gave me the extreme advantage of finding University studies more play than work.

2. Tolerance

The “Understandable considering” approach underpinned my parents’ thinking: they had wide historical and social knowledge, were angered by racism since they were teenagers, and practised courteous disagreement with a wide range of sadly ignorant and smug neighbours.

This awareness did not mean they gave in:  my parents socialised with Aboriginals when the Aboriginals did not feel it left them at risk of trouble; my father was one of the veterans who marched in the Moratorium rallies, wearing his RSL pin and medals; and my mother (who had been offended at being “not allowed to” dance with Aboriginal men for fear they would be beaten up) agreed strongly with the Civil Rights and the Womens Liberation movements, and brought me up to be sure of my worth as a person.

This approach fed into my sib’s choice to leave paid employment for a quiet and sufficient life, with time and energy to volunteer with community organisations, more personal value in his activities, and less stress leading to less desire to drink:  considering the wider history and circumstances removed the assumption that paid employment is the only value to life.  We also had met a wide enough range of wise people to value formal education less than deep understandings.

A side effect of this was my having a deep interest in the changing situations of Australia’s indigenous peoples, and a deep anger at the way the society in general (through Governments) was handling its responsibilities.

3. Access to social support by the State.

Despite our situation, we were at no risk of removal from the family.

I remember being given pencils, pads, and other things needed for classroom work, and prompt free treatment at the Dental Hospital.  I also remember the luxury of real milk each day at  Primary school, being in charge of my own Commonwealth Scholarship money in High School,  and being paid the away-from-home rate (unreasonable to live at home) as an Undergraduate in the fee-free days of the late 1970s.

These are things mostly lacking now – I was born in an unusual period.

I also relied on supporting Parents’ Benefit as a deserted spouse, and used subsidised council childcare while I sought employment and had a low-paid job.  Having experience in budgeting, I coped when clerical errors cancelled my payments for a month; with the language of bureaucracy, I easily claimed the arrears.  When I was employed, I found out how to get the subsidised housing loan and started buying my own place.  All these things were easier because of my background knowledge of language and socially acceptable behaviours in dealing with bureaucracies.

4. Race.

Being of pale, freckled, red-haired type, and with the “educated Australian” sociolect, I was given the benefit of the doubt in many situations.  There were down sides:  some  less educated people assumed I was English,  many people assumed I had no knowledge of poverty  –  thinking I was not going to restaurants because I was “a snob”, or that I had no understanding of their struggle to meet bills –  and non-whites assumed that I was a “standard” white person.

My social network has shown me the underlying racism I do not experience.  Two examples:  (1) unlike me, my husband (also “white”) has experienced abuse and police harassment based on the assumption that he is Aboriginal.  (2) A brother was charged (case dismissed) for refusing to give details of a street conversation with Aboriginals to two men who told the group to “move along” and then detained him.  (He was lucky they had not bothered to show him their police identification.)

5. Knowledge of History.

With geological and species-length views of time, wide reading on many times and cultures,  of mythologies and science fiction stories, and forty years of taking an anthropological perspective on my own society,  I have a view of the present which is hard to explain to those more bound to this time and place.  I could not have developed this without my family’s background, or without the time to read.  I think this is an advantage, though it does mean I have to restrict my conversation in many social situations.

In formal study of Anthropology and in my simple learning from curiosity I have found a wide range of descriptions of “Aboriginality” and “Aboriginal Beliefs”;  my general assumption is that every human I meet is a new individual, and I must try to find what meetings of minds are possible for the new person.  I also begin with the awareness that the Aboriginals I meet may be deeply angry with the whole of mainstream society, and if so I do not take their anger as a attack on my individual person – though I may be wary of a physical attack in some times and places.

In the shorter (my lifetime) view of history, I have seen the basic assumptions about Aboriginals change:  a family which once joked about “opening car doors into Abos” recently [6] had a member say “Their Mum tries to bring them up straight, pity their Dad’s White trash!” in speaking of a family with an Aboriginal mother.  They are even becoming aware of the range of experiences and beliefs in the Aboriginal population.

Conclusion

My background is a mixture of being an outsider and yet having socially valued qualities;  lower SES environment paralleling the risk factors many Aboriginals suffer, as listed in our lectures, and  yet upper SES educational background.  My personal belief is that I can learn, make, or mend almost anything, and that all humans can change; without my family’s cultural background I might have despaired and lost all confidence, even with my racial advantages.  I cannot assume how others will feel and act in their own, very personal, situations.

Although I have little knowledge (by my standards) of  local Aboriginal beliefs, I have personal and theoretical knowledge of the experiences of exclusion and power differentials, prejudice and challenges to personal pride, dysfunctional family and deep poverty, and the value of academic success.  I have watched the development of the current situation of multiple divisions within Australian society and, while unable to prevent it, do wish to help others reach beyond the boundaries our history has raised.

My personal beliefs will shape my performance, even if I choose to accept an employers’ requirement that I act against them, because I know that I am not a gifted actor – my expression will show something of what I think.  I hope that my understanding and acceptance of individual differences will help me become an empowering teacher- or, at least, to make my classroom a safe place for children in times of trouble.


[1] EDUC8429 lectures (various lecturers) Semester 1, 2010; Australian Aboriginal Studies Journal (various issues).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] I still laugh when people say that violence never solves anything – tell that to the Carthaginians!

[5] Tonkinson, 2006

[6] I accept that many people do not agree that the month just past is already history.  Nevertheless, I do see it as history.

References

 Australian Aboriginal Studies Journal (various issues). Retrieved from http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/asj/back.html

EDUC8429 lectures (various lecturers) University of Western Australia, Semester 1, 2010.

Tonkinson, R. (2006) ‘Difference’ and ‘autonomy’ then and now: four decades of change in a western desert society.  Wentworth Lecture.  Retrieved 20.04.2010 from http://www1.aiatsis.gov.au/exhibitions/wentworth/wentworthcontents.htm


Anorexic approach to “Cutting the Fat” in the Australian public service: cut the fat at the Executive level instead.

January 2, 2014

The Centre for Policy Development   says  that the Australian public sector is as efficient as the private sector once different responsibilities (e.g. more at-risk students going to state schools) are taken into account, and that OECD 2010 reports said Oz had 5th lowest taxing government in OECD but still 9th most effective.

Current State and Federal Oz governments are denigrating their public service staff performance, cutting staff without cutting duties, and not giving the staff guidance as to which officially required activities should be cut when there isn’t time to do everything.  They are  trumpeting “increased investment” in areas when the money is spent on basic construction for aging infrastructure and increasing population,  but actual staff-hours-per-thousand-clients are cut.  They are calling for us to match the  best of OECD results despite lower taxes, less cultural support , and more diverse population – and they dread talk of increasing taxes. Their political philosophy echoes USA conservatives.

It still looks better here than in the USA (read  http://www.viralnova.com/hospital-bill/  ) – but the local politicians are working on matching USA’s treatment of the most vulnerable.  They are even continuing to negotiate “Free Trade” agreements without provision for “Human Rights and OH&S” tarriffs.

It makes sense to learn from others’ mistakes, but our politicians seem determined instead to repeat the errors their predecessors made in using slaves (cheaper than the working class) in Ancient Rome and in too-rapid attempts to balance budgets when dealing with the recovery from the Great Depression.  (See Bill Fawcett’s “Doomed to Repeat”)  We aren’t using slaves?  Consider the conditons in the third-world countries to which work is “outsourced.”

That’s Modern Western democracy in action: “leaders” too much led by daily polls and the “perceived self-interest” push of their wealthy backers.  Alas,  the wealthy backers do not remember that a great gap between employee income and owner’s income leads to social problems which can destroy a civilization.  And our civilization is now global.

So, how about all shareholders (and Oz is, famously, a nation of shareholders – we just don’t usually vote our holdings) getting together and giving our proxies to some socially aware groups, on the condition that they vote to make companies limit the highest pay rate per hour (maximum 24 hours / day 365 days/year)  for any organization to be twenty times the hourly pay of the lowest paid employee – including those overseas, and including those hired by subcontractors.  This includes directors’ “remuneration.”  Remember, as voters, we can limit our politicians’ pay if we choose.   And add an “insult tax” where people are paid too much more than others : where the poorest in your country live on $13,000 pa and the median income is $43,100  an income over $800,000 is a dire insult.

Too hard?

Consider  limiting the “remuneration” to twenty times the workers’ pay as expressed as a percentage of average weekly earnings (AWE) in the county in which the work is performed, and remuneration in terms of the AWE of the Director’s country of residence.

Worried about talented people going overseas?  Consider: if they want more than the limit,  and don’t want to support the poorest, what attitudes will their children bring to our schools?  Do we want that in our society?  What type of society do we want our politicians and business leaders to aim for?

Imagine being known as a country dedicated to equality of opportunity,  and with an underlying belief in “from each according to ability, to each according to need, with our descendants able to live as we do.”  Imagine a society where your value is not measured in money.

Now help make reality fit the dream.