Posts Tagged ‘politics’

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.

 

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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.

 

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.

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.

Should we intervene when chemical weapons are used, if we don’t when guns and bombs are used?

October 7, 2013

At one point, listening to Tim Minchin’s address to a University ceremony reminded me of – among many things, as he is a thoughtful comedian –   an argument I observed continuing on the web.

That reminder leads me to write about the train of thought which followed my observations.

The point Tim Minchin made was that extremist positions lead to false dichotomies, and that good decision-making is difficult if we forget that reality is complex.  It was enhanced by his advice to learn as much as you can about everything, not be limited to a goal-driven life.

 The argument is about the “correct” response to the use of chemical weapons.  If we don’t intervene if a government is shooting or bombing its citizens, why should we suddenly do so if chemical weapons are used?

The train of thought which followed my observation of the argument follows:

The responses I observed seemed limited by the limited vision of most of those taking part: they seemed to see any death or injury as equivalent to any other,  they seemed to think that the question could be considered without considering the opinions of those who had experienced both sorts of weapons, and they had little knowledge of history.

The situation  reminded me of the distinction scientists make between different ways of being wrong: for example,  considering only one of a number of equally valid theories to explain a result; “experimental error” – we are not perfect, and random elements are inevitable; “not even wrong” in the sense of a theory being not a testable hypothesis; “totally wrong“, in the sense of having an appalling flaw in reasoning; and “bad science” in the sense that someone is lying about what the figures show, taking some belief system as being correct even when measurements contradict it, or ignoring agreed basic measurements which have repeatedly been found to be accurate without strong proof that the measurements are affected by a confounding factor.  Scientists see the last one as a distinctly different and morally reprehensible type of error.   The crunch is that  followers of science assert that assuming that all wrong theories are equally wrong is “wronger than wrong.”  

Similarly, I feel that those who discuss interventions by equating conventional  and chemical  weapons  are “wronger than wrong.”

Just as scientists are the ones to consult about different ways of being wrong in science, soldiers and the health workers dealing with the injuries resulting from war are the ones to consult about different forms of warfare.  In World Wars I and II the soldiers knew what it was to be shelled, hit by machine gun fire, cross barbed wire, be taken prisoner … and they saw the opposing forces have the same experiences.  They knew what the horrors of modern warfare could bring, and hated them while believing that they sometimes had to be faced.

However, soldiers saw a difference in type between classes of weapons of war, just as they saw a difference in type between “proper” prisoner-of-war camps and  Andersonville  (American history – Confederates imprisoning Union soldiers)  , Stalag III-C  etc. (German history – Soviet soldiers and other non-influential people),  and the Thai-Burma railway labour camps (Japanese history – Allied soldiers).  For example, I have heard old men who served in WW II speak of enemy flamethrower-operators in the same way as they speak of the people who authorised napalm bombings – with plain disgust, and quite unlike the respect with which they spoke of the other soldiers.

Similarly, in WW I the experience of chemical weapons proved profoundly different from the experience of the other horrors experienced – so different that it was felt to be of a significantly different type, and so deeply horrible that the deployment of such weapons was felt to be morally reprehensible.  After WW I it was the horror experienced by soldiers and medical workers which led to the push to have certain weapons outlawed, and for their first use to be stated, internationally, to be a war crime.  (You know before you use them that you will be in deep trouble… except for the slimy exceptional cases which the diplomats put into the treaty, so that the major powers keep developing the weapons…)  Despite the disgust at flamethrowers, they were not hated with the deep passion which led to the continuing and developing agreement to stop the use of chemical weapons.

(Me, I’m draconic, and the parent of twins.  From this background I would say that I don’t care who did it, as soon as chemical weapons are used “the rest of the world” should arrive in force and disarm both sides.  Completely.  No guns or tanks or warplanes left, just household implements.  Maybe get the Chinese army to sweep step-by-step across the whole country.  And then all go and leave them to it.)

So, from this thought, and remembering the Rwandan and Bosnian Genocides,   I found myself wanting to start a different discussion:

How do we get our peoples to discuss these questions outside of the context of a specific instance of  oppression:

  • What sorts of oppressions should warrant intervention in another country – ethnic, religious, gender, political…?
  • Does it matter whether it is oppression by a government or an influential group?  (The government denies all responsibility…)
  • Does a democracy have the right to elect a tyrant – and if they do, are they allowed to complain about and resist tyranny?
  • If we object to other religions trying to make us follow their laws, but they get democratically elected to govern another country, do we have the right to stop them using their religious laws to oppress their citizens who are of their religion? Of other religions? To oppress travellers?  What do we do if they call for their co-religious to force other countries to accept their rules?  How is that different from us calling for intervention in their country?
  • When does resistance against oppression become terrorism?
  • How oppressive must the treatment be before other countries intervene?
  • How should they intervene?  What effective interventions are available?
  • If we intervene, how do we arrange to leave the country if the divisions are profound and the culture favours violent retribution?

Only after we have thought about these seriously can we start on the next batch – for example:

  • If a major power unreasonably blocks United Nations approval, under what circumstances should our country intervene without it?
  • What penalties should there be for unjustified (by whose standards?) intervention in the internal affairs of another country?

So, that was my train of thought.

However, it wasn’t my discussion – I was kibbitzing on someone else’s interests – so I said nothing and put it aside until the thoughtful entertainer made me think.  And that thought was  that I should make some effort to raise the questions, recognising the complexity of the problem.

So, if you’ve read this far, how about talking about those questions with your friends?

The wisdom of the masses: Why I worry about the fashion for distrusting politicians who are too intelligent

September 27, 2013

In my last post (an appropriately mournful connotation there) I quoted Ogden Nash.  It was a fragment I remembered from a book, old before I was born, which I read again and again as a child.

The search on-line for the correct wording – after all, it was years since I had read it –  led me to consider democracy and the often claimed “wisdom of the masses.” (That was the phrase in the 50s.  Now, by Google, “of the crowds.”)

I started with the quote I recalled, involving “fell or jumped … picket fence” and found only one  which had the poem, “Everybody tells me everything”: http://followingpulitzer.wordpress.com/tag/ogden-nash/

Wanting as always to double-check, I found many pages which responded to my search by the name of the poem, for example http://www.poemhunter.com , http://www.best-poems.net , and the first three pages full of blogs where people quote the poem – but only as a scrap.  Strangely, none of them use an ellipsis to indicate something comes within the scrap:

“I find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
Just when you think that at least the outlook is
so black that it can grow no blacker, it worsens.
And that is why I do not like the news,
because there has never been an era
when so many things were going so right
for so many of the wrong persons.”

Wondering whether followingpuliutzer and I come from some parallel universe, I went to check the historical source.  I found the book (my family are at the stage of having to part with a book if we want to keep a new one, but some things we will not cull):  the reference is “Everybody Tells Me Everything” by Ogden Nash in “The Face is Familiar” 1943, Australian Edition,  J.M.Dent and Sons, London, pp 16-17,

presented here copied as hyperlinked by the notably accurate followingpulitzer :

I find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
The daily paper is so harrowing that it is costly even at the modest price of two cents;
It lands on your doorstep with a thud and you can’t bear to look at it but neither can you forbear, because it lies there with all the gruesome fascination of something that fell or jumped from the thirtieth floor and lit on a picket fence.
And you think that perhaps a leisurely perusal of some unsensational literary magazine will ease the stress,
And there you find an article presenting a foolproof plan for the defense of some small nation which unfortunately happened to get swallowed up by a nation not so small just as the article presenting the foolproof plan for its defense slid off the press.
And you furtively eye your radio which crouches in the corner like a hyena ready to spring,
And you know that what you want is Baby Snooks or Dr. I.Q. and you know that what you will get is Elmer Davis or a European roundup or Raymond Gram Swing.
Wherever you turn, whatever escapist stratagem you use,
All you get is news,
And just when you think that at least the outlook is so black that it can grow no blacker, it worsens,
And that is why I do not like to get the news, because there has never been an era when so many things were going so right for so many of the wrong persons.

I can upload an image if you like.

A truth sometimes forgotten in talking about democracy: the majority having an opinion does not make it an accurate description of that-which-is.  That is why web-searchers must assess the reliability and expertise of their sources, and why the ideal of Democracy is to elect people whom we consider wiser than ourselves.

That is why I worry about the fashion for distrusting politicians who are too intelligent.

Picket fences, Miranda Devine, Federal Cabinet’s one woman, and Team Sports.

September 24, 2013

I was fascinated (as I often am) by the weekend newspaper, which has, to quote Ogden Nash, “all the gruesome fascination of something that fell or jumped from the thirtieth floor and lit on a picket fence.

In this case, particularly by  “Sorry Ita, but Bishop’s no token woman.”  From The Sunday Times (Western Australia)  (“Insight” P.63 22.09.2013) – Miranda Devine’s blog, online at the (Australian) Telegraph:

http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/mirandadevine/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/women_should_learn_from_julie/

If it were voiced by “First Dog on the Moon”     I would know it was satire.  Unfortunately, it is printed in a Western Australian newspaper and, from the comments permitted to remain on her blog, I think she is serious.  Please read it before continuing (should it disappear, let me know and I will post a jpeg of the newspaper page.)

If you are too busy – in essence, she suggests that there is only one woman “ready” for a Federal Cabinet Ministry because too few of the women in politics have been  involved in team sports, so they are not “Team Players.”

For non-Australian readers, you might need to know that:

1. The generation of men in power here come from a background where “Team Sports” means foot-egg and cricket.  This generation tends to like strong women as long as they are in a subservient position (daughter, deputy, etc.) BUT tends not to hear if they voice some new idea –  however, it will often be said again ten minutes later by a man, and then is greeted as a good idea (Personal observation, echoed by others involved in committees.)

2.  The Prime Minister’s team sports background is rugby – a variety of foot-egg where male players are noted for macho behaviour and objectification of women.

3. The status of female team sports is clearly demonstrated by their usual absence from the nightly TV news  “sport” section.  Most young women here have played some team sport – hockey, netball (the home of “here if you need”), basketball, lacrosse …   giving up part of the weekend for their team.   Generally, not foot-egg or cricket, though.  Why? Well, just ten years ago a girl in a State primary coeducational school was  told that she couldn’t sign on to do cricket in the Sports period.  When her family supported her complaint of unfair access to the sport, she was allowed to sign on – on the same basis as late-signing boys.  So, as she had not done the sport the previous year, she joined the “waiting list.” And took up hockey.  Women’s rugby and cricket are seldom reported, even if the teams are winning internationally.

4.  High – level business mentors find that women often subsume their ambitions to the leader’s claimed needs of their teams (personal communications.)  The social conditioning of female children in Australia strongly encourages the compliant/supportive behaviours over individualistic drives, and discourages challenging dominant males.  For example, I heard one older woman tell a teenager “Don’t show how clever you are – men don’t like women who are more clever than them.”

5.  The reality of politics is closer to Mungo MacCallum’s “How to be a Megalomaniac”  – this book is written by a senior and satirical journalist, and rings true to long-term Canberra watchers.

So: few women fit for Cabinet? Sure, it’s because they aren’t on the Women Pollies’ Hockey Team.

Yeah.  Nothing to do with the tendency of selection panels to choose “People like us” as the most capable, and the selection panel here being really not representative of the national demographic profile (i.e. being mostly older white male politicians.)  The link I give is to Mikki Hebl’s  “Subtle Biases in Job Selection,” from Rice University website, and includes the truths that

…there are other Biases we have:   Job/Gender Congruency.
1) In masculine-stereotyped occupations (i.e, sciences and engineering), men’s performance is evaluated more positively than is women’s, even after controlling for the performance itself. This bias shows up in scores of studies and is consistent (i.e., Glick, Zion, & Nelson, 1988; Top, 1991).
2) When women act in noncommunal ways, they are penalized by evaluators; however, when they act in communal ways, they don’t get the job (Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004; Rudman & Glick, 2001).

And many people read Miranda Devine for a “sensible” view of things.

Lit on a picket fence, indeed.

Education policy setting us up for increased prison populations.

August 23, 2013

It seems strange that, in the one week, our State government both announces staffing cuts in Education and announces that they have to put more funds into education because the State Schools’ student numbers are increasing beyond forecast levels.  This is after an election where they claimed to have the budget under control and “fully funded” all their promises.  (No, I didn’t believe them, but many did.)

They have already cut the staff in the Personnel area so much that services are affected, and cut expert support so much that the experts have barely time to catch the phone calls let alone research answers, and yet they are cutting “non-frontline areas” further. In 1996 it was estimated that 20% of Western Australian school students were of non-English speaking backgrounds (http://www.mceecdya.edu.au/verve/_resources/wa_file.pdf); personal observation says the percentage has increased. These students are particularly at risk, and (experience shows) likely to shift schools, but staffing policies are cutting the support and staffing flexibility the frontline workers need to deal with the range of students’ backgrounds. This is like the army destaffing the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps. (USA equiv: Quartermaster Corps)

They already have students in Years pp-2 who desperately need more one-on-one work, (What do you expect, when the electronic babysitters combine with non-english speaking background and with  toilet training falling out of fashion?) yet they are cutting Education Assistant numbers. They are setting the scene for increased imprisonment rates when those children – often those from disadvantaged backgrounds – reach their late teens. Many countries’ prison services have said (e.g. http://www.doc.nv.gov/sites/doc/files/pdf/education/Education_Services_Spring_2012_Newsletter.pdf) that teaching these children to read is vital. They are also setting the scene for more violent juvenile crime, as lower literacy is linked to antisocial aggressive behaviour.( Reading failure and juvenile delinquency. Hogenson, Dennis L. http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1975-09851-001)

I am short-sighted, but I can see ahead more than ten years.  Pity the electorate doesn’t.

Do the politicians think we have no memory? Part 2

July 28, 2013

I have previously commented on this, but recently journalists and “letters to the editor” editors have been letting worse rewriting-of-history activities go unchallenged:

they are not referring to the facts when others claim in speeches, interviews, or letters that the John Howard-led Australian Government “turn back the boats” policy was working in the early 2000s.

I lived through that period.  I remember the trickle of early (intelligent!) refugees from the just-begun crises in the Near and Middle East, and predictions that it would become a flood.  I remember the boats being less and less seaworthy, ensuring that the refugees had to be rescued rather than returned to Indonesia.  I remember the Tampa,  SIEV 4 (where it transpired that government claims of children being “thrown overboard” were false) and SIEV X, and the community horror at the forseeable results of  “turn back the boats” in action.  There are many sources to confirm my memory – for example, http://blogs.abc.net.au/abc_tv/2011/07/leaky-boat-timeline.html  ,  http://www.safecom.org.au/kids-overboard.htm .  The photos on the latter site could be matched tomorrow without anyone being surprised..

Journalists and media owners note:  allowing the publication of unchallenged lies is either incompetence, cowardice, or a form of lying.