Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mr Abbott's Odious Opportunism

Here's what Tony Abbott was doing while Northern Queenslanders were battening down to prepare for the arrival of Cyclone Yasi and the rest of us were either fretting over the continuing news coverage or feeling mildly peeved that our favourite Wednesday night TV viewing had been cancelled because of the impending disaster: sending e-mails to Liberal Party supporters, asking them to kick in some readies to support his campaign against the flood levy.

Impressive? John Birmingham doesn't think so. Neither do I. Tony's attempt to distance himself from the crass e-mail appeal doesn't impress either.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Are You Really Sure That You Want To Be a Luddite?

It's not easy to quite Facebook completely. It's easy enough to de-activate your account but deleting it is another matter completely. You have to apply to have your account deleted and that takes 14 days. 14 days during which what you'll see if you decide to log in to Facebook so that you can let all your erstwhile Facebook friends that you've decided to quit Facebook for good is this screen:

In Praise of Ern

I know very little Australian poetry, beyond that stanza of Dorothea Mackellar's My Country. That's because, back in the mid 1960s, I got a traditionalist Australian education of the kind advocated by Dr Kevin Donnelly and other education conservatives. Australian literature - especially poetry - had only a token presence in the curriculum. I gather little had changed by the 1980s and I hope things have improved one hell of a lot since then. Maybe, finally, senior high school students are getting more than the token presence of one Australian book a year on their reading lists. You'd think that the number would have at least doubled by now.

There's one Australian poet who I reckon every Australian student should know about by the time they finish high school: our most internationally famous poet Ern Malley. Ern and the scandal he created would make a great case study for achieving the goals specified for the Literacy strand of the National English Curriculum in Years 11 & 12:

Quick Link - The New Neurosexism

Wandering wombs, an anatomically conferred destiny of penis envy and masochism, smaller brains, smaller frontal lobes, larger frontal lobes, right-hemisphere dominance, cross-hemisphere interaction, too much oestrogen, not enough testosterone – all have been invoked to explain why women are intellectually inferior to men, more emotional, less logical, better at asking for directions, worse at map reading, hopeless at maths and science, and ever so much better suited to jobs involving finger dexterity, nappies and dishes...
There's more good writing from Cordelia Fine where that came from.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Flood Levy - A Complete Failure of Political Will

Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard has almost but not quite fulfilled the expectations of a lot of pundits who were predicting that she would fund the Federal Government's contribution to recovery from the Queensland floods through a special levy. One third of the Federal Government's contribution to Queensland's recovery will be funded through a levy. The other two thirds will come from spending cuts. I think my opinion of this decision is quite clear from the title of this post.

In olden days, before first Bob Hawke & Paul Keating and then John Howard & Peter Costello established and propagated the Cult of the Surplus it would have been quite acceptable for a government to respond to a disaster like the Queensland floods by extending the budget deficit. But that was then, this is now. Now things are different: if Australian governments aren't keeping their budgets in surplus so that the funds obtained by overtaxing the populus can be invested in a "Future Fund" managed by merchant bankers in the United States there's something very obviously wrong. Our national economy must be run at a profit or, at worst, on a break even basis. Borrowing money to get through hard times - something any private business would at least try to do - is no longer an option for Australian governments.

(US governments have it better than ours - they can, and have, cranked up enormous deficits to fund the indulgences of the USA's ruling elites. According to some commentators sooner or later they'll have to face up to things and change their ways. Don't bet on it happening any time soon).

Here's the thing - according to the canons of economics, the justification for governments accumulating surpluses (and then investing them through merchant bankers either here or overseas) is so that when times get tough - and a natural disaster on the scale of the Queensland floods makes for a pretty tough time - the government has funds in hand to cope with the tough times. That's what surpluses are for: not proving that the government can run the country like a well-managed private business which consistently returns high dividends to shareholders but so that, like a prudent householder, it has something set aside for the proverbial rainy day (pun unfortunately unavoidable). The function of a budget surplus is to provide insurance, not profit.

Particularly galling, from a personal point of view, is that the two thirds of the Federal Government's contribution to fixing up the flood damage that comes from program cuts includes cuts to the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS). Coming at the end of a day when I've just come home after being told that I might have to wait for years before I can get housing through the Office of Housing in Victoria this news is really unwelcome - further evidence that this Federal Government won't even try to walk and chew gum at the same time.

None of this would be happening if the Gillard Government were prepared to face up to the facts and say "You know that 2013 budget surplus we promised? Sorry folks, we'll have to plead force majeur on that one. The budget will get back into surplus when it gets back into surplus. But thanks to the Queensland floods all bets are off." But no - they're too scared of what News Limited will say about them to do that.

Not that it's done the ALP any good - I think Andy Bolt's comments on the flood levy are a good indication of the sort of treatment they'll get from that quarter. It's always galling to find myself agreeing with Bolt on anything but I'll just have to console myself with the thought that we're not on the same side - we just happen to be facing in the same direction right now.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Vocabulary Gap

Maybe it's just me or maybe it's the English language but I found myself stuck for a word today: one whose definition is "inadvertently saying the exact opposite of what you mean". We have words for doing it deliberately - "sarcasm" for example - but I can't think of any for doing it without meaning to. I think such a word would be useful (malapropism and parapraxis don't really cut it).

Absurdity Day 2011

So here it is again - Australia Day, the day that Australians used to mark by taking a long weekend and now mark by taking a day off wherever that day falls in the week and doing whatever it is theat they would have done if it were along weekend Monday anyway. Although, now that  the Australia Day holiday happens on your actual January 26th and not on whichever Monday near it is most convenient it's widely considered proper to at least drape an Australian Flag over your shoulder while you hoe into the barbecued lamb washed down with VB.