The Royal Wedding

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I’ve just watched the Royal Wedding – and if you’re asking “What royal wedding?” you needn’t read on. I wasn’t going to watch, but I had BBC World News on mute and when I saw Meghan’s majestic black-and-burgundy Roller rolling I couldn’t resist. The following thoughts occurred to me:

  • Nobody does this sort of thing better than the Brits. It’s theatre dripping with symbolism and political messages. As an actress, the Duchess of Sussex is exactly right for the job.
  • Including a black American preacher and a gospel choir was a masterstroke, a counterpoint to all that was ancient, traditional and solemn.  It symbolised invigoration of the Old World by the New. I had a fleeting mental image of a decrepit billionaire sipping virgins’ blood in hope of rejuvenation.
  • Now that it’s over, the team that organised it should be reassigned immediately to organising Brexit.

Some commentators – even the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins  – have described Meghan as the stronger member of the partnership. Harry has 10 years military service behind him, much in the front-line; is the prime mover of the Invictus Games; and has withstood a lifetime of public scrutiny to become a widely loved and respected royal. Speculation that he may be pushed around or overshadowed by his wife is certainly unfair, and unlikely to be helpful.

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Musings from Bangkok

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That’s not a very informative title, but I’m posting about two separate things and I happen to be in a transit lounge in Bangkok with a lot of time to spare.

I just came off a flight where I watched a film I’d vaguely heard about and a documentary about the Cassini mission to Saturn. Both affected me to the extent that I want to share.

The film was ‘Downsizing’, starring Matt Damon. It has been described as sci-fi satire but I don’t think that does it justice. The title relates to a scientific breakthrough that reduces people to 1/14 their height, and consequently 1/2744 their volume and mass. The aim is to reduce humankind’s environmental footprint before we destroy our habitat, but it has the side effect of allowing the ‘small people’ to use their savings to buy huge mansions in special resort-like communities and live lives of leisure and luxury.

I want you to see the film, so I won’t say any more – except to laud the actress who was for me the de facto star (see photo). Her name is Hong Chau, born in Thailand of Vietnamese refugee parents and now living in the USA. She plays a Vietnamese activist and amputee and she is superb.

The Cassini documentary starred the gallant little spacecraft itself, which was sacrificed at the end of a spectacularly successful mission. It was vaporised in a fireball in Saturn’s atmosphere, with eerie echoes of ancestral sacrifices to uncaring gods. This sacrifice was necessary to avoid the danger of terrestrial contamination of an environment where life already exists or one day may.

I found myself tearing up, not because of Cassini’s death, but because the whole enterprise showed what our species can do and be at our very very best. NASA had a huge team of specialists, men and women, young and old, from many nationalities. They had a common goal to know, a dedication to science, and no malign intent.

The NASA team’s goodness contrasted starkly with the recent horror in Indonesia where a whole family, young children included, wiped itself out in coordinated murderous attacks. This was a team effort too, but instead of being enthused by science their minds were infected by a perverted ideology that thrives only on ignorance and superstition. This was our species as its very very worst.

Motherly Love

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I’ve just read an astonishing piece of news. According to my local newspaper, “New research shows that 77% of Australian mums are putting their own desires on hold to chase those of their children.” This bizarre finding arises from exhaustive analysis by PureProfile, paid for by Go People.

One hopes that Go People will follow this up by funding another round of ground-breaking research into dads’ suppression of their desires for the sake of their children.

Then, if they have any money left, they could hire someone to work out why this might be so. For example – and I’m thinking aloud here, having no research funding to do a proper job – could it be that without the instinct to devote oneself to providing and caring for one’s children none of us would be here?

Consumption Tax

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In Australia we have one of the lowest consumption taxes in the world: 10%. It’s a value-added tax (VAT) but, like New Zealand, we call it a goods and services tax (GST)

In principle such taxes are supposed to be levied on everything, at as low a rate as possible, so as to be non-distorting. But when it was introduced in 2000 it had been mauled in Parliament and many goods and services were exempted. I blame the Greens for the mauling, but that may not be wholly fair.

One consequence has been that special interest groups have been able to characterise it as a ‘luxury tax’ because it’s not applied to things like fresh and minimally processed food (eg milk and cheese). I have posted before about the absurd campaign to exempt feminine hygiene products: the phrase ‘tampon tax’ is unfortunately alliterative, lending itself to sloganeering.

Out of interest, I have kept all my receipts over the past 5 weeks, to see how much GST I’m actually paying. Excluding household utilities, I have spent $598.74, of which $19.65 was GST. This means an average rate of 3.4%. If I hadn’t bought a case of wine it would have been 2.0%.

Delicious Lucy Turnbull

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Emmanuel Macron came to Australia with a pretty meaty agenda. He has been described as the de facto Leader of the Free World, with some justification. The media covered his visit and his picture was on every front page, but the journalists chose to focus on the French President’s unusual use of the word ‘delicious’, applying it to the Australian Prime Minister’s wife Lucy.

Emmanuel Macron and Malcolm Turnbull in Australia, 2018

Perhaps it was a quaintly framed compliment, perhaps he mis-spoke. After all, he was doing us the courtesy of addressing us in our own language instead of relying on an interpreter. Whatever the case, allowing this one word to dominate the news trivialises an important occasion and demeans a man who deserves our respect.

A Farce or a Tragedy

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This is a follow-up to my last post, about selective schools and the need for an elite trained for leadership. I just read an article on populism by Yascha Mounk (Harvard lecturer on government) in the Guardian Weekly, and my attention was seized by the following passage:

What, George Washington asked in his Eighth Annual Address, could be more important than to pass civic values down to “the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

“A people who mean to be their own Governors,” James Madison echoed a few years later, “must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives.” His fears about what would happen to America if it neglected this crucial task sound oddly apposite today: “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps, both.”

Of course, it would be ideal to have the entire population ‘armed with the power that knowledge gives,’ not just a meritocratic class That lofty goal has eluded us so far, in America and elsewhere.

Yascha Mounk

George Washington

James Madison

 

Selective Schools

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This is a very short post. I just want to give you a link to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. The author is Yan Zhai, a Year 12 student, pictured alongside. She writes with elegance and clarity, and persuasively I think.

I confess to being a fan of selective education. Comprehensive schools are wonderful and egalitarian, and I know that Finland has them and always tops the rankings in educational achievement. But we need an elite trained for leadership. That requires a superior moral as well as technical education.

Anyone disagree . . . ?