Life Imitates Monty Python – Again

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Three recent news items had me shaking my head, unsure whether to laugh or cry. You have almost certainly heard or read them already, but I’ll share them anyway…

No.1: President Trump nominates Brett Kavanaugh to fill a vacancy on the US Supreme Court. A woman comes forward saying that he attempted to rape her at a teenage party 35 years before. BK denies it. The FBI is asked to investigate the allegation – with a whole week to complete the task. Not surprisingly, they could find no evidence one way or the other. If everything I did when I was 17 were made public, incompetent fumbling included… well, I just hope it never is. How about you?

No.2: The promoters of a new horse race (The Everest) want to project advertising material on the ‘sails’ of the Sydney Opera House. The CEO is interviewed by notorious radio shock jock Alan Jones, explains that the Opera House’s charter forbids commercial advertising, and is vilified, shouted over and threatened on air.

The Premier of New South Wales immediately orders the advertising to go ahead and the Prime Minister backs her, describing the Opera House sails as ‘the biggest billboard in Sydney’. 300,000+ people sign an online petition against the decision and a crown gathers to shine torch-beams on the sails to disrupt the display.

At one stroke the Liberal Party, already in bad odour because of the ongoing civil war that toppled Malcolm Turnbull, has alienated lovers of culture, opponents of gambling and anyone who was appalled by a) the on-air bullying of a conscientious public servant and b) the State Premier’s kowtowing to a shock jock. It is not known whether the scandal has also jeopardised the Opera House’s World Heritage status.

No.3: There is to be an APEC meeting in Port Morseby. To ensure that the participants can travel between their hotels and meeting places, a fleet of 40 Maserati Quattroportes is being airfreighted into PNG. Reportedly, they are to be distributed to Provincial Governors when their very brief service to world leaders is over. I cannot think of any words that would usefully embellish the raw facts of this act of lunacy.

Nomination for the Next Stroppy

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Here in the State of South Australia the Labour government (recently replaced) introduced radical reforms in the health sector. These reforms were labelled Transforming Health, and according to the letters to the local newspaper about it, they were deeply unpopular. SA Health, the responsible government agency, commissioned a study by an organisation glorying in the name ‘SA Academic Health Science and Translation Centre’.

The study’s findings generally supported the views of the letter-writers, but the report was criticised for omitting important aspects of the reforms and for such passages as this:

“What we can deduce from our work is that it is possible to generate a narrative around the experience of multiple stakeholders, going through a large-scale system change, in ways that both acknowledge the limitations of the data but support the emerging themes from the data, and from other (realist) literature reviews.”

I am indebted to Brad Crouch, the Advertiser’s Medical Reporter, for drawing this to my attention. I am treating it as a nomination for the next Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Drivel (popularly known as the Stroppy).

There’s no relevant picture to go with this story, so I’m reproducing a totally unrelated but amusing graphic that my old friend Ron Allan forwarded to me.

Teachers With Guns

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It’s funny how little things bring to mind old memories. When President Trump floated the idea of arming teachers to protect children, I vividly remembered my first day at high school in the north of England. All the new boys were herded into a lecture theatre and briefed by the teacher whose duties also included running the Lost Property Office.

We were told that the teachers were Masters and we were to address them as ‘Sir’. We would be addressed by our surnames, followed by our initials where there were two of more boys with the same surname, and we were not to fasten any but the middle buttons of our blazers: top and bottom buttons were only for show. Oh, and while in uniform outside the school grounds we were always to wear our caps.

There was to be no walking on the grass, and the path that offered a short-cut on the way to the cricket pavilion was out of bounds to all boys except sixth-formers. On reaching that pinnacle we would also be allowed to wear brown shoes instead of black and, in the summer months anyway, exchange our regulation caps for boaters.

At frequent intervals we were reminded how lucky we were to be admitted to such a good school.

All in all it sounded like a declaration of war. I can’t help thinking that, if our Masters had been armed, the boundary between corporal punishment and capital punishment would have got blurred pretty quickly.

Trump’s 100 Days

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I’ve commented on ‘roundism’ before – our tendency to assign special importance to round numbers. Why is a 40th birthday such a big deal? Why do we delight in seeing a car’s odometer click over to 100,000? Why do we bring out the brass bands and bunting for centenaries?

Well, the first 100 days of a political leader’s being in power holds the same magic for us. Donald Trump has just attained this milestone, which he himself declared would mark a period of tremendous achievement.

It’s certainly been a period of tremendous excitement – a roller-coaster ride for the President’s friends and foes alike, and especially for people like President Putin who started as a friend and has now been re-categorised.

I don’t intend to add to the great wave of commentary triggered by the 100-day milestone, but I’d like to relay a pithy comment from my old friend Ron Allan when the Trump presidency was a mere 74 days old:

“I’m pondering what will happen when his frustration level builds. He has his list of things to do. So far the record is this:    

  • What he has authority to do on his own, the supreme court is blocking.
  • What he has to do through the legislature, the legislature is blocking (in spite of both houses and the presidency being of the same stripe).

“If this keeps going, he could resign in frustration. “America does not deserve to have me. I’m not wasting my time any more. etc etc.”

“It is hard to see him lasting. He got the job with the megalomaniac notion that only he can (and will) drain the swamp. If he fails he will not stay. So it’s a race. Which comes first, Resignation or Impeachment? I think the risk of Assassination is receding.”

Trump, Tsai and Xi

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Why must we always be the ones to back down and compromise our principles? By ‘we’, by the way, I mean The Liberal Democratic West (LDW for short, not to be confused with LBW).

Taiwan is a country with its own government, socio-politico-economic system, policies and values. It suits many people to maintain the fiction that it’s a renegade province of the People’s Republic of China that will one day be reincorporated into the mainland Chinese polity, but for all practical purposes and for the foreseeable future it is a separate state.

Moreover, the so-called People’s Republic of China under Xi Jinping is going out of its way to behave badly. Whether it’s denying political rights in Hong Kong, flouting international law in the South China Sea, engaging in industrial espionage or dumping dodgy steel products on world markets, China is donning the clothes of a Rogue State.

And why wouldn’t it? It has observed that the LDW will always back down rather that risk a fight – unless its opponent is orders of magnitude weaker. Israel, Russia and Saudi Arabia have got away with murder, so why not China?

That’s why I applaud Donald Trump’s decision to talk to President Tsai of Taiwan (both pictured below, courtesy of AP). Let journalists and political advisors cringe and mouth the doctrine of appeasement. I say, “Enough! What’s the point of spending 4% of your GDP to build and maintain the most powerful military machine in the history of mankind if you always back off rather than risk hurting a few feelings?!”

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Don’t get me wrong: On almost every issue I am at odds with both Donald Trump and John Bolton (tipped to become his Secretary of State), and I have no appetite for a Third World War. But in this one instance the Donald got it right and John’s endorsement was spot-on. We tried being nice to China and look where it got us. It’s time to try something different.

If Xi Jinping doesn’t like it, let him rant and act offended and threaten to cut off the supply of Barbie dolls.