May 10th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Labor abandons small business

EDITORIAL: Overhaul Australia's quarantine system!

HOUSING: How to make the Australian dream come true

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Daunting challenges for Swan's first Budget

AGRICULTURE: Behind the world's food shortage

NATIONAL SECURITY: Is it ever too early to foil a terrorist plot?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Dial an anti-climax / Carrying a torch for China / Economic gobbledegook / Adolescent roulette... and culture shock / Zimbabwe

CHINA: Beijing spying apparatus gears up for Olympics

HIGHER EDUCATION: The high cost of free love

POPULATION: Russian life expectancy worse than Bangladesh's

MEDIA: ABC program's Castro whitewash

Point overlooked (letter)

Competition policy review (letter)

China's jackboot diplomacy (letter)

No voice for unborn at Rudd summit (letter)

Our next Governor-General (letter)

It's time to help boys (letter)

BOOKS: RISING '44: The Battle for Warsaw, by Norman Davies.

BOOKS: SILENT MOVIES: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture, by Peter Kobel

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Dial an anti-climax / Carrying a torch for China / Economic gobbledegook / Adolescent roulette... and culture shock / Zimbabwe

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, May 10, 2008
Dial an anti-climax

Kevin Rudd's media machine, and his creative journalist friends, have hit on the formula for producing anti-climaxes to order...

First, there was the 17-day journey into the Big World, so as to introduce the new men ruling in Canberra, and the New Order to come. Does anyone remember what was said, or to whom? Or what was decided? It's all gone with the wind. A big frame - but with no picture.

Then there was the great Olympic Flame Drama, of which much was expected by the sporting oafery and our political demagogues. The Dalai won Tatts... but the rest? Then there was the weekend powerhouse of 1,000 handpicked superior souls who were going to fix our social problems in a couple of days. (I thought that was the government's and parliament's job.)

Some of the people have already reported that they found it really worthwhile; they met interesting people and learned important new things. But, on the other hand, very many left feeling overlooked, or misquoted, and few appeared to think that much would come of it. In any case we won't know, we are told, until the end of the year. Ridiculous.

But perhaps just as well. One vote that the conference did deliver was for a republic. Only one delegate voted against, and only two - albeit uneasily - abstained. This in a gathering of a thousand. And we had been told that this selected group really represented the average Australian. Like Beijing's anointed knuckleheads, they can't stop gerrymandering.

I actually believe that these contrivances were produced to fill in time during the run-up to the Budget, and to deflect attention from the possibly very serious problems that poor Wayne Swan might soon be confronting. It would have been better to treat the electorate as adults.


Carrying a torch for China

The unrolling of the fatuous Olympic flame entertainment demonstrates, yet again, that Chinese communists, and Putin's neo-Stalinists are our contemporary Bourbons. They learn nothing and they forget nothing. But, it just may be that Beijing will learn something from its Olympic disasters - which are unfinished - but will the pro-Chinese lobby in the West wake up?

It is obvious that most people side with the Tibetans, and that the Dalai Lama is now an extremely popular cult figure. He has the Chinese to thank for his world status, and the outpourings of massive sympathy. Just another thing which Beijing hasn't yet understood.

In any case, they still believe that a cocktail of military power, a market which everyone wants to enter, and a flotilla of long-term Western supporters, amounting almost to a "fifth column", would negate all opposition to China. She in turn could afford to offer barrages of bluster and invective and character assassination.

What might have impressed Australians most has been the temerity of China mobilising a rent-a-herd of resident Chinese "students", to line up and attempt to interfere with the rights of Australians and Tibetans to express their opinions, register their dissent and exercise freedom of speech. If the latter choose to break the law, that is for our police to deal with, not a para-military bunch of foreign agents.

These "students" are for the greater part quite different from others of our students. As in the days of Communist Russia, they had to be approved by their state before they could leave and study or reside elsewhere, while their families remain at home and are likely to be treated as collateral or as hostages. Hundreds of Chinese spies move among them; many of these spies are fellow students. They report to headquarters, as did the Stasi and KGB stringers. Chinese students are not free agents. And there must not be any more squadristi produced here by foreign countries as part of their political games. If we do not deal with the Chinese in this matter and at this point, other nations, hiding behind their citizens and sympathisers, will follow suit.

The idea of the Olympic torch relay started, I am told, in 1936 - a brainchild of the Germans. It should be returned-to-sender. But yet another case of where there's muck there's brass.


Economic gobbledegook

Some extraordinary verbal and ideological acrobatics are being performed before our somewhat disrespectful eyes with regard to local economic policies. We have been told, ad nauseum, that inflation should be contained within a band of 3 per cent and that, above that, there is an increasingly strong case for raising interest rates, so as to cool down an economy that is getting ahead of itself.

Now that inflation is rising remorselessly (wholesale inflation rose 4.8 per cent last quarter), we are abruptly informed that this figure is in fact manageable. No need to raise interest rates, for it will slow down an economy which is already slowing. (Is it?).

In fact, the housing industry thinks that we could turn a downward trend in prices and sales volume, as we have at the moment, into a major decline. That is, if we raised interest rates.

So... an immutable principle suddenly became an elastic rule of thumb or, if you like, a maxim. Having no personal interest either way, I'll just remind people of parts of our recent history, and why we feared inflation.

1) It devalues, among other things, existing wages and, most especially in a situation of full employment, fuels a drive for higher wages simply as a catch-up. We start to get a wages breakout, or else labour disputes. Only when employers who can't or won't pay higher wages say no does the pressure ease. This is via unemployment.

2) Bracket-creep will adversely affect the taxpayer - a further ground for a demand for higher wages, or else more tax concessions.

3) All fixed assets and fixed incomes will decline in real value, and so on.

We have been there, and would be reluctant to return.

The reason why our sages have suddenly switched stories à la 1984, is that the housing and real-estate industries are unwilling to face an even normal cyclical downturn, which is probably all that this one is - or was. And our banks, with their swags of sub-prime mortgages, don't want to increase their number by foreclosures. Certainly a testimony to the greedy imprudence of our bankers, and the invincible gullibility of some Australian borrowers.


Adolescent roulette... and culture shock

The Rudd Government has done very well in at least tackling teenage binge drinking, which, like teenage drug use and car accidents, are growing scourges which few of us had predicted, at least not in their ubiquity and widespread social acceptance.

The Howard Government had 12 years to do something about these scourges, having been advised by dedicated and expert committees: they chose to ignore them. Brendan Nelson should give up trying to defend his government's irresponsible neglect.

Predictably, the immensely prosperous booze industry is complaining, saying it will cause young drinkers to drink turps, or turn to drugs. But they would say that, wouldn't they?

Incidentally, churches used to be great critics of conditions producing alcoholism, but appear not to be so any longer. Rather, the monster George W. Bush, or Say Sorry, or Gay Priests, or Same-Sex Marriages are occupying most of their time nowadays.

There are, medically speaking, disturbing features of contemporary teenage social excess. For example, young females are now binge-drinking more frequently than young males, and their tolerance of alcohol is distinctly less than that of the males. Hence, easier intoxication, and more organ damage. Quite apart from negative social features. And many are taking up smoking at an early age, while more boys are abstaining or quitting. And the damaging effects upon the growing foetus of smoking and drinking are by now well known. If this be a blow-back from women's liberation, there is an advantage in growing up old-fashioned.

But we know that all these various pathologies are at least in part symptoms of existential crises or fatigue. The same symptoms appear with the emergence of modernity in Asia and in most developing countries.

Unfortunately, it does seem possible to savour the pathological and anti-social aspects of modernity, without ever having enjoyed its material or intellectual benefits, which are still in the future, or which remain appropriated by the rich and powerful of their societies.



One of the many appalling features of the Zimbabwe political atrocity story has been the steadfast support of the tyrant by Russia and communist China, year after sordid year. China has just very reluctantly given up on landing a shipment of arms for Zimbabwe - not medical supplies or building materials, mind you. And they extend this kind of support to the terrorist regime in Khartoum, and its behaviour in Darfur. But I doubt if any Western businessmen - or cricket boards - will care.

- Max Teichmann

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