Miscellany: The world turned upside down

The world turned upside down

Miscellany first suspected the world had turned upside down back in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics when the crowd chanted “Russia, Russia, Russia” in support of the Russian basketball team playing against the US team.

This was a far cry from Miscellany’s youth when the USSR-Hungary 1956 water polo match was the best indicator of the zeitgeist.

Saying the world has turned upside down, however, does not put us in the “September 11 changed everything” camp as Gerard Henderson was on about yet again the other day. The reality is that September 11 did change the US (although estimating whether forever, and in everything, requires a degree of god-like omniscience which Miscellany doesn’t have) but whether it changed the world as a whole is moot.

Rather it is a case of subverting the truisms which were the conventional wisdom for decades. Instead of Henry Bolte and Thomas Playford attacking Canberra for being impossible we’ve now got Canberra blaming the States. We’re sending troops to protect the Japanese. We arrange an invitation for the troops to come from the Japanese rather than from President Bush to avoid a political backlash. Coalition politicians are rushing to make it clear that they don’t want to abolish the right to abortion and a Liberal Leader says it’s really a matter for women and men should stay out of it.

Shorter-term truisms are being subverted just as much. When Keating won the unwinnable election the Gallery rabbited on about how he’d be there to preside over the change to a republic. Post-October Australia was headed for an uninterrupted period of conservative government to match the Menzies era – all buoyed by a fairytale economy. Now suddenly, the world has been turned upside down again, and reality is intruding into the fool’s paradise created by debt and the tidal wave of middle class welfare.

…… and what’s even more confusing, The Age even has a gossip column.

The John Eales bridge

A Scottish friend now in Sydney sent me an email the other day pointing out that the London Development Agency is conducting an online vote to name the new bridge to lead up to the new Wembley Stadium.

You can vote by going to www.lda.gov.uk/server.php?show=ConForm.9

He suggests the most appropriate vote is for The John Eales Bridge – as a statement about rugby versus other forms of football and/or because you despise the Poms.

So far there are at least two votes for Eales (one Scot and one Melbournian) but an English friend now in Wellington, suggested in response to the email, the name The White Horse Way and challenged Miscellany to work out why. We got it wrong but crikey readers are welcome to submit answers. When told the right answer Miscellany did think it was probably a better bet than the “Two World Wars one World Cup” which will probably be the front-runner among many English fans. Followed, no doubt, by votes for Bobby Charlton.


The problem with conspiracy theories is that they give people who spot real conspiracies a bad name.

And there is no doubt that there are some real conspiracies out there – not just the giant right wing one which Hilary Clinton referred to.

The latest couple of conspiracies from the US are: the Jeff Gannon one, which has had more coverage in crikey than in many mainstream US papers; and, the Swift Boat veterans campaign team’s concerns about Social Security privatization.

The Weekly Spin reported on February 24 – based on a NY Times article a couple of days earlier – that the team which produced the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign is now working for USANext, a group running a multi-million campaign attacking the AARP group which is opposing the privatization.

This one must be an even bigger doozy than the anti-Kerry campaign because one of the organizers said it would be “so aggressive that the White House might not want to associate with it.” Must be quite a campaign if even Karl Rove could find it a bit much.

Tony Parkinson (again)

Miscellany has mentioned the usefulness of reading Tony Parkinson’s, The Age international editor, output.

One reason for reading, not previously mentioned, is that he has a brilliant satirical tone which Jonathan Swift would have envied.

Using the negative irony Leavis saw in Swift, Parkinson mounts a devastating condemnation of conservative views on Iraq in a recent column, where he predicts that a moment of truth is coming when the critics have to take a deep breath and begin to realize that the war was ultimately for the greater good. Continuing the Swiftian satire The Age subs wrote a subhead claiming that “critics of involvement in Iraq will soon have to decide if they were right”.

The same applies to the world’s biggest heroin producer, Afghanistan, which in Parkinson’s Swiftian universe is a democratic state in which the dark ages are all but over, women have civil rights and girls have schoolbooks.

Miscellany doesn’t know what The Age is paying Parkinson but is would need to be doubled to adequately reward a master who could probably even create a 21st century version of A Modest Proposal.

With friends like this

Miscellany has no doubt whatsoever that global warming is real and is a major problem.

But a different sort of problem is the easy free kicks in front of goal the environmentalists often give the global warning denial brigade.

The latest is a set of photographs displayed on the BBC News website showing various “then and now” sites around the world. Some of the pix are decades apart but all purport to demonstrate the disastrous impact of global warming. The reality is that some of the pix featured might do just that, but in early every case other explanations are equally valid.

Great propaganda but poor science, and sadly characteristic of many green groups who manage to persuade gullible journalists to print their apocalyptic claims.

Is Iraq like Vietnam?

It’s becoming fashionable to draw comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. A friend, a former Liberal MP, sent me an email recently pointing out how different the situations were. He was more inclined to compare Iraq with the Boer War. The real parallel for Vietnam, as Miscellany sees it, is the US War of Independence where standing armies and foreign support (the French in this case) helped the colonists to defeat the imperialists. As far as the broader “war on terror” the Peloponnesian Wars are probably most comparable.

But, as my friend said, comparisons are not much of a substitute for hard thought and real knowledge. He also skewered the no exit strategy debate quite well. After all – to exit from Iraq all you need to do is just put them on a ship in Basra and send them home. Asd he says – it worked in Vietnam and Gallipoli.

Was John Brown bonking Victoria?

With a Royal adulterer visiting Australia it is interesting to reflect on another Royal bonking scandal but which has fascinated many for more than 120 years.

For many years the odd curious type has wondered about the precise relationship between John Brown and Queen Victoria. In History Today (January 2005) Bendor Grosvenor publishes, for the first time, a letter written by Queen Victoria two days after Brown’s death. One remarkable thing about the letter is how different it is from the bowdlerized versions of the Victoria diaries edited by her daughter Beatrice in the 1900s. Another remarkable thing about the letter is how very similar it is in tone to what Victoria wrote when her beloved Albert died.

Miscellany’s old history lecturers would savage him from drawing a definite conclusion on something which can only really be confirmed by eye-witnesses or participants. But on the evidence of the letter that handsome, hard-drinking Scot was much more than a manservant.

SarbOx – CEO super-hero kryptonite

Robert Reich, Clinton Labor Secretary, wrote recently: “A few years ago, America’s high-flying CEOs wanted everyone to think they were hands-on executives who knew everything that was going on – superhuman masters of the universe who didn’t suffer fools and whom no one could fool.”

Now says Reich they are all, like Bernie Ebbers, WorldCom CEO, using the “I didn’t know” defence against charges of cooking the books. Reich’s analysis of just how tough the new Sarbanes-Oxley Act could be is well worth reading. You can find it at www.Tompaine.com or www.marketplace.org.

In Australia though, we perhaps need some political SarbOx regulations. After all don’t we seem to have the same sort of heroes – in this case Ministers – who are superhuman masters of the universe until the “I didn’t know” defence is required.

View from another planet

When the historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto published his great history of the past 1000 years, Millennium, he used the very effective device of trying to look at events from the perspective of an intergalactic museum curator from the far distant future. From this perspective, for instance, the arguments about the Reformation look to be about astonishingly slight differences. From the same perspective the arguments about heretical views of the Trinity some 1000 years before the Reformation just look incomprehensible.

In similar vein The Economist (19 February 2005) has  looked at the differing performance of the US and German economies from the perspective of “a view from another planet” free of the conventional assumptions about dynamism and decline. It reveals that German productivity growth over the past decade has equaled the US; German exports have grown, over the past five years, three times as fast as US exports; Germany is increasing its share of world markets while the US share has dropped from 14% to 11%; corporate profits are rising faster in Germany than the US; and, German equities have outperformed Wall Street over the past couple of years.

As The Economist says: “To our Martian, it might appear that America, not Germany, is the deadbeat economy.”  Fortunately there are no Martians, so German P/Es are a real steal compared to the US. But try to suggest to your broker that you want a fund reflecting German companies not US and they’ll treat you as if you’re the one who believes in creatures from outer space.