Dr Peter White's Blog

Thoughts and comments from Dr Peter White -- political, philosophical, spiritual, musical and more

My Photo
Name:
Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

I am retired from the Uni. of Queensland, and have numerous interests inside and outside of the uni. I play classical, bluegrass, country and folk guitar (hows that for a mix?) I am a member of the Australian Labor Party and am currently branch secretary of the Mt Coot-tha branch. I'm also involved in developing virtual reality builds and websites. Never bored!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Capital and equality

Just recently I read an article by a well respected commentator who said that basically the only way to regain equality in capitalist states is to have a war.  Thanks to my shoddy memory, I cannot for the life of me remember who that was, but the comment really hit home. 

Thomas Picketty, the French economist who wrote "Capitalism in the 21st Century" alluded to the same phenomenon:  wars reset the economic playing field. 

So here we are well into the 21st century and is seems that the wealth of nations is being siphoned up to the rich faster and faster, with the collusion of governments.  One can look at various articles and  reports about the vast inequality of wealth in  most developed and developing countries, and a similar picture emerges.  The top 10% owen 90% of everything.  It's like the end game of a global monopoly contest. 

Now, here in benighted Oz, we have the  current  "conservative" government pushing for more tax breaks for the corporations and the wealthy at the  expense of the poor, who are being punished for their condition more and more.  And this, folks, is normal behaviour from those who have. 

Recent studies in the United States, particularly after the massive tax break the Rethuglicans gave to their supporters, indicate that despite the rhetoric about investment into infrastructure and new jobs, most of the tax break dollars went into dividends for the shareholders and stock buy-backs. 

Here in Oz we have had a similar pledge by our corporate moguls that in order to keep competitive, they need to be taxed less, and funds would be available for more capital investment into infrastructure and jobs.  Guess what?  Nada. 

The neo-conservatives, neo-liberals, economic rationalists of this world/nation are still at it even though, according to commentators like Guy Rundle and Bernard Keane of  Crikey, it's all a sham.  New-liberalism is "...a rotting corpse" polluting the body politic. 

So it seems we have a bit of a challenge if we really want to get a more level playing field:  do we do it by  taxation, or do we do it by war? 

Taxation is the safer option.  War, in this time, is unthinkable.  But considering the old aphorism: "nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public" may have it right. 

It's the great dog whistle.  "Look over there", where there is racism, terrorism, overall bigotry and human stupidity, against the ever present spectre of rampant greed sucking up all the goods.  One thing about  the conservatives, they really know how to  do this well.  Rustle up the hate so they can continue  to earn big bucks. 

But it may, just may, come back to haunt them. 

Here's a poem I wrote about this: 


So, does a business ledger have a soul? 
And does a massive profit make us whole?
Or, does a loss then make us even less
Than who we are?  Ah, I can only guess,
For values in our land are based on gold. 
We humans are worth less – or so we’re told –
Than what in life we manage to obtain; 
The merit in our lives is based on gain. 
Now Greed – once vice – is held a worthy aim,
No matter that we’re called to kill and maim
To win a war and take the widow’s mite. 
And starving millions hidden from our sight
Bear witness to our arrogance and pride:
From Nemesis to come we cannot hide.  

And to finish  off this rant, here's the latest  from our cartoonist-laureate: Michael Leunig.

  'till next time, folks. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

On Bigots

In 2014, the the Attorney General, Sen. George Brandis, gave his memorable quote: "People do have a right to be bigots". This was in context of the proposed amendments to the Racial  Discrimination Act.  The comment got as much  heat as the bill itself, and Sen. Brandis' "street cred" was severely diminished.

A good friend of mine, an American, said very firmly that there is no such thing as "race" per se; we are all members of the human race, and we come in a variety of ethnicities.  But in the current iteration of English and culture, we have tended to think of race as skin color, epicanthal folds on the eye, etc. In other words, we use these physical  attributes to generalise about other peoples.  I will use the term "ethnic" rather than "race" throughout this essay.  

I don't want to go to the USA for examples.  I'm from  there, and I believe that the US has never come to terms with its ethnic divides.  In this current Age of Ugliness (aka Trumpism) bigotry has been given an imprimatur across the planet.  Certainly every ethnic group looks at humans other than themselves as the Other, and hence give themselves permission to put themselves above and justify their actions accordingly. 

I've thought a lot about this, and here's my take on the issue. 

We are all human, Homo Sapiens.  We all have the same blood types. We all have the same internal organs.  We all have identical facial expressions when faced with something funny, sad, or disgusting.  We can breed with each other.  But what makes us different in the main is the culture from which we spring.  There are hundreds of ethnic groups across the globe, some of whom get along just fine, and others who are constantly at each other's throats.  And it's all a movable feast, as we can see from recent tragic events in the Middle East, in Myanmar, and further back, in the Balkans.  Who's next? 

Back to bigotry.  The Merriam Webster dictionary defines bigotry, or a bigot, as: "...a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance".  (note the racial vs. ethnic, a point on which I  will  quibble).  

Where do we get bigotry from?  There are many academics and pundits who  discuss this.  Little kids don't have any such feelings  for others; they're pretty tolerant, and only get conditioned by  their parents, schools, etc.  to start the acculturation process of becoming a bigot, or not.  

So, where to we begin to soften and become more tolerant of differences?  Where do we learn to cooperate with others who are very different from us?  Some will say through education, others through churches or through family, and others through all of these.  We have to try to do this, because the end result of blind bigotry could well bring about the demise of Homo Sapiens

The late Stephen Hawking said that the end of humanity will be through  greed and stupidity.  I would  add that  closed, bigoted minds will be the spark that ignites the final  conflagration.  And we are very, very close to the end game. 


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

On Migrants

Ausralia is a land of migrants.  Unlike other countries, where people fled to escape persecution, or to gain great wealth, Australia started out as a penal colony.  It was this  original endeavour that more or less set the tone of the place over the 200 years or so since its inception.

Since than, people have come from all over the world to  Australia: Ireland, Scotland, England, the USA, China and others as well.  Different Australian  colonies were settled by slightly different groups of people, mostly from the British Isles.

It wasn't an easy run by any stretch.  The Irish were loathed by the English.  The Asians were loathed by the whites.  Everyone  loathed the Aboriginal people.

Through all of this, though, the country grew and prospered -- due mostly to  immigration.

The last wave was after WWII, when we took migrnts from all over Europe, much to the dismay of the Anglo-Saxon purists who  had foisted the White Australia policy  on the nation.  But nontheless, Greeks, Italians, more English, and more recently from the Balkan states, Turkey and VietNam.

They all made Australia a multi-cultural nation, rich in its diversity and its overall  ethos.

Most recently with  the traumas in the  Middle East, we have had a large number of immigrants from there: Jordan, Yemen, Egypt, the Gulf States, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.  These settlers are primarily Muslim.

And now we have - as in the past - a pushback against immigrants, particularly  by the people who feel most threatened by this latest  wave, who are also aided and abetted by political bigots and rabble rousers.

The prejudice and dislike of new Australians (aka immigrants) has grown apace, and one major  cause of this has been the entry of the "boat people" into Australia.  This began after the Vietnam war, when thousands of fleeing Vietnamese were welcomed into Australia by the Fraser Liberal government.

The next wave was Middle Eastern refugees from the carnage what we helped cause there.  Many of these refugees were stateless, arrived by boat without passports, visas or any paperwork at all. And Australia's response?  John Howard's "We will decide who comes into this country..."  This supposedly shut down the "boat people".

However, people smugglers were swift to move when the policies were relaxed.  This brought about the Abbot government's "Stop the Boats" campaign which was a big hit with voters who were poisoned against "illegal" immigration.  Amazing what a three word slogan can do if repeated often enough. 

This also gave rise to the formation of the Border Force, and a Department of Homeland  Security, and the development of overseas detention centres to house those unfortunate few who were caught  by the border people and sent offshore to Manus Island and Nauru. 

So now we have the scapegoats of boat people held for over 5 years in captivity while "legitimate" migrants are coming in by the hundreds of thousands.  Ah, but wait!  Our vaunted border force and their minions, such as the private mercenary army  Serco, have pounced on hapless refugees who have been battling to get their permanent visas approved.  One day over their visa, and they're gone. 

Somehow we've got this all ass-about.  We are in violation of the human rights conventions.  We are very choosy on which refugees we do take legitimately.  And of course, if you've got the money and connections, you get a nice first class welcome to Australia and no doubt a membership in the Liberal party. 

We have been a nation of migrants and we continue to be so.  The argument now becomes how many can we take and remain environmentally and economically sustainable?  In the meantime our boat people still languish.  It's a national disgrace. 

I don't know where all this will go; will our leaders do something sensible?  Will our refugees and those in our detention centres be released to re-start their lives here or elsewhere?  Will our environment allow for more people?  Will our infrastructure allow for more people? 

Wait and see... 

BTW, I am a migrant from the USA, coming here in 1973. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

On Trolls

The Internet officially began in Australia in August of 1990.  At that time it was a really novel, mystical method of contacting people from across the world.  We all had telephone modems then, with the breakneck speed of 2400bps or if one was really spoiled, 9600pbs. 


One of the unwritten rules of the Internet at that time was that it was open to all, free, and also free of advertisements, commerce, and most importantly, trolls.  Well, in the nearly 28 years since those aspiring beginnings, things have changed dramatically, and while technologically marvellous, everything else appears to have gone downhill.  Trolls are now an unfortunate feature of the Internet. 

What is a troll?  IMHO, it is someone who slanders, insults, offends or denigrates another person under the cover of the anonymity of the Internet.  It really doesn't matter if the offensive matter was posted via email, the Web, Twitter,  Facebook or any of the myriad apps that now grace the airwaves.  Trolls use the medium of their choice to spread their poison. 

Trolls are cowards, and further, as we are learning from Mr. Mueller's investigations in the US, they are also highly damaging to social and political processes throughout the world.  Would they stand up to scrutiny if they were unmasked publically?  I don't think so. 

Trolls are liars.  They offend someone else with unproven allegations and murderous suggestions.  Of course, if they were found out, there would be rigorous denials, and very difficult to prove.  Recently there was a tragic case of a 14 year old girl who was so badly trolled, with suggestions that she ought to just  go out  and kill herself. 

She did. 

Trolls are amoral.  By hiding their identity, or using another anonymous identity, they  promote their hatred, scorn and bigotry to any and all who are their targets.  They must really get off on their sadistic postings, feeling safe in their anonymity.

I recently had an experience with one of these humans, inside a virtual world environment.  This person used a number of aliases so that it would have been difficult to trace and/or to call him/her out for their comments. 

A close friend which whom I have been working for over 10 years was the unfortunate recipient of this person's vitriol.  My friend had just undergone a serious traumatic experience and was just  recovering from this when the troll struck.  Needless to say, there was a lot of grief and anger.  My friend is recovering again; let's hope that this troll doesn't strike again.

There has been a lot of lipservice and hand-wringing on how to deal with trolls in the Internet and its various applications, but there is little or no movement or policing.  There is no recourse, even within closed environments, to deal with these people.  What few protections there are appear to be either pitifully weak, or burdened with the "onus of proof" so that they are are essentially useless. 

Do I have a solution?  No, alas, except to say that in this age of Trump, where ugliness is the norm, all we can do is look out for each other, and call out the trolls for who they are. 

It seems that one of the most cherished beliefs of numerous spiritual and religious paths -- the golden rule -- appears to have been forgotten for the benefit of the cheap and  malicious thought. 

Perhaps it's time that we used that wonderful word "respect" with each other a lot more often. 

I said in my last post that this current post would be about migrants.  Next time, for sure. 


Monday, February 12, 2018

The Midas Touch - In Reverse

If you are close to the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, chances are you will have noticed that the current Coalition government doesn't have your best interests at heart.  Considering that we are experiencing very flat wage growth, notwithstanding a growing jobs market, it does seem that most people are doing it tougher than previously.  News article after news article stresses this point.

Perhaps it might be because of the infamous Reverse Midas Touch, where everything that the  government touches, turns to dross (or another good Anglo-Saxon  word).  How this so?  Let me provide some examples.

The latest changes to early childhood care means that people on middle to lower incomes will be paying more, if they are fortunate enough  to get child care at all.  This  is in spite of early childhood specialists from around the globe state that early childhood care provides a terrific boost for the young.

University fees are going up, because the government believes there are too many useless  courses and hence reducing payments to the tertiary sector so  universities can tighten up.  This is despite the fact that a university education is critical in today's workforce.  And of course, the students are being punished by having a lower income threshold where they have to start paying off their (increased?) student loans due to rising  fees. 

Technical and further education was "privatised" a number of years ago, and what we have  seen  since is a virtual collapse of the sector, as many of the private colleges took the money and ran.  But then, that's the capitalist way.  The building and construction industry, to name  but one, is crying out  for well trained trades people, and are finding they are rather thin on  the ground.

If you are on a pension or some form of benefit, you are being punished.  The vaunted  "one stop shop" AKA Centrelink, is underfunded, understaffed, and under-morale.  Is it any wonder that people attempting to contact them have to take a cut lunch to the phone while they wait?  That's just for starters.  It seems that Ebenezer Scrooge is running the system, with fewer benefits and payments available, and those  being reduced.  Leaners and Lifters, folks.  

However, if you are in the "big end of town", drawing down a lovely salary  + benefits, you will be OK.  Our corporate sector is gonna get a lovely tax cut, which of course will mean more Jobs and Growth.  We all believe that, right?

There are some examples.  I'm sure you can  find a lot more without needing to look very  hard at all.

In our next blog, we will be looking at migration.  Ought to be fun... 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Democracy or Neo-Feudalism?

The current Davos corroboree by moguls and their minions and politicians and their policy wonks got me thinking: whose movie is this? 

On the biz side we have corporate CEOs and on the other, presidents, prime ministers and chancellors.  They are there to set the economic agenda for the planet, or at least to have a mighty whinge about how poorly things are going.  Or -- are they?

Add to this the recent zombie resurrection of the TPP in Oz and surrounding  Pacific states -- touted how marvellously wonderful it will all be when we sign on.  Or -- is it? 

We have the Australian Treasurer, Scott Morrison (aka ScoMo), selling corporate tax cuts hard.  How wonderful it will be if the corporations don't pay as much tax.  Their savings will be poured into investing in new jobs, factories, innovations and higher wages. 

Sorry, ScoMo, but very, very wrong.  We need not follow the US.  Here's a prime example of why: 


Reports from economics writers in the daily press comment on just this issue. 

This leads me back to the  topic at hand:  democracy vs. neo-feudalism.  Consider that corporations are in effect feudal enterprises, but with very different titles.  Not barons, earls, or counts, but CEOs, Presidents of Boards, etc.  This 'nobility'  looks after its shareholders financially, while creaming a goodly percentage off the top for their own nest-feathering. 

Consider democracy, universal suffrage, one person, one vote -- the whole shebang.  The voters are going out backwards financially.  Report after report states this.  Flat wages, economic stagnation for the vast majority, and in some nations actual piracy of public infrastructure for private profit, often euphemistically known as 'privatisation'.  

The corporations in the TPP want to hold nation states to ransom: that is, feudal lords and their vassals (aka shareholders) in battle with  freely elected national governments.  Who's gonna win? 
Your guess is as good as mine. 

If  we look at the Pfizer comments in the illustration above, we may just get an inkling of what is to come. 

It's not pretty. 

I do worry  about our  democracies: how well can they hold out under seige by the new-feudals? 


Thursday, January 18, 2018

The New Age of Ugliness

Have you noticed lately that civility appears to have gone out the window? 

Or, have you noticed that being a "Type A" human is seen as carte blanche for being a total a**hole? 

Or, maybe, you have been held captive by shock jocks and/or right wing theologies that says that it's OK to hate your neighbour?

If so, you have entered the new Age of Ugliness. 

Witness the American president, and the Rethuglican Party syncophants whose lips are firmly gripping the presidential butt, excusing and forgiving racists, bigots and "patriots"  wrapped in a flag, so long as no one touches their cash. 

Or witness the trolling via Facebook and Twitter which has caused at least one young woman suiciding. 

Perhaps, you might  also recall the Prime Minister of our vaunted nation:
  • Completely disregarding the Statement of the Heart from our first peoples;
  • Using cheap political rhetoric to monster a minority group;
  • Flatly stating that Australia day is a day when we should be all together celebrating, when in fact a goodly percentage called that particular date Invasion Day. And a recent poll stated that a majority of Australians didn't really mind when Australia day was. 
Then we have our "Reichsmarshall", Peter Dutton, who continues to destroy the lives of bona fide refugees in our concentration camps, to name but one of the atrocities he is foisting on the citizenry.

On top of all of this we have a nasty, misogynist subculture creeping out from under rocks to belittle and revile women, just 'cause they can. 

It all  seems a bit much, really.  I think we can thank the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave (if you can afford it), and their "leadership" for letting the genie out of the lamp.  It's gone viral, unfortunately. 

So, may we all consider civility and respect?  And practice it too.