Dr Peter White's Blog

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

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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!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A word for the Alt Right

I read today in the ABC site that the so-called Alt Right in Australia have developed a strategy to take power.  They are doing this by infiltrating political parties (or at least one of them), and forcing motions through branches to substantially change the party platform. 

They are pushing for a "White Australia", among other things, and want to stop immigration other than from  Europe or the USA completely.  That's just for starters.  They are  more or less following the Steve Bannon Textbook on Destroying Modern Democracy, as followed relatively faithfully  by the current President of the USA and his fellow bigots. 

This might come as a bit of a shock to my reader, but I can relate to their platform.  If they are as thin skinned as their American cousins, they will have a serious inferiority complex, they  will be very angry, and they will want a totally homogeneous society  that represents their views and beliefs.  Orthodoxy to the letter.  But just reflect on the outcomes of this approach: Soviet  Russia, Nazi Germany, various fundamentalist religions, Jim Crow, etc. 

In the Land of  Oz, these folks are infiltrating the National Party, and stacking branches and pushing their  agenda.  They will have kindred spirits there.   However, it would be interesting to see if the other major parties are seeing the same sort of push: the Liberals, Labor and the Greens.  Beware.  These folks can be pretty strategic and subtle, even though their messages aren't., 

On further  reflection, though, I feel sad and concerned for these folks.  When I was younger, I did a lot of reading about the Third Reich and watched numerous documentaries and films.  I even managed to watch Leni Reifenstahl's Triumph of the Will, and other short films on the Nuremburg Rallies. 

They  were very stirring for a young guy.  They really  grabbed one by the gut and you could see the might and power of the massed troops, and the masses raising their right arms into the air giving the Nazi salute.  A part of you wanted to  be a part of that.  The  genius  of Dr Goebbels and Ms Reifenstahl could not be denied. 

And so the world marched to war. 

Four and a bit years later, it was all over.  I would recommend to our new  Neo-Nazis, the Alt Right, to forget about the Triumph of the Will.  Just  look at the aftermath.  Just look at what this hypnotic insanity, based on generations of bigotry and bias, did to the world.  Look at the films made in the ruined cities of the Reich.  And reflect, if you will, your march  to glory will end the same way.  Why?  Hate begets hate, and it never ends well. 

And you won't either. 

Monday, October 01, 2018

Welcome to the Age of Unenlightenment

Centuries ago, with such notables as Sir Francis Bacon, Isasc Newton, Voltaire, Liebniz, and many others, ushered in the vaunted Age of  Enlightenment.  The scientific method was invented and refined.  Mathematics, astronomy, early medical discoveries, philosophies, and political economy were all grist to the mill for these people.  Some of them got into serious trouble (cf. Galileo vs. the Vatican), others were burned at the stake, and so on.  But the ideas, once released and published, prevailed. 

Our democratic institutions emerged from this often bloody and chaotic age.  We have been riding on the coattails of the Enlightenment -- until now? 

Welcome to the Age of Unenlightenment.  Now we have the anti-scientists, the rise of the religious right, the anti-vaxxers, etc. ad nauseam.  Centuries of civility appear to be out the window.  Opinions are rigidly held despite all the proof to the contrary. 

We now have a strong push to isolationism instead of globalisation.  Mind you, one can certainly sympathise with some of the opinions of the anti-globalists, but we'll discuss this at a later date.  What seems to be happening is the baby is being flung out with the bathwater in regards to trade, and migration.  In some of our  countries colonised and settled by white Europeans, it would appear that the catchcry is: "Go back to where you came from", despite all the evidence that shows that migration has made these same countries what they are today: rich, powerful, free, and forward looking. 

We are shrinking into little isolated boxes.  Bigotry and fear of the Other are raising their ugly heads once again, and are pushing policy makers, some of whom are right up there with the KKK, anti-anything that isn't us brigade. 

It's sad, really.  Because what we will be morphing into will be our smaller selves, those of us that will survive the coming hateful war, that is, if climate change doesn't get us first. 

Good luck, kids, you are heirs of  your forebears' cupidity, ignorance and hate.  May you do better than us. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

We could do what we can

About 30 or so years ago I attended an ashram in Sydney.  One of the teachers there related this  story.

Once there was this sparrow, who heard that the sky was about to fall in.  So he lay on his back, with his little feet in the air.  A larger bird flew over and said "What can you do, you're so small."  And the sparrow said "I  do what I can". 

That story has stuck with me for a long time now.  We are at so many crossroads in the world today: climate change coupled with fires, floods, extreme weather storms; the politics of  ugliness everywhere; rampant greed by the rich, ably assisted by conservative politicians; a growing but ageing population, and Trump.  😛

But through all  this,  I see glimmers of hope springing  up.  There are the NGOs who  are leading the charge on climate change, pushing wobbly governments into stepping up  to do  something.  I see grass roots organisations challenging the strong and sometimes winning.  Everyone from "greenies" to farmers are getting in on the act because they see that we can no longer do what we have done and expect to survive. 

There are numerous  small, grass roots organisations emerging everywhere to challenge the status quo and often winning a fight.  The Internet, despite all the invective heaped on it recently  due to the unscrupulous  use some people make of it, is still a lifesaver.  A great example of this are the many petitionary sites that get people to firstly become aware of an issue that the mass media has ignored, and then ask them to sign, and then ask to  become more involved, either with  time and/or money.

These are not big biz people; they are everyday folk who are expressing a concern.

They are like the sparrow.  They do what they can. 

That's how positive change happens. 

I'm delighted to be among them. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

The new clarion call: Aspirational

The Australian conservative government has been banging on  about being "aspirational".  This is the sacred word.  One has to aspire to get ahead, to achieve greatness, to win a good salary, gain a good education that will foster greater career choices, etc... 

There is nothing inherently wrong with this at all.  In fact, most people aspire to a better life and are quite prepared to work for it. 

But, considering those who use this catch phrase to the point of nausea --  mostly conservative politicians -- telling the rest of us we should aspire to greater things, forget a few home truths, in their smug platitudes. 

So I've come up with some things a lot of Australians aspire to, but  are thwarted by this aspirational government. 

Mums aspire to get the best childcare for their kids because both they and their  husbands work to keep a roof over their heads and the family fed.  This is getting harder and harder in reverse proportion to the amount of income earned.  If you're poor or nearly poor, forget about  it. 

Lots of young people aspire mightily to get a well paying, permanent, full time job.  Some are successful, many are not.  But then, many too aspire to  actually getting a decent paycheque at the end of the week after the franchise or cafe they work in stiffs them.  Well done, junior capitalists. 

Children of ageing parents aspire to ensure that their mums and dads can get the best aged care possible.  With this aspirational government, they are finding it more difficult to find such care, or even a minimal bit of care at a price that's affordable.  On ya guys... 

Our  children are aspiring to have a world that's free of global warming, plastic pollution,  air pollution, growing violent storms and all the rest.  But our  aspirational government doesn't even mention climate change except to spruik another coal mine, 'cause "coal is our friend". 

Migrants to  Australia aspire to become good citizens and work, but our aspirational government keeps tripping them up with language  tests, longer waiting times, if they are fortunate enough to obtain a permanent residency.  Of  course if you are a rich migrant, well then, come right in! 

Pensioners and people of pensionable age asipre to be able to eat and maintain themselves.  If they really need this assistance, our aspirational government makes it harder and harder for them to even apply, and then, given the propensity for the department to stuff up  the process, force them to pay back what was an overpayment.  Well done indeed. 

Refugee  claimants aspire to be free of detention and out of remote locations..  However, our aspirational government has kept whole families in detention for over five years now, with a heinous track record refusing service to mentally ill, or physically ill detainees.  These are fellow  human beings who fled persecution and destruction to find a better life.  And our aspirational government has the temerity to call them "economic migrants." 

Well, I have aspirations too.  I will work hard to ensure that what I aspire to will come to pass.  And that is the elimination of this aspirational gang of smug, overpaid  right wing idologues, who will  lose  mightily in our  next election and will not be seen again for a long period of time.  It will take a relatively long time to undo  the damage this  bunch  has done to the country.

And don't even get me started on the USA.  Thanks Kathy Wilcox for this cartoon from the Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June 2018. 

Bye for now. 


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.