STRAWS IN THE WIND: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Kofi and friends, Obituary wars, Skills shortages and literacy shortages
, October 28, 2006
Kofi and friends
Kofi Annan's luck still hasn't run out. On the eve of perhaps the most prodigious humiliation that the United Nations has yet suffered, he handed over his job to a South Korean: he from a country which is trying to be all things to all people.
Iran, supported by China, Russia and most Muslim countries, was on course to defy the UN, and make her Bomb. She still is – for as the odds against North Korea being controlled, lengthen – so does Iran appear more and more respectable. Certainly by comparison with Pyongyang. Nuclear proliferation is now out of control.
If nothing is done about North Korea, then one should expect Japan to move to nuclear statehood. Russia and China would contest such a move. We should expect in Australia a great deal of fairly rancid anti-Japanese propaganda coming from our only too familiar old Stalinist and Maoist media establishment – plus the usual cash for comment lobbyists. But, quite soon, Japan will be ignoring "world opinion", as Iran and North Korea, China and Russia ... do now.
The outcome of the North Korean standoff is also going to tell us what to expect, if China, in her turn, decides to settle matters once and for all with Taiwan. No one would move to oppose her – except the United States, supported by Japan. We will wring our officials hands – as we do over Falun Gong, and the many ongoing bastardries of Beijing. However, the Cargo Cult of the China market determines the degree of indignation that we will allow ourselves.
The fact is, we have so mismanaged our society and our economy, our farming and our environment, that we have no option other than to fawn upon overseas businessmen and bankers. With half of our manufacturing industries gone and much of the remainder listed for execution in the name of Free Trade i.e. cheap Chinese imports; with our service industries starting to move offshore, we are sliding back to 1911. But the level of our overseas and domestic debt is far greater than it was in those early days, before we industrialised behind a tariff wall.Obituary walls
One of the glamour features of the ageing process consists in starting to encounter obituaries of people who one knew, often quite well. The closer one had been to the deceased person, the more misleading or just uninformed does the obituary appear. Thus, The Age obituary of a few years ago on Elizabeth Bond, a remarkable and, apparently, unrepeatable phenomenon in Australian radio, did her much justice, but it could not retail the wholly disgraceful, and long contemplated removal of Elizabeth, from her enormously popular ABC radio berth. This by forces on high, but also outside the media. Had this part of the story been told I doubt if the newspaper concerned would have printed it, at least in Toto. Their alliance with the ABC transcends mere questions of right, or truth. So, there is a missing obituary here. (This is no criticism of the existing one, for it did all that could have been done.)
Then, on the other side, are the fulsome tributes to Establishment Toby jugs in our provincial antique shop. A friend, having read one such English obituary, is bringing it to show me today. "It just leaves out a few things," he said on the phone. "Just that the man was a snob, a bully and a phoney." Knowing the dear departed tyrant he mentioned, I'm all agog to see the grand cosmetic jobs apparently carried out.
I realise that no gentleman is a hero to his valet, and that clever and successful parents can have trouble with envious, nitpicking children ... but being acquainted with the subject of the obituary, and familiar with the world in which the departed one moved, can be enormously helpful. Otherwise, we have to go on trust, and nowadays I advise against this. Even an obituary is now a political act. Even an exercise in identity politics. "If I praise him, his friends will see that I am praised in my turn." Or, the clapboard illusory circus in which the deceased comedian moved was my world too. Our Legitimacy and our Identity depend upon every one of us saying, "Clapboard is really Oregon". So ... he was Oregon. And so are we all Oregon.
Understandable ... but, it short-changes those few decent persons deserving an obituary and simply spreads the universal Australian feeling – post Hawke – that Truth is Dead; Just Deserts are Abolished, and the Weasels rule in Toad Hall.Skills shortages and literacy shortages
The arguments about the filling of labour shortages – especially skilled labour shortages – are with us once more. And once again it is a non-argument ... even a non-discussion ... for Labor and the unions make the same three moves, and we then reach stalemate. Meanwhile and there afterwards, the adults get on with the job of governing the country and running the economy. Move one: there is no skills shortage, nor labour shortage. Move two: there is such a shortage, but you don't bring in new people; you recruit locals and train them here (How long would this take and what happens to the firms, government services with labour and skills shortages in the meantime?). Well, they could try eating nuts and bolts. Move three: it is all the Liberals' faults i.e. the Federal Government. How? They closed down Tafes. They cut money to the States.
None of this is serious politics. It is Student Union drivel – and enough of this and there is a great deal, more or less guarantees another Labor spell in the wilderness. They have nothing to offer.
John Howard got as near as anyone in saying the unsayable, when he said, "Most modern jobs require the ability to read, write and count," i.e. Literacy and numeracy. The reality is that many of the products of our schools over the past few decades can barely perform. So, they would not have acquired many other subsequent skills. They face a lifetime of unemployment or semi-employment. Most social roles and opportunities are beyond them. Our teacher unions, protected by the Labor party, have done this. And intend to keep on doing it. So, employers will step up the import of labour, and, if blocked, move overseas. Or else fold.
The education of philosophy which was propagated, especially through and by the Fairfax Group and the ABC, taught that commerce and business were greedy and dishonest activities; that the social sciences had been used by the Americans in the Cold War and Vietnam, so should be avoided by students, or else taken over in the service of the Revolution. Ordinary science was suspect – having been a willing tool of Capitalists, soldiers and, when you think of it, advertisers. It needed to be controlled, and set to work, for socially desirable i.e. Left objectives. As to the non-humanitarian parts of education, work and life, our 60s educationists had little respect. Technical colleges were closed down wholus bolus, by State Governments. Certainly not by Canberra. I taught at some of those Techs in the 50s and in the early 60s in the UK. Many of them were outstanding, catering for most young people, who had no desire to prolong humanitarian studies year after year after irrelevant year.
The Tafe movement, a belated replacement for the lost Techs, has rarely done the job that the Techs did and were intended to do. Which is perhaps why one can't readily call to mind the name of an outstanding Tafe. The pathetic snobbery of the 60s Left – poorly educated, low academic achievers, swarming into teaching and dealing a death blow to our egalitarian, multi-functional wholly practical education system. The new teachers weren't interested in children, not having grown up themselves. They saw the students at their schools as captive audience, just as their Maoist student mountebank leaders had seen them. These dysfunctionals already had a grudge against steady work, patient study, and listening. So set out to eliminate such virtues from education and from learning. They have been disastrously successful.
But to return, if we wish to retrieve our economy from the Stone Age into which it is sliding we need new, outside people to run it. This has to happen.