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'It's still the same old story...the fundamental things apply as time goes by' , or do they?

Updated: Feb 27

 

I suspect many would agree that the current world is one where the practice of old certitudes has never been less guaranteed.


Be it the contested use of pronouns, the assumption that there will be credible Presidential candidates in America, a belief that the days of rank, atavistic antisemitism were behind us, that sporting events are actually more important than the entertainment that accompanies them, that balanced, objective debate can take place away from poisonous personal attacks, and/or that historical debates can be conducted without hideous oversimplification-“colonialism = evil”, so much is so different from a mere thirty or forty years ago.


Cheques are being officially cancelled along with culture and cultures. Practice football matches are now called “simulations.” How can a woman’s work be done when we are arguing about what a woman is. And who would risk their life on confidently asserting who or what a father or a mother is?


The last weeks of February have added to the sense of chaos and confusion. We have seen Chinese New Year celebrations- is the eye of the dragon focussed on Taiwan?- take place as a leap year day approaches, not to mention the spooky conjoining of St. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. Decades ago the commencement of Lenten observances and denials would have eclipsed the excesses of commercialised romance, but not anymore. 


The copyright in the original Mickey Mouse has expired, Northern Ireland’s government has a Sinn Fein leader and Indonesia has reprised the days of Sukarno and Suharto with the election of a former General as its next President.




In Melbourne recently a pro-Palestinian peace rally noisily made its way past Chinese New Year celebrations. Democracy? Yes, but also a reminder of the confusion and conflict that lurks even in the most liberal societies.


The tennis world has not avoided the erasure of certainties past. The French Open does not commence until May 20; however, there seems a greater chance than ever that for the first time since 2004 that neither of  first two Men’s Grand Slam titles of a calendar year will be won than other than Nadal, Federer or Djokovic.  Whilst the money entering Nadal’s pocket from the Saudi government may be enough to assuage his hip pain, it appears likely that his role at Paris will be that of a maestro making his final performance.


It is more likely that Iga Swiatek, away from her allergy to the Australian summer, will successfully defend her Parisian title.  Form from the recent Australian Open, however, continues to offer some certainty. Whilst Australia’s Alex de Minaur was able to avenge his Australian Open defeat by Rublev at last week’s Rotterdam Open, he was not able to deny Janik Sinner another title in the final.


Speaking of the Australian Open, its former home, the Kooyong Tennis Club, which hosted some of the most memorable Davis Cup finals between Australia and the USA in the 1950s, is besieged by record financial losses and more than a whiff of scandal. Seeing Kooyong, home of so many splendid green courts, plunge into the red is another reminder that nothing can be assumed for ever.





A mix of the best and worst of our certainties remain, whilst new examples of each are emerging:

-the ability of Russian leaders since Ivan the Terrible to simply annihilate their opponents continues. The recent death of Putin’s arch nemesis, Alexei Navalny, is hideous confirmation of Russia’s despotism. ‘Sudden Death Syndrome’ must enter the annals as one of the most appalling attempts to exonerate evil. Sudden Death Syndrome is when one of Putin’s henchmen enters your Siberian torture chamber and suddenly kills you;




-the power of celebrity remains undiminished. The recent triumphant visit to Melbourne by Taylor Swift which saw her perform a trio of concerts to just under 300,000 people had echoes of the hysteria generated by the tour of the Beatles Australia a mere 60 years ago.



 

In an age free from instant images and videos, the appearance of The Fab Four on the balcony of Melbourne’s Town Hall was enough to bring the city to a standstill.





There will inevitably be a debate on the relative musical legacy of The Beatles and Taylor Swift. So, for the moment, I shall let it be.


-The law’s inability to provide affordable justice or, dare I say it, a swift resolution of its disputes worsens. The tribulations and trials arising from the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins have become many. Ms. Higgins, like Lindy Chamberlain and George Pell, has found it easier to live in exile. Everyone accuses everyone else of defamation. We all know there can be no true resolution of a case so publicised and dissected. We also know for certain that the only definite outcome has been the accumulation of obscenely gross legal bills running into millions of dollars.


-the ability of senior Australian politicians to remind us of their basic qualities remains undiminished. Former Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has admitted becoming very ‘tired and emotional’ after mixing alcohol and prescription medication. His fall from his relatively low level of grace came after he tripped over a planter box and was filmed making an expletive laden phone call.




 This episode evoked memories of former Prime Minister, John Gorton (1968-1971).  A colourful character, Gorton attended a lunch in Melbourne. On returning to Canberra, he was spectacularly sick on his aircraft. Gorton remarked to the stewardess, “gosh the turbulence is terrible.” The stewardess, in a display of archetypal Australian classlessness, replied “Prime Minister, we haven’t taken off yet.”




And, now for the changes.


First, the good:


Consistent with his belief in emotional connection and empathy, except it seems with some of his family, King Charles’ sharing of his recent cancer diagnosis is a stark contrast to the behaviour of his great- grandfather, King George V. Monarch from 1910-1936, George V had an epileptic son, Prince John, who was essentially hidden from the public eye. Prince John died from the effects of a seizure aged 13 and his existence was not revealed for decades. One must applaud Charles’ refreshing Royal candour.


Secondly, the worrying:


Ever since Dickens’ tale about the orphaned Oliver in Industrial Revolution days, we have known that circumstances and character often compel children to be criminals. However, there is a new sinister twist. Recent murders in Queensland and Victoria involving gangs of children have confirmed that the age of innocence is utterly lost for many with tragic consequences.


In Louis Armstrong’s classic, “What a wonderful world” there are the lines,

I hear babies cry,

I watch them grow,

They'll learn much more,

Than I'll ever know


Sadly, recent evidence suggests this is not the case in Australia. Educational standards, especially in literacy and mathematics, continue to decline in Australia. State and Federal governments continue to throw extra millions at the problem like confetti, not realising that what is needed, above all else, are sound and manageable curriculums and competent, knowledgeable teachers who can control and instruct their students. Forget the endless search for equal educational outcomes- such a day is not for this earth. Focus instead on generating educational inputs of sustaining quality.


We should not be surprised, therefore, that the appeal of university study in Australia is diminishing at record rates. Universities have reported that there has been a record rate of students abandoning their courses over the last five years. Prospective students worryingly anticipate crippling student debts upon graduation and look at the relatively uncomplicated and well rewarded life of the artisan class. Recent negotiations between Australia’s most powerful building union and Victoria’s state government have secured incomes of $120,000.00 for those turning ‘Stop/Go’ signs at building sites. Compare that to the starting salary of a four year university trained teacher in Victoria of $75,726.00.


Who can safely predict what happens next?


Returning to the Beatles, one is reminded that a respected music manager passed up the opportunity to manage the four ‘mop tops,’ believing that they had no future.

It was commonly predicted that the movie industry would die with the arrival of the video.

More recently, we were also told by many that no-one would wear a wrist watch after the arrival of the mobile phone and laptop.


Today, watch boutiques are the new glamour shops of sophisticated shopping strips.

Maybe a renewed focus on time is a good thing. We can realise its preciousness. We can appreciate its remorselessness. We can pray that, in time, the hideous conflicts of our past and present, especially in the Middle East and Ukraine, can be resolved.


In the meantime, during the Lenten season, we could do worse to remember Paul’s observation that prophecies will come to an end, but faith, hope and love will abide. Let’s hope Paul’s confidence is not misplaced in an increasingly chaotic and uncertain world.

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