Stay indoors but stay informed. Check out this FREE current affairs menu: Politicians keep telling us lies; Euthanasia spooks our legislators; Books to the rescue; Music keeps us young; The Beatles revisited; Right-wingers never liked The Beatles; New research puts Yoga on the mat; More famous sayings flood in; The world is changing – so am I (before and after photographs).
Scott Morrison’s about-turn: from saving lives to saving the economy
In April 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government praised Australians for staying indoors, self-isolating and not going outdoors to the shops. The vast majority of Australians obeyed. They did so because it seemed the right thing to do; the COVID-19 pandemic was a completely new and terrifying phenomenon; and it was also frightening because no one had a cure for it.
In May 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government reversed its policy. Australians were told to go outside, go shopping, go to school, go to cafés, pubs and restaurants and start spending their money.
State, Territory and local governments, with few exceptions, turned around as well. Did they admit that their previous policy had been wrong? No. Did they even mention their previous month’s policy? No, they simply moved on.
Who can believe them? One minute they say one thing and the next minute they say the complete opposite. It’s no wonder people are angry, confused and have lost confidence in politicians.
Their advice in April 2020 was medical and based on saving lives.
Their advice in May 2020 was financial and based on saving the economy. Their priority changed from saving people to saving business. No explanation was given and the media didn’t ask.
Will politicians regain people’s trust? If bodies keep piling up? No.
Euthanasia debate fires up
If opinion polls are anything to go by, 70% of the adult population support euthanasia. Some surveys put it as high as 85%.
Supporters are a mixed bag: many doctors and aged care workers; terminally ill patients; young people as well as the elderly; psychologists and other mental health professionals.
Opponents are easily rounded up: Roman Catholics, their priests and the Vatican. There are exceptions, of course; some reform-minded Catholics are ardent supporters of euthanasia and deserve unqualified praise for their stand.
On 31 March 2020, a long-running parliamentary inquiry in Queensland recommended the introduction of legislation to allow voluntary assisted dying.
Aaron Harper, Labor MP for the Townsville seat of Thuringowa since 2015 and the committee’s chairman, said: “The majority of Queenslanders who engaged with the inquiry supported the introduction of voluntary assisted dying and our recommendation to Parliament reflects this.”
Harper and his committee took evidence from all over the State and received 4,729 written submissions.
He concluded: “We believe citizens should have the choice to access voluntary assisted dying if they fit the strict eligibility criteria and if this choice is made by them. This is now a matter for the Queensland Government to consider.”
But before the Government, the Parliament or the public had a chance to read the report and discuss it, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk closed it down.
The Dying with Dignity coalition was furious, issuing a statement which said: “We have been anxiously waiting for the Premier’s response and hoping that Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) laws would be introduced before the Queensland election in October 31. Unfortunately, those hopes have been dashed.”
Ms Palaszczuk has sent the report to the Law Reform Commission with a response not due until March 2021, five months after the election.
“If there is a change of government the prospects are grim as the LNP has a formal policy to oppose VAD laws,” said the pro-euthanasia coalition. “It’s hard to maintain faith in democracy when elected representatives choose to ignore the wishes of 85% of the community.”
Dying with Dignity has asked supporters to write to MPs telling their stories of personal experiences. “We can show MPs the real-life experiences of patients, families and health workers to demonstrate why VAD is so important. We know that many of you have witnessed terrible deaths of loved ones, even with the best available medical and palliative care. It is harder for MPs to dismiss the need for VAD when they are forced to confront these terrible stories of bad deaths, untreatable symptoms and even suicides.”
Victoria’s Parliament has legislated in support of voluntary euthanasia and all the lurid predictions of its opponents have failed to materialise. “There has been no increase in Australians moving to Victoria to qualify for euthanasia and there has been no influx of euthanasia ‘tourists’ arriving from overseas,” said a Dying with Dignity official. “The sky has not fallen in either.”
In NSW opinion is growing in both Houses – the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council – for a push to support legislation which legalises euthanasia. After decriminalising abortion and supporting same sex marriage, reform-minded NSW MPs from all parties are anxious to achieve a euthanasia victory as well.
The world of books
There is an upside to enforced hibernation. It is the re-discovery of books and music. People can read to their heart’s content or turn on the radio/CD player and listen to great music.
One book that I shan’t be buying or ordering from the local library is Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and The Light, a 912-page historical novel which weighs more than 2lb. It is the third volume of her life of Thomas Cromwell, who became a key adviser to King Henry VIII, the ruffian monarch who broke with Rome, married and then executed many of his six wives, supported the Reformation and founded the Church of England.
In a Letter to the Editor of the London Times one reader said he had allocated 14 days to read Mantel’s new book. Not me. I can’t be bothered and I know the ending: Thomas Cromwell gets executed.
Ms Mantel’s two previous Cromwell books – Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012) – made millions of dollars and turned her into a celebrity. She has worked long and hard, won two Booker prizes and deserves every cent of her royalties. But that does not mean everyone should agree with her, like her books or even buy them.
I take the same attitude to J K Rowling CH, OBE who became a billionaire by inventing Harry Potter. I don’t begrudge her hard-earned fortune but nothing will persuade me to read or watch anything about Mr Potter.
Lost in Translation
I am using self-isolation to read classics from our bookshelves starting with John Steinbeck’s novel of America in the Great Depression, The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck’s widow, Elaine Steinbeck, once travelled to Japan where she visited a bookshop in Yokohama. She asked the bookseller if she had anything by her late husband. “Oh yes, we have several copies of The Angry Raisins.”
The world of music
On the subject of great music, this week we listened to a marvellous webcast concert by Skye McIntosh’s Australian Haydn Ensemble.
They played a program of Haydn’s London trio, Mozart’s string quartet The Hunt and Haydn’s London symphony – chamber music at its best.
Dr Megan Lang wrote the programme notes on Haydn: “Haydn was well aware of the growing popularity of the flute in London. Originally composed for two flutes and cello, the set was written as a gift for Haydn’s host Anne Hutchinson, wife of the Baron of Aston, on the occasion of Haydn’s second visit to London in 1794. Works of this kind are light and enjoyable and were intended for daily consumption. The London trios were forgotten until 1909, but are now a beloved part of the chamber music repertoire.”
Cellist Anthony Albrecht wrote the programme notes on Mozart: “Mozart held ‘Papa’ Haydn in the highest regard. So deep was his admiration that he dedicated a set of six string quartets to him, and completed them in 1784, around the time he also wrote The Marriage of Figaro.
“In the same year, Mozart was invited to join the Masonic Lodge, and several years later he introduced Haydn to the masons. We perform the 4th quartet, nicknamed The Hunt. German composer Christian Schubart (1739-1791) described it as expressing ‘cheerful love, clear conscience, hope, and aspiration for a better world’.”
As Skye’s late father, Kel McIntosh, the saxophonist and Life Member of the Tweed Valley Jazz Club, would say: “The recital was Mag-nif-i-cent!”
The Beatles: where do you stand?
Bryan Magee, a right-wing British Labour MP who joined the ill-fated Social Democratic Party, was an obsessive hater of The Beatles, once writing: “Does anyone seriously believe that Beatles music will be an unthinkingly part of daily life all over the world in the 2000s?”
Well, Magee was profoundly wrong and The Beatles have built a worldwide audience in the 21st century.
President Vladimir Putin told Paul McCartney in 2003 that hearing The Beatles as a boy growing up in the USSR was “like a gulp of freedom”. Former President Mikhail Gorbachev told McCartney during the same visit: “I do believe the music of The Beatles taught the young people of the Soviet Union that there is another life.”
US President Barack Obama said in 2010: “It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly half a century since four lads from Liverpool landed on our shores and changed everything overnight. In a few short years, they had changed the way that we listened to music, thought about music and performed music, for ever. They helped to lay the soundtrack for an entire generation – an era of endless possibility and great change.”
Even Her Majesty Mrs Betty Windsor, aka QE2, was moved to say on her golden wedding anniversary in 1997: “What a remarkable 50 years they have been for the world. Think what we would have missed if we had never heard of The Beatles.”
Female singers and performers hailed their music and its tribute to women in songs like Michelle, Eleanor Rigby, She’s Leaving Home, We Can Work It Out, Strawberry Fields Forever, She’s A Woman and Hey Jude.
English writer Craig Brown has just published One Two Three Four to mark the 50th anniversary of their break-up on 10 April 1970. McCartney confirmed the split with the comment: “I have a better time with my family.”
Brown concedes that “when you hear a Beatles album, you feel that all human life is there.” But he adopts a mocking tone as well, revealing that the group’s early names were Johnny and the Moondogs, the Beatals, the Nerk Twins, the Silver Beetles, the Silver Beats, the Beetles and Long John and the Silver Beatles. It wasn’t until August 1960 that they settled on The Beatles.
On engaging in a sex, drugs and alcohol orgy in Hamburg’s Reeperbahn, the locals pronounced their name as “Peadles” which is German slang for “little willies”. When John lowered his trousers halfway through a song and mooned the audience, “the Germans applauded politely”. They thought it was part of the Liverpudlians’ act.
They had detractors too
While Bryan Magee MP dismissed The Beatles, Noel Coward did too. He considered them “bad-mannered little shits”.
Right-wing US columnist William F Buckley Jr wrote them off as “unbelievably horrible” and English writer Anthony Burgess prayed that a “special circle of hell” would be set aside for them where they would be bound to a “white-hot turntable, stuck all over with blunt and rusty acoustic needles, each tooth hollowed to the raw nerve”.
Just to stick it up all their ludicrous critics, I’ll now play my favourite album of all time, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).
The truth about Yoga
At long last a book has appeared telling a few home truths about the modern version of Yoga. Called The Story of Yoga – From Ancient India to the Modern West, its author Alistair Shearer has delivered a detailed history of the spiritual practice as well as exploding some of its contemporary mythology.
Go into any bookshop and there are shelves full of Yoga books offering freedom from depression to cures for cancer. Shearer explains that its originators – three millennia ago – never meant it to be a sweaty cure-all for various mental and physical conditions. Dashing to the gym or the PCYC during lunch break was not something that the founders ever imagined. They required “complete stillness” in which the person “enters a unitive state, never to become separate again”.
Since the earliest days, Yoga has spread from India to other parts of Asia and the Western world. Each country has developed its own tradition so that nowadays, the New York version is unrecognisable from the variant practised in Copenhagen.
Shearer has concluded that Yoga “stripped of its sacred associations” is little more than extreme stretching, and this brings its own set of problems. For example, physio surgeries in some Western countries are filled with people of all ages suffering from torn muscles and strained ligaments.
One of its strictly spiritual adherents read Shearer’s book and agreed with its conclusion that modern practices can be “misguided”. He wrote: “Sacred knowledge is not designed to solve the travails of the modern world or clear up anxiety.”
If it works wonders for its modern-day adherents, then Yoga is serving a great purpose, and who can object to that? I suppose the only things to remember are: don’t overdo it and don’t believe all the bullshit.
Today’s Yoga world is filled with charlatans and chancers. Let’s not forget the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who latched onto The Beatles, relieved them of lots of cash, and convinced them they could levitate their way to peace and freedom.
Since my offer to collect famous sayings from Notebook readers, contributions have come in thick and fast.
Patricia from Sydney offered two quotations, one from each side of the political divide.
At a campaign meeting in Melbourne Town Hall in the 1950s a heckler shouted at Liberal Party leader Robert Menzies: “I wouldn’t vote for you if you were the Archangel Gabriel.”
Menzies retorted: “If I were the Archangel Gabriel, I wouldn’t have YOU in my electorate.”
Out on the campaign trail, Gough Whitlam was being harassed by anti-abortion Right-to-Lifers.
“Come on, Gough, tell us your policy on abortion,” one opponent said.
Whitlam replied: “Well, in your case, it should be retrospective.”
Terry from Melbourne wrote: “I’m particularly fond of Jean Giradoux’s remark: “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake it, you’ve got it made.”
More sayings from Irish writer, poet and playwright Oscar Wilde also arrived.
Trevor sent these two from Mr Wilde: “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”
“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”
Kieran from Brisbane sent two Wildeisms as well: “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.”
“I can resist everything, except temptation.”
American writer Mark Twain was another favourite. Someone (anon) sent: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
Message to Notebook readers: Please keep your favourite sayings/quotes coming in.
Some of the world’s leading philosophers, including 91-year-old Noam Chomsky, have predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic will change the planet Earth and everything that lives on it.
I think they are right. Accordingly, I’ve grown a beard and had my head shaved. I didn’t go to a barber shop either. My partner, Judith White, purchased a battery-operated shaver and she did the job at home. There’s nothing like being ahead of the game. I feel much better already.