Mungo MacCallum on Covid-19

As so often with Morrison, there is no overall strategy – simply a series of reactive measures which, he hopes, will do the job unless a next one is needed. and then another one, and another one …

Scott Morrison insists that his message is clear – the government is fully on top of the coronavirus crisis, there is no reason for doubt or uncertainty.

Well, up to a point, prime minister. Viewed individually, ScoMo’s present barrage of edicts are indeed firm and unequivocal. If they are taken at face value, there is no room for confusion.

But the problem is that, taken together, they are not only confusing but often self-contradictory. As so often with Morrison, there is no overall strategy – simply a series of reactive measures which, he hopes, will do the job unless a next one is needed. and then another one, and another one …

The basic dilemma that has still not been resolved is whether we are to treat this as a disaster on a truly monumental scale, a crisis like the great pandemics of the past, rivaling world wars and the Great Depression in their long term destruction; or a temporary set back – a severe one, no doubt, but an aberration that can be managed with a shit load of taxpayer money a dash of discipline and patriotism until we bounce back and a resiient Australia resumes its triumphal progress under the steady and stable hands of the coalition.

In the first scenario, we have closed our borders, the Reserve Bank has taken unprecedented steps to save the remnants of a devastated economy and a quasi state of emergency is in place – there is even talk of the free-enterprise government considering nationalising sections of industry and rationing essential goods

But on the other side, gatherings have been limited but not shut down, schools, universities and even casinos remain open for business, and although I have been condemned to home isolation, I am able — indeed encouraged – to watch TV sport in which groups of athletes indulge in as much close personal contact as possible.

And there is confusion at all levels. In spite of Morrison’s worthy initiative in bringing the state and territory leaders into a national cabinet, he has mean-mindedly excluded the federal opposition .. Anthony Albanese has pointedly not been offered a guernsey. Although the idea is apparently to coordinate a nationwide approach Tasmania has effectively seceded from the mainland. Mixed messages galore.

And there is little point in telling everyone else to shut up and do what we are told, when those telling us admit that things are changing too fast for even them to catch up. The chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, said last week that the schools would, must, stay open – for now, but if circumstances changed, so would the policy.

Fair enough, but hardly reassuring to those who are already conflicted about what to do with their children. The Catholics are in open warfare, and some others in the private sector are voting with their feet. The arguments are complex and there is sense on both sides.

Morrison is adhering to the official, current, advice – he says he is happy to send his own children to school and for what it’s worth I feel the same about my grandchildren. But I do not regard Morrison’s – or my own – preference as making the position, or the message, unequivocally clear.

It would be nice to think that the resumption of parliament will sort it all out. Perhaps such wishful thinking is about all we have left.

Republished with – I devoutly hope – the kind permission of John Menadue

Children’s Literature

I was one of those painful children who was a VERY early reader. And I devoured books from at least the age of 3. Even books that my parents’ friends considered unsuitable … so, what was a problem about reading ‘Lolita’ when I was 10?

One of the delights of my childhood was our regular schedule: payday, we’d do dinner at Happy’s Restaurant in Garema Place. I’d then be allowed to choose a Puffin Book all by myself at Verity Hewitt’s Bookshop. Non-Friday night payday, we’d visit the local library, and I would have finished reading my two books by Saturday night. Throughout my late childhood and adult life, however, I have ALWAYS revisited my favourite children’s fiction, and each time re-reading has revealed different, sometimes surprising, nuances.

Which is why I was so delighted to read this from another WordPress blogger – Calmgrove:

For the readership the books were originally aimed at doubtless they were entertaining, but for all their superficial fantasy they also portrayed a reality — the threat of nuclear holocaust, the nature of authoritarian parenting, the evils of totalitarianism — that could upset any rose-tinted view that assumed that all was right with the world.

And that’s why it’s so important that children read, have access to books, to libraries, to classrooms where such fiction is held in esteem. For here, without the bitter pill Victorian novelists forced children to read, are deeply moral narratives. Here there may be crises to face and wicked antagonists popping out of the woodwork; but there won’t be the piety that accompanied too many tales from the 19th century, stories in which the protagonist suffered calamities and atrocities with a reverential quietude and passivity, accepting the fate that a noble sacrifice might offer.

No, as the 20th century proceeded the protagonist (other than the gung-ho British bulldog type who might show natives and the lower classes his superiority with feats of derring-do) would increasingly exhibit humanitarian values and a sense of compassion, combined with a bravery that wouldn’t require outstanding physical prowess or a privileged education. Nesbit’s children’s books are regarded as marking a sea-change from the piety of Victorian and Edwardian literature written to improve children to a more realist yet sympathetic fiction written with their innate sense of fairness in mind.

I generalise of course. But think of the classics that stand the test of time: in the main they are the ones that are based on moral outrage against injustice, war, deprivation, waste, greed, and so on. Whether the scenario is small-scale — family-based, perhaps, maybe in a school — or of epic proportions, stretching across continents, such narratives share the values of many traditional fairytales: standing up for what’s right, and recognising responsibilities.

In an era when most of our daily news stories concern the apparent success that arises from cheating, bullying, lying, exploitation and abuse, and when much contemporary adult fiction seems to end in tragedy or at the very least ambiguity, is it not important for all our sakes to counter that with alternatives? I don’t mean the saccharine endings of romcoms or the impossible triumph, against all the odds, of plucky outsiders over supervillains in the apocalyptic final reel; I’m thinking instead of the child hero who learns to do what is right because…

Well, just because.

My response – from my heart:

For me, children’s lit, fables, legends, etc., has always been about subtly teaching children how to deal with dangerous emotions, with adversity, and with despair. (One of the worst things I think my late unlamented mother-in-law did to my spouse was to refuse to read him – and refuse to let him read – ‘fairy tales’, because they weren’t “true”.)

The starkest example I’ve experienced about the value of children’s lit in this domain was the publication of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”.

That was back in 2003, at the height of the propaganda, gaslighting, and downright dishonesty about the “Coalition’s” purported and actual reasons for the invasion and – almost – destruction of Iraq.

– The intolerance of anyone who disagreed.
– The ill-treatment of anyone who disagreed.
– The calmunies directed towards anyone who disagreed.

And, as I read that book, I thought, “Yes, sounds SO like Bush (US), Blair (UK), and Howard (my Oz PM).” Lie after lie after lie, vilification of anyone disagreeing, and the intense desire to destroy anyone disagreeing with their vile stance.

It didn’t – quite – work then.

Now, however?

A Vertical Triptych

Inspired by Tanya Plibersek, Catherine Perry, and Gravel: