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29
Dec

Istanbul to Gallipoli

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Islamic teaching says every able bodied Muslim should make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. For similar reasons one could say that every Australian should visit Gallipoli and the Western Front once in their lifetime.

Gallipoli is where Australia’s national identity was forged; where the cream of Australian youth gave their lives in the Great War. Watching Anzac Day marches on television and learning of the exploits of brave soldiers at school is important but for a proper education those examples run a poor second to the experience of being there in person. Today, thousands upon thousands of Australians make this pilgrimage every year and come away overflowing with humility.

 

Getting to Gallipoli means first travelling to Istanbul. But this daunting city of nearly 14 million people will captivate you with its stunning architecture, cultural idiosyncrasies, its food, its historical significance and its geo-political importance long before you arrive at Anzac Cove. Likewise, Istanbul’s famous ‘carpet sellers’ will also distract you from your pilgrimage as will  Topkapi Palace, The Aya Sofia Museum and the Blue Mosque.

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http://soundcloud.com/john-b-kelly/gallipoli-experience

Istanbul spans two continents, Europe and Asia , a city sliced in two by the Bosphorus Straits. Hiring a car and driving to the Gallipoli Peninsula is not recommended. You might spend half the day getting out of Istanbul. Better to join a tour group and ride in a luxury coach with a well versed English speaking guide who will pick you up from your hotel and take you to the Battlefields returning to Istanbul the same day. The coach takes you via the coast road beside the Sea of Marmara. It is a four hour journey with comfort breaks along the way. The first stop on the peninsula is Golden Beach, a flat area where the Australians were meant to have landed. You then travel up an incline, below which is Anzac Cove, a pretty little beach surrounded by steep rocky hills. This is where our soldiers did land and you can see immediately why their mission failed. Turkish defense units above them gave them no chance. A short distance away is Lone Pine Cemetery, a moving monument to honour extraordinary bravery. Further up the hill is the Turkish monument to honour their dead. The tour guides are well versed in the events of April 25 1915 and the trip is a sombre reminder of the folly of war but perhaps the most comforting experience is to read the words of Attaturk, the founder of modern Turkey and military commander during WW1. On the special wall memorial erected at Anzac Cove the respect shown by the Turkish nation to the Australians is deeply moving. In part it reads, “You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are at peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”


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Canakkale, Turkey

For those keen to enjoy more of this part of Turkey, the nearby town of Eceabat is where the ferry’s cross the Dardanelles to Çanakkale and the ancient city of Troy.

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25
Dec

Books in the new world

  (Photo courtesy of Google Images)                            Books

In the stampede by the various factions to have their say on the proposed de-regulation of book imports, one group seems to have been overlooked: The self-publisher. It may come as a surprise to some, but more books are self-published in Australia, than are published by the mainstream publishing houses. Self-publishers are writers who self-finance the publication of their books because nobody else will. As one literary Agent put it to me recently: “Self-publishers are a conundrum for the industry and we don’t really know how to deal with them.”

To analyze this “conundrum” more closely, one needs only to understand the industry in simplistic terms. The major publishing houses are essentially commercially based entities. Like any business, they only want to back winners. Books, be it novels, biographies, self-help, non-fiction, are all products a publisher wants to sell; no different from a cosmetics manufacturer wanting to sell lipstick. And, they invest big money in the hope of getting bigger money back. In many ways they are not unlike a Football club that carefully selects a list of players to win them a premiership, but also cultivates a rookie list for the future.  Most writers on the other hand do it because we love it. It’s a passion. Therefore it will not surprise anyone to hear that there are far more writers out there, than there are publishers willing to publish their work. Publishing houses could receive up to 5000 manuscripts a year, from which they may choose one or two for publication; most will not even be read.

So, what do you do when you have a product you believe in and nobody to produce or market it?

In the past, the majority of writers in this position filed their manuscript in the bottom draw of the cupboard at home and started on something new. However, since the introduction of Print-on-Demand technology, all that has changed. Now, a self-publisher can publish her/his work, develop some simple computer skills and design her/his own cover and enlist the assistance of a number of self-help websites to have their work edited, and reviewed free. They then have access to a world-wide market by submitting their book to Google Books and Amazon and Lulu’s websites, all available for a start-up cost of less than $100. They can then join a plethora of author websites offering assistance and encouragement to promote their work. Some of these sites act as a sort of union with members buying each others’ books. The entire publishing industry including newspapers is on notice. The internet has changed our way of life in ways unimaginable, two decades ago.

Self-publishers explain this revolution in two words:  The future!

So where do you think the self-publisher stands on the issue of de-regulation of publishing and parallel importing? I won’t speak for others; they can do that for themselves and not everyone will necessarily agree with me. But for me, the bottom line is: I couldn’t care less! Publishing houses have never shown an interest in me. Literary Agents ignore me and bookstores only call me when someone makes an inquiry. Yet my books sell here and overseas in a cut-throat market. A book doesn’t have to be something special to be published. Books are bought on the basis of interest and value, not literary merit. The reader doesn’t know if the book is good until it has been read. Most books today are purchased on-line. The very nature of competition has been turned on its head and the once revered retail bookstore is staring its use-by date down the barrel just like the neighborhood hardware store.  But it isn’t the threat of de-regulation that places it in this invidious position. The internet already has!

One can debate the positive and negative impacts of this development, but it has nothing to do with government regulation.

19
Dec

The View From My Garden

  An information site providing Political, Religious and Social Commentary

as well as Book and Film reviews

cropped-cropped-p1000440.jpgDemocracy is not failing us, it is we who fail democracy when we fail to actively engage with it. Democracy, as we practice it today, has lost its essential direction and has been usurped by divisive, vitriolic, jingoistic spin. Democracy today is no longer government of, by and for the people. It is government of the most influential, the loudest shock jock, the focus group, the public relations consultant and whoever is able to exercise their lust for power. This dysfunctional gathering ignores concern for national unity and prosperity. The voice of the special interest group has come to dominate the present model. Debate, divide and conquer is the aim and its tactic is to fragment the collective energy of the nation, split it down the middle, weaken its resolve and make it easier for vested interests to have their way. Unity is strength. Disunity is a recipe for failure.

The system we call democracy, the one devised by ourselves for ourselves, has been compromised by the wealthy for the benefit of the wealthy. The collective interest of the masses has been relegated to second place and has become a by-product.

How do we reinvent democracy? How do we wind it back to the way it was practiced  in ancient Greece, its original birth place? When we engage in collective discussion we are more intelligent than we think. When we argue for special interest over collective interest we weaken the whole. Discussion panels need to replace focus groups. Councils for public interest should replace career politicians.

19
Dec

Family Secrets

Family Secrets Front Cover AmazonTaxi Driver, Julian Knowles takes a distraught early morning passenger home only to begin a day that will change his life forever. His thoughtful, caring commitment to an intellectually disabled client gradually exposes him to the members of the dysfunctional Stewart family. Their bizarre behaviour following the death of their sister leads to lies, deception, blackmail and extortion on an unprecedented scale.  Set against the background of a family tragedy and a deceased estate this intriguing drama demonstrates the destructive heights sibling rivalry can climb when ambition meets desperation on a level playing field. 

19
Dec

God Won’t Save The Planet

RTwoJackLakeight now, there’s a battle royal going on between believers in climate change and climate change sceptics. Most of the sceptics don’t believe humans cause climate change. It’s a position somewhat reminiscent of the Flat Earth Society; but even if it’s not, they still believe human activity doesn’t cause the Earth to warm.  Well, that’s okay. I understand their position entirely. For over fifty years I believed in miracles, I believed in the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, I believed Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. I believed in Saints and Guardian Angels. I believed all that. So, why I ask, is it so strange that there are people who still believe they can defy science and cling ever so tenaciously to a myth that corresponds to a god belief and the mistaken premise that we are here for a reason and therefore we could not cause such damage as would threaten that belief? If pressed hard enough, I suspect most of our politicians would acknowledge Christianity as their faith, whether they believed in God or not. Of course, not too many would have the balls to say they did not, even if it were true. They are after all, politicians. So, it is likely that they would also profess to believe in most of the above mentioned Christian fundamentals I once believed. They accord science its due of course but only in the areas where it is undeniable. When science dares to theorize, it must go through the most stringent of tests before it is accepted as fact. There’s something odd about all this, isn’t there? Sceptics won’t accept scientific theory until it is proven fact, but will happily profess belief in the great unprovable of all time: that God exists. They say we get what we pay for in world leadership, but in reality we don’t even get that. For the quality of governance we enjoy today, our politicians are woefully overpaid. What is hard about engaging a team of consultants to give us advice on what we should do? What is clever about receiving that advice and then ignoring it? Political parties the world over never look too far into the future. They govern for today. Let someone else worry about tomorrow.  The future of the planet is on the line, the quality of future generations is threatened and all our leaders are concerned with is their re-election. Why do I care, you ask? Because I have grandchildren. Because I don’t believe in God and I care what we do as tenants on Earth. I don’t believe that we are here for a reason or that some divine solution will save us in the nick of time. That is fantasy. There are others who will follow us for centuries to come, and I care about the inheritance we leave them. We know we are polluting the Earth. That fact alone should jolt us into action.

18
Dec

Dark Days Ahead

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

First published by The Australian Independent Media Network on 8th Dec 2013 at http://theaimn.comImage

He’s a relieved man today. The debt ceiling will be abolished. He has been given the breathing space he needs. But, deep down, Joe Hockey knows the problem hasn’t gone away; getting rid of the debt ceiling won’t get rid of the debt. In fact, the Greens may have added to his woes. Each quarterly budget update will now, by agreement, bring the national debt to the forefront of parliamentary and press gallery scrutiny. And, as the debt keeps rising, the sweat on Joe’s brow will intensify. Joe Hockey thinks he’s won a small scrap here, and he has, but it is minor when compared with what’s coming. Christine Milne has placed climate change and the Coalition’s ‘Direct Action’ policy right in the firing line by forcing the quarterly budget updates to include reporting on monies spent on climate change initiatives, i.e. Direct Action. It sounds like she doesn’t believe it will ever happen. And I’m inclined to agree. She says, “Direct Action doesn’t exist, it has no shape, it’s not an alternative to what we have in place,” she said and added, “It is not a plan, it’s basically an idea and that is all.”

But that is not all that’s happened.

The debt ceiling event in the early life of the new government has firmly embedded one crucial economic fact in the mind of the electorate: that the national debt, prior to the Coalition coming to power, was less than $300 billion. This will be important when the voters come to judge the economic credibility of the new government in 2016 when the national debt will be in excess of $400 billion. They will have an undeniable reference point. Normally your average voter hasn’t a clue how much the nation owes when they go to vote. This time, however, they will remember that figure.

The debt ceiling deal has also revealed the hypocrisy of earlier statements by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott when in opposition. “No real friend of the workers of Australia would want to do a deal with the Greens. We can never build a better future by doing cheap and tawdry deals with the Greens”, he said in August.

Well, now it appears, we can.

So, just four months into the new government, an interesting scenario has developed. Joe Hockey is on the record as saying Labor will never produce a surplus. That opportunistic call will most certainly come back to bite him. It is entirely conceivable that Joe and his government won’t deliver a budget surplus either; possible for ten years, should it still be in government. But, the bigger issue will be the likelihood of a recession and the resulting unemployment.

Australia has had a stunning run of good economic fortune resulting in 22 years of uninterrupted growth since the last recession in 1991. It has been brought about for two reasons. It was the Keating economic reforms of the 1980′s and 90′s coupled with the mining boom of the first decade of this century that have made us the envy of the world. The first was a master stroke of forward planning and pragmatism, the second was the rise of China as an economic power and our capacity to be ready for it. In reality, China was just a stroke of good luck. We were in the right place at the right time. But it is pretty clear the good days are over now. Unless we suddenly experience a resurgence in manufacturing or another country’s industrial expansion creates a shortage of ‘stuff’ we have in the ground, there’s not much else that we have to offer to avoid dark days ahead.

The previous Labor government saw this coming. Revenue from the mining boom was in decline.  Treasurer Wayne Swan tried to cut back on some of the Howard/Costello excesses, including the $300 private health subsidy. The then Opposition would not support that. Perhaps now, Joe Hockey wishes they had. To his credit Joe has moved to end some of the Howard/Costello vote buying excesses, but they won’t amount to much. Christopher Pine tried to contribute by flip flopping on the Gonski education reforms only to make himself and Tony Abbott look stupid. Cory Bernardi wants to cut funding to the ABC and Scott Morrison is finding new ways to persecute asylum seekers but as yet is not offering any cost savings. In the meantime we waste billions trying to keep asylum seekers from coming to our shores when economic pragmatism says managing the problem on our own shores is the better option.

The danger facing Joe Hockey now is that the government might inadvertently hasten those dark days by a savage reduction in spending without a corresponding increase in private investment from overseas. Their obsession with debt and deficit and the fear of being seen as the very architects of the economic vandalism they attribute to Labor, could result in a premature recession of their own doing. When you combine this with the closure of Ford, the likely closure of Holden, and the parlous position of Qantas, the small manufacturing businesses that these giant employers support are the ones that will take the hit. These small industries are the home of Howard’s battlers, the very people who kept the Coalition in power for 11 years. If Holden stays, it will, most likely, be as an importer, similar to Nissan. Ross Gittins in the Melbourne Sunday Age (Sun. Dec. 8) says “Hockey is right when he says retail sales, building approvals, business and consumer confidence – have improved since September. And it’s reasonable to hope this will lead to a modest improvement in consumption, home building, business investment and other aspects of the non-mining economy.”

Well, Ross might reasonably be ‘whistling dixie’ on that last suggestion but he goes on to say, “But we know there will be big falls in mining investment, which could offset most of the gain. There’s not a lot Hockey can do about that between now and then. Even infrastructure spending takes a long time to get going.”

Leaders today get elected on the basis of three-word slogans; they become the people’s choice for the time being. They use catchy little phrases to attract ignorant voters. They borrow most of them from past, equally unimpressive, leaders and have nothing original to contribute. But, we anoint them as our Prime Minister until their weaknesses surface and we look to someone else. Few can show the courage and conviction of a Paul Keating when they know what is needed, even if it costs them government. Few have sufficient intellect for that and those that do, like Keating, are generally despised for it. John Stuart Mill once wrote that not all conservatives are stupid, but most people who are stupid are conservative. That is probably because they are afraid of what they don’t know. They seek guidance at every turn and accept the time honoured practices and formulae of the past; they view such a strategy as safe. In short, they don’t know any better and don’t want to. They just want to be reassured. Conservative politicians are good at offering policies of reassurance. But that is not going to work in the present and near future economic environment.

The challenges of the near future require something of the Paul Keating brand of courage. Joe Hockey has not shown us yet, that he is up to the challenge, but if he is, he will have to cast off the conservative Coalition mindset and risk being very unpopular. His decision to block the sale of GrainCorp on the grounds that it would have been very unpopular shows that he is, thus far, not willing to do this.

John Kelly is 68, retired and lives in Melbourne. He holds a Bachelor of Communications degree majoring in Journalism and Media Relations. He is the author of four novels and one autobiography. He writes regularly on his own blog site, covering a variety of social, religious and political issues.

John Kelly

8
Dec

The Coalition and Financial Management….an Oxymoron.

 

(First published by The Australian Independent Media Network on 25th Nov. 2013)

ImagePoor Joe Hockey! One could be sucked in to feeling sorry for him…not! The Government’s election promise, the much touted public service staff cuts of 12,000, has vaporised. Joe can’t implement this promise because Labor beat him to the punch. The public service efficiency dividend, a mechanism governments of both persuasions have been using for the past 30 years, has already factored in cuts of 14,500. There is no more efficiency room left unless huge chunks of government delivered services are contracted out to private companies. What a blow! You would think Joe would be happy about that. Labor has inadvertently fulfilled one of the Coalition’s election promises. Is he happy? Not our Joe. He now has to look for other cost saving measures to avoid an increase in the budget deficit and further borrowings. You would have thought the Coalition, these economic gurus, would have known this long before they announced their pre-election promise. It’s not as if it was a secret. It was in the previous government’s budget papers. Someone in the Coalition was sleeping on the job.

So, where to now?

Sooner, rather than later, Joe and the Government are going to have to OWN the budget. They will have to accept responsibility for the state of our finances. By next May when the next budget is handed down it will belong to Joe and blaming Labor just won’t wash anymore. Then we shall see the cut of his jib. The May budget will certainly show yet another deficit of around $40 billion; one similar to what we have become use to under Labor. I suspect, also, it is going to contain some unpopular cuts involving broken election promises for which there will be a myriad of excuses. Why? Because Joe and the Coalition will be seen to be no better at raising revenue than Wayne Swan and Labor and that’s going to hurt him, personally.  Joe spent a lot of time and energy telling us about fiscal mismanagement, budget emergencies and other bits and pieces. To be cast as just another Wayne Swan won’t go down well.

Economics is not an exact science. It relies on a whole host of uncertainties. There’s a lot of guesswork, estimating, crystal ball gazing and most important of all, EVENTS NOT YET KNOWN. Kevin Rudd learned that the hard way; his unexpected event was the GFC. Perhaps another GFC-like event is just around the corner, who knows! But whatever happens, it will belong to Joe Hockey. He won’t be able to blame any subsequent economic ills on Labor. It will be a good test of the false public perception that the Liberals are the better economic mangers.

Who started that rumour anyway?

Matt Wade from the Sunday Age in his article, ‘Our National Journey to Prosperity’ (24 Nov ‘13) highlights the beginning of Australia’s rise to world prominence in wealth, health and education which began when Bob Hawke became Prime Minister in 1983. Just prior to that, we were a basket case under the former coalition treasurer, John Howard. Paul Keating became the new Labor treasurer and over the next decade restructured our economy in five critical areas. It was the floating of the Australian dollar, which Reserve Bank governor Glen Stevens recently described as, ‘‘one of most profound economic policy decisions in Australia’s modern history’’, together with tariff reductions, de-regulation of the banking system, the trade union and labour market accords and the independence of the Reserve Bank that changed the Australian economic scene and our way of life, generally.

When talking about events, the next foreseeable one is the Indonesian Presidential elections in 2014. By the time that is decided, Tony Abbott will know just how good a friend SBY was to us and how difficult it is going to be with the incoming president, whoever that might be. None of the candidates are particularly disposed toward us. This will create additional problems for Joe Hockey because he will have to re-visit all of our foreign aid commitments and find some grovel money albeit after just cutting the foreign aid budget to the bone. Tough times lay ahead for Joe and they have nothing to do with the six years Labor was in office. The repeal of the carbon tax might get through the senate next year although that is not a certainty. If it does, all revenue from that will cease as will the pittance coming from the mining tax. This is, of course, the government forsaking revenue to honour a promise they think helped win them office. But, most painful of all, as the Indonesian economy continues to gather strength and our near neighbour becomes the third Asian tiger, Australia will be denied access to valuable markets in favour of other friendlier nations. That is going to hurt us….big time.

So let me do a little crystal ball gazing of my own. Joe Hockey is the new John Howard (the 1982 version). Over the next six years the Coalition is going to systematically stuff up the Australian economy and re-define the parameters of fiscal ineptness pushing the national debt out beyond $500 billion. Why? Because they don’t have a vision for the future. They govern for today; they think tomorrow will take care of itself. Well, this time they won’t have a mining boom to mask their collective lack of ability which will translate economically into a probable recession and massive unemployment. Consequently, around 2019, if not before, Australia will be back where it was in 1982 and Labor will once again be invited back into office to clean up the mess.

And those misguided voters who thought the Coalition were the better financial managers, will scratch their heads and seek psychiatric counselling. History doesn’t lie.

 

John Kelly

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