Trapped in the bubble – by Peter Rodgers

This play was first performed at Melting Pot Theatre, Bundanoon, in
July 2020, with Miranda Lean playing Advisor 2 and winning a best actor award.

 

Cast: Minister (M); Adviser One (A1); Adviser Two (A2)
[Lights up]
[Parliament House, the Minister’s outer office, the Minister is offstage]
[A1 and A2 are onstage, A1 standing, phone in hand: A2 is seated at a desk]
M  [yelling, angry, frustrated]
Get in here someone! Now! Can’t find the bloody thing anywhere.
A1  [looks hard at A2; points to the Minister’s office]  Your turn.
A2  But I have my life ahead of me.
A1  You won’t if you don’t go.
A2  I won’t if I do go, by the sound of that.
A1  Come on. It’s a learning journey.
A2  I’m not sure I want to find out.
A1  It’s high time you earned all that money we pay you.
A2  Oh, alright.
[A2 stands, takes a deep breath and exits; loud, angry, unintelligible yelling offstage; A2 rushes back onstage]
A2  You might have warned me!
A1  You have to experience it sometime.
A2  I didn’t sign up for this.
A1  So what did you sign up for?
A2  [dreamily]  To … to do good. To make the world a better place. To always put others first and never play the games that go on around here.
A1  [hand on head]   Oh no, another idealist! What is wrong with the education system these days?
A2  Why are you so cynical? Shouldn’t we aim high?
A1  Now let me tell you a few hard—  [A1 is interrupted by more yelling]
M  Where is that damned thing? I’m surrounded by idiots!
A2  Shouldn’t we help her look?
A1  Nah. It’s hardly the first time she’s lost something. One of the first things to go were her principles. Happens to them all.
A2  I don’t believe you. I just don’t believe you. There’s got to be goodness in some of those we work with. Maybe, many of them.
A1  [shakes head in wonder]  What a romantic you are. Nice in a way. But sad.
Do you know that the basement is chock-a-block with discarded principles. They truck them offsite these days.
A2  [optimistically]  To recycle them?
A1 To take them to the tip, dummy.
[more unintelligible yelling from the Minister’s office]
A2  [points to the Minister’s office, plaintive]  Was she always like this?
A1  Who knows? Who cares? She’s on the inside looking out. Best place to be. That’s where I want to end up. And she’s had a bit of fun along the way. I can tell you that.
A2  What do you mean?
A1  Well, it’s Australia. The 21st century. In the wee small hours, everyone needs a special sort of comfort.
A2 [shocked]  What about the code-of-conduct? The Barnaby Principle?
A1  Oh dear me. Another one who hasn’t read the fine print.
[speaks slowly, carefully] Ministers-aren’t-allowed-to-have … liaisons … with-their-staff.  [smiles, speaks normally again] Don’t you just love that word? Liaison.
But there’s nothing to stop staff having liaisons with ministers.
A2  That’s appalling. Hypocrisy of the highest order. We’re supposed to be setting an example.
A1  And we are. In creative implementation.
A2  Now you sound like a lawyer.
A1  Very kind of you to say so.
A2  I feel sick.
A1  Maybe you’re not really cut out for this life. Be honest though, wouldn’t you just love to be in there? The warm, tingly feeling that power gives you. The fact that you can yell at others without any justification whatsoever.
A2  That’s what my children are for.
A1  Ha ha! Let me give you a bit of advice. Love the bubble – or leave it.
A2  I’ve got a better solution. I’ll start my own party.
A1  Oh no, not the dreaded Third Way.
A2  I can see it now. The crowds gazing expectantly.  Each and every person looking to me, and me alone, to salve their wounds, to lift their spirits, to offer them hope for the future.
A1  And just how will you do that?
A2  By the power of my words. All you ever come up with is cliché.
A1  They’re very useful around here. They have a soothing effect on ministers, and everyone. Helps them to forget.
A2  Amnesia is no substitute for action. I offer a vision.
A1  If you say so. Go on then, give us a taste.
A2  Well, it’s a bit off-the-cuff, but here goes.
[takes a deep breath, confident]
As Bismarck once said, it’s better never to watch laws or sausages being made. So, at the outset, let me be absolutely open and frank for my message is clear and simple. The fact of the matter is we inherited the current deplorable situation from our predecessors but the only thing we have to fear is fear itself as honesty is the best policy and money isn’t everything. Besides, it doesn’t grow on trees. Nonetheless, we’re spending more dollars in real terms – whatever that means – than any other government in the history of the world and when it’s all said and done and the cows come home to roost …
[frowns, rubs chin]
Aw … something went wrong there. It’s only a first draft though.
[The Minister appears around the corner; A2 does not see her]
[The Minister gives A1 the thumbs up then disappears again]
A1  Go on, go on. You’re doing really well.
A2  So my friends, at the end of the day, the ball’s in our court. We’ll go over the top at first light determined to play hard but fair, to make the ultimate sacrifice if need be, so that in the fullness of time and going forward we will maximise mutually beneficial outcomes for all those deserving to share in the riches of this great nation. Can we do it? The answer is inspiring. Say it with me. In just three words.
A1/A2   [looking at each other, they speak in unison, enthusiastic]
Can we do it? Yes we can!
A1  Very impressive. Very. You’re a natural. Bit of a surprise really.
What I like so much is the freshness of the ideas and the originality and the vigour of the language. You’ve definitely got something. Just give me a moment, will you.  [disappears offstage briefly and returns]  I hope you’ll think this is good news.
A2  Try me.
A1  [points to the Minister’s office] She liked what she heard. Liked it a lot. Was very complimentary. She wants you to become her strategic communications adviser. Big pay rise, of course.
A2  That’s definitely good news. But what about you?
A1  No need to worry about me. I’m her life coach, for life.
A2  Well … it’s a very tempting offer. I need to be clear, though. I’m not thinking of myself.  [shakes head, emphatic]  Not for a single moment.
A1  Of course not. Perish the thought.  [rubs hands together]  Well, that’s all settled. Why don’t we go and have a celebratory drink with the Minister?
A2  [hesitant]  But what about the thing she lost? It sounded quite important.
A1  Forget it. You can’t hold ministers accountable for anything they did or said five minutes ago. The place would grind to a halt.
A2  Mmm … am I doing the right or the wrong thing? I don’t know. I really don’t know.
A1  Relax … after a while you won’t know the difference.
A2  Doesn’t that bother you?
A1  Did for a while. But I grew out of it. We all do. Come on! Can’t keep the Minister waiting.
A2  I suppose what I’m doing is in the national interest.
A1  Of course it is.
A2 Well, then, lead the way!
[they exit, lights down]

© Peter Rodgers 2020

Israel-Palestine and the Bahrain conference – Jared in wonderland

by Peter Rodgers

Whatever happens with Donald Trump’s presidency, the future of his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, is assured. A career as writer of romantic fiction is his for the asking.

Finally, there was something in writing, something to talk about. The first part of the long-awaited US plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict revealed by Kushner for the “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Bahrain on 25-26 June.  Never mind that the principals to the conflict were not officially present for the birthing of the “New Vision for the Palestinian People and the Broader Middle East”. Never mind that the glossy brochure was vacuous rather than visionary. Never mind that it was the bribe, not the deal, of the century.

In the world of Trump it’s all about the dream. Imagine a bustling tourist centre in Gaza and the West Bank, Kushner declared. “Imagine people and goods flowing securely throughout the region as people become more prosperous.” Imagine indeed. And how will such a vision splendid be realised? Through buzz phrases and mythical foreign investment of US$50 billion to “unleash” the economic potential of the Palestinians, to “empower” them to “realise their ambitions,” and to “enhance” Palestinian governance. Palestinian GDP would double, a million new jobs would be created.

Fine words flowed about education and training, health, employment, infrastructure, transportation, trade, communication, legal and regulatory frameworks, quality of life, and so on and so forth. A US$5 billion superhighway would link the Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank and Gaza, run by its nemesis, Hamas. A new Singapore, a new Dubai, a new Sweden would rise from the congested alleyways of Gaza and the abraded hills of the West Bank.

Worthy perhaps, but utterly hallucinogenic. It ignores Israel’s asphyxiating hold over Palestinian life, commerce and communication. The word occupation has vanished from the lexicon. The vision proclaims the need for the Palestinians to develop 4G and 5G technology. There is no mention of the role that Israel plays in impeding this. That Israel only lifted a ban on 3G wireless technology for Palestinian mobile services in 2018. In the words of one Israeli commentator, “It’s as if the plan was designed for a Palestinian economy that exists in an imaginary universe or on the moon, without a realistic discussion of how many aspects of the Palestinian economy are linked to Israel”.

The plan mentions governance but steers well clear of the issue that lies at the very heart of this—and the conflict that has split blood and treasure for the past seventy-plus years—Palestinian statehood. Perhaps that will leap out of the cake in part two of the Kushner “vision”. But the Palestinians have already seen the plan for what it is. A grand bribe to persuade them to decouple economic well-being and political aspiration. The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, declared the plan dead on arrival. Engaging with it, he said, was tantamount to a Palestinian declaration of surrender. To which, Israel’s ambassador to the UN responded encouragingly, “What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender?”

With the Bahrain conference focused on declaration rather than detail, Kushner hailed it as a “tremendous success.” He reportedly told a Saudi newspaper that his “very detailed and reasonable plan was well received by attendees” from all over the world.

Others, within and beyond the region, had a very different take. An Israeli journalist reported criticism of the plan as “amateurish hodgepodge” which promised “projects that cannot be implemented, funded by money that does not exist and contingent on a peace deal that will never happen”. The economic bonanza was not a confidence building measure but a “con job and insult rolled into one”. It dangled dollars in front of Palestinian noses, implying they could be bought, and set up a chain of events which will lead to the Palestinians being blamed for the plan’s “inevitable failure”.

A former US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, Dan Kurtzer, now Professor of Middle East Studies at Princeton University, tweeted, “I would give this so-called plan a C- from an undergraduate student. The authors of the plan clearly understand nothing.”

Kushner will probably lose little sleep over this. Dismissing Palestinian criticism of the US approach, he noted that the Palestinian Authority did not “have a great track record of getting a deal done. I’ll keep doing it the way we want to do it”. That “way”, it seems, is to redefine the Palestinian “problem” as largely, if not wholly, an economic one. Forget about contested history, forget about contested borders, contested aspirations. Throw enough money at the Palestinians and they’ll forget who they are. They’ll be so busy basking on the beach in Gaza or strolling through its shopping malls that politics will be a thing of the past. Dream on Jared.

First published in Pearls and Irritations, 4 July

Image: Pixabay

What does MBS stand for?

The world loves acronyms – abbreviations from the initial letter or sometimes syllables in phrase or a word. How much easier to text three letters than spell out three words? But will the reader know what MBS stands for? Melbourne Business School, Mind Body Spirit? It depends on the context, of course.

In this case, it is neither. MBS is the nickname of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman. I prefer MbS, following the use of upper and lower case in the spelt-out name (‘bin’ meaning ‘son of’) but the Style Manual says  initialisms, which are not pronounced as a word as are acronyms (for example, OPEC*), should be all capitals. That said, I don’t think they had Arabic names in mind when they made this ruling.

So what does The Crown Prince stand for? To read more on this go to Peter Rodgers’ blog post Mohammad bin Salman – Saudi Arabia’s reformer or wrecker? in Pearls and Irritations.

*Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (note the ‘z’ in organisation: in proper nouns following the preferred spelling of the entity or person)

Terrorism and words: a reality-check on Isis

 

injuries-from-furniture-tip-over-accidentsIf truth is the first casualty of war, common sense is the first victim of terrorism.

There are no better examples than the hyper-ventilated assertions which followed the recent bombings in Brussels. France’s President Hollande declared that ‘all of Europe has been hit’. UK Prime Minister David Cameron warned that his country faced ‘a very real threat’. Here, Malcolm Turnbull ticked off the Europeans for their sloppy security. Prominent journalist Greg Sheridan, channelling Donald Trump’s absurdity that ‘Belgium and France are literally disintegrating’, wrote that the attacks represented a ‘damn [sic] burst’ which left the ‘structures of the world … trembling’.

If we didn’t know better we might easily mistake messrs Hollande, Cameron, Turnbull and Sheridan and regrettably many others as Isis recruiting agents. Their comments are a dream for the organisation’s propagandists. Worse, they paint a picture of the threat from Isis that is not borne out by the reality.

Isis terror threatens individual safety. Does it really threaten the security of European or Western states more broadly? There is a vital difference between the two ‘s’ words. Isis is a truly appalling outfit which commits heinous deeds. It has around 30,000 fighters and controls large tracts in Iraq and Syria. But without a navy, without an air force, how exactly does that translate into threat potent enough to make ‘the world’ tremble?

Fortunately, there is still wise counsel to be had. President Obama’s 2016 State-of-the-Union address should be required reading for all those prone to excitability:

… over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.

Some of the best commentary on Brussels came from The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins. The political and media over-reaction, he wrote, ‘converted a squalid psychopathological act into a warrior-evoking, population-terrifying, policy-changing event’. It also illuminated an appalling double-standard given that the ‘atrocities in Brussels happen almost daily on the streets of Baghdad, Aleppo and Damascus’.

For Americans, and quite possibly many others in the ‘trembling’ West, household furniture poses at least as great a danger as terrorism. Micah Zenko  from the reputable Council on Foreign Relations has written that in the decade after 9/11 an average of 29 Americans were killed each year in terrorist attacks. Figures compiled by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that about the same number were crushed to death each year by unstable television sets and furniture.

Unwelcome news for the hyper-ventilators; important perspective for everyone else.

A plea for a gutted-free New Year

GuttedWith 2016 soon upon us I challenge all sportsmen, sportswomen and especially sportswriters to promise that they won’t use the term ‘gutted’ for a whole year.

Australian families have enough stress to deal with already; the threat of terrorism and falling behind in the mortgage and having to use public transport all their life. They’re stuck with that. Why inflict the linguistic and anatomical laziness of gutted upon them?

The way we’re headed, four-year-olds will soon be arriving home from pre-school to announce they came second in the colouring in competition and ‘feel gutted’. If only they could just use a word like devastated, downcast, done-in, perhaps even defeated? But even at that tender age they’ve heard far too much sports commentary and their parents, also victims, don’t know better. Otherwise they’d reach for the castor oil.

And pity the medical profession. When Wallabies star David Pocock was injured in 2013 a breathless Canberra Times reported: ‘A gutted Pocock ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament … and needs a knee reconstruction.’ The surgeon wouldn’t know where to start.

Or take the case of English cricketer, Joe Root. He hurt his hand, couldn’t play in an international Twenty-20 competition and declared that he too was gutted. He was lucky he wasn’t taken to hospital for a finger stall and end up with a new liver. Come to think of it, though, that might have encouraged him to choose his words more carefully.

 

Your AAAAA needs you now!

MYP_AAAAA-imageI’m the proud owner of a T-shirt with large white letters – AAAAA – emblazoned on a black background: Australian Association Against Acronym Abuse.

The T-shirt raises eyebrows and gets a few laughs. But it conveys a terrible truth. Acronym abuse is the scourge of modern communication. Not as dangerous or insidious perhaps as other forms of misbehaviour. But acronyms in the wrong hands eat away at all that makes us civilised. Take SOCRATES, a word that once conjured up images of Greek philosophers earnestly debating the meaning of life. It’s now been drafted by the US military to denote Special Operations Command Research, Analysis and Threat Evaluation System!

Even those conscious of the dangers of ‘acronymitis’ make excuses. A 2011 report on Australia’s aid to Indonesia noted:

‘Every attempt has been made to reduce the use of acronyms in this report. Unfortunately the development industry suffers from a surfeit of acronyms, mostly unnecessary. The author apologises for any gratuitous acronym usage that has unwittingly crept into the report.’

Sorry. If ‘every attempt’ had in fact been made there’d be no ‘gratuitous acronym usage’.

But it’s not all about despair and excuses. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra now runs an annual Acronym Free Day during which staff try to go for 24 hours without uttering a single acronym. Those who are caught out (probably most staff) pay a small fine to charity.

It’s a good start but much more can be done. Government departments are the refuge of chronic acronyms abusers. Why not make acronym reduction an element in the performance targets for all agencies? Bonuses should be based not only on making Australia and the world a better place but on acronym reduction. Annual Reports should list those acronyms which have been decommissioned.

It’s a mammoth task. It will need commitment and resources. Perhaps also a new government hotline to comfort those suffering acronym withdrawal syndrome, and to distribute free T-shirts.

 

 

 

Tony and Kevin Lie Together

tony and kevin‘The people of Australia elected me as Prime Minister’ Tony Abbott declared as the knives were sharpened after the LNP disaster in Queensland. Sorry Tony, the people didn’t. It’s the very same falsehood Kevin Rudd used. Like him, you’ll go on repeating it. But a lie repeated is just that.

Given the inability of our recent prime ministers to perform even simple mathematical tasks it’s no wonder the economy has problems.

In the 2013 general election 14,988,486 Australians voted. Tony Abbott received 54,388 of those votes. That’s a mere 0.36 per cent. How that can translate into some sort of national personal mandate beggars belief.

Abbott leads the party that won office, nothing more. That party can change leader as it wishes without damage to the nation or to the Australian Constitution. The latter, incidentally, makes no mention of the office of Prime Minister. No assassination would be involved, just as it wasn’t in the Rudd/Gillard era. The parroting of that deceit is a travesty.

Now gone from politics, Rudd fared even worse than Abbott in his ‘national’ appeal. In 2013 he received 34,878 first preference votes. So only 0.23 per cent of the much vaunted ‘Australian people’ actually chose him.

The next time Tony Abbott refers to his mystical bond with the people drop him a line. Clearly he needs reminding he’s nothing more than Mr 0.36 per cent.

 

A new spirit of sledging

sledgingI’ve just been visiting a parallel universe called the ‘Spirit of Cricket’. It’s Cricket Australia’s good conduct guide for players and it’s hilarious. According to the CA the spirit involves respect for—wait for it—your opponents. What a hoot!

It’s against the spirit to ‘direct abusive language against an opponent or umpire.’ I guess that means when Michael Clarke warned Jimmie Anderson to ‘get ready for a broken fucking arm’ it was medical advice, nothing more (though given the sentence structure I’m left wondering if Anderson fucks with his right or left arm). More recently, when David Warner suggested that Rohit Sharma ‘speak English’ it can only have been a timely reminder to the Indian cricketer of the universality of the language.

When rules, laws or ‘spirits’ are not enforced they become a farce. That’s what we have now.

The solution is simple, update the spirit. Celebrate sledging for what it truly is: cricket’s unique contribution to international relations and intellectual suppleness. Here’s an example from the 1982-83 Ashes series worth thinking about: Rodney Marsh to Ian Botham: ‘How’s your wife and my two kids?’ Botham to Marsh: ‘The wife’s fine but the kids are retarded.’

It’s high time we lauded such repartee. From now on umpires should award sledging style points. Let’s replace the boring old best player award with sledger-of-the match honours. Let’s adorn cricketing venues and equipment with the musings of past sledge artists: ‘This ball’s headed for yours’; ‘You’d bowl better underarm’; ‘Lend me your brain, I’m building an idiot.’

Do that and once more Australia will lead the way. Finally, the spirit and the practice of cricket will be in sync.

 

Concerning concerning

WordItOut-word-cloud-657729 - CopyWhat is it about users of English? Haven’t we enough choices already when it comes to saying something is worrying, disturbing, disquieting, upsetting, troubling, irritating, disconcerting etc?

Apparently not, because poor old ‘concerning’ has had the word equivalent of gender reassignment. For years it’s happily chugged along as a preposition meaning ‘about’. Now, ‘common (mis)usage’ has deemed it an adjective as well. It’s been roped in to join the extensive list of fine words which has managed to convey unease for longer than anyone can remember.

So the next time the prime minister, or your boss, says ‘It’s deeply deeply concerning concerning the situation’ they don’t (necessarily) need to change their medication. They’re just showing what a limited vocabulary they have. Most of us are content to draw on 20,000 to 35,000 of the approximate 170,000 words available in English. But it seems that the more ‘modern’ we are the lazier we become.