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Enzed is a great little country, full of civic-minded folk. By the way, little is good. It’s a pity they decided not to join the new Commonwealth of Australia in the day, as it may have toned down that rapacious Oz mentality. Sir Robert Muldoon’s famous quote that Kiwis leaving for Australia raised the IQs of both countries, is a favourite of mine.

Media coverage of NZ election night on Saturday exemplified some admirable qualities in our Tasman cousins. Labour leader Jacinda Ardern was shown sitting at home with her mum on the couch watching developments on TV. I couldn’t see whether she had her possum ugg boots on though. Her telegenic partner Clarke Gayford had probably gone fishing.

Outgoing PM Bill English rounded up a few more family members in front of TV in a public place at least. However, no hotel ballroom with thousands of supporters working themselves into mass hysteria for our sensible, modest, down-to-earth war buddies (remember the NZ in Anzac).

The Kiwi proportional representation voting system is more democratic and often involves negotiation with other parties to form government, as in Germany. And so to another election vignette. Veteran ‘kingmaker’ Winston Peters, who dislikes that descriptor, said he would consult his NZ First party members about which side of politics to join in government. Apparently no pre-determined plan and no hurry, or is that just Wily Winston?

The Maori Party looks like losing it’s seven seats to Labor. On a TV panel show veteran NZ Nationals ex-leader Don Brash said that the Maori party should disappear and even questioned Maoridom! Although fellow panelists were shocked they remained civil: a hallmark of NZ society. That wouldn’t happen on the other side of The Pond.

Imagine PM Jacinda meeting Canada’s PM Justin (such gen Y and X names) and joining him in taking over the reins of power from dreaded baby boomers. Add in Emmanuel, and it could be a trend, though 93 year old Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe is bucking it as he apparently lines up for another term!

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Recently while on assignment in Berlin your KC correspondent tip-toed in his father’s footsteps at Olympia-Stadion, the site of Hitler’s Olympic Games in 1936, which also took place in the first fortnight of August.

John O’Hara was one of three top wrestlers (freestyle) in the thirty-three member Australian team. Their medal hopes were high: light-heavyweight Eddie Scarf had won bronze in 1932 at Los Angeles and lightweight Dick Garrard would go on to win a silver medal in 1948 in London.

Cruelly their chances were spoiled by different European judging rules, resulting in disputed decisions, threats of boycott by other non-European teams and official protests. Nevertheless adverse decisions held and none of the Aussies progressed to the finals. My father’s loss in his third match, to the eventual silver medal winner in the welterweight division, was however considered a fair result.

Since 1936 the Olympic stadium has been substantially upgraded and de-Nazified with removal of offending symbols, but it retains the original stone construction – and is now home to Berlin soccer club Hertha BSC. Standing in his special box we try to imagine the atmosphere of 110,000 spectators saluting Hitler. The Australian team did not give the Nazi salute and were booed by some of that crowd.

The wrestling and boxing were held in the Deutschland Hall, a kilometre or so away. Unfortunately the building was demolished and is now the sight of a fun fair, so no chance of a pilgrimage to the venue of the wrestling contests.

The Australians were billeted in the Olympic village 14 kilometres away. It reverted to the Wehrmacht (German army) after the Games, and then to the Russians after WWII. Their troops left in 1992 and the village was then abandoned and fell into disrepair. I didn’t try to visit it but discovered this Berlin insider website with its story and a news item.

To celebrate our Olympic pilgrimage the KC team did however swim our laps in the rundown original pool, which remains unchanged, with its diving tower and green tiles. Australia did not send swimmers in 1936, as money was tight!

Recommended reading: Dangerous Games: Australia at the 1936 Nazi Olympics” by Larry Writer.

Photo hints: JOH is playfully fitted with the Olympic steward uniform cap in the press cutting – spot him in other photos. In the shot of eight casual training mates, Garrard is 2L and Scarf 4R.

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Nicely alliterative headline, but news from La Belle France is disturbing. French Mayors with local beaches have decided to ban the wearing of this cover-up swimsuit for Muslim women, as they consider it a ‘provocation’ against French secular values, or some such. The Conseil d’Etat, a kind of supreme court, has ruled that those bans are suspended, and the polemic continues.

Alas, everyone has missed a critical mistake! But firstly a little history of the burkini, which was invented by Aheda Zanetti, an Australian designer, after the 2007 Cronulla riots in Sydney. She proposed the swimsuit in lifesaving colours for Muslim women to join local surf clubs, and hence improve community relations.

Zanetti’s company owns trademarks to the words burkini and burqini, but they have become generic terms for swimwear acceptable to Islamic traditions, by covering most of the body, except for the face, hands and feet.

Secondly, there are different forms of Islamic dress for women: total body coverage with a burka, a niqab shows the eyes, and face uncovered with a hijab.

So, the overlooked problem stems from the misuse of the word burqa in the creation of a catchy garment label. A burkini does not cover the face, so it should really be called a hijabkini, but that doesn’t resonate like the amalgam of burqa and bikini. So it’s a misnomer, and the repressive, menacing burqa ethos is now attached to harmless full-length cossies (like wet suits?).

Ironically Zanetti’s idea of inclusion has backfired in France, so maybe the swimsuit should be re-branded there as friendly, sun protection wear. What about Cousteaukini, as a nod to the French godfather of scuba diving? Nah, I reckon Koala Kossie is perfect for the French market, with all those cuddly connotations.

In the so-called Western world women had full-length bathing suits early last century. Even in 1946 at Bondi a ‘beach inspector’ remonstrated with the first scandalous bikini wearer to cover up, but now bikinis are apparently the norm.

The French mayors and their boosters should all have a ‘douche froide’! The French habit of investing objects with symbolic meaning and extraordinary power has gone too far this time. Although understandable after the horrors of these last few years, quand même!

(Thanks to Cathy Wilcox for allowing use of her cartoon from SMH 29 Aug))

Cathy Wilcox SMH 2016-08-29

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The sorry saga of Australia’s offshore asylum seeker gulag is not just about bringing suffering and hopelessness to those in detention. In fact for the government contractors who run the island camps it’s a lucrative business.

The eponymous G4S, a provider of ‘security solutions’, claims to be one of the world’s largest employers with 625,000 staff in 125 countries. It earned $244 million for managing Manus Island camp for 5 months. Australian-owned Transfield earned $302 million for looking after the Nauru camp over the last year, but will now take over both islands, under a non-tendered 20 month contract for the bargain basement price of $1.22 billion.

My trusty solar-powered calculator was put in bright sunlight for this calculation. With 1,332 Manus and 867 Nauru detainees it works out to $554,798 income per inmate for Transfield: KACHING! By the way, they are people like us, not hardened criminals – the detainees I mean! A good little earner for Transfield though, paid straight out of our squeezed taxpayer purse. It would certainly buy a helluva lot of incarceration in our regular prison system.

Interestingly objections to the morality of Transfield’s detainee operations are coming from artists in the Sydney & Melbourne biennales protesting against their sponsorship of them. A dilemma indeed for arts organisations and those purporting to critique society.

On a tangent from gulag service providers, but equally repugnant, is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop trying to stitch up the Cambodian government to take our asylum seekers. With Australian aid of $329 million over the last four years, we are one of its largest donors, so her bargaining chips are huge. Human rights abuse is rife in Cambodia, social welfare is non-existent, 20% of the population lives in poverty and 40% of children under five are malnourished. Our Julie is plumbing new depths of cynicism and hypocrisy on our behalf. But who cares, right? Out of sight and out of mind, at any price.

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The Indonesian government is implementing a ban on the export of some raw mineral ores, particularly nickel and bauxite, to encourage the construction and operation of local smelting and production facilities. To ‘add value’, as the economists call it, which is their ideal development path for mature economies.

As always China holds the key. It imports a quarter of its bauxite from Indonesia for aluminium production, and holds nine-months supply of stockpiles in anticipation of the ban. What will happen then? It will be very instructive to see how this bold move by Indonesia to capture more of the benefits of its ore reserves plays out.

Meanwhile, in the short term, Australian miners are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of replacing the Indonesian supplies with our ore, hopefully at higher prices.

Longer term Australia is in a quandary, with giant aluminium manufacturer Alcoa (US-owned) expected to close one of its two Victorian smelters. BHP has declared the production industry here ‘structurally challenged’, but somehow their smelters in Southern Africa are profitable. And so value-adding goes north, to Indonesia, Africa or China.

Australia slips back to what we do best. Digging the stuff up and shipping it away, without any fancy new taxes or government ‘red tape’. Minerals Resource Rent Tax anyone? Or a Norway-style sovereign wealth fund to better capture the benefits of our depleting common-wealth? Yes, the stuff in the ground actually belongs to all of us! Tell ’em their dreamin.

Indonesia’s government has also introduced laws to restrict foreign mine ownership to 49%. Imagine the outcry and fear campaigns by the mining companies here if our government tried either of these sovereign initiatives.

Go the Lucky Country! How about re-naming it Her Majesty’s Quarry? The place isn’t called Down Under for nothing.

Ore train

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Pope Francis has released a ‘papal exhortation’ of 223 pages of critique on modern life and capitalism. What a contrast with his predecessor Ratzinger, defender of doctrinal faith and church crimes, whose tenure was untenable, and who did well to sack himself.

Inter alia, Francis aka Jose Mario Bergoglio, had this to say about our enlightened and prosperous times:

“While the earnings of the minority are growing exponentially, so, too, is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. The imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation…. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules…. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything that stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

Liberation theology is not dead. Go Francis, you good thing!

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Australia’s military is finally pulling up stumps, so to speak, in this blighted land. Our longest war (12 years) has been declared over. New PM Abbott was on the ground there to wave the flag and send the troops home by Christmas. He admits that it did not end in victory, but will not admit defeat either. He hopes that Afghanistan is ‘better for our presence’.

Vain hope and dishonesty are bad enough, but it seems that the new Australian government will also drastically reduce future aid there. The contradiction is flagrant and so cynical. The logic is that warlords and Taliban will resume control and so disbursements of aid cannot be realistically overseen as our government would wish. Even the fate of Australian-built schools in Oruzgan is unknown and their futures problematic.

The plain, painful truth is that our ‘war’ in Afghanistan has achieved little of lasting value. In fact with the reversion of the country to traditional tribalism and Taliban control, it has to be considered a monumental defeat – an exorbitant foreign failure that cost 40 Australian lives, 260 wounded and $7.5 billion. The damage and cost in Afghan casualties of our operations has not been quantified.

So, it’s a wrap and retreat in the Land of the Afghans. And adieu! To god indeed! Shame on successive Australian governments for spinning the pretense of progress with their weasel words, and sacrificing Australian and Afghan lives. Lest nobody forgets!

And a pox on both major political parties for their fawning attitude to Uncle Sam. So, until he again rings the tocsin of terrorism and sends us off to war in another poor corner of the world, it’s probably more au revoir.

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