Saturday, 20 July 2013

Short story: The Pact and the Boat People

Julia sat alone in the office of the Deputy Prime Minister. She swivelled gently in the chair, phone in hand, and dialled.

'Hello, Office for Graham Malter,' said a young man.

'Can I speak with Mr. Malter?' She heard a gasp; he recognised her voice immediately.

'Sorry Miss Gillard, he's left for the day. It's late. Can I help?'

'Well. Maybe I'll talk with you then. Is that Stephen, Stephen Bletchley? Famous advisor to the Greens?'

'Not sure about famous, Miss Gillard. But yes.'

'Call me Julia please.'

'I'd rather call you Miss Gillard, Miss Gillard.' His tone was cold.

'Fine. Stephen...' She paused, breathed out. 'Stephen, I'm very tired, so I'm going to talk frankly with you. In confidence, I hope you can understand that.'

'Of course Miss.'

'Well then. In two days' time, there will be a vote on who will be the leader of the Australian Labor Party, and therefore the Prime Minister of Australia. And I'm going to lose.'

'Sorry Miss, I don't quite ... Is that your, your choice, Miss?'

'It is what it is, Stephen. The writing's on the wall and I'm not a bitch who can't read.'

'I don't doubt that, Miss—'

'What I want to know is, what is your man, Mr. Malter, doing sniffing round our people? Both Rudd's crew and mine?'

It was his turn to sigh. 'Well, Miss, as long as we're ... in confidence,' Bletchley said uneasily. She heard the sound of breathing, which meant thinking. 'It's the boat people, Miss Gillard.'

'I beg your pardon? What's this got to do with the bloody boat people?'

'Kevin's done a deal, Miss. A week or two after he becomes - well, if, he becomes, obviously, Labor leader, if - he's going to make an announcement. He'll make it impossible for any migrants arriving by boat to be settled in Australia. They'll go to PNG instead.'

'Well why the fuck would he say that?' Her skin prickled angrily. 'We're three months from the election. He's splitting the party as it is, taking back his precious crown.'

'It's a pact, Miss. That's his part. A week after his announcement, we're going to say the Greens oppose the policy, and will reverse the policy. It'll be high-publicity material.'

Julia was tired, but slowly, the picture formed. 'Oh right. I see where this is going.'

'Abbott's campaigning on the boat people and nothing else. No-one knows his other policies. Labor take the anti-boat people voters from the Coalition - and Greens pick up all the ex-Labor voters who don't agree.'

'And a minority Labor rules with the Greens.'

She heard him exhale down the phone. 'There's a lot of factors Miss. Everything's in play. But Labor's polls, forgive my French, are in the shitter, Miss Gillard - and getting Rudd back won't be enough to swing it. Lots of people hate Abbott, but everyone's sick of Labor. It's the best shot at keeping the Liberals out.'

'Well really.'

'I'm sorry Miss. It's all very cut-throat.'

She thought for a moment, then stopped caring, and put the phone down. 'I think, Stephen, you forgot who you're talking to.'

This was a short story thought up in about 5mins off the top of my head, regarding Kevin Rudd's announcement on 19/07/2013 about boat people as described above. Names other than Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd are made up.

"Boat people" are immigrants who sail to Australia by boat. Many capsize and die in overloaded boats before even arriving.
Currently Australia processes them offshore, in often poor conditions.
Despite other more important issues facing Australia, the boat people and immigration are emotional issues engaging both the public and the political parties.

The Australian Federal Election will take place on 14th September 2013. Labor have been tipped to lose.
Rudd's announcement, 2 months away from an election, is - in my view - quite clearly an election policy aimed at stealing Liberal/National Coalition voters.,_2013

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Photoblog: 5+ Things You Didn't Know About Zürich + Switzerland

More pics at the bottom!
  • ZÜRI FÄSCHT. This 3-yearly festival is a BIG EVENT, which makes it all the more surprising no-one outside of Switzerland has heard of it. There were 2.3 million people in Zürich over one weekend, with streets full of music stages, caipirinha bars, shot bars, dodgem cars, cocktail bars, würst stands, ferris wheels and fairground amusements, along with attractions like high-diving, aerobatic planes, motorbike stunts, tightrope walking, camels, and the most amount of fireworks I've ever seen in my life. Seriously. In 30mins I saw more sky blown up than the rest of my life put together. I recommend seeing from a paddle boat on the lake. Mega.
The Fraumünster church, ferris wheel, tram, UBS, and the colours
of Switzerland and Zürich. Can't get more Swiss than that!

  • Swiss German is not German German. If you think 5 years of German in school means you can talk Swiss German, think again. The vocabulary is very different - take some of these basic phrases:

    EnglishGermanSwiss German
    HelloGuten TagGrüezi
    HiHalloHoi or Sali/Salü (yes like the French "salut")
    Thank youDankeMerci vilmal (yes like "merci" in French!)

    Not only that, they have an amusing accent - imagine a kind of Welsh version of German. The result? Even Germans have trouble understanding the German Swiss.

    It goes further though: you can pretty much say any of 4-6 things for basic expressions - whether it's German, French, Swiss, Italian, formal, informal, or even English.
High diving at the lake, part of Züri Fäscht

  • Everyone speaks 23 languages. Exaggeration? Perhaps. But consider the barbecue I went to, hosted by gorgeous educated Swiss people in their late-20s/early-30s, all designers and architects. Not only was there was German, Swiss German, English and French, but also Italian, Spanish and Portuguese (due to the Brazilians, who are apparently everywhere), and even one or two with Finnish, Russian, Hungarian. I was quite embarrassed to think about considering myself "international" with just very bad French and a handful of Thai.
The trampoline circus jugglers at sunset

  • Clocks and bells. One stereotype that isn't wrong is the Swiss and their clocks. You'd be forgiven for thinking the Swiss invented time itself. Zürich boasts the largest clock face in Europe (on St. Peter's Church), and everyone has a watch - Zürichers' way of being rebellious is wearing a cheap Casio instead of a big piece of chrome or gold.

    The church bells ring differently to the UK. Every quarter-hour gets one ring - 1 for 15mins past, 2 for 30, 3 for 45. Then on the hour, it rings 4 times, followed by 1 ring with a different bell for each hour. Near my friend's flat I stayed at, there were 2 churches - and they were about 15 seconds apart. Lots of bells.
One of Zürich's distinctive church towers and clocks.
Not pictured: the bells, the bells

  • ...And just everything else you don't know about Switzerland, because none of us do.
    • It's been a republican confederation since 1291, with 26 cantons (states/regions) who are all semi-independent
    • It's split into 4 linguistic/cultural regions - German, French, Italian and the Valleys, where the language "Romansh" is descended from vulgar Latin
    • The capital is Bern, the 4th biggest city. You probably can't name any cities in the Italian part, because Lugano (60,000 people) is the only one in the top 20 by population
    • There are 2 foreign enclaves which are fully enclosed by Switzerland: Büsingen am Hochrhein, part of Germany, and Campione d'Italia which is Italian
    • Basel's airport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg is jointly operated by France, Germany and Switzerland, and located entirely on French territory
    • Switzerland's direct democracy allows referendums by the people to overturn government laws or create new ones, from anything to building regulations to immigration, from selling bratwürsts at night to restricting bosses' pay (see below)
    • Switzerland's policy of "neutrality" means it is not in the EU and still uses Swiss Francs instead of Euros, but it is part of the Schengen Agreement allowing free movement of Europeans across borders
    • Switzerland still allows tobacco advertising in most (maybe all) forms, and you can see this on posters in the airport before you even get to customs. That said, the Swiss don't appear to smoke any more than everyone else in Europe, who all smoke everywhere.

Fireworks for Züri Fäscht. Hard to understate how many there were.

More Feuerwerk

Sunset over  Lake Zürich

Tightrope from the Grossmünster to St. Peter's, in front of the Fraumünster 

Ferris wheel and the Fraumünster

2 chaps up very high poles

The latin music stage right by the Fraumünster

The Grossmünster's two towers are Zürich's closest thing
to a distinctive skyline landmark.

One of Switzerland's famous referendum campaigns.
"Bratwürste Legalisieren" is ahead of a vote on changes to
the Labour Code which would forbid bratwürsts
being made & sold at night.

Meanwhile UNIA's "12x Is Rewarding Enough" is a
campaign to make bosses' pay a maximum of 12x their
lowest-paid workers.