Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The cup

Once again I watched the Melbourne cup along with most of my fellow Australians. And it was exciting as ever, with a huge change in ranking at the last minute.  And it was a 100 to 1  outsider that came forward at the last moment to win.  Big Orange led for most of the way and would have looked a cert for anyone unfamiliar with cup runs.  It fell right back at the end, however.  And the winner, Prince of Penzance, was a New Zealand horse ridden by a female jockey, the first female jockey to win a Melbourne cup. 

New Zealand horses often do well but this horse was originally bought for only $50,000 so is still a huge surprise. The owners were six mates. Describing themselves as “small fry owners", the men decided to pool their cash and buy a nag they hoped might win at a country meeting. They probably backed their own horse at 100 to 1 so will be rich men now.

I drew the favorite in a sweep but none of the three I drew got anywhere.  But Tom Waterhouse also got it wrong so I am in good company.

The ever immaculate Tom with wife Hoda, a lady of Iranian origins

And a home-made dress won the Fashions on the Field competition

28-year-old Emily Hunter wore an outfit run up by her mother.  She is now in line for some very rich prizes, worth around $100,000 all up.

I can't myself see what was good about the winning outfit but what I know about fashion would fit on the back of a small postage stamp.  I do note however that the winning outfits over the years have tended to be fairly conservative

Australia has a greater percentage of foreigners but less xenophobia than the US. What is its secret?

Australia has control over its borders and filters who comes.  When that faltered, there was rage

Why is there no mop-haired demagogue in Australia denouncing immigrants as rapists?

After all, if America's excuse is anxiety caused by a flood of incoming foreigners, Australia should be twice as anxious. In the US, 14 per cent of the population was born elsewhere, near the record of 15 per cent reached a century ago. In Australia, more than a quarter of the population is foreign-born, and some 46 per cent have at least one foreign-born parent, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Yet both main parties, the centre-right Liberals and left-leaning Labor, are committed to continued immigration. Politicians who seek to whip up or exploit anti-immigrant prejudice are relegated to the fringe. Is there some secret sauce whose recipe the US could copy?

First, a few caveats. One week Down Under does not quite qualify me as a full-fledged Australianist, but it is long enough to learn that this nation of 23 million people is not a race-blind paradise.

Successive waves of immigration have each aroused anxiety among some Australians that the newcomers would never fit in: Greeks and Italians in the 1950s, Vietnamese in the 1970s, Chinese, Indians and Middle Easterners today. People fret over crime and worry that newcomers segregate themselves in suburban enclaves.

Everyone swears fealty to the national ideal of "multiculturalism", but beneath the surface there is profound disagreement over how much assimilation is desirable. Meanwhile, the captains of industry and government remain mostly Anglo (and male). And a sizeable share of immigrants continue to come from New Zealand and Britain; the country as a whole remains overwhelmingly white.

Still, given that the White Australia Policy was official until the early 1970s, acceptance of a world in which Chinese and Indians represent the fastest-growing groups of immigrants would strike anyone escaping from the GOP primary debates as remarkable.

Paul Kelly, a leading historian and political analyst with the newspaper The Australian, explained that the nation as a whole realised after World War II that it had to "bulk up" its population if it was to defend itself in a dangerous world. Seven million people in a nation the size of the continental US wasn't enough – and when it became clear, with time, that Britain couldn't furnish enough immigrants, "the White Australia Policy buckled, surrendered and was abolished".

"It was a deliberate, bipartisan decision," Kelly told me. "We had to embark on this immigration project to make the nation tenable and viable."

A second critical factor has been Australia's ability to decide who gets in. "The island culture is fundamental," Kelly said. "We control our destiny."

Australia has consistently been a leader, in per capita terms, in accepting refugees from conflict zones. But in 2001, when people from Afghanistan and elsewhere started turning up as boat people, it challenged Australia's sense of control and became "a very traumatic issue", Kelly said.

A conservative prime minister decreed that no boat people would be admitted and was excoriated by human rights advocates. A Labor prime minister in 2007 reversed that call, but when leniency seemed to encourage more and more arrivals – some 30,000 over several years – the nation returned to a no-entry policy. Quickly the boats stopped coming.

Understandably, a policy of turning back asylum seekers at sea continues to disturb many Australians. But Tom Switzer, a conservative commentator and research associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney (which was also my host last week), argues that the tougher policy was not only more humane – because so many migrants were drowning during the years of laxer control – but also essential to preserving public support for legal migration.

"Strict controls help damp down xenophobia, and ensure that decent treatment is given to those seeking the nation's hospitality," Switzer wrote recently in the Spectator.

In Europe, a sense of helplessness does seem to be fuelling xenophobic political forces. A senior German official recently told me that the hundreds of thousands of migrants pressing to enter represent the greatest challenge to the continent since World War II. One reason, he said, is the feeling of being out of control; bordering nine nations, Germany seems challenged to define any terms of entry.

The same logic has helped shape US immigration policy under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both of whom have emphasised border security, deportation and other enforcement measures in part to lay the political groundwork for humane immigration reform. The policy has been successful in tamping down illegal immigration, and maybe also in shaping public opinion; polls show a majority of Americans, and even of Republicans, favour a path to legalisation for the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, rather than the mass deportation Donald Trump advocates.

Sadly, though, the enforcement success has yet to produce any Australian-style bipartisanship on this issue out of Republican members of Congress or presidential candidates. If there's a recipe for that, no one here has shared it with me.


International Baccalaureate exams begin in Australia and around the world

It is the exam so secret that not even teachers know what it contained until a day after students put down their pens.

Tamper-proof packaging, investment bank-style encryption and invigilators are all part and parcel of the International Baccalaureate, which began around the world on Tuesday.
"A bit of banter between the groups," says Alexandria Smith, left, with Annabelle McMahon.

"A bit of banter between the groups," says Alexandria Smith, left, with Annabelle McMahon. Photo: Janie Barrett

At St Paul's Grammar in Cranebrook, two-thirds of the year 12 cohort took the IB over the HSC this year but, unlike their HSC classmates, none of them could talk about the English exam they had just finished.

Globally, 77,000 students from 400 schools in 148 countries take the transnational certificate that is an alternative to the HSC.

The worldwide nature of the examinations means that students must wait 24 hours before discussing the tests with anyone.

It is a longer wait than most for Australian pupils, who are some of the first in the world to hear the examiner call "pens down" at 11:30am.

"It gives me time to make peace with myself," said 17-year-old Annabelle McMahon. "It's better for me because I get really nervous when I ask people about the exam."

Annabelle's St Paul's classmate, Alexandria Smith, echoed her sentiments. "I'm more happy not knowing anything. We can't improve it now. It is just more stress."

Along with 60 of their classmates and more than 350 other NSW students, the pair will sit up to 12 exams between now and November 24, almost twice as many as their HSC counterparts.

Overall, there are more than 80 IB exams in subjects as diverse as global politics, philosophy, English and maths, with a curriculum that focuses more on breadth than specialisation and has a compulsory community service component.

The IB diploma goes for two years compared to the HSC's one.

"You can be tested on day one of year 11," said Alexandria.

The teenagers said that finishing their IB almost a month after the majority of the rest of state's year 12 students was worth the wait.

The last of the state's 77,000 HSC students will finish their HSC exams when  the Visual Arts exam concludes at 3:30pm on Wednesday.

"There is always a bit of banter between the groups," said Alexandria. "We have had six weeks to prepare and be better equipped for our exams."

"For our HSC friends we are a bit jealous that they do get to go on to holidays now, but my HSC friends said I'm going to be jealous of your ATAR'."

Last year Australian students dominated the International Baccalaureate exams, performing well above the global average and claiming a high proportion of the top marks despite the relatively small cohort.

Overall they made up 10 per cent of the top scores, despite accounting for less than 3 per cent of all students.

The national average of 34.22, which equals an ATAR of more than 90, was well above the global average of 29.95.

Antony Mayrhofer, the Director of Learning Services at St Paul's, said that the IB was becoming increasingly popular as an accreditation for Australian universities.

"But there is not a huge jump into the IB diploma in NSW," he said. "One reason is because the HSC is such a strong credential".

The IB continues on Wednesday with Economics, English and Classical languages. 

The HSC finishes with Visual Arts, Food Technology, French Extension and Modern Greek Extension.


Wowser redux

Ever read a news article that seems to be from an alternate universe? The Guardian's coverage of a recently FOI-ed government report on alcohol advertising felt like that.

For good reason: The 'shelved report' in question was produced by the Australian National Preventive Health Agency, which was abolished over a year ago. ANPHA was finalising the report when the Abbott government pulled the plug.

By writing up the story now, the Guardian is giving us a glimpse of an alternate universe where ANPHA was never abolished.

The report's headline recommendation is that alcohol advertising, which is already heavily restricted, should be banned from one of the few occasions where it is still permitted: daytime sporting events that are broadcast live during weekends and public holidays.

Why? Because "exposure to alcohol advertising .... influences adolescents' awareness of alcohol brands and their readiness to adopt alcohol consumption as a normal activity."
Is alcohol consumption not a normal activity?

More importantly, if this purported brainwashing is so harmful to adolescents, then why has the proportion of 12-to-17-year-olds who abstain from alcohol gone up since 2010, from 64% to 72%?

The dressed-up wowserism in this report is a perfect demonstration of why the Abbott government was right to abolish ANPHA and entrust preventive health policymaking to the Department of Health instead. Ideologically motivated semi-science like this does not deserve a government imprimatur.


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