When I was in Australia I had my eye on a didgeridoo. As a musician I thought it would be a fun thing to have around. Besides, who knows when you might want to play one at 3am in the backyard and freakout the neighbors? Alas, I couldn’t justify the expense or figure out how to get one home. However, i saw this video the other day of a man imitating animals with it. These instruments are thought to be at least 1,500 years old. There’s not really much to them either. I thought it neat that such a primitive and simple instrument could do so much. The human race is pretty creative. Check it out for fun.
I am very disillusioned with the state of our country right now. Ever since the election, I have been trying to figure out how people could elect those that don’t have the well being of the average citizen in mind. Instead of stewing over the loss, I tried to educate myself. My intuition told me to start with slavery and the Civil War, as this is a period of American history that is still affecting how we think today in terms of our regional and cultural divides.
While I was thinking about all of this I had the opportunity to go to Australia. I want to share some facts with you about Australia:
1. By law they get 28 days of paid time off each year.
2. Healthcare, although it is slightly more complicated than this, is basically free.
3. Minimum wage is 17 dollars an hour.
4. If someone is without a job or homeless they get a stipend. It’s like unemployment that never runs out.
5. They have clean and plentiful public transportation.
Those are all facts. However, here are some personal observations that I made:
1. The cities that I was in were very clean.
2. The people were almost all friendly and helpful.
3. Most of the people looked in relatively good shape.
4. I saw no large-scale poverty. In fact, while walking many days through a city twice the size of Austin, I never saw one homeless person. (I’m not saying that they don’t exist, only that they exist in much lower numbers than they do in American cities.)
5. The cities that I saw were vibrant and modern.
I know that Australia has its problems. Right now they are having immigration issues for instance. However, they seem to do a much better job at taking care of their citizens than we do. I can imagine that just having 28 paid days off each year while living in a nice climate would alone make life more livable.
So how is it that a country that was started partially by criminals can be doing things so much better than a so-called Christian nation? To answer this would require a book. Although I intend to come back to this question, I am not going to answer it here.
The whole time I was there I was again reading about slavery and the Civil War. What I found troubling was that so many of the arguments that were used to protect slavery are still used today to protect powerful economic interests. Often progress in this country is stopped by arguments over states rights, religion, and economics. We can’t pass a certain law that would benefit people because it would:
A. Infringe upon states rights
B. Would force people to go against their religion
C. It would hurt the economy
These are the same kinds of things that again were used to protect slavery. In cases A. and B. these are the exact same arguments. Although there were many people that were anti-slavery from a religious standpoint, there were also many that used religion to justify slavery.
During slavery education on average in the South was far behind the North. In the present economic power is doing what it can to strip critical thinking from education. This is not a North/South thing, although there is some of that going on if you look at recent election results. However, I can take you to places that are backwards in my home state of Pennsylvania, while my current home of Austin is quite progressive in a lot of ways.
It’s just that as I dig deeper and deeper into the well I find myself more discouraged at the state of our country, not less. Especially when you look at someplace like Australia in comparison, you realize that there is no reason that we couldn’t be doing a better job of helping the less fortunate. It’s out there in the world, being done, right now as we speak.
Often when I have looked at the war in Afghanistan I see it as almost science fiction. It’s like people from the present are fighting people from the past. That is not to say that I believe we are right to still be there, only that if you look at the technology and education of the United States against somewhere like the mountains of Afghanistan, which are still tribal, I think it is a fair way to look at things.
After visiting Australia and reading about our history I can’t wonder if our own country is still fighting culturally outside of space and time. Are there not places that still have the mentality of the 1950’s arguing against people from the present?
All of this raises more questions than answers. But that is where I’m at. How did we get to where we are at and how can we make it better? Can we make it better with entrenched economic powers that need to keep people ignorant to achieve their goals?
In one sense there has been a lot of progress in our country. I don’t think anyone but the Ku Klux Klan wants to go back to the days of slavery or Reconstruction. However, we are not where we need to be. We need to stop thinking that we’re number one at everything and realize that there are other places out there that have some of the answers. We have to confront our history so that we can recognize the problems of the present. There is no shame in realizing you can do better then you are, getting up, and trying again. Shame is only for those that quit. When and where do we start?
It is already Friday here, but they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia, so Thanksgiving is only really happening at home. At least that is my reasoning why I am celebrating today. I spent all morning listening to the Eagles destroy the Cowboys. I come from Pennsylvania and my Dad is from Philly, so I was quite happy about that. Still it is quite surreal listening to a football game at 7:30am.
There is so much we take for granted that would be totally different if we were born somewhere else. In the states we think of November as the end of fall and the beginning of winter, but here in Australia it is actually the end of spring and the beginning of summer. Christmas happens in the summer. They drive on the left side of the road, which even weirder seems to make people walk on the left side of the sidewalk. For over half the day I am also in the future as Brisbane is 14 hours ahead of Austin.
So well someone back home is celebrating Thanksgiving, with winter coming down, walking on the right hand of the street on Thursday, I am in increasingly warm weather, walking down the left hand side of the street on Friday, with no sign of Thanksgiving at all.
How much do these differences change one’s perception of the world? These are obvious differences, but so much of what we assume to be normal is an accident of birth. It’s a strange world.
However, the Eagles beating the Cowboys is definitely real. There is much to be thankful for!
The balls that advertisers have: Nothing says Australian Cricket like Kentucky Fried Chicken. In Brisbane reading with the TV on in the background. A KFC commercial has come on twice that shows a family from the 70’s to the present eating fried chicken while watching cricket. One is supposed to take away the idea that KFC is as much a part of Australian tradition as cricket. Think about it, shitty fried chicken from an American company that originated in Kentucky is boldly claiming to be part of cultural tradition in a foreign country. It is delivered with total sincerity. The commercial is meant to pull on the heart strings. When this kind of distortion, or bold faced lie, can be delivered without blinking an eye during casual viewing, is it any wonder that companies and their politicians can get away with murder?
Posting has been a little slow the last two days. I’m heading out for Australia on Saturday morning and I have been busy trying to get my shit together. I am meeting my parents there. They have been there for about two weeks already and have told me some interesting things about Australia. Australia has, like most of the modern western world, universal healthcare. They also have a high minimum wage. Every Australian must also, by law, vote. If they don’t vote they either get a fine or must do community service. Most of the people that they have talked to there seemed stunned by the poverty that exists in the US. I’m interested in talking to people when I get there about this sort of thing. When you travel abroad it is constantly amazing at how closely people follow US politics in other countries, especially when we often know so little about those countries in return.
When I fly I like to take one serious book and one for fun. I will continue reading S.C. Gwynne’s biography of Stonewall Jackson, that I have talked about here. I also am going to read a biography of AC/DC that got really good reviews. (I am obsessed with The Civil War and AC/DC at the moment. Don’t question how my mind works!) That biography is called The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC.
I just finished watching Ken Burns’s The Civil War last night. The last episode was about what happened after Lee surrendered. I couldn’t help but wonder if all of the accolades we bestow upon warriors is actually harmful to the warriors themselves. In heaping praise on the profession of being a soldier, in making what they do be seen as a lofty profession, do we not make it easier for ourselves to put them in harms way? I’m not saying we shouldn’t value what they do, nor am I a utopian. There are some really bad people in the world and we need soldiers to keep us safe from those people. I simply mean in making monuments to them, especially to generals and the like, and creating a sort of cult of worship, do we allow ourselves some kind of remove from what they are doing and what we are making them do? Just questions without answers.
Well I will have internet in Australia. I also hope to be on here more before I leave, but no promises. If I’m being honest I can’t tell if I knew I needed to update my blog, or if I just wanted to put off cleaning my house for 20 minutes!
I believe in every god but yours!
When I was traveling this summer I ran into a guy from Australia that had many such quotes once he got into his cups. Such, such, were the joys…