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Letters from Downunder


Submitted by Lindsay
Melbourne Australia!

Courage in not just one of the virtues but the form of every true virtue at the testing point (C.S. Lewis, 1944)

(7/2016) I began this as the news of the death of Muhommed Ali was announced. Although he has never become the hero in Australia that he now is in your country, his name is still synonymous with overcoming, daring, butterflies and stings. The response from here to his death has been quite astonishing, nonetheless. We tend to immortalize folk heroes, but the fact that Aliís renown is based not just on his boxing, but was actually outshone by his ability to establish visible and positive reconciliation between faiths Ė Christian Muslim, Jew, Hindu - which in itself is an almost miraculous accomplishment that resonates with most Australians.

The greatest thing he did by far was to stand up to the government over the Vietnam War. That took something very rare Ė courage. Not the kind exhibited under fire or in the heat of battle, but the kind that pits one person against the establishment. That today would be considered an act of terror or subversion, land you in the torture chambers of Guantanamo, and have you hounded at every turn.

Courage like his changes things, makes the prospect of such punishments worthwhile, and raises the awareness of the power of dissent. That, plus his ability to bring deserved respect and tolerance for minority groups has made him a new symbol of freedom and hope, and may well put reconciliation back in the centre of the agendas of both our countries. We both surely need someone that can even fractionally close the gap between haves and have nots, stir the uncaring and despondent into fresh protest and action, and help shame the elite into real contrition.

That he was of African extraction and converted to Islam would have been more than enough to exclude him from mainstream society had his prowess, personality and memorable language not been so potent. That it enabled him to become an icon of tolerance is also a sad indictment of intolerance and prejudice toward the rest of those excluded from being accepted.

Do they give posthumous Nobels? He surely deserves one. Will his heritage overcome the malaise gripping your nation at present? I doubt that very much, for the sickness of spirit is so visible from here, even if you cannot see it yourselves. I had intended writing about prosperity, as this is something you must surely miss. Remember it? Those golden days of fulfilment, financial stability, leadership and progress, when problems melted like lemon drops and bluebirds flew over the rainbow? The wicked witch had been vanquished with a pail of water, the munchkins were dancing in the street, while at the end there was a wonderful wizard who ran everything from his console.

Well, the yellow brick road is now overgrown, the tin man has rusted, the lion is in a psych unit, the straw man has been eaten by rats, and Dorothy is looking at the Mr. Trump and asking, "Are you the wizard?" Something has changed in this yellow brick world Ė even the tornados are fiercer - and the magic has evaporated. Itís as though the nation has begun to decay a bit at a time, gangrene and leprosy removing flesh, Ebola wasting the body, while the whole continues to go about its business as if nothing is happening. And that is more than a metaphor, for looking at the news, the journals and periodicals one is left with a nauseous taste in the mouth and an incredulous disbelief in the mind.

Itís not as though some enormous act of god has happened, say Baja California breaking away, but merely news-worthy small affairs like polluted domestic water in Chicago, unsafe railways, bridges and tunnels, decayed roads, exhaustion of water supplies, all of which affect enormous numbers of people. Iím sure you can add your own shudders, but when the infrastructure of a nation is allowed to run down as yours has it can only be due to serious systematic failure. From this distance, and with ours for comparison, it is painfully obvious the reason: the implementation and maintenance of infrastructure is a central government responsibility. It cannot be left to the private sector because maximizing profit (remember profit?) comes ahead of providing reliable and continuing service. Maintenance and upkeep is pared to a minimum and then below even that. I know you are welded to private enterprise, but what we and most of Europe run Ė successfully for many decades and in some cases centuries Ė is infrastructure developed, erected and maintained by government. In many cases this also applies to the utilities, with the costs involved covered by state government revenue. Sure, it takes a bigger bureaucracy which can be less efficient, but it also keeps the rich from getting richer at the expense of the consumer. This allows prices to be tailored to both demand and ability to pay, returns a profit directly to the government which allows for investment in needed services, and I know why you are turning away from this Ė it sounds like communism, with those horrid unions lining their pockets. But it isnít. Itís sound, practical and demonstrated sense.

Unfettered capitalism has run you into the ground, and will never dig you out. Small government is a cry from the rich who know where the fat comes from - and want more. You do not trust your representatives or your legislature with good cause because it seems that too many have signed up to the Midas group, but if ever reform was needed it is now. It will not come from Mr. Trump, and Hilary does not float like a butterfly of sting like a bee.

Muhommed Ali has gone. There will not be another. Erect an enormous statue of him and put it in the entrance to parliament. It wonít be enough, but maybe it will help, such was the power he commanded. His kind of courage must continue.

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker