Saturday, 18 July 2020

Keeping Busy

Recently I signed up for a course in Hungarian language, conducted online.  Since then each weekday morning I've jumped out of bed, gulped down a cup of strong coffee and fronted up to Zoom. For some hours, with fellow participants from various countries, I've then wrestled with the complexities of the curious, absurdly rich Hungarian language.

Afterwards I've usually snatched half an hour to dash down to the market for supplies and then I've returned home to do my homework.

It's a bit all consuming, I've thought, Still, at least I'm improving - that's what makes it all worthwhile.

But today I got my homework back from the teacher and even the illusion of improvement has gone. I felt exactly as I did aged 12 when I received my results for the only physics exam I ever attempted - I had managed almost nothing but errors. Which would be fine, if I'd expected it, but the really worrying thing, in both instances, is that I had no idea how little I'd understood - how severely in error I was.

On the way back from my quick trip to the market yesterday, I saw a young man wearing a t-shirt with the slogan "Eternity is Not Enough". Typical of the younger generation, I harumphed to myself, so greedy, never satisfied, ect, ect, as Nigel Molesworth would say.

I owe that young man an apology. I realise now that he is probably just a fellow student of Hungarian.

Eternity is indeed not enough where Hungarian is concerned - or possibly the deficit is in the power of my so-called brain.

(If you haven't seen it, this little clip in which the American actress Kate McKinnon recounts her adventures in Hungarian language learning is amusing.)

Friday, 3 July 2020

For the Few, Not the Many

"The decision has been welcomed by many. But not everyone is happy."

This was the phrase that opened a BBC news item this evening about an enormous investment by the UK government in a brand-new hospital.

Should one be surprised that the BBC did not merely note the minority view that suggested this new initiative was a bad thing, but went on to devote the rest of the report to those against the development?  No, not if one is a regular viewer. One should be surprised at one's idiocy if one expected the BBC to report on anything other than the negative aspects of the current UK government's decision to build a spanking new hospital - the bastards, how dare they?

If you are a masochist or you bitterly hate the current UK government, (as opposed to seeing it as not particularly superb, my position), I encourage you to try the BBC television news on a nightly basis for one calendar month. Otherwise stay away - it is bad for any reasonable person's blood pressure. It  systematically and exclusively airs the voices of the minority in reporting any story that might otherwise be considered rather excitingly positive. Perhaps those with other opinions are unwilling to appear - but perhaps BBC executives, producers and/or reporters are deliberately excluding them from their broadcasts. None of us outside Portland Place will ever know the truth but, reluctantly, I find myself beginning to wonder whether defunding the BBC is really such a crazy and regressive idea as I had originally thought.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Our Leaders’ Mysterious Ways

There is a viral pandemic sweeping the world, and it has exposed the poor leadership most people have to put up with. The question of travel is a case in point. There is a simple solution to concerns about people entering another country, bringing disease. If travellers want to cross your border, they have to agree to be tested for illness and to pay for that testing.

For a while this simple policy was put into practice by the Austrian government at the fairly hefty price of €190 per person. Provided the test came out negative, the traveller could set off from the airport to explore Austria 3 to 6 hours after undergoing the test.

But then centralised government in the form of Brussels got involved. Did they take up Austria’s excellent initiative and ensure that it would be put into operation everywhere? Such an approach could safely open up EU countries for those tourists - from absolutely anywhere -willing to pay €190 to be tested. That opening up might save some of the thousands of jobs that depend on tourism.

No, of course they didn't. Instead, after lengthy discussions, a strategy to complicate matters and ensure life became more difficult for everyone was devised.

A list of countries whose citizens could travel freely in the European Union was announced. Rather than clarifying things, this just made things more perplexing, particularly as individual European countries quickly decided to assert their independence by adding their own caveats. Czechia announced that the list was all very well, but unless the countries on it reciprocated and let in Czech citizens, they could go jump. Meanwhile, because the UK is not on the EU’s list, it suddenly became impossible for any UK citizen to leave and then reenter Hungary, even if that citizen holds a Hungarian residency card. For a brief moment it looked as if Australian passport holders, with or without residency cards, were now allowed to travel in and out of the country freely, as Australia is on the EU's approved list. Then the Hungarian government decided that the citizens of all the non-EU countries on the EU's list were barred too.

Even before the Humgarian announcement though, there was a catch for most Australians who wanted to visit Hungary - or anywhere else for that matter. In a move worthy of the DDR, Australia’s government announced that not only can no one other than Australian citizens enter the country (and even they will have to go through a 2-week quarantine, confined to a hotel room of the government’s choice, but at the individual’s expense)  but also no one will be allowed to leave the country without special permission until July 2021!

This seems to me to be evidence of the dangers of power when it is exercised without imagination. There might be a good deal of complexity in setting up an incoming testing regime for travellers but, if, as the Sydney Morning Herald alleges, the Australian economy is facing a $55 billion hit as a result of the decision to ban all incoming and outgoing tourism, then it is the duty of elected leaders and their servants in the bureaucracy to sort out that complexity and create a system that works.

Leaders everywhere need to start really focusing on the plight of the many, many people who run tourist-related businesses. Instead of going for the easy option of prohibition, they all - not just in Australia but across the world - need to start doing some really hard work to provide solutions such as the one pioneered by Austria. There are ways to stay safe and to go back to normal life. It is the job of governments to identify those and to put them rapidly into effect.