Dan O'Heirity

Covid-19 My Reflective Moments

I’m going to start on a personal note which is that after a very concerted and somewhat lengthy effort, I have transferred all of my Covid journal entries into literature submissions and stored them in a gallery folder in Deviant Art. There is a reason for my engaging in this endeavour beyond the fact that I can be reasonably obsessive at times. The reason is that I want to be able to picture each of the Covid posts in relation to one another with a view, one day, to compiling the entries into a book. Said book will require substantial re-writing and ample amounts of editing before it can be published but I believe that the effort invested will pay dividends in terms of producing a coherent personal narrative of the CCP virus. Actually, there will be more than a personal narrative because that narrative will reference the news on the virus as that news unfolded and the narrative will also draw on some primary reference materials such as export data for Australia’s trade with China, figures evidencing the reliance of Australian universities on Chinese “cash cow” students, parliamentary documents and research from academics, particularly the work of Professor Anne-Marie Brady in New Zealand.

I shall indulge in another personal story before moving on to the news. Yesterday, or perhaps it was the day before, I wrote about issues of mental health that have either emerged or been exacerbated by the CCP virus and, fair to say, I was not particularly charitable towards people who may be dealing with depression or anxiety, suggesting that those “suffering” from mental health issues really need to institute some kind of plan to cope with their lives. I believe that I also suggested that they need to exercise more “will” where “will” can be understood as something like directing one’s mind and emotions with a singular purpose in mind. I’m bipolar and I have a secondary dissociative personality disorder and so, as far as I’m concerned, it is perfectly legitimate for me to pronounce on coping with mental illness. Perhaps I would further say that self-management lies at the core of “coping” with mental health issues. Note the quotation marks. I suspect other people “cope”. I do far more than cope. I create myself in the face of supposed adversity.

Back to self management. I mentioned about six weeks ago that I had a series of blood tests along with an ultrasound and a CT scan. The reason that I needed these tests is not important suffice to say that the possible outcomes ranged from trivial to rather serious. My point here is that I imagine that an awful lot of people, I mean the ordinary people, would have worried and become anxious about both the process and the outcome. This was not true in my case. I simply observed what was going on and waited for the results. I will now be having two minor surgical procedures. Again, I can imagine the ordinary folk becoming worried and anxious at the thought of gong into hospital and having surgery. This is not true of me. The worst that could happen is that I might die on the operating table, an outcome that is extremely unlikely. However, if it did happen then I would have left this world very peacefully without every knowing it. So, I see no real reason to be concerned. I’m actually more bothered by the fact that the hospital food will likely be awful and I probably won’t be able to smoke for 24 hours.

Australian Universities Are Still in a Whole Lot of Trouble

I think I’ll continue this post with an update on the current state of Australian universities because, as I have mentioned before, I am a senior lecturer at one of these institutions. My own university is currently axing staff. There will be around 300 redundancies and 100 current vacancies will not be filled. However, the university has been disingenuous in producing these figures because the figures refer to ongoing positions which means that they do not include contract staff and sessional teaching staff. The university will further reduce its workforce by not renewing contracts that expire and by not rehiring sessional staff who taught in Trimester 1 to teach in Trimester 2. There are very few people in the university who will actually have the overall figures for job losses and we can be very sure that those figures will not see the light of day. Some universities are taking a different approach to my own university. La Trobe University for example, is apparently at risk of going broke if the University cannot secure bank loans.

However, it seems to me to be unlikely that the government – whether State or Federal – will stand by whilst La Trobe goes under. Indeed, I am not even sure what such a scenario would look like as La Trobe will currently have thousands of students who will need to complete their degrees. “There is provision in the Higher Education Funding Act for the Commonwealth to advance money to universities against future years’ grants” and it is possible that the Victorian government “could become a guarantor on the university’s loans, to ease the concerns of banks.” It is worth noting in this respect that La Trobe was in trouble before the CCP virus came along. For example, “La Trobe’s 2019 calendar accounts tabled in Parliament on Tuesday showed that before the pandemic interrupted the international student market, the university’s finances were already deteriorating. Last year’s [2019] trading surplus of $19.4 million was down from $30 million recorded the previous year, and $75 million in borrowings for new student accommodation had trebled the debt-to-equity ratio.”

University of Queensland Remains Plagued by Its Chinese Connections

Whilst Australian Universities in general continue to try to deal with the higher education financial crisis, the University of Queensland still has its hands full in its ill fated campaign to expel Drew Pavlou. Ultimately Mr Pavlou was suspended for two years, a decision which resulted in Mr Pavlou commencing an appeal protest. However, the bigger story here is the damage that has been done to the reputation of the University of Queensland. Take this commentary, entitled “UQ management tip of the iceberg of a totally corrupted system” by Paul Frijters, who worked at UQ for six years. Frijters writes that, “The management of the University of Queensland, and in particular Peter Hoj and Peter Varghese, stand condemned today by the international media, by both Labour and Liberal politicians, by both left-wing and right-wing Australians, by its own students, and by the powerful pro-American lobby.” Frijters presents a “picture” of the management issues at UQ, many of which I have covered before e.g. allowing a foreign power, China, to dictate the content of courses at UQ and allowing Nationalist Chinese students to attack a peaceful pro-democracy rally for Hong Kong.

Frijters goes on to present two possible clean-up scenarios for UQ, a cosmetic clean up and a deep clean. You can read the article if you want to see the details of the two possible scenarios but is worth noting here that the cosmetic clean up – the one that will most likely happen – would essentially be a balancing act between trying to present a face to the world that removes the impression that UQ is inextricably linked with China whilst, at the same time, trying to keep China happy so that the Chinese “cash cow” students continue to favour UQ. Whilst UQ has its own particular set of problems, just about every university in Australia is going to have to lure back the Chinese students at a time when China-Australia relations are at a bit of an all time low. The real test of whether Chinese students will return to Australia, or more exactly, whether the CCP will allow them to return to Australia, has yet to come because Australia’s borders remain closed.

A Personal Postscript to Bring Things Together

My emotions are anathema to me for the sole and singular reason that I have not survived for this long by giving in to what I might feel on any particular occasion. I have sustained myself through the sheer exercise of my mind and my will. Thus have I been able to contain and control myself across my many years. But such a state is a double edged sword. Exercising such a degree of self control entails that there are certain blind spots in my life. I mean by this fact that I might be caught out by the unexpected toll on me of the Covid-19 lock down. In writing these words I recognize that I am privileged middle-class white guy living in an affluent suburb with a very well paying position at a prestigious university. And yet there is always more to such a story. The existential tiredness that pre-dates Covid-19. I wonder if the virus has exacerbated the trials and tribulations of our days. Or whether there are now conditions in which we might truly ask questions about the meaning of it all. I mean life. Confrontation with death, for so many people, may lead them to ask the right questions about their lives. I mean, they may do away with the inanity of it all and see the responsibility that we have for our days on this earth. A Facebook life is facile.

I know that tomorrow I will abhor myself for this moment of weakness. Perhaps moments of weakness. In this world of relativism, I see only absolutes. Thus do I live out of my age. Out of this age. People will say that there are no longer any truths. That this whole virus thing is a matter of perspective, what we make of it all. Not me. China is an evil and corrupt dictatorship with aspirations to rule the world. China has, and has always had, a fifty year plan to bring democracy to its knees. It is just that right now Xi Jinping has overplayed his hand. His arrogance, which has become the arrogance of China, has been manifest on the world stage. And the world has now seen how China aspires to rule. More fool Xi Jinping. How his ego has led him astray. My prediction would be that countries will unit against China and that there will be a stand off on the political and economic front. As for the military front. That will be played out in the South China sea where countries will unite against pretended Chinese military prowess. My view. China’s lost through uniting countries against them. They just don’t know it yet. But that day will come.

First Published June 4th, 2020

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