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State of the Universe address

‘La la la. What a woonderfuul woorld... ’

Oh, hello. Just pass the towel, would you? Well, don’t you sing in the shower too? I mean, we’ve got so much to be thankful for, haven’t we? Australia may be the lucky country, but thank heavens there’s so much good work going on all round this wonderful, happy world. John Kerry is going to make such a fine President, and Simon Crean is showing all the doubters what quietly good statesmanship from a prime minister can do to make the nation mature and compassionate and visionary.

Yep, I feel glad to be part of it all. Since Joan Chittister became Pope ten years ago, there has been such a resurgence of faith that churches are packed with teenagers; and all those new small parishes are working so well with their clerical families. We all grieved when dear old John Paul I died, but he was such a wise, unifying force, that he left the church stronger, kinder and happier than he found it. There had been some fears from conservatives when he relaxed all those antiquated patriarchal marriage and reproductive laws, but strangely, throughout our culture, there seems to be more respect for the human body now that we know that harmless consensual joy is not sinful. And ordaining women and married people has saved the church from an unthinkable shortage of priests. JP1 was such a visionary that the church is affecting people’s lives for the better all over the world. It’s nice to know we’re still relevant to today’s world and respectful of different ways of thinking.

And it’s such a relief to know that we’ve arrested the greenhouse effect. Thank God for the probity of the forestry companies: once it was pointed out that native forest logging was causing such problems, they all got together and began to work out truly sustainable ways of getting timber. ‘We’d hate to think we were responsible for one of the greatest mistakes of the century’, said the CEO of Nolongerrapacious Pty Ltd. He is now the main force behind an extraordinary resurgence in rural economies because now that employment and business aren’t tied to a decreasing resource, they can really be creative.

Our Governor General, Lowitja O’Donoghue, said the other day that the 1988 treaty between Indigenous Australians and the rest of us—the January 26ers—had been a powerful force for good. She was launching a new book edited by a group of Indigenous Vice-Chancellors, entitled Land, Learning and Opportunity, the three things that have made all the difference for the first Australians.

And television is so good too: The Map Makers is a three-part series on the history and major developments in map making, screening from Saturday 4 December on SBS at 7:30pm. Maps tell you more than the physical shape of a country: they show the political preoccupations in the names chosen for newly discovered places. There are some lovely little pieces of information: though Amerigo Vespucci’s name was given to the enormous lands that had been rediscovered by Columbus, the map makers gave it a feminine ending ‘AmeriCA’, to be consistent with Asia and Africa. The later programs deal with the fascinating story of the Mercator projection and the maps of the D-Day landings.

And The Elegant Universe, a three-part series on SBS, Monday 29 November at 7:30pm, is a funny, interesting look at string theory. Though I am no mathematician, I think I understood most of it, and what I didn’t quite get I still enjoyed. Brian Greene, theoretical physicist who also wrote, with Matthew Fox, The Universe is a Green Dragon, presents the big questions, ones that involve TOE—the Theory of Everything.

He is very much at home amongst all the nifty computer animations and drinking blue orange juice at the Quantum Cafe. It seems that almost anything is possible if you calculate towards infinity: walking through walls, and juices of any colour, depending on what universe you inhabit. Because according to quantum theorists and the clever Mr Greene, there are countless parallel universes alongside this one. This is an idea much-visited by sci-fi authors: Terry Pratchett, that brilliant and funny writer (don’t miss his latest, Going Postal: it’s fantastic) often brings up this idea in his Discworld series, especially in Lords and Ladies. Funny, this idea of alternative universes. Wonder if it’s all real.

WHAT? Hang on here, I have to try to take this in: What are you telling me? That only the bits about the telly are true? I don’t believe it: people wouldn’t be so evil—so damned STUPID. Don’t tell me that Bush managed to disenfranchise a million Democrat voters with specious strategies designed to eliminate people of colour. Don’t tell me the church has been bleeding internally from misogyny and fear for 25 years. Don’t tell me the Indigenous people have not only got no treaty but have been weaselled out of their land rights. Don’t tell me that we’re putting children behind razor wire and sending our young folk to fight another land war in Asia. Don’t tell me we’re logging, fishing, mining, polluting and burning the arse out of the planet.

And when you tell me that the ABC have axed George Negus and Channel Nine have axed Don Burke, I just know we’re in the wrong universe. How do I get off this one? It’s stuffed.    

Juliette Hughes is a freelance writer.



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