An accurate description. I have yet to read anything in the current batch of Wikileaks that has changed my opinion about any of the countries reported on by those American diplomats in their dispatches back home. The difference between the message of the cables and media stories covering the same events is really just one of degree. The diplomats perhaps can say things more forcefully than a foreign correspondent worried about defamation or deportation but the flavour of the reports is pretty much the same as today’s Moscow Times reports:

3-12-2010 diplomatslikeforeigncorrespondents

It is interesting, though, that the Moscow Times chose not to go into detail on its front page of the actual substance of those “impressive writing skills”. There was no mention of the claims that Russia is a criminal state dominated by venal and bribe-hungry officials.

Thank goodness for that. Congratulations to all those FIFA delegates. They have spared us from having our governments state and federal wasting billions on stadiums for a game that no one wants to watch.

But they must be mad or on the take. Those congratulations aside, there is something quite loony about Qatar hosting a soccer tournament that means they will build new stadiums with more seating than the country has people. And in a world becoming more and more conscious of the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions, what is the message sent by planning to air condition them all?

Gillard’s no mug. One last comment on that World Cup thing. She might have had to appear in that promotional film for Australia’s bid but Julia Gillard showed commendable common sense by not travelling to Switzerland to make a personal appearance. Sports Minister Mark Arbib was admirably equipped to play the loser’s role.

Painful memories. I recall with some reluctance the lead up to the NSW state election of 1988 and particularly the fear that my contribution to Labor campaigning would be that only one hand was needed to count the number of party members in the new Parliament. It turned out slightly (very slightly) better than that back then but today’s Labor strategists must be even more worried than I was.

The outlook certainly looks horrid for the government and it is no wonder that so many MPs have announced their retirement. Better to go voluntarily than to suffer the defeat via the ballot box. The latest deserter is Frank Sartor, the former Sydney Lord Mayor, who entered Parliament as a prospective saviour for Labor but who this morning called it a day as the Member for Rockdale. By my count he becomes the 18th Labor member to call it a day.

Churches losing business. Clergymen are losing market share. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures out today show that civil marriage celebrants are dominating the hitching business.

The proportion of marriage ceremonies performed by civil celebrants has continued to increase in 2009, with civil celebrants performing 66.9% of all registered marriage ceremonies, an increase from 65.0% in 2008. And any religious message about sex before marriage does not seem to be getting through.

Couples who lived together prior to marriage accounted for 77.4% of all marriages registered in 2009, compared to 77.7% in 2008. This is the first decline since 1997, when this data was first collected.

Peter Fray

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