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To get better, we need to look ahead, not back

Disclaimer: this post isn’t perhaps as polished as I’d like, but it’s time to get it posted.

I love nostalgia. How many blog posts have I written that fondly look back? 78, apparently.

But I’m acutely aware that rose-coloured glasses distort our view of the past.

And while we might like to visit the past, when we think rationally about it, we wouldn’t actually want to go back there.

Daniel combining retro trains with retro video games, Steamrail Open Day 2014

The trains and trams of the past might be beautiful things to behold, but it wasn’t actually that much fun sweating in non-airconditioned carriages on hot days, waiting 40 minutes for a train on a Sunday, or having a super-slow trip to the country, and yes it was dangerous when doors didn’t close and lock by themselves.

The video games of the 80s are probably those I enjoy the most, but good stuff came afterwards, and I don’t really want to go back to when computers cost a fortune and did almost nothing (by today’s standards), programming languages were primitive, mobile technology was non-existent and the Internet was a text-only impenetrable, impossible-to-navigate jungle confined to a few big universities.

Waves of immigrants have brought the best of their culture with them for us to enjoy. Much of the food we love today came with them: Pizza, pasta, tacos, kebabs, curries, bagels, gyros, pho… and lots more. They also brought new thinking, new ideas, initiative and entrepreneurial spirit.

Whether it was acceptance of different cultures or a mix of other factors, in recent decades mainstream Australia has come to accept indigenous culture and rights. Incredibly it took until the 1960s for Aborigines to have the right to vote throughout Australia, and be counted in the census. In America, huge advances have been made in black rights. Nobody should want to go backwards to less enlightened times.

Much of the architecture of the 20th century is beautiful. (I love art deco, myself). But many of the mod cons we take for granted now at home just didn’t exist. Washing machines, fridges/freezers, microwave ovens, air-conditioning and central heating, even the humble television — none of it — or it was so expensive almost nobody could afford it.

Our great industries used to spew untold amounts of pollution into the air, with dire consequences — some obvious, others not well understood until more recently.

We can learn lessons from the past, but we don’t really want to go back there.

We can get better. But we can’t go backwards.

Trump’s cry to “Make America Great Again” smacks of this. And Australians such as Cory Bernadi and Pauline Hanson apparently share this view.

Let’s assume for a moment that Trump doesn’t want to reverse gear back to some mythical golden age; he just wants to resurrect factory jobs.

The idea that you can resurrect the great American industrial age of manufacturing might come from the heart, but the world economy has moved on. Western world wages and living standards have increased. The economies of Asia have developed enough that they can do many of those manufacturing jobs more cheaply, so of course companies and consumers have switched allegiances.

Western economies have moved instead into services and research & development and tech. Things have moved on. You can’t magically isolate one sector of the economy from everything else and hit the Rewind button.

And even now, America is great.

In my house, we have computers, and iPads, and mobile phones, and Sonos. All invented in America, but manufactured in China.

A similar shift has happened in Australia. You’d struggle to find Australian-made clothing in the shops these days, and local car manufacturing is winding up.

The coming closure of the Hazelwood power station is another shift. The displaced workers have to be taken care of, given assistance to help them find new jobs. But it doesn’t mean we can keep propping up nonviable industries.

In true Trump style of course, he doesn’t really articulate how he would make America great again. It’s motherhood statements, telling people who have been through the economic wringer what they want to hear.

There are plenty of other reasons not to vote for him of course. As the Huffington Post so neatly summarises in the footer of some of its articles: Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims – 1.6 billion members of an entire religion – from entering the U.S.

Hopefully America will do the right thing today. Hillary may be a long way from perfect, but a President Trump would have dire consequences for everyone. We’ll know in the next 24-48 hours.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

8 replies on “To get better, we need to look ahead, not back”

I hope the American system of government has a safety valve that allows the retention of the current president instead of the election of one of these two. They are both far from deserving of such an office. I believe the current president can be offered a third term in certain circumstances and it may be Congress that does it. I don’t know. But I hope it happens.

Perhaps the biggest issue will be who controls the houses in US parliament to get legislation through. Could be difficult for Clinton

>We can learn lessons from the past, but we don’t really want to go back there.

This is true, but we don’t really want to live in a present exactly like the one we’re in, either! (or a future like certain ones we seem to be heading to)

I’m an early adopter and future-phile, but I live with a historian. Here’s what I think she’d say about all this:

To fuel our imagination what kind of future we want, we have only one source of information – the past.

To take an example, if you’re in America and thinking about economic equality, you might be interested in looking at the policies that prevailed in the 1970s. Not to deploy them as is, but to inform possible futures.

Not every change is positive – for the bleakest current example, ask the Syrians.

Looking back needs to be done cleverly. Understanding what trends are irreversible is key. Some things can’t be undone. You nominate technology, cultural enmeshment and open borders and I think those are good examples.

FWIW I predict a Hillary victory in a bit of a landslide and hope breathe a big sigh of relief Wednesday Australian time!

Good blog post, Daniel.

Things I Don’t Miss About The Past: The rampant bullying and sexism in the workplace.

I had a particularly appalling boss in the 1980s. He patronised all us female staff, and leered at the young and pretty ones (although to be fair, he never actually touched us – or at least, not me). He insisted that we wore dresses/skirts even though other offices in the same firm allowed trousers. He called us pet names such as “Blossom” and “Sweetie”. He dumped all the typing on the female staff because “men don’t type” even though there were men with the same job title and description as us. This of course was well before computers became commonplace. The “men don’t type” mindset went out the window as soon as that happened.

The male staff didn’t get off lightly either. He bullied them publicly and relentlessly, telling them they were hopeless. One young man in particular copped the brunt of the boss’s bullying on an almost daily basis. And of course, the more the boss bullied him, the more nervous the young man became, and the more mistakes he made, leading to even more bullying. To my eternal shame I never spoke up in his defence, but I was scared of losing my job if I said anything at all. This was not an unreasonable fear. It was easy to sack people in those days, and there was very little redress. The most that we could do was quietly whisper words of support to the victim and let him know that he wasn’t incompetent and none of us thought any less of him. It was the boss coming out of these encounters looking bad, not the victim.

In the lunchroom, this boss liked to monopolise the conversation, reading items from the newspaper aloud and holding forth on them. I remember him complaining about the latest Lindy Chamberlain appeal, saying that it was a waste of taxpayer’s money and that if he had his way, she’d be hanged, and it was a real pity they’d abolished the death penalty. I had left that office by the time Chamberlain was exonerated and her conviction quashed. I often wonder what his reaction would have been to that news. (Although I suspect it wouldn’t have shaken his belief in her guilt.)

I also remember him saying that he thought educating girls was a waste of time because they were only going to get married. He said he was putting his son(s) through university (I forget how many children he had), but was not doing the same for his daughter(s) because education was wasted on girls.

I’m not claiming that dinosaurs like this boss don’t still exist in the workplace, but at least now there is some recourse. People experiencing bullying, sexism, or harassment have options now. Their complaints are taken seriously, and it’s harder for a vindictive boss to sack them for no reason.

We are sure to know in the next few days.

The election is today their time. Tuesday.

On the Red Rattler matter, the first test of electric train circuits and relays is now over 100 years ago.

The first line to get overhead staunchans is on the Williamstown line, and they are mostly still intact. I would love to know the date of their installation. Could that be on 100 years ago now?

We all know, 1919, to be the 100th year of the first electric train. But much of the structures that was put up for them, where put in a good while before that date.

@Jason, yes, great points!

@Karen, thanks – I didn’t even think about workplace practices, but that’s an area where we’re much more enlightened now than in the past.

By the early-90s when I entered the workforce, things were pretty civilised, but I do remember working in one small company around 1998, where a colleague noted that it was only a couple of years before that they had banned smoking in the office.

(For some good observations related to this, check the TV series Life On Mars. I’d guess Mad Men also covers some of this ground, though I was never a viewer.)

Phillip, there are no more than 2 terms for president of the US. Many people in the US do not care for President Obama and are happy to see him go. Others outright hate him too. I his approval was only around 30% for a long time. He is more popular outside the US than he is with people living in the US. He has become more popular within the US recently though. I think his approval rating might be around 55% now. There is no good emergency reason to keep either Trump or Clinton from becoming president as much as one does not like the choice of these two candidates. The problems and flaws that they both have were well discussed during the primaries and they were the 2 candidates to win their nominations fair and square. I think Clinton will likely win this time and this will enrage some and disappoint many others but they will get over it soon enough. Some of these angry and disappointed people will have not even bothered to vote. When Americans don’t like their choices they often just stay home. A voter turnout of 60% of eligible voters would be considered quite high.

Nostalgia in regards to PT is an interesting thing, but one piece of Nostalgia from the 80’s & prior that grabs my interest is heavy rail on the St Kilda and Port Melbourne lines. In particular because I’ve thought of an idea (and I daresay I’m not the first) which would cater for the best of both worlds. Prior to this light bulb going off in my head, I had been a fence sitter as to whether they should’ve remained as heavy rail or whether the 1987 light rail conversion was the right way to go.

In some areas, there used to be rail services that they closed decades ago, but as demand for rail has increased again in the 21st century, they’ve had to “literally” press the “undo button” to slowly, but surely, bring the abolished service back. An example being the stations outbound beyond Epping, that they are gradually reintroducing to the rail network as they restore the line.

St Kilda and Port Melbourne are different kettles of fish. Firstly because converting heavy rail corridors to light rail is not the same as shutting them down completely. Secondly, while there were arguments for and against the conversion, many factors in the area of time, such as the then population and the ability to link a post converted track to other tram lines and hence extend the terminus of the route (in the case of St Kilda), all to some extent justified the conversion. Also, if I understand correctly, the cost of maintenance works on Sandridge bridge, which were needed if the lines were to remain heavy rail, would have only narrowly fell behind the cost of regauging the tracks, liking to the tram network and reducing the overhead voltage. So it made both economic and ecological sense from that point of view at the time.

However, since then, the population of these two areas, has increased dramatically and had they decided to retain heavy rail in the 80’s, it would be justified now. However, the linking of these routes to the tram network and the fact the 96 terminates in Acland St, rather than Fitzroy St opposite The George, remain silver linings.

So the answer is Skyrail in my opinion! If a majority of residents along that corridor are willing to get behind it and have a feasibility study done, I believe it would be a viable and worthwhile option to ensure that there is adequate transport to cater for the current population. Sky rail would require building a new link from either Flinders St or Southern Cross and one of the biggest hurdles would be determining how that would connect to the St Kilda and Port Melbourne corridors now that the Crown complex occupies the old Sandridge pathway, but once you’re into where the current light rail corridors are, it would simply be a case of sky rail above the 96 and 109 trams. The City of Port Phillip has wonderful heritage buildings and sky rail would be no threat to them.

In fact I’d argue that restoring heavy rail, albeit in sky rail form, would restore nostalgic local heritage with a forward thinking touch i.e. having light and heavy rail run in tandem with one on top of the other. It would mean those commuting from St Kilda station to get to the city centre can bypass the light rail stops, but those commuting from Acland St, Luna Park, etc and/or want to access Fraser St, MSAC etc, can still use the 96 hence easing congestion. So the trains would return without having to press the undo button on the light rail conversions of nearly 30 years ago.

PS: I could also go on about my dislike of the far right such as Trump & his redneck Aussie mates (Bernardi, Hanson, etc), but you need only click my twitter link to read all about that!

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