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Mik's Soap Box

Preamble (Bordering on being preramble =))

This is where I sound off (or, perhaps, "write off") about some issues that are important to me. Of course, there are many others that I haven't had time to write about, but hopefully I'll get to those eventually.

Some notes about the semantics of politics

I've become very aware about how the meanings of many words differ across borders. It's not just jumpers and rubbers; words associated with politics also vary.

Names of political parties probably confuse people most. In Australia, the Liberal party is the more conservative of the two most popular political parties, highlighted at a Federal level by Prime Ministers Howard, Fraser and Menzies. On the other hand, in the U.S.A, people with more progressive views are often labelled as liberals. (Interestingly, Australia hasn't had a P.M. representing exclusively the Liberal Party since 1913—all Liberal governments since then have actually been in coalition with either the National Party or the Country Party.)

A similar paradox exists for America's Republican Party. "Republican" is almost a dirty word among American progressives, because it refers to that ultra-conservative political party represented by Presidents Regan, Nixon and the Bushes. This contrasts sharply from Australia, where I proudly identify as a republican, because I believe Australia should be a republic, completely separated from the British Monarchy, as superficial as that connection may be today.

Of course, the meaning of the word "progressive" is subject to debate as well; what is seen as a step forward by some may be seen as a step backwards by others. However, the traditional meaning on both sides of the Pacific seems to be the same. The Macquarie Dictionary includes a definition for the word that includes "more enlightened or liberal ideas" (note the use of the lowercase L in "liberal"). Webster's dictionary concurs, referring to the Progressive Party that existed in the U.S.A. in the mid-1920s.

Finally, views that are considered moderately "left wing" or "right wing" also differ somewhat. While Australia's Liberal Party leans well to the right of Australian mainstream politics, their policies are roughly on par with America's Democratic Party, which is seen as left wing by its voters. I hasten to add that the Australian Democrats are truly left wing, but are a minor party in their homeland. (They're one of Australia's larger minor parties, but not the largest; the National Party just doesn't like to admit that it's a minor party. =))

Oh, an explanation of the first paragraph: when Americans talk about wearing a jumper, they're most likely referring to a sleeveless dress, while Australians would be referring to a warm, long-sleeved top. And when Australians ask to borrow a rubber they probably need to remove an erroneous pencil mark, while Americans would be thinking about safer sex if they made the same request.

Providing Feedback

I welcome feedback that has been thought through and is flame-free. This doesn't mean you have to agree with me; in fact, I'm much more interested in hearing views that differ from mine. The best thing to do is e-mail me. I will post your comments at this site, along with my response.

Do back your arguments up, though. If you quote statistics, state where they came from. Remember that 68% of all statistics are just made up. =) Also, personal anecdotes are only convincing if you are an authority on the matter, or have associated with a significant sample set—"I met one of those boat people once, and he couldn't even speak English properly" is about as insightful as "You pork sheep!" And if you try to convince me that all bisexuals are shameless sluts, and you've only met two, then you should look for a bigger sample set, and anyhow, you're probably not getting enough yourself.



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Mik Scheper, 10 October 2001
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