Personal Reflections

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday Morning Musings - Managing the politics of fear

A friend commented after the news from Nice and then the attempted Turkey coup: "The news is really all worrying".

While I have been otherwise preoccupied, the world does seem to have become a darker place. As I write, news is breaking of the attacks in Munich. The story is not yet clear, but it adds to the gloom.

One of the points I have tried to make on this blog from time to time is that we cannot always control events, we can only control our reactions to events.

Take Donald Trump as a case in point. He may or may not become President of the United States. I would have said not, but then I didn't think he could win the Republican nomination in the first place, it seemed inconceivable. I cannot control whether or not Mr Trump becomes President, I can only manage my reactions and responses to the event.

Clearly, if Mr Trump becomes President the world will change. Based just on his statements to this point, there are likely to be significant reshapings in the global alliances of which Australia is part and on which Australia depends. I cannot control that.

As an observer, the showbiz, the performance, side of US politics has always been interesting. Like most of us, I can get caught up in the theatre of it all, responding to immediate events, interested in the game. As an analyst, I have to stand back from that when I am trying to work out what it all means.

As an analyst, I haven't tried to work out the implications should Mr Trump become President. At this point, Mr Trump remains a random factor. I am interested in the reasons for his success, these link to things that I have been writing about for many years if usually from a minority position, but the possible implications of a Trump presidency are not something I need to address just now. I will do so when it seems relevant.

The politics of fear is deeply embedded in Australian politics. I don't necessarily mean this in an extreme way, nor am I referring just to former Prime Minister Abbott. Consider the obsession with law and order as a political theme, one that has been present for a very long time to the point that it has become encapsulated in Laura Order, a term capturing Australia's tendency to slur words together. A later term with a similar derivation is Lauren Forcement.

In Lauren Order you have the fear that there is a problem on one side, crime, and the belief that it is government's job to do something about it. Political parties play to that fear by emphasising Lauren Order, promising that they will use Lauren Forcement to fix the problem. They do so regardless of the reality of the problem. One outcome of the emphasis on Lauren Forcement as a solution has been a rise in police numbers, police paraphernalia and indeed the size of police stations to the point that police stations are the biggest buildings in some towns. A second outcome has been a rise in prison populations.

The use of fear, the appeal for laws and Lauren Forcement to fix problems, can be found across the political spectrum and covers a vast expanse of issues. The climate created makes it really difficult when there is a genuinely difficult problem that is not actually amenable to a Lauren Forcement solution or, if amenable, one where the cost of the solution greatly outweighs any possible gains.  

Total avoidance of terrorist acts is a case in point. It's not possible, while the attempts to do so will certainly impose costs that far outweigh any potential gain.

I said earlier that we cannot always control events, we can only control our reactions to events. Australian TV personality Sonia Kruger is a case in point. She was expressing a genuine fear in calling upon Australia to close its borders to Muslim immigration to prevent terrorism and had every right to do so. Becoming involved in controversy led her to restate her views.

Ms Kruger is not an expert in public policy nor the Muslim faith. Her prescription was actually plain silly, although a reflection of popular sentiment. She was attacked for her prescription, not challenged on its basis. If with a somewhat unfortunate use of wording, she was saying that she was worried about her children and this was her response. One has to respect that.

Outside certain countries, the chances of being killed in a faith related terrorist attack are statistically tiny. In the relatively benign discussion on deaths connected with swimming pools or absence of bike helmets, I argue that our desire to avoid risk has led to regulation whose costs far outweigh any prospective benefits. How, then, should I react when we have an emotive discussion on an issue where, objectively speaking, the statistical chances of harm are very low.

The likelihood of being killed in a terrorist attack in Australia may be marginally higher than the chances of drowning in a swimming pool, although I'm not sure of that. Actually, thinking about it, it's probably lower at this point. In any event, its very low. Why, then, are we obsessing?

It comes back to the fear element and that, in a way, is the whole point. Those perpetrating attacks cannot win in an absolute sense. They have to rely on fear to create the social disruption they want. And here, I think, they may be winning.    

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Japan, China and the lessons of the past

In a post on 29 June 2016, Train Reading - Shogun: William Adams, Ieyasu and the rise and fall of the Shogunate, I mentioned that my present train reading was Richard Storry's A History of Modern Japan (Pelican, 1960).

The Shogunate was followed by the Meiji era (1868-1912) during which Japan moved from a feudal form towards a modern industrial society. In a comment on my earlier post, Thomas wrote:
History indeed! I just this week finished our year 11 Modern History topic on this. The students always find it fascinating at the rapidity of Japanese modernisation under Meiji - some 300 years completed in 30! The struggle for power (both in Asia and within the internal structures of Japan) that follows is equally fascinating.
Thomas is right. As I followed Japan's history up the Second World and beyond, I felt a certain resonance with current events.

Croesus, King of Lydia, has come down to us today in two phrases. One is as rich as Croesus, for he was a very wealthy ruler. The second is the most famous phrase ever to come from the Oracle at Delphi. Croesus was considering war against Cyrus the Great of Persia. Seeking advice from the Oracle, he was told that if he attacked the Persians, he would destroy a great empire. He did and he did - his own.

Now Croesus was actually a fairly cautious person who seems capable of considerable planning. It's just that he interpreted the Oracle in the way that would support what he wanted to do. He also demonstrates that once you start a war, you can never be absolutely sure if the results. 

Today, intelligence advice has come to fulfil something of the same role once performed by the Oracle. It seems clear, I think, from the Chilcot Report that the intelligence advice on Sadam Hussein and his weapons was treated uncritically, interpreted in the context of an already established mindset. It also seems clear that if, as seemed inevitable, the allies won the ground war nobody really focused on the question of what might come next.

If you had told the younger radical Japanese army officers who engineered the Mukden Incident, an incident that helped lay the basis for the Second World War in the Pacific, that the empire that they would destroy would be their own, they would have been incredulous. Such thoughts could not penetrate the bubble that had been formed.

The modernised Japanese state that emerged from the Meiji era was unbalanced with representative institutions crafted onto culture, clan structures and attitudes formed during the Shogunate. Within that system, the Army acquired institutionalised powers and position that effectively made it a world in itself. 

The Navy provided some counterbalance, as did the continued presence of the older oligarchs who had played such a role in the modernisation and who continued to exercise influence. Yet the growth in the power of the Army, the radicalisation of the younger officer corp, the willingness in the broader society to use force to achieve individual ends, combined to create a climate that in the end overrode everything else and placed Japan on the path to disaster. 

Today, the Japanese story bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the unfolding drama in the South China Sea. The genesis of the modern dispute can, at least in part, be traced back to the great humiliation placed upon China by the empires including that republican empire, the United States. The Japanese Empire was late to the fray, but then became an active participant and, in the end, the most active participant with the aim of the dismemberment of China. 

Arguably of more importance is the the way in which modernising China's governing structures resemble those of Japan in that the modern Chinese state is really an amalgam of competing fiefdoms in which the military has come to play a very important role. We usually focus on the Party, but power in the Party rests on control of the instruments of state that in turn exercise their own influence.

It is a somewhat uncomfortable thought that, as happened with Japan, the internal power dynamics within the Chinese system may end in broader conflict.   


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

PCA, the law of the sea and the battle for the South China Sea

This map from the BBC sets out China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. Now the Permanent Court for Arbitration has ruled following a case brought by the Philippines against China that China's claims to historic rights were contrary to UN convention.

The ruling came from an arbitration tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which both countries have signed.

The ruling is binding but the Permanent Court of Arbitration has no powers of enforcement.

Very few Australians, I think, have been following the battle for control in the South China Sea even though Australian military aircraft have been involved in the challenge to China's claims to sovereignty.

That's a pity, because this is arguably the most dangerous of Australia's current foreign policy challenges because of the risk of a major war.


I'm not sure that I agree with this Chatham House interpretation.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

Monday Forum - Cleverman, videos for kvd plus last election threads

I have been watching Australia's ABC's  Cleverman. IMDb descibes the plot in this way:
In the very near future, creatures from ancient mythology must live among humans and battle for survival in a world that wants to silence, exploit and destroy them.
The series has been somewhat over-shadowed in Australia by what we might loosely call "Aboriginal" issues. I have put "Aboriginal" in inverted commas because so much of the commentary has been influenced by current debates on Australia's Aboriginal peoples, not so much about the series itself. I think that's a pity, because it has actually stopped  people watching it. To attach an "Aboriginal" tag a piece of work today is a bit like calling a film an art film!

There are some specifically New England aspects to Cleverman as well as other cultural aspects that are worth discussing. For the moment, its not a bad dystopian piece. There are weaknesses - it is too slow in the initial phase, and some of the tropes are overdone, jammed in your face. Still, and I'm now thinking of kvd, who finally has decent internet connection, I think its worthwhile watching.

On kvd, the challenge now to find things that he might watch that he has not been able to watch. All suggestions gratefully received!

Staying with kvd, in a comment on Australia's apparent internet woes kvd wrote:

'On my comment 8.55 a.m. Jul 4: "And also, anyone got a reference for even one opinion piece which sought to analyse any LNP or Labor policy proposal?" - to which Jim replied "There actually was quite a lot of policy analysis, more so than in the last election".

Lots of links below, but these relative outsiders seem to be saying in more words what I was simply asking:
Each make reference to a SMH article by Matthew Knott so I won't link it separately - but read it if you have access.'

These links pick up a number of threads within current Australian political discussion (and elsewhere, if generalised). Feel free to take one or more for discussion.

I note in the meantime that Liberal Senators Eric Abetz in Tasmania and Corey Bernadi of South Australia, two of the Liberal Party warriors of the hard right, seem to have blamed the outcome in their states (Liberal annihilation in one case, serious defeat in another) on the failure to stick clearly to the Abbott agenda. I suspect that's a serious political misjudgement based on beliefs rather than analysis.

Today, Australia has an elected Government with a small majority plus some potential back-ups from independents.I suspect that things will get back to what approaches normal quite quickly.       

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Australia's apparent internet woes

I'm on broadband via ADSL connection and it's really frustrating. For ordinary purposes its okay, but uploading can sometimes be difficult while downloading outages while watching TV on line - something I do a fair bit off when catching up while cleaning, cooking or eating - can be very frustrating.

 On 26 June 2016, the Australian media carried reports from networking firm Akamai Technologies that Australia now ranked 56th in the world for internet download speeds. Then yesterday, a Financial Review report quoted figures from the telecommunications industry consumer group the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, suggesting that roughly 1.8 million homes have no access to adequate broadband services with a third of those due to existing exchanges being full to capacity.

If I interpret the story correctly, part of the problem lies in the mismatch between NBN and commercial plans, part the chops and changes made to NBN, part lags in the NBN roll-out. Its not just country areas, but also metro localities that you would expect to have good coverage.

We now have two quite different problems. One is trying to improve Australia's connection speeds, a second just making connection available. It all strikes me as a bit of a mess!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The current instability in Australian politics - an historical perspective

One of the really interesting features of current Australian political debate lies in the concern about the rise of minority parties. Implicit in this is the assumption that the Australian party system has always been stable. It is true that if you graph the national vote since the Second World War, you can see a rise accelerating recently in the non-Coalition, non-Labor vote, but that doesn't tell us a great deal. In reality, the Australian party system has always been marked by a degree of instability.

 Let's start with the Liberal Party

As Wikipedia notes, the Liberal Party's ideological ancestry dates back to the anti-Labor groupings in the first Commonwealth parliaments. The Commonwealth Liberal Party was a fusion of the Free Trade Party and the Protectionist Party in 1909 by the second prime minister, Alfred Deakin, in response to Labor's growing electoral prominence. The Commonwealth Liberal Party merged with several Labor dissidents (including Billy Hughes) to form the Nationalist Party of Australia in 1917. That party, in turn, merged with Labor dissidents to form the United Australia Party in 1931.The UAP largely collapsed and was replaced by a new political party, the current Liberal Party in 1945.

 The Australian Labor Party dates back to the 1890s and followed the emergence of the union and labour movements. It split during the First World War, then during the Depression and then again in 1955 leading to the formation of the Democratic Labor Party, a split that helped keep the Menzies Government in power. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on the ALP somehow fails to mention the DLP at all. A case of selective memory loss?

For much of its history, neither the Liberal Party nor its precursors has been able to govern in its own right, but has been forced to depend upon the Country Party, later National Party. The Country Party emerged in 1920 as a consequence of long standing farm grievances and, more broadly, country grievances. The coalition relationship has often been fractious and unstable, while the Country Party/National Party has faced its own splits, as well as challenges from Country independents.

Formed in 1992, the Greens are the new kid on the political block who, upon entering adolescence,
are now successfully laying down their own claim to be an established party. In doing so, they have taken over some of the vote of and helped destroy another political party, the Australian Democrats (formed 1977), a party that in part was a spin off from the Liberal Party.

Even at this level, you can see that the claims about a rise in the instability in Australian politics are some what a-historical. If you drop below national level to state, regional and local levels, that instability increases with constant new political movements or agitations, as well as conflicts between existing parties. Each reflects particular dissatisfactions as well as power struggles.

Australia has always had right and left political movements, in broad terms what would be called today conservative versus progressive, although those terms have to be treated with great care. The political parties themselves as structured political machines really emerged in the 1890s partly as a consequence of the emergence of the Labor Party. Again we have to be careful with terms, for when you look at what has been described as the factional system of politics in the nineteenth century, it had all the features of what we might call party politics.

The emergence of the political machine, the central party organisation, has increased party survivability. However,  no political party has a god given right of survival. If you look at Australian history over the last 150 years, you see that new political movements emerge because the existing structures do not properly reflect changing community attitudes and needs. You will also see that those movements force changes in existing structures to try to resist or capture the new forces. In that change process, existing interests always appeal to stability, to the importance of maintaining the status quo. That's hardly surprising, for they are the ones who stand to lose from change.

If we now look at Australia in July 2016, you can see that the current position is not really unusual in historical terms. Those of us still around in forty years' time will be able to get a feel for the real historical importance of this election. For the rest of us, we will just muddle through as we always have!

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Election Thread

Sadly, while there was a cake stand, there was no sausage sizzle where I voted. I wasn't the only one who noted the absence. There were almost universal complaints!

Mr Shorten managed to find one, but its an usual way of eating! Usually you start from the end!

While I don't intend to live blog the vote, I thought that I would create a post for anybody who wanted to comment as the evening went on.

18:00 The polls have closed. Following the lead from Sue, beef casserole on, red wine opened.

18:20. Pauline Hanson reported to be polling well in Queensland Senate.

18:50 Swing on, but size not yet clear

18:52 Labor looking good in Eden-Monaro.

19:10. Would ABC 24 stop the talking heads and give us some numbers! It's crappy coverage. There are 3 "others" awarded seats but no info

20:02 Coalition returned although a minority Government still an outside possibility. Joyce holds New England. Interest now in individual seats. One Nation polling well in Queensland.

20:17 Barry Cassidy: strong chance of a hung Parliament. Labor doing better than expected in Queensland

20:27 mmmm. Closer than I said at 20:02

21:17 Tony Windsor not conceding. Carried Armidale and Tamworth. Waiting for pre-poll vote.

The Morning After

I fear I ended up going to bed last night while the count was still on. The opinion polls were right in projecting a close election!

At the moment, the most likely outcome is a slim Coalition majority followed by a hung parliament with a Coalition minority government followed by a hung parliament with a Labor minority government. I say this with a degree of caution, for the numbers are bouncing around. Whoever forms Government will face an uncertain Senate.

One of the complicating issues is the large number of pre-poll and postal votes still to be counted. Around 20% of votes remain to be counted. So what can I say that might add value to the commentary?

The ALP has had a very good election. They have done better than anybody really expected. You can see this in the polls where the the voting intentions showed even steven, but the majority expected the Coalition to win. Mr Shorten deserves and will be given credit for his performance.

The National Party has had quite a good election. The Party won one seat from the Liberals and have apparently held off the challenges from the returned New England independents in Cowper (Rob Oakeshott) and New England (Tony Windsor). Rob did better than I expected given his very late start, Tony worse. I know that his failure will disappoint some of my younger friends and colleagues.

You have to remember with Tony that his campaign attracted great interest and support including cash from those outside the electorate. In the end, I think that this finally alienated many locals. I base this view especially on Facebook discussions and other feedback in the last week of the campaign.

Looking at the current booth votes in New England, Tony had an especial problem in the new areas added to the electorate and in some rural areas. However, he also failed to attract the vote he expected in Tamworth and to a lesser degree in Armidale where he did win some of the booths. .

One of the things that interested me was the extent to which the environmental wars especially on the Liverpool Plains might affect the vote. This has been a huge issue, one of the things that drew Tony back into the fray. Measured by social media coverage, this was the dominant election issue.

The electoral redistribution that split the Liverpool Plains between the Parkes and New England electorates probably blunted the focus given the geographic size of the Parkes electorate. Even so, looking at the booth figures I was hard pressed to identify any impact outside the small Breeza booth that the Greens appear to have won.

This was not an especially good election for the Greens, although they did increase their share of the national vote. A lot of the commentators have said that the result has to be seen in the context of the Green's strategy of building up their vote in inner city areas. Maybe. That's been a Green strategy for some time.

I haven't had the time to look at all the individual seat details, but I have the impression that the Greens did not do well outside inner Melbourne. In the inner Sydney seat of Grayndler, for example, a seat that they had hoped to win, the Party is actually in third place behind the Liberals.

The Liberals had a very bad election. The decision to go early with a double dissolution election and a long campaign always involved risks. It's interesting looking back at my own remarks and those of our commenters. This is an example: Monday Forum - Australia's messy politics. We did see the risks of the decision, but I for one underestimated Bill Shorten.

One of the very real difficulties for the Coalition in the campaign lay in the ideological splits within the Liberal Party. The Liberal right contains the type of inherent contradiction that we have seen in the US. We can see this along three dimensions:
  1. There is a neoconservative wing that places weight on markets, a reduced role for Government, less regulation, greater self reliance, greater freedom
  2. This overlaps and sometimes conflicts with a socially conservative wing that places weight on security, preservation and indeed enforcement of conservative values. The conflict arises because the socially conservative wing supports state controls that actually conflict with the underlying premises of neoconservative beliefs.
  3. Then there is a populist statist wing that has much in common with the socially conservative wing but is in fundamental conflict with neoconservatives beliefs.
Reconciliation of these conflicts requires the wisdom of Solomon!

This was a very regionalised election in which conflicts in general perceptions and beliefs overlapped with considerable regional variation in needs and perceptions.

The Nick Xenephon team is central statist in its attitudes, with a powerful bias towards one area, South Australia, and its needs. One Nation is populist right, nationalist, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, drawing support especially from the disadvantaged and disadvantaged areas, those who have failed to benefit from the changes that have taken place in Australia.

Earlier on, I underestimated the extent of the challenge to the Coalition from the populist right, the extent to which the Coalition base was threatened. This drove some of its political responses. I think Tony Abbott would have been more effective in limiting the rise of the populist right, but this would have come at a cost.

The new Senate itself is interesting. I am going to miss Ricky Muir, by the way.

Derryn Hinch and the Xenophon team would seem to me to form something of a natural alliance in the Senate. Jacqui Lambie is more of a wild card. Now I am going to stick my neck out a little. If there is a Coalition Government, I think that the Senate probably won't be a problem in terms of effective government. I think that this holds true for Labor as well. The purists would say that this, the need for compromise, affects government. But that's true in all cases, for government is about compromise.

Concluding, one of the things that has stood out in the post election period is the inward looking nature of the debate, especially in the Liberal Party. The world hasn't ended. It's just entered a new phase!

Friday, July 01, 2016

Election Eve in Australia

It seems like a lifetime since this Australian election began. I'm glad that that it's over.  It's hard to remember just what started all this. Yes, I do remember, but the issue that was so important that it triggered a double dissolution has kind of vanished. Now I want to get on with the rest of my life.

It's actually not been a bad election campaign. Despite the complaints of some of the commentariat, there has been more policy discussion than has often been the case in recent years. There is still that tendency to release a multiplicity of policy measures making it difficult to really see patterns, but both sides have been a little better.

I really have no idea what the result will be tomorrow in the House of Representatives, although I still think the Coalition will get back. In the Senate, we know that the result is likely to be quite otherwise from that Mr Turnbull seems to have intended when he started this path.

Some of the sillier sets of remarks during this campaign have come from Mr Turnbull and the indeed the business lobby saying that if you want stable government you must not vote for a minor party. Those remarks are silly because one reason why people vote for minority parties is just because they don't trust the majors and don't want them to have the power to do just what they want. They want them to have to compromise, to take other views into account. To my mind, that's a totally rational position.

So tomorrow I'm going out to enjoy the ritual. It's not quite the same as when I was actively involved. I don't have chairs and tables to distribute, how to vote cards to place in piles, coffee and supplies to run round the booths. I don't have to act as scrutineer, nor do I have an election party to go to. But I will still enjoy the day and then settle down to watch the results and see just what comes.

Whatever my complaints may be, Australia still has a functioning democracy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Train Reading - Shogun: William Adams, Ieyasu and the rise and fall of the Shogunate

One of my favourite books was James Clavell's Shogun. I say was because I haven't read it for many years. I must buy another copy. I suspect that I would still enjoy it.

I mention it now because yesterday I plucked another book that I hadn't read of the shelves for my train reading, Richard Storry's A History of Modern Japan (Pelican, 1960). There  I found reference to the remarkable story of William Adams, the real person on whom Clavell based his hero on Shogun.

I hadn't known that Clavell's English sailor John Blackthorne was based on a real person, nor what a remarkable life William Adams had had. I leave it to you to read the Wikipedia entry (link above) to see what I mean.

I chose to read Storry's book as a break from the constant swirl of current events. I knew a little of Japanese history, but had not expected it to be so interesting, nor to have so many resonances to current events.

Shipwrecked in Japan, Adams became involved with Tokugawa Ieyasu, a figure of considerable power who founded the Tougawa Shogunate that controlled Japan until the forced reopening of the country to external influences by Commodore Mathew Perry and others.

In Shogun, Clavell presents Ieyasu (Toranaga) as the man who turned Japan inward to preserve culture and power from the encroaching Euopeans. That's not quite true. It is clear from Adam's story that Japanese external outreach continued. Indeed, Storry muses on what might have happened if Japan had continued open. Would there have been an earlier Japanese empire in Asia and the Pacific?

What is true is that the Tougawa Shogunate would turn inwards, largely it seems as a way of preserving its own power. The structures and culture created influence Japan to this day.

I said Commodore Perry and others forced the reopening of Japan. By the time Perry arrived in Japan in 1852, the Russian Empire was advancing in the North while the British were becoming the dominant Pacific maritime power. Indeed, Perry's visit was connected with the rivalry between the US and the British Empire and with the desire of some in the US to extend US influence across the Pacific. The only question in the Japanese case was the pattern of opening, for opening was inevitable.

The Shogunate fell in the shock of opening, with reform forces centered around the Japanese Imperial court triumphing. Japan turned to modernisation with a vengeance. The rest, as they say, is history.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Monday Forum - with a week to go to the Australian election, what do you think?

With just one week to go to Australia votes, I couldn't let this last Forum before the election go without giving you one last chance to comment before Australians plunge to the polls.

To start with a video on the ever heating New England campaign produced by one of my much younger friends. I had to laugh. At least I knew what GofT was, even though I've actually never seen it. Isn't that a terrible admission? Still, Clare has always kept me in touch.

When I first started trying to revive the New England cause, I naively believed that all I had to do was to put it out there and then people would come running, attracted by the evident self-rightness of the cause! Then I realised that so much time had passed, so much infrastructure and knowledge, so much history, had been lost that I had to start with absolute basics, the representation of  our shared past, if anything was to happen.

That started me on a journey that still continues. Now, ten years and perhaps a million words later, our New England past has started to come back to life. One side effect is that there is now a young group such as Carlo and Mat who hold to the dream. I dealt with this a little in Reflections on Joyce v Windsor in New England in the context of New England's fight for statehood. They may not agree with me, they hold to their thing (this video is an example), but I'm reasonably sure now that with further work the dream will continue in some form.


Sorry for the slightly nostalgic digression, but change comes because people persevere. Back to the main theme!

Now that we enter this last week, what are your comments on the campaign, the likely results, what it all means? As always, go in whatever direction you want.


This forum post was probably a bit to indulgent and self-centered to attract comment, so just adding a few things.

Referendum - or plebiscites. What's the constitutional theory? Am I right in thinking that the same sex marriage thing is both an abrogation of Parliamentary responsibility and a total divisive risk?

And what about the Senate? Does the Reps election matter when either side has to deal with a Senate that is going to pay the PM back in spades for his apparently clever political decisions?

Sunday, June 26, 2016


In his book The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A pedestrian in Paris, John Baxter is very rude about the British travel writer Bruce Chatwin and his 1987 book called The Songlines. Chatwin, Baxter suggests, had made it all up drawing especially from one European informant, in so doing creating a new myth.

Baxter may well be right. I know of no reference to songlines before Chatwin's book, although readers may be able to correct me. Now, of course, songlines has entered the vernacular and become a potent descriptor of an aspect of traditional Aboriginal culture. To challenge the idea is to enter into that field called the history wars. That said, I wonder whether it matters.

The Aborigines had a deep knowledge of country. The ways of traversing that country had to be taught to carry from generation to generation. Further, country was associated with cultural and religious beliefs, beliefs that populated the landscape. We don't have to subscribe to the belief that every aspect of country, every individual feature, was enshrouded with myth or legend to accept that key features were.

The Aborigines were great travelers, moving by foot over long distance to visit other  places. We know this from the ethnohistorical record. It stands to reason that the stories of those visits were discussed and narrated, the route charted, the key stops identified.

The songline narrative is especially associated with the desert regions of inland Australia. Again, this makes perfect sense, for here water sources were very important, accurate routes critical. In the more fertile and populated parts of the country interaction was higher, there were many more paths. There was less need to record in minute detail, the nature of individual reactions less prominent in memory because there were just so many more of them

So I find the concept of songlines useful and important without assuming that it applied in all places in the same way. I also find interesting, if more problematic, the way the concept has come to be universally applied  I don't accept this. It doesn't seem to fit with the evidence. However, it has become part of the current narrative and for that reason has its own relevance.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Lost Brexit Post

Sadly, while adding material I managed to lose my Brexit post. I don't know what happened. Frustrating, for it had taken a long time to write.


Well, the post is now back thank to Noric who found the post in Google cache - Confusions and risks in the post-Brexit path