Personal Reflections

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Edward S Curtis' photographs of the native North Americans

Edward S Curtis was a notable photographer of the native North Americans. This is a photograph of Kwakiutl canoes from British Columbia.

Mashable has put together a collection of his photos. Have a browse. They are quite spectacular.

Looking at the history of Curtis's life in Wikipedia (link above), he seems to have been a bit of a sad case. That may be wrong, of course. Certainly he doesn't seem to have been very business like in managing his affairs.

Still, with the financial support of J P Morgan, he left an unparalleled record of North American native Indian groups whose value survives to this day.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - coal, climate change and conceptual confusions

There is something strangely unbalanced now about some of the discussion on climate change and, within that, the discussion on the future of coal. The sculpture is Louise Pratt's King Coal. The artist's description of her work concludes: "My work depicts an arrogant character unwilling to change and unaware of his impending doom."

When I read today's speech by Opposition Leader Shorten to the Lowy Institute, my first reaction was "emotional pap." By the end of the speech, and cutting out all the assertions and opinions, I actually had no idea just what Labor was proposing. Fortunately, the ALP web site has more information.   This defines the approach in this way:
Our approach to post-2020 pollution reduction targets has followed a clear and logical sequence of decision making:
  • Labor accepts the science that limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius is necessary to avert dangerous climate change.
  • Our commitment to limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius requires Australia to be a net zero emissions economy by the middle of the century.
  • To achieve this 2050 target, Labor will consult on the Climate Change Authority’s 2030 baseline target of a 45 per cent reduction in carbon pollution on 2005 levels.
The proposed consultation process is intended to define the best path to the achievement of these objectives.

In April 2010 I attempted to summarise my own position on climate change in Belshaw's position on climate change. The post included a listing of the 26 posts I had written connected with the issue to that point. Writing in my often cautious way, I concluded:
  1. On the balance I accept the majority scientific position that human induced climate change is a problem that need to be dealt with now. To wait until the science is proved right is a high risk strategy.
  2. To the degree that there are identifiable changes such as changes in sea levels, then we need to consider our responses to them. This holds regardless of the causes of those changes: we need to respond to the what, rather than the why. I say this because my study of history and pre-history shows that, regardless of current current climate change arguments, there have been considerable natural variations that have actually occurred quite quickly. Nature is not static. 
  3. I have been concerned for some time that group think in the scientific community and beyond has, to some extent, crowded out alternative views and that this has dangers. Scientific group think tends to be self-correcting over time because of the nature of scientific method. However, broader group think is less subject to correction.
  4. Linked to three, I have been concerned at the way climate change arguments have become linked to so many disconnected issues. These arguments take the form if a (climate change) then b (add in whatever you like), when a and b are in fact disconnected or at best loosely connected. The tendency to link specific current events like the recent drought in southern Australia to climate change does not help. All this actually acts to discredit the core case.
  5. Again linked to three, I have been concerned at what I see as the failure in discussion to adequately explore alternative policy responses to climate change. It may be that a market based response such as an emissions trading scheme is the best response (I suspect that either an ETS or carbon tax will be necessary), but I would feel much more comfortable if there had been more public discussion of alternatives. Among other things, this would give us a much better feel for practical implications of an ETS and for supporting measures that may be needed, as well as reducing the risk of simply dumb policy responses.
Quite a bit has happened since, including Mr Abbott! I would summarise those changes in this way:
  1. Despite the attempts by Don Aitkin to correct what he sees as the more egregious errors, the evidence for human induced climate change has probably become stronger. I mention Don because I do read his posts as a way of checking my own perspective against an intelligent skeptic's position.
  2. Regardless of 1, the global acceptance of human induced climate change creates a policy climate to which Australia must respond. We need to respond in a way that reflects our own interests. That requires cool thought, not emotional manipulation.
  3. The discussion I expected (hoped for) on intelligent alternatives has simply not happened. I actually got quite excited about some possibilities, but I don't think that there has been a new idea or indeed much advance on existing ideas since I wrote. All we have is a conflict between existing stereotypes. 
  4. By far the worst outcome from the Abbott period was the rejection of pricing mechanisms. There will be some form of carbon pricing, and we had a structure that would fit into that.
  5. The economics in favour of renewables has shifted faster than expected. 
In all this, some new things have emerged or, at least, come into sharper focus. Two are of particular importance. I would summarise them in this way:
  1. The magic pudding effect. For those who don't know this story, The Magic Pudding is an Australian children's book  The central character is a pudding that likes to be eaten and constantly replaces the lost slices. To my mind, this equates to much of the economic modelling on the effects of climate change action  We can have our pudding and eat it too. This is central to Mr Shorten's arguments. We can do things because they will have no real impacts on Australian wealth. I don't believe that.We need to recognise the costs and be thinking about them now.
  2. Double counting. Under the evolving global system architecture now emerging, each country will be responsible for the emissions created on its territory  by activities carried out on its territory. Australian environmentalists do not accept that. In the case of coal, for example, they argue that Australia needs to consider the carbon costs of .our own activities in mining and burning coal within Australia plus the carbon costs incurred elsewhere. That's just dumb double counting.
I suppose in all this the most important evolution in my own thinking has been the importance I now place on markets and pricing effects. You may oppose a coal mine in a particular area on environmental grounds, but you cannot also oppose it on its global environmental effects so long as efficient pricing mechanisms are in place. Those are the customer's responsibility. If it is their interests to burn coal and pay the appropriate price, it is not our job to say that they are wrong.

The fact that Australian coal production may or may not be environmentally better than an alternative source is neither here nor there. It's the wrong argument. If the dirtier coal is cheaper after taking into account the cost of environmental offsets compared to alternatives, then that makes perfect environmental and economic sense.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On the one hand, on the other: Labor's cigarette tax v Turnbull on national security

At a time when there are a few minor things going on around the world, Mr Shorten and the Labor Party's signature tune is a progressive increase in the excise on tobacco bringing the price of a packet of cigarettes to more than $40 by 2020. According to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, the policy showed the "stark" difference between Labor and the Government. It does, but perhaps not in the way Mr Shorten intended.

Leaving aside the extremely sanctimonious, smug, we know best tone adopted by Opposition Health spokesperson Catherine King, there are two problems with the policy. The first is its extremely regressive nature. It is quite consciously targeting lower income groups. The second is the conflict between the stated objectives of raising cash on one side and of discouraging smoking on the other.

Now compare this signature policy with Mr Turnbull's measured remarks in response to the Paris bombings. The first seeks to force, to compel, the second to engage Australians in an adult conversation on a major issue that affects the very structure of Australian life now and in the future. I still have reservations about Mr Turnbull. I now have more reservations about Mr Shorten.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday Forum - on diets and dieting

This week's Monday forum is loosely linked to food and dieting.

I have continued my casual research into the history of food over the last two hundred years or so. My particular interest at the moment is the impact of the combination of improved transport with industrialisation of the food sector.

Victorian era food has had a very bad reputation. This is one example. This view has now been challenged by scientific research: Forget paleo, go mid-Victorian: it’s the healthiest diet you’ve never heard of.

Part of the argument in the paper is that the English diet changed during the second half of the nineteenth century as a consequence of new processed food stuffs, affecting health and life expectancy.

I was curious when the meaning of diet as in too diet or dieting or diet as noun for particular weight reduction came in. It seems that that meaning was there earlier, but its popularity really dates to the second half of the nineteenth century. The first really popular diet, the Banting diet, dates to 1863.

There has been some crazy diet ideas. I wonder what your favourites, pet hates or worst remembered experiences are? As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want whether on or off topic.


While there were not a lot of comments on this Forum, at least not to this point, I thought that I should bring a summary up into the main post.  kvd reminded us of the Diet of Worms.This has absolutely nothing to do with food, but like kvd this stuck in my mind from school because of the title: who would eat a diet of worms?

Then I thought, are there such a thing as edible worms? The answer appears to be yes. Mind you, when I was in Beijing I had a chance to eat fried insects. I fear I passed. Maybe the same for edible worms?

Now it appears that 2tanners is suffering from a slight plumpness problem and has therefore turned to 5:2 diet, aka intermittent fasting. Now I weighed myself a few days ago and I'm actually at the bottom of my normal weight range. I should certainly take some weight off round my tum, but I really need to add weight elsewhere.So intermittent fasting is not the answer for me. I do that anyway: it's called laziness!

2t also pointed out that views of the desired body weight/ body shape varied. This is something we have talked about in the context of women, I like curves, but 2t came up with a rather revolting example. Now growing up with all my prejudices, I thought that the US was very strange. Come to think of it, I still do!

2t also found a rather good cartoon on paleo diets. Do click through.  I think that you will laugh.

Meantime, all this discussion on food sent kvd south with his daughter. Now the ostensible reasons for the trip were (a) the aforesaid daughter, (b) horses, but nevertheless, food came in. Here I must quote:
Stumbled upon a small eatery and sampled the following: 
Daughter started with (typing from the menu which I swiped) “Scallop Caipirinha: Scallop Cevice, black beans, cachaca, lime, chorizo oil and coriander” whilst I made do with “Mosaic of ponzu tuna: cucumber, wasabi, garlic chips and avocado” 
After she’d eaten her Pirahnas, daughter decided to join me with each having an extremely rare “Beef eye fillet, mushroom velvet, tempura shallots, smoked daikon, horseradish & nori gnocchi”. 
Food great – and bugger your PC diets. .
Most of those ingredients were new to me. I thought that the first was Mexican, but 2t advises that Caipirinha is a Brazilian dish. Poor 2t. Despite his remarks on his 5:2 diet, his reaction to kvd's menu? "The beef fillet sounds gorgeous - I'm drooling as I type."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - on snakes in the grass and snakeheads

This photo came from kvd. Something found curled up in that little box. Unfurled to 2 metres when fully extended. It got me thinking.

According to, the metaphor snake in the grass for treachery, alluding to a poisonous snake concealed in tall grass, was used in 37 BC. by the Roman poet Virgil ( latet anguis in herba). It was first recorded in English in 1696 as the title of a book by the English theologian Charles Leslie attacking the Quakers.

The Reverend Leslie strikes me as one of those highly tendentious theologians with whom I struggled when doing the history of the English reformation all those years ago. Still, he has managed to find his own historical niche via a book title!

In checking the origin of snake in the grass, I came across snakehead: 
  1. Agents who arrange illegal immigration of Chinese : Sung and theelders in the family raised thousands of dollars to pay the snakeheads to smuggle the young to America (1990s+)
  2. Smuggler; somebody who smuggles illegal immigrants from mainland China into Hong Kong.
I had vaguely heard the term, but I hadn't realised its place in recent popular culture. However, it did get me
wondering what their 18th and 19th predecessors were called. Something to check later.


kvd advises that the snake is a "Diamond python -Morelia spilota spilota - although some around here would deserve a couple of extra spilota's"!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Lessons from the Paris attacks continued

As I write, investigations into the Paris attacks continue. It is was clearly coordinated and apparently well organised.

The events in Paris have over-run some background work I was doing trying to pull together various current threads in Australian and European politics. Because this has morphed into a significant research piece that may never be completed given current pressures (!),  I thought that I would use this post to pull together a few related threads.

This is an example of one of the images that circulated very quickly as the Paris tragedy was unfolding. It is an example of a meme that combines fear of Islam as a threat with a call to action against Islam.It's not sensible,  how do you ban the Muslim faith?, but it reflects fear. It is also an example of things presently circulating within Australia intended to lead to political action.

I concluded my post Saturday Morning Musings - lessons from the Paris terrorist attacks with these words: "There has been a kind of moral funk in the West, an unwillingness to accept the costs that can follow from genuine adherence to liberal principles, that has begun to undermine the very principles on which liberal democratic societies are based.....I guess that's my real worry from Paris. What lesson or lessons are we all, governments included, going to draw? And what will it cost us?".

Some, it seems, fear that the battle is already lost. In a piece in the Guardian, Nick Cohen suggests that after Paris, Europe may never be as free again: "The horrific events in Paris sound the death knell for European liberalism." Mr Cohen is clearly concerned at what it all means, at the possible loss of the liberal dream.

"Close Our Borders Now......Dont Wait For A Tragedy Like This To Happen"
This is another example of the visual images that circulated. as the attacks unfolded, one that focuses on immigration but has the other subtexts built in. Comments on my feeds included "Close Our Borders Now......Dont Wait For A Tragedy Like This To Happen"; "Turnbulls a Muslim lover...he's always wanted to be prime minister.... And it will be at the county's expense......: and "Ban Islam world wide."

It would be easy to dismiss images and comment like this, but they reflect deeply held personal concerns in Australia and elsewhere. In Europe, President Hollande has vowed to destroy Islamic State, saying it cannot be contained. Whether he can do this and with what effect is presently unclear. Certainly, it has led to a remarkable rapprochement with Russian President Putin.

Former French Justice Minister Rachida Dati told the BBC's Newsnight programme that German Chancellor Angela Merkel made "an error of judgement" by allowing so many migrants into Europe. "She was generous, but that generosity backfired against European people," Ms Dati said. The former minister also said that 90% of radicalisation in France and the rest of western Europe happened not in mosques but on the internet and in prisons where there are numerous jihadist recruiters. In the US, more than half the nation's governors -- 27 states, all but one Republican -- are reported as saying they oppose letting Syrian refugees (at least Muslim refugees) into their states, a fear that is playing out in the presidential campaign.

In Australia, telecommunications carrier Optus came under sustained attack for the simple act of having a poster in Arabic. Optus has withdrawn three of the ads from Casula Mall following threats to staff.

The pessimism expressed by Mr Cohen referred to earlier is echoed from different perspectives by others including Niall Ferguson (Paris and the Fall of Rome) and  Robert Skidelsky (Is western civilisation in terminal decline?) The linked ideas of the decline in western civilisation and the fall of the Roman Empire (at least the Western Empire; the Eastern survived for much longer ) are much in vogue, just at present, as is the idea of Western values. Writing in the Financial Times, Simon Schama (A proclamation against Isis, the party of death) argued that what "what our fellow citizens need now is a clarifying, empowering and inspiring statement of just what it is we must defend, if necessary, to the end". In the US, Republican presidential candidate has released a video calling the fight against IS "a clash of civilizations. And either they win or we win."

Australian conversations I have had since the attacks reflect concerns about Muslim fundamentalism, about the rights of countries to close their borders,.of the need to and right to preserve cultural homogeneity, of the need to protect the Australian way of life against threat. These views came in part from people on the left, traditional Labor or even Green supporters. Others pointed out, with some justice, that people in the West only responded when atrocities affected them. Overall, it was clear that people were deeply conflicted.

With exceptions such as NSW State National Party MP, Andrew Fraser, Australian political leaders including Immigration Minister Dutton have resisted the close the border rhetoric, have said that the country will continue to admit Syrian refugees as announced regardless of religion (or the lack of it). At the same time, it is clear that security measures will be further tightened including, it seems, the FBI teaching NSW police to shoot to kill in certain circumstances, something that creates a certain degree of personal discomfort.   

In this post, I have tried to sketch some of the different threads in the debate that has occurred since the Paris attacks. Underlying those threads are many other debates. There are in fact too many debates and associated threads, many not helpful, for people to easily manage. Further, too many are based on broad generalisations that act to conceal difference such as differences between countries or religious groups. What, for example, do you do with an argument about the decline of civilization or, indeed, clash of civilisations? They don't provide guidance as to how to respond in the specific circumstances of the Paris attacks.

This has become a very long post. I will try to look at specific Australian issues in a later post.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - lessons from the Paris terrorist attacks

I had to turn off the news coverage of the Paris attacks. There was so much repetition, so much breathlessness, so many talking heads. In the end, the twitter feed from the various news organisations and others gave me a more up to date feel.than the actual coverage from any one news source.

I claim no special knowledge nor indeed wisdom. But I do want to make a few observations while events are still unfolding.

Inevitably, the initial coverage focused on the fear factor. Would they strike again? We saw something similar with 9/11. Then came the inevitable question, what went wrong. How do we prevent this happening again? And then came to positive rallying words.

In considering this, I want to focus first on the personal fear factor. This is the scene of the April 1993 Wormwood Street IRA bombing in the UK. This is a list of the major bombings that took place during the what has been called the Northern Ireland troubles.

I am not comparing these events directly with with the Paris events. Neither side in the Northern Ireland troubles normally aimed to kill the maximum possible number of civilians. Rather, I would make two points. The first is that, finally, the Northern Ireland troubles came to an end. The second is that life went on regardless.

I was in London on two occasions during the troubles. Both times one was conscious of the troubles and indeed of the risk of bombing. The statistical risks of being hurt were, as is true today, very low but they were real.

The Brighton Hotel bombing came very close to killing Prime Minister Thatcher and her husband. However, life went on. The fear factor did not seem as great as it is today.

I  am not sure why this should be the case. The twenty four hour media cycle is more intense now. Western society has become  more risk averse and indeed somewhat less tolerant of difference.  These things help explain the apparent change, but are not (to my mind) a sufficient explanation. Recognising that there is a chicken and egg problem, which came first, a key problem would seem to be the shift in rhetoric and perception that flowed from 9/11 and the War on Terror.

This leads me to my core concern, the way in which official responses to current terrorism events are progressively eroding tolerances and attitudes that we have taken for granted.

The 1974 Birmingham pub bombings killed 21 people and injured 182 others. Like the current Paris attacks, the bombings targeted innocent civilians. The rush for justice that followed led to the wrongful conviction in 1975 of what became known as the Birmingham Six. It would be 1991 before the convictions were quashed.

We have already seen how the War on Terror has led to polarisation and injustice that of itself has fed back through a vicious circle into the creation of that which was most feared, a genuine war of terror. There has been a kind of moral funk in the West, an unwillingness to accept the costs that can follow from genuine adherence to liberal principles, that has begun to undermine the very principles on which liberal democratic societies are based.

I guess that's my real worry from Paris. What lesson or lessons are we all, governments included, going to draw? And what will it cost us?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Henry Wallis, George Meredith, Mary Meredith and The Death of Chatterton

This post is dedicated to Evan, 2tanners and kvd, inspired by a short comment stream on That Australian life - the Lamberts inspired by this remark of mine: "Growing up, I was attracted by the concept of the artist in the garret. It seemed kind of romantic. Certainly I wasn't put off by minor things like the cold! Now, older, I wonder a bit. There is a lot to be said for comfort and at least a degree of stability".

This photograph, the Death of Chatterton, is by the English Pre-Raphaelite painter Henry Wallis (1830-1916), I quote from the Wikipedia entry:.
Wallis is best remembered for his first great success, The Death of Chatterton, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856. The painting depicted the impoverished late 18th-century poet Thomas Chatterton, who poisoned himself in despair at the age of seventeen, and was considered a Romantic hero for many young and struggling artists in Wallis's day. .... He (Wallis) used a bold colour scheme with a contrasting palette and he exploited the fall of the natural light through the window of the garret to implement his much loved style at the time, chiaroscuro. 
So the painting captures the idea of the romantic but unrecognised artistic hero dying alone in his garret. In one of his comments, 2tanners took a very modern and prosaic view of the artist in the garret.
The artist in the garret implies mediocre commercial success (and therefore critical acclaim). Sometimes this can make you hungry in ways that don't involve food, and keep you there. Success can make you more casual about what you do. This isn't restricted to art, the saying "Stay hungry, or success will kill you" is a business mantra. 
*Starving* in a garret is a different thing, IMHO. To any self respecting artist, you do need to stay alive and feed your family (or contribute). I have two writer friends who thank their lucky stars for retail stores like JB Hi-Fi. They can work there to get through the lean times and are valued by their employers for their stability, lack of retail ambition (they don't want to join the managerial ranks) and knowledge of the product range. But they are writers, first and foremost.

Oh dear.It quite takes the romance out of it all. But where did the garret phrase come from. According to Victoria S Dennis, an English writer called Samuel Foote (1720-1777) summarised the life of an author as "Born in a cellar.and living in a garret".Foote was talking about writers, not painters.

In the 18th century the figure of the literary man living in poverty because his ideas were too unfashionable or politically unsafe to sell well was, according to Victoria, a familiar cliché. By contrast, during the same period the painter was seen as a craftsman who by definition worked for the rich, and therefore should make a comfortable living if he were any good. "The idea of the painter as a rebel genius who is poor because he only paints what inspires him and refuses to prostitute his gift by painting pictures people want to buy"  is, Victoria says. "a creation of 19th-century Romanticism."

Victoria did not know at what date the cliché came to be "starving" rather than just "living" in the garret. Her guess was in the second half of the 19th century. In the 18th century everyone knew that people only lived in garrets if they were too poor to afford anything better. "After the Romantics had made the idea of a delightfully bohemian life in a garret fashionable (in theory and in novels, at any rate), it became necessary to stress the idea of poverty."

Oh dear once again! I am clearly a romantic.In all this, there is a twist that does fit with popular images of the artistic life.

This is the painting of the English writer George Meredith painted in 1893 by George Frederic Watts.  In 1856 Meredith posed as model for The Death of Chatterton. 

In 1849,  Meredith had married Mary, a widow with one child. In 1853, a son (Arthur) was born to the couple.

Mary has been described as beautiful, intelligent, outspoken and ambitious. The marriage was apparently troubled. .Around the time that The Death of Chatterton was painted, Mary began an affair with Henry Wallis. In 1858, pregnant, she ran off with Wallis shortly before giving birth, leaving Arthur behind. It was a short relationship, with Mary dying in 1861.

Like many writers, Meredith seems to have drawn from his experiences in his writing. The collection of "sonnets" entitled Modern Love(1862) emerged, as did The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, his first "major novel". I haven't read the book nor indeed any of Meredith's writing, yet another gap in my knowledge! However, the novel's opening has been described in this way: "Sir Austin Feverel's wife deserts him to run away with a poet, leaving her husband to bring up their boy Richard. Believing schools to be corrupt, Sir Austin, a scientific humanist, educates the boy at home with a plan of his own devising known as "the System". This involves strict authoritarian supervision of every aspect of the boy's life, and in particular the prevention of any meeting between Richard and girls of his own age."

I don't think that Meredith believed in the principles involved, the book is in part a conflict between harsh principles and reality leading to apparently to an ultimate happy ending, but I was left with a strong impression of possible conflict between the serious self-focused Meredith and Mary's own strong personality.

In all this, after researching this post I was left dissatisfied. What happened to Mary's first child? What happened to the child born after Mary left to join Henry Wallis? How did Mary die? I would like to know more.


Thanks to leads supplied by kvd, we have more information on Mary Ellen Meredith. This is a pencil drawing of Mary made by Henry Wallis around 1856.She was clearly an attractive woman. 

A piece by Elvira Casal in The Victorian Web provides more information on Mary and the various relationships, with a little more added in the text attached to the pencil drawing..
George Meredith met Mary through London solicitor  Richard Stephen Charnock who was active in literary activities. Meredith was in fact apprenticed to Charnock who encouraged Meredith's literary endeavours. 
Among the people in Charnock's circle, were Edward Peacock and his beautiful sister, Mary Ellen Nicolls. Mary Ellen Meredith was the widow of Edward Nicolls, captain of the HMS Dwarf, who died in 1844 while trying to rescue a drowning man in the Shanon Estuary in Ireland. All accounts agree that Mary had the lively intelligence and wit that was to characterize many of Meredith's heroines. Even though she was 7 years his senior and he was in no position to support a family, the couple married on August 9, 1849.
According to, Casal both were intelligent, demanding and impatient. Meredith may have greatly admired witty women as social companions, but did not find in Mary Ellen the uncritical support that he craved. For her part, Mary Ellen, needed more from the marriage than a self-absorbed husband who could not even earn a living. Frequent pregnancies and miscarriages cannot have added to the Merediths' happiness. Their one child, Arthur, was born on June 13, 1853.

Continued deterioration in the Meredith marriage culminated in Mary's 1858 elopement Wallis. While Meredith never forgave Mary, his books suggest that he seems to have understood what drove her to elopement. In 1861, Mary died from what was probably a form of Bright's disease. Despite his resentment over the desertion, George had grudgingly allowed Arthur to visit his mother, especially during her last days. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

US launches rugby union pro-league

This post returns briefly to an old theme that I have been meaning to come back to, the progressive evolution of world rugby union. The  trigger here was an interesting piece by Scotty Stevenson in the Spin-off: Pro Rugby Comes to America – and it Might Just Work

Both Canada and the US have been competitive in global rugby for some time, but both countries suffer from the absence of a professional competition in a rugby world where professional We saw this in the World Cup where the absence of professional competition did impede the minnows in competition against the fully professional sides.

The game evolves. We now have the European national competition with fully pro teams in individual country leagues. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Rugby Championship has expanded to include Argentina, while next year's Super 18 includes teams from Argentina and Japan. The logistics including travel arrangements in this competition are simply mind-blowing. I'm not sure that they are sustainable.

In Europe, Georgia is pressing for involvement in the top level nation competition. Spain is attempting to build its strengths via the sevens, with sevens now included in the Olympics. If a professional league gets underway in North America, then that's another gap filled.

I don't know whether  rugby will ever match soccer as a global game, but its reached the point now where it is a truly global game.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

That Australian life - the Lamberts

Today's post is just a snippet. I was determined to finish my post on the Scanlon report, but just ran out of time and indeed enthusiasm. So back to art.

This is a self portrait by the Australian artist George Washington Lambert (1873-1930). I have mentioned him before especially in the context of Australian artist Thea Proctor with whom he had an intense relationship. Sexual?  One doesn't know, although it's often implied.Certainly he is a sensual looking chap.

Today is Remembrance Day. In this context, Lambert was also an Australian war artist from the First World War.

I have ambivalent feelings about George Lambert, partly because of his art, there was bad as well as good, more because of a feeling (perhaps unjustified) that he overshadowed Thea Proctor, preventing her achieving her full potential.

Things run in families. It seems hard for us to escape our pasts. Interests and sometimes abilities and indeed weaknesses recur down the generations.This may not be comfortable for those of us sitting on our perch in the family tree, unable to escape our own pasts, but it does appear to have a sad inevitability to it whether we like it or not.

This is Constant Lambert (and here), George's son. The cigarette has been replaced by a cigar. Constant Lambert was a gifted musician and writer, a man of charm but great inconstancy who occupies a distinct place on British cultural history.

Constant was 45 when he died, two days before his 46th birthday.. His father had died at 56. Constant's son, Kit Lambert, British record producer, record label owner and the manager of The Who, also died at 46 and was buried in the same grave as his father.

Maurice Lambert, Constant's brother, also died quite young. In his case 63. Like his father and brother,
Maurice also became a significant artistic figure, in his case sculpture

One of the things that I don't properly understand is why the boys ended in London. The Wikipedia entry on Constant says that he never visited Australia, although he was always conscious of the Australian connection.

Lambert's wife Amy was Australian. They married in 1901. Both boys were born in England. When Lambert returned to Australia in 1920, Maurice would have been 19, Constant 15. They were already entrenched in London.

It is not clear to me from the biographical material that Amy came back to Australia with George. Certainly she was in London when he died. Perhaps she just wanted to be close to her boys.

 The artistic thread that followed down through three Lambert generations could not have been easy. We benefit from their work, while the colour in their lives adds interest. Yet there is also a price to be paid

Growing up, I was attracted by the concept of the artist in the garret. It seemed kind of romantic. Certainly I wasn't put off by minor things like the cold! Now, older, I wonder a bit. There is a lot to be said for comfort and at least a degree of stability.    

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ending the corrosive effects of Australia's current immigration policies

The death last week of Australian artist Judy Cassab ended a remarkable life (here, here). I first saw one of her paintings many years ago at a showing Chaney Coventry had in his motel room at Ruschcutters Bay. However, it's only in the last few years that I rediscovered her and became interested in her life. I gained considerable pleasure from her art and from discovering more about her.

In a post a week back, Saturday Morning Musings - The Turnbull Ascendancy?, I said in part:  

The first thing to note is that Mr Turnbull was a senior figure in the previous Abbott administration, jointly responsible with others for the decisions of that administration outside Mr Abbott's personal captain's picks.This includes those decisions that have eroded Australian's personal freedoms, that have given the Government an authoritarian flavour. This includes the evolving mess resulting from recent changes to the Migration Act. These provide, among other things, that any foreigners who serve a prison sentence greater than 12 months will automatically have their visas revoked, a change previously defended by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton because it targeted people who were detracting from Australian society, not adding to it
In the three years July 2011 to July 2014, 372 people had their residency revoked, itself a not insignificant figure. However, since the legislation changed in December 780 have had their residency revoked of which 151 have been deported. The rest are apparently held in immigration detention. On Christmas Island, refugees are being replaced by former residents awaiting deportation, including some very bad eggs indeed. 
A core problem with the legislation is that the twelve months is bringing within the scope of power people guilty of relatively minor offences who have spent most of their life in Australia. Apart from tearing families apart, this is a severe form of double jeopardy.

As I write, the Australian and indeed global media have been covering the latest disturbances at the immigration detention centre on Christmas Island, while the country has come under criticism at the UN Human Rights Council. Many Australians would and indeed have simply said piss-off in the face of criticism. Many Australians too, and with some justice, have pointed to the patchy and inconsistent record of the UN Council itself. However, the erosive and corrosive effect of the continuing troubles should not be underestimated.

The latest public opinion poll show a further slight strengthening in the Government's position, if with a slight decline in Mr Turnbull's personal popularity. At 56% approval, 24% disapproval, it's still very high, but it's also the first decline since he became PM.  Unless Mr Turnbull can find some way of at least humanising current policy, the drip-feed of negative stories flowing from current immigration policies will continue to eat away at the Government.

This is, I think, an objective judgement. It's not just the local effects, but also the damage done to Australia's international reputation and credibility. You have to ask just how long all this can continue. Perhaps the worst outcome that I can see is one in which current policy continues with majority Australian popular support. This would, I think, do considerable damage not just to our reputation, but to our own sense of fairness and justice. It would also play into the hands of those seeking to use fears about immigration as a weapon in attempts to create a populist right. Not a pleasant prospect.     .

Monday, November 09, 2015

Science, Innovation and all that jazz

This morning's reflections and Monday Forum is loosely linked to innovation, that presently popular topic. As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you like!

In a piece in the Wall Street Journal  (23 October 2015), The Myth of Basic Science, British peer Matt Ridley concludes:
 The perpetual-innovation machine that feeds economic growth and generates prosperity is not the result of deliberate policy at all, except in a negative sense. Governments cannot dictate either discovery or invention; they can only make sure that they don’t hinder it. Innovation emerges unbidden from the way that human beings freely interact if allowed. Deep scientific insights are the fruits that fall from the tree of technological change.
To get to this point, he argues that the old linear model dating back to Francis Bacon now encapsulated in the idea of pure research feeding into applied research into useful technology is misleading. In fact, in most cases, technology, innovation feeds into, drives, science. Technology has, he suggests, become a self-replicating, self-steering system that will give best results if left alone. Politicians should stop believing that innovation can be turned on and off like a tap. Governments should stop funding basic research, do away with patents and get out of the way. This drew a protest from (among others) Don Aitkin - Should the public funding of basic science stop? Don is clearly impressed by the view of Mr Ridley in a general sense, but this was a bridge too far.

Without research, I do not remember when systems approaches first emerged. I do do know that I was arguing in the 1970s that the now popular systems approaches could be fruitfully applied the archaeology and Australian prehistory to provide insights. This followed work that I had done attempting to use economic constructs to analyse Aboriginal economic life, work that seemed to yield fruitful results. However, what we might think of as modern "systems" approaches suffers from severe weaknesses.

With the exception of marxist and some socialist theorists who always wanted to make the evidence fit the model, system approaches were simply another way of analysing evidence. Considering a system as a series of interconnected parts, a systems approach led you to ask questions about possible parts and the relationships between them.  Today, the old normative approach adopted by some on the left has sadly become universal, with the dominant right imposing its own particular orthodoxies on the evidence. It's not just the right of course, for normative systems approaches have become deeply embedded in policy debate. Still, economic models have a lot to answer for in, among other things, keeping thesis and antithesis alive!

Mr Ridley is correct, of course, in arguing that the pure, applied, useful technology model is flawed. To use his own thinking, technology feeds into science, science feeds into technology. It's a system. However, and those involved with systems know this, systems involve multiple flows and interconnections. It seems to me that Mr Ridley wishes to impose his own conclusions on the system. using selective evidence to support his thesis. Damn, thesis and anti-thesis again! 

Network economics focuses on the way networks, systems operate, Network economics suggests that under certain defined conditions, networks will lead to monopolistic or oligopolistic outcomes.We have seen this in the higher technology areas so beloved by Prime Minister  Turnbull. A fair bit of economic and policy analysis has been concerned with overcoming this problem. Apart from recognising the way in which patents can be used to protect market power, Mr Ridley ignores this problem. He implicitly assumes that the technology system will give best results. He does not test this, nor recognise that it may lead to undesirable outcomes such as under investment in basic research. It may not, but the question has to be addressed.

I now turn to another topic, the present conflation between innovation and science and technology. It's deeply embedded, and it seems to affect all our thinking. Certainly it affects Mr Ridley's thinking, even though he is clearly influenced by Adam Smith, surely one of the great innovative thinkers of the 18th century measured by his continuing influence.

In a discussion in one of the comment threads, I suggested that innovation meant change. It's a little more than that, of course. Innovation means something new, something that is outside the current box. It is not the same as productivity improvement, nor of cost reduction, nor of improved efficiency and effectiveness. although all these things may be an outcome. It is also not the same as science or technology. Adam Smith was an innovator, the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter was an innovator. Indeed, the phrase "creative destruction" that he coined has suddenly now become very popular jargon. 

The imposed linkage between innovation and science and technology is an example of the mental blindness created by definitional ambiguity, These ambiguities, the lack of  clarity or of questioning, act as blinkers: they force us to gallop down one track when we might be better on another. Our very obsession with innovation blinds us to the real possibilities of innovation. That is why I have doubts about Mr Turnbull's emphasis on innovation. He does not ask questions, he feeds us his pre-determined answers. 

Finishing by returning to the funding of basic research, during the 1980s I was an active proponent of the need for greater linkages between industry and universities, of the need to effectively commercialise research carried out in the university sector. By the early 2000s, I thought that the focus and process, however imperfectly carried out, had gone to far, far too far. I was particularly concerned with what I saw as the collapse of curiosity based research in all disciplines, not just science. How, I wondered, were new ideas to come through, how were existing structures to be challenged, how were issues to be clarified, when everything had to be justified by outcomes linked to pre-determined questions and measurable results, usually with a dollar sign attached?

Since then the position has got worse, especially but not only in Australia's "top" research institutions. The proliferating buildings and institutes based on special applied research areas are, to my mind, a sign of failure. Staff no longer have freedom to pursue questions just for curiosity. Adam Smith himself was able to think and write because of access to patronage. Very few people have that luxury today.