Friday, July 31, 2015

Adam Goodes, sporting behaviour, stereotyping and the importance of manners and respect

To my mind, the controversy over Aboriginal AFL player Adam Goodes has got completely out of hand and I wish everybody would cool it. It's become another flash point in the fissures and divides within Australian politics and society that I have referred to before.

We forget that Mr Goodes is a human being with weaknesses and faults that we all have and have, instead, made him a symbol. The personal weight must be quite crushing. Sadly, in these fire storms the individual (and their families) get buried.

To start with a point that has concerned me for a number of years, where have we come to when booing is acceptable at a sporting event? I remember the first time I heard it. It was a major Rugby event. As the kicker lined up to take a goal shot, the crowd started booing to try to put him off his kick. I was naively shocked.

Without exploring the matter further at this point, there is now a deeply unpleasant thread running through Australian sport at all levels including school where manners are forgotten, where the fact that a game is a game is forgotten, where spectators including parents loose all emotional restraint.

This decline in manners, in common courtesy runs like a deep oily strain through every aspect of Australian life.Central to it are a failure to recognise the other's point of view, a determination to win points at any cost, a divine belief in the rightness of one's own position. This has been amplified and extended by the megaphone effect of modern on-line communication.

To amplify this point, consider the question of discrimination towards Australia's Aboriginal peoples. I have used the word discrimination, not racial discrimination, because the threads are more complex than a simple question of racial discrimination.

Does discrimination exist? Of course it does. Let me take a simple example. Over the last few years, I have worked in the Aboriginal housing arena. At meeting after meeting with Aboriginal housing providers or, more broadly with Aboriginal groups, I have heard stories of discrimination against Aboriginal people in the private housing marketplace.I have no doubt that those stories are true.

Central to those stories is the problem of stereotyping

Real estate agents and private owners want their properties placed with tenants who will pay the rent on time and not damage the property. The real estate rental market is fairly tight in most places, agents are as much concerned with excluding applicants as they are with picking the best applicant. The stereotypes applied to Aboriginal applicants make it a lot easier just to knock them out at once. It's a risk minimisation thing. This applies even where, as in one case, the applicant was a highly educated lecturer in a mainstream discipline with a good income. I note that this type of stereotyping is not limited just to Aboriginal rental applications, but it is particularly acute there.

In the Aboriginal case, we are also dealing with a long history of dispossession. This creates attitudes within the Aboriginal community that I have sometimes found difficult to deal with. What do I say when, for example, I become involved in a discussion or even a training course where I happen to know that the views being put forward are historically incorrect? Common politeness demands that I listen respectfully, maybe making some gentle points, only becoming involved if it's an issue that I really feel is important and where my intervention may have some useful impact. Usually, a gentle response has the longest term impact.

If you recognise Aboriginal history, then I think that you need to cut Aboriginal people some slack. There is also, and this may sound silly, a question of fun. I have watched and re-watched multiple clips of the now famous Adam Goodes war cry against Carlton. An example is below. Further comments follow the clip.

Clearly Mr Goodes was revving up the Carlton fans. If I had been in the Carlton part of the crowd I may well have booed and given a thumbs down signal! But it was also, or should have been, a bit of fun. Now compare Mr Goodes' performance with the antics of soccer players after scoring a goal. Mild, wasn't it?

The subsequent reaction to the war dance seems to have drawn from a single fact, that it was called an Aboriginal war dance with inevitable comparisons to the Haka. Then there was the case of the thirteen year old girl. who called Adam Goodes a monkey. Again, I have searched the clips.I won't give links in this case, there are too many, but it seems clear that she is another victim, that she did not understand the context of what she was saying, that Adam Goodes over-reacted because of the game tension and background.

The war dance and this incident fed into a storm that has engulfed all participants. Reading the various comment threads is not a pleasant experience because of the apparent divide it reveals. I find, I'm sorry for saying this, that the comments from both sides are equally repulsive because they lack manners are are often blind statements of belief.

I said that we should cut Aboriginals people some slack because of the background. I fear that I am not as tolerant so far as Messrs Bolt and Jones are concerned. They are fighting wars for ideological reasons and for apparent readership/listening purposes that extend way beyond the facts of these incidents.I also accept in the case of Mr Bolt, and this is not a popular view in some sections of the Australian community, that he has very particular views on what he sees as as hypocrisy and confusion in some of the discussion, views strengthened by his own court experiences.

Chaps, get over it.You and those on the opposing side have helped turn what was, in the first instance, a question of manners, respect and sporting behaviour into a national issue that is becoming an international disgrace. I don't like that. Nobody wins.Not the people involved, nor the country.

So can we all back off. Let Mr Goodes sort out issues in his own mind. Give him space, recognising his achievements. This must be astonishingly difficult for him to sort through.   Finally, lets reinstate manners and respect.    .          


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Nanny state - Hugos closes

It seems that Hugos in Sydney's Kings Cross has had to shut its doors.

The alcohol restrictions in the city of Sydney were introduced with the best of intents, the desire to reduce alcohol fueled violence in the city. They were always a blunt instrument whose consequences were uncertain.

I don't think that Hugos' closure can be attributed just to the alcohol restrictions.The decline in Kings Cross and nearby Oxford Street as night venues began before the restrictions and reflected in part the rise in alternatives elsewhere. Sydney has just become bigger, more complex. Still, I find the decline sad, in part because I knew both Kings Cross and Oxford Street quite well.

By all accounts, Hugos was a well managed venue without serious alcohol problems. It's demise is best described as collateral damage. The blunt rules will change because of their imposed costs, but in the meantime they have triggered changes in the geographic patterns of entertainment and social life that will not be easily reversed.

On a different but related matter, the Darwin Beer Can Regatta is now, apparently, being challenged by the medical lobby on the grounds that it encourages drinking.

Don't get me wrong. There have been a couple of occasions when I have had to be present in emergency departments on a Friday or Saturday evening watching staff deal with drunken patients. It's dreadful. However, resolution of this type of problem requires a subtlety of approach that cannot be dealt with by rigid rules based approaches.        

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

That Australian life - the importance of labour saving devices and improved health care in the women's revolution.

This post continues the series that began with  That Australian life - bobbed haircuts on the changing life of women, especially Australian women. The series is based on History Revisited columns that I wrote for the Armidale Express.

One of Australia’s best known paintings is Frederick McCubbin’s On the Wallaby Track (1896). It’s a bush scene. The man lights a fire to boil the billy. His young wife leans back against a tree, eyes shut, exhausted. A strapping baby rests upon her lap.

That painting is in the NSW Art Gallery. I always focus on the woman. Each time, I wonder how she coped on the track with a long and apparently heavy dress like that, with shoes or boots that appear quite uncomfortable.

In my last post, I suggested that being a wife and mother in the nineteenth century was hard and sometimes dangerous work, especially for the ordinary woman without access to domestic help to do the really hard work.

Consider an example. Older Australians will remember laundries often to be found in a separate room at the back of the house with their coppers. Fires had to be lit, the water in the copper heated, the clothes washed in the hot water stirred with an old broomstick. Then the water was squeezed out using a mangle and clothes hung on long lines stretched across the back yard.

This was, in fact, relative luxury. Fifty years earlier, clothes were often boiled in a kerosene tin set on bars across an open fire. In both cases, the time and effort involved was substantial.

Once clean, those clothes requiring ironing were ironed with heavy metal irons heated on the stove. There were different types of irons depending on the clothes, but in all cases the irons cooled quite quickly and had to be reheated. Is it any wonder that washing day was an ordeal?

If you look at the time and effort involved in all this, you might see why I rank labour saving devices as the first and most important advance supporting the changing role of women. Many women did do paid work while married, but the time to do so was just so limited.

I rank improvements in health care as the second most important factor in supporting the changing role of women. It meant that fewer women died in child birth, something obviously important from a personal and family perspective. But it also meant that fewer children died.

Infant death was one key reason for the big families of the past. It meant that you needed more children to ensure family survival. You could not choose to have a particular family size, to stop having children to achieve that, because infant and child mortality made such a choice impossible.

I doubt that the women’s revolution could have happened without these two things, labour saving devices plus improvements in health care. Labour saving devices gave women extra time while still maintaining family responsibilities. Improvements in health care meant that women had to spend less time in child rearing. The combination led to a social revolution.


In a comment, marcellous suggested that I was barely scratching the surface and pointed to this 2012 Guardian piece. On reading it, my first reaction was to find it odd, my second was to wonder if I was odd in finding it odd. Upon further reflection, it is an interesting period piece, a sort of post feminism class based guilt thing.

I would be interested in your comments.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Border myopia - Its impact on economic and policy analysis

This post returns to one of my recurrent themes, the way in which boundaries affect our thinking.

Keeping things very simple, all of our economic and policy analysis and the statistics on which that analysis is based is boundary focused.

Take economics as an example. Modern economic analysis was formed during  a period that saw the rise of the nation state. It is state focused. The simple equations underpinning much economic policy focus on the state entity, relegating the international relations between that state entity and the rest of the world as a residual, an add-on. Important, but secondary.

You can see this in the way the old theory of comparative advantage is applied. As a theory, it attempts to explain why people might choose to specialise in particular activities. I am a good doctor but a great gardener. Comparative advantage dictates, however, that I should focus on being a doctor if that provides a greater return, buying in gardening services even if those services are not as good as those I might provide myself. This approach was then generalised to countries seen as economic entities, dictating that trade and benefits between countries would be maximised if those countries followed the route dictated by comparative advantage. I, Australia, am great at primary production and minerals. I should specialise there. That will maximise local benefits in part because it also maximises the return to others.

While the theory of comparative advantage is still popular, it dropped out of favour because of its inability to properly explain international trade. Comparative advantage is based on difference, yet trade seemed to be dictated by commonality and overlap. Similar countries with apparently similar factor endowments traded more with each other than countries with varying factor endowments.

All this analysis was based on geographic national boundaries. It was focused on trade between entities. But what if those boundaries have reducing meaning? What happens then? How does it affect the analysis?

In similar vein, Australians treat the states within the Federation as though they are economic entities. In one sense they are. But what does it actually mean to speak of the NSW economy? Is there such a thing as compared to a series of regional economies of which Sydney is the largest and therefore dominates the statistics?  Mind you, the definitions of Sydney itself have changed over time. What do we mean by Sydney? Indeed, what do we actually mean by the word economy?

At a different level, Australian policy makers make considerable use of ARIA, a measure of remoteness from major centres with its sub-classifications of major city, inner regional, outer regional, remote and very remote. The Australian Bureau of Statistics describes the intent in this way:
The concept of remoteness is an important dimension of policy development in Australia. The provision of many government services are influenced by the typically long distances that people are required to travel outside the major metropolitan areas. The purpose of the Remoteness Structure is to provide a classification for the release of statistics that inform policy development by classifying Australia into large regions that share common characteristics of remoteness.
The intent of ARIA is summarised in the last sentence: ARIA provides a statistical classification intended to "inform policy development by classifying Australia into large regions that that share common characteristics of remoteness."  Sound reasonable? Well, what does it actually mean? In 2006, Darwin and the small NSW town of Balranald were both classified as outer regional, while Armidale was classified as inner regional. Under what conditions did it make sense for Darwin and Balranald to be treated as identical in policy terms, while Armidale was different? Do social or economic policy measures based on ARIA classifications make any sense at all? Why should an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory be treated differently in policy terms from an equivalent Aboriginal community in NSW simply because the first is classified as remote or very remote, the second as outer regional?

I first came across the interacting problems created by boundaries and statistics based on boundaries many years ago and have been struggling with it ever since. Problems have become more intense with the growing importance of measurement and of performance indicators based on measurement.

It's become an absolute pain from my viewpoint, for now you have to constantly ask two questions: are the boundaries correct for the purposes they intend to serve; and then given the answer to one, are the indicators used appropriate?  In both cases, the answers are often no.

A further difficulty lies in our sometimes inability to actually recognise that boundaries and boundary conditions are deeply embedded in the analytical structures we use.We just take them for granted. As an aside, I wonder to what degree the decline in geography as a discipline has reduced our ability to recognise spatially distributed difference?

All this is just a further gripe at this point. However, I am pretty sure that I will be returning to the issue!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Forum - as you will

Another open forum. What has attracted you attention this week? What would you like to chat about?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - Bronwyn Bishop memes, Greece and women's long hair

The troubles of  Bronwyn Bishop; the speaker of the House of Representatives, have been well covered in the Australian media.

For those outside Australia, the troubles began when the speaker hired a helicopter to go from Melbourne to nearby Geelong for a Liberal Party fund raiser and have then continued over other aspects of her expense accounts.

The helicopter journey and subsequent controversy has created its own trope. I missed some of the best ones, but this example (Bronwyn Bishop orders take-away) will give you a feel.

On Greece, the Greek Parliament has passed the next stage of the bail-out legislation, so discussion continues. One of the issues is the extent to which the proposed Greek privatisation fund can actually raise the expected money. Meantime, film star Johnny Depp has reportedly spent 4 million euros ($A5.88 million) on Strongyli, a tiny island near Kastelorizo in the Eastern Aegean.

Now I have to say that there is a confusion here, for the island also appears to be spelt Stroggilo. Under this name, it has been for sale at 4.5 million euros.

It looks a very pretty island and indeed it has water, not something you find on all Greek islands. Still, its a big price to pay for a pocket handkerchief! Meantime, Johnny Depp's wife Amber Herd faces certain continuing problems over the illegal importation of pet dogs into Australia.

Ms Herd is reportedly very upset, and maybe Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce could have displayed a little more tact. He could, for example, have explained why the laws were important. Okay, he did that, but he couldn't resist the headline grab.

Australia's quarantine laws are important and do need to be enforced. The potential costs to Australia of breech far exceed the costs associated with illegal immigration, for example, although one could be forgiven for forgetting that.

On those immigration laws, Opposition Leader Shorten is trying to get through changes at the ALP's National Conference that will allow him to adopt a variant of the Government's turn back the boats policy. To do this, he is offerings various sweeteners including an increase in Australia's refugee intake. It's sad, really. We had something like this before on several occasions, be tough at the frontier but create a real path for genuine refugees, but it's always got lost in the politics of it all.

As I write, more Bishop memes are coming up.This is a Facebook page dedicated to them. Actually, some are fairly laboured. That is not a pun! You need a light touch with a meme.

My post In praise of plump women drew praise from Canadian blogger Barbara Martin. I really like Barbara's blog for its lovely posts on Canadian National Parks and scenery.

In a response to  That Australian life - bobbed haircuts, 2t wrote:
I've been meaning to write this piece forever and now I will, at least in brief. The girls and women here (East Timor), almost without exception, wear their hair in a tight bun (sometimes two buns), often sticking up vertically. Rural and older women will wear it a little further back to assist carrying things on their heads. The bun conceals magnificent long hair. Forgive the cliche, but it truly is a crowning glory. And forgive the lack of pictures, but I am the world's worst photographer.
Younger women often flirt by undoing the hair, letting it fall, shaking it out and then immediately doing it up again. I'd guess that it most often reaches the small of the back. It's not trimmed. The longest hair I have seen was on a university student, whose hair fell to mid-calf.
The bun is practical. It allows work to be done, motor cycles to be ridden and exposes a minimum surface to the ever-present dust. Some women wear their hair cut short (to the collar bone), layered and dyed. These are almost always richer, high-status women or their children.
I don't even know if lice are a problem here, although there is a word for it in my dictionary.
I do know that the long hair, usually curly but sometimes straight, is devastatingly attractive. And I have thought so since my own youth.
Now at the risk of being inconsistent with my own argument about taking women as they are, I too have always liked long hair for its sensuous feel. Ah well, nobody is perfect!


Friday, July 24, 2015

In praise of plump women

I have a confession to make. I really like plump women. Actually, I like all women, but I have a special fondness for those with curves.

This painting by E Phillips Fox, the Butterfly, is from the current New England Regional Art Museum exhibition, The Female Nude. She is not really plump, but she definitely has curves!

I'm not sure how many diets I have suffered from over the years in pursuit of health or, more often, some idealised weight. I know that there have been dozens and dozens.

I don't mind weight reduction for the purpose of health. I will support that whole-heartedly. But it's very difficult to explain to one's female friend or partner that you actually like them the way they are. Worse, dieting with the aim of bodily improvement creates pressure on me, wondering just how I might improve. to get rid of my imperfections, to match this new desired self demanded by the other.

Sitting on the couch having cooked for the non-dieting members of my family while the dieter eats her lean cuisine or whatever leaves me feeling inadequate and dissatisfied. Inadequate because my cooking is not good enough, dissatisfied because it is just so anti-social. Needless to say, perhaps, my interest in the other person is reduced.

It is a fact of life, I think, that women as they grow older and have children tend to add cellulite and curves. That doesn't stop them being physically attractive. In fact, some of the sexiest women I have known, those who make you want to make love to them, have been apparently overweight. There is a sparkle there that has nothing to do with weight. Or, perhaps, it does. Perhaps plump women are simply sexier. Who wants to make love to a skeleton?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why Sydney real estate prices appear not to make medium term sense

I have become very fond of Australia's Reserve Bank. That may sound a dumb thing to say about an institution, but I do like the balanced if cautious commentary on economic matters.

Back at the start of June, Belshaw's prognostications on Australia's economic outlook provided a stocktake on the economic outlook as I saw it. Nothing profound, just a benchmark that I could assess later developments against. My view as an analyst is that on some issues you need to put down what you think is happening, why its happening, what it means. If you don't do that, how are you going to make a rational future assessment of your own views?

As I write, the median house price in Sydney has reached a million dollars. So half the houses are under a million, but half are over a million. Despite the arguments for and against, I have no doubt that there is a housing bubble in Sydney. 

I say this for two reasons. The first is that the ratio between median Sydney house prices and those in the rest of the country seem out of kilter in historical terms. The second is that even with high Sydney rents, the rental yield on Sydney properties is now very low. Low rental yield means that future returns on investment properties are more heavily dependent on the combination of future rent increases with capital gain. For the life of me, I cannot see how in terms of simple maths current Sydney real estate prices can hold.

In a useful and interesting speech yesterday, Reserve Bank Governor Glen Stevens explored some of the longer term issues facing the Australian economy. Here I want to pick up just a few points from that speech.

Mr Stevens suggested that the long term trend rate of growth in the Australian economy may have fallen. This is quite important, for things such as budget estimates are based on a return to trend growth. If the trend rate has fallen, then this will create problems not just for things such as budget surpluses, but will also place pressure on spend and tax collections.

Mr Stevens suggested that a fall in immigration may be one of the causes. The official economic projections are based in part on assumptions about population increase. If actual numbers are lower than projections, this feeds through into lower growth. This is a particular problem for Sydney as the largest entry point for migrants.

Mr Stevens also pointed to stagnant income growth. If people don't have increased income, then they can't increase their spending. Now you would expect income growth to be slow following the ending of a boom period. I would argue that some fall in Australian real incomes is almost inevitable as exchange rates adjust, as the economy restructures. Mr Stevens and the Reserve Bank want a lower Australian dollar to assist the adjustment process. That keeps cash incomes up, aids exports, but also means some reductions in real incomes as imports including overseas travel becomes more expensive. 

Turning now to the detail of his remarks, there is nothing there that conflicts with my own June prognostications. I can let those stand.

Finishing with Sydney real estate prices, here are just four reasons why I think that they will either crash or, as has happened in the past, enter into a long period of no real growth.

  1. Interest rates will rise, reducing real estate returns. If interest rates don't rise, it will be for economic factors that will, of themselves, act to reduce real estate prices. 
  2. Lower immigration, reducing Sydney's population growth.
  3. Better returns from other investment activities, including investment in real estate in other places.  
  4.  Low rental returns in Sydney with limited immediate capacity to increase rents given stagnant incomes. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

That Australian life - bobbed haircuts

The absence of women Archibald Prize Winners  led to a discussion in comments on Milsom wins the 2015 Archibald prize between kvd and AC that, in turn, lead to this post by AC: Feministic Observations.

AC's post is interesting. It includes her experiences growing up in communist Poland: "I was brought up in communist Poland and one positive aspect of the political system was that it considered everybody equal. Women were riding tractors, worked as bricklayers and moved up in business hierarchies with the same speed as men did." This comment struck a cord and sent my mind wandering.

When I first studied history at school, it was all about war, politics, kings and battles. There was very little about domestic life or, indeed, life in general. Now, fortunately, the historical canvas is painted in much broader terms.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually like war, politics, kings and battles and even economics! However, the details of life are not just interesting, but set a basic context that helps explain other things.

Take, as an example, the rise of the women’s bobbed hair cut.

Traditionally, women wore their hair long. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair” really only makes sense if you know that women wore their hair long. The modern miss would have to say “I’m sorry, I can’t, but here’s a rope.” Practical, but not quite as romantic!

To my mind, bobbed hair is a symbol of the changes that have taken place in women’s life over the twentieth century. Shorter hair became necessary during the First World War when women started working in factories. It was practical. When, to the shock of the traditionalists, it became a fashion statement during the 1920s, it was again in part because it was practical.

The long and complex clothing worn by women in the last part of the 19th century may have been fashionable and attractive, but it could be an absolute pain. Quite literally, in fact. The high necked dresses with their multiple buttons stretching up to the back of the neck caught hair that had to be painfully and carefully untangled.

I had enough problems with my daughters getting knots out as I brushed their hair. I hate to think how I would have gone with a wife or partner with hair caught in her high-necked dress.

Today, we think of women’s liberation in political or gender relation terms. That’s true, but it’s also very misleading.

In the nineteenth century, being an Australian wife and mother was hard and sometimes dangerous work.

It was hard because of the absence of any form of labour saving device. With the man of the house often absent for extended period, women had to undertake hard physical labour including sawing wood so that it could be chopped. Hard labour continued even when the man was home in washing, cooking and cleaning.

It was dangerous, too. It wasn’t just the dangers of childbirth at a time when so many women had very large numbers of children with limited medical knowledge or support. Open fires, fuel stoves, moving heavy pots or kerosene lamps all provided their own dangers and challenges. Severe burns were common.

Is it any wonder that women formed powerful support networks, that men were judged first and foremost by a single rule, is he a good provider? If he was, much could be forgiven. If not, there was much to forgive.

I may seem to have drifted away from AC's opening point. I have not. Gender roles are set in the social construct holding at the time. 

AC refers to communist Poland, but she also links this in with Virginia Wolf, Strachey, Carrington and the Bloomsbury set. The photo of Dora Carringtom posing comes from the Daily Mail.The link is worth visiting because of the archival photos. Note the bobbed hair, by the way.

I first started reading about the Bloomsbury set in a simpler past life. I found the complexities of their relationships and the relationship between them and the external world a little baffling. How did one make life so complicated?

I am a little more sympathetic now because of the evolved complexities in my own life. Still, I think of them very much as a period piece, as I suppose I am too, set within the context of their time.

I have actually written a fair bit on the texture of family, relationships and society, the actual detail of domestic life over time. It interests me as I seek to understand the changing patterns of human and especially Australian life. Perhaps time I shared more of that here.  

Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Forum - the Nanny State Inquiry

Sponsored by Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, the Australian Senate's Standing Committee on Economics is carrying out "An inquiry into measures introduced to restrict personal choice 'for the individual's own good'" also known as the Nanny State Inquiry.

The terms of reference read:
The economic and social impact of legislation, policies or Commonwealth guidelines, with particular reference to:
a. the sale and use of tobacco, tobacco products, nicotine products, and e-cigarettes, including any impact on the health, enjoyment and finances of users and non-users;
b. the sale and service of alcohol, including any impact on crime and the health, enjoyment and finances of drinkers and non-drinkers;
c. the sale and use of marijuana and associated products, including any impact on the health, enjoyment and finances of users and non-users;
d. bicycle helmet laws, including any impact on the health, enjoyment and finances of cyclists and non-cyclists;
e. the classification of publications, films and computer games; and
f. any other measures introduced to restrict personal choice 'for the individual‘s own good‘.
For reasons that partially escape me, I found myself promising Leyonhjelm staffer and now retired fellow blogger Helen Dale that I would put in a submission. Although the terms of reference are more circumscribed than I would like, I can probably provide a useful submission. I am not a Libertarian and do not necessarily oppose restrictions on personal choice. However, I have written multiple posts on what I see as unnecessary restrictions on personal choice in the name of the common good. For that reason, I can at least delineate some of the principals involved and the conflicts built into them.

My biggest reservation about the terms of reference is that they seem to exclude measures that restrict personal freedom for other people's good. This is especially true for number f. Still, I may be able to skirt round this.

The closing date for submissions is 24 August. To help me refine my views, I have thrown the Nanny State Inquiry open for comment on this Monday Forum. As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you like. I would like broad ranging comments.     

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Do visit NERAM's The Art of Wool Exhibition while you can

Some days things just don't go right.

I was writing the second in my series on fissures and divides in Australian politics. I started about six, but found it slow going because of the topic plus the need to check links.

About ten, I went out to buy some coffee and a little stuff for dinner. Walking back from the shop up a side way  I had a fall. My right foot caught is some plastic wrapping used in packing sticking out from behind a barricade and I went down quite heavily.

A nice Chinese family helped me up. I wasn't hurt beyond abrasions and a sore leg, but I was shaken up. Both the coffee and the curry paste bottles were broken, so I came home in a down mood.I then found I couldn't concentrate. I ended up putting the post aside and read a book. Still restless and unwilling to think of serious things, feeling in need of a cheer up, I decided to visit the New England Regional Art Museum site. There is something soothing about art when you are feeling down.

Both the top illustration and this one are from the current The Art of Wool Exhibition.

I love wool. I grew up when Australia was still seen as riding on the sheep's back. More importantly, I grew up in a wool growing area.

I was a townie, not a country person, but I had family and friends who were on the land, so I had a fair bit of contact with sheep from an early age.

I quickly formed the view, one that I have never changed, that sheep were remarkably silly animals. Lambs were silly too, but very endearing. While sheep were silly, I wasn't frightened of them. This compares with an early experience with a goose with young who was just about as big as I was then. That was scary, frightening to the point that I can still remember it clearly now.

With sheep with their rolls of wool, they could be pushed, you could run your fingers through the greasy wool.

As kids, we used to run up to the shearing shed to play. There were the shearing machines, the races, the wood floors stained with grease. The wool presses for making the bails. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we were there during shearing.

This 1933 Robert Johnson painting, part of the NERAM permanent collection, is included in The Age of Wool Exhibition.

Later, I wore wool by preference when I could. I loved the thick woolen jumpers, the wool suits were nice on the skin. With research, wool became more versatile, some of the textiles lighter.My new suit has a little cashmire, but is a lovely, smooth, comfortable clothing.

This last illustration shows another exhibit in The Art of Wool Exhibition.

To this day, I don't quite understand what happened to wool. Wool promotion and the woolmark seemed to be doing such a good job in promoting wool in the face of price and other competitive pressures.

I am well aware of the economic forces and of policy responses such as the reserve price scheme.  However, that is not a sufficient explanation.

Rightly or wrongly, I blame the decline in part on that dreaded policy instability that seems to affect government, the desire to apply new models and principles to things that are actually working quite well.

I must leave this post here. My leg is still sore, but working my way through the reproductions while writing this post has restored my sense of equilibrium.

The exhibition finishes on 2 August. Get there if you can.    

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Milsom wins the 2015 Archibald prize

Newcastle artist Charles Milsom has won the 2015 Archibald prize with his portrait of Sydney barrister Charles Waterstreet.

This struck me as a very Sydney prize. Waterstreet is a larger than life Sydney barrister, a writer and film maker. He is co-creator of the popular ABC TV drama series Rake, a program loosely based on Waterstreet's own life, that features some of the seedier sides of Sydney life.

Waterstreet represented and helped Milsom when the painter was charged with armed robbery. Speaking of Waterstreet, Milsom said:
"I've tried to depict his otherworldly-type character," Milsom told ABC News.
"He's a complex person so I've had to try and exaggerate a lot of his physical features to capture his largeness."

The ABC has release an interesting montage of all the Archibald winners. Enjoy.

Friday, July 17, 2015

My nominations for the Creative Blogging Award

AC kindly nominated me for the Creative Blogger Award. Thank you Anna.

This type of award process was common in the earlier days of blogging. It was a way of encouraging fellow bloggers at a time when blogging was still new. The process died away, so I became curious about the starting point this time. I searched back through almost 100 Google pages. I didn't find the starting point, but I can tell you that it appears to date back to at least early May, that there have been several minor rule changes, as well as several different badges for people to include on their sites.

It was quite an interesting journey taking me through multiple tropes or recurrent themes. At one stage, I found myself learning more about make-up or female fashion than I, as a mere male, would normally want to know. Still, there was some nice gear there.

AC advises that there are rules to accepting the Creative Blogger Award:
  1. Thank and post the link of the person who nominated you.
  2. Share 5 facts about yourself to your readers.
  3. Nominate 10-20 blogs and notify them.Pass on the rules.

I am not sure about those five facts. What can I say that is either not too revealing or that has not already been revealed?

1. I have always been an insatiably curious if somewhat dreamy individual. I guess that I still am!
2. I absolutely love Yum Cha. Big table, lots of chatter, swinging the rotating serving tray in the middle of the table around to dig in with chopsticks, drinking lots of green tea and some wine.
3. I have wanted to be a writer since at least secondary school, although that vision was always somewhat unfocused because I wanted to be many other things as well. It's a vision that I am still working through.
4. I am naturally shy and somewhat introspective, traits that were accentuated by a bad and very lonely period at school that lasted several years. As part of the solution, I had to teach myself how perform in public.

5. I can be quite stubborn and persistent where I consider something to be important, sometimes to my own detriment. 

 Now turning to the blogs. Here I don't feel bound by the rules, but will share with you some blogs that I value and why. You will already know some of them. To the bloggers nominated, don't feel that you need to participate nor comply by the rules. It's just my pleasure to nominate you. 

Camille de Fleurville's Sketches and vignettes from la Dordogne is a new blog, started in April this year. Camille  lives in a village with her "Little Family". She describes her position in this way: 
Now, you must know something about the Little Family. They are two ladies of nearly 56 and nearly 20 (next week) who are my wards as they are "affected" by Down Syndrome and have no parents left. I am their closest next of kin. We live together sometimes happily, sometimes more "stormily" with flashes and thunder but everything must be forgiven and forgotten when they go to bed. They are my reason for living in the country and in this house. I take care of them and, in a way, they take care of me. 
I came in contact with Camille through the D E Stevenson discussion group where (unlike me now: I lurk because of time constraints) she is a regular contributor. Her blog is a gentle blog, stories of local life in an interesting region of France with anecdotes of family life. In some ways, it has a flavour similar to AC's blog and is all the better for that. She is trying to involve her Little Family in the process. Maybe you could drop in from time to time?

I hadn't quite intended to create this theme, but I now want to turn to the Hollands. Rod Holland's brother used to work for me in Armidale as an industry and policy analyst. Rod found me partly through that, more because we shared common interests.

Rod's  blog, Northern Rivers Geology, has just been selected as worthy of permanent retention in the Australian National Library's Pandora electronic archive. 

Before going on, this photo from the Northern Star shows two members of the Lismore Lions Club with members of the Holland family following purchase of the new wheel chair funded by the Lions Club plus a member of our little village that I won't name. I got into trouble for mentioning him in an email! 

I knew from snippets on Rod's blog that there were problems, but I didn't know the details. You can follow the story on Becky's blog, My Faith or on the new Facebook page for those who are members of Facebook. 

In her blog, Becky says "You are welcome to our little space!"  This is a similar theme to Camille's blog. The world's problems are too big for any of us to handle. We can only deal with them in our individual space.  Meantime, Rod, activate that geology blog. We want you!

Staying with a contribution theme, I want to pick up one of our old favourites, Neil Whitfield's Commonplace Book.It may sound odd to nominate such a familiar blog, Neil is a very long standing blogger. We used to joke a little about his varying blogs and his dreaded template instability, but he has certainly been a creative blogger and continues to have interesting material.

My next blog is an academic one, John Hawke's weblog, subtitled paleoanthropology, genetics and evolution. This is a truly serious blog, but a very good one. It keeps me in touch with fields such as the results of DNA analysis of prehistoric peoples. Don't be put off. Try some searches. The search facility is a little unclear, but if you click on the icon at the top left in the header, it will take you to the search menu.
Recent discoveries on the world of ancient hominids have almost totally reshaped our views of the human past. Among other things, it has become clear that homo sapiens and other human species are far more interconnected than we realised!

My next blogs are again ones I have mentioned before.

The first is the Lowy Institute blog, The Interpreter.This is a truly interesting blog for those interested in international relations and Australia's place in the world. It is one of my constant must reads.At one stage in my past, I had access to all the international cable traffic coming into my then Department. The cable folder was delivered by hand on a daily basis. I had to read it and then hand return it. Among other things, it gave me access to most (not all: some were just too sensitive to include but had to be seen on an eyes only basis) of the political  and economic reports from Australian posts around the globe.

Most of those with access just browsed. I read the stuff in detail because I found the reports absolutely fascinating, an education in international economics and politics. I probably wouldn't have that type of access today. There are so many more rules.

Security then was actually quite tight. The end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, were still in the future. Ronald Reagan had just become President of the United States, There were very tight rules, but there was neither the obsessive desire to control nor the weaknesses that were to come with centralised electronic systems. Nor, come to think of it, was there a serious problem with information overload bringing with it the constant need to sort the wheat from the chaff. Less information, more time to think.

I have digressed! Now I use the Lowy blog in the same way I used to use those cables. It keeps me in touch in a way that I simply cannot achieve from the main stream media.

Finishing quickly now with two final blogs.

As with the Lowy Institute blog, I have referred to Professor Martin Lewis's Geocurrents blog many times before. As a geographer, Martin is into maps, fascinated by maps and patterns. He explores patterns and issues in different parts of the world - the political geography of Poland, the history of the Arabian Peninsular, the changing distribution of and history of particular languages, social and political trends within California. They are are all grist to his mill so long as they can be expressed via a map!

My last blog is The Resident Judge of Port Phillip, a history blog. Like me, Janine Rizzetti is interested in Australian history. I enjoy and gain value from her pieces.                     .


Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Thursday meander - Archibald short listings, a little on blogging

Up quite late and then spent time just responding to comments and feed back across various platforms. This painting by Filippa Buttitta of painter Judy Cassab is one of the 2015 Archibald Prize finalists. You will find all the finalists here.

I have selected this because it links to yesterday's post,
That Australian life - the Archies are back: a nostalgic excursion. I'm not sure what I think of the various entries. What do you think? 

I said that I spent a fair bit of time just responding to comments and feedback. I have too many platforms, I fear, but they are all important to me, each linked to different parts of my life and interests. On all of them, L value the interaction quite highly. 

In this context, I have been pleased at the way that Winton Bate's Freedom and Flourishing is now starting to gather comments, if still from just a few of us. Winton is also bringing interaction, as I try to do, up into the main posts.This helps him, but also adds value to those who do comment.

Another blog in the early comment comment phase is AC's My Observations. Here Ramana, as he so often does, has became a regular supportive commenter. Each blog has to find its own place. That takes time, sometimes a lot of time! With so many blogs now, so many rival platforms, what I call our blogging village has tended to fragment.I find myself that I don't comment on other people's blogs in the way I used too. I think that's a weakness on my part.

As I write, the Greek Parliament has backed the bail-out deal 229 to 64. That's fairly decisive, although 30 of the ruling party voted no. These events are going to be debated for years!

Finally, congratulations to Rod Holland for having Northern Rivers Geology selected as worthy of permanent retention in the National Library of Australia's electronic Pandora Web Archive. Well done!     

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

That Australian life - the Archies are back: a nostalgic excursion

The 2015 Archibald Packing Room Prize has been awarded to French-born Sydney artist Bruno Jean Grasswill for his portrait of actor Michael Caton, known for his role in Australian classic The Castle.

The Packing Room Prize of $1,500, first handed out in 1991, is awarded to the best entry in the Archibald Prize as judged by the gallery staff who receive, unpack and hang the entries.

I have written before about the Archies,  Australia's best known portrait prize. As I noted in that April 2013 piece, in recent years I have sometimes been disappointed in the standard of entries. Among other things, most are just so large in physical dimension as to be absolutely un-hangable outside an institution setting. I do like large paintings, but I don't like large paintings dominating.

I first noticed the rise of what I called designer art in 1970. At the time, I was running a small craft/art shop on the side and also working with a friend to run a week-end stall in Garema Place in Canberra. Each time we would pack the little Datsun 1000 station wagon that I had then with the stall and merchandise and cart it all off to Garema Place, load, sell, and re-pack But what could you do with large pieces that could not be fitted in the car or even on the normal wall.  As so often happens when things are stored in garages, they just deteriorate.

I fear that this post has given me a bad case of nostalgia. My friend AC lent me a copy of Judy Cassab's diaries. There I found reference to Joy Warren and Solander Galleries. I knew Joy, of course, but had no real idea how important she was on the Australian art scene. She was just a larger than life figure with whom I was interconnected at several levels. 

Unlike Joy, I was really a dilettante, playing at things, working out romantic and usually impractical ideals  I don't think that I have changed all that much!  However, my knowledge of and capacity to enjoy Australian art is an enduring legacy. I don't pretend to be in any way up to date, I have had neither the time nor money in recent years to do so, but I do try to integrate art in the things I write, to show the interconnections with other aspects of especially Australian life. 

Returning to my starting point, I am looking forward to seeing the Archies this year. I know that I will be disappointed in most of the paintings. However, there will be paintings that I can just sit and look at. That will be fun.   
 .           . 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Greece and the Eurozone's Federal Moment

I am defering my follow up post to Fissures and divides in politics - Europe and Australia: a comparison until Thursday. I found events over Greece to fascinating to leave alone, leaving me with too little thought time given other things I had to do. I really hadn't expected to become so involved in the Greek crisis, but the European media coverage and especially that from the BBC was just so good, giving me a crash up-date in European politics and economics.

In my first post on the crisis, The Greek crisis - a high stakes game marked by blindness, inexperience and rigidity, I wondered
I hadn't expected the Tsipras Government to adopt such a high stakes approach. Looking at the IMF/ECB/EC document from a purely professional perspective and accepting that it has come about after a series of discussions, I don't think that the Tsipras Government really had clear strategic objectives, nor defined negotiating tactics. It finally devolved down to tinkering with detail. We will all suffer as a consequence. 
Maybe in the few days before the referendum, Prime Minister Tsipras may set out more than what, in the end, comes down to we were robbed. I wouldn't count on it, however.
In a very interesting interview in the NewStatesman, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis suggested that Greece was "set up." It is clear that his early attempts to start discussions on changes to the Greek bail-out deal met opposition. It is interesting that he was apparently effectively sidelined quite early in the discussions, more interesting that he wished to implement what one might describe as a modified Grexit to assert Greek control, issuing Euro denominated IOUs and seizing control of the Greek Reserve Bank. Creditors would have been given some form of compulsory haircut. This move was rejected by Cabinet.

Based on what I have read, it appears that Professor Varoufakis met with what might be termed objective reality. There were several things that I had not properly realised about the European scene. A Greek bail-out required contributions from other Eurozone states. Here the debate was framed in terms of lack of trust. Greece could not not be trusted. Trust must be rebuilt. Beyond that, and this was captured by the Estonian PM, Eurozone taxpayers in other countries were very reluctant to put more of their money on the table. We have invested considerable political capital in this agreement despite fierce opposition from some of our citizens was his message.

Given this climate, Greek attempts to renegotiate were always going to be difficult. Here there was another problem, one not unique to Greece. The fierce domestic views developed the Greek campaign that elected the Tsipras Government did not provide a sound negotiating base in circumstances where key levers were beyond Greek control. This need not stop renegotiation, but renegotiation requires a very strategic and calculated even low key approach that reassures the other side.

I know that this is easy to say. In strategic terms, the aim is to gain concessions that will ease the Greek position. In tactical terms, you have to ease creditor and partner fears while also satisfying a domestic political constituency whose views have been inflamed by your own political campaign. This is actually not complicated. You focus domestically first. You say Greece must stand on its own feet. There are things that we must do now to give us the best base for the future, including re-negotiating bail-out terms. The harder you go at domestic level, the better base you have. This does not mean that you should not take steps to ease particular austerity measures, but that easing needs to be part of a package.

In retrospect, the fundamental miscalculation of the Greek Government was its failure to recognise that, in the end, the Eurozone countries would simply let Greece go. Greece just did not have the negotiating power. A Grexit came very close. If it had not been for former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk it would have happened. Now many might argue that this would not have been a bad thing. They miss the point. It should not have come to this in the way it did.

A Grexit might have been fine if the Greek Government had had an optional exit strategy in place for some time as a fall-back option. However, the Greek people did not want to exit the Euro. The Government itself including Professor Varoufakis wanted to stay in Europe and the Euro. In the end, it was apparently the German Finance Minister who belled the cat by floating the idea that a modified Grexit might be best for the Eurozone as a whole. With Greece in economic collapse, the potential cost was just too high from a Greek perspective.

What would have happened if Cabinet had approved the Varoufakis partial exit strategy? Further chaos, I suspect. By then, it was just too late.

 In Greece, Jack Lang and the Great Depression: are there lessons? I concluded:
Obviously we have to be careful about the use of historical analogies. However, there are interesting similarities. Like Australia at the time, the EU is really an evolving Federation. The economic challenges are not dissimilar including the differential impact of Federation on diverse local economies.Without over-stating the analogy, and recognising the differences, my feeling is that the most likely outcome with or perhaps less likely without Greece will be the strengthening of central control at least within the Eurozone area. It's part of an evolutionary process. 
The discussion round the post tended to focus on economic comparisons. My focus was an institutional one based on the dynamics of federations. At this point, the outcome appears to be just as I predicted, greater strength to to the Eurozone institutions, a reduction in the freedom of constituent parts.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I leave that to you to judge, but certainly some of the commentary that I have seen is simply very silly because it ignores institutional issues. The third Greek bail-out may or may not stick. My feeling is that it will, but it's still line ball. Whichever way it goes, it's an historic moment.

EU Structure

I response to a comment from kvd, I tried to provide a brief overview of the EU structure:
As I understand it, the 1992 Maastricht Treaty effectively sets the EU's broad constitutional framework. All EU Member States form part of the EMU (Economic and Monetary Union) described as an advanced stage of economic integration based on a single market. It "involves close co-ordination of economic and fiscal policies and, for those countries fulfilling certain conditions, a single monetary policy and a single currency – the euro." 
19 of 28 member states have adopted the euro. Two states, Denmark and the UK, have euro opt out provisions and are exempt. The other seven are meant to adopt the euro when gateway conditions have been met. However, and as demonstrated by Sweden where euro membership was defeated in a referendum, there are ways round this. 
The nineteen member states form the Eurozone. The European Central Bank (ECB) and national central banks in the euro countries form the Euro System. The 'Eurogroup' coordinates policies of common interest for the euro-area Member States. 
The EMU applies to all member states. However, additional provisions apply within the Eurozone. The EU itself is a somewhat complicated federation with certain powers delegated to the centre. Within the EU, the Eurozone forms a more tightly integrated entity because of the rules and requirements imposed by the common currency. In a way, its a federation within a federation! This requires decision processes within the Eurozone coordinated by the Eurogroup. 
We saw this in operation during the crisis when the planned EU summit, a meeting of all members, was cancelled and it was left to Eurogroup members to come up with a solution. Sources : Wikipedia, EU
There are all sorts of complexities in this that I don't properly understand.For example, the UK is a member of the EMU and as an EU member contributes to the EU budget. However, the UK as a non-Euro member is strongly opposed to the possible use of the EU budget to provide any form of support to Greece.

I think that a key point in institutional terms is that the EU is a political federation with both inherent conflicts and poorly developed central mechanisms that are still evolving.

In an interesting piece on the Lowy Institute Interpreter blog, The big lesson from the Greece fiasco: Don't let the IMF meddle, Stephen Grenville makes a couple of interesting point. The first is that Greece in combination with its partners have effectively plucked at least a degree of defeat from the jaws of victory. The basis was there early on for what might have been an effective compromise. That was lost.

The second is worth repeating in full.
Some see this as the beginning of the end for the euro experiment. With Greece staring at departure, will others follow and the euro disintegrate into national currencies? This outcome would be some kind of wish-fulfillment for the euro-sceptics who dominate the UK press. But for all its challenges (past and future), the core countries of the euro have built up massive synergies and benefited enormously, both economically and politically. The degree of integration now accomplished will not be abandoned lightly. Greece was always an outlier, a misfit in economic structure and maturity. The parting would be painful, but will not unravel the euro.
The third is that the IMF should not have become involved. This was a matter for the Eurosystem to work out. To extend the argument a little, if the IMF was to become involved it should have been an arrangement with the Eurosystem itself, not between the IMF and Greece. Why? Well, Greece is a member of a Federation. It has national sovereignty in certain areas, but not in the areas that are normally the province of the IMF. Greece is to the Eurosystem as NSW is to Australia.

We are not used to thinking in these terms. It may be that Greece should leave the Euro and indeed the EU. However, so long as Greece and the Greek people want the benefits of Federation, there will be a price to be paid.    

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fissures and divides in politics - Europe and Australia: a comparison

There are some funny political fault lines around at the moment, making for strange bedfellows and inconsistent decisions.

As I write, Eurozone finance ministers have been meeting on the Greek bail-out issue.

On Greece, we have a very strange mix in both commentary and official positions strongly dominated by ideology. Those on the left taking the Greek side attack the previous bail-outs as unfair and seem to be welcoming the possibility of a Grexit. Those on the right - if we can use that term for a group that combines an uneasy mix of libertarian, populist, euroskeptic, nationalist, statist, anti-immigration and fiscal rectitude viewsem to be moving towards the same position if for very different reasons.

As an example, Finland initially indicated outright opposition to any further support for Greece under the apparent influence of the nationalist and euroskeptic Finns Party. In Germany, there has been a clear split within the Government between Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Chancellor Angela Merkel. Schauble may be a fervent EU integrationist, but he is also apparently a devout believer in fiscal rectitude and is clearly prepared to let Greece go. So he and the Finns are in the same camp, if for different reasons. As BBC correspondent Chris Morris tweeted: "So Angela Merkel is either going to fall out with her finance minister or she's going to fall out with France. Is that a fair assessment?"

Meantime, pity the poor Italians. Italy has the third greatest exposure to Greece in absolute dollar terms, the fourth biggest expressed as a percentage of GDP.They also have a relatively weaker economic base. So Italy wants Greece to stay in, partly for sentiment, more because the costs of a Grexit are so high from an Italian perspective.

This has been very much a modern crisis played out in an unrelenting media glare with regular tweeting from participants in the discussion. In turn, this has involved a broader audience in the discussions. It's great theatre so long as one can forget that, finally, we are talking about people's lives as well as the future of key institutions. It's far from clear to me that really sensible decisions can be made in such a pressure cooker.  

Somewhat similar fault lines and inconsistencies to those seen in Europe exist in Australia.

Consider Mr Abbott's war on windfarms. On the surface, this makes no sense. In opposing one form of energy generation compared to others, Mr Abbott is intervening in the market place, something that should be anathema given his Government's ideological position. The policy grounds for intervention are unclear. The political grounds are somewhat clearer, for wind farms have become a somewhat unlikely conjunction point for very disparate interests.

At the broadest level, Greens are in favour of wind farms, welcoming the recent announcement that Demark's wind farms can now generate at peak more electricity than the country needs, with the surplus going to export. Again at the broadest level, many of those opposing wind power appear to belong to the climate change skeptic group, to those wanting to limit Government intervention and to the more radical right fringe. Here radio broadcaster Alan Jones has played a significant role in promoting opposition and, apparently, convincing the Prime Minister to his viewpoint.  

At local level where the strongest opposition occurs, the position is rather different. There you find an unlikely combination of those with Green views with climate skeptics and uncommitted locals who simply do not want a wind farm in their backyard.

To take a second example, consider foreign investment in Australian real estate, including agricultural land. This is another issue that combines left and right, including the far right. Again, you have the Federal Government responding with more controls, with market interventions that appear in conflict with the Government's position on some other matters. In saying this I am not making a value judgement on rights or wrongs, simply commenting on combinations and trends.

The protests over coal seam gas and coal mining on the Liverpool Plains provides a third example.Again we have the combination of left and right with local activists concerned with the impact on their immediate environment.

I have written a fair bit on New England's environmental wars because this is my home turf. They had national impact during the Gillard Government when she depended on the New England independents to stay in power and are still having impact. Barnaby Joyce, the member for New England and Deputy Leader of the Federal National Party, is under considerable pressure following the decision by Environment Minister Hunt to approve the Shenhau Watermark Coal Mine. By the way, Laura, this mine is not in the Hunter Valley. Now he faces the prospect of a new political challenge by former member Tony Windsor. It's not clear to me that Tony actually intends to run. He may simply be defending his previous position while enjoying the discomfort now created.

Attitudes to immigration is another flash-point issue. Those on both the left and right seem to have a common view that immigration should be restricted, but then part company to some degree. Within immigration, attitudes to refugees is a dividing line.Both Labor and Opposition are committed to stopping the boats, a position that seems presently to be reflected in the broader community. The left argues that we should have a softer refugee policy, but also limit population growth. The right, especially the further right, just want the boats stopped.

Another issue linked to immigration is attitudes to the Muslim faith. The secularists and especially the rampant atheist and Libertarian groups deny the validity of faith based approaches, attack the Christian right and point to what they see an inherent contradictions within the Muslim faith that make it difficult for that faith to co-exist with a modern pluralist society. The right and especially the populist right assert the value of Christianity, of traditional values and wish to restrict Muslim immigration because it poses a threat to Australia and to Australian identity.         .  

All this makes for some strange bed-fellows. But it is also feeding the creation of new political organisations and pressure groups, many of which operate somewhat below the media horizon, using the internet as an organising tool.

This image has achieved almost iconographic  status. It comes from a 2011 protest outside Parliament House in Canberra. The people there were predominantly country people. The banners at the protest attacked the carbon tax, emissions trading and foreign aid. There were opposition banners as well, including a classic save our sharks.

The protest did not just emerge, but can be traced back to at least the Keating years and the republican push. This was a bridge to far for many country people. Later came a persistent below the horizon push on climate change that combined with concerns that many country people had about increasing controls over land use. Note the apparent contradiction between some of these views and newer environmental groups such as "Lock the Gates".

Recently, there has been the emergence of new movements drawing from some of the tropes developed over time and linked to the anti-immigration and Muslim feelings, again travelling some what below the radar. These include Reclaim Australia, 28,000 likes on Facebook, Australians Against Islam,  10,000 likes on Facebook, and Hallal Choices, 17,000  choices on Facebook. The last has been a persistent thread, leading to the Cory Bernardi  sponsored Parliamentary inquiry.on food labeling..All this led to a rather classic headline on an Andrew Street piece: View from the Street: Halal windfarms are coming to terrorist you!

On the other side of the spectrum, there has been an apparent proliferation of prospective new small parties seeking to find niches to promote progressive causes.

It is easy to be cynical about or to satirize some of these trends. It is equally easy to fall into stereotyping. The view Australians get from their media is not one-sided, it's just limited. There is very little recognition of the complexities playing out in Australian society, of the way in which overlapping but conflicting views affect politics. That should not be surprising, nor is it limited to Australia. We are all creatures of our backgrounds and the structures within which we work.

In my next post, I will look at some of the political implications of current trends, at the reasons why Australia's political parties are struggling to cope. Meantime, the Greek discussions have broken and will resume at 2am GMT. I hope the adrenaline is sufficient to keep people awake!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - the dog as pet

The cold front that was meant to hit Sydney today has so far held off. It's been cold, but bright. Some clouds are now appearing in the west, but it looks as though the change is still some distance away. Just as well. Youngest has been moving house today.

This week my meanderings took me to the dogs, quite literally. This is a photo of a working kelpie.

Why dogs? Well, the problems of puppy farming has become a significant issue, leading to a campaign to have the practice stopped.  Searching for a topic for my history column, I thought that I would have a look at the changing approach to pets and, more specifically, dogs.

I have always liked kelpies. As children, our one and only pet was a red kelpie called Rover.The dog died from snake bite one year while we were on holidays, He was a true kelpie, capable of going over high fences, able to break our grandparents' chooks up by breed, herd them into corners of the yards and then lie there panting, clearly saying to the hens now behave.

What I hadn't realised until I started researching the topic was just how recent our love of pets is.Certainly
there were people who loved pets, including dogs. My grandfather was  a dog person. In his case, I think, cats were a second order animal. Dogs were, indeed, man's best friend. However, dogs as pets began to emerge in the nineteenth century. Prior to then, dogs were seen as working animals.

This was actually the world I grew up in. None of my friends had pets. It is only now, looking back, that I realise this. The dogs that I saw most often were working dogs. Indeed, we were instructed not to pet them because they were working days. The few cats I knew were frightening because they scratched.

It seems that the idea of dogs as pets is predominantly an urban phenomenon that exploded from the 1970s. Of course there were pet dogs before that. I have given two examples. Still, the idea of pets as a mass phenomenon does seem to be very recent, as is the idea of puppy farms.

Another theme that seems to emerge in the material I have looked at is the importance of breeds and breeding. Again, this seems to be quite recent, dating to the nineteenth century. This quite artificial, dogs as ornaments. In the case of the Kelpie, for example, two breeds seem to be emerging The first is the show kelpie that must meet physical conformity requirements. Here appearance is critical. The second is the working kelpie where performance, not physical appearance, is the requirement.

I'm not sure where I am going in all this. It's simply another voyage of discovery.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Greece and the future of the Euro

One of those mornings. I woke early without any story ideas. More precisely, I have stories on my list but they require more time than I have today, indeed more time than I will ever have! So a ramble.

Greece first. This link will take you to the IMF paper on the sustainability of Greek debt that has been referred to in recent discussions. It's moderately heavy going, but worth a read. I have not absorbed it properly, but the take home message appears to be that recent turmoil in Greece has taken the country from a trajectory in which targets were achievable but vulnerable to shock to one in which debt write-offs are required. Please feel free to correct this analysis.

My own interest was attracted by the similarities between the Greek turmoil and the tumultuous events in Australia and specifically the conflict between Lang led administration in NSW and other Australian jurisdictions. See, for example, my last post, Greece, Jack Lang and the Great Depression: are there lessons?

My interest is not so much that actual economics, but the way in which a somewhat similar economic crisis in Australia created interactions within a Federal structure that might be applicable to Greece and the EU. The comments on this and other Greek posts have been helpful in refining my views, but have also illustrated the way in which different questions get mixed together.

The question of what should have been done is different from the question what was done. The question of what should be done now is different from the question what will be done now. These things all get mixed together in discussion.One of the problems with the Greek PM is that he seems to mix together could have, should have and what to do in a complicated, muddled, way without having really clear objectives in his own mind.

I have no especially profound views in all this. I am just trying to use my writing and subsequent responses to clarify my own thinking. Whether Greece will stay in the Euro is obviously an important question, especially for the Greek people.

I am less sanguine on this point than I was a few days ago.Reading the English language European media, my only source of direct information, there seems to be a high level of impatience with Greece at both public and official levels. To many, the point seems to have been reached that the costs of keeping Greece in outweigh the costs of letting Greece go.

The question will this lead to the break-up of the Euro itself, something that has been almost eagerly forecast, is very different. I seem to be very much in a minority here, for I cannot see how a break-up might happen. The political, institutional and economic linkages now created are, to my mind, just too great.

I may be wrong, of course, but you can only work on probabilities. I wouldn't get rid of those Euros just yet.


For information, this chart that came from the Guardian via the BBC, shows official exposure to Greece expressed as a percentage of GDP