Sunday, May 27, 2012

End of days

I am going of-line here for at least a week, although I will try to respond to comments if I can.

My world has changed in a quite fundamental way. As part of that change, I am moving to a new house later this week.

As I move, I think just how lucky I am in my blogging friends, those who blog and those who comment.

You are great. You challenge and inspire me. That's really special.

All for now. talk to you later.

Sunday Snippets - Aboriginal historical perspectives, independent advice & a river

Gurindji History, Japanese Historian reviews Minoru Hokari's Gurindji Journey: a Japanese historian in the Outback(University of Hawai’i Press, 2011). I quote from Will's review:

Early in 1997 that brashness was evident when he roared into the Daguragu community on a motorcycle, a feat that certainly impressed and probably endeared him to some of its people.   He soon fell in with Old Jimmy Mangayarri, who was to become his Gurindji mentor and who would profoundly affect Hokari’s theories of history. ............

Hokari set out with ideas of “oral history” in his head.  He wanted to learn Gurindji history, including the story of the famous walk-off, from the Gurindji themselves.  And he was startled to learn that one of the precipitating events in the decision to stage the walk-off was a visit to the Wave Hill Station, in 1966, from the American President.  Kennedy wanted to know why the Gurindji were being treated so badly by the white bosses.  The elders explained, and “President Kennedy told them that he was the ‘Big American Boss’ and he would start a war against England and support the Gurindji people in their struggle.  And this is how the walk-off began, backed by a powerful ally, the Americans” (p. 38).

Hokari recognized, as a Japanese academic historian, that it would be “wrong” to assert that Kennedy came to Wave Hill three years after his assassinated.  But for the Gurindji, this event wasn’t a spirit-visit, nor was it a metaphor.  It was history.  This is the seed of a serious dilemma for Hokari, for he was unable to explain how he could say that the Gurindji, who have been passing down their “‘historical reality and tradition” for generations, could be “wrong.”

Hokari is pointing to a real problem, one that I have come across in conversations with Aboriginal people who believe things that I know to be "historically" untrue. Yet to those I am talking too they have become part of their history, immutable historical facts. At one level I want to correct, to point out the error. That's the outsider's view, what Hokari refers to as the academic approach. At a second level, I need to accept that I am dealing with a set of beliefs. If I want to understand Aboriginal history then I have to discover those beliefs and their influences.

In a way, this is not a new problem. The past is always a far country. To understand it, we have to get our minds around the people perceived their world at the time. It's more difficult with current history, however. At least I find it so.

Turning in a different direction, want to measure your risk quotient? Here's where you can have a go. My RQ score was 80, which is apparently quite high. Hat tip to Test your risk quotient for the lead.

In Would a citizen's jury produce a better policy outcome than a focus group?, Winton Bates extends my analysis on the rise of risk avoidance in Government policy making. Here I want to quote one point that I consider to be important:

Coming back to the importance of political leadership, I remember a conversation that I had with a wise person about 20 years ago. I made the point that Australia needed more courageous political leadership to pursue economic reforms. I expected the wise person to agree, but his response was that those who want governments to pursue economic reforms need to accept that governments don’t lead, they follow. The point he was making was that it is important to keep in mind that political leaders can never get far ahead of public opinion. The leader who prepares the ground for reform by attempting to raise the level of public discussion of an issue will often be more successful in promoting reform than the one who shows great courage in attempting to forge ahead ignoring ill-informed public opposition.

I think that's pretty right. Yes, sometimes you have to crash or crash through, but often you are better off preparing the ground. If you you look at Australia's role in the Columbo Plan, that was actually a courageous political action considering the political climate at the time in this country. Those involved justified it and sold it in terms of then geopolitics. In doing so, they laid the basis for what was to be the single most important Australian change in the second half of the Twentieth Century, the opening of this country to all peoples regardless of ethnicity.

Winton also refers to the role of the Productivity Commission, previously know as the Tariff Board and then the Industries Assistance Commission. Now Winton has a natural bias here given his previous role with the Commission! Yet he is right. I don't actually know many countries that have officially created bodies whose role is to provide independent objective advice on proposed policy changes, advice that Government must consider.

Winton's follow up post was What questions should citizen's juries be asked?. Within all my fulminations, in my sometimes role as a ponderous pontificator, I really do like the way that blogging encourages conversation!

Finishing this morning with a photo from Mark's Clarence Valley Today photo blog.

What a crowded river. This is the Wilsons River, once Lismore's main port. It's hard to believe today that Lismore was for so many years the largest population centre in New England outside the Lower Hunter.    

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Morning Musings - QANTAS, FIFO & the changing patterns of Australian life

It's quite a fascinating time in Australia just at present.

In August last year in Visitor 120,000, structural change and QANTAS, I looked at the challenges facing Australia's best known airline. In the months since, QANTAS has continued to wrestle with its basic strategic challenges. Many of the initiatives announced by CEO Joyce simply haven't worked. Now QANTAS has turned its loss making international QANTAS brand into a separate business unit to try to achieve a better business focus.

One thing that I hadn't sufficiently focused on in my earlier analysis is the importance of FIFO, or fly-in, fly out workers. The sheer size of the Australian mining boom, the unwillingness of Australians to relocate, the limited facilities in many regional areas, has combined to create a most remarkable FIFO boom. I gave a small New England example in Narrabri wrestles with fly in, fly out workers. There the small local airport has gone from from 13 to 52 flights a week!

I don't have hard numbers, but the sheer scale is indicated by the Narrabri numbers. To put a European perspective on it, imagine the logistics involved in shifting a 100,000 workers per week from their home in London to work in Turkey for a few weeks and then back.

QANTAS's regional business has moved from a relatively small ad-on in traffic terms to a major profit centre. When the Australian Government forcibly merged QANTAS as the international carrier with domestic carrier Australian Airlines, QANTAS was far larger. How the world has changed.

The mining boom has all sorts of flow-on effects.

Last year Federal cabinet agreed on a policy to introduce Enterprise Migration Agreements, a category of 457 visas that would allow the importation of skilled labour for specific projects. 457 visas have been quite an issue in this country, for they allow the importation of skilled workers to meet specific needs. Some like them, many don't.

I like them, but you need to be aware of the sheer complexity of Australia's migration policy, something that @MikeDJeremy tweets about often. In Jessica Irvine's memory loss, a post that has attracted quite remarkable visitor traffic, I tried to explain why so many Australians were negative at present. That should not conceal the fact, however, that this country is doing very well by global standards. Very well indeed.

At a time of global economic gloom, Australia is recruiting skilled workers around the world. However, this creates its own problems.

The Australian Government has just announced and Enterprise Migration Agreement that will allow a Gina Rinehart company to import more than 1700 foreign workers to help build a massive iron ore project in Western Australia.

Mrs Rinehart, now the wealthiest person in Australia by a large margin and the wealthiest woman in the world by an equally large margin, is a controversial figure here. The Agreement itself is perfectly consistent with policy and did not require Cabinet approval. The problem is that PM Gillard was not consulted. This has blown up into a political storm. The Union movement is upset, very upset indeed.

Australians love their real estate. The mild decline in Australian housing prices has created a degree of consternation. I quote from another newspaper story:

THE sluggish housing market has sparked predictions that the latest generation of home owners will be unable to rely on their home as a key source of higher wealth, as many baby boomers did.

Instead, analysts say people who joined the housing market in the last few years are unlikely to experience the ''magic money machine'' effect of bumper rises in the equity in their homes.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, house prices more than doubled, a trend that benefited even highly indebted owners.

The growth in Australian real estate prices was absurd, a bubble. But the comment in the first paragraph is equally absurd. Over time, there is a close relationship between rents and house prices. During the bubble, the rental yield collapsed. Yet Australia is just not building a lot of new houses. So rents have really ramped up in recent times, huge increases. It's only a matter of time before house prices follow.

In the meantime, and at least in Sydney, new apartment developments in good areas are being snapped up by Chinese buyers. This story is actually worth reading in full, for it brings out some of the changing dynamics of Australian life.

I have run out of time. The agents have a house inspection here this morning, and I need to tidy up!    

Friday, May 25, 2012

Refashioning Dad revisited

Back in Early April in Refashioning Dad, I reported on a campaign to reshape my wardrobe. This was followed by End of the fashion big brands? and then That crumpled look. This somewhat unusual Belshaw excursion into fashion came to a halt over a simple issue, money. Not a permanent halt, mind you, just a deferral.

Then yesterday my fellow blogger Ramana pointed to this story from the New York Times, For Men, a New Look for the Summer Suit. Now this photo heading the story caught my eye, for the bloke on the left is  wearing one of the outfits I  actually wear to work minus the tie. This was one result of stage one of the refashioning Dad campaign. Mind you, not the brands, but the colours and cut.


The story said in part:

It’s no secret that men’s tailored clothing has been on a roll. According to NPD Group, which tracks the clothing market, for the 12 months ending March 30, 2012, sales of tailored clothing (suits, jackets and trousers) were up 11 percent over the same period in 2011. In an economy in which double-digit growth in any category is remarkable, the fact that 2011’s nearly $4.5 billion market in tailored clothing rose to almost $5 billion this year is extraordinary.

Now I happen to like tailored clothing, while greatly disliking the crumpled fashion now in somewhat in vogue, at least in Sydney. So I liked the thought that some of my clothes style might be coming back into fashion. Then I read another paragraph:

Not only does a less expensive suit cost less, it is also a far less precious thing. You might not bicycle to work in a $1,700 suit, but one that cost $450? When the cost of a suit is on par with a fancy dress shirt and a pair of premium jeans, the possibilities for wearing it open up considerably. Brunching! Gallery-going! Walking the dog! Even Mike Rowe, the hunky, muddy star of “Dirty Jobs,” might wear one to work.

This pulled me up a little. $US450 for a cheap suit suitable for biking?! Mmm. Then I looked at the detail of the costs attached to the outfits in all the photos. Mmm indeed! I am not going to spend half my annual clothes budget on one combination. But then, I don't need too.  It's not necessary.

So long as the cut is good, so long as the clothes are well made, I don't need a brand. I just need my main fashion adviser. And she's free!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Is it too late to save Australia's universities?

This post is a diatribe. I make no apologies for that. It bears upon something that I am quite passionate about.

As an entry point, I want to use a comment I received on a post, Ironies in Australian higher education standards, Anon wrote:

Hmm, just as yet another illustrious member of the gang, sorry, Group, of 8 is gutting the School of Music, after having put the sword through the Faculty of Arts, the School of Humanities (now renamed The School of Cultural Inquiry;whatever that means, for goodness' sake) and various individual Arts' subject areas. Non publishers are given the 'no thanks', despite their excellent teaching records, but hey who the hell cares about liberal arts' undergraduate teaching, especially when it doesn't attract the almighty international fee payers. At least one seriously well regarded, well published, brilliant teacher in my own discipline at Australia's 'top university' was disregarded for promotion, because of the attitudes of the warlords. Mercifully for them, 2 of the most inspirational and knowledgeable post-grad teachers I had, died before they could be sacked (sorry, made redundant) because of their slim publications record.What's it all about? More useless jobs in Chancelry for paper pushers and sycophants. If you think education is expensive, try ignorance; and that's exactly what GO8 is promulgating. Like much other stuff, it's now all about jobs for PLU -people like us, what used to be known as 'jobs for the boys'. And yes, we can blame generations of politicians of all colours as well. Long way away from exhorting the benefits of education for the sake of either a community of scholars, or an educated (as opposed to a quasi vocationally qualified) community at large. Undervalue the Liberal Arts, you undervalue the underpinnings of society at large. Am I seriously disgusted? You bet! Am I 'anonymous' for a reason? you bet? Did I see the beginnings of this creeping in @ UNE some time ago? No comment!

I haven't tried to edit anon's comment, just let them stand, for they provide a context for the things I have been trying to write about.

I have seen my first university, the one I love most because I was there, because of it's past standards, because of our family commitment to the place, almost destroyed. I have seen my second university drift down the corporate path, seeking a status that it actually had without seeing it. I have seen my wife fight for building funding at another university, suffering delay after delay even though every one of the ever changing decision makers came to see the plans as a good thing.

I have seen my daughters receive what I perceive to be a sub-standard education at three of Australia's leading universities. They don't see it. They see my comments as an attack. But they actually have no comprehension of the depth of the education I received as the University of New England. How could they? It's no longer available.

I have watched as the blogging world I inhabit slowly coalesces around the idea of the collapse of Australian university standards. Sure we chattering classes don't have much individual influence. But the cumulative effects are substantial.

The things that the Australian government is doing in higher education policy don't matter a damn.

There is not one thing in current policy that will affect the malaise. Indeed, current policy is part of the malaise. I do not expect my grandchildren, I do hope that I will see them, to have a better university education than my daughters. They won't My best hope is that they might have an okay education.

And that really suns it all up. After all the focus on standards in current policy, the best that I can hope for is an okay education. And they won't even know it.

Where do we do to next?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ironies in Australian higher education standards

I was really frustrated tonight. It's a little while since I have written on Australian higher education. Tonight I had intended to do so, and then I left a folder of clippings at work. How old fashioned you might say, clippings! Well yes, but it remains a way of saving information that is either not available on line (think fire walls) or very hard to find.

I cannot replicate exactly what I was going to say in the absence of my folder, but I do want to indulge in a short diatribe relevant to many of the points I make on the this blog.

Here in Australia, the Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Authority (TEQSA) is one of the latest of that growing myriad of national agencies established to enforce "standards" and "quality" in specific sectors of Australian life. Like all the rest, once created it starts dreaming up standards along with ways of enforcing and measuring compliance with its standards.

Let me now introduce the gang, sorry I mean group of eight. This group represents a certain number of Australian universities who describe themselves as "a coalition of leading Australian universities, intensive in research and comprehensive in general and professional education." In other words, they have pretensions.

Now the gang of eight has just complained, rightly to my mind, about the costs and distortions created by TESQA regulation. Part of their complaints bears upon the costs and misuse of standards. Here there is a rather delicious irony.

The Vice Chancellor of one of the gang, Sydney University, has been involved in recent months in an attempt to retrench some 100 tenured academics. The funds so saved are to be used in part to meet a maintenance backlog and to fund a new research centre. Sound reasonable? Well there is a little problem over and beyond the question as to why Sydney along with so many other institutions have been neglecting maintenance.

Given the decision to sack, the VC needed some form of objective criteria to select the necessary staff members. As I understand it, the decision was made to select based on the publication record over the preceding two years. This is where the irony comes in.

Among the general opposition, there was a global petition signed by experts in the field attacking one particular sacking of an internationally recognised academic well in progress on a new book who, sadly, had not published in the required way in the previous two years. So the application of blunt standards that the gang of eight complains about when applied to them are in fact applied by one of its leading members in its own activities. You see the irony?

  Mind you, this type of problem is not limited to the higher education sector.

One of the relatively new private sector jargon phases is the "strategic review". This is in fact code for we want to get rid of something, but need a justification!!

One of the points I was making in my last post, Sunday Essay - communications, risk and reform weariness, lay in the conflict between "reform" and "stability". Real reform is actually very difficult in an unstable world. A second point was the way in which the emphasis on communication wraps all change within the reform mantra.

TESQA is written up in a "reform" context, as were the Sydney University changes.

Well, it's time to end this fairly scrappy post. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Essay - communications, risk and reform weariness

One of the themes underlying my last post, Jessica Irvine's memory loss,  as well as many previous posts were the difficulties associated with real reform whether in business or government. There is a deep seated reform weariness now in Australia and indeed most of the Western World. People have become cynical and justly so.

One of the problems lies in the word itself; reform just means re-form, but carries the connotation of improvement; when improvement fails to materialise, when the costs are obvious, people turn off.

Like reform, the word stability has positive connotations. Stable means steady, solid. Reform means change, stable means keeping things steady; change may happen, but it's manageable.

People crave stability. They need stability for personal planning, They may want change, but it's change on their terms. How can you plan a family, commit to a mortgage, look to the future, if you have no idea as to what that future might hold?

Like reform, the word stability has also acquired negative connotations. Stable means dull, unadventurous, cautious about change.

Since the Second World War, the management literature has been dominated by a relatively small number of themes. Today's brief essay takes two, communications and risk management, to examine the interaction between the conflicting desires for reform and stability.

Wikipedia defines public relations as the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics.

This definition is reflected in the definition announced in March 2012 by the Public Relations Society of America after a member vote:  "Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics." The defeated definitions were "Public relations is the management function of researching, engaging, communicating, and collaborating with stakeholders in an ethical manner to build mutually beneficial relationships and achieve results." and "Public relations is the engagement between organizations and individuals to achieve mutual understanding and realise strategic goals."

Wikipedia defines risk management as the identification, assessment, and prioritisation of risks (defined in ISO 31000 as the effect of uncertainty on objectives, whether positive or negative) followed by coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor, and control the probability and/or impact of unfortunate events or to maximize the realization of opportunities.

Both definitions reflect language and concepts now deeply embedded in both management and public policy.

The PR definition manages to include the words strategic, communication, process and mutually beneficial. What modern government program or corporate mission statement would not use very similar words?

The risk management definition is more highly structured, the English is clearer. It describes an organised process to identify a problem or set of problems and then respond to them. Yet when you look at the words you find identify, assess, prioritise, coordinated, economic, minimize, monitor, control, probability, impact, maximise, opportunities. Again, they are all very modern management speak. You will also see an implicit focus on standards and standardisation, another of the global trends in management over the last fifty years.

The words public relations replaced an older and and in many ways more honest word, propaganda, that had become effectively discredited during the Second World War. The words also reflect the desire of practitioners to give their craft a professional status, respectability.

As the concept of public relations itself acquired negative connotations, it began to be replaced by a still broader term, communications. We see this today not just in the university or vocational courses, but in the "communications strategies" that have become mandatory elements in any government or corporate initiative.

The desire to identify and avoid risk is as old as humankind itself. As societies became more structured, activities more complex, structured approaches emerged. We sought to propitiate the gods to counter risks beyond our control; we sought advice from oracles to give guidance on the unknown; where risks were known, we took action to try to avoid them, developing insurance. 

The idea of insurance is a very old one. According to Wikipedia , the first methods of transferring or distributing risk were practiced by Chinese and Babylonian traders as long ago as the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, respectively.

Chinese merchants travelling treacherous river rapids would redistribute their wares across vessels to limit the loss due to the capsize of a single vessel. The Babylonians developed a system recorded in the Code of Hammurabi, c. 1750 BC, and practiced by early Mediterranean sailing merchants. If a merchant received a loan to fund his shipment, he would pay the lender an additional sum in exchange for the lender's guarantee to cancel the loan should the shipment be stolen.The Greeks and Romans introduced the origins of health and life insurance c. 600 BC when they created guilds called "benevolent societies" which cared for the families of deceased members, as well as paying funeral expenses of members.

The rise of insurance as we know it today can be traced to the Great Fire of London, which in 1666 destroyed 13,200 houses. In 1680 this led Nicholas Barbon to established England's first fire insurance company, "The Fire Office," to insure brick and frame homes.

If the desire to identify to identify and avoid or control risk is as old as humankind, the modern approach to risk management as a structured approach dates from the 1960s and, like the project management discipline, is directly connected to rises in project complexity. From this initial start, it emigrated to full professional status and then into every aspect of life.

Herein lies the problem. In its emigration, risk management moved from a focus on managing risk to achieve best results to one of avoiding and controlling risk. Risk is inevitable in any form of human activity. Our greatest advances as well as our greatest failures have come about because people went ahead regardless of risk. It's very hard to do that today.

Let me try to illustrate by example.

When I first studied project management, both communications and risk management were integral elements of any project plan. Today, both the communications and risk management plans are often separate and indeed larger documents than the project plan itself. They are also subject to greater scrutiny and often separate control and authorisation procedures. Leaving aside the resource implications, the amount of time and cash spent on communicating and risk avoidance as opposed to actually doing, the result can be decision paralysis.

I may seem to have come a long way from my point about reform weariness, about the links between reform and stability, but there is a connection.

Central to the current emphasis on communication is the desire to present what is being done in the best light, to distinguish from the past, to emphasise the new.

If we define communication in terms of imparting the information people need, modern communications strategies are not that at all. Rather, and to use a now old fashioned word, they are simply propaganda. The aim is to sell a message, not communicate. The inevitable disappointment and cynicism that results impedes real reform.

This is fed by the focus on "risk management". This time I have put the words in inverted commas just to emphasize my point about the difference between risk management and avoidance. Inability to bring about real change, the creation of "safe" options that are then packaged for communications purposes, adds to the problem.

I happen to believe that Australia does need real reform and that means change and often personal hurt. Current approaches to risk management make that hard to achieve. Yet I also recognise the desire, the need, for stability that so many Australians feel. In selling everything as reform or change in the way we do, we add to the prevailing uncertainty in people's minds about the pace of change.

In a way, we have managed to get the worst possible combination of results.   

Friday, May 18, 2012

Jessica Irvine's memory loss

In a comment on Economic gloom in Australia, kvd pointed me to this opinion piece by Jessica Irvine, Unpicking the collective whinge. I read the piece and laughed (it's very well written), agreed with some points and then realised just how profoundly I objected to it. It's written by a middle class woman secure in her employment who actually seems to lack the empathy to drop below the head line statistics. 

By global standards, Australia has done pretty well. For those who feel secure in their employment, and that's around 60% of the population, the last few years have been pretty good. Incomes have risen, interest rates are down, consumer goods have never been cheaper or more available, international trips never more affordable. Cashed up Australians have flooded the globe in ways not seen before, or at least not for many years. Yet the on-ground reality for many is different, and that was the point in my previous post.

To those I listed there I would add, thanks to other links posted by kvd, Australians in or approaching retirement. They have been affected by the decline in share values, the lower interest rates mean that they don't get as much cash on their savings, while some have seen their assets actually wiped out in recent crashes.

Jessica wrote:

The Australian economy is now in its 20th year of consecutive growth. Anyone aged about 40 or less has pretty much never experienced a recession, or at least the humiliating experience of trying to find a job during one. The consequence is we have grown complacent. We've either forgotten, or have never known, how hard it can get.

Now if my maths is correct, someone 40 today was born in 1972. The 1970s were the stagflation decade. If this cohort left school early, they might have started work in, say, 1990 when the Australian economy was starting to tank as we entered Mr Keating's recession. If they were lucky enough to go to university, then they would have entered the workforce as the economy recovered.

The 1990s were a grinding decade, one in which many lost their jobs through restructuring. By the end of the 1990s, Mr Howard was able to capture the prevailing mood against any further change. So many Australians had been affected. Memories dimmed as the first decade of the new century proceeded, but people did not forget.

As I said, the story started by making me laugh. Then it made me angry.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Economic gloom in Australia

It's getting a little ugly out there in economic terms. The Chinese economy continues to slow as forecast, while Greece's exit from the Euro seems increasingly certain. A global survey of consumer sentiment by the Boston Consulting group shows that consumers in western countries continue to want to save more, spend less.

Interestingly, the Australian results mirror those in other countries even though this country is doing much better in relative terms. I quote from the linked story in the Melbourne Age: 

Almost half (47 per cent) of Australian consumers feel they are in financial trouble or not financially secure, up from 36 per cent a year ago. This is equal with the US, higher than in the UK (45 per cent) and higher than all other developed countries surveyed except Italy and Japan.

Job security has also become a much greater concern. Among local consumers, 22 per cent feel very insecure or somewhat insecure in their current job in the next year, up from 17 per cent a year earlier. This matches the level of job insecurity in France, and is only marginally behind the US (23 per cent).

The survey found that the percentage of all consumers saying they will spend less on discretionary items in the next year increased from 47 per cent in 2011 to 50 per cent in 2012.

This is higher than in the US (46 per cent), the UK (47 per cent) and level with the average of the major European economies surveyed.

The Australian results seem to have come as a surprise. They shouldn't have. It's not just the economic gloom and doom reporting. The now large proportion of the Australian workforce in casual or contract employment do feel under threat, as do a proportion of those in full time "long term" employment in sectors undergoing cut backs. People have to consider both the stability of current work and the degree of difficulty in gaining alternative employment. 

I know that I have written on this one before, but the rise of casual and contract employment has had very significant impacts on the way people think, feel and act. One very simple side-effect is the way people now need more cash reserves as a protective buffer. They will try to limit their spend until they have built savings to the point that they once again feel moderately safe.

And who could blame them?

While I haven't tried to monitor the coverage in any scientific way, there has been a marked rise in pieces in the Australian media centred round the theme "how to keep your job". People are insecure and it's not an irrational fear, just a recognition of current realities that hold regardless of your form of employment.    

Monday, May 14, 2012

A gentle Monday meander

As will be self-evident to anyone who reads my blogs, I have been struggling to maintain my writing. I really have. I suppose that it's unrealistic to think that I could in in the midst of multiple moves and changes in family directions. I should be packing and cleaning, but I don't feel like it. I also left the house a bit after six this morning, and tomorrow want to be earlier still. I didn't sleep especially well last night, so that I find myself getting very tired.   

Given all this, tonight just a gentle personal wander without politics or anything else serious. Call it an indulgence!

This photo of Clare on Facebook  drew a comment from a friend:

Note to self: Don't get Clare angry, she knows how to use a gun!

I laughed.

Because Facebook is limited in its public access, I use it for short diary entries. Not too revealing, but a way of keeping people in touch.

There tonight I wrote:

Monday, 14 May 2012. Bloody cold this morning.

We have a new Belshaw to add to the very small number in the family, and that group spread across three countries - Olivia Alexandria Belshaw-Weir. So that makes Ryan and Kristy parents, brother David a grand father, me a grand Uncle (?!) and gives my girls a new cousin somewhat removed.

said that we were a small family. Including partners, there are just twenty of us on the Belshaw side in three generations in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. I know from family trees and photos that there are still some relatives in Northern England, but we lost all contact a number of years ago. In all the world, I have just two first cousins on the Belshaw side.

Another busy week. I am trying to work out how to energise my writing. It's been sadly neglected!

I have written a little on the Belshaw family. It's actually a remarkable story even though I am hardly impartial. I do so in part because of my interest in history, in part because I have my daughters in mind. In the hurly burly of their life there is little room for the past, the present is all. Yet I don't think that they are all that different from me, the interest will come because of the need to establish a link between past and present.

In Saturday Morning Musings - the quality of life I referred to gardening. This led Armidale writer, Express journalist and fellow blogger Janene Carey to write:

May I suggest you check out the Gardenate website if you're about to embark on a herb/vegie garden? Lots of info, a lively community swapping tips on gardening and cooking, and a free reminder service monthly.

It's a website (and also an app) that my software developer husband built because he wanted something like that himself -

Belshaw Picnic c1957I am always very happy to shamelessly promote one of my colleagues. But seriously, Gardenate is a very good web site. 

I have actually written a number of gardening posts. Perhaps time to pull them together.

Staying with the texture of life as well as the personal indulgence theme, this is a picnic photo of my part of the Belshaws. From left to right mum, me lurking behind Mum, Prof and brother David. It's very formal, I know, but I grew up in a more formal world. 

I have written on picnics many times before. They are one element of the texture of life. I have a picnic basket, one of those posh ones, in the cupboard. Perhaps time to pull it out.

Janene also referred to a story she had written for the paper on local MP Richard Torbay. It's a pretty good piece that links to an earlier story of mine, Why I support Tony Windsor. It may seem very local, but remember that the current Australian Government is in power because of New England politics, as have a number of other State and Federal Governments before them. Perhaps not so local after all!

In a comment on Saturday Morning Musings - the quality of life, Ramana wrote:

In a small town, an entrepreneur decided to open up a brothel, which was right opposite to a church. The church and its congregation started a campaign to block the brothel from opening with petitions and prayed daily against his business.

Work progressed. However, when it was almost complete and was about to open a few days later, a strong lightning struck the brothel and it was burnt to the ground.

The church folks were rather smug in their outlook after that, till the brothel owner sued the church authorities on the grounds that the church through its congregation and prayers was ultimately responsible for the destruction of his brothel, either through direct or indirect actions or means.

In its reply to the court, the church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection that their prayers were reasons for the act of God. As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the paperwork at the hearing and commented:

"I don't know how I'm going to decide this case, but it appears from the paperwork, we have a brothel owner who believes in the power of prayer and we have an entire church that doesn't."

I laughed, but as I also said to Ramana there is a very funny Australian movie along the same lines - the man who sued god.

Tonight I didn't feel like cooking, so I decided to have one of those weight watchers style meals that I had in the freezer for my wife. Then Clare unexpectedly came home for dinner, so now there are two in the oven. I need to go and stir them and put them back in. I actually find them unsatisfying, but I have promised Clare berries, cream and ice cream for desert! Then I am going to whip the rest of the cream and have it with coffee!

I think that it's time to finish. Maybe more tomorrow. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday Morning Musings - the quality of life

I still intend to bring up my main budget post. Just letting the dust settle a little first.

This Saturday Morning Musings rambles around aspects of Australian life.

To begin with, this slightly unusual Australian story made me smile. It came via skepticlawyer.

The Australian term wowser means one whose sense of morality drives them to deprive others of their sinful pleasures, especially liquor.

One of the tensions in Australian social history can be described as the larrikin vs wowser. If the wowser wants to impose social order, the larrikin displays disdain for authority, propriety and the often conservative norms of bourgeois Australia.

The tension goes back to the early days of convict settlement in New South Wales. The moral codes and manners of that new society in that strange land could best be described as somewhat relaxed. This led to a desire to impose social order by the emerging middle class. This was opposed in turn by the bohemians who attacked the moral rigidity of the middle class moralists.

Australian painter and writer Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) railed against the wowser. I really liked, do like, Lindsay's work.

This photo from Mark's Clarence Valley Today photo blog is of an exhibition of Lindsay's work at the New England Regional Art Museum in Armidale. I grew up with these paintings, for they formed part of the Hinton Collection at the Armidale Teacher's College. I remember taking a New Zealand cousin around the collection. In one class room there were twenty Lindsay paintings, in another over ten Tom Roberts

There is something mildly erotic and perverse in making love to one of those stick-thin women so beloved by modern fashion. It's a bit like sex with a skeleton, interesting because its odd. I much prefer Lindsay's voluptuous women, his frank and sumptuous nudes. For the life of me, I cannot understand the modern obsession with thin. I like plump sexy women. I suppose that you could say that there is more to play with!

Lindsay's paintings were highly controversial. In 1940, sixteen crates of paintings, drawings and etchings were taken to the U.S. to protect them from the war. They were discovered when the train they were on caught fire and were impounded and then burned as pornography.

In what may seem an unconnected segue with little relevance to Australia, this one came from fellow trainer and Facebook friend Tony Karrer.

Again I had to laugh. Be afraid. Be very afraid!

Two hundred years ago this year, the US invaded what would become Canada and got beaten. Tsk!

The general social tolerance that you see in Australia, the tension between wowser and larrikin, is replicated in Canada. We share a common history, while the US sometimes seems frozen in the time warp created when it rebelled.

Turning to less contentious topics, from time to time on this blog I talk about land management techniques. I love this stuff, even though I am a townie.

At several stages in my life I have wanted my own place. Yet the reality is that I would have been hopeless at it.

Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith grew up on a farm. He once described his life as an escape from manual labour! That's what farming is, and that's why I would have been hopeless at it.  I can't even use an Ikea key properly!

Yet the desire to see better land management, the fascination with new approaches, remains. The scared boy looking down from that horse in A New England childhood - a country slice still remembers the discussions on land management he heard, the books he read, on ways to improve country. Unlike the urban Greens whose obsession with stasis, freezing things as they were or are, dominates, improved land management centres on change, not return to a non-existent past.

Here I have continued to read Philip Diprose's Ochre Archives with interest. He described his approach to land management in  Deserts and Desertification and then in Management Techniques on Ochre Arch. It is a holistic approach.

I have been trying to work out how to bring all this alive to a predominantly urban readership no longer in close contact with the country: it's an eroded gully that runs again as a creek; it's green grass in a drought; it's the smell of the soil when you take a handful; it's the quiet sound of running water. You don't get this through legislation. You get it because people care.

From time to time I have written about gardens and gardening. It's partly a nostalgia thing, partly a genuine love.

I mourn the decline of the Australian garden, as do many others. Yes, life is busy, but food is more than a lunch or evening meal out an often nondescript restaurant.  There is so much bad food in Australia now. We have gained quantity at the expense of quality.

This photo comes from Sophie Masson's A la mode frangourou. French-Australian like her blog, Sophie is a well known Australian writer. Her blog is luscious if you are a foody.

This morning I signed a lease on a new house.  The first thing that I will do tomorrow is plant some herbs. Who can cook without fresh herbs?

A slow revolution has been sweeping Australia. The words stop, I want to get off, have been sweeping the country.

In a way, it's a very middle class thing. Many Australians, those whose income levels do not allow them to participate and who have to eat what they can or do what they can regardless of quality, are locked out.  Accepting that, so many of us now are saying that the texture of life is the important thing, not the power or status, that it is forcing change across multiple dimensions of Australian life. Perhaps that's the point to finish this morning's muse.

In the end,  its the quality of what we do that counts, not the quantity.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Australian budget day - what will I examine?

Budget day here in Australia.

Before talking about that, as part of a university course youngest is required to keep a weekly philosophy log. She chose a blogging format! The result is Aesthetics tasting pallet. She is, in fact, running a little behind, but has promised to catch up!

The Australian Government's desire to focus attention on the budget, to use it as a political circuit breaker, has been overshadowed by the Craig Thompson affair. The Government has responded by revealing budget details in advance as a way of attracting attention back.

Over on skepticslawyer, Lorenzo's Don’t mention the A-word suggests that Australia has done remarkably well in economic terms, that this has been more than luck and that Australians don't in fact recognise just how well we have done. Now I want to come back to this argument at another point. For the moment, it provides a segue into this brief post. Put aside politics, the Thompson affair and the inevitable packaging language so beloved of modern Australian governments at all level: if Lorenzo is right, what should we be looking for in this budget?

The first thing I plan to look at are the economic assumptions built into the budget. In Navigating the economic forecasting mess, I spoke briefly of the problems associated with economic forecasts. The recent forecasting track record of both the Australian Treasury and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the Reserve Bank has been dreadful. No matter what the headline numbers may be, their validity depends upon the strength of the assumptions used.

The second thing that I will be interested in are the accounting tricks used. I am using the phrase "accounting tricks" in a fairly broad sense. This includes things like raiding hollow logs, to use an Australian term; changes to the accounting treatment of items; and the deferral of spend on particular items to achieve a specific timing effect. These things are not necessarily bad in themselves. However, in combination they can distort the numbers.

I then plan to look at the distributional effects: who loses, who gains and what it all means. The usual media focus here is on direct winners and losers, the effect on particular groups of Australians. This cohort will be $20 per week better off, that group $100 per week worse off. I am more interested in the dynamic effects.

The last thing that I will look at is a simple thing in concept, although the nature of the judgements involved are not simple. Does the budget actually make sense from a public policy perspective?           

Monday, May 07, 2012

Budget week in Australia

This week Treasurer Swan will bring down the next Commonwealth Government budget. To my mind, what is needed is a steady as she goes budget. Instead, the political need to achieve a budget surplus dictates a likely contractionary budget with some specific sweetners to ease the political pain.

This piece by the SMH's Tim Colebatch, Swan's budget nightmare in this year of uncertainty, summarises the position rather well.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sunday Snippets - China, enlightenment and the importance of hope

This morning's Sunday Snippets wanders around recent discussion on this blog and elsewhere.

On China Financial Markets, Michael Pettis' Revisiting predictions is worth reading. It looks at some of the predictions he has made on developments in the Chinese economy. I have been following Michael's writing for several years and this has informed some of the cautions I have expressed about the scale and likely duration of the present Australian mining boom.

Fellow blogger Paul Barratt is chair of Australia21, a non-profit research organisation which Paul helped to establish in 2001. In What does it cost to run Australia21?, Paul discusses the working of the organisation and appeals for donations.

In Is a desire for enlightenment (in the Eastern sense) consistent with Enlightenment humanism?, Winton Bates continues the cross-blog discussion centred around the ideas of civilisation and progress. Do drop in an leave a comment.

In Our lost blogging opportunity, the Lowy Institute's Sam Roggeveen returns to his theme that although Australia has blogs, it doesn't really have a blogosphere. I responded to Sam's initial salvo - Reader riposte: Australia's blogosphere. Since then, we have seen Larvatus Prodeo and John Quiggin drop out, twitterised so to speak.

Staying with the Lowy Institute, Graham Dobell's Kiwi or not Kiwi, that is the question discusses the current joint Australian and New Zealand Productivity Commission inquiry into closer economic relations between the two countries.

The disparity in Australian and New Zealand growth rates was the subject of an earlier conversation between Winton Bates and myself. I won't bother you with the links at this point. Personally, I think New Zealand would be crazy to give up its own currency for a common currency since I doubt that this would help bridge the gap.

It's actually been a while since I mentioned Club Troppo. There Paul Fritjer's Hope keeps people happy and healthy so dont always tell the truth deals with something under current discussion on this blog, the impact of perceptions. Paul writes: 

Interest rates in Australia have just been reduced by 0.5% in the hope that this will stimulate the economy. Will it work? Uncertain. But will politicians say it will work in the coming federal budget? Almost undoubtedly.

Perhaps displays of optimism are not such a bad thing, even if they are unwarranted.

In a comment on Saturday Morning Musings - perceptions and insecurities, kvd wrote:

I keep deleting what I'd like to write in response to this post. It is not that I disagree with your analysis; I think you capture the present mood very well.

More, it is a case of thinking what a dreadful waste of the present, that we spend so much time worrying about a future completely beyond our personal control. Maybe it is hubris which leads us to believe we have any such control?

These things are linked.

In discussions the other day, a friend quoted an Australian psychologist who said that human happiness depended on three things: territory, someone to love, something to look forward too. Hope and optimism are pretty important things because they help give us something to look forward too.

Perhaps that's a good point on which to finish this Sunday Snippets.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Saturday Morning Musings - perceptions and insecurities

The discussion thread on Are Australian banks and supermarkets killing the goose that laid the golden egg? took us in the direction of perceptions. Here I want to deal with one element, our perceptions of the economy. kvd introduced this with a comment on interest rate concerns: 

I can see where you're going on bank margins, but would suggest the implacable march to oblivion coming from your comments is tempered in my mind by having lived through far higher, and far longer extended high interest rate conditions......... Not saying we never had it so good; just saying things aren't so bad.

In subsequent comments, kvd referred to Michael Pascoe's Business battles long-term memory loss and then to Adele Horin's piece Battered by rising prices? Nonsense, you've never had it so good, study reveals. Both pieces deal with the apparent divergences between people's perceptions of the state of the economy and the apparent reality revealed by the statistical data.

It is true that things are not so bad in Australia if we compare the current situation with past points. The present economic position cannot be compared, for example, with the position at the depths of Mr Keating's recession that we all had to have back in the early 1990s. It is equally true that the human memory tends to be present focused. Our current concerns dominate. That said, people aren't dumb. If you get a common expression of view, in this case a concern about the economy, that seems to be at divergence with reality, you have to ask why. Is it real? If it's not real, why are people reacting that way?

I suppose that I should say immediately that the evidence is now showing that the popular perceptions about the state of economic activity are right. I quote from Peter Martin's Reserve downgrades economy and paves way for more rate cuts:

The Reserve Bank has dramatically downgraded its assessment of the Australian economy ahead of the budget, slashing its forecasts for growth and inflation and opening the door to further interest rate cuts.

The bank's latest quarterly review, released yesterday, predicts "subdued" jobs growth, "weak" building activity, "soft" government spending, weak business investment away from the mining sector and inflation near the bottom of its target band.

GDP growth is still projected to be in the range 3 to 3.5%, but a third of this is expected to come from net exports. Domestic activity is soft and very variable across the country.

A while back, Westpac economist Bill Evans went against the trend to predict economic slowdown. I had been writing on related issues, also pointing to structural imbalances, cautioning about obsessive focus on the apparent golden egg offered by the mining boom. However, I thought and to a degree still do, that Mr Evan's projections overstated emerging problems. However, it seems that he was closer to the mark than I.

Here I want to introduce the first point about perceptions, one that I have talked about before, the impact of statistical constructs. The idea of gross domestic product is a statistical construct, a single figure that combines many different things. It can mislead. If one part of the economy is doing very well, another larger part not, the statistics may show growth. Yet those in the larger part can be forgiven for thinking that things are bad, or at least not as good as presented. To them, there is a growing gap between the statistics and their perceptions of what is happening in the world around them.

In Top of worry list: work, work, work, Melissa Davey reports on research released by Macquarie University. I quote from the start of her piece:

AUSTRALIANS spend more time worrying about work than war, the environment, politics or any other broader issue.

In the first major study of the everyday worries of Australians, researchers from Macquarie University found ''future career'' concerns created the greatest anxiety for both men and women, while fear about ''the future'' and ''achievements'' also ranked in the top five.

From my experience, I think that's about right. Australia has become a deeply insecure society, with much of that insecurity centered on work. To understand this, you need to understand the statistics, but also drill down below the statistics to the underlying feelings.

In April, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released statistics on Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2011. These showed increases in average weekly earnings. However, they also suggested that 24% of the workforce had no paid leave entitlements. The Bureau suggested that this was a proxy for casual work, but it actually also includes contractors notionally paid a higher hourly rate in place of leave entitlements. The Bureau also reported that 7% of the workforce were owner managers of incorporated enterprises.

By its nature, contract and casual work is insecure. You just can't be sure when things might end, how long it might take to put new work in place. Often, you can't even be sure of your immediate income since this depends on days worked. A simple thing such as a decision to give staff early leave for Christmas or Easter, and who could argue with that, means reduced income. The compulsory Christmas shutdowns enforced in some organisations means that contractors and casuals can be without any form of income for a longer period.

Now consider the 7% of the workforce who are owner managers. Generally, they are small business people whose income too can be variable. They are directly affected by economic circumstances in the sectors in which they work, and we already know that conditions are soft in the majority of sectors within the economy.

But what about the 69% who have the protection of leave entitlements, who are in more regular employment? Note, first, that this group includes temporary  employees, as well as those on time limited contracts. It also includes a large group acting in other jobs, often for long periods, who formally belong in lower positions. They have job, but not income security. They may know that they will be employed in six months time, but cannot be sure of their income.

Even those in what used to be called "permanent employment" who have no other working complications such as acting up face insecurity. As I write, every government in Australia is in the process of cutting staff numbers, as are many major corporations. Few at ordinary working level can be sure that jobs or income are safe. I am only guessing, but I suspect that at least 70% of the Australian workforce has some fear of loss of income or even job. Few of us can say with absolute certainty what our income will be in even six months.

This fear has profound effects on perceptions and behaviour.

Economist Milton Friedman developed the permanent income hypothesis. Seeking to explain why people save or spend, Friedman argued that how people spend depends on their long term income expectations. I think that's right. I think it explains why people are trying to save more, to run down debt.

I saw a classic example of this type of effect at lunch with a work friend this week. She loves riding and wants to buy a horse. However, her current contract finishes at 30 June and she doesn't know what will happen after that. "I love riding", she explained. "I really want to do it. But I can't take the risk when I don't know what my income will be."

Insecurity in one core area of life feeds into insecurities in many areas of life. It leads to a growing desire to avoid risks or threats. We seek to control that which we can control or, even, what we deeply desire to control regardless of the facts.

The stats may show that Australians are becoming better off.  But for most of us, whether or not we have more money in our pocket now counts for little in an uncertain world. We have to decide whether to buy a horse with its long term costs, whether we will be able to actually pay for rent in six month's time, whether will will be able to fund commitments already entered into. The answer for many of us is that we just don't know.

Friday, May 04, 2012

A New England childhood - a country slice

I was responding to comments and then I suddenly realised that I hadn't posted today!

In a comment on Personal indulgences just for regular Kathleen Drummond Forglen 1944readers, marcellous wrote:

What a charming picture of yourself when young.
Seems quite another era.

Another era is right. I often describe myself as a townie since most of my friends were from town. But I was also gown and had a country slice. These are a few more photos from that early country slice. 

The photo included in my last post showed me as a two year old on the verandah at Forglen, my grandfather's place. I really loved going there as a young child.

This photo taken the year before I was born shows Aunt Kay (Kathleen Vickers nee Drummond) ready for riding.

All our aunts but especially Kay helped bring us up. When I was two she took bother David and I out to play in a nearby creek where the shallow waters ran over the stones before plunging some distance away into the deep gorges below. Much later after Mum died, she became my girl's de facto grand mum on my side of the family. They loved her dearly.

Kay's death hit me hard not just for her loss, but also because it was the ending of my direct family connection with Armidale. The pattern of regular visits - we went four or five times a year - to see Kay was over. Now when we went to visit, we stayed in motels. Slowly the family visits dropped away. The girls haven't been back to their home town for several years. Now when I visit, I go alone.  James B, Forglen, July 1947

This next photo it taken at the same time as the first; I was two. You can just see mum in the background.

We spent a lot of time on that front verandah. Straight ahead was a small garden with a path that led into the front paddock past the small orchard and then down to the woolshed.

I remember the old wind up gramophone with its large records. We used to wind it up to listen to songs and nursery rhymes. Then it would suddenly run down, and we would have to wind it again. 

When we first started going to Forglen there was no electricity. We drove out in the old oldsmobile with its running boards, generally arriving after dark. Then the tilley lamps had to be lit and, as I remember it, pumped up to give a light far brighter than the ordinary  kerosene lamp.

With no electricity, some food and especially meat was stored in a meat safe in the garden beside the house. This was a largish structure with mesh walls to allow the breeze through and hessian drapes that could be dropped if necessary.

Later my grandfather purchased a generator. This had to be turned on as we arrived. As the noise settled down, the lights would suddenly come on.

This next photo shows my grandfather with his beloved Ben. Very DH_Drummond Forglenmuch the bushy, but not quite.

He was very deaf when he went into politics, unable to hear conversations. That, of itself, made his early achievements somewhat remarkable, including his sonorous voice.

Later he got a hearing aid. You can see one version here, stuffed into his shirt pocket. That helped. However, he wasn't above using all this to his own advantage.

Faced with someone he didn't want to talk too, his hearing aid could always be off! He also trained his daughters and especially Kay to support him. Meeting someone whom he knew but didn't remember the name, he would say this is my daughter Kay. The other party would then introduce themselves!

I am not sure when I first became involved in politics in some way, but it was pretty early.

After a Christmas morning at home, we always went down to my grandparents' place. This began with open house for his key friends and electoral workers. Later at primary school, I used to listen to the Commonwealth budget so that I could argue with him when he returned from Canberra. In retrospect, I was a remarkably serious child!

My early world was, in some ways, a much more mannered world than Australia in the twenty first century. There were far more unwritten rules of behaviour. This was especially so on the New England Tablelands with its complex social stratification. I tried to explain naming conventions, what names were used in talking to which people, to a Chinese colleague. He got quite lost! 

It was also a world with far fewer material things. Clothes, for example, were expensive, while the range was limited. People made do. Mrs Knight (Anne Milne's mum) with Pearl Drummond, 1944

I was looking for a photo to illustrate all this, so finally selected this one, partly because my grandmother is on the right. The photo is again from 1944.

They are out in the paddocks. Everybody is wearing very similar clothes. It's clearly a partly social occasion; the men are wearing coats.

In an earlier post I mentioned the old irons heated on top of the stove. I said that they were still around when I was a kid. Yes, there were electric irons everywhere, but at Forglen with no electricity you used the old irons if you wanted to iron. Made, I think, of cast iron, they came in different sizes depending on what you wanted to iron.

Time spans.

I had lunch with a work friend that I have been teamed with on certain matters. Under pressure and with the week ending, we decided to go out for a proper lunch to an Italian restaurant.  She talked about her horse riding experiences. I couldn't match those, but here's a last photo of a group of us on a horse. I am in the centre with brother David behind.

This was probably the last time I was on a horse for many years. I remember it seemed a long way down!     On horse, brother David behind

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Personal indulgences just for regular readers

I am very tired tonight. I was at work a bit after seven. To do this, I left home before six. That makes for a long day even though I came home a little earlier than normal. Including travel time, yesterday was a thirteen hour day. So tonight I am throwing the blog open to my commenters and regular blogging colleagues.

IMG To begin with a personal indulgence.

This is one of the photos from my wedding that I have been loading elsewhere. In the centre, Richard Hield, on the right Sue Rosly. I spoke of both in Musings on photos past.

In a recent comment on Sunday Snippets - Bach, defence policy, happiness & a bit of collateral damage, Sue from Queanbeyan (it is the same Sue) wrote:

I am mightily impressed with Tony Windsor. A man of integrity.

But just today, a friend of mine (who worked for the Dictionary of Australian Biography) said that it doesn't matter what Julia Gillard does she is vilified.

Never mind her achievements.

I'm not saying she hasn't made mistakes, but there is something so nasty in the criticisms of her that I feel sickened.

I feel unutterably sad at the state of political debate at the moment.

I have written on this one a little. I have been very critical of the Gillard Government, but there is something pathological about the reactions to her.

In Should Enlightenment humanism be equated with Western Civilization?, Winton Bates continues the dialogue between us. He also refers to our Indian blogging colleague, Ramana.

I was thinking of Ramana coming in by train today. I have another part written post in my train reading series on Toynbee, and this time my post has Ramana specifically in mind and indeed just the quote that Winton has put in his own post. Maybe tomorrow.

Staying with personal indulgence, this is a photo of me on the verandah at Foreglen, my grandfather's property outside Armidale.

There is such a huge difference between the boy being given his bath in the sun on that verandah and today. It's not just that the world has changed, but the perceptions of that world have also changed. The role of perceptions underlies the the discussion here and elsewhere about civilisation and progress.

This was picked up in discussion on Are Australian banks and supermarkets killing the goose that laid the golden egg?. There the issues were in part linked to the Australian economy. Why do we in Australia think things are so bad when the statistical evidence suggests otherwise?

Here  I have actually run out of time.  I want to be on site as close as I can to 7am tomorrow. That's when the lifts open. So time to go.


In response to Ramana, Winton has written a follow up post: Is a desire for enlightenment (in the Eastern sense) consistent with Enlightenment humanism?.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

I love this post


I was struck as only a blogger would be by this illustration that came from Lynne. 

This, by the way, is really only an excuse for not posting yesterday nor properly this morning.

There is a lot I could write about: what now appears to be the terminal agony of the Gillard Government; the latest tax statistics and what they mean for income distribution; even the world of Babur. And yet, I am not going too.

I have a planning day today at Olympic Park, but need to get to the office first. So I leave you with this photo.

Fell free to chat among yourselves in my absence