Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Essay - first kisses and missed opportunities

Sydney has continued wet, I fear. Again woke early thinking about my various deadlines. Sigh. Instead I settled down in front of my computer to browse through the offerings of some of my fellow bloggers. I didn't get as far as I should, I got sidetracked, but I want to share one memory with you.

Ramana wrote of his memory of his first kiss (Story 2. My First Kiss. and Story 2. My First Kiss – Sequel.) Now as it happened, I had been talking to a female friend immediately before this. I told her a story from my professional life. She laughed, and said that she had been just eleven at the time. Oh dear!

My first kiss was a peck stolen from MW on the front verandah when I was at primary school. I knew about kissing in an abstract sense, it was hard to ignore given books and media coverage, but I didn't actually know what kissing was. So that first kiss, how shall I put this, was sudden, chaste and not followed up!

However, this wasn't what came to my mind when I read the story. In Saturday Morning Musings - Goat and rhododendron & other nostalgia, I spoke of that girl I met on the boarding school train. This was to be 1962-100yds_How_Heath a serious crush.

After train trip, I next met her at the school athletics carnival. This is an actual shot from that carnival,' the one hundred yards. I, am I think, in this photo but no where near Rick Howe (first) or Rollo Manning (second).

We wandered along the bank. Plucking up my courage, I said may I write to you? The two schools are only a few k from each other, but that was a different world. She said yes. So, and innocently, I wrote to her every week. I say innocently because I wrote on school letterhead and put the letter in a school envelope. Now that made the letter totally identifiable in the intense environment of a girl's boarding school. Everyone knew that she had a boyfriend at TAS!

That year finished. She returned to Sydney and I started university in Armidale. I wrote her for me what was a fairly passionate letter. A month later, she and her parents called in at home on their way though. She and I were standing in the kitchen. I got your letter, she said. I gulped. Our parents were in the next room.

What would you do? I wanted to kiss her, but my inhibitions got the better of me. That wasn't quite the end of the story. but it was a missed opportunity. And, to this day, I still feel a bit silly. Ah well.      

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - Goat and rhododendron & other nostalgia

It's early on a wet Saturday Sydney morning. Here in Australia it's been a very political week in a way that I, for one, really hadn't seen coming. Of course I knew that there was a possibility, but it wasn't high on my radar. I had too many other things on my mind, including deadlines.

This morning I don't feel like being too intense, so instead a somewhat random wander through things that have sparked interest in that random maze that masquerades as the Belshaw mind.

The week more or less began with Sunday Essay - musings on the death of Jeffrey Smart. I enjoyed writing that post in part because of the art, in part because it took me back into elements of my past. In a comment on that post, JCW wrote about her own Australian art collection:

I still have mine, and have been lucky enough to be able to add to it. I love it, even though, yes it is limited (although highly eclectic) and undoubtedly old fashioned, and the art historians with whom I worked would sneer (except about the Proctor). After 40 odd (no comment from the peanut gallery) years of collecting, almost out of wall space and have had to install gallery hanging. Introducing me to Oz art is all your doing, so Goat and rhododendronthank you.

In writing the Smart post I had been thinking in part of the importance of sharing. This Lionel Lindsay print, by the way,  Goat and rhododendron, was one painting in my collection.

JCW, she was then JC, and I trawled the art galleries of Sydney looking for works. Another friend and I went to Canberra auctions and our favourite old book store to look for pieces to decorate the walls of Ross Road.

In a little arcade in Manuka was to be found one of the first galleries in Australia specialising in Aboriginal art. I didn't actually buy anything there although I was buying every antiquarian book I could on the Aborigines, but I loved the work. 

That same day, Sunday, marked another trip down memory lane with My New England 5 - jumpers and jackets with the occasional pearls.

In that post I said of the girls "Actually, I was a bit frightened of their sophistication. I sometimes felt so gauche!" Actually, to use the same starting word, that's a bit of an understatement. Try terrified!

In April in a short post, Boarding, boarding trains & the return of boarding, I mentioned that I met my first real girlfriend on one of the boarding school trains that used to leave Armidale at the end of term. Memo to self. Best to tell that sschool garden 2tory as a short story. That way I can capture the feel without being bound by facts!  

I suppose that once nostalgia sets in it continues, Tuesday my attention was caught by a new exhibition in Sydney, Historic Gardens of New England exhibition, Potts Point, Sydney. This photo shows a school garden, looking south. 

New England is known for its gardens, something that I have also written about from time to time.  It's not easy gardening country on the higher Tablelands, but gardens were everywhere. Some were formal, sweeping lawns and avenues, others focused on vegetables and fruits. Loved it!

Nostalgia continued,

I have been searching my way through New England's gold fields as part of my research for my main current book project, a history of New England over 50,000 years. I wonder if I will ever finish? The book now bears only limited relationship to the original concept, changing as I learn more. It has become a sprawling full scale history telling the story of an area and its peoples from multiple perspectives. Yet gaps remain.

To those supporters who just want me to finish, who have been asking about the book, I have set myself another deadline. to have a copy ready for pre-publishing edit by July of next year.

I digress. Returning to the gold fields, one feature of goldfields life across New England, as it was in other parts of society. were the race meetings. So I decided that next week's Armidale Express column should be on horse racing and race meetings. That column is done, but it drew me into nostalgic recollections of picnic race meetings. I kept the column itself broader, but picnic races themselves are another short story possibility.

The problems in Canberra and Ms Gillard's sudden demise drew me back to to the present. But I might leave further comments here for a later post.     

Friday, June 28, 2013

The allure of freedom

Over at Catallaxy Files, Rafe's blog round up (Rafe’s Roundup 28 June) led me to this post on the UK Libertarian Alliance Blog Living without the state in Britain today: The case of the Irish Travellers.

For various reasons, there have been periods in my life where escape, or at least the capacity to escape from current conditions, to live free, has been very important.  When I was at primary school, one of my all time favourite books was BB's Brendon Chase, the story of three boys who escape difficulty to live in the English woods. Another story from the same childhood period, an adult book from my parents' shelves, was actually set with the Travellers.

A little later, I became very interested through scouts in surviving in the bush. Then there were novels of people who created new identities, novels about prisoners of war on the run or resistance fighters, along with an entire science fiction genre where an authoritarian central power or powers made the capacity to live outside society a condition of survival. A little late still, came the counter culture movement with its visions of an untrammelled life style.

In all this, I actually thought about ways of breaking free, of creating a new identity. How might I do It?  Now you can tell me that these feelings are unrealistic, even unworthy, but the allure remains.

When I was a child or young adult, many of these things still possible. You could still build a hut in the bush, hitchhike, think of acquiring your own block, open a bank account in a new name. Escape was possible, as was survival in an authoritarian society. Where, as in Nazi Europe, there was an omni-present bureaucracy protecting state power, then you had to resort to forgers, you needed some form of organisation. But you could also rely on incompetence and system failure to help you.

Today I wonder. I am not a Libertarian, nor do I think that state action is always a bad thing. But I do worry about and resent state control. I am free, but only as long as I obey the rules, and those rules grow all the time, as do the controls required to enforce them. One of my biggest difficulties today is that I don't actually feel free, just controlled.

I accept that freedom is a relative concept. None of us are really free, nor can we be so since social functioning depends upon rules. And yet the growth of rules and controls, the increasing incapacity to think of even naive and idealistic ways of moving to a new life, creates a sense of loss.     

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Musings on Julia Gillard, politics and management

There has been saturation coverage here in Australia of the downfall of Ms Gillard and the return of Mr Rudd. I don't want to talk about the detail of what happened. Instead, a few short observations on both the events and people's responses to the events.

Representative Democracy

One of the most frequently expressed expressed comments in discussion links to the belief that Australians vote for the Prime Minister. Mr Rudd was voted in and then overthrown. That's a breach of democracy. This type of comment comes in a variety of ways. This type of comment is both constitutionally incorrect and also dangerous.

Despite the increasing hype placed on the leader, Australia does not have a presidential system. At the last Federal election, I did not vote for Ms Gillard or Mr Abbott, although the vote I gave may have been influenced by my views on the two. I actually voted for a local member of Parliament in the lower house, for a state representative in the Senate.

In our system Parliament, not the president or prime minister, is boss and who controls Parliament, more precisely the lower house, has the right to govern for the present, subject to our judgment at a later point. In that process, the parties are a way of organising the vote. So, traditionally, many Australians think of their vote as a vote for the party. I voted for whatever that person's name was because they represent my party.  The core constitutional principle remains true. The party remains in power only so long as it controls a majority on the floor of the lower house. 

The problem with the quasi-presidential belief is not just that it breaches constitutional principles, but it also causes us to focus on particular individuals instead of teams and makes us believe that out vote somehow must bind those we vote for. You can actually see this if you look at the word mandate.

Definitions vary, but one definition is the authority to carry out a policy, regarded as given by the electorate to a party or candidate that wins an election. The electorate cannot bind Parliament, it can only judge later. To the degree a notional contract exists, it is between the elector and the elected as agreed at a point in time. Even then it's slippery, as you can see in that rather strange discussion about core versus other promises.

Governments are there to govern. We cannot bind them, we can only reject them later.

Problems of Perception and Bias

I have been fascinated if depressed watching the flow of comments. Take this post from Catallaxy Files on Rob Oakeshott's decision not to contest his electorate again: "Australia’s Benedict Arnold, Rob Oakeshott, is also a coward. Oakeshott, the  lily-livered yellow belly. His betrayal will be long remembered."

Embedded in a lot of the comments that you will see, this is an example, are a combination of implicit values and assumptions. There is very little analysis. So just focusing on the words. Benedict Arnold was a general who deflected to the British side during the civil war that led to the formation of the USA. So Mr Oakeshott is clearly a traitor whose betrayal will be long remembered.

Why is he a traitor? Why is he a coward? It appears that he is a traitor because he finally supported the formation of the Gillard Government. He is a lily livered coward because he decided not to run again. By implication, he should have run so that he could have been properly punished. Into the Valley of Death and all that.

I have no problems with opinions. I do have a problem when opinions impede effective debate or twist analysis.

The Misogyny Problem 

As an example, take the misogyny problem. Some of my feminist friends cheered Julia Gillard's misogyny speech. That's fine if you are focused on a cause, if that's your judgement frame. Go, Julia, go.

So let's look at my perception of the facts.

Julia Gillard's elevation to PM occurred because she was seen as the most effective performer at a time when there were reservations about Mr Rudd. She was not the first female political leader to head an Australian jurisdiction, but she was the first Australian woman PM. There is no doubt that there were sexist reactions to her, you only have to look at some of the placards that emerged later to see that, but did it affect her ability to be an effective PM? I can't see how,

When Ms Gillard introduced the misogyny card into debate, she may have been cheered along by some feminists, but it damaged her because it detracted from the message that she needed to get across, the leader in control. It also accentuated a gender divide in the polls. Did it advance the broader feminist cause? I have no idea. I suspect not, but we will only know that later.

The Minority Government

Really, one of the strangest things has been the way that discussion has focused on the problems created by minority government.  Assume that Julia Gillard had a majority of one. Would it have altered results in any way? I think not. Internal Labor dynamics would have continued regardless.

In any case, the support of the New England independents was one of the rock sold bases of the Gillard Government. Sure, they negotiated on particular issues. But in politics, to have someone who keeps their word and who negotiates on principles is rather special. That is why Catallaxy Files so hates Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. Without them, the Gillard Government would have fallen earlier.

Just think about it. Your word is your bond. It's a country thing, I guess, although I accept that that is one of my prejudices!

Causes of Failure

In multiple posts, I traced the growing failure of the Rudd and Gillard administrations. If we just focus on Ms Gillard, her failure lay in an inability to be truly prime ministerial. Of course, she inherited problems from the Rudd period. But as a fighter, she could never stand above the fray, she had to fight.

I could illustrate this with case studies, but for the moment I will just let it stand beyond this brief comment. The PM's job is not to win every debate, she (he) cannot. Her job is to stand above the fray, to give her team clean air to do things. That is where both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard failed.

Judgement of history

Rereading this post this morning, I felt that I should add one more thing to provide a differing perspective. How will Ms Gillard be judged by history? Pretty obviously, the story of rise and fall will interest. But what about the success of the Government as a whole?

At the most basic level and despite the sometimes turmoil, this was a working Government. Decisions were made, acts passed, taxes collected, bills paid. Economic management was okay and may receive a reasonable tick given global economic conditions, although the Gillard, Rudd and Howard Governments are all likely to be marked down for failure to gain best results from the mining boom. We have a measure here in subsequent judgements on the Fraser Government.

Refugee policy is likely to be seen as a fail, although judgements here will be made in the context of both Howard and probably the subsequent Abbott administrations. What do I mean by fail? Well not the success or failure of turn back the boats. That's an immediate political issue'. Rather, the broader humanitarian questions involved.

One of the interesting thing about the evolving interpretations of Australian history lies in the way that the humanity or inhumanity associated with decisions and actions becomes more important with time.

Malcolm Fraser is remembered positively, indeed the country takes a degree of pride in, the way that Vietnamese boat people were treated. By contrast, the treatment of unmarried mothers, of Aboriginal children, of the Dunera Boys, are examples where judgments have become harsher with time. I suspect that history's judgement on this particular aspect of Australian history is likely to be negative, although the Gillard Government will not be alone in this.

On some of the other policy matters such as Disability Insurance or education, its too early to tell because it depends on just what happens. Certainly the Government is likely to be seen as a centralising government with further transfers of control to the centre, continuing a trend. My feeling is that Disability Insurance is likely to be seen as an important social initiative, whereas education is more likely to be seen as an important failure in policy terms. I say this not because of the success or failure in getting the states to sign up, but because I think that some of the policy underpinnings are flawed.

I am reminded here of the Dawkins' reforms, reforms that I supported at the time, where judgments have become increasingly critical to the point that I and some others now regard them as fatally flawed. One of the things about historical judgement is that it places actions and changes in a context of what came before, what came after. On that basis, I suspect that Gonski and indeed a lot of current policy approaches will receive a cross.

Finally, and I was reminded of this by some of the comments I have seen from outside Australia, we should remember Ms Gillard's basic humanity. We judge on the turmoil of the time and we actually have very high expectations. For that reason, our immediate judgements are often harsh.

To many of those outside Australia who live in harsher conditions (social, political, economic), the thing that stands out with Australia is that our system seems to work. There is a bit of luck in that, but we do seem to muddle through. Measured in that way, I suspect that we need to give Ms Gillard our thanks!      '

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Guyra cold - and a memory of football

First, happy birthday to our blogging friend, Ramana.

Tonight I wanted to share  one photo with you, Guyra Winter, from Experience the Highs. This Facebook page has some absolutely wonderful photos of the New England high country. Further comments follow the photo.

Guyra Winter Experience the Highs

Guyra lies in the higher country to the north of Armidale. It can be very cold. Imagine playing football near where this photo was taken. It wasn't snowing as such, but the cold westerly was driving sleet across the field.

Our fingers turned blue at the tips. It actually hurt to catch the football, more so if you miss caught with the ball hitting your finger tips! I fear that I couldn't do it now. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

NZ-China: Is integration becoming dependence?

Interesting piece on the Lowy Institute blog by Katherine Ellena,  NZ-China: Is integration becoming dependence?. One stat stood out. China has replaced Australia as New Zealand's biggest trading partner.

So what's so strange with that? Just think about it for a moment. The Australian and New Zealand economies have a high degree of economic integration. In these circumstances, it's normal for trade to reflect that. So a shift like that that is quite significant.

Putting this in Australian domestic terms, while I haven't looked at the WA stats, I suspect that China is now more important in economic terms to WA than is the rest of Australia. That, too, is a pretty big change.

Back in the 1980s Aymever, my then consulting group, forecast that the different parts of Australia would become economically and even politically integrated in very different ways with other parts of the world. Our interest at the time was what that might mean for Australian economic and political activity.

The change has been slower to happen than we projected. Still, the issue remains. What does it mean to a country when the economic interests of various parts of the country diverge to the point that external influences are far more important than the connections to the rest?

This isn't actually new. What is new is the scale. Just a thought.


Today the Lowy Institute release its annual survey of Australian popular opinion. There is some quite interesting material. You will the press release here the full survey results here.  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Essay - musings on the death of Jeffrey Smart

The death of Jeffrey Smart brings to an end the career of one of Australia's greatest painters. Being pedantic, he actually stopped painting two years before his death, but you know what I mean.

I'm not sure when I first discovered his art, perhaps when he was Phidias (the art compere)Jeffery Smart Cahill Expressway on the ABC children's radio programme, The Argonauts (1956-62), although I did not know who he was.

The first painting that I clearly remember was of Sydney's Cahill Expressway.  The things that struck me were the lines and what I saw as the loneliness.

I grew up in a far less visual world than that of today. TV came late to Armidale, and then my parents did not buy one immediately because they thought that it might distract from our studies. There were far fewer magazines, no computers, no colour spreads in papers. In many ways, it was a black and white world so far as visual expression was concerned. The one exception was painting.

I wasn't a good artist, although we drew sitting at the kitchen table near the fuel stove. Later at Glenroy, my Aunt and Uncle's property at Kentucky south of Armidale, I remember sitting listening to Australian artist Doug Pratt talk. You must draw and draw, he said. Take a gum tree and draw it in different ways until you can capture every element. I lacked the skills and indeed the patience to do this, but I remembered the advice. Jeffery Smar Fisherrmen

This is another painting by Jeffrey Smart. Again, notice the lines, It's surrealist, staged, but also captures the basic realism.

While I grew up in a less visual world, this does not mean that access to art was limited. Indeed, it was there in a way that is perhaps less common in today's visually overcrowded world, where the images constantly move across the screen, crowding out earlier images. Now I have to say at once that Armidale was not quite your conventional place, nor was my family background completely typical. I thought of it as normal, but that was because it was normal to me.

The walls at our place and also my grandparents' place just down the road were covered with paintings. Looking back, the selection was limited by today's standards, but they were an introduction to a slice of works by Australia's then well known artists. When Helen, eldest, was a baby and we were back living at Marsh Street for a period, I used to carry her around the walls describing the paintings. She always settled, coming on the journey with me. Jeffrey Smart bus terminus

Before going on,this is another piece by Jeffrey Smart, Bus Terminus. Again, notice the lines and the colours.

The Armidale Teacher's College was just up the road from our place. Talking to a friend a few days back, I tried to explain the role of Howard Hinton. Hinton was something of a recluse, if also an adventurer. He lived simply, but became a notable benefactor, spending his money in that way instead of on himself.

In 1929 he gave the newly established Armidale Teacher's College its first picture, 'The Lock Gates' by Sir Adrian Stokes,. R.A. In the end, he gave over 1000 works to the college and an art library of some 700 volumes. He hoped to illustrate the development of Australia art from 1880. The collection is widely recognized as a priceless anthology of the artistic impulse in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Australia. Norman Lindsay described it as the only complete collection of Australian art in the country.

I said that neither Armidale nor my family life were completely typical. One of Hinton's conditions was that the paintings must be displayed for all the students to enjoy, so they lined the walls of corridors and classrooms. Walk into one classroom and you would find it dominated by Norman Lindsay, another classroom by Tom Roberts.

In those more relaxed days, we played along the corridors. You could just walk in. Jeffrey Smart luxusy cruise 1972-1973 Hard to believe now that we could just wander past or even throw chalk at paintings worth millions of dollars,

Before going on, this is the last of the  Jeffery Smart paintings that I wanted to show you, Luxury Cruise.

As I wandered, I wasn't thinking about the paintings as art works, things that I should study in reverent silence. They just were.

Much later when I became interested in Australian art, the changes in that art. the way the art fitted with Australia's history, I started to buy pieces that fitted in, that I could explain aspects of the past. Now I used to take people on tours of Ross Road in Queanbeyan and show them.

Thea Proctor is an example, fir I had one of her ballerina pieces. She was born in Armidale and was a boarder at NEGS, That's the local connection, but she also occupied a significant position in Australian life and culture. Sadly, I had to sell the collection, but the memories remain.  

Years later, that remains true.Clare

This is a sketch by Clare, youngest, the Bohemian of the family. It's not a very good reproduction, but it shows the experimentation and seeking that remains a feature of the search for artistic expression.

Today when in my own imperfect way I seek to explain and connect, I think of this history.

I cannot paint, nor use the visual techniques that Clare uses whether expressed through the computer medium or on paper.

I experiment, using various combinations of the word and the visual to define and present the points I want to make. 

When I think of Jeffrey Smart I think of him in that perspective. I think of his lines, of his sparseness, He will continue to influence my thinking. That's not a bad remembrance.    

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Noddy's guide to Coalition vs Labor policies part two: introducing the Nats

I let my last post (A Noddy's guide to Coalition vs Labor policies - part one) stand for some time, Since then, Ms Gillard has announced her intention to go to Indonesia to try to solve the boat problem and foreshadowed an inquiry into into workplace discrimination against women taking parental leave when they are pregnant or caring for a baby. Meantime, Mr Abbott has announced a new process for the best way of encouraging Australian Northern Development.

In all this, it's actually very difficult to focus on the real differences between the two sides. I suppose that's inevitable in a convergence world where policies are fine tune to shifting public opinion.

In my last post I wondered where the Nats stood in all this. The National Party is the second part of the Federal Coalition. In the past, the Country/National Party stood out as a distinct entity to the point that they were seen to be wagging the Liberal dog. That is no longer true, although we saw in Western Australia how an independent National approach could still bring about real change.

So what about the Nats? Do they have a role beyond a sometimes special interest group  arguing for regional Australia? Here their web site states:  

The Nationals plan for regional Australia is built on strong economic management and a fair share forthe regions.

As the one party dedicated to the one third of Australians who make their homes, work or business in the regions, our concern for the future increases every day Labor remains in Government.

Our first priority in government will be to restore the Budget surplus and repay the huge debt Labor has amassed.

We will put an end to Labor’s reckless spending, and secure a fair share of investment in regional Australia.

We want to ensure that all Australians have fair access to services like health and education and critical infrastructure such as good roads and telecommunications to truly unlock regional Australia’s potential.

As Nationals, we commit ourselves to delivering a fair go for all Australians – no matter where you live.

For the 2010 election The Nationals adopted a policy platform comprising 15 plans. This was built on at The Nationals Federal Council meeting in August 2011 when it was agreed to incorporate a further 5 plans into the platform. The 20 plans now form the basis of The Nationals Policy Platform for the 2013 Federal Election.

This is a living document and we welcome feedback from Party members, members of the public, industry, business, employee and professional organizations.

You can see the WA influence, but you can also see the lock-in to the Libs. So what are the Nationals 20 plans? You will find them here. To further discussion, have a look. Where do the Nats stand out from the Libs? What is the distinctive National Party approach?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Noddy's guide to Coalition vs Labor policies - part one

Note to readers: I am going to leave this as the front post for a little while before bringing up part two. As I get comments, I will post additions. I am interested in the way comments help me tease out issues.

Tonight a few, not especially profound policy comments. In writing, I was thinking of DG's comments on Wallabies & tie colours. Do Australia's pollies need a good spank? where he listed some coalition policy initiatives that he considered to be important.  There he said in part:

I don't think there is any doubt where the Coalition would like to take the country; it wants to wind back some of the daft, lunatic and ruinous policies of the Rudd / Gillard administrations ... ill-conceived policies that seek to destroy the reformist achievements of the Hawke / Keating / Howard years.

Now it would be unfair and inappropriate for me to respond via full post to what DG said. I disagreed in part and responded in comments. But DG did get me thinking, so I thought that I would make some general policy observations here on a number of policy areas. In most cases I haven't done the detailed analysis required for full comment. They are just observations.


Evan agreed with me about the convergence of the main parties. I suppose that's one of the things that i trying to test. Are the Nats different? 

National Disability Insurance Scheme

This is an area where Government and Coalition are in agreement. I haven't worked through the detail, but one weakness strikes me. This is an area where action, case management, is increasingly being outsourced. In the funder/provider model, services can be delivered by either not for profits or profit providers. The aim appears to be to create a competitive market place responsive to the needs of clients.

I want to turn this one on its head. In addition to being a social policy, it's actually an industry development policy. The organisations required for delivery at the present time don't exist. They have to be grown. Can this be done in the required policy time horizon? I doubt it. look for vulnerabilities, risks, on both sides.


This is an apparent area of difference between the two. The Government is trying to lock things in. In reality, I actually expect no difference between the two.

Gonski is a funding mechanism. The "policy" content comes from the imposition of standardised national measurements, the NAPLAN tests. These have moved from a narrowly defined performance measure to another control device. The only difference that I can see between the two sides is over money. I see no evidence at this point of different approaches when it comes to questions of control and measurement.

Vocational Education

No idea.

Higher Education

Beyond every increasing controls and measurement, this is so far a policy free zone. 


No difference that I can see.

Foreign Policy

I wrote no difference that I could see. DG suggested two areas of difference, different attitudes towards Israel and Indonesia. I agree on Israel, the Coalition is likely to be more sympathetic than Minister Carr. On Indonesia?

My Abbott has emphasised the Indonesian relationship. But, or so it seems to me, both sides are equally guilty of saying things for domestic consumption (Labor live cattle exports, Liberal on boats are examples) that then have to be recovered, explained.

I understand the framework of current policy towards Indonesia, but I am not sure yet what a Coalition Government  would do different.

Economic Policy

This area has converged. I stand to be corrected, but I can't see a practical difference.

DG accepted convergence in macro policy, but argued that there were differences in micro policy. I think that's a fair correction and will look at micro policy in my next post.

Industrial Relations

I don't understand this one properly, but is is an area of difference. The interpretation of Mr Abbott's policies suggest either that he has been very creative within bounds or has simply adopted Labor positions. Expect Mr Abbott to be more flexible.

Stop the Boats

The main difference between the two here is that the Coalition is a lot harsher. From my viewpoint given what happened under Mr Howard, that's a problem. That's a personal perspective. I also think that there a practical risks with the Opposition's policy. Again, that's a personal bias.

I will stop here tonight. However, do let me know where I am wrong.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Wallabies & tie colours. Do Australia's pollies need a good spank?

Gordon Smith re-necked wallabies

I don't feel like writing a lot tonight, Too much to do, so just a few things.

This photo from Gordon Smith is simply entitled Red-necked wallabies.

It's not one of his best photos in a technical sense, but i do think that it captures the relationship between mother and child.

Here in Australia, the latest opinion polls suggest that that the fall in support for the PM among men has dragged total ALP support down to close to a new low. To my knowledge, this scale of gender polarisation is unusual in Australian politics. Even my Labor feminist female friends who greeted the now famous misogyny speech with such glee have been generally silent on the latest speech.

In the meantime Kevin, I will come  back but only if you ask me nicely, Rudd has been out trying to woo the electorate and his caucus colleagues.

Today he came to Kevin's blue tieParliament wearing a blue tie. If that's too obscure, blue is for boys! All embarrassed, he fiddled with the knot. 

Seriously Kevin, I know that Therese picks your ties, but what were your thinking?! On a day in Canberra when the colour of men's ties is being so closely scrutinised, couldn't you think?

Talking to eldest tonight, she said (and I paraphrase a little) that she would like to give them all a good spanking. She is not alone in that view.

Perhaps Mummy Wallaby above should be given a broader training role!

Maybe I am getting a little jaundiced at the moment: Labor is imploding over tie colours; the Liberals want to excise Australia from anything that  might be perceived as a danger to Australia, even if it means relocating the continent to another planet; the Greens want to ban anything that might offer danger even if the ban creates more dangers; Clive Palmers Palmer United (Australia) Party appears to be wrestling over basic questions such as who will fund the corporate jet; and so it goes on.

Sorry, but in the meantime, a few of us are interested in basic but perhaps trivial question. Like, for example, where you are taking or want to take the country. Get real, that's all I can say. Please tell us, so that we can discuss.

Is that too much to ask? If you don't tell us, we might be forced to think for ourselves. And then where would you be?          

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday snippets - defence self reliance, Ramana's stories, new Polish Australian blog & the death of Helen Hughes

This Sunday's blog round up begins with a piece by Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan , Defence policy: Self-reliant or self-deluded?. Essentially, Jim argues that the apparent Australian focus on self-reliance is misleading and indeed dangerous because of the way that words can be used to conceal realities. This is a variant of the point I was making earlier in regard to the dangers of the words public interest.

Reading the piece and the quote from David Uren, the Australian's economic editor, reminded me of the dangers of economics. Whether or not Australia could achieve defence self reliance is a technical question that depends on the definition of self reliance and then the force structures required to deliver self reliance as defined. Once these questions have been defined, then costs come into play, along with the most effective delivery options. Once costs have been defined, then we have to ask is Australia prepared to pay?

These are not economics questions as such, although the tools of economics may be useful. Yet economics sticks its bib in as an early stage. The technical analysis may say that Australia must maintain certain domestic industrial capabilities if self reliance is to be achieved and that, consequently, certain industrial activities must be subsidised. But says the economist, that's industry protection and industry protection is a bad thing. Discussion then becomes confused.

Over on his musings, Ramana's Stories poses this question:

This post is to ask my regular readers if I should start a series of real life stories on interesting people and situations that I have encountered over an eventful life. Feel free to be as frank as you want to be. I don’t have to take your advise!

Go for it, Ramana. You write well. The advantage of using fiction as a vehicle is that you are not bound by facts and therefore have a better opportunity to focus. I do something of the same thing when I generalise from my own experiences. In so doing, I can focus on broader questions unbound from the precise details that began the muse. 

A new blog on my blog list, its actually a new blog too, is My Observations. Its written by a Polish women who now lives in Australia but has returned to Gdansk on personal business. It records her reactions to the new Poland. It's well written with a very personal idiosyncratic style.

Over on Club Troppo,Ken ran a guest post by Rob Bray, economist and research fellow in the School of Business and Economics at the Australian National University, National Minimum Wage – role and rationales. I found it a quite helpful and significant post.

The original Australian wage structure, the basic wage, was based on the social structures of the time. What was the minimum wage required for a family with one male bread winner to live in moderate comfort? Those days are long gone. What, then, is the role of the minimum wage?  It's actually the wage required to allow a single individual to live in minimum comfort. That's a huge shift.

On Catallaxy Files, Julie Novak reports (Helen Hughes, Australia’s greatest female economist: 1928-2013)on the death of Helen Hughes. I didn't know until I saw this post. I join with Julie in expressing my regrets. I never met Helen, but I have known of her for a long time. Often I disagreed with her, but I always took what she said seriously.

I didn't know that Helen had been born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1928 and had migrated to Melbourne with family in 1939. I know that there is a story there. It reminds me too, that part of the richness of Australian life lies in the people who have come here from different parts of the world and brought their different perspectives. I hope that there is a full obituary on Helen. I would like to learn more.

I fear that I am out of time. I have things to do, including watching youngest play hockey later this morning. Still, we will chat again.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - national parks, a sense of Aboriginal exclusion with a dash of Wallabies

In my irregular train reading series, Train Reading - the journeys of I-Ching, looked at one aspect of the history of South East Asia inspired by Reginald Le May's The culture of South-East Asia (George Allen and Unwin, second impression 1956). Now a rather remarkable story, Lost horizons: mediaeval city uncovered, reports on the discovery of another and earlier Khmer city, Mahendraparvata, built 350 years before Angkor Wat.

I have been hanging off a follow up story until I found the CD with the Cambodian photos. Hopefully, I will find it as my current tidying up continues. If you haven't read the Lost horizons story, do so. Ain't science grand?!

My old friend and blogging companion Paul Barratt and  I share many commo0n views. Sometimes we disagree. I suspect that this is one such case, for Paul referred me to this piece in The Conservation, Making national parks truly national. I think that this is one of the silliest pieces of special pleading that I have seen, so silly I don't even know where to begin a response. I guess that there will be a post in due course, but in the meantime have a read.

By the way, do you ever get confused on the "left/right" political spectrum? I know that I do. In terms of the pop classifications, one minute I'm hard right, next left, after that in the middle! I have reasonably consistent views in terms of my own principles, but the world shifts around me.

First Nations Telegraph is a free Aboriginal on-line news service that is, and I quote, "100% Owned & Operated by Our Mob" that is " Keeping Our Mob Connected." One of my Facebook friends writes for it.In a comment on his Facebook page he wrote "Should journalism and activism be mutually exclusive?". The answer is no, of course, but its not as clear cut as that.

I will come back to this in a later post, but in the meantime something that worries me at a personal level since I became so exposed to certain Aboriginal views. Bluntly, where do I fit in, if at all?

I am non-Aboriginal, I work with Aboriginal people all the time, I have written a lot on Aboriginal history, I try to make Aboriginal history and culture more accessible to Aboriginal people and the broader community, I have had some successes. Yet in all this, I struggle.

If Aboriginal people cannot make someone like me feel that I have a place in their world, how are they going to convince the general Australian community that Aboriginal history and society should have a special place in the broader Australia? Maybe I should explore this Wallabiesat some point properly. You can't break a ghetto by creating one.

Mmm, as a friend would say. Just a thought.

Loved this photo from Australia. Talk about Wallabies jumping! It's just so Australian.

Well, I'm running out of time. I haven't spoken of politics nor the Australian economy, but perhaps they can wait.

I have set this major writing targets for this weekend, but find that I just want to chat! But I can't do that, can I?

Friday, June 14, 2013

A note on Government, injustice & the public interest

One of the things that eroded my views of the Howard Government were the growing human injustices associated with the war on terror and then with immigration. More recently, the current Government has followed the same path, in part driven by the opposition. Most recently. we had the case of the bodies left in the water and then Sayed Ahmed Abdellatif (here and later here).

The combination of rules and politics can often lead to human injustice, especially when combined with a blind belief in the divine right of the public interest. The problem is not new in Australia, we have seen it all before, nor will it go away. Often, the nature of the injustice only becomes clear with the passage of time, in the light of subsequent events. Often, those who resist the trend are condemned. Sometimes, later events show that they were wrong. Perhaps more often, later events show that they were right.  

I have no solution to this problem beyond the need for caution and constant vigilance. It just is. However, be careful as soon as a Government starts talking about the public interest as a justification for particular actions. These are code words for we are right and you must agree or at least obey.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Australian life - are we more efficient now?

My train reading has switched again, this time to Isabel Wilkinson's Forgotten Country. The story of the Upper Clarence Gold Field (I Wilkinson, 1980). Completed by Isabel when she was an award winning student at the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education, it tells the story (among other things) Rangesof the search for precious metal in part of the wild New England ranges as they fall away to the coast.

As I read this book, I thought of the now forgotten stories buried in the Australian landscape,

Australia is a new country so far as later settlers are concerned, the Aborigines have a different perspective, yet even in that newness so much has been forgotten.

Many of the mining towns that sprang up in the Upper Clarence, rose and then vanished. Timbarra Tableland, for example, is now frozen in a wilderness description. The town, those who lived, worked, loved and died there, have vanished.

This is a different world, one increasingly remote from modern Australian experience with its rules and complexity. The new settlers demanded basic services across an ever changing landscape. Government responded. 

Increasingly, I am struck by just how amazingly efficient and effective those earlier Government officials were. Postal services were created and then closed. New ways were worked out for providing basic services. Public works were created, land was mapped, town plans created and all in very short time spans. 

Local MPs would express demands and expect to be answered. Those MPs had their own business interests, their own special pleadings, but they were integrally connected to their local communities. Those communities exercised their own controls. They made their own judgments.

Life was raw in some ways. Yet through the ubiquitous public meeting, the formation of committees, the composition of petitions, the local fund raising drive, you saw real local control at work: schools were built, race meetings created, the whole paraphernalia of life built, We can't do that today ,or at least not in the time horizons involved.

I hadn't quite expected to go this way when I began this post. but I think that it's true, What's true?

We can send someone into space, but we can't fix a local transport problem. We can create a complex research institutes, but we can't ensure the basic supply of minimum Government services to particular areas. Yes, the definition of minimum has changed, but the principle is the same.

Have we advanced? Sometimes I wonder.    

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Sunday Essay - the continuing allure of monarchy

A blogging colleague, a lawyer, was very upset at the way that Queensland barristers opted to return to the Queen's Counsel (QC) from Senior Counsel (SC) when given the choice. Apparently, only three opted to stay with SC. I'm not sure why he should have been surprised. The decision to replace QC with SC was imposed politically. Given a choice, people revert to the liked and familiar.

In retrospect, the best chance that the republicans had of abolishing the monarchy was during the Keating period. It is also clear, I think, that Mr Keating's determination to take away the familiar royal designations played  a major role in ultimately dooming the republican push.

As a practical example, when the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists merged with the New Zealand equivalent, the College wanted to change its name to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmology. Canberra told it that it could add New Zealand, but only if it dropped the Royal. That wasn't going to happen. Why should the College give up the Royal title? The merger went ahead, the name stayed the same, and was then changed later as the political winds shifted to allow it to retain Royal in the new title.

If Mr Keating and his fellow republicans had been more flexible, more accommodating, they might have had a chance of getting the substantive change through. Their problem was, I think, that the desire to achieve a republic was of itself as much about symbolism as substance. They fought and lost on the symbols. 

I mention this now in part because there is a new push by some in Australia for a republic. Yet at the same time, looking at both the mainstream and social media there is a continuing fascination with monarch. In Canada, the historian Christopher Moore is a dedicated republican. He struggles to understand why such an anachronism as the monarchy should stay in place, why there is so little desire to replace it.

I think that part of the answer is that monarchy is actually interesting. Only in the US where the president has become the monarch does presidency exercise a similar fascination. There, too, you have all the trappings of monarchy played out across screens in every household. I think, too, that part of the answer lies in the need for continuity, a desire to link present and past.

Here in Australia, prominent opposition leader and leading republican Malcolm Turnbull says that a republic won't come until the Queen dies. I thought that too, but that was at the height of the anti-Charles feeling. That has died down now, while the young royals have established a new bridge that extends beyond Charles. I can't see how the Queen's death will affect things. If anything, the consequent surge of emotion is likely to entrench the status quo.

I may be wrong, of course. I have been many times before! But I find it hard to see how the often pedestrian vision of a Australian republic might overcome the constantly changing allure of the alternative. 


Interesting piece in today's Financial Review (14 June 2013) on the change back to QC in Queensland.

The factual lead on the front page says in part:

The Queensland Attorney-General Jarrodd Bleijie, said the change would help barristers in Asia. Some Queenslanders believe SC is being confused with the law  firm role "special counsel" and that clients in Asia view QCs as more prestigious given their history of briefing silks from Britain.

Now I would have thought that this may be right or wrong, but it is testable. So, for example, the term senior counsel has indeed come to acquire wide usage in law firms for, for example, retired partners or other senior people not in standard roles.

Now when you go to the story itself (p33) all this drops away. The story itself has no analysis, just a stream of opinions.  

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - Australia's economic consensus

In an earlier post, I commented on the way that the peculiar structure of the this Federal election campaign had in some ways created as policy free zone. There I wrote:

The commenters on this blog appear to share the general view that the policy positions of the current Gillard Government no longer count, but the opposition doesn't count either because, with the exception of the NBN, it doesn't have any articulated policies. With such a long period to the Federal election, a policy vacuum has been created. Into that vacuum others are now rushing to enter, including most recently the Business Council of Australia. 

Since I wrote this, we have seen the the Commonwealth budget, the apparent bedding down of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the attempt by the Commonwealth Government to lock in its Gonski school education funding changes. The budget itself was marked by a degree of convergence from both sides, while both sides support the NDIS, leaving the Gonski changes as a major area of dispute. Mr Abbott has continued his small target approach. The only effective challenges to some of his policy positions including especially the paid parental leave scheme have come from within his own party.   

Outside the party political sphere, policy debate has continued, marked by specific campaigns by the press and by particular special interest groups. An example is the Smartest Investment campaign being run by Universities Australia, the peak body representing Australian universities. Many of these campaigns, including that being run by the universities, are struggling for oxygen in the current environment. However, in all the hurly burly a consensus appears to be emerging in the economic policy area although, as always, there is considerable disagreement on detail.Graph: GDP growth rates, Volume measures, quarterly change

The most recent national account figures for the  March quarter 2013 showed a continued weakening in the Australian economy. You can see this clearly in the attached graph from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing quarterly changes in GDP. You can see the upward trend and then a progressive weakening. That weakening trend is associated with the end of the mining investment boom whose affects have been accentuated by the strong Australian dollar.

The first element in the emerging consensus is that Australian Governments at all levels in some ways wasted the opportunities offered by the mining boom.

We overspent and in some ways undertaxed. By undertaxing I am not referring to the discussion around the mining tax, but rather to the various tax reductions that, in the end, proved unsustainable. We also. and this includes the mining industry itself, failed to focus sufficiently on productivity improvement, allowing rising costs to choke investment.

This leads to the second element in the emerging consensus, the need to focus on productivity improvement.  This has short and long term elements.

Looking at the short term, this mining boom was unusual in that it did not flow through to the general price increases and excessive economic activity that marked the end of previous booms. The price effects were especially contained to the mining sector, while the rest of the economy remained relatively flat. It is quite normal for other sectors of the economy to be flat or even decline when one sector expands rapidly, since the growth sector has to attract resources from elsewhere. However, the pattern this time was unusual.   

The overall failure of the broader economy to grow during the boom and now to expand to pick up the slack associated with the end of the boom has been the subject of much discussion. Part of that discussion focused on the exchange rate,

On December 12 1983, the then Hawke Labor Government with Paul Keating as Treasurer floated the Australian currency. This was really the first mining boom under a floating exchange rate, The fall in the value of the Australian dollar in the period immediately prior to the global financial crisis provided an important economic buffer to this country. Its subsequent rise helped choke the boom through, among other things, the pressure it placed on the trade exposed non-mining sectors.

Short term discussions on productivity have therefore focused on the cost explosion in mining, along with the role that slow productivity growth elsewhere in the economy played in impeding growth and adjustment, including  adjustment to the high dollar. This then fed into a longer term discussion on productivity improvement centred both on broader trends such as the aging population, as well as the apparent weaknesses in the broader economy and what that might mean for the longer term future of the country. I think it fair to say that while there is consensus on the need to improve productivity, there is not agreement as to the best way of achieving this.

Discussions on productivity have linked to a second theme, Australia's failure to improve basic infrastructure. There seems to be common agreement that the country has under invested in infrastructure at all levels for decades and that we need to do something about this. A variety of solutions have been put forward. To my mind, however, those discussions have failed to address a very basic question: why has Australia failed to invest in infrastructure? It's not as though the country hasn't had the resources to do so. We just haven't. Until you can answer the why question, you can't then answer the how question.

Debates on productivity and on infrastructure feed into discussion on another consensus area, the need for renewed microeconomic reform. There appears to be consensus that microeconomic reform has stalled, that it needs to be renewed. As with productivity and infrastructure, there is as yet no agreement as to how this might be done. However, there does appear to be emerging agreement on three elements.

The first is the need to reduce Government regulation that is choking economic activity and responsiveness. Again, there is disagreement as to how this might be done. But the consensus is there.

The second is the need to re-balance the tax system, while giving especially state governments access to more revenue. For the first time, there is an emerging consensus that the goods and services tax needs to be increased. Mr Abbott is strongly opposed to this at present on political grounds. Still. watch this space.

The third and related element is the need to restructure Commonwealth-state relations. Australians know that the current Federal system is not working, that the processes have become clogged. The problem here is a simple but almost insoluble. The Commonwealth needs to get out of state space, but no Commonwealth Government will do this.

In all this, Australia has one great advantage. Despite my sometimes criticisms, Australia's top economic technocrats (past and present) are very good. Further, they still have the capacity to provide independent views. They are still prepared to do so within the constraints set by their positions.

When I listen to or read something from the Commonwealth Treasury or the Reserve Bank, I listen or read with respect. I may not agree and will challenge, I know their constraints, but I trust them. If you think about it, that's pretty remarkable! And that's why I think that Australia is in good hands.        

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The rise in mental health problems - and other measured diseases

Over on Club Troppo, The Mental Health puzzle, part III: the cultural hypothesis continues Paul Frijter's examination of the puzzle of the measured increase in in mental health problems (depression, anxiety, and obesity in particular) across the Western world since the 1950s and in Anglo-Saxon countries in particular. In looking at this, Paul explicitly took it as a given that that this was a real increase and not just a measurement issue.

Now I have only just come across the series (I missed the earlier posts), so have nor properly absorbed Paul's arguments. However, the discussions links to some things that I have been thinking about that I just wanted to jot down.

The rise in measured diseases is not limited to mental health. My impression is that we are looking at a pattern that is broader than that. I suppose that the two that have most puzzled me are the apparent rise in asthma and in allergies of all sorts. If we take asthma as an example, I was in my early twenties before I met anyone with serious asthma. It wasn't talked about in a day to day sense. Now I see puffers everywhere and I have met multiple people suffering from what appears to be relatively severe asthma.

No doubt part of the answer lies in the increase in population. Where serious conditions are rare, the visible numbers and hence the commentary rise as the population rises. However, it would appear to be more than that. Here, and just looking at social things, I want to list three interacting things.

The first is the combination of reporting and measurement. Our capacity to collect data has risen sharply, as has the desire to report on different things. There is, I think, plenty of evidence to show that better reporting and data management systems leads to a rise in the number of recorded incidents and responses to those incidents.

The second is the professionalisation and especially the medicalisation within our community. All professionals look for problems that they can solve with their respective tool kits. They classify things in terms of their own taxonomies. You can see this in the mental health field, for example, where there has been a very large expansion in the things classified as "mental Illness" and therefore addressable via medical means. This is not helped by our own desire for answers.

The third can be classified as feed-back loops. As we become more aware of things, we apply them to ourselves. We seek help and advice on more things. This is reported. We become more aware. Its kind of a reverse placebo effect.

These three interacting things to my mind play a significant role in some of the trends that we see. If we really want to measure something like the of serious allergies, asthma or mental illness we have to be able to net these other trends out, and this can be hard.      


Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Brisbane's GoMa "My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia"

I see from Will Owen's blog (My Country: I Still Call Australia Home @ GoMA) that the Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art has a rather spectacular exhibition of Aboriginal art running until 7 October. This is an example of some of the work.goma13-arnhem

While I have been interested in Aboriginal art for quite a long time and have seen some exhibitions, I don't have a clear picture in my mind of all the patterns.   Certainly, I have seen some beautiful work. I do wonder some time, however, about the extent to which to which the art risks becoming too stylised, too stereotyped, too locked in rigid cultural forms.

I mention this because a few years back I went to an exhibition of current Aboriginal art from NSW selected from the best pieces entered in a competition. It was, I thought, very ordinary, locked into standard forms but without that freshness that marks the best of the Aboriginal art that I have seen.

I commend Will's post to you.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The CBA & Joe Hockey's mum-in-law.

From time to time on this blog I have talked about some of the more egregious failures where the the desire to achieve targets (and especially money) outruns common sense and indeed commo0n humanity. This is one such story.

However, reading the on-going saga, I thought oops: Hockey's mother-in-law stung by rogue financial planners! I suspect that, if My Hockey becomes the next Commo0nwealth Treasurer as seems likely, this treatment will be remembered.

I am not suggesting that Mr Hockey would in any way behave unprofessionally, I have too high an opinion of him for that. I am suggesting that it might influence his views in a general sense.

Just on the material presented, I accept that's partial, it would seem that there might be a case for further investigation or compensation. Then I thought that Mrs Babbage could actually be disadvantaged by the relationship because of the need to avoid any impression of partiality.

Monday, June 03, 2013


Over the next week  my posting here will be short but hopefully reasonably regulaP1000284(1)r. I need to focus on some other writing, as well as tidying up. With eldest's assistance, I am trying to impose a degree of organisation on my life!   

This is the small front office. It's cramped, but I do want to shift my working desk there from the scene you saw in Cat Avenger at writing desk.

My books and files are the tools of my trade. Despite the wonders of the internet, it compliments but does not substitute for the physical. That is especially true in my case where so much of what I write about is very poorly served by the on-line world.

A began an earlier campaign to start putting some material up on wikipedia just to fill some of the gaps. I fear that that will have to wait for my retirement! Seriously, though, I couldn't write as fast and as often as I do on some things without my reference material.

There is a problem, though. This is the lounge room in part tidied mode. My mother used to say that a private home was not a pP1000285(1)lace for a public lending library. I can see her point.

I have nine over-flowing book cases, with books still in boxes and covering other surfaces as well as books in storage. But still, I wouldn't be without them.

Each week when I come to write my weekly local history column, I sometimes know what I want to say. Just as often, I am bereft of ideas. So I grab for one of my books that might give me the basis for a story.

I friend wondered how I managed to cover so many topics. It's all in the books, you see!

Still, we did manage to clear out the equivalent of two large garbage bags of paper, and also organised some other things. Now I need to settle down and catch up! 

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - chips with sweet and sour, smoking and mental health, cats & maybe some nostalgia

ASIO hub plans stolen in cyber-attack

This morning's musings are just a round-up, a muster of various matters. To begin with something that really made me laugh. 

Here in Australia, the story of the possible Chinese hacking of the plans of the new ASIO building in Canberra has been in the news. This graphic represents the take on the matter by skepticslawyers' DeusExMacintosh.

Now I'm not sure about DExM's Australian connection, I think that she is British, but she sure captured the Australian view in this graphic. The thing that really made me laugh was the inserted comment bottom left.

By the way, assuming that my Latin hasn't completely escaped me, DeusExMacintosh means something like God out of the Macintosh. We don't use the word Macintosh much in Australia, raincoat is more common, but the name still makes me smile.

Complaints about spying also make me smile. All countries do it. The problem arises only when you get caught!

A perceptive friend wondered in an email to me, "I am getting impression that this (writing on Personal Reflections) is not that much fun lately?" That's partially true. I have been feeling a bit jaded. I write thousands of words a week across a number of platforms. I just get tired.

Then I look at what I get back.chart

This chart shows page views as measure by Google on this blog. That looks very good, although my other stats packages don't show quite as pronounced upward trend.But what counts is not just raw traffic.

On Wednesday, I wrote The inhumanity of modern social policy. This addressed the question of the impact of bans in smoking in public hospitals. That led to a comment from a mental health nurse that I have now bought up in a postscript in the main post.

By the way, I don't just feature comments that I agree with. I feature comments that will add to discussion or, at least, make me laugh! The nurse's comment is a very real and serious one, Anybody can comment on this blog, it's public space. The comments I get may sometimes be uncomfortable, but they are very important in the dialogue that is the real strength of the blogosphere.

If you comment and make good points, I will try feature them in postscripts or later responses. In some ways I am coming to think of this blog as my commenter's' blog. It is a platform for discussion and dialogue.

Enough lecturing!

In response to feedback on my post Cat Avenger at writing desk, I added a photo of Tiger, Avenger's mum. She does just the same to Clare as Avenger does to me! I also added a comment from kvd that really made me laugh:

"ps most cats have mental problems, induced by their sublime belief in their innate superiority over humans, balanced against their inability to open cans of cat food."

Those who have cats will join me in laughter.

Back in early May a very short post, The World is awash with money, provided a brief introduction to my concern about what is called QE or quantitative easing. In that post I said:

The thing that is making me increasingly uneasy is the feeling that the pre-conditions are being set for an economic crash. What makes perfect sense for one country, becomes a mess when multiple countries do it. What I'm trying to work out in my mind is a scenario that would allow multiple quantitative easing to be unwound without tipping the wheelbarrow  over and us all onto the ground.

In the weeks since, this has continued to emerge as an issue and I still don't have an answer. I have also been interested in the varying responses by economists. In a funny way, economics has become a little like sociology once was, a battle ground of varying ideological positions. This is not always a bad thing, for it leads to different questions being asked. But it doesn't help me much in understanding practical realities, and that was something economics was once meant to do. Of course economists got it wrong, but the discipline did provide a structured way of asking questions. I wonder if that's still true?

When I was an undergraduate at the University of New England, the philosophy of history was a compulsory unit in the honours year, as was the history of economic thought in economics. The aim was to give students a solid grounding in the history and assumptions of their discipline. That provided bedrock because you could see how things changed over time, how assumptions and context affected thinking.

John Pullen's article on the history of the teaching of economic thought at UNE will provide you with a little of the story of what happened there, of the decline in HET. In history, the philosophy of history course was replaced by one on history methodology, a very different concept.

I accept that it is no longer possible for students to get the type of broad education that I did. I don't think that this is just nostalgia, although that's no doubt part. I also think it's an objective reality. We have formed the view that we can no longer afford it, nor is it appropriate when the purpose of higher education is so narrowly vocational.  How can you justify courses that have no practical impact in a crowded course list?

But when I look at some of the current economic, policy or management debates, I do wonder about the long term costs.  I actually use the knowledge and skills I gained in my undergraduate degree and in all the student activities that surrounded that degree all the time. I wonder if that is still true for more recent students?