Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday Forum - the administrative competence of the Trump Administration

I think that the thing that most surprised me about President Trump's Executive Order "PROTECTING THE NATION FROM FOREIGN TERRORIST ENTRY INTO THE UNITED STATES" was the apparent administrative incompetence involved, something that may be becoming a feature of the new US Administration at this point in its life.

Consider the Order first. I accept although I may not like the Administration's focus on being seen to deliver on campaign promises. Accept because they were campaign promises, dislike because I thought that some of them were very silly indeed. However, the way that the Order was drafted and then "implemented" was ham handed and confused. It seems that the need for immediate political atmospherics overrode common sense and practical administration.

From an administrative perspective, there were three problems with the Order: it was poorly drafted, containing ambiguities that meant that its scope was not properly recognised; partially as a consequence of this, there were potential legal uncertainties about its validity; and it was put in place without the necessary administrative underpinnings required for effective delivery. All this led to confusion, collateral damage to individuals and the US reputation and subsequent backtracking.

You can get a feel for the degree of confusion and backtracking if you compare the Order and its initial implementation with this formal statement on the scope of the Order issued by the UK Foreign Office following discussions between Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the US Government. To my mind, this statement provides a gloss not supported by the original Order, initial US actions or statements from the President and his team.

Even then, there are ambiguities in the British statement best captured in this paragraph, one that appears to conflict directly with the earlier parts of the statement.  "The only dual nationals who might have extra checks are those coming from one of the seven countries themselves – for example a UK-Libya dual national coming from Libya to the US". Now compare this with the earlier parts of the statement:
The Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has today held conversations with the US Government and as a result we can clarify that:
  • The Presidential executive order only applies to individuals travelling from one of the seven named countries.
  • If you are travelling to the US from anywhere other than one of those countries (for instance, the UK) the executive order does not apply to you and you will experience no extra checks regardless of your nationality or your place of birth.
  • If you are a UK national who happens to be travelling from one of those countries to the US, then the order does not apply to you – even if you were born in one of those countries.
  • If you are a dual citizen of one of those countries travelling to the US from OUTSIDE those countries then the order does not apply to you.   
The first part of the UK statement appears in direct conflict with the Order, while the last paragraph would appear to be in conflict with the earlier paragraphs.I note, by the way, that while both the Canadian and UK Governments have responded on behalf of their residents to the US Order, the Australian Government appears to have been silent on the issue, preferring to focus instead on the deal with the US on refugee resettlement. I may be wrong here, but I checked both the PM's and Foreign Minister's websites.

I siad that administrative incompetence may be becoming a feature of the new US Administration. The terrorism/migration Order is not the only example. President Trump may be suffering from the delusion that signing an Order is equivalent to making something happen.

Consider, example, the Order calling for a 30 day review on the Best way of defeating ISIS. I have no especial problem with this.Indeed, quick, sharp, reviews on particular issues can be important in allowing a new Administration to refine its views and set new directions. However, the volume of Orders as well as some of the more contentious content does raise questions about the capacity of the Administration to even consider let alone implement consequent recommendations. We have seen from a number of recent Australian Governments what happens when the desire to do, to be seen as active, outruns the capacity of supporting systems to deliver.

In writing this post, I have chosen to focus on the question of administrative competence. Obviously, many other issues are involved. However, the question of policy and administrative competence is central to what actually happens.

I am treating this post as the Monday Forum post. As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want.


The polarising effects of Mr Trump's Order are remarkable, building on existing divisions. Most of the people I know including my own family have strong reactions against the Order, building on existing attitudes to President Trump.On the other side of the ledger, there has been an uptick in nationalistic anti-immigration feeds. Open your mouth to express contrary views to either side and you will get your head bitten off.

I was interested in the attitudes adopted by the Westminster democracies. Canada is on one side of the ledger, directly attacking the Order, even using it as a device to promote Canada's open door inclusive approach. Canada also seems to have acted very quickly to clarify elements of the order, including the position of dual nationals.

On the other side we have Australia. This press statement from yesterday (Monday 30 January) captures the Australian position, reflecting lock-ins from existing policies. :
Prime Minister, will you be undertaking an assessment of the Trump Executive Order, particularly in regard to Australians who are dual nationals, going to the US for business or for tourism, or students? Is there a need for an assessment of how that policy may impact on Australians?
Well, as the Foreign Minister's spokesman said this morning, our Embassy is engaging with US officials on this subject but at this stage, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has not received any requests for consular assistance from Australians unable to board transport to the United States.
Do you agree with the terms of that Executive Order? As it affects dual citizens?
Well, Michelle, as I said, we have not seen any cases of it so doing. If cases do arise, then we will take them up with the government. The Foreign Minister's spokesman has said that already.
Can I just say to you though, it is not my job, as Prime Minister of Australia, to run a commentary on the domestic policies of other countries.
We have, here, in Australia, border security arrangements which are the envy of the world. I know this from when I was at the UN in September. I can tell you, leader after leader spoke to me about how much they admired the security, the intelligence-based security systems we have on our border to keep Australians safe and to keep terrorists out of Australia.
We've got very strong systems. That is a fact. So we're proud of those and we'll maintain them, and where we can, we will enhance them. If others wish to emulate what we're doing, they're welcome to do so but I am not about to run a commentary on other countries’ practices.
Mr Turnbull, other leaders, western leaders, have taken issue with the Executive Order. You don't find it discriminatory? Secondly, in your conversation with President Trump, did you mention the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Our rules, our laws, our values are very well known. Our commitment to multiculturalism, our commitment to a non-discriminatory immigration program is well known. I spoke about it at some length just last week on Australia Day. So that's where we stand. That's our policy. But our borders are secure. That is the bottom line. Our borders are secure. We are not complacent. Peter Dutton is constantly looking at how we can enhance our security. We recognise there are real threats and we are determined to keep Australians safe.
Both the UK and New Zealand came out in direct opposition to the Order, if with a degree of kicking and screaming on the UK side where the Government seems to have temporised initially.  The New Zealand position is far more nuanced, if this news reporting is any guide. I think New Zealand, like other countries was blindsided by the nature of the Order, leading to a lagged response. In responding, Mr English:

  • States that while he does not see the Order as anti-Muslim, New Zealand is opposed to the ban. In stating this, Mr English is quite careful not to be drawn into commentary on US domestic politics 
  •  Focuses on reassuring New Zealanders that the NZ Government will not apply the same approach, that New Zealand remains an open welcoming country
  • States that New Zealand is seeking clarification, especially on the position of dual nationals. 
In a comment, Winton Bates wrote:
I suspect the new POTUS would perceive administrative confusion as a plus if it got more "liberals" on the streets protesting. Many of his supporters will assume that he must be doing the right thing if he upsets the "liberals".
Winton may well be right. There are fault lines, divisions, that I am seeking to understand. In this context, Winton also pointed me to this article from TimeDonald Trump, Stephen Bannon and the Coming Crisis in American National Life. As an historian, I do use history to inform my writing, but am very cautious about "grand theories", including those set out here. However, the piece is interesting in providing possible clues to some of the thought influences within the US Administration.

My focus in the post was on what the Order and other decisions of the Trump Administration might say about the administrative competence of the Trump Administration. That will be tested by time. For the moment, this is a short term Order, one designed to give the Trump Administration time to put new approaches in place, including "extreme vetting".

The ambiguities in the order as well as immediate problems in its enforcement have already forced a range of clarifications. It remain the case, however. that no one is really sure what it actually means when it comes to specific cases. The clarifications have clarified some things, added further confusions in other cases.
As I write, it appears that the Australian Government has secured the same deal that applies to Canadian and UK dual citizens, they can travel freely to the US. No doubt this will be extended to New Zealand. This is actually messy in itself. Where does it leave dual-nationals from Germany or Denmark or Sweden, for example?  No doubt this will be worked out, it may have been already for all I know. meantime, the chaos and conniptions roll on. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saturday Morning Musings - the lost taste of the tomato

Traditionally, I have bought free range chicken and eggs because I thought that they tasted better. I have also found that food bought at markets tasted better because it was less processed. I know that I am not alone here. I have also found that vegetables I grew myself often have a better taste.

Now there is an issue here about the role of perception in affecting taste. Food scientists tell us, for example, that there is no nutritional difference between free range chicken and eggs and the the more intensively farmed variety.

I have never quite accepted this. More precisely, I have accepted the nutritional base, but still considered that there was a difference in taste.

The taste difference is most pronounced in the case of tomatoes. I have traditionally grown grosse lisse, a heavy fruiting old style variety. . The home grown grosse lisse have been been some of the nicest tomatoes I have eaten.

I like tomatoes and eat them a lot. I eat them in salads, bake them, eat them as a snack and make varieties of train smash. I also love tomato chutney,

Over recent years, mass produced store sold tomatoes have become quite tasteless, at least to me. A ripe tomato full of juice is nice as a snack on its own, although I add pepper and salt. In train smash, the tomatoes need to have a strong taste to compliment the strong taste of onion and/or bacon. Store bought tomatoes seemed to me to no longer fit the bill.

I did wonder if it was my imagination, although there is no way the tomatoes I bought yesterday could be described as tasty. It was a bit like eating cardboard.

The Guardian Australia has now carried a report on recent scientific research that suggests that all of us who complain that tomatoes have lost their taste are quite right. I quote:
After conducting exhaustive taste tests of 100 tomato varieties and sequencing the genomes of nearly 400 varieties, researchers have found the 13 volatile compounds that give a tomato its inherent flavour. 
By comparing traditional tomatoes with their modern descendants, the teams uncovered the properties that have been lost in the quest for improved size, yields and resistance. 
The process followed is reasonably complex because you have to use taste tests that are inherently subjective to establish a taste base. Accepting that, it is reassuring to know that the decline of the tasty tomato does have a scientific base, that it's not just our imagination. Perhaps the approach can be extended to other foods, measuring not just nutrition but also taste?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Personal confusions over Australia Day

Thursday was Australia Day. It was also India's Republic Day. The photo is one of the many organised Australia Day functions.

I find Australia Day personally confusing. Looking back at the various posts I have written about it, that contusion is reflected in my fluctuating views on the Day.

Australia Day used to be a relatively low key thing, but since the 1980s it has progressively grown into a major nation activity involving all levels of Government. I am distrustful of this type of celebration, I have similar reactions to the resurgence of ANZAC Day, because it so often plays to national jingoism and self-promotion.

I finally came down in favour of the Day because it provides a good excuse for a party and does also celebrate some of the good things about Australia and Australians.

It's also great for Australians overseas, providing an opportunity to get together in various ways. This shot shows an Australia Day party in Copenhagen 2016.    

There is, however, an issue with the 26 January date, for it marks the day on which the First Fleet arrived in Port Jackson when Governor Philip raised  the British Flag.

To many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, this is Invasion Day or or Survival Day. This has resulted in counter demonstrations and celebrations that have come to form an integral part of Australia Day. Many Indigenous people and their supporters in the non-Aboriginal community want the date changed, arguing that a new date would be more representative of the total Australia. They also argue that this would aid reconciliation.

Again, my own views have fluctuated. I can see the argument for, although I also think that a date change might well impede the Aboriginal desire to bring about change by removing a potent symbolic platform. However, it seems clear that the majority of Australians presently do not want the date changed. A poll carried out by McNair for the Guardian suggested that only 15% of Australian in total wanted the date changed. By contrast, 54% of Indigenous respondents wanted a change in date.  

This year there were again the usual protests against Australia Day. However, there was a darker thread this year to the media reporting, to the twitter and facebook threads that made me uncomfortable, a bigotry on both sides of the debate, including the date change question.

It is possible to discuss (and report on) Australia Day, including a possible date change, in a respectful manner seeking information, seeking to understand other peoples' positions. That was absent from some of the headlines and comment threads. In an increasingly fragmented and polarised electorate, Australia Day and especially the date has become another of those symbolic "left-right" issues providing a focal point for division. .  

My personal position on the date has shifted from support for a date change (that was itself a shift) to support for the status quo because I think that the current date is important in providing a framework for dialogue and change.

However, I don't really want to play here, to become engaged in partisan discussion. I will go along with whatever the final consensus is. Meantime, I will enjoy the party elements and spectacle of the day.  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday Essay - all things Danish

Rosenborg Slot  was originally built as a country summerhouse in 1606 by Danish King Christian IV.  It was built in the Dutch Renaissance style, typical of Danish buildings during this period. 
One of my presents for Christmas was the English translation of Palle Lauring's A History of Denmark. It's an example of popular history, one written for a particular audience, in this case to educated the British on their Danish connection! It is simply written, no footnotes, but very useful and interesting nevertheless, in part because of its lack of academic clutter! Rather like the history columns i try to write, for example.

Reading the and other feeds on personal DNA tests, many Australians are astonished to see Scandinavian linkages pop up in their DNA. They shouldn't be. Those Vikings and especially the Danes got around! They just didn't raid the British Isles, they settled. For a period under Canute (Cnut), England was part of a Danish kingdom. The Normans who conquered England in 1066 were descendants of Norse invaders.

Kronborg Castle. From 1574 to 1585 King Frederick II transformed a previous medieval structure into a magnificent Renaissance castle. When the castle was destroyed by fire in 1629, King Christian IV had it rebuilt. Most Danish kings seem to be called either Frederick or Christian. Gets confusing.  
At the ending of the Viking age, Denmark and more broadly Scandinavian history drifted to the outskirts, the periphery, of British awareness. Kronborg was an exception.

It wasn't just its popularisation as Elsinore in Shakespeare's Hamlet, for Kronberg was a key strategic facility. Here the Øresund Sound between what is now Denmark and Sweden, the entry to the Baltic Sea, is just 4 k (2.5 miles wide). Denmark then controlled the land on both sides. For 400 hundred years, the tolls levied on shipping constituted a major source of revenue to the Dutch Crown.  Control of Øresund was strategically significant.
The Sound between Denmark and Sweden seen from Kronberg, Sweden in the distance. Its not a good shot because it doesn't give a proper feel of the closeness. The combined guns on either side could blast any ship out of the water before they could get through. 
If Denmark drifted from British perception, there was less recognition still in Australia.

In 1901, Australia had 6,281 residents born in Denmark. By 1947 that number had dropped to 2,759. At the 2006 census, 8,963 Australian residents declared that they were born in Denmark. A further 50,413 Australian residents claimed Danish ancestry, either singularly or with another ancestry. These are small numbers. There are no statistics on the number of Australians living in Denmark, but again the number was small until quite recently. A lack of awareness on both sides is therefore not surprising. .

Mary Donaldson was born in Hobart on 5 February 1972. Her romance with Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark, attracted world wide coverage. Their 2004 wedding received saturation coverage in Australia.
Two things changed this. The first was Mary Donaldson's 2004 marriage to Denmark's Prince Frederik. The second was the focus on Denmark as the world's happiest country.

A Danish friend observed to me that Denmark did not have an embassy in Australia until the wedding. That's actually not true, a Danish embassy was established in 1967, but I think that it is true that the wedding actually had greater impact on awareness of Australia in Denmark than the other way around because Australians were already more aware of Denmark

The global focus on Denmark as the world's happiest  country is part of a broader global interest in the Scandinavian countries as societies that seem to work effectively. To provide a little perspective here, Denmark's population is 5.7 million, the total Scandinavian population around 27 million. These are not large numbers - Australia's population is 24.3 million and will pass that of Scandinavia over the next ten to fifteen years. Global interest far exceeds the relative size of Scandinavia's population.

Part of a mainly Australian group playing boules at a Copenhagen boulebar.
Denmark in general and Copenhagen in particular offers many attractions to young Australian professionals: 86% of the Danish population speaks English, while English is used as the main business language within larger firms; firms such as A.P. Moller–Maersk draw their Danish based staff from around the world; the life style is very comfortable despite high taxation rates; and Copenhagen is a setting off point for a Europe made close by cheap airfares and the Schengen Agreement.

The cost differences compared to Australia are substantial. Armidale is only 483 kilometers from Sydney, 366 from Brisbane, in flight terms. The cheapest one way flight (if you can get it) from Armidale to Sydney is $134. The full fare is $343 on Qantaslink. By contrast, the cheapest fare that I could find from Copenhagen to Athens (2,107k flight distance) was $79.  

Waiting for the train to Sweden. While still not onerous, the new border screening between Denmark and Sweden adds to time and inconvenience, especially for those living in Malmo who have to cross the border each day to work in Copenhagen.  
Whether Schengen and indeed European integration more broadly can survive the rise of right wing nationalist parties in Europe including the Danish People's Party is open to question. These parties draw their support especially from those who have not benefited from European integration and globalisation more broadly and are fearful of loss of identity.  I can understand their concerns. However, abolition of Schengen and more broadly any break-up of the EU would effectively re-allocate Denmark back to the periphery of Europe with considerable cost.

Nørrebro is Copenhagen's melting pot. Almost 89.6% of the Danish population is born in Denmark. The equivalent Australian number is 72%. Whereas Australia is a migrant country with multiple nationalities drawn in a continuing stream since the Second World War, Denmark is far more homogeneous, while the migrant intake is both more concentrated and more recent. 
I. wanted to get more of a street feel for the Danish migrant experience, including issues associated with recent refugee and especially Muslim intakes, so I went for a almost a random wander through Nørrebro   In the end, I didn't go far enough down Nørrebrogade (the main drag) to reach the highest migrant concentrations including the new mosque. However, I did get some feel for the mix of the place, a combination of students, gentrification, funky eating places, instantly recognisable social housing and a changing people scene.Its an interesting mix.

None of us can say what the future holds. For the moment, the people exchange will continue to increase. According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, around 700 Danish students now study in Australian annually. On the Australian side, a growing number of Australian schools and universities have exchange arrangements with Denmark, providing a familiarity that encourages later movement. And for those interested, you can now buy Danish sweets in Australia to go with the reverse supply of vegemite, tim tams and milo!        

Note to readers. This post took me longer to write than intended. However, I have brought it up on the original intended date.


kvd wondered just how we got by train from Denmark to Sweden given the water separating the two countries.. As he found through investigation, the answer is the Øresund bridge-tunnel, a remarkable piece of civil engineering. This story that he found on Twisted Swifter tells the story of the bridge and includes some quite remarkable photos.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Following events in The Gambia via twitter

For those who do not know The Gambia, it is a thin sliver of a country in West Africa along the Gambian River largely surrounded by Senegal.

As 12am Gambian time, I watched the news to see what outgoing President Yayha Jammeh might do. Would he stand down to let newly elected President Adama Barrow take over or would he resist? Would Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States) forces intervene and, if so, when?

Mainstream Australian media, indeed most English language Western media, coverage of Africa is very poor. There is a distinct gradient in which Latin American and then Africa are at the bottom of the pile, with Africa very much at the bottom. The reason for that is very simple. There is very little knowledge of Africa. It has, indeed, become the dark continent.

It is no secret that I am older. I grew up in a world in which British Empire and Commonwealth were still real entities. I actually studied some African history at school, was exposed to coverage of African events if through an arguably distorted lens. That may give me a distorted perspective from the viewpoint of my African friends, but at least I know something!

To try to monitor what was happening in Gambia, I went to the BBC. Nothing. Frustrated, I switched to Twitter following the #Gambia tag. I was quite sucked in. There was the usual misinformation, late discoverers repeating earlier stuff, brief comments expressing opinions, in all a raw stream including lots of garbage.

Slowly a picture began to emerge. Initially, it was one of diplomatic activity, but of quiet on Gambian streets. The quiet seemed important. If President Yayha Jammeh intended or was able to use the security apparatus to maintain his position then you would expect to see signs of it. There were no such signs. Slowly, the picture unfolded. By now, the mainstream media had begun to catch up, including the swearing in of new President Adama Barrow in the Gambian Embassy in Dacca. However, in the midst of all the rubbish, Twitter provided the best early coverage.

This video shows Ecowas troops entering Gambia. It was first posted on Twitter before the news flashes appeared on the BBC.

This was followed by scenes of celebrating crowds in the Gambian capital Banjul including a shot later of the head of the Army dancing with the crowds.By now, it was pretty clear that President Yayha Jammeh was totally isolated.

Bloodshed was still possible. There was a real feeling of impatience, of wanting to get things over. Here the West African leaders seemed to be playing with a cool head, seeking a graceful exit with no violence. As I write, it seems that President Yayha Jammeh will go peacefully into exile, although there is still a degree of uncertainty. Whatever the result, the matter seems to have been well handled.

And Twitter has proved its worth.


From Twitter:
 @MichelSow Confirmation by Flight Tracking: #Jammeh left 9:12pm #Gambia, no longer on its ground, 1000s feets high in air!!

Just before departure:

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Jack Ryan and Tom Clancy - interpreting Donald Trump

Holga the Dane is a sort of semi-mythological Arthurian style figure who will come to life to rescue the Danish people should they ever face annihilation. Explaining his failure to appear, our guide at Kronborg Castle suggested that it had not been necessary, that somehow the Danes had sort of muddled though.

I mention Holga now because some of the reporting and almost despairing commentary on Donald Trump carries a flavour that might not unfairly be described as where is Holga? We need him to rescue us from this man! There is very little analysis, rather sets of personal reactions driven by perceptions.

In What policies will be pursued by the author of "The Art of the Deal"?, Winton Bates sought to use Trump: The Art of the Deal, a 1987 book written by Trump and journalist Tony Schwartz, as an entry point. For my part, I have used that book (I read it a long time ago and liked it), the views I formed from watching The Apprentice plus reporting on Mr a partial entry point. However, perhaps the most useful works of all have been Tom Clancy's books and especially the John Ryan series.

I am not equating Jack Ryan with Donald Trump. They are very different people. However, Clancy did capture accurately certain aspects of US right wing populist thinking (I am using that phrase in a descriptive not pejorative sense) including distrust of those within the Beltway and of career politicians, a belief in bureaucratic inefficiency, a belief in the people, a belief in US military power and a somewhat mercantilist view of trade.

Executive Orders is perhaps the clearest presentation because this sets out descriptions of Ryan's political actions and ethos having unexpectedly become President of the United States, including successful action (using Mr Trump's phrase) to clean out the swamp. In doing so, President Ryan has to deal with a media and political establishment that constantly tries to interpret his actions against existing models, paradigms, of thought and action.

I think that the last is important, for that's what people are trying to do, judge Mr Trump against existing models that don't quite fit. I think that we have to watch and wait to see what it really all means. I really don't know!


I see that  Paul McGeough in the Canberra Times has picked up the Tom Clancy theme: "Americans are trapped in the pages of a Tom Clancy political thriller"

.We now have President Trumps inauguration speech. The print version follows. I think that we can use this as a base for objective analysis since this sets out the benchmark for the presidency.

 "Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans, and people of the world: Thank you.

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.

Together, we will determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come.
We will face challenges. We will confront hardships. But we will get the job done.

Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.

Today's ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another - but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.

For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.

Washington flourished - but the people did not share in its wealth.

Politicians prospered - but the jobs left, and the factories closed.

The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.

Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

That all changes - starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.
It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America.

This is your day. This is your celebration.

And this, the United States of America, is your country.

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.

January 20th, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

Everyone is listening to you now.

You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.

At the centre of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.

Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighbourhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.

These are the just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public.

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealised potential.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

We are one nation - and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.

The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.

For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry;

Subsidised the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military;

We've defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own;

And spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.

We've made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.

One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.

The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.

But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future.

We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.

From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.

From this day forward, it's going to be only America First, America First.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.

I will fight for you with every breath in my body - and I will never, ever let you down.

America will start winning again, winning like never before.

We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.

We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.

We will get our people off of welfare and back to work - rebuilding our country with American hands and American labour.

We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world - but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example - we will shine - for everyone to follow.

We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones - and unite the civilised world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

The Bible tells us: "How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity."

We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.

When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.

There should be no fear - we are protected, and we will always be protected.

We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we will be protected by God.

Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger.

In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving.

We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action - constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.

The time for empty talk is over.

Now arrives the hour of action.

Do not allow anyone to tell you that it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.

We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.

We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.

A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.

It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.

And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.

So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words:

You will never be ignored again.

Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams, will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.

Together, we will make America strong again.

We will make America wealthy again.

We will make America proud again.

We will make America safe again.

And, yes, together, we will make America great again.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you. God bless America." ENDS

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Clare Belshaw 2016 reflections set against a backdrop of Copenhagen's beauty

Bumpy ride getting back into stride in the New Year. Youngest has been far more organised. While we were in Denmark she got out her new notebooks, she likes new stylish notebooks, and began her reviews and planning. Now she has produced the following YouTube video set against the backdrop of our trip to Copenhagen for Christmas with eldest.

Perhaps Clare should be employed by the Scandinavian tourist authorities. The video captures some of the beauty of both Copenhagen and Sweden's Gothenburg. Those ducks. Clare, a carnivore like her father, wondered about dinner!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Rediscovery of Legros' L'angelus painted 1859

From Art Daily:
Known only through dated black and white photographs, L’angelus, by Alphonse Legros was believed lost for decades. One of Legros’s – and indeed the mid-nineteenth century’s - most storied paintings, L’angelus was also the artist’s first major religious painting and a powerful example of his acclaimed Realist style. The lavish attention it received from the notoriously discriminating art critic Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) at its debut at the Paris Salon of 1859 was made all the more remarkable due to the staggering number of rejections and instances of scathing criticism that plagued an unprecedented number of other works and artists at this particular venue in 1859. Singled out for praise by numerous subsequent commentators, first in France and later in England, America, and Europe, and housed in some of the art world’s best-known and most discerning early twentieth-century private collections, the reappearance of L’angelus in 2016 is indisputably a monumental episode in the annals of modern art history. It now resides in an important private American collection. The new owner plans to share it via museum exhibitions with the public. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cracker night in Denmark

This photo makes me look like a somewhat overweight elf! It was, in fact, New Year's Eve in Copenhagen.

We had been talking about New Year's Eve and Christian commented about the fireworks that everybody let off. As a somewhat older Australian, I have very fond memories of cracker night.  Finding that crackers were still legal in Denmark at least on New Year's Eve, I became consumed with a desire to revisit my childhood.

Taking pity on me, Christian took me off to a fireworks shop, a tent erected for the purpose of selling pretties and bangs for the night.

This was a bit of a shock, These were not the small fireworks of my past, but seriously big stuff. Those are sky rockets in the bag.

I hesitated. Should I buy just the children's pack, or go for the big stuff? Under Danish law, firework shops must stop selling by close of business on New Year's Eve. Remaining stock must then be destroyed. With that time approaching, the cracker salesman came up with a deal that I could not resist, a super pack with other things thrown in. Deal done, a slightly befuddled Christian (he had not expected this level of enthusiasm on my part) and I wended our way back to the apartment.

 Eldest had organised a New Year's Eve party. Before the guests arrived, I wandered down to the waterfront to find a suitable location. I was a bit nervous for while I have had experience with crackers, these were seriously big fireworks. Even though it was just dusk, fireworks were already going off. A little later, I ran into Dave, a Kiwi from the next door flat. He had been down to look at the exploding fireworks. "Have you been out?" he said, "they are very pretty."

About 10.30 we went .out to let the first round off. I say first round, for Christian was insistent that we keep some for midnight, the real peak of the pyrotechnic explosion. It was cold, a little terrifying, but very exciting.

The post midnight excursion was not quite as exciting, but still fun.

Coming back to Australia where fireworks are illegal in most states, I found that  two people had died from illegal fireworks with some other injuries.
Chief Inspector Lott said the death was a timely reminder that people should not take unnecessary risks. 
"During the holiday period, whether it be driving or enjoying themselves on the beach, that safety must come first," he said. 
"They have to keep in mind their own safety and the people around them and not to take… unnecessary risks during this period.".  
Australian police were struggling to prevent the sale of black market fireworks.

During that same time, four people died in Denmark, mainly from stupidity. Talking on the way home from the airport in Sydney, a friend commented that Australians no longer knew how to let crackers off safely. .I suspect that's right.

The Australian police emphasis on safety, on the avoidance of risk especially in activities now made illegal,  does take the fun out of life.

I really enjoyed my Danish cracker night. Next time, I hope that there will be one, I will know better what I am doing. For example, lighting fireworks with cigarette lighters is not sensible. It's difficult in a breeze and doesn't give you time to get away. But it was so much fun.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Monday Forum - to what degree is social happiness maximised by security and certainty?

I came back from Europe on the edge of a major cold spell to a Sydney just coming out of one heatwave with another on the way.

On our last day in Denmark, Clare and I went by train to visit Kronborg Castle,  immortalized as Elsinore in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. It was bitterly cold despite the weak sunshine. Coming out of the railway station, we walked along the waterfront towards the castle. There was a stiff breeze, the windchill reducing the temperature to perhaps -15C. Every part of me hurt. We diverted into the nearby village of Helsingør for a reviving hot drink before pressing on.

Sydney was a complete contrast, perhaps 40C degrees hotter than the Copenhagen we had left. After 37 hours travelling including transit times, I was very tired. Sitting in the car home with its struggling air conditioning, I wondered how anybody could live in these temperatures!

At Copenhagen Airport, I bought Helen Russell's The Year of Living Danishly: uncovering the secret's of the world's happiest country. Helen's husband called appropriately enough in the book Lego Man had taken a job with the iconic Danish Lego company. The book records their first year living in country Denmark.

This ABC review will give you a feel for the book. At this point and thinking of Winton Bates, I want to pose a simple question for this first Monday Forum of 2017. To what degree is society happiness maximised by security and certainty?

As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want.