Sunday, April 30, 2017

Brexit outcomes: a stronger EU, a diminished UK?

Yesterday 29 April, the EU-27 formally endorsed the EU's negotiating guidelines for its negotiations with the UK over that country's exit from the EU. The photo shows Germany's Angela Merkel in discussions with Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

The BBC has some of the best coverage. The links within this story will carry you through to related stories.

The EU focus on a united front was on display and reinforced by the European Council endorsement.

These negotiations were never going to be easy. The UK Government wanted parallel negotiations including trade, whereas the EU is insisting on sequential negotiations with the first key issues guaranteeing the rights of the 4.5 million EU/UK citizens who live in the UK or the EU; the future of the Northern Island border; and resolution of outstanding budget issues. This can be followed by discussions on trade matters.

Completed in 1992, the EU single market allows the free movement of goods, services, money and people within the European Union as if it was a single country. The UK has ruled out full participation, while the EU says it will not allow cherry picking. The trade negotiations are therefore likely to be complicated.

It is quite easy to think of worst case scenarios. In the worst of all absolute cases, the UK suffers major economic setbacks and shrinks to the United Kingdom of England and Wales, while the EU itself largely disintegrates, leaving a gaggle of inward looking nationalist protectionist states from the UK to the Balkans.This combination is unlikely.

I have previously argued that the institutional and economic factors linking the European federation are now so deeply entrenched that they provide a great deal of internal cohesion. My feeling is that the Brexit process is likely to reinforce EU unity and cohesion. This gives rise to the next worst case, one in which UK suffers major economic setbacks and shrinks to the United Kingdom of England and Wales with the EU surviving, if damaged at some levels. I think that the greatest risk to the EU from Bexit is not economic, but a narrowing of view linked not just to the withdrawal process, but to the withdrawal of the leavening effect of UK membership on EU culture and institutions.

Perhaps the absolute best case, the one that some of the Brexiteers hope for (not all: some devoutly look to the nationalist, protectionist alternative), is a reinvigorated UK with the EU remaining a strong economic partner and friend. This, the Brexiteers would say, is a plus-plus solution.

The end result will probably fall somewhere between the two polar points of the spectrum. My best guess is a strengthened EU with a somewhat diminished UK.   .

Friday, April 28, 2017

A short note on Minister Dutton's credibility

This post is by way of a place holder.

I must say that I don't have a great degree of trust in Minister Dutton's statements about the latest trouble at the Australian detention camp on Manus island. Mind you, I am in a similar position with some of the statements from those opposing current Government policy. Both will bend facts to support their case.

In the latest case, I have listened or read interviews with the local Manus Police Chief and MP as well as other reporting, including the Minister's own statements. The Minister started with innuendo and now seems to be relying on his claim of classified information to support his position. While I accept that there are always different perspectives, the apparent gap between the Minister's position and the evidence that seems to be emerging is growing.

At this point, I haven't attempted a detailed analysis of all the issues. Better to wait until we have a little more information.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Meeting the plant lady

Daceyville, the little garden suburb where I presently live, is full of characters.

I have previously mentioned the rather sad case of the bird lady. Today I met the plant lady. Australia Post had misdelivered a letter, right number, wrong street. The letter looked important. Since the correct street was very close, I decided to deliver it to the right address.

It was was a beautiful morning, cool but bright. My route took me just down the road, around the corner and then up the next street. Boussole Rd is quite a beautiful street, with gardens extending all over nature strips so that you wend your way through plants.

Just up the street, I said hello to a woman gardening on the nature strip. We talked. "You must take some plants" she said, pressing a pot plant into my hands. "This is a very nice cactus."  This was followed by some magnolia cuttings and cut aloe vera stems so that I could try the facial cleansing properties of the sap.

I followed her up the street carrying my pot and clippings while she pointed out various plants, constantly wanting to give me more. The garden that had begun in front of her place had spread up the street with the permission of the neighbours, integrating the small front yards into the nature strip to create a harmonious hole.

"How long have you lived here", I asked? Fourteen years, she said. "We have been very lucky", she went on. "When we came out from Greece we couldn't speak English but  were never on benefits. We built up a business, owned our own home and had an investment property. Then our business went bad and the bank took everything. We were out on the street." .

"Which bank", I asked? Yes, it was that one! I commiserated, talking about my own experience with them. "But why lucky?" "We got this place (the whole street is social housing)", she said. "Nice area, nice people."

I had to move on. She pointed back to where we had started, the area with pots and clippings. "If you ever want plants, take them from there. That's my part. If anyone stops you, just say that the Greek lady gave you permission."

I wandered on to deliver the letter. carrying my pot plan and clippings. The day seemed even brighter.    .

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Overwhelmed by history

A short post today to get back momentum. I remain tied up on other matters, some not very productive I fear!

Yesterday's post, A note on New England Aboriginal servicemen, on my history blog was inspired by all the ANZAC Day coverage on Aboriginal ex-serviceman. It was really just a note to remind me to fill out a gap in my knowledge of  New England history. The is a photo is of Harold Cowan from Grafton who enlisted in 1917.

The post drew a short comment from one of my favourite bloggers, Hels (ART and ARCHITECTURE, mainly),  that I have yet to respond to. More precisely, I have had several goes but in the end posted none of it. I will do so eventually, but it may have to be via a full post.

Part of my problem is that I am now so distrustful of anything written on Aboriginal history because so much lacks context or is overlaid with other agendas. So when I started responding to Hel's comments I thought that I wanted to check my facts. Then I found that there were things that I didn't understand, questions that I couldn't answer although I could surmise..

There are three quite distinct sets of questions, those relating to enlistment, those relating to treatment while on service, those relating to treatment after service. Each needs to be set in the history of the time, including attitudes as well as formal rules. They also need to take into account the moving frontier and the law, attitudes and structures of multiple jurisdictions since these had such an impact on the detail of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life. The position in NSW was not the same as in the Northern Territory.

I find that this type of problem, knowing enough to realise that I don't know, that what I am reading is probably wrong, happens quite a lot. Indeed, the more I learn, the more it happens! The problem is compounded by my evolving role as a public or popular historian.

I greatly value the comments and feedback I get, the questions that people ask me. This generates new ideas, new questions, forces corrections. But again, the result is constantly broadening horizons in terms of both breadth and depth with constant reminders of how little I know.. The effect is a sort of paralysis, a feeling that it has all become a bit beyond me.

I know that it's silly, that so long as I document everything I write should be seen as a work in progress for later review by me and others. Still, it is a problem, one that I am trying to work my way through at the moment.

Enough, I think. I have done my short post! More later.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Positive reflections on the Jakarta gubernatorial election

Elections everywhere!

In February (Reflections on the Indonesian elections), I discussed the Indonesian elections and especially the Jakarta gubernatorial election. I did so to clarify issues in my mind. As I said at the time, I know far less than I should about the Indonesian system of Government.

At the time the post was written, a major shadow hung over incumbent Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama because of blasphemy allegations. It was not clear whether Ahok would be allowed to run and, if so, what the results might be.

Since that post, Ahok and his running mate Djarot Syaiful Hidayat managed a narrow victory in the first round, but then went on to lose to Anies Rasyid Baswedan and Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno (photo) in the second by an apparently reasonably substantial margin. At this stage, we only have exit poll results, but these appear conclusive. Just prior to the elction, opinion polls showed the Ahok team ahead, but with a considerable undecided vote. It appears that the undecideds swung against Ahok.

In a piece in the Jakarta Globe reprinted from the Conversation, Alexander R. Arifianto bemoans the election result. The piece concludes:
 By creating these accusations against Ahok, the Islamists have refused to recognise the legal rights of Indonesia’s ethnic and religious minorities to run for public office. Ahok’s loss means that Indonesia’s ethno-religious diversity is the biggest casualty of this highly polarising election. 
I took a different and more positive view. 

One of the really difficult things about democracy lies in the way that it allows views to be expressed that others find repugnant. This flows though into responses to defeat, the way you accept results that may be anathema to you. A related issue, one central to the long term effective working of democracy, is the avoidance or at least management of what is called the tyranny of the majority. Just because you have won does not give you the right to automatically override others. Power needs to be exercise with discretion.

Against this background, I saw a number of positives from the results.

Despite campaigning by hard-line groups that was itself fundamentally undemocratic, a theocracy is not a democracy, the final election both proceeded and proceeded peacefully. Further, and despite all the anti-campaigning, a significant number of Muslim voters must have voted for the Ahok team, while not all those who voted for Anies Rasyid Baswedan and Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno did so on religious grounds. This was also a campaign about policies for the development and governance of Jakarta.

 The actions of the Ahok team since the result became clear are also conducive to democracy. Indeed, certain Australian politicians might take note. The transition of power does not take place until October, However, not only were Ahok and his colleague graceful in defeat, but according to the Jakarta Globe, they have already moved to involve the new Anies administration in budget processes so that the 2018 budget reflects the new administration's priorities. Quite remarkable, really.      .

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Too many policies! Can we please just stop?

Too many policy announcements! With four part completed posts dealing with the shifting policy scene, Australian and global, I am over-run in policy terms by the constant stream of announcements.

One difficulty is to identify what is really important, a second difficulty to identify what is not really important  in activity terms, but is important in atmospherics that might affect longer term policy and indeed life. Grrr!  

Thursday, April 13, 2017

QILT scores - NSW regional universities outscore Sydney G8

The Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) website provides prospective students with relevant and transparent information about Australian higher education institutions from the perspective of recent students and graduates.

One of the most interesting things about the data released this week is that it appears to confirm something that I have long suspected, that there is little if no correlation between between institutional prestige and university entrance scores and actual student experiences. 

The tables below compare aggregate rankings between NSW’s non-metro universities and the Universities of NSW and Sydney. I'm sorry that the tables are so messy.

Table One shows the percentage of students who rated their experiences positively against various indicators. While there is some variation in the answers to the various questions, the non-metros generally score better than the more prestigious Sydney institutions, with the University of New England ranking first. 
Table One: Student Experience - Undergraduate
Charles Sturt University Southern Cross University University of New England University of New South Wales University of Newcastle The University of Sydney National Average
Overall quality of educational experience

(77.1% -78.2%)
(77.3% -79.0%)
(82.5% -84.0%)
(75.5% -76.5%)
(81.9% -83.0%)
(76.0% -76.9%)
Teaching quality

(79.7% -80.8%)
(80.3% -82.0%)
(83.8% -85.2%)
(77.0% -77.9%)
(82.9% -84.0%)
(79.2% -80.0%)
Learner engagement

(67.0% -68.7%)
(60.7% -63.2%)
(65.0% -68.0%)
(64.7% -65.7%)
(58.2% -59.6%)
(59.8% -60.8%)
Learning resources

(83.9% -85.2%)
(83.1% -85.0%)
(86.5% -88.6%)
(82.6% -83.5%)
(87.8% -88.7%)
(80.6% -81.5%)
Student support

(73.6% -75.0%)
(75.1% -77.1%)
(79.3% -81.1%)
(65.9% -67.0%)
(74.3% -75.8%)
(58.1% -59.3%)
Skills development

(78.3% -79.4%)
(80.7% -82.4%)
(77.5% -79.2%)
(77.4% -78.4%)
(81.1% -82.3%)
(79.0% -79.9%)
Table Two looks at measures of graduate satisfaction. There is a little more variation here, although again the non-metros do a little better, with the University of New England a clear first.

Table Two: Graduate Satisfaction - Undergraduate
Charles Sturt University Southern Cross University University of New England University of New South Wales University of Newcastle The University of Sydney National Average
Overall satisfaction

(78.7% -80.7%)
3081 responses
(79.7% -82.5%)
(86.1% -87.9%)
(79.5% -80.8%)
(82.4% -83.9%)
(78.4% -80.1%)
Teaching scale

(64.4% -66.8%)
(68.7% -71.9%)
(70.5% -72.9%)
(62.5% -64.0%)
(68.6% -70.4%)
(60.4% -62.4%)
Skills scale

(78.1% -80.1%)
(81.2% -83.9%)
(84.2% -86.1%)
(81.5% -82.7%)
(87.0% -88.3%)
(80.1% -81.7%)

Table Three looks at graduate employment. The results are interesting, but need to be interpreted with some care.

There is a considerable range in the proportion of graduates who go onto further full time postgraduate study from just 6.1% at Charles Sturt to 29.9% at the University of Sydney. Excluding these two as outriders, the percentages range from 14.7% at UNE to 17.9% at UNSW.

The figure for full time employment is the % of graduates available for full time work who were in full time work four months after graduation. The median salary figure is the median for those graduates in full time employment.  Charles Sturt had the best full time employment record followed by UNE and then UNSW.

The overall employment number includes those in full time employment plus casual and temporary. Some of the second appear to be also included in the full time study category.
Table Three: Graduate Employment - Undergraduate
Charles Sturt University Southern Cross University University of New England University of New South Wales University of Newcastle The University of Sydney National Average
Full-time employment

(83.1% -84.7%)
(66.2% -69.8%)
(76.0% -78.6%)
(75.6% -77.2%)
(67.4% -69.3%)
(69.3% -71.4%)
Overall employment

(93.4% -94.4%)
(85.9% -88.0%)
(87.8% -89.5%)
(88.5% -89.5%)
(90.0% -91.0%)
(86.7% -88.0%)
Full-time study

(5.7% - 6.6%)
(15.4% -17.4%)
(13.8% -15.5%)
(17.3% -18.4%)
(16.5% -17.6%)
(29.2% -30.6%)
Median salary

($59,900 -$60,100)
($55,400 -$58,600)
759 responses
($59,300 -$60,700)
($59,400 -$60,600)
($56,400 -$57,600)
($55,200 -$56,800)

I have yet to dig into the detail at subject level where the pattern is more varied. Still, the apparent absence of any correlation between between institutional prestige and university entrance scores and actual student experiences remains interesting.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Monday Forum - whatever you want

I have been bogged down. Hopefully this will now ease. Meantime, this somewhat late Forum is another as you like.

The sudden and sad death of John Clarke removed a major figure from Australian and New Zealand life. He was brilliant on his own and in conjunction with straight man Bryan Dawe. Clarke and Dawe was very much a team in which Bryan's sometimes incredulous expression and pointed attempts to gain answers provided a perfect foil to Clarke's insouciance. For overseas readers, this link will give you some examples. Others are readily available on YouTube.

The United Airlines fiasco over the forced removal of a passenger to accommodate crew needed for a later flight was quite astonishing. I won't repeat the footage here, but this is an example. The reaction on social media was instant and savage.  

The graphic is from a January 2016 piece by Bloomberg's. Drake Bennett on the airline's efforts under CEO Munoz to turn around, to recover from disaster centered in part on poor customer service. This included the infamous 2009 broken guitar case.

It would appear that United had made some progress until this case turned the whole thing around, again twisting the airline into knots. The facts of the case will be picked over and over. It should not have occurred in the way it did, although I can understand the chain of events. Once it did occur,  the responses of CEO Munz displayed a remarkable lack of human sensitivity, a failure to understand the implications of just what had happened. The sight of the passenger back on the plane with a bloody face repeating "I have to get home" in a dazed fashion will stay with me for some time.

In all this, I have learned a new word, "re-accommodate", to describe passengers who do get bumped even when they have a valid ticket and allocated seat and are sitting in that seat. While I knew about over-booking, that is one reason I book on line or get to the airport early, while I knew that the airlines had a legal right to put me off, the thought that one might get dragged off was a new one to me.

The ABC had a useful piece on the Australian legal position if you are faced with "re-accommodation." I did not realise just how limited my rights were. I think that this is a case where legal reform is required.

Update on United

The CEO of United has now provided a full apology on the matter:
Statement from United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz on United Express Flight 3411
April 11, 2017 
The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.  
I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.   
It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.  
I promise you we will do better.  
Meantime, the Louisville Courier-Journal has been dragging up material about Dr Dao's past, something that has also attracted considerable ire and forced some backtracking from the paper. .

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Can English as an EU language survive Brexit ?

Brexit was one of the topics we discussed in the last Monday Forum.

As a piece in Nature points out, EU agencies based in the UK will now need to move. One such is the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Currently in London, the EMA assesses new medicines for suitability to enter the European market. But where should it go to?

There is more at stake than the prestige of being the headquarters of a major European institution. The EMA brings with it some 900 staff and holds an average of 10 meetings a week, which it claims draw 65,000 visitors a year, all of whom need somewhere to sleep and eat. So countries are lining up.

The Nature piece links the shift to a second question, the role of  English as an official EU language. The EU presently has 24 official and working languages, a real tower of Babel. The first official language policy of what was then the European Community identified Dutch, French, German, and Italian as the official working languages of the EU. Since then, other languages have been steadily added.

As I understand it, each EU country can nominate one official language. English is an official language because it has been nominated by the UK. The two other predominantly English speaking member states, Malta and Ireland, have nominated Maltese and Irish (Gaelic) respectively. This means that under current rules, English will cease to be an official EU language once the UK exits.

The apparent linkage between EMA and language policy appears to be that English is EMA's current working language. This may need to be phased out once English ceases to be an official language. The Nature article wonders if Ireland or Malta might be prepared to alter their official language nomination to English to obtain EMA for their countries. Probably not is the conclusion.

I hadn't thought of the impact of Brexit on the role of English in the EU until I read the Nature article. Language policy within the EU is a sensitive issue because of the way language interacts with national and ethnic divides.

English is currently the most common EU lingua franca. No doubt this will continue in commercial terms. However, there is likely to be some diminution in the use of English in an official sense, opening possibilities for other languages to expand their reach.  .

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Is that Pepsi ad that bad?

Sometimes I think that we have all become just too precious and indeed bigoted. I am inclined to want to present counter views, but have learned on progressive topics in particular to be very careful for fear of getting my head bitten off.

Gay marriage is an example. I am on the public record, here and elsewhere, as supporting it. Yet when I very gently try to present the arguments against in conversation, my head disappears from my shoulders. You can see something of the same process in the campus disputes over who should be allowed to speak, to present views that may be counter (or may be seen to be counter) to the prevailing orthodoxy within some groups.

A case in point is the latest Pepsi ad. The wave of protest against the ad seems to fit with what I see as growing intolerance, the need to conform with what is seen as correct.    

With the exception of one scene, it's not a bad ad. Indeed, it is actually a quite effective presentation of multiculturalism. Yes, it attempts to identify Pepsi with protest and modern younger views, it is (to use a modern word I hate) appropriating a meme, but it also legitimizes the things that it presents.

The ad follows. What do you think? Perhaps its just another case of me being out of touch?

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Dreams of self-sufficiency - the Lammas Ecovillage

I am a bit of a sucker for home reconstruction or design programs. I am especially a sucker for programs with an alternative living elements. For that reason, I found the Grand Designs' program on the efforts Simon and Jasmine Dale to build their own home at Lammas, Wales very interesting.
Photo: Simon and Jasmine Dale's self built Lammas home. The house, like other Lammas properties, has a distinctly hobbit element. 
Their newly constructed home is part of the Lammas Ecovillage (Wikipedia, Lammas Village web site), a low-impact, off-grid ecovillage near Crymych in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, comprising nine households and a community hub on a 76 acres (31 ha) site. Buildings are constructed of natural materials and energy obtained from renewable sources.

The Village website (link above) describes Lammas in this way:
The concept for the Lammas ecovillage is that of a collective of eco-smallholdings working together to create and sustain a culture of land-based self-reliance. The project supports a permaculture approach to land management – in which human beings are considered an intrinsic part of the ecosystem. As a result the approach to environmental  management is one of stewardship for future generations rather than exploitation for short term gain.
In a way, Lammas can be described as the desire for self-sufficiency and alternative life styles meets planning regulations. The key features of Lammas are:
  • individual small long lease blocks with common land that has to be centrally managed
  • specific performance requirements manadated by Council placed upon both individual holders and the community as a whole, mandating a combination of individual and community effort. 
  • performance rules and requirements combine a combination of environmental and economic considerations. 
This 2011 piece on Love for Life provides an overview of the early concept, while the Village website as well as the Grand Designs' program provide snapshots of the current position.

Photo: Lammas house. Note the greenhouse on the left, a feature of the Lammas landscape. 
I am old enough to remember the hippy period, the first attempts to construct alternative communities on New England's North Coast among other places. I was attracted to the concepts, although I think that in reality I would have made a very bad hippy! 

That attraction lingers, reignited from time to time by the thought that if I had my own little plot I might gain greater freedom to do my own thing within the narrowing constraints set by increasing social control and regulation. I remain interested, too, in life style ways that combine self-sufficiency and sustainability with a more modern life style. I have no desire to live in poverty just to preserve the environment or indeed to comply with concepts of preserving the environment.
Photo: Lammas Ecovillage. From Lammas to Denmark's Christiania, there is something familiar about the hippy now alternative life style. 
Earlier I described Lammas as desire for self-sufficiency and alternative life styles meets planning regulations.

I have felt for a long while that growing state and council regulations on the way we live have become a growing impediment to finding new ways to live and also a blockage to increased housing supply. I don't feel quite the same way in the Lammas case.

Lammas describes itself as a research experiment. In this case, the planning regulations seem to have provided a discipline and a framework that helped the project achieve the success it has. Horses for courses, I guess.

Just for kvd. Lammas grown tomatoes!

kvd pointed me to this piece on the prospective use of pedal power. An Australian example is the pedal powered radio invented by Alfred Traeger.

I can see real advantages in some uses, but some also strike me as gimmicky (a pedal powered blender) or just plain hard work!

Postscript 6 January 2018

Sadly, on New Year's day 2018, Simon and Jasmine Dale's self built Lammas hobbit home.burnt down. It's a sad end to the Grand Designs' story, a reminder of the fragility of life.  

Monday, April 03, 2017

Monday Forum - is democracy in decline, Brexit, Australia's new foreign policy white paper

The Wold Economic Forum released a piece on the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2016. It begins:
Democracy is in decline. 
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) latest Democracy Index 2016 shows 72 countries experienced a decline in democratic values last year. Countries with declining levels of democracy outnumbered those becoming more democratic by more than 2 to 1. 
The EIU’s Democracy Index measures the state of democracy by rating electoral processes and pluralism, the state of civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture in more than 160 countries worldwide. The EIU’s ranking shows the average global democracy score in 2016 fell to 5.52, down from 5.55 in 2015 (on a scale of 0 to 10).
According to the index, Norway leads as the world’s strongest democracy, followed by Iceland and Sweden. New Zealand comes fourth, with Denmark in fifth and Canada and Ireland in joint sixth place. Switzerland, Finland and Australia round off the top ten of “full democracies.”

I have written before about what I perceive to be a crisis in confidence among what are called the world's liberal democracies, but I do wonder about the value and validity of these types of indices. Do you think democracy is in global retreat? I have my doubts.

On 29 March 2017, the British Prime Minister signed a letter triggering Britain's withdrawal from the EU. That same day, the European Council released a very short statement in response. In supporting remarks, President Tusk said:
Brexit has made us, the community of 27, more determined and more united than before. I am fully confident of this, especially after the Rome declaration, and today I can say that we will remain determined and united also in the future, also during the difficult negotiations ahead. 
This means that both I and the Commission have a strong mandate to protect the interests of the 27. There is nothing to win in this process, and I am talking about both sides. In essence, this is about damage control. Our goal is clear: to minimise the costs for the EU citizens, businesses and Member States. We will do everything in our power - and we have all the tools - to achieve this goal. And what we should stress today is that, as for now, nothing has changed: until the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, EU law will continue to apply to - and within - the UK. 
Finally, I would like to say that we have just released an official statement by the European Council, in which leaders stress that we will act as one and start negotiations by focusing on all key arrangements for an orderly withdrawal. On Friday I will share a proposal of the negotiating guidelines with the Member States, to be adopted by the European Council on 29 April.
The withdrawal process was always going to be messy. In addition to the purely economic aspects, there are the questions of Gibraltar, the Northern Ireland border, Scotland and the EU citizens in Britain, UK citizens living in Europe. While the EU will no doubt try to be rational in its approach, its own interests and the complexity of EU decision processes provide little incentive for it to provide concessions to the UK. The EU itself will survive the process. I wonder if the UK can?

Finally, the Australian Government has announced the development of a new Foreign Policy White Paper, the first since 2003, to guide Australia's international engagement over the next five to ten years. As part of the process, all ambassadors and high commissioners were summoned back to Australia for a round table session, something criticised on the grounds of cost but which seemed to me to make perfect sense.

What do you think should guide that white paper/

As always, feel free to go to whatever topic or any direction you like. You don't need to be constrained by these topics!

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Reflections triggered by the ABC Creatives piece on photographer Robert McFarlane

The ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Creatives series had an interesting piece on the Australian documentary photographer and writer Robert McFarlane, The Still Point directed by Mira Soulio..
Robert McFarlane, Charles Perkins on bus to Tranby Aboriginal College, Glebe c1964. National Portrait Gallery 
I wasn't really aware of Robert McFarlane's work, although this photograph has achieved something approaching iconic status.

Robert McFarlane was born in Glenelg, South Australia. Leaving school he began work in a small advertising agency, where his growing interest in photography was encouraged.

In 1963 he moved to Sydney, where he began freelancing for magazines including the Bulletin, Vogue Australia and Walkabout. At the same time, as editor of the magazine Camera World, he began his lifelong career writing about photography.

In the early 1970s he travelled and worked overseas. Since 1973 he has documented the performing arts in Australia, taking stills photographs on a great number of seminal Australian films and theatre productions. He has exhibited in solo and group shows and has written regular photography criticism for the Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. His work is represented in the NGA, the AGNSW and the National Library as well as the National Portrait Gallery.

You will find examples of his work on the National Portrait Gallery's website and on his own website.

Reflecting on the work displayed in the ABC piece as well as Mr McFarlane's own reflections, I realised how much my own attitudes towards photography had shifted over the years.

Growing up, photographs were a record of a particular moment, often a moment that only had meaning to that small handful of people who knew the context and were interested. Indeed, the affliction of attendance at local photographic competitions or slide evenings was not conducive to a joy in photography. I certainly didn't see photography as an art form, although I could recognise striking photos.

That view really began to shift when I saw my first exhibitions by really good photographers, although the shift was a slow process. I began to realise that photographs could tell stories, that they had texture and composition that made them works in their own right, that a photograph could have texture beyond the flat surface that could be enjoyed and studied even if you had no or little knowledge of the specific context.

Living today in world dripping with immediately accessible visual images, we forget just how few photographs were actually around in the not too distant past. There were the obligatory photos recording important personal or official events such as weddings or openings or wars; there were the photos in magazines or newspapers covering things such as sport, society, life or war; there were the various family snaps, but the total was quite small. Today, I would see more photos in a week than I would in an entire year even twenty years ago.

The way I view and use photos has changed as a consequence. Having been caught and embarrassed by photo shopped images, I am far more distrustful of photos as an agent of record unless I know the context. However, I use many more photos to tell stories, see much more in photos than I once did, use photos far more as a source of evidence and information.

Availability is important here, as is the expansion in the absolute number of photographs for particular periods. However, the process does feed on itself in that increased visual awareness, increased study of particular photographs. leads me to ask new questions of the photos, to look at particular details within a photo, to ask new questions. The process becomes interactive, almost a dialogue between the observer and the observed.

There is no doubt that the computer facilitates this process. You can view photos in various ways, various sizes, focusing on particular features. Looking at the McFarlane photos shown in the ABC program, I found myself constantly shifting my view away from the centre to pick up secondary characters or peripheral features.This changed the way that I looked at the photo.  

The program reminded me, too, why I really like black and white photographs. With colour photos, I  find that the colour itself sometimes distracts from the photo. With black and white, details stand out that would otherwise be submerged by the colour, images become starker.
Max Dupain, Sunbather 1937.This image would be less striking, less iconic, had it been in colour. 
Of course, depending on your purpose, colour can be very important. Sometimes, it would be or is nice to see colour because the colour itself is part of the story or provides evidence that you want to draw from for your own purposes. Examples include clothing or hair but especially landscape. The iconic red and brown colours of the Australian outback would hardly be iconic, instantly recognisable, without the characteristic colours.

That said, I retain my fondness for black and white. .