Sunday, January 27, 2019

That Aussie Farms' map - a vacuous gesture that poses some individual dangers but has no meaning beyond

The creation of an on-line map by a crowd called Aussie Farms has created a degree of outrage.The organisation describes the map in this way:
In development for over 8 years, the Aussie Farms Map is a comprehensive, interactive map of factory farms, slaughterhouses and other animal exploitation facilities across Australia, launched publicly in January 2019. 
This map, linked with the Aussie Farms Repository, is an effort to force transparency on an industry dependent on secrecy. We believe in freedom of information as a powerful tool in the fight against animal abuse and exploitation. 
If you find a facility that hasn't been marked, you can login, right-click the facility on the map and choose to submit it for approval. You can also submit information about any facility already marked, and upload photos, videos and documents relating to that facility.
Aussie Farms describes its mission in this way:
Aussie Farms is an animal rights charity, dedicating to ending commercialised animal abuse and exploitation in Australian animal agriculture facilities by increasing industry transparency and educating the public about modern farming and slaughtering practices. 
Established in 2014 with the release of world-first footage of the carbon dioxide gas chambers used in pig slaughterhouses, Aussie Farms grew from separate campaigns that had been run under various Animal Liberation groups including NSW, ACT and QLD. These campaigns began with Aussie Pigs, and expanded to Aussie Turkeys, Aussie Ducks, Aussie Eggs, Aussie Chickens, Aussie Rabbits and Aussie Abattoirs. Together these websites formed the Aussie Farms network, aimed at countering the myth that animal abuse doesn't happen in Australia or that when it does happen, it's an isolated incident. 
The ever-growing library of material began to prove beyond doubt that animal abuse was not only commonplace, but in fact inherent to industries that exploit or use animals for profit. 
Aussie Farms operates under the belief that these industries rely on secrecy and deception, using marketing ploys such as "humanely slaughtered" and "free range", and imagery depicting happy animals living out their days on rolling green hills in the sunshine; and that by breaking down this secrecy and making it easier for consumers to see the truth about what their purchases support, the commercialised abuse and exploitation of animals will slowly but surely come to an end. We believe that information - freely and readily accessible - is our greatest and most powerful tool. 
Listing farms and facilities that have some connection with animal husbandry including dairying may be a breach of privacy, but does not appear to be illegal in itself. Further, and I will come back to this point in a moment, it is so broad brush in its coverage (on their definitions they need to list a million or so establishments if not more) that the results are vacuous in the extreme. However, the difficulty is that the map comes after a series of targeted attacks by Animal Liberationists on individual producers that have done considerable personal damage. So people are concerned about their personal details being revealed.

I had a look at the map in the areas that I know and it is so lacking in rationale and content as to be absent of meaning. On the New England Tablelands, it gets two municipal sale yards but misses the rest. It picks up the Walcha Dairy, a place that is fine from everything I know, but ignores the rest. Lamb producers in general escape. It gets some feedlots, misses the rest. It gets a few free range producers, a few specialist dairy producers, but misses most. It picks the Dutton trout hatchery that supplies fish for New England streams. Bluntly, it's silly, a publicity stunt designed to attract presently tax deductible donations.

This is not to say that it cannot do damage. Pity the one poor greyhound trainer I identified.

Aussie Farm's objective is to remove all commercial animal husbandry. No chickens, no dairy, no fish, no beef, no pork, no lamb, no mutton, even no wool. I think that they would go further, removing any form of cottage production. They are entitled to work to achieve that objective. But I do think that this map, no matter how silly it may be, is a step too far especially when funded by tax deductible donations. That should stop.      

Postscript 7 April 2019

I have no idea whether this story, Country cafe closes after 'vile' threats and harassment' by vegan activists, is true, I am very cautious about commercial TV news coverage, but it does form part of a pattern that I have been noticing for several years now.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Saturday Morning Musings - the importance of the local in Australia Day

Today is Australia Day. It is also India Day, perhaps more correctly Republic Day.

I find myself out of sorts with Australia Day. The major celebrations attached to the day date back to the 1990s when it suddenly emerged as a major event. I remember us taking the girls to an Armidale celebration in the 1990s. It was quite pleasant, something to entertain the kids. However, I was never very comfortable with the sudden focus, it struck me too much as jingoism, almost un-Australian. Later I mellowed a little, for I came to see it for what it was, an excuse for a party.

This year, the months leading up to Australia Day were marked by the usual disputes over the day and especially the date. The day marks the landing of the First Fleet at Port Jackson and the raising of the British flag to mark the start of the new colony. The fleet had arrived several weeks before at Botany Bay but found that Botany Bay was unsuitable as a base. So Commodore Arthur Phillip took a small boat north and entered what is now Sydney Harbour, a much more suitable location. The fleet then moved.

You can see why 26 January might not be seen as a good day by the descendants of Australia's Aboriginal peoples. To them, this is Dispossession or Invasion Day. Some Aboriginal people, not all, want the day shifted to a more "neutral" day. This cause has been taken up by the "progressives" who have added it to their list of causes : "First reconciliation, then a republic – starting with changing the date of Australia Day" as one article put it. Now this conflation of issues gives rise to acute dyspepsia on my part. I have to rush for the antacid.

A large majority of the Australian population supports retention of the present date, although there is an age gradient. Those under 24 are the only group in which support for the current date is in a minority. Every other age group shows a majority for retention that rises with age.

Personally, I don't care. The only reason that I can see for retaining the present date is the platform it provides for Aboriginal people seeking redress from the ills of the past. From that comment you might surmise, correctly, that I support the idea of reconciliation and of a treaty. But I do not support the idea of a republic. When the "progressives" conflate all these issues I find myself opposing a date shift, I question reconciliation, since all of these are meant to end up with an outcome I do not want. And when Peter Fitzsimons, that Don Quixote of "progressive" causes with his red bandana, starts tilting his lance at windmills I want to tilt back!

I will put dyspepsia aside. I am old enough and, hopefully, wise enough to deal with separate issues separately even when others conflate them. In doing this, I will also put aside the arguments of our cultural warriors and instead focus on a few positives, things that make me think that this country is in fact doing okay.

One feature of all the Australia Day ceremonies at local level is the recognition of local heroes, the people who have contributed to local communities in a whole variety of ways. To illustrate this, I will take one newspaper, the Guyra Argus. For those who don't know Guyra, it is a small town between Armidale and Glen Innes on the New England Tablelands.

This photo shows those who received awards for community service in Guyra. It's quite a big group for a town with a population around 2,000. The Argus story provides some of the details.      

Aileen MacDonald is Guyra’s Citizen of the Year for 2019, primarily for her role in promoting activities directed at Guyra's economic development. These are varied and quite intense.

.Bronte Stanley was named Young Citizen of the Year. The Guyra Central School captain organised a very successful Mental Health Day for the students, earned a place at the National Youth Science Forum, and has excelled in swimming and the arts.

Russell Roberts received the award for Community Service. The Ben Lomond Landcare and Rural Fire Service volunteer played a pivotal role in the inaugural Winter Fair, and is a foundation member of the StarGrazing event.

Kathleen Lorraine Varley was recognised for Long-Standing Service, including 10 years as Guyra Show Society Secretary, foundation member of the Kolora Aged Care Facility committee, Guyra Ladies Golf Club president, and Catholic Church Finance Committee member.

Painters Kay Smith and Brian Irving received the award for Arts and Culture. They coordinated the TroutFest Art Show, and provided a lot of advice to young artists.

Braydon Cameron is Guyra’s Sportsperson. The 16-year-old was a member of the Under 19 side that finished runner-up at the Sir Garfield Sobers Cricket Tournament in Barbados. He trained at the Central Northern NSW Academy for cricket, coached a number of junior teams, and scored 228 not out at an Open schools cricket tournament.

Jason Campbell and Luke Blyton were recognised for their Contribution to Sport. They coached the Guyra 12s rugby league team with great success in the Group 19 competition. The team achieved the season’s highest points tally, claimed the Best and Fairest player prize, and demonstrated great sportsmanship.

Passion on the Platform was the Community Event of the Year. The Guyra & District Chamber of Commerce event attracted more than 100 people for a seven-course degustation at Guyra Train Station. The sold-out event shone a spotlight on local food producers.

Now when you look at this list, notice the range of activities. Australia works as a country because of the millions of people who are involved and care at a local level. This is not big ticket stuff that grabs the headlines. It is people who care and contribute, who want to make a difference locally.

In other local Australia Day awards, Les Davis was awarded an OAM for his tireless work at Saumarez Homestead, a National Trust property just outside Armidale, while an OAM was also awarded to Max Tavener for his service to veterans and their families around Armidale.

There is something hit and miss about the National Australia Day awards. I know of so many people who should have been recognised but have not. I suspect that's inevitable.

The local awards are a far better reflection of real contribution at points in time. They encourage people to continue, they show the depth which underpins this country's continued strength. Regardless of the date of Australia Day, the local festivities are its real core.    

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Saturday Morning Musings - can the centre hold?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The Second Coming, W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939

I have always loved this particular verse by W B Yeats. It captures a certain fear, one that seems particularly appropriate today.

In the United States, President Trump's proposed boarder wall has brought the US Government to a standstill. It will be no secret that I am not a Trump supporter. However, President Trump made the wall a centre piece of his campaign and has consistently argued for it. The wall may not make sense, but in Australian terms he has a mandate to seek to build it.

If you now look at the Democrat side, you find a win at all costs mentality. I have now listened to Democrat Nancy Pelosi  She strikes me as rigid and dogmatic as the President, if on the other side, also determined to win at all costs. The wall has become a symbolic issue. The economic costs of the shutdown already exceed the costs of the wall. Logic would dictate a concession that allows some construction, that allows political focus on other more important issues. But, no, symbolism dominates, the desire to win dominates.

Something similar is happening in Australia at the moment if on a much smaller scale over fish kills on the Lower Darling River. The similarity lies in the way that symbolism and sharp political divides have polarised the debate, It is hard to adopt a central position, to find out the facts, although information does emerge in the midst of the shouting and political posturing.

I do recognise that the concept of "the centre" in society or politics is actually a slippery one, especially in dealing with a single issue.

The standard English definition of centre - the point that is equally distant from every point on the circumference of a circle or sphere or, alternatively, the point from which an activity or process is directed, or on which it is focused - doesn't quite capture the social or political definition.

In conventional terms. the idea of the political or social centre is presented as a straight line from left to right, with the centre just the bit in the middles. This does not capture the way in which ideas and beliefs overlap and can vary from person to person, from value to value, from issue to issue, although it can be useful when you have diametrically opposed views, when the spot in the statistical middle is largely vacated as people crowd to the left and right.

I think the idea of using a circle, or a series of circles moving out from a central point, to plot attitudes and beliefs is better because it allows easier tracking and analysis across multiple issues. I recognise that definitional issues remain. For example, do you place the centre at the point where the dots are greatest or do you use another conventional measure and then plot views against that or a combination of the two?  However, I think that it is a useful technique.

As an aside, back in 2010 I reported (Mapping the Australian blogosphere) on attempt to measure linkages and clustering between political blogs. I haven't seen it done since and indeed the blogging world has changed enormously since, but the clustering remains interesting.

Returning to my main theme,  I think that if you mapped the United States I think that you would find two things. If we define the centre in terms of majority views, we would find a move to the left. If we define the centre in terms of the area of overlap of views, we would find that it has sharply narrowed with two quite distinct segments coming from that point, both of whom talk past each other.

I think something similar has happened in the UK where Brexit has highlighted divisions to the point that the very survival of the UK as a political entity is under some question. Brexit is an example of a wicked problem made more acute by the earlier failure to address what might be done if the there was a yes vote and then weaknesses in the consultation process. As in the US, divisions reflect geography and history as well as the usual economic and class divides. In both countries, ideology has become more important, hardening left/right divides.

The problem with the apparent collapse of the centre lies in the way that it reduces scope for common working, adds to the zero sum must win mentality even where such victories can only be short term pyrrhic gains. Despite the divides, there are political leaders in both the US and UK who still instinctively move to the centre in seeking common ground even at political cost to themselves.

I think that the Australian position is better, although some of the same trends are apparent here. I say this for several reasons.

I think the major parties still look, or are at least forced to look, for centre ground. Here I think that the cross-bench has played an interesting and quite productive role. I have also found, and this is just a personal comment, that even with the ideological warriors it is still possible to have a conversation on facts and issues despite their normal entrenched positions. I am not sure that this would be possible in the US.

Still, I do worry whether the Australian centre can hold in the face of the forces of disunion.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Christmas reading and the Viking Age

And so we come to 2019. I haven't made any new year's resolutions. It seems to me that they mainly provide a record of failure! However, I am going to try to do a few things a little better.

Over on her blog, The Resident Judge of Port Phillip is very good at recording books she has read, films, she has seen. I read a lot, too much perhaps because I don't always record much before slamming onto my next book. I will try to do a little better here.

Eldest visited Australia over Christmas with her Danish partner.  Helen has been indoctrinating Christian into things Australian. This is Hyams Beach on the shores of Jervis Bay. Christian has been carried off to a number of beaches, been paddle boarding at Rose Bay, saw a women's T20 cricket match and is slowly and somewhat reluctantly learning about rugby.

It seems a very strange game to him. He has watched one match with Helen in a Copenhagen pub where the sight of large men lifting another even larger and taller man in the line-out to catch a ball struck him as somewhat bizarre, a view shared even by some Australians!

The influence goes two ways, of course. The Danes are outdoor people, so under Christian's influence Helen has acquired a like of camping. I find that a very good thing!

Since Helen moved to Copenhagen my knowledge of things Danish has advanced by leaps and bounds. To continue this process, Christian gave me two books for Christmas, the Xenophobes guide to the Danes and Else Roesdahl's The Vikings. This is a very good book

Over at her place, Art and Architecture, mainly, Hels had an interesting story (Did the Bayeux Tapestry prove the existence of a lost Aryan master race?) about the desire of the Nazis to find the original Aryan race and to establish a connection with the Vikings. It is a nice piece, but set a little too much within a particular framework of English v French. It's not quite like that, I think.

I have commented before on the way in which particular frames, particular stereotypes, affect historical thinking. I grew up thinking that the Roman Empire finally fell in 476 AD with the abdication of the last Western Emperor. It did not. It continued in the eastern Empire for centuries yet.

I grew up thinking that the end of the Empire marked the start of the Dark Ages. It did not. The progressive collapse of the Roman Empire in the west did greatly affect the previously settled patterns of life that had existed for so many millenia in one area, but it wasn't all ruin. Trade, contact and indeed some technological advance continued in ways that fell outside my then mind-set.

This type of historical stereotyping continues today in in the uneasy and often virulent discourse between left and right where perceptions of history become a  weapon to be used to establish points, ascendancy, in battles based in part on intellectual constructs, more on shifting concepts of nationality and tribal identity and the idea of right and wrong.

These differing perceptions cannot easily be challenged by point to point rebuttal, Such rebuttals will be angrily rejected in an argument that is fundamentally a-historical, where history has become a device to support or challenge deeply held views, a weapon in current battles, a weapon used by groups including states to provide legitimacy. They can only be challenged through research, through the steady accretion of evidence, through conscious effort to stand outside particular perceptual frames. With time, this does shift perceptions, but it is a slow process.

The strength of Roesdahl's book is that it is written from a different perspective, from the viewpoint of a particular area, Scandinavia. It draws from multiple sources of evidence, combining historical records, archaeology and linguistic analysis.

The Vikings were traders, raiders and settlers depending on circumstances. Their long ships became a symbol of fear, although these were not the only Viking ships.

Roesdahl looks at the Vikings and the history of Scandinavia from all geographic sides, east, west, north and south. This was a time in which the current Scandinavian countries as we know them today were emerging. Viking raiders and traders established trading posts, colonies, bringing tribute and traded goods from all parts of the world, from China, from Byzantium and the Caliphate, from what is now France, from England and Ireland. They were players, forcing others to respond. The name Russia comes from the Scandinavian word rus. The imperial guard of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, the Varangians, were of Viking origin.

In tracing history and trading patterns from a Scandinavian viewpoint, Roesdahl provides a picture of economic as well as political activity over a wide space in the early Medieval period that breaks out of the national centricity of so much history. Yes, her history with its Scandinavian focus has its own centricity, but it is a different centricity that therefore informs and challenges.

1066 is often taken as the end of the Viking Age. All the main players had some Viking connection. English King Harold  had some Viking blood. He came to power in confused circumstances not long after England and Denmark had been one kingdom, creating a succession challenge involving many players. .

The king of Norway, King Harald Hardrada, believed he had a claim. He invaded England with a large force supported by  the English king's brother Tostig Godwinson. Newly crowned Harold took his army on a forced march north, catching the invading force by surprise. At the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September 1066 the invaders were routed. Both Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson were killed. Meantime, William of Normandy was invading to claim the thrown.

Normandy had been a Viking settlement. While the Scandinavians had been partly absorbed into the general population, William had Scandinavian blood. William's forces landed on 26 September 1066, the day after the battle of Stamford Bridge. Harold now force marched his army south. On 14 October, the two armies clashed at the battle of Hastings. William won the day. Harold was killed.

I have often felt that Harold should have taken more time to regather forces, to regroup, but that is being wise in retrospect. The Viking age had ended.