Saturday, August 28, 2021

Saturday Morning Musings - usage of the term liberal democracies


‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’  Winston S Churchill, 11 November 1947

This hard to read image from Google Ngam shows the use of the term liberal democracies in books from 1860 to the present, You can see can see how little the term was used in the past. There was an acceleration during the Second World War and then usage just jogged along before an exponential acceleration during the 1980s. Usage then stabilised before exploding again in the 2000s.  

According to Wikipedia, the term has a long history, but it's also one that I have rarely used. For most of my life I have referred just to democracy with a special focus on parliamentary democracy. Occasionally I have referred to Western democracies, but a search on the blog shows that I have used the term liberal democracies just once in several thousand posts and then in passing. 

No doubt this reveals that I am out of touch. I went to Wikipedia to review the term and was surprised somewhat at the analysis. I felt that the term had become an ideological label whose meaning was in fact uncertain and indeed confusing. 

I then did the Ngam analysis just to check usage, This suggested that the increased usage of the term has been directly bound up with particular events. I'm not sure where I go with this. I just wanted to record the information.   


Monday, August 23, 2021

Covid - when everything is local

 I have written about the ways in which changing boundaries and administrative structures affect perceptions and rules in often perverse ways. These issues are much on my mind as I sit here in covid regulated Armidale. I could wish that we had our own New England state since this would have given us greater protection and control. We don't, so I want to focus on more localised issues. 

Let me start with a Sydney example before becoming totally parochial. As part of its local government restructuring, the Sydney Government merged two councils to form Bayside City Council. The southern council, Botany Bay, was separated by Sydney Airport and had nothing in common with the southern portions of Bayside.  Now all of Bayside is counted as a high risk area because of cases in the south that have little to do with the old Botany Bay Council area. 

To take a Northern example, when Armidale Regional Council was put into lockdown, Guyra was included in the lockdown while the much closer centre of Uralla was not because it was a different local government area. The changes based on LGA boundaries actually made no sense. 

 Becoming totally parochial. the everchanging rules applied to Armidale have become confusing and difficult. I am reasonably bright, but I struggle to understand them When I do understand them, I find that I object.

When the first lockdown rules were applied as the virus first spread so long ago, there was a gathering together. Many stores such as garden centres and craft stores remained open, People turned to home activities, to gardening, to house repairs, all things that could be done at home. Local businesses organised special deliveries. In a way, it now seems like a golde4n age. 

This time, things are different., 

Stores are shut. It is hard to acquire things whether it be craft, printers ink or furniture, My partner wanted to acquire some wool to knit a scarf. Last time we went into town to get the wool. This time we had to order two balls of wool. They came with a long delay plus a thirteen dollar delivery charge.I need to buy ink, but the normal places are shut. 

The rules state that only one person can go shopping.The shared shopping experiences are no longer possible even where people are living in the same household.  

The distance rules are confusing,  My partner has bought a new house.We need to do new things before we move in. I have checked. It's just within the five k limit from our current place. Can we go there together?  I think that we can. The house is vacant. We can treat it as exercise, but the police are stopping people and I don't know. 

There are no covid cases within hundreds of k of Armidale. Our risks lie in transmission from elsewhere. And yet we suffer,  

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Saigon, Afghanistan and the West's decline?

The sudden collapse of the Afghanistan Government in the face of the Taliban offensive took me by surprise. I am old enough to remember the fall of Saigon in the face of the North Vietnamese offensive and the chaotic scenes that followed. President Biden's suggestion that Afghanistan could not be compared to that fall was frankly risible. 

There was another similarity as well. As South Vietnam was falling, the then Whitlam Government resisted calls calls to bring to Australia those who had supported Australian troops. At the time I was involved with a small group in Canberra seeking to bring people to Australia. My involvement was peripheral, writing to Ian Sinclair whom I had known for many years to seek his support, but I remember the atmosphere very clearly if not all the details. This time the Morrison Government was prepared to take some action, but became so tied up in red tape of its own making that action was too little and too late. 

Of all the various events, the evacuation of the Bagram airbase stands out in my mind as a symbol of just went wrong. This base, the main US base in Afghanistan, seems to have been abandoned without any plan or attempt to transfer effective control to the Afghani Government. It added to a picture of a chaotic withdrawal that effectively undercut the authority of a Government already under pressure. That Government's authority had previously been undermined by decisions taken by the Trump administration that effectively treated the Government in Kabul as a cipher.  Maybe a total Taliban victory was inevitable, but the actions followed by the US and its allies including Australia accelerated the process, creating chaos. 

What will come now? I have no clear answer. The Taliban claims to have changed, although the same religious and ideological elements are still there. Afghanistan itself has changed, especially in the cities. The new Taliban Government still in the process of formation faces some difficult challenges. I suppose my feeling is that pragmatism will temper ideology to some degree.

I think that the biggest problem from a Western perspective is the damage done to the reputation of the West. Many will see it as another symbol of the West's decline. Only time will tell if those views are correct. 


kvd pointed me to this piece Farewell to Bourgeois Kings. It's an interesting read although it mixes different things together. I have listed it here because I thought that it may interest readers and also may wish to reference it later.  


Sunday, August 01, 2021

Covid issues and confusions 1 - the Vaccination communications mess

"I don't want an 18-year-old in Queensland dying from a clotting illness who, if they got COVID, probably wouldn't die. 

"We have had very few deaths due to COVID-19 in Australia in people under the age of 50 and wouldn't it be terrible that our first 18-year-old in Queensland who dies related to this pandemic, died because of the vaccine. 

Queensland's Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young 

On 3 July 2021 in Confusions over AstraZeneca I commented on confusions in the Australian vaccination advice and processes. I included this quote from Queensland's Chief Health Officer attacking the PM's suggestion that younger Australians should access AstraZeneca subject to doctor's advice.  

Dr Young could not have foreseen the Delta variant, but her emotional reaction helped create an environment where people continue to resist the now widely available AstraZeneca vaccine. This holds even among older Australians where the vaccine is recommended. I know this from my own contact network. It also appears more strongly among culturally and linguistically distinct where clear messaging in language is very important.  

Governments, especially the NSW Government, are now trying to encourage people to use AstraZeneca subject to doctor's advice on their personal situation. This actually mirrors advice previously provided. I haven't checked the statistics, but the raw numbers suggest that the number of younger Australians who have been hospitalised or died  from covid already  exceeds the statistical risks from AstraZeneca side effects. They also show that vaccinated Australians who do become infected are far less likely to suffer severe effects. 

Young people are already opting with their feet to get AstraZeneca recognising that vaccination is the only path that will allow them to resume a normal life. Meantime, there is one plus in all this. The AstraZeneca surplus is allowing us to provide more vaccines to out neighbours!