Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A brutal death in Pictish Scotland

Despite having been brought up with tales of Scottish history, I know very little about the Picts.  My attention was therefore caught by this story from Art Daily about the reconstruction of a Pictish man who was brutally murdered between 430 and 630 A.D.


If you look at his skull, you can see the violence. According to the University of Dundee's Professor Black he suffered at least five severe blows to the head.
“The first impact was by a circular cross-section implement that broke his teeth on the right side. The second may have been the same implement, used like a fighting stick which broke his jaw on the left.  The third resulted in fracturing to the back of his head as he fell from the blow to his jaw with a tremendous force possibly onto a hard object perhaps stone. 
“The fourth impact was intended to end his life as probably the same weapon was driven through his skull from one side and out the other as he lay on the ground. The fifth was not in keeping with the injuries caused in the other four where a hole, larger than that caused by the previous weapon, was made in the top of the skull.” 
He was then buried with considerable car at the back of a cage, possibly by friends. Quite gruesome isn't it?.

Using digital reconstruction techniques, researchers have reconstructed what he might have looked like, presenting the appearance of a handsome chap.

I have some reservations about the use of digital imaging techniques, although I recognise their value. The difficulty is that the power of the image can fix a picture in your mind that risks over-riding the evidence, creating prejudices. Neanderthal man is an example that comes to mind.

That said, the power of digital techniques in bring the past alive cannot be denied.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

ABC Landline on Agricultural Trade with China: wool

On Sunday 5 February 2017, ABC Landline returned with a 90 minute special on Australia's agricultural trade with China. For those in Australia, the program is available for repeat on ABC Iview until 7 March. I found it quite fascinating. It also reminded me just how little I knew about some current trade developments.

Let me start with an example.

China is currently the world’s largest wool importer, and in 2015/16 it purchased 80 per cent of the Australian wool clip. China processes an average of 260,000 tons of wool per year, making it the world’s largest wool processor and largest manufacturer of woolen products for the global textile and apparel market. Wool currently represents for 3.5 per cent of the total textile output in China; the domestic market consumes over 70 per cent of its wool products.

I knew that China was now Australia's biggest buyer, but hadn't realised that it now held 80 per cent of the market. I had thought that Italy was relatively more important. I also hadn't realised that the Chinese domestic market was so important for total wool sales. .

I think, perhaps, that the thing that most surprised me was the sophistication of the production process. I know the basic stages in production from raw wool to final product, but all this was a bit of an eye-opener, including the product segmentation. It will be no secret that I love wool fabric, so it was fascinating to watch.

I was also interested in the latest women's fashions from  Chinese super model Lu Yan, As a mere male, and somewhat to the despair of my female family and friends, I am very reluctant to comment on what clothes look like in regard to particular females.

This doesn't mean that I don't have views. I do. I like colour and line, but in the end the clothes have to fit to particular bodies and the taste of the wearers. And that can get you into strife if you comment!

All that said, there have been some very good wool fashions over the years. That scratchy heavy feel that once marked wool is long gone.

Unlike cotton where you can meet increased demand by adding a few paddocks, wool depends upon sheep numbers.This production constraint is a very real issue. When demand is low, sheep numbers drop but cannot be quickly increased when demand rises. This helps make wool a more expensive fibre.

China faces particular production problems because of rising labour costs and environmental requirements. We have already seen how this has led to shifts in textile production from China to cheaper countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh.

During the program I learned that the Jiangsu Sunshine Group was shifting production to Ethiopia with a total spend variously reported between $US 350 million and $US one billion. to set up a textile factory in the industrial park of the city of Adama. The factory is expected to produce around 10 million metres of worsted wool fabrics, and approximately 1.5 million finished parts.

I was interested in the Ethiopian example because of the brief discussion in comments on African economic development in Saturday Morning Musings - Adama Barrow sworn in, President Trump, preference deals and the Bald Archy's.
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Wool was only one part of the Landline program. I will pick up other elements and especially the rise in capital intensity in agriculture in another post.


 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Musings - Adama Barrow sworn in, President Trump, preference deals and the Bald Archy's

On 20 January, I reported on the unfolding events in Gambia, that saw President Yahya Jammeh finally forced to recognise the election results and cede power to Adama Barrow.. President Barrow has now been sworn-in again, this time at the National Stadium. The photo come from the #Gambia twitter feed. Meantime, the Irish Times has carried a story about Jammeh's murder of his cousin.

In a fairly tart comment, DG wrote: "I predict this will be last free election Adama Barrow will contest. Still, in a backhanded sort of way Gambia is ahead of the herd in Africa - they at least secured change of leadership."

On 30 January in the Forum series, I posed a question about the administrative competence of the new Trump administration triggered by the mess around the migration Executive Order. That has continued messy, with the apparent position now that the Order will be redrafted. At the same time, I find myself rebelling against the constant negative feeds from the "progressive" side, including the habit of calling the President just "Trump." I had the same reaction with the use of Abbott. I think that it's disrespectful of the position and doesn't help analysis.It also leads to responses from the other side of a similar ilk. I also don't like the constant leaks. So far, on key foreign policy issues such as North Korea and NATO, its looking somewhat like a conventional Republican administration. I guess that we just have to wait and see.

I don't have a firm position on the one or two state solution in the case of Israel. Like many Australians, I started as a strong supporter of Israel and then found that support progressively eroded by the actions of the Israeli Government. I guess my position at the moment has two elements: the actions of the Israeli Government have progressively eroded the chances of a two state solution, making a one state outcome inevitable but also impossible given the attitudes of the Israeli Government and also the Palestinians; and I am tired of the Israeli tail wagging the Middle East dog and indeed the way the Middle East tail is wagging the global dog. In all this, I have a certain sympathy for President Trump's apparent position that he would go along with anything the two sides agreed.

In the Monday Forum post on Australia's political imbroglios, I suggested that the sooner Senator Bernadi went the better. I wasn't expecting him to jump later the same day! Since then, we have had the preference deal in Western Australia where in an effort to stay in power the State Division of the Liberal Party has decided to preference One Nation ahead of the National Party in the Upper House, while One Nation will preference Liberals second in the Lower House. The deal cause some ructions within One Nation and beyond.

According to the latest WA polls reported by William Bowie's Poll Bludger , the Liberal-One Nation preference deal has 30.8% approval and 54.2% disapproval, with 43.2% say it has made them less likely to vote Liberal, versus 22.5% for more likely. The National Party vote rose 2.4% to 8.4%.

The poll also included questions intended to draw out why One Nation respondents supported the Party: 27.1% said they disliked the major parties, 2.6% that they liked the candidates, 23.4% that they liked the party’s “overall vision for WA”, 29.2% that they liked “anti-Muslim policies”, 7.3% that they liked anti-privatisation policies, and 10.4% for “other reason”.

Finally, the 2017 Bald Archy entries are out. This is 'Told ya' by Jack G Kennedy, featuring One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.  According to the Official Website, the Bald Archy prize was created in 1994 as a spoof of that more serious competition, the Archibald Prize. It "provides artists of all styles and standards with a genuine opportunity, ranging from the hilarious to the bizarrely vulgar, to create portrait paintings of humour, dark satire, light comedy or caricature".
Now known internationally as the only art competition in the world to be judged by a sulphur-crested cockatoo named Maude, the satirical side of this event has its basis in the irreverent, larrikin Australian comic comment, with great appeal to people from all walks of life, the reason why the exhibition of finalists keeps breaking attendance records wherever it is shown.
For those interested, you will find details of the Bald Archy showings here.The winner will be announced in Sydney on Friday, 21 July, 2017.

Postscript

With a hat tip to the ABC,I hadn't seen this YouTube video of a 1959 BBC interview by Bertrand  Russell. I thought I might add it. He was a remarkable man.

mm

Postscript 2

Earlier in the main post, I wrote:
At the same time, I find myself rebelling against the constant negative feeds from the "progressive" side, including the habit of calling the President just "Trump." I had the same reaction with the use of Abbott. I think that it's disrespectful of the position and doesn't help analysis.It also leads to responses from the other side of a similar ilk. I also don't like the constant leaks. So far, on key foreign policy issues such as North Korea and NATO, its looking somewhat like a conventional Republican administration. I guess that we just have to wait and see.
Soon after writing this came President Trump's throw away line about Sweden. "You look at what's happening," he said at the rally. "We've got to keep our country safe. You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?". The ridicule was immediate, forcing the White House to seek to clarify just what the President meant. At the same time, you have senior figures in the new Administration including the Vice President seeking to reassure allies about the US position on various issues. Blowed if I know about all this. Its certainly good theatre.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Passing of the reigns at the Hutt River Principality

It would be remiss of me not to mention the transfer of power in the Principality of Hutt River from Prince Leonard I of Hutt to his youngest son Prince Graeme following the 91 year old Prince Leonard's abdication on the grounds of age.

The choice of Prince Graeme came as a surprise to Royal watchers since the eldest son, Prince Ian, had been designated as crown prince.

In accepting the role, Prince Graeme said that he would endeavour to uphold the philosophies and customs set so solidly by Prince Leonard and Princess Shirley.

The Principality of Hutt River is located 517 km (354 miles) north of Perth, near the town of Northampton in Western Australia. It has an area of 75 square kilometres (29 sq miles) with a resident population of 23 living in Nairn, the capital city. Some 10,000 people around the world have been awarded citizenship.

Hutt River's major industries are wheat growing, tourism and wildflower production, together with the export of memorabilia and services. The local currency is the Hutt River dollar which is fixed one for one with the Australian dollar.

Hutt River was founded on 21 April 1970 by Western Australian farmer Leonard Casley, who declared his farm to be an independent republic under the name Hutt River Province following disputes over wheat production quotas. A few years later, Casley began styling himself Prince Leonard and granting family members royal titles, although he did not include the word "principality" in the country's official name until 2006.

The relationships between the Principality and the Australian Government can best be described as fraught. Australia does not recognise the secession and has been forced to engage in constant activities to combat the Principality's attempts to assert its sovereign status. Most recently, the Australian Tax Office has taken legal action to recover $2.26 million in income tax, penalties and interest alleged to be owed by Prince Leonard.

The relationship between the Principality and the West Australian Government is more ambiguous. The State does not recognise the secession, but the Principality has become a significant regional tourist attraction.

The State's Heritage register states that "Hutt River Province has high historic and social significance as the site of Australia's only independent principality" and provides information on the Principality's history. However, it also includes this disclaimer:
This information is provided voluntarily as a public service. The information provided is made available in good faith and is derived from sources believed to be reliable and accurate. However, the information is provided solely on the basis that readers will be responsible for making their own assessment of the matters discussed herein and are advised to verify all relevant representations, statements and information.
The relationship between Hutt River and the local Shire of Northampton is more positive still. The Principality appears to make rate payments on an ex gratia basis in return for services, while it has turned what would otherwise have been just a farm into a significant tourist attraction. The Kalbarri .tourism website lists the Principality as one the region's main attractions, noting (among other things) that "Visitor visa’s are available in the Government Offices or at Kalbarri Visitor Centre for a minimal charge. Passports may also be stamped for Entry/Exit at no charge."

After 47 years, the Principality has established a distinct place and identity. To maintain this while also achieving his growth objectives for Hutt River, Prince Graeme and other members of the Royal Family have to pursue a delicate path in continuing to assert the Principality's independence while balancing relations with an Australian Government and courts that do not recognise Hutt River's sovereign status and, in the end, have to capacity to force its destruction.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Reflections on the Changing the Gap report

The release of the latest Closing the Gap report (summary here), the ninth in the series,  has received widespread coverage. It suggests that the gap between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the Australian community as measured by selected indicators remains stubbornly wide, with attempts to close the gap failing to meet many of the targets set. 

By way of background especially for international readers, the disparity in conditions, education, health and living standards between Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the broader Australian community has been an issue for many years.

In his Social justice report 2005, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma urged Australian governments to commit to achieving equality for Indigenous people in health and life expectancy within 25 years. Non-government agencies responded to Calma’s appeal, developing a National Indigenous Health Equality Campaign in 2006, and launching a Close the Gap campaign in 2007. This rights-based awareness campaign later gave rise to a National Close the Gap Day, which helped inspire cross-government action.

In December 2007, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) pledged to close key gaps. Then in March 2008, government and non-government delegates to a National Indigenous Health Equality Summit signed a statement of intent.

In July 2008, the Rudd Government established the National Indigenous Health Equality Council, and in November of that year COAG approved the National Indigenous Reform Agreement which set out six Closing the Gap targets:

  • to close the life expectancy gap within a generation
  • to halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade
  • to ensure access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four year olds in remote communities within five years
  • to halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children within a decade
  • to halve the gap for Indigenous students in year 12 attainment rates by 2020 and
  • to halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade.
A number of building-blocks with sub-targets were identified to contribute to the achievement of these objectives.

In my response to the initiative (July 2008), I quoted a research report prepared by an ANU team that warned the Government that "a degree of policy realism and caution is required" and that its use of statistical benchmarks might lead to perceptions of policy failure in coming years. I noted that we needed to exercise great care in using statistical averages in setting aspirations and as performance benchmarks.

That post followed attempts over several years to articulate the reasons for consistent failure in the Aboriginal policy space looking at it from both a policy and historical perspective. Towards the end of this period came the 2007 Howard/Brough Northern Territory Intervention, something I wrote on quite extensively at the time. I don't want to revisit the whole discussion beyond noting that key cause of policy failure included:

  • failure to recognise diversity within Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • failure to properly distinguish those elements of problems that were Aboriginal specific as compared to subsets of broader problems of which the Aboriginal experience was a part
  • failure to consider historical issues including the effects of previous policies
  • misuse of statistics in policy analysis and development, leading to inappropriate policies including targets 
  • a tendency towards interventionist, sometimes paternalistsic often inconsistent and unstable policies with a bad-aid element.
One side-effect of the policy approaches adopted has been a tendency to focus on problems and failures overshadowing the successes that have occurred.

In the week leading  up to the Closing the Gap report, my train reading has been Richard Broome, Aboriginal Australians: A history since 1788. In trying to write my history of New England I am including segments that tell the Aboriginal story both pre and post 1788. It's a complicated story, one that I am still working my way through. I read Broome's book to give me a broader context.

It's a very good if sometimes depressing book. One quote stuck in my mind. "In 1948 only 21 per cent of the Aboriginal population in New South Wales were living on reserves and 96 per cent of Aboriginal were in full employment." According to the latest Closing the Gap Report, in 2014-15 53.1 per cent of working age Aboriginal people were employed (this includes part time employment), up from 47.3 per cent in 2008.

So how did we go from a situation where 96 per cent of Aboriginal men at least were in full employment in 1948 to the current position?

The first part of the answer lies in the structural changes that swept Australia in the second half of the twentieth century. The agricultural jobs including timber milling that had been a major source of Aboriginal employment in regional New England declined, while employment opportunities in towns themselves also declined. The manufacturing and railway jobs that had attracted Aboriginal people to places like Redfern or Newcastle vanished.

Non-Aboriginal Australians suffered too. This brings us to the second part of the answer, the standard of education. For a variety of reasons, the education received by Aboriginal people in New England had been less in length and lower in quality than that received by non-Aboriginal Australians. While un and under-employment rose in the non-Aboriginal community, lack of education as well as geographic location (a higher proportion of Aboriginal people lived in country areas) created especial difficulties for Aboriginal people in competing in the new environment.As unskilled or semi-skilled jobs vanished, social problems increased, as did welfare dependence. Again, the same thing happened in the non-Aboriginal community, but the impact on Aboriginal people was greater for they were more vulnerable.

This structural change was, of course, only one of the forces working on Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Here Broome's book is very good because it traces the Aboriginal response to problems over time, drawing out the fact that they were not just passive victims but people who responded as best they could to the changing problems they faced over time, working out the best solutions from their viewpoint. Most recently, a revolution has been underway.

In his response to the Closing the Gap report, the ABC's Stan Grant (he is indigenous) among others including Ken Wyatt, the first Indigenous Member of the House of Representatives and now the first Indigenous Minister to be appointed in a Commonwealth Government,  pointed to the explosion in Indigenous university graduates.

Charles Perkins, the first Aboriginal university graduate, graduated in 1966. Today, there are 30,000 Indigenous graduates, with the number growing all the time. That's a huge change in 51 years. To put the number in further perspective, even though the Aboriginal jail population at 10,000 is disproportionately high, there are now 3 graduates for every Aboriginal prisoner. I know this comparison may sound bizarre and Aboriginal incarceration rates are far too high, but it is a marker of change.    

The growth in university numbers is just one sign of the revolution. In November 2009, my Aboriginal mentee, a women from whom I have learned much, put it this way: "our culture must change, but we want to control the change." The younger Aboriginal activists, many now well educated across multiple fields and with increasing access to resources, are pushing the change. Some of their arguments actually make me quite uncomfortable even though I know where they are coming from!

Reflecting the variety in Aboriginal communities across a geographically large nation, the pattern of change is patchy, flowing in many directions. The divisions within the Indigenous community are as least as great as those between the Indigenous community and the rest of the nation. However, there is a pattern of advancement, of profound change.

I was trying to work out how to illustrate all this in a simple way that might make sense, that might personalise it. This is from my old school website:
.Minimbah Aboriginal School 
What started as a grass-roots program whereby senior English students from TAS would visit Minimbah to read and play with their boys and girls at Minimbah has grown into something of much greater significance. TAS Junior School and Minimbah now have a combined athletics carnival; during  summer terms Minimbah students have learn to swim lessons in the TAS pool, and combined National Day of Healing and NAIDOC Week activities are also  held. 
As a result of this growing relationship, TAS is able to support the students and staff at Minimbah while at the same time deepening the understanding of our own staff and students about the contemporary Aboriginal experience.  
Partially as a consequence of the Minimbah connection, TAS now has an active indigenous program. This is an picture of the Indigenous kids at the school.


Growing up in Armidale, I knew some Aboriginal kids at primary school, but there were none at TAS. Now they are active at the school, are key in sports and especially Rugby (that's important!), with an increasing number in the OBU. Woops, I should have said Old Armidalians since the school has recently gone co-ed! I find about their activities from feeds, know who at least some of them are.

I said that I wanted to personalise it. The point about the TAS story as with the university graduate numbers is that it's an example of what is happening underneath the Closing the Gap report, of the change processes taking place. Raw statistics never tell a whole story.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Reflections on the Indonesian elections

I know far less than I should about the Indonesian system of Government. I mention this now because of the elections to be held next Wednesday, 15  February 2017.

According to Wikipedia, at sub-national level Indonesia is divided into provinces.There are presently 34 provinces of which eight including Acheh  and the Jakarta Special Capital Region have special status.

Each province is headed by a governor and has its own legislative body, called Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah (literally "Regional People's Representatives Assembly"). Governors and representative members are elected by popular vote for five-year terms.

In turn, provinces are made up of regencies and cities with their own local governments and parliamentary bodies. A regency is headed by a regent (Indonesian: Bupati), and a city is headed by a mayor (Indonesian: Wali kota). With the exception of the Jakarta Special Capital Region where the Governor of Jakarta has the power to appoint and dismiss mayors and regent within the Region, the regent or mayor and the representative council members are also elected by popular vote for a term of 5 years.

In turn, regencies and cities are broken up into districts.

Provincial elections are held on a rolling basis. In this election, electors are electing governors of seven provinces, mayors and regents for 18 cities, as well as local leaders in 76 districts. There are a total of 41 million eligible voters and 337 pairs of candidates for the Feb 15 polls.

Much attention has been focused on the race for the Jakarta Special Capital Region. where incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as Ahok), a Christian Chinese Indonesian, has been subject to blasphemy charges following a campaign by the Islamic Defenders Front  The campaign included mass street protests reportedly attended by more than a million demonstrators, many bused in for the occasion.

 The campaign against Ahok has received considerable negative coverage outside Indonesia. (Here, here are examples). While I share the concerns, I am cautious about coming to judgement at this point.I simply don't know.

What does seem to be clear, is that all Ahok's opponents are using the affair to their own political advantage, playing to divides in Indonesian society for political gain. This includes action to try to force his suspension from office as Governor; his present term expires in October.

I guess my instinctive reaction is to say so what's new? The approach followed by the various protagonists including the appeal to religious and ethnic prejudice for political gain is not dissimilar from what happens in this country, The key issue is how those actions play out over time.

In the short term, the public opinion polls  (I have no ability to judge the polls) suggest that Ahok retains a solid base of support despite the campaigns. No candidate seems likely to score more than 50% of the vote, so a run-off will be necessary. With one exception that would seem to be an out-rider, Ahok has been consistently holding at one or two in the polls, meaning that he will go through to a second round. In that event, expect more agitation.

In the longer term, we just have to wait and see how things work out. Indonesia is a complex country still defining its position. I may be wrong, but I think that Indonesia will work its way through the various conundrums, if with the normal hiccups along the way.

Certainly I hope so. In Australian terms, Indonesia is a critical partner. It's also a partnership where in both economic and political power terms, Indonesia to Australia is becoming like Canada to the US or Australia to New Zealand as Australia declines in relative terms, Indonesia advances.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A sizzling Saturday - extreme heat, breezeways and the meaning of catastrophic fire danger

It's been a sizzling Saturday, with temperatures exceeding 40C (104F) in over 50 suburbs, towns and villages across NSW. Animals have been suffering as well as people. The koala photo comes courtesy of the ABC"s twitter feed.

The highest temperature in the state on Saturday was Ivanhoe at 47.6C (117.68F); still below the highest record for anywhere in NSW recorded in 1939 at 49.7C (121.46F). A number of centres exceeded their previous record highs including.

  • Penrith (Western Sydney) reached 46.9C (116.42F), beating its previous record of 46.5C (115.7F)
  • Forbes (Western NSW) recorded 45.5C (113.9F), with its previous record 44C (111.2F)
  • Williamtown (Hunter Valley) also reached 45.5C after a previous high of 44.7C (112.46).

In addition to the formal temperature readings, there is the felt temperature, how the temperature feels taking humidity into account. Here some parts of Western Sydney reached 51C (123.8F). Then is there is the ground temperature which can exceed the recorded temperature by a considerable margin where the earth or pavement is exposed to direct sunlight. I have no idea here, but one council at least sprayed water to prevent the tar on the main road bubbling.

Saturday came following a period of sustained hot weather in South Eastern Australia as a consequence of a block of hot air forcible suspended over part of the continent by other systems with temperatures in many places at or over 40C.

In the heat, I became curious about the comparison between these heats and global record temperatures, Looking at wikipedia, the temperatures are very high by global standards if still below the maximums set elsewhere.

While I generally accept the arguments about climate change, including the role human related emissions are playing in the process, my experience with previous heatwaves and the response to them makes me very cautious about attributing particular climatic events to climate change. It has lead to some very silly policy responses, especially in NSW. What we can certainly say is that this type of heat forces behavioral responses including cancellation of sporting events, a rush to buy fans and air-conditioners and to get some place cool. In turn, this has placed some pressure on the electricity supply system.

I live in a house without air-conditioning or, indeed, any fans. I'm also working from home at the moment, so the heat is especially trying. For that reason, my only practical response lies in managing the house to create breezeways and minimise sun impacts.

I was surprised to discover that the word breezeways is apparently US in origin, dates to the twentieth century and refers to a porch or roofed passageway open on the sides, for connecting two buildings, as a house and a garage.  I first came across it in looking at Australian colonial architecture where the phrase was used more broadly to describe an element of house construction, especially in hotter areas.

A lot of thought went into house design and there was actually a fair bit of variety. This a shot of Lanyon Homestead  in the ACT. The large verandahs shielded the walls and provided sheltered outdoor living space. Doors opened onto verandahs allowing the interior of the house to be ventilated. The twentieth century moved away from this approach, especially in modern houses whose design increasingly came to be dependent on the availability of air-conditioning.  

My place is older and it is possible to manage it to some degree to reduce impact of heat and create breezeways to some degree. It's still been bloody hot!

Towards the end of the day, the NSW Rural Fire Service started warning of catastrophic or code red conditions in some parts of NSW. Code red conditions stretch from the Hunter Valley up the Western Slopes.

I have written about the introduction of  the catastrophic or code red system before (here, here). In 2013 when the then Premier declared code red in parts of the State on the grounds that it was the most catastrophic fire danger the state had ever faced, the advice was:
“If you live in bushland or an isolated area where there is a catastrophic fire danger rating your only option is to leave early. You could move to a built up area, away from bushland, such as the centre of a town.’’
Now the advice appears to be something along the same lines with an added urban twist including chilling out in an air-conditioned shopping centre or at a swimming pool. If you look at the scale of the area covered by the catastrophic and extreme fire danger warnings, I just don't understand how things might work. How do you select the centre, how might these be defended, do you just give up areas?

There may be answers to all this, but I don't know,  

Monday, February 06, 2017

Monday Forum - Australia's political imbroglios

I have been working on some longer term writing projects, some of which may start to some up soon. I love the hidden stories one finds!

A case in point is the story of Camp Victory, a KNIL (Dutch East Indies Army) camp at Casino in Northern NSW. This photo shows Dutch soldiers at nearby Evans Head. I knew about the camp, I knew that it occupied a place in the history of the Indonesian Revolution, but had no idea of the complexity involved. Did you know, for example, that the Dutch East Indies Administration is the only official Government-in-exile ever established on Australian soil?

This forum, it is hard to go past politics.

In my last Forum I posed the question of the administrative competence of the Trump administration, a question triggered by the migration Executive Order. Events since then have been a bit of a roller-coaster. The obvious administrative problems with the Order were its ambiguity and its impact on existing visas. This first forced a series of clarifications such as the applicability to green card holders, the second triggered the legal cases and consequent uncertainties.

One effect of the whole controversy is that it totally overrode Prime Minister Turnbull's attempt to set out directions for the Turnbull-Joyce Government though his press club speech to the point that I have yet to read it. The latest public opinion polls give Labor a lead on a two party preferred basis of 54-46 partly due to the rise in support for One Nation. Personally,  while I understand the causes behind the rise in the One Nation vote, I am a little bemused by the extent to which it is holding despite the strangeness of some of Ms Hanson's views. To my mind, this is low grade populism, unlikely to build a sustained political movement. Am I wrong?

The Australian Parliament resumes this week. Having been trumped and thus lost the opportunity to set a new direction, the Australian PM faces a new set of distractions.

One is the gay marriage issue. Here the PM is caught between a rock and a hard place, between a plebiscite approach that can't easily get up and a conservative wing in his own Party that won't support a change without a plebiscite and maybe not even then. He has an Abbott doing a Rudd, with Cory Bernadi threatening to set up a new conservative party.

Actually, from my viewpoint, the sooner Senator Bernadi goes the better. An Adelaide city boy, I have seen no evidence that he understands the rest of the country well enough to build a decent political base. To my mind, he confuses deeply held views among a relatively narrow slice of a national electorate with chances of political success. In total, Bernadi's supporters are significant, but I doubt they are strong enough at particular electoral level to give him any real chance of gaining lower house seats.

In retrospect, the PM's decision to change the Senate voting arrangements to remove minor parties was unwise. We now have a a proliferation of centre-right or right groups that are far more significant than the previous somewhat ramshackle cross-bench.

This aids Mr Shorten for the present. Labor's main challenge, the Greens, are suffering their own internal tensions. One Nation is actually Labor's biggest threat, for the party does have appeal in some traditional Labor seats.

As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want regardless of what I have said here or the topics covered.          .

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Reflections on the art of flânerie

Introduced to the concept by a friend, there was a time when I was a most dedicated flaneur. Then I drifted away a little, although I introduced a remarkable number of people to the concept.
Surf Carnival, Manly. To be a flaneur is to idle without purpose, interested in what you find.
I think one of the reasons for my decline in flaneuring is that I started walking for exercise. This may be healthy, but it tends to defeats the point, the discoveries that can come from random idling.

I find that when walking for exercise I have in mind distance and time, two things in direct conflict with the art of flânerie. What's worse, I tend to get very bored and thus stop walking! Even the desire to achieve a minimum number of paces (10,000 per day appears to have become an almost universal target) provides insufficient incentive.

Surf Carnival, Manly. Nippers' race. When practicing the art of flânerie, it is important to stop and observe. The pleasure lies in the discovery of the unexpected.
The irony, of course, is that I actually walked more as a flaneur than as an exerciser because I was simply more interested, was inclined to keep moving.

I rediscovered the art in Copenhagen. After the first trip, I knew the bones of the city quite well. Now I was fleshing in the details.

There is something enormously relaxing about heading out with only a rough idea of direction and time scope. I wandered almost at random, looking a the buildings and shops. Sometimes, I would find myself back at a familiar place and then wander around working out just how I had got there. Finally, I would head for home by the shortest route.
Cafe Sommersko, Copenhagen. Suitable rewards add to the enjoyment of flânerie
I found Copenhagen's Cafe Sommersko by accident. I had been wandering for well over an hour and felt like a coffee.

I was fascinated by the place. Obviously moderately posh, a restaurant at night, it was starting to fill with casually if well dressed Danes. They knew each other, and hugged or kissed as they unfolded their outer street-ware to reveal the plumage underneath.

Investigating, I found that the Cafe  Sommersko. was opened in 1976 to provide a place for the city's artists to meet, introducing a new cafe concept to the city. I must say they struck me as very well dressed artists! I had enjoyed my rewarding coffee. It was time to move on.

Recently, there seems to have been something of a global renaissance in the art of  flânerie. Recently, my attention was caught by an ABC Radio National program A step by step guide to the city. The program was triggered by a recently published English translation of a 1929 book, Franz Hessel's Walking in Berlin. The book is described in this way:
Franz Hessel was an observer par excellence of the increasingly hectic metropolis that was Berlin in the late 1920s. In Walking in Berlin, originally published in Germany in 1929, he captures the rhythm of Weimar-era Berlin, recording evidence of the seismic shifts shaking German culture at the time. 
Nearly all of the pieces take the form of a walk or outing, focusing either on a theme or part of the city, and many end at a theatre, cinema, or club. Hessel effortlessly weaves historical information into his observations, displaying his extensive knowledge of the city. Today, many years after the Nazi era and the postwar reconstruction that followed, the areas he visited are all still prominent and interesting. From the Alexanderplatz to Kreuzberg, his record of them has become priceless. Superbly written, and as fresh today as when it first appeared, this is a book to be savoured.
I clearly have to read this book!. Checking around, however, I found piece after recent piece linked to flaneuring. The concept is clearly in vogue. Perhaps its time for you to practice the art of  flânerie?