Category Archives: Sundries

Posts on sundry matters of life the universe and everything: Culture, Environment, Life, Politics & Government, Science, Social Science and Society, Technology etc.

Weekly salon 12/1

1. 2021 in graphs

Peter Martin has assembled 10 graphs from articles he has edited in 2021.

Each tells a powerful story. For example, it is clear that sooner or later something will have to be done about JobSeeker when it is forecast to become a mere fraction of the old age pension, which is miserly by international standards. Remember around a third of pensioners already live in poverty. Continue reading Weekly salon 12/1

Weekly salon 7/1: 2022 new year edition

1. Sawatdi bpi mai kap!

That is a Thai new year’s greeting which means means:

    May you find compassion, loving kindness and equanimity along your paths over the next year!

On a personal level that would help. I think most people feel well rid of 2021, and hope for better in 2022.

2. Will humanity survive?

Andrew Leigh, they say, is always the smartest man in the room, and one of the nicest. Since entering parliament in 2008 he has now launched his 8th book. This Saturday Paper article (no doubt pay-walled) is an interview with Andrew Leigh on humanity’s one-in-six chance of ending. Continue reading Weekly salon 7/1: 2022 new year edition

Seasons Greetings 2021

I love this image of our fair city, so I’m reprising it from last year.

Last year I said 2020 was dominated by the four “C’s” – Coronavirus, climate change, China, and corruption in politics.

This year was much the same, and again I found myself overwhelmed in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Luckily others were better organised, so a good time was had by all. Continue reading Seasons Greetings 2021

ABORIGINES: CONVERSATION STARTER

My future wife and I became actively interested in Aborigines and Aboriginal policy when we were members of ABSCOL. At that time, ABSCOL was a University based society that raised money for Aboriginal university scholarships. (It also provided Aboriginal policy advice to the National University Students Association. – I chaired the committee that drafted the NUSA policy in 1964.)
Since then my wife and I spent about 20 yrs in places with substantial Aboriginal populations. In these places we spent more time than most mining town residents interacting with Aborigines.
This post looks at some of the things we thought we learned from our interactions with Aborigines and some alternatives for the future.
DETAILS:
A few key dates:
1965: Charlie Perkins led a “freedom ride” that shocked a lot of Australians. Australians were not comfortable confronting things like Aboriginal kids not being allowed to use the Kempsey swimming pool.
1965: In the early 1960’s BHP negotiated a mining agreement that allowed BHP to mine some of the manganese ore deposits on Groote Eylandt. At the end of this process BHP agreed to a number of things including equal pay for Aboriginal workers and the payment of royalties. Radical stuff at the time.
1970’s: Davidson’s lived most of this decade on the Groote Eylandt Aboriginal reserve. (I worked for Groote Eylandt mining. My responsibilities included Aboriginal training at one stage.)
1976: Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA) is Australian federal government legislation that provides the basis upon which Aboriginal Australian people in the Northern Territory can claim rights to land based on traditional occupation.
1980’s to early 1990’s: Davidson’s lived most of this time at the Pilbara town of Newman. During this time a large fringe dwellers camp grew at Newman.
Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Is: Home of the Warndilyagwa people. This group consisted of a number of clans who all use Enindilyagwa as their primary language. (They could also speak a number of mainland languages as well as English.)
Makassan trepang gatherers had been visiting Groote for hundreds of years. The Groote people were used to dealing with strange outsiders and not given to being pushed around.
Traditional culture and laws have a significant influence on the decisions that the Warndilyagwa make. Some features of the culture can cause difficulty for strangers. For example, Aborigines think it is bad manners to say “no.” They deal with unwanted requests by saying “yes” and then not doing what was wanted.
We both learned a bit of Enindilyagwa. The language provides a good example of how languages develop to satisfy needs. (There were about 100 prepositions – It was important not to make mistakes about who was being talked about.)
My wife commented that: “After 8 yrs I would think I had things worked out. Then something would happen and they would do something completely different to what I expected.”
We were impressed with how the Warndilyagwa could make decisions and then make things happen.
Newman Fringe Dwellers Camp: During our stay in Newman a fringe dwellers camp grew next to Newman. My wife had some dealings with these Aborigines as a result of working for the Dept of community services and being editor of the local newspaper.
At that time the camp was used by Aborigines passing through, those who were there because of the booze and people trying to avoid tribal law punishments. (Since we left some improvements have been made but the fringe township is apparently being shut down and the people being moved into state housing.)
Newman was unusual because there were no living traditional owners because they were wiped out by the Hamersley mob. Since we left the Martu desert people have taken some responsibility for this land.
The Davidson’s have had not much to do with Aborigines since leaving Newman.
Conclusions: At the end of our time with Aborigines I concluded that:
1. It is the Aborigines and often only the Aborigines that can fix many Aboriginal problems.
2. My wish was that both individuals and communities have the freedom to choose what they want to do.
3. A lot of progress had been made since 1964. In 1964 I believe I knew all the Aborigines with university degrees – Both of them.
Conversation questions?
1. In 1964 Australia was following an assimilation policy which was similar to our migrant assimilation policy. The idea was that Aborigines/migrants should be helped to become part of the broader population. ABSCOL scholarships were about helping this process by demonstrating to both Aborigines and other Australians that Aborigines could do well in the broader society. Stan Grant suggested recently that Aborigines may be better of if they looked at how immigrants had succeeded in becoming a successful part of broader Australia.
2. Later on we talked about using an integration policy which aimed at bringing the Aboriginal community into the broader community. At first this was about getting the support of older Aborigines for the movement of younger Aborigines into the broader community. Over time both Aboriginal and immigration policies became more about encouraging multiculturalism rather than assimilation. (Benefits both societies.)
3. At the moment some Aborigines are talking more and more about Aborigines becoming a nation that deals through its leaders with the government and is recognised in the constitution. This may go further to the next logical step where the constitution and the Australian government are ignored.
4. Jailing, treatment in jails, defacto differences in how the justice system treats Aborigines and other Australians are topics that also need discussion.

Gladys goes. What does that mean for us?

Michael McGowan and Anne Davies had the story on Friday 1 Oct 2021 NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian resigns after ICAC announces investigation:

(Image from Michelle Grattan’s story at The Conversation.)

I think her greater misdemeanor lies elsewhere. However her demise has further trashed politicians and politics in the public mind, opening opportunities for independents, and minor parties in so far as they present as people who are not politicians.

This is not good for democracy. Continue reading Gladys goes. What does that mean for us?

To Deal With China First Learn to Play Go

Conversation Starter: Stan Grant wrote this interesting article on future relationships with China: “Despite what Joe Biden says, we’re not approaching a Cold War. China is not the Soviet Union, for one thing” The guts of his message is that: “China learnt well from Western powers. It has embraced multilateralism and global norms. The international order has underwritten China’s rise. Xi Jinping himself has presented China as a champion of globalization and multilateralism at the very time when America under Donald Trump was withdrawing from it.
The Rand Corporation think tank pointed out in a study in 2018 that there is nothing straightforward about China’s role in the world. China’s engagement with the global order, it says, is a “complex and contradictory work in progress. China sees “multilateral institutions as important, if not essential, for the achievement of its interests”.
This post provides a starting point for a conversation about dealing with China.
DETAILS:
In the past I have been a player of both chess and Go. So I was interested when Stan said: “If the West sees global politics as a chess game, the Chinese see it as Wei-Qi, or Go. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger summed it up: “If chess is about the decisive battle, Wei-Qi is about the protracted campaign.
China wants to wear us down. As the rules of Wei-Qi point out, it is about “breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”. This concept is known as shi — creating a strategic advantage. Why would China overthrow an order when it can successfully work within it?”
Key points about chess: Chess uses a variety of pieces that are allowed to make different moves. The game starts with all the pieces on the board in the position prescribed by the rules. The players take turns at moving one piece with enemy pieces being “killed” when an opponent moves a piece to the place where an enemy piece is sitting. The game is won when the winner “kills” the opposing king.
WWI was something like a game of chess with the opponents in contact grinding each other down. The aim was to crush the enemy or convince them that they would be destroyed if they did not surrender.
Key points about Go: One of the players starts with black pebbles, the other white. At the start of the game there are no pebbles on the board. The players take turns to place pebbles on the board. Pebbles are not moved once placed. Pebbles/groups of pebbles are lost and removed from the board when they are surrounded in a particular way by enemy pebbles. The game is won by controlling most of the board. In many cases the final killing off of a group of pebbles is deferred while other groups of pebbles are attacked.
At the start of games it is common for players to start by spreading their pebbles over the board instead of getting into direct conflict. Once these direct conflicts start players may increase their chance of winning direct conflicts by linking with pebbles located somewhere else on the board.
Signs of Go influencing Chinese strategies? Think Chinese:
• Investment and loans to Pacific Islands and other countries that increase Chinese influence?
• China’s belt and road initiative?
• Buying or setting up business in other countries that depend on sales to China and/or parts etc. produced in China.
Your thoughts?

Weekly salon 23/8

1. The cost of pests

I recall we had some discussion about feral pigs, which rate fifth in a research study by Corey J. A. Bradshaw of Flinders University and Andrew Hoskins of the CSIRO in Pest plants and animals cost Australia around $25 billion a year – and it will get worse:

Shamefully, Australia has one of the highest extinction rates in the world. And the number one threat to our species is invasive or “alien” plants and animals.

But invasive species don’t just cause extinctions and biodiversity loss – they also create a serious economic burden. Our research, published today, reveals invasive species have cost the Australian economy at least A$390 billion in the last 60 years alone.

Our paper – the most detailed assessment of its type ever published in this country – also reveals feral cats are the worst invasive species in terms of total costs, followed by rabbits and fire ants.

Here is how they stack up:

It depends where you are:

Red imported fire ants are the costliest species in Queensland, and ragwort is the economic bane of Tasmania.

The common heliotrope is the costliest species in both South Australia and Victoria, and annual ryegrass tops the list in WA.

In the Northern Territory, the dothideomycete fungus that causes banana freckle disease brings the greatest economic burden, whereas cats and foxes are the costliest species in the ACT and NSW.

2. Humans are the biggest pest

I remember on our trip down the Rhine in 2008 a tour guide explaining that in Europe ‘nature’ had been mostly pushed into the mountains. Last week Gigi Forster and Peter Martin in the ABC RN program The Economists talk about Valuing nature, which economists mostly don’t. They tell us that humans and their domestic animals make up 96% of mammals on earth, with natural mammals squeezing into just 4%. Apparently domestic fowls make up 70% of the bird population. In the program:

A landmark report has urged the world’s governments to come up with a better form of national accounting from GDP, to reflect the value and depletion of nature. Plus, an update on carbon markets and the emerging field of biodiversity offsets.

Here’s the The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review – Full Report.

See also:

Economics’ failure over destruction of nature presents ‘extreme risks’Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study

This is what we amount to;

This is what we have done:

We will have to learn to live respectfully in nature, or we’ll destroy our nest. It won’t be easy. There was to be a UN biodiversity summit in 2020 in Kunming, China. This has now been delayed for third time due to the pandemic.

Can we stop the Sixth mass extinction event, the Holocene extinction, found to be accelerating?

Our future depends on what we do in the next little while.

3. Insects in trouble too

Dr Sanchez-Bayo, an honorary associate at the University of Sydney, undertook the first global review of studies of insect decline across the world and the reasons for it. See Insect population and species decline a ‘wake-up call’, scientists say:

“What we found is that 41 per cent on average of all insect species that we know are declining,” said Dr Sanchez-Bayo.

“Among those, a third of all the species are going into extinction. They’re in danger right now. The rate of extinction in insects is about eight times higher than the rate of extinction of vertebrates.”

Most of the studies surveyed were form the US and Western Europe:

One study, in Germany, saw a 75 per cent decline in insect biomass over 27 years. Another study in Puerto Rico reported losses of between 78 and 98 per cent over 36 years.

The rates of decline are so dramatic — up to 2.5 per cent a year — that Dr Sanchez-Bayo claims that at current rates there may be no insects in those regions within 10 years.

4. There is another story beneath our feet

For a long time now farmers and landholders have been told that storing carbon in soil was not only a good thing to do, it was something they could make money from by selling carbon credits.

Problem is that there is no solid science to back this up. Gabriel Popkin tells the story in A Soil-Science Revolution Upends Plans to Fight Climate Change:

One teaspoon of healthy soil contains more bacteria, fungi and other microbes than there are humans on Earth. Those hungry organisms can make soil a difficult place to store carbon over long periods of time.

It’s a long article, but the short story is that the assumption that carbon molecules stored in soil cam remain there for long periods of time. What we know now is that no such molecules can be found. Everything can be munched, although some do stick around.

Climate modellers apparently ‘simplified’ the issue by leaving microbial activity out. Some scientists are :

pushing to replace the old dichotomy of stable and unstable carbon with a “soil continuum model” of carbon in progressive stages of decomposition. But this model and others like it are far from complete, and at this point, more conceptual than mathematically predictive.

Researchers agree that soil science is in the midst of a classic paradigm shift. What nobody knows is exactly where the field will land — what will be written in the next edition of the textbook.

In short, they are in a muddle.

5. Pests found inside a hill in Canberra

Here it is:

Every week Federal parliament is sitting Tony Burke, leader for the opposition in the house, sends around to party members on his mailing list some pithy comments. Last week he told of one of his constituents, a woman who is 102 and lives in:

Western Sydney, which is the epicentre of the current COVID outbreak. She’s been on the pension for 40 years – and yet the government sent her a letter saying she’d be cut off unless she left the house in the middle of the lockdown zone to present proof of age documents she doesn’t actually have.

Luckily Burke’s office was able to get the matter fixed by Stuart Robert’s office. However, it continues the narrative that there is no blunder beyond the capability of this government. Their fiercest critic however is possibly Dennis Atkins, now retired and liberated from writing for the Courier Mail. He is particularly eloquent about their leader:

Where would this man be without pollsters dictating his every utterance?

A good question. Michael Pascoe this morning asks another in a must read piece if you want to understand what is going on with COVID messaging and posturing:

The COVID political ground is shifting – is an election moving it?

Here are some other recent Atkins pieces:

Scott Morrison will weaponise climate crisis in pursuit of re-election

As Scott Morrison tries to ‘get out of Dodge’, Australia needs a political reckoning

Will the IPCC finally come to terms with climate risk?

The IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is planning to release the first of four reports in its 6th Assessment Report (6AR) on Monday, 9 August, 2021.

I believe the largest question will be whether the IPCC, this time, adequately accounts for risk. Continue reading Will the IPCC finally come to terms with climate risk?