Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A life worth living - reflections on the sudden death of Will Owen

On 2 December, our fellow blogger Will Owen died unexpectedly in his sleep at his Chapel Hill North Carolina home. He was just 63. We had never met in person, but I felt that I knew him.

Will and I first interacted back in June 2007 when he commented on a post I had written on the Howard-Brough Aboriginal intervention in the Northern Territory, I hadn’t seen his blog, Aboriginal Art and Culture: an American eye, although by then it had been established for over two years. I looked, and it became one of my regular reads.

Later I nominated some of his posts for consideration by Club Troppo/On-line Opinion for the best independent Australian blog posts of 2008. There was some doubt as to his eligibility, but I thought that Will’s focus should make him eligible. I was pleased, and so was he, when his Basedow's photographs made the list. Later still, and rightly, the blog was selected for permanent retention as part of the National Library’s Pandora Archive.

While I knew of Will through his work on Aboriginal art, his main professional role was as a librarian. He began work at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Library in 1976 as a student assistant in the collection development department. At the time of his death, he was Associate University Librarian for Technical Services and Systems, a position he had held since 2011. He had also served since July as the Library’s interim Director of Human Resources.

In a tribute, Sarah Michalak, University Librarian and Associate Provost for University Libraries (UNC is a networked multi-campus institution) said that with Will’s passing, the Library and the field hade lost “one of the greats of librarianship and a leader whose accomplishments embody the best of the profession”.

Will believed that libraries should provide the broadest possible access to scholarly information. At a time when many questioned the value of the library catalog, he empowered his team instead to develop it as a sophisticated tool that would facilitate customized searching and would lead researchers directly to primary source material from the library collections.

At the time that Will became one of the Library’s first computer administrators in 1985, there were just a few computers in campus libraries, said David Romani, UNC Library’s lead systems administrator. “It was the two of us doing all of the technology,” he recalled, even to the point of removing ceiling panels and running cable for the first system of networked computers in Davis Library.

As technology became an increasingly prominent part of library work, Will became UNC’s first systems librarian and then head of the systems department. His guiding principle was always that the technology—and the technology department—should be a solid and reliable support that makes it possible for colleagues to focus on their primary mission of carrying out the work of the library.

It is clear from the many tributes that Will not only applied this principle in practice but was also an effective guide and mentor. “People valued his mentoring,” said Michalak, “because of the clear way he expressed himself. You knew that he really cared and that everything came from a grounding of integrity.”

Outside his professional work, Will was a man many of many interests. He already had an abiding interest in contemporary American art before seeing the “Dreamings The Art of Aboriginal Australia.” exhibition at the Asia Society in New York City in 1988.

The paintings, with their arrays of small dots, elaborate patterns in startling colors and puzzling iconography, took the lifelong art lover by surprise. “This is the first we knew it existed. I had no idea Australia’s Aboriginal people made art, much less crazy, beautiful art like this,” he said.

In 1990 Will and his long standing partner Professor Harvey Wagner (they had been together for 34 years at the time of Will’s death) visited Australia almost by accident.

Will had intended to use frequent flier miles for a European Christmas vacation with his partner. But by the time they made reservations at Thanksgiving, every seat was long since booked. Frustrated, they asked what was left. “I can get you on a plane to Sydney,” the agent offered. The surprise destination led the pair directly to a passion for Aboriginal art that has drawn them back again and again to Australia.

It was a day trip to the country west of Alice Springs that brought everything together. Piled into a Land Cruiser with five other passengers, Will listened, captivated, as their guide described Aboriginal culture and the complicated relationship at its heart between the people and the land. “It was so alien, so unlike anything that I’d encountered before,” he said. “I wanted to try to solve the puzzle, to understand these minds that saw the world in such a different way.”

He and Harvey began purchasing art, ultimately building one of the world’s largest private collections of Aboriginal art. This painting is by Kenny Brown, Tiwi Islands, Jilamara (Good Design), 2001. The image derives from ceremonial designs that mourners paint on their bodies.

Insatiably curious, Will began to read up on anthropology, history and art, seeking to understand. Eventually, he came to see his research and writing as a continuation of the efforts of the Aboriginal people themselves to explain their lives and their world.

“For more than 200 years, these people in Australia have been held up as the exemplar of the most primitive people on Earth,” he said. “In fact, their art – which is extremely popular, which the government has appropriated as a symbol of Australia – is the way in which these people have reached out across the racial divide, against bigotry, condescension and hatred to share what is theirs with the rest of us.

“Living in extreme conditions means that you have to share or else you die. Their art is the way they’ve chosen to share their culture with us.”

“Aboriginal people don’t own the land,” he explained. “The land owns them.” Each individual is tied to a particular piece of land – known as one’s country – by virtue of being born there, having family or family history there, or having ancestors buried there.

For Aboriginal people, the country is a living, sentient being. When they are away from it, “they worry for the country and the country worries for them,” he said. The paintings that had so intrigued Will were, in fact, the outpouring of a great deal of worry.

Will began blogging in 2005 as a way of keeping track of all he was learning. The posts covered not just art, but also history and culture. In addition to blogging, Will used various mechanisms to promote Aboriginal art, artists and culture speaking at events and providing expert advice.

He was among the contributors to Beyond Sacred: recent paintings from Australia's remote Aboriginal communities, edited by Colin and Elizabeth Laverty (Hardie Grant Books, 2008). Then in 2009 and 2011, Will and Harvey gave their entire collection to the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. This made the Museum a centre for the study of Australian Aboriginal art in the US and provided a base for a major exhibition in 2012.

Truly, Will’s life was one worth living with multiple contributions across fields My commiserations to Harvey Wagner and Will's many friends.


In Memoriam: Will Owen 
Librarian, long-time art lover finds new passion in Aboriginal art

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Season's Greetings to all

This year I'm putting all my various publishing platforms on holidays until the 30th of December. It's actually the first time I have done this, I usually maintain some form of minimal posting, but I need the thought break.

I wish all my readers and blogging friends a very happy Christmas and a truly great New Year. For those to whom Christmas is not relevant, may the peace and joy that is meant to mark Christmas be with you in your lives.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Nanny NSW increases cycling penalties

One of my first impressions on visiting Copenhagen were the bikes. They were everywhere. I suggested that part of the reason for this was flat terrain, part better infrastructure, part integration of cycling into the road rules. However, I also suggested that a significant contributor was a less legalistic more cyclist friendly approach than that applied in Australia, citing bike helmets as an example.

Now the NSW Government has announced new rules:and penalties:
  • Adult cyclists will be required to carry photo identification. From March 2017, failure to do so will attract a penalty of $106, the same as drivers caught without a licence.
  • Drivers will be required to leave a one-metre buffer when overtaking cyclists, and at least 1.5 metres when travelling faster than 60km/h. Penalty two demerit points and a $319 fine
  •  Penalties for cyclists breaking road rules will be greatly increased. While most offences currently attract a $71 fine, cyclists caught riding without a helmet will now be fined $319, running a red light will incur a $425 fine, riding dangerously a $425 fine, holding onto a moving vehicle a fine of $319 and not stopping at a pedestrian crossing a fine of $425.
Fairfax journalist Michael O'Reilly correctly described the new laws as a mixture of good (the one metre buffer),  bad (increased penalties for not wearing a helmet) to downright bewildering (the ID requirement).

According to the New South Wales Director of the Centre for Road Safety Transport Bernard Carlton, the requirement to carry ID was considered an important safety measure. "There's been a big change in cycling and we've got a lot more cyclists on the road who are commuting and cycling for recreation and health," he said. "In New South Wales we have on average around 11 cyclist fatalities every year and 1,500 cyclists are admitted to hospital every year with serious injuries.".

Its all very NSW. I can't see how those casualty figures will be affected by the ID requirement, nor indeed by the increased fines for not wearing a helmet. The increased distance requirement has been welcomed by cycling bodies, although as a driver who is already careful about cyclists my main concern is the risk of breaching it inadvertently if, for example, a cyclist comes within a metre of me or I am trying to pass a cycling pack. The one thing I am reasonably certain of is that the changes are going to further discourage cycling as an activity while adding to police loads.


kvd wondered: "But of more importance, why are there no fines for "lycra'd whilst pudgy" and "cycling with hubris"?" The phrases made me laugh! I especially liked cycling with hubris!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday Forum - on history and historians

Today's Monday Forum is loosely linked to the question of history and historians.

Yesterday's train reading post, Train Reading - introducing Richard Hakluyt's Voyage and Discoveries 1, introduced the writings of this Elizabethan geographer. In reading the book, I found my knowledge of current historiography and political attitudes actually interfering with my reading. Of course, the way we approach the past in terms of the questions we ask is always strongly influenced by the present. In this case the process was quite annoying, standing as a barrier that I found was twisting my interpretation.

Hakyurt was a man of his time recording documents of that time. The writers of the documents were recording current events within the frame set by their times and their purpose in writing. The views expressed are neither right nor wrong, they just were.

This leads me to my opening questions for this forum:
  • How do we avoid being biased by current perceptions? Can we? Is it important? Obviously I think it is.
  • Can you really interpret the past if you have no idea of the context? More broadly, can you interpret the past if you have no personal experience relevant to that context? For example, people writing about politics and political or administrative structures who have had no experience in or real understanding of the type of dynamics involved.
  • I agree that history does have lessons for policy. However, much of the policy related history that I have read attempt to integrate the history and the policy. This strikes me as quite dangerous. Do you think history can or should be used to inform policy?
As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Train Reading - introducing Richard Hakluyt's Voyage and Discoveries 1

My present train reading is Richard Hakluyt's Voyages and Discoveries: The Principal Navigations, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation edited, abridged and introduced by Jack Beeching (Penguin 1972). The illustration, from the Wikepedia article on Hakluyt, is the stained glass window in Bristol Cathedral celebrating Hakluyt's life.

First published in 1589 with the final and greatly enlarged version appearing between 1598 and 1600, the book is a compendium of every voyage and commercial report that Hakluyt could get his hands on. The first two reports in the edition that I have date to 890, with the majority falling to the period 1553 to 1596.

Hakluyt's intent in collecting and publishing material was practical. Practical in the sense that he wanted to make the information available for use by others. Practical in the sense that he was promoting and presenting the English commercial interest. Practical also because the work undertaken by Hakluyt allowed him to amass a considerable fortune.

Today Voyages and Discoveries is interesting in part as travel yarns, in part because it presents eye witness accounts of events and commercial activities at a critical time in English and European history. This period saw the beginning of the colonial period with the early growth of the first overseas European empires; it saw England begin the challenge to the interests of Portugal and especially Spain (think Drake and the Spanish Armada) that would lay the basis for a wholesale land grab and the establishment of its own Empire; it also saw Europe's commercial and trade focus final shift from the traditional land routes towards the sea.  

Richard Hakluyt was born at Eyton in Herefordshire in 1553, the second of four sons. His father, also Richard, was a member of the Worshipful Company of Skinners whose members dealt in skins and furs. Richard Snr died in 1557, Richard's mother soon after. A cousin, yet another Richard Hackluyt, became his guardian. Cousin Richard  was a barrister and a member of the Middle Temple'

Hakluyt was educated at Westminster School and then at Christ Church Oxford. awarded his MA in 1577. He was ordained as an Anglican minister in the following year.

Hakluyt decided to dedicate himself to what we would now call geography while still a schoolboy at Westminster. Visiting his guardian whose conversation was illustrated by "certain bookes of cosmographie, an universall mappe, and the Bible", the boy resolved to "prosecute that knowledge, and kind of literature". At Oxford, he set out to read all the printed or written voyages and discoveries that he could find and began to give public lectures on geography following his graduation. 

In 1582 his first publication, Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America and the Ilands Adjacent unto the Same, Made First of all by our Englishmen and Afterwards by the Frenchmen and Britons,  appeared , establishing his reputation. The following year, he was appointed chaplain and secretary to Sir Edward Stafford, English ambassador to the French court, a position he held until 1588, where he investigated sources as well as collecting intelligence on Spanish and French activities. 

Following his return, Hakluyt held important positions at Bristol Cathedral and Westminster Abbey and was personal chaplain to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, principal Secretary of State to Elizabeth I and James I. He was the chief promoter of a petition to James I for letters patent to colonize Virginia, which were granted to the London Company and Plymouth Company (referred to collectively as the Virginia Company) in 1606.

The combination of his publications, his church roles, his commercial activities and inheritances from two of his brothers had made him a wealthy man by the time he died in 1616. He had married twice, but there seems to have been only one son who squandered his wealth following his death. 

Today Hakluyt is principally remembered for his writings and his efforts in promoting and supporting the settlement of North America by the English through those writings. His works were a fertile source of material for Shakespeare and other writers. He also encouraged the writing of historical and geographic works by others. In 1846, the Hakluyt Society was founded to printing rare and unpublished accounts of voyages and travels. A house at his old school carries his name. 

In my next train reading post I will look in more detail at the book and its context.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings -tropes, happiness with a dash of coal

As a kid, having my own flying car was quite high on my list of  things I would like to have. It was and indeed still is a common visual trope in movies etc.

First announced back in 2013, Terrafugia's TF-X flying car has got to its next milestone - approval from the - the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) run in-air tests with an autonomous drone version of the car.

Staying with tropes, last night I watched the latest Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was quite fun, although they went a bit overboard on reprise. But then everybody  is joining in. Count the Star Wars puns in this British weather forecast.  .

Changing directions, our blogging friend Rod Holland has been made a member of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Regional Advisory Committee for the Northern Rivers. He has also done his first ever interview on ABC North Coast Radio on the strange behaviour of the Clarence River. You can listen to the interview here - ABC Radio Interview - The river that flows the wrong way!

Over at his place, Winton Bates muses on Why wish everyone a Merry Christmas? Down in Victoria, the treatment of Christmas in state schools is again a matter of controversy with Christmas carols with a religious theme apparently banned (here, here). The change appears to have been triggered by new Victorian Government guidelines on special religious instruction in schools.

Fairness in Religions in School spokeswoman Lara Wood said the new policy would make schools more inclusiveI haven't read the new guidelines, but on the reports I am struggling to see how.the policy makes schools more inclusive. If anything, it's likely to confirm already existing prejudices among substantial groups of parents, many of whom have already voted with their feet, so to speak, by sending kids elsewhere. It all gets very difficult.

Staying with Winton for the moment, his two most recent posts connected with happiness (Was J S Mill correct in his observation that happiness cannot be obtained by seeking it?How can we avoid the happiness trap?) deal with linked themes, can happiness be obtained through pursuit?

Despite the wording in the US Declaration of Independence (We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness), my own view is that happiness is a transitory state, a by-product of other things and consequently cannot be pursued  Here, I think, my views are somewhat similar to Winton's.

AC is another in a reflective mood, looking back at the year in My 2015. I was unpacking boxes at the time I read the post. Sitting there surrounded by wrapping paper looking at an extremely nice cut glass decanter with accompanying glasses, I thought that in one area at least, 2016 would definitely be a year of elegance compared to 2015!

During the week there was continued discussion on this blog on economic consequences of climate change and the future of coal. Yesterday, 18 December, Bloomberg's Thomas Biesheuvel recorded the closure that day of the UK's last underground coal pit. It's not quite the end of coal production in the UK, there are some open cut mines producing around 8 million tons per annum, but it is the end of an era. The Belshaws were a coal mining family, so it seems appropriate to record the event. My thanks to our Canadian blogging colleague Randy McDonald for the tip.

The graph shows the decline in UK underground coal production from its peak production of 292 million tons in 1913. Just to put that number in perspective, Australia presently both mines and exports more coal than the UK did at its peak year in 1913.
Some of the material that I have been reading on the end of coal is starting to seriously annoy me because it seems so unbalanced. I have started trying to establish the parameter facts for my own satisfaction.


Youngest's video review of the latest Star Wars film


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Reflections on the 2015 Australian Mid Year Economic and Financial Outlook (MYEFO)

Yesterday, the Australian Government released its Mid Year Economic and Financial Outlook or MYEFO. As you might expect, it's been well covered in the Australian media (here, here, here and here from an academic perspective).   Much of the coverage has focused on the budget aggregates such as size of the deficit, the difficulties involved in getting back into surplus, as well as the specific expenditure changes built into the latest budget estimates. Expect to hear more on both! In this brief report I want to comment on a few things I noticed that have been perhaps less well covered.

The first thing is an apparent if probably minor difference in views between the Reserve Bank and Treasury.

In its Statement on Monetary Policy released on 9 November, the Reserve Bank said:
 Over the course of this year, the recoveries in the United States and euro area economies have continued but growth has slowed in the Asian region. The slowdown in the Asian region has been associated with lower growth of global trade volumes and industrial production and has contributed to a decline in the prices of Australia's resource exports. Core inflation has generally been steady in both the advanced and emerging economies, but at rates below central banks' targets. Globally, monetary policy remains very accommodative and finance remains readily available to creditworthy borrowers.
The Bank repeated this view on 1 December in announcing the decision to leave the cash rate unchanged at 2 per cent. 
The global economy is expanding at a moderate pace, with some softening in conditions in the Asian region, continuing US growth and a recovery in Europe. Key commodity prices are much lower than a year ago, reflecting increased supply, including from Australia, as well as weaker demand. Australia's terms of trade are falling.
The apparent difference between the Reserve Bank and Treasury lies the assessment of Asian growth, with the Bank pointing to the slowdown in the Asian region, while Treasury repeats the mantra about our trading partners growing at faster than the world average. The Bank also seems to have a more positive view on euro-zone growth than Treasury. 

I mention this one because I was actually slightly surprised at the Bank's November assessment. I hadn't realised the extent of the Asian slowdown.I was also interested in the weight placed on euro-zone growth.

The second thing I wanted to comment on was Treasury's work force analysis. The rate of Australia's population increase, and especially increases in the overall work force, depends very heavily on the level of immigration. That is well down. There have also been reductions in hours worked that Treasury now considers represents a structural shift. In combination, these changes mean that the economy has less spare capacity than previously estimated, leading Treasury to down grade its estimates of possible growth. There are all sorts of issues in this that I would like to come back  to later.

Capital investment is the third thing I wanted to mention. The numbers suggest that the unwinding of mining investment following the end of the mining boom has largely run its course. The building boom underway in certain places that has provided cushioning still has a a way to run because of the level of work in progress, but that too will end. Other capital investment has been slower to pick up than  expected because the re-balancing underway in the economy and particularly growth in services involves a shift towards less capital intensive activities as conventionally measured. I say as conventionally measured because this goes back to an earlier discussion on this blog about the definition of capital investment in services.  For the moment, the combined effect is soft capital investment for the immediate future.

Another interesting thing is the continued stagnation in both nominal and real incomes. At one level, you would expect this. The terms of trade effects that allowed rapid growth in real incomes have gone into reverse. Arithmetically, that depresses real incomes. Growth in nominal incomes has been suppressed by demand factors as well as by structural shifts. My impression is that the jobs that have been created are generally in lower paid areas, the jobs lost in higher paid occupations. The country has maintained employment better than expected, that's good, but there really has been an income recession.

The final thing that I wanted to note at this point are two explicit parameters built into the budget framework. The first is the continued emphasis on the requirement for any new expenditure to be offset by savings elsewhere.  This second is the stated requirement that any gains that come from parameter shifts, ie outcomes better than assumptions, should go to deficit reduction. In combination, the two place a considerable straight jacket on the Government's ability to act.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday Forum - what do you think of the Paris climate deal?

At the end of November we had quite a long discussion (Saturday Morning Musings - coal, climate change and conceptual confusions) on the policy and other issues connected with responses to climate change. Since then, the agreement reached in Paris has been released  The Australian site the Conversation has a couple of useful summary pieces:
In After Paris — what now?, Don Aitkin takes a more jaundiced view, Catallaxy Files a still more jaundiced view: Of more substance is this second Catallaxy post: Cross-post: Kesten Green – Is climate forecasting immune from Occam’s razor?

I have to agree with Don that the language is opaque. However, this seems to be a feature of all these types of international agreements..

Given that we now that we have the agreement, I thought it might be worth re-visiting the earlier discussion. What do you think of the outcome?

From my perspective, I thought that it was actually a useful next step. It won't satisfy purists on either side, one wanting greater action, the other no action at all. However, it does create a structure that could evolve.depending on the way the problem unfolds. It also, as Katherine Lake points out, contains provisions that could facilitate the emergence of a carbon market.


University of New England academics provide their own policy take, while kvd pointed .to this interesting piece in the UK Telegraph. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

That little old train: the week in review

It's been a messy old week. At times, I felt like the little old train that thought that it could faced by an apparently impossible hill. Except that the hill seemed just too great.

The week began with loss of internet connection. This reminded me (again!) just how dependent we have all become on the damn technology. The internet encourages us (among other things)  to live in a just in time world because its so bloody convenient. No need to carry cash. You can transfer some and then get it from an ATM. Pay that account at the last moment? That's fine. Then things go wrong!

My local St George Bank, a ten minute walk away, has just closed because of reduced demand. The nearest branch now is at Maroubra, a half hour walk. Walk? Who walks? Well, earlier in the year I had a minor accident in a parking lot. Silly thing really. My accelerator had been sticking. I was backing out of the bay. To overcome the sticking accelerator I pushed down hard. The car went backwards at pace, in so doing smashing the front against a pillar, damaging the tire. I was bloody lucky really. If another car had been coming or a shopper with a trolley, I could have done some serious damage!

Anyway, the accident damaged the suspension. I didn't realise this immediately. The car was still driveable once the tire was replaced. However, I can't re-register until the the damage is fixed and I need to accumulate some funds first. Half inclined to stay car-less in the short term. All this walking is doing wonders for my fitness. At the same time, it means that I can't just pop out to do things.

One useful side-effect of the whole affair is that I finally got round to joining the library in Maroubra. I used to take eldest there sometimes when she was at school and knew that it was quite a good library. Importantly, it has computers with free access for members, meaning that I could get some things done if not as conveniently as I might from the home office.

It was quite interesting watching the library at work. It's a remarkably busy place with many activities.

Now that my internet is back on, the immediate need to visit has vanished. However, I do plan to check out properly the library services  and especially the on-line data bases since many of these require subscriptions.

If loss of internet access marked the start of the week, the week was book-ended by the closure of my long-standing storage shed. I had been meaning to do this for some time, in part to save money, more because I actually wanted to sort out the books, papers and household kit stored there.

While the intent was there, the shear physical labour involved was not attractive. A few years back, I did do a clean out and then shifted and stacked the remaining boxes to the ceiling in a smaller shed. I did not enjoy the experience, putting my back out in the process! However, this time it had to be done.

Actually, the experience was not as bad as I had expected. Storage King Alexandria kindly lent me their small van, I could not have done it without that, while youngest and two of her friends came to help. Between us, we filled the van three times, unloading at the house.

My own small storage area at the back took over half the load, with the rest going into the spare bedroom, kitchen and lounge. Now I am sitting here with a bemused expression working out what to sort first. It's actually a bit like an archaeological expedition.

The box I started unpacking last night was full of crockery all wrapped in newspapers dating to 1994. Even though the box itself was newer, I must have repacked it when I shifted storage sheds, the crockery itself comes from Marsh Street and was packed when we moved out in 1994. It's a useful find given the current state of my day to day crockery. As an aside, I did manage to discipline myself not to read the crumpled newspapers!

The boxes include three sets of family papers that really should go to the archives, as well as the remnants of my book collection. Now that they are at Astrolabe, I can at least sort them properly.

While I have been otherwise preoccupied, the rest of the world has continued without me. Mr Turnbull has released his innovation statement, the somewhat strangely entitled National Innovation and Science Agenda Report. As it happened, the boxes include some of my personal papers from equivalent exercises in the 1980s. It's not clear to me that the world has changed much. I have a part completed post here.

More importantly, the agreement reached at Paris has been released. I have read it, but these international agreements are not reader friendly. More effort is required to work out what it all means.

And so the week ends. Next week back to normal activities.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Monday Forum - in my absence

I again am having internet problems. Hope to resume some posting Wednesday. In the meantime, I leave it in your hands to maintain the conversation on whatever topics you choose!

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

That Australian life - woes engulf Australian soccer as fans revolt

Just when things seem so good seems to be the time when the wheels come off.

On Tuesday 17 November 2015, ABC TV ran a documentary, Played: Inside Australia’s Failed World Cup Bid, This piece in The Conversation by David Rowe, The player played: Frank Lowy and Australia’s failed World Cup bid, provides some background. The photo shows Football Federation Australia's Frank Lowy with FIFA's Sepp Blatter in happier days.

I don't agree with all the tone of David Rowe's analysis, but it is clear that Australia and Frank Lowy were taken for a ride.This is not a criticism of My Lowy, his contribution to Australian soccer has been remarkable. Rather, Australia entered a murky pool that we did not properly understand. The documentary came following a long series of revelations about FIFA corruption, triggered in part by the bid Australia lost in such a humiliating fashion. .
Four days later, on November 21, Sydney's Daily Telegraph ran a piece,. Red card: The banned football fans from 10 A-League clubs, naming with the intent of shaming 198 people who had been banned from soccer games.As I indicated, I had severe reservations about the Telegraph's actions. Regular commenter 2t remarked what else can you expect from the Tele as the paper is colloquially known? Maybe, but the paper plus inflammatory comments from Sydney radio shock jock ignited a fire storm.
If you do not mind, I will read it out, 'Dear Mr,' and the name has been blacked out:
'Please be advised that Football Federation Australia (FFA) is not a government agency and, as such, the obligation to adhere to the rules of procedural fairness and natural justice does not apply to our organisation. For this reason, FFA will not consider any appeal.' Evidence to Senate Committee Inquiry
Based in Parramatta, the Western Sydney Wanderers have been one of the success stories of the national A-League competition, building a support base that transcends  Problems with the relations between police and fans at  Wanderers games have been building for some time.

On 3 November 2015, the Australian Senate's Nanny State inquiry heard evidence at Parramatta on the extent of the problem, relations between policing and fans and the nature of FFA responses. You will find the full transcript here. It's worth reading in full.
We (our crowd management security company) tendered to a lot of large football clubs in the UK predominantly, including the likes of Manchester City and Leeds United, who back in the dark days were regarded as one of the worst clubs around. I have had the benefit of seeing, firsthand, how an approach of engagement as opposed to authoritarianism, as I perceive it, influences a crowd and a crowd's behaviour. Evidence to the Senate Committee Inquiry
The evidence shows a growing disconnect between the police on one side, the fans and club and indeed civic officials in the middle, and the FFA on the other. It seems clear that the police were adopting an increasingly interventionist approach including the presence of black garbed riot squad police. It seems clear that that the FFA were doing likewise, including banning people without any right of appeal or indeed, in some cases, without the people even being aware of the ban. It seems clear that there was a breakdown in communications and previous cooperative approaches between police, fans and civic officials with with both police and indeed the FFA adopting an activist (to use a phrase from the Inquiry) a "my way or the highway" approach.
Labelled "grubs" by police, likened to the terrorists who committed the horrors in Paris a fortnight ago by radio host Alan Jones and given little support by the governing body in the face of heavy-armed handling by police, the fans simply had enough. SMH report
In naming people as it did, the Telegraph breached privacy rules and also natural justice because those named had not apparently been before any tribunal nor had any appeal rights. They had just been banned. In response, the now furious Western Sydney fans began organising protests and boycotts of games with support coming from other clubs.

The first response of FFA CEO David Gallop was to temporise, to maintain a hard line while saying that fans could submit evidence to overturn their ban . It seems clear, I think, that he was thinking as CEO of the broader place and prestige of soccer with external stakeholders. In so doing, he forgot that the base of the game is the fan. Within hours, the fury engulfed the A-League.

At the weekend, the Sydney Morning Herald's Dominic Bossi reported that just half an hour into the match against Central Coast, the entire Wanderers active supporter group marched out of the ground leaving the scenic Central Coast Stadium at Gosford eerily silent. Even the Mariners' brass band stopped playing as they joined their rivals with a silent protest against the FFA, unveiling a banner criticising their lack of support for their faithful customers. Now Sydney FC supporters propose joining the boycott.

In his initial remarks, Mr Gallop said that appeal processes need to be "fine tuned". This plus the suggestion that fans could submit evidence appears in total conflict with the evidence provided to the Senate Inquiry stating that there was no right of appeal. It also conflicts with Dominic Bossi report (link above) and here I quote:
After years of criticism and pleas from supporters to provide transparency and the right to challenge bans, Head of the A-League Damien De Bohun declared the FFA is developing a system for innocent fans to have their spectator bans overturned. 
This strikes me as a little more than fine tuning!

Writing in today's Sydney Morning Herald, Perth Glory goalkeeper Ante Covic argues that A-League fans need to be treated as critical stakeholders who deserve respect. That's true. It would be sad if the outcome of all this was the destruction of the enthusiasm and character that Frank Lowy worked so hard to create.


The dispute rolls on, centered especially on the question of natural justice. This is the motion to be moved in the Senate on the matter:

Postscript 2, 5 December 

The trouble drags on. The ABC has now covered the case of Julian Cumbo who received a five year ban for an apparent incident in a pub that took place when he was sixteen. The ABC story includes the actual ban notice. The ban notice was apparently delivered by a security firm hired by the FFA. It states (among other things) that "your personal details ... are being maintained in accordance with the Football Federation Australia Privacy Policy and relevant Statutes".

As best I can work out from the story:
  • An incident of some type took place in a pub in Melbourne. The FFA ban notice says that Mr Cumbo participated in a violent brawl and that hew was subsequently issued with a police caution "due to your status as a minor." The wording here is ambiguous. Was Mr Cumbo issued with with the caution because he was a minor, for example because he was on licensed premises, or was it limited to a caution because he was a minor?
  • The ban was imposed as part of the FFA's zero tolerance policy. It purports to ban Mr Cumbo from both a variety of matches and a variety of venues 
  • There was no consultation prior to the ban, nor did the ban provide for any form of review or appeal provisions. It was just imposed.
There appear to be a number elements in all this:
  • The nature and extent of the FFA's zero tolerance policy. The issue took place in a pub, not on the grounds. Where does the FFA draw a line between ground incidents and those that might happen elsewhere?
  • The head of power the FFA used in adopting the policy
  • The process the FFA followed in imposing the ban. This is unclear
  • The absence of any review or appeal provisions
  • The failure of the FFA to maintain confidentiality and privacy. This would appear to be a breach of 
I am not a lawyer. However, I have been involved in quasi-legal proceedings in. for example, appeals against decisions of a specialist medical college or the operations of that college's ethics committee. Like the FFA, that college's operations had to meet tests of fairness and be consistent with the law. This imposed costs on the college and sometimes created very real issues where the results were seen by the college or some of its members as inappropriate. However, this was the price that had to be paid for a fair and transparent process.

While I am aware of the problems that can arise with fan behaviour, I don't understand the mindset that seems to have developed within the FFA that has led to a quasi-legal approach that not only breaches basic principles of equity, transparency and fairness, but seems to extend beyond the FFA's role, mission and powers.

Postscript 1 December 2015

Well, the boycott is over. The FFA accepted the complaints and agreed that those affected should have
access to all evidence on which the FFA intends to rely on in any ban process plus access to an appeals process independent of the FFA.  Following this, fan groups agreed to call the boycotts off.

The new process takes into account both due process and natural justice. I still don't understand why the FFA had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this point. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Monday Forum - the Swiss and their horses, Aboriginal occupation, football hooliganism and Miss Bossy Boots

Today's Monday Forum is simply a round-up of items that may or may not trigger discussion.
"This is the acceptable way to ride a horse." Caption
This has to be one of the most bizarre stories that I have ever read, even for News Corporation:  The amount of people having sex with horses is on the rise in Switzerland.Can you match it?

In a more sensible piece in the Australian (Secrets unearthed at Boodie Cave: humankind just got a little older), Victotia Laurie reports on the results of a dig at Boodie Cave on WA's Barrow Island where dating suggests Aboriginal occupation from 50-53,000 years ago.

The heading is quite misleading. Humankind didn't get that little bit older as a consequence of this dig. The explosion of recent evidence shows that humanid occupation of this planet is far older and more complex than any of us realised even 40 years ago.One side effect has been to reduce the relative time space occupied by Australia's Aboriginal peoples.However, I think it remains true (at least for the present) that the Aborigines remain the oldest continuous occupants of a geographic space.

From my viewpoint, the results are interesting because they fit with the hypothesis that Aboriginal occupation spread in two waves, one down the WA coast, the second across Northern Australia and then south. More broadly, and this is where some of my readers may be able to help, with all the discoveries I am struggling to come to grips with the evolving pattern of human occupation of the planet as a whole. Can someone provide an updated summary?

This graphic came via a female friend some time ago. I laughed. At the risk of creating a fire storm, it does seem to me to capture rather well a number of stereotypes Women may laugh, men will smile in private.

 Staying with News Corporation for a moment, this piece from Sydney's Daily Telegraph, Red card: The banned football fans from 10 A-League clubs,
 actually horrified me. This Financial Review piece provides a little more background.

I thought that the Telegraph was very unfair and indeed from fragmentary media reports the piece appears to have had adverse effects on those whose names have appeared. There are at least two difficulties. One is the problem of double jeopardy, being convicted twice. The second and more important one is that the paper had no way of checking nor apparently did it try to check the facts relating to the 198 names revealed.

Am I wrong in being horrified?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Edward S Curtis' photographs of the native North Americans

Edward S Curtis was a notable photographer of the native North Americans. This is a photograph of Kwakiutl canoes from British Columbia.

Mashable has put together a collection of his photos. Have a browse. They are quite spectacular.

Looking at the history of Curtis's life in Wikipedia (link above), he seems to have been a bit of a sad case. That may be wrong, of course. Certainly he doesn't seem to have been very business like in managing his affairs.

Still, with the financial support of J P Morgan, he left an unparalleled record of North American native Indian groups whose value survives to this day.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - coal, climate change and conceptual confusions

There is something strangely unbalanced now about some of the discussion on climate change and, within that, the discussion on the future of coal. The sculpture is Louis Pratt's King Coal. The artist's description of his work concludes: "My work depicts an arrogant character unwilling to change and unaware of his impending doom."

When I read today's speech by Opposition Leader Shorten to the Lowy Institute, my first reaction was "emotional pap." By the end of the speech, and cutting out all the assertions and opinions, I actually had no idea just what Labor was proposing. Fortunately, the ALP web site has more information.   This defines the approach in this way:
Our approach to post-2020 pollution reduction targets has followed a clear and logical sequence of decision making:
  • Labor accepts the science that limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius is necessary to avert dangerous climate change.
  • Our commitment to limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius requires Australia to be a net zero emissions economy by the middle of the century.
  • To achieve this 2050 target, Labor will consult on the Climate Change Authority’s 2030 baseline target of a 45 per cent reduction in carbon pollution on 2005 levels.
The proposed consultation process is intended to define the best path to the achievement of these objectives.

In April 2010 I attempted to summarise my own position on climate change in Belshaw's position on climate change. The post included a listing of the 26 posts I had written connected with the issue to that point. Writing in my often cautious way, I concluded:
  1. On the balance I accept the majority scientific position that human induced climate change is a problem that need to be dealt with now. To wait until the science is proved right is a high risk strategy.
  2. To the degree that there are identifiable changes such as changes in sea levels, then we need to consider our responses to them. This holds regardless of the causes of those changes: we need to respond to the what, rather than the why. I say this because my study of history and pre-history shows that, regardless of current current climate change arguments, there have been considerable natural variations that have actually occurred quite quickly. Nature is not static. 
  3. I have been concerned for some time that group think in the scientific community and beyond has, to some extent, crowded out alternative views and that this has dangers. Scientific group think tends to be self-correcting over time because of the nature of scientific method. However, broader group think is less subject to correction.
  4. Linked to three, I have been concerned at the way climate change arguments have become linked to so many disconnected issues. These arguments take the form if a (climate change) then b (add in whatever you like), when a and b are in fact disconnected or at best loosely connected. The tendency to link specific current events like the recent drought in southern Australia to climate change does not help. All this actually acts to discredit the core case.
  5. Again linked to three, I have been concerned at what I see as the failure in discussion to adequately explore alternative policy responses to climate change. It may be that a market based response such as an emissions trading scheme is the best response (I suspect that either an ETS or carbon tax will be necessary), but I would feel much more comfortable if there had been more public discussion of alternatives. Among other things, this would give us a much better feel for practical implications of an ETS and for supporting measures that may be needed, as well as reducing the risk of simply dumb policy responses.
Quite a bit has happened since, including Mr Abbott! I would summarise those changes in this way:
  1. Despite the attempts by Don Aitkin to correct what he sees as the more egregious errors, the evidence for human induced climate change has probably become stronger. I mention Don because I do read his posts as a way of checking my own perspective against an intelligent skeptic's position.
  2. Regardless of 1, the global acceptance of human induced climate change creates a policy climate to which Australia must respond. We need to respond in a way that reflects our own interests. That requires cool thought, not emotional manipulation.
  3. The discussion I expected (hoped for) on intelligent alternatives has simply not happened. I actually got quite excited about some possibilities, but I don't think that there has been a new idea or indeed much advance on existing ideas since I wrote. All we have is a conflict between existing stereotypes. 
  4. By far the worst outcome from the Abbott period was the rejection of pricing mechanisms. There will be some form of carbon pricing, and we had a structure that would fit into that.
  5. The economics in favour of renewables has shifted faster than expected. 
In all this, some new things have emerged or, at least, come into sharper focus. Two are of particular importance. I would summarise them in this way:
  1. The magic pudding effect. For those who don't know this story, The Magic Pudding is an Australian children's book  The central character is a pudding that likes to be eaten and constantly replaces the lost slices. To my mind, this equates to much of the economic modelling on the effects of climate change action  We can have our pudding and eat it too. This is central to Mr Shorten's arguments. We can do things because they will have no real impacts on Australian wealth. I don't believe that.We need to recognise the costs and be thinking about them now.
  2. Double counting. Under the evolving global system architecture now emerging, each country will be responsible for the emissions created on its territory  by activities carried out on its territory. Australian environmentalists do not accept that. In the case of coal, for example, they argue that Australia needs to consider the carbon costs of .our own activities in mining and burning coal within Australia plus the carbon costs incurred elsewhere. That's just dumb double counting.
I suppose in all this the most important evolution in my own thinking has been the importance I now place on markets and pricing effects. You may oppose a coal mine in a particular area on environmental grounds, but you cannot also oppose it on its global environmental effects so long as efficient pricing mechanisms are in place. Those are the customer's responsibility. If it is their interests to burn coal and pay the appropriate price, it is not our job to say that they are wrong.

The fact that Australian coal production may or may not be environmentally better than an alternative source is neither here nor there. It's the wrong argument. If the dirtier coal is cheaper after taking into account the cost of environmental offsets compared to alternatives, then that makes perfect environmental and economic sense.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On the one hand, on the other: Labor's cigarette tax v Turnbull on national security

At a time when there are a few minor things going on around the world, Mr Shorten and the Labor Party's signature tune is a progressive increase in the excise on tobacco bringing the price of a packet of cigarettes to more than $40 by 2020. According to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, the policy showed the "stark" difference between Labor and the Government. It does, but perhaps not in the way Mr Shorten intended.

Leaving aside the extremely sanctimonious, smug, we know best tone adopted by Opposition Health spokesperson Catherine King, there are two problems with the policy. The first is its extremely regressive nature. It is quite consciously targeting lower income groups. The second is the conflict between the stated objectives of raising cash on one side and of discouraging smoking on the other.

Now compare this signature policy with Mr Turnbull's measured remarks in response to the Paris bombings. The first seeks to force, to compel, the second to engage Australians in an adult conversation on a major issue that affects the very structure of Australian life now and in the future. I still have reservations about Mr Turnbull. I now have more reservations about Mr Shorten.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday Forum - on diets and dieting

This week's Monday forum is loosely linked to food and dieting.

I have continued my casual research into the history of food over the last two hundred years or so. My particular interest at the moment is the impact of the combination of improved transport with industrialisation of the food sector.

Victorian era food has had a very bad reputation. This is one example. This view has now been challenged by scientific research: Forget paleo, go mid-Victorian: it’s the healthiest diet you’ve never heard of.

Part of the argument in the paper is that the English diet changed during the second half of the nineteenth century as a consequence of new processed food stuffs, affecting health and life expectancy.

I was curious when the meaning of diet as in too diet or dieting or diet as noun for particular weight reduction came in. It seems that that meaning was there earlier, but its popularity really dates to the second half of the nineteenth century. The first really popular diet, the Banting diet, dates to 1863.

There has been some crazy diet ideas. I wonder what your favourites, pet hates or worst remembered experiences are? As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want whether on or off topic.


While there were not a lot of comments on this Forum, at least not to this point, I thought that I should bring a summary up into the main post.  kvd reminded us of the Diet of Worms.This has absolutely nothing to do with food, but like kvd this stuck in my mind from school because of the title: who would eat a diet of worms?

Then I thought, are there such a thing as edible worms? The answer appears to be yes. Mind you, when I was in Beijing I had a chance to eat fried insects. I fear I passed. Maybe the same for edible worms?

Now it appears that 2tanners is suffering from a slight plumpness problem and has therefore turned to 5:2 diet, aka intermittent fasting. Now I weighed myself a few days ago and I'm actually at the bottom of my normal weight range. I should certainly take some weight off round my tum, but I really need to add weight elsewhere.So intermittent fasting is not the answer for me. I do that anyway: it's called laziness!

2t also pointed out that views of the desired body weight/ body shape varied. This is something we have talked about in the context of women, I like curves, but 2t came up with a rather revolting example. Now growing up with all my prejudices, I thought that the US was very strange. Come to think of it, I still do!

2t also found a rather good cartoon on paleo diets. Do click through.  I think that you will laugh.

Meantime, all this discussion on food sent kvd south with his daughter. Now the ostensible reasons for the trip were (a) the aforesaid daughter, (b) horses, but nevertheless, food came in. Here I must quote:
Stumbled upon a small eatery and sampled the following: 
Daughter started with (typing from the menu which I swiped) “Scallop Caipirinha: Scallop Cevice, black beans, cachaca, lime, chorizo oil and coriander” whilst I made do with “Mosaic of ponzu tuna: cucumber, wasabi, garlic chips and avocado” 
After she’d eaten her Pirahnas, daughter decided to join me with each having an extremely rare “Beef eye fillet, mushroom velvet, tempura shallots, smoked daikon, horseradish & nori gnocchi”. 
Food great – and bugger your PC diets. .
Most of those ingredients were new to me. I thought that the first was Mexican, but 2t advises that Caipirinha is a Brazilian dish. Poor 2t. Despite his remarks on his 5:2 diet, his reaction to kvd's menu? "The beef fillet sounds gorgeous - I'm drooling as I type."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - on snakes in the grass and snakeheads

This photo came from kvd. Something found curled up in that little box. Unfurled to 2 metres when fully extended. It got me thinking.

According to, the metaphor snake in the grass for treachery, alluding to a poisonous snake concealed in tall grass, was used in 37 BC. by the Roman poet Virgil ( latet anguis in herba). It was first recorded in English in 1696 as the title of a book by the English theologian Charles Leslie attacking the Quakers.

The Reverend Leslie strikes me as one of those highly tendentious theologians with whom I struggled when doing the history of the English reformation all those years ago. Still, he has managed to find his own historical niche via a book title!

In checking the origin of snake in the grass, I came across snakehead: 
  1. Agents who arrange illegal immigration of Chinese : Sung and theelders in the family raised thousands of dollars to pay the snakeheads to smuggle the young to America (1990s+)
  2. Smuggler; somebody who smuggles illegal immigrants from mainland China into Hong Kong.
I had vaguely heard the term, but I hadn't realised its place in recent popular culture. However, it did get me
wondering what their 18th and 19th predecessors were called. Something to check later.


kvd advises that the snake is a "Diamond python -Morelia spilota spilota - although some around here would deserve a couple of extra spilota's"!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Lessons from the Paris attacks continued

As I write, investigations into the Paris attacks continue. It is was clearly coordinated and apparently well organised.

The events in Paris have over-run some background work I was doing trying to pull together various current threads in Australian and European politics. Because this has morphed into a significant research piece that may never be completed given current pressures (!),  I thought that I would use this post to pull together a few related threads.

This is an example of one of the images that circulated very quickly as the Paris tragedy was unfolding. It is an example of a meme that combines fear of Islam as a threat with a call to action against Islam.It's not sensible,  how do you ban the Muslim faith?, but it reflects fear. It is also an example of things presently circulating within Australia intended to lead to political action.

I concluded my post Saturday Morning Musings - lessons from the Paris terrorist attacks with these words: "There has been a kind of moral funk in the West, an unwillingness to accept the costs that can follow from genuine adherence to liberal principles, that has begun to undermine the very principles on which liberal democratic societies are based.....I guess that's my real worry from Paris. What lesson or lessons are we all, governments included, going to draw? And what will it cost us?".

Some, it seems, fear that the battle is already lost. In a piece in the Guardian, Nick Cohen suggests that after Paris, Europe may never be as free again: "The horrific events in Paris sound the death knell for European liberalism." Mr Cohen is clearly concerned at what it all means, at the possible loss of the liberal dream.

"Close Our Borders Now......Dont Wait For A Tragedy Like This To Happen"
This is another example of the visual images that circulated. as the attacks unfolded, one that focuses on immigration but has the other subtexts built in. Comments on my feeds included "Close Our Borders Now......Dont Wait For A Tragedy Like This To Happen"; "Turnbulls a Muslim lover...he's always wanted to be prime minister.... And it will be at the county's expense......: and "Ban Islam world wide."

It would be easy to dismiss images and comment like this, but they reflect deeply held personal concerns in Australia and elsewhere. In Europe, President Hollande has vowed to destroy Islamic State, saying it cannot be contained. Whether he can do this and with what effect is presently unclear. Certainly, it has led to a remarkable rapprochement with Russian President Putin.

Former French Justice Minister Rachida Dati told the BBC's Newsnight programme that German Chancellor Angela Merkel made "an error of judgement" by allowing so many migrants into Europe. "She was generous, but that generosity backfired against European people," Ms Dati said. The former minister also said that 90% of radicalisation in France and the rest of western Europe happened not in mosques but on the internet and in prisons where there are numerous jihadist recruiters. In the US, more than half the nation's governors -- 27 states, all but one Republican -- are reported as saying they oppose letting Syrian refugees (at least Muslim refugees) into their states, a fear that is playing out in the presidential campaign.

In Australia, telecommunications carrier Optus came under sustained attack for the simple act of having a poster in Arabic. Optus has withdrawn three of the ads from Casula Mall following threats to staff.

The pessimism expressed by Mr Cohen referred to earlier is echoed from different perspectives by others including Niall Ferguson (Paris and the Fall of Rome) and  Robert Skidelsky (Is western civilisation in terminal decline?) The linked ideas of the decline in western civilisation and the fall of the Roman Empire (at least the Western Empire; the Eastern survived for much longer ) are much in vogue, just at present, as is the idea of Western values. Writing in the Financial Times, Simon Schama (A proclamation against Isis, the party of death) argued that what "what our fellow citizens need now is a clarifying, empowering and inspiring statement of just what it is we must defend, if necessary, to the end". In the US, Republican presidential candidate has released a video calling the fight against IS "a clash of civilizations. And either they win or we win."

Australian conversations I have had since the attacks reflect concerns about Muslim fundamentalism, about the rights of countries to close their borders,.of the need to and right to preserve cultural homogeneity, of the need to protect the Australian way of life against threat. These views came in part from people on the left, traditional Labor or even Green supporters. Others pointed out, with some justice, that people in the West only responded when atrocities affected them. Overall, it was clear that people were deeply conflicted.

With exceptions such as NSW State National Party MP, Andrew Fraser, Australian political leaders including Immigration Minister Dutton have resisted the close the border rhetoric, have said that the country will continue to admit Syrian refugees as announced regardless of religion (or the lack of it). At the same time, it is clear that security measures will be further tightened including, it seems, the FBI teaching NSW police to shoot to kill in certain circumstances, something that creates a certain degree of personal discomfort.   

In this post, I have tried to sketch some of the different threads in the debate that has occurred since the Paris attacks. Underlying those threads are many other debates. There are in fact too many debates and associated threads, many not helpful, for people to easily manage. Further, too many are based on broad generalisations that act to conceal difference such as differences between countries or religious groups. What, for example, do you do with an argument about the decline of civilization or, indeed, clash of civilisations? They don't provide guidance as to how to respond in the specific circumstances of the Paris attacks.

This has become a very long post. I will try to look at specific Australian issues in a later post.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - lessons from the Paris terrorist attacks

I had to turn off the news coverage of the Paris attacks. There was so much repetition, so much breathlessness, so many talking heads. In the end, the twitter feed from the various news organisations and others gave me a more up to date feel.than the actual coverage from any one news source.

I claim no special knowledge nor indeed wisdom. But I do want to make a few observations while events are still unfolding.

Inevitably, the initial coverage focused on the fear factor. Would they strike again? We saw something similar with 9/11. Then came the inevitable question, what went wrong. How do we prevent this happening again? And then came to positive rallying words.

In considering this, I want to focus first on the personal fear factor. This is the scene of the April 1993 Wormwood Street IRA bombing in the UK. This is a list of the major bombings that took place during the what has been called the Northern Ireland troubles.

I am not comparing these events directly with with the Paris events. Neither side in the Northern Ireland troubles normally aimed to kill the maximum possible number of civilians. Rather, I would make two points. The first is that, finally, the Northern Ireland troubles came to an end. The second is that life went on regardless.

I was in London on two occasions during the troubles. Both times one was conscious of the troubles and indeed of the risk of bombing. The statistical risks of being hurt were, as is true today, very low but they were real.

The Brighton Hotel bombing came very close to killing Prime Minister Thatcher and her husband. However, life went on. The fear factor did not seem as great as it is today.

I  am not sure why this should be the case. The twenty four hour media cycle is more intense now. Western society has become  more risk averse and indeed somewhat less tolerant of difference.  These things help explain the apparent change, but are not (to my mind) a sufficient explanation. Recognising that there is a chicken and egg problem, which came first, a key problem would seem to be the shift in rhetoric and perception that flowed from 9/11 and the War on Terror.

This leads me to my core concern, the way in which official responses to current terrorism events are progressively eroding tolerances and attitudes that we have taken for granted.

The 1974 Birmingham pub bombings killed 21 people and injured 182 others. Like the current Paris attacks, the bombings targeted innocent civilians. The rush for justice that followed led to the wrongful conviction in 1975 of what became known as the Birmingham Six. It would be 1991 before the convictions were quashed.

We have already seen how the War on Terror has led to polarisation and injustice that of itself has fed back through a vicious circle into the creation of that which was most feared, a genuine war of terror. There has been a kind of moral funk in the West, an unwillingness to accept the costs that can follow from genuine adherence to liberal principles, that has begun to undermine the very principles on which liberal democratic societies are based.

I guess that's my real worry from Paris. What lesson or lessons are we all, governments included, going to draw? And what will it cost us?