15 October 2013

a walk in the city

Weekend 12-13 October: From lunchtime in Marrickville then after dinner walk in King St Newtown, through the campus of Sydney University, from which both of us graduates, then Glebe Rd next morning; finally, back in Helen's wondrous front yard in Gerringong.

Lunch was at '2204' - cafe in Addison Rd, Marrickville. Great look, great coffee and food.
Wall detail 2204
The Australian Union Choir, see blog entry below

Enmore Rd

The writing on is on the wall, King St

This is a view through the fence from where I took the last photo, 3 second exposure, hand held

Entry to the quadrangle, University of Sydney

Well, the left door led, 50 years ago, to Anthropology, from whence Dennis's honours degree

Breezy exit from the quadrangle, view to city

Out in the dark, we found (by ear) one of the several pianos in the open around the university, family delight
Glebe Rd is somewhat upmarket from King St

refined in the morning as well as evening, thank you. Redheads roolz!

on opening bedroom door in hotel, Sunday morning

and back to Helen's front yard

where the mulberry is being manipulated

a chance encounter with the Australian Union Choir

In Sydney Saturday 12 October:

10 October 2013

timeline for climate 'tip'... strategic issues will be many...

Climate studies have spoken of how things might be in 2050, 2100, etc.

A study published in Nature today takes a different approach, endeavouring to pin down dates on which particular places may tip into a 'new normal' of hotter and wilder (including hotter, colder, more persistently extreme and violent) climate.

Reuters offered summary here, but it is worth looking at the openly accessible bits in Nature, including the three Figures at the bottom. All sobering.

Where on the maps there is the slightest suggestion that in some ways Australia (and Argentina) may lag a bit behind in the timeline, we will already be caught up in the many international strategic consequences as other places begin to suffer.

No discussion of this at APEC this week (but there is a reference to 'investment climate'), nor at the East Asia Summit, where the big background issue is sharing or not sharing oil under the South China Sea.

A small contest compared with those arising from climate change.

It's thirty years since surveys showed that the majority of young Australians expected to experience a nuclear war. Perhaps that, and the fact that it didn't happen, contributed to some generational attitudes including expectation that climate change won't happen or if it does, there's nothing to be done about it. There's sort of a hole in that thinking, in that even if one argues that itty bitty contributions by people in one country (albeit the richest in the world with one of the highest carbon footprints per capita) individual adjustment to big future problems at family and community level deserves forethought! Somewhere though, back in that period 25 years ago, we learned to look no further than the next 12 months in business planning. John Elliot, in the days when he presided over the Liberal Party in oblivion, knocked dead a series of his acquisitions, keeping only profit centres defined as being able to turn a whacking profit in the next 12 months with no view beyonder. While adding sugar to beer to draw in the young palates, more sugar in the IXL jam to make it cheaper.

Lord Krebs, President elect of British Science Association, in The Guardian today writes of the inadequacy of 'nudge' policies to change social attitudes. Would that we had nudge in Australia, land of fudge and not-budge.


I've saved my garden (I hope) from extravagant heat today (anticipated 38 degrees C, hottest October day on record) with water early in the morning.

And have been researching electric bikes. The electric bike industry reminds me of the PC industry about 25 years ago, with a hectic array of labels and qualities, back when still a lot of people liked to take the computers apart and put them together again (like cars, in 1910) and the really big challenge among bike options now, as for those things before, is to find one you don't have to improve and fiddle with and that's really fit for significant future outside the scrap heap. I think I may have found one, wait and see... :-)

04 October 2013

Climate gets real

I found this report of the climate scientist who reached the point of emotional realisation that it related to his own life very reassuring.

We have reached a point with the fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) where it's just dumb to pretend it's not real, to pretend major damage to the planet is not happening... and dumb just to keep nagging the academic truth. So good to see a scientist shift from earnest constant assertion to act like the doctor prepared to take the pills herhimself.

Of course it's not just the air, the weather. It's the sea, the soil and water generally. And things like bees. Bees? Yes, no bees, no pollination, no food. Pretty much, slow almost full stop.

Until fairly recently we had the prospect of sanity developing via price mechanism, with peak oil. But coal seam gas has pushed that off, while at the same time complicating the imperative of practical as well as moral realisation that if we burn all we have to burn, it will include our own species, pretty much. How to shift from mad consumption, with so much of 'advanced' civilisation employed marketing crap and self-indulgence.

I have to begin to resolve things myself. Though at 70 I am not going to see the 'catastrophe' 30 years from now.

Japan, China, Indonesia all now have carbon reduction goals far better than Australia's. The new Australian government disassembles climate policy; many Australians say we can't shift first.

But we can look at our leading responsibility given huge coal resources.
In 2012, the International Energy Agency (IEA) acknowledged that, in the absence of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, more than two thirds of coal, oil and gas reserves cannot be burnt before 2050 if we are to have a 50% chance of limiting global warming to 2°C. These are not great odds
of landing the plane safely.
[source: http://www.climateinstitute.org.au/verve/_resources/Unburnable_Carbon_Australias_Carbon_Bubble_finalreport.pdf]

for there to be an 80 per cent chance of achieving internationally agreed targets of limiting global warming to 2°C, only 20-40 per cent of existing coal, gas and oil reserves can be burnt. - See more at: http://www.climateinstitute.org.au/articles/media-releases/www.climateinstitute.org.au/unburnable-carbon.html#sthash.re3LZuJh.dpuf
 And the same document noted this - it's also a business sense issue, if people at board tables and heading programs in resource industries can think beyond the next promotion or bonus:
Reviewing all the measures in the key export markets for Australian coal indicated that all are taking action to reduce emissions. These countries in fact rank fairly high up the scale of effort. Notably, China has recently announced its plan for energy consumption to peak at 4 billion tonnes coal equivalent within the current five year plan. The IEA projects China’s coal consumption will peak within the next 10 years (assuming all policies currently announced are actually implemented). Beyond this, there is a global trend of a tightening regulatory framework for the coal sector, whether it be driven by concerns around cost, air quality, water availability, or climate change. This has resulted in heightened competition as coal producers are displaced from their traditional markets (eg the US). Technological advances and policy support measures are also seeing alternatives such as wind power become cheaper than coal generation, including in Australia itself now.
 I have written some more relevant to this at my sustainable home food forest blog, link in sidebar.
for there to be an 80 per cent chance of achieving internationally agreed targets of limiting global warming to 2°C, only 20-40 per cent of existing coal, gas and oil reserves can be burnt. - See more at: http://www.climateinstitute.org.au/articles/media-releases/www.climateinstitute.org.au/unburnable-carbon.html#sthash.re3LZuJh.dpuf
for there to be an 80 per cent chance of achieving internationally agreed targets of limiting global warming to 2°C, only 20-40 per cent of existing coal, gas and oil reserves can be burnt. - See more at: http://www.climateinstitute.org.au/articles/media-releases/www.climateinstitute.org.au/unburnable-carbon.html#sthash.re3LZuJh.dpuf
for there to be an 80 per cent chance of achieving internationally agreed targets of limiting global warming to 2°C, only 20-40 per cent of existing coal, gas and oil reserves can be burnt. - See more at: http://www.climateinstitute.org.au/articles/media-releases/www.climateinstitute.org.au/unburnable-carbon.html#sthash.re3LZuJh.dpuf

28 August 2013


The situation in Syria, with consideration of how to respond to the use of chemical weapons there, arises in the middle of a national election campaign in Australia, when Australia is about to take up chairmanship of the UN Security Council.

I have written thus to Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr:

Dear Bob

We have not seen each other since days when you were environment minister and I was ambassador to China.

I wrote to your predecessor ten years ago thus:
http://aplaceof.info/peace/200309downer.htm in particular to say:

"...that since September 2001 we have been watching events and strategic responses unfolding as at the outbreak of war in 1914:

• Delusions of moral rectitude.
• Defence of imperial status quo.
• Nothing but narrow military options.
• Resort to alliances, hostility to thought.
• Vilification of the enemy, climate of fear and promotion of paranoia.
• Simplistic notions of victory, expectations of speedy end.
• Failure to address real wider issues.
• Enveloping sea of violence."

I do understand the awfulness of chemical weapons. I do nonetheless urge awareness that we remain in that slow-World-War-I-like situation of spreading war without sufficient consideration of non-military options. Theoretically democracies are less prone to war, but in reality it seems democracies slide quite easily to war but have immense difficulties finding ways of avoiding war and accepting terms for war cessation.

I remain of the view I have held since the early 1980s (Iran-Iraq, Israeli's march 'briefly' into Lebanon) that "...it is in the nature of modern war that it tends, more than anything else - certainly it does not tend to ‘victory’ - to import into the righteous invading countries the problems you seek to eliminate by invading."

Clausewitz did say that statesmen should regard war as an instrument of policy, but noted that war can tend to drive out policy and pursue its own ends. This is not a situation to be begun in Syria, it is a situation in which we are already embedded.

with best wishes to you in an awfully combined situation of domestic and international roles.


15 July 2013

metaphor: the downhill dribble of mind and politics

Today The Guardian carries a column from John Naughton of The Observer, on metaphor in intelligence systems combing everyday discussion searching for metaphorical mindsets, contriving to link it using a metaphor to the Chinese Government's approach to managing the media with a measure of subtlety, as one might manage engineered water systems. Article entitled:
The great firewall of China gets metaphorical: The Chinese government's increasingly sophisticated approach to censorship demands a new interpretation
 I offered a comment, then a followup comment, you will see I manage to return to my despond about Australian politics too:
The notion of metaphor can move the brain either to opening or to clickclacky simplification and dogma; The latter more evident in this discussion than the former.
I am very conscious in broader historical context (and it's quite useful to consider this metaphorically in terms of water if we keep the natural river and ocean and atmosphere water movement in view, not just human engineering) that for Chinese leaders and most [Chinese] citizens there is not much example to follow as sociopolitical model. Where to flow, where to break banks and sea walls; where and how to limit and control.
Metaphorically we might constructively describe much of the preoccupation of the developed world's polity as bottom pimple comparison and ridicule. Along with tsunamis of absurdism in avoidance of blindingly obvious critical problems.
Can we get enough empathy to see how difficult it is to run and ameliorate a country with 1.3 billion people .... without the help of R Murdoch, S Berlusconi, etc.
Pursuing the aqueous progress metaphor and its evidence of downhillism of the cerebral potential of Homo urbis, the evidence is there not just in the comments sections but also in those cute sections or footers which draw us, like the flush of toilet bowls to what is most popular.
Were I to have command of a large and complicated country just for any moment I trust I would try a bit to keep the citizen brain away from self-destructive addition to useless water flows by dribbling behind the levee banks of wankerie.
I am carried forward towards a national election in Australia by media which by and large, vaguely insightful that we will get a leader choice between hubris and mucus, fail to see in the mirror that that is about what most of them offer themselves.
My second comment more elevated perhaps:

It is rewarding to go back to John Naughton's earlier article to which he links and to which this is also a link.
This article by Ray Peat is insightful on metaphor:
Academic authoritarians, language, metaphor, animals, & science
When something new is noticed, it excites the brain, and causes attention to be focused, in the “orienting reflex.” The various senses participate in examining the thing, in a physiological way of asking a question. Perception of new patterns and the formation of generalizations expands the ways in which questions are asked. When words are available, questions may be verbalized. The way in which questions are answered verbally may be useful, but it often diverts the questioning process, and provides rules and arbitrary generalizations that may take the place of the normal analogical processes of intelligence. The vocabulary of patterns no longer expands spontaneously, but tends to come to rest in a system of accepted opinions.
So, generally, even the new must fit the old moulds. How should we proceed to awareness of the moulds by which our brains are strangled daily.
To imagine that reporting in some idealised western circumstance is somehow pure suggests we should at least metaphorically revisit the tabloid sub-editor's table around which I trembling crept as a copy boy, fifty years ago, and to which journalists approached with varied degrees of courage, their stories written one sentence per single A5-ish piece of butchers' paper, loosely pinned together, for subeditors to throw in the bin, re-order, part-remove, rewrite, calling in the miscreate at some point to explain comparative wisdom, authority and marketing insight.
What Ray describes is the inevitability of spin, conscious, subconscious, unconscious; denied or contrived . Who says who should have charge of that? That's the question.
 I wonder why I write comments... I suppose I have some notion that anything that goes to the internet trickles down eventually somewhere and may kick a neurone usefully, maybe not. But we outside the spheres of notoriety can expect no more, failing public indecency, a heavy price for notoriety.

When I had a tractor I would pass the time while driving hither and thither composing letters to government ministers and auditors general; seldom later sent. Like those composed in the restless night, they were often less meaningful if one attempted later transcription. I suppose that in terms of management of my frontal lobes, like other people theirs, offering comments is thus valuable, especially now I am 70, uncommitted to any employer, needing to do something definitely different from Sudoku.

It is important, I think, when writing, to say something new. Including neological contribution to the language.

As to providing supplementary comment, there is that thing that happens when you press 'send' or equivalent: The "oh-I-should-have-said" phenomenon.

When I trained for the foreign service, an eminent (within those walls) senior diplomatic figure gave us some golden rules. I relate three, to give the third of them proper context:

[1] "If yew mest merry, merry menny." (I offer accent to show superciliousness, say it aloud with curled lip, a tad pizzicato with a little timbre of inharmonicity and nasalisation.)

[2] "When you are planning the dinner party, ensure you have the right mix of tall poppies and short poppies. Remember tall poppies are never comfortable unless they have some short poppies with whom to compare themselves."

and thirdly, he said

[3] "Beware of esprit d'escalier. Write what happened in the foreign ministry, not what you thought of going out the door." Note that when spoken, this has great impact given the pizzicatoliness of [1] and extension of that through pronunciation of repeated poppies in [2]... this flows into a contrapunted slithery sound of scathing cadence in [3]. +++

Nowadays I don't have to worry about [3] because most of the people I've been talking to are in my head.***

As regards that esprit d',  Sir Harold Nicolson once said, as I once read but can't find citation, he had never seen a record of any conversation in any foreign ministry archive in the world in which the author of the record did not win the argument.

For fun, see the high dudgeon of Herbert Highstone regarding Nicolson here and the diversity of his commentary here. And see, see, he learned to think about a thousand rageable things while working on the farm, I'm sure.And Herbert always wins, same glorious fate of most others who write comments. I have, to put Nicolson around another way, seldom had a discussion with anyone who was wrong.

I think that the plaster on the wall will be dry enough for me to go and paint now... :-)


+++ how you say things is almost everything, as the actress may have said to the bishop.

***The novelist's privilege. Great chance of avoiding the straight jacket or psychopharmacologist:
 "No no, you don't understand, the voices are OK, I'm a novelist!"

28 June 2013

getting mind back

I've moved back from this gurglacious setup to a 17in laptop at a standing desk. Sitting down is part of the problem.

I have been conscious of the way in which in the last several years the pressures of the smart phone's proddings and the presence of the bigger screen/s at which I type this have been interfering with my capacity to think. We seem all to become more and more dependent on sucking the tits of digital means.

One of the things delivered unto us on these digital devices is called news. But what is this 'news'? With a few exceptions it too seems to have succumbed to undying lemming behaviour, 'journalists' chasing each other over cliffs of nonsense they themselves have erected, cliffs which blind the incessant reader to anything that happened more than a news cycle ago. No one wants reality now, we all want the games.

And now in a blizzard, we lose some of the best members of the Australian parliament, all in a rush. Fear and bigotry vultures remain, with a few good men. The renewed Prime Minister, a charismatic, demagogic, hypocritical, lying, conniving, eroding, manipulative genius (a doctor friend today said "psychopathic narcissist?"), has all but destroyed his party to get the prize. He says he has learned, he says he is a better man, but he really just seems to be doing the same only more. He has a not to be rebutted way of speaking in public, cutely said today he might give consideration to some views some others may offer; others he would vehemently reject. His return has been loud. He is most likely to lead the Labor Party to a defeat in coming elections less dreadful than it would have been under Gillard, Gillard facing an internal and external opponent every day. As to whether this renewed Prime Minister will resign from the leadership after such defeat... well, it would not be on character if he did.

But I digress.... Go here for a good commentary.

I suppose it's not just digression, it's also fury at the way our minds are led astray because of the way we now get news and the way news and attitudes are shaped.


We face corrosion of the brain personally, not just in the body politic.

This article in The Guardian expresses the problem very well:
...Such are the annoying ironies of work and play in the 21st century: more and more of us are "knowledge workers", doing jobs that require deep concentration, yet we do so on machines that seem deliberately designed to interrupt us all the time and to keep us on edge. Then, in the evenings, we try to relax using similar machines, which all too often whip us up into a state that isn't relaxing at all.
The dirty secret of the internet is that all this distraction and interruption is immensely profitable. ...
 This hit the spot for me, directly.


I have disconnected my phone from receiving mail and news updates. I am unsubscribing from a lot of new news. I am going to try to get the focus onto longer writing projects of my own initiative. More art.
... less blogging???  :-)

 I have refrained from Twittery and Face-painting, declining invitations from whomever. LinkedIn, about which I've giggled a bit here before, lost its shreds of worth, in my view, by pointing at me and presumably the world a hose pipe of opinion of General Stanley McCrystall this week. Enough bullshit, enough demagoguery from celebrities.

Oh and Huffington Post, a formerly great initiative, going down the drain: possibly interesting serious material now interspersed with celebrity cleavage and thigh revelations. Remove from phone. I can get enough of that in many doctors' waiting rooms!

The 'App' is the poison, the means to more quickly vanish into mindlessness, or to avoid prospect of elevating oneself from mindlessness, to ensure succinctification of the bullshit. Up from the merde let me struggle now. Before the depth turns all the lights out.

I will still look to The Guardian for reassurance that there are some sane people, so reflective thinkers, some independent minded editors out there.

20 June 2013

world refugee day

20 June is World Refugee Day.

But in Australia the issue is clouded by ignorance, alarm and bigotry, in a smog of muck running up to September elections, (clearer information here and here) a state of mind growing like a cancer, generated in the days when Lynton Crosby taught the suburban solicitor John Howard (not this one, but this one, this one) to be a global strutsman praising greed and selfishness and pulling apart the infrastructures of social decency, not least in relation to refugees.

Let us note that yes, 40000 people have arrived in Australia by boat seeking refugee status, since the current government took office, but we need also to note that that is less than 0.1% of the total number of refugees in the world today. We are at the low end of refugees per person. And while yes, certainly, we need to have control entry to Australia, we have to do it with decency and sensible national discussion, currently politically denied.

11 June 2013


This blog reflected my main distractions from whatever else I thought I should be doing over the last several years. I remained conscious that I was not recording one important area of my thoughts—on sustainable living and building a food forest in the suburbs. 

And then I started my blog on that subject... and sure enough the issue arises as to where a report should go, this blog or that. I've just begun something sculptural, because it's going in the garden, the other blog wins. Here's a link to the story. The story over there will explain that the indigo is from the photoshop air brush, to see whether that's appropriate. 

22 May 2013

Return to the the Flying Teapot

You can find a page here, where I recorded a visit in 2006 by Ev and myself to the Flying Teapot in Ballan, west of Melbourne on the road to Ballarat.

Google maps said this week that the Flying Teapot was closed or moved. It could not, as you will discern from that link above, have moved. Helen and I went to see if it was open or not. It has been replaced, says the sign at the gate, by the drearily named (missing the point of the wondrous gardens) "Steptoe's Opshop".

We took more photos today, near dusk, without distraction by red hat ladies. There has been a bit of deterioration. It is to be hoped that it will be kept as close as possible to the original creative work... recognising that weather has produced some very interesting changes. Some embedded items have become more evident and the matrix around them has shrunk or faded, or their rust etc has travelled.

We saw more today with perhaps more time, also more because as we have more experience than I had in 2006 of mosaic work, our eyes saw more. And because our attention was not drawn to ladies in red hats and purple tights.

It remains a work of amazing imagination and originality, a thing of great beauty. Here 'tis as was today, a delight to behold and great stimulus to new work for us. Remember that you can see these photos enlarged as a collection by clicking on any one.

stop playing and get serious!

21 May 2013

Wisdom from ancient Afghanistan, and another entertainment in Melbourne.

We went today to an astonishingly beautiful exhibition of archaeological treasures from Afghanistan, at the Museum of Melbourne.

Objects displayed are astonishing, the curators also have done a very special job in presenting the items.

A funerary monument, believed to be a gift from a student of Aristotle, visiting al Khanoum, in Bactria (northern Afghanistan) about 2300 years ago, offers these thoughts:
As a child, learn good manners.
As a young man, learn to control your passions.
In middle age, be just.
In old age, give good advice.
Then die without regret. 
Alexander [the Great] of Macedon had invaded Bactria in 328BCE and married a Bactrian princess Roxane the following year. The exhibition shows a diversity of cultures present in this place at the centre of the Silk Road. A Greco-Bactrian kingdom, with extremely beautiful items from India also. And a Greco-Indian kingdom would emerge. We were not alone in being struck by these cultural objects. A Melbourne woman of Greek descent (Melbourne the third Greek city on the planet by number of speakers of the language) was clearly near to tears and shock: "I am Greek.. I come here and I find my culture here!?" Objects of gold and ivory, many Hindu, many erotic, were treasures of nomadic peoples: traders, nobles, marauders. But the Greek objects include pieces of great buildings, statuary, Corinthian column fragments, etc. Devastations and losses occurred not only in recent history, but over a vast period. There are ways to reach some parts of Bactria. North of the Afghan border, Soviet forces were fiercely attacked retreating through Bactria. The perils of withdrawal from Afghanistan loom again, this is an interesting essay. Lonely Planet has a nice history of the region.

It was a bright and shiny day, lots of children at the Museum too.

This exhibition was sufficiently startling and uplifting that we resolved that we did not need to go to the Monet exhibition in the time available—having seen Monet elsewhere, having looked at the labels of works linked from the main page on the Monet exhibition and mindful that the crowding of that exhibition (unless we paid $45 for early Wednesday) would diminish the experience. Clearly we have preference for things culturally more removed from our own.

On the way to the Museum in Bourke St, we came upon a particularly lovely busker. Somehow in processing to YouTube my little film has become a bit blurry. And evidence of my own blurriness at end of a walking day is that while I got the date right, it obviously felt like Friday, when only Tuesday :-)

09 May 2013

I've not been writing much here, but

There's been more out there in my 'suburban forest' blog (link in right column) but I confess I am doing more outside work than scribble about it. With physical and mental benefit!!

Notes from linkedin caused me to review my profile generally today (after all, three people have looked at in three months... Well, maybe a few more). The great puzzle I find is that people send me messages saying they would like to connect... but if I write to them ["Hello, thanks for asking me to connect, your profile is interesting, etc.. ] it seems usually they do not respond. What is this 'connect' ... or does someone imagine my name will help them in the world, or is it just raw numbers of connectednesses?

Which tends to bear out this fun item in The Guardian this week, asking "has every conversation in history been a series of meaningless bleeps?"  One commentator on that usefully sent me (and hopefully one or two other readers, who knows) to find George Orwell's four motives for writing. What Orwell seems to miss is the tendency of this species to burble on and on, or conversely, not. Though he might suggest that that is a dimension of propensity not motive. On the matter of whether there is point or not to things said (motive or propensity), the brown chook, the elder-chook – yes, this is sort of in the wrong blog, but it remains germane – spoke to me with evidnet concern when I took my breakfast outside this morning: to say, I took it, that the two white chooks, recent arrivals, had vanished. Or so I thought Mrs Brown to say, at length, over hours. And to the of us both relief, later in the day the elegant young Livornese Ladies wandered back in from up the street.

Also though, I had figured out by then that Mrs Brown was telling me not only that she was alone and had only me to Friend and Connect (see meaningless beeps, previous para, but see also this, also from The Guardian recently)... but also that the feed bin was empty. This I divined from inspection of the bin, not from our discourse.

Cross-cultural barriers lesson 1: attend to the facts, not your assumptions,

Cross-cultural barriers lesson 2: do not presume the number of facts is the number you suppose.


Last night the LinkedIn computer, perhaps after a party, had written to me to say:
From: LinkedIn
Subject: Dennis: Australian Aerospace Resources Pty Ltd, BAE Systems Australia and NGO Recruitment are looking for candidates like you.
That last one was for: Country Director - China - World Society for the Protection of Animals
The details (of course I went to look) mentioned animals once but then slipped gracefully into the human resources species-talk, beginning with this from The Book of Common Babble:
You will be responsible for the development and delivery of the business strategy in accordance with regional and international goals. As the spokesperson you will develop and nurture relations with stakeholders including government authorities, inter-governmental organisations, media and key society. 
... these below are my newly edited top-of-page self-promotional LinkMeUpScotty words, to see what new offers may come!

Beginning as you may know with Job Title, Company, Dates and Location, the sine qua nons of existence:

good company occasionally in head, on paper, on screen, on brain, on soul... on too many subjectsI have a novel half done, 50000+ words. It runs through my head but currently not to paper, many other things under way in life. 
The novel draws on life experience in locations, in Australia and China. It has social and political dimensions. 
It also derives from personal experience of trying to be a reformer who works to change systems from within, rather than by tearing down. An activity that can mean you get abused from both sides, from the entrenched and conservatives on one side and on the other from the protesters at the gate. In my novel I hope to describe the story of leaders in China in the 1980s in that difficult context. 
But also with a contemporary Australian connection... though month by month, like the female protagonist in my novel, I find much of 'contemporary Australia' disconcertingly unattractive, not only in prospective political leadership but also the determination it seems, of a swathe of the population, to abandon thoughtfulness and go for dumb whinging. 
See, whatever I do turns to writing.. or thoughtful dumb whinging?
Oh, here is something I wrote long ago, so many aspects of life seem to weave together so often:

16 April 2013

new blog on suburban food forest

I have been neglecting keeping a record of my efforts at establishing a food forest on my suburban block. Hard to wedge in between all this other stuff in this blog, so I have established:

http://suburbanfoodforest.blogspot.com.au/  [click to go there]

this week.

See you there! Chance to see fruit between trees  :-)

11 April 2013


With the announcement of agreement with China on annual leaders meetings, I was asked by Radio National Breakfast to contribute to analysis. The program is accessible here. The comment selected from my interview was about the need for intelligent national leadership to get Australians away from fear and misinformation about China. Here's hoping...

Earlier entries in this blog (click on China among the labels in right hand column) showed my concern that we needed to get some shape back into the relationship. 

I scribbled some quick briefing notes for the Breakfast team yesterday morning. These covered more than the core subject for interview. We have in Australia, as generally in the world, a great ignorance of what has happened in China in the past 35 years, the greatest revolution in world history. Where is that being thought or taught? French Revolution, let alone Eureka Stockade, just piddling by comparison. These were my notes, also prepared to freshen up my brain for interview:

What has just been done in Beijing restores and reaffirms a course we should have been on, which we were on until the overall relationship became lost in talking about the money.
We have enjoyed a strong relationship with China because we are seen by China as a country that acts in its own interests and has been prepared to work with Chinese leaders in helping them build a strong economy AND a civil society. This is still a broad and important task; government has had a major role in the China relationship not only because China has a communist country but also because the Chinese government has been engaged in extraordinary reforms.
I hope the Federal Opposition will recognise all this.
I hope both Government and Opposition will also work to change a lot of silly attitudes in Australia, that China is 'taking us over'.
Noting that China's investment in Australia stands around 20 billion compared with US 550bn (the ABS main page on this doesn't even count China!)

There is also the notion that Chinese are so numerous among us. But only 3% or so of the population was born in China. Recent conversations with China-born Australians have begun with the wish that more Australians could learn and get facts right. The Beijing announcement will please them, but it's only a start, the big problem is in Australia... and alas it has some narrow racist elements.
There is also the perspective that China is the cause of greenhouse problems. But we do have to look at climate change in social science perspective too - to allow room for developing countries to catch up. in 1985, China consumed around 50kg per capita of steel, we consumed ten times that. We have matured, in a post industrial phase, and Australian consumption has dropped to around 300kg - while China has risen to over 400kg per capita - and it is not clear when their consumption pattern will mature. We supported growth of their steel production as core to development. I expect China, with increasing focus on pollution, to do more efficiently.
China was the first country with a renewable energy law, China is a huge producer of solar power capacity, including exported panels and other gear.
China is going through an industrialisation process in several decades that took us a century. We need to show respect for the extraordinary complexity of political and economic issues in China, not just focus on relatively tabloid issues. Yes, there are human rights issues, but what has happened since 1978 is the largest revolution in human history and hundreds of millions have benefited.
What happened in 1978? Before that a person related to a 'work unit' and the work unit controlled whether you remained a fetus and got born, whether you had a roof over your head, whether you had whatever education, whether you got work, got married, whether you had a child. Everything a farmer or worker produced belonged to the state. In 1978 farmers were told to produce a quota and keep the rest. This kind of reform moved into industry. A need for company law, tax law, provision for profit and loss, bankruptcy, unemployment, new business establishement, social security and health systems... in a country with sixty times our population, minorities numbering ten times our population; per capita income has risen from under $300 to around 5000.
A lot of people in private cars now in China (zero in 1978) but consider that China has 5000km of high speed rail and plans to build to 25,000 by 2020.

Having noted that last number in my notes yesterday, it was interesting that the China discussion on the radio this morning was preceded by a news report that Australia may have 1700km of very fast train track by 2053. I suppose the awfully precise and remote number 2053 derived from discussion in 2013 in which someone said "we couldn't finish something like that for forty years!"

2053 is by my calculation seven years after 2046. I expect any very fast train in 2053 will be even more of the future than Wong Karwai's 2046 train.*** 

click on pictures for sources

So bizarre for a government (sadly bound for the butchers in a few months) to call for discussion about a train in 2053. We can't remember what has happened in China in 35 years... Here's a lovely glimpse of a fancy train, 50 years ago, when it too was about to be sent to the butcher.

*** if you haven't seen 2046, please first see Wong Karwai's staggeringly beautiful In the Mood for Love to which 2046 is a sequel. For more words on these films see this blog. I tend to find Australian film boring; perhaps I watch too many films like these two. They confront also with the extraordinary intellectual force of China, which we are generally not bright enough to imagine.

21 January 2013

reading and editing

Perhaps my last post's darkness was shaped in part by my being affected at the time by a minor concussion, but the year has not gotten off to a wonderful start with the dessication and inflammation of much of the Australian continent and climate abnormalities and extremes at the cold end of the scale in the northern hemisphere—plus further decline in governability in Saharan Africa, inflamed by the disintegration of Libya and spread of arms and angry people from there, and now with western interventions and problems in Algeria. It was good to be sent this article from the Transcend organisation, with some real information on the Mali situation.

My period unable to get out after concussion mercifully did not prevent me reading.

Two very good books read, I have reviewed at Amazon, Mo Yan's Big Breasts and Wide Hips and Ann Jones's Kabul in Winter. Links are to the review page, egotistically, my review the most recent as of this date  .. :-)

Ann Jones's book should be read, serialised, at the beginning of every sitting of the Australian parliament and the US Congress until they begin to learn something about the world (more than they seem to get from the ritual reading of the Lord's Prayer).

I found Mo Yan's book relevant to my preparing to go on with my novel. It is intimidating though, to seek to write about China from the outside, when there is such astonishing literature from the inside. On the other hand I do want to do something which is from the outside, with an Australian perspective...

Meanwhile I am delighted that I have today been able to take to the printer the formatted copy for the memoirs of Isabel MacCallum. My first venture into editing and publishing thus plus also a very worthy book, which definitely will be launched in Nowra on 25 February. Wonderfully impressions** of early life, with good recall, candour towards self as well as others and situations, a nice blend of intellectual and ethical and practical perspectives... and entertaining.

More will be reported at the Backhouse Press blog soon.

** as regards 'impressions, I remain greatly influenced by those words of Ford Madox Ford which I quote at top of A Place of Info