Taxes and transfers

By | Economy, Education, Health, History, Media, Politics, Society | 45 Comments

I seem to be caught up in a variety of conversations and readings that focus on the sort of society we actually have in Australia. An artist preparing a large piece for the Sydney Biennale said, if I remember his words correctly, that our policy with respect to asylum seekers gave ‘Australia a bad image internationally’. In comparison to which country, I wondered (there is more below). Dick Smith wants us to stop immigration entirely, or almost entirely. Another speaker described Australia as one of the last outposts of ‘capitalism’. Again, I wondered where the other outposts were. I came…

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On diversity

By | ABC, Education, Health, History, Media, Music, Politics, Society | 63 Comments

In earlier essays I have written about the virtues of optimism versus pessimism,  on multi-ethnicity rather than multi-culturalism (for example, here), and on the nation-state versus internationalism (for example, here). I remain firm in my preferences there, but in this essay I retreat a little from a related past position. I have come to see some further virtues in ‘diversity’, or perhaps some further justifications for it, which had previously passed me by. ‘Diversity’ today is mostly code for people of different ethnic origins, religions and gender. But it can and should apply to cultural styles as well. I start with…

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Whose universities are they, anyway?

By | Books, Education, History, Politics, Research, Society | 25 Comments

The publication of three books about the recent past and possible future of higher education, not to mention articles in journals and on the Internet, suggest that all is not well in academe. While all has never, at least since the end of the second world war, been well in academe (the AVCC first used the word ‘crisis’ in 1947), it may be true that the level of tension within higher education today is notably high. The three books are Glyn Davis’s The Australian Idea of a University, Stuart Macintyre’s No End of a Lesson, and my own Critical Mass….

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The history of a working life

By | Books, Education, History, Politics, Research, Society | 30 Comments

At high school, and even as an undergraduate, I didn’t give much thought to my future working life. I would be a high-school teacher like my Dad and Mum. I had a clear acquaintance with the school system, and it seemed to have decent holidays, which I was used to. I would finally have to have a job of some kind, and the only one I had any interest in was teaching at school, preferably high school. I managed to get a teachers college scholarship to university, and that seemed to come with a Commonwealth scholarship offsetting whatever costs were…

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Optimism or Pessimism?

By | Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Health, History, Politics, Society | 140 Comments

This is a shortened version of an address I gave to the Boobooks club in Melbourne earlier this week. The Boobooks is a dining club, the oldest in Australia, founded in 1902 by some young men who later became Sirs, in Fred Eggleston and John Latham. It was an honour to have been asked to speak. The title was ‘Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the future?’, and in it I revisited ideas that have been rehearsed on this website before. I am not sure whether optimism and pessimism are part of our make-up or the result of upbringing…

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Books that have been important to me #7 Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

By | Books, Education, History, Language, Music, Politics, Research, Society | 20 Comments

In the middle 1990s I was asked to give a plenary address at an education conference, and you can find its text here, or if the link doesn’t work, by going in the masthead to my Writings, then to Educational, then to ‘Who Counts?’ What follows here is based on that speech. The beginning of my speech was based on a series of questions that had troubled me throughout my working life, as to just what ‘intelligence’ was, and why it was so important. I was usually near the top in my classes at school, but rarely at the very…

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How much progress has there been in Australia since 1950?

By | Books, Economy, Education, Health, History, Society | 40 Comments

I have been thinking about this topic for some time, and foreshadowed this essay last week. ‘Progress’ is one of those protean words, changing its meaning according to the needs of the user. It comes from the Latin, pro meaning forward, and grado meaning stepping, walking, going. So, there is thought to be progress when things go forward. My Shorter Oxford gives its sense for this essay as ‘continuous improvement’. And at once there is some reservation, for ‘improvement’ in a human life and in social life is rarely continuous. There are usually steps backward as well as forward. And…

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What does the future hold?

By | Books, Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Food & Wine, Health, Politics, Society | 35 Comments

What sort of future we are likely to enjoy, or have to put up with, has been a regular subject on the Internet for some time now. Being unsure of how much future I personally have left, I’m not totally consumed by the subject. But I saw a comprehensive list the other, and I thought it was worth reflecting on. The list was the work of Shelly Palmer, who has written a couple of interesting pieces on innovation. I have numbered the sections below for ease of comment, and done some minor editing as well. One thing to note at…

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What should former PMs do?

By | Economy, Education, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Society | 44 Comments

At a recent lunch I got into a discussion about the current tensions within the Liberal Party, and more particularly the extent to which they were due to what a friend called the ’irresponsible’ behaviour of Mr Abbott. I had written about Mr Abbott’s situation before, and offered some of that comment at the lunch. My friend would have none of it. Mr Abbott should have left Parliament at the first opportunity, and if he stayed, should have maintained a dignified silence. My view, set out in the conclusion to the essay linked above, is that, ‘He ought to be allowed…

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Books that have been important to me #5 The California detective: Hammett, Chandler, Macdonald

By | Books, Education, History, Language, Society | 26 Comments

There is a time, when you are young and a reader, where you range widely, dipping into a genre here and another there. Long long ago I dipped into Agatha Christie, then saw The Mousetrap in London, and ranged over the English detective literature. I didn’t go back, really, but did so recently for one Agatha Christie, which I read in an hour or so and thought quite thin. C. P. Snow, about whose novels I wrote some time ago, did quite a good one, A Coat of Varnish (1978), where both the protagonist and the detective at the end know who…

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