Category

History

How much progress has there been in Australia since 1950?

By | Books, Economy, Education, Health, History, Society | 38 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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On turning 80

By | Health, History, Society | 129 Comments

My 80th birthday yesterday came rather more quickly than I had expected. As we get older our sense of time speeds up if only because we have experienced so much ‘time’ already. A double Latin class on Friday afternoon in the early 1950s seemed to last forever, while last Christmas seems only a few weeks ago. Mind you, my life expectancy at birth was only 63, so there’s been some luck along the way. At 80 you certainly do wonder how long you have. According to the life tables, I can expect (on average!) another eight years. If that is…

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Not sea levels again!

By | Climate Change, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 119 Comments

I said in my last essay that I would return this week to another theme that is having a big revival just at the moment, post the USA withdrawal from the Paris Accord. This one is ‘rising sea levels’. It was one of the dooms forecast in the NYT Mag article I referred to last time: Barring a radical reduction of emissions, we will see at least four feet of sea-level rise and possibly ten by the end of the century. I can only shake my head in wonderment at claims like this one.  Has there been a dramatic increase in…

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The scary stories get scarier

By | Climate Change, Environment, History, Language, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 87 Comments

President Trump’s decision to pull the USA out of the Paris climate Accord seems to have had an outcome in the intensification of alarm both at his doing so and at what he is thought to have overlooked. I saw a number of examples of this reaction, and will deal with another one next week. But the one I’m focussing on now is a story that appeared in the 17 July New York Times Magazine entitled ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’. I wouldn’t normally have gone to read it, and did so because none other than Dr Michael Mann had panned it,…

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Where is our politics going?

By | History, Politics, Society | 125 Comments

For the last month I have been more than usually interested in Australian politics, not because I have a strong interest in the outcome of the next election or three, or because I have a horse in the race. Rather, because I think we are seeing a slow shift to something with which Europeans are more familiar than Australians, a more-or-less stable multi-party system. In fact, it is really the Anglophone countries that regard a two-party system as the norm. When it works, as it has done for much of the past century, it works quite well. I analysed it…

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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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Doing things properly

By | Climate Change, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research, Society | 156 Comments

For some time I have wanted to write a piece on the virtue of doing certain things properly, and the final stimulus came on the occasion of a bus trip to Lightning Ridge, which was great fun, educational and most enjoyable. In the bathroom of a certain motel I saw this little sign. Dear Guest, In the course of a year we wash thousands of towels, and doing so uses thousands and thousands of litres of water and tons of detergents that can be harmful to the environment. If you care about the environment as we do, you may wish…

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Would Red and Blue Teams be any use to us?

By | Climate Change, Environment, History, Politics, Religion, Research | 154 Comments

For those who don’t know the reference, a Red team is a team whose aim is to go past the defences of the Blue team. More generally, the terms have to do with testing more or less settled policies or positions mostly in defence, but increasingly in information technology, and the new target, cyber-security. There have been suggestions in the past that the model be used in the area of climate science, or more sensibly, climate policy. A pale equivalent in Australia is the use of ‘The Case for Yes’ and ‘The Case for No’ statements in our Constitutional referendums….

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Finkel’s Cave

By | Climate Change, Economy, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Society | 227 Comments

There is an embarrassment of subjects to write about at the end of the week. I had my eyes on the UK General Election, if only because in 1964, now 53 years ago, I worked as a behind-the-scenes analyst on the BBC’s election night coverage, and then became part of the Australian election night coverage for the next nearly twenty years. It is too early to say too much about the outcome, other than to me it seemed a bit of a re-run of the Brexit referendum. There will have been much more than this, of course, especially with respect…

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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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