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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The #MeToo phenomenon and what, if anything, anyone can do about it

By | History, Media, Politics, Society, Theatre | 131 Comments

For those who have somehow missed all this, ‘Me, too’ is what someone wished she had said when a thirteen year-old girl told her she had been sexually abused. #MeToo became a digital movement in 2006, and spread astonishingly in October last year after allegations were made against the alleged sexual predations of film producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein was fired from the company he started, and suffered other losses as well. His career is in ruins. Thereafter came a cascade of allegations about other alleged baddies in the media, Hollywood and television, which you can see here. In the USA…

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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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By | History, Media, Politics, Society | 101 Comments

At the time of writing it looks as though Barnaby Joyce will keep his positions as Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister. The Nationals seem to have given him ‘another chance’, as his deputy put it. Quite what would, after this episode, make its members think otherwise is not clear. Throughout this trial by media two thoughts kept running in my head. The first was why the press gallery had decided to run as a pack after him, and who might be the next MP or Senator to be brought forward for public excoriation. For, as I…

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President Trump and climate change

By | Climate Change, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research, Society | 111 Comments

Some months ago I agreed to give an address in February this year on the topic ‘President Trump and climate change’. At the time I wondered whether it would be a sensible topic in 2018, but it is, so I’m giving it as asked. This isn’t the address, but it is the sort of mulling around that you need to do before you write your speech notes. It’s not difficult to see what President Trump thinks about climate change, and what he has thought about it. He had said, during the election campaign, that it was a concept dreamed up…

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In weather terms, how did 2017 stack up?

By | Climate Change, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 101 Comments

As regular readers know, I now do this little examination each year, waiting until Ole Humlum, of climate4you, has assembled the global data from all the climate datasets. Most of what follows has been distilled from his latest bulletin. As always there were excitable people who wanted to tell us, even before the end of 2017, that the year would prove to be the hottest ever, and were asking why we weren’t doing something about it. So a few preparatory remarks are in order. First, the planet has emerged from a notably cool period, often called ‘the little Ice Age’….

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The power of grant money

By | Climate Change, Environment, History, Politics, Religion, Research, Society | 84 Comments

I have been reading an excellent book by Stuart Macintyre and others (No End of a Lesson, Melbourne University Press, 2017) about the ‘Dawkins revolution’ and what happened in the ten years after it. Throughout that period I was at first part of the group making the changes, and then, as Vice-Chancellor, someone who had to cope with them. My own Critical Mass really stops in 1991, when I went from the Australian Research Council to the University of Canberra. Reading No End of a Lesson brought back so many memories of life after the ARC, and indeed during its…

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2017 — What’s to Review?

By | Climate Change, Economy, Environment, Health, History, Media, Politics | 136 Comments

2017 was not at all my happiest year, though I can feel strength coming back in the sixth week of my recovery from double pneumonia. And while I was ill Australia’s industrious electors discharged their duties in Queensland and in the Federal seat of Bennelong, about which I wrote nothing at all. So perhaps I should venture a comment or two there. All I really observed with respect to the Queensland election result, and that from television, was that the Labor Government had been returned, with a massive swing against the Liberal-National Party Opposition. I thought I ought to have…

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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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