Personal Reflections

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The IPA report on the teaching of history - all piss and wind?

In October, Dr Bella d’Abrera from the Australian Institute of Public Affairs released a report entitled the Rise of Identity Politics: an audit of history teaching at Australian Universities in 2017. Under the heading left is Parading Social Science as History, the IPA supporting story begins:
The history and substance of Western civilisation that are essential to understanding our present and shaping our future are not being taught to history undergraduates. 
Instead, the focus of a typical undergraduate history degree has shifted from the study of significant events and subjects to a view of the past seen through the lens of the identity politics of race, gender and sexuality. 
The Institute of Public Affairs’ audit of the 746 history subjects offered in 35 universities – The Rise of Identity Politics: An Audit of History Teaching at Australian Universities – has shown that the movement that sought to infuse the humanities curriculum across the Anglosphere with identity politics has come to ­fruition. 
Identity politics encapsulates two main ideas. 
The first is that an individual’s political position (and many other things, such as moral worth) is defined by their identity. The second is the way in which a person is to be treated is decided according to that person’s identity. 
The suspicion that history as an academic discipline has been successfully hijacked by left-wing cultural theorists is no longer hearsay or speculation. The audit reveals that at least 244 of the 746 history subjects belong to the social sciences. History departments are replete with subjects that examine the study of human society and social relationships, not historical events or periods. Take for example Gendered Worlds: An Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of NSW; Masculinity, Nostalgia and Change offered at the University of Western Australia; Monash University’s Nationality, Ethnicity and Conflict; and the University of New England’s Being Bad: Sinners, Crooks, Deviants and ­Psychos. 
None of these subjects belongs in a history department. 
In comparison, of the 746 subjects on offer, just 241 explain the material and technological pro­gress and belief systems of Western civilisation. 
That there are fewer subjects devoted to what can be termed as the essential core topics of Western civilisation than social science topics is evidence the humanities have been captured by the left-wing exponents of identity politics.
I have quoted at length because it captures the tone of the report. In essence:

  • The IPA believes that an understanding of the history and substance of Western civilisation is important in understanding our present and shaping the future. 
  • The IPA has defined what it believes to be the core components that should be included in the study of history if the first is to be achieved, these are set out in the report, and has a program to promote its ideas.
  • The IPA has analysed course titles and summaries. The methodology used is actually unclear, but appears to to be based at least in part on a computer analysis of the frequency of words
  • This is then compared to the IPA's desired model to generate conclusions. 
I happen to agree that an understanding of the history and substance of Western civilisation is important. I agree that many of those teaching since the early 1980s do so from a left of centre perspective. I agree that identity politics, more broadly current fashionable ideologies, is a current issue and that it affects course structure and content. I agree that university history teaching has become fragmented, submerged and that needs to change. But dear oh dear, this report sets back all my arguments for change and different directions. This is not helped by Senator Cory Bernardi's support for its conclusions.

To start with two smaller examples both drawn from the University of New England where I have a degree of knowledge.
A UNE course entitled Being Bad: Sinners, Crooks, Deviants and Psychos is specifically identified a a course that should not be taught at university level. The title is designed to grab student attention. The actual course outline reads:
This unit will examine the development of our attitudes and approaches to law and order through a study of some of the most infamous crimes and criminals in the British world between 1700 and 1900. A series of case studies ranging broadly over space and time, will be considered from both historical and criminological perspectives. This will reveal both changing patterns of deviance and criminal behaviour and the evolving efforts to regulate and prevent it. Students will learn how to find, use and evaluate evidence about crime and use it to understand the development of modern society.
That is clearly a university level course. However, the second. UNE course mentioned in the report,  Professor Howard Brasted's Women in Islam, does appear more problematic at first sight. Here the course outline reads:
This unit is aimed at understanding the complex world of Muslim women today. Among the themes are: the Islamisation of women in Asia, women in politics, both at grass-roots and elite levels, Muslim women in the workforce, feminist perspectives both western and Muslim, the role of the media in defining Muslim women, stereotyping, Muslim women and religious participation and Muslim women and seclusion in a modern world.
You can see how this description might lead you to conclude, as the IPA appears to have concluded, that this is an example of the type of fashionable identity/fashionable cause course that they (and indeed I) complain about.

A friend recently enrolled in this course. It is one of the most intellectually challenging courses I have seen, not one for the faint hearted. It begins with the emergence of Islam, the way power, politics and survival  in those early days created different beliefs. It looks at the different interpretations of the Qur'an (students are advised to get several translations so that they can compare) and the various beliefs that emerged around the basic document. All this is traced through to the present time to help delineate current attitudes. The focus is on women, but you can't understand that without the rest. This is a truly genuine university course of the older type,  By the end, you will have had a basic education in Islamic studies, not just women in Islam.

I was fortunate enough to do university level history in a past age, one of fewer choices but greater capacity for depth, one before the vocational and the need for immediate return became so dominant. All my courses were full year courses, not modules.

In first year, History I covered prehistory to the fall of the Western Roman Empire.In second year, my pass course covered European History from the fall of Rome to the Council of Trent. My honours course covered the English Reformation. In third year, my pass course was Modern European history, with the honours course focused on the American Revolution. In my honours year I took prehistory, philosophy of history  and Australian history plus the obligatory thesis, in my case on the economic structure of traditional Aboriginal life.  So I have done just the type of broad studies IPA wants.

Sadly, or so it seems to me, those days have gone and will not come back. Here the IPA report is a hindrance, not a help, to those seeking change, for it does not address the real issues.

History is no longer seen as a core discipline.  As a consequence, and as Professor Trevor Burnard points out:
 History gets funded, along with English and Philosophy, at a lower rate than any other subject as a result of Australia’s peculiar policy of funding subjects at different levels depending on supposed cost of delivery and perceived social benefit. The government and student funding per university history student is $12,165. Funding for a student doing Politics is $16,591 and for Media $18,979 – much higher than for History even though how students are taught is similar. 
It was the federal government under John Howard that first introduced this funding system, ironically given his supposed enthusiasm for History as a subject. And Simon Birmingham has shown no sign of wanting to rectify what the Howard government did, in order to provide the resources to teach history effectively.
History Departments and their staff struggle with increasing loads, with the need to reduce costs at a time when overhead costs are rising. They face constant threats as resources are progressively redeployed within corporatised institutions to gain the greatest financial and prestige yield for those institutions.

In a market system within and beyond institutions, they have to attract students to do at least some of their courses, hoping that some of those will be encouraged to go on.  That means packaging courses to attract at least some of the students doing other degrees seen as being more useful or financially rewarding. I may disagree with student or official assessments, I think history and the study of history, is a fundamental and useful building block for just so many things, but few agree with me. To my mind, the remarkable thing about many of the historians in academe that I know is that they still hold to the faith, to the preservation of standards, to a belief in the value of history within the academy.

This, then, is my charge against IPA following this report. At a time when the academic history patient is on life support, the IPA is simply picking over the carcass, wishing to re-arrange the limbs. If the IPA, or Senator Bernadi for that matter, wish to see more studies relevant to the history of Western civilisation, then they need to campaign for more money for history in general. Otherwise, it's all piss and wind.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Round the blogging tracks - China Financial Markets, Club Troppo, Darcy Moore's blog with a dash of Milk Maid Marion

I remain bogged down in other writing. I will give a report here when I have a little more progress to report. For the moment, I took the day to revisit my blog list. I really, really need to update this.

On China Financial markets, Michael Pettis asks the questions Does Cutting Taxes on the Wealthy Lead to Greater Growth?.His conclusion:
 Policies that increase income inequality can in some cases lead to higher savings, higher investment, and greater long-term growth. But, in other cases, such policies either reduce growth and increase unemployment or force up the debt burden. What determines which of these outcomes takes place is whether or not savings are scarce and have constrained investment.
I have to say that this strikes me intuitively as very sensible. I wonder what Winton might think? Mind you, to get an answer we might have to drag him a way from his current consideration of Aristotle and happiness!

On Club Troppo, Nicholas Gruen has begun a new series on the use of wellbeing frameworks in policy development, starting with What have wellbeing frameworks ever done for us: Part One. I must say that I was puzzled when the Australian Treasury adopted, or seemed to adopt, this approach, something that Nicholas discusses in his first post. I just couldn't see what it might mean in any practical way.

On his blog, Darcy Moore's MyData: Personalising the Curriculum addresses the question of the use of personal data in teaching or of teaching about personal data. I actually found the post a little confusing. Its quite an interesting post, but seems to me to mix quite different things together: one was the need for students to be aware of and educated about their personal data and the way in which it might be used; a second thread was the use of that data and the issues surrounding it as a broader teaching tool.

The post left me a little depressed. There are some important issues here, but it reminded me just how complex life has become in general andfor young people in particular.

Changing directions, over at The Milk Maid Marion, Marion complains Don’t call me a “female farmer”, I am just a farmer. She wonders about the prevalence of women only agriculture groups.
What am I missing? Why do women flock to special female-only groups and why do so few of us turn up to broader industry events? 
What do you think? Are female-only ag forums important to make women feel comfortable expressing ourselves or do they simply reinforce a perception that we’re somehow not able to perform in mixed company?  
I actually think she has a point, although the comments picked up the other side. One of the things Marian expressed reservations about was the Museum of Victoria exhibition, Women of the Land that displays "objects and audio-visual stories that collectively make up the first official documentation of women's contribution to Australian agriculture." The exhibition is an outcome of the Invisible Farmer project subtitled "The invisible farmer: the forgotten history of Australian country women". The ABC story on this project begins:
Australian farming women have been on the land as long as men, but they’ve been largely ignored by the history books. This is despite their significant contribution to the rural economy
I bristled a little at all this. Before going on, this is the photo used to illustrate the ABC story. Comments follow the story.

This 1944 photo of a woman riding is used to illustrate women in agriculture. But if you look at it closely you will see that it does nothing of the kind. It's actually a very gendered posed shot. Look at the sandals and the tie.Now consider her riding the mower in that outfit.

This shot of Aunt Kay picked almost at random was probably taken a little later but certainly in the 1940s. It's a more realistic shot

Roles in agriculture were gendered as were inheritance patterns. However, the idea that farming women were in some ways invisible strikes me as a bit of a travesty. They certainly weren't invisible to me growing up. In fact, they struck me as fiendishly practical and competent.

Nor were their roles limited to "domestic duties". They did whatever was required to support what were in most cases family businesses. Far more women managed properties than their equivalents in other sectors of the economy.  

There is a balance issue in all this, of course. In agriculture as in other parts of Australian life, there have been shifts in roles and attitudes. However, I do wonder if the particular focus in this exhibition and the preceding Invisible Farmer project is partly a reflection of how much has been forgotten in an increasingly urbanised city focused Australia, as well as current preoccupations.

Its not possible to research and write in the areas that I do without being very conscious of the role of women in agriculture.The material is all there.  

This last sidetrack has exhausted my time. I will have to finish here.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sydney's growth problems - how do we create a focus on the local

Greater Sydney with the three proposed metropolitan centres. To the north the megalopolis is merging with the growing Lake Macquarie Newcastle conurbation, to the south Wollongong, while to the south-east  the Sydney and Canberra growth spheres are increasingly entwined.  . 

By its nature, Sydney is dominated by the big. Big infrastructure projects such as WestConnex or Sydney Light Rail are are required to shift people across a sprawling  megalopolis that just keeps extending its reach. Big developments are the most profitable way of  housing the growing population. Big institutions are required, or seen to be required, to deliver services in the most cost-effective fashion. Big planning is required to create, develop and maintain the three metropolitan centres seen as required for the growing megalopolis.

I have argued for many decades that we need effective decentralisation to ease population pressures on Greater Sydney and other major metropolitan centres. That remains my view, although I think that failures in Government policy and action over the last six decades means that the horse has bolted to a substantial degree. We need to focus as well on what makes cities liveable in the face of growth.

In a piece in The Conversation,  This is what our cities need to do to be truly liveable for all, Julianne Rozek and Billie Giles-Corti outlined their prescriptions for what made for liveable cities centering on walkability, public transport and public open space. They also suggested that a liveable city was greater than the sum of its parts. I don't disagree in broad terms, but I thought that the thing that the things that they missed from their analysis were people and locality.

They spoke and modelled the capital cities, and they only addressed those cities, as if they were in some ways organic wholes. They are not, or at least the bigger cities are not. They are agglomerations of different parts. People move and focus on different tracks and areas depending on their locality, work,  life style and transport availability.

Macro spatial modelling of the type provided in the Rozek/Giles-Corti piece is useful in guiding higher level policy development, but does not not of itself assist you in drilling down to more local patterns.

To illustrate, if you map the movement patterns of someone living in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, you will find that their movements are actually quite constrained with the exact pattern depending upon residence and their stage in life.They rarely go over the Bridge, rarely go south of the airport, rarely go beyond Olympic Park. This type of pattern is replicated in other areas.

These patterns are also reflected in the customer patterns for local businesses.Some businesses are purely local, others draw traffic from wider areas. The second generally but not always depend upon the local availability of parking.

But the Eastern Suburbs itself is a large area made up many localities each with its own patterns. It is also a descriptor whose boundaries have been shifting with time, reflecting social, economic and demographic change, something that I explored in a 2008 post, Saturday Morning Musings - everchanging Sydney. That post also explored changes in adjoining areas, providing a snap shot of the changes then taking place within parts of Sydney.

All this means that you can't just say Eastern Suburbs or treat it as an entity. If you are to understand the changing texture and pattern of local life you have to drill down further, to look at localities and their changing patterns.The same conclusion holds for other parts of the Sydney  megalopolis.

Site of the Green Square development. By 2030, Green Square is expected to house 61,000 new residents, 22,000 new workers. 
The only way to do this, to actually understand patterns, is to walk the streets and observe at different times of the day.

When I wrote the 2008 post, the Victoria Park development on the eastern edge of  Green Square (there are at least two Victoria Park developments in Sydney) did not exist. Now  youngest lives in a high rise that forms part of evolving residential complexes that includes major supermarkets, gym, convenience stores and a variety of food outlets.

This is metro territory suited to those who like the density on metro living, the convenience of just popping downstairs when they need something. The human streetscape is younger, predominantly Asian in appearance. Dogs abound, crowding the limited green space. It's quite a vibrant landscape, although you don't have to walk far down adjoining streets before the people largely disappear from the street.  

How all this will evolve is unclear to me. Schools are already overcrowded, while the road connections are struggling to carry the increasing traffic.There is one railway station (Green Square) on the western edge, over a kilometer from the present furthest points which tends to favour bus usage. The related developments that now extend into Rosebery with their downstairs shops are effectively separated from Victoria Park and Green Square by Epsom Road. The new Green Square town centre will be large, but I can't get a real feel at this point as to how it might actually work in dynamic terms. The descriptions seem to me to be too academic, too abstract. I can't work out what this new community will look like in twenty years' time, how the flows might work.

 Green Square is one example of the change processes underway. Thursday night I went out to Homebush to watch the Australian women's and men's hockey teams play. That drive took me in part along the route I used to travel to work in 2008. Signs of WestConnex construction were in many places along the route. I hadn't actually realised what a big project it was, nor the extent to which it was creating disruption and changing local patterns. Then on Friday night I went to a belated celebration for eldest's thirtieth at Walsh Bay in the city . She was in Copenhagen on her birthday. This time it was the Sydney Light rail construction that was everywhere.

In Sydney's growth problems - light rail, Kingsford, Pagewood and Daceyville, I spoke of the changes taking place as a consequence of the light rail. Here we are again dealing with fundamental changes to local life brought about more macro policies. Change is inevitable, sometimes it can be good, but it does break down the cohesion of local life.

One of the related problems is that the perceived need to have larger local government areas for more effective service delivery is creating entities that no longer reflect their localities or indeed community of interest. This problem is especially acute where council boundaries subdivide actual or potential communities.

In  NSW Council elections: the strange case of Bayside I looked at that strange amalgam, the new Bayside LGA. If you look at the map there, you will see that Rosebery is now in Bayside. Just to the south, Green Square now lies in the City of Sydney. To the east, the expressway to the airport separates the City of Sydney from Randwick City Council. To the south east, Gardners and Bunnerong Roads separate Randwick City and Bayside Councils.

This must all be eye-glazing stuff for some one who does not know Sydney. However, my point is that community in the Sydney  megalopolis is affected by local government with its changing boundaries that actually divide local communities of interest. Further, the mechanisms for cooperation between councils appear fragmented. My own area does have an umbrella local government grouping, the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, but this is so large that it really has little relevance to more local concerns.

Trying to amplify a little, I live in Bayside, but my daily activities take me into Randwick and Sydney City Council areas, so I am affected by three Council as well as State and Federal Government decisions.

The discussion in comments on Saturday Morning Musings - the obike challenge triggered the thought that there was a large area of flatter land covering most of Pagewood, Daceyville, Kensington, Eastlakes, Mascot, Rosebery, Alexandia and Surrey Hills that could be logical local travel bike country. There are some problems with the major drags, but it wouldn't take a lot of infrastructure work in areas such as signage and places to park bikes to make it physically possible. That would then add to the texture and civility of local life. The difficulty is, however, that it would require cooperative action from three councils plus the State Government, each with their own plans, priorities and decision making processes. I can't see that happening.

So pulling this discussion together, if we are to enhance locality, livability and the texture of life in megalopolis's such as Sydney, we have to find a better way of focusing on the smaller areas that make up the core of life which are presently neglected in the big is better institutional approach.    

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Saturday Morning Musings - the obike challenge

Photo Southern Courier: bikes. Coogee, Sydney 
A month or so back I suddenly noticed these yellow bikes sprinkled around the area where I live. They literally just appeared. One day they were absent, the next day they were everywhere just sitting on the pavement Each had a helmet attached in some way; safety helmets are presently obligatory in Australia. A little later, a red variety appeared.

Over the next few weeks, I saw them spread around adjoining streets, just parked on the footpath or leaning against a power-pole or a bus shelter.  I even saw some Asian students from the University actually riding them.

Investigating, I found that they came from two companies, obike and Ready Go. The dockless business model was a simple one. To use the bike, you needed to download an app and pay a small deposit. Then you could select a bike, use the app to communicate with the company. They would send a signal unlocking the bike. When you reached your destination, you parked and locked the bike there. You were then charged a small fee for the time used. The GPS function on the bike allowed the companies to track the bikes.

I found the concept attractive, somehow beguiling. It would be nice to hop on a bike and go for a ride or pick one up at the shopping centre and use it to bring my shopping home without worrying about the hassle of actually owning a bike.

When I went to Copenhagen on my first visit to see eldest I saw a real bike culture of a type I hadn't seen since childhood. I became enamored with the idea, although I wasn't blind to the practical realities in Australia with its differing geography, streetscape and regulatory landscape that effectively discourages bikes.

Incidentally, even eldest has succumbed to the Copenhagen bike craze, buying a bike in June.

I was curious as whether she she had actually ridden much since that first wobbly start. She has been back in Australia briefly, so at dinner last night I asked her. She has indeed kept biking, pedaling most days to work, a process that takes less time than public transport.

Copenhagen is different to Australia. Its flatter, you can apparently ride without a safety helmet, while bikes are parked everywhere. There are problems with bike parking and abandoned bikes, but they appear relatively minor.

In the weeks after I first saw the new bikes, they spread into the side streets. I saw bikes just dropped on the nature strips. I saw at least one case of a bike being vandalised as a person smashed the lock. I didn't know what was happening, it was just somebody banging at the bike, until he got on and rode away. Walking over to where the bike had been, I found the smashed lock on the ground.

I also noticed that the bike helmets were vanishing, presumably stolen, making them illegal to ride. I had wondered on this once once I saw the helmets loosely attached to the bike.
Photo Southern Courier: bikes. Coogee, Sydney 
Bikes concentrated in spots.It's a downhill run from Randwick to Coogee. The cost of bike hire is cheaper than the bus. People would take a bike down and then take a bus back, leaving a growing concentration of bikes at the Coogee end.

I saw an increasing number of media stories about problems. This is one example, this a second. Councils (and not just in Sydney) started to become very concerned.about dumped and sometimes vandalised bikes as well as bike clutter, seeking new regulations and controls.

Today when I went for my walk I saw only three obikes, two vandalised. I really would like the obike system to succeed, although the odds are against it. It requires too many cultural, infrastructural and institutional changes.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Byzantium or Constantinople revisited

I came across this reconstruction of the city of Constantinople or Byzantium, later Istanbul,  in 1200 AD via Vivid Maps. I hadn't seen this site before, but it is worth a browse because it does contain some interesting maps. The original map comes from the Byzantium1200 website. The Byzantium 1200  project aims to create computer reconstructions of the Byzantine Monuments located in Istanbul as of the year 1200 AD. This, too, is worth a browse.

By 1200, Constantinople (the capital of the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire) was reduced in size, but it remained the largest and wealthiest city in Europe, a position it had occupied since the mid fifth century. The city was protected by massive walls that remained unbreached for 900 years before the city was taken in 1204 by the Crusader armies of the Fourth Crusade.

Looking back at past posts, the following is a somewhat random selection linked in some way to the city or the Byzantine Empire:

Monday, October 09, 2017

Update on the New Zealand elections

It is eleven days since my last post, one of the longest gaps in the history of this blog even when I have been travelling.

The almost final election results in the New Zealand election confirm Winston Peters and New Zealand First as king-makers.  Either National or Labour/Greens in combination could form government with New Zealand First support. Australians would find this position unstable given the apparent belief in this country that stable government requires one party to have a clear majority. Even here that's a bit silly since the Liberal Party generally can't rule without National Party support.

In The New Zealand case, some form of coalition or power sharing is the norm. This can create instability, but New Zealand Government has been noticeably more stable than the Australian equivalents in recent years. Wayne Mapp has an interesting piece on the coalition process in the New Zealand Herald.

 Looking back, the last full post I did on the New Zealand elections was in 2008, Sunday Essay - New Zealand elections 2008.

There were several interesting features about that election. The first was the then electoral decimation of New Zealand First. Now Mr Peters is back with a vengeance. The second was the success of the Mäori Party in winning all the Mäori seats. This election saw Labour take all those seats. The third was the commentary that the election had seen the collapse of the minor parties with the primary exception of ACT New Zealand and the Greens. Exactly the same comments have been made this time,

In 2008, seven parties got at least one seat, this time it's down to five, with ACT just hanging on to one electoral seat. Labour and National remain as the lead choices for primary governing party. The Greens are unable to win electoral seats, but retain enough broad support to just hold their position in the mixed proportional system. I say just hold because their electoral support in 2017 seems no different from 2008. I haven't checked all the results since. Then there is scope for another populist party.

Interestingly, only the main parties now seem able to win electoral seats with the one ACT exception. The others depend upon their capacity to attract a national vote at 5% or above, the minimum necessary to get list candidates into Parliament without an electorate seat.

This creates very different dynamics to Australia in that the strategic aim is to get that 5%. There is less point in maximising your electorate vote if it comes at the cost of a lower national vote.        

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Barry Stone's Secret Army, a real story about the original Stalky from Kipling's Stalky& Co

Rudyard Kipling's Stalky & Co was one of my favourite books when I  was at school and remains so today.

Episodic in form, it is set at an unnamed boys boarding school referred to College or the Coll based on the United Services College (photo) in Devon which Kipling attended. Founded especially to educate the sons of military officers, it had a focus on preparing pupils for military service, many going on to Sandhurst and Dartmouth.

The books three central characters are Beetle partly based on Kipling himself, the charismatic leader Stalky based on Lionel Dunsterville and M'Turk, based on George Charles Beresford. The three form a team and engage in various exploits, often at the expense of Mr King, the master of a rival house. While they did respect the headmaster and indeed the padre, they had a very cynical attitude to life and very little respect for formal authority or indeed rules. This is not a gentle book. When the padre asked them to help a younger boy whom he suspected was being badly bullied, they did so by applying the same techniques to the bullies that had been used by them, techniques that would now attract a significant prison sentence.

I wasn't especially happy at school when I read the book for the first time. I identified at once. The broad patterns of life were familiar so I could understand, and I really identified with their escapades and their successes.

The school sergeant who knew they were up to no good was not fooled when they sauntered out one day. He knew that they planned to break bounds. I followed with them as they burrowed through the gorse to find the little clearing on the top of the cliff overlooking the sea where they could have a quiet smoke. The sergeant's attempts, binoculars in hand,  to find them were quite funny and would ultimately lead to total defeat in a very funny scene indeed.

I mention all this because of a newsletter from Allen and Unwin referring to a new book by  Barry Stone, Secret Army,  subtitled "An elite force, a secret mission, a fleet of Model-T Fords, a far flung corner of WWI".

This is a real life story of that Stalky from Stalky & Co, Lionel Dunsterville, the story of 'Dunsterforce'.

The publishes have kindly put up a sample chapter on ScribD. It's.a story that somehow fits exactly with the image I had formed of him from the original book.


In a comment, Sue pointed me to this English blog To the Manor Born by Lucy Fisher on the English class system. She had just been reading an interesting post on it about boarding schools and thought I might find the whole blog entertaining. I did.

While it's tangential to this post, I thought that I would add the link here because other readers might find it interesting. .

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Greek economy revisited

It is now just over two years since the Greek political and financial crisis, I have listed some of the then posts at the end of this post.

Given the passage of time and the current economic strengthening in the Eurozone, I wondered how the Greek economy was performing now. The answer appears to be that the patient is still on a degree of life support, but its condition is improving.

The scale of the Greek economic collapse was quite dramatic. Figures from Focus Economics provide a picture of that collapse. Greek GDP declined from 191 billion Euros in 2012 to 176 Euros in 2015. Partially reflecting that decline, Government debt increased from 160% of GDP in 2012 to 180% in 2014. Retail sales dropped and dropped. The unemployment rate peaked at 26.5% in 2014.

After these dramatic changes, the economy began to stabilise. In June, the OECD reported:
After a prolonged depression, the economy stabilised in 2016 and GDP is projected to grow by 1.1% in 2017 and 2.5% in 2018. The labour market is improving, supporting private consumption, and higher demand from abroad is boosting exports. Investment has started to recover from very low levels and should gather pace. The consumption tax increase in early 2017 and recent energy price increases will raise consumer price inflation, even though core inflation will remain moderate, as ample spare capacity persists. 
In 2016, the primary budget surplus was 3.8% of GDP, exceeding expectations and the 0.5% target. Further progress in combatting tax evasion, broadening the personal income tax base and controlling pension spending are key to cementing the significant fiscal achievements of recent years, while freeing up resources for much needed social assistance programmes. Public debt has stabilised but remains very high, aggravating economic vulnerabilities and calling for additional debt relief to ensure medium to long-term fiscal sustainability.
In July, Greece was able to return to the Government bond market for the first time since 2014. In August, the Greek Prime Minister presented a positive view on the economic outlook, suggesting that Greece had turned the corner. Despite these signs of improvement, there is also a stream of negative reporting in the left of centre press and especially The Guardian. As in 2015, Greece's problems rouse an intensely ideological response.  

One can argue about the nature of the response to Greece's problems, my personal view is that the official responses accentuated economic decline, but looking just at the present numbers Greece does appear to have turned something of a corner. Growth in the Eurozone economy remains the key. If the Eurozone continues to expand then so will Greece.As it does, the financial crisis will continue to ease, laying the basis for future growth.

Previous Posts

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Essay - a note on race and racism

Humans are classifying animals. We create constructs, systems of classification, that help us interpret and explain the complex world around us. This affects our interpretation of the world in profound and often unseen ways, something I have often written about.

Our views of the world are always imperfect, partial. Despite this, they are deeply held and shift only slowly. When evidence emerges that conflicts with our world views, we first try to accommodate it, ignore it or even fight against it or against those who pose an alternative interpretation. At some point,  we get what Thomas Kuhn has called a paradigm shift, the replacement of one world view by another.

In a post on 10 September, Writing preoccupations - Vikings, History awards, Native Title, Roman villas and New England architecture, I said in part:
One effect of this (the new discoveries) is that the entire conceptual structure underpinning, common ideas about race and evolution, that underpinned so much of nineteenth and twentieth century thinking has been swept aside. It survives today and remains important, but it can't survive in the longer term in the face of the growing evidence. 
Last week, the European Society for the study of Human Evolution (ESHE) held its annual conference. I followed the discussion via the twitter feed -  #ESHE2017. I lack the knowledge to properly understand the significance of all the reported discoveries, but was again reminded of the speed of change in our knowledge of the deeper human past.

I thought of doing a piece on the evolution of ideas about species and race and their implications for current thought patterns, but this required more time than I had. Instead, I thought that I would make some brief comments about the impact on my own language.

I avoid using the term race unless it is in a specific historical context because I don't think that it has much meaning otherwise. Something of the same problem comes up in the use of the term racist.

The dictionary definition of a racist is a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another. However, the use of the term has broadened to the point that it has often ceased to have meaning beyond an epithet attached to someone who expresses certain types of views about groups that the user disagrees with.  I do struggle a little with this one, though, because it requires a new language to describe prejudice within particular contexts.

The third example is black-white relations. I do use this term in an historical context where it has a degree of accuracy in terms of attitudes at the time. Even then, I have become more cautious.But for the life of me, I don't know what it means today.

Of course I am aware that Aboriginal people suffer from prejudice that I would call racist on my narrower definition of the term,. It is impossible not to be aware of this after working in the Aboriginal housing space.  However, I don't the term black-white is especially helpful in explaining this.Rather, I think that it is more helpful to address the root causes of the prejudice however held.  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Saturday Morning Musings - untangling Brexit

On 30 April 2017 I briefly discussed Brexit and the EU, revisiting the question on 22 June. On 30 April, the EU had just released its negotiating guidelines, rejecting the UK desire for parallel negotiations. There was a lot of background chatter about EU problems, about the UK's internal problems.  My feeling was that the actual outcome of Brexit would fall between the worst and best case scenarios, resulting in a somewhat stronger EU, a somewhat diminished UK.

By 22 June there had been that UK election (9 June) that UK Prime Minister Theresa May almost lost. Within Europe, the anti-EU forces had weakened somewhat with the election of Emmanuel Macron as President (7 May 2017), while Angela Merkel's position in Germany was strengthening as was the EU economy. Initial Brexit negotiations had begun, with the EU sticking to its negotiating line.My feeling was that the initial negotiations suggested that in practice the UK will have little choice but to follow the EU agenda, although I although suspected that there was some scope for flexibility. My conclusion of a strengthened EU with a somewhat diminished UK remained the same.

Since 22 June, the Eurozone economy has continued to strengthen, as has Angela Merkel's position in Germany. The German elections are tomorrow. I am reluctant to make a forecast, but it does appear like business as usual in Germany. In France, President Macron has begun to implement reforms designed to strengthen the French economy.  Discussions about EU reforms continue, although no-one doubts the problems.

Now British PM May has announced the UK Government's latest stance on the Brexit negotiations. While details are still sketchy and will need to be worked out in negotiations, PM May's position seeks a two year transition period after formal Brexit, offering concessions in return. From my superficial scan, I thought that the basic structure was credible.

You simply can't untangle something as complex as Brexit without time and considerable compromises,. this is fundamental constitutional and economic change, but so far so good. In fact, a little better than I expected.


The German elections appear to have returned Angela Merkel to power, although the CDU-CSU and SPD polled worse than expected, the AfD (The Alternative für Deutschland) better than expected, based upon pre-election polling. It should therefore be business as usual subject to coalition discussions, although the various parties involved will need to decide how to respond to the dissatisfaction revealed by the vote, especially in the east.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday Forum - Open Thread

Today's Monday Forum provides a chance for anyone to raise whatever they like I am not even going to give hints!.

Update 1

With demolition underway in George Street, Sydney, the old side of the Peapes' building suddenly reappeared with its advertising.

Peapes was Sydney's leading men's wear store. It operated from Beneficial House from 1923 to the business's closure in 1970. Peapes was a posh store, an elegant place, in-keeping with the quality of Peapes’ goods, which were stressed to be of the highest degree.

Mum bought me my first sports coat at Peapes. I must have been in 5A, what we would now call year 9. She wanted me to get a nice Harris Tweed and was slightly surprised when I went for a slightly blue version with a degree of glitter. She was probably right you, I had no idea of fashion! Some of my older friends may actually remember the jacket, for I wore it for many years.

Back in Armidale, I wore it proudly to the local show on the Saturday. There, mixing.with the boarders, I got into a degree of trouble from a master because I wasn't in school uniform!

On Mirror Sydney, Vanessa Barry's A Peep at Peapes tells the story of the store. It's a nice piece on a very good blog.

Do you have clothing stores that you remember from your childhood?  

Update 2

kvd remembered Fletcher Jones. He pointed to this YouTube video on the firm's last days as it fought to stay alive in the face of falling tariffs and lower overseas wage rates.

kvd also found this UK blog, Ornamental Passions.Subtitled "Devoted to the unexpected details that help to make life in the city worth living", the blog looks at the statues and building decorations that are such a feature of London. It's really a very good blog. kvd asked me if there was a an Australian equivalent. I don't know of an exact one. Perhaps Helen Webberley (Art and Architecture, mainly) might know? As an aside, Helen's blog maintains its very high standard. It's a good read. .

Update 3 26 September 2017: Same Sex Marriage

I am keeping this thread open until next Monday as a way of recording updates.

I voted the same day the same sex marriage survey form arrived, primarily because I was concerned that some of the yes protagonists might put me off. In her lucid survey of the debate on Skepticslawyers, Why I am voting Yes in the SSM postal survey (but won’t be telling anyone else how to vote), Legal Eagle  called this response reactance. I am certainly prone to it. When sporting codes such as the Australian Rugby Union or firms such as Qantas come out officially in favour of a yes vote, I find myself moving into the no camp because I regard this as inappropriate behaviour for those organisations, given their roles.  .

Reporting of opinion poll results since the survey began suggest a decline in the yes vote, a rise in the no vote. I still think (and hope) that the yes vote will get up. Here Dr Kevin Bonham's Recent Polling On The Same-Sex Marriage Postal Survey provides a very useful analysis of the poll results.  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Urban notes - House of the Year 2017, Melbourne's mansion wars, the demolition of Hensley Hall

I remain focused, indeed obsessed with architecture and the built environment. This will pass, but for the present I am enjoying the journey!

In Auchenflower Magnificent in its modesty: Auchenflower house wins House of the Year for 2017, Jenny Brown reports on the Queenslander that won the House of the Year award. I quote:
If you took closer note of the 1910 white weatherboard on an up-sloping corner, you might think that even with that obviously contemporary wedge-shaped rear extension, “it fits”. Auchenflower House hasn’t made any bid for attention in the neighbourhood of character Queenslanders. 
But that is the essential point of the project.
As decided by the jurists of the 2017 Houses Awards – one of the nation’s premiere residential awards because the host magazine talks to architects in their own dialect – what Vokes and Peters have done has created a dwelling of “deceptive simplicity”.
It was a curiously unsatisfying article because while I understood the broad point, I couldn't quite work out what had been done and why, However, I did take her point about the way in which preservation of the Brisbane built environment and the traditional Queenslander home had added to Brisbane's visual appeal and livability.

Down in Melbourne,battles have been raging over demolition of traditional mansions in Melbourne's wealthy (and leafy) inner east. This mansion at 9-11 Edward Street, Kew, was bulldozed after a failed attempt to get heritage listing.

Allison Worrall's piece in Domain provides a picture of the battles now raging. The problem is that wealthy buyers who want to live in the area in their own designed modern house are prepared to pay full market price plus demolition costs to gain access to the prestige sites. We have seen a similar pattern in Sydney.

In both cities as well as Brisbane, the search by developers for possible medium to high density sites has also been driving changes to the streetscape and the pattern of living, something I spoke of in Sydney's growth problems - light rail, Kingsford, Pagewood and Daceyville.

This is an artist's impression of The Hensley, a new development at Sydney's Potts Point. In June 2016, Domain reported that  the plan would involve retaining and updating the twin terrace facade of Hensley Hall, a former boarding house that was something of an area icon, adding an eight-storey building to house 44 apartments. A ground-floor cafe was also planned for The Hensley.

Interestingly, the developers also said that Sydney's controversial lock-out laws had encouraged change in some areas towards inner city residential.

Whatever the plans were in June 2016, the outcome has been the effective demolition of Hensley Hall apart from two facade slivers. The Daily Advertiser report on the fiasco suggests a degree of confusion and mixed signals, with the developers clearly not placing sufficient weight on their original undertaking.   .   .