Overton Window – Overton Juggernaut: Part Two

Negus

Well folks, when I put “Overton Window – Overton Juggernaut” into Google and looked for an image, this came up naturally enough. If the cap fits . . .

Continued from Part One yesterday.

Over the last few years, there been a sense in which we didn’t like cutting cash rates to bring them too close to zero. Thus amidst fiscal contraction – initially quite strong as the one off aspects of the fiscal stimulus ceased – though tailing off in severity, and then mining investment boom came off, the RBA showed it’s penchant for very gradual easing (never cutting rates by more than 0.25% and then usually stopping for some time before the next rate cut). For the last few years, we’ve witnessed a situation where the government has been committed to gradual fiscal contraction – however successful it’s been at getting it through the parliament – and the Official Family have forecast slack in the economy to remain for a considerable time. In its February 2012 Statement on Monetary Policy the RBA suggested this:

Employment growth is expected to remain fairly subdued in the first half of this year . . . and the unemployment rate is expected to increase modestly. Employment growth is expected to begin to strengthen later in the year [with] the unemployment rate . . . expected to decline modestly over the later part of the forecast period.

By May 2012 output was forecast to average a sub-par 3% through 2012 and then grow to a sub-par 3–3½% in calendar 2013 which would be consistent with unemployment either remaining high or drifting higher. By Feb 2013 this was the RBA story:

Employment growth has remained subdued in recent months, with the unemployment rate drifting gradually higher. . . . Employment is expected to grow only modestly in the near term, broadly in line with the outlook implied by a range of leading indicators. Employment growth is then expected to pick up gradually, but to remain below the pace of population growth over most of the forecast horizon. Accordingly, unemployment is expected to drift gradually higher. Continue reading

Breaking free of the boilerplate: Testament of Youth – now in a cinema near you

This is a re-post of a post I did on Testament of Youth last December when the lead actress and I sat down to watch it for the first time (as you do). My excuse for reposting it is that the film has now been released in Australia and so is at a cinema near you. However the blogosphere is harsh and unforgiving, even here at Club Pony. So, to keep the howls of protest down, to throw a little meat to the wolves to keep them at bay till I can slink away, the post now has an EXTRA PARAGRAPH on my favourite scene. I discovered (HT James Kent) that the screenplay for this film and many others funded by the BBC repose freely available on the BBC website. A small victory for sensible publishing and an invaluable guide to my paragraph on my favourite scene. Anyway, the review is below the fold. Continue reading

A film and a couple of poems in the lead-up to Anzac day

Regular readers will know of my enthusiasm for the recent movie adaptation of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth about the disaster that was WWI and how it blighted the lives of a generation. It’s opening in Australia today – read my review on the link above and go and see it if you can.

A month or so ago I was in the bookshop of the NSW State Library and flicked through a marvellous fat book of war poetry – in Penguin’s new very cheap collection of books in old original Penguin covers – in this case the beigy-puce colour which seems to have been set aside for war literature. In it I read a remarkable poem. But before setting it out, I also read – I think later on on the net – a poem by Rupert Brooke: he of “If I should die think only this of me, that there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England”.

Here is the poem “Peace“.

Now, God be thanked who has matched us with his hour,
      And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping!
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
      To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary;
      Leave the sick hearts that honor could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
      And all the little emptiness of love!
Oh! we, who have known shame, we have found release there,
      Where there’s no ill, no grief, but sleep has mending,
            Naught broken save this body, lost but breath;
Nothing to shake the laughing heart’s long peace there,
      But only agony, and that has ending;
            And the worst friend and enemy is but Death.

Brooke is suggesting that the crucible of war might make essences visible to our jaded ordinary selves otherwise tangled up in the mundane surface appearances of everyday life. The poem I read in the Penguin anthology contains the very same idea as Brooke’s – that there’s a surface reality and then a deeper one beneath it. But their treatment of this ‘reality exposed by war’ theme is diametrically opposed. In “To A Conscript of 1940″ the poet and WWI veteran Herbert Read suggests that reality lying beneath the surface is altogether different. His message is not so dissimilar to that of Vera Brittain. That the worthiness of pre-war aspirations were a mirage, not just a trap, but a trap for those of good heart but without their wits about them – the wits that Vera Brittain slowly come to through experience.

A soldier passed me in the freshly fallen snow,
His footsteps muffled, his face unearthly grey:
And my heart gave a sudden leap
As I gazed on a ghost of five-and-twenty years ago.

I shouted Halt! and my voice had the old accustom’d ring
And he obeyed it as it was obeyed
In the shrouded days when I too was one

Into the unknown. He turned towards me and I said:
`I am one of those who went before you
Five-and-twenty years ago: one of the many who never returned,
Of the many who returned and yet were dead.

We went where you are going, into the rain and the mud:
We fought as you will fight
With death and darkness and despair;
We gave what you will give-our brains and our blood.

We think we gave in vain. The world was not renewed.
There was hope in the homestead and anger in the streets,
But the old world was restored and we returned
To the dreary field and workshop, and the immemorial feud

Of rich and poor. Our victory was our defeat.
Power was retained where power had been misused
And youth was left to sweep away
The ashes that the fires had strewn beneath our feet.

But one thing we learned: there is no glory in the dead
Until the soldier wears a badge of tarnish’d braid;
There are heroes who have heard the rally and have seen
The glitter of garland round their head.

Theirs is the hollow victory. They are deceived.
But you my brother and my ghost, if you can go
Knowing that there is no reward, no certain use
In all your sacrifice, then honour is reprieved.

To fight without hope is to fight with grace,
The self reconstructed, the false heart repaired.’
Then I turned with a smile, and he answered my salute
As he stood against the fretted hedge, which was like white lace.

In fact Testimony of Youth’s Australian release coincides with the centenary of another event. Already the feted poet of the British War effort, Rupert Brooke died on April 23, 1915. In sad contradistinction to the ardour of his poetry, he never saw a shot fired in anger, dying of sepsis from an infected mosquito bite on a French ship, moored at Skyros, a Greek island in the Ionian sea a good way off from the looming battle for the Dardanelles.

And just as I mentioned John Maynard Keynes in the thick of things in the previous post about the film, the contrast between these two poems puts me in mind of something that Keynes said that stuck with me the moment I read it. Writing to a friend in 1943 – back at the Treasury as he had been in WWI while Vera Brittain’s friends and brother were being blown to pieces – he wrote this to a colleague:

Here I am back again in the Treasury like a recurring decimal – but with one great difference. In 1918 most people’s only idea was to get back to pre-1914. No-one today feels like that about 1939. That will make an enormous difference when we get down to it.

And so it did. WWI, a four year catastrophe on a hitherto unimaginable scale killing 17 million people or whatever it was wasn’t enough to make people really want to try hard to avoid the problems of the past. It turned out that it required a lot more than that. It required that, followed by the desperation of depression and then another world war of a far larger magnitude to get people to really want to get things right for a new generation.

And that’s the situation we’re in all over again. Deep in the grip of VerySeriousPersononomics, with a banking system that, having destroyed the prosperity of a generation, snaffled itself a couple of trillion dollars to pay its uberlords for their continuing fine work at the helm and is now reformed in a sufficiently mild way that it will happen again once the memories fade. I keep thinking of W. H. Auden lamenting that ”low dishonest decade” that had just steered his own world back into world war in Sept 1939.

Upcoming event in Canberra

Fellow Troppodilians, especially those resident in Canberra, may I commend this production of Black Diggers to you. I saw it last year in Sydney at a packed out matinee (only tickets available) at the Opera House on Australia Day! It was electrifying: great script drawing on extensive historical research with a fine balance between humour and pathos. Great storytelling!

It is on at the Canberra Theatre Centre from Wednesday 25 to Saturday 28 March next week.

CTC Black Diggers

“Some of the most powerful and moving live theatre you’re likely to see this year.”
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Daily Telegraph

How Big Ideas are Built: Rowan Gibson, ‎Innovation Thought Leader gives us the lowdown

How Big Ideas are BuiltOh well I guess snark can be justified as necessary to keeping standards above some rock bottom. Anyway, I did wonder whether this article on the Renaissance and innovation was the silliest thing written on either. Even ignoring the fact that he is about half a millennium out in equating the mediaeval period with the ‘dark ages’ there’s a deeper deliciousness to the way in which he imagines that, by describing a period he has explained it. “It wasn’t just a change of culture that made Western Europe so conducive to innovation at that time. It was also a change of mindset”. Innovation thrived in the Renaissance because of its more innovative culture – not only that but it’s more innovative mindset. The sedative worked because of its dormative qualities.

Anyway, for your delectation it is reproduced below: Continue reading

The internment of friendly enemy aliens

MS Dunera, Troop Ship To School ShipThe Dunera Boys’ views of their own treatment separated very broadly into two camps which also had something of a geographic dimension. Some regarded their treatment – by a sadistic captain on board the Dunera and his not much better deputy – as a scandal and their incarceration as foolish xenophobia. Certainly they could be expected to be hostile to the Third Reich which had remorselessly demonised them to the point of rounding them up and removing them from Western Europe. The foolishness of it all was nicely captured in their delightfully oxymoronic classification as “Friendly enemy aliens”. This view of the Dunera saga was more typical of the Melbourne Dunera Boys.

The Sydney group – which my father would have identified himself though not in any self-conscious way - tended to see it all in a wider, more forgiving context. There was a war on and when their rounding up was announced (just before Churchill got to the “we will fight them on the beaches” peroration of his address to the House of Commons and the British people) in the wake of the evacuation of Dunkirk. It was a pretty tough and desperate time. And they weren’t too fond of playing the victim given their family ties to the real victims of the holocaust. They were indeed amazingly lucky in the circumstances.

In any event, I’ve just come across this piece by Dunera Boy Bern Brent of Canberra and thought I’d reproduce it here for the historical record as it were.

Dear Dunera News Readers,

As a Dunera Boy in Canberra I have attended Dunera reunions in Melbourne and Sydney irrregularly. But when I do, I am irritated by some sentiments that should not be allowed to become established unchallenged. One of them is the view that our internment was uncalled for, a disgrace, and a blot on British justice. Invariably Churchill is the chief villain of the piece. Continue reading

Where are we with Geo-Engineering in 2014?

Geo-engineering is increasingly looking like the only politically viable way of averting temperature rises above 2 degrees in the coming century. This is for three interlocking reasons: i) Any mayor country can try geo-engineering on its own without permission from anyone else, meaning one does not need a world coalition sustained for centuries to have an effect; ii) It holds the promise of immediate relief because ‘natural Solar Radiation Management’, ie volcanic eruptions that add lots of light-reflecting particles into the atmosphere, were found to cause immediate worldwide temperature drops, which compares favourably with the lags of decades and centuries that hold for CO2 emission reduction plans; and iii) It might be exceedingly cheap compared to any policy involving emission markets. For instance, according to a 2012 piece by McClellan and co-authors, we could keep the planet at current temperature levels at a cost of merely 10 billion dollars a year by having a fleet of planes deliver reflective particles high in the earth’s atmosphere.[1]

Given that continued global warming is predicted to happen in the next century no matter what emission policies are adopted, geo-engineering by some impatient large country is starting to look nigh inevitable. I reported in 2012 on the research efforts funded by the Royal Society, the Gates Foundation, and others. You now have dedicated institutes on this issue (eg. http://iagp.ac.uk ), and lots of new proposed experiments. With a large glut of published studies in recent years, it is time for an update: how far are we now in the world of geo-engineering?

The honest answer is that the scientific community is pussyfooting around when it comes to geo-engineering. Field experiments are largely stalled as scientists are awaiting regulatory frameworks that will protect them from criticisms of other scientists and environmental groups. Proposed regulatory frameworks designed to deliver this, such as by Nordhaus and colleagues, find it hard to get much political traction because politicians seen to support regulatory frameworks themselves become targets for criticism, both by those who pretend there is no climate change and by those who insist there is climate change but who also insist on emission reductions as the only way to return to our current climate some 300 years from now. Voters who agree the world is getting too hot and who would like it cooled down in their own lifetime rather than that of their great-great-great-great-grandchildren are still too rare to bother with for politicians.

This does not mean there is a lack of bright ideas. The engineers looking into this really are a very creative bunch, talking about whitening clouds, aerosol sprays, reflective shields, and artificial trees. One new idea that I hadn’t heard before is to genetically alter our crops so that they reflect sunlight better than the current crops. I don’t know whether this has any chance of getting serious traction, but one has to admire the ingenuity of the idea. Still, ominously, almost no field tests or large scale long-term testing is underway as scientists are waiting for societal approval to go ahead. Continue reading

Refugees: a blast from a not so distant past

SENDING ALIENS TO AUSTRALIA.
CANBERRA, Tuesday.

In the House of Representatives this afternoon Mr. Martens (Lab., Qld.), said that the Government’s acquiescence in Britain’s proposal to send alien internees to Australia for safe custody was causing great alarm to many people.
If ships were available, they should not bring a “ready-made fifth column” to Australia, Mr. Martens said, but should be used instead to bring English women and children to the comparative safety of our shores.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 7 August 1940, p 13

ALIEN REFUGEES.

Sir,—I wish to add my appeal to tho many already made through your columns to fellow-Australians on behalf of refugees from Central Europe.
Those who have had even slight contact with these people i cause that they have been wounded in a way most difficult to heal—in their minds. They have seen and heard sights and sounds almost beyond the imagination of Australians.
I ask my fellow-Australians to remember it is a large part of our British tradition to shelter and care for people who need such protection. Our association with the words “Concentration camp” is with Berrima and little gardens and libraries for the Internees—as in 1914-18. With these people, who came to us before our countries were at war the words have a meaning wholly remote.
The letters published in to-day’s “Sydney Morning Herald” received by his mother from Harald Arnold Minibeck, a young highly-qualified Austrian doctor, with special degrees in relation to skin diseases, who took his life in Sydney on June 28, rather than face the picture in his mind of a concentration camp—should be read by every Australian before voting for wholesale internment of refugees—for his own peace of mind.
Yours faithfully,
M. E. CAMPBELL

Burwood, The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 9 August 1940, p 4

 

Dick Hamer: the liberal Liberal

Dick HamerScribe publishing occasionally sends me a catalogue of books it’s publishing asking if I’d like to have one to review. Looking through their long list I picked my friend Tim Colebatch’s biography of Rupert Hamer on which he’s been working for a good while now. It’s a very enjoyable book to read. Well organised with the strictly chronological narrative occasionally being interrupted for some analysis and/or a chapter or two on specific issues, it gives a great picture of an unusually accomplished person of decency, liberality and great, if somewhat aloof grace.

Hamer was a rat of Tobruk who was always a natural leader with a strong sense of noblesse oblige. He came from Toorak (St George’s Rd no less – one of the best for those who don’t know), though Colebatch tells us they were not rich or at least their wealth was earned, not inherited. Rupert’s mum, Nancy had been orphaned at a young age but spent many years as Vice-President of Victoria Women’s Hospital which the Hamer family had spent several decades the previous century helping to build though charity drives. It was the first hospital in the British Empire to be run by and for women.

Continue reading