Last weekend I flew down to Sydney partly to attend the 50th anniversary party for the Class of ’65 from Harbord Primary School on the northern beaches. Many old school photos were exchanged, including the one above showing me (circled in red) at the age of seven.
The function was at Manly Bowls Club in the heart of Tony Abbott territory and the night went pretty much as I imagined it would. Some of us have lived fairly happy and prosperous working lives, others less so, and a surprising number are dead.
The video above is a recording of the speeches at a funeral for my mother who died at around 10.15 am on Sunday 7th June.
Sadly she was far gone – not with it for several years. As her mind gradually failed her, even when she didn’t really know what was going on, her eyes would light up when she saw me across the room when I’d come to visit her at John Flynn house. Until the last year or so when she showed no sign of knowing who I was. So it was a strange business going to see her. What did I think I was doing there? I haven’t answered that question, but then the more important the questions are, the harder they are to answer.
In any event it all worked out as well as it could. We were told of her impending demise a few days before she died and I was able to go to Canberra and say my goodbyes the day before she died. David and his daughter Emma happened to be there visiting her at the time. She stopped breathing several times for a fair while – as she had when I’d visited her the previous day – before starting up breathing a few minutes later. Then she stopped again for ten minutes and there was no pulse. Very peaceful which is a relief. A very good death at least in the last little bit of it. But quite strange for the grievers. In my mind she’s really been gone for several years now.
My sister in law Jenny created the lovely tribute to her below, with just the right music (much better than my maudlin choice!) And beneath the fold is the written text of David’s and then my speech (I deviated a little from the text from time to time). Thanks also to my oldest friend John Chandler for being MC.
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!
I meant to put this up earlier, but it’s sat in ‘drafts’ for a month or more.
Now it can be a new year’s present to yourself. If you missed it last year, make this Four Corners doco on transgender kids the first doco you watch this year. The kids, and one adult interviewed are remarkable people with a straightforwardness and clarity born of the simple courage of having to admit to themselves who they are, and confronting the inevitable pain and fear it causes them and those closest to them.
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.
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 →
I commend to you an article about homicide survivor, mother and crusader Rosie Batty by Martin McKenzie-Murray in the relatively new publication The Saturday Paper. I was particularly struck by the following passage towards the end of the article:
Rosie Batty is asking us to bear witness. She doesn’t want us to be intimidated by her pain, but nor will she edit it. “People won’t allow you to be angry,” she told me, “because it makes them feel uncomfortable. We have to act ‘normal’.”
Some of us have responded by blaming her, or questioning her motives, or wrapping our responses in incredulity because she upset our expectations of grief. These responses are mean and narrow. They’re unchastened by the lesson of Lindy Chamberlain, when we informally indicted a grieving mother because we didn’t like the form of the grief. “I thought about her a lot,” Rosie told me the first time we met. “They put her through hell. If people had treated me like that you’d probably get the same fucking anger from me. They weren’t treating her with compassion and belief. It was hideous.”
Today the people residing in Scotland can decide whether they want to see an independent Scotland or to have Scotland remain in the UK. The betting markets concur with the opinion polls and favour the status quo: the markets give roughly 20% chance that the ‘yes’ vote will win and that Scotland will become independent.
The majority of economists talking about the referendum have focused on whether or not the Scots would be financially better off with their own country, debating things like North Sea oil revenues and currency unions. I think that is a distraction: looking at small and large countries in Europe, you would have to say there is no noticeable advantage or disadvantage to being a small country and that the Scots are hence unlikely to be materially affected in the long run by independence.
Independence is more about self-image and identity than it is about money. Even though the push for independence might well come from politicians and bureaucracies that gain prestige and income if they ruled an independent country, the population deciding on the vote will probably vote on emotional grounds, not economic. Young male Scots appear overwhelmingly in favour of independence; females and old people prefer to keep things the way they are. The latter groups are bigger and are expected to sway the day.
Personally, I have two related reasons to oppose the breaking up of larger countries in Europe into smaller ethnically defined states, not just Scotland, but also Catalonia, the Basque region, the Frisian province, Bavaria, and all the other regions of Europe:
These independence movements are ethnic and hence by definition exclusionary. This is a big concern: large nation states have slowly moved away from the story that they exist for people of the ‘right’ bloodlines and with ancestors who lived in the ‘right’ place. The UK, the US, France, Australia, and even Germany and Spain have moved towards an identity based on stories about what it means to be British, American, French, Australian, etc., rather than a ‘blood and earth’ ethnic nation state story. Speaking tongue-in-cheek, the Brits have an upper lip story, the Americans have an exceptionalism story, the French have been convinced they like reading Proust, the new Australians are told in their citizenship exams that they believe in a fair go, etc. These stories contain treasured national stereotypes, complete with imagined histories. The key thing is that are inclusive, ie any newcomer from another place can participate in such stories. The Australian national anthem is a beautiful example of this super-inclusive attitude as it, almost uniquely, mentions neither ethnicity nor religion as a basis for being Australian. The ethnic stories of the independence movements are, in contrast, exclusionary and hence harmful to the self-image of any migrant. It is a move to a past that we have little reason to be proud of, as it marginalises current and future migrants. The story surrounding Scottish independence is thus not that the Scots are people who like to wear kilts and enjoy haggis, but that they make up the people who have suffered 700 years of oppression by the English. What is a recent newcomer from, say, Poland to do with such a self-image but conclude that they do not really belong there? Continue reading →
This doco is worth watching for its own sake. (Why are media organisations so dumb and unprepared to allow embedding of their videos – given that the vids themselves come with ads that are hard to avoid – but I digress …) What struck me is how different it would be today.
The film is for the Board of Works, which would have paid for its production and it functions as an ad for an elaborate process of city planning they’d been going through. In fact I think we do the actual planning a lot better today, with the involvement of the community handled much better. I could be wrong about this, but the impression created by the doco is that it was a very technocratic and top down process with people’s input being had via surveys etc. Today we hold lots more meetings, and get lots more people involved and so lots more energy in the process.
So, if that’s all good, what’s all bad is that today the corresponding bit of PR would be a product of the PR profession, which would ensure that the whole thing sounded like a smarmy pack of lies. It would be full of PR speak, hollowman speak. It would be obsessed with a feelgood factor and with staying “on message”. There’s none of that, rather lots of information, much of it just by the way, and then a strong call to action at the end – get involved and (please) get behind our plan. With a genuine call for civic mindedness and intergenerational generosity.