Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Mount Fuji: the most beautiful of sights

During my trip to Tōkyō, we went on one excursion outside the city to see Japan’s highest mountain, 3,700 metre high Mount Fuji. Despite the average temperature on the summit being well below freezing, it is sufficiently free of snow during the warm, wet summer that many people have always climbed it on foot without such gear as crampons and ice axes (which of course were not invented when the mountain was first climbed after the Meiji Restoration). It was regarded as a sacred mountain to many Japanese, which is why it was never climbed before the Meiji Restoration.

The trip from Tōkyō to the foot of Mount Fuji was a series of train journeys, some of which were on minor lines through extremely mountainous country. We saw very little of densely populated Tōkyō and the Kantō plain, instead seeing chiefly tiny plots that are uneconomic to farm in a country so land-scarce as Japan. In the winter, of course, there were rice plots that looked blond like the dry grass that is a familiar site in the same months all over Victoria. A notable and unexpected feature of the trip to see Fuji was the coloured train - something I did not expect from a country as hard-working and industrious as Japan is supposed to be.

When I. in a small town whose name I never bothered to remember, had a look at Fuji from a steep road in very cool to cold but quite clear weather, I was astonished at how spectacular a site I was seeing. Although I had seen something like the blue (pale blue) colour of the snow of Fuji before, it was only in Southeast Alaska’s glaciers which have liquid water underneath, and as I have said Mount Fuji does not have glaciers. (Indeed, apart from Kamchatka the maritime regions of Asia have no present-day glaciation whatsoever despite high rainfall and north of Tōkyō severe cold, probably because summer rainfall, which is extremely heavy at high altitudes, is very good at melting snow). The light reflected from the snow of a beautful, and massive volcano was something that I had never seen before.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tōkyō: a dense maze

On Boxing Day, after five days in Táiwān, I got up very early for a flight to Tōkyō. It is annoying to have to get up so early - in fact we were unable to have breakfast in the hotel because it did not open before we had to be at Táoyuán International Airport. The taxi ride was, like the few others I took in Táibèi, very, very cramped and we had to pack an extremely full bag into the rear seat.

When we got to Táoyuán International Airport, we had little trouble with the flight to Tōkyō and spent most of the time eating breakfast. The flight to Tōkyō, though not nearly so long as some flights to come on this holiday, was still distinctly tiring for me and I was sleeping for quite a bit of the time.

When we arrived at Tōkyō, I had a bad case of not being "with it": I went, despite the old Berlitz phrasebook which should have helped me to communicate in Japanese. I did not at any point walk through customs as I should, though the signs were in English as well as Japanese.

After going through the airport, we went on a special electric train to Tōkyō, reaching it well before dark. The hotel was quite comfortable though cramped. There was a Seven Eleven outside the hotel where I was able to get at the quite reasonable cost of ¥277 ($3.50) some extremely tasty ice-creams by Nörgen Våz. Seven Eleven also had some very good Japanese food, which I took to much better than I thought I would. This was especially true of sushi, which is not that hard to find in Australia and I regret that I have never looked for it when in Melbourne.

On the first night, we had a very unusual but very Japanese meal in a restaurant opposite our hotel. It used sticks to pick up the meat and vegetables, which were strongly flavoured but extremely tasty. The location of the restaurant in an underground shop was also attractive to me. The next night, we had out first look at what is commonly thought of as the world’s largest city, and it was amazing. The public transport puts Australia’s dreadful service to shame (no excuse!) but most of the time it seemed to take us in circles as we looked through the numerous sites in the next few days. There were the squatting toilets in most stations, which were cleaner than I am used if not nearly so clean as the Japanese are reputed to be.

The main focus during the trip to Tōkyō was on the royal palaces and gardens, which were remarkable in their ability to contrast so sharply with the dense housing (of which we actually saw rather little). The gardens were grand and, for a climate that is humid but very extreme, they were manicured very well: exactly like cricket pitches in the more moderate English climate. The buildings were ancient yet very beautiful and even in the more built-up parts of the city there were notably tall buildings such as the modernist architecture west of the Royal Gardens. The views from this over Tōkyō’s maze were exceptionally good.

It was a pity that some of the old buildings we had intended to see were closed for the New Year. Walking around the vast area of Tōkyō’s old palaces is such a great contrast, though, with the dense housing that it was very enjoyable.

I had expected to do a lot of shopping in Tōkyō, but as it turned out there was only one late night when we had time to look in the main record store. I found quite a lot of interest, but as it turned out I had only one major purchase: a CD by British composer Jonathan Harvey titled Body Mandala. Although I had little time to listen to it on the holiday, I was impressed with what I did hear.

The trouble I had with the Australia-type mobile phones which do not work in Japan made it very difficult for me to communicate, but I learned that it was best to stay with Mummy and my brother, and I saw enough that I did not mind.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

A day shopping in Táibèi

After a long trip across Táiwān, my mother and brother decided that for our last day on the island we should aim to have a look at shopping in Táibèi before travelling to Tōkyō on a morning flight.

It was a little unfamiliar travelling around on Christmas Day, but of course East Asia was never Christian. Thus, all the shops were open as normal and we did not hesitate after my usual big breakfast of chocolate cereal, bread and fruit to go to the nearby Metro station.

I was looking for a black belt to supplement my brown one, which was naturally of the wrong colour for my black jeans. I was used to belts selling for something like $20, as I had bought my two current ones for at Victoria Market. However, in Táibèi I was in for a rude shock when I looked with my mother and brother for a new black belt and for a bag to replace the worn, cheap leather one I had bought for $35 several years ago. Almost every belt cost the equivalent of over $100, and my mother refused steadfastly to pay that amount.

However, there was a wonderful treat in store nonetheless! I was able to replace one of several poor-quality leather bags I had bought several years ago at the Victoria Market. My mother, upon seeing my old bag, promised me that she would give me such a Christmas present, but it took us a little looking in Táibèi's department stores before I was able to obtain the right bag. Although it is not wholly leather - in fact only the sides are - my mother said that this bag will provide me with a greatly superior quality to the bags I had bought at the market. Probably as a result of simply feeling high-quality shoes and bags given to me as gifts, I have grown very averse to shoddy goods and am afraid of my tendency to treat everything I encounter very roughly without care, which is seen terribly in the condition of many of my books - most especially a 1984 VFL yearbook that made the amazing error of saying Chris Mew first played in 1908!

After the shopping expedition, we had some lunch. The food in Táiwān was remarkably good all through, though I will admit I made a few choices that were bad for my mass like buying cream cakes instead of the abundant vegetables found in Táiwān. In the afternoon, I was, as was by now becoming normal, completely exhausted and I rested for the trip to Tōkyō tomorrow.

Friday, 25 December 2009

A trip across Táiwān and back

After two days exploring the Táiwānese capital Táibèi, we went over the past two days on a trip across the western coast of the island to Kěndīng at the southern tip of Táiwān, almost 400 kilimetres from Táibèi. We initially went on an extremely impressive electric train service that does shame to the ultra-slow train services and track alignment that Australia's government has allowed to persist through its obscene wastage of money on roads.

in the early part of the journey, all I could see was a continuation of the urban landscapes found within Táibèi. There was nothing remotely rural apart from a few very small farms in tiny areas of flat land, and most of the initial train journey took place over large tunnels where no view at all of Táiwān's countryside was possible. The air was never clear at any point on the journey up to Táizhōng, and when I reached Táizhōng I was so shocked at the pollution of the city that I asked my brother for the camera so I could take a photo!

Beyond Táizhōng, even as we moved into one of the most densely populated areas of the world, there began to be rather more authentic rural scenery amidst the cities of Táinán and Gāoxióng. The train finished at Gāoxióng and by the time we reached that city, the weather was uncomfortably hot, but we still had a very long way to go to reach Kěndīng at the southern tip of the island.

The bus ride, however, can best be described as horrible. The bus we had to ride in was terribly tight, but far worse than that it was really, really bumpy and hard in ride. The result was that by the time we reached Kěndīng I really was tired despite having got to sleep and up at an hour that would seem normal to people with a much better rhythm of life than I have ever possessed. The plus side of the bus ride was that I was able to see some authentic rural scenery for the first time in my three days in Táiwān. Although Táiwān is a wet place, it was the dry season and a wide variety of crops were being irrigated by some very unusual pumps with conical blades. There was rice of course, but also such fruit crops as bananas and citrus. It was so interesting it is a pity I have no photos because of the terrible bus ride.

For the rest of the day, we walked round the beaches of Kěndīng. They were quite interesting, and had some very decent coastal scenery. However, with the weather so hot I was very happy to be in a huge hotel for the night where I could take a long rest. I did have one problem: that without my brother's computer I had no way to charge my iPod and as a result I spent the night fiddling around thinking about what to do to have it charged for the trip back home. I went to the Internet cafe downstairs in order to try to have it charged, but the machine could not charge it and I had to ask my brother to have hotel staff do it - and even then only so that my use could be limited on our return journey to Táibèi.

During the morning, we had a look at Kěndīng that proved considerably more interesting that what I saw on the beach the previous day. There were tropical rainforests that looked quite dry but were still recognisable, and some very good views of the sea at the southermost point of Táiwān. In the hot weather, we climbed a hill near Kěndīng but were already very tired for the return journey to Táibèi, which was complicated by the problem that we had a reservation for a 19:00 train back to Gāoxióng. The bus ride was rough but not as bad as the previous day, however, when we reached Gāoxióng, we had to wait a long time and thus we had a look around the city.

Although Gāoxióng is the second-largest city in Táiwān, it is only half the size of Melbourne and in terms of range of products exceedingly poor. We could find very little of value in the city's shopping centres, and I was more taken by the terrible air pollution - worse than Táizhōng and far worse than Táibèi ever was. We did not have that much trouble reaching Gāoxióng station wiht enough time to catch the train back to Táibèi. In the spare time, we had a quite conventional (for Táiwān) dinner. Not unnaturally, however, by the time we reached Táibèi, all of us were very tired and we were pleased to be back in the hotel, though this time we had a room in the top level.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Thoughts on two days in Táibèi

On Sunday, after my family reunion discussed in the previous post, I travelled from Melbourne to the Táiwānese capital of Táibèi via Hong Kong. Though the flights were much shorter than on my only previous overseas trip, the combination of them with an arduous cycling and rail trip to Spencer Street and Castlemaine left me extremely tired by the time we settled in at the Fullarton Hotel in the southeastern part of central Táibèi.

My brother spent a year in Táibèi (which in Chinese loosely means "North Terrace" - which coincidentally is a street in Clifton Hill near where I lived from 1996 to 1998) over the summer of 2002/2003. As a result, upon settling in Táibèi we spent the afternoon walking round the campus of Táidà University, seeing the places my brother lived at during this period. On the whole, in comparison to my experiences at other universities, Táidà seemed rather run-down: some of the rooms were even grotty - though in densely-packed Táibèi a lack of cleanliness was something I always noted travelling on the Metro and even on the freeway from Táoyuán Airport. Táidà still had some interesting points, most significantly the cubic Periodic Table in the science department.

On the second day of our trip to Táibèi we travelled, after great difficulty finding an entry, up Táibèi 101, which at 382 metres is that tallest building in the world. It cost us a greta deal of time and money to get up the building, with the most direct entry completely closed to the public and actual entry being in a terribly crowded queue which required me to give my backpack to the desk at which I got tickets for around 14 dollars each for me, my mother and my brother. The view, however, of Táibèi's night skyline was stunning and definitely worth fourteen dollars. We could see the whole area of Táibèi proper, as well as the mountains to its west, which were a luxuriant green.

Another highlight was the National Museum, which we visited the morning before travelling to Táibèi 101. There was a remarkable number of old artifacts and paintings from pre-1911 China that I had never seen before. The paintings from this period were especially beautiful, and also noteworthy was the range of materials used for the very old objects. Apparently rhinos were present in China thousands of years ago, judging by the carved materials from rhino horn in the museum - a fact I never knew beforehand! (Sad to say, Táiwān remains the leading buyer of rhino horn in an age when rhinos are critically endangered).

The food has also been exceptional. although we have drunk coffee - a very Western thing - and also eaten Western breakfasts with irresistible sweet cereal, the Chinese food we have had has been wonderful. The noodles in particular have been exceptionally varied and tasty, and I have learned to use chopsticks to a degree I never anticipated beforehand.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Thoughts on a family reunion

When my brother began the holiday plan, he wanted to depart on the sixteenth of December, but I was insistent that I have a family reunion with my half-brother and half-sisters on the nineteenth in Castlemaine to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of my father's first wife. He agreed, but with conditions that were very difficult for me to meet and which affected other plans I had had for upgrading the house, such as putting in a desk I had bought as early as January this year.

On the nineteenth, I got up unusually early in order to reach Castlemaine merely by midday, when I knew my relatives would be waiting to see me. (They had hoped to see my brother, but he does not have so good a relationship with my half-sisters and half-brother as I do). The weather was a warm 22˚C but extremely pleasant owing to the breezes, and though I had trouble finding the right house after getting off the train, once I did find it I enjoyed it greatly. It did show how much knowledge I can lose that twice in succession, much to the disappointment of the host, I burst special balloons for the party. After that, I had a quiet time and blew the balloons up much less hard than before.

We then had a great time talking about memories of our hostess. Given what all my half-sisters, half-nephews and half-niece said, I find it a desperate pity that I was not able to make a serious contribution. (I imagien that in my recently-acquired if limited colleciton of poetry I would have found something fitting to her). I did enjoy the music and poetry in her praise, and had a few mostly very vague recollections of visiting her. The most notable was in July of 1990 when I watched Collingwood thrash St. Kilda in a most overwhelming manner that showed just how good they were that year. Other memories of her come from much earlier but are generally very good. There was also a musical performance with an acoustic guitar of some tunes, and a parody of Toni Basil's awful 1982 hit "Mickey" titled "Nicky" (often used as a nickname for my father's first wife) that sounded a little better than the original.

It was unfortunate that I had to tell the many people present that I could not stay long because of my imminent flight to Táibèi. They were disappointed but very accepting of this, and I even asked many of them whether they had ever been on a major holiday before - and what their thoughts on my doing so would be. I was a little surprised that in her ninety years my hostess had not travelled outside of Australia and New Zealand!

The return journey to Melbourne was far from difficult, though I had a slight trouble finding the right platform for the 17 o'clock train that I absolutely had to catch if I was to go to Táibèi. I caught it very easily, and had little trouble cycling home from Spencer Street, to the great delight of my mother and brother.

Now, however, a much bigger adventure will begin for me - one quite unlike any I have experienced before.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Why we needed and need an “Australian Treaty” or a boycott of Australian farming

This morning, I found the alarming news that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have soared by 82 percent since 1990. This is far above the appalling eight percent increase allowed under the Kyoto Protocol - let alone the 99 percent reduction without any reductions abroad that would have been required under a rational treaty.

Although it took me a very long time to realise how unsustainable farming Australia's Paleozoic-age soils actually is, the revelation that most of Australia’s greenhouse emissions come either from land clearing or bushfires shows that perhaps directing pressure totally at the car and fossil fuel industries is wrong. Instead, we need to pressure for a large-scale revegetation of Australia’s farmland and a really radical transformation of southern Australia’s economy from farming-based to ecotourism-based. Under the likely disappearance of the winter rainfall zone and drying of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers, Australia would have the following alternatives:
  1. find another source of irrigation water, which could be either desalination or pipelines from the always well-watered and increasingly wet north of Australia.
  2. convert what was once relatively intensive farming to the type of low-intensity cattle rearing historically found in central and northern Australia
  3. do nothing and allow the area to become the same type of desert wasteland found in the interior of Western Australia
None of these would avoid the huge costs in species loss and carbon absorption that a poleward expansion of twenty degrees in the edge of the Hadley circulation (which marks the maximally arid latitude) would produce.

In contrast, a genuine effort to revegetate southern Australia’s farmland would at least reduce the extent of species loss and, judging by what the Age said today, do a great deal to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. In my opinion, there is no limit to the extent to which we should revegetate southern Australia’s farms. Being invariably on extremely old soils severely deficient in phosphorus, nitrogen and trace elements, and often toxic in salt, they are suitable for agriculture only with the development of advanced machinery and fertilisation. Moreover, Australia’s Paleozoic-era soils are a strictly non-renewable resource quite different from the very young soils of Eurasia, the Americas, New Zealand or even East Africa. This means that, even with strictly organic methods, farming in Australia is not as sustainable as in those regions, especially when one factors in the carbon storage of native flora adapted to the poor soils.

More than that, the extreme efficiency and cheapness of Australian farming causes a situation where traditional cultures elsewhere in the world cannot survive. The suicidally low fertility rates in Eurasia, most of the Americas, and New Zealand are a reflection of the way traditional farming communities, even if culturally often flawed, have dissipated and been replaced by crowded, noisy cities whose effect is to create a radically materialist and self-centred culture quite unlike Australia’s spacious suburbs where families can quietly grow. Were Australia’s farmland revegetated, there would be tremendous opportunities to reverse this process and in doing so save ecologically critical land, especially in southwestern Western Australia where winter rainfall has declined by 40 percent compared to 1885 to 1967 averages.

We should undoubtedly set a goal of all southern Australia’s farmland being revegetated merely as a precaution against likely rainfall declines. However, the problem is that the government, deprived of agricultural exports, may not have nearly enough money to pay by itself for such an immense long-term project - no matter how ecologically essential it is.

In this context, we have two choices:
  1. to campaign for an international “Australian Treaty” to make sure that Australia’s farmland is revegetated. Such a treaty is far more justifiable ecologically than the 1959 Antarctic Treaty (now celebrated as a landmark) which protected a continent whose immense ice cover makes any economic activity incredibly inefficient and whose absence of native biodiversity makes the actual cost thereof low. In theory, an "Australian Treaty" would be a very good idea, for it would preserve something immeasurably more necessary than the Antarctic Treaty and give economic opportunities to use the only natural resource of most Eurasian and North American nations. In practice, however, Australia's political power internationally and the difficulty of outsiders enforcing an "Australian Treaty" is overwhelming
  2. for people abroad to consciously avoid buying Australian farming products and recognising that, even if they are cheap, they are produced at an unacceptable ecological cost. This idea has been put forward (without knowing the best reason) by extreme conservatives, and they are to be credited for realising that local family agriculture is the only defence against demographic decline. If combined with a real understanding of how ecologically destructive farming in Australia is and efforts by parents to show how radically different soils in Australia are from those in other developed nations, such a boycott could serve to limit Australia’s farming exports and encourage innovation taken for granted overseas. The problem with this method is that it does not address Australia’s superabundant mineral resources and resultant overpopulation, and the dependence even of locally-centred people on these minerals. This could even encourage more overpopulation in Australia as its farms increasingly feed a local population.
Combining these two strategies is this a worthy goal, but a key is undoubtedly shutting down the fertilisers that allow for Australia’s super-cheap, but unsustainable, farming. This is itself problematic and needing more attention as an issue.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

How industry will redirect to Australia

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald, eminent climate scientist Guy Pearse points how how China’s action on climate change is putting the Rudd Government to shame and that Rudd is being heavily influenced by the notion that Australia can burn coal more cheaply than any other nation. His point that China is
“closing down inefficient ones at the extraordinary rate of Victoria’s Loy Yang B power station every three weeks. Chinese coal-fired power generation is already cleaner than ours”
and that
“China is also investing in renewables at twice the rate we are per unit of GDP”
This is the most utter shame for a nation whose per capita carbon emissions should be set, even by fiat decree, at no more than one twentieth the world average and probably as little as one-hundredth.

In terms of climatic and ecological impact, Australia should merely to be a member of the international community rather than an absolute pariah state to have by far the best public transport in the world and utterly rigid laws against any private ownership of motorised transport or transformation of bushland to mining or farming uses.

The problem, which is still not grasped by anybody, is that in spite of the cheap labour costs of Asian nations today, this cheapness cannot last simply because they have relative to Australia a very limited supply of land for a very large population. If we exclude the areas under (mostly discontinuous) permafrost, China has about the same supply of land as Australia, but most of it is steep, so that it has fifty times the population on half as much or less usable land. India is worse, with the same population on probably half as much usable land as China.

Australia’s surfeit of land naturally pushes down the cost of farming and ultimately of living in general, with the result that at an “equal” level of development the dollar or other currency unit goes much further in Australia than anywhere else. As I have said many times, this eliminates the incentive to innovate, but that lack of incentive for innovation makes for much more favourable conditions for family development, which as has been noted tend to breed an extremely conservative culture. In the context of Australia’s need for extraordinarily high environmental standards, this problem of a pacified majority in spacious housing is made worse by a powerful car and fossil fuel lobby linked as a “greenhouse mafia” and able to dictate to politicians what they may do – which quite simply cannot correspond with the ecological need to be by far the smallest per capita energy comsumer in the world.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

"Not So Hottest 100"

Today, my brother introduced to me a list that musician Dave Graney had, following the leadership of The Australian, referred to as "the not-so-hottest 100" by ABC youth station Triple J.

The point that there were no female artists may be the less surprising when one considers that Australia's fragile, arid environment and (as I point out here) superabundant natural inorganic resources do not allow for the mystical, feminine, arty, nature-loving type of artist that has produced so much of the great music of the past forty years and which is very rarely done by anybody other than a woman. It is true that women trying to play rock and roll proper can be highly ineffective because they so often come across as posturers, but when women focus upon their own natural gifts and abilities they can be as good or better artists than men. This is as true of Edith Sitwell's poetry as the music of, say Laura Nyro or Kate Bush or Björk or the Cocteau Twins.

The claim, though, that it nonetheless was a "not-so-hottest 100" by Graney is rather silly when one sees that in fact he manages to praise quite a number of these songs, viz:
4. Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart”: Great song. Singer's death took it into Barbara Cartland territory forever.

8. Red Hot Chili Peppers: “Under The Bridge”: Therapy. Though their songs do stand a lot of continuous pounding on the airwaves and still sound fresh. Took until the 1000th involuntary hearing for me to rise to that opinion.

19. Metallica: “One”: These boys are deserving of any award.

22. Massive Attack: “Teardrop”: Don’t know this one. I like most of their stuff.

26. Michael Jackson: “Thriller”: Brilliant. And popular.

27. Powderfinger: “My Happiness”: I applaud any Australian act who has penetrated the mob skull this far.

30. Jimi Hendrix: “All Along the Watchtower”: Great performance and recording. Nobody could follow this guy in any area. Used to great effect in the film Withnail and I

31. Metallica: “Enter Sandman”: Of course. A great track.

32. New Order: “Blue Monday”: Late night student disco favourite. I always love to hear this.

41. Michael Jackson: “Billie Jean”: Classic. He must be getting lonely as there are so few brothers in the house.

43. The Beach Boys: “God Only Knows”: Classic.

45. Queens of the Stone Age: “No One Knows”: I’d prefer something from Era Vulgaris Maybe “In The Hollow”. This is undeniably funky though.

48. Beastie Boys: “Sabotage”: Yes, innovators and crossers of boundaries. Loons. Icons.

55. Bob Dylan: “Like A Rolling Stone”: Yes, it's almost worth all the ******* talk about it.

61. Blur: “Song 2”: Why not?

62. Nine Inch Nails: “Closer”: Yeah, it’s nasty!

70. The Prodigy: “Breathe”: Yeah, they’re nasty too

71. The Smiths: “How Soon Is Now?”:Their best song. Great Bo Diddley grooves. Where's Bo?

76. The Stone Roses: “Fools Gold”: Yes. A real one-off classic.

79. David Bowie: “Life on Mars”: I would have had five or six Bowie tracks. Can’t argue with this. “All time”, remember?<

84. Bob Marley and The Wailers: “No Woman, No Cry”: A sentimental track, I would have gone for something more bouncy by The Wailers.

85. The Dandy Warhols: “Bohemian Like You”: Yeah, they’re groovers.

88. The Rolling Stones: “Gimme Shelter”: Great chord sequence. Great vibe.

90. Kings of Leon: “Sex on Fire”: Good subject and they look better since they dropped the fake beards.

93. Massive Attack: “Unfinished Sympathy”: Yes, a classic.

95. Stevie Wonder: “Superstition”: A stone-cold classic from the groove to the bass sound to the lyrics. Written for Jeff Beck, but so good Stevie had to do it himself.

98. Led Zeppelin: “Kashmir”: Great drums and the mellotron. Of course!
Given Graney's praise for these songs, it is just like any ordinary list with which one has major issues with. I have met so many of these lists that it becomes quite familiar to me - for example I certainly like some of the music that appears on Rolling Stone's lists of the best albums. The criticism that does occur, too, is often really aggressive and rude, at the same time lacking the skill Joe S. Harrington used to make such crude language palatable (I still keep a highly edited copy of Harrington's wonderful early-2000s best albums list for giving to people I meet).

Is it too early for a list?

Recent weeks have seen my e-mail filled with lists of the greatest albums of 2009. Although I have a genuine love for lists of the "best" or "worst" books or albums or even individual artists, I have been largely disappointed by these lists.

I will confess that I have had far more to think about musically than music of the last decade, especially as Piero Scaruffi, and by now my own listening experience, tell me that most supposedly innovative music takes clear and obvious cues from such artists as Can and the ISB. This is however ignored by people who, like I admit I was for a long time, merely contented with enjoyment of music rather than understanding it in a broader manner that allows one to see how music developed and even how it interacted with other art forms.

The recent lists, however, simply do not take this into account. For the most part, all one sees are lists that do not relate albums of the 2000s to their influences or the history of music. The recent list by Rolling Stone is an example, and even though the information upon which it was based is taken from is over half a decade old and I have never heard the music, I can agree with such omissions as Mastodon and Tool. Other lists by lower-profile publications are very similar in character.

The bone of the issue is that we cannot see clearly what recordings will last well beyond the ending decade. We will have to know what music has been genuinely trend-setting and/or has remained completely unique before we can think of a genuinely accurate list. This in fact takes much more than merely an immediate examination - in fact it is more likely to take decades.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Cricketers Who Missed Out: An Introduction

The 2008 issue of Wisden discusses several high-class cricketers who missed out on being a Cricketer of the Year, and profiles Abdul Qadir, Bishan Bedi, Wes Hall, Jeff Thomson and Inzamam-ul-Haq. I myself am not certain about Thomson and Qadir, neither of whom did their best bowling in English conditions, and could have favoured Gundappa Viswanath on number of runs scored alone, Sarfraz Nawaz on the basis of his strength and his English record, or Trevor Goddard, who must have been unlucky not to be chosen in place of Frank Tyson in 1956. (Tyson's selection is an oddity being based on his doings in Australia as he was injured for half the English season).

Ever since I first read the article at the beginning of this year, I have wanted to have a look at another group of players (of whom one is mentioned in the linked text) who missed out on being a Cricketer of the Year for reasons quite different from the five players mentioned above. In the Wisdens of 1913, 1921 and 1926, there were no Cricketers of the Year. Instead, there were special portraits of Almanac founder John Wisden (1913), Pelham Warner (1921) and Jack Hobbs (1926, as a result of his record run-making in 1925.)

Ever since I first noted these omissions as a result of merely looking through Wisden's Births and Deaths of Cricketers, I have wondered who missed out as a result of these decisions. Recently I have tried to contact Wisden without success about this question, so it is clear to me I must work on this sadly neglected issue in cricket history myself. I thus plan to discuss likely and potential Cricketers of the Year for 1913, 1921 and 1926 in my next few posts.

I will point out here that at least in 1913 and 1926 there is considerable likelihood that some members of the most probably Five Cricketers of the Year were actually chosen at a later date. When I first looked at the issue of Cricketers of the Year missing because of the 1913, 1921 and 1926 special portraits, I entirely overlooked this. Now, however, I realise I must not only look at the likely choices who never did obtain another chance, but also at gaps the presence of Cricketers of the Year in 1913, 1921 and 1926 would have created from the actual choices of later Wisdens.

It is a pity I have obtained no photographs of most potential candidates, but I hope you will learn much nonetheless.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Abortion bans inevitably fail in unsuitable milieux

Although I have long known that East Asia has suffered from the threat of a population implosion, it is really shocking to notice that the government of birth-starved South Korea wants to enforce laws against abortion.

Although I have known for a very long time that South Korea has had major demographic problems and a fertility rate lower even than that of Japan, it really chocks me to know that its abortion laws are so strict. However, when one looks at the models provided by Richard Nisbett, Dov Cohen and Bruce Lerro, it is no surprise that South Korea suffers from lowest-low fertility.

South Korea’s total supply of usable land is only thirty thousand square kilometres, or around one two hundred and thirtieth the supply of Australia. Yet, it has to fit twice the population onto that area. Even with more efficient use of housing space, it becomes almost impossible to fit a family into the average-sized home in South Korea. Then, the absence of resources encourages very rapid innovation and change in production, because skilled labour is the only area where these mineral- and land-starved nations have any chance of competing with nations like Australia and South Africa that possess enormous gluts thereof. Rapid innovation is of itself a handicap to family raising because people have to spend money buying new products too often to be able to spend them on their children (it is no coincidence Australia, the most socially conservative developed nation, has the oldest average age for its private car fleet, simply because with lower turnover people have more to spend on families).

In such conditions, governments have a natural tendency to try to do something to prevent fertility rates falling to lowest-low levels through punitive laws on birth control. However, the experience of twentieth-century “Catholic” Europe shows how badly this works. Expecting women to have large families or refrain entirely from sexual pleasure during their age of procreation simply is impossible when the costs financial and personal are psychologically as high as they are in land- and mineral-starved regions. Italy and Spain – seen until recently as the heart of Catholicism – were throughout the twentieth century (at least their urban areas) actually atheist (Marxist) nations ruled by devoutly Catholic ruling classes. Laws against artificial birth control were simply ignored before the atheistic masses felt there was little enough risk challenging the conservative ruling class and force alterations of the laws.

Although South Korea has never had the marianismo of Italy, Spain and Portugal, there is no reason to assume that tougher laws against abortion will not lead to ignorance or violent protest rather than the desired higher birth rates. Only when South Korea’s natural land and fisheries resources can be made economically usable will fertility increase and attitudes change.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Rhino horn: a precious, marketable commodity?

In an article from Sind Today, it says that (Indian) rhino horn is more expensive than gold for the first time in a decade.

The present prices, according to Sind Today, are:
  • Indian rhino horn: $65.46 per gram
  • gold: $44.36 per gram
What is really shocking, though, is the revelation that Communist politicians in Vietnam actually support rhino poaching! I had always assumed that the wealth of politicians would eliminate the incentives provided by poverty to poach rhinos - but apparently this is not the case even though Vietnam's economy has recovered from 1980s hyperinflation.

Although political support for poaching of rhinos is not in my opinion as criminal as Australia's politicians support for wasteful freeways to appease a dictatorial road lobby, it is still something which the international community should take seriously. Even if sanctions against Vietnam are not justified, people should be wary of buying Vietnamese goods or visiting the country.

A surprising revelation about tiger and giant panda parts

Although my main focus in studying endangered species has always been the poaching of rhinos for their horn, I have long known that trading in tiger parts has been just as much a threat to tigers as rhino horn is to rhinos. However, tiger bone is much less expensive than rhino horn, costing as little as 38¢ per gram.

This cheapness has a mixed impact:
  • on one hand it discourages sellers from killing tigers
  • on the other hand it gives less incentive and money to conserve them
I discovered surprising news today searching for information of the current rhino poaching epidemic: that China alone - not including Taiwan or Hong Kong - is responsible for over 90 percent of trade in tiger bone and skins.

What this article reveals much more surprisingly, and which the average person interested in wildlife conservation would never have been told, is that for a time giant panda parts were sold as regularly as tiger parts for use in traditional Chinese medicine. However, under Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, the Chinese government cracked down on panda poachers to the point of even executing people for poaching giant pandas. It says that, despite Deng's crackdown, lack of habitat has prevented the giant panda from recovering.

However, the article shows that orders of magnitude more tigers could be supported in the available habitat without numbers kept very low by poaching. It also says that tigers are just as endangered as even Asiatic rhinos as a result of such poaching.

What is really interesting and even more surprising in this context is that the article argues that tiger farming is likely to make the problem worse. This is opposed to the argument of Robert P. Murphy in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, where he says that if tigers were completely privatised and deregulated incentive to conserve them would appear. Private owners would - and Murphy does not exclude violent means - stop poaching because they would be interested in long-term financial gain from tigers. This quest for long term financial gain would stop tigers becoming extinct and allow them to breed sufficiently to reach something approaching their carrying capacity. People like Hans Hoppe argue that private ownership without any government regulation will eliminate incentives to waste resources. However, the fact that animals like the passenger pigeon became extinct before the first Progressive wave makes one question the strictest interpretation of what Hoppe says.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The misnamed "Nanny State" should be called "Daddy State"

One of the most typical criticisms of Europe by the American Right is that Europe’s big governments constitute a “nanny state” that serves to cause:
  1. regulation of every aspect of people’s lives, including trivial matters like obesity of parents or the beliefs of children
  2. lack of responsibility
  3. dependence of the elderly on the young
  4. inability to innovate due to a “sedating cocoon” protecting people
  5. people being told what they can and cannot think, in order to exclude traditional values of Western Civilisation regarding sexuality, marriage, traditional culture and the unregulated market
  6. a point where it is impossible for people to “live free” because of government regulation and the State gives people exactly what they want - at the cost of responsibility and commitment to the point of total self-interest
Although I am aware that an unrestricted free market can have very undesirable ecological effects in fragile environments like Australia and sub-Zambezian Africa and of itself encourage things like mass migration (and I presume mass tourism) often criticised by conservatives, I have long had sympathy for direct action rather than relying on government to deal with problems and so can be very suspicious of the situation Steyn says Europe is in.

There is one issue here I have long been wanting to speak about, that being the misuse by Steyn of the terminology “nanny state”. Steyn and too many other conservatives often speak wrongly of “feminising the males”. Whilst on the surface the low levels of violence and conflict in European cultures can give an impression of a gentle, compassionate society, Arthur Brooks completely annihilates that idea with his research in Who Really Cares, showing that Europe is an extremely tough society in which compassion is more or less viewed as a sin. In the process he confirms a long held suspicion of mine that “secularisation” and “masculinisation” are synonyms for one process. It is in fact the hatred of passive acceptance and helping others voluntarily that makes Europeans unwilling to accept even a small pruning of from their huge welfare states. Politicians in nations like Sweden would know there is the potential for enormous bloodshed if they carried out policies recommended by the likes of Hans Hoppe or Thomas Woods. Following upon Europe’s working-class radicalism after the earliest Industrial Revolution, governments have been forced to develop generous welfare states even where, as in Italy and Spain, they were long resistant to secularisation and their policies created entirely false impressions of strongly Catholic and traditional cultures.

The very essence of the welfare state is not gentle and soft, but tough, even manly. It should thus not be called a “Nanny State” but a “Daddy State”, to show the reality of a culture where being gentle and nurturing is effectively viewed as sinful.

The term “nanny state” can be far more accurately used to describe the traditional Australian state with its limited subsidies to help people in the dire trouble that Australia's erratic climate and rivers cause. A “nanny state” would never interfere in the personal affairs of its citizens as most European states (and those of Canada and New Zealand) do today. It would allow for general freedom in education, religion and development, quite unlike the “Daddy States” of Europe today. One can see such a true “Nanny State” in Australia’s combination of unsubsidised farming with drought subsidies that are of themselves destructive because they stop farmers from suing ecologically vandalous car and fossil fuel corporations for the changes they have caused to our climate.

It really is time people see that even the intention of the big governments of Europe, Canada and New Zealand is in no way gentleness but responding to working-class (and student) militancy that is the opposite of the gentle marianismo that is the essential value preached by the Right. A writer who uses mistaken terminology should be properly criticised.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Two disasters in two projects

Today, a terrible accident occurred when I was painting a desk I had bought as early as January, on the same day I began to visit my eldest half-sister. I have always wanted to have a good solid timber desk for the computer because the old kitchen table I have used since I had a computer does not have the necessary space for those things I need to keep near the computer.

Between February and October, I left the desk alone. I did not know how I could work on the desk in the garage. Whilst Mummy was away I thought I could work in the kitchen, but a major paint spill doing a bookcase for my bedroom made her extremely angry. I had to use writing paper to clean up the kitchen, and she said it would be possible to do my work in the crowded garage once the desk was put there.

Although I bought the sandpaper and paint to repair the desk during the winter, it was not until the beginning of this month that I seriously started to sand and re-paint the desk. Moreover, when I did so I consistently had to work slowly because the paint was so wet and the desk's outside constituted only a small portion of the surface needing painting.

Nonetheless, I had been working well enough to paint three-quarters of the outside of the desk by today, and was hoping dearly to have it finished before I leave for a major holiday in Asia, Helsinki and the United States on the nineteenth of December. Them this morning, I had a serious disaster. In order to allow for a much better coverage of the desk, I diluted the paint with mineral turpentine, but this mixture spilt everywhere on not only the desk, but also on the floor of the garage and on my shorts!

I felt extremely angry that this had happened for the second successive time I was doing a major project painting furniture. I admitted to my mother that the accident occurred because the tin of paint was not placed perfectly horizontally on one of the desk's drawers. She was horrified, and I had a slight tantrum saying as usual that I could not be more careful. Still, I was really horrified that I had spilt a full tin of paint, and was, despite the opposition of Mummy, desperate to waste absolutely the minimum quantity of paint. As a result, I immediately spread the paint over unpainted or poorly-covered areas of the desk, and I felt did a good job of losing as little paint as possible. Nonetheless, I still had a harrowing time removing the large amount of paint that accumulated on my body and especially on my shorts. Though they were an old pair, they were still in very good condition but Mummy said I would never wear them outside again even after soaking them for days with Sard - a soaker which she seems to keep in a secret place.

One thing I have learned is how awfully I prepared for this difficult job! There was on the floor no newspaper , and books of potential (though very unlikely) value were almost touching the desk as I was sanding it. I was really angry and said I could not do anything more to create space in the cluttered garage but now I realise I can at least store some of the books in a cardboard box - though it will still be hard to create real space when I fear Mummy won;t have the time to help me to continue.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Koalas dying out, but no hard solution

According to this article, oddly published by a newspaper in Iran, koala numbers have fallen by as much as fifty percent since 2003. The article calls for their listing as an endangered species.

Whilst the article admits climate change is the problem, it simply fails to deal with discussion of how Australia must be at the very least punished by a total ban on trade unless its greenhouse emissions are reduced to a respectable level of around one percent the per capita world average. Alternatively, given Iran's oil resources, it could consider whether it is fair, owing to the high climate sensitivity of Australia's water resources and its unique flora and fauna, that oil be sold to Australia at greatly higher prices than it is to Europe or North America or New Zealand.

Nor does it discuss – a little strangely given Iran has itself had to deal with sanctions –- whether Australia's appalling greenhouse emissions justify something like trade sanctions (they certainly do). Nor does it consider that the majority of Australians have much less incentive to preserve koalas than Europeans or North Americans do to preserve their own “iconic” species.

Nor does it discuss how paleoclimate data collected no later than 2004 show that even Tasmania will be within the descending limb of the Hadley circulation as soon as 2020 under present climate trends, so that even the dry schlerophyll forests in which koalas live will die out.

In such a scene of ignorance, the koala will go extinct. What Tim Flannery showed in The Future Eaters about how koalas are adopted to a food source that is reasonably typical of most plants in the three hundred and thirty million years since the land first became vegetated will be lost forever if they die out. This is vital knowledge that we must fight the corporate polluters for the zero-emissions Australia that should have been the first thing demanded by any climate change conference.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Explaining why Australia has not produced scientific or artistic genius

Ever since I began to study Australia culture, I have always been curious about the lock of internationally known Australian scientists and artists. Though I first read about this in an EG article back in 1996, it is only recently with the absorption of more serious writing on the topic that this absence becomes so obvious.

Having read a good deal about how unique the achievements of Western Civilisation are, I have wondered even more why Australia has produced so few important artists and scientists (or for that matter social activists or economists). If what is said by people like Anthony Esolen and Charles Murray is at all correct, one might expect Australia to have been a hotbed of creativity in science and the arts. In fact, Australia has produced far fewer important figures than many European nations with lesser populations, and continues to fail to produce really important artists or scientists.

If one looks through the factors Murray says prevent creativity in science and the arts, the only one that might rule out Australia is low population density. Murray does give some suggestion that even urban Australia was and remains much too sparsely populated to develop cities in which intellectual creativity can flourish. His argument could also be applied to White South Africa, the American South and Mountain West, and even to Canada and New Zealand.

He does little to explain why extremely high population densities are so important a prerequisite, however. More than that, Murray cannot contradict my explanation in terms of Australia's extreme resource abundance stifling creative thinking through eliminating incentives to develop new technologies even with a metaphysical basis that is very effective at producing creativity. It also explains why even as people are drawn by Australia's abundant housing space and slow pace of life, how Australia fails to greatly increase the number of awards it wins.

The fact that the only exception to this rule lies in sporting talent, where with the like of Bradman, Clarrie Grimmett and in more recent times the likes of Peter Sterling Australia has long had a prominence far above its population size is itself revealing. Because sport originated as a form of recreation, the mass of Australians tended to have more time for it than people in other nations. The result seems to be an extraordinary number of talented sportsmen relative to popualtion size.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Is Australia's lack of critical conservative thinking something very deep?

One thing about Australia that I have noticed differentiates it especially from most of the United States, but also from at least those parts of Europe between the “European Divide” (those areas that do not drain to the Mediterranean or the Atlantic west of the Basque Country) and the Baltic is the absence of thinking that is both critical and conservative.

As Robert Inchausti shows in Subversive Orthodoxy, between the French Revolution and the emergence of punk rock conservative Christians offered quite a number of highly interesting critiques of society that were to have a significant impact on political thinking through the first three-quarters of the twentieth century. However, Inchausti’s book gives no example from Australia, and related writers like Allan Carlson give very few. It is noteworthy how, despite the conservatism and religiousity of Australia working class and the dominance of large sections thereof by the Catholic Democratic Labor Party, the kind of "antipolitical politics" described by Inchausti is completely absent. So is conservative criticism of Australian lifestyle and culture a là Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful (to which Australia, with its flatness and natural unity, is the purest antithesis).

Other area where critical, but conservative and religious, thinking is absent
  1. are the forestry-dominated economies of Scandinavia, the Pacific Northwest (Joel Garreau’s "Ecotopia") and New Zealand. Here religion has never been remotely strong owing to the scarcity of resources inherent in an economy where harvesting occurs only once in a lifetime - as opposed to every year with farming, herding or most hunter/gatherer economies. Moreover, since timber is easier to steal than food, forest owners can concentrate wealth very strongly, which leads to militant unions that encourage big government and secularism. In such a society religion is seen as irrelevant and highly orthodox, disciplined faith as a means of pacifying the masses, especially as big government encourages women to masculinise.
  2. Europe south of the “Divide” (Italy, Spain, Portugal) is a very different case, but “subversive orthodoxy” is equally absent because the Catholic Church was so closely tied to the ruling classes that offering any sort of criticism of the social order meant challenging Church authority and orthodoxy. This could be argued of Latin America and perhaps Germanophone Europe as well.
What this may reflect, as I, following Rod Dreher, say in my previous post, is that Australia’s low-density suburban lifestyle is simply not a threat to religious practice as the hectic, high-density lifestyle of European and Asian cities certainly is.

The result is that in suburban Australia people can be devoutly religious whilst still socialising within a culture generally rather sceptical about religion. This is simply impossible in the cities of Europe, East Asia, and even much of North America. As Rod Dreher and Sara Maitland say, to practice religion in such environments requires extraordinary levels of self-discipline and the self-enforced exclusion of many conveniences most people desire.

In the absence of such requirements, critical thinking, even if Christian and conservative, naturally loses its entire purpose.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Thoughts on riding from Belgrave to Pakenham


Today I set myself a challenge I had desired for a long time: to ride by myself in the ranges east of Belgrave Station - which I felt would provide some sort of challenge for me and maybe even help myself to improve my grossly obese body mass.

I had hoped that I would be able to travel to Belgrave earlier when the weather was much better, but it was only today, on a day hotter than average for November but the coolest day for many weeks ahead it seems, that I got out of the house early enough to be able to take a train to Belgrave at a reasonable hour.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my water bottle, which I certainly would have needed on a day of 25˚C with blazing sunshine - and I knew it was to become hotter and hotter all through the remainder of the month. I bought two discounted bottles of Diet Coke, but as my mother and dentist had told me, the drink could not quench my thirst at all adequately. the train trip to Belgrave was trouble-free and there was little problem with my behaviour: accostings of other people, whilst not completely absent, were much fewer than normal. However, once I began cycling on the road to Gembrook with the expectation I might be able to go even beyond Gembrook towards Tonimbuk and the Black Snake Range, I realised that I was not well-prepared. I was having to push my bike on the side of the road except on downhill stretches, and took over two hours to travel the eleven kilometres from Belgrave to Emerald.

The striking thing, though, was how much safer I felt on the road than I ever have riding suburban laneways! In the entire ride, I never failed to hear a vehicle coming in either direction and consequently could always stay far off the road to avoid being hit. That I was never in danger is the more remarkable when one considers that the whole road was listed as a blackspot zone for people on bicycles! It does reveal, as I have been studying lately, the influence of an environment as quiet as the Dandenongs - which I can tell you is by no means as far towards a silent environment as one can go.

During the trip towards Gembrook, I stopped at Emerald Library for an hour to refresh myself, after having a donut and cream lamington at the local bakery. I then went onto Cockatoo, but when I realised I was only halfway to Pakenham I felt it would be a ridiculous idea to follow my original plan to reach Gembrook and beyond. Thus, without hesitation, I turned my bike towards Pakenham. It was an easier, mostly downhill, ride to Pakenham, but it took longer to find the station than I expected. Worse than that, by the time I reached the station I was so tired that I fell asleep on the train - even with my iPod in my ears! It was also hard to keep the bike stable on the train. Moreover, when I reached the city and transferred to a train to Rushall Station (so that I would be mostly riding downhill instead of uphill) I found that I had strained myself in the chest region and was worried about how difficult it would be to ride even from Rushall to my home in Carlton. When I did reach home, I was so tired that - very unusually for me - I went straight to bed after having a bit of fruit to eat.

All in all, I feel as though I do want to repeat the trip - even though the climate is changing so fast that it will be from now on very hard to do this sort of cycling outside of a short period in the winter and I will have to wait until long after returning home from Europe for weather cool enough to try it again!

First step to solve Melbourne's urban crisis

In today’s Age, Brian Buckley shows that devastation is threatened by Melbourne having a projected population of seven million by 2049 – and this in a city with no fresh water and a climate as hot and dry as that of Arabia!

Buckley is right to be appalled that Melbourne emits more carbon than London – a city twice the size and living on soils with an order of magnitude more soil nutrients per unit area.

If ecological justice remotely existed, the average resident of Melbourne would emit no more than one thousandth the carbon of the average European city, simply because the ancient Australian environments are so fragile.

To achieve ecological justice Australia must:
  1. put an absolute ban on new non-residential roads
  2. tranfer a rail:road spending ratio of 1:4 to at the very least a situation where rail spending exceeds road and air combined
  3. make car, mining and fossil fuel corporations pay the entire cost of climate-related disasters like bushfires and the Queensland floods
  4. phase out irrigation in at least the southern Murray-Darling Basin (which global warming models strong suggest will soon become desert)
  5. aim to revegetate as much farmland as possible with native flora
  6. use fuel taxes to pay for rail as well as road construction
The trouble with achieving any of these goals is that Buckley cannot understand the emotional benefits a sprawling city has, viz:
  1. at least three times as much housing space (or, as much space per person for a four-child family as for a one-child family in Europe or Asia)
  2. because larger families build deeper emotional ties, people become more compassionate and sensitive
  3. lower mean house prices in suburbs add to the increased possibility of family formation
  4. the much slower pace of life vis-à-vis densely settled European and Asian cities (I can testify to this from living even a few days in London how incredibly fast-paced it was compared even with inner Melbourne)
A fast-paced and hectic lifestyle, as Rod Dreher wrote in his excellent book Crunchy Cons, encourages a shallow, highly materialistic and unemotional lifestyle in which satisfaction of the ego overrides everything.
Dreher argues that the lifestyle of noisy cities is of itself as force against tradition. Sprawling suburbs, as I can testify living in Ashwood and Keilor Downs, are much quieter and slower-paced, giving people much more time for reflection. The slower pace also offers, according to Dreher, opportunities for socialisation that are hard in the inner city. E. Michael Jones (a writer whom I have definite distaste for) apparently made a similar argument in his book Living Machines.

That selfish materialism dominates the culture of Europe, Asia, Canada and New Zealand there can be no doubt. David D. Kirkpatrick shows people in those nations to be obsessed with individual choice to the complete exclusion of tradition or morality. They wish to have the highest-quality and most individual records and books in a manner that serves, if you will, to build bigger and bigger egos and leave no room for relationships. (Those on welfare tend to be even more materialistic in this way, as Arthur Brooks shows).

For the majority who are not autistic or otherwise lacking empathy, such a culture and lieftstyle is extremely repellant. Like a magnet, even modestly empathetic people are lured to Melbourne's sprawling suburbs, and want conditions under which their way of life is not threatened. Buckley does not consider that sustainable development in Australia would require a severe effort both
  1. at home by not pandering to a powerful road lobby and
  2. abroad by sanctioning Australia for its exceptionally bad environmental standards and realising that its living costs are, ecologically, untenably low

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Janjawid and rhinos


Long interested in poaching of rhinos because of their rarity and the knowledge of how their horns are used to make ceremonial daggers in Yemen and medicines in now-affluent nations of East Asia, it is terrifying to know that in the present economic downturn rhino poaching is increasing after efforts to stabilise rhino populations in the eighties and nineties.

What is surprising is that, in Sudan and Chad, poaching of the now extinct Northern White Rhino constituted a major source of funding for Muslim terrorist groups known as the Janjawid. The Janjawid are camel-herding tribes of the eastern Sahel who have been the major force kiling non-Muslims in southern Sudan and adjacent Chad over the past decade. The price of rhino horn is so high that the Janjawid, even with no more rhinos to kill, still have a good deal of money from their operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the last Northern White Rhinos were found. More than that, the Janjawid also have elephants to poach for ivory if they run out of rhino horn.

What is more revealing still is that Janjawid insiders admit that the Sudanese government sponsors poaching. Doing such a thing is terrifying even for a country that is not a signatory to CITES (neither is Yemen) but is shows extremely bad behaviour on the part of the Asian dealers who buy rhino horn and who are signatories to CITES.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

How will the media view the Nineties?

In dissecting Jonathan Leaf's The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties, I have noticed how commentators note here that
The media has always seemed to look down its collective nose at the Fifties, and the Seventies, and even the Eighties. (How could the media, with its usual biases, not despise a decade dominated by Reagan - and at its end - by the collapse of communism?)
What I have been thinking about lately is the question of how the media will come to view the Nineties.

The first thing I considered analysing this question is whether the media will support the Nineties simply because for most of the decade a Democrat was President - something that occurred in the Sixties but not in any of the decades said to be criticised by the left-wing media. The spread of democracy in poorer nations and the end of (at least outside the Middle East) US-sponsored overthrows of governments for moving too close to Communism is another reason for praising the Nineties. The efforts to deal with the ecological crisis (though Mariana Trench-level petrol prices prevented anything from being done in the US at least) are another reason for praising the 1990s. The related Kyoto Protocol and successful phase-out of CFCs and halons will make the 1990s, despite the radical climate changes which are too little-known outside Australia's scientific community, possibly further praised.

Although Nirvana and other grunge bands have not maintained the critical reputation they once had, there remains the popular viewpoint that the 1990s saw the demise of many of the worst moments in music history, such as the middle-of-the-road muzak that dominated 1980s America.

There is also the point of the PMRC being largely overthrown and bans on politically correct rap and metal being eliminated.

On the other hand, there are many serious issues about the Nineties that would make support for it difficult. One of course is the fact that teen pop and nu-metal, which the fashionable hate. I would also say that the Nineties stand as the only decade since 1950 where, in Jonathan Leaf's words,
the most important (new) intellectuals were on the political Right.
The Nineties saw a major reaction to the radicalism of the Bush Senior era. Even though it was led by Silent like Pat Buchanan, Robert Bork, Peter Kreeft, Donna Steichen and Judith Reisman, it soon grew to encompass younger writers like E. Michael Jones, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Rush Limbaugh, Roger Kimball and Dinesh D'Souza. Another big conservative moment in the Nineties was the publication in 1996 of Michael J. Behe's Darwin's Black Box, whose theory of "intelligent design" has become a clarion call for many people who find Darwinism inherently radically nihilistic. I must say that "intelligent design" is a less convincing argument that most things coming from Regnery.

All in all, it is hard to tell if the Nineties will be remembered more favourably by "politically correct" media than the Seventies or Eighties. My brother has even said that it is unlikely there will be such strong emotions about the Nineties as exist about the Sixties and even the Eighties (both of which are actually similar in that they began conservative and ended with a radical cultural revolution).

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Was the 1989 Sydney Morning Herald wrong?

Yesterday I read a special Sydney Morning Herald article from the end of August 1989 to commemorate fifty years sicne the outbreak of World War II.

Such a finding is of itself nothing to seriously note, except that I found a very interesting article about how, contrary to what was believed at the time, Japan's imperial government had never planned an actual invasion of Australia, as apparently some 1980s historians thought. It said that Japan would have required a full twelve divisions for an invasion of Australia, and that doing so would have necessitated a diversion of huge numbers of troops away from the war being fought with China over Manchuria. The article also said that the Japanese would have, despite the absence of opposition to invasion in the north of Australia, had a great deal of trouble with an invasion of Australia because of the extremely harsh environment in the north and centre of the continent, to which their troops would have been completely unsuited. The Sydney Morning Herald said that Australia's military would have had a major advantage had their been a war on our soil, which even with the climatic differences compared to Australia's milder southern regions,

What I cannot agree with is the idea that there would have been no point for Japan to try to invade Australia, for reasons relating to Australia's vast and still not-fully-explored mineral resources. However, in the years of the Great Depression, the proportion of Australia's economy contributed by mining reached its lowest level on record, and it has risen since.

Because of this fact, the Imperial Japanese would naturally have failed to realise how much benefit they could have gained from invading Australia. If the Japanese had succeeded in gaining control of Australia's metal ores, there would have been a chance to monopolise valuable industrial resources that would have been as valuable in peacetime as in war, which would have given them an economic power far greater than they gained from the postwar "economic miracle". The history of Europe and East Asia after the war shows how a boom in a resource-free nation cannot be sustained because of the cultural changes no industrialising nation except those with abundant flat land has ever escaped. (In this context, it is interesting to see what effect Federation in 1901 had on Britain's twentieth-century history by removing Australia's enormous undiscovered resources?)

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The most ridiculous song list ever

Today, as I was searching for possible blogs on music to make sure I can discuss it better than I have been lately, I found a list that makes me laugh hard because it is so, so, so absurd!

It was titled Top Ten Songs for Obama Haters and was originally written by the Miami New Times. When I saw it I was really curious because I wondered so much what songs of significance would criticise Obama or - if older than Obama's presidential campaign - would have themes coherent with the current opposition to him?

As it turned out, the songs were, with two exceptions, songs that I had never heard of. The full list is:
  1. ‘Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,’ (by Jerry Jeff Walker and written by Ray Wylie Hubbard)
  2. ‘Teach Your Children’ (by Crosby, Stills and Nash)
  3. ‘Ignorant ****’ (by Jay-Z)
  4. ‘Liar, Liar’ (by the Castaways)
  5. ‘Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White, American Males’ (by Todd Snider)
  6. ‘Waves of Fear’ (by Lou Reed)
  7. ‘People Putting People Down’ (by Bob Dylan; written by John Prine)
  8. ‘Highway to Hell’ (by AC/DC; written by Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Bon Scott)
  9. ‘Your Racist Friend’ (by They Might Be Giants)
  10. ‘Rednecks’ (by Randy Newman)
All of these are either unknown joke songs or ones that do not make sense. ‘Rednecks’ could fit the bill because it could be seen as a defence of racism with the use of “n******”, but ‘Your Racist Friend’ is an attack on someone for befriending racists, and thus would be pro-Obama. ‘People Putting People Down’ is analogous, whilst ‘Waves of Fear’ may have been chosen because it reflected fear of loss of personal control under Obama, though nothing in its lyrics is directly anti-liberal.

However, of the top five songs only ‘Teach Your Children’ and ‘Ignorant ****’ are likely to be at all familiar. The former was chosen because it encouraged children to listen to parents instead of politicians - which any sensible person would see as decent advice.

‘Ignorant ****’ is a ridiculous choice even if it is vilely anti-female (which as we shall see is not so politically incorrect as people think), whilst the other three songs in the Top Five are just ludicrously silly conservative pieces nobody except specialised listeners could possibly know and which offer no constructive criticism of Obama.

However, what really amazes me is the inclusion of AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’. For a start, every website of almost any Right faction will deny the justification given for its listing. The real problem is however that, more than any other band in music history, AC/DC have driven Western culture in precisely the direction desired by the modern Democratic Party and almost every party in Europe, Canada and New Zealand. AC/DC, as a result of their catchy songs and populist working-class message of easy fun with not the tiniest restraint, have turned the West towards a libertinism and radical individualism that has no room for any ethical standards. Their songs contrast with even the pre-AC/DC rock era where many singers had a sense that there was a definite “wrong” ethically and that what rock musicians were doing could have consequences, as is noted by JKM here.

The playing of ‘Shoot to Thrill’ on the radio has always startled me because the lyrics quite explicitly say one should kill the defenceless if one desires, especially women. However, AC/DC’s sexism is hardly that politically incorrect. It is undeniable that radical feminists, rather than protest as I imagined they would have back in 1980 when Back in Black came out, instead found clear common ground with AC/DC. They view AC/DC’s songs as a call to completely shed all femininity and create a culture consisting only of males. If we should define Left and Right in terms of defeminisation (left) versus refeminisation (Right), then we can see that AC/DC would be seen as “far left” even if apolitical. Add their cultural influence in turning society towards people like Obama and it becomes a total joke to have a list of songs for “Obama haters” containing anything by them.

All in all, one must see the Miami New Times as having made a list, than which I can hardly imagine anything worse.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Simply shift smelting where there’s hydropower and look to conservation for jobs.

In today’s Age, there is a lengthy and clear discussion of the problems posed for Australia’s extremely high greenhouse emissions by Portland’s and Geelong’s aluminum smelters, and how things have changed since the smelter first opened in 1979 (people forget it was the year of the inaccurate and destructive Lonie Report for which Robin Underwood really should still be prosecuted given the environmental damage of expanded car usage).

The Age is saying that the government is maintaining subsidies to the aluminum smelting industry to prevent it moving overseas “into the arms of countries with little carbon conscience” is the best thing that can be done.

I cannot agree with that at all. If we exclude sub-Saharan Africa and perhaps the Pacific, virtually every nation in the world now has more “carbon conscience” that Australia. Moreover, I cannot see it likely that sub-Saharan Africa is being proposed as a location for new aluminum smelters!

Because likely energy sources in developing nations are closer to major population centres and are  likely to be hydropower, it is actually probable that any large-scale movement of jobs will reduce greenhouse emissions in spite of far lower government standards. Since Australia’s extremely old soils and low runoff coefficients completely rule out reliable hydropower, the cost might also be less than improving the energy efficiency of brown coal.

When it comes to jobs in areas affected, we must take George Megalogenis’ call that Australia cease growing crops for export on its extremely old and impoverished soils at a time when the subtropical dry belt is moving a degree poleward every three years and according to Tertiary paleoclimate records will not settle until Tasmania is completely within the arid zone. A logical replacement would be conservation: Australia’s uniquely fragile soils and geology ought to be ample justification that it have a level of conservation far, far greater than any other continent. The real aim, given likely climates in the next decade, should be that all land from the south coast at least as far as Dubbo be returned to native flora – and that the road and coal lobbies pay the price for this.

Farmers abroad also should be willing to pay for this since revegetation of Australia’s farmland – exceptionally labour-efficient but unsustainable even with the best technology – will allow them to make money without subsidies that strangle and innovation and produce wasteful spending on pesticides and excessive fertiliser use.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Sam Harris is half-right

Atheist philosopher Sam Harris, a favourite of my brother, has argued that religious people are more motivated by emotional reactions than are atheists.
"A comparison of both stimulus categories suggests that religious thinking is more associated with brain regions that govern emotion, self-representation, and cognitive conflict, while thinking about ordinary facts is more reliant upon memory retrieval networks."
It is surprising that someone as unlikely to see both sides as Sam Harris can - at least in a very broad sense - come to conclusions that are not radically different from what I argue here.

Psychologist Michael Fitzgerald, in discussion with me, has agreed with my point that high empathy, conservatism and religiosity are tightly linked, despite opposition to this viewpoint from my relatives. Religious belief is undoubtedly very closely related to personal experience ("cognitive conflict" means conflict between right and wrong) and how someone feel about it, whereas mere memory without any feeling (as I have so much of about my childhood) is unlikely to be related to religion because people are unlikely to learn much from it (I will state straightforwardly that I seldom learn from the mistakes I made as a child when really pressed).

The problem with Sam Harris is that he - and other ethicists who hate him - fails to realise that there is an important psychological distinction between:
  1. shallow, spontaneous emotions and
  2. deep-rooted emotions
Astrology, for all the absurdity of planets being able to influence personal behaviour, is correct in its theory that there is a crucial distinction between shallow, short-lived emotional reactions (represented by fire signs) and deep, empathetic emotional reactions (represented by water signs). It is because of this confusion that one has claims:
"People "accept religion on emotional grounds" - I look around today, and the most emotional people I see are atheists."
The emotion of these atheists is likely to be really what Myers-Briggs theorists call "intuitive" types or what astrologers call fiery types, and is not true "feeling". Truly feeling-oriented types are likely to view rigid gender roles are a necessity, laws against extramarital sex or contraception as protecting women, and limited government as protecting people's privacy. They are even more likely to see respect for tradition as critical to the advancement of cultures and to fear rapid breaks from tradition in pursuit of individual freedom to do whatever one desires.

It is strange that religious conservatives do not recognise these points, preferring to compete on a field where they simply cannot win. It is no wonder religious conservatives who do not know how (or if) they can use their strength at a truly deep emotional level make so many lamentations nowadays.

Yet, this does not mean atheists like Sam Harris are right to yearn for (if they haven't already got) a world in which truly deep emotion has disappeared. The effects on demography and economics (government debt) are such that questioning the assumption a world divorced from deep emotions is a utopia cannot be a bad thing.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Bush Senior Era’s revolutionary nature revealed through music

In this article, KEXP FM has a look at what its listeners regard as the best years for music. In order to avoid albums that might not hold up well with age, I will exclude years listed by the station since 2000, and the final result for the best years in music is this:
  1. 1991:
    The La’s (The La’s)
    Teenage Fanclub (Bandwagonesque)
    Nirvana (Nevermind)
    Soundgarden (Badmotorfinger)
    Throwing Muses (The Real Ramona)
    My Bloody Valentine (Loveless)
  2. 1966:
    Bob Dylan (Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The Royal Albert Hall)
    The Beatles (Revolver)
    The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds)
    The Sonics (Boom)
    ? Mark & the Mysterians (“96 Tears”)
    The Troggs (“Wild Thing”)
    James Brown (“I Got You (I Feel Good)”)
    Swinging Medalions (“Double Shot”)
    Bobby Fuller Four (“I Fought The Law”)
    Johnny Rivers (“And I Know You Wanna Dance”)
  3. 1994:
    Sugar (File Under Easy Listening)
    Beastie Boys (Ill Communication)
    Veruca Salt (American Thighs)
    Portishead (Dummy)
    Guided By Voices (Bee Thousand)
    Pavement (Crooked Rain Crooked Rain)
    Built To Spill (There’s Nothing Wrong with Love)
    Beck (Mellow Gold)
  4. 1977:
    The Jam (In the City)
    Ramones (Rocket to Russia)
    The Stranglers (No More Heroes)
    Iggy Pop (The Idiot)
    Richard Hell & the Voidoids (Blank Generation)
    Elvis Costello (My Aim Is True)
    Bob Marley and the Wailers (Exodus)
    Wire (Pink Flag)
    Television (Marquee Moon)
    Talking Heads (Talking Heads: 77)
  5. 1979:
    AC/DC (Highway to Hell)
    Sex Pistols (The Great Rock and Roll Swindle)
    Cheap Tricks (Dream Police)
    The Undertones (Kicks)
    The Police (Regatta de Blanc)
    Joy Division (Unknown Pleasures)
    Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Rust Never Sleeps)
    The B-52’s (The B-52’s)
    The Clash (London Calling)
    The Jam (Setting Sons)
    Gang of Four (Entertainment!)
  6. 1997:
    Old 97’s (Too Far to Care)
    Modest Mouse (The Lonesome Crowded West)
    Pavement (Brighten the Corners)
    Richard Buckner (Devotion + Doubt)
    Built To Spill (Perfect from Now On)
    Elliott Smith (Either/Or)
    Cornershop (When I Was Born for the Seventh Time)
    Sleater-Kinney (Dig Me Out)
    Yo La Tengo (I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One)
  7. 1992:
    Lemonheads (It’s a Shame about Ray)
    Buffalo Tom (Let Me Come Over)
    Pavement (Slanted and Enchanted)
    Sonic Youth (Dirty)
    The Jesus and Mary Chain (Honey’s Dead)
    L7 (Bricks Are Heavy)
    Alice In Chains (Dirt)
  8. 1993:
    Afghan Whigs (Gentlemen)
    Radiohead (Pablo Honey)
    Nirvana (In Utero)
    Liz Phair (Exile in Guyville)
    Björk (Debut)
    Snoop Doggy (Dog What’s My Name?)
    Frank Black (Frank Black)
    James (Laid)
    Catherine Wheel (Chrome)
    U2 (Zooropa)
    The Breeders (Last Splash)
    Belly (Star)
    New Order (Republic)
  9. 1968:
    Love (Forever Changes)
    Marvin Gaye (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine’)
    Sly and the Family Stone (Dance To the Music)
    The Doors (Waiting for the Sun)
    James Brown (Live at the Apollo)
    Johnny Cash (Folsom Prison Blues)
    The Zombies (Odysessey and Oracle)
    Elvis Presley (68 Comeback Special)
    Rolling Stones (Beggars’ Banquet)
    Van Morrison (Astral Weeks)
    Bob Dylan (John Wesley Harding)
    The Beatles (The White Album)
If you look carefully, you will notice the three early 1990s years that form the heart of the Bush Senior Era.
What is more, these years make it without any of the
  1. thrash albums by Slayer, Pantera or Sepultura
  2. rap albums by Public Enemy, N.W.A., A Tribe Called Quest etc.
If we were to add all the culturally influential albums from those two genres made during the Bush Senior Era, we see an era of great radicalism. For all Leaf's failings in his Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties, he is able to show in
this interview that the whole Reagan Era was much more sexually radical than even the late 1960s.

One gets the impression that the Reagan Era was the closest America has ever got to the typical story of twentieth-century urban Europe - a nation of atheists ruled by a religious elite - and that the Bush Senior Era’s radicalism was an inevitable result, even if the collapse of Stalinism and Hussein’s invasion of oil-soaked Kuwait overshadow this in typical histories (apart from the L.A. riots).