Sunday, 29 December 2013

Guidebooks v the field: the case of female fairywrens

In the numerous guidebooks to Australian birds, I have always felt they are clear enough to allow quite easy identification of quite similar species after one reads carefully.

The classic case of this is the female Petroica species, which are identified largely by whether or not there is white in the tail or wing:
  1. Petroica rodinogaster has no white in the wing or tail
  2. Petroica rosea has white in the tail but not the wing
  3. Petroica phoenica has white in both the tail and wing
  4. Female Petroica boodang has a faintly scarlet patch on her breast, like the blue of female Malurus amabilis.
  5. Female Petroica goodenovii has a distinct red patch above her bill
When I had a look at the other female Malurus from a total of four guidebooks to birds of Australia, it seems as if one can generally identify the superficially similar dull-brown female (“jenny”) fairywrens by looking closely:
  1. Female Malurus melanocephalus and Malurus leucopterus are pale in colour,  yellowish-grey with no eye-ring. They can be distinguished because:
    • leucopterus has (a very pale) blue in the tail
    • melanocephalus has no blue in that tail
  2. Female Malurus lamberti and Malurus elegans are a greyish-blue above and have a dark greyish-blue tail. They can be distinguished because:
    • lamberti has an orange-chestnut-coloured bill
    • elegans has a black bill like male fairywrens
  3. Female Malurus pulcherrimus has duller greyish-blue upperparts, a bright blue tail and dark brown bill, lores and eye-ring of the same colour with no faintly white eye-ring.
  4. Female Malurus coronatus has a grey-blue head with a black bill and a deep chestnut patch next to that bill
  5. Female Malurus cyaneus and Malurus splendens are entirely brown with no bluish tinge, with a chestnut bill and lore. They can be distinguishedbecause:
    • cyaneus has a basically brown tail like Malurus melanocephalus
    • splendens has a blue tail, similar in colour to Malurus melanocephalus and Malurus leucopterus.
Female Purple-Crowned Fairywren (Malurus coronatus)
However, what these pictures show is that the recognition features that are show clearly in most guidebooks are of little field use in the heathlands where fairywrens are found. Most especially, the difference in colour between Malurus leucopterus and the other fairywren species found in Western Australia is not actually of that much value: if you look, the Malurus leucopterus appears equally grey vis-à-vis the other fairywrens. Also, the greyish-blue upperparts seen in Malurus elegans, pulcherrimus and lamberti from the guidebooks do not appear any different from the brown colour of splendens (which indeed is just as grey)! The easist to grasp from this is in fact female lamberti, because the bill and lores are so different in colour, though not to the same extent as in female Malurus coronatus, which is very distinctive with its faint purple cap, chestnut cheek and black bill.

The pictures shown for species found near Perth, and those at BirdLife (‘Fifty Shades of Brown’) are actually clearer in the field than guidebooks, or at least those guidebooks where fairywrens are not shown in real habitat. In fact, these pictures make one treat guidebooks with caution, though I have known to do this for some time despite their great value.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The shrinkage problem for the Enriched World

This morning, there is an interesting article about an emerging and natural problem for an “industrial” Enriched World: that of urban shrinkage due to lowest-low fertility and/or large-scale out-migration.

These problems are inherent in a postindustrial Enriched World (at least practically) due to the combination of:
  1. extreme comparative disadvantage in non-mobile resources (agriculture, mining, forestry)
  2. limited flat land supply for maintaining replacement-level fertility
  3. high taxes demanded by the working classes since their formation and eventually enforced on governments after World War II further reduce the money available to form families
  4. inherent (at least in practice) large welfare states further reduce the incentives for women to have children
Despite this, there has generally been very little discussion of how the real Enriched (and Tropical) World will actually respond to urban shrinkage from lowest-low fertility or limited job opportunities.

In this context, although I was not able to read the full article, ‘How does(n’t) Urban Shrinkage get onto the Agenda? Experiences from Leipzig, Liverpool, Genoa and Bytom’ is a fascinating article to look at. It considers four European cities that in recent years have lost large proportions of their populations to these features and argues that policymakers do not take this into account.

However, I have not seen evidence of different attitudes by the real “policymakers” of the Enriched World – the working and welfare-recipient classes.

Urban shrinkage is no doubt easily accepted by locals who feel they can gain more space without losing the personal luxury items that are not obtainable in the more sparsely populated Australian suburbs where music listening and reading habits are comparatively exceedingly standardised.  The extremely materialistic character of welfare recipients will make them think population shrinkage is a good thing, because fewer people could theoretically spread the same wealth more widely.

However, each Enriched nation’s product of least comparative disadvantage does not remain such permanently. This is in severe contrast to Australia, Africa and Arabia where comparative advantage remains in the same specialisation – primary products – at all stages of development. It is difficult to see whether Enriched World governments will forever be able to cope with tax revenue loss from either departing industrial corporations or fewer working people. Personal luxury items which serve to define each individual in Enriched World cities are unlikely to provide the tax base people in these cities generally desire, and Enriched World politicians have enough dilemmas trying to maintain profitability and reduce debts without becoming vulnerable to an overthrow from the highly politicised – though outwardly peaceful – masses on which they depend. These masses fear that if regulations were dismantled and taxes reduced, they would lose job security, because secondary and especially tertiary industries are much more mobile than those sectors where Enriched World comparative disadvantage is greatest – agriculture and mining. This is made worse by their desire to spend so much on their favourite specialised consumer goods, rather than save for difficult periods.

Declining populations in many Enriched World cities have little hope to improve allocation of land, partly because the decline will mean more and more single-person households, but also because demand for high living standard will make people reluctant to ease development laws to permit more efficient use of land. In their book The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution, Barry Asmus and Wayne Grudem say:
“Just as environmental policies that are too lax [as in Australia and Africa today] allow for the careless destruction of the environment, so environmental policies that are too strict [as throughout Eurasia and the Americas today] prohibit wise use of the environment, as these restrictions also hinder economic growth”
These strict laws create problems for development of the large areas of steep land in Europe which surround cities built on tiny areas of flat land. If they were removed, it would be interesting to see if this steep land would be able to be used for anything other than recreation or wildlife habitat?? Most free-market urban planners (e.g. Wendell Cox) say nothing about whether urban housing can be built economically on slopes too steep to farm: if they can, there is, even allowing for erosion and other hazards, potential for dealing with the land shortage the Enriched World faces in a small way at least. Then, if the land shortage can be eased, so might lowest-low fertility, unaffordable welfare states, and a radically “selfist” culture – changes whose benefits I have noted before.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A special Christmas

This past few days have been wonderful for me inasmuch as my mother and brother have been together with me for the first time in four years. My brother during this period has lived in Singapore, Frankfurt am Main and Norman, Oklahoma working at various universities in subjects such as Asian Studies.

My brother had been home for ten days – after I had a terrible lockout which cost me $165 to get a locksmith and tired me out severely in a manner that is not good when the hot weather is coming – before Mummy came home and she said – rightly – that I was not nearly enthusiastic enough about seeing her return from Xī‘ān, but I forgave her for this swiftly.

I was very, very late in getting Mummy the bike, but experience buying my own bike a couple of months ago compensated for this delay quite well and consequently I was able to make a good decision. Once I had decided,  I called Mummy who was very excited, and even more so yesterday when I bought the bicycle home for her to see – though minus lock and helmet, which my brother bought soon after as we settled at home.
This is my mother’s new bicycle. It is the most expensive gift I have ever bought at $850 including helmet, panniers and lock, but it is one I had promised Mummy before Christmas and though about for a long time.

Today, we had a lovely Christmas dimmer – stuffed chicken, pork, beans and roast potato, along with a potato salad. I previously disliked potato salad, but seriously enjoyed this one totally. then there was a rally good Christmas cake and ice cream, which is very bad for my mass which has ballooned to over 130 kilograms or 20 stone on the old scale, but has made me feel much more “full” than I have in past years.

Comapred to recent Christmases, most of which have been spent in Singapore’s awful climate, this is the best I have had for a long time and Mummy talked at dinner about memories of which I – despite having a very good memory for most things – could not recall a thing about.

Monday, 23 December 2013

How Australia’s suburbs became a refuge from militant libertinism

The fact that during the Bush Senior Era Australia’s suburbs developed into a refuge from the militant atheism, radical individualism and radical egalitarianism that uniformly rule the Enriched World and most of the Tropical World is something that has grown obvious to me as I read and reflect upon what goes on globally today.

Still, seeing exactly how this happened and how long the political ultraconservatism of Australia’s suburbs has been a defining feature thereof is something quite independent of understanding why they became what they are.

Two articles I found studying The West Australian as part of a Wikipedia project I began in August to document WAFL seasons from as far back as possible provide more clues on this critical question than I had ever found before.

The earlier, ‘Penalise polluters, say Libs’, written in 1974 (I do not remember the precise date) is extremely revealing. Written to my ignorance by State Liberal divisions and severely criticised by Environment Minister “Moss” Cass, it said that – at a time when there might have been some opportunity to actually stop the severe environmental damage caused by Australia’s transport policies to Western Australia’s climate – that the government should cooperate with the States to conserve Australia’s resources, invest in beautification and foster public awareness of these problems.

Despite the fact that the policy of the Coalition was far more dreadful even in 1974 than I thought on first read, if it’s local branches were pushing for something less bad, it suggests that Australia’s masses might have been more concerned about their environmental impacts than they are now. Whether this reflects greater observation of ecological problems from tariff-supported local manufacturing or less concern about high interest rates, unemployment and housing unaffordability is not perfectly clear. My thesis is that, owing to the nineteenth-century rail systems still serving the current mortgage belt, they were not isolated from academic cultures as they are today and this may be a significant factor in mere demand for better environmental policy bilaterally.
The later article, ‘Most reject special land rights: survey’, dates from the twelfth of July, 1993 and a change in the perspectives of the majority of suburban Australians is clearly evident. The fact that “96 percent said Australia should develop its natural resources and minerals”, irrespective of the uniquely high environmental costs history has shown to be inherent in doing so, clearly shows that at this time, after punk, metal and rap had almost washed clean the values of the Enriched World, suburban Australia had become  a kind of cloister from “the world” – the extremely present-oriented and hedonistic music that swept over the Enriched World during my childhood. Natural growth of suburbs beyond a public transport system that extensive road construction rendered unprofitable isolated them from outsiders’ view, as seen in a Melbourne tourist guide which said clearly and calmly
“generally, there isn’t much that will attract you to the suburbs”.
Whilst a large number of people certainly found the values of the Boomers’ Enriched World highly reasonable, just, logical and sustainable, another potentially even larger number found them exceedingly difficult from an emotional perspective. The focus on science rather than people, the tendency to look at the abstract rather than practical and the consequent lack of usefulness of what many academics (myself included!) did at university, is something these people do no want.

They are quite different from my 1990s-era image of “working-class ‘Tories’” who swept Jeff Kennett to power in 1992 and 1996, being not macho and aggressive and loving motor racing and other violent entertainment. They are actually very selfless, charitable and the principle audience for the pop and country music that dominated stations like 3MP and the BAY back in the 1990s. Their dependence on low taxes and interest rates makes it very tough for them in the land- and lithophile-depleted Enriched World, where housing space is unaffordable for all but but the very rich and is severely restricted owing to powerful feeling of class envy towards that group.

This “community culture”, concerned with economics and the community rather than abstract ideas, made its home during the 1980s and 1990s in suburban Australia, and made its presence felt in Australian politics in two “waves” – the first in the 1990s and the second as I write.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A rare meal together with my brother

Although my mother has been in Xī‘ān over the past week, there has been the surprise of seeing my brother for the first time in a long while as a result of him working in Oklahoma and wishing to gain a prestigious job in Oslo. It has been wonderful to see my brother, though he still is extremely busy and the familiar tendency to sleep all morning is still apparent, although he says it is jet lag and that he has to get up every day to do much more serious work than I have ever had to.

As a result, though to my benefit after having to spend a whopping $165 to get back into the house after locking myself out through wrongly taking Mummy’s car keys without realising that she had taken away her own house key! it was terribly tiring for someone who was getting back into a better rhythm before this event, and it still effects me today even as I plan for a lot of Wikipedia work with very limited funds.

However, this Saturday, with the weather in Melbourne becoming much worse than its been (read “hotter” for “worse” if you do not believe me), I decided I should cook dinner for Jonathan for once and I was surprised at how much of a success I made of cooking some terribly old vegetables into a chicken stew. Jonathan really liked it - and in fact he helped whist I bought some new chicken stock so the stew could actually be made. I have a rare picture of it which I will show to see what you think: