Thursday, 30 April 2009

Strong support for a belief of mine

For years, I have been curious as to why Australia - undoubtedly the most socially conservative nation in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development - is not greatly more overt in its religiosity than it actually is.

Australia's basic social characteristics strongly suggest a culture where religious attendance is at least twice as high as it is even among the most conservative sections of society. For one thing, my RMIT minder, though very conservative and supporting most of what the Politically Incorrect Guides say (when I bought him the Guide to English and American Literature he said he agreed with over ninety percent of it), never said anything to me about attending religious services. Nor are people in the ultraconservative outer suburbs noisy about being religious even if the occasional crucifix does suggest some indeed are religious.

It has long been known that big government tends to erode religiosity, and having my knowledge of astrology and basic personality theory it makes sense that people with a very committed and devout faith would support small government because they tend to be highly feeling (in astrological terms "watery") in their orientation. This recent study (though its results are quite old) by Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgårde confirms this, by showing how welfare spending makes people less religious.

However, what is striking about the two diagrams shown in this post is how much less religious Australia is than its low level of welfare spending suggests it would be. Judging by other nations shown, Australia's rate of church attendance should be around forty percent, more than twice what it actually is and far above even attendance levels I imagine exist in the most Catholic-dominated sections of outer suburbs.

The explanation I favoured before reading these articles and still favour afterwards is a founder effect whereby the character of the first settlers of Australia, who were quite secular Protestants, have distorted the high religiosity favoured by Australia's extraordinary abundance of minerals and usable land. I imagine that in the future the likely failure of big government in Europe, Asia, North America and New Zealand could well cause so much downsizing in Australia (the only developed country whose people can accept it), which, if Gill and Lundsgårde are right, will see religiosity in Australia far ahead of any other country outside Africa or the Middle East, as simple resource models would predict for an industrialised globe.

A voluntary utility-free month, then year?

Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newtown have in recent days both been writing about special projects by which people volutarily go without utilities for a certain period. Having experience studying the Amish, I am aware that properly done this can be a very valuable personal experience for people.

Sharon Astyk is very right, however, that to be a serious test people would have to live without utilities permanently as the Amish do, or for a very long time so that they would become skilled in living without them and learning how to conserve water and heating, as well as to eat fresh foods not dependent upon refrigeration. For many Australians this is very difficult because in the exceedingly hot summer days that the new climate will bring, food would not survive the week between readily available days on which to shop. Moreover, most families do not have the time I possess to shop for food almost every day.

Therefore, the skill required in shopping to achieve the kind of lifestyle that Sharon Astyk is very worthy in suggesting and which Australia’s ecology in fact dictates would necessitate major changes in what people buy.

Fruit, meat and milk would have to be dried or otherwise modified in order to allow keeping for the period between shopping days, which I know from experience to affect taste but in a way I imagine people can adapt to. It is of course true that short practice will help, so why not develop a plan to voluntarily go without utilities for extended periods of gradually increasing length up to a year, which would allow people of course to understand most conditions they are likely to experience. Given that Australians are quite accepting of discomfort - at least judging by the lack of protest against runaway climate change and gradually tightening water restrictions from Melbourne’s population over the past decade - they ought at least to be willing to try to live without utilities and yet with minimal disturbance to their daily life. I admit my house is no likely candidate with its leaky doors and shoddy plasterboard construction, but for even marginally better-made houses it should be worth a try for anybody serious about saving Australia’s fragile and diverse environment.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The issue of whose side the public is on is too important

Today in the Age, Penny Wong appears to be complaining about the Coalition's refusal to sign up for totally unacceptable greenhouse emissions reductions.

Whilst, as I have said way, way too often, Wong is herself ludicrously half-hearted, the real issue of what the ultraconservative, poorly-understood Australian public wants and thinks is unfortunately never mentioned. The mere fact that polls suggest support for emissions reductions - though surveys are not done in a manner such as to create what I feel is necessary - is hardly sufficient when evidence from abroad suggests those who are most sceptical of global warming are likely to have the largest families. Moreover, the Coalition may well sense (and in my opinions they have every right to) that the apparent recession provides, as the one in the early 1990s did, an opportunity for radically downsizing public services and quite possibly for much more thoroughgoing deregulation than carried out by Kennett and Howard.

The failure to realise the possibility that Australia's next generation will be greenhouse-sceptic to an extent unforeseen abroad has another side: that, as Dennis Prager said, Europeans really care about little apart from their own leisure and pleasure. If they really did care about global warming, they would be trying as hard as they could to nullify Australia's immense advantage in cheap land by conscientiously refusing to ever buy food grown in Australia and to use as little as possible of materials from Australia.

Even if such a move does not reduce Australia's wealth to the level of the rest of the world, it would at least increase the wealth of Europe, East Asia and New Zealand above absolute zero. That of itself would enhance their culture's chance of survival and reverse the masculinisation (secularisation) that is leading to problems like lowest-low fertility and collapsing pension systems.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Yet another list to be found

Today's web browsing has made me realise that there was actually much more work in compiling the 50 greatest footy players than just that of judges Bob Davis, Ron Carter, Tom Hafey, Ron Barassi and Ken Hands. In addition to the list I described in my previous post, there was another list by Scott Palmer of the legendary "Palmer's Punchlines" during my childhood.

Although Scott Palmer's list is not so similar to the one of Hafey et. al., it still displays marked similarities, so much so that the top seven players are all among the top ten of the list published in the Age last June, and there is no surprise in the entire list apart from perhaps inaugural Brownlow Medallist Edward "Carji" Greeves and Des Fothergill, who in 1940 carried Collingwood almost single-handedly through a terribly tough year.

My mother, responding to the list as I described it properly, said that she could not agree with the way in which Wayne Carey had come to be seen as perhaps the best player ever. Knowing as she does some of the stars of the AFL through working at school with their children, she said Wayne Carey was a "horrible" person and that he did not deserve to be near to the top of such a list!

A peek inside the mind of another judge

Last year, I noted that The Age has been making a list of the 50 greatest footy players of all time, based upon the opinions of Bob Davis, Ron Carter, Ron Barassi, Ken Hands and Tom Hafey. Because I love lists of any sort, I have been really curious about this one, because like the list of John Woodcock in the 1998 Wisden, it shattered preconceived notions I had possessed.

Today, searching for comments on that list (I am wont to see what people think about every list that seriously garners my attention), I found this list by longtime footy commentator Mike Sheahan. The surprising thing is that with three exceptions it is the same as the Top 50 of the others. The three players Sheahan included that were omitted later were:

- Len Thompson
- Syd Coventry
- Albert Collier
- Robert Harvey

Three of these were Collingwood players, which leads one to think there might have been bias detected in Sheahan's list by Davis, Carter, Barassi, Hands or Hafey. The players omitted were:

- Horrie Clover
- Reg Hickey
- Allan La Fontaine
- Dave McNamara

This suggests that the judges realised Sheahan's older players were too focused on Collingwood, so that some correction had to be made. Neither Len Thompson nor Albert Collier were even listed as "Near Misses" in the later Top 50, though a few readers thought "Big Len" deserved inclusion with one saying he was the best player from 1971 to 1975.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Ecological leadership needs to be forced on Australia - and hasn't

Adam Morton's post in WA Today pointing Britain's commitment to deep emissions cuts is really revealing for the point it makes not only about Australia, but about the way the self-centred populations of Europe fail to realise that by concentrating on reducing their own emissions, they can claim to be environmentally sensitive when they are not.

The facts are:

1) the free market encourages high efficiency in Europe and low efficiency in Australia

2) high efficiency comes at a human cost that is clearly unaffordable demographically

3) that low efficiency is ecologically unaffordable in Australia but not dangerous in Europe simply because its soils and oceans are a renewable resource

4) that any really serious attack on greenhouse would focus almost exclusively on changing Australia from the country with the highest per-capita emissions to the one with (by an order of magnitude or more) the lowest

5) that reductions in Australian emissions would have much more effect upon living standards in Europe than reductions in European emissions

6) that European people are far more unwilling to accept reductions in living standards or quality of life from not having access to Australian goods than Australians are from the decline in environmental quality brought about by runaway rainfall declines and hotter temperatures

7) that sustainability in Australia would mean rigid laws eliminating cheap baseload electricity and all private cars but would encourage immensely more innovation in even a smaller private sector

8) that governments in other OECD nations and international conservation bodies should have tried to gang up on Australia during the Howard era to encourage something approaching sustainability - or if that was impractical, to try and encourage policies that would have made the rest of the world less dependent on Australian minerals and especially food

It is so annoying to see the claims one does by people like Penny Wong. If Australia was a real leader our museums would have a scene (or picture thereof) like that at Denmac Ford during the 1980s, only saying "LAST NEW CAR" instead of "LAST FALCON V8". In addition, unnecessary street lighting would be completely eliminated (I know too well that bike lights are sufficient) and houses and/or clothing would be much better designed so people could live without baseload power. That is what Australia would be like if it really wanted something approaching sustainability, whilst the rest of the world would get its food from less labour-efficient but more ecologically suitable places whatever they might be.

Is there such a thing as "properly using natural wealth"?

In a very recent post "South Africa Fades", Rod Dreher is pointing out that South Africa is failing in exactly the same way other states of sub-Saharan Africa did. The very first commentator attributes this to the inability of black Africans to develop efficient capitalist businesses, claiming they simply rob the country of its mineral wealth. The article from which Dreher based his news points out that South African education is very poor even compared with other countries in Black Africa.

Yet, people never make similar claims about Australia, despite the fact that a couple of days ago I saw that Australia's private sector invested an exceptionally small fraction of its income in research compared with that of European nations - and this was back in 1984 before increasing criticism of Australia's lack of innovation during the John Howard era emerged.

Yet, it is tempting to ask how much the poor economic performance of Black Africa would really be improved with the recommendations of Austrians and their allies. Austrians themselves admit that scarcity drives innovation in performance but never, ever consider what happens where there is no scarcity or even a glut as is the case with the supply of usable land in Australia and many parts of Black Africa. The answer, quite simply, is that if there is no scarcity there is no incentive to innovate, especially as people's desires are likely to be less when resources are abundant. (If resources are so scarce relative to demand that conservation becomes impossible or impracticable, then the incentive is to substitute for them completely. This is why mercury was phased out for most uses, not concern over its toxicity.)

Although South Africa's white minority is quite small, if it was as innovative as European nations of comparable or slightly larger size like Sweden or Switzerland, it could still achieve a great deal. The problem is that it is in the same position as Australia's population, and thus tends to become stuck with the attitudes developed when it colonised the area. It is tempting to say that if Bantu (or, I should point out, Nilotic or Cushitic or even Austronesian) farmers had not expanded into Southern Africa before Europeans, we would see the similarity between Australia and sub-Zambezian Africa much more clearly. As it is, there is much more poverty, but it is wrong to assume that extreme pro-capitalist reforms would turn sub-Saharan Africa into an innovative industrial powerhouse. The only exceptions that I would call likely are East Africa and the Gulf of Guinea coast, and even these do not have the land scarcity of the Alps or Himalayas or California or Japan. The best it could become is an Australia-like ultraconservative primary-product dependent land, and Australia's current history shows the dangers of that.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

A nightmare that wasn't

Tuesday night was one I would rather forget but one that still shows up a lot about my personal behavior.

Originally I planned to buy some Chinese food for dinner because my mother was out at Parent/Teacher night and my brother was not at home. However, after I contacted my mum from the public phone in Elgin Street, I though I might as well try for something cheaper and/or less oily than is offered by the Chinese restaurant on the eastern side of Rathdowne Street. Therefore I went into the plaza on the western side of Drummond Street and had a quite luxurious toasted baguette and a milkshake as dinner.

I had always planned to spend the evening in the Bailleau Library, but for a moment I thought I could walk there. This is where the trouble began because during my time in the Bailleau - which lasted from about 18:30 to 21:00 - I thought I had left my bike in Elgin Street and when I walked back from the Bailleau I found it was not there. I thus rang up an already-worried mother and brother who told me to talk to the police.

The police, though frustrated by how rapidly I spoke, told me when I gave a description of the bike that it was likely to have been stolen by young kids who were wanting illegal drugs. After this I went home for the night but in the process I had hallucinations that some of the kids in the old housing blocks on the western side of Rathdowne Street had stolen the bike and were joyous as making me pay for my bad behavior. I was as I walked east down Palmerston Street that these hallucinations began, and when I heard a black boy talking and playing basketball with himself I began to really scream violently. I said he had seized my bike and that he should have his house searched for M-rated movies and violent heavy metal or rap music that I have imagined to make people want to do these things. At my worst screaming I was telling him that he should be restricted to movies and music rated "G" until he was fifty years old! However, the boy was saying in very rude language that he would kill me and two other black boys whom I was passing said that I should cut out the conversation if I did not want to be killed! Though I was really angry, I did that and called home.

When I was home, I told my mother about what I thought had happened. She agreed she would pay half the cost of a new bike, and told me I should ask Cash Converters and recheck the area whilst it was light. She said I had improved dramatically despite my description of the vivid screaming on Rathdowne Street.

On a warm day today, after much work with washing and food, I finally walked to check for my bike and confirmed it was not where I though I left it in Elgin Street. However, surprise of surprises, I had actually taken it to the Bailleau and it remained there when around 14:00 I visited the place again! I do not know what hallucination prevented me from even checking the stand outside the Bailleau on Tuesday, but it is still a relief the bike was not stolen!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Is anti-modernism a necessary response to an unwinnable struggle?

One of the most effective (even for free marketers) responses to the claim of Austrian economists that capitalism ensures every country will specialise in what it can produce most effectively is this:

"in reality the distribution of resources is such that an exceedingly small minority of countries (or societies, or communities, or regions - you name it) will specialise in the production of the vast majority of goods and services, leaving the remainder to compete for producing a small number of goods and services"

To illustrate how effective this argument proves, even my last RMIT minder, who generally agree with most of what the PIGs say, was very responsive to my suggestion. Particularly he pointed out how, as I have mentioned too often already, Australia's supply of usable land and minerals means it can produce the great majority of primary products more efficiently than any other country.

Rod Dreher and Sharon Astyk, two key figures in the modern "localist" movement, have both argued that a future based on local products is the only means for cultural survival in what I as an environmental scientist call the "enriched" regions of the world (all except Australia and sub-Saharan Africa).

What the history of the world post-World War II has shows is that the free market will deliver "enriched" regions incomes and living standards higher than mineral- and land-rich Australia though continual striving for improved efficiency in the use of both land and labour: in the process directing these regions' economies to business services, tourism and precision instruments or other luxury goods. What it also shows is that this comes at the cost of an organic, community-oriented culture. The most important essentials for strong communities and stable families - housing space, energy and food - have become so unaffordable that today Europe and East Asia suffer from fertility rates so low to risk major labour shortages or a quite literally anti-human culture in which robots do all the work. Though one can say farm subsidies drive up housing costs and welfare reduces the value of children, even were these eliminated the problem might be unsolved, for:

1) detached family housing that would permit affordable family formation is not certain to compete perfectly with the tourist industry for land liberated by eliminating farm subsidies. Moreover, if all their farmland were converted to housing Japan and Europe would not match Australia's housing space

2) East Asian nations suggest that if welfare were ended people in land-short nations would rely not on children but on savings to give insurance against reaching an age when they can no longer work.

Moreover, as other nations industrialise it is likely to be very difficult for Europe and East Asia to cope since an increasing number of nations will be competing for the same class of products and for the tourist dollar. In Allan Carlson's interesting book Third Ways, he fails to consider whether the Japanese economic miracle was a factor in leading many European countries to abandon pro-family policies in the quest for short-term wealth. I see no reason to rule this out.

What Rod Dreher and Sharon Astyk hopefully offer is a much more modest goal that aims to actually use the natural resources "enriched" regions actually do have. They recognise that capitalism can provide high living standards in the short term at the cost of rapid cultural loss, so that they aim to create small communities that might be poorer than the business communities of European cities or Australian farmers on blocks of land as large as Hong Kong, but which are sustainable in both an ecological (unlike extensive Australian farming) and cultural (unlike high-density European cities) sense. Most especially, they hopefully will provide an alternative to the self-destructive materialism of modern Eurasian culture from which capitalism itself cannot be exonerated, yet at which socialism is far worse still.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Music's lost poet has a site

My most important recent discovery has been the music of 1970s band Renaissance, since the "punk revolution" reviled and generally ignored by just about every modern critic or seen as overblown and overtly virtuosic.

Having been curious merely from a list on of female vocal albums I was looking at when seeking a few limited-edition Laura Nyro reissues, it has loomed upon me that Renaissance, like Laura Nyro, were an artist whose innovation and influence has been obscured by the "punk revolution" because they moved so far from the "simple, loud and fast" criterion that too many (including people whose skill makes me actually admire them, like "janitor-x"). In a sense, what Renaissance did was even further than Laura Nyro from what the music press admires, at least in terms of the political incorrectness of songs like "Mother Russia" and "The Sisters". I also fell Annie Haslam's survival from breast cancer could have prevented Renaissance from enjoying the rehabilitation and revival of interest Laura Nyro has enjoyed since she died of ovarian cancer in 1997.

The lyrics of these songs, which like so many Renaissance pieces yearn for a simpler past, were penned by Betty Thatcher, a professional poet who never was involved with music. This may be why they are so different from often fantasy-oriented the lyrics on finds on other progressive rock albums or the "streetwise" tone of underground music.

Recent days have seen fans of Renaissance inform me that Betty Thatcher has been very ill. I sympathise very much with these people, although almost all I imagine as being much older than me and having seen the band when it was active. Very little is actually known about Betty Thatcher in spite of the fact that the beauty of her musical poetry deserves more attention than it gets - for instance, "Cold As Being" is an amazing meditation on ecological catastrophe. The surprise today was to find a YouTube site by Betty herself. Though incomplete, I hope the site can draw some attention to a group who, almost if not quite as much as Roxy Music, showed ecstatic, mystical beauty was not necessarily exclusive of working as a tightly-knit group.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

An essay on a botched job

Over the last week I have written an Epinions essay criticising ChooseCo's reprinting of the Choose Your Own Adventure series.

A point I am curious about is what R.A. Montgomery and Shannon Gilligan will do once they runs out of their own books to reprint. Probably next will be either the books of R.A. Montgomery's deceased son Ramsey or Jay Leibold titles like Sabotage, Grand Canyon Odyssey, Spy for George Washington, The Antimatter Formula, You Are a Millionaire or Surf Monkeys, all of which are listed on the recently revised ChooseCo site. If they do not reprint these, it will be a surprise if they reprint one of the many other authors who have licensed their rights to ChooseCo without having a book reprinted. More likely they will simply end their reprints and who knows if anybody will be curious to take the series up again.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Cultural refugees: something Australia may soon face - or has it done so for a long, long time?


and here one sees an excellent description of how Uwe Romeike, a German father trained as a pianist, has been exiled to Tennessee because of the mandatory school attendance laws enforced in Germany. My personal learning experience makes me more supportive of homeschooling than most of my family would like me to be. As John Holt pointed out, school does not do as much as teachers would believe to help people learn. Indeed, my most efficient learning has generally been self-taught, though my mother and brother have always criticised me for using sources they consider dubious.

Equally importantly, in an age when material conditions encourage cultures in Europe and Asia to view empathy and emotional ties as dangerous, even sinful, families like those of Uwe Romeike could easily show that this is wrong and that deep feelings have a place in a healthy society.

My previous post discussed what will happen if the US becomes more like Europe, Canada and New Zealand: Australia will become the sole refuge for those seeking the values of traditional Western Civilisation. Most conservatives in the US argue that homeschooling is necessary to preserve these because the public school system indoctrinates people with atheistic humanism. That would mean that if Obama is doing what Mark Steyn says he is, then people like Uwe Romeike will automatically seek unused land (or land no longer able to support those species it was dedicated to protect) in a desertified southern Australia to set up conservative homeschooling families.

However, what I do wonder is whether Australia being a conservative refuge is at all new. Many of Australia's present outer suburbs were originally settled during the 1950s by refugees from Eastern bloc Stalinism. Even earlier, there is agreat likelihood that many migrants, given that the social conservatism of Australia is not new, were forced out of Europe by political upheaval as well as the intolerance of governments closely tied to religions (that depend on small government for effective functioning). So even if you agree with me that future conservatives will go in larger numbers to empty desertified land in Australia, you could still see how far from being new this occurrence is.