Monday, January 2

Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It.

I have just read “Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It, by philosopher Daniel Klein, an erudite writer who takes one effortlessly through a thoughtful but light-hearted stroll of his so called ‘pithiest’ notes, scribbled down when studying philosophy at College. The genesis of his book was the re-discovery of these old notes, which had remained dormant for over 40 years and initially shocked him by their youthful naivety.
But the youthful thoughts reignited an interest in what had motivated him to make notes, so he decided to write a fresh narrative. The scope covers philosophers from the enduring wisdom of the ancients, to the existentialists and post-modernists, but the quotes and supporting narrative are all guaranteed to get you thinking, But I must confess, thinking, like singing and reading is becoming more of my favourite pastime in life, since a crook back curtails me getting out on the golf course and doing battle with the little white ball when you can’t ever think of anything else. But I like the idea the journey being more important than the destination, just as Klein leaves us with more questions than answers.  

One example is from the Roman Emperor and Philosopher Marcus Aurelius “Do every act of your life as though it were the very last act of your life”. 
But another question he does not pose is "Can we have faith without doubt? 
Even the word faith, in modernity, conjures up the notion of a "blind faith" as opposed to one , conditional to our conscious perceptions and or experiences. For faith, by necessity, arises from our doubts to savior a hope and hopefully in the process shuns arrogance and intolerance.

Tuesday, December 13

A Life on the wicked stage

My wife and I performed in many Musicals and Reviews. The first photo was taken of me rehearsing as Lieutenant Daniel Gilmarton for “Calamity Jane" seen here in a scene with Calamity.

Next we are both together in the Musical operetta “The New Moon” my wife as a Flower girl enticing “Alexander” on her left and me as the landlord on her right. I recall it was quite stressful with our youngest of 3 only 2 combined with long dress rehearsals which didn't finish till midnight. The show was mainly an amateur production but the producer had sunk a lot of money into the show with elaborate sets, a fully paid orchestra and engaged the services of a well known professional for the role of the leading man. So he needed to sell a lot of tickets which fortunately came to fruition but not without a lot of real life drama I will elaborate on later.     

In the Gilbert & Sullivan production of “The Gondoliers” I was “The Grand Inquisitor” (character in the black costume) and next you see us both performing the song and dance number entitled “We’re a couple of Swells”.

“The New Moon”, was probably the most memorable, considering its beautiful music by Sigmund Romberg, creative staging and because of added  drama during the performance. Songs include "Marianne", "The Girl on the Prow", "Georgeous Alexander", "Softly as in the Morning Sunrise", "Stout Hearted Men", "One Kiss", "Wanting You", "Funny little Sailer Man", "Lover Come back to Me", "Love is quite a Simple Thing", "Try her out at Dancers", "Never for You" and "Lover Come Back to Me" .

Magnificent costumes and sets were hired from the Australian Opera including genuine 16th century cutlasses. Effects were further enhanced with the use of electrical charges for realistic explosions and puffs of smoke to denote cannon fire.
The story begins in New Orleans in 1792, at the home of Monsieur Beaunoir, a wealthy merchant, where preparation are being made to welcome Viscount Ribaud. the "Secret Eye" of King Louis XV1 of France, who is seeking to arrest Chevalier Robert Mission for his connections with the beautiful and impetuous Marianne Beaunoir, who is betrothed to Captain George Duval, of the Brig "New Moon".
Meanwhile, Robert's faithful servant, Alexander , has succumbed to the charm of Marianne's maid Julie, Clotilde Lombaste, to reclaim him. Using Marianne as an unwitting decoy, Ribaud contrives to capture Robert, but hoping to help him escape, Marianne professes her love for Duval so that she can sale with them in the "New Moon " to Paris. Aided by the opportune ariival of his friend,  Phillipe, Robert overthrows Duval's authority and leads the crew, woman-hater, bos'un Besac, and the passengers, to found the free Republican colony of the Isle of Pines. One year later, knowing the ships of the French Navy are approaching the island, Ribaud reunites Marianne with Robert and stirs the people to revolt, but his plans are thwarted when the ships prove to be  envoys come to propose the inclusion of the settlement in the newly - formed Republic of France.                                   
As you see from the plot it was a long production and we were on stage for nearly 3 hours.

The first real life drama occurred on opening Night as the men marched on to the stage. It was the custom on all opening nights to wish everyone metaphorically to “break a leg” but one chap performing in his very first show did that, within a few seconds of his first appearance in front of his friends and family, to stunned disbelief.

I remember there was an almighty crack; as he first twisted and broke his leg while marching out boldly onto the stage for the first time. An ambulance man administered oxygen to him back stage to help alleviate the terrible pain prior to his hurried stretcher removal to hospital. The show continued on after a short break.
The second drama occurred on the final night and involved the pirates. At that time it had proved difficult to find volunteers to act as pirates since they were only required for a few minutes on stage each night for what was nearly a 3 hour show. The local Cricket club came to the rescue with the required man power in exchange for our donation and slab of beer for each pirate. Except for the over zealous use at times of the cutlasses it worked well except for the grand finale on the Saturday evening as the boys then had decided to pay a trick on us, much to the fury of the Producer. They entered from the opposite side of the stage as was intended, to the amusement of a capacity audience as we appeared frozen in time as they crept up behind us.

In the confusion the Stage Manager panicked and let off some additional charges and pulled down the sails with the ropes onto the stage as the intended scene became a chaotic smoke filled confusion. Fortunately the audience concluded this must be an intended twist to insert local comedy to the traditional storyline.

After hastily pulling down the curtain amidst all of the turmoil and mayhem we regrouped and carried on as if nothing untoward had happened.

Wednesday, December 7

Did Attorney General George Brandis run dead on 300 million in tax?

Laura Tingle (AFR 2nd December 2016) reports that what is at play is “About a government’s responsibility to protect the revenue due to taxpayers and its responsibility to protect the constitution”.

Here is the story so far:
It’s all about a $1.7 billion pot of money. 

Central to the issues is a pot of $1.7 billion of money arising from a settlement in 2013 by the Bells Group bankers (the Bell group went into liquidation in the early nineties) who lost their case.
Creditors making claims included the cash strapped Western Australian State Government whose state -owned Insurance Commission of Western Australia had already spent $240 million in litigation.
Other creditors argued the government-owned Insurance Commission of Western Australia’s subordinated bonds ranked further back in the creditors’ queue. The Commonwealth of Australia Taxation Office was a substantive creditor with its tax liabilities approximating $480 million. 

According to the Attorney General in April 2015 there had been an exchange of letters between the WA Treasurer and the then Federal Treasurer, Joe Hockey, in relation to settling the Australian Taxations claim(s).
This exchange of letters occurred just before the Western Australian Office proceeded to introduce a bill to enable it to gain control of the winding up proceedings in a timely manner as it saw fit. The inference here is the WA claims would be secured.  But in any event such a move appears to be extremely unusual step to usher in state legislation over a matter already before the courts and under federal jurisdiction the constitution is quite clear under section 109 where there is inconsistency between state and federal laws then the Federal laws shall prevail.    

A Bill by Western Australia to take control of winding-up proceedings. 

Nevertheless in May 2015 the Western Australian parliament introduced the Bell Group Companies Bill 2015 (WA) to cover winding-up proceedings in a "timely manner". By 19 November 2015, the bill was law but on 27 November 2015, unsurprisingly some Bell creditors launched a High Court challenge to the validity of the Bell legislation.

High Court Challenge and involvement by the Attorney General.  

On 3 March 2016, the Attorney General claimed his first personal involvement (apart from that of his office) and that this was also the first time he became aware of the arrangement with former Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey.

Apparently after discussion the decision was taken that the Australian Taxation Office should intervene in the ongoing High Court proceedings. The Australian Taxation Office lodged an application to the High Court to take part in the case and be represented by the then Solicitor-General, Justin Gleeson.

On 16 May 2016, the High Court of Australia ruled against the WA Government and the Bell Legislation, finding that the legislation was invalid under section 109 of the Constitution (Cth), because of inconsistency between its provisions and the provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (Cth) and the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth).   

Report in the News Daily  
But in the News Daily it was reported "The West Australian‘s report claims the deal was scuttled by Mr Gleeson, who wrote a scathing submission to the High Court on behalf of the Australian Tax Office — which was separately trying to claw back $300 million — and that this strengthened the case against Western Australia.
Mr Gleeson’s intervention reportedly led to a “blazing row” between Senator Brandis and his West Australian counterpart Michael Mischin, and contributed to the break-down in the relationship between Mr Gleeson and Senator Brandis.

The Solicitor-General resigns
Justin Gleeson SC (SC equivalent of a QC) was the Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia until his resignation effective 7 November 2016, claiming his relationship with Attorney-General George Brandis is "irretrievably broken".

In his letter which you can read in the links here to the ABC article Gleeson claims a lack of consultation on laws on marriage equality and anti – terrorism laws. But what may have been the final straw concerned proposed provisions to preclude him from providing legal advice to anyone in the Government without the permission of the Attorney-General. This was a matter about which he claims he was not consulted but which the Attorney argues he was. Gleeson also maintains he was careful to set up protocols to ensure the Attorney-General was always copied in to all matters before him or arising independent to that which arose from the Auditor General.    

Mr Gleeson's intervention (as I have previously outlined) in the legal case before the high court was reportedly the reason for a "blazing row" between the Attorney General and his West Australian counterpart.
This event and matters leading up to it is reported as the reason for the break down in the relationship between the Solicitor-General and the Attorney General.

Laura Tingle aptly concludes her article “knowing what the Attorney General did about $300 million of taxpayer’s funds being siphoned off in a clear breach of the constitution, and why, should remain a question that doesn’t go away”.



Tuesday, November 15

An outline of the US electoral system

The USA has a House of Representatives, a Senate and State Legislatures where first past the post voting system are usually employed. Non-compulsory voting applies to elections held every 4 years to choose a President and State Governors, but there is only 2 year terms for the house Representatives. I have deliberately omitted any mention of the elaborate nominating process involving primary elections not mentioned in the Constitution.
House of Representatives

There are 435 districts and hence the same number of elected representatives based on electoral boundaries reflecting population density.  
There are 2 senators for each state meaning 100 senators are elected for 6 year terms.

Presidential Elections  
The election process is separate and unrelated to those for the House of Reps, Senate or for State Governors except for convenience and cost many hold their elections at the same time as occurred recently. Citizens don’t directly elect a President but do so via an “Electoral College “

The “Electoral College” process presides over the results of votes which add up in in total to all of the districts plus the two senators to number 535. A thinly populated state such as South Dakota has just one district equaling one vote with 2 senators for a total of 3 Electoral College votes. California as the largest state has 53 districts and 2 senators for a total of 55.   

Voters in each district vote for an “elector”, who is aligned to a particular presidential candidate running for President in that state. Once the popular vote results in a candidate gaining 270 electoral votes a majority result is achieved and we have a President elect. But the voters cast their votes for electors and once final tallies are confirmed the electors then have to cast their votes for the President and Vice President. This has yet to happen so the President is known as the President elect. In practice elector’s votes always mirror the popular vote because of their loyalty and service to a party, but theoretically under the constitution they have the right to vote differently.

It seems to me the provisions in the Constitution, with an amendment in 1804, to elect a President served the people well when there was limited transport and communicative facilities, but not to day. It’s my view the system seems overly complicated and costly.    

Sunday, November 6

On Butterflies wings and a prayer

Last Saturday according to the Sunday Age newspaper in Eltham,  a leafy northern eastern suburb of Melbourne where I live   "The battle for Eltham" dubbed by the newspaper was won by the butterflies which carried the day. 

The battle was between pro and anti refugees groups but what the small anti group of protestors encountered adorning the surrounding trees and footpaths were 8000 beautiful depictions of colourful butterflies. This was the predawn work of locals wanting to express symbolically their welcome to the 120 Syrian refugees soon to be accommodated in a section of an aged care facility. The pictures of police standing guard on the pavement under a blanket of large butterflies looked was quite amazing.       

The refugees are to be housed for 2 years in a separate section of  St Vincent's aged care facility which was previously derelict but now renovated for their use while they re-establish themselves. 

Protestors put up signs "Protect elderly in aged care" but the renovated independent units are separate to the high care section and only families will be occupying the units and no single men. Others have voiced concern these units could have been used to alleviate shortages in aged care. But demand is specific only to high care and there is no shortage of independent units in the shire.                  
In our local Catholic church parishioners have been very active for a number of months organising donations of essential household goods for designated units so that the refugees feel welcome.   

Thursday, October 27

Cracks and painful realities emerging in Australia as an egalitarian society

Australia, has in the past been regarded as an egalitarian society, where we have tended to opt for a living wage rather than let people rely on tips and have embraced a flatter social structure than for instance still exists in the UK. About 92% of people still describe themselves as working or middle class.   

But cracks are beginning to emerge as is evident in the latest HILDA survey, which is a paper compiled by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research. However one of the more interesting conclusions by the author Professor Roger Wilkins from the University of Melbourne was I think perhaps one of the remarkable features of Australia since the economic slowdown is that inequality hasn’t discernibly risen and poverty rates have actually declined slightly, since the GFC, so to date Australia has handled the slowdown quite equitably but whether that will continue in the future I’m not so sure.”
The HILDA survey is an extremely useful snapshot of Australia and I agree with the assertion that “I think we do face the prospect that income inequality will widen and economic disadvantage will increase over coming years, but it all depends on what particular budget measures are introduced to bring the deficit down and so it’s certainly not inevitable that that will happen.”

 “We collect information on virtually all aspects of life in Australia be it employment, income, health, wealth, education, family life and so on, and so that richness combined with its longitudinal nature really makes it a unique source of information about life in Australia.”
We do not have to follow the lead from overseas and our current system is not broken but must be maintained and enriched to ensure the class warfare we see evidence of abroad, does not become embedded in society.    

If you would like to read the full report – click here

Sunday, October 23

Harry Secombe - At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!

The hilarious Goons dominated British radio comedy in the 1950's, made up of Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Harry Sercombe. Sercombe, whose vocal gymnastics and wonderful humor was infectious, additionally possessed a wonderful tenor voice. This is evident in this recording above of “Nessun Dorma” from Giacomo Puccini's opera, Turandot.  
The aria "Nessun Dorma" which occurs in the third act, shot up in popular appeal became it became the theme song of Pavarotti’s’ rendition to support the vivid imagery of the world cup. The aria has since remained a favourite ever since in the publics’ eyes.  

Puccini's interest was first sparked by his reading of Friedrich Schiller's 1801 adaptation of a play based on the works of the romantic Persian poet Nizami of the 12th-century.The story is set in China where Prince Calaf falls in love with the cruel Princess Turandot. But any man claiming the princesses’ hand in marriage must firstly answer correctly three riddles, with death the penalty for failure. Calaf accepts the challenge and subsequently to the delight of her father and the kingdom answers all 3 riddles correctly. Princess Turandot however is upset she is now forced to marry a stranger. Calaf agrees if she can correctly answer his own riddle before dawn, he will die. But if she is unable to answer correctly, he will marry her.

But the princess says she will not sleep until she finds out the name of her suitor. She announces everyone in the kingdom will be killed if no one steps forward to reveal Calaf's identity. Calaf then sings "Nessun Dorma" (Nobody shall sleep).
Italian Text
Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o, Principessa,
nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle
che tremano d'amore
e di speranza.
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà!
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò
quando la luce splenderà!
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio
che ti fa mia!
(Il nome suo nessun saprà!...
e noi dovrem, ahime, morir!)
Dilegua, o notte!
Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle!
All'alba vincerò!
vincerò, vincerò!

English Translation
Nobody shall sleep!...
Nobody shall sleep!
Even you, oh Princess,
in your cold room,
watch the stars,
that tremble with love and with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
my name no one shall know...
On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!...
(No one will know his name and we must, alas, die.)
Vanish, o night!
Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!

Puccini began composing this work in 1921 but died of a heart attack in 1924 before it could be completed. The Opera however was completed from the remaining 36 pages of sketches on 23 sheets of music, leaving the matter of a conclusion open to interpretation. Hence various endings were written until a shortened version inclusive of a happy ending ensued which are usually performed today. But Puccini may not have really believed in a happy ending, since many of his prior operas were inclined to tragic endings.   

Tuesday, October 18

Les fast thinkers

In “Waleed Aly tests media crowd with French philosophy” AFR 17th October 2016, Bryce Corbett  reports on Aly’s reference to Pierre Bourdieu “les fast thinkers” in his Olli Media Lecture, positing TV land avoids thorough analysis since it is constrained by severe deadlines.
Aly contends, this fast moving mainstream competitive environment of commercial media precludes sufficient time to engage or analyze alternatives and hence ignores proper debate on many of the modern day issues facing society.Instead, there is a propensity for a more nuanced approach which is hostage to popular opinion or to a selective audience combined with extreme brevity which omits alternative views. What is often called a debate is just a rival extreme exchange of views in the absence of moderation or rules because a proper debate would take far too long.   
I think we risk this continuing trend to brevity and a lack of proper analysis, spurred on by the relentless pressure for repeated recycled information to be conveniently spread across all mediums. A change of heart is crucial as we enter a new era where robotics and artificial intelligence soon will become embedded in our way of life. What is needed is a set of values as otherwise we risk being overtaken by inappropriate technological outcomes, to further alienate an already fractured society.  
We urgently need more debate on an acceptable code of values for the media and technology, appropriate for the 21stcentury.     

Monday, October 17

R. Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony

One of my favourite composers is Ralph Vaughan Williams whose distinctive work is easily  recognisable. A Sea Symphony combines voice and orchestra to capture the power of the ocean and the majestic vessels traversing that mighty deep we call the sea.    

Thursday, October 6

A new kind of infrastructure required for renewables

The recent costly power failure in South Australia,during extreme weather conditions, highlights the need for a more supportive flexible transmission system able to accommodative fluctuating base supply arising from a greater use of renewables such as wind. The old system which was predicated on a steady base rate supply from coal and gas is ill suited to the current moves into renewables. Instead what is needed is a far more flexible system entailing a greater number of power stations, with back up storage and more transmission lines as we become more dependant on cleaner energy. 

Some days – at least in South Australia there will likely be a lot more solar in the daytime, quite likely up to 100 per cent of daytime demand on occasions. And there will be times when there is a lot less wind. On some days there will be little wind or solar, so the South Australia grid will have to rely on more gas (expensive) or more brown coal from Victoria (dirty and not so cheap) through the inter-connectors. Furthermore theses interconnectors were only designed for a regular flow of energy that could be met through the use of coal or gas and the transmission lines were built to a specification to withstand winds of up to 150kph. The recent extreme weather brought wind gusts approaching or exceeding these limits.

However it's not an insoluble problem facing the Australian states moving to increase renewables in their energy source mix. What is required is a system where base rate loads are spread across all the supply options with supportive infrastructure. Far too much reliance, it would seem, was placed on interconnectors which were never designed for the purpose to which they were expected to operate  under during these recent extreme weather conditions.
This is has been a wake-up call to plan urgently for a new kind of infrastructure required for renewables and to ensure we have in the process a more reliable cleaner energy future.

The fact our Chief Scientist now has to undertake an analysis of what is now needed aptly demonstrates the paucity of prior state planning.