Tuesday, November 15

An outline of the US electoral system

 Introduction
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.  
Senate
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.

Conclusion
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...
No!...No!...
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.        
    

Wednesday, September 21

Murder and mayhem – Mighty Tom’s trust betrayed

Tom faithfully returned each year to Eden (located on the south coast of Australia) as part of a Killer whale pod who hunted wales with the resident Homo sapiens. The arrangement was that the pod herded migratory whales into the bay, blocking off escape routes and chased them around until they were thoroughly exhausted. They then swam close to shore to the whaling station, thrashing the water with their mighty tales to signal to the whalers to man their whale boats and harvest the whales. The pod in turn was rewarded with the tongues (of no use to the whalers) which can weigh up to 4 tonnes and the lips as their share of the spoils.

No one is aware of how this unique and brutal partnership began but it is considered likely the aboriginals formed a bond before the whalers adapted a prior practice with the use of more modern equipment.  
The common bond extended not only to whaling but to shared tragedies of the cruel sea. The locals recall an extraordinary event involving a fearless young man deciding to take all of his family out to sea one fine day, boasting he was an expert seaman. But unheeding wise advice to stay within the confines of the bay his small boat capsized as a consequence of a sudden squall. His family tragically drowned and all of the bodies were recovered by the distressed community except for the father.

Tom knew where his body had lodged, firmly wedged underneath a rock with an entanglement of sea weed, but despite his best efforts to continually circle the area for several days he could not attract the attention of the whalers. Tom then joined up with the entire pod who all swam around in circles for days on end until the whalers finally realized what they were all trying to communicate. His body was subsequently recovered and it was decided on a burial service at sea, along with the Killers who witnessed the event.

But just as the trust strengthened, a series of tragic events unfolded which tore apart that trust built up over many centuries. Tom and the whales sometimes were prone to become overly enthusiastic chasing the whales around the bay and losing concentration at times becoming temporally beached in the shallower water. On one such occasion a stranger, observing the stranded killer whale rushed into the water with his gun and shot it dead. Before the local community of whalers realized what had happened the stranger had fled as the traumatized whales hastily left the bay, never to resume their migratory return. However after some considerable time Tom and some of the other whales did finally return and it was thought maybe Tom was able to persuade the pod it was a stranger unconnected to the community of whalers who had committed the murder.

However much worse was to come. There had been a change in the captaincy of the boat and the captain decided not to cut out the tongue and lips for Tom on one  fateful day before hauling the smaller( larger ones were usually left for several days) carcass ashore. One of the old time crew said to the captain “Tom is not going to like that, he’s likely to turn nasty and I don’t blame him! “.
But no amount of persuasion would change the skipper’s mind, greedy as he was to harvest the whale and not have to spend time in honoring the agreement with Tom and the pod. So he gave the order to the crewman who reluctantly headed for home.
But Tom then grasped the rope in his mouth with such force it was as if a hand had reached out and shook the boat in fury. A tug of war ensued, the skipper declaring was not going to be dictated to by a mere killer whale, so he ordered full throttle ahead until it all ended when they witnessed an amazing sight. The rope had apparently caught around one of Tom’s teeth which finally gave way as they witnessed its dislodgment and saw it sink to the sea bed. All Tom could do was to swim away in humiliated defeat. Tragically the tooth cavity became infected with an obsess, and, unable to hunt, Tom died of starvation. His body was washed up on the forshaw and it was decided to preserve his body and his skeleton which today can be seen at the maritime museum.

The missing tooth is evident and even the jaw has markings that are the exact same size as that of the roap and harpoon lines that entwined his mighty mouth so long ago when he became imprisoned within the bowels of the cruel sea.
My story is just one interpretation from the many that could be drawn from the material and photos of the whaler’s descendants, some of which can be viewed.

Old Tom           
 

Monday, September 19

Sir Edward Elgar "The Kingdom"


We attended the Melbourne Bach Choir performance of Sir Edward Elgar’s masterful oratorio (an oratorio is a large-scale musical composition usually on a sacred subject, for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra ) “The Kingdom” on September 18th 2016
 It was a thoroughly enjoyable recital from the large choir, orchestra, and 4 outstanding soloists with the added benefit of the magnificent Melbourne Town Hall organ in full voice. The four soloists were MiriamGordon-Stewart (soprano), Deborah Humble (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Goodwin (tenor) and James Clayton (bass). The conductor was Rick Prakhoff.
The work of Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) is oft overlooked in the shadow of his more famous predecessor namely Johann Sebastian Bach, (1685- 1750) and this was the first concert of this work in Melbourne since the 1940’s.

But lately appreciation for this magnificent work is gaining traction as was evident in the BBC Proms of 2014, where Sir Andrew Davis, described the work as “Elgar at his best”. Here is a recording of this rousing music under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis with the evocative story line of the very first fledgling Christian community.

 

Monday, September 5

Why St Paul the Apostle made so few reference to the Gospel in his letters.

Introduction 

St Paul was born in the ancient city of Tarsus which was the  capital in antiquity of a region known as Cilicia in south-central Turkey.
What I aim to discuss in this paper is why St Pauls letters, which make up nearly 50% of the New Testament, have few reference to the gospels.  By way of example the reference below is the sum total of his input as in Corinthians 15:3-8.  
Paul – A zealous Pharisee prior to his conversion
Paul was a Roman citizen who studied under Gamaliel in Acts 22:3.
He was a tentmakeradvanced in Judaism.  Galatians 1: 11-14. His familiarity in both Greek and Roman culture was evident in his letters as was his status as a Pharisee well versed in mosaic law. In the process of my research it also became apparent to me it was possible the respective paths of Jesus and Paul could have crossed given proximity in their ages, but this was not persued as it was not crucial to my enquiry. 
The traditional view Gospel details were already well known I found unconvincing. Surely Paul would want to make the link and confirm the sayings or parables of Jesus if he deemed such affirmation was relevant. Similarly all of the apostles who experienced the vision of the resurrected Christ would have not severed ties and communicated any new information relevant to Paul.    
Instead my research led me to an answer that stares us in the face. This is evident in the momentous event recorded in the last of the synoptic Gospels namely Luke: Acts. Here we find direct evidence Paul reaffirmed the earlier tacit agreements with the apostles.    
What this demonstrated to me is Paul’s lack on any detail in his letters was because that was all that was agreed upon by the apostles. Whilst there can be no doubt a growing oral gospel would emerge later neither Paul nor the apostles saw any reason to expand upon the simple good news account confirmed in the texts. 

The background of Jesus
In contrast Jesus’s background remains a mystery. There is very little known of his early life and even where he was brought up which is assumed to be Nazareth.  Even that is subject to some controversy as the reliable Jewish historian Flavius Josephe in his  summary of galilee he makes no mention to Nazareth in the list since it was established much later.  There is no historical record of Jesus directly connected with a sect such as the Nazarene / Essenes that might explain this. Only the contact  with John the Baptist and his disciples.
What we can say is Jesus as  a committed Jewish male  would have made every effort to attend the pilgrim festivals which were held each year (Passover, Hanukah and Succoth), meaning he conceivably could have visited frequently either before or during his 3 years public ministry. That would have afforded the opportunity for Paul to become aware of his sayings and teachings but we have no way of knowing for sure if any such exchanges took place.   
Why St Paul made so few references in his letters to the gospels and to the sayings of Jesus or to his teachings.
What is revealed by St Paul in his letters is his oft repeated idea of his mystical “in Christ” union which formed a new but integral feature of his teachings, as a consequence of Paul’s revelation on the road to Damascus. Although Pauline theology remains somewhat vague as to how such a transformation actually takes place it may well be simply a function of a new idea which takes root from his revelation but is not reliant specifically on a past ministry. Hence there seems no need to document or indeed preach a too detailed account of Christ’s earthly existence. Moreover in my view one might logically assume Paul had tacit approval by the other apostles who had experienced the vision of the “Risen Christ”. They were emboldened by this event which no doubt was the catalyst for them to go out and establish the fledgling Christian communities and to spread the " good news" in the format under which they all had agreed.  
What subsequently transpired, which is hardly surprising, is the inclusion of an increasing role of converted gentiles in the fledgling churches established by Paul began to rise of many issues evident in his letters. I now return to the momentous event recorded in the last of the synoptic Gospels namely in Luke: Acts. Here we find direct evidence Paul finally came to a common consensus. We learn  Paul revisited Jerusalem “after 14 years” to “set before them the Gospel I proclaim among the Gentiles. In order to make sure I was not running in vain” Galatians 2: 2.
Many years previously in the Acts of the Apostles there is reference to arguments with Peter which caused them to go in separate ways. But such differences seems most likely to be confined to the form and the extent or otherwise converted gentiles were to become Christians in the new order.
What we can gather from this momentous meeting is that Paul formed a consensus with those present. Under 1 Cor15:11 they were in effect all on the same page. A natural corollary to such a conclusion however is to ask the question why then were the Gospel Accounts subsequently  penned in such detail.
In attempting to answer this question one can at least agree on a few rather obvious factors inherent in examining the respective synoptic narratives. What we can say in summary is there is a contrast in purpose due to the changing audience to which they were primarily directed. The oldest as in Mark which was theological in nature and depicts an isolated Christ on the Cross. In Matthew which restates most of the material presented in Mark we have Jesus now surrounded by others, suggesting a much wider audience. These accounts rather obviously arose from a longstanding oral tradition which in itself was during a period of marked Christian diversity suggesting a changing purpose.   
But in Luke we have significant departure from the first two with much more detail but many exclusions evident for instance in the nativity depictions.   
What we can discern from this is they were written to evolving audiences, to existing Christian communities to answer questions and help unite different factions that inevitably arise over time. But the question remains if consensus was reached why then was Luke: Acts written in such great detail?
Once again an answer stands out starkly from the text itself, as the following facts give rise to a remarkable conclusion:
Luke appears to be the same person who accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys, as in 2 Tim 4:11.
The reason for the huge amount of detail and comprehensive  summary of all of the events In the Acts of the Apostles could have been to assist Paul due to stand trial before Caesar. Paul incidentally was determined to stand trial as a Jew rather than claim he belonged to another sect outside Judaism which would have rendered him of no interest to the Roman authorities.  
His trial was over alleged heresy in relation to the Law of Moses and that he defiled the Temple by stirring up trouble amongst  his followers which lacked respect to the Temple. At that time Roman law recognised the Jewish law so to be found guilty of one was to be held treasonable to Rome.

Bear in mind the author Luke talks about bringing clarity to the events that had been recorded previously and addresses his Gospel initially to just one person who remains unknown but conceivably might be a Roman official. 
The above points underpin the need to iron out inconsistencies in terms of what was evolving in the oral tradition evident in the  prior synoptic gospels of Mark and Matthew.

Hence all of the forgoing adds weight to the idea Paul’s decision not to include in his letters any detail on the gospels had some validity as it likely to muddy the waters on what was increasingly becoming a gentile audience. Notwithstanding he remained a Jew, and no doubt upheld the practices of Judaism, whilst asserting certain traditions were not necessary for incoming Gentiles.        
Conclusion    
Why St Paul made so few references in his letters to the gospels or elaborated  on them in any detail in my view is because consensus was reached on what to preach on a “resurrected Christ’ which rendered the detailed gospel accounts unnecessary.  

The purpose why Luke: Acts was written which was to support Paul in his trail before Caesar, but as to why the others were retained to become later canonized to form the New testament is way beyond the scope of this brief paper.
But what we can say is what we have today is a New Testament which is a moving feast of the propensity to adapt the events surrounding Christ’s ministry from the original unsigned manuscripts. Early Christianity was certainly far more diverse than we can image today with subsequent amendments stretching centuries on to reflect an intended audience and diversity of ideas at that time.  In fact to lesser or greater manner that is what underpins the sacred texts of all religions of the world.  
But for Christianity, I think in humility, we must accept the fact that we simply don’t know a great deal about Christ’s early life and even what he meant by the messianic kingdom yet to come which remains largely unrealized. Paul suggested that we can live a life free from the bondage of the law in a spirt of kindness which might embrace us as a mysterious holy spirit, the rest remains a mystery.