Wednesday, December 28

What I believe but can’t really prove:

Just for interests sake I thought I would list what I believe but can’t really prove:
1. Natural selection governs the evolutionary nature of all things to determine their existential status subject to continual and repeated creations.
2. Within this creation exists awareness which acknowledges a superior force or energy which must, by logical necessity, exceed what could be imagined as separate to self. This is the root of all religions and their beliefs.
3. The perceived order of the known universe gives rise to universal laws that mimic grand design even though at the smallest level particles defy these laws and at the outer extremities they break down. So that one can say at the most basic level life remains an ever deepening mystery.
4. All things are dependant and co exist with another and the environment and universe is a product of those entities that inhabit that space.
5. A void is only a void to the extent we are not aware of what makes up that space.
6. Freewill only exists as causality in decisions at the time as opposed to our unknown future about which we might say is more to do with our fate than our choice.
7. Ultimately all that exists can reduce to pure energy of one kind or another.
8. When we die or body dies but we pass on to another form of energy.

Sunday, November 6

Your money or your life; your life or Australia?



Patrick Byrnes- highway robber, convict & cedar getter
Guest blog post by Rachael Byrnes.


They were a strange and wild set... of desperate ruffians .They are certainly the most improvident men of the world” (John Henderson, Pastoralist, 1840s).

As I read the above quote about the cedar cutters of the Nambucca region in the 1840s, I can’t help but think that it could easily be a description of me: a wild ruffian living hand to mouth!! Perhaps that’s going a little too far, but knowing that this small community was home to my great great great great grandfather, I can’t help but wonder... is there a little bit of Patrick Byrnes in me?

My name is Rachael Byrnes, my father, your usual blogger here, is Lindsay Byrnes and his great great great grandfather was a Patrick Byrnes; a highway robber, convict, cedar getter and tavern owner. Boy! Is that a tough infamous bill to live up too!? I can’t claim to be a cunning thief or frontier opportunist but as I read Norma Townsend’s book Valley of the Crooked River, I am amused by little clues that provide some insight into who I am and why.

Patrick Byrnes, a brief background
Patrick Byrnes was born in Tipperary, Ireland in 1816. He was convicted of highway robbery in 1836 and sentenced to death, a sentence then revoked in exchange for transportation to Australia. Patrick was just 20 years old when he was convicted of highway robbery. It is likely that he resorted to crime to survive as many poor and oppressed Irish of that era did.

Patrick was transported on the Captain Cook, and sailed for 187 days to reach Australian shores. After several years of convict labour he was granted a ticket of leave. There is no information about Patrick’s time as a convict but there is no doubt that it would have been a gruelling and unforgiving period of tough labour.

In 1848 Patrick married Emma Howell in Sydney before moving to the Nambucca region in northern NSW, an area rich in unexploited cedar wood. It is suggested in Norma Townsend’s book that Patrick and a friend by the name of James Cook moved to Nambucca, as part of a joint cedar getting plan. Howell’s family were also cedar cutters which may have provided extra incentive to move to this remote area.

Cedar wood was known as Red Gold as it was one of the most important Australian exports of the time. A dramatic rise in price in the 1850s made cedar getting, even in treacherous frontier areas like the Nambucca, more attractive.

Life on the Nambucca in the 1850s

Patrick, Emma and James were part of a third wave of cedar getters to the area. The early getters had left much of the cedar trees untouched and had not settled in the area. Poor access and laws preventing land selection left early cutters with no incentive to build communities along the Nambucca.

Even when Patrick, Emma and James arrived in the area, crown land was not available for sale and at best could only be held under pastoral lease. A timber licence permitted occupation of Crown land but none was held on the Nambucca until 1864. In the 1850’s economic development in the Nambucca was somewhat crippled. Sawyers lived from hand to mouth and dealers spent much of their profits outside of the valley. Most settlers, like Byrnes and Cook, eked out a precarious existence initially and struggled in the most primate conditions. There was little point, for example, in putting up but the most flimsy shelters or making any improvements without title to the land.

The history of European settlement during this period is somewhat lost in the mists of time but we can only imagine the struggles and hardships that men like Patrick would have endured deep in these wild subtropical rainforests.

The scenes surpass all description. Men and women lying day and night on the bare grass in a state of intoxication and only recovering to renew their orgies” (Clement Hodgekinson, Pastoralist, 1840s)

Although the above quote, from a middle class pastoralist refers to a period just before Patricks arrival, growth in the area was very slow at first and so the culture would have remained much the same until the late 60s. Perhaps this is a biased and derogatory observation, yet we still muse over the wild drinking sessions that might have taken place.

Selecting and settling

In 1861 the Robertson Land Acts established in NSW allowed those with limited means to acquire land, with the stated intention of encouraging closer settlement and fairer allocation of land by allowing 'free selection before survey'.

Initially Patrick established his family at Boat Harbour, an isolated spot on Taylors Arm with its cedar untouched. In about 1864 he moved downstream and selected land near a ford on a sweeping bend of the river. He shrewdly chose his site; well watered, flat but not marshy, suitable for farming if cleared and ideally located close to established tracks and river transport. Patrick named his house and land “Congarena”. It was probably corrupted into, or was a corruption of “Congarinni”, said to be Aboriginal for “bog.” It’s strange then that his property was one of the least marshy of the area! Perhaps Patrick had a sense of humour or else the word did in fact mean something to him or the local aboriginal population.

After selecting his property, Patrick quickly established a successful store and pub called “The Shamrock Tavern” and ran a punt at the crossing. Not much is known about the pub or the small community that would have frequented it. Certainly, selection and growth in the area was slow with only seven selections in 1865, 20 in 1866 and 45 in 1867. Still this was enough to enable Patrick Byrnes to carve out a living and raise 12 children!

Personality and values – a peppery opportunist, protestant and catholic?

There are only small clues available about what Patrick Byrnes’ personality and values might have been like. We could easily “jump the gun” and suggest Patrick was an immoral man, committing crimes of terror against innocent highway travelers. However, if we consider the poverty and oppression that existed in Ireland the 1830s and how a large majority of the convicts sent to Australia were poor and illiterate, we can suggest that Patrick was simply a victim of circumstance. More than likely, he was part of a highway robbery gang that stole for survival or to access a lifestyle beyond backbreaking farm work and the common diet of potatoes and milk. Also, from the 17th through to the early 19th-century acts of robbery in Ireland were often part of a tradition of popular resistance to British colonial rule and settlement and protestant domination.

Perhaps Patrick was part of the last wave of resistance robbers, claiming loot as revenge. With a name like Patrick and the Gaelic surname Byrnes, Patrick was almost certainly born Catholic and the fierce tensions between Protestants and Catholics are well documented.

It’s interesting though that he then denied his Irish roots later in life. In Townsend’s book it’s noted that Patrick was “known as a peppery Irishman, he claimed to have been born in Rochdale Lancashire in 1820.” Perhaps it was religious tensions between his wife Emma Howell, who he married in the Church of England that led to this false claim. It’s interesting that Patrick and Emma were married protestant but some of their children baptized catholic. Were there ongoing religious tensions they could never fully resolve. Whilst Emma’s Protestantism prevailed for the marriage Patrick was buried a catholic in 1883. Perhaps religion wasn’t greatly important to them at all, happy to switch between denominations at their whims.

My bet is that Patrick lied about his origins for cultural and business advantages; to appeal to the sensibilities and judgmental middle class cedar buyers. In Townsend’s book it is noted that middle class observers thought poorly of ticket of leavers and the working class. Cedar cutters received the harshest of commentaries such as the extracts below from the Sydney Morning Herald

The cedar grounds are the resort of the runaways and other bad characters who flock to these places where they are almost beyond the pale of the law...the scenes of infamy and vice that are to be witnessed there are ...horrible to contemplate” (Sydney Morning Herald, 1837)

Patrick may have concocted all kinds of embellishments for monetary gain or may have simply been embarrassed by his past. It’s interesting to note that most convicts granted a ticket of leave were still under legal observation and could have their ticket revoked if bad behavior was conducted. Perhaps this explains the incentive to move to such far off places as the Nambucca. Did Patrick want to be “beyond the pale of the law” ... simply to be free, to have a chance at making a better life for himself or did he find himself at home amongst the scenes of infamy. One can only guess!

There’s no doubt that Patrick was an opportunist willing to do what it took to carve out a lifestyle that was a step above wretched! Perhaps that meant lying, embellishing the truth, moving to remote places, dancing between catholic and protestant, making shrewd business decisions and being “peppery” if it got the job done.

It has been noted in Townsend’s book that Patrick Byrnes was perhaps a more ambitious and a more successful entrepreneur than his contemporaries. Emma and Patrick raised 12 children which were still considered a large family even for that era. Certainly it mustn’t have been easy both practically and financially to raise that number of children. He must have had his wits about him or else that Shamrock did bring him good fortune. Perhaps it was a little bit of both.

Patrick Byrnes lives

Without Patrick Byrnes, his highway robbery and cedar business, I myself would never have come to exist. Whilst it’s only one ancestor of many that make up my genetic code, I still wonder what pieces of Patrick Byrnes are in my genes today? Did I get my peppery tendencies from him? A keen interest in building my own business; of being self made? A desire to live in the middle of nowhere and try something new? Or did I simply inherit a few physical genes like dark hair and small features. As I write this I notice one of my recent gig posters. Rachael Byrnes with cedar wood guitar and shamrock emblem at the bottom for good luck. I can’t help but see the coincidence and wonder is the ghost of Patrick Byrnes leaving its mark?

Tuesday, August 23

Eltham in spring

 
 
 
 












































These pictures are close to where we live which is green and lush from all the rain. This year the dams are almost full and wherever you cast your eye you see a lush green velvet complemented by flowering yellow wattle. Click on each to enlarge to see much more !!
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Monday, August 8

An inconvenient economic truth

There is nothing new in the latest statistics coming out of the USA over the last month or so nor does Standard & Poor’s decision last Friday to strip the U.S. of its AAA credit rating for the first time alter much how US debt will be viewed. Nevertheless the move compounded fears around the globe including Australia which saw one of the worst slumps in share prices seen since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008 and severe volatility is likely to continue with further massive losses to continue.Currently a high degree of skepticism exists in relation to rating agencies generally given their abysmal performance prior to the GFC but this did not stop investors dumping stock in what could be described as severe panic selling. The move has helped cement a previous wall of worry about European debt worries and add weight to the fears another double dip recession will occur.

But strangely enough in currency markets there has been if anything a return to favour to the US dollar which caused the Aussie to be dumped. Hence money parked conveniently in equities in Austrlia has been realised in aggressive selling which has unnerved many long terms investors unable to comprehend the reason behind this sell off at depressed prices. Once again we have the spectacle of manipulation by Hedge funds and speculators which is not helpful to long term stability.

Aggregate debt levels in the USA have not fallen despite massive deleveraging by the private sector

Although householders in the USA have reduced their liabilities to disposable incomes from 130% to 112% since the GFC this still compares unfavorably to long term median averages below 70 %, as the loss in equity in falling house prices and continuing defaults leave many in distress. There remains a downward pressure on house prices which hopefully will soon stabilize as supply and demand come into equilibrium by the end of the year or maybe in the first half of the next year. There was a mild pick up in housing construction which gives some ray of hope that the worst of the oversupply in housing stocks may be nearing an end. Furthermore Corporations have reduced their debts and many have recapitalized to ensure much stronger Balance Sheets. But demand in a weak economy is still insufficient for any marked pick up in hiring sufficient to reduce the current high levels of unemployment. Hence the depressing prospect remains that many disenchanted well qualified workers are unable to secure positions. All of this adds up to a continuation of substantial deleveraging which would have resulted in a sizeable reduction to the overall debt but has been offset by huge budget deficits. So overall there is not much difference in the overall level of total debt since the global financial crisis.

Is the downgrading in debt justified and what is the effect of deleveraging in a weak economy?

I think the downgrade for government debt by Standard &Poor’s can only be justified on the basis of concern that the political will does not seem to exist to rationally determine a sensible future policy. But in reality treasuries seem unaffected and intially even ralled (a rally increases the face value of those securities which in turn reduces the interest yield) so that it is almost a non event as investors remain unconcerned. The flood of equity sales into treasuries will augment this outcome even though it does not make a lot of sense to me - but then markets are not rational in the short term but driven by sentiment rather than logic. Only in the longer term when things settle down will fair values emerge.Hence I do think the reaction globally is clearly overdone. It is of course of historic interest and concern but I for one remain ambivalent to the machinations within just one agency that prompted this call.

However I do think they have a point about the poor response to the debt crisis by politicians. In an economy that only collects about 15% in tax revenues from GDP and spends 25% to make up a deficit of 10% the opportunity to formulate a sensible compromise seems fairly straightforward.
A combination of much needed fiscal reform ultimately leading to a higher rate of tax for those who can afford it (and who incidentally history tells us are not going to suddenly stop spending) with sensible long term spending curtailment seems rather obvious.

An inconvenient economic truth


The reality is that deleveraging still has a long way to go before sustainable debt levels can eventually be secured. History tells us that emerging from a financial crisis takes much longer that the recovery from a recession. The effects of a financial crisis and that of the size last experienced can last up to a decade before normality returns in terms of unemployment and so forth. Hence any sudden measures implemented to further underpin reductions in public debt risks sending another shock wave into the economy. It is hard to see anything other than continued low or anemic growth patterns for a number of years but this is far preferable to a recession.

The so called green shoots that appeared previously will reappear but they will not signal a strong sustained growth but rather a slow sector improvement ( house construction possibly soon to recover)whose pace nevertheless will be restrained by the effects of deleveraging of debt curtailing the supply of private credit. Presently you have a double whammy of both private and public debt remaining well over long term averages and sustainable levels. Growth for the past several decades was fueled by excessive credit growth and when you go unto reverse naturally enough you lose that momentum. The devaluation of the dollar does make exports more competitive but this sector is too small to offset the much larger domestic contraction.

Policy settings & Conclusion

Policy in my view requires a measured approach to bring about gradual reductions in both the private and public sector debt coupled with moves to engender confidence combined with improved corporate governance to help quell the fears of another recession.

Another vital point that does not seem to warrant much discussion is that given the massive deleveraging that must occur we are only at best beginning this cycle and need to be mindful of the effect of adding too much too soon to the current credit contraction.

Cutting back drastically on government spending to balance the budget in the short term will almost certainly plunge the country into a severe recession. Curtailing future benefits can undermine confidence - particularly if numbers are thrown around as if they were hurriedly written down on the back of an envelope.

Nevertheless desite al of this and deleveraging in the private sector many firms are capable of producing good returns and,for the most part corporates have been involved in recapitalization as was previously mentioned. Hence we may eventually see a strong rebound in stock markets but this will not be a signal the economy is about to take off. Rather firms my still be able to offer good returns but many will reamain restrained by the debt overhang.
It’s no time for politics at this time in history yet politics and extreme ideologies currently rule the roost.

If you would like read a more comprehensive view on deleveraging after a global financial crisis from the Economist click here.

Sunday, August 7

Risks for Kiribati

Click here for a video on the island atols of Kiribati which we visited in the mid nineties and where we stayed at Tarawa and Abiang. The graphic footage clearly indicates the effects of climate change and risks to their water supply.

Friday, July 15

Europe’s debt crisis

The amount of misinformation/ lack of attention to detail today in the press are quite staggering.

Recently as a consequence of hysteria concerning the economic state of Italy I downloaded their latest national accounts to try and find out what all the fuss is about.

The answer was quite startling- nothing has changed much at all in the last year and from my reckoning Italy is nowhere near the dire straits pointed out in the press. But of course there is another agenda underway and it has nothing to do with reality-but instead relates to making money on bets by large hedge funds for the benefit of the few.

Banning short selling and borrowing shares would help as would decisive leadership in the Euro zone.

Anyway at least I got my message published in one of the more respectable and informed on-line newspapers ( Scrambling for Europe's debt exit of July 12) which is as follows :

There is nothing new in the situation in ltaly and the latest GDP figures for the Italian economy point to moderate GDP growth, contained inflation and debt levels slightly up on a year ago. I think the Euro zone needs to be much more assertive and start publishing aggregated figures for the whole zone which I think would help quell the fear and despair.
Hedge funds trading in bonds and loans are simply increasing their bets that Europe's sovereign-debt crisis will spread. Of course, we also now have the rating agencies that gave AAA rating to the subprime junk bonds trying to make amends by downgrading sovereign debt. Previously they were far too generous. If not completely reckless they now risk overstating the case to act as a catalyst for selling/shorting, and in some case the failure to 'roll-over' investments in sovereign debt. Who are they actually working for at the moment?
European debt needs to be restructured in an orderly fashion (call it a default if you will) to demonstrate the Euro zone has ample resources to bail it out Greece and any other struggling countries.
But in the process of clearing the decks (which could be achieved in a matter of months) it's important the bond holders either take a haircut or agree to a repayment extension which is richly deserved.
The share market’s reaction is clearly overdone since countries unlike companies don't go into liquidation and aren't sold to someone else.
The contagion is only spreading because of the indecision by the Euro zone, the operation of the hedge funds and the undue influence of the rating agencies creating an overblown reaction. Investors are again being spooked by the action of the few who stand to make a killing.

Greece & the way ahead.
Everyone knows Greece is incapable of repaying its debts and any further austerity measures will only make the position much worse. To my way of thinking there is no question that stronger creditor nations in the eurozone have an obligation (if they want to remain part of the eurozone) to bail her out by underwriting / issuing new bonds. Since the current bonds are trading at about 50% discount a refinancing through a European issuance would not be too expensive and is well within their collective resources ( Staring down Europe's debt divide, July 19).
A sensibly determined aftermath would establish criteria so that the Greek government may not be able to borrow in the near future until such time as fiscal stability is established and the country is on a sustainable footing.
Contagion will only spread if the euorozone does not take responsibility for that which they created in the first place. This current indecision and wringing of hands reminds me of someone in charge of credit control saying they can't be held responsible for either collecting all the book debts or establishing a scheme of arrangement which is in the best interests of their employer.

Tuesday, June 7

Malawi Clip

The Video below ...



The pictures in the clip is of the school children in Malawi and the opening ceremony for the new church where children were being confirmed which I attended when I was last in Malawi. You can hear their joyful singing later on in the clip. This clip was shown to supplement a talk given with another member of the Malawi Support group to our local school children preparing for their communion. At the end of the talks we handed out paper for the students to draw a picture about life in Malawi and the best 3 pictures are to receive prizes.

We were delighted with the large number of questions afterwards combined with obvious enthusiasm and courteous attention by all of the boys and girls. A few points to the talk are as follows:

Ntandire compared to here
Our school here is about the same size as the catholic school that we support in Malawi depicted in the clip- the pictures show children at school. The teachers there spend time each morning making breakfast for all the scholchdren; a mixture of maize soy and sugar to ensure nobody is hungry. As you can see in the clip they have similar classrooms but not the facilities. When the students go home it might be to a small house or village with huts made of mud brick with thatched roofs.

Early beginnings over 30 years ago

From inception the best way to help was thought to find people willing to become leaders of communities, to help in the building of churches schools and communities. Earlier on the current priest was hijacked and shot on his way back to the airport and only just survived this attack. When that happened he felt a peaceful spirit wash over telling him that everything would be okay and that feeling of fearlessness has never left him. Today 47 communities have blossomed under his stewardship.

Today these 47 communities covering 12 000 parishioners all help one another. Each has chairmen, a secretary and treasurer and many have constructed small properties which they can rent out to provide a pool of funds to help people in need. Each community takes responsibility for their people to ensure every person keeps their own medical records so that if they need to go to hospital they will have record of prior treatment. You can see their joy in the video of the church opening at Ntandire. Last year the first lady (wife of the president) visited this area and was impressed with the community spirit and all of the work being undertaken.

Malawi is the warm heart of Africa
Malawi is often known as the warm heart of Africa because the people are very warm and friendly and I did not encounter a single rude Malawian the whole time that was over there. Most Malawians live with their extended families in huts grouped together in villages. A spirit of neighborliness’ and sharing dominate their existence.

The support group has helped these communities over the past 10 years in number of different ways: to renew two churches, build accommodation for AIDS sufferers, erect classroom shelters, electrify school buildings, build a security wall, provide funds for seeds and fund the church at Ntandire. More recently we are providing sustenance for all of the schoolchildren, scholarships for education and school fees for those who canot afford them

The community at Ntandire has just finished building a kitchen in the nursery school from a gift of ceramic stoves which cuts down on the wood used by more than 50%. .The woman there started the nursery school with over 100 children who are also fed 3 times a week and take turns to teach and cook on a voluntary basis. The school fees project we fund and the funding of the children for both places are going very well and we look forward to seeing even more new leaders emerge. Soon will come the time when we see the last of the missionaries needed as these vibrant communities become self sufficient. That day is fast approaching.
Whilst in Africa I listened to many people’s stories, including that of a grandmother, whose experience was typical of many in their community in terms of church, faith and children. It wasn’t until later that I learned that her husband had died the previous year from HIV/AIDS. She was also infected and acknowledged her past sorrow, but lived a joyful existence. She had let go of her physical suffering and, by focusing on the spiritual, transcended her past sorrow for present joy. While we have great concern for her and the many others, including orphans, who carry a heavy burden through no fault of their own, their joyful spirits, unimpeded by the severe material hardships they endure, remain a true testament to their faith

Snapshot of Malawi

Malawi, situated in southeastern Africa has a population of nearly 15 million and was first a British protectorate of Nyasaland in 1891 and became independent n 1964. The current President Mutharika won a second term in 2009 and has helped the country progress with agricultural reform with assistance in fertilizers and better methods for farming. The country borders Mozambique Tanzia and Zambia and is one of least developed countries in the world heavily dependent on agriculture with about 90% of the population living in rural areas
Malawi's climate is tropical with a rainy season from November to April. The country is dominated by Lake Malawi which drains into the Zambezi river through the Shire River.
The May 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections were declared free and peaceful giving President Bingu wa Mutharika and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) a mandate for a second term of office. Women won 21% of the seats, increasing their representation by 50% from the 2004 to 2009 Parliament.

Special Equipment for Malawian Cooking
The Malawian cooking methods are basic ones and you don’t need any special equipment to cook any of the dishes in the Malawi cuisine. Your everyday cooking pots and pans are enough to cook a complete Malawian meal. However, if you want a true Malawian food experience, you should know that cooking is still done the traditional way in Malawi. In the vast majority of Malawian homes, food is cooked over a wood fire using a tripod made of three supporting stones. Women (and children helpers) are responsible for everything concerning the food from market shopping to dish washing. As Nshima is eaten with the hands, everyone washes in a communal bowl before and after the meal. Many Malawians have mud stoves outside of the house, where they cook bread.
St Kizito

Friday 3rd June was the feast day for st kizito - the boy martyr who was burned to death along with 25 others for failing to renounce his faith and submit to the King of Uganda back in 1886. Today his spirit lives on in the warm heart of Africa

Sunday, May 8

Mansfield






Mansfield is a pleasant 2 hour drive from Melbourne located at the foot of the Great Dividing Range and surrounded by grazing land and mountainous forests. The township and surrounding districts bursts with historical buildings as it was a gold mining service centre during the 1850’s.
We spent a day in the small picturesque town of Jamieson and to read a history of the historic buildings click here

Monday, April 11

Much to do about nothing

Ever since I can remember, occasionally I have this weird imaginatitive concept of nothingness – the equivalent of nothing at all. This was not the negation of the idea of being as such but that which is apart from it.

Those thoughts remind me of our ancestral past journey when we first began to to think about ourselves separate to self. Modern man evolved this potential possibly up to 100,000 years ago although scholars hotly debate varying time lines. It is highly plausible during this crossover period as our cognitive abilities expanded physically (with the expansion of the frontal brain lobes) many of our beliefs began to took take shape. In Elkhonon Goldberg's ‘ The Executive Brain’ he states "A rich sensory memory of a deceased tribesperson would be interpreted as the tribesman's "ghost" or as evidence of the tribesman "life" after death". According to the scenario, some of the more literal religions and magical beliefs, which persisted for millennia are vestiges of early human’s inability to distinguish between one’s own memories of other people (internal representations, parts of "self") and those actual people themselves ("nonselves".Others). According to Jaynes, this self-oneself confusion was not confined to prehistoric times. It extended well into the early history populated by individuals we assume to be neurobiological "modern'.

Looking backwards in time it is difficult to imagine those first awakenings in our journey of discovery since they are hidden in oral history, dance, chants and the evocative dreamland scenes on rock walls painted up to 60,000 years ago. Even today screenings include a warning about interviews with people who have since deceased in deference to indigenous group’s beliefs. An insatiable curiosity combined with unquenchable thirst for knowledge leads to our complex ever changing belief systems which adapt subtly along with hotly contested changes as new discoveries contradict many of the rigidly held previous religious ‘beliefs’. Many today prefer the idea of concepts rather than to be wedded to a ‘belief system’.

Buddhism has been rediscovered in the west and gains popularity as an alternative to secular materialism in philosophy or fundamentalism in religion. The idea of nothingness as sacred might seem unattractive to western rationalism unaccustomed to discussing such subjects as emptiness, karma, release from suffering through Nirvana – by ceasing to will, illusions of the mind and the idea of death simply taking on a different form of rebirth. Buddhist popularity may also be due to the fact it seems to be less authoritarian and, while its rationality may be debated it does suggest a rational pathway.

However, when one examines the mystical bent of all religions and their roots encapsulated into ritual, art and so called canonized scripture it remains a matter of choice dependent in turn on a leap in faith.

In the end people adopt a religion or a belief or a particular religious or even secular philosophy because there is nothing else you can do to make sense of life - philosophically for that person.

From the mystical perspective nothingness or something -whichever is of appeal, always entails something in reality which is ineffable.

The only thing we can say for sure is it is futile and idiotic to attack anyone purely on the basis of what a person or group of people think or happens to believe (as distinct from what someone does) since it is all about something or nothing which in reality is ineffable. Much to do about nothing- but we see continued oppression and persecution of many ( including christian) based upon a fear of what such people might do.

Monday, March 7

'Chants d'Auvergne’

This recording ‘Bailero’ from the ‘Chants d'Auvergne’ (‘Songs from the Auvergne"); is one from a collection of folk songs from the Auvergne region of France arranged by Joseph Cantaloupe for the soprano voice and orchestra between 1923-1930. These songs are sung in the local language, Occitan.

Cantaloupe travelled throughout France to collect folk songs, making arrangements for voice and instrumental accompaniment. Without his painstaking work these simple folk songs which were orally passed down from one generation of shepherds to the next would have been lost forever.

Cantaloupe leaves us an enduring legacy of the most exqustively beautiful simple music ever written.

The music blends beautifully with the majestic scenery of this high plateau area in southern France with expanses of green rolling hills stretching out as far as the eye can see and richly carpeted in wildflowers which echos the lyrics of skylarks.

It is worth waiting for theses few pictures in the clip to glimpse the magificient scenery and imagine the dulcet tones of a maiden to a shepherd across the river :
‘Are you having much fun’?
‘None at all, and you’?
Shepherd the meadow is in flower, come over here to tend your flock?
The grass is greener in my field.
Shepherd the river runs between us. I can’t get across!
Then I’ll come across and fetch you

Click here for the clip - this recordng is as fantastic for me as was when I first heard it many years ago sung then by rising star Jessye Norman !!

Sunday, February 20

End of an era

Whenever I am near a farm or in the country I experience a calm that comes over me like a gentle breeze. The sounds of country life instantly tells me to slow down and relax. It is hard to put my finger on it but I think it has something to do with the changing seasons; the hum of activity that sets its own pace and laughs at you if you foolishly try to impose your own will. From my childhood memories comes the idea there was a certain patience needed to taste the sweetness of fresh mulberries picked just as the fruit ripens. One felt secure in the daily routine of a baker bringing his freshly baked bread or a milkman filling your milk jug from milk from a farm up the road. There was a certain thrill of picking out only the edible wild mushrooms for our family breakfast.

I remain interested in farming and have watched the growth in ‘Land Care’ as farming properties join together to create interlocking corridors of preserved natural bush covenanted to nature. These large tracts of covenanted land set aside as a ‘trust for nature’ ensures the indigenous species can continue to flourish. These areas cover up to 15% or more of each property and not only preserve the environment in perpetuity but also provide superior farm yields.

Most Farmers who are involved with animals reared for the ultimate purposes of human consumption are at considerable pains to ensure their animal’s environment and relative freedom ensures enjoyment up to the time of any slaughtering. When that time arrives it needs to be carried out in a swift and humane to avoid suffering or stress on the animals concerned. There is no reason to sustain suffering of animals today. Factory farming (which , for the most part is not widespread in Australia) where animals are housed in restricted space and force fed a unnatural high growth diet tell us something very negative about society verging on moral bankruptcy. Fortunately in many countries distributors are starting to label their product as free range and turning the tide for that preference amongst consumers.

It all boils down to the point any prolonged suffering of animals is unacceptable today regardless of past tradition or culture or anything else. Either we take some responsibility for what we eat and how it is produced or we turn a blind eye to it or argue against it on the basis of animal’s existence is not of any consequence when it comes to human existence. Such as argument to my mind is morally indefensible. It also follows that those involved in any form of farming in the wild owe a responsibility not to engage in practices that result in slow agonizing death to animals.

Anyone witnessing the cruelty of commercial whaling would be horrified at the spectacle of the slow and agonising death of a harpooned whale. At least now in the Soutern Ocean ther whales have gained some respite ........'It’s official – the Japanese whaling fleet has called it quits in the Southern Ocean, at least for this season. And if they return next season, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society state they will be ready to resume their efforts to obstruct and disable illegal Japanese whaling operations. ' To read more click here

The federal government has refused to be drawn on the tenor of a meeting between the Japanese foreign minister and Australia's ambassador in Tokyo following a premature end to the whaling season.
Japan announced on Friday it was bringing home its harpoon ships a month early for safety reasons following a series of clashes with anti-whaling activists
. ........read more here

Friday, January 28

A philosopher’s guide to reality.




As our level of awareness increased, natural curiosity prompted us to ask questions about reality and how one can philosophically define our state of being or existence. The first formal paper on metaphysics (which is a term used to describe our state of being) was by the scholar Aristotle (322 BC-384 BC )whose output remains firmly etched into our societal framework and who completed the first known works on logic.
His writings remain fresh and thought- provoking …..The first philosophy Metaphysics) is universal and is exclusively concerned with primary substance. ... And here we will have the science to study that which is just as that which is, both in its essence and in the properties which, just as a thing that is, it has. ....That among entities there must be some cause which moves and combines things. ... There must then be a principle of such a kind that its substance is activity.” (Aristotle, Metaphysics). You can read a summary of his treatise on metaphysics by Stanford University here.

A measure of his contribution to metaphysics was his ideas remained virtually unchallenged for over a thousand years. Today they are the cornerstone for the Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions to define our state of being from a religious philosophical perspective. It is not my perspective however to rigidly assert all the Abrahamic faiths are totally reliant upon the Aristotelian view, rather his broad metaphysics profoundly influenced or was a cornerstone to much of it (with varying degrees) although I acknowledge in some sects they went entirely different ways inclusive of splits in Christianity.

But Aristolean logic was hostage to the Copernican notion of a central earth about which the stars and planets revolved. It was thought then impossible for the earth to move on its axis and orbit the sun as otherwise you must feel the rush of wind in your hair just as you would when riding a horse. Many simply believed humans might fall apart if exposed to speeds exceeding that of a galloping horse. John Gribbon- Science A History -1543-2001.


All of our ground breaking major scientific discoveries are counter intuitive and most discoveries did not follow on logically to seem at first to be against common sense. Science tells us how things are but not logically how things are. However, the fact that a philosophy is underpinned by a false scientific notion does not in its itself discredit the whole of the body of that work. All revelations in science reveal is that a particular model of reality conforms to a verifiable observation from that perspective. New scientific discoveries and insights will prompt quetions about the status quo for debate and become the catalyst for changed thinking. The modern dichotomy existing between science and philosophy is only a very recent affair as previously science was called philosophy. Philosophers want to understand science as a tool to help underwrite philosophy.

It was not until the invention of the telescope and Galileo’s observations that the Aristotelean view was finally refuted in the seventeenth century. Galileo reduced Aristotle’s metaphysics in religion to attribute GOD only to the primary causes (or those not understood) with the balance known as secondary causes comprehensible as mechanical processes.

His refutation of the Aristotelean idea of a fixed central planet earth met with stiff opposition as his note to Kepler testifies:

I wish, my dear Kepler that we could have a good laugh together at the extraordinary stupidity of the mob. What do you think of the foremost philosophers of this University? In spite of my oft-repeated efforts and invitations, they have refused, with the obstinacy of a glutted adder, to look at the planets or Moon or my telescope. (Galileo Galilei)

The most dominant philosopher at that time was René Descartes who expanded the idea of a mechanical view of the world to include physics, biology and psychology. His famous phrase ‘I am thinking, therefore I exist’ denotes his idea of a distinct human intellect for all human perceptions unaffected and separate to the senses.

Hence his metaphysics talked about a distinction between the mind and the substance of a material world comprehensible from a mechanical perspective.
His ideas were plausible then, given the feeling of solidness to the world and the predictability of observable outcomes for mechanical systems.

He makes a valid point that the senses provide only obscure information and concludes therefore clear perceptions must only occur in the intellect.However I think you can also say that the senses don’t have to make rational sense to us individually or for us to be aware of a composite of sensory perceptions manifesting as intellect.

His ideas about the mind were referenced in more recent times to support the theory that a computer with self conscious software would be capable of emulating a human mind. This idea may have some tiny vestige of plausibility if you remain convinced about Descartes mind distinction – but I remain somewhat unconvinced even on that score. Descartes ‘concluded that the essences of all things and those calculable mathematical truths’ perceivable from enquiry were immutable and eternal causes established under the hand of GOD.

For a summary of the metaphysics of Descartes (1596- 1650) click here

Reference ;
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descartes-modal/


The next great advancement of science was from Newton (1643-1727) who took a 7-year fellowship with Trinity College in 1667 which was reliant on him swearing an oath ‘I will either set Theology as the object of my studies and take holy orders when the time prescribed by those statutes arrives, or I will resign from the college’

He was the first of the great Scientists to show the laws of science are indeed universal laws that effect everything. For Newton and many of his contemporaries God was the architect of it all. Newton even went on to say God was a "hands on” architect who might interfere from "time to time". John Gribbon- Science A History -1543-2001.

To read more on Newton’s metaphysics click here
Reference :
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/newton-philosophy/.


18th century

At the beginning of the 18th century the famous botanist Linnaeus ( 1707-1778) who was responsible for over 7000 descriptions for species of plants and most European animals rejected the Aristotelean metaphysics which defined plants as substance with properties. Instead he proposed their being was based upon the provision of nutrition and in the propagation of their species.
Thus the interconnectivity of all living things was beginning to take root- if you will excuse my pun!

Immanuel Kant (b. April 22, 1724- 12.4.1804) was a German philosopher who greatly influenced all subsequent philosophy. Kant recognized the problem of the human mind and provided a solution as to how we can escape from the confines of our mind to a reality of an outside world physically beyond it.

Kant’s solution posited that prior known truths are insufficient to describe metaphysics but from prior knowledge (which he called a priori) the mind is capable of joining up with analysis to understand how to proceed. This may seem a rather straightforward matter for us today but it was a major move forward in thinking then to run counter to existing philosophy.

His ideas ensured a much better understanding about how the mind joins past knowledge and links to analysis to posit judgments about our interaction with the outside world.

Kant employed in his thinking what is known as the transcendental argument about the minds ability to be aware of things outside of the minds existence about which it has no prior knowledge by joining with a partial priori to give rise to analysis and subsequent comprehension. E.g. the mind itself is aware of its own experience. Kant then argued (convincingly from my viewpoint) that a philosophical investigation into the nature of the external world must be an inquiry into the features and activity of the mind that knows it.

Kant argued the mind gives objects some of their characteristics in accord with its compliant nature to bring uniformity within its structured conceptual capability.

Kant’s transcendal argument however does not mean philosophically he saw grounds for ideas such as, ‘God is a perfect being.’ as Kant maintained that the mind was a tool to formal structuring that enables the conjoining of concepts into judgments, but that the mind possesses a priori for judgments, not a priori of judgments.

This idea is confirmed in studies undertaken into cognitive neuroscience which conclude the frontal lobes of the brain assemble all of the information (including that which is conveyed from the senses) from other parts to make judgments based upon all of the assembled information to hand. Elkhonen Goldberg – The Executive Brain.

For a summary of Kant’s metaphysics click here

Reference : http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-metaphysics/


19th & 20th Century

It was in the 19th century the pace of change quickened with the social upheaval of the Industrial Revolution; discoveries of Carbon Dioxide, water as an element, The Steam Engine, Electricity, Oxygen and Darwin’s theory of natural selection, to offer a scientific explanation of evolution.

But during this time science was also transformed as in 1905 Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity was published. The foundation stone was the constancy of the speed of light and that nothing exceeds the speed of light which was supported by experimental evidence.

He went on to develop the special theory of relativity to include the warping effects of gravity.

Many of the metaphysical ideas described so far are by necessity based upon our everyday experience with intelligence human interaction to define the reality of our state of being.But now Science is telling us the only absolute to relativity is the concept of space time. This idea took firmer root as accepted orthodoxy as the quantum revolution (study of sub atomic particles called protons and electrons) demonstrated beyond any doubt that light could behave as a wave or as a stream of particles. Scientists can only postulate theories about the behaviors of electrons and protons inside or outside of atoms. The bizarre notion of quantum mechanics postulate where two photons were entangled any successful measurement of either will force the other distant photon (however far away- even were it to be on the other side of the universe) into a corresponding same spin cycle as if it is still connected (even though it isn’t) rather than behave in accord with expected probabilities.

From a scientific point of view one thing remains crystal clear; we remain unable to provide a metaphysical model about reality - our state of being and their ontologies. All I think we can say is our minds give us a comprehension of reality (even if it's not reality) verifiable by independent scientific means. All that proves is comprehension is correct according to the observation but not that it is real. Of course it is real to the extent it needs to be real for us to exist but that is all above the quantum level and according to large scale physics which works very well.


One of the prominent philosophers of great influence was Friedrich Nietzsche ( 1844-1900) whose work today is subject to countless interpretations (or should I say misinterpretations) and who is better known for his quote ‘God is Dead’- symbolized the death of a even wider definition of metaphysics than is contemplated in this paper. Another is 'All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.'

As an insightful and enigmatic philosopher whose unusual style (he often wrote in aphorisms) Nietzsche was apt to ferociously attack any philosopher or religious philosophy captive to universal principles which he proffered was to reduce our state of being into one of a slave mentality to descend into nihilism.

The key to Nietzsche's philosophy from my perpective is his will to power and his metaphysical claim this is the essence of being. He posits our being comprises of instinctive interactions – the true, false, real, fictitious or unintelligible. His claim was 'that all sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values.


In his works entitled 'Beyond good and evil' he gives rise to the idea of ‘free spirits’ to emphasize ones self-knowledge that allows one to go beyond the bounds of morality to be free to unearth or uncover the conscious drivers or our wills.
Nietzsche hope is for philosophers to be free spirits unbounded by the shackles of dogmatism and willing and able to embrace hardships in a constant state of becoming.


Another philospher Albert Schweitzer, although heavily influence by Nietzsche, eventually went down a different track to Nietzsche; ‘Reverence for life means to be in the grasp of the infinite, inexplicable, forward-urging Will in which all Being is grounded.’ 'Reality is the Being which manifests itself in phenomena'

Schweitzer’s world view was influenced by Spinoza, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Native American religions aimed at providing a bridge for Christianity to be revitalized; to return to the ancient mystical links for a naturalistic world view. He posited eschatology entrapped Christianity to a journey of unjustified value judgments to fuel unwarranted pessimism about the intuitive human spirit. His world view was based upon our link to mysticism as a basis for reasoned understanding- not the other way around. Eschatology was central in his thinking as the catalysist s for the pessimistic renunciation of a human society which was bound and captive to the continual overtures to an approaching kingdom of God.

What Schweitzer attempted to do was to remove the metaphysical Jesus of love housed in the God/ man / creed/ dogma entrapments to be supplanted within his reverence for life based upon his life affirmation and unity for life themes. Wherever you see life – that is yourself!”

This is what has attracted me to his philosophy – complete with all the flaws which must beset any philpospher.

But Nietzsche was of great interest subsequently to a philosophical movement called existentialism: the investigation of the meaning and mode of being given endless individual existential possibilities and the relationships with all things. - A being in the world.

Noted physicist Stephen Hawking also brings his own brand of scientific gloss to the table since he thinks our minds are all wedded to a belief dependency what he calls ‘model-dependent realism,’ which allow us to make sense of our assumed reality from our sensory model input. He makes the point however our assumed reality is based upon what we believe to be both true and real to reflect observations -but not reality.



We zestfully explain events on the basis our mind models ably match reality (even if they do not); so that when the models are able to make accurate predictions we become excited to think we have discovered the truth which we have. The truth is that the mind model agrees with those observations- not if it is real or not. Stephen Hawking


Conclusion

What I have tried to do is to illustrate how science and human thinking evolved historically to bear fruit with elegant theories about our state of being.
My aim was to show how successive philosophers and scientists built up a step by step approach to metaphysics only to find in the end we are almost back to when we first started within the context of this paper. I have included references to Stanford University to ensure anyone wanting to check what I am saying or required more expert elaboration could refer to the references.

Additionally I included references to john Gribbin’s ‘Science a History’ to join scientific discoveries to hopefully show how scientific discoveries shaped philosophy. My aim was to show how this change in thinking would have felt then as such discoveries impacted their lives so that today life is barely recognizable to that which preceded us. There is no inference it’s a better or worse world view to what preceded it, but rather this post is an illustration of the journey of formal metaphysical knowledge.

Hence my subjective inclusion of just a handful of the great philosophrs and scientists will hopefully capture sufficiently the essence of some of their ideas to whet your appetite for further enquiry. It seems to me each has made a major contribution to better understanding the nature of being within the constraints of societal or religious prejudices or flawed science.

But as we began to feel secure under the certainty of Newton’s universal laws we discovered at the quantum level those laws no longer applied. It is as if in our quest to be suitably clothed in more and more knowledge we now know the clothing is only temporal and underneath as always we remain naked before GOD.

But just as clothes keep us warm to add color to our character all of the great philosophers and scientists I have subjectively mentioned add meaning to our life just as if we are having a conversation with a trusted friend. At least that is my experience and my hope is it is yours.

Tuesday, January 25

An excerpt from Christmas.

A reflection on Christmas.- from an Aussie Alice friend who thought her poem might make you smile,- ……enjo


There’s been a drought a 152
It’s not from lack of water though
a,b,c
d and e they once flowed
so easily,
so merrily they made their way
To form a poem, a word display
A picture, story, little song
to illustrate the marching throng (of life!)

It's not from lack of ink or paper.
Just time you see
For Christmas came
Streaming down the freeway
in the latest sporty car
All shiny and bling,
even Jesus had a gold plated crib
A Ralph Lauren Bib
And Mary's got new American Ugg boots.

She was dizzy with the flashing lights
The wilting tree
The Angels plight,
At having to sit on the top branch.

St Nick didn't get a letter but an A4 pad,
How does he do it they wonder?
He doesn't, he passed the buck to me
the cad!
Zooming here, there, every shopping where
The credit cards been working out all year
for this big spender
I wish the credit card police would suspend her,
She’s found online shopping too,
It’s so easy browsing on the sofa
with a nip of Christmas Brandy to help
the net seduce her....

THATS IT, enough she cries
The Christmas mosquito has sucked us dry
We're off to camp somewhere remote
Don't worry kids
Santa’s got the note.

Camping, what was she thinking
(not been for a year or three)
She'd forgotten you have to pack
the loo rolls, beds, pillows, food,
Clothes and boots, trikes and bikes,
Balls and bats, torches, stoves, tables
Chairs, Fishing rods, Canoes and ores

And then her chirpy husband says,
‘Are you packing the kitchen sink as well?'
She feels the fire rise; she feels she might just blow,
(like a Christmas cracker)
But no, she keeps to task in hand,
Picks up the spades for digging sand
and smiles her Christmassy smile
through her pearly whites

8hours later they arrive in paradise,
Paradise is Walkerville Caravan Park,
It’s sunny, windy, windy and cold,
Put up the tent, see it’s got mold
No tent pegs or guide ropes too
'At least the parks got showers and loos'
he says sheepishly.

The cracker is ripe
and when it explodes it’s a dud,
Mrs. Claus turns on her heel,
Grabs the arm of a boy, reindeer food
And marches onto the beach
to capture Christmas Eve magic
less the candles, lights, trees and hymns

And there
in the vast embrace of natures nakedness
the magic captures them.

Sunday, January 9

Queensland's flood crisis

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The latest estimates are that Queensland's floods will cost in excess of 6 billion dollars directly (with much more than that in future lost export earnings) as major floods so far have decimated 24 towns and cities in what has become the largest catastrophe in the states recorded history.
An area exceeding the combined land mass of Belgium and France covering one third of the state is now under floodwaters. Houses, businesses, prime cropping lands and vital infrastructure such as roads and bridges have all been destroyed

You can view a tiny slither of the devastation of one such tiny town prone to flooding from the above video clip. Each day the position has deteriorated with continual torrential rain. The very latest town affected is in Maryborough where businesses and homes in this southeastern district prepare for further extensive flooding with some areas are already inundated.

Further severe weather warnings are predicted to lead to flash flooding in the southeastern coast, the eastern Darling Downs and Granite Belt districts.

As a postscript the flash flooding was much worse than expected. Dowling Downs again experienced severe flooding just as the clean up was about to begin. An even bigger wall of water devastated the area as residents talked about over 20 feet of water rising in just few minutes to pick up cars, houses and containers in the toorent like match boxes sewpt down the main street. Already an additional 8 people have been killed and 70 feared drowned who remain missing. Click here to see the effects of the raging waters.

The capital city of Brisbane is now preparing for the worst flood in recorded history with 33 Brisbane suburbs now on high alert as flood waters rise in the west with a wall of water bigger than Sydney Harbour. Flooding is now also expected in parts of NSW which brings back memories of my childhood in Kyogle (located on the Queensland border) during the 1954 record flood when our family home purchased as flood free (it was erected on high stilts), was submerged under the waters of the Richmond River. On that fateful day of cyclonic rain we decided to evacuate to a neighbor on higher ground but my father remained behind in a desperate bid to secure furniture and effects above the encroaching floodwaters.

My mother and I (she was clutching a hurriedly packed suitcase) dashed down the front steps in the pouring rain, up on to the road and across a steep grassy slope to the steps leading up to our neighbors house. After changing I remember joining in with our neighbors’ son fond of playing a pretend priest, as he proceeded to administer his own communion service to cheer us up. Even so I recall feeling less than reassured standing on the front verandah peering through the darkness to see what was happening.

I recall we were able to glimpse my father through the moonlit window vainly swimming around inside the house attempting to place articles above the rising floodwaters. We all breathed an audible sigh of relief as he abandoned his quest and with his usual reassuring slow rhythmic swimming style swam through a half submerged window for the safety of dry land. Hauling himself onto the bank cold and exhausted he eventually joined us on the verandah as we watched our house submerge under the flood waters. Elsewhere homes were being swept away whist others perished as their rescue boat capsized. Throughout the night men in the flimsiest of small boats heroically rescued those stranded on rooftops or left clinging to trees.

I think the aftermath was a time of suffering as I will never forget the all pervasive pungent odor, a reminder of unexpected death and destruction. As our supplies dwindled I recall how pleased we were to hear the faithful drone of a DC 3 aircraft and watch white parachutes drift with supplies into our welcoming hands. Sheets of corrugated iron dislodged from houses were folded at both ends and sealed with tar, to make canoes to deliver the milk and supplies to stranded townsfolk. I recall search parties setting out with grim faces looking for bodies. Every organization rushed to help including the Girl Guides Association who was honored with an international award for outstanding service. All of the community shared in the tragedy and no one felt alone.

It was too painful for my parents to stay so they sold the family home for a fraction of its previous value so that these financial consequences and hardship lingered on for many years afterwards.

The memories of our beloved home in its delightful setting, transformed into a sea of brown surf, remain with me as clear today as they were so long ago.

Today many more again face the same uncertain future and the pictures of those in distress remind us of the fragility of life and the inevitable cycles of flooding rains and droughts which on this scale may only be experienced once in lifetime. It just so happens these weather patterns which have existed for thousands of years repeat to effect huge areas we have built on which become once in lifetime floodplains.