Thursday, October 27

Cracks and painful realities emerging in Australia as an egalitarian society

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 18

Les fast thinkers

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

Monday, October 17

R. Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony

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

Thursday, October 6

A new kind of infrastructure required for renewables

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

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

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

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