DECEMBER 2014

“Reconciling my Gross Habits with Less Income.”      
                                                                                                    Errol Flynn

Historical Fault Lines between Cultures

Climate
“It’s going to be a big one,” so stated a local grazier, but I doubted his ability to sniff the air.  In the first ten days of December, an area of south-eastern Australia was deluged with rain.  The Timor locality muddied under five inches which turned the local stream into a roaring foaming dragon.  In twelve years this was the greatest torrent I have seen.  Weather records in the Sydney region have also been broken – the longest period of thunderstorm activity since observations commenced.  In quick succession we have experienced the warmest winter, the longest summer heat wave and the warmest November on record.  No worries!!
Based on unusual weather events for 2014 a red light alert should now be flashing for Australia. During 2014:

  • there were two category 5 cyclones in the north Queensland region
  • Melbourne experienced four days over 41*C
  • Brisbane experienced super cell storms
  • Blue Mountains  were buried under spring snow storms
  • Australia has burned under the twelve hottest Novembers since 2000
  • over 79% of Queensland is in drought, the highest percentage ever
  • the most worrying event  is the exploding burning methane blowing craters in the Siberian tundra. Permafrost is melting and releasing methane into the atmosphere. Methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its global warming  capacity. There is the  possibility of vast fires in the Russian and Canadian  Arctic  due to global warming.

The Lima Climate Change Conference has ended with a watered down communique on a unified funding policy which will be ratified in Paris in 2015.  Progress?  Climate Action Network Europe has released a survey that shows Australia at the bottom of the list of industrialised countries on its global warming policy.

Mid Year Economic Forecast (MYEFO)  
The budget deficit has blown out from $30 billion to $40 billion plus.  Australia’s terms of trade are  the worst since records commenced in 1959.  Government revenues have plunged with the fall in prices for iron ore, coal, gas and wheat.  A comment on the budget update by Deloitte Access Economics (Chris Richardson, ABC RN) intimated Australia has just slipped out of the biggest natural resources boom. Due to the “worst terms of trade for many years the next couple of years may be ugly”.  Big Savings can only come from welfare, education and health.  To compound this situation, the unemployment figures are not encouraging, set to rise to 6.5% amid predictions of falling incomes for Australian citizens.  Errol Flynn’s maxim now takes on a revitalised meaning.
Last month “The Price of Inequality” was cited.  Hitherto , Australians have relied on natural resources for a component of their wealth rather than creating wealth through manufacture or intellectual effort.  2014 will prove to be the year when we no longer rode on the “sheep’s back”.
The MYEFO bad news has coincided with a report by the Gratten Institute (G Gencho) showing a decline in wealth of the 25-44 year olds relative to postwar baby boomers.  Before 1997 house prices and earnings maintained a parity, after 1997 earnings have risen 27% while house prices have risen by 121%.  There is a disturbing trend in home ownership between the 35-44 year olds and the over 65 year olds, between the years 1981 and 2013.

  35-44                                                      Over 65
1981 – 75%                                         1981 – 78%
2013 – 65%                                         2013 – 86%
The Gratten document had identified anger and resignation at this increasing skewed wealth distribution.
Asylum seeker policy is adding to the financial problems.  Chairman, Mr G Inness,  Attitude Australia Foundation (RN am 10/12) provided information on costs of maintaining holding centres on Manus and Nauru.  Running costs are around $1 billion a year while naval and defence support are estimated at $5 billion a year.   Costs for a maximum security prisoner is around $130,000 a year while to maintain an asylum seeker is round $500,000 a year.  This is not sustainable.  Bringing asylum seekers to the mainland would have enabled ABC and CSIRO to avoid budget cuts.  Is the above the will of the Australian electorate?

NDIS National Disability Insurance Scheme
There are alarums off-stage on the increasing costs of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (ABC RN).  Currently the initial program is catering for 9,000 impaired individuals with a staff of 75,000.  Assuming salaries are around $50,000 each per year, the annual administrative/operational cost might be around $37.5 million.  There are 460,000 registered persons with a disability – when the full scheme is rolled out, will it prove to be unsustainable?

Towards the Final Hour
Arrested development in the process of ageing is a good thing.  My condition of peripheral neuropathy has apparently reached stasis, blood tests, and an MRI on my backbone have drawn a blank. Nerve conduction studies have shown on a scale of 1 to 10 i log at 7, that is verging on a severe neuropathy, obviously not a problem since the doctor does not wish to see me until December 2015!  Soon after this diagnosis a splinter was driven in my big toe, the pain was exquisite, I now wonder on the veracity  of the diagnosis.!

In early November, my right eyeball had the lens removed and a plastic one inserted.  I was led to believe the world would be one of colour and vitality; I would indeed be looking on the “bright side of life”.   The moment cometh, bandage was removed and “quelle dommage”, all I saw was a dark grey fog.  There followed six weeks of consulting a retinal specialist.  Eye drops have become a ritual. However, such has been my improvement, the specialist does not wish me to consult him until the final days of January.

Fault Lines between Cultures
A Canadian study (Economist 17/10) has linked extra schooling with a declining attendance at church or mosque.  This study overlaps with the news (ABC RN, AM  16/12) that, in the past few years, the Taliban in Pakistan have destroyed more than 1,000 schools and in the last week, have  killed over 100 pupils in an army school .

The appropriate word for the loss of a family member under the siege situation in Sydney this month does not easily come to mind.  The public reaction is understandable and the media have played their part. It is appropriate to place the Martin Place siege into a time line and to examine  fault lines between cultures.

In the two centuries after the founding of Islam in the mid 600s, an Islamic Empire extended through western, central and southern Europe, northern Africa and central Asia.  The Crusades, terminating in the 12th century, left a bitter legacy between Christian and Moslem.  The Moslems were driven out of Spain in the 15th century and the Spanish monarchy endeavoured to expunge all traces of Islamic culture.  The great age of European maritime discovery and colonisation commencing in medieval times was, in part, driven to break Arab (Moslem) control of the spice trade.

Long after the Crusades, the Islamic Ottoman Empire controlled the Holy Land, the Arab Middle East and south-east  Europe.  The Ottoman Empire ended during the First World War (1918) when European powers controlled much of the Arab (Islamic) Middle East.   For the Arab world, this was a period of stasis until the mid 1960s which coincided with the dissolution of the Western European Empires.  During this stasis, and for years afterwards, there were those who knew of the great days of an Islamic Empire, its architecture, science and culture.

From the 1960s onwards, there has been a rise of Islamic nationalism and recollection of the glories of past caliphates.  As we, in Australia, magnify the memory of ANZACS, so too do Arabs remember Saladin and the battle of Hattin. Arab nationalism has grown with the growth of communications, historical knowledge and education.  In this modern era, there is now a world dominated by Christian/Secular culture and an all consuming capitalism that, for many reasons, Moslems “on the street” are unable to enjoy: Arab youth unemployment is terrible (Doha Round on Youth Unemployment).  The vision by some to establish a caliphate is an attempt, in part, to re-establish the glory days of Islam.

Scattered across the Islamic world are individuals whose dislike of Western culture has boiled over, whether “deranged” or “sane”, these thoughts exist, despite the fact that at “grass roots” level communities may wish to collegially co-exist.  A review of recent atrocities directed at the West in which “Allah is Great” might have been heard are:
1997 –Luxor – 62 tourists shot
2004 – Sinai – tourist hotel bombed
2014 – London – British soldier killed
2014 – Algiers – beheading of French tourist
2014 – New York – axe attack on police
2014 – Iraq – beheadings by IS
2014 – Riyadh – shooting of Danish worker
2014 – Saudi Arabia – stabbing of a Canadian
2014 – Abu Dhabi – stabbing of an American
2014 – Ottawa – shooting of a sentry
2014 – Sydney – two Australians die
2014 – France – pre-Christmas attacks
 (Source – Economist, 13-19 December 2014)
Many of these attacks appear to be “lone wolves” however, it may be these individuals have grown up with a litany of ill will towards the Christian West.  Quite rightly Western leaders have vilified the perpetrators.  However, no-where have I become aware of any concerted effort by political leaders from both sides to establish a commission of enquiry to study a healing process between the Islamic religious state and the Christian nation state.  This is a global problem not a localised regional problem.

Christmas 2014
Despite St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas), a 4th century bishop of Myra, originating the reality of Santa Claus the concept was hijacked by Christian northern Europe and relocated near the village of Rovaniemi, Arctic Circle, Finland from whence Santa Claus conducted his world wide mission. A giant theme park is now being constructed in the Chinese city of Chengdu and it is to be spread abroad the park will be the official home of Father Christmas. For years China has been producing Christmas decorations and gee gaws for Western Christian festivals.  Xinhua, a state run news agency, states that 60% of Christmas trinkets for the Christian West come from the Christmas city of Yiwu. Is the world about to witness a schism similar to that between Constantinople and Rome in the early Middle Ages!?

Christmas 2014, as usual unprepared anticipation, the degustation and the Boxing Day breather, it was a shared day with a cohort of the family, it left a very warm glow. The high point was the children’s carol service at St. John’s, Gordon accompanied by Jill’s almost reluctant grandchildren, enthusiasm sky rocketed with the terminating sausage sizzle. Come the day when the six enlarging families between Jill and I will sit-down to a great family Christmas celebration.
For as long as I can remember the Christmas period  is often marred by a tragic accident. This time there is the loss of a passenger aircraft between Indonesia and Singapore with the loss of more than 160 souls;  in Europe over 300 souls were trapped on a burning passenger ferry in the Adriatic sea while buffeted by a raging storm. It was a perilous helicopter rescue exercise.

The Middle East
Alas 2014 ends on a sombre note. On RN breakfast the Executive Director of the Strategic Policy Institute, Canberra, provided an assessment of the past four months  battles between the Islamic State   forces and the US lead coalition  with ‘boots on the ground’ provided by Kurds and Iraqis. The result is a hard fought stale mate. To date there have been only 1500 air strikes generally limited to IS vehicles. The IS fighters cannot be ‘degraded’  by this technique. The IS fighters have now changed tactics and embed themselves among a reluctant population thereby preventing effective air strikes. Currently there are around 3000 US advisors on the ground but to degrade IS forces at least 10,000 are required, the Iraq government has pleaded to the USA for more troops.
There is a developing reality to the situation in Syria and Iraq. There is a possibility Iraq may fragment into three states, the Kurds in the north, a Sunni caliphate in the centre and a Shia Iraq rump in the south. Such an outcome might precipitate an arms race between Iran and Saudi Arabia with further destabilisation in the Middle East. Such a scenario would undo the international boundaries established by Mister Sykes and Monsieur Picot following the First World War.
There are two further realities, a change in policy is not envisaged by President Obama during his final two years in office, the second reality is that the West may not consider Iraq sufficiently important  to engage in another war to maintain its integrity. The problem is that ideologically driven IS fighters are facing off a reluctantly defensive posture of a war weary West.
This analysis sparked a response from a retired Australian major-general who reiterated that it  will take a ” long time ” to defeat the IS.  It was stated there are 48 countries in the Coalition. With this potential fire power and resources ranged against the IS the public are entitled to reasons why the term “long time” is used.

Vale 2014
The  international and national events during theyear have been cause for concern . In my opinion the worst, scariest and best events  were:
* the response of the West to the ebola pandemic
*methane explosions in the Russian tundra due to global warming
*revitalisation of the Catholic church by Pope Francis.

On a personal basis due to my mid-year major operation I veered ‘towards the final hour’ but with great assistance from my wife I am now striding along a ‘yellow brick road’.

NOVEMBER 2014

No Sense of Proportion!

Not another Medical Condition!

I have a growing concern I am becoming less able to “look on the bright side of life”.   With October consigned to history, I was determined to enter November full of optimistic radiance – this was short lived.

The opening bars of the November symphony on the farm provided a reflection of conditions in rural south-eastern Australia. Two galahs were perched on the edge of a cattle trough desperately trying to reach the water – they failed and flew off! Two large kookaburras were found drowned in another cattle trough. Kangaroos are now drinking at a birdbath close to the house. The continuing drought combines to grip the countryside. Dams have progressed from muddy brown soup to sun-baked clay.

As if on cue, a recent IPPC report has provided a stark warning on the dangers facing Homo sapiens. The ABC news bulletin gave equal time to the IPPC report and an obscure drive-by shooting in south-west Sydney. There was no sense of proportion on the relative seriousness of each news item. This even-handed treatment proves a collective “sleepwalking” to the disaster of the “great disruption”.

The Abbott Government may be unwillingly developing a dangerous mindset among less fortunate Australians. In the book “Global Crisis” by Geoffrey Parker, he dealt with civil unrest among the masses during the period of climate change in the mid-1600s. It was an aggregation of small imposts by ruling elites when their “loyal” subjects were suffering from a poor economy, unemployment, war and poor harvests.

In Australia there may in part be a mirror image and a combination of small financial irritations, namely:

  • Medicare co-payment of $7
  • Fuel tax of $0.01 per litre
  • Salary impositions of only 1.5% for military and civil service
  • Increased tuition fees for students.

The current unstable climatic and economic conditions in Australia, when considered with the dire warnings provided by Professor Steglietz, Columbia University, in his book “The Price of Inequality” (Big Ideas, ABC 4/11/2014) should be a flashing red light for Australia, other Western democracies and particularly America.

Factors applicable to Australia are:

  • since the mind-1990s there has been soaring financial inequality and lower growth
  • there is a lower level of opportunity for offspring whose parents are not wealthy
  • with very few exceptions dependency on natural resources is a curse since wealth does not trickle down
  • citizens of resource rich countries tend to atrophy since wealth does not come from intellectual energy, it comes from the ground
  • resource rich countries have a great wealth disparity
  • there are two ways for countries to increase wealth – this applies to Australia – namely to invent or manufacture something or pursue rent seeking wealth appropriation, the latter is pernicious and currently Australia is caught in this trap.

Steglietz contends advanced economies penalise the poor:

  • banks are always the first claimants
  • citizens lose homes and farms
  • billions are paid to keep banks afloat but there is nothing for small investors
  • rent seeking causes inequality and weakens the economy.

My progression “Towards the Final Hour” has been given a boost by the unexpected diagnosis of another medical condition – peripheral neuropathy. First indication was a night time tingling of the toes. Events moved to a North Shore specialist’s rooms where I failed the pinprick test in my extremities and was subjected to shock treatment and an MRI on my spinal column. Blood tests followed including those for mercury and lead. I now await the cause and the cure. Such has been my medical condition this year, I have been forced to admit I now have more social intercourse with the medical profession than I have with friends and family.

The China-American Climate Change Agreement was signed on 7thNovember, a few days before the G20 Summit in Brisbane. The Agreement calls for China to cap emissions by 2030, while America will reduce emissions by 26-28% below the 2005 levels by 2025. Details have not been released by either party.

There has been vocal criticism in the United States that it is a poor deal for America but, industrially and economically, China has a long way to catch up, its major problems being:

  • its high energy intensity industry
  • a slow growth in consumer and service industries
  • poverty
  • a requirement for greater GDP growth.

At the G20, Australia was embarrassed and wrong-footed by the Chinese-American Agreement. Australia’s “direct action” policy provides for financial inducements for polluters to reduce emissions. Business will compete to win tenders and be paid to undertake emission-reduction targets. The rest of the Industrialised World is using a carbon trading scheme. Australia has set up an Emission Reduction Fund of $2.55 billion over four years – the target is to reduce emissions by 5% below the 2000 emissions by 2020.

The Chairman of the UK Council on Climate Change, Lord Deben, is scathing on Australia’s climate change policy. The planned expenditure (2.55bn) and the target reduction (5%) is derisory. Direct Action will not work and Australia is out of step with the rest of the world.

Like an errant willy-willy, the G20 Meeting stirred up Brisbane and was gone. The G20 Leaders’ Communique dated 16th November 2014, appears to be a document of agreed principles that mandates Ministers must now implement policy. Principal objectives appeared to involve living standards, jobs, global growth, Third World infrastructure and the transfer of technology; there is a move to relocate global institutions away from the West. There is a move to expand global gas supplies. In relation to climate change, the G20 seeks sustainable development.

The overall objective of the G20 is to create sustainable economics through co-operation, transfer of resources and seek closer harmonious union. Philosophically, there may be a problem highlighted by the critical situation in the European Union – the policy of closer co-operation and less competition has moved Europe towards a condition of stagnation and deflation. Competition is one of the main drivers of prosperity and innovation. The G20 policies should consider Europe’s situation in relation to global growth.

The collegial spirit of the G20 has already fractured. Despite the recent steep fall in the oil price Saudi Arabia has refused to reduce production, an ABC News item alluded to the fact that a low oil price will damage gas production in the United States, thereby forcing the States to rely on Saudi oil.

A curious reverse migration is seeing increasing numbers of Jews returning to Germany. Israeli citizens are applying for European passports, many with the objective of settling in Germany. Reasons cited are the cost of living and the hostilities with the Palestinians. The Israeli government has condemned these ‘descenders’ for lack of nationalism and an insult to Holocaust survivors. The philosophical issue is unless brain washed how long will younger generations follow national ethos supported by parents and grandparents? This mind set has relevance to Australia due to the fading numbers calling Britain ‘home’ and the ANZAC tradition. In the years to come the Australian government will have to maintain a robust memorial policy.

I attended the local Light Horse contingent Christmas Party. I found it sobering to look around the gathering and realise it was these type of people who produced the deeds, myth and legend that is ANZAC

The closing bars of the November symphony mirrored the opening cadence, the rainfall for the month was the lowest in twelve years. Kangaroos are regular visitors round the birdbath.