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Monthly Archives: April 2009

Counting the unemployed

I have raised this issue before: Unemployment rate: fact or fiction? Then (2006) I noted: “I still am amazed that people like Howard can keep a straight face when they talk about the subject.” The Australia Institute has drawn attention to this again.

unemploymentThe criteria for “employment” include having worked for pay for ONE hour in the past week. See the Australian Bureau of Statistics for this and other criteria. These have not changed under the present government.

3.9 The definition of employment used in the Labour Force Survey aligns closely with the concepts and international definitions outlined above. Employed persons are defined as all persons 15 years of age and over who, during the reference week:

  • worked for one hour or more for pay, profit, commission or payment in kind, in a job or business or on a farm (comprising employees, employers and own account workers); or
  • worked for one hour or more without pay in a family business or on a farm (i.e. contributing family workers); or
  • were employees who had a job but were not at work and were:
      • away from work for less than four weeks up to the end of the reference week; or
      • away from work for more than four weeks up to the end of the reference week and received pay for some or all of the four week period to the end of the reference week; or
      • away from work as a standard work or shift arrangement; or
      • on strike or locked out; or
      • on workers’ compensation and expected to be returning to their job; or
  • were employers or own-account workers, who had a job, business or farm, but were not at work.

However, it must be said that this highly unrealistic definition is in fact a basic standard set by the International Labour Organization. That I had not taken into account in my earlier entries.

Compare the US Bureau of Labor Statistics How the Government Measures Unemployment. The US figures are based on similar criteria to ours, except they start the count at age 16 and have a different attitude to family businesses.

…employed persons are:

  • All persons who did any work for pay or profit during the survey week.
  • All persons who did at least 15 hours of unpaid work in a family-owned enterprise operated by someone in their household.
  • All persons who were temporarily absent from their regular jobs because of illness, vacation, bad weather, industrial dispute, or various personal reasons, whether or not they were paid for the time off.

From that site you can also get a useful and up-to-date international summary.

Nonetheless, The Australia Institute is quite right. Unemployment figures are a partial truth at best. Real experience is somewhat different.

 

There really IS an autumn light

Today you get your photo here. I will hold off on the photoblogs for a day or two.  I have plenty in reserve.

This was taken yesterday at around 4.30 pm in Belmore Park near Sydney Central Station.

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Posted by on April 29, 2009 in local, personal, photography

 

Microsoft stole my bandwidth this morning

Windows has a surprise for us today: a new service pack (plus a couple of smaller bits) for Office 2007 – just 241.5 MB.

Netmeter tells the story.

stolen

That includes the usuals on startup – antivirus update (protecting my computer against swine flu?) and so on… All before I have actually done anything. Oh well…

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2009 in computers, web stuff

 

Depression and creativity

I read about this first on Matilda, Perry Middlemiss’s OzLit blog.

A couple of weeks back James Bradley, on his "City of Tongues" weblog, reprinted an essay he had written and had published in "The Griffith Review". The title of that essay was "On Depression and Creativity", which was reprinted, in an edited version in "The Age" Review section over the weekend [not currently on the paper’s website].

And for the past couple of weeks I’ve wanted to link to this piece and bring it to your attention. The trouble was that every introduction I thought of came across as insignificant and trite. So I’ve decided not to bother with one…

In the same spirit I refer you to Never real and always true: on depression and creativity. I found it personally interesting too of course.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2009 in health, humanity, OzLit, personal, writers

 

Some curiosities of scientists

I am not a scientist, though I did at one time plan to be. My idea of fun when I was 10 to 12 was a day at the Australian Museum, and I collected insects. However, Chemistry in my last year at school soon revealed I should pursue English and History instead, and my Maths was woeful. Still is.

Nonetheless I am still interested, and thus I have taken an interest in the topic of climate change, as you may see from one of the notes in the sidebar. I refer you to that because there are real scientists over there.

Just now Professor Ian Plimer is getting a lot of attention. I didn’t see him on Lateline last night**, but will read the transcript when it appears later today. I note he was on Lateline Business last year. Ticky Fullerton seems there to be implying he is a spokeperson for the mining industry, but that may be unfair.

It strikes me that it is bleeding obvious that in geological time most of the change that has overtaken this planet has had nothing to do with us johnny-come-latelies called homo sapiens. However, it also strikes me as obvious from history that once we arrived we have had a considerable impact, rather as something as inconsiderable in itself as a virus can have an impact on homo sapiens. Not that I am pushing that analogy…

Still, when you do read Professor Plimer you might also read some other scientists: Ian Plimer – Heaven and Earth by Professor Barry Brook, Foundation Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change and Director of Climate Science at The Environment Institute, University of Adelaide; The science is missing from Ian Plimer’s "Heaven and Earth" by Tim Lambert, a computer scientist at the University of New South Wales.

See also Geological Timescales and the Effects of Climate Change.

Another recent science-related story that fascinates me because it says much about how the internet has changed the world concerns Jared Diamond, whose books I have enjoyed.

“While acting on vengeful feelings clearly needs to be discouraged, acknowledging them should be not merely permitted but encouraged,” wrote Jared M. Diamond in an essay in The New Yorker last April.

Now two of the subjects of that essay are acknowledging their own vengeful feelings. This week a lawyer filed a $10-million defamation claim (PDF) in a New York court on behalf of two Papua New Guinea men whom Mr. Diamond described as active participants in clan warfare during the 1990s.

Mr. Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California at Los Angeles and the author of the best-selling Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (W.W. Norton, 1997), and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking, 2004), based the essay almost entirely on accounts given to him by Hup Daniel Wemp, an oil-field technician who served as Mr. Diamond’s driver during a 2001-2 visit to New Guinea. (The full text of the essay is open only to New Yorker subscribers, but a long summary is available here…

In a post on Wednesday at Savage Minds, an anthropology blog, Alex Golub, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii-Manoa who does field work in New Guinea, suggested that this affair was emblematic of “a fundamental ethical issue that anthropologists will have to face for decades to come.” The rise of the Internet means that whatever scholars write about their field informants—no matter how remote those people might seem—will inevitably be read by the communities they have described.

“While this should always have been important to us,” Mr. Golub wrote, “it is a topic we can no longer ignore in a world where their ‘informants’ are more connected than ever before to the flows of media and communication in which ‘we’ depict ‘them.’”

** Friday 1 May

Yes I know; the transcript is still not up. I emailed Lateline about it and received a copy of it in reply yesterday, and an assurance the missing transcript should have appeared and this would be looked into. Hope it goes up soon, as it really is a performance and a bit!

 
 

Sunday is music day (on Monday) 15 — “Keating”

This was rebroadcast on ABC1 last night.

See also Extraordinary kindness… and It’s Keating day….

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2009 in Australia and Australian, Lord Malcolm, memory, music, replays, Sunday music, TV

 

Sunday Floating Life photo 15: Sirdan surveying scene

0426 008

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2009 in friends, photography, Sirdan, Sunday photo

 

What’s new Sunday 26 April to Saturday 2 May

08apr 008

===> Previous Week

On my other blogs

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2009 in site news

 

Supplement to “Some non-fiction read recently”

See also Some non-fiction read recently: 2a, Some non-fiction read recently 2b – the personal component, Some non-fiction read recently 2c – tentative conclusions, Some non-fiction read recently: 1.

Two relevant posts have just appeared on 3 Quarks Daily: I want my country back by Sehar Tariq; and INSIDE THE TALIBAN’S ‘GRAVE ERROR’.

The first is, as a comment there notes, heartbreaking.

When there is no hope, no optimism, no security, no justice, no education, no progress, no culture – there is no Pakistan. Maybe it is because I am the grandchild of immigrants who was raised on stories of hope, patriotism and sacrifice that even in this misery I cannot forget that Pakistan was created to protect the lives, property, culture and future of the Muslims of the Subcontinent. It was not established to be a safe haven for terrorists. We fought so that we could protect the culture of the Muslims of the Subcontinent, not so that we could import the culture of Saudi Arabia. Our ancestors laid down their lives so that the Muslims of the Subcontinent – both men and women – could live in a land free of prejudice, not so that they could be subjected to violent discrimination of the basis of sect and gender.

The second states:

"The Taliban finally made a grave error," said Javed Siddiq, editor of the influential Urdu language daily Nawa-e-Waqt.  "Once they challenged Pakistan’s constitution as un-Islamic, Islamic scholars and the Pakistani people no longer saw them as the self-styled defenders of Islam against western infidels – but infidels themselves who want to dismantle the Pakistani state." Siddiq said that challenging the constitution was a wrong step and believes it has backfired. Pakistan’s constitution was carefully forged by a board of Islamic scholars in 1973 – every tenet was crafted to make sure it conformed to the principals of Islam. "Now, all the different sects of the Sunni and Shiite, the religious scholars, the army, the politicians and every Pakistani is against the Taliban," Siddiq said. "They have lost." The Taliban were quick to sense their blunder and the resulting sea change in the country. "The expansion into Buner was the turning point," said Siddiq.

On Jason Burke, whose Al-Qaeda: the true story of radical Islam I so praised in Some non-fiction read recently 2c – tentative conclusions, see a good substitute for those who don’t have the book: Worldview highlights: Jason Burke.

 

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On the Western Front 1917-1918

0425  0425 002

0425 001

Sydney Anzac Day Parade 2009

Good move

One of the current government’s better decisions has been to support The Anzac Trail.

Australians will soon be able to trace the footsteps of World War I diggers who fought on the Western Front using a new tourist trail meandering through northern France and Belgium.

The Australian government will spend $10 million over the next four years developing the Anzac Trail, which will take visitors to seven sites where Australian diggers fought in key battles and suffered heavy losses.

While detailed plans for the trail are yet to be finalised, part of the money will be spent on improving museums dedicated to the diggers who fought at Villers-Bretonneux, Fromelles and Bullecourt in the Somme as well as linking various battlefield trails through other parts of France and Belgium.

A new interpretive centre to help visitors understand the Australian troops’ part in the conflict will also be built at the small rural village of Pozieres. In mid-1916 Australian forces suffered a massive 23,000 casualties in six weeks on the Pozieres battlefields as they fought to push the Germans out.

The town, where tanks were used for the first time in battle, already features a handful of memorials to the diggers including the remains of a German concrete bunker the Australians captured and which was later nicknamed Gibraltar.

The trail replaces a $30 million plan by the Howard government to build an interpretative centre at the Australian National Memorial near the French town of Villers-Bretonneux, where the second annual Anzac Day dawn service honouring diggers who fought on the Western Front will be held on Saturday…

There was a documentary on ABC on Thursday on the Polygon Wood and the identification and subsequent military burial of some Australian soldiers who died there in 1917: Lost in Flanders.

An overview of the role of Australians on the Western Front.

Family Connection

ken

Kenneth Ross Whitfield 1897 – 1967

Age 20

I remember Uncle Ken in Shellharbour as a remarkably calm and steady old man with white hair, even if I now realise for some of that time he was rather younger than I am now! He talked little about World War I (or World War II in which he also served.)

It turns out he was in the 3rd Battalion, 25th Reinforcement embarking on board HMAT A14 Euripides in Sydney on 31 October 1917. He would have arrived, then, in time for the events following the battles described in the documentary I saw on Thursday.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, events, History, memory, personal

 

Anzac Day’s bean count

The last weekly count for April, as next time it will be May! How time flies!

On the Floating Life blogs the reads so far in April are 4,943 for Floating Life, 816 for the photoblog, 979 for Ninglun’s Specials, and 1,991 for Floating Life April 06 ~ November 07. English/ESL is on 6,501. Ninglun on Journalspace is according to Sitemeter on 229 from 185 visits.

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Posted by on April 25, 2009 in site stats

 

Friday poem #9: Isaac Rosenberg 1890-1918

PAIU1989_140_01_1 Break of Day in the Trenches

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver — what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe —
Just a little white with the dust.

June 1916

Photo from Australian War Memorial Canberra.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2009 in British, poets and poetry

 

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Some non-fiction read recently 2c – tentative conclusions

And I really mean tentative. Further, there is no way a shortish post like this can do more than indicate rather than expound. After all, the books with which this series of posts began comprise around a thousand pages, while this post will most likely be just one to three! And I am about to add to that by recommending another thousand pages or more, which I have either skimmed or, in the case of Jason Burke, read attentively since commencing these posts.

Supplementary texts

star30 star30star30star30star30star30 Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda: the true story of radical Islam, Penguin 2004. This is the most thorough and most convincing book I have read on the subject. The writer has gone to first-hand sources and has relevant language skills, unlike very many who write on this. He speaks Urdu, the principal language of Pakistan and a second language understood by many of the players in Afghanistan. He has been to many of the relevant places and spoken to many of the people involved and thoroughly documents everything he says. His understanding of Islam and of the bewildering array of groups and their connections, or lack of direct connections, with Bin Laden or Al-Qaeda is superior to that of most western commentators. Anyone at all interested has to read this book. It outclasses the derivative work of Burleigh in this area by a factor of what – 1000%? The small sample of his work I attach below barely indicates the strengths of the book, but does indicate the direction Burke takes.

star30star30star30star30star30 Malise Ruthven, A Fury for God: the Islamist attack on America, Granta 2002. There has been an edition since then, which I don’t have. This was the first book of its kind that I read and remains among the best, but some of his conclusions about his subject need to be reconsidered in the light of Burke’s book. He is sceptical about the direction much US and UK policy was taking at that time, particularly about reliance on military solutions. That remains true, but does not rule out all military involvement. Excellent on the ideological background of “Islamist” groups.

star30star30star30star30star30 Karen Armstrong, Islam: a short history, Verso 2001. Short it is indeed, but also scholarly and fair-minded.

star30star30star30star30 John Gray, Al Qaeda and What It Means to be Modern, Faber 2003. Even shorter! The thesis is very interesting, however, and has a lot going for it.

star30star30 Melanie Phillips, Londonistan: how Britain is creating a terror state within, Gibson Square 2006. Burleigh endorses this book, but I still find it tendentious. Phillips does, however, highlight some of the ironies of following our own values of free speech. She overdraws, as does Burleigh, the “multiculturalism is to blame” argument. In The Mighty and the Almighty Madeleine Albright comes almost to the opposite conclusion: that a deep understanding of cultural pluralism and a willingness to respect the Other may be part of the solution. There’s a big difference, I would argue, between that position, which I share, and craven surrender to the bizarre and positively dangerous in our midst. Getting the balance wrong in either direction won’t help us, and may indeed do worse than that. The temptation to divide the world into goodies and baddies, alluded to below under “complexity”, must be resisted.

star30star30star30star30star30 Abdullah Saeed, Interpreting the Qu’ran: Towards a contemporary approach, Cambridge UP 2006. Saeed is Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne. I am sure this book would not please either of the speakers at that 2005 Mine Seminar, but it will please very many Muslims and seems to me, by analogy with my understanding of some parallel dilemmas in Jewish and Christian circles and with my understanding of the nature of text and reading generally, to be a very fruitful approach for all concerned. Accepting, as all observant Muslims do, that the Qu’ran is indeed of divine origin, Saeed argues that interpreters of the Qu’ran are not so blessed.  He distinguishes three approaches, and in that respect adds nuance to the rather too broad idea of “fundamentalism”. The three approaches are: i) textualists, who argue for a strict following of the text and adopt a literalistic approach to the text; ii) semi-textualists, who “essentially follow the Textualists as far as linguistic emphasis and ignoring of the socio-historical context are concerned, but … package the ethico-legal content in a somewhat ‘modern’ idiom, often within an apologetic discourse.” Apologetic there is in the theological sense of presenting scripture in a way meant to refute sceptics. Having broken that sentence structure, I now present: iii) contextualists, who emphasise “the socio-historical content of the Qu’ran and of its subsequent interpretations.” Or, as a Presbyterian minister I knew many years ago was fond of saying, “a text without a context is a pretext.”  Thus, while I agree with the very well expressed statement by Sheik Yasin on context towards the end of that video referred to in the previous post, it is clear nonetheless that he is not a contextualist in Saeed’s sense, and may even be in camp i), though possibly in camp ii).  I still find it unfortunate that contextualism does not, in general, go as far in Qu’ranic studies as perhaps it should, as it has (much to the distress of many) in Biblical Studies.

Complexity

0402occidental140 So much could be said here! People often resist complexity. They like their boundaries neat. Thus the vision of Al-Qaeda that emerges in Burke’s book may be resisted because the appeal of something resembling a Western or a James Bond movie is far easier to imagine. This can be a fatal trap when the true situation is simply not so neat, as Burke convincingly demonstrates. See too a 2005 post here: Lernaean Hydra – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. I posted that at the time of the London bombings.

Let’s just take one example: Did the CIA fund the Taliban?

This is a widely held view. I even shared it myself. However, is it true? It may well be that it is not. There are issues of chronology involved – the Taliban emerged rather late in the day compared to other mujahadeen groups, and Burke is excellent at unpicking all that. (Some thought of by many as Al-Qaeda in many books turn out to have been very loosely connected, or not connected, or even rivals of Al-Qaeda.)  Certainly the CIA, mostly via Pakistan intelligence and along with Saudi and other financiers, did fund some of those fighting the USSR and the Afghan Marxist regime, but it appears the US backed off from that policy during the Clinton years, and that further in the stage when such funding was occurring the Taliban hardly existed. Nonetheless, much of the materiel did fall eventually into Taliban hands.

This video is a typical example of the case for the CIA having funded the Taliban, but looking at it carefully one does see much chronological sliding going on. Rather, when the Taliban did emerge it appears the question really was “Who the hell are they?” See for example The Taliban Files from National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 97. Various Pakistani groups, on the other hand, were heavily involved, but Pakistan too is another instance of complexity, but there isn’t space here to go down that track. See also Beyond the Burqa: The Taliban, Women and the C.I.A. (September 12, 2001).

Idealism

shsislam I am really trying not to sound patronising, because I respect idealism and even cling to some to this day, modified as it might be by experience and knowledge, especially of history.

The young, confronted with a world that all will admit is not the best of all possible worlds, may react with cynicism, apathy, or a deep desire to make a difference. Those who desire to make a difference will soon seek out how to make a difference, and therein is some danger, as well, of course, as much of the hope of the world. Those boys at The Mine, just like their confreres in the rather fundamentalist Christian and Jewish or political activist groups in the school, look for people who offer convincing solutions. Now you have to admit that both those speakers in the 2005 seminar (the video linked from the previous post in this series) are quite excellent public speakers. As a former debating coach I wouldn’t mind having them on my team, and it is no accident that one of the two sixteen year old presenters was indeed a valuable member of his age-group’s debating team, as was the brave young lad in cadet uniform who got up to rebut what he had heard. (The body language going on behind him, if you have seen the video, is interesting; it’s almost as if the presenters wish there was a hook in the wings or a trapdoor under the stage.) That lad, by the way, is now one of my Facebook friends.

You will also note on the right that the seminar the previous year directly dealt with the issue of terror. The tactic was definitely not recommended.

We need to remind ourselves that terrorism is a tactic and not an ideology, nor is it inevitable in a Muslim context. The nearest that terrorism came to being a rather empty ideology was in the case of the Russian nihilists and the weird Germans in the 60s and 70s. Burleigh is actually very good on both, especially on the Germans.

On the other hand, when an ideology goes in for group judgements, whether these be based on class, race or religion, there is a likelihood that terror may become an attractive tactic. In my view we need to strenuously resist group judgements. It also must be said that the ideology recommended by the two speakers in the 2005 seminar is ultimately total – they said as much – and you can’t get a higher authority than God as its author. Indeed, if the premises of the speakers were in fact correct it would follow that we should listen, but unfortunately I think the premises are highly questionable.

But as the speakers also said, we do have to all live together. Their solution, however, is not mine. In the world, let alone Australia, we all have to find ways to harmony in difference. It is a challenge, one we have not done too badly on here in Oz, comparatively, much better in fact than much of Europe.

Language

One small but important example. In Blood & Rage (p. 468) Burleigh defines takfir as “the art of deluding infidels”. Burke notes (p. 331) “Takfir: excommunication, a practice in Shia Islam but until recently almost unknown among Sunnis.”  See also this from a conservative Muslim source. The authority referred to there is a key figure in the development of political Islam in the 20th century.

Jason Burke article.

 

Second interlude

I’m still working on it, as i) I was led to further reading and ii) I needed to “limit the topic” and iii) come up with a framework for the post. The first and second are well in hand, and the third has been solved.

So in the meantime, one more pic from the Surry Hills Festival.

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There are more pics on the photoblog, and on Journalspace, as well as here.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, blogging, events, multicultural Australia, personal, photography, site news, Surry Hills