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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Longreach in the outback

The first workshop for councillors, and some officers, from Longreach and surrounding Shires - council areas in central Queensland each larger than Wales - has gone very well. The day after Lin and I and John toured the township of Longreach courtesy of John Palmer, the Mayor, waving at and being greeted by fellow citizens as he passed - a world away from my metropolitan world, as was the small town's showcase exhibition, the Stockman's Hall of Fame, celebrating Australia's wild west, in historic terms hardly a century that changed the Australian landscape, formed a stereotype fast fading into modernity.
By CityCat to downtown Brisbane
So now we return to the bustle of the city, staying in Hamilton on the edge of Brisbane, heading this afternoon to the coast city of Mackay, for a second seminar, before returning to Brisbane from where we fly to New Zealand on Sunday. Also in Lonreach we visited the QUANTAS Founders' Museum - conspicuous from above and on the ground some of the retired airplanes that conquered the 'tyranny of distance' - historian Geoffrey Blainey's phrase for the vastness that was the Australian settlers' experience of their new continent.
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And just before countrywide local elections this Sunday, an op-ed piece from Richard Pine, living in Corfu, in The Irish Times, heralding the acrid blast of modernity upon the Hellenes and their economy, threatening much that Greeks and non-Greeks associate with 'Greekness':
....These elections are not about Greece’s image abroad, but about Greece’s image of itself.
As Kathimerini newspaper put it: “Every institution, every group and every individual will have to redefine itself with regard to society as a whole.” Talk of “the rebirth of a nation” is widespread. Papandreou declares, “We are changing Greece.” At the same time he insists, “There is no intrinsic flaw in the Greek character – it’s not in our DNA to have these problems.” But many critics insist that it is the very Greekness of that DNA that has created the problems.
As Athens-based journalist Nikos Konstandaras observes, “The underlying cause is the absence of personal discipline, which has cultivated a mentality that anyone could do what they liked.” There is a fundamental problem here – Konstandaras says, “this mindless tolerance is not a manifestation of democracy: it undermines it.” But to a vast number of Greeks, freedom and democracy are identical.
An index of this is the reaction to the new ban on smoking in public places. The law was introduced on September 1st but is widely regarded as an intrusion into personal liberty. As William Mallinson, a former British diplomat now lecturing at the Ionian University, puts it: “The price of freedom is chaos.”
Papandreou has acknowledged that “the crisis derives mainly from the lack of transparency in state power and public life, and from a clientelism that has corroded everything”.
The Brookings Institute in Washington reports that bribery, patronage and other corruption cost €20 billion per year, or 8 per cent of GDP. Much of the clientelism stems from the “sins of the father”: it was under Papandreou’s father Andreas, prime minister in the 1980s, that the flawed system was created by vested interests influencing political decisions. Ostensibly, and to a large extent truly, this was a reaction to the right-wing exclusion of the lower classes – urban and rural – following the civil war and under the military junta, between 1967 and 1974......
The recovery has been a personal crusade by George Papandreou to highlight the self-delusion his father’s crusade inadvertently encouraged: cronyism, over-employment in the civil service, excessive consumer spending. The programme on which recovery is based involves four key elements: a fundamental reform of public administration, including a reduction of the 1,034 municipalities to 340; locally-based initiatives to stimulate economic growth; privatisation of state companies such as Hellenic Railways; and liberalisation and deregulation of restricted professions, including lawyers, pharmacists, engineers, accountants, architects, truck drivers and taxis.......(extract)
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Wednesday late afternoon we arrive in Mackay to run a seminar on Thursday with councillors (plus Chief Executive) from the Regional Council. A hotel behind palms, shorter trees, shrubs and grasses along the Pacific shore. The taxi driver spun a mile journey from the airport to our hotel into a three mile fare - A$24 compared to a crow-flies fare of under A$10 - talking the while about the right pronunciation of the town - "Mack-i" or "Mack-a". "What do they make of climate change?" asked John "I think it's just the natural way of things. But who knows?". Later another driver, about to take us on the same run-around said "That's what the sat-nav says."
I have strong feelings about continued coal dependency, including a local economy's reliance on selling it to others. Parents who continue to deny or ignore the need to more than greenwash 'clean' coal may answer to their children and grandchildren.  Coal power costs the environment. It hinders the pursuit of renewable energy, yet a young men earning A$125k a year toiling 5 days on, 5 days off in the mining business of Queensland, can well feel pride spending and investing his wages on home and family; "Who needs education? Bastard climate change hippies." [See Stephen Schneider's recent book Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to save Earth's Climate - a review with good links, including this guide to debate with a climate change sceptic. Given that scientific thinking entails maintaining doubt and scepticism about the nature of truth you can see the problem. Political truth is made at the ballot box, which has no slot for shades of grey.]
China continued to be the largest and one of the fastest-growing coal markets in the world, with usage rising 9.6 percent to 1,537 mtoe in 2009, or 46.9% of total world coal consumption. The increase in coal use in China between 2008 and 2009 was greater than the total 2009 usage in Germany and Poland combined. In 2009, China became a net importer of coal for the first time, thanks to a surge in imports of steam coal (the grade used in boilers for electricity generation) from Australia, Indonesia, and Viet Nam. 
Colliers off Mackay
Once settled in our room, we stroll the shore - sandy soft and clean; on the tide line - leaves, twigs, small seawashed logs and coconut husks; not a plastic bottle or other human detritus. Flat Top and Round Top islands just offshore and further off the big colliers arriving at Dalrymple coal terminal further down the coast and departing for China. The sand crabs re-create on the beach, in fractal style, the spinifex landscape we've seen from the air around Longreach.
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A very funny piece in The Australian about aca-zombies by Joseph Gora and Andrew Whelan, co-editor of the forthcoming Zombies in the Academy.
The deadly hand of corporatism has drained all life from campus. Universities are increasingly populated by the undead: a listless population of academics, managers, administrators and students, all shuffling to the beat of the corporatist drum. Perhaps not surprisingly, the terrifying zombie plague that has swept through the sector is now the subject of serious scholarly attention (books, articles, conferences) as surviving academics investigate how we have descended into this miasma. So who or what exactly is responsible for tertiary zombification? Is there an antidote? Perhaps a clue lies in the recent independent movie Pontypool, in which the zombie virus is spread through endearments such as honey and sweetheart. The contagion is rapid and lethal, infecting all those who come into contact with such banal sweeteners. Similar lexical vacuity exists in today's university campuses, which have become hollowed-out spaces containing soulless buildings: food courts like any zombified shopping centre; eerily deserted libraries; and hi-tech lecture amphitheatres. In this bleak landscape the source of the zombie contagion lurks in the form of dead hand, mechanical speech....
The article is just a reminder that where the Victorians treated primary education as an instrument of the state, in pursuit of a workforce sufficiently literate to work in the new factories that were part of the industrial revolution, and secondary education expanded for less material motives after the second world war, now tertiary education - universities, academia - is treated by government and its business partners as the lead instrument of national economic survival in a globalised economy.
Studying this interest in the metaphor of zombies I was led to a recent publication called Zombie Economics by John Quiggin about the dead ideas that still walk among us and this led me to a most interesting overview of commentaries on the economic paradigm in which we are now entrapped - a piece by Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in The National Interest, of which he's a senior editor. Drezner's title takes up the zombie theme - First Bank of the Living Dead. Quiggin blogs a gentle rebuttal of Drezner's review, but the words I'm drawn to - not least because they are so lacking in the 'lexical vacuity' described by Andrew Whelan, are Keynes' - quoted at the end of Drezner's piece.
The decadent international but individualistic capitalism, in the hands of which we found ourselves after the war, is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous—and it doesn’t deliver the goods. In short we dislike it, and we are beginning to despise it. But when we wonder what to put in its place, we are extremely perplexed. John Maynard Keynes 1933
Meanwhile Tom Tomorrow's cartoon describes the credit industry going about it's daily work:
I wonder which society, which country, or which town or village will invent and maintain a way of living without growth without resorting to the terrible 20th century experiments of Nazi Germany and its allies or Soviet Russia, China and the failing experiment that grips the rest of us as the only alternative - turbo-charged global captalism.  I remind myself to read Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet by Tim Jackson, leading the economics steering group of the UK's Sustainable Development Commission.
I am inclined to agree with Max Born, the German physicist, who reckoned that the acceptance of a new quantum theory would occur only with the passing away of the old physics professors. The acceptance will await a new generation that starts off with a question mark. Fred Emery, one of my first employers
Back to the future ~ 18/12/10: Terry Eagleton on The death of universities.
18/01/11: Henri Girou on Beyond the Swindle of the Corporate University: Higher Education in the Service of Democracy

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Pleasing news from Ano Korakiana. The greengrocers we thought was closed at the western end of Democracy Street has re-opened...
'...fully renovated owned and managed by Maria Binou, welcoming its first customers. At 7 last Saturday evening the Pappas gave his blessing to the opening of the store while Maria had prepared a buffet for guests with the support of her large family. The new shop will undoubtedly provide benefits to our village and deserves our support, along with the 2-3 others remaining ... in an area which up to three decades ago was served by 30 different stores.'
We've also noticed that our friend and neighbour, Sally, is one of the 17 candidates from whom 5 will be selected to be consultants on the managing of Ano Korakiana after the local elections on Sunday. Πέντε από τους παραπάνω θα "διοικήσουν" το χωριό μας από τον επόμενο Γενάρη...

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