Publish details of politicians’ profligacy

Over the weekend, The Age published details of Attorney General George Brandis’ lavish spending on a dinner in London. The next day a letter to The Age defended Brandis  on the basis that politicians should spend up big taking important people out to dinner and attacked The Age saying the expenditure was not news-worthy.

Let us not forget that Brandis is a member of a government that has waged war on the less fortunate in our society through Joe Hockey’s inequitable and unfair budget.  There’s also been a huge amount of hot air about lifters and leaners.

It is probably fair to say that Brandis’ spending is not exceptional for members of this particular government. There has been noticeable rorting of travel expenses by the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Attorney General (whoops there he goes again) as well as Christopher Pyne’s excessive expenditure on accommodation in London.

Brandis is a serial offender when it comes to rorting taxpayer money. His expenditure on his bookshelves and books in his parliamentary office was nothing short of scandalous. He should be subjected to constant public scrutiny about the way he spends public money particularly when he is spending it on himself.

 George Brandis and the bookshelf. A nice example of lifters and leaners

George Brandis and the bookshelf. A nice example of lifters and leaners

These matters should be reported in the press because that is the only way that we get to know about them. In the greater scheme of things the expenditure is not huge but it is a matter of principle.

The solution to this kind of rorting is very simple. Parliamentarians should be given a fixed expense allowance from which they pay for dinners, travel, gifts etc. At the end of each financial year, they get to keep what is left over. This means that the expenses will continue to be paid by the taxpayer. But it also means that they’re coming out of the politicians’ pockets and this will make them think more carefully about how they spend the money.

After a couple of years it will be possible to review what has actually been spent on entertaining and what has gone on to politicians pockets. It is at this point that an adjustment in the size of the allowances can be made to reflect how much taxpayers money politicians actually think they should be spending on lavish entertainments.

Our Minister for Perpetual Embarrassment

Prime Minister Tony Abbott welcomed the second woman to be appointed to Cabinet at the swearing-in ceremony at Government House. Sussan Ley is now Minister for Health and Sport. Here is a picture of Abbott and the new minister at the ceremony.


And here is the Prime Minister, who doesn’t “get women”, giving his new appointee a friendly little pat on the bum. And she is clearly not enjoying it. In most work places, this would be deemed as sexual harassment.

This comes with reports of the problem that the federal government has with female voters

The magnitude of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s “woman problem” has been underlined in new research which shows women rate the government very poorly across all policy areas and are harsher than men in their assessment of the government’s overall performance.

 Tony Abbott: asleep at the wheel on women's  political concerns

Tony Abbott: asleep at the wheel on women’s political concerns

Here are the important issues for men and women

untitled 2 Significantly, the Minister for Women ranks the repeal of the carbon tax as most his important contribution to women in 201but women in the survey don’t rank it at all. Here are some of the results from the JWS Research published in The Age  Where participants ranked the government Very Good or Good on a series of issues.


Now it’s obvious that these results indicate women rank the government lower than men in all areas surveyed in the poll and by quite sizeable margins in some cases. But on Community and social issues both figures are incredibly low at 17% and 12% respectively. Only 16% of women rank the government as Very Good for Good on the Economy and finances,  an area where the government would have expected to score well.

The survey did not canvass voting intentions but with these figures the coalition must be wondering what issues it will be able to campaign on in the 2016 election.

Sooner or later the Liberal party is going to have to wake up to what the problem really is out there in voter land. Their real political dilemma is how to fix it.

Edward Hopper: American spaces.

Roads and pathways running into the middle distance constitute a recurrent theme in Edward Hopper’s work. In many of Hopper’s paintings of urban and interior landscapes, there are large patches of sunlight, either in rooms, on streets and roads and particularly light falling on the walls of houses.

Hopper admitted to this preoccupation in one of his famous quotes: “What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.”

In the wonderfully evocative High Road, the blue grey strip of concrete road dominates the foreground of the painting. There is a visual echo of the road running up the hill in the middle distance where it meets the horizon at exactly the same point as the telegraph pole in the right of the painting.

High Road

The tones of the road are reflected in the colours of the houses which are so typical of the solid structures that feature in so many of Hopper’s paintings. The houses provide a sense of permanence and peacefulness in this beautifully light-filled rural scene. But there is also a sense of emptiness and isolation in this painting which, typical of so many of these scenes, has no signs of people.

There are no people in Grade Crossing, which is a very similar painting to High Road: a road running past a house , telegraph poles arising defined by forest covered hills and open fields, possibly cornfields.

Grade crossing

There are also structural similarities between the two paintings which are often seen in many of Hopper’s landscapes. The detailed foreground with the road running through it, the middle layer of dense colour (often a green forest) and a large expanse of sky  (often blue with clouds) form the horizontal structures that Hopper uses to layer his paintings and which provide a sense of space, distance and openness to his paintings.


Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the donkey, refugees and asylum seekers

Tim Haslett's Blog

Writing in the New York Times, Ross Douthat discusses a range of perspectives on the biblical Nativity story, most of which seem naïvely wrong. However, he does make one useful point:

Then, finally, there’s the secular world picture, relatively rare among the general public but dominant within the intelligentsia. This worldview keeps the horizontal message of the Christmas story but eliminates the vertical entirely. The stars and angels disappear: There is no God, no miracles, no incarnation. But the egalitarian message – the common person as the centre of creation’s drama – remains intact, and with it the doctrines of liberty, fraternity and human rights.

Many people, myself included, do not subscribe to the theology of the New Testament that is found in the Gospels but will agree with what Douthat terms the “doctrines of liberty, fraternity and human rights”.

The Gospel according to St Matthew describes the Flight…

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The Parable of the Rabbit Plague in Australia

To understand the rabbit plague ,we need to understand a very simple dynamic about the rabbit population. This little causal diagram describes it particularly well.

Rand F1

As the number of rabbits goes up, the number of births also go up. This is indicated by a S at the  end of the causal arrows.   Births and rabbits form a reinforcing or growth loop. The important thing to remember about rabbits is that they only die once ,but may produce hundreds of offspring. This is what leads to exponential growth in rabbit populations.

So when Farmer Brown came out to Australia from England, he wished to make Australia as much like mother England as possible. So he imported as much of the flora and fauna as possible, particularly rabbits when he released on his rural property.

Now life in Australia was particularly good for the rabbit. There were no natural predators  and there was abundant food on Farmer Brown’s farm. It wasn’t long before the rabbit population exploded and the rabbits began to make serious inroads into Farmer Brown’s pastures.

Then Farmer Brown had a brilliant idea that was linked to the idea of making Australia more like mother England: import foxes. This would have the advantage of curbing the rabbit population and allow  Farmer Brown, now a member of the landed gentry, to gallop about in funny clothes shouting Tally Ho.

The logic went like this:

Rand F 2

As the number of rabbits goes up, you increase the number of foxes (foxes up, rabbits up)  as the foxes go up, the deaths of rabbits go up and then the number of rabbits goes down (deaths up rabbits down: moving in the opposite direction).  This loop is what is known as a balancing loop. It is reflection of Farmer Brow’s policy of importing foxes. Policy loops are often designed to bring systems back into balance

Now this worked particularly well for a while and the foxes had a field day because rabbits was so fat and lazy they almost  stumbled into the jaws of the foxes.  But after a while, something began to worry Farmer Brown. He noticed that the foxes were beginning to attack his chooks.  So he redoubled his efforts at fox hunting.

Rand F4

This was another policy decision designed to bring the fox problem under control. And it was successful. As the fox hunting went up, the number of foxes declined. But unfortunately, as a number of foxes declined so did the number of rabbit deaths and the rabbit population increased once more.

The logic goes like this: as fox hunting goes up the number of foxes goes in the opposite direction, namely down. As the foxes go down, deaths  of rabbits go in the same direction as well down also. As the rabbit deaths go down, the rabbit population goes in the opposite direction namely up. So unfortunately, Farmer Brown’s fox hunting policy was completely counter intuitive in that it led to a renewed increase in the rabbit population.

Then Farmer Brown, who was now in State Parliament and Minister for Agriculture hadanother brilliant idea: poison the rabbits. This was done using a poison known as myxomatosis.

R and F5

The logic was that increases in the number of rabbits would lead to an increase amount of poisoning and this would increase rabbit deaths. It was wildly successful. Farmer Brown received his knighthood for his efforts in controlling the rabbit population.

But what Farmer Brown did not know was there was a limit to the success of the poisoning program. It killed off all the rabbits but two, a male and a female living out beyond Gapuwiyak. Two tough old bastards, who were myxomatosis resistant and extremely fertile.

rand F 6

The result of the poisoning was to produce genetic modifications in two rabbits  (it only needed to) and that led to the production of the Super Rabbit.

The first inkling that Farmer Brown had of this was, when one night as he was looking out over his pastoral spread he suddenly heard a heavy thump, thump, thump. As he turned round, he was shirt-fronted by a large furry steamroller.

When he stood up, what he saw filled him with terror. In the nearby paddock, the super rabbit was enjoying sexual congress with a kangaroo.

Edward Hopper: Urban Spaces, Interior Landscapes

In many of his paintings, Hopper defines the spaces  that urban Americans  inhabit. Hopper uses these physical locations to define the interior landscape and the psychological state of his subjects.


In Western Motel, a woman sits waiting for someone to come through the motel room door.  She is anchored in the frame  by the bed and the green motorcar. The details of the hotel room and motorcar give way to the featureless background of the road, the hills and beyond that the empty blue sky. The picture is shot through with loneliness and isolation and the  packed suitcase and the sparse furniture of the hotel room add a sense of transience and impermanence. Intermission has some striking similarities to Western Motel. They’re primarily structural. The centre of the paintings is dominated by the figures of the women and in both cases the backgrounds serve to define the emotional content of the painting.


In Intermission,  there is a careful modulation of the colours. The colour of the woman’s black dress is modulated in the colouring of the seat. This in turn is captured by the shadow that runs across the painting and which divides the two large grey/blue areas of the wall. These modulations add to the sense of tranquility of the seated woman. In many of his paintings, Hopper’s subjects have come to rest at some point in the journey. In both  Hotel Window and Hotel Lobby there is a sense of preparing for the next stage of the journey but without any clear indication of what that may be.

Hotel Window and Room in Brooklyn

Hotel Window and Room in Brooklyn

Sunday and Hotel Lobby

Sunday and Hotel Lobby

In Room in Brooklyn and most particularly in Sunday with its deserted houses, there is a palpable sense of isolation and loneliness. In Hotel Lobby, the green strip of carpet serves as pathway out of the picture. The woman in the picture has her feet resting on this pathway just as the man in Sunday has his feet resting on the road. In both of these paintings there is a sense of a journey not taken. In the House at Dusk, the people in the picture are framed by the backlit windows of the house, lost amidst the detailed architecture of the building. If Western Motel and Intermission were  interior landscapes, House at Dusk  defines the human condition in its urban context.


The sturdy brightly-it building stands against a dark and forbidding backdrop of a forest. There is a set of stairs that is lit by the building and which leads into the darkness of the forest. Roads and pathways  running into the middle distance constitute a recurrent theme in Hopper’s work.  There is an interesting sketch that was the forerunner of this painting


Hopper has removed all the urban clutter in the final version of the painting replacing it with the dark forest and completely changing the emotional tone of the painting.

In the enigmatic Night Window, we have a similar scene, looking from the outside of the building into a room. There is more  interior detail in this painting then there is in House at Dusk but it really doesn’t help the viewer understand the picture any more.


It’s very much a picture in which nothing is happening. A woman is bending over to pick something up. A windows open and a curtain is billowing out of it. Light from the room floods out into the night. It is so typical of Hopper, paintings which seem to falls to the moment of no particular significance, neither are beginning nor an end of some narrative. Yet these two paintings are  thematically linked to other others that Hopper painted.  In Early Sunday Morning, we are not able to see inside the building. The early morning sun illuminates the street in the foreground leaving the rest of the building in shadows.


It’s early morning, no one is awake. But this painting represents a slightly more distance view of the urban landscape, slightly more removed, dispassionate. The same can be said for From Williamsburg Bridge. It is at once a celebration of the urban landscape and the celebration of the emptiness of that landscape. Well, almost empty. There is a woman seated in the second right upper window  of the building in the right of painting.

From Williamsburg Bridge

She is the only person in the painting and strangely adds to the sense of loneliness and isolation.  It is interesting that in the sketch Bridge that was clearly the forerunner of this painting, the woman does not appear.


In both of paintings the tone is not pessimistic and certainly not suggestive of urban alienation, rather it is reflective,contemplative and melancholy When Hopper turns his attention to the American rural  landscape, we see this sense of loneliness, isolation and emptiness revisited.

George Orwell and the Abbott Cabinet

Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt has released figures showing increasing effectiveness of the now-abolished carbon tax.

New data shows record fall in carbon emissions

Rumour has it that the post-press conference nosh-up had large servings of humble pie available. In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Ministry of Truth is Oceania’s propaganda ministry.

George Orwell, author of 1984

George Orwell, author of 1984

The major task of the Ministry for Truth was constant rewriting of history, with another set of lies replacing the old set.

It is ironic that Greg Hunt is the Minister for Environment and he’s been responsible for trashing a policy that was actually improving the environment and replacing it with one that probably won’t.  Surely his title should be Minister Not for the Environment.

And then we have Scott Morrison, the ex-Minister for Immigration whose main role was stopping people getting into the country.

Morrison’s first act as Minister for Social Services was to cut funding to welfare groups  supporting the homeless. Minister Not for Social Services?

New Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has set a priority of deporting migrants who are members of criminal bikie gangs. So shouldn’t he really be the Minister for Deportations?

Or Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, whose only contribution in this portfolio was to insult women with his comments about the benefits to women of the carbon tax.

And now Tony appears to have taken on a new portfolio with his announcement that Australians should “Stay alert because there are people who would do us harm.” The last year has seen Abbott front and centre whenever there’s been anything related to terrorism particularly over the Malaysia airlines crises.  Minister for Making People Frightened of Terrorists?

George Orwell must be laughing.

Tony Abbott and terrorism: part of the problem not part of the solution.

The appearance of Prime Minister Tony Abbott on television warning of the likelihood of a terrorist attack and exhorting Australians to be “alert” can only be seen as inflammatory.

 Tony Abbott warns terrorist attack “likely” post Sydney siege

Abbott’s rhetoric over the last 12 months and made quite clear that he regards  Muslim organisations such as ISIS and Al Qaeda as being responsible for global terrorist. This is almost certainly the case but to warn, by implication, that they have a foothold in Australia is pushing things too far. Internet chatter doesn’t represent the terrorist threat. If it did  we would be in danger of being blown up by Kim Kadeshian’s bum.

But what Abbott is doing now is bringing this particular threat to Australia. While he didn’t mention any Muslim groups in his TV appearance, the subtext of what he said is “Keep an eye on the Muslims because that’s where you’ll find the terrorists.”

And all this on the basis of the tragic behaviour of one arranged criminal, admittedly a Muslim but certainly not a terrorist not associated with any terrorist organisation. Abbott is using the Martin place siege to bolster his credentials as tough on terrorism. It’s scaremongering politics at their very worst.

Moderate members of the Muslim community must be shaking their heads in disbelief at what the Prime Minister has done. If there’s anything designed to inflame relationships between the Muslim community and the rest of Australia, it’s statements such as Tony Abbott made.

Then there is Peter Dutton’s remarkable piece in linking migrants to criminal bikie gangs and threatening to deport them.

So much for peace and goodwill on earth.

Stephen Hawking and a circular theory of time

You have to be careful when you’re describing something you probably don’t understand properly, particularly when it’s Stephen Hawking’s explanation of how the universe began. But his performance on SBS last night so beautifully lucid that I am tempted to try.

The universe is full of large black holes whose gravitational force sucks in matter (mainly hydrogen and helium) and compresses it until the temperature rises to billions of degrees.

A black hole

A black hole

At this point, and here I am skating on thin ice, matter no longer exists at the atomic level but at the subatomic level, namely as pure energy in the form of protons, electrons and neutrons. Eventually, the contents of the black hole explode and form a supernova.

 A Supanova  explodes.

A Supanova explodes.

In this explosion, new matter is formed from the subatomic particles: namely carbon, hydrogen and iron. These are the basic building blocks for the new galaxies which form around stars, such as our sun, that consist primarily of the hydrogen and helium from the supernova.

Eventuall, over billions of years,  the stars created by the Supanova burn out and collapse into black holes starting the process again.

So, time is circular, there was no beginning, there is no end. It’s a cycle of creation and decay, on a cosmic scale.

Peter Dutton continues Morrison’s anti-migrant rhetoric

New Immigration Minister Peter Dutton came out swinging even before he was sworn in.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton targets bikie gang members as ” top of my listed for deporting”

There’s an interesting logic behind what he’s saying. It goes like this “We all know that migrants are basically either terrorists or criminals. This is why we’ve been keeping them out of the country with the Sovereign Borders policy. Now we going to turn our attention to the ones that managed to get in under the Labor government. We know that most of the outlaw bikie gangs are made up of migrants, so we will round them all up and deport them. If we stop the boats and stop the bikies, our beautiful sunburnt country will be a much better place for Australian families.”

 Immigration Minister Peter  Dutton: declares war on  bikies

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton: declares war on bikies

The insidious thing about Dutton’s message is that it reinforces the subliminal “migrants are bad for the country” message. Focusing on the criminal elements in the migrant population puts a smokescreen around the issues of Australia’s humanitarian responsibility to the migrants from countries in which it has been waging war.

Don’t be surprised if a large number of the people rounded up for deportation are from the Muslim community.  Don’t be surprised if this approach doesn’t work and proves to be immensely divisive.

Don’t be surprised if Dutton introduces legislation into the Parliament to give himself sweeping powers of deportation over migrant criminals.

Don’t be surprised if the “countries of birth” don’t welcome back their prodigal children.

But full marks to Pete, not even one day on the job and the Immigration Minister is tackling law and order issues.