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Archive for the 'Natural history' Category


Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Hoots No. 1 – 26 March 2009: Museums have become “our home from home”, Barack Obama’s work schedule has large gaps in which he sets aside time to step back and think or make calls or read and the late Bill Stanner’s essays  published by Black Inc. Australia will support the UN Indigenous Rights Convention which the former government voted against in 2007.

Museums  are not much like museums anymore: In “Why museums have become our home from home” (The Times March 14, 2009) Hugo Rifkind writes that “People are visiting our galleries and museums at a startling rate. Is it the cafés, the absence of swearing… maybe even the art?”. Rifkind suggests some reasons: that museums “are the best public space we have” and that museums are safe places. Of course they are free but more people may be visiting “because people are getting cleverer”. But first of all he says it is because “quite suddenly, museums aren’t much like museums”!

Leadership lessons: Writing in the New York Review of Books (“The Thirty Days of Barack Obama”, March 26, 2009) Elizabeth Drew observes the following:

“As carefully as Barack Obama prepared for it, the presidency has held some surprises for him””some foreseeable, some not, and some of his own making. Seeking to avoid the mistakes of the early Clinton era, Obama concluded that, unlike Clinton, he didn’t want to hold the numerous meetings that can chew up so much of the president’s time. Instead, according to his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, Obama’s style is to drop by an aide’s office””a restless man, he roams the White House corridors””or stop an aide in a hallway and ask, “How are you coming on that thing we were talking about?” Gibbs says, “The worst thing is not have an answer.” Asked what happens then, Gibbs replied, “He gets that disappointed parent look, and then you better go find an answer.”

“Obama’s publicly announced schedules have large gaps; he makes it a point to set aside time to step back and think””sometimes going for a long, solitary walk around the White House grounds””or make calls, or read. A night owl, he usually takes work home, to be studied after he’s tucked his daughters into bed. Aides say he turns around paperwork fairly quickly, responding to and signing off on their memoranda.”

Stop Press: Barrack Obama is to read from his book “Dreams from my Father” on ABC Radio National’s First Person (weekdays 10:45am) which is part of the Book Show starting 10:00am, from Monday 30th March. (The readings can usually be listened to or podcast.)

Books: Robert Manne, Professor of Politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, persuaded Black Inc to publish the essays by Professor W.E.H. (Bill) Stanner (under the title of “The Dreaming & Other Essays”) by this distinguished Australian anthropologist and has written the introduction. An edited extract from it appeared in The Australian 14 March 2009 (doubtfully available on the web). There are other articles about Stanner and the essays including one by Professor Marcia Langton also in The Australian on March 4 (on the web).

Manne writes, “In 1968 Stanner was invited to deliver the ABC’s Boyer Lectures. In them he talked of the persistence of “the great Australian silence” concerning the Aboriginal dispossession; the belated recognition in Australia of the genius and the strangeness of the indigenous culture the British had so light-heartedly set upon destroying; the emerging possibilities of a racial composition if we could only see that our problem with the Aborigines was less important than their problem with us; the arrogance and certain failure of the policy of assimilation that was inviting the Aborigines to relinquish what it was that made them a distinctive people or, in Stanner’s biting phrase, was asking them to “un-be”; and, finally and tentatively, the question that came more and more to obsess him, the possibility of a historic act of reconciliation through a willingness to contemplate some new deal over the question of the ownership of land.”

Stop Press: Australia will next week officially back the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, reversing the Howard Government’s vote against it in 2007. (the US, New Zealand and Canada also voted against it in the General Assembly.) Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin will make a statement on Australia’s change in position on April 3 at Parliament House in Canberra.

Music: Tapestry is a vocal ensemble founded in 1995 by Laurie Monahan, Cristi Catt, and Daniela Tosic. Based in Boston, the ensemble made its concert debut in its hometown with performances of Steve Reich’s Tehillim. The group has established an international reputation for its bold conceptual programming which combines medieval and traditional repertory with contemporary compositions. Their album “Faces of Faces of a Woman” weaves together a mix of tales, music and poetry to reveal the many faces of a woman, ranging from 12th century nun Hildegard von Bingen to 16th century Irish pirate Grace O’Malley to 20th century Russian poet Anna Akmatova together with music of female troubadours, traditional songs, and lullabies including “Careless Love”. Astonishingly wonderful!

Next week: A quotation about critics from someone who knew heretic and philosopher Giordano Bruno (whose biography by Ingrid Rowland has recently been published), burned at the stake in Rome in February 1600, and two amazing biological stories about caterpillars being welcomed in the nests of ants and the courtship of Bower Birds – if you haven’t heard them already on the Science Show with Robyn Williams. And an inquiry into Britain’s invasion of Iraq: what might the consequences be?

This page, which should appear weekly, is an addition to the blogs page.

Decay in a Time of Penury

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Recently, I wrote in On Line Opinion of 19 September 2008 about the controversy swirling around the budget situation in New South Wales which contributed to the resignation of the Premier the Hon Morris Iemma who later resigned from Parliament. A new government was formed by the Hon Nathan Rees as Premier and he appointed a cabinet which did not include the former Treasurer, the Hon Michael Costa, who also later resigned from the Parliament, but not before an extraordinary media conference.

The summary of my article follows: “New South Wales is asserted to be facing a financial crisis necessitating a mini-budget. In fact the revised estimate of NSW State debt, at just under $8 billion, is miniscule and the overrun of $900 million in the recurrent budget – anticipated as a result of the shortfall in stamp duty on property – is near inconsequential. Cutbacks will drive the State further into real crisis in transport, schools and hospitals. The assertion that the State’s credit rating is threatened is mere intimidation.”

This article is not simply another venture in political controversy. There are substantial implications for museums and other cultural activities in the actions which might flow from the view which the former Treasurer and Treasury spokespersons have taken. A mini-budget which would substantially reduce recurrent and capital funding could see further reductions of staff at museums and other negative impacts. It is imperative that museum people and those interested in and supportive of museums understand that the statements on government budgeting by economically conservative politicians and media commentators fail to give an accurate picture of the situation.

As I say in the article, “Since the adoption by governments of the market or business model – in New South Wales by Harvard MBA graduate Premier Nick Greiner – there have been ongoing reductions in the operating budgets of government agencies through across-the-board cuts, non-funding of awarded salary increases and the notorious “efficiency dividends”.

I also say, “While over the longer term, sustained imbalances in recurrent expenditure are clearly unsatisfactory, there surely can be no risk assumed for occasional deficits. Indeed they are appropriate occasionally to even out overall performance. After all, reacting suddenly to declines in the budget position leads to retrenchment of staff who take with them skills and corporate knowledge which have cost a great deal to acquire. It is likely that the reductions have already gone too far in some areas.”

The details of any mini-budget to be presented in November 2008 are yet to become apparent.

Across the continent, it is possible that the new Western Australian Museum development on the site of the former East Perth Power Station, announced18 February this year by the then Premier Alan Carpenter, could be deferred. In his announcement Premier Carpenter said, ” the massive, half-a-billion dollar infrastructure project would be a stunning cultural and social institution for WA, which would tell the amazing stories of the State and its people in a building that would bring new life to a major heritage site.”

On the ABC Radio National Program, “The National Interest” of 26 September, new Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett mentioned that some capital projects – and he specifically mentioned proposed new museum, approved by the former government, would have to be reviewed. As the program’s presenter Peter Mares says, “And he’ll need all of the mining tax revenue he can get his hands on, if he’s to live up to his promise to up spending in regional WA – a non-negotiable commitment in his bid to keep his minority government in office.”

The Western Australian economy is booming because of the substantial resource projects; one could suggest that this is an appropriate time to invest in things like museums. It would be odd if Australia defers and downsizes its cultural projects when cities such as Medellín in Colombia are building libraries and art galleries in order to address poor education, poverty and crime amongst young people. Last year a number of media reports described these strategies by which mathematician and city mayor Sergio Fajardo was “turning blight to beauty“.