NOAH’S RAINBOW SERPENT – observations by Ian MacDougall


Posted in Political Economy by Ian MacDougall on May 28, 2020

By Ian MacDougall

Below is the text of what began as an open letter (perhaps epistle would be a better word) I sent recently (on 16 April 2020) to Keith Windschuttle. He, the reader will recall, is arguably most famous for his controversial book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, which questions the proposition that Aboriginal people in Australia were ever subject to massacre and wholesale elimination by post-1788, mainly white, settler populations.  I used to know Windschuttle personally in the 1960s, when he maintained a position on the political spectrum considerably to the left of where he is now as Editor-in-Chief of the avowedly ‘conservative’ journal, Quadrant.  

My own critique of his Fabrication is right here at the Serpent:  and passim.

The article below was stimulated by a Quadrant article Himmelfarb’s Enlightenment  (to be found online at ) recently authored by Windschuttle and cited and discussed in the text below.

My purpose here was to point out to him a deep philosophical problem of the conservative political position that Himmelfarb’s Enlightenment  (perhaps unwittingly) raises.

For whatever reason, he has left me unanswered on this, with not even a formal acknowledgement of receipt. So I have decided to redraft it into the third person and submit publish it here at this more modest site of my own.  IM


Keith Windschuttle recently published in Quadrant  Online  a piece by Stuart Lindsay, which includes the following statement:

Politicians, CEOs, heads of professional associations and unions, mainstream broadcast and print journalists and editors, bishops, teachers, administrators, professors, police inspectors and judges all speak as one about the magnitude of the risk presented by the Wuhan virus.

I am going to refer to the group of people just described as the clerisy. I prefer that expression, which was invented by Coleridge in the first part of the nineteenth century, to intelligentsia, which is Bolshevik in origin, and to elites, which has a note of envy about it. Whatever the collective noun used, I will assume you know who I am talking about. They are the people through whom the leftist programmes, triumphant in every sphere of our culture, are daily implemented.

Stuart Lindsay, The Express Road to Serfdom

I will refer to these ‘elites’ by the more realistic term Quadrant Target Population.

NB: The Quadrant Target Population, ‘elites’ or clerisy, or intelligentsia or call-them-what-you-will notably does not include the capitalist elite and owners of the principal wealth of the country: the Gina Rineharts, major individual corporate shareholders et al., who favour a low public profile.

Keith Windschuttle quoted Gertrude Himmelfarb in a previous debate with the late Bob Gould, Marxist and prominent Newtown, Sydney bookshop proprietor. (Gould referred to it at  ) So Windschuttle is clearly impressed with her writings. In particular:

The beasts of modernism have mutated into the beasts of postmodernism—relativism into nihilism, amorality into immorality, irrationality into insanity, sexual deviancy into polymorphous perversity. And since then, generations of intelligent students under the guidance of their enlightened professors have looked into the abyss, have contemplated those beasts, and have said, “How interesting, how exciting.”

                  —Gertrude Himmelfarb, On Looking into the Abyss, 1994

As quoted by Windschuttle in his piece Himmelfarb’s Enlightenment at

By the look of it, if I had a copy of Himmelfarb I would place in on a shelf beside say Barbara Tuchman’s highly acclaimed work The March of Folly: from Troy to Vietnam. On second thought, perhaps not on the same shelf; perhaps not even in the same bookcase.

Postmodernism (PoMo) is low-hanging fruit, and attacking it is a bit like taking candy from a baby. To try to tar the entire post-WW2 counterculture with the PoMo brush is like condemning the whole of western Christendom for the sins of the Renaissance popes, or the paedophiles of Ballarat, or some polygamist preacher from Utah.

They ‘moralised’ and ‘socialised’ religion, turning its energies into movements for voluntary association, local organisation and, ultimately, the politics of liberty.

In both Britain and America, the Enlightenment was both a theoretical and a practical expression of this outlook.


Well, part of that Enlightenment is the tradition of science, which gives us Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation that fits the facts is best. 

I suggest that the wellspring of the counterculture in the Quadrant Target Population had little to do with philosophy or culture however defined. Rather, it was the degeneration of the United States as it waded, with the confidence of the ignorant, into the quagmire of the war in Vietnam, entering in 1965 and leaving ignominiously in 1975, after a war which terminated the political careers of two US presidents: Johnson and Nixon..

(Jimi Hedricks’ rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, as he played it at the Woodstock Festival (1969) says it all, really. )

But for my own part, my experience on arriving as a fresher at Sydney University (in 1957, aged 16 and not yet old enough for a driver’s licence) frames my own attitude to PoMo.  I found the place abounding in white-coated students, most of them somewhat older than me, and pretty well all of them equipped with slide rules sticking prominently out of their lab-coat pockets. Today, of course, it would be something more electronic.

What interested me was the fact that psychology majors, no doubt keen to remind all and sundry of the scientific claims of their discipline, mostly did the same. (This was particularly true of those in thrall of BF Skinner and his ‘behaviourism’;  less true of the dwindling bands of Freudians, Gestalt theorists, etc.) They were also awed and impressed by the arcane language of mathematicians, physicists, chemists and other natural scientists. This was an important factor heading the humanities towards the gobbledegook, and intellectual mire of PoMo.

Psychology students were in a difficult position somewhere between the sciences and the humanities. (The Psychology Department was part of the Faculty of Arts, not of the Faculty of Science.) But the value of the arcane metatwaddle to those seeking the status of professionals (in anything) was not lost to them. They were among the first cabs off the rank. If postmodernism, when it arrived, was not intended to fill this need, it certainly found a ready market there. Which I think explains why it was taken up so eagerly.

And then there was the bandwagon effect. He who hesitates is lost; publish or perish. And if you are going to publish, make it clear to all that your language is so far above the heads of even the educated population as to be in that stratosphere intelligible only to a fortunate few. Hopefully, they will pay you cash, if not attention.

Postmodernists’ numbers rose exponentially. Whenever we see such phenomena in nature, we look for positive feedback loops. Not hard to find in relation to PoMo. It became an academic feeding frenzy. 

Keith Windschuttle’s title The Killing of History was very well chosen.  What should have been a student’s delight became a swamp to be waded through, and alive with annoying and blood-sucking insects, though strangely enough nothing particularly fearsome like the odd salty crocodile. In private correspondence to me, the noted blogger Ophelia Benson ( co-author with Jeremy Stangroom of The Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense ( and Why Truth Matters, opined that The Killing of History was excellent.

But of course, it was only a matter of time before there had to be a Sokal Hoax, and raptors like Richard Dawkins started circling. ( )

As I said, PoMo is low-hanging fruit. My first brush with it was when my friend and mentor Alan Roberts, theoretical physicist, mathematician and thinker extraordinaire handed me the proof copy of an article submitted to Arena, which he was associated with (and with which Windschuttle may be familiar.) So I looked through it. “What do you think?” he said.

“It has to be about the greatest load of codswallop I ever read,” I replied.

And that was a long time ago, around 1964. PoMo was just getting started.

…her [Himmelfarb’s] vision into the abyss also warns us of all we have to lose if we persist in feeding the theoretical beasts that lurk there and are now clawing their way onto our once solid ground.

The central fact never even alluded to in Windschuttle’s whole piece, is that the counterculture and the 1960s youth rebellion in all its forms in the Quadrant Target Population, came as a reaction to the Vietnam War, and specifically to the American 1961-75 phase of it. Though it was from its very beginnings a revolt against the French Empire, it never lost its colonial-war character. Former US Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara came to recognise this only after the American defeat in Vietnam, with millions left dead and maimed and long-term ecological and human-health damage galore. The latter was thanks to the aerial spraying of defoliants; vide his ‘The Fog of War’.

Vietnam was always, from its very outset, a war of national liberation; from French/Japanese/American colonialism, and from French and American imperialism.

(The Japanese in WW2 played the interesting role of busting the mystique of the British, French and Dutch colonialists in Asia, and showing the world that Asians could beat Europeans. The historic importance of that can never be over-estimated. I was told so first-hand by an Indian merchant I stayed with in 1958, in Penang, Malaya, as it was then. He had himself been of the then conventional wisdom until the fall of Singapore, that the British Empire was invincible; and he had a significant and most interesting military background.)

When Donald Trump started quacking on about ‘making America great again’ he never once spoke about what might have made America ‘ungreat’. Of course, only one word was needed to convey all the information required: Vietnam.

So now, Windschuttle, as a radical-turned-conservative, has clearly renounced the pro-Vietnamese position he once held regarding that colonial war. Except he has not written much about it, unless I am mistaken. Because if the counterculture was right then, the Vietnam War that it was in reaction against was wrong.  And the Quadrant Target Population was likewise right.

Windschuttle’s silence on that is indeed deafening. He has already executed a 180-degree turn. Another would make it a full 360 degrees, and set him back on the course he and his leftist comrades were on back in the good old days of  their journal The Old Mole.  It would be a pirouette politique par excellence. (The Australian Ballet might even get inspired by it.)

But more important to me is Windschuttle’s, or any other conservative’s,  answer to this next question: What is it that conservatives are actually out to conserve?

Answer: clearly, the existing social arrangements; ideological, economic and political. A typical Quadrant (on or offline) enthusiast would more likely than not practice some variant of established Christianity; believe firmly if not fervently in free enterprise and trickle-down economics, and also in the existing distribution of wealth,  power and income. That supporter would be for not just the Liberal-National Coalition, but the extreme right wing of it: the one which used to be led by Tony Abbott, and in a way, probably still is via a blend of inspiration and personal example. (Though I might add, the mud stirred up by the recent Pell case has created something of a distraction.)

Naturally, conservatives are against ideological, political and economic developments that stand to change those relationships and the present order.

But here’s the rub: all of today’s established order arose from radicalism in the past, and what modern conservatives work to conserve, consciously or otherwise, are those creations of radicals of decades, centuries and millennia ago.

If that were not true, then Windschuttle and those other modern conservatives would be out there campaigning for the reintroduction of absolute monarchy, votes for nobody (never mind votes for women) feudalism, chattel slavery; and I dare add public hangings, burnings at the stake, public floggings and long prison terms or exile for those seeking to change the existing political and economic arrangements.  And so on. He is in the position of having to maintain on that the following temporal disjunction:  while the positions taken by conservatives in the past are a curate’s egg, only good in small parts, those of present conservatives are OK.

Howard Fast could write his novel Spartacus about a Roman slave and revolutionary, which resonates with modern conservatives and progressives alike. Progressives of today do not have to disown the progressives of the past; quite the contrary.  But today’s conservatives, on the other hand, cannot avoid doing so for one helluva lot of that conservatism of yore. That is, if they want to be taken seriously.

The priority all the way through in Quadrant (on or offline) appears to me to be for business-as-usual. That journal also appears to be in hock and thrall to the coal industry. So it takes a position against anything which appears to threaten either. That it runs articles against the Covid-19 lockdown comes as no surprise. Epidemiology cannot trump economics or said business-as-usual. 1,940 deaths per day is the current price they pay in the US, (May 2020) thanks  largely to Trump’s Neronian attitude. Here in Australia the death rate is a lot lower, thanks to Morrison’s cabinet, and their obvious political vulnerability if it was not.

‘Progressive’ is an expletive in the pages of Quadrant, on and offline, but those so labelled are not so fettered. We are not in the position of having to maintain a counterpart of the proposition that while today’s conservatism is a curate’s egg, past conservatives and their creations are OK. For progressives, every innovation or regression in history is to be judged according to the same criterion. In my own case, that is the principle set out by the Utilitarians: the greatest good for the greatest number.

So we do not have to count fascists of the either the past or present as either radicals or progressives; though they get many a nod and wink from Australian conservatives.

The regime installed in South Vietnam that Australian conscripts fought for and have such difficulty commemorating, and that Windschuttle, Hall Greenland and others associated with The Old Mole worked so valiantly against, was a pretty antidemocratic and rotten one. Windschuttle was right then.

Today, I no longer regard myself as a Marxist per se. I have moved on from the Marxist position I used to hold, though my old self still walks with me, and there is nothing, nor any ideological position I have taken in my past that causes me to regret any of it today. Even if I now camp by a new billabong, I carry that Marxist past in my swag wherever I go, and without regret.

I cannot imagine therefore, what it is like to be in Keith Windschuttle’s present unenviable situation: having of necessity and retrospectively to support a past war he spent so many of his formative years actively opposing. It reminds me of those lines from Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

That apparition in Windschuttle’s case would have to be the indefensible Vietnam War, and the rather brilliant role he played at the time in opposing it.

But it flows from this that if he wants an idea of what the conservatives of tomorrow will be out to conserve, he has only to have a look at what is being advocated by the progressives of today:  like say, Bernie Sanders in the US, Jacinda Ardern in NZ and the Greens in Australia; because time appears to me to be on their side.

That also accords with the central teachings of Judaism, Christianity and probably Buddhism, Animism, Hinduism and other major religions as well; and also the Islam preached and practiced by most, but not all, of the world’s Muslims.

So,  while I am not surprised that Windschuttle did not want to publish the article above, I am quite frankly surprised that he did not deign acknowledge it in any way, even in the shape of a receipt, reject slip or email; if only for auld lang syne.

Ian MacDougall


Posted in Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on November 28, 2019

Posted in Natural Science by Ian MacDougall on May 29, 2019 Edit This

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
       I summon up remembrance of things past,
       I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
       And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.
       Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
       For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
       And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
       And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight.
       Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
       And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
       The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
       Which I new pay as if not paid before.
            But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
           All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.
William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) Sonnet 30

A single phrase from a piece of music is enough to start memories ‘flooding back’ from wherever in the head it is they are kept, and however kept there; until “death’s dateless night”.                                                                                                            

The organic basis of memory is intriguing, but at the same time one of the hardest topics to research in all of science.  . The Nobel laureate Sir John Eccles retired declaring that after a lifetime of neurological research, he knew nothing more of much significance about the operation of the brain than he did when he first began work as a neurologist. He predicted also that “The last thing that man will understand in nature is the performance of his brain.”

So far, he is on track to be proved right. ;

After a working life teaching scientific thinking and scientific thought to people with fresh young active and alert personalities and minds, I may be in a position to offer an hypothesis; for which I make no claim other than it might just be something useful for some line of research in that field. What interests me right here and now is the possible manner in which information is stored in the nervous system, presumably but not necessarily exclusively, in the brain.

Though protozoans can respond to stimuli, and practice survival behaviour, it is at the level of the coelenterates that what we might call nervous systems appear.  The initial purpose appears to be coordination and telegraph-like signalling for muscle movement, principally for self-protection. Those animals are not capable of the behaviour of self-protection,  because like sponges and some protozoa, their behaviour repertoire is limited. They might as well be plants, protecting themselves as best they can with woody barriers, thorns, and the widest possible variety of stings and poisons. But any animal which through perception and response to stimuli seeks to protect itself and aid its own survival, to that extent has a form of what we might call ‘consciousness.’

Consciousness is by no means confined to the higher vertebrates. Arguably, coelenterates (eg coral polyps) and molluscs have it, at least on the above basis. A snail responds to danger by withdrawing into its shell, so protecting itself. In other words, like the living human itself gradually coming into being from zygote to embryo to foetus to baby to infant and so on, consciousness in the course of evolution has done much the same; rather than being switched on as if an electric light in the final, fully-formed conscious Homo sapiens.

I contend that a likely beginning point in any animal species’ start towards consciousness is Hamlet’s classic question: To be, or not to be? Those indifferent to their own survival tend to leave fewer than average descendants. An ability to sense a situation of danger, and respond to it in a way favouring survival, merely requires a fixed action pattern wired into the animal’s nervous system in some way, however basic that nervous system might be.                                

But also, as in many other cases in biology, a cell, tissue or organ having one initial apparent purpose can be adapted, modified or whatever  for a very different, if not apparently unrelated purpose.

The horn of a rhinoceros for example, is actually made of keratin: the same substance that makes up animal hair fibres, claws and fingernails, which are in turn modified reptilian scales inherited from ancestral fish. Amphibian legs are likewise modified fins of fish. Jawbones originated in fish as modified gill arches. Similarly, in plants, flower petals are modified leaves.

In architectural history, walls of buildings initially had the purpose of supporting the roof and keeping out wind and weather. But their vertical surfaces soon became interesting to decorators and other artists, leading to frescoes, murals and information storage and presentations in the form of wall art and writing, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs.

I contend here that the protein content of the neuronal cell membrane conceivably has a function not just in containing the cell contents, but as a repository for the vast detail of memory.

Our individual human collections of memories become within each of us a huge otherworld. That is, a world apart from the experiences of human collectives organised as communities (including communicating language communities) tribes and larger entities such as social classes and nations.

The human brain is often considered to be the most cognitively capable among mammalian brains and to be much larger than expected for a mammal of our body size. Although the number of neurons is generally assumed to be a determinant of computational power, and despite the widespread quotes that the human brain contains 100 billion neurons and ten times more glial cells, the absolute number of neurons and glial cells in the human brain remains unknown. Here we determine these numbers by using the isotropic fractionator and compare them with the expected values for a humansized primate. We find that the adult male human brain contains on average 86.1 ± 8.1 billion NeuNpositive cells (“neurons”) and 84.6 ± 9.8 billion NeuNnegative (“nonneuronal”) cells.

So 100 billion of each is a good round working number. There is a large number of neurones and accompanying glial cells in the human brain. The axons of those neurones are relatively long cellular tubes ending in a cell body, with numerous branches or dendrites coming off it, like branches off some leafless tree. Nerve impulses pass along a linear series of neurones insulated from each other sideways by fatty sheaths of myelin, and separated from each other end-to-end by tiny gaps called synapses. Across any synapse, the signal is carried by neurotransmitter molecules from the axon of one neurone to the dendrites of the next in the neurone series in the nerve or nerve bundle. A single neurone can have up to a thousand synapses.

For our purposes, the brain amounts to a dense electrical jelly packed out with neurones.  Let us now consider neurone dimensions. The diameter of a typical neurone is 1/106 m.

The human brain has often been viewed as outstanding among mammalian brains: the most cognitively able, the largest-than-expected from body size, endowed with an overdeveloped cerebral cortex that represents over 80% of brain mass, and purportedly containing 100 billion neurons and 10× more glial cells.

The Human Brain in Numbers: A Linearly Scaled-up Primate Brain


Neurone diameter is one one millionth of a metre or 1/1,000,000 m.

So the circumference C of any neurone, is the product of the diameter of the neurone and pi (π ).

 C = πd

π [pi in Greek] is the ratio of the length of the circumference of a circle to its diameter: 3.1415927 [approx – it is an irrational number, because C must be assumed to be an infinite number of very short straight lines.] We take the total length of the cerebral neurones as 850,000 km.

In the case of any neurone in cross-section, 

C     = the diameter of the neurone x π

       = 1/106 m x 3.14 = 3.14 x 10-6 m

The human brain’s approximately 86 billion neurons are probably connected by something like 850,000 km of axons and dendrites. Of this total, roughly 80% is short-range, local connections (averaging 680 microns in length), and approximately 20% is long-range, global connections in the form of myelinated fibers (likely averaging several centimeters in length).


As we saw, neurones are essentially pipes. Across the walls of these pipes, sodium and potassium ions exchange in a wave-like motion as the nerve impulse travels along the neurone from the axon of one to the dendrites of the next. The functional internal area of the wall of the nerve pipe is thus the pipe circumference multiplied by the total length of all the neurone pipes.  (We assume that thanks to the myelin sheath, the external membrane surface is probably not involved.)

So the neurone circumference multiplied by the average length of a neurone gives us the area Aneuron cell membrane  (one side only) of the neurone cell membrane.

Aneuron cell membrane       = area of neuron cell membrane (one side only)

                                  = C x length of av. length of neurone

                                  = 3.14 x 10-6 m x 850 x 106 m = 2.67 x 103 m2

That is to say that if one was to split all the cerebral neurones and flatten them out into a layer one neurone-membrane thick, they would cover an area of around 2, 670 square metres. That would be the area of a square around 51 metres by 51 metres. Say 50 x 50 m2. (It would be double that if we considered both inner and outer neurone surfaces, but we will not.)

If one put a human brain into a blender, added some water and turned the whole lot into a slurry, it could conceivably be spray-painted on to cover such an area to a depth of one cell membrane thickness. (The mechanics of doing it I leave to others more skilled in that field than am I.) But that checks out about right on an order of magnitude level.

Area of neuron cell membrane (Aneuron cell membrane : one side only) 

= C x total av. length of neurone

Aneuron cell membrane  = av neurone diameter x total length of neurones ( 850 x 106 m = 2.12 x 103 m2)

                             = 3.14 x 10-6 m x 850 x 106 m = 2.12 x 10m2

                             = 2,669m2

That makes it a square of 52 m per side: say 50 m2.

Again, we would double that if both inside and outside surfaces of the neurone cell membrane are involved in memory. But I doubt they are, for the above (myelin) reason.

The neurone membrane consists of two layers of protein each one molecule thick, separated by a single layer of lipid molecules. (So it is a lipid sandwich whose ‘bread’ is protein.)

Our next question is: how many protein molecules can be packed one molecule deep into that area of 50m x 50m?                                                                                           

Take each protein molecule as being 10nm across (1 nanometre = 10^-9 m). Therefore the number of protein molecules Np needed for this will be:

Np  = 50 / 10-9 x 50 / 10-9  = 2500 x 1018

      ~ 2.5 x 1021

If we were to represent each protein molecule as grain of sand on a beach: each grain of side 1mm, we would need an area Abeach of  2.5 x 1021 mm2 to accommodate  it.

Abeach  = 2.5 x 1021 x 10-6 m2 , there being 106 sq mm in 1 sq m.

           = 2.5 x 1021 x 10-6 m2

           = 2.5 x 1015 m2

           = 2.5 x 1015 mx 10-6 km2

           = 2.5 x 109 km2  of beach

As the area of Australia is 7.692 million km², or 7.692 x 10^6 km2, the number of ‘Australias’  needed for  2.5 x 109 sq km of beach is 2.5 x 109 sq km /7.692 x 106 km2

         = 325 ‘Australias’

The Earth has an overall surface area of 5.1 x 108 km2 . 

.So with each protein molecule in the neurone surface being represented as a 1 cubic mm sand grain, on a ‘beach’ one sand grain deep, the number of Earths we would need for this is 2.5 x 109 sq km / 5.1 x 108 km2

     = 4.9

     ~ 5 ‘planet Earths’.

In other words, scaled down from beach to neurone dimensions, on the molecular scale of things there is a rather vast protein surface inside every human brain.

BUT the vastness is even bigger than that. If each of the sand grains on that beach were to represent the protein molecules in the cell membranes of the neurones in the human brain, not only would we need a beach five times the surface area of the Earth to represent them, but as well, each of those protein molecules is made up of a selection of the 20 amino acids Nature uses to build the bodies of animals and plants, all held together by hydrogen bonds into a functional shape. And not just into any old shape. Proteins in order to function as they do in nature have to be of specific shapes. The possible combinations of amino acids and protein molecules increases; hugely.

This is illustrated by the simple act of boiling an egg. The heat denatures the ‘white’ of the egg (the albumin) and turns it from clear to white and from gelatinous to semi- solid. A shelled boiled egg will retain its ovoid shape, and can never be ‘unboiled’ again. A shelled raw egg does what such eggs have been doing since the invention of the frying pan.

As well, the sand grains on the vast five-Earths beach could be made more representative of the amino acids by each being in one of 20 colours, with each grain having information storage power according to its colour, as well as being in one of at least two orientations relative to some local point we can take as ‘fixed’ despite movement of the body, eg the orientation of the neurone cell membrane itself. One position or orientation could be for ‘on’ and another readily available one for ‘off’. Change that, and trouble follows; which is possibly why a blow to the head can be disastrous for both consciousness and memory.

Three colours only are used to form the pixels of a colour TV screen. Combinations and permutations of red, blue and green are used to make all the colours of the screen plus white (all brightly shining) and black (all off). But each protein molecule, can be one of 20 different molecular types, and can be oriented relative to its neighbours or some local fixed point in one of at least two orientation states. That can contribute to a cerebral memory system with vast possibilities for information storage.

BUT BACK TO THE BEACH. It should be apparent that with an area  2 x 1021 mmcovered with 2 x 1021 sand grains, each grain being a cube of side 1 mm and having one of 20 distinct colours, we have considerable possibilities both for coding of information and for its storage and retrieval, provided we have ease of accessibility and some sort of writing/reading mechanism or system.

On high resolution OLED TV screens for example: we have 3 dots per pixel. Each dot is one of 3 possible colours, red, green and blue, with an illusion of intermediate spectral colours achieved by combining these primary colours. So in a square 100 pixels x 100 pixels on such a TV screen, there would be 10,000 pixels in all, each pixel consisting of 3 dots of red, green and blue. Pixels per inch (or pixels per centimeter) can also describe the resolution, in pixels, of an image file. A 100×100 pixel image printed in a 1 inch square has, by definition, a resolution of 100 pixels per inch.                                                                                         

Such a matrix could be used to store information, just as tribal lore is stored in an Australian Aboriginal dot painting.

A suitable scanner would be needed to read back the stored information in say, electronic form as a series of pulses.

Thus the neurones in the animal brain can be thought of in sum as a screen with 2 x 1021 pixels, each pixel consisting of one of 20 possible protein dots, and as the image on the TV screen is intrinsically capable of doing, capable of storing information in those protein dots. The dots would be read or otherwise accessed by suitable reading molecular apparatus, probably on the basis of the less access routinely required, the longer the time needed to effect the reading that constitutes memory recall.

One way Nature could have done this would be by placing Na+ and Kions to represent 1s and 0s the way digital computers use the polarity of microscopic switches in memory chips and microprocessors.                                                                               

Memory storage would then be a process of somehow moving the Na+ and Kions into different patterns on the cell membrane protein ‘beach’. Perhaps the myriad of glial cells might be involved in this.

Or possibly, a univalent positive ion (say, a K+ ion) is replaced with a divalent one (say a Ca2+ ion) making a local area of enhanced positivity, and thus capable of being digital code; for an item of information; ad infinitum.

In traditional book libraries, every holding (book, journal etc) is entered in a card catalogue, which becomes the first place for the information-seeking reader to go. If you know what you are looking for, then the catalogue gives you the location of the book, and the book’s index, or its table of contents, gives you the page to go to for the information you seek.

These days cataloguing is done electronically, as indeed is information storage generally. But the library with its catalogue is still the best and most readily understandable analogy for information storage, in my humble opinion.

In computers, electrical circuits are made and broken at very high speeds, and information is stored in binary code of 1s and 0s on hard drives, memory sticks and other such devices. On a computer hard drive’s metal disc, a tiny local area of the metal can be magnetised.  That large shiny, circular ‘plate’ of magnetic material is called the ‘platter’. It is divided into billions of tiny areas, each one capable of being magnetised (say to store a 1) or demagnetised (say to store a 0). Magnetism is used in computer storage because it goes on storing information even when the power is switched off. 

Flash drives are full of tiny transistors which can serve as switches having two positions: ‘on’ and ‘off’.   But whatever the organic basis of human memory, the information storage has to be vast, and the location and retrieval systems very powerful and rapid.

I will give you an example. If you are of a certain age, you might recall receiving news of US President John F Kennedy’s assassination on November 22nd, 1963. Or if you are not of a certain age, you might recall the circumstance in which you first heard of it.

OR: where were you when you first became aware that you existed?                              

AND/OR Do you remember learning to ride a bicycle for the first time free of trainer wheels or fussing adults?

Do you remember learning to walk? I do. Long before that memorable day I learned to ride my 2-wheeler bike, I was crawling around the floor of my parents’ rented house at 77 Woodward Ave, Strathfield, a suburb of Sydney. I hauled myself up and held onto the sofa, made it from the sofa to an armchair, and from there to a second armchair. For me, 78 years on, that is still a vivid memory. The year was 1940, in the month of December, which I worked out from the age my mother later told me that I was at the time: 8 months.                                                          

Or if such has never been of particular concern to you, please recall the name of your first pet dog or cat. (Mine was ‘Binka’, a mainly fox terrier ‘bitser’ dog; and a cross I am sure between 16 of the finest dogs and bitches from round the streets of Strathfield.)

We all have streams of memories: often trivia to others and just as often pretty vital and vivid stuff to us as individuals. Have I ever flown in a biplane? No. I cannot recall ever having done so; but that lack of memory is itself a memory ‘fact’. However, I have flown in other kinds of planes, the first one being a piston-engined, prop-driven  Lockheed Super-constellation in 1958, and the latest one being some Boeing job in the Virgin fleet. About a month ago, my wife Jenny and I flew across from Adelaide in it, and were met at the Canberra Airport by Jenny’s brother Stuart and his wife Anna. More facts fresh out of storage, which will fade I am sure, possibly, even probably, because the organic molecules and ions arguably used for their storage will be found other uses. But more on that below.

Hypnosis has been established as a means of retrieving memories long believed by their owner to be totally forgotten. That is also a fact I have encountered and memorised somehow. That fact and countless, probably millions, of other bits of trivial information are stored in me in some manner; presumably somewhere in my central nervous system, probably mainly in my brain, though perhaps the spinal cord and peripheral nerves play a role: hence the expression ‘muscle memory.’

If I was retrieving them and relaying them verbally to you, dear reader, then in all likelihood my speed of transmission would match your speed of reception and interpretation, because our two brains are constructed on similar lines. If you were a blue whale, a hummingbird, or say one of the Australian eastern brown snakes, living on the hill just up the street from my home here in Canberra, that can get about 5 deadly strikes in before you know about the first of them, there could be synchronisation problems.

Now, to return to the Kennedy assassination: I do recall my particular circumstances. I was living in my Great Aunt Sadie’s house in Fivedock, Sydney. (Aunt Sadie was in a nursing home nearby) and my (then) wife came wide-eyed into the room where I was with the news.

My response to her was half exclamation, half question. “What?!”

And I could not at first believe it. Today, I ask myself as well another ‘what‘ question: what happened in those last 5 seconds?  What happened when I remembered that event?

Or when I recall this extra little bit of information: Aunt Sadie was born in New York, but taken back to Scotland as a baby by her Scottish parents, where she learned to talk and had her early childhood. Later, after emigrating to Australia with her parents, she used to tell everyone with great enthusiasm in her pronounced Scots burr: “I’m a Yankee!”

As I recall, most found that very hard to believe.

Out of a huge quantity of trivia, Nature (not I) has somehow stored away inside my head, I have used whatever it was Nature gave me; have looked it up, gone to it, retrieved it and communicated it back to you, the reader of this, who uses as I do,  more or less, the same communication system (called the English language, and in that language often called in turn ‘remembrance of things past’).

And we can bring understanding of the symbols out of storage, and use that information to decode the symbols. So what happened, and how did Nature set us up to be able to do it; however it was that we did it? Because we not only have to retrieve the information, we have to understand the language used in the question, remembering what the words as used in their context, mean.

It is little wonder therefore that the human brain consumes (transforms, if you would prefer) energy at a surprising rate.

The brain makes up 2% of a person’s weight. Despite this, even at rest, the brain consumes 20% of the body’s energy. The brain consumes energy at 10 times the rate of the rest of the body per gram of tissue. The average power consumption of a typical adult is 100 Watts and the brain consumes 20% of this making the power of the brain 20 W.

The facts are:

  1. Memory can be vast in all of us: an unquantifiable collection of words, grammar rules, events and sensual experiences from the 5 fundamental senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and balance.
  2. Recall is often rapid: of skills, words, past advice from others, of one’s own experiences and other categories of memory.
  3. Recent experience, if not out of the ordinary, is readily lost.
  4. First (remarkable) experiences are often long remembered and readily recalled.
  5. Some memories can only be recalled by suggestion and autosuggestion.

     So here is my tentative suggestion and by no means complete hypothesis on what takes place.                                                                                                                          

Memory storage needs a highly accessible ‘wall’ on which symbols of some kind can be drawn, and retrieved easily and efficiently without the librarian (you) having to plough through a mountain codexes (books and journal articles) of irrelevant stuff before arriving at what is sought. We need to be able to stand back, survey the whole store, and then go to the part we want.

The manner this storage was done from the earliest times through to the earliest civilisations is perhaps the model. Neanderthal art in Spain has been dated at 65,000 years BP, though the oldest Australian Aboriginal cave art is at 28,000 BP is also old by any standard.

Cave paintings gave way to hieroglyphics on interior walls of tombs, which in turn gave way to hieroglyphics on papyrus scrolls, those flattened and matted papyrus reeds from the Nile, and from which we derive the word paper. Papyrus (which I remember first learning about in my history class in my first year at high school) in turn gave way to cuneiform impressions made by styli on the surfaces of clay tablets, which gave way to alphabetic script (first developed by the Phoenicians) on animal skin and  parchment, and to ideograms (Chinese script.) on paper scrolls also.

Interestingly, when we read a book we don’t do it letter-by-letter as a beginning reader does ‘sounding it out’.  (‘The cat sat on the mat’ is my favourite.) Each word is read as a whole: ie as an ideogram. But where one needs about 3,000 characters to read a Chinese newspaper, 26 letters of the Roman alphabet is all it takes in English, provided it is correctly spelled.  Paw speling slos tha prozess dowen.

In other words, a book is a surface on which code can be written, scaled down from wall-size to something more convenient. So is microfilm. So is a computer flash drive or hard drive, because however it is stored electronically, that memory code is made visible and alterable and capable of being edited and added to by being displayed on a flat screen and hooked up via a computer to a keyboard.

(The first computer I ever owned was a Commodore CPM, with its Random Access Memory (RAM) upgraded from 16 kilobytes to an enormous 32 kilobytes.  Pathetic by today’s standards, but I just fished that fact out of somewhere in my head as well.)

So what might be the hard drive of the brain and the alterable and editable recording system of the mind dwelling within it? I assume that what we call the mind is based on vast memory of life history, events, words, phrases, quotable quotes, routinely extracted quotes and other expressions, photographs, sound recordings etc. In fact, ‘etc’ raised to the power of M, where M is a very large number.                                                                                                                          

I suggest the most likely candidate is one or (less likely) both of the protein surfaces of the cell membrane of the cerebral neurone, the both of which surfaces resemble somewhat the pile of a rather plush carpet.

One protein surface could serve for short-term memories, and the other for long-term ones, including operating system (culture, language etc) stuff. Importantly, protein molecules are electrically polar, each one having a more positive side and a more negative side, and so they have an affinity for that supreme polar solvent, water. (This can be confirmed by taking some of the protein gelatine, the main constituent of jelly crystals, dissolving it in hot water, and then allowing time for it to cool and form new inter-molecular bonds: a process know as ‘setting’ in jelly preparation, and which can be reversed simply by re-heating the jelly.) Because amino acid and protein molecules are polar, they also have affinity for positively charged ions (ions being charged atoms or groups of atoms.)

The molecular polarity arises from the fact that the amino acid groups making up the structure of the protein molecule contain highly electronegative oxygen (as  –COOH ) on one side and less electronegative nitrogen (as  – NH2 ) on the other. 

There is evidence that hyponatremia (sodium deficiency) affects memory in rats, which fits the above.

Positive ions possibly play a role as the hieroglyphs of memory: one possibility is that monovalent sodium and potassium ions (Na+ and K+) so common in nerve and brain tissue and chemistry swap places, with other enzyme molecules doing the swapping.

Or, a monovalent Na+ or Kion could be replaced with a divalent Mg2+ or Ca2+ ion, creating a local area of the protein ‘carpet’ of enhanced positivity.

Our protein molecules can possibly be stored ‘wrong side out’ until required for a memory. So they can be turned and stored ‘right side in’ where they will be needed: in association with local potassium-sodium ion combinations. In other words, they have the potential to act like changeable tiles in a mosaic; with a reading mechanism.

A dot matrix like a TV screen can present ‘information’ in “pixels per inch (or pixels per centimeter) can also describe the resolution, in pixels, of an image file. A 100×100 pixel image printed in a 1 inch square has a resolution of 100 pixels per inch. … Industry standard, good quality photographs usually require 300 pixels per inch, at 100% size…” ( )

Thus a TV or computer screen could function like the wall of an Egyptian pharaoh’s tomb to store information; with a suitable playback or readback mechanism or device. Actually, the image is a bit like the ‘positive’ created from the ‘negative’ of an old black-and-white film. Except the ‘negative’ can be considered as an electronic master recording of data, subsequently sent to the TV screen to form the array of illuminated dots that make up the picture or screen image.

Eukaryotic cells are those with their genetic material in chromosomes contained within distinct cell nuclei. The ‘central dogma’ of eukaryote genetics is that genes express themselves through the production of enzyme molecules, which are complex and specific catalysts for the production of proteins. The code embedded in the genes of the nuclear DNA is read as a master plan for the production of enzyme molecules, which in turn act as templates for the production of proteins. The principle is simple: one gene, one enzyme.

Once the proteins are in place in the cell membrane, they can conceivably be read back by the same or similar enzymes and so function in their own way as a code. Thus the eukaryote cell can have at least two functioning systems of information storage:

1. What we might call ‘Ancestral data’ in the ancestral DNA and

2. What we might call ‘Individual data’ in the proteins constructed from information in that DNA and then modified through individual use.

Individual data storage in the brain can also be likened to the books in a library. A lifetime is spent adding to and reading the collection, which can in my experience, finish up rather vast. Most of it is ‘forgotten’ until needed, then simple passage of time brings the book containing the data from the stacks. For example, apart from the recalls of mine I have cited so far, yesterday I had occasion to recall a remark made by a member of the Rolling Stones (a band incidentally whose music does not interest me much) but it was in answer years ago to a journalist’s question as to why no songwriter in the band wrote political songs.  The answer came along the lines of “it’s a bit hard to get too worked up about Ted Heath, mate.” Ted Heath, you will possibly recall, was British Prime Minister. As I recalled, that remark was made by Mick Taylor. And a day or so later I recalled the name. It was Keith Richard. Not Mick Taylor, as I had previously thought.

So what, I ask myself, happened there?

I suggest something may have happened fairly quickly at the protein layer on its inside surface on the cell membrane of one or many of the neurones in my brain, with the much smaller glial cells perhaps having an intermediary messenger role.

ALL I WOULD CONCLUDE FROM THIS is that in the protein-lipid-protein layers of the cell membranes of the CNS neurones, there is enormous potential for information (ie memory) storage; and that those proteins are involved in memory would help explain the ready accessibility of a vast array of information and data stored in the human memory; the possible physical and/or structures in which it is based being apparently housed within the brain. Moreover, the storage is as intimately associated with the central nervous system as it is possible to be.

Note that in reading the above paragraph, you have been rapidly accessing your memory however recorded to retrieve the meanings of all the words in the sequence in which they are written. Change the order, and you change the meaning: as in ‘the mat sat on the cat’.

We have seen that the total internal area of the cerebral neurones is found my multiplying the average length of a neurone by the number of them:

.Aneuron cell membrane  = av neurone diameter x total length of neurones ( 850 x 106 m = 2.12 x 103 m2)

                             = 3.14 x 10-6 m x 850 x 106 m = 2.12 x 10m2

                             = 2,669 m2

This in turn would be an area sufficient to accommodate  around 2 x 1021  protein molecules, ( Np  = 46 / 10-9 x 46 / 10-9  = 2119 x 1018 ,~ 2 x 1021 ) each protein molecule being made up of a combination of amino acid groups of atoms, of which amino acids there are 20 varieties for Nature to use in the recording of memory, and into which memory coding could be set.

But I would contend, at least at this point in time, that synaptic changes and/or fresh neurone connections need not be and are probably not involved. Memory can rather be likened to the switching yard in a major railway terminus, such as the Eveleigh Yards in Sydney. My contention is that the configuration of the points, while essential for getting the right carriages onto the right siding, is not likely to be what memory is stored as or in. Nor is it in the trains, freight cars, crates and boxes stacked within them, whatever their nervous system analogues might be. The points and switching gear is a means to that end, and quite likely, no more.

On this analogy, the surface on which information would be written to be stored as writing, would be that of the rails themselves. Each length of standard Australian rail has a lateral perimeter of 0.730 m (I measured that myself on a small length of standard railway line.) We can calculate the diameter of a pipe with that circumference as follows:

C = πd

Divide both sides by π to retain the = sign:

          Therefore d = C/π

                               = 0.730 m/ 3.1415927

                               = 0.232 m, which is 23.2 cm.

Each rail is part of a national rail system totalling in 2018  33,200 km of track,  or 3.32 x 10m, each track consisting of two rails, so 66,400 km (6.64.x 10m) of rail in all, thus with a total surface area of track of

6.64.x 10m x 0.730 m = 4.85 x 10m2 = 48.5 km2 = 7km x 7km approx.

That is equivalent to a 23.2 cm (~ 1 foot) diameter pipe extending for 66,400 km: a huge surface area of steel for graffiti artists to get to work on, compared with what they could do for their public information cause by playing about with points and switches. Points and switches or rails of whatever size and overall length, and written on in whatever size of print; if the print size is of a constant proportion to the pipe diameter, it will make no difference. Pipe surface area will always provide far more information storage than will settings of points and switches, even if the latter cover the whole 7km x 7km (approx.) area. 

And as there are 106 min every km2, in an area of 48.5 km, that is almost exactly one million times the internal area of the cerebral neurones.  But the ‘hieroglyphs’ written in the proteins are far smaller still. If our railway graffiti artist were to paint slogans in letters 1 m high on carriages, they would be 108 times too big. Again, taking each protein molecule as being 10 nm across  (1 nanometre = 10-9 m). As we have seen above, the number of protein molecules available for the hieroglyphs of memory is

Np  = 46 / 10-9 x 46 / 10-9  = 2,500 x 1018

      ~ 2.5 x 1021

Written out in longhand, that is 2,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 nice large (as molecules go) protein molecules.  On average.  In every human head on Earth.

Again, taking each protein molecule as being 10 nm across  (1 nanometre = 10-9 m), and the diameter of the neurone  it forms part of as one one millionth of a metre or 1/1,000,000 m, then

                                    Protein molecular diameter = 10 x 10-9 m  = 10-8 m,

                                    Neurone diameter                 = 10-6 m

             then protein diameter / neuron diameter  = 10-8 m / 10-6 m 

                                                                                   =  1/100

Therefore the ‘lettering’ on the pipe representing the neurone axon will be 1/100 of the diameter of the pipe, whatever that diameter may be. This gives considerable scope for the storing of a huge amount of information in the protein layer which makes up most of the vast total of the internal surfaces of the neurones of the brain: of any animal capable of memory of experience past.


The biosphere is the layer of life forms covering the Earth. But within that, there are creatures with knowledge of various kinds: by no means confined to humans or even to vertebrates.
I propose here a name for this important layer: the GNOSTOSPHERE, from the Greek noun for knowledge, Gnosis.

The gnostosphere on the above basis would consist of the sum total of all the internal protein polarity patterns inside all the nervous systems, central and otherwise, of every animal capable of self-preservative behaviour; behaviour both innate and learned.

If any or all of those charges were visible to us, the gnostosphere would light up the biosphere from the inside, like billions and billions of Christmas trees small and large inside one huge glass dome of planetary proportions.



REFERENCES: 1. General

Davies, Paul, The Demon in the Machine, Allen Lane, UK, 2019.

Dennettt, Daniel C., Consciouness Explained; Penguin, England, 1991.

Tortora, Gerard J. and Anagnostakos, Nicholas P., Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 5th Ed., Harper and RowPublishers, NY, 1987.


REFERENCES, 2. In order of citation in the text              

memory, organic basis …  

Eccles , Sir John ;

neurone cell membrane

neurone numbers                 


neurone dimensionsThe Human Brain in Numbers: A Linearly Scaled-up Primate Brain

neurone diameter 

nerve fibres total length   

 neurone membrane

brain, power consumption

cave art

proteins, neurone  

hyponatremia in rats

pixel density    


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Posted in Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on June 18, 2018


“No investigative journalism in my lifetime can equal the importance of what WikiLeaks has done in calling rapacious power to account. It is as if a one-way moral screen has been pushed back to expose the imperialism of liberal democracies: the commitment to endless warfare and the division and degradation of “unworthy” lives: from Grenfell Tower to Gaza.”

Thus spake John Pilger, at the generally worthwhile website known as New Matilda. I have given up posting there, due to its management’s policy of censoring posts by taking them down if they do not abide by the House’s ideological standards.

The above quote from the work of the generally excellent Pilger shows pretty well a fundamental problem of the man’s praxis. The authoritarian governments from Eisenhower on got America into the moral and political quagmire of the Vietnam War, an antidemocratic neocolonialist cause that stank to High Heaven. For the ten-year  (1965-75) course of that war, Pilger along with the rest of the western Left opposed America, and rightly so. But in the process, the syllogism  was forged: America bad; America’s Vietnamese National Liberation Front enemy good; therefore ANY ENEMY OF AMERICA good; Islamists oppose America and its liberal-democratic foundations; therefore Islamists a bit extreme but on the right side of History; but America and liberal democracy definitely both hollow shams. Therefore opponents of liberal democracy in the Islamic world, such as the father-and-son Assad dictatorship team in Syria, ARE TO BE SUPPORTED, and their aspiring liberal-democratic opponents opposed.

I do not think I do Pilger any injustice in portraying his position that way. He after all, never has a good word to say for America, or for liberal democracy, as he pours all the bile within him onto the enemies of Islam.

On this basis, he can maintain good relations with the antidemocratic heads of the authoritarian and dictatorial regimes of the Islamic world so vital to his work as a journalist, AND be a political gadfly to all the Western governments who physically or just morally supported the rotten US cause in Vietnam. So it has to be win-win as far as he is concerned.

Except that I put it to my readers on this site (both of you) that Assange in his present predicament needs the support of Pilger like he needs a proverbial hole in the head.






Posted in Natural Science by Ian MacDougall on December 26, 2014

DSCN1746We know where and how to hunt Alaska brown bears and our sucess [sic] at taking big bears shows it.


Mileur’s Guide Service, Alaska.

From their website:

Management of the harvest of Kodiak bears is currently based primarily on population assessments and regulation of sport hunting. With a healthy population of bears on the archipelago, the emphasis has been on maintaining a stable bear population that will  sustain an annual harvest of 150 bears, composed of at least 60 percent males.

Just inside the entrance to Departures at the Anchorage International Airport, Alaska, there stands a large case of thick perspex. (Perhaps it is glass – I was in a bit of a hurry.)

Inside the case stands the stuffed hide, suitably mounted on a realistic rock-like platform, of a magnificent Kodiak bear. Kodiak Island is 160 km long and of area 9,300 sq km, and is the largest island in the Kodiak Archipelago on the south coast of Alaska.

Also inside the case is a photo taken of the bear shortly after it was shot. It lies in what appears to be a dry creek bed, with the presumed and clearly proud shooter sitting behind it.


A small placard gives some additional information:

May 5th, 1996

Shot by Kenneth M Aberle, D.D.S., M.S.  [ie Doctor of Dental Surgery; Master of Science – IM.]

Male 9.4 years.

Wt 1,300 – 1,500 lb.

Taxidermist: Bret’s Wildlife Artistry, Willow, Alaska.

The services of Bret’s Wildlife Artistry, Willow, Alaska probably did not come cheap. How much public money was spent on this exhibit by either the airport or the government, I have no idea, but I suspect it was not much. More likely, the exhibit is a generous and proud donation to the airport’s interior décor by Kenneth M Aberle, D.D.S., M.S.


Neither have we any way of determining the degree of personal risk taken by Kenneth M Aberle, D.D.S., M.S, and please understand that it could have been anything between trivial and considerable, depending on the exact circumstances. The Kodiak bear, Ursus arctos middendorffi, is the largest subspecies of Ursus arctos, and the grizzly bear: Ursus arctos horribilis is another. Apart from the polar bear Ursus maritimus, the grizzly is without doubt the most aggressive and dangerous of all the North American bear species. Shooting at one, even from a distance and using a high-powered rifle with a telescopic sight, can still land a shooter in a heap of trouble: well, in principle anyway.

In 2007, Alaska had an officially estimated 30,000 brown bears state-wide. Of these, about 1,900 were shot (the wholesome-sounding euphemism is ‘harvested’) in the hunting season. Though every now and then a careless hunter gets harvested by a bear, human hunters pose far more of a danger to bears than bears do to humans.

Kodiak bears are a unique subspecies of the brown or grizzly bear… They live exclusively on the islands in the Kodiak Archipelago and have been isolated from other bears for about 12,000 years.

 There are about 3,500 Kodiak bears; a density of about 0.7 bears per square mile.

 Kodiak bear populations are healthy and productive. They enjoy relatively pristine habitat and well managed fish populations. In most areas the number of bears is stable, but there are some places where bear density is increasing.

Of that 30,000 total Alaskan brown bear population, about 15,000 will be male and the same number female. There are restrictions on the killing of females (‘sows’). Male bears (‘boars’) are more highly prized as trophies by the hunting brotherhood; the bigger, the better. So the majority of those shot can be assumed to be male, just like the one ‘harvested’ by Kenneth M Aberle, D.D.S., M.S.

That gives us a rough mortality rate for Alaskan grizzlies of say 1,500 / 15,000 per year, or 10%: about four bears are shot every day, on average. Statistically, as we shall see, few can get to die of old age. Their maximum life expectancy? The oldest known wild Kodiak bear was a sow 35 years old. The oldest known boar was 27 years old. As the maximum weight of Kodiak bears as cited by the government is up to 1,300 lb, Aberle’s specimen at “1,300 – 1,500 lb” was truly a whopper. And it was in the prime of its life.

For the fraternity of bear hunters, and all others interested, Kenneth M Aberle, D.D.S., M.S has obligingly supplied some details of the ammunition he used. It is on the placard in the glass case along with the other information. Take it for granted that the mass, velocity and gauge of his bullet was adequate for the task of turning the bear, over however many seconds, minutes, hours or even days, from a virile and healthy young animal into the collapsed bag of pelt, meat, bones and offal shown in the photo. The exhibit gives no information on the time taken for this bear to die, but many no doubt are injured by bullets but get away none the less.

An estimated 100,000 black bears (Ursus americanus) also inhabit Alaska. Statewide, and between 2003 and 2007, the annual ‘harvest’ of this species increased steadily from about 2,500 to 3,250 bears. But modern bear hunting is only potentially dangerous. Far more hunters survive an encounter with a bear than the other way around. But bears are not the most dangerous big game. That honour seems to go to the cape buffalo, an animal that will take to stalking the hunter at the drop of a hat, particularly if wounded.

However I did hear a story (retold second hand from a friend) from a big game hunter, in whose opinion the most dangerous animal was the male wild pig, ie original wild boar. It lives in dense vegetation or rainforest understorey, and in those conditions, it is only a matter of three seconds between the time he breaks cover and when he’s got you; with tusks that can rip you open as if you were a wet paper bag. That means you have three seconds to locate him, take aim, and get your shot away; probably not to be followed by a second one.

The preferred weapon, according to this source, is a large bore (preferably 12 gauge) shotgun, and the preferred ammunition is not a standard shotgun cartridge, but one loaded with a single slug: a cylinder of lead about 1 inch (24 mm) long and of diameter to neatly fit the shotgun bore.

AcuTip Slug – solid lead bullets for shotgun use. These are big, heavy, fat hunks of soft lead that have enormous stopping power (e.g. a typical 12 gauge slug is .73″ caliber and weighs 438 grains* – a 9mm bullet is .355″ and 115 grains).

  *(1 grain = 64.799 milligrams, so the slug would weigh 28.4 g: about 60% of the mass of a golf ball, but packed into only one sixteenth of the golf ball’s volume..– IM)

Kodiak bears are remarkably uniform genetically, but not absolutely so. In 1912, the volcano Novarupta, which is 160 km northwest of Kodiak Island staged a one month long eruption, which is held to be the largest eruption in the 20th century. (The largest eruption in recorded history appears to have been the 1883 eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia, and the second-largest that of the Santorini volcano in the Mediterranean, circa 1,500 BC, which put an end to the Minoan civilisation.)

Wildlife on Kodiak Island was decimated by ash and acid rain from the eruption. Bears and other large animals were blinded by thick ash and many starved to death because large numbers of plants and small animals were smothered in the eruption. Birds blinded and coated by volcanic ash fell to the ground. Even the region’s prolific mosquitoes were exterminated. Aquatic organisms in the region perished in the ash-clogged waters. Salmon, in all stages of life, were destroyed by the eruption and its aftereffects. From 1915 to 1919, southwestern Alaska’s salmon-fishing industry was devastated.

That event just over 100 years ago could only have acted as a massive genetic bottleneck or selector, on the wildlife, including of course, the Kodiak bears.

Today hunters kill about 180 Kodiak bears each year under tightly controlled regulations. About 5,000 resident hunters apply each year for a chance at the 496 bear permits that are available for them. Hunters who are not residents of Alaska must hire a professional guide, paying $10,000 – $21,000 per hunt. Over 70% of the Kodiak bears killed by hunters are males. (ie around 135 boars pa- IM)

If there are 3,500 Kodiak bears and around 50% of them are male, the boar population will be around 1,750. If we take the ‘harvest’ rate as being 135 boars per year, then a given boar’s probability of not being shot in any given year, expressed as a percentage, is (1,750 – 135) / 1,750 x 100, = 92%. This of course, is an annual hunting kill, or cull rate, of 8%.

With each passing year, each surviving boar is pushing his luck just a bit further: 8% further, to be more precise. The probability (ps) after the passage of n years, that any given boar will have been shot, assuming all other factors are equal, is given by the equation:

ps = 1 – (92/100)n

As the years go by and the value of n steadily increases, the value of (92/100)n tends towards zero, and the value of ps, the probability of the boar being shot, tends towards 1: that is, towards certainty. For example, after 8 years,

ps = 1 – (92/100)n

= 1 – (92/100)8

= 1 – 0.51

= 0.49,

which means that the boar will have a 50% chance of still being alive, and half its contemporaries born in the same year will have been shot. After 16 years, that chance will have decreased to 26% and after 32 years to 0.07%. Of the original 1,750, only

1,750 x 0.07/100

= 1.225

~ 1

will still be alive. But precisely which one?

For an important factor has been left out of the above equation. Though boars are more desirable than are sows to the trophy-minded hunting population, all boars are not equally so. Some, like the unfortunate individual harvested by Kenneth M Aberle, D.D.S., M.S, have characteristics which make them a particularly desirable compensation for the US$10,000 – $21,000 which has to be stumped up by the non-Alaskan hunter for the shooting of them. They are large, in the prime of life, and with fur, face and hide that has not been marred through losing fights with other boars. They are the winners in the Alaskan struggle for existence. Because they have been the outstanding survivors of their species, they are the fittest. Charles Darwin would have undoubtedly agreed.

Thus the culling process carried out by the likes of Kenneth M Aberle, D.D.S., M.S, is the diametric opposite of that carried out by any competent livestock breeder on a breeding population of domestic animals, or by nature herself on wild populations. As the years roll by, the effect of all the rifle-toting hunters can only be in favour of a genetic drift in the population: a weeding-out of those with nature’s most desirable and vital characteristics, and selecting in those with the least desirable, from a bear-survival point of view.

There is another distinct possibility here as well. North American bears do not actively seek out and stalk the men hunting them the way cape buffalo reportedly do. But any bears with this aggressive inclination would arguably have better survival chances and leave more progeny than the more shy and elusive of their kind. The hunters might just be selecting this type of bear into the population.

One possible way the hunters can avoid contributing to this outcome is for them to select the smallest, scruffiest and most beaten-up of youngest boars for their ($10,000+) trophies: something I suspect they would be reluctant to do.

The genetic drift will be somewhat glacial in its pace, enabling each generation of hunters to reach its dotage averring that over their entire hunting careers, the target populations have remained of constant apparent quality. But it will happen, because by its very nature, the selection process carried out by the likes of Kenneth M Aberle, D.D.S., M.S. is non-random.

So what is achieved by the shooting of bears? There are millions of gun owners in America, and a huge number are active shooters of wildlife. Shooting at living animals clearly provides these people with a satisfaction not to be had from shooting at trees, targets nailed to them, bottles on posts and such. The preferred target is a living animal whose remains can be dressed in some way to provide a conversation piece for the hunter’s den. And the bigger, the better. Size clearly matters. The head of a rabbit preserved and mounted by an outfit with the skills of Bret’s Wildlife Artistry, Willow, Alaska and hung up on the wall of the shooter’s den would clearly not be good enough: at least, not enough to start up the right kind of conversation. Not when one can have the head of say, a moose, caribou, wolf, bear or cougar in its place.

Don’t get me wrong. I am also a gun owner, and I occasionally shoot a fox, rabbit, injured kangaroo or other wildlife, and livestock injured beyond recovery. Foxes and rabbits do serious damage to Australian native wildlife, and do not belong in the landscape. I am not at all worried about their genetic future, as they are great survivors back where they came from, and I think that it was a great mistake to introduce them to Australia. They should be eliminated, and as humanely as possible..

But as a teenager, I found considerable satisfaction in a day’s rabbit hunting. Sometimes I think that perhaps we males of the species Homo sapiens have an innate bloodlust very important for survival in our hunter-gatherer past. The same sort of response can be seen when a well fed dog takes off after a cat or rabbit on sight and impulse. It does not need to do it, yet it does it.

So what has been achieved by the killing of this particular bear? Most important I suppose, Kenneth M Aberle, D.D.S., M.S has had a big boost to his own self-image (ie his ego), and the satisfaction of having taken on a dangerous animal on terms he might persuade himself were equal. But even if we count that as a positive, we are left with little else. I have no doubt that some hunters will claim that their activity is good for the bear population as a whole, and for the species through prevention of overpopulation. But the hide cannot last say, a human lifetime, not even if expertly preserved by America’s most competent taxidermist and kept away from the air inside a sealed glass case. Not even if it impresses hordes of airline passengers and tourists. Ask yourself: how many leather articles you own that are 50 years old? 100 years old? Even 10 years old?

Wood preserves far better than does leather. The oldest wooden artifact that I have ever personally been in contact with is an oak table from Shakespeare’s time that an antique-collector friend bought in England and had shipped out here to Australia, and at an expense so great she would not disclose it. But over the 400 years or so since the Immortal Bard  might have supped at it, slow dry rot has left the table’s wood scarcely harder than balsa.

As for wooden tables, so too for stuffed bears. Sadly, in a couple of generations’ time, Aberle’s prize bear will probably have to be replaced by a fresh, and likely somewhat inferior, specimen. Because that is the way both decay and selection work in nature.

Kenneth M Aberle, D.D.S., M.S, and his fellow hunters could avoid this outcome by putting their rifles, telescopic sights and ammunition into permanent storage, and reverting to the bear-harvesting techniques practiced by their ancestors earlier on in the Iron Age. They could hunt bears with nothing more dangerous than spears and knives.

They have a precedent to follow. Amongst the native Alaskan Tlingit people, a young man wanting to pass his initiation test and be accepted into manhood had to do something far more difficult than look through the telescopic sight of a high powered rifle at a distant bear, then let fly a pellet of lead with a squeeze of the trigger, and then make himself available for a photo opportunity afterwards.

He had to cover one of his hands with the fine dry dusty spores produced by a certain local species of bracket fungus, sneak up on a wild deer, and leave his palm print clearly visible on its side. After which, he was not only accepted into the company of Tlingit hunters, he was accepted as a man amongst men.

But try that trick on a Kodiak bear, other than maybe one in deepest hibernation, and you will be harvested. London to a brick.

Far better, therefore, to leave the selecting and harvesting to Nature.



The Serpent’s Most Popular Pages

Posted in History, Human Biology, Natural Science, Political Economy by Ian MacDougall on December 17, 2010

Carbon Abatement Submission (Senate Inquiry) Condensed

Though air temperatures whether local or worldwide, daily or annual average, may for various reasons not reflect it, the world is none the less clearly warming. It is now possible to fulfill Lord Franklin’s dream and sail the Northwest Passage over the top of Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific, at least for one month or so in the Northern summer. Possibly within the next ten years ships will be able drop anchor in an essentially ice-free Arctic Ocean, right at the North Pole. That together with the satellite altimetry data on sea levels  testifies to the rapidity of global warming, and of the onset of the positive feedback loops that can only further accelerate it. The safest assumption we can make, in short, is that we face a planetary climate emergency, requiring urgent economic reforms on a comparable scale to those which took place in Australia after the declaration of war in 1939…



Kangaroos, Thylacines and Aborigines 1

As in other areas of human history, inference is needed for the Aboriginal past not only because there are controversial and politically sensitive areas, but because the documentary record alone is insufficient for sound judgement one way or another. While some might find certain inferences to be politically (and mythologically) attractive, on close inspection they turn out to be too improbable for acceptance. Such, I argue, is the case with Keith Windschuttle’s thesis on the demise of the Tasmanians, which he applies also to explain the declines of the mainland populations, namely that the bulk of it was the unintended consequence of introduced diseases, rather than the intended consequence of deliberate frontier violence…



Kangaroos, Thylacines and Aborigines 2

Beside European settlement, agriculture, rainfall and temperature, there is another, related distribution. It is that of the present day distribution of speakers of indigenous languages, mainly found today beyond the Europale. It shows that wherever Europeans settled, the native languages died out. The unavoidable conclusion is that conditions inside the Europale increasingly militated against aboriginal children learning their ancestral language in the process of growing up…

The language decline correlates with the dilution of the aboriginal indigenous gene pool, as increasing numbers of people who describe themselves as Aborigines find themselves acknowledging, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, one or more Europeans in their ancestry…



Kangaroos, Thylacines and Aborigines 3

The British perception was that the macropods were wild in the country and belonged to nobody. The ecological reality of Tasmania and elsewhere was that the biomass of available grass and herbage in any one period of time could feed a related biomass of herbivores only up to a limit, which in turn could support a limited biomass of omnivorous humans, their dogs and a net population of wild carnivores. The latter included dingoes on the mainland, where they had displaced thylacines; thylacines in Tasmania, and also the Tasmanian Aborigines’ dogs (gone feral) as the aboriginal populations crashed. Settlers everywhere in Australia honoured these principles every time they set about clearing the bush to make way for grass; ‘clearing off’ kangaroos and emus to make way for sheep, cattle or crops, and clearing off Aborigines to make way for themselves…



Kangaroos, Thylacines and Aborigines 4

…Windschuttle’s Australia is one where the Aborigines went quietly to their fate as fringe dwellers of the country towns, and in marked contrast to their aboriginal counterparts in the Americas and New Zealand.

If there was no ‘warfare’ of whatever category involved in this transition, then the attendant and marked depopulation of the countryside and Aboriginal population decline can only be due to starvation and/or disease. Windschuttle won’t have starvation, but at the same time there are problems with the disease hypothesis that beg for a remedy, an explanation, or at the very least, a Band-Aid: which leaves warfare of some kind hanging around in the background.

And so we come to the elephant in the parlour of Aboriginal history…



Night Vision and Bipedalism

This raises the intriguing possibility that before the discovery of fire and the invention of the thorn-fenced kraal, our distant African ancestors attained their relatively longer legs by wading, swimming and climbing for shelter at night up or down rocky cliffs, bluffs and outcrops, where long non-grasping legs provide no great disadvantage. For the climbing of trees, they do. Getting to where the predators cannot reach you makes poor night vision less of a disadvantage…



Plimer’s Climatology 101

Plimer says that nothing humans do can affect the climate of the whole Earth, and that if it is warming, it is a good thing anyway.  Others disagree, and contend that climate change is occurring because of CO2 emissions. These latter were not put into the air for the purpose of warming the planet. Like the radioactive waste from the nuclear industry, they are a by product of another project entirely, to be justified after the fact…

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Plimer’s Climatology 102

At a point in the long distant past someone extracted what was found to be useful fuel from a coal outcrop, and the coal industry was born. Only since the work of Arrhenius in the late 19thC have questions arisen about the basing of the steel, power generation and other industries upon it. Established industry has understandably reacted to the IPCC reports and scientific concern about greenhouse gases with counter-argument and delaying tactics regarding the transition to alternatives. Ian Plimer’s book and his talk to the Sydney Mining Club talk are best seen in this context…

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Plimer’s Climatology 103

The total yearly biomass production of the organisms on Earth is on one estimate at around 170 billion tonnes (164 billion tons)  of which a third is oceanic and two thirds terrestrial: say 60 billion tonnes oceanic. Assuming this roughly to be 10% of the total oceanic biomass brings the total mass of all marine organisms to 600 billion tonnes, or 600 Gt. The potential total CO2 addition to the hydrosphere of 4210 Gt (assuming it all finishes up in the oceans) is thus about 7 times the total biomass in the oceans. That is indeed significant…

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Plimer’s Climatology 104

…a two degree rise due to CO2 will produce a further two degree rise due to water vapour, making four degrees in all. The next domino to fall in this situation is the methane, locked up in arctic permafrost in Siberia and Northern Canada, and below the deep ocean floors as methane hydrates. In all those locations, it has built up from slow bacterial decomposition of organic matter. Methane is 45 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2, to which it oxidizes in about a year after release to the air. The warming produced by this gas may in turn release the final nightmare gas, hydrogen sulfide. Plimer does not mention these potentially disastrous knock-on effects of methane and hydrogen sulfide…

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Plimer’s Climatology 105: Lord Franklin’s Dream Turned Nightmare

Pope aside, there’s no need to ask which embodiments of human stupidity Plimer might have had in mind. He has spent the preceding 483 pages denouncing them: ‘activists’, ‘environmentalists’, Greenpeace… but above all, Sir Nicholas Stern, Michael Mann, James Hansen, Al Gore, Ross Garnaut; other practitioners of the alleged quackery and pseudoscience of climatology, the IPCC, the Royal Society, the signers of the Kyoto Accord… If the book’s index was any good I could look them all up.

But that is only half of the last sentence. I have an uneasy feeling that behind the rest of it lies the profound theological thought that there will be no runaway greenhouse or climate catastrophe, because God will not allow it.



Plimer’s Climatology 106: His Lordship’s List

At the end of his book, Ian Plimer hands over the keyboard to his lordship to deal with the question ‘What if I am wrong?’ In Plimer’s view Monckton (previously an economic adviser to Margaret Thatcher) had already dealt with it splendidly in a speech to the Local Government Association at Bournemouth, on 3 July 2008. So Plimer reproduces the speech in its entirety (with his lordship’s permission) on pages 489-493 of Heaven+Earth. We can take as noted the usual ‘ITS?’ (is that so?) in the margin against each one of the following points as they occur, and as well a ‘WIIFY?’ –  an abbreviated form of ‘what’s in it for you?’


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Team sport and social organisation

Posted in Political Economy by Ian MacDougall on June 28, 2010

28 June, 2010

Global civilisation began with the appearance of the town of Jericho around 11,000 years ago. It is still recognised as the world’s oldest town, but its history is a mere blink beside the history of life, or even of humanity. What civilisation could be like 10,000 years from now is more knowable than what it will be like, but the key to such knowledge lies in an understanding of how power and control is exercised in human society and its institutions, and how created wealth is shared around.

Strangely enough, a deep insight is provided by team sports such as the various codes of football… Read more>>>

All pages should be listed at the right of your screen

Posted in Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on March 21, 2010


If they are not, scroll right down to the bottom of this page, and you should find them there.

MacDougall’s Music

Posted in Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on March 4, 2010

I am currently recording a new CD: Songs From the Shed. Those interested in my existing CDs can read more at my other WordPress site >>>

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Good Planets are Hard to Come By

Posted in Natural Science, Political Economy by Ian MacDougall on February 7, 2010



GUEST POST: Good Planets are Hard to Come By – Andrew Glikson

ANU Earth and paleoclimate scientist Andrew Glikson puts an extraordinary amount of effort, well above and beyond the call of duty, into keeping the rest of us informed on the science behind the global warming issue.

The Earth’s climate system is commonly likened to a supertanker, meaning that in order to avoid disaster later in the 21st Century, we have to start turning the wheel now. Unfortunately there is a political problem in this, because the short-term interests of many in politics and business demand all ahead full.  –IM



 As sea level rises the planet is drowning in an ocean of untruths

 Andrew Glikson

Earth and paleoclimate scientist, Australian National University

We’re simply talking about the very life support system of this planet.  (Joachim Schellnhuber, Director, Potsdam Climate Impacts Institute, advisor to the German government.)

The sleep of reason produces monsters (Francisco Goya)

While Earth is undergoing a sixth mass extinction in its history, dominated by oxidation of hundreds of billion tons of carbon derived from fossil ancient biospheres, with consequent shift in the state of the atmosphere-ocean-cryosphere system, the feeble efforts of civilization to mitigate the climate is drowning in medieval conspiracy theories aimed against climate scientists by vested interests and fundamentalist man-over-nature ideologues.

The release of more than 320 billion tons of carbon (GtC) from buried early biospheres, adding more than one half of the original carbon inventory of the atmosphere (~590 GtC) to the atmosphere-ocean system, has triggered a fundamental shift in the state of the atmosphere at a rate of 2 ppm CO2/year, a pace unprecedented in the geological record with the exception of the effects of CO2 released from craters excavated by large asteroid impacts.

Read on >>>

Are Denialists in Denial?

Posted in Natural Science, Political Economy by Ian MacDougall on November 19, 2009

                                                                                                                                                                                      November 19, 2009

It is clear from these various facts, therefore, that a warmer planet than today’s is far from unusual. It is also clear that climate changes naturally all the time. The idea that is implicit in much public discussion of the global warming issue – that climate was stable (or constant) prior to the industrial revolution, after which human emissions have rendered it unstable – is simply fanciful. Change is what climate does.

Bob Carter, ‘Knock, Knock: Where is the Evidence for Dangerous Human-Caused Global Warming?’

The reader will recall that Faust, in Goethe’s play of the same name, was offered a deal by the Devil: a life of every pleasure imaginable in return for his soul. The deal was accepted, and became the classic a metaphor for shortsightedness; and subsequently the basis of one of the funniest films ever made: Bedazzled, featuring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

I try to avoid shortsightedness, but three times in my life I have found myself in the related condition of extreme denial: the result in each case of receiving serious bad news affecting me personally. Confronted with an elephant in the parlour, in the shape of an elephantine tragedy, one looks around it, over the top of it, and anywhere but at it. On each occasion, I started looking for whatever scant threads there were of hope. My conclusion from these experiences is that living in denial and hope is about the most futile state of existence there is, but we do it on occasions because at the time there appears to be no better alternative. Added in is the fact that acceptance of an apparently dismal reality can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So hope, furious, fervent and all too often futile, springs eternal.

Are those like Bob Carter, who deny that there is anthropogenic global warming (AGW) going on in this state of being in denial? (Read all you might want of their reasoning at Quadrant Online.)

Up to a point, we believe what we want to believe. This applies particularly to ideas which are in themselves beyond the scope of rationality and science, such as the propositions of the major religions; though devotees seeking consolation and grounds for hope in them also deny that this is the case.

I stumbled upon this issue thanks to the ABC Four Corners program Malcolm and the Malcontents,  put to air in Australia on Monday November 9, 2009. That dealt with the battle within the Liberal-National Coalition between AGW denialists and those who take a more alarmist and at the same time, truly conservative approach. It is tearing the Coalition apart and so ruining its electoral prospects. Their problem: how to deal with the Rudd Government’s policy on climate change. Then I happened to read George Monbiot’s Why the sudden surge in climate change denial? Could it be about something else altogether? published in the Guardian on November 2. It begins on the pessimistic note

There is no point in denying it: we’re losing. Climate change denial is spreading like a contagious disease. It exists in a sphere which cannot be reached by evidence or reasoned argument; any attempt to draw attention to scientific findings is greeted with furious invective. This sphere is expanding with astonishing speed.

Be that as it may.

Denialists are divided on what they deny. Most in my reading experience assert that the Earth is cooling, not warming, but add that whatever it is doing, humans cannot possibly be responsible. So if there must be GW, they want no A associated with it. But while I and many of my alarmist co-thinkers would be only too happy if they turned out to be right, we are not prepared to stake the lives of our children and grandchildren on it. By advocating a do-nothing policy with respect to CO2 emissions, the denialists finish up doing just that. This inevitably involves a dismissal or explaining away of evidence to the contrary. So they:

  1. look for flaws in the evidence on which AGW alarmism is based; and when I say ‘the evidence’ I mean all  the evidence. None of it can be allowed to pass;
  2. have to assert that any global warming detected post 1750 is purely natural, and part of a solar or other cycle or phenomenon.
  3. erect a straw man, then proceed to knock it down. (See the quote above from the prominent denialist Bob Carter. Does he seriously assert that the people raising the loudest alarm in the ‘public discussion’ – ie the bulk of the world’s climatologists – believe that the global climate only began to change after 1750 AD?)
  4. deny any useful role for computer models of climate;
  5. dismiss alarmist scientists for allegedly having venal motives, and being unable to see beyond their next  research grant. Given the extraordinary weight of scientific opinion now standing against the denialist case, this amounts to a full-blown conspiracy theory.
  6. dismiss any suggestion that they could have such motives themselves, or be influenced by any connections of individuals in their ranks to the fossil fuel industry;
  7. dismiss the Precautionary Principle or any sort of approach based on it as ill-advised;
  8. deny even the remotest possibility of runaway greenhouse establishing;
  9. assert (with Senator Nick Minchin et al) that AGW alarmism arises from the extreme left of politics; left causeless at the end of the Cold War;
  10. deny that anything humans do either way can possibly have any significant effect on the world’s climate;
  11. welcome the prospect a warmer Earth, arguing that our species only really got going in the last 10,000 years, after the retreat of the Pleistocene glaciers;
  12. assert that apart from its allegedly negligible greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide can have no significant effect on life in the oceans when it dissolves in water to form carbonic acid.
  13. admit of no possibility of their being wrong;
  14. nor admit of any serious consequence if they are wrong, particularly if their do-nothing approach has meanwhile become state policy.

Accordingly, every bit of data on which the alarmist case is based must in turn be challenged, leading the denialists to argue that:

  1. the last 100 years of thermometer-based surface temperature data is unreliable, thanks largely to the ‘urban heat island effect’ by which urban recording stations are influenced by waste heat from industry and automobiles, and the solar radiation absorbed and re-emitted by buildings and roads.
  2. at the same time, what little reliable data there is indicates that the Earth is cooling;
  3. as the ‘greenhouse effect’ of atmospheric CO2 diminishes logarithmically, from here on added CO2 will have minimal effect anyway (say perhaps raise average temperature by 0.1 degree Celsius.)
  4. the Precautionary Principle would actually have us keep on with business as usual, for by that principle, CO2 and other emissions must be assumed innocent until proven guilty.
  5. the complexity of the global weather system, and the difficulties implicit in attempts to isolate the effect of any one component (eg anthropogenic CO2 vs ‘natural’ CO2) are a point in favour of their do-nothing case.

Their use of such arguments, and their tendency to close association with the political Right, have not deterred major world scientific organizations and many governments from urging strong action at the forthcoming Copenhagen summit. One such is the Letter from the American Association for the Advancement of Science to the US Senate (link) which says to each US senator:

As you consider climate change legislation, we, as leaders of scientific organizations, write to state the consensus scientific view. Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science. Moreover, there is strong evidence that ongoing climate change will have broad impacts on society, including the global economy and on the environment. For the United States, climate change impacts include sea level rise for coastal states, greater threats of extreme weather events, and increased risk of regional water scarcity, urban heat waves, western wildfires, and the disturbance of biological systems throughout the country. The severity of climate change impacts is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades. If we are to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, emissions of greenhouse gases must be dramatically reduced…

As well as being sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Letter is endorsed by the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics and 14 other scientific organisations. Whatever its advocates elsewhere may claim, denialism has not exactly won the day in the scientific community.

All of the above denialist wisdom will be found in the paper already referred to; by leading denialist Bob Carter, a climatologist and Adjunct Research Professor James Cook University, Townsville.


Independent scientists who have considered the matter carefully do not deny that human

activities can have an effect on local climate, nor that the sum of such local effects represents a hypothetical global signal. The key questions to be answered, however, are, first, can any human global signal be measured, and, second, if so does it represent, or is it likely to become, dangerous change outside of the range of natural variability?

The answer to these questions is that no human global climate signal has yet been measured, and it is therefore likely that any such signal lies embedded within the variability of the natural climate system. Meanwhile, global temperature change is occurring, as it always naturally does, and a phase of cooling has succeeded the mild late 20th century warming. (Carter 2008, 190)


That human-caused climate change will prove dangerous is under strong dispute

amongst equally well qualified scientific groups. The null hypothesis, which is yet

to be contradicted, is that observed changes in climate or climate-related phenomena

are natural unless and until it can be shown otherwise. (Carter 2008, 193)

If made the captain of the SS Null Hypothesis, a liner sailing on its maiden voyage in the North Atlantic, Carter would order full speed ahead until it could be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the ship was about to collide with an iceberg. .As I have argued in the ‘Plimer’s Climatology’ series on this site, the most compelling evidence that the planet is presently warming is to be found in the:

  1. worldwide retreat of glaciers and the loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic, and
  2. satellite altimetry data that shows a consistent global sea level rise of 3 mm per year ever since readings began in 1992.

Both the above features are of geographic scale, and screen out the ‘noise’ of the ‘urban heat island effect’ and with it all the other strands of denialist argument. It may of course be the case that (say) so far undetected solar flux or bursts of heart coming up from the Earth’s interior are responsible for the ice loss and ocean level rise. It may be a mere coincidence that the rise from 270 ppm pre-industrial 383 ppm in 2009 is happening at the same time as a completely unconnected process of global ice loss and sea level rise. But I’m not betting the farm on it.

But interestingly, Carter and the other denialists never say what would constitute the unambiguous evidence of AGW that they proclaim does not exist. One is forced to the conclusion that in their view it cannot exist; that there is no way the signal of anthropogenic CO2 induced warming can be separated from natural background climate change, and that for them, by its own inherent nature it is both theoretically impossible and practically unknowable. Thus for them, if humanity was heading into self-inflicted climate catastrophe it would be doing so completely, inevitably and incurably blind. Nobody on the Titanic could have an inkling of the looming disaster. Whether conscious of it or not, as passengers on this planetary ship, the denialists seem not the slightest bit concerned at this possibility, which is implicit in their own thoughts on the matter.

One of the leading denialist Ian Plimer’s most enthusiastic supporters is Cardinal George Pell of Sydney.  On 24 May 2009, Pell had a column in the Sydney Daily Telegraph supporting Plimer’s position on AGW. A critical response from Michael Mullins, editor of the Catholic journal Eureka Street testifies that Catholics are not united behind him on the issue. However, Ian Plimer saw fit to include a significant theological aside on page 493 of his purportedly scientific book Heaven and Earth.

Human stupidity is only exceeded by God’s mercy, which is infinite.

In the context, the ‘stupidity’ referred to is what Plimer has spent his preceding 492 pages attacking: the proposition advanced by climatologists and other scientists that the Earth is being unduly warmed by human activities. This leaves the reader open to the conclusion that for Plimer, God is the ultimate thermostat. Of the Earth. There will be no climate catastrophe, because He will not allow it.

Well, it has this going for it: it is the most powerful and convincing argument in Plimer’s whole book, and the safest refuge for the denialist.

Without the atmosphere, the surface of the Earth would not be its present average temperature of 14 °C (57 °F), but as low as −18 °C (−0.4 °F).  In order of abundance, the main greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are (with their contributions to the greenhouse effect in [square brackets] ):

  1. water vapour (H2O)                   [36–70%]
  2. carbon dioxide (CO2)                [9–26%]
  3. methane (CH4)                          [4–9%]
  4. nitrous oxide (N2O)                   [neg]
  5. ozone (O3)                                 [3–7%]
  6. chlorofluorocarbons (‘CFCs’)     [neg]

All except the CFCs are products of natural chemistry, and have been generated in and by the atmosphere and ecosystems of the Earth since life began. All are likewise generated by human activities like the burning of fuels and the pasturing of ruminant animals such as sheep and cattle. The effect of the ‘natural’ as distinct from the anthropogenic CO2, N2O and CH4 can only be surmised from the known properties of each compound and the calculated concentrations of each in the air. If however, a significant percentage of the air was (say) chloroform (CHCl3), we could say that that any particular greenhouse effect due to that was 100% anthropogenic, because chloroform does not occur in nature.

However, that is a card we have not dealt to ourselves.

At this stage it would appear that there is no way the Earth can avoid a two degree rise in average temperature this century. That is an order locked in, thanks to the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have been added to the atmosphere since around 1750. But a global average of two degrees involves a much higher rise of temperature in the high latitudes, threatening significant releases of methane from the Arctic permafrost and ocean floor deposits, which would in turn drive the temperatures still higher. While climatologists say that global warming involves an increase in the number of extreme weather events, it would be simplistic to attribute, say, a run of hot days in Adelaide in November 2009 to global warming alone, or to say that it even provides evidence of it. The global weather system is like a supertanker. Its momentum when underway is so huge and the time it takes to respond to alterations to engine speed and rudder settings so long that collision and running aground can only be avoided if anticipated well in advance of their happening. As all-too-often happens in shipping, those on the bridge are condemned to watching disaster steadily loom, knowing that the opportunity for taking evasive action is well past and gone. Vide the Exxon Valdez.

This year the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) changed the start date of the Pleistocene from 1.8 to 2.588 million years BP. In the last 650 000 years, the Earth has experienced seven major cycles of glacial advance and retreat, as seen on the  graph at the following  source,  [and my apologies for not being able to cut and paste it ditrectly.]

 We are now approximately in the warmest phase of the 7th cycle to occur in the last 650,000 years. It will be seen that corresponding warm periods in interglacials occurred at 130 000, 225 000, 325 000, 400 000, 475 000 and 580 000 BP.

It will be seen also from the above cited graph that the glacial-interglacial cycle has not been regular. In the last half million years or so, the glacials have been getting steadily longer and the interglacials shorter, as if the Earth was shaping up to plunge into a freeze-lock. If it were to do so, it might take a considerable time emerging on the other side and warming up again.

We are at a strange conjunction in the history of the Earth, with icecaps at both poles and the two American continents forming a north-south barrier to oceanic circulation that extends almost from pole to pole. It is pretty safe to assume that without the icecaps there would be no great mass of methane trapped in the permafrosts of Siberia and northern Canada, and thus considerably reduced possibility of runaway greenhouse establishing.

Since the start of the Cambrian 542 million years ago, the mean temperature of the Earth has kept between the lower and upper limits of 10 and 25 degrees Celsius; except for two brief periods in the late Permian (at 251 million years BP) and the end of the Paleocene (at 55.5-54.8 million years BP) when it went as high as 27 degrees Celsius.

Both of those periods have distinct names: the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Both involved massive reduction of life, and should be taken very seriously by those who would avoid another one in the very, very, very near future of geological time.

As the old proverb has it, there are none so blind as those who will not see. Elvis may have left the building, but the elephant is still here.

CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE: Global salvation or total folly?

Posted in Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on January 7, 2021

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is touted around the place as an answer to the anthropogenic global warming consequent upon the burning of fossil carbon stores – coal and oil – for fuel and venting of the resulting CO2 to the atmosphere. The CSIRO no less is working on it. That the planet is warming as a result can be seen most clearly in the global rise in sea-level as tracked by the Colorado University sea-level group, using satellite altimetry accurate to +/- 0.4 mm.

The idea is to extract the CO2 from the gas mixtures presently being vented to the atmosphere, liquefy it (requiring pressure of the order of 100x normal atmospheric pressure of ~14 psi) and then pump it down disused oil wells or purpose-drilled bore holes where it will hopefully combine with compounds of iron and other elements, to be effectively locked up forever.

I regard CCS as more likely folly than salvation, and for three reasons:

  1. Oil and natural gas are commonly found trapped in natural geological formations such as sedimentary domes and impervious faults as gas-over-oil-over-water. Unless released by and earthquake, orogenic uplift, volcanic eruption or some such event, it will stay trapped there for millions of years. This is why petroleum geologists favour younger sedimentary strata in stable environments for their searches, and it depends upon the well-known fact that oil and water in the same container (eg a bottle of salad dressing) stay separate and do not ‘mix’. If shaken up and left to stand, the oil droplets finish up in a separate layer over the aqueous solution of acetic acid commonly known as vinegar. Unlike CO2, oil does not dissolve in water. Some Roman or French gastronomic genius went on to discover that the addition of some egg-white to the bottle, there followed by vigorous shaking, remedied this situation. That in turn inspired the composition of the French national anthem known to the world as the Mayonnaise. (I’m pretty sure that’s right.)
  2. CO2, once dissolved will be carried at whatever rate in the natural movement under gravity in the groundwater until it reaches an undersea outcrop, where it will mix naturally with the seawater and add to the CO2 load already there, making the oceans a dilute solution of carbonic acid, better known as soda water.
  3. And this is important. The heat-trapping properties of CO2 which make it a problem today will almost certainly be humanity’s future salvation. Because we are at the mid-point of the latest in the series of glaciations (‘ice-ages’) and but for the heating of the atmosphere brought on by its abnormally high CO2 concentration, would be slowly descending into the next glacial minimum, or ice age. The glaciations run on a ~100,000 year cycle. So lock the atmospheric carbon dioxide up in vegetation: forests, seaweeds, pastures or whatever takes your fancy. But don’t lock it away forever. Because human civilisation depends on glacier-free land. (In the last glaciation there was ice about 1 km thick where today we find Central Park, New York City.)

The climate historian Christopher Scotese has an excellent graph under the heading ‘ICE HOUSE OR HOT HOUSE?’ at his climate history website.

GOODBYE CAPITALISM, GOODBYE SOCIALISM: A third option for the future.

Posted in Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on July 20, 2020

This is the original 1981 text of this document, placed into online form for the first time.  I am cheered by the way it has stood the test of time.

Forty years on, we are in the midst of the global Covid-19 pandemic, and the disastrous Trump Presidency of the US, to which governments’ responses vary.  The Federal and state governments of Australia, acting on the best medical and scientific advice available, have decreed that people should maintain correct ‘social distancing’ when outdoors and in public areas, maintain at least 1.5 metres separation, and be in groups of no more than three people at any one time.

Mass lockdowns and government instructions to the population at large to stay at home on the above basis also presage widespread major economic consequences really unprecedented in the post-World War 2 world. Massive Federal economic support for businesses and the unemployed is being offered. Guaranteed minimum income (GMI), as set out in this document 39 years ago could not only be also a valuable addition, it  increasingly appears to be a necessity to stop business bankruptcies on a massive scale, and perhaps a rerun of the 1930s Great Depression. The COALition government of Australia is being dragged reluctantly towards it, with great reluctance and trepidation, if not kicking and screaming.

I post this document here for the record. I intend to post an updated 2020 version in the next few days.


–   a third option for the future

Ian MacDougall 1981

TO OUR WORK, we each bring our particular blend of skills, and our time.

THROUGH OUR WORK, we produce the wealth of the nation.

WITH THIS WEALTH, in a truly vast array of goods and services, we keep one another fed, clothed, housed, informed and entertained.

THROUGH OUR WORK, in other words, we all take care of one another.


A dollar note is the ticked to a great carnival of goods and services: a carnival that spans continents and goes by the name of the international division of labour.  A dollar notes entitles you to a certain of the work time that we put in to provide you with your particular needs in life.  The more money you have, the more of our time you get.  If you don’t have enough money you are in trouble, and a drain on the rest of us, because until your basic needs are met, you cannot make anything of your full potential contribution to our welfare.

In other words, it is in our best interests to make sure your basic needs of food, clothing, shelter and so on are met, so you can do what you are good at doing, and to let loose your full creative potential, in whatever area that might be.


Biologists recognise that there are certain resources essential for living things.  As all life on earth is based on water, water is one. For most organisms so is air, and so is solar radiation, which provides the energy input at the start of all food chains. The sun also keeps the planet within the temperature limits required for life to continue.  All organisms need body building materials, taken from the air, sea and soil by plants and then passed around the food webs by animals.

Animals also need shelter of some kind, and the higher mammals, and the higher mammals whose survival depends more on learned than on inherited behaviour patterns, also need stimulation.  This we might call “entertainment”.  Without it, we higher mammals become miserable and bored.  As our natures demand, we also need opportunities for learning, and as we know, love.

Those of us higher mammals who also identify ourselves as humans rarely live in environments where we could survive all year round without any clothing, even if this were OK with the neighbours, so clothes are a need peculiar to us. Likewise for us, there is no general going back to a hunter- gatherer mode of living. Nomadism as a way of life may be possible for a small band of Eskimos and Aborigines, but most of the rest of us are stuck with some sort of lifestyle based on agriculture and higher technology.  The Earth just cannot support its present human population living as hunter-gathering nomads.

Actually then, we humans differ from animals in that we need two resources given freely to us by nature – air and solar radiation, and one created by us, but which is no less ‘natural’ than we are: money.  Without money, you cannot get food: not even if you grow it yourself.  Nor clothing, shelter, nor even water. Without money, no entertainment or learning experiences.   Money is unique, because it is the only human-made biological necessity in our environments.  This is the stage our long journey through time has brought us to.


And they sent out unto them their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou are true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.

Tell us, therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt he me, ye hypocrites?

Show me the tribute money.  And they bought unto him a penny.

And he said unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

The said unto him, Caesar’s.  Then he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.

– Matthew 23, KJV.


A crude trainer of animals or humans works by punishing undesirable behaviour, and then withholding the punishment as long as the subject does not do it again.

The psychologist  BF Skinner and the behavioural school demonstrated conclusively in the 1930s what peasants and farmers had known for centuries: that the carrot is more effective than a stick as a teaching aid. By rewarding closer and closer approximations of a desired act, Skinner produced some really spectacular students, including a whole graduate class of pigeons who could each steer a World War 2 torpedo proficiently well to hold it on course to its target.

The behaviourists described their work in terms of reinforcing desired behaviour, generally with a reward with food and not rewarding the undesirable.  The food rewards were generally doled out in small portions, and the animals were starved for a period beforehand to make them eager.  It is no use to reward a satiated animal with food.

That was what they said they were doing, and their view fitted the facts well enough.  But from an alternative viewpoint, they can be seen demonstrating the fantastic control you can assume over an animal if you control its supply of an essential life resource. To paraphrase the old saying, you can bring some water some water up to a thirsty horse, and then make him do all sorts of tricks in order to get a drink. Therefore, as you who are reading this are also an animal, whoever has control over your supply of money has about as effective a control system as is possible for one creature to have over another, and that person can make you do all sorts of things you would not otherwise do.  Such a controller could do no better if you were in a windowless cell and he or she controlled your supply of air of water.

Jesus Christ taught his followers, according to the above account, that the money was Caesar’s because it was engraved with Caesar’s head.  While that was a convenient out from a tricky situation, it was not exactly true – even though Caesar might have wished that it were. For example, Australian notes and coins all bear the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, and the notes all bear the signature of the Governor of the Reserve Bank and the Secretary of the Treasury.  Yet none of those individuals own them.  None of those people are in a position to call up money at will. The Australian currency I have in my possession right now is mine, to trade for other commodities as I please.  It represents part of the real wealth of this country, wealth that I and countless other have helped each other create.

But my supply of this money is controlled by other people, and I must work within the confines they lay down and do the things they want me to do, or else they will turn off the tap.  This I have found over the course of my life so far to be severely limiting on my effectiveness as a creative and productive person.  I have spent a large amount of my rather valuable time doing time things I regard as useless in prescribed ways that have often been very inefficient. Consequently, I have also spent considerable time working on ways to free myself from this situation, and I don’t mind admitting that writing this document is one of them.

As every nation in the world engages in international trade to some extent, it can now be said that the large majority of the world’s people are now integrated into a global human economy.  This economy is very complex, and is comparable with those other complexes, the atmosphere and the biosphere.  Just as air and water circulate in the atmosphere, and chemicals essential to life circulate through the pathways of the biosphere, so goods, services and money circulate among us humans: goods and services in one direction, money in the other.  Because of the fantastic complexity of such systems, the sciences of meteorology, ecology and economics have some descriptive value, but very limited predictive power.

As in the movements of the atmosphere, the movement of commodities and money can be slowed, frenzied or anywhere in between.  When it slows, we have a recession: the economic doldrums.  When is it fast, we have a boom.  But the movement of goods at times in history can be slight, and at the same time the movement of money frenetic, akin a cyclone in the atmosphere.

Such a disturbance took place in the German economy in the 1920s, when people were taking their life savings to the shop to buy a pound of butter, and wages were daily moving further upwards.  This was a money cyclone of major proportions, and while superficially while the butter business might have appeared to have been booming, it was an undisputed social disaster.

People naturally looked for an explanation, and explanations were offered.  As bankers and financiers have more control than anyone else over the money valve, and as a significant portion of them were Jews, the collapse of the German mark was seen by many Germans as a Jewish conspiracy: at least that was a view many of them were predisposed to.  Very rapidly, centuries old hatreds came to the boil, and as a collective entity, the nation went mad.

Slow trade in commodities, including labour, and accelerating circulation of money is the major problem of any economy in recession, and people become increasingly prone to gloomy prognoses of the future: from rumours of war, stock market collapses and the like to the coming of the Antichrist.

But in time, I believe that money will come to be regarded very differently from the way it is today.  People will believe that they have as much natural right to a constant and adequate supply of money as they have to one of air and water.  After all, how else could they live, and make their contribution to the collective life of their society? Then it will be just as taboo to try and cut off a person’s supply of money as it is today to choke someone, or to chain people up and starve them to death.

This essay is a case for negative taxation.  Under the existing of positive taxation, YOU PAY THE GOVERNMENT a proportion of your income above a certain level.  (The 1981 level was $4,042.)

If your income for 1981 was below $4,042, as far as the Government was concerned, they didn’t want to know you.

Under a system of negative taxation, you still pay the Government part of your income above a certain level, but if your income falls below that level THE GOVERNMENT PAYS YOU THE DIFFERENCE.  If the level say was $7,000 and your annual income was $6,000, then the Government would pay you $1,000.

Such a system of taxation is not my invention, and its most prominent present advocate is none other than the high priest of monetarism, Professor Milton Friedman, economic adviser to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and others (who have, in part, taken his advice.) But where Friedman, bourgeois that he is, instinctively reaches for the stingiest possible subsistence level he can find as the level below which the Government pays you, I see in the scheme far different possibilities.

Put simply, I believe this reform to be the easiest and most effective answer to the multitude of problems, environmental, economic and political now multiplying in human society around the globe. It is one which avoids the commonest moral, economic and political objections to both of the major economic models on offer at the moment:  capitalism and socialism.  And because it is all about human welfare and financial security, and because it involves reform of existing attitudes to welfare payments, we might call it welfare reform.


I have met very few people in the course of my life who are in favour of the selective extermination of plant and animal species.  To that extent, most people I have known are conservationists.   But whether you are in favour of the conservation of the red cedar, coachwood, mahogany or silky oak is never the issue.  It is always whether you are for saving a particular stand of those trees.  That in turn becomes a matter of priorities commonly dependent on how much of your cash comes from the timber trade.

According to the projections made by Robert Lamb in his book World Without Trees (1979), 50 acres of tropical rain forest are being cleared every minute around the world, and by that rate there will be no rain forests left by the year 2000.  The more you know about ecology, the more you will be disturbed by such a forecast: particularly in relation to possible consequences for the gas composition of the atmosphere and the climate and heat balance of the planet.   Conservationists called conservationists, are commonly people whose money income does not depend directly on the exploitation of some primary source, and are the ones most likely to express concern and to take action.  All the same, no one can afford to be ignorant when any life resource such as the air or fresh water supply degrades, or when any biological system shows signs of stress or threat of collapse.

For all that, no biological resource today is degrading faster than money.  The cures being proposed by the Thatchers, Howards, Reagans and Frasers of the world are not only fearfully expensive, they don’t work.  Were these people practising medicine, they would now either be out of business or up before the courts on a charge of quackery.

There is still an air of mystery about the world of high finance and the money game.  Like the high priests of old, economists are privy to tongues not readily understood by everyone, and claim to have powers over the forces of darkness and depression likewise of a special kind.  If we follow their guidance and keep them in the manner to which they are accustomed, they promise us deliverance.  Or rather, they used to.

Today they argue publicly amongst themselves, and their science (or black art, whichever you prefer) is in one monumental crisis. If previous crises of science are anything to go by, the most likely way out will involve a major alteration in the way the subject matter of the science is viewed.

It is the third reformation, if you like.  The first took place when the parson challenged the authority and power of the priest.  The second when the scientist challenged both parson and priest, and the spell they were weaving over town and country alike.  The challenge of the scientists:  the astronomers, chemists, biologists and even economists was against the religious view of life and the universe.  In the third reformation by the “lay people” are everywhere challenging the authority of the scientific specialist: of the nuclear power school, of the medical establishment, of the foresters who mismanage forests, of the chemical industry, of food technologists, of agronomists.  Practically at all points where science and academia have a practical impact on the daily lives of people there is a challenge.  Psychiatrists, engineers and yes, even economists are daily being told they are not gods.

I will pick two conservation issues out of the record of 1980 in order to illustrate an important point about personal versus political morality.

1980 was the year that Japanese fisherman made headlines around the world by slaughtering dolphins en masse, claiming that the dolphins were reducing their catches by eating the fish.  An American conservationist was arrested on the scene for helping some of the dolphins make it out of the net enclosures confining them to the shallows where they were to be killed, and into deep water and out to sea.   Many people around the world were outraged, particularly as dolphins have an intelligence of the order of our own, and I personally felt moved for a while to try to organise a boycott of Japanese goods: to lean on the Japanese government so that in turn might lean on the fishermen.

Also in 1980, sawmillers on the North Coast of New South Wales became very concerned lest successful campaigns by conservationists to block the logging of one rain forest (Terania Creek) become a movement capable of halting all such logging operations in that region.  Time at present does not appear to be on the side of the loggers.

Many arguments were advanced against the slaughter of both the dolphins and the rain forests, and only one possible argument in favour of it could stand up against them: simply that the fishermen and the sawmillers had to eat.

Timber cutters don’t need to cut down rain forests: they need money.  Arguments that rain forests must be destroyed, wild rivers dammed, fur seals and whales killed and similar acts of vandalism done in order to save or create jobs are I submit, self-evidently stupid.  Because they involve both irreversible and unknowable changes in the biosphere and often the sort of sensitivity to feelings one associates with Hitler’s SS, such “jobs” are far less worthy of saving than say, some of the idiotic jobs that appeared under the guise of “make work” schemes in the 1930s.  I am thinking particularly of the scheme in the Botany sandhills, near Sydney, in which men were employed to shovel sand from one pile to the and back again all day.

Such self evident stupidity arises inevitably from the market economy, where what people want to buy gets sold, and from the system of wage labour.  Both the wages system and the market mean that any given person’s supply of money is controlled by another.   For the wage or salary worker, this means that the money flow stops unless you keep turning up at an appointed place at an appointed time and perform an appointed task.

Timber cutters don’t need timber to survive, or jobs for that matter.  But they do need money.  If the choice is between all the rest of us carrying them financially for awhile or leaving them to stand alone, then it is with the first that a good future lies.   On their own, they will have to find commodities to sell to on the market, and they will inevitably look toward the rain forests.


Morality is about answers to the question:  “What should I do?”

Politics is about the question “what should we do?” It is obvious, to me at least, that when the answers to both questions are in harmony one with the other, and the actions of individuals are in accord with the needs of their society as a whole, things will be happiest.

We can use that most destructive of institutions, war, to illustrate this principle.  When people fight to defend their own territory, they generally fight more effectively than when they fight to invade another country.  The defenders cooperate in an action which is simultaneously personal and territorial defence.  On the other hand, the attackers each have a personal interest in survival, and when fighting a well armed foe that often implies not pressing the enemy.  It was on this rock of contradiction that the American army fell to bits in Vietnam, but the careers of Hitler and Napoleon could also provide illustration.

“I will look after myself, and if that’s at the expense of the rest of you, then too bad.” Such a statement sums up the ethical position of the gangster and the bandit, actors who have worn numerous costumes through a course of history.

They are bandits when they address themselves to their own neighbours, countrymen or subjects: in short, when talking to members of their own species.  Such banditry is not usually recognised as such when the speaker addresses members of a different species.  The trouble the sawmiller finds himself in is that in addressing himself thus to the trees, he cannot help also addressing the rest of the human race.  Nature seems to have decided that.  That trouble would be no trouble, were it not that increasing numbers of people are becoming aware of him in that light.

“I, of course, will look after myself, because if I don’t, nobody else will.  Fortunately, however, I find that in looking after myself I also look after the rest of you.  I have far better options than seeking to improve my life at your expense.”  Such is the ethical position of one who is neither at war with the rest of their species nor with the biosphere.  It would seem to me that we each somehow arrive at the same position, or we live on at increasing risk.  We hang together, or we hang separately.

Man at war with the biosphere is like the bandit, and aggressor . The continents are littered with the skeletons of his victims, both plant and animal.  He takes prisoners in the course of his war, and puts them into special concentration camps, called zoos.

Like the first, the second ethical position can be recognised in many historical situations, but notice that both arise not from man out of an historical and environmental context, but from man in one.  There are not good and bad people, just good and bad situations.

What should I do? Look after number one.

What should we do? Or better, what should we not do? Obviously, anything that runs the planet down, and leaves it in worse shape than we found it in.  So go easy on non-renewable resources, and use them as a bridge to a steady state economy, whatever that might entail.

What should I do? What should we do?  The real answers that are being given to these questions in the very real present historical situations place them in contradiction.  In the difference lies the origin of the current global economic and environmental crisis.   People will only look after their neighbours if they can be sure their neighbours will look after them.  Otherwise, the best ethic is ruthless selfishness, albeit while wearing a mask of good manners and politeness.

Panicky, security conscious investors; people whose debts are being wiped out by inflation; people for whom the only choice is some foul soul-destroying job or the dole know only too well that they have little security beyond that what they create for themselves.   And they will be right as long as the present assumptions and attitudes relating to money last, and as long as wage labour and profit from investments provide the only access to money.

It is over 130 years since Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, and called on the workers of all countries to unite and overthrow capitalism internationally.  Today, despite the manifest ills and problems of western capitalism, the working people of the west have not responded to that call.  In the Eastern bloc Marxism and communism are dirty words, and the communist parties stand in a position roughly analogous to that of the Catholic Church in mediaeval Spain.  Very few in the west look eastwards for inspiration.

Despite the evils of capitalism, I would still rather work as a wage slave of one of a number of little Ford companies, as we do here in Australia, than for one big one, as the wage slaves do in the USSR.   I admire honest militants who don’t like don’t like being wage slaves, and also those who, like my own father, prefer the uncertainties of self-employment to the dubious certainties of working for a boss.

IF capitalist, graziers, politicians, professional Christians, professional Marxists, professional union officials and industrial workers have any common purpose, it is a desire to evade wage slavery: for the others to avoid falling into it, and for the workers to get out of it.  I am not interested in seeing any social “revolution” which just changes the names of the bosses, while retaining the wages system.  Consequently I am against both capitalism and socialism.  Even ‘self- managed socialism’ has bugs in it.

Where then does the future lie, if not with either of these? If you would wish to understand my answer to this question, I would ask you to first imagine yourself living in an earlier age.

Imagine, if you will, that you are living in a small village somewhere in the pre-mercantile world.  You might choose the British Isles in the 9th Century, or perhaps Tibet or Japan in the 15th.

Your universe is very small.  It does not extend much beyond this your native village.  Neither did it for your parents.

Your village is dominated by a monastery, perched on top of one hill, and by a lord’s fortress upon another.  In 9th Century Britain, the church hierarchy and the nobility were rivals in a long ongoing contest for political and economic power over the rest of the population, and each used its own techniques of force and persuasion in order to win.  Depending on the circumstances, you would favour one over the other.

For example, if you were born a serf, you might seek to better your condition by joining the lord’s band of armed retainers.  Then you duty would be to make sure that the peasants will pay their dues to the lord, of which you would get a share.

Or you might seek our way out by joining the monastic order.  These orders were communities of people, often of the one sex, who avoided domination by lords by pooling what wealth they had and foreswearing any family apart from the order, or personal wealth apart from its communal property.  If the lord was a lion, then the order was a hive of bees: both quite formidable and capable of self-defence.  (King Fu, the Chinese martial art, was originally developed by monks.)

Like the lord, your order would keep acquiring land, and serfs to go with it.   The land and the serfs would belong to the order, not to any individual monk. Not even to the abbot.

The monastery’s wealth plus acceptance by the lord of the idea that the monks were the earthly agents of an even bigger lord up there in the sky, would in large part ensure the community’s survival.  Monks and nuns could resist the predatory tendencies of the gangster lords in a way no one isolated or preyed-upon village could hope to. This is one reason why monastic orders of one kind or another were a common feature of the feudal societies of Europe and Asia.

So imagine yourself sitting there, trying to decide which you might be best advised to join.  Then you catch sight of an unfamiliar figure approaching your village along the narrow track which is its link to the outside world.  It is a trader, leading a donkey.

The trader barters with the people of the village, exchanging this for that, and then departs.  As you watch him disappearing down the track, imagine that  I, future man to you, were suddenly transported by some time machine to your side.  Immediately I introduce myself, and tell you that I come from the late 20th Century.

If a man from ten or eleven centuries into the future were to appear by my side today, my immediate impulse would be to ask him how it all turned out.    Did the American and the Russians annihilate one another? Are there still whales and tigers? What became of the energy crisis? These are the sorts of questions I would ask.

So I assume that you, 9th Century man or woman, would immediately radiate delight: the delight of a punter who has got hold of next Saturday’s race results.  I would have the answer to the question of most immediate concern to you.  So you would probably ask me: “Who won? Was it the lord, or the church? If I am to throw in my lot with the winner, who must it be?”

And so I warn you that my answer will probably puzzle you, and sounding incredible, and even ridiculous.  The future, I say, lies neither with the lord or the church.  It lies with the trader.

You immediately turn your glance back down the trader’s path to see him, a distant figure now, pausing to repack his miserable donkey.  And you say, simply to me: “I can’t  believe you!”

“As you wish,” I reply.

“But he has to beg his leave from every lord and bishop whose land he travels through.   And they make him pay, believe me!”

“I know.  But one day that trader will buy and sell lords and bishops.  It will be they who come to him, both for money and advice.  In fact, lord and bishop will find that they have to become traders themselves, if they want to survive.”

“Moreover, his donkey might not be much, but in time it will become a horse, then a team pulling a wagon, then a team of teams.  That miserable track will become a road, then a highway that will take him over the land and sea and even through the air, to London, Rotterdam, New York, Sydney and to a host of other cities, but right now are villages like this one, if they exist at all.”

“That vagabond?”

“It’s hard to believe, I know” I reply.

And now, rather than leave you sitting there now in that perplexed state in the village, I will invite you to join me in my time machine for a return to now.  From this point in time, you will of course see that I was right. Just take a look around.

Now I ask you, and you ask me: Who are the modern counterparts of the lord and his men on the one hill, and the friars on the other?

To answer this question, we simply have to look for the major contenders on the modern economic , political, ideological and cultural scene.  I don’t know what you see, but I see labour and capital.  In my preferred view of the present scene in Australia, I see the Liberal-National Party Coalition with its swarms of retainers and armed cohorts as the counterpart of the lord, and the labour movement as the counterpart of the church.   Both of these have in their retinues people from all walks of life, who give them all kinds of aid, and each seeks to control the massive economic resources of the state, to the exclusion of the other.

Which side am I on? Which side should I join? With which of these does the future lie?

I now longer seek an answer to that question, nor do I think much is to be gained by either of these two large and powerful forces sacking the other.   Instead, the question that intrigues me, and I hope you, is:

“Who is the modern trader?”



The modern trader is nowhere better to be seen than in the blood donor.  Blood donors, and people like them, are future man and woman living amongst us at the present time.   So you can forget about the crew of Battlestar Galactica. 

The blood donor is a charity worker of a very special kind.  He or she may be rich or poor financially, as may be the recipient of the charity.  In Australia and some other parts of the world, money does not count for much in this transaction.

By all the assumptions of the economic purists now ascendant in the feudal, capitalist and socialist countries of the world, the Australian Red Cross Blood Bank just should not be in business, for it is does not pay its donors.  Yet ironically, it is that very feature which makes it one of the finest transfusion services in the world.

If you want to have a gamble that will possibly leave you stoned, high or low on heroin or morphine, spaced out on valium or suffering from serum hepatitis or worse, just go to the USA and have a blood transfusion.  In Australia, people have absolutely no motive for giving blood if they have such a condition, and they will not do so because of the same ethical motivation that causes them to be blood donors in the first place.

Unfortunately for recipients of blood in the USA, that is just not true.  Such problems arise there every day, because money is used on blood donors the way it is used on wage slaves: as a bait and a reward.

In Australia, the Red Cross fills the role of agent between donor and recipient, bringing them together according to blood type, despite difference in time and place.  The cost of a blood transfusion is largely this agent’s fee.

So in the case of transactions in this literally vital substance, the Red Cross has found it best to avoid treating it as a commodity for sale and purchase on the market, and to avoid the normal commercial relationship based on service for money and money for service.  Despite this, the Red Cross has never run out of any but the rarest types of blood, and whenever a need has arisen, a call through the media has resulted in donors flocking in.

If the blood donor is the modern trader, future man or woman in our midst already, this implies that in future societies the various forms of money will meet with less and less favour as a base for services desired, and as a result a reward for service rendered.  People will simply donate their services as the need arises .The will be volunteer engineers, mechanics, agriculturalists and so on, as and to the extent their services are needed.  By then, everyone will be on the state’s payroll, and being paid to make their own chosen contribution.

This might be dismissed as some sort of utopian fantasy were it not starting to take place before our eyes.  Even if they are paid to do so, people do not like to feel that they are wasting their time.  People everywhere are demanding personal satisfaction in their work rather than ever increasing financial rewards, even though greed and the endless accumulation of wealth makes very good sense in societies based on wage slavery. (This is seen rather clearly in the ethics of the corporate executive layer, whose salary packages are set by an ‘independent tribunal’; the salaries of the members of the said tribunal are in turn set by what they could expect were they corporate executives. So, the higher they set the pay of the executives, the higher their own pay becomes. Compared with the pay of government employees, theirs has risen exponentially in the post-WW2 period.)

That  consumer cravings are essentially insatiable have long been assumed by establishment economists, and until the 1970s at least, those economists saw the economy as essentially booming on forever, with the occasional recession as supply overtook demand in certain major sectors like automobiles and housing.  People would be most unlikely to forego money and more commodities in favour of more time to themselves: more time “of their own.”  Enough would never become enough.  But it has.

Everywhere in the western world today statesmen, businessmen and economists are engaged in the common task of finding ways to hold up the value of money in all our eyes (that is,“fighting inflation’) finding ways to reduce costs (chiefly by reducing employment), finding things for us to spend our money on (increasingly by spending it for us as tax) while at the same time looking after themselves.  It is an increasingly thankless task.

The trader has triumphed in the modern world, only to cheat himself.  Some traders, called capitalists, sell goods or access to money itself on the market. Some, like doctors and plumbers, sell services.  Most, typically called wage and salary workers sell their time, and see it as this way.   What they are actually selling is the right to control the use of their own limbs and brains.  For eight or so hours a day, they pass that control over to someone else, in exchange for money.  Yet they do not. The whole history of this whole class of people has been centred on gaining as much money as possible out of the transaction while actually relinquishing as little as possible of their freedom over their own bodies and minds as they can.  As far as possible, they transform their jobs to suit themselves.

Typically, employers have either emancipated themselves from, or have avoided wage slavery, but complain that workers want too much pay for too little work. Commonly they talk scathingly of “dole bludgers” who are out to avoid work entirely.  And close attention to actual cases shows that they are very often right without seeing the irony of it.  For they have not sold their freedom.

(And excellent discussion of this is to be found in Alan Robert’s, The Self Managing Environment.)

With very few exceptions, we are all in the market as traders of one sort of another.  And while it is risky to generalise too much about human behaviour, I will stick my neck out and say that all traders enter the market in two roles, as buyers and sellers.  After all, it is pointless selling unless you intend to buy, and it is pointless trying to buy unless you have the money from a previous sale, or good credit (which means good prospects in someone’s eyes of future sales.)

So far, nothing much said.  But when we enter the market place as buyers,  even if elsewhere we are blood donors, members of the Lion’s Club or doorknockers for the Salvation Army, we want to see free competition.  We want to see vendors falling over one another to sell us the cheapest and best, no matter how ruthlessly they cut each others’ throats in order to do it. That is in sharp contrast to the situation we seek when it is our turn to sell.  Then we want a closed shop.  Whether we are Henry Ford, a worker on Ford’s assembly line, or Henry Ford’s psychiatrist, we want our customer’s choice to be as limited as possible. Our interest lies in restricting the number of people who practice our trade, through regulation of the industry, licensing of practitioners and so on: in short, by restricting in as many possible ways the strength of the competition we face.  Regulation of industry is invariably justified as being in the consumer’s best interest, but likewise invariably initiated and maintained by pressure from the sellers in the industry, not the buyers.  (For a discussion of this, see Milton  Friedman, Free to Choose.)

A seller’s paradise is one in which he or she has a monopoly in production of a commodity which the population generally has a strong compulsion to buy.  (If a monopoly is out of the question then perhaps the seller can come to some cosy arrangement whereby they divide the market up between themselves.  In other words, they form a trust or cartel.)  But crucial to the formula is a restriction on the buyer’s freedom to shop elsewhere.   Restriction ultimately means force, threatened or applied.  Force traditionally is applied by bands of armed men who act as a disciplined and cohesive body, typically against groups who lack the training and cohesion to resist them effectively.  When such groups wear ordinary clothes we recognise them as gangsters.  When wearing distinctly dress, such as uniforms, they are of course recognised as policemen and soldiers.

Force as a factor affecting people’s economic choices was crucial to the process commonly described as the industrial revolution, which can be considered as a long historic process that experienced a sharp acceleration from about 1750 onwards.  In this process the majority of the people left the countryside, where they had been engaged in the cottage industry, craft and self sufficient activities typical of peasants, and moved on to the cities of mining towns, where they typically lived far less healthy or satisfying lives.  On arrival, they found commonly that the labour market was a buyer’s one. The owners of factories, mines and mills, were not exactly shopping at some county fair in Merrie England.  They were not speaking to the local craftsmen, haggling over the price of their wares. Increasingly, they were talking to ex-peasants in both a strange environment and culture shock. The deal the rising industrialist offered was more like this: “If you stand at this machine for 12 hours a stretch, and do this, and this, this and this, I will pay you six pence per day. Take it or leave it.”

Crucial to the success of this deal from the industrialist’s point of view was the fact that the ex-peasant did not have the alternative of moving back to the country, for few of them came to the towns as a matter of free choice.  They came as refugees, forced out of the countryside in the course of a long drawn out civil war fought between the peasantry and the landlords, the latter being backed up by the armed forces of the state. The common land used by the peasantry since ancient times, had been seized by the landlords in their enclosure movement and converted into sheep runs in the main. Such a movement was only made desirable in the eyes of the landlords by the rise of prices on the wool market due to strong and continued demand from the towns: initially from the towns of Flanders. The rural landlord helped the town capitalist not just by providing him with raw material.  By his occupation of the common lands and expulsion of the peasantry, he had denied the town worker an alternative lifestyle to the proletarianization offered by the industrialist.

The island of Mull, just off the western coast of Scotland, had a population before the land clearances, as these acts of usurpation were politely called, of around 10,000.  Today about 1,500 people live there, and the island is mainly pasture for deer, which are shot at from time to time by the few landowners when out seeking recreation.  Among the former were many who went by the clan name of MacDougall.  Their descendants are now scattered all over the English speaking world.

The old feudal rule: “no land or man without a lord,” was replaced by the capitalist rule of ownership. The only land which was open to anyone to set up a shack on, was the strip between high and low water marks on the coast.  Rather than be driven out completely, some Scottish ex-tenants defiantly built small stone houses in this inter-tidal zone and lived there for a time, in conditions of cold and damp that can hardly be imagined, surviving on what they could find along the shore.  On the island of Skye, the stone foundations of some of these dwelling can still be seen.

When Captain Cook landed at Botany Bay on April 29, 1770, he found himself standing on a continent that consisted from the human point of an interlocking pattern of common lands, populated by up to 3 million native people.  Shortly afterward, in one of those acts of monstrous arrogance for which the British ruling classes have become justly famous, Cook claimed the whole continent in the name of his Britannic majesty, George III, the lunatic king.  Every square inch of Australia was now the property of the British Crown (in theory at least) and titles and slices of it were now available for purchase; or  to be used by governors as vice-regal patronage to worthy persons in reward for services rendered to the Crown.

That was how it went in theory, at least.  Unfortunately, those subsequently arriving in Australian colonies with money could think of other things to do with it than give it to the government in exchange for land, which as far as they were concerned was up for grabs anyway.  The Age of Squatting in Australia, which reached it height in the 1840s, was the continuation and in a way, the climax, of the enclosure movement begun in Britain centuries before.

Today in Britain and Australia also, increasing numbers of the descendants of those dislocated peasants cannot find an established trader to make an employment deal with, and there is still no return to the countryside, where they would find healthier and happier lives without a doubt.  Toxteth, Brixton, Mersyside and other ghettos of the urban peasantry are in that state of constant tension that is prone to snap for this reason or that into general riot.  It was this sort of “oligarchy tempered by riot” that Cook left behind him when he bent his sheets into the wind on that first voyage of discovery, but if he were to return to England today, he would find that beneath all the changes, things were pretty much the same; only complicated further by Islamic ghettoes.  None the less, Cook would have no Phillip following in his wake to Australia with cargoes of ex-peasants under sentences of transportation for acts of rebellion against property or the Crown. That much has changed.

So the dispossessed peasant arriving in the town with only his or her time to sell to the owner of factory, mine or mill faced a buyer’s market that was pretty well tied up, one way or another, in the buyer’s favour.  Most of the newcomers seem to have seen or had no real option than to put on their sets of chains, perhaps thinking that it would only be for a short time until they could remove themselves to a place where opportunities were brighter.

However, even while having traded their time for money in this way, they could none the less do what they could to re-negotiate the wage contract.   For success in this, they had to make sure that if they refused to continue selling for the previously agreed-on price, the employer could not simply shop elsewhere for labour.  One worker could do little alone, but if they all withdrew their services together until the wage was increased, they would put pressure on the trader who was buying their time. This pressure would be increased if the employer was simultaneously prevented from hiring other labour. The picket line was thus a natural corollary to the strike. The union struggle at times was waged more furiously against the blackleg and scab than it was against the employer.

While employers of all kinds, including newspaper proprietors, were quick to condemn industrial tactics, and to call for the forces of police and army to act against the strikers, they were none the less tactics  the employers were themselves using in another, less spectacular and bloody form.  Not only were they trying to form market-sharing arrangements with each other to avoid the effects of free competition; on a national basis they did what they could to exclude foreign traders from the domestic market.

Ever since Adam Smith there has been virtual unanimity among economists, whatever their ideological position on other issues, that international free trade is in the best interest of the trading countries of the world.  Yet tariffs have been the rule.  The only major exceptions are nearly a century of free trade in Great Britain after the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, thirty six years of free trade in Japan after the Meiji restoration , and free trade in Hong Kong today.” (Milton Friedman, Free to Choose, Pelican, 1980, p.61.)

Although this operated against the interest of the wage workers in their shopping in the market, protection was never objected to in any real way by the political and industrial organizations of the working class, no matter how strong they later became.  Even today, the calls to get Britain out of the Common Market and back behind a wall of protective import duties come loudest from the ranks of organized labour.

It is not hard to see why. My interests as a wage earner are served by maximising the competition in the market place, as long as my own industry is kept protected from international competition.  To this extent, my employer’s and my own interests appear to coincide.  After all, I have no business going to the market if I don’t have any money.

Worse, if the capitalist class of say, England got into a tight enough competition with the capitalist class of say, Germany, there would be a very strong impulse on each side to go to war with the other.  But not only that, all classes in each country would tend to get dragged in, for all would see it personally as being in their interest.

It would be worth reading the history books over to find out if this ever happened.

Every year, I buy about $600 worth of tanks, fighter planes, warships, bombs, bullets and so forth, in a truly staggering variety.  To be more accurate, the government extracts that amount of money (and more) from me under threat of force and buys them whether I approve or not. A few years ago, it had me part financing, very much against my will, a bloody little Australian foray into a South East Asian country in support of a military dictatorship there which was fighting a war against the peasantry on behalf of a totally corrupt landlord regime: Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime in South Vietnam. (In one of the tragic ironies of history, President John F Kennedy of the USA gave the green light to a clique of South Vietnamese generals to remove both Diem and his brother: and they decided to do it permanently and with profound finality. Within a month of the deaths of the Diems, Kennedy himself was gunned down in Dallas, Texas. And then Kennedy was replaced by Lyndon Johnson, and Johnson in turn by Richard Nixon, who ‘Vietnamised’ the war [ie got out while the going was good.] Then the whole rotten US created and supported edifice in South Vietnam collapsed, subtracting considerably from America’s greatness, and leaving Donald Trump today looking for ways to ‘make America great again.’

Because I do not work, directly or indirectly, for the war machine, I could afford to protest.  However I know of no such protest ever coming from workers in the armaments industry, and the action of the crews of the Boonaroo and the Jeparit, who refused to sail those ships and their cargoes of bombs to Vietnam, was an admirable and remarkable exception to the monstrous monotony of business as usual. It was not only rare for such action to take place in Australia, it was even rarer internationally, and nowhere to be found amongst those workers who stood to gain most from the war: the armaments industry workers of the United States. In the US, the most spectacular sabotage from within the war effort was an act by an individual: Daniel Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers.

Today, expenditure by the American taxpayer on the military juggernaut is counted in the thousand of billions of dollars per presidential term.   America is hooked on arms the way an addict is hooked on heroin, and without the arms industry, the American economy would convulse dramatically.  Not only do too many people have their supply of money controlled by others, those others only have it to supply as long as the war orders keep coming in.

Even though there are such drastic artificial stimuli in the market as government arms purchases the US, like most of the other economies of the capitalist world, remains in a chronic stagflationary state.  Talk of major financial collapse along the line of the 1929 comes from stockbrokers and Wall Street analysts as much as from the left. “Black Monday”, 1981 showed just how touchy the market is.

I do not think it would be a very good thing if the Western world’s exchange system went haywire again, as it did in 1929.  Certainly such event could not be looked forward to as a detonator of a series of social explosions that would produce a better world all around, simply because money is not only any old commodity: it is a life resource, like air, and water and sunlight.

The money does not belong to the bankers, financiers and treasure officials: they have merely ridden it to power. Their special exercise is the manipulation of it to their own advantage, clearly a skill that would not be in high demand in all times and possible worlds. The money, in all its various national forms, clearly belongs to the whole human race.  Everyone has as much right to a supply of it as everyone else, as we all do to a supply of air, water and sunlight.

Money is a human creation rivalling only language in its importance, and staggeringly similar to language in many ways, both in its historical development and the proprietary claims which have been made upon it.  (We think easily these days of access to opportunities to learn another’s language, or to write in their own, as being a right by birth.  Such people as scribes and slave masters have, up to fairly recent times, had quite other ideas.)

In fact, we might say that language is the currency of the mind, and money is the language of the hand.

The capitalist societies of the ‘first world’, the socialist societies of the ‘second world’, the feudal-military dictatorship societies of the ‘third world’ and pyramids of water all have the common feature of inherent instability, despite momentary appearances.   In most societies an elite maintains itself in power by subtle and blatant use of armed forces, whether this be on the TV screen or in the streets.  Every elite has its way of constantly reminding the population at large of the fate of the transgressor. And constant reminders are constantly needed, for everywhere there is unrest.   Everywhere people are as if drowning, or dying of thirst, or kept chained in a dark cave, without appearing to understand what is happening to them.   Poland, England, Iran, Ireland, Kampuchea, South Africa, Angola and El Salvador all display situations which can be interpreted any number of ways.  The interpretation I offer here is that they are all about people struggling, commonly in quite mutually destructive and unnecessary conflict with one another, to secure an adequate and constant supply of money.

Which of these combatants do I support? Simply, those who want neither servants under them, nor master over their heads.  Which do I oppose? Those who would ensure their own supply by controlling supply on a wider scale.

In the modern world we are all traders, and in each seeking the best temporary advantage in the constant scramble for security, we create an overall situation of constant tension and strife.  Even if their millennia have so far been illusions, the Christians and the Marxists have been right to look forward to a fundamental change in social relationships. Too many Christians have thought of it as coming from the sky, and too many Marxists as coming from Moscow or Beijing. Yet they have been right; societies where the dominant transactions and relationships are those of trade, while being healthier than societies based on slavery and serfdom, are still sick, and a threat to our survival.

Changing of gods, priests, lords, bosses and paymasters have all been tried and found wanting.  Which brings us back to the old question posed by the Russian novelest Chernyshevsky: what is to be done?

If Karl Marx were around today, he would probably agree that human societies definitely develop in ways beyond the visions of any theoretician or prophet.  The words of countless Martin Luthers, Tom Paines and Jesus Christs have had their influence, but history is far too complex a process to be at all predictable, and the shape of many modern institutions like churches and communist parties would probably surprise their long dead founders and prophets were they to come back to life.

Capitalism in Europe, unlike socialism in the USSR and China, was not introduced in one sudden upheaval under the direction of revolutionary planners.  It developed within the shell of the mediaeval and ancient societies which preceded the capitalist era, transforming them as it grew.  Finally, those subject to feudal or colonial overlords broke free, but the English, French, American and other revolutions did not make capitalism.

The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky saw trade unions as ‘islands of socialism within the capitalist sea’, but socialist relationships as the classical Marxists conceived of them could not develop within the framework of capitalist society in the way capitalist relationships had previously succeeded in developing within the feudal system.  The Bolsheviks may have thought they were creating a qualitatively new society.  What they actually delivered was far more like one huge capitalist corporation that has since mushroomed in ways and directions that wiped out the founding Bolsheviks almost every one.

As a direct result of this, Marxism and communism have long ceased to be a source of mass inspiration in the west.

The main argument of this document is that the relationship of future society are to be found right here at present.  But in somewhat embryonic and obscure form, just as the trader’s outlook and values were there in 9th Century Britain.  They will take them own time coming to the fore, but this time can probably be shortened the more conscious we are of them as the future way, and work to cultivate the soil in which they will best grow.

That soil is a guaranteed, regular, adequate supply of money: precisely what everyone in the world of international commerce, industry and civil service is working for, but on a generally competitive and often mutually dissatisfying and destructive basis.

Using money as bait, the boss gets the worker into the factory; in much the same way as a fisherman gets a lobster in to a pot. The businessman uses every trick in the advertising trade to lure the customer, but only because the customer is holding the cash.  With relatively few exceptions, most of us humans on this planet are busily baiting and rewarding one another all the time. I work for a salary, but I pay a taxi driver to drive me round, a dentist to fix my teeth, and so on. This type of network describes the bulk of the world’s transactions in goods and services.  But not all, as we have seen in the case of the blood bank.

Then, after retirement day, money proceeds to come in with no more strings (or chains) attached: it becomes yours by right, even if you have never held a job.  And should you ever take it into your head to walk up to the Prime Minister or the Governor of the Reserve Bank and throw a chocolate pavlova in his face, you will not be “sacked” from your pension rights.

When we turn 65, we can at last emerge from every mine or mill we have been working in all our lives, throw down our tools, find a place in the sun, and get on with what we would like to have been doing all along.  Except that the old age pension is set at a level that is at poverty line for homeowners and well below for tenants.  Also, by 65 people are often so worn out by their years of wage slavery that retirement becomes a frustration, and all too often, a wait for death’s release.  It is a hell of a shock for many to have a full productive role in the community until that birthday, and none thereafter.

But in the germinal form of the old age pension (note: not the dole) lies the future principle: access to money is independent of any specific acts of work or work roles.  Old people do not have to turn up at a specific location and time and work to receive their supply of money, miserable as that might be.  They get paid for being.  While they can often get on with pet projects, retirement has well known drawbacks, and many old people find themselves living out the remainder of their lives in “eventide homes”, to which few children ever come, or in empty suburban homes, from which all children have departed.

Industrial society, unlike pre-industrial, has no meaningful role for the grand-parental generation.  Like young people on the dole, old age pensioners run into problems if they try to supplement their meagre incomes by casual work.  Their pensions drop accordingly, if the government finds out about it.  In other words, built into the existing welfare policy is an incentive not to work.  People on welfare cannot join in productive activity in any meaningful way, even if they want to.  And most seem to want to.

Only the most cockeyed keeper of the national accounts would argue that this was in the best interests of the nation.

Both the ALP and the Liberal-National Party coalition represent different groups of traders.  While the ALP has a generally more sympathetic attitude to pensioners and the unemployed than does the ‘free enterprise’ coalition, politicians of all major parties none the less regard welfare payments as something of a drain on the state resources, and best kept to a minimum.  Where they differ is on strategies is to follow to reach that goal.

However, traditional thinking about money leads both parties into a bind.  Welfare payments are necessary, if only to stop people begging in the streets, or worse.  People must have money, and if they can’t get it legally, they will get it illegally. Therefore governments have no choice: spend money on social security, or spend it on extra police, gaols, psychiatric hospitals, drug rehabilitation programs, etc, etc. (Make work” and “job creation” programs are usually a simultaneous form of welfare and disguised subsidy to business.)

The present crisis of stagnation and unemployment now chronic in the industrial west was not foreseen by economists before it appeared, nor understood when it did.  Nor can it be effectively countered by politicians whose main aim is the preservation o the sectional interests of those they represent, at whatever cost to those they don’t.  After all, politicians’ jobs are their guarantee of a secure supply of money, at least until they serve out enough terms to qualify for their ample pensions and retirement perks.

We are all trapped by the prevailing view of money, and we all behave in such a way as to assure ourselves a continual, guaranteed supply of it. For those who live through return on investments, their property is their double guarantee: of a steady income for life, and against having to become a wage-slave in order to secure it. (Many people who are apparently self-employed, like farmers, are actually working for a bank.) For wage-slaves, whose mortgages and other liabilities generally exceed their savings, the logic of the situation demands the highest possible rate of increase in real wages and the shortest possible hours.  Inflation always favours debtors:  a class that definitely includes most adult Australians.

For all, a win through gambling or by means of a metal detector is always worth seeking.  While gold fever and the stock market have their ups and downs, the lotteries boom on.  Economic security is the name of the game.  It is an individualist free-for –all in which no player can get too wealthy, because no player can get too secure.  Certainly few feel too secure.  The money game for many becomes the only game in life worth playing.  If a player’s personal relationships become corrupted in the process, and if his or her perception becomes so distracted that  not only things but people are viewed as commodities and extension of the self, (literally, extra ‘hands’) then the game becomes more important still, and we have positive feedback.

We all want a guaranteed supply of money.  All right, let us all work together to give one another precisely that.   Let us have a guaranteed minimum income scheme.

As I said above, I believe this can best be achieved by the insertion of the principle of negative taxation into the system of positive taxation they we already have.  As you will know, if you earn above a certain amount each year, the federal government starts taxing you.  The more you earn, the more you pay, until your income reaches another level again.  Above this level it becomes possible for you to bury your income in various tax-loss and tax-avoidance schemes.

Low and middle-income earners finish up carrying the wealthy even more than they carry the poor.

A taxation system that was both positive and negative would guarantee you a certain minimum annual income.  If your earnings went below that annual rate, the tax man would pay you enough to make up the difference.

This principle could end once and for all fear of unemployment and destitution in old age throughout the entire population.  It would replace all existing pensions” old age, invalid, war, war widows’, supporting parents’ and of course, the dole.  As well, a sliding scale could be introduced for children and junior, to replace existing family allowances.

If we set the adult rate of a guaranteed $115 per week for a start, this would still be below the average income of the population as a whole, yet well above existing pension levels.

While might at first appear to be inflationary, it must be remembered that there is no built in disincentive to productive labour as there is under the existing schemes, in the operation of which the government also finds itself naturally seeking ways to disqualify people for welfare the more economic ills of society increase.

Whatever you might advocate in its place, I would suggest to you the present system is not one of the options.  We will simply spend money we should be spending guaranteeing peoples’ incomes on jails, police, security patrols, burglar alarms, psychiatric hospitals, drug and alcoholic rehabilitation programs and so on until, as many European and North American cities, every man’s home really is a castle, lacking only a moat full of crocodiles.


Here are just some of the more important that I foresee:

Farmers will have a guarantee against going broke in bad season, and will never have to flog the land in an ever-downhill fashion to cushion themselves against that possibility.

There will an inversion of the established order of consumerism: what people want to buy gets sold. Instead, we will find a producer-orientated law taking its place: what people want to do gets done.  As we are all consumers, and all at least potentially producers (including the children), both these principles involve us all. So take your pick.

Immediately, wages will probably start rising for dreary and dangerous jobs, giving employers even more incentive to automate them, reduce hours, introduce work-sharing arrangements, or a combination of these.

Industrial relations will change for the better, because the boss will no longer hold the threat of sudden poverty over the worker’s head.

Most people will be able to have a try at becoming self-employed, and across the economy peoples’ relationships with one another will take on the character of cooperation between  teams of professionals, rather than the present system of competition between teams of wage slaves.  (Ford workers versus GMH workers, and so on.)

There will be natural incentives to integrate both old people and children into the economy in a genuine way, so that the old may still feel useful, and so that the young can learn in practical situations, as in the old master-apprentice system. The alienation of youth should start to wither, and with it, vandalism and juvenile delinquency.

Similarly, places will be found in the mainstream economy for those physically and mentally handicapped people at present shut off in those industrial backwaters known as sheltered workshops.

As to be found among volunteer fire-fighters, ‘share round the work’ will become the natural slogan.  Although residue of racism and chauvinism may remain, workers will have little economic reason to regard one another anything but colleagues, according to the old principle of the farming family: many hands make light work.  Not only should each individual’s task lighten, net production should rise.  The national cake should get bigger due to growth in areas people generally favour.  Uranium production would probably fall, but reafforestation and agricultural output would probably rise as young people particularly took to working holidays in the country.

Possibly, a lot of people will down tools and head for the breach, becoming economic passengers on the rest of us. If you think this will be the rock on which it will quickly flounder, you can only be of the opinion that society at present is less endowed with passengers of one kind or another.  Unfortunately, we have all too many, and they are not all on the dole.  Ask any of the cogs from one of the major bureaucracies, like the Commonwealth Public Service or BHP.  The very wages system that governs our productive lives creates them in droves.

However, those who do head for the beach might find when they return home that their garbage has not been collected and is piling up in the street, as it does whenever the wage slaves that normally collect it go on strike. They might feel a need to put their surfboards up for a while until it has been cleared away, and then to start thinking of ways to generate less garbage.

Some may never find a project they consider sufficiently worthwhile to join in on. These too, we have in droves at present. They will probably be encouraged and leant on in various ways, but in the end pitied rather than punished.

I myself have experienced at first hand the heady enthusiasm people have for productive labour done on a genuinely cooperative basis.  It was that spirit that kept the whole population of Peking at work with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows in 1975, until the Ming Tombs reservoir was built. It was that spirit that caused Australians to give massive amounts of aid to the victims of the Tasmanian bushfires in 1967, and to those of the Darwin cyclone in 1974.  It brings everybody out to fight off common threats, like bushfires and floods.  It is that spirit that moves me to give you a hand if your car is bogged, or the battery is flat. You don’t have to pay me.

You will have noticed, of course, that dispossession of people and their reduction to financial insecurity, wage slavery or ruin is not one of the aims or necessary processes.  No civil war of any kind implied. The 4 million or so who voted for the ALP in the last federal election are not lined up for brawls in the streets with the 4 million or so who voted for the conservative coalition. I am not interested in seeing people robbed of the means whereby they live, as happened to the Aborigines of this country, and to my ancestors in Scotland and Ireland.  Negative income tax means a guarantee of financial security for everyone, including those who are at present millionaires, or it is meaningless.

Those who are at present capitalists, and who live by the combination of their entrepreneurial skills and a protected local market will probably continue to live by those entrepreneurial skills; even if tariffs are phased out. They will, of course, no longer have quite the same big stick of financial insecurity and ruin to wave at “their” workers.

While in these circumstances the power hunger of many a prominent citizen might go unsatisfied, the right to earn the greatest possible amount of money in one year will still be there.  I think that those who have an obsession for accumulating a great array of cars, electronic gadgets, yachts and so on will find that people with simpler needs treat them with compassion and understanding, just as if they were suffering from any other affliction.


It is merely an exercise in pigeonholing to discriminate between economic and social consequences, and the picture painted above is as much social as economic.

There will of course be a blurring of the distinction between paid and unpaid work; between professional and charity work.  Likewise a blurring and overlapping of the distinctions we are used to thinking of existing between work, recreation and education.  Desk and workbench bound people will be able to shun that ridiculous machine, and exercise bicycle, kin favour of a spell in the forest and fields, literally for the good of their hearts.  People throughout the economy will not feel trapped in one particular job for ever and every amen by the fact that an official whatever per cent are unemployed, and that for every job there are scores of applicants, as they are now. Demoralization of both the unemployed and the employed, so widespread today, will have no foundation in this future.   And every machine, and every silicon chip, will be everyone’s friend, the more so as the income level that qualifies you for negative tax is raised.

However, one of the most interesting social consequences I would single out would be for that age old and universally favoured institution, motherhood.

Women will no longer be penalised economically for choosing to contribute to society by creating new individuals of our species.  Mothering a baby will be seen as a legitimate full time activity.  As well, groups of mothers will probably organize their own crèches and infant play-centres .  But more importantly, women will no longer feel an economic pressure towards having an abortion if they unintentionally conceive, as is the case at present.

Women who support the right-to-choose camp in the great abortion controversy, none the less generally view the operation itself with very mixed feelings.  It is a sad and nasty end to an anxious situation for the unintentionally pregnant: the sadder and the nastier the more advanced the unborn baby’s development.  Yet women carrying relatively advanced babies still have them.  Why?

If we step aside for a moment from the understandable indignation of the Right to Life Association and that 50 percent of so of Catholics who follow their church’s teaching on this matter, and if we likewise ignore the righteous indignation or politicians who see votes in the bucket along with the unborn, and if we consider the realities of the present 45,000-60,000 abortions a year situation…..

There are two main reasons why women see no real alternative to having an abortion.  The first is that they cannot support themselves financially through the pregnancy and the child’s early years. The second is to be found in the barbaric adoption laws which operate in this country, under which if she has the baby but cannot support it, the mother must part with it forever, never to see it again.  Understandably, many women see killing their unborn child while it is still at a stage of development approximating that of a salamander as preferable to going through that sort of emotional trauma.

In the future, a pregnant woman who does not want the role of full time mother will be able to befriend a childless woman, and make arrangement satisfactory to them both.  If both wish it, these arrangements may be drawn up as a legal contract, analogous to the marriage contract.

While at present would-be-foster parents are distressed at the number of abortions taking place annually, and single mothers-to-be are distressed by the alternatives to abortion, with negative income tax and a real guaranteed income the situation will be far happier for all concerned.  Of course, the present callous adoption racket, which makes spectacular copy for journalists whenever a natural mother and a foster mother face each other across a courtroom for rights of custody, will go.

That is what I think must be done in the broad sense, but it is useless leaving it at that.  Here are the practical steps I invite you to join me in taking.


Within my own federal electorate, I am joining with as many who are interested in setting up a political party, whose membership I see as being largely confined to that electorate.  It will run a candidate in the next federal election on the single issue of the introduction of a guaranteed realistic minimum income through negative income tax,

First time up, that candidate will most likely not be elected. What I hope to see develop in the course of the campaign is the nucleus of a movement which will win a significant slice of the vote next time around.  If that happens, third time around we should see similar developments nationwide: autonomous parties springing up in many federal electorates, and perhaps adoption of welfare reform by one or both of the major parties.   By then the snowball will be rolling.

That is a perspective that spreads across the next three elections, beginning in 1983.  Of course, this time span would be shortened somewhat if local electorate parties were up and running by the 1983 election in a number of electorates.

I would personally envisage those local electorate parties remaining organisationally separate from one another for quite a while. I do not think we need to set up yet another national political machine like the ALP or the Liberal Party, with a pyramidal structure that fosters the emergence of yet another race of machine men and wheeler-dealing bureaucrats.  If you think that gets us anywhere, then I suggest you join one of those gigantic organizations and spend the next 30 years bashing your head against a brick wall. Good luck.

If you aren’t prepared to go that far, but still think that Bill Hayden, Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser or Andrew Peacock offer any real solution to the problems I have been discussing here, then choose one of them and vote for him, or whoever else might have bobbed up by the time to you get to read this. Thanks for your interest, and would that I had your simple faith.

If you find yourself in general agreement with me, and feel strongly that something ought to be done, then form a group of people together in your own federal electorate who share your outlook and run a candidate in the 1983 election.  (Be prepared to lose it first time round.) If your candidate is a Federal public servant he or she will have to resign to contest the election, but will be guaranteed reinstatement if not elected.

The main issue we are on about is a new attitude towards incomes, welfare, and one another.  Policies on foreign affairs, defence, education, health, transport, housing and so on should be decided separately by each autonomous federal electorate party, not by some national conference which has been set up in advance by wheeling, dealing, stacking and good old numbers game as played by the faction of the major parties.  If the federal parliament itself were to become the scene of such a conference, it would become a house of representatives indeed, and far more than the rubber stamp that it is at present.

But such developments are a bit further off, according to my crystal ball.

Just how far off depends in large part on the extent to which you are prepared to help get the ball rolling in your own federal electorate.


Negative income tax along the lines proposed here will probably not come tomorrow.  The process will be gradual rather than explosive, but the end product will be a genuine alternative to the perspectives being offered by the main political formations from left to right at present.  It may not even happen in my lifetime.  But I, a 20th Century man, find that the insight that the future lies with a rather admirable human type that we find living amongst us today to be cheering indeed.  And no doubt I would feel the same were I sitting with like insight in a 9th Century village watching the occasional trader come and go.

Of your modern trader is someone other than the blood donor, I would be interested in finding out who it is.  But I must insist that I am not interested in being told that it is the businessman, the army officer, or the Marxist revolutionary churning out slogans by the light of the midnight lamp.  Remember if you will that some of those are in fact blood donors.

And before you start quoting the New Testament, let me remind you that the blood donor says to anyone in need, regardless of race, sex, religion or social class:

“This is my blood, which I give you, that you might have life. For I find life to be something worth having.”

In each blood donor, Christians can see Jesus Christ himself, returned.  Every eye can see him, and every ear can hear him, because blood donors are everywhere around us.  In each one, Buddhists can see a Buddha, and Marxist can see their elusive ‘socialist man’.

No golden age, no millennium, has to start at some time always in the future.

In this sense; to me the only one that matters, it has already begun.


Ian MacDougall

(This original text published in pamphlet form on 12.02.81.)















ANTICLIMATOLOGY – a beginner’s guide

Posted in Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on January 30, 2020

If you seek to dump on climate science, there is no better place to learn your craft than at Quadrant Online. There are so many crafty articles there for you to use for inspiration. Below is my pick of them, in a by no means exhaustive list.

Ian MacDougall

  1. The Renewable Energy Myth — Quadrant Online

The Renewable Energy Myth

  1. Get Them Young, Make Them Green — Quadrant Online

Get Them Young, Make Them Green

  1. The Great Renewable Energy Rort — Quadrant Online

The Great Renewable Energy Rort

german green energy  — Quadrant Online

  1. Finally, Warmists Find a Real Threat — Quadrant Online…/finally-warmists-find-real-threat/

  1. Going green costs jobs — Quadrant Online

Going green costs jobs

  1. They Make It Easy Being Green — Quadrant Online

They Make It Easy Being Green

  1. Teach ’em Green, Raise ’em Stupid — Quadrant Online…/teach-em-green-raise-em-stupid/

  1. The Green Gulf Between Fact and Fancy — Quadrant Online

The Green Gulf Between Fact and Fancy

Aug 14, 2015 – The solar- and wind-power capacity to meet Labor’srenewable-energy target would cost between $80 billion and $100 billion dollars.

Tony Thomas, Opinion — Quadrant Online

  1. Inherit the Wind (and not much else)  — Quadrant Online

Inherit the Wind (and not much else)

Feb 5, 2015 – Submissions to the latter inquiry are online here. … The rationale for renewable energy is that its use reduces the consumption of fossil fuels by …

  1. Green dream jobs — Quadrant Online…/green-dream-jobs

Sep 22, 2011 – Australia’s economic advantages are not aligned with moving towards a green energy future. China’s are because, unlike us, they like nuclear,

  1. Coal, There’s Just No Alternative — Quadrant Online…/coal-theres-just-alternative

… Sep 12, 2014 – “We cannot rely on renewable energy to supply the vast quantities of electricity that are needed to bring the billions of people who are now ..


  1. With Friends Like Oxfam… — Quadrant Online

With Friends Like Oxfam…

Sep 10, 2015 – “We have arguably the best renewable energy sources in the world, in the form of large expanses of land that can feed wind, solar, geothermal ..


  1. Blinded By The Sun — Quadrant Online

Blinded By The Sun

Jul 28, 2016 – Let’s be generous and say that serious development of the two main renewable-energy technologies commenced in the 1980s. So how far …

  1. Banking on the Climate Hustle — Quadrant Online…/banking-climate-hustle

Jan 3, 2016 – It wants to shift at least USD600 billion of other people’s money into renewable energy projects. But only if governments establish ‘legal …


Posted in Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on March 10, 2019


And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.

 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven.

-Matthew 16; 18-19  KJV

That header from Matthew is pretty powerful stuff. All popes, even the likes of the Borgias, have claimed on the strength of it the right to make the rules not just on Earth, but also in Heaven. It is an open cheque, Heaven-sent, or perhaps more likely, clerically devised. Hence also the symbolism of the keys, so arguably overworked in Catholic everyday art.

On the strength of the above (pretty broad) licence, Pope Pius XII in 1954 crowned Mary Queen of Heaven.

Well OK. Pope Pius XII  crowned a statue of her. But as good as the real thing. And Pope Francis has just done it again. Crowned a different statue, perhaps; but as far as I am aware, no Earthly queen was ever crowned more than once. So Queen Mary beats them all.

Geraldine Doogue, by her own account a lifelong and committed Catholic, has written an interesting piece on her church’s present Pell Crisis. Find it at: ($$$ for the full text.)

She begins with appropriate Catholic modesty:

“Unaccustomed as I am to find myself in easy agreement with Cardinal George Pell, I did approve of his response to David Marr’s essay….”

Said Marr’s essay has been summed up as follows:

Marr reveals a cleric at ease with power and aggressive in asserting the prerogatives of the Vatican. His account of Pell’s career focuses on his response as a man, a priest, an archbishop and prince of the church to the scandal that has engulfed the Catholic world in the last thirty years. This is the story of a cleric slow to see what was happening around him; torn by the contest between his church and its victims; and slow to realise that the Catholic Church cannot, in the end, escape secular scrutiny. 

‘The Prince’ is an arresting portrait of faith, loyalty and ambition, set against a backdrop of terrible suffering and an ancient institution in turmoil.

So here is Doogue in full flight on the matter:

Unaccustomed as I am to find myself in easy agreement with Cardinal George Pell, I did approve of his response to David Marr’s essay. It was published in the same week that I was to conduct a Gleebooks conversation with David in Sydney, and I was intrigued as to how the essay’s subject  [Pell]  would respond.  Would he ignore David altogether? Would he forensically rebut all the accusations and the terrible timeline of clerical malfeasance and church neglect in Victoria? Would he try loftily to contextualise his decisions? As it turned out, he chose none of those options but did comment and land some blows, in my view. “Marr has no idea what motivates a believing Christian.” [My emphasis – IM.] That last statement especially rang true for me. My final sense was that for all David’s writing’s usual elegance and flair, it came with plenty of baggage, only some of it declared. And it didn’t wrestle sufficiently with its own conclusion: that, above all, Pell simply could not contemplate a world without an operating Catholic Church. So yes, his best efforts would always, always be expended on its behalf, without apology, because he believed he was acting, by proxy, in the long-term interests of the wider society. I think this is a correct core judgment on the perplexing Pell, the man David ultimately found somewhat empty and hollow. 

 Yes, Pell: somewhat empty and hollow, and with all the empathy of a cabbage. (Sorry for that slur, cabbages.) But Doogue here and in her own way is trying to rouse up a bit of support for Pell, particularly from disillusioned and disgusted Catholics.

The Sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, was off-limits to all choirboys. Two of them nonetheless had slipped away from the choir procession at the end of Mass, and were caught gargling a swig or two of altar wine, as choirboys have been inclined to do since time immemorial. (St Peter probably had much the same trouble with them at underground services down in the Roman catacombs.)  According to the main police witness, the Sacristy was where the offences Pell is presently jugged and banged up for occurred.

But the Pell case divides Catholics into those inclined to believe Pell on the one hand, and those inclined to believe the surviving victim, whose account the jury believed, on the other. Catholics are circling the wagons, battening down the hatches, manning the parapets, and generally getting ready for a long siege. At the other extreme and with a profound sense of betrayal, they are having serious thoughts about quitting the church and religion they were born into. A number of course are taking up positions somewhere in between. But clerical prestige is definitely in at the panel-beaters’ for a major workover.

The former choirboy reportedly gave testimony that the hefty Pell had planted himself in the doorway, blocking the exit, and said something like “what are you doing here?” or “you’re in trouble”. (Contrast this with Christ’s reported injunction in arguably similar circumstances: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for such is the Kingdom of God.”)

There was this moment where we all just froze and then he undid his trousers or his belt, like he started moving underneath his robes,” the victim said.

Pell then pulled one of the boys aside and pushed his head down to his exposed penis.

Pell then forced the other choirboy to perform oral sex on him before fondling him as he masturbated.

That former choirboy told the court that, two months later, Pell molested him in a brief incident in a corridor at the back of the cathedral after mass.

Not exactly trivial stuff.

Now I think I can speak with some authority on this, as I am a Christian by marriage. That is to say my darling wife is one, and she lives her religion (save for the odd irrational and totally undeserved outburst at me) 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At this point I would like also to quote from my own Facebook page:

“Worth a read:

“Clare Linane, whose husband Peter Blenkiron is a survivor of clerical child abuse, writes in response to Andrew Bolt’s  defence of  George Pell (yes, Bolt’s in there, full steam ahead):

“If you want to support Pell, go and visit him in jail. Help fund his appeal. Take Miranda Devine with you.
“In the meantime, here in Ballarat we are going to continue to try to deal with the fact that our suicide rate among males is twice that of Melbourne and 65% greater than the Victorian average.
“We are going to keep helping women, children, mothers, fathers, and siblings pick up the pieces as their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers prematurely end their lives.
“We are going to keep lobbying for the redress scheme that the royal commission recommended, so that our survivors get the practical and emotional assistance they need.
“We are going to keep trying to figure out how to reverse what has now become a cultural problem whereby males in our community resort to suicide instead of seeking help.
“Honestly, the fact that our most senior Catholic has been jailed is the least of our worries right now.”

 Certainly puts Bolt in his place. Which as the Germans might say, ist in der schiesenhaus. (Modesty forbids me from providing a translation.)

What modesty does not do, however, is prevent me from revealing a bit of my own family’s history: particularly regarding the attitude to religion displayed by my own father, and to suppose a reason for it, particularly in the light of the above.

His mother (Pakie Macdougall, my grandmother) was in her day a pre-WW1 suffragette, and a freethinking bohemian. Her husband Duncan Macdougall (my grandfather) was at the same time trying to make a career for himself in the theatre, as a (reportedly consummate) actor, director and also producer. Thanks to his theatrical contacts, Duncan managed to secure for Robin (his son, my father) the leading role in the first full-length feature film produced by the New York studio Famous-Players Lasky. That was Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird. The film was shot in a warehouse in New York, under the supervision of Adolph Zukor. (Following the film’s release, Zukor rebadged the Famous-Players Lasky enterprise as Paramount and moved the whole show to the sunnier clime of Hollywood, California.)

My grandparents’ activities and interests, both theatrical and political, took them at times far from their rented apartment in New York. For one of these trips, they found accommodation for the quite young Dad in a small farming community in West Virginia, that by his own account was straight out of L’il Abner. (School was at that time optional in the US. Dad was never formally enrolled in one until he got to Australia in 1919, aged 12.)

But there was no topic of conversation that could get him more steamed up or ready to launch into intemperate language, from ridicule to full-on invective, than the subject of religion. He did not mind Judaism, (some of his best friends were Jews) or those quaint Asian religions that involve lots of gong-banging, chanting, ritual river-bathing and incense-burning, but he could not abide Christianity, and particularly not its God-bothering Protestant variant. He would ridicule and pour on scorn by the bucketful on it at every opportunity. And when he attended those unavoidable occasions like church weddings of family members (I myself had two such during his long lifetime) nearby members of the congregation would find him sniggering and snorting his way through the whole business. In short, religion brought forth his rational side to such an extent that it turned itself into its own opposite. (However, my cousin married a Greek in an Orthodox ceremony. He did not find that too difficult; rather strange and interesting in fact.)

Methought he did protest too much; far too much. On the strength of all that, I think he might well have been sexually molested by some fundamentalist preacher over there in God’s country at some stage during his childhood. If that was the case, it certainly explains a lot about his behaviour and attitudes. Particularly so for his slump into depression after I joined the local Sydney-suburban Anglican church, (mainly for the youth arm known as The Fellowship) and  VERY PARTICULARLY after I returned home from a week-long fellowship house party in the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney, and announced with all the maturity that a 14-year-old can muster, that I wanted to become a missionary in South America. (The Fellowship had been addressed by one such, who was keen to recruit a few more. But please remember, this was the year 1954: Billy Graham was then in his globally-reaching prime.)

Looking back on it, I doubt there could be any project more forlorn on the face of God’s Earth than trying to convince genuine South American mestizos,  bandidos,  peons, comancheros, and the rest of them in all of their poncho-wearing, caballo-riding, flamenco-playing and tango-dancing variants, breeds and ethnicities (as found within any of their marvellous social formations that have never been defeudalised) that they are living in a darkness beyond imagining, and that their only way out is by becoming Anglicans. …!!! The mind boggles; not once, but again and again and again, in a positive feedback loop.

My father at this point truly descended into Hell. But on the third day, he rose again, and ascended into Heaven, or into the closest state to it: Nirvana, Paradise or whatever possible for him, because that was about all the time it took for the jumping euphoria of that Anglican houseparty to wear off and fade from my mind, and for me to resume something like normal transmission.

But for all his generosity and conviviality, my father remained forever trapped like, and as, an overgrown child, and in so many ways. An inability to express himself verbally or emotionally was one. His inner tension and apparent frustration, and a business (started in 1929 by his mother) kept him away from home for long periods, leading him to find solace in the arms of a mistress, and planning a new life with her after getting himself a mooted divorce from my mother.

When my mother, in his view unreasonably, objected to this, he started his measured and reasoned response one sunny day by throwing a chair or two across the dining room, busting one completely and driving a chair-leg right through the kitchen door, and also by knocking her down: one punch. Then he took off in Mum’s little 1927 model Morris Minor, but not before I could jump in beside him into the passenger seat, fearful that in his rage he would do something stupid like drive it off a cliff.

But after a while, he grew remorseful, and explained to me that Mum had been making his life really difficult. I replied along the lines of “… but you shouldn’t  have hit her.” To which he replied, almost in tears, “I know, I know.”

So we drove back home, with him subdued and reflective; which was all right, until it all happened again. And again; and again.  By which time he had moved out of the house and had decided that he wanted a divorce. So Mum would go visit him to discuss issues relating to that, property settlement and such, and return as often as not with facial bruises and one day with a black eye.

I lost all respect for my father after that, and stopped addressing him as ‘Dad’. In fact, I did not address him as anything, until just short of his dying day, when I tried to make up for all the lost time and foregone father-son companionship as best I could. And I hold it to be self-evident and highly likely that all of that sorry history was because some Bible-thumping, Jesus-jumping Ozark mountain pervert had taken him as a pretty defenceless young boy to Hell and back.

The sad thing is just this: the Pells of this world never have to face the real consequences of their own choices and actions, can remain oblivious to them, and can shed them as water gets shed off the proverbial duck’s back.

But let us return to that profundity of Pell’s, as quoted by the profundity-struck Geraldine Doogue: “Marr has no idea what motivates a believing Christian.” Doogue goes on:  “This Catholic Church is a vital provider of services to the current fabric of Australian life. Seven hundred thousand schoolchildren … 82,000 staff; sixty-six hospitals… St Vincent de Paul … largest welfare provider outside government…vast network of engagement. Spelling some of this out … may have highlighted the very confusion that plagues many of us, trying to imagine how this committed church restores itself beyond the shame.”

Well Geraldine, I suggest that every believing Christian should read a bit of the writings of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). A good start can be made at .

Durkheim’s major contribution to human understanding of what we humans really are about (as distinct from what we say we are about)  can be summed up quite simply, and as follows: in any religious ritual, from Catholic High mass to an Australian Aboriginal camp-fire corroboree, what is really happening is that the congregation is worshipping itself.

Catholicism has at least four gods: Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and Mary, and a multitude of others if we count in all the gallery of saints. But whatever gods, deities, sacred objects and acts of veneration are involved for any given grouping large or small, they symbolise that worshipping group. They effectively are the people in the worshipper’s life who, like him or her, have been born into the religion and have an ancestral past steeped in it. So the Mass or church service literally serves us by uniting us in a continuity with not only each other, but with our ancestors.

Such continuity can be as found as much if not far more so in the small bush church so beloved of the immortal Father PJ Hartigan (‘John O’Brien’, author of Around the Boree Log) as in St Peter’s in Rome, St Paul’s in London, or in any of the neo-Gothic architectural marvels in Australia in which we find say, mass celebrated by say, Cardinal George Pell; or one of his present clerical supporters or apologists.

The Catholic, Protestant or whatever congregation is worshipping itself. Believing is the means to belonging. That is why it is so important that we all pray together, and out loud, so everyone can hear. (God does not need it, because he reportedly knows our every unuttered thought.) For our group cohesion, we all must believe the same doctrine, propositions or ‘stuff’, and why a group recitation of the essentials of its shared faith, as in say The Apostles’ Creed is so powerful, and so important in group life, as well as other group vocalisations, sung hymns, recited prayers and so on. Count how many times the collective is mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer, by use of the words ‘our’ (3), ‘us’ (5) and ‘we’ (1).  That prayer, as the congregation recites it, contains nine collective nouns or pronouns in all, and the whole prayer totals just 70 words in the Anglican version I am used to.

Our Father, which art in heaven,/ Hallowed be thy Name; /Thy kingdom come;/ Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven:/ Give us this day our daily bread;/ And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;/ And lead us not into temptation,/ But deliver us from evil: /For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, /For ever and ever. /Amen.

An extra dimension in all of this is the difference in responsibility and ceremonial privilege between the priesthood and the laity. The ceremonial dress of the clergy emphasises this apartness: robes (symbolising perhaps the simpler, far less clean, less than white and far from gilded garment  worn by Christ himself) stained-glass windows not only depicting sacred scenes, but filling the church interior with all the glorious and heavenly colours of the visible spectrum; Gothic arches soaring Heavenwards, and the mitres of the highest clerics likewise doing their own bits of mimicry, pointing upwards to the Heavenly source of clerical authority.  And the Sanctuary, off-limits and out of bounds to lowly congregationists, at least while worship is proceeding in the building.

All of this is true whether we are speaking of a simple lowly weatherboard Protestant church somewhere in the bush or of one of those huge neo-Gothic stone cathedrals in a state capital like Sydney and Melbourne. And most importantly, no ceremony in any church building can proceed in the absence of officiating clergy. The one exception to this rule I know of is the case of the Quakers, most admirable people generally, but for at least one of whose devout American members was the untried and unpunished war criminal Richard Nixon, whose military operations in Vietnam so closely resembled those of Hitler’s Wehrmacht in Poland.

Contrast all that with the scene of the first Eucharist, as depicted by Leonardo da Vinci and generally known as The Last Supper. It is painted as a mural, on the wall at the far end of the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. One’s eyes are drawn to it immediately one enters through the front door of the building. (One day in 1977, I was in there when there was nobody else around, and was able to contemplate it for some time in total silence.)

The image of Christ himself is literally central to the painting, with the disciples in two groups of six on each side of him, but none the less with Christ not physically above his disciples, as if on a higher spiritual level. Christ is sitting on the same level, and presumably on the very same (undepicted) bench. He is not as a modern parson or priest, physically raised to the level of the Sanctuary and above the level of the pews the mere laity sit on; that is, when not on their knees before God (and also, as it always happens, the officiating priest, God’s spokesperson here on Earth.)

Spokesperson.  Let us pause to consider in conclusion here Catholicism post-Pell. Ordination of women is likely only a matter of time, despite Pope Francis’ final, complete, total and infallible ban on it forever and ever amen. I think that is now inevitable, and an indirect and unintended consequence of His Eminence Cardinal George Pell, third-highest-ranking Catholic in the world, residing now in Melbourne Assessment Prison, a grim maximum security facility which can hold about 250 prisoners..

Whatever arguments are advanced by conservatives against, the easiest and most telling retort will be “but the exclusive black (some would say satanic) brotherhood gave us Pell, protected Pell, covered up for Pell, and was dragged kicking and screaming  all the way to admitting and facing the truth about Pell.”

“How can anything we might do be worse?”









Another Open Letter to Stan Grant

Posted in Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on March 1, 2018


And also my critique of Keith Windschuttle’s line on Aboriginal history post 1777 at:

Stan: At the National Press Club (link above) you reportedly said:

For so many of my people, Aboriginal people this is true. There is a deep, deep wound that comes from the time of dispossession, scarred by the generations of injustice and suffering that have followed. And this wound sits at heart of the malaise that grips indigenous Australia. It is there in our life expectancy ten years shorter than other Australians, it is there in statistics that tell us we are not three percent of the population yet a quarter of those in prisons. These are the things that kill, the things that send us mad or steal our sight.

How often we are told to get over it, leave it in the past, but these wounds are fresh. My family like so many Indigenous families is still shackled to its past. We are told to let it go, but our history is a living thing. It is physical. It is noses and mouths and faces. It is written on our bodies.

-Stan Grant []

The above as I read it is an attack directed at the whole present non-Aboriginal population of Australia. I and my family are amongst them. But there are quite deep historical issues here.

Firstly, your people, whom you identify as “Aboriginal people” in the quote above, were not one ethnic group, nor as one people given a hard time by one lot of invaders of this continent. The 19thC anthropologists identified three distinct ethnic groups amongst the people we now refer to as ‘The Aborigines’:

(1) The Tasmanians – apparently the first to arrive. They were short-statured people rather similar to African pygmies: short stature being a trait selected in by the demands of a life lived in rainforest, of which there was no shortage in the regions they came from and the Australia they moved into. They, being the first to arrive, had the continent to themselves, but were pushed south by the next distinct invading population, who pushed the Tasmanians to the southern extremity of the continent before the Bass Strait rose as the Pleistocene Ice melted: that southern extemity is now called Tasmania.

(2) the Murrayans, who were on average a taller, heavier-bodied people than the Tasmanians, and who occupied the southern mainland, and who pushed the Tasmanians before them. Then came

(3) the Carpentarians, taller, and like the modern native Nilotic peoples of Africa, adapted for life in the hot, dry climate found today in northern Australia, and who kept ethnically distinct from the Murrayans on the mainland; showing that there was not much interbreeding there either.

Nor was pre-European Australia exactly a garden of tranquility. Very telling is a study of Aboriginal weapons, the most interesting being in my opinion Aboriginal shields. These, to be used successfully by warriors who were also nomads, had to be both lightweight and easily carried, but at the same time effective against the most devastating attack weapons in the contemporary Aboriginal arsenal. These were spears and the clubs called ‘nulla-nullas’, normally used to despatch game, but also as effective weapons in what is generally termed ‘tribal warfare’: which in one form or another, still goes on in town and country today. ( See particularly the warrior photograph at )

But also:

It takes a high degree of skill to survive when one is the target of several incoming spears, thrown either together or at slightly different time intervals, launched at you with murderous intent. One’s parents, grandparents and other ancestors over whatever timespan you care to name likewise needed such skill.

The First Arrivals

The late ANU scientist Gurdip Singh concluded from a study of pollens from the bed of Lake George, NSW, that there had been a fairly abrupt botanical change from ecosystems dominated by pyrophobic (‘fire averse’) plants like Causuarinas to pyrophytic (fire-tolerant) ones in SE Australia at around 110,000 BP. This apparent increase of fire in the Australian bush led him to conclude that Aborigines with their ‘firestick farming’ practices may have been responsible. That is, a full 70,000 years before the appearance of Mungo Man and his skeleton, the earliest direct evidential remains.

At the Australian Academy of Science website,
we can see graphs that show how the country’s climate has changed over those 110 millennia. There was a marked general cooling, down to around 10,000 BP, followed by a rapid rise in average temperature and heat content of the ocean. The first Aborigines to arrive (ie the ancestors of the Tasmanians) would have had to cross far less oceanic distance than exists today, thanks to so much of the Earth’s water being locked up as polar icecaps. But over those millennia, all our ancestors, of whatever colour, were living somewhere. And there was no book up there in the sky in which it was written by the Gods that the Australian continent belonged to the ancestral Tasmanians, though they possibly or even likely believed it did. The Murrayans would have relieved them of any such illusion, and the Carpentarians likewise both those preceding populations.

The lesson they all learned then taught: by the Tasmanians to the kangaroos, wombats and megafauna, the Murrayans to all those four groups, and the Carpentarians to the lot of them, was a simple one: if you can’t defend it, you don’t own it.

I am 100% of Scots-Irish ancestry according to analysis of my own DNA. My own ancestors were cleared off land they could not defend in the ‘clearances’ carried out by aristocrats supported by Royal armies, or by the first British colonising acts beginning in Ireland under Henry VIII that led on to the building of the vast British Empire, which eventually stretched as far as Australia. Dispossessed Scots and Irish emigrated to Australia, to either dispossess Aborigines, or purchase former Aboriginal land from earlier colonisers who had grabbed it: from the people whose ownership ceased because they could not defend it.

To give them their due, all the Tasmanians, Murrayans and Carpentarians over time took their cultures and technologies as far as they could be taken within the limitations they experienced. Modern scholarship indicates that agriculture actually began, not in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys of ancient Mesopotamia at around 10,000 BP as previously believed, but in New Guinea, at around 20,000 BP. But while neighbouring Australia had plant food and game sufficient to support a pre-1777 population estimated now at around 1 million, it had no domesticable or potentially cultivable plants save the Macadamia nut, (now marketed worldwide under a variety of names.) And the hunter-gatherer nomads, while they had an astounding variety of plant and animal foods both marine and terrestrial, had no grasses from which to develop grain crops, and thus they had collectors’, not croppers’, granaries.

Whereas the Asian peoples had rice and millet, the Ameriindians maize (as well as potatoes) and the peoples of the ‘fertile crescent’ centred on Mesopotamia had what are still the western staples: wheat, barley and oats. They also had cattle, horses and other domesticable animals, spread right across the Eurasian Landmass to China and Japan, and down into Africa in one vast mass of intercommunicating populations.

In Australia, there was what the historian Geoffrey Blainey calls in his excellent book of the same name The Triumph of the Nomads, but only because the nomadic way was the only one that could triumph. And to their credit, the Aborigines took it as far as anyone could, without grain crops, large granaries, ceramics and pottery for storage of liquids like oils and wines, and without the metallurgy that these duly brought forth and the Iron Age weapons that in turn emerged.

So when Captain Cook dropped anchor in Botany Bay and made first European contact with the local Aborigines, it was also the most advanced civilisation in the world greeting people who were about, through no fault of their own of course, the least technically advanced. While clash and interaction across Eurasia had laid the foundations of modern urban civilisation, science and technology, Aboriginal Australia remained contentedly ignorant of all of it: until disaster struck.

But as for me: I was born right here in Australia, as was my wife, as were my children and grandchildren. We all have as much right to be here as anyone else, and I don’t have much time for arguments to the contrary, from you or anyone else: either implied or bluntly stated. But if your gripe is anything to go by, all the apologising for the past will not end with Kevin Rudd. It will still be routinely demanded and expected centuries from now.

And as for the Adam Goodes incident. Well that’s nothing special, is it? Aborigines can’t walk down the street in any city, town or hamlet without getting jeered, booed, heckled and called all sorts of nasty racist names, can they? Well, isn’t that the case?

Bovine excrement, of the non-female variety.

Football games and football fans are subject to crowd psychology. Fans routinely cheer their own teams and jeer their teams’ opponents, and however they can. At times they chuck beer cans: sometimes when full of beer; sometimes full of worse. Adam Goodes got mixed up in just such an incident, and some of the airheads in the crowd picked on his Aboriginality and let fly. Big deal: or only so if anyone wants to make an issue of it.

So on top of all that, we now we have agitation for a ‘treaty’, to be signed presumably by representatives of both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations of Australia as presently set up, and followed presumably, by significant compensation payments. And now we come down to it.

Let’s open the negotiations at say $1 million to each modern Aborigine: enough to buy a house in the upper half of the Sydney or Melbourne real estate markets. And as there are roughly 670,000 such people claiming Aboriginality ( a 2011m estimate: see  that adds up to a tidy $670 billion. That would be quite a low price to pay for a whole continent, but it would swallow most of the Federal Government’s revenue for two successive years. (The Federal taxation revenue in 2015-16, the latest figures available, was only around $465 billion; so the government would need time to pay.)

It would also require the vendors to quit the property completely: normal real-estate practice in both town and country.

But there is also a problem of retrospectivity here. If any money at all is due to be paid by modern non-Aboriginal Australians to Aboriginal ones, then it is payment long overdue. It should have been paid at the time of the original dispossession, and by the people who did that dispossessing. The non-Aboriginal part of your own ancestry, Stan, should have paid the Aboriginal part. Today, you can do it for them. You can take money, however much you like, from your wallet with your right hand on behalf of your ancestor the Irish rebel John Grant, later by your own account to become a wealthy squatter, and as well on behalf of all the other non-Aboriginal people in your ancestry, and then receive it into your left on behalf of all the Aborigines in your ancestry. Then put it back into your wallet.

But please note: without the contribution made by all, repeat ALL to you own genome and of whatever skin colour, you would not exist today, and would never have existed.



Posted in Political Economy, Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on December 6, 2017



Below are extracts from the policy in plain type, as copied from the above AC website. My comments are in bold.

Ian MacDougall

 The AC policy statement includes the following items:

The ‘Canberra Bubble’ isolates politicians and the bureaucracy. Australian Conservatives believe there is a better way, where principles are put before politics, and policies are more important than personalities. We must bring transparency, accountability and efficiency to government.

[Hidden agenda: revive the old squabble between the burghers of the state capitals: mainly Sydney and Melbourne, which gave rise to Canberra in the first place.]

 Donations to political parties, candidates and associated political entities should only be made by individuals and capped at an annual amount. All contributions in excess of the disclosure threshold should be disclosed in ’real time’.

[Real agenda: defund the ALP. Why only ‘individuals’? This can be an excuse for the start of a witch-hunt against the trade unions. (Remember, the ALP historically was set up as a union party, by the unions after the failure of the 1891 shearing-maritime strike.) One obvious way round this provision is for companies and unions alike to pass their party donation through some chosen plausible wealthy individuals. And it will be far easier to find a plausible wealthy donor on the ‘conservative’ side of politics than on the Labor side.

Australian Conservatives support introducing a publicly available, easily searchable database of spending across the whole of government as a means of improving transparency and accountability of public spending.

[ QUESTION:  Does that include military and covert intelligence expenditure?]

 We will respect the division of responsibilities between the Commonwealth and the States in order to improve the efficiency, decision-making and accountability of government and reduce waste.

[Real agenda: stop any repeat of something like Gillard’s mining tax. The Gini C (Gini coefficient, not to be confused with Gina R.) must be held high!]

 We support the introduction of term limits for all politicians and restoring the principal role of the Senate as the States’ house. Australian Conservatives support Senate reform including: having Senators sit in State instead of party blocks, having no Senators form part of executive government and constitutional reform to resolve deadlocks without recourse to a double dissolution election.

[ON THE NOSE: Term limits for pollies simply generates more of them, and the overall cost of them in post-parliamentary entitlements; and such limits restrict the right of voters to elect whoever wins the favour of the electoral majority.]

 Tax bases should be broadened and the tax law streamlined to enable lower tax rates, less complexity and reduced accounting and legal costs.

[ Real agenda: pass more of the tax burden by ‘broadening’ to the poorer levels of the population, while relieving the richer side, with the usual justifications, of course: so they can invest, create jobs, etc, etc. (Competitive conspicuous consumption we need not mention.)]

Individuals are far better placed to decide how best to spend their own money than governments. Our economy will be far stronger and more responsive to changes in preferences and circumstances when taxation and regulation are as low and as efficient as possible.

[Real agenda again: widen income differentials and skew wealth distribution in favour of the rich; enhance the nation’s Gini coefficient.]

 We will streamline the taxation system and reduce the number of personal tax brackets. To support this, we will rationalise the number of tax offsets, rebates and deductions, as well as standardise them and limit their accessibility.

 [So those who qualify must jump ever higher hurdles. Real agenda again: enhance the nation’s Gini coefficient, as above. Nothing is said about the ‘reforms’ introduced in the Howard years by Peter Costello, which cost the individual taxpayer time and money to set up, thus keeping the average mug out of it, but once up and running such a scheme pretty well makes paying tax an optional activity for the deserving rich and upper echelons generally.]

 We will remove the tax-disparity between single income and dual income households with the same income levels.

[Real agenda: we will work this as a cover for increasing the tax paid by single-income people (eg single mothers) as against that paid by couples. Social agenda supported: reduce the number of single mothers by forcing them back into relationships they would prefer to be out of. ]

We will streamline regulation by adopting a one-in, two-out approach to remove the red and green [!] tape strangling business, investment and job creation. We support having an annual Regulation Repeal Day.

[There is a ‘regulation’ that one must only drive on the left hand side of the road. Will that be one of those to go?

Real agenda: where there is conflict between the needs of developers and the natural environment, it will be the latter that has to yield. Or to put that another way: in any dispute over development, there has to be give-and-take. The environment rightly gives, and the developers just as rightly take.

Regulations are nasty, nasty! They should all be repealed!]

We support the removal of taxes and tariffs applying to new car imports, saving Australian motor vehicle purchasers over $1 billion a year.

[Real agenda: so that revenue shortfall can be passed on to those not in the imported new car market.]

By reducing the number of special tax categories, concessions and deductions, the tax law can be simplified and dead-weight accounting and legal costs can fall.

The extra revenue raised from such streamlining can be used to lower tax rates for all. By reducing distortions from taxes imposed, and freeing up resources for more productive uses, we can strengthen our economy.

[Real agenda: this again favours the rich, and enhancement of Gini (easily confused with Gina.) DEFINITELY ON THE NOSE.  Vide again COSTELLO REFORMS.]

We support the removal of all political indoctrination from the [education] curriculum.

(Depends on how one defines it. Real agenda: remove social critique of any kind from education. Teach kids to think critically and for themselves completely free of any examples of it. NB: this is exactly what they do in the Islamic world, with every Islamic country an economic basket case, without exception; and including those with oil money coming out their ears.]

Australian Conservatives support the return to tried and tested methods of teaching.


[We live in an electronic age. Learners of all ages have to be able to search the Internet without landing on porn sites. Real agenda: education must not move with the times.]

 Educational institutions are now used as a way to channel political propaganda on our children (such as the discredited ‘Safe Schools’ and ‘Respectful Relationships’ programs). We believe such indoctrination is wholly inappropriate for a school environment and are committed to their removal.

[Real agenda: remove Left influence and indoctrination, including all social critique: but not the indoctrination of the Right, and of the Religious Right.]

We do not support any renewable energy targets.

We will remove all taxpayer and cross subsidies to electricity generation.

We will require all electricity supplied to the grid to be useable – that is, predictable and consistent in output (kWhrs) and synchronous (at the required 50 Hz range).

We will allow market forces to provide the most efficient power generation available.

We will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord

[This speaks for itself, without need for alteration.

We do not support any renewable energy targets, favouring coal.

We will remove all taxpayer and cross subsidies to electricity generation, favouring coal.

We will require all electricity supplied to the grid to be useable – that is, predictable and consistent in output (kWh) and synchronous (at the required 50 Hz range), favouring coal. 

 We will allow ‘market forces’ to provide the most efficient power generation available. [If renewables’ costs fall further, we will revise this.]

We will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.  [Where it suits us to be, we are anti-science].

 Real agenda: we support already heavily-subsidised coal-fired power, and the commercial interests involved in it, but not renewables.

 NB: This planet has a one-off, never-to-be-repeated or renewed store of fossil carbon. About the most short-sighted and bone-headed use of this is for furnace fuel in electricity generation: unless we expect that our descendants will all be flying helicopters or hovercraft over their unsealed roads.

Australia should have the cheapest and most reliable electricity in the world. We have world-scale and world-class coal, gas and uranium reserves. Yet our electricity sector no longer reflects that.

Australian Conservatives are open to any form of electricity generation, and will provide legislative certainty for the ongoing use of fossil fuels.  We will remove the barriers to building more dams for hydro-power and clear the way for nuclear power as well as a nuclear fuel cycle industry.

Real agenda: pass all the costs of it, as far as we can, to the mugs. Nuclear power is not ‘cheap’ when all the true costs, including long-term waste storage and clean-up after the inevitable Three-mile Islands, Chernobyls and Fukushimas is taken into account: which is why investment in nuclear power has all but ground to a halt.

 Australia should also have the cheapest and most reliable gas supply in the world.

We will support landholders’ rights to allow gas production on their properties, and to a reasonable return for that access and extraction, to help ensure there are sufficient quantities available for our domestic and export markets.

Real agenda: incredible.

The GAB [Great Artesian Basin] underlies a large portion of the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) in northern NSW and southern Queensland…  It consists of layers of aquifers and aquitards [water-confining layers] ranging from 65 to 250 million years old, deposited in the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods…

The GAB also overlies older geological basins, such as the Bowen Basin. These basins are deeper than the GAB and, in the case of the Bowen Basin, have a boundary that extends beyond the boundary of the GAB. The Bowen Basin contains older, deeper coal seams and the Fairview and Scotia gas fields.

In other words, to get to the coal-seam gas, the drillers have to drill down through the aquifer and its aquitards, creating a serious possibility that sooner or later, the fracking chemicals and the groundwater will mix. The common assurance made is that the wells will be permanently sealed with reinforced concrete, preventing such contamination. However, Portland cement was only invented around 1820, so no concrete structure involving it can be older than about 200 years. [How many concrete structures can you think of that are say, a mere 100 years old?] But the gas wells will have to stay sealed as long as there is demand for artesian water: effectively, till the end of time.

By the time ‘concrete cancer’, natural acids in the groundwater, minor earth tremors and also major ones have weakened the concrete and made it porous, the coal-seam gas drillers will be long gone, and their descendants will likely be off overseas living the high life.

 So who will pick up the tab? Why, the descendants of those who were warned, but chose to do nothing about it, of course and as usual.

 Though there are a lot of hot contenders in this particularly tight field, this one has to take the gong as arguably the most short-sighted and brainless of all the AC policies.

Australia produces less than 1.5% of global CO2 emissions. Even if our emissions were reduced to zero, it would make no perceptible difference to the climate.


Ideological obsessions with uneconomic renewable technologies to meet unrealistic emissions targets to prevent ‘climate change’ have made our energy unreliable and expensive.

 [Note the ‘scare quotes’. [And we may ask of course: Is that so? ]

 Targets and subsidies for renewable energy distort the market and disadvantage consumers. Australian Conservatives are open to renewable energy as an option for electricity generation but we oppose taxpayer and cross-subsidies to support it.

China produces 26% of global emissions, and it is the biggest GHG producer of all. So no country produces the ‘majority’ of GHG emissions. Australia’s 1.5% does not make “no perceptible difference to the climate”, even though it is refreshing to see AC’s and Bernardi’s admission there that there is climate change, and that CO2 and other GHG emissions are involved in it.

 The last time I checked, 1.5% did not equal 0%. Arguably, Australia thus produces 1.5% of the total world emissions, which is nothing trivial. Every emitting country, including China, at the top of the ladder with 26% of global emissions, can claim this sort of pseudo-trivial ‘minority’ status.

Australian Conservatives will scrap all taxpayer and cross-subsidies for electricity generation and allow market forces to determine the best outcomes for Australian consumers and business.


[The above should read: Australian Conservatives will scrap all taxpayer and cross-subsidies for electricity generation (but not for fossil-fuel extraction) and allow market forces (and taxpayer-subsidy of outfits like Adani) to determine the best outcomes for Australian consumers and business, and to convert the fossil fuel reserves into harmless, non-global warming, plant-feeding CO2 as rapidly as possible.

 And what will our descendants use for road tar? Let them use cake, and eat it too.]

Migrants must be committed to making a positive contribution to Australia. Welfare payments will be limited in scope and duration to better encourage migrants to participate in our workforce, become a regular taxpayer and be self-sufficient. Those settled in Australia should contribute to our economy, not be welfare-dependent.

[Really? So the money not spent on their welfare payments can be spent on boosting the police forces in order to fight the inevitable increase in crime resulting from this half-thought and half-brained policy.]

 Australian Conservatives recognise the importance of the National Broadcaster to many Australians, particularly those located in rural and remote communities.

[ ! ]

We also recognise that a diversified and financially sustainable media industry is important for all Australians.

Australian Conservatives will merge the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS).

We will require the new, merged broadcaster to strictly adhere to enhanced charter obligations of balance and a diversity of views.

We will ensure that it puts a greater emphasis on rural and regional broadcasting and alleviating other important gaps in commercial media coverage.

[ON THE NOSE]  Real agenda:  ruralise and de-urbanise the ABC. So no more programs like Four Corners or Chris Masters’ demolition of the Bjelke-Petersen gerrymandered crony regime in Queensland: thus being truly ‘conservative’ of existing arrangements, no matter how shonky, antidemocratic and dodgy.

 The media sector in Australia and around the world is undergoing significant disruption and national, taxpayer-funded broadcasting cannot be insulated from these changes.

Australian Conservatives will merge the ABC and SBS into a single, consolidated broadcaster saving taxpayers over $1 billion per year with the savings dedicated to debt reduction.

 [Read debt and program reduction.

Real agenda: gradually defund the ABC and SBS, prior to selling what is left of them both off to the highest bidder, probably based overseas. A certain name springs to mind.]

 Australian Conservatives will give the consolidated broadcaster a greater rural and regional focus – to ensure that the few remaining gaps in the Australian media landscape, including providing critical information during natural disasters and emergencies, are well-covered.

[More of the same: See above.]

 We will reform the board arrangements and Charter of the current ABC and ensure that the consolidated broadcaster is truly impartial, unbiased and presents a diversity of views representative of the Australian nation.

 [TRANSLATION:  we will censor it, by tying it up in the same red tape we make a big noise about cutting. Real agenda: So goodbye to Four Corners, and anything anyone to the left of Genghis Khan might object to. ]

 Australian Conservatives will limit the consolidated broadcaster to two TV stations – covering news, current affairs, drama and entertainment.

[Real agenda:  that’s for starters: we will prune them on from there.]

 We will limit the consolidated broadcaster to two radio stations available nationally with local and national content.

Further, Australian Conservatives will limit the provision of online services by the consolidated broadcaster to on-demand viewing of the local news, entertainment and current affairs programs produced by the broadcaster.

[ON THE NOSE. Real agenda: deny the Australian people the right to read and publicly comment on current affairs on the widely read ABC online site. Confine such to the ‘proper channels’ such as Federal Parliament, through us politicians. And constituents’ letters thereto, which we are masters at brushing aside and filing in the Parliamentary Rubbish Bin.]

These changes will save taxpayers over $1 billion per annum which will be used to repay national debt. They will further strengthen the diversity of the media market by limiting the size, scope and reach of government funded broadcasting. 

 [ And generally dumbing it down.]

[ON THE NOSE: Incredibly, Senator Cory Bernardi or whoever wrote this for him, cannot see the self-contradiction in the above: we will increase the diversity of the media market by pulling one of the main players out of it.]

 The West is under a significant threat from ideologies that seek to undermine our way of life.  The gradual dismantling of Western culture in other areas of the world has left a vacuum into which alternate cultures have expanded and taken root. We will stand up for Australian values in the face of these threats, and will ensure that our heritage and way of life are strengthened and retained.

[Add: despite the similarities of our policies to those of the most benighted regimes in the Islamic world.]

 We will abolish the Australian Human Rights Commission. Rather than defending or upholding key Western liberties, rights and freedoms of the individual, this institution has become an expensive agent for their undermining, suppression and destruction, often in the pursuit of identity politics and political correctness.

[But on the bright side, it has provided highly-paid careers for ex-politicians and IPA urgers.]





Posted in Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on July 29, 2016


I have recently been involved in something of an online exchange at  Quadrant Online  (where I am a paid-up subscriber) with a participant who goes by the nom-de-blog of ‘en passant’. (   Quadrant Online  is a ‘conservative’ site devoting itself to ‘conservative’ causes like opposition to mainstream climatology; opposition to Islam and increase of the Islamic population of this country; opposition to the Turnbull ascendancy in the Liberal Party and for an Abbott revival there. It also seems to favour trickle-down economics. In short, QO supports an assortment of causes; one or two of which I also support. (nb: NOT Tony Abbott.)

I am also a subscriber at New Matilda , a more leftward site which likewise supports a variety of causes, some of which I likewise support. (

However, in the last 24 hours, there has been something of a cybersnafu in the works at  Quadrant Online . A crucial response of mine to ‘en passant’ disappeared into cyberspace. Repeat postings got the usual ‘looks like you’ve already said that’ site response. An email exchange with QO management followed, and I was told that other site commenters had had similar experience.

So I have decided to post the missing response here.

The discussion was on Trump vs Clinton for the US presidency. The immediately preceding comment from ‘en passant’ concludes as follows:

I thought you just had thought-bubble, but now I realize you live in one as you failed to answer the only question that really mattered. Trump or Clinton for President? As you failed to work that out when broadly asked I will make it easy for you: they are the only choices. Roll of drums …. and the answer is: ….?

In the absence of any (successfully) posted response from me, the site got:

 en passant

 July 29, 2016 at 11:14 am

Oh well, Ian, I think you have made your line of thought clear.

What I had been unsuccessfully trying to post in response was:

Trump or Clinton?

Gee that’s a tricky one. Let’s see…. (While I’m thinking, you might amuse yourself scratching some more through that dirt file of yours. But for that, you might have to find some sort of light down there under that rock you hide under.)

Trump if he becomes US President will have to make a lot of important decisions. But the only decisions of his that I have so far been able to find record of, all directly involve his own financial interest. I think that also may be the reason Trump has failed to gain any  enthusiastic  traction so far here Quadrant Online editorial level. Opinion here seems to be that he is the best of a bad pair.

But Hillary is married to former President Bill. And Bill took a magnificent decision in 1999 to withdraw the US support that the murderous Suharto regime had previously enjoyed re East Timor. That threw the balance in favour of East Timorese independence, particularly after the US Chief of the General Staff got on the phone to the Indonesian armed forces chief thug Wiranto and read him the  Riot Act.

I can’t see Trump ever doing anything half as principled as that. His first question would most likely be “what’s in it for me?” Nor can I see Bill dropping out of influence anytime soon. Can you, ‘en passant’ or whatever your real name is?

So…… Suspense…………. Drum roll…………Bagpipes in chorus…………. Heavenly Choir…………