Philosophy Without Borders

PHILOSOPHY CAUSES TROUBLE. It makes people want to think for themselves, and even worse, teaches them how to do it. We have to kill it! Let’s fill its mouth with salt, sew its lips together, put a stake through its heart and bury it deep in the earth, beyond all human reach.

Just kidding. Playing devil’s advocate to get your attention. Did it work?

The reality is, you can’t kill philosophy. You couldn’t even if you wanted to and we hope that’s not the case, despite human history being strewn with attempts to suppress free thinking. Philosophy is as natural to humans as breathing. It’s the inevitable outcome of minded animals, including humans. It will keep popping up like the heads in a Whac-A-Mole.[1]So, we’re stuck with it. But what is it good for?

We know it used to be:

  • the primary source for Life, a user’s manual, as opposed to religion, which is deeply flawed by being based in illusion and delusion;
  • a big influence in Ancient Greece, Confucian China, Christian empires (with some sneaky contributors like St Augustine and Descartes) and, more importantly
  • the driving force behind the Enlightenment when European and north American societies drifted away from religion and monarchies, towards science, democracy, parliaments and arguably embarking on a trend towards emancipatory freedom.

But what now?

The modern era, culminating in world wars obviously capable of destroying civilization altogether and rendering the planet unfit for human life, has been amonster downerand a scary lesson,scaring humanity so much that no further equally-catastrophic global conflicts have occurred for the last 74 years.

This monster downerscary lessonwas odd, because in the modern era humanity was starting to get some glimpses of progress in many areas, including physics, medicine, sanitation, radio, television, movies, literacy, respect for minorities, respect for the environment, respect for women, abolition of slavery and respect for other races. It’s true parts of the world altered their relationship with the biblical value system which for good or ill, was doing a lot of the heavy lifting in the ethics area.[2]At the same time the world also saw some unwelcome and perhaps too rapid developments in overpopulation, capitalism, individual and economic depressions, urbanization, warfare and genocide. There was, go figure, a widespread positive belief in the possibilities of technological and political progress. But if things were going so great, why all the fascism, totalitarianism and war?

Strangely, after a promising start, the last 74 years also saw decline in the prestige of ethics, philosophy and philosophers. Can you name a universally recognised contemporary philosopher? (No, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell don’t count.) The relevance and cut-through of philosophy has been going down the gurgler. Is there a correlation between the decline of philosophy and humans rushing to their doom down the climate plughole? Maybe, maybe not. But we’re just sayin’… there has been a lot of misinformation, dithering and a clear lack of critical thinking, people.

In 2019, it’s pretty obvious. In the grand scheme of things, philosophy is a non-starter. It is no longer a force for reason, sanity, or getting a handle on shit that actually makes sense. The reason for this, however, is not for the lack of philosophers. There are hundreds of thousands of them teaching at universities, more than all the philosophers prior to the twentieth century combined.

Why do we need philosophy now?

It is generally acknowledged we face a catastrophic global threat caused by out-of-control, overpopulated, competitive, selfish and sometimes just-unthinkingly-following-along humans. In other words, us. We are responsible for mass extinctions, global warming and all the sorts of world-fuckers you can imagine and some you can’t. These creeping and possibly unstoppable changes will play out over the next 100 years, for bad or worse. The writing has been on the wall for so long it’s getting faded. This threat is more than just the obvious threat itself, it’s the rise of denialism, post-truth, fake news and false thinking which is really setting off alarm bells.

This essay is first and foremost an attempt to address these challenges and to argue that philosophy might be part of the answer.

Do humans have a rosy future?

Briefly, no. But you already know this. If things go on the way they are, we are going to be in a pretty pickle sooner than you can say global warming. However, this is a theoretical rather than direct threat for most people, in practice affecting only a few thousand people whose rooves blew off last week because of global-climate-change-induced severe weather[3]and some rather unhappy folk on Pacific islands who are finding their idyllic island home is rapidly disappearing underwater.[4]

Nevetheless, it’s a clear and menacing danger. In response, you would expect rational humans to say, whoa, that’s really bad, we ought to do something about it. But no one really cares. At least not when our self-interest gets in the way. Perhaps with the exception of Greta Thunberg. But she’s having a hard time actually convincing any people in charge, who seem to have more than a passing interest in keeping things as they are, a system which is the product of global economics, profits and the concept of nation states which enshrines the right of countries (nation states) to go to hell in their own fashion, even if it destroys the whole planet.

Strictly speaking, the problem is soluble, by getting rid of the cause, which is humans. Yes, too many of us doing too much bad shit, of course, but also our wilful and absurd practical denial there is even a problem to begin with. We might pay lip service to action on climate change, but we aren’t going to sacrifice anything for it. Go on, admit it, you’re not doing anything. No-one is. Except Greta and her friends. You might be one of those, but the entire world-population of genuine Greta-friends amounts to only a vanishingly-small, ineffectual, brave but pathetic squeak from a far-away land.

What to do? Short of decreeing compulsory and immediate euthanasia for all humans on earth, which might seem to some of them a tad extreme, we can argue against climate denial and propose things to do about it. Why aren’t we doing this already? Or at least, other than ineffectively.

Obviously[5], each generation has challenges to meet. Distressingly, history has shown our first inclination is to avoid them. Is this because of the comfort in the old saying, better late than never? Is this why we need to seelife-taking, body-maiming, freedom-crushing, baby-snatching, excruciatingly-painful in-your-face day-to-day horrorbefore we do anything?

What crisis haven’t we dealt with, eventually? Hitler and the Nazis? Ok we let that one go on a little too long.Stalin and the kill-the-peasants thing?[6]The concept of allies got stretched a bit there, and yes Stalin was a big boo-boo, but he’s gone now. Really, we are great when we put our minds to it. We’ll leap into action to tackle this thing and whup its arse, you’ll see. Any day now. Even the craziest denialist will be there re-refrigerating the polar icecaps after the first global famine makes life extremely unpleasant even in Wyoming. Yes, it will be late, but as the saying goes, better late than never. 

But what if there is no difference between late and never?

Huh? No such thing! It’s never too late.

Oh yeah? What if the lag between action and result gets so huge that when we start to act it is alreadytoo late? Can that happen? Oh yes, it already has. The much vaunted 350 parts per million upper limit of carbon dioxide was way back. We’ve passed 390 ppm and still rising fast. We’re in the frying pan, the fire is right here and it’s a big one. It’s going to burn for decades. Harvard dude James Anderson[7][8]says this amount of atmospheric carbon hasn’t been seen for 12 million years. We’re being pushed into a new Eocene, with no ice on the poles, the ocean 10 degrees warmer than now, and no temperature gradient from the equator to the poles.  “The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero,” Anderson said.[9] 75 to 80 percent of permanent ice has already melted already in the last 35 years. The oceans will die, and the coral reefs will die first. We can see that happening already. Other parts of the oceans have also died.[10]Those dead zones are expanding to kill one of the biggest biomasses on the planet, krill.[11]When they go it won’t be pretty and it will smell even worse.

If action were taken within the next five years, let’s say before 2025, it would need a WW2 scale global collaborative effort to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and stop sunlight hitting the poles, to even have a chance of keeping the place habitable. After 2025, forget it. Even if we did take big action in time, the task requires getting the carbon footprint down to zero by 2040. That’s near impossible. Oh, we’ll try. After decades of denial and delay, we’ll have a good old British try. Say goodnight to Irene on your way out.

Is it really too late? Are we all doomed? In that case, what difference does it make? The answer is yes, it’s going to get ugly, but if we do something on a global scale by 2025, we can prevent most of the life-taking, body-maiming, freedom-crushing, baby-snatching, excruciatingly-painful in-your-face day-to-day horror.

Who knows about this? Why wasn’t I told?

Actually, you were. Everyone was. It’s common knowledge.[12]

All right, we’re fucked. So, apart from that, what’s the problem?

The real and very sinister problem is this is only one of many instances of concerted misinformation and spin campaigns at the highest levels, in favour of extremely powerful and wealthy vested interests, to deny a whole lot of bad shit so they can keep on doing what they are doing (the source of their vast power and wealth) long enough to see them out. These people are invariably over the age of 70, so they’ve got an average of 10 years to live. If they’re lucky, 20. Life expectancy for males in the UK and the US has actually dropped substantially in recent years. What do they care about 2040? Not a fig’s fart. It’s not their problem. It’s ours.

Do people have the ability to realise this? Maybe, but it isn’t easy when governments are in denial. And it is not easy if you haven’t got the skills for, and experience of, thinking for yourself, gathering the facts, knowing which are true and which are false, having the ability to analyse an argument and detect bullshit. Not to mention scientific literacy. You are going to have to know why things grow and why they don’t, what are pollutants and what aren’t and how to do agriculture on a human rather than agrobusiness scale without blanket pesticides and dump-on fertilizers. You might even have to learn the names of two or three plants and animals. You are certainly going to have to know what carbon dioxide really is, why humans need vitamin C in their diet and why bicycles use less fossil fuel than 18-wheeler, long-haul trucks. You might already be very familiar with the word extinction, but what does it mean for you?

Yes, you are going to have to know all this because knowledge is critical for understanding. You might think, since you are part of the western world living in relatively good times with a stable democracy[13]why would governments and business interests lie to you either by omission, or spin? News flash. Everybody lies.

What’s philosophy got to do with it?

This is where philosophy comes in. Thinking for yourself and not accepting with blind faith, explanations for the world ranging from “trust me I’m a doctor” to “if you don’t put money in my donation box you’re going straight to hell on the express lift.”

We expect to be told the truth. In case you haven’t heard, this doesn’t happen any more. We have post-truth. We need help. The philosopher knights in shining armour will come to our aid in these dark times, won’t they?

And who might they be?

Those hundreds of thousands of philosophers you were talking about in universities.

Nope. Sorry. They are way too busy disagreeing with each other about a) what sort of philosophy they do and b) why the other types (they aren’t doing) are rubbish. If you look up contemporary philosophy, you’ll find it is characterised by 1) increasing professionalisation and 2) the rise of analyticand continentalphilosophy — which in turn led to the analytic-continental divide, which (as it turns out) is entirely irrelevant to anyone other than philosophers. Unfortunately, whatever is withineither contemporary analyticor continentalphilosophy is also entirely irrelevant, because it betrays the legacy of philosophy. This legacy is the search for truth. Philosophy which betrays the legacy of philosophy simply isn’t philosophy. Sorry. It’s not personal. There may be real philosophers in academia, but academic philosophy in the English-speaking world is not about doing philosophy. It’s about existing in a tertiary education system, and Darwin knows that’s hard enough without the added complication of actually having to do something. Here’s a tip. If you want to gain some useful skills in thinking, steer clear of university philosophy departments. Except for the Critical Thinking program at University of Queensland, and other such exception-proves-the-rule outliers.

Just take one example, a priori. What does that mean? Lots of things, apparently. In a dictionary it might mean Relating to reasoning or knowledge from theoretical deduction rather than observation or experience.[14]In a university philosophy department, or in a great heap of books on philosophy, versions of a prioriturn out to be not only complicated, confusing, esoteric, unclear, indistinct and unreadable but also fiercely contested, as Robert Hanna found when writing his book Cognition, Content, and the A Priori[15]where he distinguishes, spells out and critically discusses eleven—fair dinks!—different conceptions of a prioribefore finally deciding to defend only the eleventh one.

What is real philosophy?

Real philosophy is your philosophy. If you want real philosophy, you are going to have to do it yourself. And be prepared to be a pariah. You will be vilified and excluded in the world generally because you will be branded a self-taught trouble maker. In the world of professional academic philosophy, practitioners and administrators will brand you a maverick, a malcontent and a traitor to their cause.

All right then, but what are the hallmarks of real philosophy. By the sounds of it, being ignored?

For the moment, yes. Any real philosopher is on a hiding to nothing, ignored and vilified both inside and outside the academy as “one of those” but sooner or later, the present philosophical establishment will be crushed out of existence by the remorseless drive to eliminate every type of education if there isn’t a dollar in it. Independent thinkers, who keep the light on the hill alight by seeking to say important things clearly and cogently, will be realised as pioneers, one day. You might be dead by then, but at least you can live with yourself in the meantime.

Fake philosophers (philosophy teachers who don’t do any real philosophy) can be spiteful, exclusionist, nasty and evil in their treatment of real philosophers. But where does spite come from? It comes from inadequacy and doubt. In forgetting to align their intentions with the task of answering humanity’s need for philosophy, contemporary professional academic philosophers abjure their right to call themselves philosophers. On the other hand, we know there is good and bad in everyone, so we don’t hate them. We just consider them imposters as far as philosophy is concerned.

Philosophy can help clarify humanity’s shared understanding of reality, or zeitgeist.[16]It can help with aligning shared reality with truth, by helping people achieve clarity of expression and the capacity to understand. Individual real philosophers canmake a difference, whereas the professional academy is severely limited, being mired in squabbles about philosophical schools, abandoning the need to make sense to ordinary humans, and at the same time being whittled away by bean counters. Individuals like you can make a difference by telling the most important truths and being alive to the spirit of inquiry, not the death of “understanding.”

Philosophy Without Borders

Like a club for non-conformists, Philosophy Without Bordersis an open-source, open-minded forum for sharing original philosophy, produced by critically thoughtful, insightful, reflective people for other critically thoughtful, insightful, reflective people, with no restraints on what form the philosophy may take and with no restriction by borders or boundaries of any kind. It is a small but growing cosmopolitan community of people, widely distributed in space and across time-zones, connected by the Internet. Its two basic aims are 1) to enable and support the pursuit of philosophy, worldwide, and 2) to create and share original works of philosophy freely available to anyone, anywhere.[17]

Philosophy Without Bordersassumes universal enfranchisement and emancipation as a goal, so that all people may participate in the generation and discussion of philosophy. Its only requirement is that the cultural products shared contain real philosophical thinking.

Real philosophical thinking means unhindered and not self-censored by subservience to any so-called philosophical authority or canon, aimed at least in some way at generating, elucidating or commenting on philosophical ideas and respectful of the assumed universal enfranchisement and emancipation of all people and therefore communicated in a spirit of love, peace, and understanding — not hate, conflict, or vilification.

Radically enlightened philosophers have existed in all cultures and all ages, readily recognised by their support of unrestricted reason and universal respect for human dignity as the two primary vehicles for creating understanding, and calling for disputes and conflicts to be resolved or avoided by means of the search for logically-guided, evidence-based truth rather than personal beliefs, creeds, mysticisms, or other ideological constructs. Philosophy Without Borders is a safe haven for thinkers to explore and warn against the incursions against radical enlightenment by abuses of greed, power, control, oppression, obedience, censorship, hate, advertising, derision, bullying, xenophobia, nationalism, feudalism, group-think, expensive bottled water and other crimes against and limitations of humanity. Philosophy Without Bordersin this sense can be thought of Enlightenment Redux, not just a passing phase, but the underlying principles of all humane activity. Philosophy Without Bordersopposes oppression by complacency, stupidity, and evil, which persist all around the world, not only in despotic regimes, but also in supposedly enlightened ones, mostly as a result of an obsession with self-interested competition and the possession of coercive power, rather than mutual aid and constructive cooperation as the bases for rational human activity.

There is a place for all sorts of stuff in Philosophy Without Borders. The readership, in the last six months to June 30 2019, has quadrupled to almost 8000 readers a month. Even if this one outpost trying to do real philosophy is being ignored by the philosophical establishment others are arriving and staying—and in the end, it’s the free agency of all those others that Philosophy Without Bordersis trying to prime via its work. We welcome your contribution, to Hugh Reginald, Editorial Team Leader, Philosophy Without Borders: philosophywithoutborders1@gmail.com

 

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whac-A-Mole

[2]Ethics (moral philosophy) is a branch of philosophy for understanding, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct and considering matters of value. Yes, philosophy is that important.

[3]As the world has warmed so have changes in extreme weather and climate events, with increases in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, heavy downpours, severe floods and droughts. https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/report-findings/extreme-weather

[4]Since 1900 sea levels have risen by about 20 cm, rapidly accelerating since 1993. Levels are conservatively predicted to rise by 120 cm by 2100, or by 240 cm if Antarctic ice melts are factored in. This acceleration is due mostly to human-caused global warming, which is driving thermal expansion of seawater and the melting of land-based ice sheets and glaciers.

[5]If it was otherwise, we wouldn’t encounter the problems, would we, because we wouldn’t have any problems to deal with. La de dah de dah.

[6]Stalin killed millions. A Stanford historian answers the question, was it genocide? https://news.stanford.edu/2010/09/23/naimark-stalin-genocide-092310/

[7]Not the English cricketer.

[8]The Harvard dude https://climatechange.environment.harvard.edu/james-anderson

[9]https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/23104/20190703/only-5-years-to-save-the-world-from-climate-change-warns-harvard-scientist.htm

[10]Oceans suffocating as huge dead zones quadruple since 1950, scientists warn https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/04/oceans-suffocating-dead-zones-oxygen-starved

[11]Most Antarctic krill are found in an area from the Weddell Sea to the waters around the Antarctic Peninsula, the finger of land that juts up toward South America. They serve as an important source of food for various species of whales, seals and penguins. While those animals find other food sources during lean years, it is unclear if those alternate sources are sustainable long-term.https://www.climatecentral.org/news/climate-change-could-put-tiny-krill-at-risk-20641

[12]This will be essential, they say, to save coral reefs worldwide from a catastrophic decline which threatens the livelihoods of an estimated 500 million people globally. https://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2009/11/scientists-call-urgent-global-cooling-save-coral-reefs

[13]Never mind Brexit which is potentially destabilising, but it’s never going to happen so we can leave it to one side.

[14]https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/a%20priori

[15]https://global.oup.com/academic/product/cognition-content-and-the-a-priori-9780198716297?cc=us&lang=en&

[16]Yes, every view of the world and universeis subjective, but philosophically this doesn’t get us anywhere unless we also realise the map is not the territory. This means what we construct in our subjective view of the world and universe is necessarily not the real thing, it is our understanding of the real thing, and may not be entirely correct. This notion is obvious to science which requires the scientist to remain open to the possibility of being wrong. Mapping the territory is a natural, good, worthwhile, helpful thing to do and the closer the map is to the territory it represents the better, as Korzybski said. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Map–territory_relation 

[17]https://www.patreon.com/philosophywithoutborders

Notes on some cigarettes appearing in Manacles

Last week I found a Camel cigarette packet in a box which once contained cigars. I bought the box in 1981 in Singapore on the way to London. The cigars were from the Philippines and long gone. The cigarette packet was of uncertain vintage, but very likely also came from the 1980s.

It’s strange to think of those times when so many people smoked cigarettes. My parents both smoked Camel cigarettes, an unfiltered, strong cigarette, incredibly popular in its day. Before they smoked Camel they smoked Temple Bar. My mother worked for Philip Morris when she was a young woman in Melbourne in her 20s after WW2. Smoking the house brand was quite the thing to do.

According to Wikipedia, Philip Morris is still going strong. The current operations is located in Lausanne, Switzerland. The company apparently still owns seven of the top 15 tobacco brands in the world. In 2015 it sold 850 billion cigarettes. Any updates, people 

My mother had a stroke last week, as a result of the damage past smoking had on the small blood vessels in her brain. She stopped smoking, mostly, after about 1989. Last week, some of those damaged blood vessels just shut down. She rang me at 8am after trying to talk to her cat but found she couldn’t pronounce the words properly. Her voice was slurred. In the mirror, she saw the left side of her face was slack, and her mouth was wonky. I called an ambulance.

Temple Bar is not in Wikipedia as a cigarette. I might have imagined the cartons of cigarettes that were bought and lodged in the walk-in wardrobe in my parents’ room in Taringa, a suburb of Brisbane, but I didn’t. They were real. I know they were real because the pictures on the internet are the ones I remember seeing in the 1960s on the coffee table still there under the standard lamp beside a bookcase. I found the image here:

Why aren’t they in Wikipedia? I don’t know. If I wanted to find out about Temple Bar cigarettes, I would Google them. If Wikipedia had a page about them it would rank high in the search results, because Wikipedia is a trusted source. Information on Wikipedia can be wrong, but it doesn’t stay wrong for long. There are Wikipedians out there who get notified of articles and changes to articles and check them. They don’t like wrong information. They like to see the evidence. They like facts. They are sometimes a bit too keen on shooting down articles because they lack facts, references and hard evidence. I wondered innocently if they could just as well use their energy to search out and supply the facts themselves rather than binning or flagging an article they deem unworthy.

But there was no Wikipedia page on Temple Bar. Like a warning on a Wikipedia page, this made me think there was a warning in my brain, something like: “Your memory has multiple issues. It is possible Temple Bar London should be merged with Temple Bar Dublin. This fact needs further references for verification.”

It is very likely someone out there knows the facts about Temple Bar cigarettes. They could supply this information to Wikipedia and it would be gladly received because it is notable, ideal for inclusion in an encyclopedia, and  presently, lost to the history of the world.

Why don’t they supply this information to Wikipedia, these knowledgeable souls?

Because they don’t realise they can. While Wikipedia is a daily “go to” source for information “consumers” those same people don’t usually think they could be information providers. 

So much for Temple Bar and the consumer versus the contributor culture. What about Camel cigarettes? I know my school friends scorned them, saying they tasted like camel dung. They did taste a bit strange, because of the Turkish tobacco. 

Camel does have a Wikipedia page and when I visited it, I came with a couple of warnings, a) that Camel Crush [could] be merged into this article and b) the article needed additional citations for verification. 

I evaluated these and decided to remove the warnings because

  1. Camel Crush is its own page and can stay that way; and
  2. the need for additional citations are not so dire as to require a big scary warning at the top of the page.

After doing this I was free to read the page unencumbered by what one might call “excessive gatekeeper zeal”.

In doing so I learned that Camel cigarettes were something of a marketing marvel.

“In 1913, R.J. Reynolds innovated the packaged cigarette. Prior cigarette smokers rolled their own, which tended to obscure the potential for a national market for a pre-packaged product. Reynolds worked to develop a more appealing flavor, creating the Camel cigarette, so named because it used Turkish tobacco in imitation of then-fashionable Egyptian cigarettes. Reynolds priced them below competitors and within a year, he had sold 425 million packs.”

“Camel cigarettes used an advertisingcampaign of “teasers” simply stating “the Camels are coming.” This marketing style was a prototype for subsequent attempts to sway public opinion into backing the United States’ entry into World War I, and later World War II.”

Isn’t it amazing what you can learn from Wikipedia. 

My mother spent a few days in hospital leaning there are types of strokes which occur because of damage from smoking decades before. I took her home after she was thoroughly and expertly checked out. I warned her she would feel lost and bewildered, but this would pass. 

It hasn’t yet. 

Great changes and sad losses

So many great legends have left us in these past few weeks. John Sinclair, genuine hero of Fraser Island, died at the relatively young age of 79. One of the last things he did, obviously exultant, was promote the 2018 Cooloola Coast bioblitz on ABC TV here. Barbara York Main was a giant in pioneer arachnology in Western Australia. Densey Clyne, working furiously and methodically, with great skills and compassion, died this week at 96.  She was one of our greatest science communicators. Always bubbly and cheerful, yet with steely scientific rigour. Also on the Cooloola Coast, Maree Prior was the pint-sized conservation powerhouse of the Cooloola region.

John Sinclair was the pioneering conservationist who spent decades lobbying to stop sand mining and logging on Fraser Island, before it was World Heritage-listed in 1992, has died. John Sinclair protested against sand mining on Fraser Island, leading to a ban on export sales of mineral sands from the island and its eventual recognition as a World Heritage Listed-site. His son Keith after they won the battle to stop mining, remembered his father said “Now we have to stop Fraser Island from being loved to death. As long as you look after the place, you can repeat tourism, you can keep taking people back there.” Mr Sinclair’s family requested that John Sinclair be remembered by donations to further the wisest possible use of Fraser Island.

The Lady of the Spiders, Barbara Main (nee York), left a consummate scientific and literary legacy that was generated by her passion for the natural environment, dedicating her working life to documenting the spiders and other invertebrate inhabitants of Australia. Barbara became the first female PhD in the Department of Zoology at the University of Western Australia. Her strong connection to natural landscapes was shown in Twice Trodden Ground, where she declared that she longed “to return to a wild, lonely, forgotten piece of unwanted ‘useless’ land no good for farming … the sort of place where one finds a kind of earthly anointment”.

Pint-sized Cooloola Coast conservation powerhouse Maree Prior, past Cooloola Coastcare Coordinator and Life Member, passed away on Sunday March 17. In 2017 she took a position as Projects Officer for Biodiversity with Burnett-Mary Regional Group where she continued her tireless work for the environment she loved so dearly. Maree devoted herself to projects related to better understanding and management of coastal systems, including ocean beaches, estuaries and wetlands, through community engagement activities and on-ground work.

Densey Clyne’s environmental work with cinematographer Jim Frazier and lifelong study of insects, plants and the delicate relationship between all living things was ground-breaking.

Her lifetime was dedicated to exploring, understanding and sharing knowledge about the natural world. She was a writer, photographer, speaker, TV presenter and producer and has scripted documentaries and worked with the legendary Sir David Attenborough. 

These great legends held up the sky.  

 

The BioDiscovery Project at The Woodfordia Planting

The upcoming Planting Festival (May 3-5), is not only about planting. It is also about ideas for conserving and regenerating our planet. The BioDiscovery Project hosted by The Planting Festival, will see scientists and citizens engaging Woodfordia’s biodiversity; from the tiny microscopic life to the large, colourful and furry. The species which make our life possible have been evolving over millions of years, but many face extinction as we continue to warm the globe. However, in the doom and gloom of the future humanity is facing, seeds of hope still thrive.

 

The Planting Festival celebrates biodiversity in nature and in culture, embracing life through the efforts of thousands of hands coming together over the last two decades to revegetate the now beautiful landscape that is Woodfordia. This evolving landscape of cultural and botanical diversity  supports thousands of species of wildlife, many of which are still unknown to science. Last year a new species of crab spider was discovered at The Planting, nicknamed named Lehtinelagia woodfordia.  Through the efforts of scientists and citizen scientists,  children and parents, close to 300 species of wildlife were documented through QuestaGame, a biodiversity research app.

Woodfordia’s Environmental Projects Officer and passionate biologist, Dr. Sandra Tuszynska, is trying to discover all the creatures living at Woodfordia.

“From bioluminescent fungi, to giant beetles and iridescent moths, Woodfordia is truly a land of magic, where community efforts create and celebrate biodiversity. The Planting is a one of a kind event, demonstrating the power of a community who gather to nurture the land, receiving back the incredible gifts of biodiversity and wonder. It is all about sowing seeds of hope for future generations, through conservation, science, art and hands-on education,” said Sandra.

The BioDiscovery Project will continue the stock take and celebrate community efforts in growing Woodfordia’s biodiversity. Scientists who specialise in the various lifeforms be it fungi, mosses, spiders or insects will engage patrons in the scientific methods of biodiversity research. Using QuestaGame, citizen scientists will have the opportunity to contribute to Woodfordia’s biodiversity research in a fun and meaningful way in the field, and at the DiscoveryLab, a place for intimate discussions with bio-experts and microscopic observation of the various lifeforms which support life on Earth.

 On this year’s Planting Festival menu, Australia’s celebrated biologist Tim Low will discuss The New Nature explaining how humanity’s influences help some species to thrive. Robert Whyte will be looking for more new spider species. Professor Jean Mark Hero, will lead us on a frog quest, while Wayne Boatright, the president of the Queensland Mycological Society will explain how to identify fungi. We will explore the tiny forests of mosses and other Bryophytes with Andrew Franks, and we will look under the microscope at the root symbiotic fungi which sequester carbon from the atmosphere into soils. There will be much discussion about how to remediate, halt and reverse climate change, while the Citizen Science Panel with James Gullison and Caitlin Syme from the Queensland Chapter of the Australian Citizen Science Association, will discuss how we can become involved in various citizen science projects for a brighter future. Explore the Planting Festival program.

 

Science Festival Jolt-worthy

Jolt Science’s  Sandra Tuszynska, Robert Whyte and Anne Jones

Jolt Science did a session with the Royal Society of Queensland (our oldest and most venerated science society) at the Brisbane International Science Festival on Saturday 23 March 2019, with Robert Whyte, Anne Jones and Sandra Tuszynska taking the “Ask an Expert” chair for the morning session. Included herein are excerpts from the report of Royal Society event organiser Tony Van Der Ark. Also Sandra’s piratical journeys to the ABC tent to steal an interview with Dr. Karl.

The event went very well and beyond our expectations.  Across the 15 hours we were open, the stand was at capacity for at least 60% of the time and we didn’t have a single minute with fewer than 8 people. The shell displays were amazing and extremely popular. We had a great team of learned folks from Birds Queensland, the Royal Society of QLD, the QNC and Jolt Science answering questions ranging from slides rules, standing waves, fossils, to the scale of the universe. Hundreds of children and parents absolutely loved it. Young Harry displayed great stamina and enthusiasm giving non-stop explanations of the demonstrations, a number of people commented on his proficiency and surprise that he has only just turned 15. 

An Exhilarating Encounter with a Hummingbird Moth

Originally posted here on 16/02/2015 by Mt Gravatt Environment Group

by Sandra Tuszynska

 About two weeks ago I experienced something out of my ordinary. I was talking to a friend in her garden at around 6 pm. As we stood by a red bottle brush (Callistemon), we heard a very loud buzzing sound. A larger than normal pollinator hovered with it’s extremely rapidly beating wings near the flowers. It was just like a tiny hummingbird! We were so intrigued, we almost got fooled, but I knew that unfortunately, we do not have hummingbirds in Australia.

I started craving for my camera. Soon my friend brought out her brand new Canon hoping to maybe get a shot of this fascinating little creature, so we could get a closer look. As we have suspected this fantastic, hovering beauty was a hawkmoth. I was determined to get a closer pic and was very glad when my friend handed me her camera. I followed the very adamant creature trying to capture its beauty on camera. It was fast and I just stood there mesmerised by its disposition.

After some time it seemed to have become accustomed to my prying presence and began to ignore me, completing its seemingly single-minded mission, as I ecstatically snapped away. I could have stayed there for ever. I didn’t want this experience to ever end. After a while though, it was time for me to. As I walked away, I hoped that at least some of the photos would turn out, so I can identify the creature and perhaps share its beauty with others.

I asked my friend if I could borrow her SD card to copy the images onto my computer. I could not believe the treasure I have acquired. I felt so much joy, just like an excited child who has just received a brand new toy, or better yet a brand new puppy!

Some days later I sat down to get a closer look at the images and choose a few good ones to share. I also started doing some research to identify this hummingbird-like hawkmoth. This turned out to be a long-winded venture. I first looked up Google Pictures to see if any other person has posted a photo of this creature. I found a few similar moths but from China and Europe. The genus I began to suspect, wasMacroglossum, but I could not find photos of any similar species in Australia. This led me to find an incredible photographer, SINOBUG form Toowoomba, who has moved to China to photograph insects. Another fantastic resource I encountered is the Australian Wildlife Photography group on Flickr, where people post some of the most amazing images of Australian Wildlife.

I emailed Helen Schwencke, a butterfly expert and author of Create More Butterflies,  Earthling Enterprises. Helen suggested that it might be a Bee Hawk moth, Cephonodes spp., but after some comparison of the features between the moths I was in doubt. I’ve checked the Australian Museum site and images, and Ous-Lep a site dedicated to Australian Lepidoptera, the moth and butterfly order, but I could not see what I was looking for. It is not easy to compare a photo of a live specimen with a drawing or photos of dead specimen.

I’ve decided to ask What’s that Bug. This incredible site is run by passionate volunteers in the U.S., who identify insects from photos that people upload. To my surprise, I received a message from them in less than a day and here is what Daniel wrote:

Dear Sandra,

We believe we have identified your diurnal Hawkmoth as Macroglossum micacea based on images posted to Butterfly House where it states:  “The adult moths of this species have dark brown forewings sometimes with indistinct paler bands across them. They have even darker brown hind wings with two yellow areas by the inner margin. The moths have a wingspan of about 5 cms.”  Little other information is provided and the site does not indicate the species flies during the day.  The Sphingidae Taxonomic Inventory shows Queensland as the only part of Australia where sightings have been reported.  Since they are in the same genus, the similarity to Macroglossum stellatarum is understandable.  It is also pictured on the Papua Insects Foundation.  Most online images are of mounted specimens, and we are thrilled to be able to post your excellent action photos of this lovely diurnal Hawkmoth.

I was so grateful and absolutely delighted by this response. I notified Helen who suggested to Ask an Entomologist to confirm the moth’s ID. So I emailed Dr. Kathy Ebert to illuminate me further on this humming query. I have not heard back yet but I am patiently waiting. In the meantime I have started to do some research on hummingbird and other hawk moths.

I have downloaded some fascinating science articles on moth vision. Here is a preview of what’s to come in the next post:

Hummingbird moths are actually diurnal species, meaning that they forage during the day. Besides using olfactory or scent senses, they have colour or chromatic vision to identify their food source. Additionally they also use achromatic cues such as intensity of contrast or brightness to identify their preferred nectar sources. Like us and bees, they also use colour constancy, the ability to recognise a specific colour regardless of the illumination, which may change the shade or intensity of a colour. However, unlike us and bees, who are colour blind at night, nocturnal moths are able to discriminate flowers at starlight intensity. Moths, like us, bees and other animals learn to distinguish colours and can be trained to do so, if given a sweet reward.

So until next post, I hope you get to enjoy the incredible natural beauty that we still have around us.

 

Prechronisms, a review of eternalising anomalies

A 1913 reconstruction of one of the Rosso-Pontormo wheel paintings as a sculpture by Marcel Duchamp utilising an actual bicycle wheel of unknown provenance.

In the late renaissance, between the years 1523 and 1527, two well-known Florentine artists contrived to make a series of paintings of a bicycle wheel.  The exact number of paintings in the series was impossible to calculate, even at the time, for reasons which will become obvious. Most commentators think there were probably around 60 altogether. 

At the time these paintings were made, the two artists were located 274 kilometers apart. Jacopo Carucci (known as Jacopo da Pontormo, or simply Pontormo) lived in Florence, while Giovanni Battista di Jacopo (known as Rosso Fiorentino, the Florentine redhead) lived in Rome, remaining there until the sacking of Rome in 1527. They were exact contemporaries, both born in 1494. Their close collaboration[1] was apparently not hindered by the distance between the two cities, despite the fact that even if they had utilised the subject of their works for travel, the conditions of the roads would have made it a journey of several days, while the railway was still nearly 300 years away, the main rail connection between Florence and Rome not being finished until 1866.

More puzzling was the subject of these paintings. The wheel was already in existence in many forms, but at the time the bicycle was unheard of.[2] Even the predecessor of the modern bicycle, the velocipede or dandy horse, was not known until 1817. The bicycle we know today with pedals at the centre and a chain driving the rear wheel was not in common use until the mid 1880s. The paintings depict a wheel recognisable from the design of the 1890s models, remaining more or less the same thereafter, except for the introduction of Derailleur gearing between 1900 and 1910.

These issues all contribute to the prechronistic status of the paintings, clearly constituting temporal anomalies and worthy of study from that vantage alone as we have seen in many[3] articles, monographs, duotones and multiverse epics. More puzzling and resistant to any form of non-aesthetic deduction is the inherently inconsequential nature of the paintings. We know enough of them now to have determined, as Pontormo and Rosso claimed at the time of their creation, that they are impossible to arrange in sequence based on the number of spokes. The optics of spokes, of course are not trivial, and have been mostly worked out, but this case there is no resolution of spoke theory, with or without the help of quantum reasoning.

There are two cardinal facts known for the paintings, recorded countless times in notes made by the artists separately and apart,[4] these being 1.) no painting has a wheel with all its spokes and 2.) no wheel has less than two spokes. Conventional metallic bicycle wheels for single rider bicycles of the sort depicted by Pontormo and Rosso had 32 spokes. Given that there were around 60 paintings made, this suggests they should have at least a few examples where the number of spokes is the same. This been found to be not the case. Nor is there any pattern to which spokes are missing and in what sequence.[5] We know that the orientation of the wheel is identical in all paintings, by the position of the projecting valve used to inflate the tyre’s inner tube. Yet no pattern or sequence has so far been shown to follow any logical, natural or eccentric design.

This is the principal reason the paintings have never been shown. Many attempts have been made but the problem of the order in which to hang them has never been overcome. Curators who have tried too hard to resolve this problem suffer two equally miserable fates. More than half of them have been imprisoned for defacing artworks, in attempts to either erase or add spokes to make their numbers more amenable to consequentiality (this never works) while the remainder have been forced to retire for a little lie down and never get back up.

Prechronisms are invariably riddled with such intransigent difficulties, as we shall discover the following chapters, but none more so than the deservedly cherished wheel paintings of Rosso and Pontormo.

Brisbane, Thursday, March 14, 2019

[1]    A weekly soiree to follow the progress of these paintings alternated between the two studios of these artists. Because Pontormo’s was in Florence and Rossi’s in Rome, the visitors to these salons were unlikely to meet and compare notes, thus keeping the matter secret. It is not known how these artists collaborated so closely during the period between 1523 and 1527, but this is a minor eccentricity compared with the strangeness of the venture as a whole.

[2]    We give the fraudulent painting of 1500 attributed to Gian Giacomo Caprotti, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, short schrift, even more than it deserves. Most would give it no shrift at all. We however are not absolutists, even when it comes to infinity.

[3]    Not ‘multiple’ mind you, an execrable use of a big word when a little one will do.

[4]    Their notes together are diplomatic and carefully worded not to cause offence, while those made separately by the artists, presumably unknown to each other. are seething with invective and not restricted to each other. Their teacher Andrea del Sarto gets a fair walloping while the rod is likewise not spared for the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo.

[5]    It has been suggested that this question be handed over to artificial or ‘margarine’ intelligence, but we prefer our intelligence to be real.

Don’t boil me slowly, punch me in the face

A whale being speared with harpoons by fishermen in the arctic sea. Engraving by A. M. Fournier after E. Traviès.  CC-BY-4.0

The Royal Society of Queensland,[1] yes a branch of that Royal Society dating back to 1660 and featuring such layabout gadflies as Newton, Hooke, Darwin, Boyle, Babbage and Einstein, this week published the March 2019 edition of its members newsletter, containing two insightful contributions on climate change, one by Don Keith about how bees do it (or in this case don’t); the other by Simon Black (not the AFL luminary) about harpoons, plastics and the dangers of frog-boiling (incremental change).

Don Keith has been keeping bees in southern Queensland for more than 53 years and has seen bee populations and honey production decline from many causes, habitat loss being the most dramatic and intensive.

Widespread habitat destruction from about 1970 due to clearing for plantation pine and urbanisation made greater Brisbane itself largely useless for keeping bees. Outside Brisbane, State forests and other reserves supported the major honey producing trees, but these have become relentlessly fragmented and less productive as the ‘urban’ sprawled at a breakneck pace, aided by huge bulldozers and Tordon[2], the nuclear warhead of herbicides. Exotic bee diseases and pests, industrial farming and crop pesticides all took their toll on the abundance, connectedness and health of forests.

Changing climate is now undercutting what remains. Yellow box,[3] the apiarist’s most productive species, is no longer reliable. Warming of one degree has moved peak flowering from November-December to September-October. The bees are stymied. Their major  food source has disappeared by the time they need it most. Populations crash. It’s not just about honey. Bees are major pollinators of high value crops. Almond growers are deeply worried.

Simon Black of Greenpeace was a media tart over Christmas 2018-19. Finally, the media wanted to talk to him. The topic was Japan’s announcement they were pulling out of the IWC and would resume commercial whaling more than 30 years after it was banned.

This flurry of fame had affected his social life. At social gatherings he was hounded, besieged and beseeched by people very upset about Japan and very worried about whales. He noticed there was one thing he could say to make the conversation falter. He told them that in the bad old days the main thing a whale had to worry about was a harpoon. Now, they also have to worry about starving to death because their stomachs are so full of plastic they can’t eat. Not only that they have a few concerns about ocean acidification, feeding grounds shifting due to climate change and pressures on oceans from fishing.

“I don’t want to talk about climate change, plastic pollution and fishing fleets,” they said. They were angry with him. This was supposed to be about whales!

Simon highlights the emotional and psychological power of harpoons versus the slow, but monstrously more significant and far-reaching, frog-boiling effect of a stretched and damaged system breaking down. Harpoons are simple, bloody, shrieking with pain and immediate. With a whale on one end and a human with a big winch on the other. It’s a fist in the face.

Systemic change, on the other hand is diffuse, confusing, deniable, debatable. We are now seeing catastrophic outcomes of climate change. But because these are part of ‘the weather’ which is characterised as an ‘unpredictable mystery’, people are foolishly optimistic. If things are mysterious, then you still have a chance, right? No one can be sure what’s going to happen. It could rain all next week!

Because of climate change, habitat loss, agro-business, urbanisation, over population and, let’s face it, what humans are doing all over the planet, the signs of systemic failure are becoming more common. Wildfires in California followed the worst drought in 1200 years. Yes that is a 12 with two noughts. The worst drought since the year 818! That must have been a doozey.[4]  Ice the size of the UK and Ireland has already disappeared from the Bering sea this February 2019. The most ever, since when? Since 2018. The previous record melt. Oops. Permafrost thaws are buckling Alaska with thermokarsts, causing crooked forests. Alaska Schmalaska. Who cares?

Blood and shrieking pain. Now that’s something I care about. And what are you going to do about it, huh?

 

[1]http://www.royalsocietyqld.org

[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picloram

[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucalyptus_melliodora

[4]http://joltscience.com.au/latest-news/

The uninhibited incomprehensible inhospitable uninhabitable Earth

Phooey! We spit on your steenking horsepeople of the apocalypse, for now we have the 12 “elements of climate chaos”. You will get raining toads, pustules, erectile dysfunction, gasping fatigue, procrastination, no second coming and retraction of the first, false profits (capitalism), moral and tooth decay, a scourge upon the NRL, a great fib and earthquakes all over the places where the earth quakes.

As you will too. Quake, that is. I was just cheering up my sad little Sunday by reading Roger Pielke’s shadenfreudistic review of The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells in which young Davy lists “enough horror to induce a panic attack in even the most optimistic.”

Wallace-Wells is not a denialist. Climate change is upon us, he says, (well, derrr…) and it won’t be pretty. Or, if it is pretty, it will be pretty shitful.

The Uninhabitable Earth was a New York Magazine article David Wallace-Wells published on July 9, 2017. According to David Wallace-Wells (who else?) the story was the most read article in the history of the New York Magazine. The book came out in February 2019 issued by Penguin RandomHouse. ISBN 9780525576709. https://goo.gl/qY4SzN

When the article appeared some people said David Wallace-Wells was trying to scare people, instead of lulling them into a false sense of security. I’m shocked.

You know it’s an urban myth that frogs get boiled by slowly increasing temperatures in a pot on the stove, if you happen to be attempting to boil frogs. They actually jump out of hot water when it is uncomfortable and since they are extremely sensitive to temperature they jump out long before the water even goes past the inner fore-arm skin temperature test for baby’s milk. Of course, you could leave the lid on, but then the frog dies of multiple concussions. Humans, on the other hand, seem able to maintain the blasé somnolence of a dead toad when it comes to being boiled. Reactions range from “I have always wanted to grow black howler monkeys and green anacondas in my garden at Mawson Base Antarctica” to “my skin is blistering, I think I’ll go change into something more comfortable.”

 

“It all sounds rather gloomy.”

 

Well, it all sounds rather gloomy, really. Apparently we can look forward to permafrost thaw, loss of methane hydrates from the ocean floor, weakening land and ocean carbon sinks, increasing bacterial respiration in the oceans, Amazon rainforest dieback, boreal forest dieback, reduction of northern hemisphere snow cover, loss of Arctic summer sea ice and last but not least reduction of Antarctic sea ice and polar ice sheets. I would be concerned if I knew what any of that meant.

One thing I will be missing is my annual dog-sledding tournament in the Bering Sea, between Alaska and Russia. An area of ice the size of the UK and Ireland disappeared when sea ice cover dropped by two-thirds during February 2019. The Iditarod dogsled race across 1,000 miles of Alaska is looking dicey. Walrus hunting, ice fishing and winter crabbing aren’t looking good either. Wouldn’t you know it? Temperatures in the polar regions are rising at a faster rate than the rest of the planet.

I don’t know about you but I’m not loving the sound of breaking glass as all those records get smashed. Are they really so alarming? After all 2018 was a record low for ice in the Bering Sea. What are we going to say. Lowest ice in the Bering sea since last year!?

Those California wildfires, for instance. When is there ever a year without wildfires in California? Same old, same old! Apparently the recent fires followed the worst drought in 1,200 years. So what? Those fires in the year 818, they were doozeys!

 

 

Jolt Science

The latest news is this website, which has gone live. Comments welcome to Sandra and Rob care of admin@joltscience.com.au Just so there is something substantial to read, here is an essay about Brisbane. 

Paris of the north

In the New Brisbane, there is no Sydney or Melbourne envy, no longing for London or pining for New York. We spit on your steenking badges of class and taste. We make our own rules, because deep down, everyone who lives here knows Brisbane is the centre of the universe, the creative hub, the Paris of the north.

Growing up in those civilised places down south, there was a place for you, no matter how arty, weird, green or radioactive. You really couldbe a rebel. Or so you think. As Mexicans[1], compared to us you are only Claytons[2]rebels, ersatz innovaters, placebo protesters. You had it made. “Slip into something more radical, I’ll just fix us a pre-dinner bong”.

In Brisbane there was no pathway to success for bright young things in the farcical gerontocracy that was the Bjelke-Petersen government. Up here we were on the outside, or more accurately, underneath, under the white shoe veneer. We were in the underground, labyrinthine sewers, where unlike the shiny beige cushioned world above, life was dirty, dangerous and real.

The parallels between occupied France in WW2 Brisbane under Bjelke-Petersen are inescapable. Goodness gracious me, we invited neo-Stalinist Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu to dinner! Luckily before Christmas Day in 1989 when Ceausescu and his wife were machine-gunned to death by a firing squad. Ceausescu, who slipped into Brisbane under the cover of World Expo in April 1988, had met Bjelke-Petersen in late 1987 when Joh, with mining magnate mate Lang Hancock, visited Bucharest to woo Ceausescu with Queensland coal (and Western Australia as a job lot). Ceausescu, a run-of-the-mill European dictator, had indulged in a random selection of crimes against the people including genocide by armed attack on the people. “You’d never think he had blood on his hands,” Joh said to under treasurer Leo Hielscher on the way back from the meeting. Don’t you worry about that.

You think you Welshies and Vics had it tough when you had Gorton and McMahon making it hard on you to stage sit ins, to “occupy” Melbourne and Sydney. You poor things. In Brisbane we had the pleasure of taking down the whole Whitlam government, when good old Joh flouted the rules and appointed Albert Field to the Senate, which led to the Whitlam dismissal. We had a state of emergency declared in order to play rugby. Six hundred police were transported to Brisbane from elsewhere and a series of violent attacks by police on demonstrators occurred during the Springboks tour. Joh described the tour as “great fun, a game of chess in the political arena” which “put me on the map”.

You took to the streets to have a good old squawk about your pet problems, like war. We banned street marches altogether in 1978. You supported Medicare, in Queensland we opposed it because it was obviously out-and-out socialism. Not only did we oppose any chance of land rights for Aborigines we banned indigenous groups from being able to own large tracts of land. We were rather happy with AIDS and HIV because it might wipe out indigenous communities. No condom machines, public safe sex campaigns and school sex education programs up here, lads. Gay men (publicly denounced as deviants) were banned from entering pubs and clubs, men suspected of being gay were arrested and Queensland tried to make lesbianism illegal, a valiant attempt which failed because, like the Queen, most Queenslanders didn’t know what lesbianism was, or if they did, weren’t going to admit it.

We knocked down historic heritage buildings in the middle of the night because we needed to keep our days free for raids on suspected abortion clinics and stopping pregnant women getting on planes to have an abortion in Sydney. We had a whale of a time. In fact, Queensland was a proud whaling nation, or at least parts of it were.

The Bjelke-Petersen era was 1968 to 1987. First signs of a reactionary and authoritarian rather than just conservative regime came with him granting six-year leases to prospect for oil on the Great Barrier Reef, to Exoil NL and Transoil NL. He was a major shareholder in both. This was followed with a windfall for several Queensland government ministers and senior public servants, as well as Florence Bjelke-Petersen, from the public float of Comalco, a mining company that had direct dealings with the government and senior ministers. The shares bought due to this insider trading doubled their price on their first day of trading. Bjelke-Petersen rejected claims of conflict of interest in all these dealings.

The 1971 redistribution resulted in Brisbane electorates averaging about 22,000 voters, some rural seats such as Gregory and Balonne had fewer than 7000. It was at this time that Joh found his “style”, that of authoritarian strong man, prepared to crush any left-wing, greeny, anti-uranium, trade union uprising in a police-state, a strategy characteristic of despots.

1972 saw Whitlam and Labor come to power federally. In the parallel with Paris, this was rather like America’s entry into WWII. Joh fought the 1974 State election on opposing the “the alien and stagnating, centralist, socialist, communist-inspired policies of the federal Labor government”. As Joh wielded the iron fist against students and unions, resulting TV coverage saw Rosemary Severin being head on the head with a police baton during a street march, and  Police Commissioner Ray Whitrod announceing he would hold an inquiry. Bjelke-Petersen quashed it, saying he was tired of radical groups believing they could take over the streets. Police officers passed a motion at a meeting commending the premier for his “distinct stand against groups acting outside the law” and censured their own Police Commissioner. The police state was in full swing, with a military-style raid on a hippie commune at the Cedar Bay commune in Far North Queensland late the following month. The police, who had been looking for marijuana, set fire to the residents’ houses and destroyed their property.

Bjelke-Petersen’s increasingly hardline approach to civil liberties prompted Queensland National Party president Robert Sparkes to warn the party that it was developing a dangerous propaganda-created ultra-conservative, almost fascist image. He told a party conference: “We must studiously avoid any statements or actions which suggest an extreme right-wing posture.” Bjelke-Petersen ignored the advice. He went from strength to strength, from corrupt power to a ludicrous Mein Kampfstyle biography, Jigsaw, lauding him as a “statesman extraordinaire” and “protectorate of Queensland and her people”.

The parallels with an occupied France, with Brisbane occupied by National Party overlords, go deeper. We had an underground, of course, and it was a melting pot of artists, journalists, architects, writers, musicians and other creative radical types, making posters and sneaking around in the dark putting them up on the walls of Bjelke-Petersen house, but we were not without the encouragement and support from “allies” first in the Whitlam government, then in the Hawke federal government. At the same time as street marches were banned, the Hawke government funded community arts and agit-prop theatre. It must have cheesed off the Queensland Premier no end.

On 20 April 1985 the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) opened with a production of Pirates of Penzance. The Brisbane cultural underground did not fail to notice the opening show was wholly imported from interstate. Hardly very Queensland, was it?

The counterculture responded with a show of its own, a two night season of The Paisley Pirates of Penzancedirected by Sean Mee and David Pyle with a cast and crew of 45. The home-grown show got the attention of the southerner artists in the mainstream Pirates of Penzanceat QPAC, who attended a by-popular-demand second performance at midnight. This seems a bit like the “Marseillaise” scene in Casablanca in the presence of the Germans.

The satire of Paisley Pirates of Penzancehad the Major General being played by comedian Gerry Connolly as Joh, the very model of a modern Major General, don’t you worry about that! The constabulary satirised the Queensland police with plenty of stage time given over to Senior Constable Dave Moore who was, with Agro the puppet, the TV face promoting the Queensland police. Dave Moore meanwhile was an enthusiastic paedophile who had been convicted for carnal knowledge of a 16-year-old boy in 1982 and later was convicted for masturbating in a public toilet in 1989. His behaviour, around the known beats of lavatories in public parks and in gay pubs was a matter of public notoriety. Corrupt Police Commissioner Terry Lewis (later jailed as a result of the Fitzgerald Inquiry) protected Dave Moore, giving him a clean bill of health despite Moore’s involvement in such non-trivial pursuits as child pornography rings.  

In the same year, 1985, Paisley Pirates of Penzance was followed by another successful underground satire, Conway Christ, Redneck Superstaragain directed by Sean Mee and David Pyle with a cast and crew of over 120.

Meanwhile Joh unveiled plans to create seven new electorates with boundaries were to be drawn by electoral commissioners specially appointed by the government, one of them a fundraiser for the National Party. Never mind the corruption, feel the hubris.

A Joh for PMcampaign was conceived in late 1985, driven largely by a group of Gold Coast property developers, and at the 1986 Queensland election Joh recorded his biggest electoral win ever. Conway Christwas more a youth culture values statement than an overt political satire, drawing positives from the underground drug culture, feminism, anti-christian sentiment, oppression of the workers by the man and, of course, the perennial “somewhere to get a drink after midnight on Sunday”.

By 1986 the underground was breaking into the mainstream. The 1986 “Hound of Music” mashed together the Sound of Music and Frankenstein. Premier Joh was given a Hitler moustache and the image was released as a popular resistance movement T-shirt with the slogan, “Be afraid, be very afraid.” In retrospect, it would have been like cabarets in Berlin during the Third Reich depicting Hitler with horns and a forked tail. Perhaps they did.

But all was not rosy in the corridors of wealth and power. When right wing governments are in control too long and theirlaissez fairebecomes  “crooked millionaires” the red mist comes down and the greed knowns no restraint. Things go weirdly distorted with business able to raise millions on a “better mousetrap” or the slightest whiff of “nickel futures”.

By the time of the October 1987 financial collapse, still the biggest one day fall of the ASX, lots of Joh’s closest pals were up to their elbows in the till and about to get their arms burnt off.

Eventually, despite Joh’s immense popularity among sheep (who vote in Queensland) it all came to an end.

Wayne Goss (Labor leader) Wayne Swan (State Secretary and Campaign Director of the Labour Party) with a little help from Kevin Rudd (a nobody from Nambour who handed out How-to-vote cards) stormed the citadel despite the Bjelke-mander. The truth was, the Nationals simply couldn’t muster enough sheep. Get it?

Paris was overjoyed when they were liberated, they danced in the streets, came out of the sewers, wore berets and did all of those other crazy things French people do when they are happy. In Brisbane it was more subdued and dissidents had to fight tooth and claw against some entrenched cultural conservatism. After all the only interesting story for southern journalists was “What will Joh do next?” After the Lutheran nitwit was toppled, first by his own party, then ratified by the people in the 1989 election, the soufflé collapsed. Queensland was no fun any more. 

For Brisbane people, the building blocks of Brisbane’s culture were already in place, and they were not “radical friendly”. There was no storming of the Bastille and setting all the prisoners free. By that time either you had learned how to survive with Hawke Government help, or you left. The stages of the theatres were not suddenly cleared for radical Queensland plays, the walls of galleries didn’t suddenly get covered with radical, edgy art, 4ZZZ had already played its part in bring new music, news and counterculture to the young. It was business as usual with cranes on the skyline and the “Culture Bunker” QPAC precinct with the adjacent Queensland Museum and State Library had already been built by the white shoe brigade era’s economic success. Despite it resembling a sterile, anti-art parody of architectural monuments (with no visible entrances) and a blonde-stone homogenised exterior, the “Culture Bunker” wasn’t going to be torn down and in terms of mainstream art and culture,  money ruled.

Radicals did not stream out of the lofts, garrets and sewers to take the streets, in fact nothing much visible happened at all.

In George Street the serious young lawyer Wayne Goss wasn’t really in touch with the counterculture underground. He admired their stars who had soldiered on, like Erroll O’Neill, and the Cane Toad Times, but that’s not what Government was about. Government for Wayne Goss was about the need for integrity. This required new anti-corruption institutions, an overhaul of electoral laws to entrench “one vote one value”, freedom of information, administrative law reform and major structural changes to the public sector. The Goss government is said to have pursued an ambitious social agenda, but really it was just to bring Queensland up to speed wth the “real” Australia, outsideQueensland, with a focus on investment in schools, hospitals, new infrastructure and new protections for the Great Barrier Reef and the northern rainforests.

In post war Paris, swarming with black jazz musicians and raining crime novels “translated from the American” there was a struggle, arguably an unsuccessful one, to find an authentic French culture while the Frenchifying of the American culture produced an anglophone counterculture in itself, a strain of quirky, dark, violent stories more in love with Raymond Chandler than Richard Nixon. These got jumbled up with spaghetti westerns, absurdist comedy, self-mocking satire and a whole lot of other flames attracting the English-language literati like moths. Ultimately all this was burned by the searing misunderstanding of post-modern everything and an over-arching but flaunted inability to read French philosophers in the original and the lack of even half an idea towards knowing what they were banging on about.

The Queensland counter culture, resistance, and underground eventually manifested as mainstream success (in QPAC its very self, with the Mee-Pyle and ToadShow team staging the mainstream rock-musical Sherwoodstockin January 1990 followed by Phantoad of the Operaas music score for the 1991 Gulf War in 1991. Both of these were funny, but relatively bland celebrations, lacking stinging satire. The triumphant return of edgy comedy came with Glamalotsatirising the Goss Government, even as it was falling on its shining sword in 1995. Perhaps authentically edgy art needs the threat or even more the reality of conservative rule in Queensland as it did in the Borbidge-Sheldon Liberal National Government in 1996 and then again in the catastrophic Newman LNP Government in 2012.

Labor in Queensland, it must be said, like Queensland itself, is basically conservative. The misfits and dissidents never really outmuscled the white shoe brigade, property developers and real estate tycoons for a lasting place in the sun. The rebels now lie dormant, waiting for the inevitable dark times in which to spark and grow.

 

 

[1]    Southerners

[2]    Claytons was a non-alcoholic beverage in Australia and New Zealand in the 1970s and ’80s,  “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink“. In Australian and New Zealand vernacular it stands for an ersatz or dummy thing, or something that is obviously ineffective.  For example, a knowledgeable but unqualified handyman could be referred to as a “Claytons carpenter”. The term can also be used as an insult.