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The following paper was written back in 2007.  Since that time the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) struck and oil prices have not risen as projected.  But we are now hearing about peak oil again and there have been two programmes on radio and TV in the last fortnight floating the prospect of peak oil again. 

At the end of 2006 the documentary film A Crude Awakening warned that peak oil, ‘the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum production is reached, after which the rate of production enters its terminal decline’, is at hand. 

Perhaps the most important argument in A Crude Awakening is that energy, including oil, replaces human labour and does so very efficiently.  It is the harnessing of energy that has allowed human civilisation to free people from slavery and serfdom and it is the harnessing of energy that has fuelled technological progress. 

It has also fuelled an increase in human population from less than a billion in 1800 to over six and a half billion today.

The most obvious defect in the documentary is that it represents oil as the only source of energy available to mankind.  This is not the case.  Until quite recently coal was the dominant energy source.  Coal fuelled the industrial revolution.  In some parts of the world hydroelectric power was also an important driver of industrialisation before oil and, where available, is still the most environmentally friendly and least expensive energy source we have. 

It is true that petroleum (oil and gas) has recently taken over the leading position as principle energy source; and contributor to carbon dioxide production.  Petroleum is more convenient and has higher energy density than most other options (see below) and produces less carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal. It dominated transport and chemical production for the last two thirds of the 20th century and will continue to do so for at least the first half of the 21st.

The following diagram shows the sources of energy (for all purposes) in Australia in 2007/8[1].

 

 

image002 

 

 

It was oil that made the Second World War possible, oil that provided a car to every family soon after and oil that opened the world to inexpensive air travel. 

A Crude Awakening makes the point that we have already half used this amazing resource, in a shockingly spendthrift way, over an extraordinarily short period of time.

 

 

 

A personal view 

This chapter can now be read at:  'Getting About'

 


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Travel

The United Kingdom

 

 

 

On the surface London seems quite like Australia.  Walking about the streets; buying meals; travelling on public transport; staying in hotels; watching TV; going to a play; visiting friends; shopping; going to the movies in London seems mundane compared to travel to most other countries.  Signs are in English; most people speak a version of our language, depending on their region of origin. Electricity is the same and we drive on the same side or the street.  

But look as you might, nowhere in Australia is really like London.

Read more ...

Fiction, Recollections & News

The Queen is dead

 

 

A personal recollection.

 

 

When George VI died unexpectedly in February 1952, I was just 6 years old, so the impact of his death on me, despite my parents' laments for a good wartime leader and their sitting up to listen to his funeral on the radio, was not great.

At school assemblies I was aware there was a change because the National Anthem changed and we now sang God Save The Queen.

Usually, we would just sing the first verse, accompanied by older children playing recorders, but on special occasions we would sing the third verse too. Yet for some mysterious reason, never the second.

About that time, two gold booklets to celebrate the forthcoming Coronation, arrived in the mail from Grandma (my mother’s mother) who was, at that time, a member (Chair?) of the Newcastle upon Tyne Education Committee, one each for Peter and for me.

 

 

 

In 1600, that loyal City, that would later fight off the Scots, particularly the Jacobites, three times, had received its Letters Patent from Queen Elizabeth I. Now, my grandma and her fellow councillors enthusiastically welcomed a new Queen Elizabeth to the throne.

I, like most people of English nativity, made the assumption that the two Elizabeths were related in some discernible line of succession, although I soon learnt that Elizabeth I was the Virgin Queen (well not actually, if the historians are correct, but she had no offspring). But sat least her little son, one day to be King Charles III, must be in a direct line of succession from the previous two. So, that was all as it should be.

 

 

Accompanying the gold booklet was a larger folder of thin colour-printed cardboard sheets that could be cut-out, carefully, to assemble, in three dimensions, the royal coach and horses (tab A goes into slot A and so on), together with various royal accoutrements: the orb; crown; sceptre, mace (rod) and sword that were also assembled, and the whole placed, in pride-of-place, on the wide sunroom windowsill, where it sat, until reduced to confetti by the Australian sun.

We were invited to get to know our young Queen and her attractive family, Prince Phillip, young Charles (Heir Apparent) and little Anne.

 

 

A little later, another parcel came from England, this time from Granny Welsh (my father’s mother). Incomprehensible to me at the time, it's been of much more lasting utility. It’s a special edition of the Book of Common Prayer, containing the Coronation order of service. It also contains Elizabeth I’s 'Articles of Religion' (the 'true' religion as it says in Latin on her tomb in Westminster Abbey), as well as containing that mysterious second verse of the National Anthem.

 

 

The second and third verses of God Save the Queen

 

Thus primed, we all sat up, on a cold June evening in 1953, around a roaring fire in the living-room, for the Coronation broadcast. Later, we would travel into the city to see highlights, in colour, at one of the several newsreel cinemas that then existed.

 

 

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Soon our coins (shillings and pence and their divisions) and paper currency (ten-shilling notes) bore another head.

But the real excitement would come in 1954, when the royal yacht sailed into Sydney Harbour and for the first time in history Australia’s Monarch would set-foot in their distant realm.

At school we were issued with cardboard periscopes, two mirrors set at 45 degrees to each other at opposite ends of a cardboard tube (box), and taken, by train and bus, to the Sydney Cricket Ground.

After sweltering, for what seemed like hours, among a vast crowd of children, mostly from other schools, the royal car, at last, made its way around the perimeter.

Despite our Prime Minister’s enthusiasm, I caught the slightest periscopical glimpse as she passed by and failed to love her, because I thought I might die (of heat stroke).

 

 

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It was a lot better when the Royal Train made its way to Newcastle. As the line ran close to my primary school in Thornleigh, we made our way to the track and caught a longer glimpse of Her Majesty waving characteristically (one arm raised, hand rotating slowly) - or maybe it was another cardboard cut-out.

Like the real and mythical beasts on the Royal Coat of Arms, hysteria was rampant, in both senses. Many country towns erected archways for the royal conveyance to pass through. Katoomba, where the new Queen dedicated a lookout, had several, one of which persists to this day.

Of a population of less than ten million, it’s said that over seven million Australians turned out to see the Queen.

Among other gifts bestowed, by her royal presence, was the elevation of the Australian Ensign to become the National Flag, so that it could now be flown equally to, or instead of, the Union Jack. In the Cubs, down at Pennant hills Scout Camp, we had a ceremony, elevating our new flag.

Soon Canada went one better, removing the Union Jack from their flag altogether.

Having been born in Britain it was not surprising to me that my family’s passports were British. Yet, I was surprised to discover in the 1960's that travelling Australians also had 'British' passports. Although Australia first issued separate passports in 1949, the words 'British Passport' remained on Australian issued passports until 1967.

Throughout the 50’s and 60’s 'God Save the Queen' continued to precede most public events like concerts. Everyone stood to attention and many people would sing. At the movies, the National Anthem, accompanied by a short film of Her Majesty, typically riding a horse, caused everyone to stand.

When television came to Australia, broadcasts ended each night with a similar declaration of loyalty; and it is said that in some households (not ours) people would also stand, some stirred from their slumbers.

Soon, all this changed.

After the War, the British Empire began to collapse, soon to became a Commonwealth of nations. Canada, New Zealand and Australia abandoned their dominion status; South Africa got chucked out; Rhodesia disappeared; and so on. Our countries abolished legal appeals to the Privy Council, elevating our High Court.

Australians got new passports and imposed visa restrictions on Poms. Soon we abandoned the Sterling zone, floating our currencies against the US dollar.

The once nascent (largely Irish Catholic) Australian Republican Movement gained momentum.

For a more detailed discussion about the decline of Empire:  read more Here...  and  Here...

I now sat at the movies, surrounded by others still standing, not because I craved an elected President (unless based on the toothless Irish kind - read Governor General) but because Australia has no State Religion and I refused to acknowledge a hymn as our National Anthem.

Gradually others agreed. And soon Australians (all?) would instead: Advance Australia Fair.

As I discovered myself, naturalising Englishmen were now obliged to foreswear their past allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and instead, swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II of Australia.

Thus, change came upon change.

Yet, throughout it all, Queen Elizabeth II has been a constant, a touchstone to stability and thus, paradoxically, a reminder of how much has changed.

I will miss her.

 

The succession

The Queen is dead. Long live the King!

So long has she reigned, that few among my friends and acquaintances remember the death of King George VI.  Had he a son of any age, for example instead of Margaret, then we would have had another King.

That's no longer the case. The succession was changed in 2015 by the British Parliament and, after a 2011 agreement, by the other 14 Parliaments of countries having the Windsor heirs as monarch, to accept daughters equally and to allow Roman Catholics (and those having other religions or none) as consorts. 

But it might surprise some that the current succession is not British at all.

The previous, line of succession, from the Tudors and Stewarts, was broken when Charles II (he who restored the monarchy) died in 1685 and his Roman Catholic brother ascended to the throne.

England was by then strongly Protestant and so outraged were the people and the Parliament at his attempts to reintroduce Roman Catholicism, that the Dutch William of Orange, the husband of Mary (daughter of James and initially second in the line of succession), was invited to invade and to depose James II, in the 'Glorious Revolution'.  William became William III of Britain and ruled along with Mary. 

In 1689 the Bill of Rights would provide that: henceforth the new monarch must rule with the consent of Parliament, and he or she is subject to a raft of constraints. Parliament thus removed the concept of absolute monarchy and put aside the medieval belief in the Divine Right of Kings (who are anointed in Heaven, prior to conception) a concept that had made Christianity so successful with totalitarian rulers throughout Christendom for over a thousand years. 

As William and Mary had no children together, in 1701 Parliament enacted the Act of Settlement that requires that: the British monarch must be a descendant of the German Princess Sophia (the nearest Protestant heir to William of Orange), and be in communion with the Church of England. 

Again, it was the now ascendant Parliament that set this new law.

Constitutional monarchy thus evolved; and 'across the pond' the American Revolutionaries (Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams et al) would see no reason at all for this mystical inheritance of authority, no longer the preserve of God, and would decide on an elaborate (and flawed) method of electing their king. In the process, they would decide to rename him their President (women were disenfranchised and effectively excluded).

In the meantime, the British Parliament continued to further constrain their monarch, who soon had far less power that the US President. Thus by 1788, when Australia was settled by the British - some would say 'invaded' - the process was almost entirely in the hands of the British Parliament. 

The initial governors in the colonies, who were otherwise autocratic rulers, could nevertheless be, and sometimes were, removed by appeals made by colonists to the Parliament in London. From 1840 onwards, the Australian colonists wrested increasing democratic rights from the government. So, by 1864, New South Wales had a functioning Parliament. Similar advances had already been made in Canada.

So why has the hereditary Sovereign been retained, long after our National Parliament, together with the local Judiciary, became the only source of governance in Australia (and for that matter the Parliament is effectively all-powerful in the United Kingdom)?  Put simply, because, by much trial and error, it 'sort of' works. 

It was Churchill who remarked:

'Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.… '

 

During the past century, Australia, together with Canada and New Zealand, the United Kingdom and along with other similar constitutional monarchies like Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, has demonstrably done better for its citizens, in terms of social support, health, education, longevity and lifestyle, than less effective systems of government. 

And as we've always said: 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'.   

 

More ceremonies

 

The events now taking place in England: the proclamation of the new King, requiring the involvement of the Lord Mayor of London, among others equally anachronistic, feels, to me, a bit ridiculous in a modern Britain. Yet, I must add that the Queen's funeral was very tasteful and touching and the troops, now including women, drill-perfect.

The service reminded me of my one-time communion in Elizabeth I's religion, into which I was baptised and confirmed. It was very familiar, although I'm no longer a believer.

Less than a hundred meters from Elisabeth II's coffin, as it rested at the funeral, is the resting place of Elizabeth I.  The inscription on her tomb is in Latin but is officially translated as:

Sacred to memory:

Religion to its primitive purity restored, peace settled, money restored to its just value, domestic rebellion quelled, France relieved when involved with intestine divisions; the Netherlands supported; the Spanish Armada vanquished; Ireland almost lost by rebels, eased by routing the Spaniard; the revenues of both universities much enlarged by a Law of Provisions; and lastly, all England enriched. Elizabeth, a most prudent governor 45 years, a victorious and triumphant Queen, most strictly religious, most happy, by a calm and resigned death at her 70th year left her mortal remains, till by Christ's Word they shall rise to immortality  - and so on

 

Among the articles of religion ratified by Elizabeth thus establishing the 'pure religion' was, and is, the Lutheran observation that Rome had, over the centuries, allowed false doctrines, 'grounded upon no warranty of Scripture', to creep into and corrupt Christianity. Among several listed is the matter of what happens when we die.

 

ARTICLES of RELIGION (1571)

XXII. Of Purgatory
The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well as of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

 

Thus, we were repeatedly reminded that the departed has gone to 'sleep' with her husband, as do all true Christians equally, to await the return of Christ, when all will be awakened to be judged.

None of this 'granny's up there looking down or now she can have a nice reunion with Phillip nonsense. With this, I continue to agree. Read more...

Now that that's over we can look forward to another Coronation.

Recalling the last Coronation, I know to expect golden carriages drawn by beautifully matched teams of horses; massed troops marching to music, streets lined with adoring flag waving crowds; perhaps the return of periscopes?  

Wendy and I have recently returned from the UK where we travelled north in England and into Scotland as far north as Aberdeen. We also travelled around the Baltic and to Holland and northern France. Economically, the UK is not doing well by comparison. Inflation is high, and people have been warned that average annual energy bills will rise by around A$3,000 this year, due to insufficient reliable domestic energy resources (mainly wind as the domestic nuclear programme is well behind schedule).

It may well be a good time for a party, to lift spirits, but it will result in some serious 'conspicuous consumption' of State resources, that might otherwise have gone to more urgent and/or productive ends. 

 

An Australian Republic

 

So, maybe it is time to replace our Head of State with one requiring less pomp and circumstance and more relevant antecedents: by removing the present descendent of Princess Sophia as our monarch and replacing our several 'King's Representatives' with Presidents (or some other title, to address the status of State Governors). In reality, this is already the case. So, it's simply a matter of amending the several Constitutions to provide that these figureheads should be agreed to and installed at regular intervals (currently five years, by convention) by our various Parliaments.  

But let's not elect them every five years. And when they die let's have a modest memorial, befitting an esteemed citizen.

Travel and life experience has taught me not to support the separate election of Presidents. If it ain't broke don't fix it'.  

Electing a President introduces a competing democratic power to elected Parliaments. Competing candidates need to contrive a 'platform' and, by financial necessity and contest, often fund their campaign agenda through hidden patronage, as in the United States.

Throughout the world there are at least a dozen examples of presidents using their initial success and supposed 'mandate' to seize power over the constitutionally established parliament and to install themselves and/or their chosen successors indefinitely.  The most glaring examples are Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China but the same applies in almost every 'new democracy' in Central Asia, that gained a 'US style' constitution at independence. Even the US itself was recently subject to a coup attempt by a president reluctant to relinquish power.

For the worst example in history, we need only cast our minds back to the Weimar Republic in Germany in 1933, to appreciate the risks that empowering an autocrat entail.

In maintaining Churchill's 'flawed democracy' our leaders should continue to be our democratically elected parliaments alone, because it's the best of: "all those other forms (of government) that have been tried".

Thus, echoing the 1689 the Bill of Rights, our new figurehead needs to continue to be beholding to the Parliament alone.

 

Opinions and Philosophy

The demise of books and newspapers

 

 

Most commentators expect that traditional print media will be replaced in the very near future by electronic devices similar to the Kindle, pads and phones.  Some believe, as a consequence, that the very utility of traditional books and media will change irrevocably as our ability to appreciate them changes.  At least one of them is profoundly unsettled by this prospect; that he argues is already under way. 

Read more ...

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