Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Here Comes the Bride

enter the bridal party
Fittingly the baby that skied the 1980 Australian Birkebeiner in utero, got married on Howqua saddle on December 10th.

The bridal party was led by dad Peter and sister Kiri. Jasmine rode her trusty mountain bike.

The wedding ceremony was witnessed by family and friends - four generations from two of the couple's grandmothers to the groom's young niece. There were a lot of friends - and everyone had a part to play. Including the weather deities who held off the rain and in the end shone sunshine on the newly weds.

Many present came on mountain bikes, and I'm told the trails at Mounts Buller and Stirling did not disappoint.

Everyone had a part to play. 

And the two grandmothers witnessed the vows and the signing of the documents.

And then off to cycle the mountain - there's no holding these two back.....

except of course for a reception at the Chalet where Sven's mother Merilyn had produced a mountaineering cake.

So long life and happiness to the bride and groom!
Jasmine and Sven Howorth on their wedding day

Thursday, August 4, 2011


All animal populations are capable of exponential growth. It helps recolonize after catastrophes. But the populations that do experience exponential growth will sooner or later run up against their Malthusian limits - and crash. Those limits would be - running out of resources such as food or water, being overwhelmed by their waste products or being so crowded they can't find their way around and being subject to contagious disease.  Think of the pitiful images of pelicans dying at Lake Eyre when the boom times are over. It's a miserable situation for those individuals.

But the individuals in populations that are in balance with their environment are, on the whole, pretty healthy looking.  The potential for exponential growth is held in check by predation (of herbivores) and by competition for resources, territory or mates - not only achieving a stable population but improving the survival characteristics of the species in the environment.

Humans have pushed the natural population controls - we have no serious predators, we have made technological advances - agriculture, industrialisation and communications technology - and we grow - exponentially.

Poverty around the world is taking on Malthusian grimness - individuals are suffering but the population is still increasing. The idea that technology can reduce our per capita need for resources in order to have a good life has its limits. This is a possibility for stable populations - not growing ones.
And miserable poverty is contrasted with extreme wealth. How can this be good for the species? Does wealth need poverty in order to exist? Is this a zero sum game that relies on a "feedstock" of misery?

Our capacity to control our population need not be horrible - we achieve more benefit from compassion and cooperation than we do from war and murder. Contraception is better for parents and children than infanticide, starvation, contagion or abortion. As has been pointed out - people will be OK with small families if they have the luxury of being able to love the children that they have - because they know they will not only survive but have the chance to flourish.

And what constitutes "improvement" in the human species? I would suggest
Our capacity to live together in harmony and develop the talents of every member of the community - respect for diversity, creative rather than destructive outlets for aggression
Our capacity to respect, learn from and live with and within our environment
Improved mental and physical health of every member of the community
A cultural life that enhances the capacity for aesthetic pleasure,  and spiritual growth
Now I'll go and think about the carbon footprint of my sculpture practice.

Friday, July 8, 2011

I just don't get it....

There's an article in Gizmag about a Concentrating Solar Thermal power station achieving 24 hour power supply. A lot of angst is expended on finding ways to ensure that renewable forms of energy can deliver base load power.
And I note a number of respected economists talking about demand side modification trying to reduce peak demand - presumably to boost off peak demand and even out the load on power generation.
Time was that nature's supply cycle induced rest in us - when the sun went down we socialised by the fire for a bit and then went to sleep.
Just because machines can work 24/7 to pay off capital investment doesn't mean that we must. Just because coal fired power stations take a long time to crank up and are better at providing constant power than variable supply (resulting from variable levels of activity) doesn't mean that this is the only way to run our civilization. I'm quite happy to sleep at night and be glad that my refrigerator and the hospital can run all night without me. Base load could be reduced dramatically if we didn't treat people like machines. Peak load can be handled a lot better by the various renewables and a smart grid - in the end you don't need to generate so much power if you only generate it when you really need it - a bit like my microwave oven - a short sharp burst that only does the job I want and doesn't waste anything actually reduces my electricity bill.
What would Australia's power needs look like if we produced and priced electricity according to the capacity of a renewables grid and the realities of the way people really work, play and run their culture? How much of our "always on" culture is because we want it and how much is it machine induced insomnia?
People like to party all night occasionally - fine - but take on the full cost and don't do it too often. It's more fun if it's a rarity done for fun rather than a compulsive whirl of events where you can never relax.
I don't get it... base load ... peak load.... what's driving all this? People or machines? If people know what is available they'll tailor their culture to get the most out of it. So stop worrying and learn to love...... well, they are smarter than that, right?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The grand unified theory of economics.....

The grand unified theory of economics..... well at least I've been thinking.....
Why is western economics so aggressive? Why in Tom Lehrer's words does everyone hate the Jews?
The history of the Western banking system goes something like:
the Law of Moses forbids usury - so Jews, Christians and Muslims didn't practice it amongst their own people. But where there is a law someone will find a loophole..... so lending money for interest was possible between people of different religions.... and became an option because Jews in Europe were forbidden to carry on other forms of business. So a banking system evolved that was independent of both the dominant Church and State. And borrowing for investment became the norm. And money became an object in itself rather than merely representing the goods and services that could be traded for it. So far as I can see a huge amount of social evil can arise from these things: boom/bust cycles and investment bubbles, dangerously deregulated markets and the need for endless growth.
Growth is a two edged sword – it's brought us really cool stuff – including hospitals and railways and clean water and mobile phones and the Internet.... and International travel and yummy foreign cuisine. But on a finite planet you can't maintain population growth and material-consumption-per-capita growth indefinitely. So is it growth we are after or evolution? Evolution allows for altruism, ethics, culture and non material trade and consumption.
How can we break the growth dependency? How do we stop Western economics being so predatory?
I think there's two things we can do that can trigger a paradigm shift towards social and economic evolution:
  • borrowing and lending interest rates should be set at the inflation rate – so if you are saving for something then your money doesn't lose while you are accumulating – if you borrow you don't end up owing more than you own unless things go really pear shaped.
  • The value of shares in enterprise should be set by a quarterly audit so that we don't have this testosterone fuelled auction mentality driving trading to ridiculous levels.
Can you imagine the pain if we actually implemented this? The end of the profitable banking system as we know it, the calming of the stock exchange to a mill pond of tranquillity.... and you couldn't pay tax on interest then – it's only keeping pace of the real value of goods and services. It needs a paradigm shift to make it work. Would we try it?? My mum said communism, like Christianity may be a pretty good system – we don't know because neither of them have been tried.
But if we want evolution rather than uncontrollable growth then it's worth thinking about how to achieve it and how we value it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Trip to Qdos

a duck swimming in the reflections
Qdos in Lorne is my idea of the best sculpture gallery in the state - so if Graeme is ok to put one of my pieces there I am soooo happy. And it is a beautiful place to visit. It's pretty civilised travelling by train and bus to Lorne - no troubles on the road and it would be pretty tiring driving there and back in a day. And the walk to the gallery wasn't that bad with a small sculpture in my bag.

Unto Us - Manchurian pear wood, 2010

So now "Unto Us" is gracing Qdos gallery. And I had a great day wandering in the sculpture garden and sitting by the dam, and then walking by the sea with my youngest... life is good.

Article in The Age

looking at this
I wonder if it's representative democracy that is the problem. When we vote on issues they have to be analysed and considered - when we vote for representatives we get professional politicians whose only aim is to stay in power - so we all lose track of doing what is considered right...... I like the bit about the pursuit of happiness - seek not and ye shall happen upon :-)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Mahayana" Sustainability?

My environmental footprint is that of the thousands of people who contribute to me being where I am.... no matter how "green" I am, what my community is and does is the measure of what is done to the world in order for me to live.
So it is better to do something as a community than to do it for myself.
Trade - even globalisation - has a part to play in the building of the new world because what we do for each other and how we do it counts so much in the measure of a full life.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Asking Questions: Self Sufficiency vs Sustainability

Sometimes we ask questions to find out how people think about things - the answers are enlightening and there is no absolute right one:

I remember "Where is cyberspace?" - the best answer to me was "I dunno - where's Heaven?"

So this week's question is "What is the difference between self-sufficiency and sustainability?" The best answer so far: "One is looking inwards, the other outwards" All about think globally and act locally......

Everywhere people seem to be disillusioned with the political process that they have inherited. A process where possession is nine tenths of the law, where the loudest voice carries the day and where abuse is preferred to reasoned discussion. The process seems to be about looking inward and taking care of one's own carefully constructed bailiwick rather than the environmental and cultural foundations on which our house is built.

Why would a person spend so much putting photovoltaic panels on their own roof and not invest in community infrastructure that will save that amount of energy or produce that much renewable energy? How much more bang for our buck when we pool our resources - not only our financial resources, but intellectual and emotional, our capacity to imagine the way things might work indeed would work if we not only work together but can trust each other.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Role of Art

I've been reading Ian Lowe's A Voice of Reason. I got to the bit about the role of art in societal change - the questions bubble over - do we lead or follow? Give space to reflect or inspire to action? Is that so much wishful thinking or is it the reason that art of an overthrown regime is despised and destroyed? Following that - is vandalism of publicly accessible art an outright expression of alienation?

I remember talking to some school children - they were at the age when they are at their brightest and most inquiring: just before puberty hits and intellect takes a long ride in the back seat. I pointed out that we choose our purchases according to their "coolness" rather than optimal function - an iPod may not be the best functioning MP3 player but no cool kid would be seen with anything else - that we recognise the previous year's model by the line and shape and choose the latest. This is even though most of us couldn't say why the curve or the crisp line looks sooo well - 2007. The process of industrial design is on the cusp of form following function or form describing function or form enabling function or perhaps form camouflaging function and good old brand recognition. It certainly helps to sell stuff and can make or break a product. And sculpture is the precursor skill to defining those forms.

I discussed with the children the sculptures telling their story in form and giving clues with their titles (or lack of title).

Yes I build things to communicate ideas that are best conveyed with form - sometimes because they are funny, sometimes frightening, maybe beautiful or sometimes just because I can. Do I do this in a certain way because my perceptions and skills are part of the big matrix of right here, right now?

And what earthly use is it to make stuff that needs dusting or sits in the garden and provides a framework for spiders to spin their webs from? Why do people want it? And I guess that is where the answer lies - we exercise our capacity for empathy when we look at art and imagine: when we sense the changing light and shade that alters form and perception and takes us out of the narrow focus of getting from one minute to the next. A little bit like practising love.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I notice in the news online that there is a move to have states take out disaster insurance That should be an interesting exercise. I thought the state stepped in and indemnified when it came to the uninsurable - your taxes at work as the ultimate insurance. Still I don't have a problem with letting the cold hard actuarial facts drive some management decisions in the state: it was the Fire Underwriters Board who invented and funded the Fire Brigades. It's cheaper to fight fires than have them go to conflagrations and take out all the insured property at once. And I suspect that insurance companies didn't wait for the ultimate proof of the link between smoking and lung cancer - the risk of going broke makes a company wondrously aware of reasonable cause and effect and the balance of risk. So I suspect that the insurers are going to force whole countries to take steps on sustainability on the basis of scientific reason and the bottom line rather than wait to be absolutely 100% certain of the mechanism that is driving this uncontrolled experiment with climate.

Friday, February 4, 2011

All the rain for February...

The forecast said we'd get all the rain for February in one go.... now I believe them. I wonder what we'll have when the La Nina has finished?

Monday, January 24, 2011

At Herring Island

"Frankly, My Dear" from the back
Well at last the work was finished and taken to Herring island. It was a bit hilarious setting up in the rain - there was a wiping brigade to dry the work before it was placed in the gallery - then the weather cheered up and the opening was fine and sunny. The people in Queensland haven't been so lucky - and luck it is - we have no way of knowing if the rain will fall on Melbourne's catchments next.

Well I polished the work and polished the words to go with her - this time the woman is handing out the famous line. But we all know it's a construct and nothing is ever that easy:
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn"
So I wrote: 
"Frankly, My Dear"
As Rhett Butler's famous words mark the denouement of his obsession with Scarlett O'Hara and the Southern Belle, so "Gone with the Wind" describes the end of that era of flawed beauty built on slavery. I wonder what images will be created, in fifty or a hundred years time, to reflect on the end of this era of extravagance built on the myth of cheap, plentiful oil.
John waiting for the punt at Herring Island
My dad came and visited the show - we had a good discussion about the support work for the figure - a difference of opinion or interpretation? - all good. And am I lucky to have parents who can disagree with me on the intellectual and artistic level? Most definitely yes.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Rant

Instead of making New Year's resolutions that I won't keep, I'm telling the world of humans a few of my home truths - knowing that no one is listening - right!

I reckon so called free trade agreements should be negotiated in an international court of law with independent arbitration. There is too much power/economic imbalance and most of what I understand of these agreements is that they look remarkably like protection rackets operated by stand over merchants. Even if it's just an appearance this needs to be amended.

Barnevelder chicks settling into their new home
The priority of all nations is first to have people involved in communal activity for mutual benefit - we call it "work" - but I think the concept needs to encompass what we do within our families - growing vegetables and raising children as well as the voluntary work that holds the community together - the running of sporting clubs, the scouts, the choral societies.... there used to be enough spare capacity in society for these things to be well run - now it isn't just the climate of litigation that is killing these groups but the emphasis on productivity and efficiency (and consumption) that has taken away our initiative and our spare time - after all that, then add in the economic "keeping the wheels of industry turning". Trade is a communal activity whether it's between individuals or nations: there is not only the benefit of the exchange of goods and services but the cultural interaction that permits trade to happen. If people believe that there is exploitation by one side or the other the cultural "infrastructure" is damaged and the exchange is flawed.

work in progress
Then the next thing I want to fix on this little rant is the "war on drugs" - what did the drugs ever do to deserve this effort? We have a medical problem - it needs to be sorted out and the victims given back their lives. Why not address it in the same manners that eliminated small pox or reduced the black death to a mythological memory? What is a war but boys playing with their sparklers and causing a lot of death and destruction? We can do better than that.

Now it's time to go back to the studio and get on with the work - the piece for the Herring Island exhibition is slowly taking shape - the thoughts materialising in the form. Sometimes I get lost in the process - sometimes I watch myself working - sometimes I use the more mechanical aspects to have some thinking time.