Harry Clarke On economics, politics & other things

December 23, 2012

Summer grabs me by the throat once again

Filed under: personal promotion,recreation — hc @ 10:43 am

The usual end to each year for me. I have been holidaying in southern NSW and now in Sydney waiting for some really hot weather.   Posting will be intermittent at most until New Year. Enjoy the festive season – I hope Santa brings all my readers lots of good toys.

Update 1: Back in Melbourne but still holidaying and returning to my “recreational” interests in ethics and philosophy.  Struggling through Derek Parfit’s 2-volume On What Matters – my lack of background makes this a particularly demanding assignment when golf and swimming are attractive non-cerebral opportunities.  I greatly enjoyed this review of Parfit’s life and work by Lariba MacFarquhar in The New Yorker.  Parfit is supposed to be one of the most significant modern innovators in moral philosophy and, among other things, this article gives a flavour of many of his core ideas. I originally read Parfit’s Reasons and Persons mainly because of my interest in optimal population issues and resource depletion.   His line is fascinating – only worry about actual people who are born so depleting resources fast now does not matter much because the future population associated with high rates of depletion now would not  have been born under a lower depletion scenario. Philosophers are funny people!

My guess is that game theorists from economics will eventually pounce on Parfit’s On What Matters and formalise the attempted philosophical synthesis of various ethical approaches. I’ll keep a watch-out for early efforts.

I have been re-reading Nietzsche on master/slave moralities, On The Genealogy of Morals, critiques of Kant etc. More on this later but I find many of the arguments compelling and confusing because they conflict with so many other ways of thinking about ethics. Need to grok this more fully.

Update 2:  Without working too hard at it I have been improving my knowledge of ethics by going some online courses available for free from Oxford University, MIT and other places.  I find access to classroom level discussions on these topics a useful adjunct to reading texts.  It amazed me when I started to look around how much high-quality material – videos, podcasts, textbooks is now available online.  Some can be conveniently downloaded into ITunesU.  This is probably not a startling observation to many but I guess I have just not looked very seriously before. Open Culture is a good starting point but there are a wide range of starting points.

I’ll get back to some serious blogging in the early New Year.

February 18, 2012

Currencies & holiday planning

Filed under: recreation — hc @ 6:21 pm

With a strong Aussi dollar and feeble international currencies it is time to think about making a move:

Perhaps time now to think about planning for (but not yet paying for) a holiday in Greece.

Or maybe wait for a while for a trip to Japan. Currently running a trade deficit – the first since 1980 and with a strongly contracting economy a question needs to be asked. Is it the next looming crisis?

Actually I’ve been thinking about the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy. Although the world’s 8th largest economy is sliding into recession and has a massive debt to GDP ratio (115%) it doesn’t offer the same immediate future prospects of a cheap holiday as Greece but still it looks pretty good. The scenery fantastic and the Italian seafood something to die for.  I can practise my meagre Italian….

The ability to find joy in the misfortunes of others. It isn’t amorality but a direct consequence of studying economics and thinking about tradeoffs and opportunity costs..

March 16, 2011

Best pool shot by a naked white chick

Filed under: humour,recreation — hc @ 12:51 pm


Thanks BL (I think).

December 7, 2009

Summer grabs me by the throat once again.

Filed under: recreation — hc @ 5:41 pm

Taking holidays on the south-coast of NSW as usual.   Posting will be irregular over the next few weeks but I’ll try to keep in touch with the unfolding events in Copenhagen and the continuing implosions in the Liberal Party.

January 13, 2009

A break in Syd

Filed under: recreation — hc @ 10:52 pm

I am relocating to Sydney for a few days R&R – escaping forecast temperatures in Melbourne of 39oC tomorrow for a more moderate 29oC in Syd. I’ll post if Bondi beckons less than I anticipate it will but I doubt it.

Son William: ‘Dad, those ladies over there are missing the tops to their bikinis’.

Dad: ‘For God’s sake don’t stare. Where was that, son?’

Back Monday.

Update: It was stinking hot in Syd and, from reports, no worse in Melbourne.  Cooled a bit on Saturday but looking forward to regaining the civilised Melbourne lifestyle.

November 28, 2008

Summer grabs me by the throat once again

Filed under: recreation — hc @ 10:19 pm

Last year I deviated from my standard summer routine by holidaying in Sydney rather than in Ulladulla NSW where I have enjoyed my holidays for most of the past 20 years. But I am reverting to form and heading off to Ulladulla tomorrow for a minimalist summer vac – two weeks. I stay in a house about 200 metres from Narrawallee Beach. I like it more than a little.

Up the coast a bit is Jervis Bay where I have spent the last 6 years trying to track down Eastern Bristlebird. I have often seen it at Barren Grounds but never at Jervis Bay – until 2 years ago when, with son William, I saw it clearly in heath near the old lighthouse along with Brown quail. The definition of success depends on one’s horizons.

Apart from such highlights my life is measured out in coffee-spoons of surf-beer-KFC then test cricket followed by a late afternoon surf repeat then vino. Sometimes, if I am energetic, I drive down to Mollymook and watch the dolphins from the Mollymook Golf Club and follow this with some flabby seafood. This is paradise.

I am not sure how much I will post over the coming weeks so this is an open thread. Comments are welcome particularly on my valuable contributions to improving the lot of suffering humanity. Leave Kevin Rudd out of all discussions – I’ll think of him every time I wax my surfboard anyway.

August 21, 2008

Taking a break from routine in Sydney

Filed under: climate change,recreation — hc @ 1:00 am

I am taking a brief respite in Sydney for a few days. I am presenting my paper ‘Some Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change’ (based on this and this) in the Agricultural and Resource Economics Department at the University of Sydney on Friday 22nd August from 3-00 to 5-00 pm in the R.D. Watt Building. Readers can contact the Department if they wish to attend. I can be contacted via this Department.

I have been thinking generally about climate change adaptation issues and have started to get involved in some urban issues and, more directly than in the past, on issues in agriculture. Melbourne has a fascinating early climate change adaptation proposal that focuses on reversing ‘heat island’ effects, recycling stormwater (Melbourne faces dramatic water shortages) as well as policies for handling sea level change. The proposals for agriculture involving recognising the good aspects of climate change – the gains should come prior to 2050 before carbon concentrations really start to bite – and accounting for the net costs that will occur thereafter. Many of the agricultural adaptations will develop endogenously as farmers respond myopically to market forces and do not call for policy action. Others such as R&D and urging uptake of new technologies require a policy push as do any sought-after structural assistance programs.

On water the proposals of Young and McColl make a great deal of sense to me. The difficulty of managing water resources is reduced to a measurement problem with the environment and agriculture taking fixed proportions of what is available after basic flows in systems such as the Murray-Darling are guaranteed.

More on these things when I return – I am drafting a paper on these issues at present.

January 12, 2008

Saturday golf miscellany

Filed under: recreation — hc @ 9:49 pm

This came from a commercial source but they are rather neat clips of Jason Zuback, who claims to be the world’s longest golf ball hitter, as he clocks a golf ball. This is a shorter clip of the same guy. I have been watching it repeatedly this afternoon in the hope something will rub off.

4 golf balls swallowed by a myopic carpet python have been sold for $1401 on Ebay.

Meanwhile, the way for young golfers to defeat Tiger Woods is to ‘lynch him in a back alley’ according to network announcer Kelly Tilghman. Poor choice of words there Kelly – she has issued a public apology and was stood down for a fortnight.

On a happier note some inspiring video clips of Tiger Woods exercising his own brand of poetry. I also enjoyed the background views of some of the US’s best golf courses.

January 7, 2008

Growling frogs & barking owls

Filed under: environment,recreation — hc @ 12:47 pm

I head back to work today after nearly 4 weeks off. I finished my holidays with a week of golf and bird-watching- yesterday playing at the magnificent, links-style, Growling Frog Golf Course (it is named after this). Then in the evening I went with zoologist Dr. Bob Anderson and his friend Jan to Puckapunyal in search of a Barking owl – finally getting one in the Graytown military base area at about 11pm – my first ever sighting of this bird and success after numerous previous failed attempts. For 20 minutes we ‘woofed’ at the owl and it ‘woofed’ back. An amazing experience that I won’t forget.

By the way, the Growing Frog Golf Course is working hard to conserve both the frog and a legless lizard. Puckapunyal is a military base also seeking to conserve a sustainable environment. There are environmental compromises with reality which can work.

January 2, 2008

Don’t have to think

Filed under: recreation,sloth,work — hc @ 10:11 am

I was entertained and informed by a short article in The Age by Rob Moodie (‘Reconsider the frantic pace of life’) that urges us all to slow down. It is a useful article to think about as many of us go back to ‘work’ over the next few days after a reasonably long Xmas break.

Important accompaniments to a productive life are non-work leisure activities, living and sloth. I want to emphasise the latter here: Don’t have to do, don’t have to think, just be. Look at that sunset, potter in the garden.

Our personal wealth is increasing – a recent estimate put it at $400,000 per Australian – and with increased wealth we can and should put more time into leisure and sloth. Work is partly an end in itself – many of us derive intense satisfaction from our work – and partly a means to an end namely to enjoy that multi-faceted experience called ‘living’. Rat-race ethics of ‘trying to keep up with the Jones’ are negative externalities that limit our potential to efficiently optimise our lives. These can be partially offset by hefty progressive taxes on high incomes, by having more public holidays, by requiring minimum annual vacations and by restricting working hours as in France. All such measures however have obvious costs – the best approach is to act individually and rationally on the basis of a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the different needs in our lives.

Work needs to be put in its place and intelligently optimised with respect to other activities and with respect to doing nothing at all beyond just being. If this sounds like a ‘beautiful people’ line from the 1970s or from Carlos Castaneda I can assure you it isn’t. As I stress work is important as is purposive play (reducing your golf handicap, gardening) and as is sloth (pottering). The key is to get the balance right and to eschew the idea of an ever present ‘to do’ list that keeps every second of your day (and night) fully occupied.

As much as I liked Moodie’s argument I think even he overemphasises purposive non-work activity (investing in family and social relationships) as a means of improving our work efficiency and our emotional health. I am sure he is right to recognise these factors but I don’t want life to be, as Bob Dylan has said, ‘something you invest in’. There is scope for both purposive non-work activities and sloth to provide a more comprehensive deconditioning that has intrinsic value as a renewing agent. It breaks down fixed associations and neuroses, improves our awareness and creativity and helps allow the batteries to recharge.

If you want to use ‘to do’ lists don’t try to control every minute with planned work and purposive leisure – allow time for the sin of sloth.

December 23, 2007

Xmas holidays

Filed under: recreation — hc @ 1:24 pm

I am winding down my blogging activities and will post only intermittently in the period through to the New Year. I hope that readers have an enjoyable break. Compliments of the season to all.

December 15, 2007

Friday news post Saturday morning

Filed under: Australian politics,climate change,recreation — hc @ 10:30 am

I spent yesterday morning on Bondi Beach with son William and the afternoon smashing golf balls at a practice range in the Macquarie University grounds. It was a glorious Sydney day with an overwhelmingly blue sky – only a little cloud in the west. I am as pink as a lobster in most of the areas that the 30+ sunscreen lotion didn’t reach. As I have written before on this blog, there are few places on this planet that I enjoy more than crass, brassy Sydney with its magnificent natural beauty and its aggressive local inhabitants. As I am interested in roads and transport economics I enjoyed several trips through the Cross City Tunnel and the new (very useful) Lane Cove Tunnel. I had heard there were problems of patronage – not evident while I traveled yesterday – lots of traffic including many large trucks. My old stomping ground at Macquarie University has matured into a great setting for a university.

I was going to write a deep introspective piece on the significance of beach culture to an aging, rotund, ex-surfer but there wasn’t anything deep to say – I just still dig it – 30 years flew bye in a flash and it was clear that the important, ingrained things like the love of salt water, sand, boobs and the sensuous joys of sunlight, hot sand and cool ocean do not change! I don’t actually surf much these days – in the main I just float around aimlessly like a largish blob of jelly that gets clobbered by the shore-break. I do however get real vicarious pleasure watching William do what I did as a kid.

There was also quite a lot that was interesting in the news recently.

1. It is clear Rudd has a climate change policy equivalent to the Coalition. Get rid of the talk about ‘flexibility’ and ‘concern’ he has done nothing in Bali that is not symbolic. Rudd claims to be playing ‘hardball’ with the US but US government officials say they see no difference between his policies and those of John Howard. Nor do I. The Europeans understand Rudd well – his conservative instincts run at least as deeply as those of John Howard but he lacks Howard’s ability to be non-committal when he is out of his depth. His attempts to hang future Labor policy on the research outputs of Ross Garnaut are remarkably foolish – Garnaut will not tell us anything new.

Rudd will turn out to be a disappointing Prime Minister for all voters. This gpoes beyond partisan politics. He is an unimaginative bureaucrat who will never deliver much. He mimics Tony Blair but lacks Blair’s talent.

2. The news that the Arctic Ocean might be ice-free by 2012 – rather than the previous worst-case scenario of 2040 – illustrates the gravity of the climate change issue. Water floating into the Arctic Ocean is 3.5 degrees warmer than its historical mean so the ice is disappearing quickly – the ice pack is half its size of four years ago. The canary is whistling loud and clear.
In other news scientists claim the Great Barrier Reef is already probably irreparably damaged by climate change.

The Liberals were foolish on climate change and so too is the Labor Party. Politicians have short-term time horizons and none in Australia recognise the need for an urgent response to a serious situation that could become catastrophic.

3. The Rudd Government says it will accumulate data to prepare a legal challenge to Japanese whaling in Australian Antarctic Waters. Big deal – the Japanese have already stated they welcome a legal challenge because they know they will survive such. On most of the ‘environmental sentiment’ issues I am convinced Rudd will progressively reveal himself to be feeble – the trade unionist rump of his party will foster this weakness.

4. With evidence of gross ineffectiveness in its indigenous policies Queensland government Ministers have put a gag on public servants speaking about hundreds of child abuse cases on Cape York. The Labor Party wishes to protect its record for verbose declarations of a sense of injustice in aboriginal, affairs and continue to ignore arguments that Territory-style interventions – which already seem to be working by the way – might work well in our deep north. Peter Beattie is sniping from the sidelines – a media tart flog he will always be.

The counteraction to community outrage to the 10-year old girl from Aurukun continues to develop and will (my prediction goes) evolve into a considered justification for the non-sentencing decision. Eventually Federal intervention into indigenous affairs in Queensland is essential but watch the left fight this one!

In my view Judge Sarah Bradley is unfit to be working on the bench – her views amount to the claim that black kids deserve lower levels of protection than white kids. Moreover, her assertions that aboriginals should not be jailed for serious assaults because too many are already in jail are inappropriate for someone seeking to uphold the law and not her concern.

Deep thought: The supporters of our claimed collective white guilt for the ‘Stolen Generations’ are inflicting more human misery on aboriginals than any other group. Their lies and assertions of implied white guilt destroy the lives of young black girls and boys now. The premise is that us white folk are rotten, through and through so don’t accept any intervention involving white folks. The premise is wrong.

5. Marcus Einfeld, a former leading judge, the foundation President of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission faces 13 charges including perverting the course of justice, making use of a false instrument and perjury in relation to a traffic fine case. I am pleased to see equal conviction opportunities present themselves for Einfeld and hope that, if he is convicted, of these offenses he goes to jail. A significant side benefit would be that we would hear less of this gas-filled windbag. Of course, he has not been convicted of anything else and deserves a fair trial just like any other man in the street.

6. The Pope has become a nun and is living in East Brunswick with Norman Gunston. No, not really, but State and Federal Governments will cough up $41 million to compensate Randwick Racecourse for be vacated for 10 weeks in preparation for the six day World Youth Day Papal Mass when an estimated 500,000 Aussies will line up to listen to some pointless, remarks. The smart money says he will urge that the ‘world should strive for peace’ and ‘reject violence’. Overall the community will be slugged about $95 million for this advice. Special legislation over a period of six months (why so long?) has been introduced by the State Government to ensure the Holy Father gets adequate security. I’d prefer that a ‘user-pays’ principle be applied and that public money be spent on things that provide greater payoffs.

Saturday is sunny and clear – off to lunch at Palm Beach with golf in afternoon at Bayview. Someone has to do it – as they say.

Update: My golf wasn’t that wonderful but Bayview is the extreme end of Pittwater with lots of rainforest pockets and wetlands/estuaries. During my golf round I saw lots of native bird species including White-bellied sea eagle, Spangled drongo, Dollarbirds and Sacred kingfishers. A new potential sport occurs to me: golf-cum-birdwatching!

Update 2: The Drongos, Dollarbirds, Kingfishers are northern migrants. So too is the Koel that disturbs my sleep each morning from about 5-30AM each morning here in Sydney’s inner west.

November 26, 2007

Italian seafood

Filed under: food,recreation — hc @ 4:44 pm

I am living about 100 metres from the coastline here in northern Italy and, yep, recalling my trade classes on comparative advantage based on factor endowments I have focused my culinary endeavors here on the local seafood.

Lobster, calimari, scampi, prawns, shellfish and some of the local fishes (including fresh tuna steaks) have been subject to lunchtime attacks over the past week or so. I am interested in the northern Italian approach which often combines a fair bit of olive oil with tomato. Some of the seafood soups have been delightful but for sheer perfection yesterday’s lobster in a spicy, tomato-based sauce with pasta brought me reasonably close to a beatific vision.

I’ve grizzled a bit in restaurants here about the sweetness of the Italian whites but with the lobster I got a bone dry Tocai Friulano that reminded me of a great chablis and I was in heaven.

After several hours of contemplating the yacht masts and the seabirds in the harbour adjoining the restaurant I walked with a full stomach and an empty mind to Miramare Castle and its gardens for a stroll. It was a great afternoon.

November 14, 2007


Filed under: recreation — hc @ 11:29 pm

I am golfing Thursday at Rosanna so taking a break. A favourable poll for the Liberal Party would improve my putting. I am jangly at the prospect of ear-wax munches, rock stars and barren, leftist women running the country. Back Friday.

Thursday afternoon update: My putting was terrible. Curse Kevin Rudd and his popularity. But I did see a King parrot flying over on the 4th hole. Not a rare bird but I’ve never seen one before in this part of the Yarra River parklands.

October 7, 2007

Saturday night with Grand Cru

Filed under: recreation,wine — hc @ 3:14 pm

My friend Professor Chongwoo Choe has come to his senses and returned to live in Melbourne. He and his wife put on a sumptuous dinner last night with four exciting French wines that he had managed to gather while on his regular academic field trips to France.

To start off we enjoyed a Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles 2005 which was a non-idiosyncratic – though excellent – co-op Chablis with peachy overtones. It went down well with oysters and a variety of soft cheeses – pure class and the first Grand Cru Chablis your humble correspondent has ever enjoyed. Next came an exceptionally powerful Burgundy wine, a Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2003, – this was an intensely-flavoured chardonnay with strong minerally overtones. Then, with an excellent meal of spicy pork, veal and chicken, there followed a super intense and aromatic Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru 1995 red burgundy – no hint of bottle age, it tasted like a fresh young wine – followed by a good merlot, the Chateau Figeac St Emilion Premier Cru 1997.

Desert was a mango sponge followed by a top local sticky, De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillion 2004.

The six drinkers present were split in their assessment of the wines although most thought the pinot exceptional. My own preference went to the Chablis, a sublime style that I seldom come close to experiencing in Australian wines, although to be frank none of the French wines enjoyed have straightforward Australian correlates. The pinot was my exceptional second choice.

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