The republic of Australia

Not forgetting, that for its edition of 2-3 January2016, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper came out with an editorial promoting a Republic for Australia. A break-out from the editorial says: “Supporters of the status quo argue that when it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But it is broken. Australia can never define itself on its own terms while it defers to an inherited democracy.”

I agree. One of the oldest pro-Republican arguments in Australia, and it goes back to the nineteenth century, is The Maturity Argument – that Australia has come of age, is now mature, and should let go the apron strings of Mother Britain. It is the argument I mostly use, the argument I most prefer as an Australian republican. This argument was not resisted by some political circles in Britain itself in the nineteenth century, but it is still resisted by monarchists in Australia itself.

This Maturity Argument also suggests that Australia need not stoop to such tactics as the American colonists used from 1775 – armed rebellion. Politically, the transition could be made quite peacefully, and as far as I know, HM Elizabeth II of Great Britain is herself (probably) not against the idea of Australia becoming a republic.

I might add, that foremost Australian critic and comedian, Barry Humphries, as he narrates a recently-produced documentary on Australia 1950s-1980s,“Flashbacks”, (1998-2003), observes that in the 1970s, it was endlessly said that Australia was “coming of age”, and that Australia expressed some of this by rebelling against Mother England. Paradoxically, Australia by 2016 is probably rebelling less against mother England than it was in the 1970s!

One is required to ask, why would this be? It is partly because Republicans have allowed themselves to be buried by Monarchists and the forces of reaction in Australian political life. The 1970s phase Humphries mentioned seems in retrospect then to have been a false dawn for“coming of age”. Worse, there are other warnings to heed, warnings about matters not evident during the 1970s, warnings which did not seem useful till the world saw the results of the outcome of excessive Reaganism in US politics.

For today, by 2016, there is also the risk that Australians will be harmed by thoughtless adoption of ideas which have grown in the USA since 1775, many of which would be harmful for Australia because they badly suit Australian history, political systems or scale(s) of operations. It seems to me that Australians cannot yet be fully trusted to separate what good and bad that has been learned from either of its great and powerful friends – Great Britain or the USA – since 1788. And so it is up to Australian republicans to re-educate their fellow Australians. Please consider yourself placed on this pathway by reading this, then.
                                        -Dan Byrnes, January 2016.

Unwatchable video from Bondi for 2016 – a spoiler alert

Dear TV-Watching Pals about Bondi, Especially for my pal BR, who lives in Bondi but is still not any kind of consultant for any of the “reality TV”shows set in Bondi, Sydney, although with his insights into Australian social life, he really ought to be …

Follows a list of shows on the drawing boards using Bondi locations, and productions of same could well take the next ten or twenty years, who knows?

(Disclaimer: As we know generically, there is no such thing as reality TV, since anything which has been sent through a TV camera is no longer real, but we knew this already.)

Sneak pre-2016 previews: Follows some kind of a new list updated after Bondi Vet went into its present season. (Shows are presented in order of likely popularity in 2016.)

Bondi Scuba Divers (in the harbour and up and down the coasts of Sydney, co-starring The Shark Bait Boys).

The Bondi Statue Fanciers Club. (in-depth series about Sculpture by the Sea exhibition but cleverly designed in ways to badmouth Coogee and to compete with Antiques Roadshow, could even compete with the new series based on Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).

Bondi Nerds Rule OK. (App developers of the world,stand back now and applaud).

Bondi Newsagent (watch thejaw-dropping decline of circulation of Sydney Morning Herald close up, a no-holds-barred insight into the awful disappearance of respected newspapers).

Bondi Prostitute (the blonde one) and the men who keep her in money, The Bondi Tricks.

The Bondi Rich List: Explore economic inequality in today’s Australia using these in-depth looks at Bondi’s wealth patterns as you go from week to week through your own socio-economic gurglers.

Bondi Storms (where the big waves come from).

Bondi Brainstorms (where the ideas for even bigger and better Bondi reality TV shows come from).

Bondi Vroom (on what kinds of cars the people of Bondi buy these days).

Bondi Riot (surprisingly, not sociology, just a show about where to get the best Internet bargains in Bondi).

Bondi – Navel of the Surf Universe: Watch surf-board based documentaries about gripping aspects of Bondi life such as how to shape a surf board from scratch, how new wax is applied to a 20 year-old surf board, layer by layer, by a 60-year-old surfer (who has a wonderfully photogenic case of skin cancer, is not just good, is wonderful).

Bondi Radio Voila: (Digital TV/radio) Random selections of what Bondi people listen to on those rare occasions when they turn the radio on (either digital, FM or AM, as you like). Streaming (wha?).

Bondi at War: Dead or Alive, but Real! (live footage, albeit vetted byAustralian Defence Forces). Check out soldiers, sailors or air force personnel at war who happened to be from Bondi, from the Boer War to the present day. (Replicas of their medals available online at eBay at designated prices.) Special attention to Kokoda Trail.

Bondi Schoolkids (primary). Bondi HSC (the best years vs the worst years, going back to pre-Schoolies days.)

Lastly, The Bondi Flag. Something new on TV to wrap yourself in before you go out to smite your enemies and send them back to where they came from.

(Reviewed at ultra-secret locations in Sydney by Dan Byrnes, late December 2015. Sorry, not, about a New Year’s Day spoof, it tends to come with the territory.)

In praise of Max Richter

In praise of composer Max Richter – A review in late 2015 by Dan Byrnes of music by minimalist composer, Max Richter.

And first, gentlereader-persons, a confession. For years my views about minimalist music have been prejudiced by my dislike, nay, disapproval, of Philip Glass (born 1937), who generates interesting musical ideas, and then fails to let them develop; Glass can generate interesting musical ideas, but the results I mostly find frustrating and I hate the sense of musical inhibition Glass cultivates.

Although,some music by Glass does seem more interesting, such as his “opera”, Ahknaten. Glass’s music for the film Powaqqatsi is at times interesting/unexpected. Other noted minimalists are La Monte Young,Terry Riley and Steve Reich. Young and Riley I haven’t tried yet. Reich I have tried and I sometimes find Reich boring. In my usual player for music files, I find Reich’s tracks “Dolly, and a few tracks titled drumming have already been labelled boring. Some of Reich’s work is quite listenable, but too often he is too much the experimentalist to be enjoyable. Often, Reich’s work feels like music for scenes yet unfilmed and possibly, unfilmable.

“Minimalism”seems a music label that minimalist composers seem to want to escape. Glass, influenced by modernistic European composers as a youth, and later by Indian music and culture, calls himself a writer of “music with repetitive structures” (and the repetitiveness is something else I also don’t like about Glass’s work). Max Richter I much more approve of, as he seems emotionally richer, more elaborate, a more musically-skilled composer in general than many minimalists. I discovered Richter by conventional means, although no one has ever specifically mentioned him to me. An Australian TV network began marketing Richter’s latest production, a multi-track CD offering entitled Sleep (nine CDs, 8-hours long). So I followed-up Richter.

Richter (born 1966 in Germany) with his German name grew up in the middle of England and undertook his young-adult formal music studies in Edinburgh, at Royal Academy of Music, then in Florence Italy. He became a “post-minimalist” and has produced, eg., seven music albums, plus music for movie soundtracks and well, just short compositions. Sometimes, Richter works on real or imaginary stories or histories (the chasm between lived experience and imaginative musings), and with the imaginary stories he perhaps reminds me of the writing of the Argentinian, Jorge Luis Borges -abstract, allusive, philosophical, and if you have a mind for Borges’ kind of fun, delightful but high-level. Richter also has musical plangency. Eg., Plangent, re a sound, loud and resonant, possibly mournful in tone, plaintive (eg., a bell or harpsichord), reverberating/expressive. (The sound of a string quartet at a funeral might be plangent. BBC TV once described the voice of US bluesman B.B. King as “plangent”.)

And FYI, a definition of Minimalist Music … a reductive school of music arising in the 20thCentury (1960s New York), utilizing simple sonorities, rhythms and patterns, minimal use of elaboration or complexity, maybe using protracted repetition, obsessive structural rigour, delivering a pulsing, hypnotic effect. It is non-narrative,non-representational.

Minimalism utilises consonant harmony, steady pulse (maybe uses drones), stasis or only gradual transformation, reiteration of musical phrases according to strict rules. According to Kyle Gann in 1994, a minimalist composer ,minimalist music features a lack of “goal-oriented European associations” and meant a return to simplicity after excess complexity in earlier musical forms. According to David Cope in 1997, it might feature silence, guiding concepts, brevity, slow modulation, phase, pattern and repetition.

Something is possibly owed to Moondog of the 1940s and 1950s (counterpoint stretched statically over steady sound pulses in unusual time signatures) or Denis Johnson’s composition, November (1959). No one quite knows who first coined the phrase, “minimal music”, but perhaps it was pianist Michael Nyman in a 1968 article. Nyman is an Englishman, born 1944,who wrote the marvellous music for the movie set in nineteenth century New Zealand, The Piano. One inspirer was perhaps John Cage. Suffice to say, minimalist music has found its way into more-modern types of rock-n-roll (eg, Krautrock). A deliberate striving for musical beauty is said to be a strong component of minimalist music, but I often find music, let alone beauty, lacking with minimalism.

To be repaid for my pains, finally, by Richter, whose music is often hauntingly beautiful and develops well. Some of Richter’s more beautiful tracks, short or longer than shorter, I find to be well-exemplified, interesting-to-beautiful, by his album, “La Prima Linea”.

Being a poet, I quite approve of some of Richter’s titles for his compositions, short as many of them are. Among them are: 24 postcards in full colour (an album title) and track titles such as: broken symmetries, I was just thinking … tokyo riddle song, return to Prague, cascade, Northern Lights, haunted ocean, I swam out to sea, written on sky, shadow journal, fragment, lines on a page, sofa chess, interior horses … all intriguing sets of words, or intriguing music.

At times, Richter is beautiful, as said, in a haunting way. He can also at times be consoling vs worrying, surprising, arresting, problematical, but almost always interesting, and often, surprisingly full-bodied for a so-called minimalist composer. In all, I’d call Richter a composer of extremely short and high-quality pieces of music, musical essays, except for one thing – he so often uses the standard ways of minimalist music, he has to be called, a minimalist or post-minimalist composer. He says himself, by the age of six he was often “reconfiguring” music. Two of his favourite influences are Bach and The Beatles. He’d perhaps be a classicist if he wasn’t so modernistically electronical.

He tries, he says himself, to find surprises in his works-in-progress to be developed/redeveloped. It might be better just to call him “Richter”and let time and tide sort out his reputation. Which ought to be – a reputation for quiet musical magnificence, I think. Real magnificence.
Dan Byrnes (Australia), December 2015.

Exploring VillaLobos of Brazil

Dear Music Pals, Except for some classical guitar work, I haven’t really thought any extra about classical music since I expanded my horizons with it some years ago in one fell swoop, when I might have emailed you about acquiring eg “the darkest pieces of classical music”, actually a 9-CD set of compilation albums of bits of classical music from here and there – and very good too.

Except that the past few weeks I’ve decided to collect more of the work (he wrote 2000 pieces in total, died 1959 when I was aged 11) by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. Go google on wikipedia for Heitor Villa-Lobos, very illuminating.

I find online that Amazon in Australia has none of him. CD Universe hasd some of him, and some of that is imported from Amazon in USA. My bookseller, who also does music CDs, has looked in UK for me and says that pickings are slim. Villa-Lobos is a bit famous, actually, but whether he is or not seems neither here nor there, there could be more of him available online than is, ok. So for the time being I’ll just pursue his symphonies.

And why pursue Villa-Lobos anyway? Well, he’s Brazilian, so he isn’t English, or Australian, or US, or European or Russian. Or Italian. He’s Brazilian, and I know little of Brazilian music. (It’s said that Brazil got musically exploratory when it shrugged off European royalty and government style.) So soon I’ll have Symphonies by Villa-Lobos Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11.

Think he wrote about 13 symphonies. He is, for one thing, very melodic, and I enjoy melody. Well worth following up.

Executive salaries

The news today (19-12-2018) from a meeting of NAB Bank shareholders is very encouraging. The news is that shareholders have revolted against CEO-type remarks (which have been used for years now) that huge salaries have to be paid to attract international talent to a senior position. When the truth is that in Australia, a royal commission into banking and the finance sector has found that many banks have been behaving badly and been ripping off their customers, including charging deceased customers for “fees for service”. Ergo, the huge salaries and bonus packages have only attracted badly behaving types. Lord, this website is pleased that this nonsense has been sorted out. I hope this revised shareholder outlook spreads internationally and very quickly, too.

Reflections on genealogy (3)

More on the pitfalls vs the success of doing genealogy today. (3)

One of the worst problems to be encountered in years of this sort of work with genealogy has been (mostly for some Australian, New Zealand or US genealogies) with receiving emails from matriarchs who want to set one to rights. They mostly have mistaken or low-grade views on history, if not plain wrong; worse, they tend to have inflated views on the achievements of members of their family. (If they are older people, which they generally are, their education is probably not good.) I suspect, but don’t know, that they achieve their role by default – no one else is interested.

These matriarchs mostly have little or no interest in proper foundational history because of their inflated views on the achievements of their own family. So be warned, these women’s contributions have to be taken with large grains of salt. Some of them can be quite correct and very entertaining with it, but if and when they are wrong, they are a positive danger.

There are others errors to be made and reasons for errors … To go back to the early seventeenth century, the system of “awarding” baronetcies, which was a wonderful earner for James I of England, who introduced this baronetcy system, was in many ways helpful to genealogy, as it introduced a well-watched system that redounded down the generations, and often, profitably so for the “awardees” and their descendants. This system of baronetcies created a kind of low-level aristocracy that, sitting just above the middle and upper-middle class in England, created an entirely new echelon, and an often reliable echelon, for the inspection of the historian interested in human social life. (At least one of the baronetcies created from the 1790s in London still thrives today.)

But there arose a publication now known as Burke’s Extinct Baronetcies, which partly as so many lineages became extinct (there was no one left to ask) became very inaccurate. The result was that scholars used this information – some of which was inaccurate – and thus perpetuated errors about various eras. Burke’s Extinct became a menace for historians. It took me a long time to get clear of this problem.

Other errors arise because of disputes over spelling. (Smith or Smythe, Ferguson or Fergusson, Blyth or Blythe?) All my life I have had to live with questions about the spelling of my own name (Byrnes, which is Irish, or Burns, which is Scottish.)

The reasons for errors with genealogies go on and on. There are “grandmothers” who might censor tales of the behaviour of family members, or perhaps disapprove of the choice of a spouse, and might feel free about excluding or censoring information about people they disapprove of. A child might be disinherited for reasons not given. Or, there might be other reasons for errors to be made. People often lose touch with their family members when a person or persons emigrate or move to a different part of the same country (this applies to many notable Londoners who had roots in the country counties).

I can think of at least one Scots commercial lineage active in the early nineteenth century where one can easily see the passage of a genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder (once known as manic depression). A male lineage can die out so that the line is carried on only by women, which can become confusing, more so if some of the women have multiple spouses. (And errors can arise in history where a man or women has multiple spouses, some of whom can be forgotten, censored, or otherwise somehow “disappear” from the records – this can also interfere with correct information on the parent(s) of particular children.)

Sometimes, a man changed his surname to be able to inherit an estate, often from a maternal uncle or great-uncle.

But not to be negative, let us now survey reasons which assist accuracy in genealogy. Today, it is frowned on when cousins marry, but such marriage behaviour was very common till the early nineteenth century, either for reasons of the protection of property, or maybe because people saw themselves, rightly or wrongly, as having limited options for making choices about marriage partners. Illness, some other health problems or the premature death of a spouse, might also be a factor here. It generally is helpful to research if-or-when cousins marry, if only because a genealogy stops expanding for a time, and so to speak, curves back in on itself – and stays accurate.

Generally, however, and it is rather remarkable as human behaviour, genealogies tend to be as mathematically expansive as they are genetically expansive– because individuals mostly choose their partners at random. That is, they fall in love or otherwise find ways to get on, which means a couple often stays together.

What can be remarkable here is that historians still have few protocols for an understanding of “falling in love”. This sort of business tends to be assumed, and divorces or partings are also accepted by historians in a shrug-shoulder sort of way. It is also noticeable, how many old people, male or female, die during winter; it must have been a medical cliché, and also a cliché for funeral directors.

And at last we should ask, what, if anything, have I learned from these genealogical delvings? One thing seems clear, and it is something that Marx failed to notice, and it’s one reason why Marxism is wrong about class. In general, parents try to protect daughters by marrying them to their own class (horizontal class behaviour) or some class above it (a verticalising class behaviour). It is seen by most parents as cruel to induce or make a daughter marry beneath her own class (although some daughters make such a decision on their own). Sons are generally a different matter; they are more impetuous with their decisions, harder to control and they travel differently and probably further than young women do. Sons are a wild card with marriages, daughters are more compliant.

The long-term result, discernible via genealogy, is a gentle upward movement in and for society. Marxists mistake this and attribute it to rather basic economic explanations. I tend to a more behavioural explanation for this tendency to slow upward social mobility. Of course, downward social mobility exists to, perhaps due to moral failure (such as alcoholism or gambling), some effects of war, the early death of a spouse or of children, medical problems, mental illness, genetic inheritances, disruption-in-general, failed investments, failed business experience – and failure might be harder to explain than success.

More to the Marxist point, and assuming that other things remain equal, women with successful marriages tend to become wealthier, better off. Families I conclude, also, partly due to the Industrial Revolution (which is basically for England dated from 1760 to 1830) that individuals and families become wealthy not necessarily because they inherit, or posses wealth that grows via interest rates and/or skilful family management, or work both hard and well; they became wealthy or not due to climbing onto one or several income streams, particularly during times of technological change. (In the Western World, we know a good deal about technological change, due to the said Industrial Revolution and its continuances.) Poverty tends to be found where people for various reasons (and often arguable reasons) have limited access to expansive income streams in a technologically changing society.

And lastly I return to a discussion of the software that anyone might use. Because of the problem – of duplication. If errors exist, and they will inevitably appear in ways small or large, then duplications for individuals, or marriages, entire family groups, will have to be managed. One’s choice of software to use could and perhaps should take this into account, though this problem tends not to be discussed as a problem. The problem exists, however as I have found to my cost. Genealogy is an uncertain art. There are many different kinds of historical problems which can arise because of inaccurate genealogy.

But there is a sort of satisfaction to be found here too. Generally, any historical problems that are noticed will subside when genealogies are finally gotten correct. (This is a conspicuous finding with the descendancies of say, Pocahontas in Virginia.) We live, however, in times of change other then technological change. In the days we live in, when around the world now, men can marry men and women can marry women, and if either can care for children, there has been a revolution regarding “families”.

If so, what is the role of software which is based solely on male-female relationships? Rather like bulls and cows and their progeny. I think myself that the role of software has changed. Genealogical software will have to be rewritten to be able to cope with the issues – because the issues are no longer merely sexually binary. (Ends this series of articles.)

About the US Federal Government

About the US Federal Government … Since I’m a writer (ex-journalist, poet) there is about me a strong sense of an eternal search for a good line, a way of saying something … and a few samples from the USA would be good, so here goes … I do like the line from the US right wing (the home of small government, so it thinks) – because the line is good, and so quick – that …

“Government should be no bigger than anything you can drown in the bath.”

This is a wonderful line, I think, most of all for its rapidity, even though I disagree with it profoundly. And why do I disagree? Well, in this day and age, it’s mindless, brainless, irresponsible, and downright childish, to imagine that any Federal government of a large population wouldn’t for starters be expensive, large, complicated. So what do I think about Trump’s December 2018 threat to shut down the US Government if he doesn’t get the money to build his wall? All of the above; mindless, brainless, irresponsible and downright childish. But as a line, it’s brilliant, no?

Reflections on Genealogy (2)

…On some of the pitfalls of doing long-range genealogy, and I should stress again that I’m an Australian, so really, when I look at genealogies from the UK, or USA or Canada, I am seeing matters with the eyes of a stranger.

I’ve found that there are many reasons to distrust genealogical reports, and many reasons to trust them; but one does have to be clear about this. Genealogy is and remains a very uncertain art, often because of some very human frailties – the ability to lie, to hide from unpleasant facts, to hide the future from misbehaving ancestors, or faulty memories, maybe a need to guess. But I have found out several useful things.

One unexpected finding is that about 1900, and I suppose it was a fin-de-siecle phenomenon, a turn-of-the-century sort of thing for the English-speaking world at least, there were a lot of books of genealogy printed. It was the end of a century of complicated (and very interesting) technological change. Families who thought they were anybody must have been kept very busy sorting out their ancestries, and I suppose that printing companies found the period very profitable indeed, but I’ve found that a lot of errors or omissions were made. The perpetuation of errors, the use of old and incorrect material from the past, and often handed down in families, are almost a separate field of study. One has to keep separate files on corrections.

There are some errors which have crept into English aristocratic genealogy – the corrections can often be entertaining. Scottish genealogy is very turbulent and often inaccurate.

American colonial genealogy is remarkable for a consistency of errors – the “Mayflower thing“ is hugely overdone but all the same, necessary to do. There are unreasonable difficulties with handling the descendants of Pocohontas just because she was in Indian, and similar applies to many slave descendancies. There is one correction online re the name Drake for what is now the USA – there are errors made re the descendants of Sir Francis Drake, and so on.

USA people can seem amusing, and I imagine some of this is due to the popularity of Protestant religion in the USA, as they often seem to enjoy taking genealogies back into the very mists of time, to before the Middle Ages, to about 600AD in Europe (eg., in France or England), to the time of Christ, or to “Adamic times”.

Before 1775, many colonial American men had military rank in militias which often protected settlements from Indians; the numbers of American colonial men who were “soldiers” is truly extraordinary – and the facts have often crept into US movies, too. (One of the best such movies is The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger, which is ironic, as both of these actors can be claimed as Australians.) It seems then, no wonder that the USA is a heavily militarised, overly-patriotic and overly-aggressive nation; this is “cultural”, this has been going on since before the American Revolution and was heightened further by the Revolution, and it has had a founder effect for the USA as a nation.

With Australian genealogies, there is room for humour as well as sombre thoughts. Various “Anglo”Australians can be subject today to reverse snobbery, as with the genealogical website named “Australian Royalty”, which is very much for the descendants of convicts. I remain very amused with the nineteenth century pastoral sector for upper-class pastoral families, as they intermarried about as fast as is humanly possible in order to shore up their class positions in a new country, but some rather snobby twentieth century books of genealogy indicate that this is rarely how they see it themselves.

Culturally, eastern Australia has an excessive taste in history for the lurid and the scandalous, particularly regarding commercial histories in Sydney and to a lesser extent, Melbourne, which is perhaps due to our convict colony origins – and it affects genealogies as well. It is notable that Joseph Conrad, novelist and incidentally a much-travelled sea captain who knew his ports of the world, once said that the port of Sydney was the most corrupt port he’d ever seen.

And a sombre thought for the Australian experience? Just why Australia’s Aboriginal people speak of “Aboriginality” and downplay information on their European ancestry, if they have it, is I suppose for a reason that is easy to understand – that Aboriginals and part-Aboriginals fear they will become extinct as a race. But I wish they were more honest, clearer and up-front about their ancestries. Partly as it is clear, there are much less of such problems with a nearby country also with a recent European start, New Zealand.

And in New Zealand, it is remarkable, a series of governors/governors-general came from the same family, named Fergusson. This long-term charade involved a Governor of New Zealand Sir James Fergusson (1832-1907) Baronet 6 who married a sister of a Governor of South Australia; father of a Governor-General of New Zealand, Sir Charles Fergusson (1865-1951) who married Lady Alice Mary Boyle, daughter of a Governor of New Zealand, David Boyle (1833-1915) 7th Earl Glasgow; father of a Governor-General of New Zealand, Bernard Edward Fergusson (1911-1980), Lord Ballantine; father of a High Commissioner to New Zealand, George Duncan Fergusson.

All this seems to me to be one of the central absurdities of New Zealand’s history. (Ends)