Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 89, February 2017 — Farewell Tommo
With new trips appearing and old ones disappearing almost by the day, I put off sending this until I had most fixed. See Last Chance for the situation as it is the day this newsletter comes out.
This is another big edition so you can come back again and again to browse whatever takes your fancy. Having a careful look at the contents could be well worth your while.
If you have very young children, the most important article here is the one on peanut allergy at the beginning of the Your Health section. One of the most intriguing is the map link at the beginning of the President Trump section.
My personal favourite is The Intellectual Yet Idiot about the people who run things and why they really have no clue.
Restricted content. Articles marked * or ** are on restricted websites Click for more info.
Peter 'Tommo' Tomlin
Yet another of our former guides is no more. On Christmas morning, I got the news that Peter 'Tommo' Tomlin had passed away of an apparent heart attack two days earlier. On the day he died, I'd been cleaning out some old papers and had come across a report he'd written about a medical evacuation on a trip he led for me in 2001. That was the closest we've ever come to a fatality on one of our Kakadu trips. Tommo handled it as well as anyone could have done in the circumstances. If it hadn't been for his efforts, the woman might have died.
Tommo led bushwalking tours for me in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While he was an excellent guide and loved guiding, he felt that he needed something that would pay enough to set him up for retirement someday. It's still hard for me to believe that he's gone at the age of only 47.
The last trip Tommo led for me was a 3 week Kakadu expedition in January 2004. Purely by chance, I led first half of that same trip this January. Over the next 6-8 years, we tried to work out another trip that would fit in with his time off, but could never make it happen.
We kept in touch on and off about things relevant to bushwalking, especially in Kakadu, over the years. I always hoped that he'd be able to find time to come and lead another trip some day. Now all that's left is memories of an amazing person and wonderful tour guide.
If you'd like to know a bit more about a great human being, see this timeline that his family put together.
If you knew Tommo and would like to pass along any message to his family, please email me and I'll pass your thoughts along to his family.
Final note. One of Tommo's last big adventures was an attempt to walk south to north across Australia in 2015. He made it more than half way. His Tommo's big walk facebook page was still online when I wrote this newsletter.
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April - May
Only three trips remain available. All will be confirmed or cancelled by mid March.
- New Trip. The Green Centre 13-29 April.
Central Australia had an incredible amount of rain in December and January. When this happened in 2010, I put on two special Green Centre trips. Years like this don't happen very often so I can't resist and am doing it again.
This trip is different. Click the link to read the trip notes and see just how different it is.
- Kakadu Highlights No. 4: 7-20 May.
Two sections, either of which can be done on its own. We had to change section one for cultural reasons. The new notes, link above, went online on 9 February.
Section one is now a definite departure. Section two still needs at least two more bookings.
- Kimberley Highlights No. 1: 14 May - 10 June.
Five sections, any of which can be done on its own. The sections are very different giving you a great overview of the kinds of walks the Kimberley has to offer.
Save up to $644. All sections still need at least one more booking so we have extended our 15% advance purchase discount until one week after our next newsletter comes out. See our Kimberley Trips page for the complete price list
For another view of the trip, have a look at the Kimberley Highlights photo gallery that Richard Lukacz, one of our clients last year posted on his OneDrive.
Special offer — save an airfare. We can provide transport from Darwin to Kununurra at the beginning of the trip at no extra charge. We may be able to provide tranaport back at the end as well. Please ask if you are interested.
June - July
First time ever. I've never had to cancel trips this far out before, but we've had so many enquiries about charters that I can't possibly run all the advertised trips if all the charters actually take place. Every trip that's still on our trip list is still available. Get in soon if there is a trip you'd particularly like to do or you might miss out. The following trips already have bookings. All but the first are already definite departures or need only one more booking to become so.
- Litchfield & Gregory National Parks: 4-17 June.
Two one week walks in two very different parks. Either can be done on its own.
- Karijini National Park: 4-17 June.
Visit one of Australia's most spectacular gorge systems in the Pilbara region of WA. Two sections, either of which can be done on its own.
Richard Lukacz, one of the clients on our 2015 trip, posted these beautiful photos on his OneDrive. Well worth a look if you'd like a better idea of what the trip is like.
We now need only one more booking to guarantee departure.
- Prince Regent: 11 June - 1 July.
In and out by light aircraft and helicopter. Russell has been dreaming about going back since his last trip there in 1992.
We need only one more booking to make this a definite departure.
- Kakadu Circle No. 2: 25 June - 8 July.
Two sections, either of which can be done on its own. Unless we get cancellations, this is now a definite departure.
- New Trip. Carr Boyd Special: 1-5 July.
This trip was created on behalf of a family of four coming from overseas. We might be able to extend it by a day or two if you wanted a longer trip. Suits people looking for a relatively leisurely pace. Helicopter in and walk out.
- Kakadu Family Walk No. 2: 2-8 July .
If you are interested in this trip, we strongly recommend that you also have a look at our Walking With Children In Kakadu web page.
Unless we get cancellations, this is now a definite departure.
- New Trip. Bungles - Carr Boyd: 2-15 July.
This trip was created on behalf of a small group from southern Australia. They have already been joined by others. It includes a helicopter flight to the start of the Carr Boyd section. It is already a definite departure.
Special offer 1. We can provide transport from Darwin to Kununurra at the beginning of the trip and from Kununurra back to Darwin at the end for no extra charge.
Special offer 2. Please contact us before 1 March for a special price
All trips remain available. Unless there are cancellations, one of those is already a definite departure.
- Kakadu Highlights No. 7: 14-27 August.
Two sections, either of which can be done on its own. We changed the original dates to suit a group of four. Unless someone cancels, this is now a definite departure.
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Feed Your Kids Peanuts, Early and Often, New Guidelines Urge *
"Peanut allergies are responsible for more deaths from anaphylaxis, or constriction of the airways, than any other food allergy. Though deaths are extremely rare, children who develop a peanut allergy generally do not outgrow it and must be vigilant to avoid peanuts for the rest of their lives."
Parents should feed babies foods containing peanut powders or peanut butter at 6 months or even earlier as a way to help avoid peanut allergies.
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Who Voted For Trump
While Clinton won a majority of the popular vote, by area Trump took 85-90%
of the country. Here's an amazing map showing who voted for who. *
While I think that many of Trump's appointments leave a bit to be desired, two seem to stand out.
James Mattis — Secretary of Defense
If Mattis can survive in a Trump administration, I have hope for America. Here are two articles that tell you why.
- Trump's Mad Dog. "The Mad Dog was fired by President Barack Obama, rumor has it, for asking inconvenient questions. The question of bombing Iran had come up and Mattis would not let go of the issue. He demanded answers to questions ranging from how we will know if we destroyed the nuclear facilities to what we will do if the Iranians respond with non-nuclear weapons like chemical weapons. Only a mad dog would ask questions for which planners had no answers, so Mattis was fired. Obama wanted an option and Mattis' questions made it clear the president didn't have the option he wanted. That was intolerable."
"In the war in the Middle East, wishful thinking ruled. That was coupled with confidence, and that was married to careless planning."
Read it. If Mattis can hang on and Trump can take advice he doesn't like, maybe the US will become a little less involved in unwinnable conflicts.
- Inside Trump Defense Secretary Pick's Efforts to Halt Torture *
"James N. Mattis, a retired general, has long been an outspoken critic of torture. His handling of the death of a prisoner that occurred on his watch during the Iraq war reflects his views."
I wish him well.
Some of Trump's proposals have a lot of merit — and a lot of opposition from members of Congress. As Trump Embraces Term Limits, Allies in Congress Pull Away *. This article was published in November. I haven't heard much since. Time will tell if he is willing to push things like this.
Trump has already signed an executive order to scrap two regulations for each new one adopted. ** In principle, I like the idea. In practice, new regulations might simply be twice as complex as the old. Time will tell. In terms of over-regulation, Australia is probably as bad or worse. It's getting harder and harder to get permission to run my trips. A couple of informal Darwin running groups may be banned from using some public places as they don't have insurance. And on it goes.
Will the real Donald Trump please stand up
This was too good to leave out. This short, somewhat humourous, video sums up the new administration better than anything I've seen Will the real Donald Trump please stand up. Prepare for a wild ride.
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The End of Cash
What the U.S. can learn from India's move toward a cashless society
I've seen an increasing number of articles extolling the benefits of doing away with cash. Personally, I don't like the idea. Think of what would happen if someone managed to hack into the system and brng it down. The end of civilisation as we know it.
Ending Airport Passport Queues
Facial recognition, fingerprints to replace passports at airports
"The new biosecurity measures that will change how Australians travel. How your passport could soon be replaced by fingerprints, iris and facial recognition under plans for a new self-processing system"
One less hassle, but if the aircraft get much larger, think of the extra hassle for anyone with baggage.
- Hooked on Our Smartphones *
"Most people now check their smartphones 150 times per day, or every six minutes," Ms. Colier wrote. "And young adults are now sending an average of 110 texts per day." Furthermore, she added, "46 percent of smartphone users now say that their devices are something they 'couldn't live without.'"
"a clear majority" of students in the 10 countries studied experienced distress when they tried to go without their devices for 24 hours. One in three people admitted they'd rather give up sex than their smartphones.
- The one above led me to The Power of Off. It looks like a book worth reading.
- The 'Right to Disconnect' and Other New Laws Go Into Effect in France *
I think France had got this one right. Other than in exceptional circumstances which pay extra, I don't think people should be on call 24 hours a day. The new laws "meant to balance modernity and tradition, will make it easier to unplug from work email, protect the environment and get divorced."
Technology and Work
- What Happens When Millions of Jobs Are Lost Because of Automation?
"Our entire education system is teaching skills that will be automated in the future."
With Uber Freight, It's Not Just Truck Drivers Whose Jobs Are at Risk
Many people have pointed out that automation, not China or Mexico, is the real threat to blue-collar American (or Australian) jobs. Overlooked, however, are all the non-executive white-collar administrative jobs that will also be rendered obsolete by technology.
- We're All Low-Skilled Workers Now
Here's an idea how to help low-skilled workers: Stop calling them "low-skilled" workers! It's not only insulting but also often inaccurate. Words matter. The way we describe people makes a difference.
The article goes on to show how some 'blue-collar' jobs are actually highly skilled. To that I would add that they are less likely to be replaced by robots than many 'white-collar' jobs.
The Minecraft Generation * —
How a clunky Swedish computer game is teaching millions of children to master the digital world.
The article is much more interesting than it sounds. This is one game which is not a waste of time. I've included the article here as the game teaches skills that may be very useful in the world that's on its way.
- Why the World Is Drawing Battle Lines Against American Tech Giants *
"European efforts to rein in the largest American tech companies are only a taste of what countries like Brazil, India and China are likely to do"
- Social Media's Globe-Shaking Power *
"The election of Donald J. Trump is perhaps the starkest illustration yet that social networks are helping to rewire human society.... Because social networks feed off the various permutations of interactions among people, they become strikingly more powerful as they grow. With about a quarter of the world's population now on Facebook, the possibilities are staggering.
- For Millions of Immigrants, a Common Language: WhatsApp *
"With the ability to communicate securely and free, the messaging app has become a mainstay for those who have left their homes for the unknown."
- Save the driver or save the crowd? **
Scientists wonder how driverless cars will 'choose'. This is a debate we need before driverless cars become common. What do you think?
- Whose Life Should Your Car Save? *
Similar theme to the above. "A large majority of our respondents agreed that cars that impartially minimized overall casualties were more ethical, and were the type they would like to see on the road. But most people also indicated that they would refuse to purchase such a car, expressing a strong preference for buying the self-protective one. In other words, people refused to buy the car they found to be more ethical." Definitely some food for thought here.
U.S. Reacting at Analog Pace to a Rising Digital Risk, Hacking Report Shows *
I doubt very much that Australia is doing any better.
- Five Resolutions to Simplify Your Tech Life *
'Follow these tips to improve the maintenance of your passwords, devices and tech infrastructure. Also, shop smarter and reduce waste in 2017."
- Here Is How to Fend Off a Hijacking of Home Devices *
As more and more things get connected to the internet, more and more things can go wrong. This article gives some good tips as to how to avoid becoming a statistic.
- Inceptionism: Going Deeper into Neural Networks
"Artificial Neural Networks have spurred remarkable recent progress in image classification and speech recognition. But even though these are very useful tools based on well-known mathematical methods, we actually understand surprisingly little of why certain models work and others don't. So let's take a look at some simple techniques for peeking inside these networks.
- Automatic Colorization of Grayscale Images
Automatic? This is amazing.
- Use of Ad-Blocking Software Rises by 30% Worldwide *
"Facebook has tried to ban it. Google has attempted to outsmart it. But no matter what these tech giants do, people's use of software to block digital advertising — often the lifeblood of companies' online business models — keeps gaining traction worldwide.
The Internet and the Tragedy of the Commons
The Internet and the Tragedy of the Commons
"The promise that the internet would create a democratic commons where all can be heard and the media loses the right to censor has been achieved. Censors and accountability no longer exist. Twitter is the place where malicious people with time on their hands can tell lies."
"I frequently wonder if the person from Twitter being quoted in a news story is a 12-year-old whose medications are no longer effective. The media doesn't know. There are still worthwhile conversations to be had there, but many people now becoming less engaged."
"Social media is now subject to Gresham's Law: Bad ideas will drive out good ones. This can't go on."
"... if the tech community believes that it is so dependent on internet privacy that it can't budge on this issue, then it is as deluded as the major media has been. Someone broke into the power grid and we don't know who. Enough is enough. Wars have been started over less."
What Was the Greatest Era for Innovation? A Brief Guided Tour *
"Which was a more important innovation: indoor plumbing, jet air travel or mobile phones?" — This makes a great read. Highly recommended.
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Bushwalking in Australia
The End of Bushwalking Clubs?
Could Adventure Activity Standards kill off outdoor clubs? The short answer is yes.
- New Australian Adventure Activity Standards (AAS) are currently in development and due to be rolled out over the coming year, and issues have been raised from non-commercial groups regarding the implications the AAS may have for them, and clear answers have not been forthcoming.
- The Australian AAS website states that 'no distinction is being made as to whether this is a commercially led activity or not', but rather reinforces the fact that the standards are aimed at any group providing 'an outdoor adventure activity to a dependent participant'.
- The Australian AAS website says, "We are unable to provide any advice or guidance on the legal effects of the Australian AA."
- The website also notes that there may well be impacts regarding insurance, with insurers potentially opting to ask for providers to use or prove their use relevant standards — which could mean greater costs in either accreditation or insurance for recreational groups.
- "The major concerns for recreational users and community groups are loss of access to public land if land managers require compliance with Australian AAS, increased insurance costs and increased legal liability relating to standards that are not appropriate for them."
The information here is from a Wild Update newsletter.Click the link here or at the beginning of this article to read more. I've been following AAS developments for some years. When I hadn't heard anything for some time, I thought that some sensible arrangement had been made for clubs. No such luck. Speak up now, or forever hold your peace.
Mosquito repellents: Choose the right protection for you and your family. Some work much better than others. The article here has good info.
National Parks Association NSW quietly launches 'Bushwalking 101' website
"A new, online bushwalking how-to guide has appeared recently without fanfare, yet Bushwalking 101 may well be the easy-to-use online resource many aspiring adventurers have been waiting for."
The three articles above are from a Wild newsletter. I find them interesting and informative. There is a link to subscribe at the bottom of the pages above or simply click here to go straight to the subscription form
The End of an Era?
On 31 January, I received an email saying that Wild was up for sale. If no buyer can be found, it is conceivable that it will cease publication. The letter finished with, "If any of our supporters would care to express their interest in purchasing Wild, please send an email with your contact details to John Blondin via firstname.lastname@example.org." A small advertisement in Wild was what gave Willis's Walkabouts its start. The magazine has provided a wonderful service to bushwalkers for over 30 years. It would be sad to see it disappear.
Print maps: Disappearing over the horizon? was another Wild article. While there are many reasons why digital is superior n some respects, there are other areas, such as giving a good overview of a large area, where print is better. I'll be sad if print maps finally disappear entirely.But, for now, we still sell print maps of the areas where we go as well as many others. Please ask if you want one. If we don't have it in stock, we can probably get it in.
A friend recently sent me this article from the Australian Financial Review along with the comment, "Here's something that might interest you (for your newsletter) it's been all the talk down here with the bushwalkers. It appears that the "men in suits" are wanting exclusive use of areas in National Parks. Not sure if you are aware that the 3 Capes walk in Tassie owned by the National Parks people has effectively shut out non paying walkers by limiting camping areas so that it is now a 25 km walk into the first camping area! And these guys want to put more up-market huts in the areas as well as elsewhere, including Uluru and Kata-tjuta."
While I have no objection in principle to the kind of luxury walks they are developing, I do have a strong objection to private groups being given exclusive use of parts of our national parks which are supposed to be for everyone. The full article is 11 pages, but well worth a read.
Like it or not, there is a demand for 'luxury' walking. Hikers embrace Tassie's Three Capes Track notes that, "In its first 12 months, the Three Capes Track has been walked by people from over 50 countries and welcomed its 10,000th walker on New Year's Eve." People in government looking for money from wherever they can get it can't fail to take notice. That may mean yet more restrictions on what you can do without paying a substantial amount of money.
Trans Tarkine Track
The Bob Brown Foundation has proposed a 10-day Trans Tarkine Track opening up the area to visitors. If you click the link, please be sure to click the link the page contains to a 2½ minute video showcasing some of what would be included. I think it's a great idea, but can't help but wonder whether or not someone would try and turn it into an exclusive luxury experience similar to the ones above.
If you want more info on what you can do yourself, they put out a Tarkine Trails book.
For now, if you don't feel up to organising a trip yourself, Tarkine Trails offers three different walks in the Tarkine.
Increasing the all-important strength-to-weight ratio is from another Wild newsletter. "In this article, we'll explore the benefits and reasons why strength training is an absolute must for your outdoor activities, whether you're out on the walking trails, competing in an ultra or on your first alpine ascent." Read it or regret it.
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Our Former Guides — Where Are They Now
Tommo's passing gave me pause to reflect on some of the other great guides who have worked for Willis's Walkabouts over the years. Six are no longer in the land of the living. The ones below are. If you did a trip with us in the earlier years, you might know one or more of them. They are the people who helped make the business what it is today. Here's the first installment. More in a future newsletter.
- Andrew Griffiths
Andrew writes, "I started working for Russell Willis in 1987 as a driver on a Gibb River road trip. We took lots and lots stuff along in case we got bogged or broken down and it happened that we did not look like using any of the gear, still I think guides should have a bit of mechanical knowledge and the ability to fix a flat tyre by the track.
So for the next ten years or so I took out at least 2, 3 or 4 trips each year mostly to Kakadu NP. Sydney BW Club were regular visitors who seemed to have fun, they came back or some of them did. I went down to Alice Springs to the Macdonnell Ranges and did some walks before the Larapinta Trail was built, I think Russell's trips to Central Australia add a lot more value than just doing the Larapinta, which I admit has done a lot to improve access for walkers who want to get off the track to see some great scenery.
In 1998 I moved from Darwin to Sydney for family reasons and have done fewer trips for Russell since then, though I did stage a few comebacks. I ended up working for 10 years in the Bush Regen. Industry in bushland mostly in the Ryde and Warringah local govt areas. I found this work interesting, keeping me fit and improving my knowledge of weeds and native species, completing a Tafe certificate course was a highlight.
I worked as Field Assistant for CSIRO Tree seed centre, on several extended field trips to Northern Australia, studies concerning Melaleuca Sp with potential for tea tree oil production outside of Northern NSW. Sandalwood (Santalum Sp) was another project with the aim of adding to the gene pool of stock for a nascent sandalwood industry in WA.
I have given up paid work and now volunteer at Sydney Bus Museum helping to maintain a fleet of Double Deckers dating back to the 1930's. The Museum has regular running days which are well attended by the public. I am a member of South Coast Bushwalkers and try to get out with this club on trips to places like the Budawangs and further afield to Tasmania.
I am still in touch with people I have met through WW, I am an hon. Member of the Liverpool Uni old lags society from Lancashire and have an interest in walking in England, staying in Pubs where possible, last year Hadrians Wall from Newcastle to Carlisle, provided lots of Pubs and what to me were some long views into the sparsely inhabited Scottish Borders region.
I learnt a lot working for WW, tried to improve on people skills and bush camp cooking. There were a few mutinies concerning food early on and I think we all tried to add variety to the menus, which I think are now as good as you can get anywhere, although I am told Tassie trekking food is hard to beat.
- Bruce Swain
Bruce says, "I went on first WW walk as an assistant guide with Andy Griffiths in 1988 and led my first trip during my holidays in 1994. In 1995 I quit teaching and worked regularly for WW from then until 2001. After that I returned to relief teaching and just leading the occasional trip, including 3 trips to South America. During one of those trips I met my partner, a Kiwi, and in 2009 we moved to the South Island of New Zealand . I did some part time teaching in NZ for a few years but am now fully retired from that profession. My main recreation is golf and of course bushwalking, or tramping as it's called here."
- Murray Williams
Murray was one of our top guides as well as my general manager back in the mid 1990s. His wife Adrienne did most of my ads for more than ten years.
Murray writes, "After returning to Brisbane got back into the electrical industry building electrical equipment and then moved to an electrical engineering consultancy. Got the opportunity to work at a mine in central Qld so moved there in 2010 and have been in the mining industry in electrical since.
Right at this minute I'm in an office at a gold mine/processing plant about 80km north of Laverton in WA. About 400km north of Kalgoorlie. I have been an Electrical Supervisor in the gold mining industry since 2010 but I don't have a permanent role at the minute, just here doing a project at a former site.
Have just spent the last 6 months or so about 50km from home working on a cattle property, mustering on horse, doing cattle work in the yards, preg testing, yard building, fencing, lots of welding, machinery and vehicle maintenance and basically having a great time. The owner has 3 places, total of about 11000 acres in all. The main property near Monto in 8500 acres and called the Gorge. How good is that."
- Patrick Barley
Patrick is the saddest case. His body is still alive. His mind is not. This is from his partner for the last part of his life.
"Many years ago Patrick lost all his memories of everywhere he's ever been, everyone he's ever known, and all the people he's ever been in his life: father, grandfather, husband, friend, economist, outback guide, Australian. He's in a secure unit in a hospital now, and after almost a year he's finally settled in. It's been a rocky few months, with Patrick holding onto the last bit of control he has over his life by fighting off the carers who are trying to look after him. But he's finally settled in, and these days he reserves his rare smiles for his carers rather than me. And that's fine with me. He does show a glimmer of something when he sees me; he stares for a little while, but that's it. He spends his days walking. He walks up and down the corridor, around and around the patio, up and down the corridor ... He isn't frail, and he doesn't sit in a chair slumped over like many of the other residents. He watches, even though he's not seeing, and sometimes he even talks. In this sea of sadness there has been one little ray of sunshine recently. Now that the aggression has gone the carers are seeing a glimpse of the Patrick that was. They say things like, 'He's a lovely man,' and 'We love Patrick.' I was very touched to see that someone had read the bio I made for him and had taken the time to print out some aboriginal artwork and put it on his door. I often hear people say that with Alzheimer's it's the people who love them who suffer rather than the person themselves. But I don't see it like it, especially not when it's early-onset dementia like this. Patrick has lost his life. He could have done so much more. It's great to think that there might be people all over the world who remember him fondly. To all of those people who do remember him with love, thank you."
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Our Overseas Trips
We have now more or less finalised three overseas trips for 2017.
There Will Be More.
- Sweden & Norway in autumn or winter.
- South Africa — one, two, or even three trips late in the year.
I should have something on the Walkabouts Availability page well before the next newsletter comes out.
As an example of some of what I like about South Africa, see Words of Wisdom near the end of this newsletter.
- Chile and/or Argentina late this year or early next.
I haven't done northern Chile for a long time so I might do that for a change. Or I might stick with Patagonia.
If you think you might be interested in any of the above, please send me an email and let me know your comments, suggestions questions or other thoughts.
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Retirement — Nasty Surprises on the Way
We live in an aging society. That has consequences. Peter Costello's 'Future Fund' was an attempt to come to grips with the problem of paying for the promises that past governments had made. Far better than nothing but other things have made it less effective than it should have been.
When it comes to pensions, Australia is in a better position than countries like America, China and Japan but some of their problems are ours as well. The articles here are all relevant to anyone who may wish to retire some day.
- As welfare costs climb, gerontology groups propose higher age for definition of 'elderly'
In Japan, you might not be 'elderly' until age 75.
- The Federal Reserve and the Destruction of the American Dream talks about how public pension systems in America are so badly underfunded that they can't possibly pay their pensions over the long term. Part of the reason is the incredibly low interest rates that have been in effect for many years now.
- Why Gen Y is delusional about retirement goals talks about some of the problems we face in Australia.
- ZIRP & NIRP: Killing Retirement As We Know It
"The Federal Reserve and other central banks have spent so many years subsidizing debt and punishing savings that it is now extremely difficult to guarantee future income streams at a reasonable present cost. And future income streams are the very heart and soul of retirement. Without adequate future income streams, retirement as we know it today is off the table. Neither you nor a massive pension plan acting on your behalf can generate enough risk-free income to assure you a comfortable retirement."
The Great American Retirement Crisis
It's not as bad in Australia but we are moving in that direction. If you live in Australia, you have Super. But, while it's not yet as bad as in the US,
"Today, pension fund managers have two choices:
• Continue to invest in 'safe' bonds. This choice guarantees that pension funds will not generate enough money to pay retirees. So this option is not a good one.
• Buy 'riskier' investments. This choice may give pension funds higher returns, which will allow them to pay retirees. But this choice is also not a good one, because riskier investments could backfire, causing pension funds to lose money!"
- The superannuation scare no one is talking about
"Warning: the govt may 'strip away' your lost super from December
You could be forfeiting an 'enormously valuable' amount of benefits. Find out if you're among those most at risk and how to avoid it.
Pension age rises will mean later super access
- Australians like to own their own homes. Many buy other properties as part of their retirement plans. They don't always think about all the things that go with owning property. I found What I Learned Owning a Home interesting and informative. "The first lesson of owning a home: You do not own the home. The home owns you."
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We are what we eat. Two very different stories, both of which may affect you.
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Thoughts On Our Society
Few people will want to read every article here but I'd be willing to put money on a bet that at least 80% of those who take the time to browse through the content will find at least one link that will interest them.
- "Democracy is doomed to failure when 51% of the population figures out they can take everything from the other 49%." — attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but a misquote worth repeating.
- "When the people find that they can vote themselves money that will herald the end of the republic." — Benjamin Franklin.
- "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect)." — Mark Twain, notebook 1904
- "When you set aside mere names & come down to realities, you find that we are ruled by a King just as other absolute monarchies are. His name is The Majority. He is mighty in bulk & strength ... He rules by the right of possessing less money & less brains & more ignorance than the other competitor for the throne, The Minority. Ours is an Absolute Monarchy." — Mark Twain
— unsent letter to Bayard Taylor, June 10, 1878. Published in Mark Twain at Large by Arthur L. Scott
twainquotes.com is full of interesting quotes. If keen, you could wander the site for hours.
Between the Occasional Calms of Democracy
Problems and conflicts around the world won't go away just because of a change in the US president.
Why the World Needs WikiLeaks *
You can't have a democracy without an informed population. "The world is connected by largely unaccountable networks of power that span industries and countries, political parties, corporations and institutions; WikiLeaks shines a light on these by revealing not just individual incidents, but information about entire structures of power." There's more. Well worth a read.
The first article in the Technology and Work section was about how our educational system is failing to prepare children for the world they will live in. Here are two more interesting ones.
- Should Foreign Language Classes Be Mandatory in College? *
We are lucky in that our language is the one most commonly spoken as a second language around the world; unlucky in that few of us are multilingual as is common in Europe. The article gives you arguments from both sides.
- The NAPLAN test: how would you fare?
"Preliminary results from the latest NAPLAN test, released on Wednesday, have revealed there has been no significant improvement in literacy and numeracy skills in students, despite record government spending."
The End of Globalisation?
World Gone Backwards
John Mauldin who I've quoted many times before says, "Globalization ramped up slowly for a century or so before entering a new phase in the 1960s. I was born in 1964, so the explosion of the global economy roughly spans my lifetime. Mine is the first globalized generation. But if I reach 100, I suspect I will see children of a de-globalized generation.
That's my theory: We are going full circle."
- A Little-Noticed Fact About Trade: It's No Longer Rising *
Australia's car industry ignored the elephant in the room: carbon emissions
The article suggests that we might have still had a viable car industry if the government had adopted stricter emissions standards as had been done overseas.
"To compete globally, the Australian car industry had to decide whether to embrace cleaner technology to meet the standards of its importers, or abandon the export market. Unfortunately for the workers, Ford chose to close its operations on October 7, and GM Holden and Toyota will close by the end of 2017."
- Feeling 'Pressure All the Time' on Europe's Treadmill of Temporary Work *
"While the region's economy is finally recovering, more than half of all new jobs created in the European Union since 2010 have been through temporary contracts."
Young Adolescents as Likely to Die From Suicide as From Traffic Accidents *
"The reasons for suicide are complex. No single factor causes it. But social media tends to exacerbate the challenges and insecurities girls are already wrestling with at that age, possibly heightening risks, adolescent health experts said." It must be similar in Australia. Well worth a read.
- Dalai Lama: Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded *
"In one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who didn't feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful. This speaks to a broader human truth: We all need to be needed."
"This helps explain why pain and indignation are sweeping through prosperous countries. The problem is not a lack of material riches. It is the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, no longer one with their societies."
- While on the subject of the disconnect ....
The public official we pay 77 normal incomes
"When the RBA boss manages our economy for a fifth of the Australia Post CEO's pay, something is seriously wrong."
Theoretically companies should be answerable to their shareholders — the people who actually own them. But until a few laws are changed, it's not going to happen.
- A Bigger Economic Pie, but a Smaller Slice for Half of the U.S. *
"In 35 years, the U.S. economy has more than doubled, but new research shows close to zero growth for working-age adults in the bottom 50 percent of income."
It's not as bad in Australia, but we are moving in that direction.
- Olympians struggle to adjust to life beyond the rings **
"Olympic glory built on order and discipline, followed by an Olympic crash of confusion and dismay — is hardly unusual"
- From the New Scientist, the War on Drugs created the Latin American drug cartels. It filled the prisons with thousands of minor offenders and cost the taxpayers billions. The one thing it didn't do was stop the use of recreational drugs.
- How Obamacare Could Have Saved the Economy
"If more entrepreneurs could get healthcare, the economy would boom. Tax revenues would rise. Some of the issues that made voters so angry this year would improve.....This problem isn't natural. It is a purely man-made barrier created by politicians of both parties and aided by corporate lobbyists."
Small business startups in America are near an all time low. It's become too hard to comply with the many, often conflicting, rules and regulations. Unfortunately, small business have traditionally been where new jobs came from.
It's not quite as bad in Australia, but it seems to be getting worse.
- The Hummingbird Effect — How New Ideas Surprise Us
Flowering plants led to humming birds, the printing press led to a demand for spectacles which led to lenses which ...
- How the flashbulb changed the face of urban poverty
Another example how an invention in one field changed something else. With the ever increasing speed of change, who knows what's next.
What Can You Do?
The Intellectual Yet Idiot
The Intellectual Yet Idiot is a piece by one of my favourite authors, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I've mentioned his books in previous newsletters, most recently in Newsletter 65. His article begins, "What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking 'clerks' and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think ... and 5) who to vote for."
For what it's worth, this is my favourite article out of all those here. I haven't read it yet, but Taleb's book The Bed of Procrustes looks like it should be worth reading. While looking for more info, I came across The Black Swan Report which has links to a number of Taleb's articles. I've had a look at a couple. These are worth a serious read, not something you skim through slowly. Here's a taste from one called 'The Domination of the Stubborn Minority'.
"It suffices for an intransigent minority — a certain type of intransigent minorities — to reach a minutely small level, say
three or four percent of the total population, for the entire population to have to submit to their preferences." He goes on with lots of examples. I can't fault anything he said. Definitely worth a close look.
Along somewhat similar lines is the 1 January issue of The Credit Strategist.
"We live in an inauthentic world yet people perceived to be telling the truth are demonized and shunned by the establishment. The fact that it took everybody so long to figure out that mainstream media promoted 'fake news' to support their own political agenda is testimony to the fact that we claim to seek
authenticity but settle for insincerity, falsehood and duplicity in our personal, business and civic relationships. Those of us who refuse to settle are considered 'difficult'. We term experts people whose credentials consist of being consistently and wildly wrong about the subjects of their alleged expertise while exhibiting a stunning lack of self-doubt and humility about their failures. 'Often wrong but never in doubt' is the mantra of the technocrats and bureaucrats who lead us into one disaster after another while dismissing dissenting voices."
The author has some very strong opinions. Some bits I agree with some I don't, but agree or not you should listen to opposing views or you risk getting caught by your own 'confirmation bias' and missing something that might help you cope with the ever more uncertain future we all face.
PS. Here it is. The first person who quotes this when they book any 2017 Australian trip worth more than $1000 will get an extra $100 off.
"For the new generation coming of age in the late 1960s, 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" represented their view of the world." As they became more political, they got censored more and more. Eventually, despite high ratings, the show was cancelled.
The Smothers Brothers: Laughing at Hard Truths * tells the whole story. I think the last few paragraphs are worth repeating.
"Lyndon Johnson, too, had been enraged by the Smotherses' barbs. But when he announced on March 31, 1968, that he would not seek re-election, the dynamic between the president and the brothers shifted substantially.
Tom Smothers recalled being so stunned by Johnson's TV address that he wrote him a letter, saying that he disagreed with him on the Vietnam War, but was impressed by his other accomplishments and wanted to thank him.
Johnson responded with a letter that Dick read on the last episode. "It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation," Johnson wrote, "to be the target of clever satirists. You have given the gift of laughter to our people. May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives."
When I read that, I couldn't help but wonder how many of today's politicians would respond in a similar manner.
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Photos, Videos & Just for Fun
Photo Competition Winners
- Weird World — 67 amazing pictures & facts. It's a big file, over 3½ MB. Worth the wait.
- Hema maps has a page called 20 Amazing Kimberley Locations. The photos are amazing. We go to many of these places. It's worth noting that our guides can't always do 100% of the driving. Join us and, if you wish, you might be doing some driving of the kind shown in some of these photos.
- Adrenaline Addicts. Great photos. I actually got a bit queasy looking at some of them. Some of those pictured have safety gear. Some don't.
How could I resist when a 13 year old is inspired to do a 7½ minute video about the Kakadu Family charter his parents organised in 2016. Their walk was very much like our Kakadu Family Walk No. 2.
If you've ever thought about bringing your children on one of our walks, you owe it to yourself to watch this.
Massive lava stream exploding into ocean in Hawaii. Click the link in the article to watch the video. I've never before seen a video of lava flowing like this.
Watch This in the Sky
Best meteor showers of 2017. Only one was in January so most are still to come.
The many animals named after David Attenborough There were too many plants to include them all in the one article along with the animals.
I recently watched a TV show called Attenborough's Ark in which he highlighted ten very unusual species well worth saving. This link will take a while to download but should let you watch it at your leisure.
Words of Wisdom
Joburg Motorists Get Daily Inspiration from Chalkboard Wisdom!
Well worth a browse. Sample, "If you have a gun, you can rob a bank. If you have a bank, you can rob everyone."
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News About This Newsletter
Restricted websites. The NY Times allows non-subscribers to look at ten free articles each month. I've got more links than that in this newsletter so I've marked them with a red asterisk (*) so that you can choose which are of most interest to you. The Washington Post also has a limit but I'm not sure what the current limit is so I've marked Washington Post articles with a double red asterisk (**).
Next Newsletter — March? April?
I definitely want to get another one out before things start to get really busy in May. I've already got a few things ready. As I've often said, Suggestions welcome.
Sending the newsletter
While I now send most of the newsletters using MailChimp, I still send about 200 newsletters using a program which is hosted on the same server that hosts our website. (MailChimp Free only allows 2000. The commercial version costs too much for an extra 200 people.) In both cases, the newsletters are sent from email@example.com. This is the contact address on our website. If you would like to continue to receive these newsletters, please include this address in your "friends list" so that it isn't blocked.
For some reason, some servers block the newsletters no matter what you try and do. I send these in small groups from my normal email. It's not a simple problem. If anyone thinks they might have an idea how to overcome the problem, I'd love to hear from you.
Emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org are currently automatically forwarded to rrwillis at internode.on.net. If you want to send an email to that address, replace the word "at" with the symbol @. I am trying not to put that address any place where it can be harvested by spam bots.
We don't want to add to the mass of email spam. If you don't want our newsletter, please send us an email and let us know. We'll then delete your name from our newsletter list.
Our email address is email@example.com.
Note. Both MailChimp and the other program we use to send some of these newsletters have an automatic delete at the bottom. Clicking that link will delete you from the mailing list on the server but it will not delete you from our main database. One of the programs will not allow the auto delete to send me an email notifying me that a deletion has been made. If you want to be sure that you are removed from all further mailings, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you know someone you think would enjoy this newsletter,
please forward it to them. The more people who get it, the more likely it is that I'll be able to run the trips which might interest you.
Best wishes to all.
I hope you enjoy reading the newsletter as much as I enjoyed writing it.
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