Author Archives: Richard Atkinson

About Richard Atkinson

Councillor on Kingborough Council since 2014 for the Tasmanian Greens.

Drab Streets

John StreetPlenty of songs have been written about walking in the rain. Butch rode around to Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head; Gene Kelly went Singing in the Rain; Creedence Clearwater Revival asked Have You Ever Seen the Rain;  Milli Vanilli  mimed to Blame it on the Rain; Prince crooned about the Purple Rain; Eddie Rabbit bounced to I love a Rainy Night.Southern Outlet

On the streets down my way rain isn’t so romantic. I went for a walk around the civic heart of Kingston, looking for meaning.

Somewhere along the way we forgot that streets need character and built buildings that focus inward, their exteriors luring us with brash announcements of the retail treasures that they hold.

What went wrong? When did we forget that streets should be something more than a utilitarian wasteland to move cars as smoothly as possible from one place to another? When did the destination become so much more important than the journey?
Hutchins Street
I walked the streets, wondering why there was no one about. It wasn’t just the rain, although it certainly didn’t help. There was nothing welcoming here. Certainly there were token efforts; pretence at street-scaping: a seat with a view of the cars; a massive chessboard in a courtyard, devoid of pieces but with a glorious view of a purveyor of franchise doughnuts; a few sad trees forced into Channel Courtconcrete prisons.

We must be able to do better than this. Civic streets are intrinsic to community. We need places for informal interaction; places to share ideas, exchange trivialities, discover common experience. If all that’s on offer is car parks and supermarkets our society is poorer for it.

I’d love to meet you in the street, let’s plan for it to be a pleasant place.

The Collapse of Globalism

The Collapse of Globalism - CoverI’ve just finished reading The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World by John Ralston Saul.

I wasn’t familiar with his works until I went to a public lecture at the University of Tasmania entitled It’s Broke: How can we fix it? on 3 September 2012. The lecture not only inspired me to read his books, but to join a political party (but that’s another story).

I’m intrigued and repelled by economics. I feel too uniformed to question what has become the natural order – that free trade is good, that internationalisation is good, that privatisation is good. All these things have been talked about through my adult life as if they are self-evident. I wondered of my experience, working for large organisations, both public and private was atypical. What I saw was that they had much more in common than different. They had the same balance of dedicated employees and free-loaders. The same bureaucracy;  many levels of management, some justified, some being exploited for self-aggrandisement.

Reading The Collapse of Globalism was refreshing; not only did it give me some insight into how we got where we are, but it gave me hope that there are other ways of living. It’s beyond me to try to summarise such a thoughtful work, so I’ll leave it to you to go and read it for yourself.

The two-thirds Monty

goatLet’s Make a Deal isn’t part of my childhood, but I’ve heard of Monty Hall. I suspect that of the small percentage of internet traffic that isn’t pornography a fair proportion is devoted to arguments about the Monty Hall problem. If you don’t know the puzzle, it goes like this:

The contestant picks one of three doors. Behind one door is a prize, behind each of the other two there is a goat. Once you’ve chosen Monty opens one of the other doors to reveal a goat. He then invites you to change your choice if you’d like to. What should you do?

The mathematics says you should change. If you stick with your choice you only have a one-in-three chance of being correct, if you change your odds go up to two-in-three. At first glance most people say that your odds of winning the prize with either door is one-in-two. This leads to a lot of discussion, I mean a lot of discussion. Some of the comments run along the lines that ‘the two-in-three answer assumes you have lots of attempts but you only have one go and what if you got it right first time?’ This sort of comment display a lack of understanding of what probability means.

People aren’t good at probability. It’s nothing personal, no one is. It’s certainly not generally intuitive. There a loads of examples around.

When climate scientists talk of highly likely, they mean 95% likely. “Why can’t they be sure?” comes the cry. “It’s still not certain.” Well, no, and very little is. What they are saying is a very specific estimation of the likelihood of something being true; the problem is that only a small fraction of the population has the training to think like this.

The chances of picking 6 numbers in Tattslotto are 8 145 060:1. Ozlotto is even worse at 45 379 620:1. So at one ticket an hour Tattslotto would take over 929 years to win and Ozlotto would take 5180 years. But still thousands of people play because they might get lucky. And they play poker machines where the house has a clear advantage and they believe that they sometimes win, even though the maths shows that the more they play the more sure they are to lose. Don’t they wonder where the money for the free food and the bright lifts comes from?

People are not rational. Perhaps it’s the thrill of believing they’ll get lucky, a belief in divine providence, submission to the opiate of the masses.

The Monty Hall problem, and the endless arguments, have been around for decades now, but perhaps this problem will become archaic. Quite soon, with the coming of peak oil, a car might not be a desirable prize. (Although we can’t be quite sure of this.) One thing’s for sure, my daughter would dearly love to own a goat.


Rage Against Age

Something happened and I’m not sure quite when. Sometime in the past ten or so years I started counting my years left rather than my years passed. There was a time where I would look at the few things I had achieved in life and run through how much else I wanted to do. Then, sneakily and without any warning, life turned around and I felt there was only just enough time left to do some of those things.

The other day I read an article about where we die. I’d never really thought about this. I knew a few people who are now dead. Some were around my age at the time, and died suddenly, in one case violently, others from the sudden onset of illness. Most have been older relatives. Some of these died at home from heart attacks, some died from illness in hospital or palliative care. I’ve never really thought about the options of where we die.

That’s not to say I haven’t thought about death. Someone very close to me has a chronic illness and I’ve thought about her death in an abstract sense, mostly around the the idea of my loss but also about her acceptance of her situation. I’ve thought a lot about whether someone should have the choice to bring on their own death; why suicide is such a taboo subject; the mere idea that it is acceptable stirs such strong emotions. And then that corollary to suicide, euthanasia; once again a subject that can cause extreme reaction.

What I’ve never thought about is where we die. What options do we have? We all know that death is coming one day, perhaps not with a scythe and a black hood (although I have a weakness for scythes and quite like Death in Terry Pratchett novels), but nevertheless inevitably. I suspect that the question isn’t so much where we die, but where do we wait for death, if we wait at all. What options does our society offer and what could be done differently?

We all know someone who seems to have resigned from life, and is marking time until death comes. They behave as if they’re old, they have no drive, no plans, no aspirations. I’m sure I’ve been unfairly judgemental of people I know like this. Who am I to say that their choices are the wrong ones? I haven’t lived their life, I can’t be inside their heads. Maybe in their situation I would behave the same, maybe I will at some time.

Is it the duty of others to try to distract someone from their impending end? Is it our responsibility to discuss it? Does talking of death lead to preoccupation? I don’t expect simple or general answer to any of these questions. Perhaps all I should consider is the personal and specific. I want to continue to live until I die. I want control of my environment and familiarity if I know my death is imminent. I want the choice to end my life if I am convinced that it is no longer worth living.

I’m sure I’ll think more about the end of life. Perhaps age will bring depth to my understanding. For now I feel very alive. I know that I ache more than I did ten or twenty years ago, I see age spots, wrinkles and grey hairs that catch me by surprise. Equally importantly, I enjoy the perspective that experience is bringing. My reactions are becoming more measured, I feel with passion tempered by familiarity.

Age is inevitable. Death will catch me one day. I’m not going to rush it, though. I see so many people much older than me doing wonderful and constructive things, sharing their experience and taking on new challenges. One of the things that I’ll take on is gaining an understanding of what those who are travelling before me are discovering, and hopefully contributing to increasing the options available to myself and others.