Super-recognisers accurately pick out a face in a crowd – but can this skill be taught?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Alice Towler, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, UNSW

Yenny is 26 years old, lives in Melbourne, and has a very specific talent.

One day, she was driving her car when she recognised a man who had been several years below her at high school and whom she hadn’t seen for more than ten years. What makes this particularly impressive is that she recognised him from the briefest glimpse in her rear-view mirror while he was driving the car behind hers.

Yenny recounts many such amazing feats of recognition and is one of a very small proportion of the population known as “super-recognisers”. She was the top performer on a national test of face recognition abilities in Australia, coming first out of 20,000 participants.


Read more: Combining the facial recognition decisions of humans and computers can prevent costly mistakes


Could you learn to spot a face as well as Yenny? Well … maybe. Our new research shows that many training courses offered in this field of expertise are ineffective in improving people’s accuracy in face identification.

But other ways of learning how to identify faces may work; we’re just not yet sure exactly how.

In-demand expertise

Super-recognisers are used by police and security agencies to spot targets in crowded train stations, monitor surveillance footage, and track people of interest.

During the 2011 London riots, for example, super-recognisers from the Metropolitan Police identified more than 600 people from very poor-quality surveillance footage – a task that not even the best facial recognition software can perform reliably.

So can anyone become a super-recogniser? Can you make up for a lack of superpowers through training? In our paper we assessed the effectiveness of training courses given to practitioners who make facial identification decisions for a living.

We reviewed 11 training courses that comply with international training standards from Australia, UK, US and Finland.

Sample test of face recognition: are the side-by-side images of the same, or different people? Answers can be found in the paper acknowledgements (click on journal link). Towler and colleagues, PLOS ONE, CC BY

We found that training courses typically teach facial anatomy – focusing on the muscles, bones and shape of the face – and instruct trainees to inspect faces feature by feature. Novices and genuine trainees completed one of four training courses and we tracked their identification accuracy from before to after training.

Surprisingly, we found the training courses had almost no effect on people’s accuracy. This was especially surprising to the people who took the training – an astonishing 93% of trainees thought the training had improved their ability to identify faces.

Our research shows that even the world’s best available training – used to train police, border control agents, forensic scientists and other security personnel – does not compensate for talent in face recognition.

This is consistent with recent research suggesting that our face identification abilities are largely predetermined by genetics.

Forensic facial examiners

This may come as disappointing news to people who hope to become a super-recogniser. But all is not lost.

Scientists have recently discovered that some specialist groups of practitioners show very high levels of accuracy. Forensic facial examiners routinely compare images of faces to turn CCTV images into informative face identification evidence in criminal trials. Recent work shows that they too outperform novices in very challenging tests.

CCTV footage doesn’t always produce clear images, so identifying people can be difficult. Shutterstock.com

Forensic facial examiners present a paradox for scientists. They perform face identification tasks with a high degree of accuracy, and this ability appears to be acquired through professional experience and training.

Our study suggests there is no benefit of face identification training courses when tested immediately before and after.

In addition, previous work has suggested that merely performing face-matching tasks in daily work is not sufficient to improve accuracy. Some passport officers have been working for 20 years and perform no better than others who have been working for just a few months.


Read more: Passport staff miss one in seven fake ID checks


This paradox suggests there is something particular about the type of training and professional experience that forensic facial examiners receive that enables them to develop visual expertise in identifying faces, and which isn’t provided by standard training courses.

How do they do it?

In our current research we are working closely with government agencies to uncover the basis of forensic facial examiners’ expertise. For example, we now know that part of their expertise comes from using a very particular comparison strategy, where they break the face down into individual facial features and then slowly and systematically assess the similarity of each feature in turn.

Interestingly, the nature of this expertise appears to be qualitatively different to that of super-recognisers – Yenny recognised her old classmate using a quick, intuitive process as she glanced in the rear-view mirror.

Super-recognisers can pick out a face they may have seen only once before. Shutterstock.com

However, these snap judgements made by super-recognisers may not be suitable for the type of identification evidence that forensic facial examiners give in court, where a careful analysis of facial images is necessary to support identification decisions. Importantly, forensic facial examiners provide detailed reports of the observations used to support their decisions, which can then be cross-examined in court.

Trainable vs hardwired

Super-recognisers and forensic facial examiners use distinct routes to high performance in face identification.

Effective training appears to target the slower, deliberate and analytical visual processing that characterises forensic facial examiners.

The faster and more intuitive skill that enabled Yenny to recognise faces of relative strangers in her rear-view mirror is likely to be untrainable, and hard-wired.

This raises the question of how to balance these different sources of expertise. It may be that super-recognisers are best suited to surveillance-type roles, such as monitoring CCTV or searching for targets in large crowds.

Forensic facial examiners may be better suited to providing identification evidence to the court, which requires thorough explanations of how and why the expert came to their decision.

Alternatively, it may be possible to train super-recognisers in the expert skills characterising forensic facial examination, or to form teams that include both types of expert.

The aim of our work is to integrate these sources of human expertise with the latest face recognition software to improve the accuracy of face identification evidence. Such a system can make society safer, but also fairer, by reducing the likelihood of wrongful convictions.

Can you beat Yenny’s high score of 88% on the super-recogniser test? Find out here.

ref. Super-recognisers accurately pick out a face in a crowd – but can this skill be taught? – http://theconversation.com/super-recognisers-accurately-pick-out-a-face-in-a-crowd-but-can-this-skill-be-taught-112003

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Honest brokers. Why mortgage broker commissions aren’t the problem

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Mark Humphery-Jenner, Associate Professor of Finance, UNSW

The Hayne Royal Commission began and ended with strident criticism of the mortgage broking industry.

It recommended brokers be required to act in the “best interests” of intending borrowers, and that intending borrowers, rather than the successful lender, pay the broker’s fee.

So-called “trailing” annual payments from lenders would be outlawed as soon as possible and upfront commissions outlawed after two or three years.

It’s the only set of recommendations the government has been lukewarm about adopting, announcing instead that while brokers will be required to act in the best interests of borrowers and from July 1 2020 will no longer be able to accept new trailing commissions, decisions about upfront commissions will be delayed until a further review, to take place “in three years time”.

The government is right to be cautious.

What’s the problem with commissions?

Both the royal commission and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission are concerned commissions:

  • encourage brokers to recommend mortgages that borrowers cannot plausibly afford

  • cause the broker to recommend higher paying products over lower paying products, potentially to the detriment of borrowers.

So what’s the go with brokers?

Typically a borrower approaches a broker who works with banks to secure a loan.

According to ASIC, the method of payment is fairly standard:

  • the broker receives a commission from banks for each successful home loan. The commission is often divided into an upfront payment and a trailing commission, which is paid over time

  • the lender benefits because it can spread its commission expenses over time. It can also terminate commissions if it believes a broker has behaved badly

  • the commission rates are relatively similar across lenders, with upfront commissions typically ranging from 0.46% to 0.65% of the loan amount, about $3,000 on a $500,000 loan. Trailing commissions typically range from 0.1% to 0.35% of the ongoing loan, about $1,000 per year on a $500,000 loan

  • lenders can also offer bonus payments, loyalty payments and “soft dollar commissions” which take many forms, including overseas conferences and holidays, shopping vouchers and tickets to sporting events

  • loan aggregators can also play a role. They provide back-office support and ancillary services to brokers. Some are partly owned by banks. These banks receive a slightly larger share of loans from brokers who deal with these aggregators than from brokers that don’t.

In practice brokers often provide good service

ASIC research finds that regardless of the conflicted remuneration structure the interest rates brokers obtain for clients are not significantly worse (or better) than those obtained by borrowers who deal with banks direct.

Their clients are slightly different, on average two years younger than bank clients and with incomes about A$6,000 lower. Brokers’ clients borrow slightly more than direct bank clients and their loans are more likely to be interest only.

Although until legislation has not compelled brokers to act in clients’ best interests, other professional standards often do so.

And brokers are keen to get referrals and repeat business, which relies on brokers providing good service in the first place.

They’ve little incentive to push bad loans

Because banks compete for business, they tend to pay similar commissions, in much the same way as they tend to charge similar interest rates. It means that in practice there is isn’t much incentive for a broker to recommend one lender over another. This is especially so when you factor in the desire to get repeat business, and referrals, which they would lose if they pushed poor products.

And it is hard to recommend unnecessary loans. Borrowers usually come to brokers to arrange loans for homes they are already planning to buy. There aren’t that many extra dollars in recommending clients borrow more, and even if brokers did recommend higher loans they would still be subject to banks’ serviceability and equity checks.

At the moment banks are highly reluctant to lend large sums at high loan to valuation ratios.

All this means that commissions have a muted effect on brokers’ lending recommendations, with conflicts being ameliorated by the practical reality of commission homogenisation and the desire for repeat business and referrals.

And if commissions went…

If commissions went, brokers would have to be paid by borrowers.

Many borrowers would baulk at the fees, and would go to banks instead. This would increase banks’ costs, which could be passed on through additional borrowing fees. It would also increase the time borrowers must devote to sorting through potential lenders.

Some borrowers who lack financial expertise would then have to rely on banks’ advice, rather than brokers’; and, banks are hardly less independent about their products than are brokers.

It would be the smaller brokers that would suffer the most, some going out of business. Larger brokers would also be affected, but less so, due to economies of scale. The end result would be fewer brokers, and less access to advice.

It’d be an unintended consequence of what Hayne recommended, and perhaps an unnecessary one.

While there are always bad apples in every industry, removing commissions would be a blunt – and potentially unnecessary – instrument with plenty of downsides.


The Conversation

ref. Honest brokers. Why mortgage broker commissions aren’t the problem – http://theconversation.com/honest-brokers-why-mortgage-broker-commissions-arent-the-problem-111631

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Hidden women of history: Maria Sibylla Merian, 17th-century entomologist and scientific adventurer

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Tanya Latty, Senior Lecturer, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.


Most school kids can describe in detail the life cycle of butterflies: eggs hatch into caterpillars, caterpillars turn into cocoons and cocoons hatch. This seemingly basic bit of biology was once hotly debated. It was a pioneering naturalist, Maria Sibylla Merian, whose meticulous observations conclusively linked caterpillars to butterflies, laying the groundwork for the fields of entomology, animal behaviour and ecology.

Maria Sibylla Merian was born in 1647 in Frankfurt at a time when the scientific study of life was in its infancy. Although she was trained as an artist, Merian is arguably one of the first true field ecologists. She studied the behaviour and interactions of living things at a time when taxonomy and systematics (naming and cataloguing) were the main pursuit of naturalists.

Like most modern entomologists, Merian’s passion for insects started early. At 13, she began collecting and raising caterpillars as subjects for her paintings. She often painted by candlelight, awaiting the moment when a caterpillar formed its cocoon or a newly formed butterfly later emerged from it.

An image from Merian’s book Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium. Wikimedia Commons

Merian painted caterpillars feeding on their host plants and predatory animals feeding on their prey. She was intent on capturing not only the anatomy of her subjects, but also their life cycles and interactions with other living things. Rather than working from preserved specimens (as was the convention of the time), she captured the ecology of species, centuries before the term even existed.

The fact that Merian found the time to conduct her studies is a testament to the power of a curious mind. Unlike many male naturalists of her day, Merian did not have the freedom to devote all of her time to the study of insects.

In 1665, at the age of 18, Merian married her stepfather’s apprentice, painter Johann Andreas Graff. Her first daughter, Johanna, was born in 1688 and in 1670 the family moved to Nuremburg. Her second daughter, Dorothea, was born in 1678.

Merian’s marriage appears to have been an unhappy one. In 1685, she left Graff to live in a religious community, taking both daughters with her. In 1692, Graff formally divorced Merian.

As a mother of two, Merian was responsible for home-care and child-rearing. She secured her family’s finances by teaching painting to the daughters of wealthy families. In many ways, she was one of the first “science moms”, trying to balance the challenges of her research against a demanding family life.

All of this at a time when women were still being burned as witches – being a curious, intelligent woman was very hazardous indeed.

In Surinam with her daughter

A 17th-century portrait of Maria Sibylla Merian by an unknown artist. Wikimedia Commons

Merian’s work on caterpillars was a key contribution to an ongoing debate of her day. On one side were those who believed that life arose from inanimate matter; flies, for example, arose from rotting meat; other insects formed from mud; raindrops produced frogs. On the other side were those who believed that life arose only from pre-existing life.

By breeding butterflies from egg to adult for several generations, Merian showed definitively that eggs hatched into caterpillars, which eventually turned into butterflies.

Merian’s books on caterpillars (published in 1679 and 1683) would have been enough on their own to earn her a place in science history.

But in 1669, at the age of 52 and with her youngest daughter (then aged 20) in tow, she embarked on one of the first purely scientific expeditions in history. Her goal was to illustrate new species of insects in Surinam, a South American country (now known as Suriname) only recently colonised by the Dutch. After two months of dangerous travel, the two women arrived in an entomologists’ paradise.

Surrounded by new species, Merian was itching to collect and paint everything she could get her hands on. She immediately ran into problems, however, as the Dutch planters of the island were unwilling to help two unaccompanied women collect insects from the forest, a mission they believed to be frivolous.

So Merian forged relationships with enslaved Africans and Indigenous people who agreed to bring her specimens and who shared with her the medicinal and culinary uses of many plants. For example, Merian writes that enslaved Amerindian women used the seeds from particular plants to abort fetuses in order to spare them from the cruelty of slavery. It is a stark reminder of the unmitigated horrors of 1600s colonialism.

Maria Sibylla Merian, illuminated copper-engraving from Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, Plate XXIII. Solanum mammosum 1705. Wikimedia Commons

Merian and her daughter worked in Surinam for two years before Merian’s failing health forced her to return home. The book that resulted from her time in Surinam, Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, was well known in both artistic and scientific circles.

Merian’s eldest daughter, Joanna, eventually made the journey to Surinam and would send her mother new specimens and paintings until Merian’s death in 1717.

Sceptical men

I am an insect ecologist and a field biologist; Merian’s work forms the very foundations of my discipline. Yet I am ashamed to confess that until relatively recently I was unaware of the magnitude of Merian’s contribution to biology. It has only been in the last few decades that recognition for her scientific contributions has had a resurgence.

How did such a scientific superhero all but disappear from science history?

Merian was well known in her time. Karl Linnaeus, famous for developing a system for classifying life, referred heavily to her illustrations in his species descriptions. The grandfather of Charles Darwin, Erasmus Darwin, cites Merian’s work in his book The Botanic Garden.

But, after her death, inaccuracies began to creep into the hand-painted copies of Merian’s books. New plates with imaginary insects were added. Others were recoloured to be more aesthetically pleasing. The careful attention to detail that made Merian’s work so incredible was gradually eroded.

In the 1830s, naturalist Lansdowne Guilding – who had never visited Surinam – wrote a scathing critique of Merian’s work in a book entitled Observations on the work of Maria Sibylla Merian on the Insects, of Surinam. He uses words like “careless”, “worthless” and “vile and useless” to describe Merian’s engravings, which he felt were riddled with inaccuracies. Many of the errors Guilding attacks were added after Merian’s death and were not faithful to her original work.

There is also a strong undercurrent of sexism in Guilding’s critiques; in one place he accuses Merian of ignoring facts “every boy entomologist would know”. Guilding attacks Merian for relying too heavily on the knowledge of African slaves and Amerindians, people he regarded as unreliable.

The fact that Merian was an artist who had no formal scientific training also played a role in the efforts to discredit her. By the 1800s, biology was practised by university-trained academics and self-trained naturalists like Merian were now treated with an air of disdain. Never mind the fact that women of Merian’s day were barred from university educations.

Colored copper engraving from Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, Plate XLIII. ‘Spiders, ants and hummingbird on a branch of a guava’. Wikimedia Commons

It didn’t help that some of Merian’s observations sounded fantastical – she claimed that in Surinam there lived tarantulas that ate birds, and ants that formed bridges with their bodies. These claims seemed too odd to be true and so began to attract considerable scepticism.

Other authors began to see Merian’s observations as the flights of fancy of an old woman far outside her depth. And so Merian ceased to be remembered as a pioneering naturalist. She was instead dismissed as an old woman who painted beautiful – but entirely unscientific – pictures of butterflies. Although her work continued to inspire and influence generations of artists, her contributions as a scientist were largely forgotten.

Modern scientists have since confirmed the “bird-eating” tarantula’s habit of occasionally consuming small birds and we now know that army ants do indeed build bridges out of their living bodies.

Merian’s “flights of fancy” were not fanciful after all.

ref. Hidden women of history: Maria Sibylla Merian, 17th-century entomologist and scientific adventurer – http://theconversation.com/hidden-women-of-history-maria-sibylla-merian-17th-century-entomologist-and-scientific-adventurer-112057

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

As Australia’s soft power in the Pacific fades, China’s voice gets louder

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Helen Vatsikopoulos, Lecturer in Journalism, University of Technology Sydney

This week, Department of Communications and Arts secretary Mike Mrdak told a Senate hearing our Pacific neighbours will soon experience “the full suite of programs available on Australian networks”. This means the region will see some of our most highly rated reality shows such as Married at First Sight and The Bachelor.

This is all part of the government’s Pacific pivot and the A$17 million package to broadcast commercial television throughout the region announced by the prime minister last year. It’s also part of Australia’s “soft power” strategy, a branding that enables it to influence other countries and have its voice heard.

Australia’s soft power attraction in the Asia Pacific has been in free fall for the past few years. The government is sitting on two major reviews. First is the Soft Power Review – a strong recommendation of the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper – for which the consultation period ended in October 2018. Second is the Review of Australian Broadcasting in the Asia-Pacific, the consultation period for which ended in August 2018.

The second review was established in 2017. This was the first time the government addressed the issue of soft power in the Pacific since axing the ABC’s Australia Network in 2014. The Australia Network broadcast to the region with redistribution partnerships to 30 countries.

The ABC charter states it has responsibility “to transmit to countries outside Australia broadcasting programs of news, current affairs, entertainment and cultural enrichment” that will “encourage awareness of Australia and an international understanding of Australian attitudes on world affairs”.

In other words, the ABC is already enabled as Australia’s soft power tool. Despite this, the government is giving money to commercial televisions to do the work. At the Senate hearing this week, Mrdak denied this was in breach of the ABC charter because it did not involve broadcasting but purchasing content made by Australia’s commercial broadcasters for distribution to regional broadcasters.


Read more: Lost in transmission: the Australia Network, soft power and diplomacy


The government must move quickly with its reviews and their recommendations, and articulate its policy responses before the next election, if Australia’s standing in the region is to be restored. Because other powers, especially China, are fast filling the gap we’re leaving behind.

The importance of soft power

Soft power is a term coined by Harvard Professor Joseph S. Nye in the late 1980s. He referred to soft power as the ability of a country to gain influence and power through attraction and without coercion. Soft power leads to nation branding or the reputation a nation enjoys in the world.

This is what business academic Yin Fang defines as:

… the total sum of all perceptions of a nation in the minds of international stakeholders, which may contain some of the following elements: people, place, culture/language, history, food, fashion, famous faces (celebrities), global brands and so on.

The 2018 Soft Power 30 Report showed Australia had fallen four places in four years. The report is a measure of the influence of international nations. We are 10th in the overall soft power index but are marked as moving downward: 7th in culture, 6th in education, 9th in government and completely absent from the top ten in the areas of digital, enterprise and engagement.


Read more: Soft power and the institutionalisation of influence


In the alternative, and hipper, Monocle Soft Power Index, Australia sits at number 8. But the report also warns it “… is in need of a shakeup if it is to remain an attractive proposition”.

It praises the country for committing to an official review of its soft power but adds “it’s unclear if that will now be a priority”.

In addressing a seminar on the future of Australia’s broadcasting and soft power in the region, veteran broadcaster and former head of the Australia Network Bruce Dover said:

Where once Australia was a brand in Asia, people knew what the Australia Network was, they knew what Radio Australia was, it’s lost – it’s gone…

He then added that the axing of the Australia Network by the Coalition government “… was for more political reasons about whacking the ABC than a considered view on the worth of soft diplomacy or having a voice in the region”.

The ABC isn’t entirely free from blame. It abandoned the most needy of its audience in Asia and the Pacific by switching off its shortwave radio service in 2017. Citing outdated technology, the ABC was trying to make the most of its severe funding cutbacks by prioritising digital services. And that’s when China moved in and took over the shortwave frequencies.

So, what’s China doing?

The government’s Pacific pivot is about waking up and finding China has expanded into the region, and not just in infrastructure projects but in broadcasting. A recent ABC investigation reported China’s Central Global Television Network (CGTN) is broadcasting to 1.2 billion people in Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic and is expanding to create 200 international bureaus by 2020.


Read more: Soft power goes hard: China’s economic interest in the Pacific comes with strings attached


This may be, as the ABC suggests, “informational warfare”, where the soldiers may actually be Westerners working for the other side. This year alone, more than 2,200 people lost their jobs in the Australian media.

Edwin Maher was one of the first Australians to work for CCTV, as CGTN was then called. He was a weatherman when I worked in the ABC’s Melbourne newsroom in the late ’80s, but for over a decade he has been a presenter on China’s television. There will be more like him in future.

China is actively recruiting Westerners to front its programs. Australian faces will likely present news on on CGTN, while Australian voices broadcast in English to Pacific Islanders on shortwave.

In the competitive world of nation-branding and soft power, who will know the difference? The new Edwin Mahers will be telling the same stories as Australia, but with a China focus. In 2016 President Xi Jinping announced that the media must serve the party and directed them to tell China’s stories that reflect well on the ruling party and its policies.

This is the reality of informational warfare. The Morrison government must release its two crucial soft power reports and announce a policy framework that will determine our standing, influence and power in the region.

Vanuatu’s Daily Post has welcomed the news Australia will provide entertaining programs to the Pacific. But the opinion piece also says:

Pacific islanders aren’t likely to be very fussy about how that comes about. But if the goal is helping Pacific islanders know more about Australia — and helping Australians know more about the Pacific – then a different approach is needed.

Australia’s soft power is too important to be determined by vengeful payback to the ABC, or by currying favour with commercial television barons. It is about statecraft.

ref. As Australia’s soft power in the Pacific fades, China’s voice gets louder – http://theconversation.com/as-australias-soft-power-in-the-pacific-fades-chinas-voice-gets-louder-111841

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Explainer: how does a vasectomy work and can it be reversed?

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By James Dunn, Associate Lecturer in Anatomy and Cell Biology, Western Sydney University

Some men may shudder at the thought of “the snip”. But vasectomies are a safe and effective form of contraception for men who have completed their family, or don’t wish to have children.

Medicare data shows more than 25,000 Australian men have had a vasectomy in the last financial year. The relatively simple surgical procedure involves disrupting the sperm-carrying tubes in the scrotum to prevent sperm from getting into the seminal fluid when a man ejaculates.

Typically, sperm only make up around 2-5% of total ejaculate volume. That means following a successful vasectomy, at least 95% of the end product will still remain, while eliminating the risk of pregnancy.

The procedure

Generally, vasectomies are carried out under local anaesthetic. The surgery can usually be completed within 15-30 minutes.

In the “no-scalpel” method, a single puncture is made through the scrotum using specialised equipment. The tubes can then be accessed without having to make an incision. This method is considered best practice as it is minimally invasive, does not require stitches and results in very little scarring.

There is also the more traditional incision method where a scalpel is used to make one or two small access points through which the doctor performs the procedure.


Read more: Few Australian women use long-acting contraceptives, despite their advantages


For anyone worried about the function of the penis after the procedure, the penis actually has very little to do with a vasectomy. An incision, or a puncture, is made into the scrotum, and the focus of the procedure is the small internal tubes which connect the testes to the penis, called the vas deferens. The vas deferens carry sperm from the testicles to the prostate where it’s mixed with semen for ejaculation.

This process of a vasectomy involves severing the vas deferens. From shutterstock.com

In most procedures, around 1-2cms of the vas deferens will be removed to minimise the chance of the tubes rejoining later on.

Techniques to close the ends of the vas deferens include cauterisation (electrical or thermal burning to create scar tissue) and ligation (tying the tubes).

Some of the highest success rates involve an “open ended” technique (successful at least 99.5% of the time). This is where the upper portion of the tube is either cauterised or ligated while the end closer to the testes remains open. This has a lower risk of complications than other methods and appears to be a popular choice among Australian doctors.

How successful are vasectomies?

Generally vasectomies are very effective, with success rates well above 99% and with minimal long-term complications.

Potential complications immediately after surgery include infection and haematoma (internal bleeding), but the risks of such complications are small (1-2%). The risk is even less when the “no-scalpel” method is used.

After a vasectomy, the chance of a couple becoming pregnant again is well under 1%. From shutterstock.com

The most common long-term complication of a vasectomy is pain in the scrotum, yet this only affects about 2% of men. It is believed the “open-ended” method minimises the chance of this happening.

Importantly, vasectomies are only fully effective after around three months as it takes time for sperm to clear completely from the vas deferens. So it’s sensible to continue to use an alternative form of contraception immediately following the procedure, until given the all-clear by a doctor.

Reversals

Someone who has had a vasectomy may wish to have the procedure reversed, for a variety of reasons.

Not every service that offers a vasectomy will offer a vasectomy reversal, called a vasovasostomy. But it can be done. The procedure essentially involves reconnecting the previously disconnected vas deferens.


Read more: Here’s what’s on the horizon for a male contraceptive pill – but don’t hold your breath


Of vasectomised men, around 3-6% opt to have a vasectomy reversal, after which successful pregnancy may be achieved in up to 80% of cases.

There are many factors that could affect this chance. The age of the female partner is among the most significant.

It’s also important to note that the longer the duration since the vasectomy, the lower the odds of a successful reversal and future pregnancy.

In some cases, if a couple want more children following a vasectomy, a more realistic and time-efficient option may be IVF. Sperm can still be extracted directly from the testes of a man who has had a vasectomy.

ref. Explainer: how does a vasectomy work and can it be reversed? – http://theconversation.com/explainer-how-does-a-vasectomy-work-and-can-it-be-reversed-110780

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Huawei or the highway? The rising costs of New Zealand’s relationship with China

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By David Belgrave, Lecturer in Politics and Citizenship, Massey University

Until recently, New Zealand’s relationship with China has been easy and at little cost to Wellington. But those days are probably over. New Zealand’s decision to block Huawei from its 5G cellular networks due to security concerns is the first in what could be many hard choices New Zealand will need to make that challenge Wellington’s relationship with Beijing.

For over a decade New Zealand has reaped the benefits of a free-trade agreement with China and seen a boom of Chinese tourists. China is New Zealand’s largest export destination and, apart from concerns about the influence of Chinese capital on the housing market, there have been few negatives for New Zealand.

Long-held fears that New Zealand would eventually have to “choose” between Chinese economic opportunities and American military security had not eventuated.


Read more: New Zealand’s Pacific reset: strategic anxieties about rising China


But now New Zealand business people in China have warned of souring relations and the tourism industry is worried about a downturn due to backlash following the Huawei controversy.

China’s growing might

During Labour’s government under Helen Clark (1999-2008) and under the National government with John Key as prime minister (2008-2016), New Zealand could be all things to all people, building closer relationships with China while finally calming the last of the lingering American resentment over New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policies. But now, there are difficult decisions to be made.

As China becomes more assertive on the world stage, it is becoming increasingly difficult for New Zealand to keep up this balancing act. Two forces are pushing a more demanding line from Beijing. One is China’s move to assert more control over waters well off its coast.

For decades, Beijing was happy to let the US Navy maintain order over the Western Pacific to facilitate global trade with China. As China’s own economic and military abilities have grown, it has begun to show that it is willing to protect what it sees as its own patch. Its mammoth island building in the South China Sea is a testament to its new-found desire to push its territorial claims after decades of patience.


Read more: Despite strong words, the US has few options left to reverse China’s gains in the South China Sea


China’s stronger foreign policy is testing what is known as the “rules-based order”, essentially a set of agreed rules that facilitate diplomacy, global trade, and resolve disputes between nations. This is very concerning for New Zealand as it needs stable rules to allow it to trade with the world. New Zealand doesn’t have the size to bully other countries into getting what we want.

Trump-style posturing would get New Zealand nowhere. A more powerful China doesn’t need to threaten the rules-based system, but the transition could create uncertainty for business and higher risks of trade disruption. It is vital for New Zealand that an Asia-Pacific dominated by China is as orderly as one dominated by the US.

Tech made in China

The other force challenging the relationship is China’s emergence as a source of technology rather than simply a manufacturer of other countries’ goods. Many Chinese firms like Huawei are now direct competitors of Western tech companies. Huawei’s success makes it strategically important for Beijing and a point of pride for ordinary Chinese citizens.

Yet, unlike Western countries, China actively monitors its population through a wide variety of mass surveillance technology. Therefore, there is a trust problem when Chinese firms claim that their devices are secure from Beijing’s spies. New Zealand’s decision to effectively ban Huawei components from 5G cellular networks could be the first in many decisions needed to ensure national security.

Chinese designed goods are becoming more common and issues around privacy and national security will get stronger as everyday household goods become connected to the internet. Restrictions on Chinese-made goods will further frustrate Beijing and will invite greater retaliation to New Zealand exporters and tourist operators.

In more extreme cases, foreign nationals have been detained in China in response to overseas arrests of prominent Chinese individuals. As many as 13 Canadians were detained recently in China following the arrest of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the request of US prosecutors.


Read more: Australian-Chinese author’s detention raises important questions about China’s motivations


Declaring the limits of the relationship

If New Zealand is to maintain a healthy relationship with China, it needs to be clear on what it is not willing to accept. It is easy to say individual privacy, national security and freedom of speech are vital interests of New Zealand, but Wellington needs to be clear to its citizens and to China what exactly those concepts mean in detail. All relationships require compromise, so Wellington needs to be direct about what it won’t compromise.

New Zealand spent decades during the Cold War debating how much public criticism of the US the government could allow itself before it risked its alliance with the Americans. New Zealanders wondered if they really had an independent foreign policy if they couldn’t stand up to their friends. Eventually nationalist sentiment spilled over in the form of the anti-nuclear policy.

New Zealand is now heading for the same debate as Kiwis worry about how much they can push back against Beijing’s interests before it starts to hurt the economy. Now that the relationship with China is beginning to have significant costs as well as benefits, it’s probably time New Zealanders figured out how much they are prepared to pay for an easy trading relationship with China.

ref. Huawei or the highway? The rising costs of New Zealand’s relationship with China – http://theconversation.com/huawei-or-the-highway-the-rising-costs-of-new-zealands-relationship-with-china-111909

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Why schools desperately need a royal commission into the abuse of disabled people

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By David Roy, Lecturer in Education, University of Newcastle

On Monday, the federal parliament agreed on a motion to support a royal commission into the abuse of disabled people. This is a good thing, but we still need a timeline, terms of reference and a whole lot more detail.

This commission has been a long time coming. The stories we’ve heard over the last few years in the media have been devastating, such as a child with a disability being stripped naked and locked in a closet. We can expect the stories that will be revealed over the course of this royal commission to be similarly hard to hear.

Any of us can be or become disabled. At least a half of us will become disabled as we age. This is not an issue just for “others”, this is an issue for all of us.


Read more: What you need to know if your child with a disability is starting school soon


Why a royal commission?

Royal commissions deal with systemic and endemic issues. People with a disability need societal support to overcome the barriers their ability presents in a society where able-bodied people are seen as “normal”. This leads to a systemic power structure that allows those who seek out targets to abuse the ability to do so with very little accountability.

Families are unlikely to complain about the services they rely on for everyday life, in case of retribution or the removal of these services. Such issues were also apparent in the the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This means it’s very likely many incidents go unreported.

Without this royal commission, we won’t know the full scope of abuse perpetrated against students with disabilities. from www.shutterstock.com

Some 20% of Australians have a disability. A royal commission into the violence, abuse and neglect perpetrated against people with disability has the potential to be huge. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse cost upwards of A$500 million dollars. So the appropriate cost of the proposed royal commission into disability abuse may be well above the A$26 million floated in parliament this week.

Is there really an issue?

Looking at school education alone in the latest ABS statistics, 336,000 students with a disability are enrolled in mainstream schools. This does not include thousands of children with a disability who are home schooled, often because of the abuse or discrimination they experience in mainstream settings.

Statistics on how common the abuse of children with a disability in schools is can be hard to find. But in 2018, NSW revealed there were 657 complaints about staff members in one year alone. Some 438 of these complaints were allegations of sexual or physical abuse against staff working in public schools.


Read more: NSW could lead the way in educating students with a disability


In 2017, shocking allegations were revealed through Freedom of Information requests: 246 reports of abuse were made about staff in the NSW Department of Education.

In 2015 reports revealed that a child with autism was being placed in a “blue cage” in a school. And in Victoria a coffin-like box was being used as a form of restraint.

Inquiries in SA, NSW and reports from Queensland reveal widespread denial of enrolment, denial of supports and funding, denial of learning, children being beaten, hit and isolated.

Even if the abuse is reported, children with a disability are too often seen as unreliable witnesses. A disability is wrongly (and offensively) assumed to mean an intellectual disability. It is assumed they simply don’t have the mental capacity.

Education systems often investigate themselves, which presents difficulties with conflict of interest. Most abusers tend to abuse in private, so the findings are either not proven, or a quick confidentiality settlement is made to silence the alleged victims. A royal commission would mean an independent authority would do the investigating.

Making it work

For this royal commission to work, the terms of reference must be broad. It must include all institutions where people with a disability go about their lives – especially schools where children spend most of their time when not in the family home.

The terms of reference for this royal commission must be broad enough to make sure everyone gets heard. from www.shutterstock.com

It must have power to compel all witnesses, including those at the highest level of state and federal politics, to give evidence.

It must allow those with confidentiality agreements to be able to share their stories without prejudice.

It must be well funded, to allow millions of voices across education, aged care and all institutions and settings to be heard and have access.

It must deal with both historic abuse as well as current systemic, discriminatory and abusive practices. A royal commission can’t change the past, but it can help heal the wounds, shine a light on the present and create a more equal future. This was demonstrated by the royal commission into child sexual abuse.


Read more: Happy birthday, Braille: how writing you can touch is still helping blind people to read and learn


Given how potentially widespread this issue may be, A$500 million dollars and four years as a time-line may be a good starting point for resourcing this royal commission. It needs to be established now, before the election, so it has bipartisan support.

The leadership must also involve those with a disability. Any investigation that seeks to redress the exclusion and abuse of people with a disability should not further disenfranchise them by excluding them from leadership on this issue.

ref. Why schools desperately need a royal commission into the abuse of disabled people – http://theconversation.com/why-schools-desperately-need-a-royal-commission-into-the-abuse-of-disabled-people-112058

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Regional Australia is calling the shots now more than ever

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Andrew Beer, Dean, Research and Innovation, University of South Australia

Governments change priorities all the time. Some argue governments will focus on developing regional areas at one point in time and then refocus on major cities at another.

Our research shows that there are cycles in how much priority governments attach to regional issues. But these fluctuations are overshadowed by a larger, long-term trend towards greater involvement with regional communities.

Our findings show that regional Australia matters more today than it has at any other time since the 1940s.

Cycles of regional commitment

Inattention to particular constituencies can be costly. Victoria’s Kennett government lost office in 1999, when regional communities such as Ballarat and Bendigo became disillusioned with what they saw as a Melbourne-centric government.

This was a time when governments in other states, and nationally, were paying more attention to regional voters, with the Howard Coalition government nervously watching One Nation as a growing political force. In Queensland, the pressure was more acute, with a few regionally focused conservative politicians claiming seats in parliament.


Read more: How big ideas for regional Australia were given short shrift

Appointing a minister with regional responsibilities is one clear marker of intent in the government of the day. John Sharp, the Howard government’s first minister for transport and regional development, released a budget statement with 19 major investments in regional areas. These included money for drought assistance, rural roads, and counselling and support services for young people and families.

Sharp said:

The Coalition government has not simply sat idly as regional Australia continued to suffer from neglect.

There are now six ministers and one parliamentary secretary for regional development in Australian parliaments. Bridget McKenzie (federal), Michael McCormack (federal), Tim Whetstone (South Australia), Jaclyn Symes (Victoria), John Barilaro (New South Wales), Alannah MacTiernan (Western Australia) and Mark Shelton (Tasmania) are the most recent expression of a trend that started almost 30 years ago.

Our research

We examined all state and Australian government gazettes from 1939 to 2015 to find out how many “regional” ministers were in place over time. Our criteria were for the term “regional” to be in the title and for the representative to have responsibilities associated with improving the well-being of rural and remote communities.

We then used our data to develop an index, in which we gave a score of 1 for each month in the year where an identifiable regional minister held office.

For each jurisdiction the maximum possible score in any year was 12. For Australia, with six states and one federal government, the maximum possible score was 84.

Our results, in the table above, came as a surprise. It is clear that political engagement with the regions has grown rapidly since the late 1980s.

Previous research has suggested the 1940-1960s period was one of strong governmental commitment to the regions. This was reflected in announcements on the need to “decentralise” the population.

But our data suggest the notion of a “golden era” of regional policy and government support prior to the 1970s is misplaced.

Nation-wide policies in support of agriculture, mining or infrastructure development supported regional communities. But the well-being of these places was not the primary goal.

From 1972 to 1975, the Whitlam government was committed to addressing inequalities associated with where people live. This brought fresh enthusiasm for regional portfolios in state governments, but that tide quickly waned as the political climate changed.


Read more: Election 2016: how well are the major parties meeting the needs of rural and regional Australia?


Australian governments did not begin to appoint regional ministers as a matter of course until the late 1980s. This was a period linked to the end of old-fashioned, class-based politics and the rise of our more complex political landscape.

The trend has continued since and the presence of the six regional ministers and one parliamentary secretary in the halls of political power means there has never been a better time for regions to lobby governments.

There are now more ministers than ever before ready, able and willing to receive delegations and advocate for country towns, rural industries and remote Australia.
This means regional leaders have an opportunity to be heard in the run-up to the NSW and federal elections. The challenge is to determine the key messages and how they should be delivered.

ref. Regional Australia is calling the shots now more than ever – http://theconversation.com/regional-australia-is-calling-the-shots-now-more-than-ever-110432

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

We don’t yet fully understand what mindfulness is, but this is what it’s not

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Nicholas T. Van Dam, Senior Lecturer in Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne

Last night’s episode of ABC’s Catalyst, “The Mindfulness Experiment”, offered a unique glimpse into what happens to people during Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, an eight-week structured training program in mindfulness meditation.

The program followed 15 ordinary Australians who were seeking to deal with conditions including chronic pain, stress and anxiety. At the end of the experiment, many of the participants had shown improvement.

But if you’re considering dipping a toe into practising mindfulness, or taking the full plunge, there are several things you should consider first.


Read more: What is mindfulness? Nobody really knows, and that’s a problem


Mindfulness is not relaxation

The origins of mindfulness can be found in Eastern traditions. One definition suggests it’s a way of orienting attention and awareness to the present, reminding oneself to stay present when the mind wanders, and carefully discerning those behaviours that are helpful from those that are not.

Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness is not a way to relax or manage emotions. During practice, you will most likely experience unrest, have unpleasant thoughts and feelings, and learn unexpected and unsettling things about yourself.

While relaxation can and does occur, it’s not always as expected and it’s not really the goal.

Mindfulness is not a quick fix

Problems that have developed over weeks, months, or years cannot be fixed overnight. Behaviour change is hard. The patterns we most want to change (such as addictive behaviours, dysfunctional relationships, anxious thinking) require the investment of serious time and effort.

Instructor Timothea Goddard championed the practice of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction in Australia and facilitated the Catalyst participants’ mindfulness journey. She acknowledges doing up to an hour of practice a day can seem demanding. But if the challenges a person is dealing with are significant, this may be what’s required.

She adds that just like physical fitness, courses offering sustained daily practice may be more likely to offer greater transformation experiences.

While we have little data on the frequency or length of practice necessary, decades of research in psychotherapy and behaviour change suggest there is no such thing as a quick fix.

Participants in the Catalyst episode took part in eight weeks of mindfulness training. ABC

Mindfulness is not an escape

You may imagine mindfulness to be like a beach holiday where you leave all the stress, pressure, and deadlines behind. It’s not.

Mindfulness practice creates awareness around the issues that most need our attention. Often we’re drawn to emotional and physical pain we’ve been avoiding.

One participant in The Mindfulness Experiment, Sam, found this difficult. “I want to forget about the areas that are painful, not concentrate on them,” she said.

Mindfulness provides a method, not to escape, but to explore pain or hardship with acceptance, curiosity, and emotional balance.

Mindfulness is not a panacea

Despite suggestions it will fix everything, there are many circumstances and conditions for which mindfulness is simply not effective or appropriate.

If your main reason for seeking out mindfulness is for mental illness or another medical condition, speak first to a medical professional. Meditation is not meant as a replacement for traditional medicine.


Read more: Mindfulness can improve living with a disability


Is mindfulness for you?

An individual session with a skilled instructor can help you work out whether mindfulness is going to be right for you generally, and which approach specifically might help you.

Mindfulness is not one size fits all. Personal attention before and during practice can make a huge difference, especially in a group. We know from psychotherapy research individual adjustments must be made.

Who created the program?

Perhaps this seems like a strange question; few therapy clients or surgery patients know who created the method being used and they often get better. But unlike therapy or medical procedures, meditation is not overseen by any regulatory agency.

Consider what you want to get from the program and whether there is evidence the program and instructor can help you to achieve those goals.

This advice is especially important when considering apps. Few have been examined scientifically.


Read more: Can an app help us find mindfulness in today’s busy high-tech world?


Does the instructor have a personal practice?

Those who do not have a regular mindfulness practice themselves may struggle to teach others to cultivate a practice effectively.

Programs that train people to provide structured meditation programs (such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) require professional training, supervision, and extensive personal practice. While we don’t know if personal practice is necessary, it seems likely it is helpful in guiding others.

ref. We don’t yet fully understand what mindfulness is, but this is what it’s not – http://theconversation.com/we-dont-yet-fully-understand-what-mindfulness-is-but-this-is-what-its-not-110698

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Heaven and Earth in Chinese Art is an exercise in spectacle

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By John Clark, Professor Emeritus, Asian Art History, University of Sydney

Review: Heaven and Earth in Chinese Art, Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The exhibition Heaven and Earth in Chinese Art, Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is the first major loan to Australia from this repository of what have become the canonical art works of Chinese culture. It deserves to be seen by all those interested in Chinese art, and hopefully will be the precursor for many such loans in the future.

Ming dynasty 1368–1644 Attributed to Qiu Ying (c1494–1552), ‘After Zhao Boju’s painting on alchemy’, hanging scroll, ink and colours on paper 131.1 x 49.6 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei

Perhaps it will also prod the National Palace Museum in Beijing to do a major loan exhibition, in the same way that Sydney has already been blessed with major loans from other mainland Chinese provincial museums. The great ecumene of Chinese culture and its artefacts is too broad and its products too interesting and significant to let them stay entrapped within one exclusive political domain or another.

We can view exhibitions in terms of their spectacle, the variously pleasing or unappealing aesthetic qualities of the works displayed, or in terms of an art tendency or cultural world represented by the kinds of works shown. Art works are also markers for a flow in cultural material between different countries, and one can think about why such a work was shown in this country or not, as the case may be.

This Sydney exhibition forms part of a broad spectrum of National Palace Museum Taipei excursions abroad beginning in 1961 with the Smithsonian Museum and including later the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

Ordinary viewers and specialist scholars may quibble about so many masterworks of Chinese art not seen in this exhibition. For instance, paintings from the Northern and Southern Song dynasties now in Taipei, such as Fan Kuan (ca. 950 to ca.1031) Travellers among mountains and streams, will not now be allowed to go overseas because of conservation considerations. The Australian viewer may hunger after such actual works but even in Taipei, many of these have a very restricted display schedule of about a month once every two or three years.

Apart from the question of how works appear or do not, there is the matter of how any given exhibition was generated. The current one was subject of a Loan Agreement in 2018 and is therefore the product of long and complex cultural diplomatic contacts much beyond curatorial decisions.

The works shown are organised in the following categories: Heaven and Earth; Seasons; Places; Landscape; Humanity. They were chosen to introduce works to a broad and often unfamiliar or uneducated audience, for whom explication of fuller art historical meaning could have been daunting.

Yuan dynasty 1279–1368 Four abridged phrases from ‘Detailed ceremonials’ hanging scroll, ink on paper 56.5 x 25.9 cm. National Palace Museum, Taipei Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei

An opening and very carefully calibrated presentation of calligraphies manages to show without pedagogic introduction the main types of calligraphic form via some well-known examples. These are carefully drawn against various types of production, format and author. Specialists might find it difficult to encounter first the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) piece Four abridged phrases from Detailed Ceremonials, followed by the Song Emperor Huizong (reigned, 1101-25), Poem on peonies in regular script.

Still, what might be called the limpid rigidity of his scripts actually can prepare the untutored viewer for the wider range of graphic forms in the older Song stele rubbing of 18 scripts of Mengying (active after the 900s). This set of mannerisms has long antecedents in China, including the Bound tablets for the shan sacrifice of the Tang Emperor Xuanzong of 725, shown elsewhere in the exhibition.

The visitor can thus in a few paces, and via works some of which are “national treasures”, see much of the historical range of written production and re-production with its attendant graphic sensibility through calligraphy, relief printing, and carving.

Song dynasty 960–1279, Emperor Huizong (1082–1135; (reign 1101–25), ‘Poem on peonies in. regular script’, album leaf, ink on paper, 34.8 x 53.3 cm National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei

There are several art historically significant paintings in the exhibition. One is attributed to Mi Fu (1051-1107) but is given as a 17th century copy after a work by Mi Fu’s son Mi Youren, and carries the encomium of Emperor Qian Long (reg. 1731-1796), a horizontal handscroll Cloudy Mountains with self-written inscription.

The sketchy tonality and brushwork with apparently not much ink contrast, apparently casually, even rather carelessly applied, became one of a core set of styles that was later to define the painting of literati landscape.

One other type of work here displayed is Southern Sung album paintings. Later research established in many cases that these were done for female members of the imperial court and even, in some cases, by female painters. These albums are very dark in their surviving state and turned flat on their side as here displayed are not easily seen by the viewer.

They are important, such as Taiye Lotus Pond by Feng Dayou (active mid-12th century), Viewing a Waterfall by Xia Gui (act.1180-c1230) and Evening stroll by Lamplight by Ma Lin (c.1195-1264).

These ostensibly highly professional paintings also displayed values of “realistic” drawing sought in the Song academic manner that became the genealogical base for the alternative, non-literati trajectory of ink painting in the late Ming, such as Parting at Jinchang by Tang Yin(1470-1524).

Song dynasty 960–1279, Xia Gui (active 1180–c1230), ‘Viewing a waterfall’, album leaf, ink and colour on silk, 24.7 x 25.7 cm. National Palace Museum, Taipei Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei

The Song album paintings displayed a poetic visualization of a domestic life which was neither that of the lonely, politically exiled recluse, or the grand, cosmographic, landscape panorama.

In terms of the presentation of paintings in this exhibition, one could get involved over the minutiae of attribution. (Is the Viewing Geese at the Orchid Painting by Qian Xuan (1239-1301) the original work in a series of later historical transmissions or is it in some way a later Ming variation? And the green and blue landscape Viewing the Spring given to Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322) may or may not be by him.)

Exhibitions of paintings seem of necessity to include ceramic and bronze pieces that hint at the domestic decoration of everyday life. These utensils and various kinds of display draw from domestic celebration of guests, formal ancestral ritual, and court ceremonial life.

Unfortunately these linkages require some commitment to discern in the rather haphazard collection of ceramics and bronze displayed here, despite the presence of rare ceramic pieces that are unquestionably major art historical monuments.

These include the monochrome Song Celadon warming bowl in the shape of a lotus blossom (960-1279) or the Jin-Yuan Dish with sky-blue glaze and purple splashes (ca 115-1368). These are very splendid but into what kind and period of imperial, scholarly, or plebeian taste they may fit is quite unclear.

Northern Song, late 1000s–early 1100s Song dynasty 960–1279 ‘Celadon warming bowl in shape of a lotus blossom’ porcelain, ru ware, 10.4 x 16.2 cm (rim diam) National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei

The relationship with later cloisonné enamels of the 18th century also shown remains a bit too close to a display of accumulated consumer treasure for appreciative viewing.

Qing dynasty 1644–1911, ‘In celebration of the. Amitabha Buddha’ (detail), National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum, Taipei

Indeed the problem of all introductory exhibitions, (even when referring to a canonical collection), is that the supposed status of works may provide the all-fulfilling meaning for the viewer rather than access via cosmographic, historical, conceptual or other kinds of interpretation. These will require much more thorough expostulation, and narrower selection of works by type, series, or period.

Display spectacle is what actual museums now require before all else. With a little insight and patience, and detailed if occasionally circumlocutory catalogue notes, this exhibition has well provided it.

Heaven and Earth in Chinese Art, Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei is at the AGNSW until May 5.

ref. Heaven and Earth in Chinese Art is an exercise in spectacle – http://theconversation.com/heaven-and-earth-in-chinese-art-is-an-exercise-in-spectacle-111988

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media