The real Gillard negative Tony Abbott is avoiding. This being the time of year it is, I’ve had more contact with a wider range of friends and associates than normal. And as we exchange season’s greetings I have been surprised by the extent of the anger about Julia Gillard’s pay rise. The thought of the Australian Prime Minister earning more than the United States president clearly is not going down well with the public and it is Gillard who is suffering for it.

This is one of those rare occasions where Tony Abbott is not saying “no” but it doesn’t seem to matter. It is the leader of the government people hold responsible not the leader of the opposition.

The beneficiary when some aspects of the politicians’ pay rises come before the parliament next year clearly will be the Greens who are the only party not determined to get their heads into the trough — or should I say the only party prepared to pretend they don’t believe politicians should get their heads into the trough.

Put a fork in them, the election is almost done.

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It’s a 50:50 chance. The survival of Julia Gillard as Labor leader until the next election is rated by the Crikey Leadership Indicator at 50% as the year comes towards its end.

And Labor actually winning the next election whoever is the leader?

The one game politicians play well. If there is one thing politicians are good at it is the blame game. The debate over how to handle boat people is as unedifying an example as I have ever seen. All the posturing this week has nothing to do with solving the problem and everything about trying to blame the other lot for it.

No partridges but black throated robins. The pear tree in the back yard is bare but a team of Chinese and Swedish researchers have this year rediscovered the breeding area for the poorly known Blackthroat Luscinia obscura, in the Qinling mountains, Shaanxi province, north central China.

Seven singing males were observed in Foping and seven more in Changqing National Nature Reserves — which almost equals the total number of individuals observed of this species since its discovery in the late 19th century. The Swedish Research Council, hailing what it called a “sensational bird finding in China“, describes the blackthroat as resembling a European Robin Erithacus rubecula in size and general appearance, but with a jet black throat and breast in the male. The female is considered to have a pale brownish throat and breast, although no females definitely attributable to this species have been observed.

The song is distinctive, and consists of rather short, quick, varied strophes that include both whistles and harsh notes. The strophes are delivered at a fairly slow, even pace. Several individuals were sound recorded in 2011.

So listen here, then, for the sound of the black throated robin

And while you listen feel the stresses of pre-Christmas living disappear. Or at least you should if Eleanor Ratcliffe, a psychologist from Surrey University in Guildford, has got it right. She is heading a research project to find out whether birdsong has any impact on people’s mental well-being.

Initially it involves volunteers from the National Trust and the Surrey Wildlife Trust filling in questionnaires to find out their preferences and how they self-rate the impact of hearing birds.

Last year, the BBC reports, the National Trust launched a scheme encouraging people to listen to birdsong for five minutes each day, as a way of combatting the “winter blues”.

“Birdsong gets us closer to nature, and links people to places and memories in a way that few other sounds can,” said Peter Brash, an ecologist with the Trust.

“It’s a simple pleasure that most of us can enjoy, even if we live in towns and cities.”

The new study will find out whether this mood enhancement is a reality for people who are not already bird or nature enthusiasts.

Here, there and everywhere. There’s nothing dull about the race for the US Republican presidential nomination. The lead is perpetually changing. Look at the ups and down in what the pollsters have been predicting will happen in the first contest of the new year:

Some pundits are even predicting an Iowa revival in the blue line of candidate Rick Perry as this advertisement gets its airplay:

Who knows. But while the national opinion polls have shown similar variations, the Crikey Republican Candidate Election Indicator has been consistently showing Mitt Romney as the most likely overall winner.

Expect more from your journalism.

Crikey is an independent Australian-owned and run outfit. It doesn’t enjoy the vast resources of the country’s main media organisations. We take seriously our responsibility to bear witness.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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