Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Leyonhjelm tackles the big issues

Cut ciggie tax, Leyonhjelm urges govt

THE federal government must slash the tobacco excise to crack down on sales of blackmarket cigarettes, independent senator David Leyonhjelm says.

AUSTRALIA'S major tobacco companies have released a report into illicit tobacco products which claims their share of consumption has increased from 13.5 per cent to 14.3 per cent in 12 months.
First, one would have to be very suspicious about the precision with which that estimate has been reached.

Second, Leyonhjelm goes on to show again that you don't have to be immature to be a libertarian, but it certainly doesn't hurt:
The trio called on the federal government to better resource law enforcement agencies to combat the problem - which they say is the equivalent of 156 million packets of 20 cigarettes a year.

But Senator Leyonhjelm says law enforcement isn't the answer. Instead, tobacco excise should be slashed. The government had created a "magnet" for organised criminals, he said.
"The best way to deal with them is not by law enforcement because all we end up with is more police running around in black pyjamas and guns and jumping out of helicopters," the libertarian senator said.
 Says the man who liked to stroke his guns....

Bound to go viral amongst those who follow Australian politics...



Should I know who Hugh Atkin is?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A spectacular urban market

MVRDV's Markthal Rotterdam photographed by Hufton Crow

There are many more photos at the link, but just look at this gaudily decorated, but very spectacular, food market building in Rotterdam:


Probably much to dispute, but right on some key points

30 Years of Conservative Nonsense, An Explainer | Vanity Fair

The post heading gives my take on this article.  I don't know enough about some of the topics to have a firm  opinion, but on the matters of economic policy, I reckon the article is pretty correct.   


The still complaining Bolt

Isn't it getting ridiculous the preciousness of Andrew Bolt -  his view that every journalist or commentator in the land who is not reflexively anti-Labor is a "Leftist."

Maaate:  your credibility is shot. 

Update:  Bolt goes all Fox News creep on race in America:  blames blacks for being upset when an unarmed petty thief is shot multiple times in the street.   

The facts of the Wilson killing were always obviously going to have conflicting versions, and from this distance it would be foolish to say which was obviously "right".  But its also pretty ridiculous to blame blacks for their upset with no indictment at all.


On watching the brain make decisions

Do Rats Have Free Will? - Neuroskeptic | DiscoverMagazine.com

A fascinating report here on a new study relevant to the interpretation of the famous Libet experiments.

And it combines two things I like - rats and pop philosophy.

Oh. What we missed about the Brisbane speech...

Abbott clueless on how to handle US and China

Gee, it took a long time for anyone to explain this in the media.   Hugh White explaining that Obama's Brisbane speech contained a lot of warnings about accepting China as the regional leader, which Abbott promptly ignored.

An important article.

Important free movie alert! (not really)

I mentioned here months ago that I had bought the Chromecast dongle, but after an initial burst of trying it out, I hadn't gone back to it until last Sunday.  Here's what I discovered:

*  ABC's iview service does hook up to it, as they said it would.  But picture quality on a large screen TV, as you might have suspected from watching it on a tablet, is not good.  (I didn't experiment with the screen format size though - that may make it better.)

*   I don't think the SBS on demand service works with it yet.

*   Movies and shows from the Crackle app seem to play extremely well through it, with good quality.  It's a pity that new material seems to get added there very rarely.

And now for the really important news:

Mothra is available through Crackle!!

Yes, the movie I will always remember as the anti-exploitation exploitation film looks great.  I didn't realise it was in colour and wide screen - I had only ever seen it on a black and white TV in the 1960's.   It actually looks relatively expensive for its day, and Japanese movie production values in 1962 were much higher than I realised.  

I haven't finished watching it yet, but just knowing it's there gives pleases me.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Cat; pigeons

The ABC has flab to be cut

I don't keep up with Australian media intrigue much, so it is curious to read a strong critique of ABC management from one Louise Evans, who appears to have had a very shortlived job as manager of Radio National last year.  Now, her criticisms may well have some element of truth in them, but it would be good to know more about her background (such as when she was managing editor at The Australian) and what went wrong in the ABC job so quickly.

Henry's rubbery figure?

Henry Ergas lines up for duty for some Obama /clean energy bashing in today's Australian, but what caught my eye was this line:
But it works a treat with the billionaires Obama courts, who helped the Democrats outspend the Republicans by some 35 per cent in last month’s elections.
Really?  When I Google the question (with, for example:  "did Republicans outspend Democrats in midterm elections" - because, I guess, most people would assume Republicans did)  I can't see any article that talks about a 35% outspend by Democrats.  In fact, nearly every article quotes the Centre for Responsive Politic's estimates that Republicans slightly outspent Democrats.   Even the Washington Times, a paper with (I think) even less credibility for objectivity than the Australian, if that's possible.

Even Googling using the 35% figure, I can't find any reference quickly.

It's clear that "dark money" donations in the US are hard to track, but even so, I just can't see anyone estimating that 35% Democrat outspend figure.

So it would good to know where Ergas gets this figure from.   Fox News?  Breitbart?  You know, the reliable sources...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

We're unpopular - who can we blame?

Gee, now that everyone across the political spectrum is acknowledging that Tony Abbott is proving to be the hopeless Prime Minister that I always said he would be (did you see his closest buddy Greg Sheridan on Lateline last night suggesting he stop the stupid repetition of what he just said?) it's getting a bit boring coming up with yet more examples of his bad political judgement.

But I will.   Everyone needs a hobby.  (Heh).

While everyone - again, really, across the spectrum - has acknowledged that his opening remarks at the G20 about his own political problems were weirdly inappropriate for the occasion, I was reminded while Googling around this morning that he has precedent for not understanding when not to try to score points.   In this paper, someone from ANU back in 2011 noted that Abbott was routinely using addresses in Parliament to visiting foreign leaders to try to score points again the then Labor government.

As for the government generally, I see that the Australian today (in an article by Chris Kenny, of all people) is talking up some bashing of HRC head Gillian Triggs by Scott Morrison over her revising explanations at a Senate estimates hearing about why she didn't enquire into children in detention while Labor was in power.

Now I don't hold any particular card for Triggs - she seems to have decided to deal with her politically appointed Human Rights Commissioner for Selfies, Gays and Transgendered (but mainly selfies) by giving him unlimited travel and accommodation allowances and sending him on his way on a never ending tour of the nation - but this kerfuffle is pretty small change.   The blindingly obvious point about children in detention that arrogant wannabe fascist Morrison overlooks is that while a lot went through it under Labor,  the ones there now have absolutely no idea what the future holds for them. They have been left in a protracted, hopeless situation in hot, isolated, inadequate facilities in the middle of nowhere.  Maybe some of them will end up - one day, no one has any idea when - in poverty stricken Cambodia, because the Coalition decided Malaysia was not up to it when Labor wanted to send some there.

And did anyone see the appearance of ABC head Mark Scott at the Government dominated Senate estimates hearing this week?   The hate against him was strong, for his making the entirely justifiable claim that the budget cuts were quite large that would lead to hard decisions that would have some effects on what they can do and where.  There was a bit of back and forth over whether he had really sent a letter to Christopher Pyne (Pyne rang into the hearing to say he never got a letter, Scott said it was sent.  How petty.  The Chair at one point angrily reminded Scott he was "under oath".  He said something like "am I?")

The political optics of the hearing was terrible - it was like they thought they could cut  the ABC's budget and then blame Scott for any blowback.   "If you cut anything you're making us look bad!"  seemed to be their theme, but Scott is such a smooth performer who is so obviously on top of his game, there was no way that was going to work.   And do Coalition politicians only get their views on the ABC by reading Bolt, the IPA and the Murdoch press?   How do they not notice the consistency high approval of the ABC in seemingly every poll that has ever been held?  If they had any sense at all, their approach would be a sympathetic one, not trying to angrily pass the buck.

So suck it up, Coalition Senators and Members.   You're a bunch of thin skinned cry babies whose own incompetent policies, politicians and Prime Minister have got you to where you are.  And there is no sign  of when a turnaround in popularity is going to arrive.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Lenore on the "deeper" Abbott government

Tony Abbott keeps digging himself in deeper, and it makes no sense | Australia news | theguardian.com

What a great column by Lenore Taylor, which contains this interesting detail:
Tony Abbott and senior ministers were deeply angry at Barack Obama’s show-stealing climate change speech during the G20. We know because they have been briefing News Ltd columnists to that effect all week – including graphic accounts of how they rang up afterwards and yelled at state department officials for failing to give a “heads up” that the president was going to “dump on” the PM.

Putting aside for one second the extraordinary position we are in when a speech that calls for an ambitious global climate deal and points out Australia has a lot to lose from a warming climate is seen as “dumping” on our prime minister, let’s think about how government
ministers could have responded.
Read the whole thing if you haven't already...

Something in the water at RMIT?

I see that RMIT has on staff yet another economist with ties to the IPA, who has written an economic analysis of cuts to the ABC which is rather pointless, fanciful and will convince no one other than Rupert Murdoch. 

Along with Sinclair Davidson ("inequality? - Ha! you'd have to be a communist to be against it"*) and the absolutely rabidly Obama hating, climate change is just a Leftie religion, Say's Law obsessive, author of the only economics book that gets things right, Steve Kates, RMIT seems to be the Australian centre of Right wing economic extremism and eccentricity.   Doesn't that have an effect on the number of students who want to go there?

* only a slight paraphrase of what I take his attitude to be.

Why semi-historical films can annoy

The Imitation Game: inventing a new slander to insult Alan Turing | Film | theguardian.com

It's a real problem when films based on recent history don't make it clear which bits are real and which are completely invented.   This film about Turing gets a pasting in this review for some inventions which seek to further hurt the reputation of a man with a pretty tragic life.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I missed that one

ABC, climate change: the Coalition is drowning us in nonsense | Australia news | theguardian.com

Kathrine Murphy makes the point everyone understands, whether they be on the Left or Right:
This morning, on the wireless, I heard the finance minister, Mathias Cormann, say the government wasn’t making cuts to the ABC.

The day before, I heard the communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, say Tony Abbott hadn’t actually promised before last September’s election not to cut the budgets of the ABC and SBS. If Abbott had said something like that, then he didn’t mean it; and more
likely, we’d all just misunderstood what the prime minister had said.

Also on Wednesday, I heard the prime minister tell the French president, Francois Hollande, that part of the Australian government’s policy arsenal to combat the risks associated with climate change involved funding an agency called the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

What he didn’t tell the French president was the government intends to abolish the CEFC.

In politics at the present time, we are drowning in nonsense. The nonsense waves are not only lapping, elegantly, at our ankles, they are picking us all up and dumping us head first into the sand.

The Abbott government is performing so many contortions, and running so rhetorically ragged, it’s hard to see if anything coherent is actually going on.
I had missed the  bit where Abbott now claimed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation as his own.   Has he changed policy on that?  Or is it just another example where he tells whichever audience before him what he thinks they want to hear?   I think we all can guess which is most likely, can't we? 

Odd cosmic alignments

Spooky alignment of quasars across billions of light-years

It would be funny if, after looking long enough, for the right sort of thing, astronomers eventually find a message written in the sky.    Something more profound than a big smiley face, I hope; although that would be cool too.

Not that Andrew Bolt will comprehend this

Lake-effect snow in Buffalo: Climate change is making snowstorms more extreme.

A pretty convincing explanation here at Slate, with graphs and all.   Snow is a form of precipitation.  More intense bursts of heavy precipitation were always expected to increase under global warming.  

On the downside

What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change - IEEE Spectrum

What did I just write the other day about the wild swings from optimism to pessimism you tend to see in prognostications about the future of energy?

Here we have a somewhat interesting, if not particularly well written, article by a couple of Google engineers who explain why Google pulled the plug in 2011 on trying to come up with an entire clean energy solution.  (I'm sure I wouldn't be the only one who didn't even realise Google had such a broad program in the first place.)

The argument they use seems flawed in a couple of respects:  an apparent insistence that a 350 ppm level of CO2 is key (when it has already been well exceeded), and a large downplaying of any possibility of future international co-operation for pricing carbon.

It's ridiculously easy, I'm sure, to find any number of other engineers/economists/scientists who will strongly disagree with these two.

But such widespread diversity of opinion certainly doesn't help guide politicians.

 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More than you probably needed to know about speculums

Here's a novel topic:  the somewhat controversial history of the development of the speculum, as used for pelvic examinations in women. 

While part of the story is merely unpleasant (its inventor using black slaves for experimental surgery), this part, about the then cultural anxiety of the effect inserting anything, um, down there, is amusing for its oddness from the modern perspective:
Prostitutes were often hired as model patients for doctors to practice on. “There’s this really interesting line between torture device, disciplinary device, sexual device,” says Terri Kapsalis, a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the author of the book Public Privates: Performing Gynecology from Both Ends of the Speculum. Police officers would even leverage pelvic exams as threats against sex workers when they were arrested. Some doctors worried that using the speculum even on proper women might somehow make them sex-crazed.

In 1850, the Royal Medicine and Chirurgical Society of London held a standing-room-only meeting in which the community heard arguments for and against the speculum. These doctors worried that women would mistake the exam for a sexual experience. The British physician Robert Brudenell Carter reinforced this fear in his 1853 book, On the Pathology and Treatment of Hysteria, writing that he had “seen young unmarried women, of the middle class of society, reduced by constant use of the speculum to the mental and moral condition of prostitutes; seeking to give themselves the same indulgence by the practice of solitary vice; and asking every medical practitioner ... to institute an examination of the sexual organs.”

Simplistic rubbish from Leyonhjelm

In his piece about metadata today, David Leyonhjelm makes this claim:
When governments get involved in regulating things they don't understand, things tend to go terribly wrong. Getting into the insulation business, for instance, resulted in installers dying and houses burning down. This proposal has the potential to have equally significant consequences.
Mmmm yes;  the politician most against government regulation of businesses now tries to make an example of a problem that occurred because of inadequate regulation, or enforcement thereof, in a business.

Shameless inconsistency by a gun stroking numbskull.

As for metadata:  if some ISPs are already storing it for a year or two (as the government has said), then who are libertarians to stop them running their business as they see fit? Sure, privacy concerns are raised by the practice, and that is conceded below. 

Common sense suggests that there is no reason to doubt that metadata could be very useful for some very serious criminal investigations and anti terrorist intelligence operations.

The issue with metadata should not be about storage per se, but about who, and the basis on which, access can be given.

If the argument was restricted to that, I don't see a problem.

But the argument that metadata should not be kept or accessible by anyone at all - that doesn't pass the common sense test.

Update:  I see from this Gizmodo article, that the intention of the government legislation is to actually reduce the number of authorities who can access it:
 Currently any authority or body that enforces a criminal law, a law imposing a pecuniary penalty or a law that protects the public revenue is an ‘enforcement agency’ under the TIA Act and can seek telecommunications data where that access complies with the requirements set out in Chapter 4 of the TIA Act. In 2012-2013 data was accessed by around 80 Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies with criminal law or revenue protection functions.

The Bill will require that bodies who are not a ‘criminal law enforcement agency’ for the purposes of the TIA Act must be declared by the Minister to be an ‘enforcement agency’ before they can authorise the disclosure of telecommunications data. These amendments will ensure that only authorities and bodies with a demonstrated need to have telecommunications information can authorise the disclosure of this information. These amendments are consistent with Recommendation 5 of the PJCIS Report that the number of agencies able to access telecommunications data be reduced.
 This is the type of detail that should be being discussed.

World Toilet Day noted

The BBC notes that it's World Toilet Day with a set of international photos of "My Toilet"

Perhaps I shouldn't be mentioning this in the context of India while their rock star PM is here, a country strangely motivated to fly space missions while having trouble getting toilets to a huge proportion of their population.   (By the way, I had not realised how nationalistic expat Indians could be until now.) 

But it is true, Modi does recognize his national toilet problem, even though the issue there involves more than just building them. According to a recent report, even if villages have toilets available, a lot of people just still like doing it in the field:
The study found open defecation is very common, even in households with toilets. Toilet use did not necessarily increase with prosperity: in Haryana, one of India's richest states, most people in the villages continue to defecate in the open. Also, men living in households with toilets are more likely to defecate in the open than women.

Why do so many Indians still prefer not to use toilets, even if they are available?

The survey found a range of replies - most said they found it "pleasurable, comfortable, or convenient". Others said it "provides them an opportunity to take a morning walk, see their fields and take in the fresh air". Still others regarded open defecation as "part of a wholesome, healthy virtuous life".
It's a bit hard from a Western perspective to see the "virtue" in poo-ing in the open.   Even Greenies who might yearn for recycling their own will at least use a composting toilet.

The other recent story about Indian toilets was about a study indicating that having them available did not obviously improve local health.   Men doing it in the field despite a toilet being handy may well account for part of that.

Ray on that climate deal

Obama’s U.S.-China climate agreement: Carbon budget and exponential curves show why this is a fair deal.

Ray Pierrehumbert, who has posted a lot at Real Climate, explains why he is cautiously optimistic about China reducing its emissions in a helpful way.

I would make the observation that it seems that energy forecasting is always subject to a hell of a lot of guesswork and ideological motivation.   The great pessimism of the 1970's in terms of oil has been completely replaced by great optimism; the enormous influence of fracking technological change seems to have gone more or less unexplained until it was actually happening; solar and energy efficiency seems to have become cheaper faster than was expected.

What I'm hoping for is that the ability to increasingly incorporate renewables in the energy mix in a reliable way has been underestimated by the pessimists.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Senator dependent on voter confusion wants to keep it that way

Crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm threatens to oppose key Government legislation over legal action
Oh, very funny David L:
"They are claiming that in essence I was elected in NSW with [about] 9
per cent of the vote because of a mistake, because of confusion,"
Senator Leyonhjelm said.
And they would be 100% correct.  Even after months of getting your head on TV and interviews in the press as the first libertarian Senator, your party scored a vote of 1.82% in the WA Senate re-run.

Which is nothing compared to how minuscule your and your party's vote was in NSW before it changed its name:
In 2007, David Leyonhjelm, an agricultural consultant with a love of
guns and finely hewn libertarian views, stood for Bennelong against then
prime minister John Howard. As the candidate of the Liberty and
Democracy Party (LDP), he came 12th in a field of 13. He won just 89
votes.
The LDP's Senate team in NSW had won just 7772 votes, 0.19
per cent. But a few months later, the party applied to change its name
to the Liberal Democratic Party. The Liberal party objected strongly,
warning that the new name could confuse intending Liberal voters. But on
legal advice, the Australian Electoral Commission allowed the change.
In 2013, the Liberal Democrats, headed by Leyonhjelm, drew
first place in the 45 columns on the NSW ballot paper. Hundreds of
thousands of voters saw the size of the ballot paper, saw the word
''Liberal'' in the first box, and just put a 1 against it. The LDP won
434,002 votes, or 9.5 per cent - 50 times the vote it won in 2007 before
it adopted the name ''Liberal Democrats''.
What a complete and utter unprincipled shonk David Leyonhelm is for resisting going back to a name that incorporates "liberty", because it suits him and his party to confuse voters.

And Leyonhjelm staffer Helen Dale is apparently on board with her boss's political bribery attempt, tweeting today "Well, the cat is out of the bag, now. Leave our name alone, or say goodbye to TPVs".   Gee, a nastier person than me might make a wisecrack along the lines of "who'd have expected she would be comfortable with deliberate deception?" 

Let's hope for their personal end of the world soon

BBC News - Islamic State: What the Kassig murder video tells us

There's a good piece of analysis here about the recent IS video which (I didn't realise 'til today) showed 19 men being beheaded, most of them Syrian prisoners.

And again, this branch of Islam's grandiose beliefs are important to understanding what is going on:
Unlike previous videos which are believed to have been filmed in Raqqah, a Syrian city which serves as Islamic State's stronghold, this one is shot in Dabiq.

The city features in a recorded statement attributed to the Prophet Mohammed, known as hadith. The hadith are very important to Muslims and are regarded as providing another source of law alongside the Koran.

Dabiq features strongly in the eschatological aspects of normative Islamic belief.

Based on Prophetic sayings, IS believes the town will take centre stage in a cosmic battle between East and West. The armies of Islam will triumph and the West will crumble.

IS will have chosen the town for their latest video quite deliberately as Western leaders are taunted to send ground troops. "We will break this last and final crusade," says "Jihadi John".
If ever a bunch of killers deserved to be blown up pronto by a drone, it would be the group of men who participated in this cold blooded, religiously motivated, mass murder.

A very good Krugman

When Government Succeeds - NYTimes.com

This column adds further justification to my view that libertarianism is nonsense (and dangerous):   it reflexively dislikes government (save for its barest functions) and hence encourages the policy cynicism that Krugman notes at the end:
The moral of these stories is not that the government is always right
and always succeeds. Of course there are bad decisions and bad programs.
But modern American political discourse is dominated by cheap cynicism
about public policy, a free-floating contempt for any and all efforts to
improve our lives. And this cheap cynicism is completely unjustified.
It’s true that government-hating politicians can sometimes turn their
predictions of failure into self-fulfilling prophecies, but when leaders
want to make government work, they can.
Oh, and by the way, the most important part of the column as an example for Australia was about the actual success of the US government's clean energy funding program.  Here's from the link to Bloomberg:
The U.S. government expects to earn $5 billion to $6 billion from the renewable-energy loan program that funded flops including Solyndra LLC, supporting President Barack Obama’s decision to back low-carbon technologies.
The Department of Energy has disbursed about half of $32.4 billion allocated to spur innovation, and the expected return will be detailed in a report due to be released as soon as
tomorrow, according to an official who helped put together the data.
The results contradict the widely held view that the U.S. has wasted taxpayer money funding failures including Solyndra, which closed its doors in 2011 after receiving $528 million in
government backing. That adds to Obama’s credibility as he seeks to make climate change a bigger priority after announcing a historic emissions deal with China.
A $5 billion return to taxpayers exceeds the returns from many venture capital and private equity investments in clean energy, said Michael Morosi, an analyst at Jetstream Capital
LLC, which invests in renewable energy.

Why the British rush?

Exclusive: The three-parent baby trap - is new IVF technique safe? - Science - News - The Independent

It's truly puzzling, the British rush to endorse experimentation with a method of "three parent" IVF that bears no resemblance to  anything that happens in nature for a tiny number of mothers who would use it to bear their "own" baby in lieu of adopting a genetically healthy child.

I was also interested to read, in Wired, of all places, an article that noted freezing eggs is certainly not the fertility panacea that fertility clinics would like young women to think it is.

It's hard to see reproductive technology as not being driven more by money making potential and a modern sense of entitlement over well reasoned ethics and caution as to what is appropriate or not in assisting reproduction.

We don't do "looters and moochers" in Australia

Once again, I see that Sinclair Davidson makes a reference to the Randian term "moochers and looters", and a sweeping and unjustified categorisation of the modern "Left".

Even in America, it didn't do Romney any favours to sound like he was adopting a Randian approach; in Australia, Joe Hockey went Randian-lite with "lifters and leaners", and hasn't it served him a treat?  

So it's puzzling in a way that an economics Professor who is a member of a think tank that would like to have some influence on a "liberal" party's policy should so openly display his own tin ear for political terminology that, quite rightly, does not work in Australia.   The country has long positioned itself as interested in social fairness and eschewing the extremes of both free market capitalism and socialism; what's more, Randian libertarianism doesn't work here either - Australians like gun control and don't have a fetish about rich business men and women being exemplars of all that is fine and noble. 

But seeing I think this is a hopeless Prime Minister of a bad government (something on which the Professor and I might agree on) I should encourage Abbott and his team to ramp up the Randian phraseology.  There would be no surer way of helping them lose the next election.

Yet another visiting world leader making a "shirtfront" joke - Andrew, they're OUT OF CONTROL

Indian PM Modi does a Cameron, and makes a jokey "shirtfront" reference to Parliament.   Do they have no sensitivity at all, Andrew Bolt?   They are OUT OF CONTROL.


Ex-cellent

So far, Tony Abbott's efforts at schmoozing with the big boys (and girls) has helped his popularity, and that of his government's, not one iota.

Delightfully, Newspoll today has two party preferred up to 55/45 in favour of Labor.

While it is not true that the public is always right, it seems pretty clear that this government's unpopularity is due to:

a.  a whole string of broken promises within 12 months of gaining office, and no compelling justification for any of them;
b.  the introduction of one completely un-foreshadowed policy with massive implications for a large section of the population (university fee deregulation);
c.  budget ideas with attempted justifications that anyone can see are nonsense ($7 co-payment that does not pay for the government's health budget, but is going to help reduce health costs in future by funding a cure for cancer?  Yeah, sure.)
d.  Tony Abbott becoming a victim of his own rampant and unprincipled opportunism that gave him leadership of his party, because he can't please everyone on climate change, and is discovering that the noisy, nutty Right's view on the matter really isn't as widely held as he thought. 
e.   A party that does look fossilised and nastily partisan where it should not be - Bronwyn Bishop as speaker will long be remembered as an embarrassment.   And the culture war that many are still wanting to wage is not as widely shared as the Right wing commentairiate has led them to believe.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Not missing Johnno

Seeing Brisbane's been in the news, it seems an appropriate time to note that I finished reading David Malouf's "Johnno" on the weekend, which many regard as the quintessential literary novel about my home town.

I can see why people like the book's atmospheric description of Brisbane of the 40's and 50's. (Actually, it perhaps ends in the early to mid 60's - it's not made clear.)   It certainly paints a picture of a city that has quite a bit of "Southern Gothic" about it, which is not exactly how I remember it as a child.  But then again, the city did take a long time to start developing strongly - I remember sewerage  being installed at home in about '65, and we were only about 9 km or so from the the GPO.   So perhaps his description is accurate, just that I never experienced it.

One small point I did note with particular interest was Malouf's description of Brisbane's icy, cutting winter winds.   In fact, I am pretty sure that global warming has taken care of that, as I do remember  August winds as a child being much colder than I have experienced in the last decade or two.

But as for the story more broadly, I have to say I was very underwhelmed.   The main problem is that I think the book fails completely to explain why Dante (the semi-fictional Malouf) continues into adulthood to be bothered sharing time with Johnno.   I mean, the titular character is really painted as quite a dangerous, permanently immature loon, without any particular redeeming features that I could detect.  Dante is a thoughtful loner, and while you can understand why as a child he might be attracted to Johnno's inordinate self confidence, it really doesn't wash when they become adults and Johnno's thoughts and behaviour become more boorish and self destructive.   [Spoilers ahead] The ultimate revelation  (which I knew was coming, thanks to a review of the book)  of his unresolved feelings towards Dante gives a partial psychological explanation of some of the earlier episodes in the book, and explains why Johnno kept wanting Dante to see him, but it does nothing to explain why Dante would indulge him.   There seems to be no sense of fun for Dante in anything they do together.

According to Wikipedia, Malouf really doesn't like it when people call it a "gay" novel, and I can understand why, as it handles ambiguity of the narrator's sexuality in a pretty mature, matter of fact way that appeals a lot more than the intense identity politics of sexuality that has developed since the novel was written in the mid 70's.   Yet there is little doubt that Johnno's character shows elements of game playing (with women and prostitutes especially) which is hard to see other than as arising from internal conflict about sexuality.   To the extent that it seems to suggest that Johnno not facing up to his true desires is what drove him nuts, yes, it is a "gay" novel.   Sorry, David.

The book also reminded me a bit uncomfortably of "My Brother Jack", a vastly overrated Australian novel about which I can remember very little, except for one evocative passage near the beginning, and the fact that it also dealt with an outgoing character who is ultimately revealed as not the success he thinks he is.    

I can't say I have ever read an Australian novel that I have considered a complete success.  But then again, it's not that I've gone looking very hard.   I've only tried one Tim Winton and was unimpressed.   I think I started something by Peter Carey once - I can't remember what now.   As with Australian film, I just don't find our home grown material terribly interesting or convincing.

The anti intellectual Right

Pope Francis and the G.O.P.’s Bad Science - The New Yorker

... They have Inhofe, who, beginning in January, will possess the authority to interfere with nearly any scientific initiative that the Obama Administration introduces.  You can find the particulars of  his position on climate change, and scientific research generally, in his 2012 book, “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.” Inhofe frequently invokes Genesis in his battle against science because, well, he is a humble man: “My point is, God’s still up there,’’ he has said. “The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is, to me, outrageous.”

So a man who believes that the international scientific consensus is a “hoax” will be in charge of the committee that approves funding for scientific programs in a nation desperately in need of  improving its scientific literacy. If anything, the appalling Cruz is worse; he won’t address evolution directly, but he is an energetic climate skeptic, an opponent of NASA funding, and, of course, the man who, last year, almost single-handedly shut down the government of the United States, which, as Scientific American has pointed out, caused serious and permanent damage to American science.
The article goes on to illustrate that this is a modern sickness of the Right of American politics:
Political leaders never used to care who scientists voted for or whether they believed in God. Scientists were not seen as Democrats or Republicans. (This change did not begin with Cruz and his Luddite colleagues.) In 2006, I wrote a piece for The New Yorker on the Bush Administration’s war on science. It noted that “Vannevar Bush was a conservative who opposed the New Deal, and not quietly. Yet President Roosevelt didn’t hesitate to appoint him, or to take his advice. In 1959, after Dwight Eisenhower created the position of science adviser, in the wake of Sputnik, the Harvard chemist George B. Kistiakowsky assumed the post. Jerome Wiesner, a Democrat who subsequently became president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sat on the Science Advisory Committee—which met each month with Kistiakowsky and often with the President. When John F. Kennedy took office, Kistiakowsky and Wiesner simply switched roles.” None of that would be conceivable today.

He's lost Alan Jones, hey?

One term Tony may be looking more likely if this morning's extract of an interview with Alan Jones is anything to go by.  As reported in her Guardian blog by Kathrine Murphy:

More lightning coming?

Lightning May Increase with Global Warming - Scientific American

More lightning in Australia, given our bush's propensity for burning, would not be a great outcome.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why I liked the G20 meeting

*  I don't think anyone really, honestly, thinks Tony Abbott came out of it looking particularly good. I mean, even Dennis Shanahan in Saturday's Australian didn't think he started off well:
In a close encounter with leaders only, the Prime Minister appealed for frankness and drew a global scene of the need for economic growth and job creation.
Yet, curiously, addressing leaders facing crises of massive proportions with huge unemployment, inflation, territorial disputes, violence and financial stagnation, Abbott detailed his own difficulty in getting university fee reforms and a Medicare $7 co-payment through the Senate.
Of course, by today, Dennis has returned to grovelling form:
It is fair to say that Abbott delivered in overall stylish form.
But any momentary doubt of Abbott from Dennis is rather like Margaret and David expressing a reservation about an Australian film that they still want you to see - you know the problem is much bigger than is being admitted.

*  Who could not enjoy the irony of record breaking November heat in many parts of South East Queensland on the weekend our esteemed host and his "I hate wind turbines even from 10 km away, and no I do not believe climate change could ever detract from economic growth" side kick were wanting to keep free from discussion of climate change?  (I can also assure readers that, with the nearest suburban weather station to my house recording 42 degrees today,  it was extraordinarily hot for November in Brisbane.)

*  And who could also not enjoy Obama going over Abbott's head to put the issue not only on the meeting's agenda, but front and centre in public discussion?.  There has been the odd twitter suggestion that Abbott was very annoyed with the speech.   I don't know if that's true, but if he was, that would be very pleasing.

*  More irony this afternoon when Abbott had to announce a G20 position that sits very uncomfortably with his own government's policies:
We reaffirm our support for mobilising finance for adaptation and mitigation, such as the Green Climate Fund.
Hey Tony, what was the policy you took to the last election?  Oh, that's right:
Within the first sitting fortnight of Parliament, the Finance Minister will introduce legislation to shut-down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. 
Good thing for you, Tone, that Palmer and the Greens have (so far) prevented you from enacting that one, hey?   Otherwise you might have looked like a 100% hypocrite on the matter, rather than just the 95% one you presently are.

*  Despite it being hosted by a PM who has now arguably achieved the status of international, not just national, embarrassment, it appears that the group did make some worthwhile moves on various issues.   One positive summary is to be found here.  No doubt there will be some more worthwhile analysis soon.

Update:  Gee, someone at The Australian is really annoyed with Obama.  Greg Sheridan's usual suck up to old pal Abbott is today headed:  With friends like Barack Obama ... treatment of Tony Abbott capricious and reckless.

Update 2:   Tim Blair puts right wing spin, and maturity, on full display:
That’s not quite how things worked out. Yesterday Abbott dragged climate alarmism into the street, gave it a solid kicking, and ignored the screams of Obama and other cash-craving carbon crybabies:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Oh noes! Shirtfronting jokes break out everywhere.

Andrew Bolt must be absolutely furious.   And/or looking like the biggest right wing bloviating goat in the country.   Wait, wait:  those two things are not mutually exclusive.

Bill Leak, whose cartooning has taken on a distinct right wing edge in the last few months in particular, much to the delight of Boltian blowhards at Catallaxy, managed to fit a "shirtfront" joke into his cartoon today:



and now I'm reading that David Cameron made a shirtfront joke to Parliament! Andrew, isn't this absolutely outrageous? I mean the way Bill Leak and Cameron have joked about something the ABC joked about the other night? 

They're OUT OF CONTROL Andrew, I'm sure you'll agree.

Oh, and Malcolm, you look a bit of a ninny too.

Go G20, and Brisbane

Well, it's a public holiday in Brisbane, as they wanted world leaders to see Brisbane city as some sort of ghost town, I presume.   I haven't been into the city centre all week, but with all the barricades set up everywhere I am seeing on TV, it has the distinct look of overkill.*  Still, having a dozen world leaders killed due to a ramming Commodore would be a bad look, I suppose.   Someone on local ABC radio yesterday rang up with a bit of alleged insider gossip, saying that his very reliable medical practitioner's daughter had told him that 2,000 body bags had been procured to be on standby.  Given that it would just about take a jumbo jet crashing into the convention centre to cause that much need for them, I somehow have my doubts about the figure cited by this "friend of a friend" source.

Speaking of the convention centre - that's were it's happening, and as I'm sure I've said before, I am inordinately fond of that gigantic venue.   It is, I was told by my own friend of a friend who works there, a very successful centre for attracting international conventions, but it also does mid sized concerts very well, in addition to the massive Lifeline second hand book sales twice a year.   If nothing else, I trust everyone visiting Brisbane says they like that building.   I did, however, just hear on breakfast TV that some foreign journalists go food poisoning last night - I hope the Convention Centre doesn't wear the blame.

As for publicity for Brisbane,  The Guardian is the wrong paper to be running a sardonic column on "what you need to know" about the place, given the number of wanky comments we all knew it would attract about what an uncultured and bor-ing city it is.   It did attract one comment which I can endorse, though, and I am pleased to see that it has now been pushed to the top:


Personally, I recommend Hoo Ha Bar over the Scratch, and the biggest craft beer outlet that I know of - Archive at West End always has a good, if slightly expensive, range.  (It actually is in handy walking distance to the convention centre.  I hope it does well with the foreign correspondents.)

As for Brisbane culture generally - I am reliably informed (by listening to ageing but well connected and cool dudes like Richard Fidler on ABC, now a Brisbane resident) that the city has a lively music and arts culture, even if I don't personally partake of it.   I was even pleased to see a new mid sized live music venue open last weekend in an old hangar building in the Valley, although I am not sure I am ever likely to get there.   Maybe when I hit my late mid-life crisis, or something.

In any event, even without seeking out performances while here, any visitor to the city must surely be impressed with the arts precinct at South Bank.   They are great and very active galleries, with lots of parking and a good outlook over the city.  I am not completely convinced, to put it mildly, about some of the aesthetic decisions the city centre has taken over the past decade (the new, plastic looking City Council building is an eyesore, if you ask me, although not as spectacularly as  bad as Federation Square in Melbourne), but other parts of the city are developing very well.   Teneriffe is perhaps already the coolest area for rich urbanites, and it is only going to get better.

So, anyway, I like the city and excitement of all these foreign aircraft coming here so much that I'm heading down the coast, to watch it on TV from there, as well as fish, swim and use a Sevylor inflatable canoe that I purchased in about 1986 by my reckoning.  Who knew that they would last so long?  It only has the smallest of holes that need patching.   That boat deserves a post all of its own.


*  [I thought Brisbane was not the sort of city to be home to many anarchists - any who were alive during the Joh reign left for Southern cities decades ago.   Would many travel back here to protest?  We'll see.]