Saturday, August 31, 2013

But it's a dis-aster

Life is much better under Labor after all, says study

From the above article:

Politicians of both persuasions will always, during election campaigns, claim that they know "families are doing it tough".  But that's just politics.   John Quiggin had a column recently about the false perceptions that flourish and why, and ended with this:

Another possible explanation of the ‘doing it tough’ perception arises from inconsistent responses to price variation. Despite sustained low inflation and falling interest rates, many Australians perceive themselves as facing ‘cost of living’ pressures. Over the past decade some highly salient prices such as the retail price of electricity have risen sharply, but consumption continued to grow until recently, driven largely by the increased use of airconditioning. By contrast the cost of telecommunications services has fallen , but households have responded to lower prices and the availability of new products by increasing their total expenditure. It is easy enough, though misleading, to see this as a story of ever-increasing bills for everything.

Despite all of these partial explanations, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the ‘doing it tough’ perception is nothing more than a manifestation of some of our less appealing human propensities: envy and chronic dissatisfaction. This can be seen all the way up the income scale, to the point of British bankers who complain that they can’t live on a million pounds (roughly 2 million dollars) a year.

News media have an obvious commercial interest in telling stories that make their audiences feel victimised, and politicians have made the judgement that telling voters the truth is too costly. At current rates of growth, incomes will double by 2050, but we will doubtless still be living on Struggle Street.

Amazingly, too, I note how little attention there has been in the media (and how unsuccessful Labor has been in talking about) the reductions in government family support the Coalition is committed to (such as ending the School Kids bonus) while at the same time promising that families will be $500 a year better off because of the carbon tax going.

Families, do your maths! 
Introduced last year, the bonus provides eligible families with $410 a year for each child in primary school and $820 for each in high school.
 If you intend voting Coalition, you probably think you are "doing it tough" and that your electricity bill is a dis-aster.  Yet if you have kids at school, this one item alone shows, what the Coalition "gives" is going to be more than taken away.   

Friday, August 30, 2013

Good news

Remember the awesome trailer for Gravity?  The movie has opened in Venice, to pretty much ecstatic reviews.

It's a must see for me....

Labor policies people might like, if they ever heard about them

Amongst all the "it's a disaster!" analysis coming from News Ltd and Fairfax and now even Lenore Taylor at the Guardian (Lenore, pull yourself together!), it seems to me there are some policy things that are more Labor than Coalition, and which most common sense people would support, with little need for explanation:

1.  an emphasis on high speed rail from Sydney to Canberra, and then perhaps Sydney to Newcastle.  The Sydney to Canberra route is particularly apt - the distance seems too short for a plane flight, it takes too long to get through the outskirts of Sydney in a car, and people are always going to need to travel there.  If the train connected to Sydney Airport, it would be perfect.  Why doesn't someone commit to that, at least?

2.  the commitment to bring some Navy ship construction forward at Williamstown.   Everyone thinks we should be able to build ships, don't they?  It's manufacturing, it's a bit high-techy; it's the next best thing to having an aircraft industry.

3.  the support to the car industry.   Everyone sensible likes the fact that we can design and build cars, and I gather that lots of countries give support to car builders in one way or another.   The Coalition presumably thinks it is quite OK that we attempt to emulate New Zealand, which is trying to build an economy on making frozen food, soap and Hobbit films, as far as I can make out.  The way the Coalition is going about the FBT has let them off the media scrutiny hook on this one - it's a disgrace.

The other odd thing is that ideas which Rudd has flown seem to be being treated in media talk as if they would actually happen - the Northern Territory tax reduction, and the wholesale removal of the Navy from Garden Island.   In fact, these were kite flying exercises and don't need to be treated all that seriously.  There is plenty of scope for them not to happen at all, or on reduced scale.

But no, it's a disaster.

Pretty much how I see it

From The Economist:
The choice between a man with a defective manifesto and one with a defective personality is not appealing—but Mr Rudd gets our vote, largely because of Labor’s decent record. With deficits approaching, his numbers look more likely to add up than Mr Abbott’s. Despite his high-handed style, Mr Rudd is a Blairite centrist. A strategic thinker about Asia, he has skills that will be useful, especially as Australia has to balance its economic dependence on China with its security dependence on America. It would be nice if he revived his liberal approach to asylum-seekers. And, who knows, he may even live up to his promise to be less vile to his colleagues.

An upset possum

The Possum who runs Pollytics is very cranky about the reporting of the costing issue yesterday.  It is fun to read an argument between two furry animals:

Surely the problem that Possum alludes to is the "sound bite-ese" which is used in all political reporting, but particularly at election time.  That elevates an exaggerated bit of rhetoric into an unqualified claim, and both sides of politics both use it, and are victims of it, all the time.   (Even Malcolm Turnbull, who has been happy to repeat a claimed  $90 billion plus estimate for the NBN many times, completely without running through the questionable assumptions.)  But this time, an out of context Rudd made some public servants worry that people might think they had been used inappropriately, and they made it clear they hadn't.

Meanwhile, the fact that the Coalition is playing silly buggers with paper that is already in their hands gets ignored in headlines.

Free Advertising

Having paid for a digital subscription to Fairfax, I have put the App on the Samsung and iPad at home. 

I had previously used the apps without paying for the subscription, and found the advertising intrusive and the navigation a bit annoying.

The subscription makes it a much, much better experience, and my wife is happy that she a supply of suduko.

Go on. Do it.

Headlines, headlines

Fairfax has had its fair share of "it's a disaster for Rudd!" headlines this campaign too; often with the headline sounding more extreme than the article itself.

And Tim Colebatch, who I have been quoting a lot over the last 12 months, actually said at the Hockey/Bowen press club debate on Tuesday that he assumed Hockey would be Treasurer. 

So is it much surprise that he is running a "it's an absolute disaster!" column today about the costings issue yesterday?

It's interesting this self fulfilling prophesy business.  I suggested a couple of times at places like John Quiggin's blog that if you keep talking down how Gillard is a failure, of course you're helping the public perception of that and assuring a Labor loss, even when you think the Coalition would be the true disaster.

It's also interesting how clearly David Koch on Sunrise this morning was doing what I would do - telling Hockey, who has transformed himself into a unlikeable s*#% for the purpose of getting government, that the real problem here is that the Coalition is sitting on papers which they claim support them, and could release them anytime to support their argument.  The Coalition is hiding its assumptions, except, it would appear, to selected friendly journalists.

Mind you, Rudd himself did this in 2007.   He faked his way into government, and Abbott and Hockey are doing exactly the same this time.

I was unhappy in 2007; I am very unhappy now, because the Coalition will seek to disassemble some decent policies and replace them with crap ones.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Coalition trusts Rupert, but not you?

So, according to The Australian, Treasury is perhaps a bit peeved that Rudd is using some figures they did before the election was called to contradict Coalition costings of savings.   But, says Treasury, their work wasn't a true costing of Coalition policy: it was more a hypothetical exercise and different assumptions would give different results.


But here's the thing:  The Australian is saying it has seen the Parliamentary Budget Office costings on public servant cuts that Abbott and Hockey are refusing to release.  (Maybe next week you'll some of their work?):
The costing, seen by The Australian, assumes that natural attrition would see the size of the federal public service cut by 6,000 positions by June 2014 and another 6,000 by September 2015.
So who leaked this to The Australian - the surest source of a sympathetic account for the Coalition that is possible?

I think I should assume that the Coalition is leaking to Rupert what they won't give directly to the public.

How ridiculous is that?

It is done....

Inspired by the appalling standards of the Murdoch press (and, I have to admit, the paywall that kicks in after 30 visits in a month) I have just for the first time ever paid for a digital news subscription to Fairfax.

Go on, join me.  Keep alternatives to Murdoch alive (at least while ever Gina isn't telling them what to write.)  

But please - don't pay for the AFR with their Murdoch escapee Stutchbury.  He should not have been let into the place.

New subscribers will be sent my entertaining video "Hey Kids! Make your own Tony Abbott Voodoo Doll!" in time for the election.

Short answer: no, they don't

Do Hockey's clean energy cuts add-up? | Business Spectator

Read it for some explanation of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and how Coalition claims of where money will be saved is on very, very shaky grounds.

Andrew's band of twits

Cooling ocean blamed for hiding missing warming | Herald Sun Andrew Bolt Blog

You have to wonder:  does Andrew Bolt take pride in being the ringleader for a band of followers who don't have a clue about science, and  aren't bright enough to even realise they don't have a clue about science?

Read some of the comments following the article for illustration.  It's gobsmacking.

Mind you, I reckon Judith Curry is about to get some heavy smackdown from other climate scientists for her [mis] interpretation of the implications of the study, too. 

Sometimes, it's quite OK to not understand

Millard Fillmore's Bathtub has noted this letter from the Financial Times:
From Mr. K N Al-Sabah.
Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad!
Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi.
But Gulf states are pro-Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood!
Iran is pro-Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood!
Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the US!
Gulf states are pro-US. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro-Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi.  And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states!
Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.
K N Al-Sabah
London EC4, UK
Which is a relief.  I mean, my lack of knowledge of the geo-political significance of this civil war is now fully justified as being one of those things just a handful of my fellow citizens probably understand.  (And note, the letter doesn't even mention Russia backing Assad.)  

History to drink to

Gin and tonic kept the British Empire healthy: The drink’s quinine powder was vital for stopping the spread of malaria. - Slate Magazine

I didn't realise the full extent of quinine's historical importance:

Quinine powder quickly became critical to the health of the empire. By the 1840s British citizens and soldiers in India were using 700 tons of cinchona bark annually for their protective doses of quinine. Quinine powder kept the troops alive, allowed officials to survive in low-lying and wet regions of India, and ultimately permitted a stable (though surprisingly small) British population to prosper in Britain’s tropical colonies. Quinine was so bitter, though, that British officials stationed in India and other tropical posts took to mixing the powder with soda and sugar. “Tonic water,” of a sort, was born.
Still, tonic water was basically a home brew until an enterprising Brit named Erasmus Bond introduced the first commercial tonic water in 1858—perhaps not coincidentally, the very same year the British government ousted the East India Co. and took over direct control of India, following the so-called Sepoy Mutiny, a violent rebellion and counterattack. 

Bond’s new tonic was soon followed by Schweppes’ introduction, in 1870, of “Indian Quinine Tonic,” a product specifically aimed at the growing market of overseas British who, every day, had to take a preventative dose of quinine. Schweppes and other commercial tonics proliferated both in the colonies and, eventually, back in Britain itself.
And another bit of quirky history from the article:
Quinine proved as critical to the battle over the Pacific in the second world war as it had to the struggle over India. As Amy Stewart notes in her new book, The Drunken Botanist, Japan seized Java, the home of huge cinchona plantations, from the Dutch in 1942, cutting off nearly all of the Allied supply of quinine. The last American plane to fly out of the Philippines before it fell to the Japanese carried some 4 million quinine seeds. Unfortunately, the effort was largely in vain: The trees grew too slowly to provide sufficient quinine to the Allied war effort. 

Some more skepticism needed

Abbott to hit business with hikes

Apart from Colebatch's column linked above, there seems to be little in the way of commentary about on whom the Coalition's claimed savings are falling.

In fact, there seems to be little skepticism about the claim that the Paid Parental Leave plan would actually save money in the long run.  To give just one example, I'm pretty sure that in the summary Hockey provided,  it made mention of savings from double dipping being reduced in State public service schemes.  How does that work?  Why is a saving to a State budget being credited to a Federal bottom line? 

But back to Colebatch:
The Coalition will pay for its campaign promises by raising taxes on business, cutting support for middle-income and low-income earners, and cutting environmental programs, under the list of savings given out by shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey and shadow finance minister Andrew Robb....

The decision to hit business - mostly small business - with $4.6 billion of tax hikes was politically shrewd. Not one business lobby came forward on Wednesday to criticise the Coalition's new taxes on its members. They would have screamed had Labor done the same.

The Coalition made its riskiest cuts known long ago, and they don't seem to have hurt it.
The savings claimed are surprisingly large - $4.6 billion from axing the Schoolkids' Bonus, $3.7 billion from scrapping superannuation contributions for low-income earners and $5.2 billion from cutting 12,000 public service jobs.

These claimed savings are higher than previous estimates, even by the Coalition. It was a surprise to learn that the Coalition will over-fund its controversial paid parental leave scheme by $1.1 billion in its first two years. The policy it released two weeks ago made no such claim.

There are some errors in Hockey's costings. Innovation Minister Kim Carr pointed out that the Coalition could not claw back the $680 million it claims from axing two business programs without breaking contracts: the money it already committed.
And on another matter of flakey Abbott policy - why is the "Green Army" attracting so little attention?

It's an absolute bit of trivia and typical of Abbott's terrible judgement on environmental issues that he is determined to stop the Clean Energy Finance Corporation - which is specifically about making returns on lending, a point the Coalition does not want people to know - but proceed with his own silly idea.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Save a bit of money now, pay more later

Can Australia afford the Coalition’s NBN?

No doubt the writer is biased, but this article does set out in pretty good detail the reasons I have read elsewhere why the Coalition's planned revision to the NBN is not technically or financially a good idea.

Hint to Kevin Rudd No2

Kevin, a politician who has a video in circulation containing what seems like 5 minutes of swearing to the camera and room in frustration at not being as good at something as you thought you were should not talk about the poor temperament of your opponent.

The way to attack Tony Abbott on how he would conduct foreign affairs is to note that he's never shown much interest in the topic, as Peter Costello said about him with respect to economics; he would take over-simplified lines with no nuance ("Go Israel!" would be the guiding principle for anything to do with the Middle East, just as it is with the Tea Party), and he keeps putting his foot in his mouth with odd comments on all matters.  (What was that line about "maybe you shouldn't be there" in reference to being king hit in Kings Cross at 2 am all about?)

Well, that's odd

I could have sworn I heard Judith Sloan on the Drum last week saying something about how she was writing a column about all the ways she considered the Coalition's Paid Parental Leave scheme a bad idea.

So what do we get today?  A Sloan column that boosts the suggestion that the PPL will not actually cost any money to the budget at all!  So, does that mean you actually like the policy now, Judith?  One could be excused for thinking so.  (And by the way, you caused a bit of a stir a year or two ago amongst Labor types by talking about how it probably made sense to increase unemployment benefits.  I haven't seen that mentioned in an Australian column for a long time - or did it ever appear there?)

The headline to her column, which she presumably did not come up with personally, is of the "Ha! Take that Rudd!" variety, which is very, very popular at the Australian at the moment.

If a photo like this was real, the Murdoch headlines would be:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Looks familiar

Record-breaking floods in Russia force thousands to evacuate - ABC News

The story carries this photo, which looks remarkably like much of Australia in 2011:

Actually, the long buildings also put me in mind of the scenery in the zombie infected world of DayZ, which I have played a bit with my son in the last 6 months.  I've never written an appreciation of that game - I should do so one day.

Some good Krugman

This Age of Bubbles -

I've been forgetting to check in on Paul Krugman.  (How I wish he lived here for some clear and erudite commentary on what passes for economic policy in the Coalition now!)

The column at the link above notes the renewed economic worries in India and Brazil.  He doesn't think it will cause a world meltdown, but sounds slightly nervous.  (He expressed worries about China recently too.  From a lay man's point of view, the publicity that it has recently had with its "ghost" empty cities has certainly made me think - surely this is a bad sign.)

But he writes with common sense on most topics he touches.  Have a look at his post on Microsoft and Apple, for example.  I feel pretty much the same.

He's also taken delight in noting that changes to Singaporean health system  will no longer make it the free market poster child for health that US Republicans used to claim it was.

As for his summary of the current state of American politics:
If you haven’t been reading the political blogs much — say, Greg Sargent — you may not have a sense of just how dire the political environment is. But here’s the situation. You have a Republican base that truly believes that guaranteed health insurance is the work of the devil. Meanwhile, there’s a Republican majority in the House that owes its position not to broad popular support — Democrats actually got more votes in 2012 — but to a district map that concentrates Democrats in a minority of districts, which in turn means that most Rs are more afraid of Tea Party challengers than outraged independents.

And the debt ceiling looms, with many ideologues assuring the base that Obama can be bullied into gutting his main achievement, which he won’t.

Everyone seems to assume that this will be worked out somehow, but nobody has even a halfway plausible story about how this will be done. Default looks like a real risk.
How depressing...

Hint to Kevin Rudd

Stop announcing things that appear to be, or are, all your own idea.  

That was the problem with you the first time around.  

You must emphasise the consultative process by which you came to a policy or initiative.  Assuming you did consult.

And if you didn't consult with more than Bruce Hawker or your daughter or son - do not announce the policy or initiative at all.


Why Abbott is right to abandon surplus promise

Geoffrey Garrett is saying Tony Abbott is doing the right thing in abandoning a promise to get the budget back into surplus in a few years.

What piffle.

Everyone knows that the "budget emergency" will be declared worse than they thought, and that greater public service and spending cuts than claimed will be made in all of the areas a large slab of the Coalition thinks it is having a "cultural war" with - climate change, science generally, education - in particular.

Abbott should be given credit for shifting on nothing in the run up to this election.

Yurt thoughts

I am having the strongest feeling that I should be designing an "urban yurt", a bit like the "urban sombrero" from Seinfeld...

I think it's an idea I could "sell" to Clive Palmer.  

A tired genre considered

Why does live-action fantasy fail at the movies?

I've never been keen on the fantasy story genre, and this is not a bad discussion about why so many of them fail as movies.

(And despite the success of a few movie series in the genre, the article notes that those are based on already fabulously popular novels, thus helping ensure their audience on screen.  I still say Lord of the Rings is boring, though, in book or on screen.)

Free campaign advice

1.  Kevin Rudd:  stop going to childcare centres and talking to children about infrastructure projects:

ASHLEY HALL: Playing with building blocks offered him the chance to share a campaign slogan.

KEVIN RUDD: We're just going to keep building up, because we've got to build things up, haven't we? Making sure we are building and building for the future.
Oh please...

2.  Tony Abbott:  stop bringing up sex appeal when talking to or about women:

On second thoughts, Tony:  please, keep talking to women about how great it is to be women in a workplace dominated by men.   I'm really interested, as are the women of Australia.

Good summary

Why We Should Not Trust Tony Abbott | Tim Colebatch

In short: it's complicated

Improving the scientific foundations for estimating health risks from the Fukushima incident

The article points out the complications with trying to work out the risk from radioactive fallout on humans.  It seems to be written by someone mostly concerned that risk  is probably always being over-estimated, but it does end with a call for some hard work to be put in on the issue.

In any event, if you are a parent with kids in an area around Fukushima, of course you are going to lean towards the side of caution.

Monday, August 26, 2013

NBN talk

I noticed this blog a few weeks ago, that takes a very technical and detailed look at the NBN and the Coalition's alternative, and falls very heavily in favour of fibre to the premises and hence the NBN.

I've always been unsure whether the NBN was really worth it.  But the fact is, it seems hard to find people with detailed knowledge in IT and communications who doubt that the NBN is a good investment that will last many, many decades.

On this basis, I've stopped worrying about it.

And now for something completely different (well, not really) - some anti-Coalition stories

1.  Lenore Taylor has a great explanation of the obviously calculated Abbott bulldust that he's the guy who's trying to rise above tawdry politics:
For three years he conducted a relentless, deliberate and effective negative campaign against the Gillard government, a campaign at times so aggressive that many on his own side were deeply concerned it was causing irreparable damage to voter perceptions of Abbott himself.

But with negative views of Labor’s record apparently entrenched – aided, it must be said, by Labor’s own self-destructive leadership saga – Abbott is flipping to positive just in time.

Slowly but surely his personal approval ratings are improving. He has toned down the attacks. His colleagues and his daughters talk about his “authenticity” as a community member and a family man. They label Rudd a “fake”.

And all the while Abbott refuses to deviate from his strategy of claiming to have a “real plan” without setting out what it is and how it will be paid for in anything like the detail provided by previous oppositions.
And, as I have noted before, the tactics being used against Rudd this time are those he used against Howard:
The last time we saw “the flip” exercised with such confidence and dexterity was in Rudd’s campaign launch speech in 2007, when he managed to flip the economic management debate to one where John Howard, who had just presided over 11 years of consecutive growth and record low unemployment, was on the defensive over the economy.

Rudd had made $45bn in spending promises during the formal campaign, just $5bn less than Howard's $50bn in campaign promises, but when Rudd told the party faithful “this reckless spending must stop” he looked like the competent and frugal economic manager.
2.  Lenore also had a good column a few days ago about the Coalition's deliberate delays to disclose funding for policies:
.... while oppositions of both persuasions have tried to game the formal costings processes, individual policies have almost always been released with their full price tags detailed over four years.

The Coalition's health policy, released on Thursday, had one line under costings which read: "The Coalition's policy to support Australia's health system will cost $340m over the forward estimates." Some of that – we were told on "background" – would come from cuts inside the health portfolio, and some from "elsewhere". In other words: they'll get back to us.

The "PBO has still got our homework" schtick has also worn thin since the Coalition has been telling us for months they already have everything fully costed and figured out.

The "Labor is running a scare campaign" excuse worked for a little while – aided by the ALP's silly insistence on using the $70bn figure for the Coalition's costings black hole, which by a quick reckoning is clearly overstated.
3.  Abbott's mysteriously unanalysed by Rupert's papers "let's go to Indonesia and buy boats!' scheme has apparently not gone over well in that country:
The buyback plan has met with heavy resistance in Jakarta, with a senior member of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's ruling coalition saying it showed Mr Abbott lacked understanding of Indonesia, and the broader asylum-seeker problem.
Mahfudz Siddiq, the head of Indonesia's parliamentary commission for foreign affairs, said on Monday that it was Mr Abbott's right to suggest the policy but warned that it had broader implications for the relationship between Jakarta and Australia.
"It's an unfriendly idea coming from a candidate who wants to be Australian leader," Mr Siddiq said.
"That idea shows how he sees things as [an] Australian politician on Indonesia regarding people smuggling. Don't look at us, Indonesia, like we want this people smuggling.
"This is really a crazy idea, unfriendly, derogatory and it shows lack of understanding in this matter."
4.  Quentin Dempster makes a good point:  if the Coalition is going to make big changes to the ABC, they should be up front about it now.  And let's face it, everyone knows that an Abbott government will find an even worse budget emergency crisis than the terrible disaster of an emergency budget crisis that they have already been warning us about [/sarc], and the urgent need to commercialise the ABC will be justified as a cost saving.  

Quick! Send us money! These cigars don't buy themselves, you know...

Interesting report at The Age on Sunday about the IPA.

For a "think tank" (using the term loosely) whose executive and members get a lot of screen time on the ABC and columns in the Murdoch press and elsewhere, it's always handy to read how they're viewed more broadly.  Their mere ubiquity gives an impression of credibility. 

The main point of the article, though,  is that it seems many prominent corporations who used to support them no longer will, because they recognise that it devotes a lot of effort to running a nutty extremist climate change denying line.

At the same time, they are doing very well financially due to a recent surge in donations.  We still don't know who the corporate donors are, although it is openly acknowledged that Gina Rinehart helps fund it.  (That's no surprise: their "we think everyone should be on a level playing field, except when it comes to those parts of Australian our favourite billionaire Gina Rinehart invests in" policy made that obvious.)

The article says British Tobacco was (or is still - it's not clear)  a donor.   That's not news, really, but it's worthwhile reminding people when you get IPA mouthpieces like Chris Berg rubbishing cigarette plain packaging in the media.  Mind you, Chris Berg was also writing in 2010 that internet material for terrorist bomb making was not really worth worrying about:
When they're not utterly stupid, they are oddly banal. Another Inspire recommendation is to shoot up lunch spots that are popular with government workers. So in a decade, al-Qaeda has gone from targeting the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon - the two symbolic organs of American power - to threatening Starbucks outlets one at a time.

Then there is ''Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom'', which suggests repurposing a home pressure cooker to become an explosive device. Such a device is weak, apparently, so the magazine recommends it is placed ''close to the intended targets''.

It is surprisingly hard to detonate explosives successfully.
That was, of course, before the Boston bombings killed 3 people and maimed and injured 264 others.

You don't have to be wrong about terrorism, climate change, stagflation, the health effect of wind turbines, and tobacco plain packaging to work for/be associated with the IPA, but it certainly helps.

In any event, it's amusing to read the reaction Andrew Bolt  which I will now paraphrase as follows:

"Look!  The Age says the IPA are corporate shills, but then admits that more money comes from donations!   Stand up, everyone,  and be proud that the IPA has become a mutual support club for climate change nutters, and for people like me who do lousy research on aboriginal issues and then get taken to court and lose and want to act like a martyr for the next 2 years. 

And send money - more money!  The price of freedom, especially my freedom to do lousy research via Google and ridicule people based on mistake, is not cheap!"

What Andrew doesn't address is how much more money the place needs.  I see that, after a fairly lengthy delay, the IPA financials for 2011/12 are finally available (I have been checking for them for the last year or so.) 

They indicate that in 2011, it received $562,000 in donations; in 2012: $2,612,000.  How much of that is loose change from Gina's deep pockets is not clear.  (And seriously, Andrew Bolt, do you think a donation from any body controlled by Gina should not be counted as effectively coming from a corporate interest?)

Total income went from $2.4 million to $4 million.

The current year income surplus after expenses went from $217,000 to $313,000, with a total retained surplus of $1.544 million.  

And yet,  Andrew Bolt and Sinclair Davidson have been big on asking for donations over the last year or so, and there is no doubt that the martyrdom of Andrew Bolt played big with his fanbase.

So, yeah, the anti-mooching "think tank" is very big on panhandling. Even though I would have expected the cigars for the board meetings are free....*

And Tony Abbott says that the IPA "...has supported capitalism, but capitalism with a conscience."

Yeah, sure.  To put it at its most charitable, Abbott is living in the past.

To be less charitable, and more realistic:  he's a dill who doesn't know who to listen to....

* reliable details from John Roskam to dissuade me of how I like to imagine meetings there are welcome.  I wonder how many ex smokers are on staff too. 

Another Jericho

Wage rise blowout a figment of Coalition’s imagination | Business |

Another good, clear column from Greg Jericho here, with lots of graphs, and ending with this summary:

For the past six years there has been a lot of hoo-hah said and written about industrial relations. As soon as the ALP moved to change IR legislation, warnings came from the Liberal party and conservative commentators of a wages boom. They also warned that the Fair Work Act would destroy productivity.

It didn’t.

In his campaign launch speech on Sunday, Tony Abbott talked of returning IR to the “sensible centre”. It’s a claim based on the view that unions now have too much power. If that is true, there is scant evidence they have used it to gain excess wage rises which have decoupled earnings from productivity.

When the Liberal party does finally announce its changes to IR after the election, it would be nice if they could keep themselves to fixing problems that actually exist, and not ones that occur only in their imagination.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

How's the Murdochcracy going?

It was a stunningly beautiful day in Brisbane today.  The tides were right too, so it was off to Cleveland for some canal fishing for (as it turned out) about 5 hours.  (Small fish caught and thrown back; prawn smell still slightly persisting on everyone's fingers.  Takeaway pizza for dinner.)

So, while I was out, can anyone let me know if the installation of the Murdochcracy has been completed, with the rise to power of his favourite "conviction politician" (ha!), Tony Putin Abbott?*

Seriously, there seems to be a pretty unusually muted response by anyone to the completely over the top editorial line being pursued by the Murdoch papers in this election campaign.

But then, even Insiders was weird today.   Barrie Cassidy started by asking some pointed questions about why Rudd's movements yesterday were so important to the Murdoch press;  Malcolm Farr half fobbed it off, making out that he didn't think what Rudd did was such a sin.   But then by the time Cassidy got to the Rudd interview, he was very aggressive towards him on the matter of the Gillard record   As Cassidy was supposed to be pals with (Gillard's) Tim, I can only assume there was a large element of revenge in this for Rudd's role in her departure.  

Rudd's sin apparently was in not making it clear he was doing Kitchen Confidential (essentially a bit of campaign related work) before having a briefing last night on Syria (done in lieu of some Brisbane campaign thing, I think I read.)  The video of the briefing that took place did look pathetically transparent - but then again, there have been several videos of Tony Abbott pep talks to his shadow caucus team over the last six months which looked every bit as stilted and "for the cameras" as yesterday's effort.  As for appearing on Kitchen Confidential - Abbott has already done his episode. 

So, as far as I can tell, Rudd has every right to be furious with his treatment at the hands of the Murdoch press; but as nearly everyone thinks Rudd was a jerk for the way he undermined Gillard, no one's going to put their job on the line by putting in too much effort into calling out Murdoch.

What a sad state of affairs for someone like me, who has never liked Rudd, but considers that Labor collectively now has a sounder approach on economics and a majority of other issues than the alternative, which is headed by a bloke who has become a disgraceful fence-sitter and increasingly shows himself to be just not very bright.  (Not that you need to be all that bright to be a successful politician.  In fact, being too smart as a politician runs the risk of frequent paralysis.  But you need to have enough smarts to know who to listen to.  Abbott hasn't even got that, if you ask me.)  

And look at the way that Abbott's odd ideas (buying people smuggling boats in Indonesia) are simply not getting any significant coverage in the press.  For God's sake, I saw that quite a few at Catallaxy thought it was a stupid idea on Friday; then phftt; the proposal gets next to no attention while Murdoch's minions come up with the next "Rudd's a disaster!" headline for the following morning.

I haven't read much about the Liberal Policy launch today.  I saw Abbott's daughters front and centre (for God's sake, Tony & Kevin, leave the kids at home like 99% of working people do), and something about defence spending being 2% of GDP in future.  Tying defence spending to GDP was a Romney promise**.  What a surprise.  Mind you, this was an aim to be reached "in a decade".  As irrelevant as Rudd's "aim" to reduce company tax in the Northern Territory if re-elected in 3 years.

And how appropriate that one of the few election commitments was for a big boost in Alzheimer's research.  I wasn't really aware that Australia had any particular expertise there, and would have thought that other areas of biomedical promise might be worth pursuing - but Tony does have his power base to support.

All I can say in conclusion - if you value  press coverage that runs something other than Murdoch's geriatric views, go an and pay for a digital subscription to a Fairfax paper.  I'll be doing it tomorrow.   It would be an appalling state of affairs if Fairfax did not exist.

* Has anyone else called Tony's never ending appearances as fitness he-man his Putin-isation?  I doubt that is an original thought...

** I see that Labor has previously committed to this figure as well, which Alan Kohler calls a nonsense way to determine appropriate defence spending.   At least Labor won't be reminding people of this the election campaign.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Goodbye trees

I wasn't expecting much from the video, but watching trees disappear vertically underwater makes for a very peculiar look:

Incidentally, is it just me, or does the number of sinkhole stories in the media seem much higher now than it ever used to be? 

What a load of absolute bollocks

Gillard led a contest of 'crude political head-banging', says Abbott

Sorry, folks, but this confirms it.

Abbott is not smart and has no self awareness.

There has been nothing in the history of Australian modern politics to compare to the personal slagging off and rumour mongering that Julia Gillard suffered at the hand of the right wing media such as Alan Jones, Michael Smith, Larry Pickering (and Andrew Bolt, who would gleefully point people to those last two sites even if he wouldn't repeat it himself.)

Tony Abbott did make snide comments about Gillard's single woman status for years (a minor list is collected here) and the Gillard "misogyny speech" was red hot because he had just echoed Alan Jones' highly offensive "died of shame" comment made after her father had died. 

Now Tony confirms that he felt really sorry for himself after that speech.

I don't care that he was a Rhodes scholar.    He's just not smart.

Update:  Wendy Harmer's take on this is pretty good too, likening him to a bully boy who just can't resist going back for one last punch, when he's already won (vis a vis Gillard).    I don't know that nastiness is the best explanation, though.  I tend to lean more to mere gormlessness. 

This analysis of him at Independent Australia (admittedly an over the top site in many respects) also seems pretty accurate:
It’s as if he can’t be bothered. Or it’s as if he has missed the past four decades entirely. Though, presumably he wasn’t alone in this. Presumably he is in sync with an entire demographic that has not seen the need to pull back the curtain and only reluctantly ever answers the door.

He really does think, when confronted with the issue of the recognition of the rights of gays, that it’s a matter of fashion.

There’s a certain laziness here. It represents the approach that says that some things aren’t worth noticing, learning, respecting. They’re just not important. He is comfortable where he is and really can’t be bothered to take on new information, or understand new dynamics.
I would add - he appears to show an interest in changing mainly when the need presents itself directly to him in his family - thus more (allegedly) understanding of gay issue because his sister went into a lesbian relationship.  He realises the importance of parental leave to women because his daughters are now of child bearing age.  He's on board with fertility treatment (against Catholic teaching, incidentally) because he knows Christopher Pyne and his chief of staff have had it.  Yet again, this indicates to me a significant degree of shallowness and/or opportunism that I find unacceptable in anyone aspiring to be PM.

Friday, August 23, 2013

From the Friday night video archives

I just stumbled across this at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub (a blog I still don't quite understand thematically):  a segment from the old Groucho Marx quiz show featuring a very young, and very tall, Ray Bradbury.

This is apparently from 1955, and Ray is rattling off all of his most famous books as already being written.  I would have thought they came a bit later - in the late 50's to mid 60's.  Obviously my mental chronology of his career is wrong.   I also had no idea he was such a strong looking bloke.  My image of him is as being grey haired with thick glasses, and not physically imposing at all. 

A peppery tale

Tableside pepper grinding at restaurants: Why servers started wielding pepper mills in the early 20th century.

I would have thought Slate would have covered this before; but evidently not.

It's actually quite a good read that gives a bit of background about the evolution of restaurants between the 19th century and now.

Changing expectations

English views of marriage: From here to eternity | The Economist

From a review of a new book looking back at changing views of marriage in England.  The author reckons that high expectations really kicked in during the 1950's.  These paragraphs are interesting:
The growing idea that marriage was all about feeling alarmed many. The Bishop of Sheffield thought that the institution would buckle under the load of emotional and sexual expectation. The Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce of the early 1950s feared “an undue emphasis on the overriding importance of a satisfactory sex relationship”. They were not wrong. By 1959 the Archbishop of Canterbury was thundering against the “tide of adultery” sweeping the land. Ms Langhamer convincingly argues that the sexual permissiveness of the 1960s and the subsequent decline in marriage were less a reaction to the so-called stability of the 1950s than a product of the decade’s instability.

She sees the 1920s and 1930s as a time of pragmatism, of slow courtships and modest expectations. The question was less whether a couple were in love than whether she could housekeep and he could earn. Ms Langhamer concedes that the trends she traces are winding and unsteady—that caution was urged in the 1960s, just as emotional intimacy was sought in the 1920s. Still, she finds that after the devastation of the first world war, steadiness was valued above all. The woman who, in 1930, wished simply to meet someone “clean, and if not good-looking, at least pleasant”, with £5 a week, was not untypical.

What a waste of research effort

New research suggests 'female sperm' and 'male eggs' possible - Science - News - The Independent

As a person who thinks that IVF research has been pretty much an inappropriate allocation of medical resources, I can't fathom why it is thought useful to do this research for the tiny number of humans who find they would want to go absolute extremes to reproduce. 

There are probably thousands of biology research subjects into how cells work that are of more potential benefit to humanity than this.

Defending Kevin

Kevin Rudd does have a huge burden of well known examples of past poor treatment of his minions to overcome.  For years, I noted he had a fake public persona, according to many, many accounts.

And it is entirely possible that anyone who saw how he interacted with the TV make up woman the other night might have thought "that's a bit much Kevin, you *%#@."

But honestly, should the press really run with an uncorroborated complaint of  being "treated badly" which contains no details at all?

She didn't say at all how he was rude.  It could have been anything from heated swearing to ignoring an attempt at polite chit chat to saying "hurry up, and don't talk to me while I prepare mentally."  Yet it was run all day by not only the Murdoch press, but Fairfax and on the ABC too.

On the Drum, they wondered why he didn't just apologise.  Apologise for what?  We have no idea what he actually did.

OK, so perhaps its Kevin just reaping the consequences of past bad behaviour.   It still seems to me to be disreputable of the media to spend so much time on it during a campaign without knowing how he allegedly "treated her badly".

Update:  I see that Andrew Bolt, who ran with the Rudd rudeness story at great, great length yesterday, is now complaining that the story was not covered enough by Fairfax!    Apart from the fact that it did run on Fairfax websites all day, he apparently can't see that his comparison with the story of Abbott and an incident from his university days is just a little different in this way- we knew exactly what Abbott was alleged to have done.  (And, incidentally, Bolt's own employer recently had to apologise in Court for running Kroger's claim that the complainant had a history of lying and was a nutter.  Did Bolt ever note that at his blog?  He certainly hasn't updated his original post giving publicity to Kroger's claim.   Just like he has never updated corrections to Anthony Watt's wrong claim about how his project would show the temperature record was wrongly attributed to CO2.  Bolt is a propagandist who hardly ever bothers noting corrections to his past errors - and when a court confirms they are errors, he whines bitterly about that too.)

Update 2:  what a sleazy, sleazy gossip monger Bolt has become.   Running a post today about a band aid on a the hand of Rudd, and parsing Rudd's comment about it as if there is a scandal being hidden (the suggestion obviously being that he hurt himself hitting something in a rage.)

Even a two faced politician doesn't deserve groundless crap like that.

Update 3the first account I have heard that gives any detail of what is supposed to have happened in the make up room:
Whether Rudd deserved the critique is another question. Accounts of those who were in the room are consistent with Rudd's - that he said ''hello'' and ''goodbye'' to Fontana and virtually nothing in between as he prepared for the most important 60 minutes of the campaign to that point, reading intently from last-minute briefing notes before taking the stage. ''I was in the zone,'' is how he put it.

Murdoch's journalists not what they used to be

I have been wondering how the intense anti-Labor editorial and headline slant of Murdoch's papers has been sitting with some of his senior journalists.   Their reaction certainly seems a far cry from what went on in 1975, when they went on strike:

A letter written by News Limited journalists and presented to management outlines clearly some of the concerns they had resulting in their strike action on 8th-10 December 1975, the last week of the election campaign.
…the deliberate and careless slanting of headlines, seemingly blatant imbalance in news presentation, political censorship and, more occasionally, distortion of copy from senior specialist journalists, the political management of news and features, the stifling of dissident and even palatably impartial opinion in the papers’ columns…
Is the only difference that Murdoch's editors have given up on actually altering senior journalist's column's to give a different slant?  Come on, you weaklings - speak up for yourselves.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

There's money in underpants

Well, there you go.  Just yesterday, as I noticed the pre-Father's Day blitz of underwear advertisements at the local shopping centre,  I wondered to myself "how much money does Bonds make from men's underwear?"

Quite a lot, seems to be the answer:
A SURGE in demand for Bonds underwear has helped clothing group Pacific Brands post its first full year profit since 2010. 
But the maker of work clothes, bed linen and shoes is bracing for a tough financial year ahead as consumer confidence remains weak.

Pacific Brands' $73.8 million net profit in the year to June 30 is a turnaround from a $450.7 million loss in fiscal 2012.

The underwear division drove much of the result, with earnings rising to $78.1 million, compared with a loss of $330.3 million the previous year.

Undergarment sales revenue also rose by five per cent, to $453.9 million, as wholesale, in-store and online sales for Bonds underwear accelerated in the second half of fiscal 2013.
So, undergarment sales for just one company are approaching half a billion dollars?   In which market, I wonder?

In a different shopping centre, I was annoyed by several poster ads for (I think) Bic women's razors, which featured only a close up frontal shot of a woman's panties (with woman inside them.)  The byline was something like this (I am going by memory, because I can't find an image of it on the net):  "Showered, shaved and ready to go, all before he's even found his keys."

Whatever the exact line was, the point of the ad was obviously to encourage women to have a daily pubic shave, just like their blokes do to their face.

I am not exactly outraged by this current hairless fashion per se, but there is something about razor companies actually encouraging it for profit that irritates me.   Perhaps because it is obvious that the fashion is often having a poor effect on women's self image, 'cos they get to see clearly shapes and folds which would normally be somewhat obscured by hair.  And besides, the ad is surely guilty of that old term "objectifying" a women's (hairless) torso in a way that I think everyone should be uncomfortable with in a public space like a shopping mall.

And while we are in the general groin-al area, can the papers please stop running headlines such as this:
Lily Patchett explains why she allowed student newspaper Honi Soit to publish a photo of her vagina
The fact that a University newspaper was intending to publish a front page featuring 18 vulva images (which is, technically, more correct than saying they were photos of vaginas) is surely not that dramatic an issue is it?   University newspapers have been routinely "in your face" for the mere sake of it for the last 40 years, haven't they?, and while I think the idea is not in great taste, I find it less objectionable in the context of who would likely see it and the effect on attitudes to women than decades of page 3 girlie photos in Murdoch owners papers in England.

The motive for it was actually on pretty solid feminist grounds:
The editors of Sydney University's Honi Soit publication said they published the graphic edition in order to make a statement about how vaginas have become "artificially sexualised ... or stigmatised".
Yes, it was a response to the effect of the likes of the Bic poster which I had a problem with.

Of course, it goes too far, as University papers are wont to do (the people who run them are immature, let's face it).  Surely the point could just have readily been made by referring people to a website or two which feature "average" vulva for women's reassurance without them being on the street.  (There was a website set up specifically for this purpose in the US recently; I read about it at Slate or Salon.)  Or the photos could simply have been inside the paper.

But still, as for the mainstream media, it should be treated as a bit of a non story, rather than taking it as an opportunity to write a half dozen headlines referencing genitalia. 

Saul sounds skeptical

Coalition has $30b gap in promises: leading economist Saul Eslake

He predicts that the Coalition will ultimately adopt all of Labor's proposed budget savings measures, except for ending the tax break for cars bought through salary sacrifice.

Even so, Mr Eslake estimates, the Coalition has so far committed to $28.4 billion of tax cuts and $14.8 billion on new spending in the next four years, a total of $43.25 billion. But he estimates the nine savings measures the Coalition has announced so far would save only $13.44 billion over the same period.

"By our reckoning, over the remainder of the election campaign, the Coalition needs to announce additional savings measures totally in the vicinity of $30 billion over the four years to 2016-17 in order to be able credibly to claim that it would produce better bottom line outcomes than those projected (by Treasury and the Department of Finance), he said."

"That is a substantial sum, although it is considerably less than the $70 billion 'black hole' suggested by the government."

Clive and Mal had a chat

Mad, rich Clive is probably telling the truth about this, I reckon.

Mal Brough's role in the Slipper saga was clearly dodgy from the start, and he lied to journalists about it.  As Bernard Keane wrote:
Twice now Brough has been revealed as having misled the public over his role in the affair. The first time was in early May when, in the aftermath of Fairfax’s Jessica Wright outing him as having met with Ashby, he arranged a tell-all explanation to The Australian, complete with photo shoot with his wife, to explain he’d met with Ashby three times and had only spoken to a small number of trusted legal advisers about the matter, and not anyone else in the Coalition or LNP.

That marked a change from his position of just a few days earlier, that claims he was aware of the legal action beforehand were “nonsense”.

We now know, courtesy of yesterday’s document release by the Federal Court, that he was misleading the public again with his claims to The Oz, and was a key player in the co-ordination of what appears to have been a campaign to damage Slipper, trying to arrange a job within the LNP for another disaffected Slipper staffer, Karen Doane. Ashby is also alleged to have emailed Brough with confidential material from Slipper’s diary.

Self inflicted wounds

There's no doubt, I think, that the issue of the funding and costs of the Tony Abbott endorsed Paid Parental Leave plan is hurting the Coalition.  Maybe not "election losing hurt", but certainly a significant negative for the campaign.   And it would appear entirely self inflicted, because the claimed supporting costing done by the Parliamentary Budget Office is presumably sitting in the box in Liberal Party HQ marked "do not open less than 48 hours before election day."

The evidence that it is hurting:  everyone in the Coalition is showing clear annoyance and irritation at persistent questioning about it.  Tony Abbott last night, Joe Hockey during the day yesterday, and this morning the heavily South African accented Mathias Cormann on Radio National.

Cormann amuses me - he is like the perfect antidote to the annoyance I am sure many Australians have felt over the years towards Scottish or English accented unionists, some of whom have gone on to political careers (hello, Doug Cameron.)   They have often provoked the reaction that they were importing their aggro, working class warfare from the UK to a country that didn't want it.  

Well, fortunately for Labor, we now have a Coalition spokesperson who comes with an accent which, especially when they get agitated, I think people associate with sentiments ranging from "I am born to rule and you aren't" to "release the hounds - we must have law and order." 

And to make it funnier - I see that he is actually from Belgium and only sounds South African because that's where he learnt English. he, um, sounds South African. (To me.  And clearly when I went looking for a reason why he sounded that way, I read the Wiki link too quickly!)

As far as I am concerned, he should be on TV and the radio more often...

But back to the Tony Abbott's parental leave:  there must be many, many teeth grinding about this policy amongst Coalition strategists - it is wholly of Abbott's creation, never been widely supported within the party, and he has been so persistent about it for so long, it is politically impossible for him to back down now.

A perfect, and completely unnecessary, self inflicted wound.

Update:  Delicious.  Despite Henry Ergas' attempt to put lipstick on this pig of a policy, Judith Sloan calls the scheme "crazy", and Sinclair's inevitable gut reaction against anything involving money being handed to a government means he's been helping the bad PR for it as well.

For people who can't work out the basics

Gosh.  Slate finds it appropriate to have a video that argues that slicing a tomato is much better with a serrated knife than a straight edge one.  

I think I might have worked that out successfully by the age of 14.

Anyway, perhaps I have noted this before here, but Victorinox steak knives are a fantastic general purpose knife in the kitchen, and they slice tomatoes very well.

But I must thank Slate for one kitchen idea that I never knew, and it does work brilliantly:  how to boil eggs right.  (You don't really need the ice bath at the end, though.) 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Record rains watch, and old men and climate change

Record rains flood large tracts of China, Russia, the Philippines 

My theory that large, more frequent disastrous floods from more intense rainfall may be the earliest, clear sign that global warming is a highly disruptive and economically harmful thing might be getting some more support via these floods.

It's been a funny, mixed  summer for global warming:  some record heat in parts of China, a very hot, record breaking, run in Japan, and Alaska and other parts of the North.  I think the Australian winter has been pretty warm on a country wide scale, and it's been a bad snow season.   Yet it also seems to have been wet and cool in part of the US, and weather conditions are such that the Arctic ice cap itself (while well down on long term average) will not get close to record summer minimums. 

Those are my impressions anyway.

As for how this is reported:  Rupert Murdoch is over 80, and is now free of a liberal wife and her friends, so of course he no longer sounds at all convinced of climate change being a problem.  

On the age issue, it's also funny to drop in on that paper retirement village for conservatives known as Quadrant. It runs very, very heavily against climate change now, but look at the line up of writers who get space to go "ha, as if!"   Geoffrey Luck (former ABC journalist) - appears to be age 82.   Someone called Tony Thomas - never heard of him before, but appears to be an author and some Googling indicated he was born in 1940 - age 73 this year.  I can't spot an age for retired right wing economist Des Moore, but here's a photo: 

What else can I say, but "typical".

Ian Plimer is 67, a relative spring chicken amongst the climate deniers who have written in Quadrant.  I haven't yet spotted the age of fellow retired geologist Bob Carter, but he looks of the same vintage.

Tom Quirk's name turns up on Quadrant as a climate commentator; he's on the IPA but I haven't found his age yet either.  Time for another photo then:
Not exactly youthful.

I just find it remarkable how age specific active climate change denialism is.

Sure, there are younger folk (and women, such as Quadrant's own Phillipa Martyr, who hasn't yet cracked 50, but is an ex smoker with a cat who has offered to date Rupert Murdoch) who are happy to tell the world that they think it's all crap; but to be a really active club participant in spreading the word, it helps enormously to be over 65 and require prostate checks.

Not politics

This review in the TLS of a new book about the history of the attitude towards death in Britain has a couple of interesting suggestions.

The first:  that the loss of the idea of Purgatory helps explain English affinity for ghost stories about lost souls haunting the earth:
Watkins paints a vivid picture, in the first part of his book, of a medieval way of life in which the “Church Suffering” (as the souls in Purgatory were called) formed part of an economic community which straddled the realms of the living and the dead. The endowment of monasteries, churches, almshouses, gifts of land were bequeathments by the dying to those who followed after. Golden chalices, jewelled reliquaries, stained-glass windows, wood-carvings: all the splendour of the medieval Church was underwritten by the dead, with wider consequences for the economy as a whole. Focusing closely on the dealings of John Baret, a fifteenth-century merchant from Bury St Edmunds, Watkins shows how businesslike he was in approaching eternity, settling earthly debts, endowing monuments, buying masses in advance to promote his soul’s salvation. If the lack of spirituality is striking, so, too, is the unquestioning assumption of a continuity between this existence and the next.

An unscriptural amendment to the Christian tradition, Purgatory was ripe for abolition. Yet, as a psychological support for striving Christians, it had made sense and its loss left ordinary people bereft. It is no surprise that its phantom should have stalked British society from that time on. To some extent, folklore filled the gap – songs and stories of wild wastes which had to be traversed by wayfaring souls on their way to the afterlife; there were tales of ghosts and what we would now call poltergeists. Watkins rejects the idea that such traditions were a sort of “strange Catholic survival” – yet they surely stemmed from some deep anxiety. Justification by faith may sound a soft option, but the faith required is the mountain-moving sort: how many, after all, could seriously hope to be saved?
 The other suggestion, novel to me, is that Spiritualism, when it arrived, felt "modern":
There was nothing much respectable about the Welsh doctor-druid William Price, yet it was he who effectively brought about the legalization of cremation in 1884. In doing so, suggests Watkins, he carried to its logical conclusion both the demystification of the human body which had begun with the rise of dissection (albeit in the face of fierce popular resistance), and the detaching of the life of the individual from that of the community which had begun with the replacement of the churchyard by the cemetery. Yet it was to be a self-consciously progressive, scientifically minded set which brought the dead back into the everyday existence of the living with the craze for spiritualism from the 1850s. Watkins makes the point that, with all their various knockings and tappings, the spirits’ communications seemed as modern as Morse code. 

Ultimately, spiritualism can be seen as an aspect of a general secularization which saw the imaginative hold of the afterlife weakening: “the other world had thinned”, Watkins concludes. Quite how and why this happened isn’t clear. While scientific rationalism must have played its part and immigration made new perspectives available, we’re finally reduced to some version of Virginia Woolf’s mischievous suggestion that “On or about December, 1910, human nature changed”.
 Update:  on that second point, I have noted here before how the explanation for where heaven can exist has changed with increasingly sophisticated scientific ideas, so that (for example) the belief that it was just  beyond the dome of the sky was replaced by it being in a higher dimension which we could not perceive from our 3 D "flatland" perspective.  But I wouldn't have thought that Spiritualism per se felt "modern" when it first arrived.  There are, however, cases where Spiritualism has specifically gone into science-y explanations.  Apart from talk of spirits living at different "vibrations" (an idea that seems almost as old as the Fox sisters), in the Scole experiments in the 1990's, I recall that there was much talk of how the device used in the sittings was constructed via instructions from spirit scientists on the other side as to how to build a good quality "receiver". It's a wonder that, as far as I know, we never hear of spirit communications that talk about quantum science and the multiverse.  (The skeptical explanation, of course, would be that mediums simply aren't that interested in the topic and don't read enough about it for their subconscious to regurgitate it during "communications".  But the idea does get a lot of publicity in the popular media now, so it's a bit curious that it doesn't turn up.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Good luck, losers

What a time for a Shooter's Party to be running candidates for an election...

The tragic random thrill killing of a young Australian in America has the Australian tabloids talking (with justification) about "the madness of American gun culture,"* and Tony Abbott already (even before the shooting) had a specific policy out about cracking down on illegal imports of guns.

So good luck, wannabe gun law reformers of Australia.  

And boo hoo to reader IT, wannabe Texas Ranger for Perth.

*  Just lucky that it would appear Rupert's not a gun fan, I suppose.

Possibly the funniest thing Rupert has ever said

So, Rupert Murdoch has tweeted:
Conviction politicians hard to find anywhere. Australia's Tony Abbott rare exception. Opponent Rudd all over the place convincing nobody.
Yes, Rupert.  Sure Rupert. You've never really read Bernard Keane's clever 2011 history of Tony Abbott and climate change, have you?   I'll reproduce just part of it:
Tony Abbott: OK, so the climate has changed over the eons and we know from history, at the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth,  the climate was considerably warmer than it is now. And then during what they called the Dark Ages it was colder. Then there was the medieval warm period. Climate change happens all the time and it is not man that drives those climate changes back in history. It is an open question how much the climate changes today and what role man plays.
Tony Abbott: I am confident, based on the science we have, that mankind does make a difference to climate, almost certainly the impact of humans on the planet extends to climate.
Tony Abbott: The argument is absolute crap.
Tony Abbott. We believe climate change is real, yes, we believe humans make a contribution towards climate change.
Tony Abbott: There may even have been a slight decrease in global temperatures (the measurement data differs on this point) over the past decade despite continued large increases in emissions associated with the rapid economic growth of China and India.
Tony Abbott: I think that the science is far from settled but on the insurance principle you are prepared to take reasonable precautions against significant potential risks, and that’s I think why it makes sense to have an ETS.
Tony Abbott: I think there are all sorts of ways of paying for this that don’t involve a great big new tax that we will live with forever.
Tony Abbott: There is much to be said for an emissions trading scheme. It was, after all, the mechanism for emission reduction ultimately chosen by the Howard government.
Update:   further "conviction politics" from Tony, only in May this year:
The letter, signed by Mr Abbott, states that he had been briefed by shadow special minister of state Bronwyn Bishop about the agreement, negotiated between former special minister of state Gary Gray, Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane, and the ALP national secretary George Wright.
"I am satisfied with the agreement reached and indicate the Coalition's intention to support the legislation and to deal with it, as requested, before the end of the sittings," the letter states.

However, today Mr Abbott explained that he changed his mind after discussions with his colleagues.
 Update 2:  yet more conviction:
 TONY ABBOTT (archive footage, July 22, 2002): Voluntary paid maternity leave: yes; compulsory paid maternity leave: over this Government's dead body, frankly. It just won't happen.

First it was lead pipes, now it's copper...

Copper may play key role in Alzheimer's Disease -

It's funny how metals in water pipes never seem to be a good idea.

Then again, plastic pipes probably secrete hormone affecting chemicals that are drying up our vital bodily fluids and shrinking genitalia.

I also have quietly dismissed my wife using a filter jug for most of her drinking water.  Now I am not so sure.

Anyway, go read the article: it's quite interesting

Why people don't like politics

Treasurers' debate: either intellectually dishonest or no intellect

From Michael Pascoe's pretty accurate take on last night's Q&A debate between Hockey and Bowen:
But ultimately it was the same old routine, leaving the voter with the same old quandary: is it a matter of intellectual dishonesty or an absence of intellect?

Neither Bowen nor Hockey could or was prepared to level with the audience on the nation's looming taxation demands, a failure highlighted by both sides running away from improving the GST. Labor ran further and faster than the Liberals on that score, but the Liberal performance over any “big new tax” other than their own and perpetuating an illusion of a lower tax future has been at least as shameful.

The Coalition has been wildly successful in flogging the government debt horse and Hockey showed no inclination to dismount, never mind that the beast is only one-fifth equine and four-fifths canard. Chris Bowen attempted and failed, like his predecessor, to put the deficit issue in perspective. The pink batts have stuck.

And that was the core of the problem on display last night: a government incapable of standing on the relative success of its fiscal big picture thanks to the focus on failures in detail and looking after some select union mates; an opposition that's so successful in beating up the government's shortcomings that it hasn't had to go beyond sweeping generalisations and the Magic Pudding aspects of Hockeynomics.

Both have finished up abandoning principles and squawking “me too” when the other seems to have a policy that's a vote winner – the Coalition on Gonski, Labor on something as loony as a Northern Territory company tax haven.

Direct Action dismissed, and ignored

At least Fairfax is making an effort to deal with an important election issue.

All the dirt on carbon is a pretty good explanation of the issues with both Labor's and the Coalition's CO2 cutting plans.  

In this Factchecker article, they look at the recent claim by the Climate Institute that Direct Action must at least cost several billion more than claimed to reach its target.  The assumptions made in the Institute's analysis do indeed appear very conservative (that is, looking at the most optimistic take possible on the Coalition's plans) and it still comes up short.

And at the SMH, at least, the website is noting aspects of the latest leak of the next IPCC report.

Meanwhile, at the website, the most popular story is "man inserts fork into penis".   Good job, Rupert...

Monday, August 19, 2013

The hard slog

The very individual journey of novelists

There's a nice, brief story here about the ways different authors work.  I hadn't read before about how Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird:
  I have been thinking recently a lot about the unique Harper Lee who wrote one novel in her life, To Kill a Mockingbird. There is a marvelous documentary about her called Hey Boo. In her twenties she came to New York from Alabama and accumulated a bunch of not quite finished stories. Kind friends who had extra money gave her a gift of a year off from her job at an airline reservation counter. A publisher found her very rough draft of her novel to be appealing and gave her a contract. For what she called two terrible endless years, she revised and revised until the book took its final form. She revised it in an old NYC apartment smoking endless cigarettes. And she never published anything again. She was working on something else for a time.