Friday, 27 July 2012

Labor Party history and the challenge of parties from the left

Tim Watts on the blog Modernising Labor has written an essay on The End of the Party? Labor's History and the Rise of the Greens. As it's split over nine chapters some might prefer it in a single PDF.

Opposing what you believe in to hurt your opponent

In Unpopular Mandate Ezra Klein writes in The New Yorker that Republicans in the USA seem to be opposing measures they once supported because President Obama is now proposing them:
All this suggests that the old model of compromise is going to have a very difficult time in today’s polarized political climate. Because it’s typically not in the minority party’s interest to compromise with the majority party on big bills—elections are a zero-sum game, where the majority wins if the public thinks it has been doing a good job—Washington’s motivated-reasoning machine is likely to kick into gear on most major issues. “Reasoning can take you wherever you want to go,” Haidt warns. “Can you see your way to an individual mandate, if it’s a way to fight single payer? Sure. And so, when it was strategically valuable Republicans could believe it was constitutional and good. Then Obama proposes the idea. And then the question becomes not ‘Can you believe in this?’ but ‘Must you believe it?’ ”

And that means that you can’t assume that policy-based compromises that made sense at the beginning will survive to the end, because by that time whichever group has an interest in not compromising will likely have convinced itself that the compromise position is an awful idea—even if, just a few years ago, that group thought it was a great one. “The basic way you wanted to put together a big deal five years ago is that the thoughtful minds in one party would basically go off and write a bill that had seventy per cent of their orthodoxy and thirty per cent of the other side’s orthodoxy and try to use that to peel off five or six senators from the other side,” Grumet says. “That process just doesn’t work anymore.” The remarkable and confusing trajectory of the individual-mandate debate, in other words, could simply be the new norm.

2011 greenhouse gas emission

Cathy Alexander has an article, There’s a da xiang in the room: new greenhouse emission data, looking at 2011 global greenhouse gas emissions. China topped the list with 29% of global emissions, followed by the USA:
China’s per capita emissions increased by 9% in 2011 and are now 7.2 tonnes of CO2 per person, which, the report notes, is “similar to the per capita emissions in the European Union”. China’s per capita emissions are now higher than France, Italy and Spain.
The author makes the point that we can no longer rely on the developed world to take the lead on reducing emissions while letting the developing world catch up after 2020.

I should also note that Australia, 15th on the list, has the highest per capital emissions followed by the USA and then Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Wind turbine syndrome

In Wind turbine syndrome: a classic ‘communicated’ disease Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health and University of Sydney, looks at claims of health problems attributed to wind turbine exposure. Basically, they're all in the mind.

Carbon compensation and pokies

During the last budget debate the Opposition claimed that the Government shouldn't be paying the school kids bonus because parents would waste it on pokies. Well reports have come in that poker machine revenue in Queensland was up in May and June and some have linked this to Government handouts (school kids bonus, carbon pricing compensation). Bernard Keane demolishes these links in Carbon compo being fed into pokies? Nothing but a beat-up.

Median wealth in 2011 by Country

The Washington Post has a graph of median wealth in 2011 by country. Australia is way out in front. I imagine that our wealth is probably inflated by our high currency and house prices.

Rolling Stone's global warming aticle

Rolling Stone has an article on climate change that is quite frightening: Global Warming's Terrifying New Math

Paul Krugman on fiscal expansion

In It Depends on the Situation Paul Krugman makes a good point.
Today’s case in point: by now, five years into the financial crisis, you might have imagined that people would stop spouting this line: “You say government spending can create jobs — but then why isn’t Greece booming? Huh? Huh?”

You might think that by now people would have gotten the conditional nature of the claim: fiscal expansion has a positive effect if the economy is depressed and monetary policy won’t move to offset it — typically, if the economy is in a liquidity trap. It’s not as if the advocates of fiscal stimulus haven’t made this point again and again, all the way back to Keynes’s dictum that the boom, not the slump, is the time for austerity. But noooo.

The shadow of drugs in athletics

Greg Jericho again excels, this time with an article, Doping's shadow looms large over athletics, where he looks at the legacy of doping on the athletics records books.
The long-term impact of doping during the 1970s and 1980s is greater on women's athletics than it is on men's because doping on women has a greater physiological impact. Thus, while a man might break a world record through doping, his time or distance will not be as far ahead of a clean athlete as would the respective woman cheat over her clean competitors.

Thus the world records set by women during the 1980s, when doping was rampant and out-of-competition testing non-existent, remain on the books and for the most part far beyond the reach of contemporary athletes.
After reading the article I think I now understand why Sally Pearson won the International Association of Athletics Federations Female Athlete of the Year.

Objectivity doesn't work with the politically disengaged

In Screw Objectivity: Study Finds Opinionated Journalism Boosts Civic Engagement Gregory Ferenstein at Tech Crunch cites studies showing that people who are politically disengaged are more likely to be motivated into action by opinionated articles than by objective articles:
A new experimental study [pdf] finds that opinionated reporting is better at motivating the politically unengaged than objective reporting.

For years, much of the media has assumed that objective education, alone, was enough to promote a healthy democracy. What traditional media failed to realize is that a good chunk of the population needs a reason to care in the first place. “News articles that are written through the eyes of a mere observer, without a perspective or slant, can foster political disaffection among citizens,” explains author Minha Kim of Sungkyunkwan University (note: for the highly politically engaged, objectivity is better, which is explained below).
If you think about it this shouldn't be that surprising. At heart humans are emotional animals.

I find it interesting that people who are highly politically engaged are motivated more by objective reporting.

Headline inflation in Australia over 40 years

Peter Martin has this graph show headline inflation in Australia since the mid 1970s:

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Monbiot on peak oil

In False Summit George Monbiot writes:
We were wrong about peak oil: there’s enough in the ground to deep-fry the planet.
Monbiot seems worried that new found oil supplies might not be such a good thing:
So this is where we are. The automatic correction – resource depletion destroying the machine that was driving it – that many environmentalists foresaw is not going to happen. The problem we face is not that there is too little oil, but that there is too much.

We have confused threats to the living planet with threats to industrial civilisation. They are not, in the first instance, the same thing. Industry and consumer capitalism, powered by abundant oil supplies, are more resilient than many of the natural systems they threaten. The great profusion of life in the past – fossilised in the form of flammable carbon – now jeopardises the great profusion of life in the present.

There is enough oil in the ground to deepfry the lot of us, and no obvious means by which we might prevail upon governments and industry to leave it in the ground. Twenty years of efforts to prevent climate breakdown through moral persuasion have failed, with the collapse of the multilateral process at Rio de Janeiro last month. The world’s most powerful nation is once again becoming an oil state, and if the political transformation of its northern neighbour is anything to go by, the results will not be pretty.

Social jet lag and the science of internal time

In Internal Time: The Science of Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired Maria Popova reviews Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired. It's an interesting discussion on social jet lag.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

New Scientist on Climate Change

In Climate change: What we do – and don't – know New Scientist has a series of articles looking at what we do and don't know about climate change.
There is much we do not understand about Earth's climate. That is hardly surprising, given the complex interplay of physical, chemical and biological processes that determines what happens on our planet’s surface and in its atmosphere.

Despite this, we can be certain about some things. For a start, the planet is warming, and human activity is largely responsible. But how much is Earth on course to warm by? What will the global and local effects be? How will it affect our lives?

In these articles, Michael Le Page sifts through the evidence to provide a brief guide to what we currently do – and don't – know about the planet's most burning issue.

Plimer vs Plimer

Someone has put together a nice graphic featuring Ian Plimer contradicting himself on whether CO2 cause warming. See it at PLIMER vs PLIMER.

Consumers are no good at maths

In The 11 Ways That Consumers Are Hopeless at Math Derek Thompson looks at how consumers are easily fooled when it comes to determining a bargain or a fair price.
There are two broad reasons why these kind of tricks work. First: Consumers don't know what the heck anything should cost, so we rely on parts of our brains that aren't strictly quantitative. Second: Although humans spend in numbered dollars, we make decisions based on clues and half-thinking that amount to innumeracy.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Nationalism, militarism and the hatred of difference

Adam Gopnik has written an interesting article A Point of View: Don’t mention the war?
It's time to stop invoking Hitler and the Nazis in arguments about everything from censorship to birth control - but we should never stop heeding the lessons of World War II
He has several things to say, but one I want to highlight is his attempt to explain how nationalism (and it's different from patriotism), militarism and the hatred of difference was behind the evil acts of the Nazis.
But I'm always haunted by the simple words of the historian Richard Evans towards the end of his good book, The Third Reich at War, where he said that we should always remember that what happened was not some act of Satan - though Satanic acts took place - but the result of the unleashed power of long latent traditions of militarism, nationalism and the hatred of difference. It was the force of three ever-living things, braided together like hissing, poisonous snakes around a healthy tree.

The danger is that each of these things is not necessarily evil on first appearance, and each seeks a new name in new times.

The old distinction between patriotism and nationalism, made many times by many people, has never been more vital to our mental health than it is now - as vital for the health of the country as the distinction between sexual fantasy and pornography is for the health of a marriage. Patriotism, like fantasy, is a kind of sauce, a pleasing irrationalism that is part of what makes us human - and saucy. Nationalism, like pornography, is a kind of narcissistic addiction that devours our humanity.

Patriotism is a love of a place and of the people in a place. As GK Chesterton understood, it becomes more intense the smaller the unit gets, so that it was possible for him to feel more patriotism for Notting Hill than for Britain.

Nationalism is the opposite belief; that your place is better than everyone else's and that people who don't feel this way about it are somehow victimising you.
He goes on to write:
Just as nationalism is the opposite of patriotism, not its extension, so militarism is an emotion opposed to the universal urge to honour soldiers for their courage. Militarism is the belief that the military's mission is moral, or moralistic. That the army can be used to restore the honour of the nation, or to improve our morals, and that a failure to use it to right every imagined affront is a failure of nerve, rather than a counsel of good sense.

After 9/11, in the US we suffered from a plague of militarism of this kind, again mostly from sagging middle-aged writers who wanted to send someone else's kids to war so that the middle-aged men could feel more manly in the face of a national insult. Militarism is not the soldiers' faith that war can be conducted honourably, but the polemicist's belief that war confers honour.

Hatred of difference - notice I carefully did not say racial hatred, or religious hatred. Hitler hated Jews because of their religion, and because of their race, but he hated them above all because of their otherness.
He uses as a modern example of this hatred of difference the argument of someof "the impossibility of assimilating Muslims in my adopted country of France" and compares that to similar arguments against Jews in France over a century ago.

In the article Gopnik also discusses Godwin's Law and the Fawlty Towers "The Germans" episode with Basil Fawlty telling people not to "mention the war" when they had German guests. The relevance of this discussion can be seen in his concluding remarks, remarks that I think are worth reproducing:
This is a question in which after a half-millennium of religious warfare, the results are really all in. If we accept the Enlightenment values of tolerance, coexistence and mutual pursuit of material happiness, things in the long run work out. If we don't, they won't.

So, from now, when we evoke Godwin's Law, as we ought to, I would like to propose Gopnik's Amendment to it. We should never believe that people who differ from us about how we ought to spend public money want to commit genocide or end democracy, and we should stop ourselves from saying so, even in the pixelled heat of internet argument.

But when we see the three serpents of militarism, nationalism and hatred of difference we should never be afraid to call them out, loudly, by name, and remind ourselves and other people, even more loudly still, of exactly what they have made happen in the past.

We should never, in this sense, be afraid to mention the war. We should say, listen: you've heard all this before - but let me tell you again just what happened in the garden the last time someone let the snakes out. It is exactly the kind of lesson that history is supposed to be there to teach us.
Read the article.