Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Why Tasmania is the poorer state

Jonathan West documents the cultural issues that prevent Tasmania from succeeding in What’s wrong with Tasmania, Australia’s freeloading state?

Does Europe need a shared identity?

In Somewhere over the rainbow in a utopia called Europe Waleed Aly argues that "Europe must have a clear identity for its members to make a genuine commitment".

Government regulation of the Internet

A couple of interesting articles:

In You use a computer, you think you're safe... Peter Martin explains how violating the terms and conditions of a web site may be a criminal offence in the USA.

In For Our Information: Politicians Need To Let Go Suelette Dreyfus looks at why Governments want to control and regulate the Internet.

Do you have a child with autism - an iPad might help

Leslie Neely, Mandy Rispoli, Siglia Camargo, Heather Davis and Margot Boles had released the results of their study The effect of instructional use of an iPad® on challenging behavior and academic engagement for two students with autism. Here's the abstract:
iPads® are increasingly used in the education of children with autism spectrum disorder. However, few empirical studies have examined the effects of iPads® on student behaviors. The purpose of this study was to compare academic instruction delivered with an iPad® to instruction delivered through traditional materials for two students with autism spectrum disorder who engaged in escape-maintained challenging behavior. An ABAB reversal design was utilized in which academic instruction with an iPad® and academic instruction with traditional materials were compared. Both participants demonstrated lower levels of challenging behavior and higher levels of academic engagement in the iPad® condition and higher levels of challenging behavior with lower levels of academic engagement during the traditional materials condition. These results suggest that the use of an iPad® as a means of instructional delivery may reduce escape-maintained behavior for some children with autism. Suggestions for future research directions are discussed.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Are the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands Chinese?

In The Inconvenient Truth Behind the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands Nicholas D. Kristof argues that the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands rightly belong to China.

Scott Morrison's original preselection

In Nasty saga you nearly missed Paul Sheehan writes that Michael Towke won preselection for the seat of Cook in 2007 polling 82 votes and beating a large number of candidates. Former state director of the NSW Liberal Party Scott Morrison received 8 votes and was eliminated in the first round. Four days after Towke won preselection a campaign started against him in the Daily Telegraph:
Four different Telegraph journalists, two of them very senior, wrote those four stories, so the campaign of leaks and smears was assiduous. There is insufficient space to detail all the claims made and disputed. Towke was portrayed as a serial liar, an exaggerator. He disputed every such imputation with factual evidence. After it was obvious his political credibility had been destroyed by these stories, he started defamation proceedings. A year of legal attrition ensued.

Shortly before the matter was to begin in court this month, Nationwide News paid and settled.

It is telling that experienced Telegraph journalists appear to have based their stories on sources they trusted, suggesting those doing the leaking were both senior figures and seasoned in dealing with the media.

Though Towke would eventually win his legal war, the damage had been done. The adverse media coverage set in train a reaction within the party to get rid of him. A second ballot was ordered, in which the balance of power was shifted away from the grassroots in Cook and to the state executive. The second ballot gave the preselection to Scott Morrison. Amazing. He had been parachuted into the seat over Towke's political carcass. Morrison clearly had backers who wanted him to get the seat. ''These guys were prepared to ruin my life,'' Towke said.
Towke sued the publisher of the Daily Telegraph who settled before trial:
On the eve of the trial, Nationwide came up with another offer: $50,000, plus costs, plus removing the offending articles from the internet and dropping the confidentiality requirement. On the advice of counsel, Towke accepted.
Both the major parties engage in dirty tricks when it comes to internal politics. It would be interesting to know who was behind it in this case though.

Edit 5th March: Nick Bryant's So Who the Bloody Hell Are You?: Scott Morrison

Interesting graph on real earnings growth for men and women

Matt Cowgill has published an interesting graph on Twitter showing real earnings growth for men and women working full time by decile for the period 1980 to 2005:

Maybe the Government should target family trusts

The ever interesting Michael Pascoe takes a look at tax avoidance via family trusts in Obeids' trust is the best ad for tax reform. He concludes with an interesting story:
A little while ago I had a chance social encounter with an accountant. As people will talk ailments with doctors, crime with police and scandal with journalists, chat fell to occupations and structures. The accountant was a little perplexed that I operate as a sole trader with no company structure, let alone a family trust.

He suggested I really should consider setting up a trust as I could save several thousand dollars a year in tax, after the initial set-up costs. He said I'd have no trouble meeting the three ATO legitimacy tests – the third of which was that the trust wasn't being set up to avoid tax.

On JFK and Cuban missile crisis

Articles on JFK and the Cuban missile Crisis:
Martin McKenzie-Murray: Cult of celebrity feeds our hunger - and our gullibility

Richard Chirgwin takes apart the Daily Telegraph on spectrum costs

In Wireless spectrum scare-story: $400 per year per user? Richard Chirgwin finds the Daily Telegraph wanting when they claim that the Government's spectrum floor price will cost broadband users $400 per year. Mind you this should hardly be surprising given that surveys regularly show the Daily Telegraph to be the least trusted newspaper in Australia.

What triggers changes in macroeconomic thought?

Simon Wren-Lewis ponders the question of whether history of macroeconomic ideas is a series of reactions to crises in Misinterpreting the history of macroeconomic thought. Really he's trying to address the rise of New Classical economics:
However it is too simple, and misleads as a result. The Great Depression led to Keynesian economics. So far so good. The inflation of the 1970s led to ? Monetarism - well maybe in terms of a few brief policy experiments in the early 1980s, but Monetarist-Keynesian debates were going strong before the 1970s. The New Classical revolution? Well rational expectations can be helpful in adapting the Phillips curve to explain what happened in the 1970s, but I’m not sure that was the main reason why the idea was so rapidly adopted. The New Classical revolution was much more than rational expectations.
He goes on to write:
The New Classical revolution was in part a response to that tension. In methodological terms it was a counter revolution, trying to take macroeconomics away from the econometricians, and bring it back to something microeconomists could understand. Of course it could point to policy in the 1970s as justification, but I doubt that was the driving force. I also think it is difficult to fully understand the New Classical revolution, and the development of RBC models, without adding in some ideology.
He concludes:
While I see plenty of financial frictions being added to DSGE models, I do not see any significant body of macroeconomists wanting to ply their trade in a radically different way. If this crisis is going to generate a new revolution in macroeconomics, where are the revolutionaries? However, if you read the history of macro thought the way I do, then macro crises are neither necessary nor sufficient for revolutions in macro thought. Perhaps there was only one real revolution, and we have been adjusting to the tensions that created ever since.

Nuclear waste safer than coal ash?

Mara Hvistendahl writes that Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste.

The article ends with a clarification:
As a general clarification, ounce for ounce, coal ash released from a power plant delivers more radiation than nuclear waste shielded via water or dry cask storage.

Plastic bag bans may make us sick

Katherine Mangu-Ward writes in Are Plastic Bag Bans Making Us Sick? that:
The study, by Jonathan Klick of University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Property and Environment Research Center and Joshua D. Wright of the George Mason University School of Law, found that in jurisdictions where plastic bags were banned saw ER visits increase by about one-fourth, with a similar increase in deaths compared with neighboring counties where the bags remained legal.

Basically people were schlepping leaky packages of meat and other foods in their canvas bags, then wadding to the bags somewhere for awhile, leaving bacteria to grow until the next trip, when they tossed celery or other foods likely to be eaten raw in the same bags.
Washing plastic bags reduces the risk apparently, although it seems no one does it. What isn't discussed is the environmental cost in washing the bags.

More failings of the Canberra Press Gallery

In The everyday shit they call journalism the news with nipples takes apart a story by Mark Kenny and Jonathan Swan:
There’s a story in the Sydney Morning Herald today that’s a great example of how meaningless political journalism has become. It’s not about a manufactured scandal, or a gaffe, or something that happened decades ago, but is just the everyday political journalism that is, frankly, rubbish.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Pirates buy more music

Betsy Isaacson reports that Music Pirates Buy 30 Percent More Songs Than Non-Filesharers: Study.
But as Timothy B. Lee of Ars Technica points out, pirates are not necessarily good for the industry just because they buy more music. "It's possible, for example, the most avid music fans are also the most likely to be drawn to peer-to-peer networks," he writes. "Perhaps without those networks they would have purchased even more music from legitimate services."

Even so, the music industry likely should not ignore the news that pirates are some of its best consumers -- and thus perhaps a bad demographic to alienate.

Give yourself a pat on the back Australia

In Australia is a bigger deal than we give ourselves credit for Jessica Irvine details how Australia punches above its weight economically.

Paul Krugman on Government spending as a share of potential GDP

Paul Krugman has an interesting post, The Non-Surge in Government Spending, looking at Government spending as a share of potential GDP. It would great if someone did something similar for the Australian economy.

New study identifies CTE in living ex NFL players.

In New Study Finds Brain Damage in Living Ex-NFL Players Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada report on a study identifying disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, in living former NFL players.

Why Obama isn't a socialist

In Progressive? liberal? socialist? Where is Obama coming from? Charles Richardson writes that both sides seek to label Obama as a socialist, although for different reasons:
That conclusion suits the interests of pundits on both left and right. For the right, Obama is a target of fear and loathing, for reasons that range from the simply partisan to the deeply pathological, so “socialist” or some near equivalent is a natural charge for them to make. For the left, Obama is recognised as “one of them” (again for a complex of reasons, some of which I’ll come to shortly), and since most left-wingers still have an emotional if not rational attachment to big government, they bring him within the same tent.
Richardson concludes that the label is wrong.

Some interesting articles on politics

Michael Gawenda on Time wrought Gillard's transformation.
Gay Alcorn on Media's character put to the test in federal election campaign.
Gabrielle Chan on Gillard's Captains Pick.
Dennis Atkins on Incumbent Northern Territory Senator Trish Crossin caught in indigenous vote crossfire.

And one on Nova Peris by Catriona Wallace:  Nova Peris: Achievements of an Outstanding Woman.

Occupations most likely to attract psychopaths

In Journalism is Among Top 10 Occupations to Most Likely Attract Psychopaths Vicki Salemi looks at the occupations with the highest and lowest rates of psychopathy.

Compartmentising conflicting beliefs

In The Mind’s Compartments Create Conflicting Beliefs Michael Shermer looks at "how our modular brains lead us to deny and distort evidence".
If you have pondered how intelligent and educated people can, in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence, believe that evolution is a myth, that global warming is a hoax, that vaccines cause autism and asthma, that 9/11 was orchestrated by the Bush administration, conjecture no more. The explanation is in what I call logic-tight compartments—modules in the brain analogous to watertight compartments in a ship.

Australia's recent heat wave

NASA has an interesting map of Land Surface Temperature Anomaly during Australia's recent heatwave.

A number of climatologists from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology have written What’s causing Australia’s heat wave?:
This warming has been strongly attributed to increasing greenhouse gases from human activities. While there are a number of influences on the climate system, such as changing solar radiation and changing atmospheric aerosols, it is very clear that warming has been dominated by increased carbon dioxide levels.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Perception of employment benefits by income level

Possum Comitatus posted this graph on Twitter. I think it's very informative.

BEST Study: Climate changed result of green house gases and volcanoes

In BEST Study Finds Temperature Changes Explained by GHG Emissions and Volcanoes Slashdot is reporting that:
"The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature studies latest release finds that land surface temperature changes since 1750 are nearly completely explained by increases in greenhouse gases and large volcanic eruptions. They also said that including solar forcing did not significantly improve the fit. Unlike the other major temperature records BEST used nearly all available temperature records instead of just a representative sample. Yet to come is an analysis that includes ocean temperatures."

America's fascination with often flawed financial advice

In Saving on lattes will not make you rich the Economist interviews Helaine Olen, author of "Pound Foolish" on  the deeply flawed financial advice Americans receive.

On poverty

In This is Poverty Nikki McWatters describes the hardship of raising three kids on a single parent pension.
Ninety per cent of dole recipients live in a state of deprivation and poverty. It is a cruel maze, difficult to escape from and not one any parent would choose willingly. To blame the poor for their condition is to crawl back to post-industrial England.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Principles of Australia's welfare system

According to Matt Cowgill in Welfare reform: can we have it all?:
Three central principles in the Australian welfare system are:
  • Payments should be sufficient to protect people from poverty.
  • Payments should be means tested and targeted to people on low incomes.
  • ‘Poverty traps’ should be avoided. It should be financially worthwhile for people to take a job, or to increase their hours of work.
 Matt shows, using some simple examples, that you can implement policies that can achieve two of these principles, but not all three:

If you want to argue that our welfare system, which already has less ‘middle class welfare’ than any other in the OECD, should be even more tightly targeted to low income earners then that’s fine. Just don’t pretend that by doing so you can also call for an adequate payment and one with low barriers to work. Pick any two out of three; you can’t have it all.
Worth reading.

Monday, 14 January 2013

The irrationality of religion

Jared Diamond has an interesting piece on why it's irrational to be religious.

Are high wages the driver for innovation

In What really powers innovation: high wages Tim Harford ponders the question "Why did the industrial revolution take off in the UK rather than in China?". His answer, the UK had higher wages and lower energy costs which acted as an economic incentive to increase automation. By contrast countries like India and China were the opposite.
According to Bob Allen’s calculations, had a French entrepreneur been presented with easy-assemble instructions for the spinning jenny in 1780, it would scarcely have been worth building it. In India, it would have been a definite loss-maker. But in the UK, the annual rate of return was almost 40 per cent. So much for the genius of British engineering: it wasn’t that nobody else could develop labour-saving machines, it was that nobody else needed them.
This is a persuasive explanation for the location of the industrial revolution, but it is also a solution to the puzzle with which this column began, because Bob Allen’s view of innovation points towards a self-reinforcing spiral. High wages lead to investment in labour-saving technology; that investment means that each worker will be operating more powerful equipment and producing more; this process in turn raises the productivity of labour and tends to raise wages. The incentive to innovate further only continues.
An interesting idea.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

George Monbiot on Australia's heatwave and politics

In Heatwave: Australia's new weather demands a new politics George Monbiot writes:
As James Hansen and colleagues showed in a paper published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the occurrence of extremely hot events has risen by a factor of around 50 by comparison to the decades before 1980. Extreme summer heat, which afflicted between 0.1% and 0.2% of the world 40 years ago, now affects 10%. They warned that "an important change is the emergence of a category of summertime extremely hot outliers, more than three standard deviations (3σ) warmer than the climatology of the 1951–1980 base period". An extremely hot outlier is a good description of what is roasting Australia at the moment.