Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Gladwell on Macintyre on Philby and the problem of trust

In Trust No One Malcolm Gladwell looks at Ben Macintyre’s book A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal:
“A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal” (Crown) is the latest in Ben Macintyre’s series on twentieth-century espionage (including the best-selling “Operation Mincemeat”). All are superb, and “A Spy Among Friends” is no exception. Macintyre gives the familiar story of Philby new life, putting the case in its full social context.
I found it especially interesting because in the middle of the article Gladwell talks about the damage caused by two very different security models: the high trust model and the trust no one model. The former is prone to false negative errors (traitors like Philby), the latter to false positives (Wright erroneously accusing a prime minister of treason). But which is worse? In the former case secrets are lost and lives destroyed (literally in the Philby case when betrayed agents were executed by the Soviets). In the second, organisations may become unworkable resulting in nothing being achieved. As the article asks:
What did more damage—Philby’s treachery or the subsequent obsession among spy officials with preventing future Philbys?

It did make me wonder if a country might be better off having no intelligence service at all.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Blueberry Muffins

Donna Hay recipe for Too-Easy Blueberry Muffins. It even has a video on how to make it.

Most Americans favour a carbon tax if revenue neutral or the proceeds spent on renewables

A recent survey Public Views on a Carbon Tax Depend on the Proposed Use of Revenue found that the majority of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, are in favour of a carbon tax if the revenue raised is returned to tax payers or spent on renewable energy.

Quoting the key findings of the study:
  1. Most Americans oppose a carbon tax when the use of tax revenue is left unspecified. Overall support for such a tax is 34% in the latest NSEE survey. Attaching a specific cost to the carbon tax reduces overall support to 29%.
  2. A revenue-neutral carbon tax, in which all tax revenue would be returned to the public as a rebate check, receives 56% support. The largest gains in support come from Republicans.
  3. A carbon tax with revenues used to fund research and development for renewable energy programs receives 60% support, the highest among tax options that we presented. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents each express support for this tax.
  4. Most respondents oppose a carbon tax with revenues used to reduce the federal budget deficit. Overall support for such a tax is 38% with a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents each expressing opposition to this tax.
  5. When asked which use of revenue they prefer if a carbon tax were enacted, pluralities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents each prefer renewable energy over tax rebate checks or deficit reduction.

GDP growth since 2007, G7 economies and Australia

Wayne Swan tweeted this graph showing the economic growth of various economies since the GFC:
Economy doomsayers can’t explain why the Australian economy is one of the fastest growing (15% larger since 2007)

Numbers of people subject to the top marginal tax rate - 1982/3 vs 2012/3

Another graph tweeted by Matt Cowgill:
The top tax rate doesn't kick in until you earn about 2.5 times male ave earnings; the # who face it has fallen a lot

Comparing the marginal tax rate on top incomes vs average incomes

Another tweet from Matt Cowgill comparing the marginal tax rate on top incomes vs average incomes:
Marginal tax rate on top income earners is nearly 15 ppts lower than it was in 1982-83; MTR for average earner=higher

Note, MTAWE = Male Total Average Weekly Earnings

Federal Government receipts as a proportion of GDP

Matt Cowgill tweeted the following graph of Federal Government receipts as a proportion of GDP:

The GFC increased public debt

Michael Pascoe in Why our financial minnows are still too big to fail takes a look at a recent speech by Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens. Stevens gave a "carefully considered presentation on how economic policy makers handled and perhaps should handle the global financial crisis".

One of Steven's observations Pascoe highlighted was the increase in public debt due to the GFC:
And then there was another “it’s not about Australia” observation by the governor that nonetheless is worth remembering in the local political context:

“One of the difficulties has been that public debt burdens rose sharply. This was partly as a result of the cost of fiscal stimulus measures and bank recapitalisations in some cases, but it was mainly because of the depth of the downturn in economic activity.

"A financial crisis and deep recession can easily add 20 or 30 percentage points to the ratio of debt to GDP, and did so in a number of cases.”

If you don’t like the (relatively low) level of Australian government debt now, consider what it might be if we hadn’t “gone early and hard” with stimulus. 

And, no, it wasn’t just China that saved Australia from recession – one of the more obviously weird claims regularly made from the loonier edge of the right.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Agreeing with people might be the best way to change their attitudes

In Propaganda for peace? To change attitudes, don't argue — agree, extremely Julia Rosen writes about a study that found a better way to change people's minds might be to show them extreme versions of their beliefs:
What if the best way to change minds isn’t to tell people why they’re wrong, but to tell them why they’re right? Scientists tried this recently and discovered that agreeing with people can be a surprisingly powerful way to shake up strongly held beliefs.

Researchers found that showing people extreme versions of ideas that confirmed — not contradicted — their opinions on a deeply divisive issue actually caused them to reconsider their stance and become more receptive to other points of view. The scientists attribute this to the fact that the new information caused people to see their views as irrational or absurd, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
However, it doesn't seem to work on all people:
There is also a risk of backfire — some people in the study took the videos at face value, assimilating the extreme messages into their personal beliefs. And, of course, nothing would stop governments or organisations from employing the same technique to promote their own agendas.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Some cooking websites

Seven easy steps to becoming a better cook recommends the following websites:
  • - a subscription service that indexes your own library of cookbooks, allowing you to search by ingredient, special diet, season and course. A brilliant time-saver.
  • - a comprehensive one-stop shop for recipes, videos and forums that envelop you in an online community.
  • - Rohan Anderson chronicles his huntin'-fishin'-growin' sustainable lifestyle on his Ballarat property.
  • - no one does inspirational food and travel porn quite like Sydney-based cookbook author and photographer Katie Quinn Davies.
  • - Delia Smith, the famously no-nonsense British cooking doyenne, hits the web with excellent instructional videos for the novice (how to separate an egg white; how to skin and deseed tomatoes), as well as recipes and a smattering of product placement.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Vaccines - the lies parents are told

Dr Jennifer Raff has written a great piece on her Violent metaphors blog about vaccines: Dear parents, you are being lied to.

Tony Abbott the journalist "lacked fairness and balance"

Damien Murphy has some quotes from Tony Abbott's old editor at the now defunct The Bulletin in Tony Abbott's old editor says he lacked fairness and balance. Murphy writes:
In fact, he only arrived at The Australian after encountering problems as a feature writer with the Packer-owned magazine The Bulletin.

Mr Abbott's misadventures with a typewriter came to a head in 1988 when his editor, David Dale, asked him to rewrite an article five times.

"Tony couldn't seem to get the idea that a feature for The Bulletin had to be fair and balanced," Dale said on Monday. "I told him if he kept going like that he had no future on the magazine."

Mr Abbott went on to work briefly in a concrete factory before joining The Australian as an editorial writer.
I'm sure Tony Abbott fitted right in at the The Australian.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Why Doctors will be forced to charge more...

Over at Crikey's health blog Marie McInerney has an interesting table in the article GP co-payments – deregulation of the bulk billing market. It shows how payments to doctors will change under the Government's GP co-payment proposal:

Note, Doctors will also receive $5 less for non-bulked billed consultations so expect them to go up as well.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Increasing minimum wages may be a good thing

Ross Gittins in Minimum wage rises don't lift unemployment, analysts agree looks at economic research suggesting that increasing the minimum wage may actually be good for employment.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Stiglitz compares Australia to the US

Joseph Stiglitz compares Australia to the US in Inequality: Why Australia must not follow the US.
The combination of unequal education opportunities and access to healthcare and inadequate systems of social protection translates into poor average performance of our children - well below the average of the advanced countries in standardised tests, in contrast to Australia, whose children perform well above average. Contrary to what some in Australia’s government have suggested, support for poor families is not only a moral imperative, it is an investment in the country’s future.

Two big lessons of economic research over the past 10 years are that inequality is not the result of inexorable laws of economics but rather of policy; and that countries that adopt policies that lead to high inequality pay a high price - inequality not only leads to a divided society and undermines democracy, but it weakens economic performance. Hopefully, as Australia debates its new government’s budget and economic “reforms,” it bears this in mind.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Stiglitz on Australia

In Tony Abbott's changes to universities and health 'a crime, absurd', says Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz Peter Martin writes:
Asked by Fairfax Media to nominate the two biggest mistakes the government could make that would take it down the American path of widening inequality and economic stagnation, Professor Stiglitz chose the budget changes to university fees and Medicare. Each would make Australia more like the US.

"Countries that imitate the American model are kidding themselves," he said. "It seems that some people here would like to emulate the American model. I don't fully understand the logic."

In the lead-up to the budget Education Minister Christopher Pyne said Australia had much to learn about universities from overseas, "not least … from our friends in the United States".

Professor Stiglitz said Australia had "a system that is really a model for the rest of the world", and deregulating fees would move the entire system in the wrong direction.

"Trying to pretend that universities are like private markets is absurd. The worst-functioning part of the US educational market at the tertiary level is the private for-profit system,'' he said. ''It is a disaster. It excels in one area, exploiting poor children.

"If you're rich your parents can pay the fees, but if you are poor you are going to worry about how much debt you're undertaking.

"It is a way of closing off opportunity and that's why the US doesn't have educational opportunity.

"While we in the US are trying to re-regulate universities, you are talking about deregulating them. It really is a crime."
Asked what Australia had done right that the US had not, he said: "unions".
The elite, the top one per cent are not too concerned. When you have so much inequality those at the top say: I don't need public transportation, I have a helicopter, I don't need public schools, I don't need all these other public services and so the result of that is - you look at America today we have some of the best universities, but our average education performance is mediocre.”

The spin of earn and learn

Greg Jericho writes in Hang on, youths already earn and learn that youth unemployment mirrors overall unemployment.
When it comes to either earning or learning the 15-19-year-olds are doing that in record numbers. In May about 92 per cent of youth aged 15 to 19 years of age were either working or learning. This includes about 44 per cent who were employed, 5.7 per cent who were unemployed but doing full-time education and 42 per cent who were not in the labour force but were attending full-time education.
There has always been a strong link between the percentage of 20-24-year-olds out of work and not attending education and the total unemployment rate.
Earning or learning sounds great, but not when the number of jobs is declining, and you have reached a point where you have already done a fair amount of learning. Do you do another TAFE course? Another degree?

And the problem is it's not like you can just pick your job. The jobs market is tough - and has become tougher in the past two years.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

How many charities are there in Australia?

Sarah Dingle in Why put the charity watchdog to sleep? writes that there may be more than 60,000 charities and not-for profit organisations registered by the ATO in Australia. The problem is no one knows how many are still operating.

Mushroom and noodle stir-fry

Jeremy & Jane Strode's Mushroom stir-fry.

Buttered banana pudding

Dan Lepard's Hot buttered banana pudding.

Pea and ricotta risotto

Neil Perry's Pea, mint and ricotta risotto.


Frank Camorra's Fish congee.

Fried rice

Karen Martini's Fried rice with chicken, ginger and egg.

Link to recipe for banana, dried apricot and sultana bread

Lynne Mullins' Banana, dried apricot and sultana bread.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Lemon and lime biscuit recipe

Lemon and lime biscuits from the Good Food collection

Lemon curd biscuits

Lemon curd sandwiches from the Good Food collection

Orange and lemon syrup cupcake recipe

Orange and lemon syrup cupcakes from the Good Food collection

Moroccan orange tart recipe

Moroccan orange tart with mascarpone by Neil Perry

Ricotta, orange and cocoa biscuits

Ricotta, orange and cocoa ravioli by Steve Manfredi:

Flourless citrus hazelnut cake recipe

Flourless citrus hazelnut cake by Luke Mangan.

Orange and almond cake

Moist orange and almond cake by Luke Mangan:

Chocolate oranges recipe

Chocolate oranges from the Good Food collection:

A lemon meringue pie recipe

Lemon meringue pie by Jeremy & Jane Strode:

Orange yoghurt cake

Orange yoghurt syrup cake from Caroline Velik:

Why Australia's electricity prices are too high

Jess Hill in Power corrupts How network companies lined their pockets and drove electricity prices through the roof explains how the companies providing the electrical grid are ripping off consumers:
In the past few years, our electricity prices have doubled. While the media has feasted on the likes of pink batts, Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson, the astonishing story behind these price hikes has been all but ignored. And yet, it may be one of the greatest rorts in Australia’s history.

Since 2009, the electricity networks that own and manage our “poles and wires” have quietly spent $45 billion on the most expensive project this country has ever seen. Allowed to run virtually unchecked, they’ve spent vast sums on infrastructure we don’t need, and have charged it all to us, with an additional fee attached. The spending was approved by a federal regulator, and yet the federal government didn’t even note it until it was well underway.

Let’s be clear: this is the single biggest reason power prices have skyrocketed. According to the federal treasury, 51% of your electricity bill goes towards “network charges”. The carbon tax, despite relentless propaganda to the contrary, is small beer, comprising just 9%. The rest of your bill is carved up between those companies that actually generate your electricity (20%) and the retailers who package it up and sell it to you (20%). The Renewable Energy Target is such a small cost impost, the treasury’s analysis doesn’t even include it; the Australian Energy Market Commission says it makes up around 5%.

Thanks to the networks’ infrastructure binge, we now pay some of the highest prices in the developed world. The impact has been felt most keenly in New South Wales and Queensland, where the networks are government owned and network charges have accounted for two thirds of the price increases.

Bolognese and kale recipe

Pete Evans has a Bolognese with kale and paleo parmesan

Some busted food myths

Larissa Dubecki sets the record straight in True or false: 21 great food myths.