Saturday, 30 November 2013

What gives us the right to deport people? – News and views for Saturday 30 November

News and views noted along the way.
  • What gives us a right to deport people? Joseph Carens on the ethics of immigration “In the wake of the Holocaust, most people in democratic states felt a profound shame about the fact that their countries had refused to respond to the needs of Jews fleeing the Nazis. We all recognized that failure and vowed, “Never again,” and so we set up the Geneva Convention refugee system. And now all the rich states have set up systems to prevent people from accessing that system. You have to get a visa if you are coming to a rich state from a poor one, and if they think you will ask for asylum, they won’t give you a visa. The boats and planes asylum-seekers come on are subject to tremendous sanctions if they transport people without the right documents. So, we’re excluding people. And some of the people who are denied visas are in fact eligible for asylum. They are clearly refugees. It’s an indiscriminate exclusionary system. In taking this approach, we have put the burden of taking care of refugees onto the neighboring states. Those are generally poor countries, as in the case of Jordan taking in Syrian refugees. That’s just unfair, and it’s a deep problem. I don’t see a political solution to it, because there’s not much interest in doing anything about it.”
  • JD Salinger stories leaked online
  • Why did Pope Benedict XVI resign?

Friday, 29 November 2013

Now that’s what I call a proper Friday night drink – Boswell entertains at home

On October 13, 1783 there were three men at dinner at Auchinleck, and between them they polished off three bottles of claret, two bottles of port, two bottles of Lisbon, three bottles of Mountain and one bottle of rum. Three days later six men sat down to dinner, but did not rise until they had emptied seven bottles of claret, two “Scotch pints” of claret (each of which was equivalent to three English pints, and thus to approximately two normal bottles), three bottles of port, one bottle of Lisbon, two bottles of Madeira, one bottle of Mountain and one bottle of rum.
You might think that, after such indulgence, a day or so of dry toast and herbal tea might be just the thing. But the following day seven men were at table, and if anything they exceeded the potations of the previous evening. They again drank seven bottles of claret, two Scotch pints of claret, and three bottles of port, before varying the conclusion of the entertainment with two bottles of Lisbon, one bottle of Madeira and no fewer than three bottles of rum. Boswell’s journal entry after this debauch says something for his stamina:
I drank a great deal of wine without feeling any bad effect…While I kept the highest pitch of jollity, I at the same time maintained the peculiar decorum of the family of Auchinleck.
From Boswell’s Life of Dissipation  – the latest column delving into matters alcoholic by Saintsbury in Standpoint that looks back into the cache of Boswell papers which surfaced during the last century at Malahide Castle in Ireland that includes the manuscript book in which Boswell kept a record of the guests he entertained at Auchinleck, and of what they drank on each evening.

Politicians and their abuse of scientific language - News and views for Friday 29 November

News and views noted along the way.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Small steps toward an agreement on climate change - News and views for Thursday 28 November

News and views noted along the way.
  • Beer-Tapping Physics: Why A Hit To A Bottle Makes A Foam Volcano
  • Darkness surrounds Japan's secrecy debate - "The governing Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner New Komeito, together with Your Party and other smaller groups, on Tuesday passed the special state secrecy bill in the lower house. ... Classified information will be designated by the heads of government ministries if the bill goes into law. Confidentiality will be maintained in the national defense, diplomacy, espionage and terrorism fields as special state secrets. People that leak such information face up to 10 years in prison. What will constitute a state secret? That remains vague. People may receive information without knowing it is classified and be accused of breaking the law."
  • This Is How You Lower Corporate Taxes
2013-11-27_new study

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Welcoming the Daily Mail to Australia – it will fit in nicely

Some of my twittering friends have reacted with horror to the forthcoming arrival of an Australian Daily Mail website but for the life of me I don’t know why. It seems to me that the British version has become the most read newspaper site in the world for one very simple reason – it gives people stories that they actually want to read. And what can be wrong with that? I’m sure that the same formula will as successful here as in the UK when people start voting with their clicks.
Perhaps it’s because of the years I spent writing for Tasmanian and Melbourne Truth before graduating to the Financial Times of London and The Economist that has taught me not to be too precious about such matters. Each to his or her own. One of the biggest mistakes a journalist can make is letting a view of what people should be interested in dominate writing about the things people actually are interested in. The Mail does not make that kind of error although if you scroll past the tits and bums you will find plenty of stories and opinions to satisfy most tastes even though many of them come nowhere near the top of the most read lists.
And it is not as if the existing Australian newspaper sites have their worthy and serious pieces as their most popular. Tonight’s Guardian summary (although it appears to be weighted to the UK edition):
And The Australian’s:
2013-11-27_theozmostreadNeither of which are much different to that of the most read Australian site really:
The Mail will fit in very nicely with that lot I’m sure. But probably just do it better.

Dangerous link between power and hubris in politics

By Peter Garrard, Reader in Neurology at St George’s, University of London writing in The Conversation (UK)
Most people agree on the qualities that a leader should have: we prefer to follow people who are confident, decisive, ambitious and persuasive rather than the insecure, dithering, apathetic and weak. So it’s not surprising that the people who possess these leadership qualities are those who seek, and often achieve, positions of power and influence.
There is, however, a dark side to power, which derives from its mind-changing effects on the people who hold it: the reluctance of subordinates to criticise or question leading to contempt for the views of others; successful outcomes of bold decisions blurring the boundaries between judgement and recklessness; personal status within an organisation generalising into a belief in “special qualities”.
The greater the power, the greater the risk of these cognitive distortions taking hold and the worse the devastation when things go wrong, as they surely must when contact with reality is lost.
An increasingly popular way of describing this pattern of behaviour is by using the term “hubris”. In ancient Greece, where it was a legal term, hubris denoted the equivalent of grievous bodily harm; in modern English hubris has come to refer to recklessness and overconfidence among those who wield power in financial or political arenas – particularly when it leads to spectacular or disastrous errors of judgement.
The behaviour of Fred Goodwin while he was CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland and of the senior management at Enron, are popular examples from the world of finance. George W Bush’s embarrassingly premature announcement of “mission accomplished” aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln less than two months after the allied invasion of Iraq is perhaps the most celebrated example in the political sphere. What all have in common, however, is the contrast between the self-confidence of the leader and the devastating aftermath of their decisions.

These might seem like isolated and extreme examples, but once recognised, this pattern of behaviour is not hard to discern in other contexts, and the stereotypical nature of its development suggests a biological level explanation. The links between testosterone level and the experience of success was documented in a series of experiments conducted on Wall Street traders by the banker-turned-neuroscientist John Coates. The effect of power on the release of dopamine, activating the brain’s reward network occupies numerous behavioural neuroscience laboratories.
Combining his experience as a senior politician (British Foreign Secretary, 1977-79), medical neurologist and neuropharmacology researcher, David Owen has claimed the acquisition of power can, in a susceptible individual, induce a unique pattern of behavioural traits and expressed beliefs, which, he suggests, should be recognised as a distinct personality disorder: “Hubris Syndrome”.

Margaret Thatcher: ‘We’ are rejoicing. John Giles/PA Archive
To support this claim, Owen looked at the personal, medical and political histories of a series of 20th century UK prime ministers and US presidents and identified a common set of features that could (following traditional methodology or psychiatric disorders) be used as diagnostic criteria. The features included not only the narcissistic and antisocial tendencies already identified (exaggerated self-belief; contempt for others; an insatiable appetite for self-glorification) but also novel behaviours, such as a tendency to refer to themselves in the third person, to use the royal “we”, to identify themselves with the nation and to take decisions in an increasingly impulsive fashion.

Candidates for hubris syndrome

After eliminating those whose behaviour might have been influenced by psychiatric co-morbidity, alcohol or drugs, Owen identified three political leaders from the USA and UK who met criteria for a diagnosis of Hubris Syndrome: the former US president, George W. Bush, and prime ministers David Lloyd-George, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Tony Blair: ‘Hubristic? Us?’ Sean Dempsey/PA Wire
When I read Owen and Davidson’s report of their research and findings in the neurology journal Brain, I experienced the thrill of recognising an unanswered scientific question that was not just important, but simply addressed. I had been working with archived language produced by authors who went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease in later life, trying to identify markers for the effects of the disease on language, and to determine how long before the emergence of symptoms these changes could be detected. I wondered whether a similar approach could be taken in hubris syndrome, realising that extensive records of language use in two of the Hubris Syndrome sufferers (Blair and Thatcher), sampled at regular intervals over the course of their tenure of office, were freely available in the form of speeches delivered to the House of Commons at the weekly prime minister’s questions and then transcribed for the official record (Hansard).

Lloyd George: knew your father. PA Archive
Members of my neuroscience research group at St George’s, University of London set to work looking for words, phrases and patterns of language use that changed in a consistent fashion as the years spent in power increased. John Major’s speeches were used as a control condition, as Owen and Davidson had found no evidence of Hubris Syndrome from his time as prime minister.
We found a number of candidate markers: true to Owen’s criteria we saw changes in the relative frequency of “we” and “I” in the speeches of Blair and Thatcher at times when they were enjoying particular success or popularity.

Peter Garrard
A text’s key words are those that appear in it with the highest likelihood compared to a relevant set of reference texts. “Keyness” is simply a measure of this likelihood. The graph shows changes in the keyness of “we” relative to “I” by year of office for the three Prime Ministers that we studied. The contributions of all other speakers in PMQs were used as the reference texts.
This marker is particularly informative in Blair’s language, and it was interesting that the initial peak corresponded to his early, successful uses of military deployment in pursuit of foreign policy (in Kosovo and Sierra Leone). The smaller peak in Margaret Thatcher’s values coincides with the year of her re-election and the aftermath of the Falkland’s War
We also saw that words indicating self-confidence (such as “sure” and “certain”) gained in frequency as time spent in office increased, as did text entropy (a measure of unpredictability borrowed from information theory). We interpreted the latter as potentially indicative of the “restlessness, recklessness and impulsiveness” that Owen and Davidson had identified as one of the unique diagnostic criteria for Hubris syndrome.

Can hubris be controlled?

Our third question (can hubris syndrome be controlled, prevented or otherwise reined in?) is the most difficult of the three. A comforting truth is that democratic elections and government by cabinet with collective responsibility have immunised many modern nation states against the excesses of individuals whose authority is or becomes inalienable. But hubristic leadership in organisations where no such checks and balances exist can have devastating consequences.
In Greek mythology, Daedalus warned his son Icarus against flying too high or too low on the wings that he made to allow them both to escape captivity. Icarus, intoxicated by the experience of flight, ignored the advice and paid the ultimate penalty. The Daedalus Trust was established in 2011 to encourage recognition of the dangers of the “intoxication of power”, and to promote and fund research into its causes, manifestations and prevention. Through the medium of open meetings the message has been spreading among academics, scientists, and the business community, but it is clear that the enemy is still out there, and much hard work remains to be done.
Peter Garrard sits on the steering committee and research advisory panel of the Daedalus Trust.
The Conversation
This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

On firing your advisers - a quote for the day

If you are in a position of power and responsibility you need advisers. The main job of your advisers is to stop you saying something stupid in public. You say it to your advisers first, in private. If it's stupid, your advisors should tell you it's stupid. That's their job. If they fail to tell you it's stupid, and you say it in public, and the public tells you it's stupid, and you realise the public is right, you should fire your advisers. They have failed to do their job.
Update: you don't fire your advisers because they disagree with you; you fire your advisers because they didn't disagree with you when they should have disagreed with you.
- Nick Rowe on the blog Worthwhile Canadian Initiative

Hardly a crisis headline – Jakarta Post reports on Indonesian reaction

So far so good it seems for Tony Abbott’s attempt to put an end to the wrangling with Indonesia over past Australian spying.

Pope Francis Calls Unfettered Capitalism ‘A New Tyranny’ – News and views for Wednesday 27 November

Some news and views noted while browsing.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Pressure builds for tougher UK bank reform

George Osborne will on Tuesday face fresh demands to toughen up “inadequate” new banking regulation as public pressure mounts over the controversies plaguing Royal Bank of Scotland, the Co-operative Bank and payday lenders.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, will join Lord Lawson, the former Tory chancellor, and other senior peers in seeking to amend Mr Osborne’s banking reform bill, which is intended to draw a line under the banking scandals of the last five years.The peers want a robust licensing regime for senior bankers below board level, draconian sanctions for banks that undermine the new “ringfence” separating high street lending from investment banking and other new powers for regulators.

Stopping minor party nonsense – South Australia leads the way

An interesting story today on the In Daily – Adelaide Independent News site that predicts that in South Australia something will be done to stop the lunacy of candidates with virtually no votes in their own right winning seats in the parliamentary upper house.
The story says that new laws to bar Upper House candidates who can’t gather more than 2.5 per cent of the primary vote from collecting preferences will be rushed through parliament this week.
After intense negotiations between the main players in the last fortnight, a deal has been agreed to add a further amendment to have a 2.5 per cent minimum vote qualification.
“It means that if you can’t get 2.5 per cent of the primary vote, then you are not eligible to ‘receive’ preferences,” Shadow Attorney-General Stephen Wade told InDaily.
“As candidates are eliminated, their preferences will only go to candidates above that 2.5 line.
“It will prevent the coordinated harvesting that’s happened in a few recent elections.”
The Bill also proposes changes to prevent candidates “sending a message” with their group name or using common members in group qualification.
The  changes include:
  • A single candidate for the House of Assembly be required to obtain the support and signature of  20 electors and a candidate for the Legislative Council 100 electors (as opposed to the current requirement of two). This is unlikely to get broad support and is expected to be knocked out.
  • Only political parties and groups may lodge a voting ticket and hence obtain an  ‘above the line’  voting ticket square.
  • If candidates group together, they must have the supporting signatures of different electors.
  • Limits to the number of descriptive words that may be provided adjacent to a candidate or group name on the Legislative Council ballot paper from five or less words to two words. An amendment from “Nick Xenophon Group” candidate John Darley, to increase this to three words, is expected to be approved.
  • The ballot paper will be required to list candidates and groups in an order beginning with registered political party groups, independent groups and then lastly independents candidates.
Attorney-General John Rau said the current South Australian laws had too many loop holes that could be used to lever an almost unsupported candidate into a seat in parliament.
“The Government believes that these outcomes are undemocratic,” he said.
“This capacity to manipulate the system needs to be addressed.”

Dr Who at the box office – News and views for Tuesday 26 November

Some items noted while browsing along the way.

The ABC’s Fairfax fascination and a dose of anti-Abbott bias

As an avid ABC listener I was subjected yesterday to repeated versions of stories like this one that appeared on the ABC website:
As an avowed disbeliever in the point of opinion polls measuring voting intention a long way from an election, I made my views about the page one efforts of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age known yesterday in my little item The great opinion polling irrelevance. It was little better than fictional nonsense and proved as such today when in The Australian Newspoll version of the state of the nation came out with the Coalition having a four point led over Labor with Essential putting the score at Coalition 53% to Labor’s 47%.
Given my prejudice against the reporting of opinion polls I can hardly express anger that the ABC largely ignored the story all day today but I was surprised at the difference in treatment. Labor in front – a big news story. Government still comfortably in the lead, give it the barest of mentions and move on to something else.
And in the story that the ABC did so briefly run, how about this for the angle of the day?
2013-11-26_abcandnewspollMuch more of this kind of bias and, heaven forbid, I might end up agreeing with Janet Albrechtsen about the need for some editorial reform at the national broadcaster. She went on about that at length in the Oz today with the highlight being this Albrechtian gem about the publication of Indonesian phone tapping documents:
2013-11-26_albrechtsenAnd that in a publication of the company that knows more about criminally obtained information than any other publisher in the world.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Is this a Guardian joke? Labor strategist Bruce Hawker to address negative campaigning as Ed Miliband accuses David Cameron of mud-slinging

I guess it’s true because I read it in the paper. didn’t you? Bruce Hawker, fresh from his recent triumphs for Kevin Rudd and Labor in Australia, flying off to London to help the British Labour Party? Surely not. But then the website of the Guardian tells me:
Labour is to receive advice this week from an Australian Labor campaign manager on how to combat negative election campaigning by rightwing media. …
The Australian Labor campaign strategist Bruce Hawker is due to speak to the Labour party this week on the impact of the Murdoch press in defeating Labor’s Kevin Rudd. In an article in the magazine Progress, he says the Murdoch press always had major stories ready to distract the public from Labor’s positive messages.
He advises Labour: “It is important to hang a lantern on any media-led campaign against Labour well before the election is called so you do not waste precious campaigning time exposing the motivation behind their attacks, as we were forced to do. Second, enlist allies and third parties to reinforce your message about media bias. Research and publicise the concrete examples early and often. Put together a team to ‘war-game’ possible attacks by hostile media outlets and how to pre-empt them or respond effectively. Utilise social media as a strong alternative means of disseminating your message.
“It is also a very effective medium to lampoon and expose media bias. And enlist their competition to expose bias. Remember, your enemy’s enemy is your friend”.
Maybe the Owl’s British Election Indicator is wrong about the chances of British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron after all!

The great opinion polling irrelevance

The great media obsession with opinion polls continues. The Fairfax tabloids this morning both report that Labor is now leading the Liberal-Nationals. Not only reports it but pretends it is somehow significant by putting it all over page one.

Scotland's referendum date set and what are the chances?

The Owl is a believer in the markets being the best indicator of likely political outcomes. Hence the series of Political Indicators you will regularly find on this site giving a probability of various results occurring.
Now that the Scottish government has set March 24, 2016 as the date Scotland will become independent of the United Kingdom if a majority of Scots vote to end their 306-year-old union next year it is time for our first Scottish Independence Indicator.