Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Political Consultant Racket and other news and views

The Political Consultant Racket - Consultants want their clients to win, but they also need their businesses to survive. Despite mounting evidence that the effects of TV on the electorate can be uncertain and often short-lived, television remains the single largest expenditure in most campaigns because candidates think they need it to win — and because it is the most reliable source of revenue and the most lucrative part of the consulting business. The economic incentives of the consulting industry are driving up the cost of campaigns. ... In some ways, consultants are like the microscopic bugs in our gut that help us metabolize food: Consultants help candidates and campaigns metabolize money, but their work leaves the body politic hungry for more. The result is a system of big money donors, expensive campaigns and incessant political ads. Free speech is not really free. Money talks in American politics, and the political consulting industry is the main beneficiary — no matter which candidate eventually wins.

The More We Poll, the Less We Know

Are Primary Polls Finally Predictive? No, but This Is When the Fun Starts

Democrats, Beware: Billionaires Can Still Buy Elections Very Easily - Does money matter in politics anymore? If you focus on just presidential elections, you might be inclined to say no. At least, that’s the opinion Gabriel Sherman amplifies in New York magazine, pointing to the two—OK, one and a half—post–Citizens United elections and finding Republican mega-donors disappointed by their efforts to use super PACs to buy a president. ... There are areas of politics where a flood of money can make a huge difference: namely, virtually everything but the presidential race. Super PACs in lower-profile elections don’t have to contend with pre-drawn narratives and rigid top-of-the-ticket voting patterns.

Climate Chaos, Across the Map

What a turn-up for the books: a big spending, big taxing Liberal party - Put conventional wisdom aside. Malcolm Turnbull’s party is delivering high government spending and high taxation and that’s big government, not small.

Asia in 2016: Elections - Countries with a combined population of over 400m will go to the polls in Asia in 2016. Uncertain economic conditions will favour incumbents. In the majority of cases The Economist Intelligence Unit expects the government or those aligned with the incumbent administration to be returned.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Ronald Reagan remembered: “It’s true that hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?”

Can Trump’s Clinton Sex Scandal Revival Hurt Hillary? - This week Donald Trump pulled off yet another remarkable political feat: while several of his rivals have tried and failed to turn Bill Clinton's decades-old sex scandals into a 2016 campaign issue, Trump is actually making it happen.

Unhappy Political Families: Why Europe's Mainstream Parties are Faltering - Populist insurgencies threaten establishment politics in France, Spain, and even Germany.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Investigated for Lèse Majesté - Last week, in a move that was shocking despite the cooling U.S.-Thailand relationship, the Thai government announced that the U.S. ambassador in Bangkok, Glyn Davies, was being investigated on suspicion of having insulted King Bhumibhol Adulyadej. Ambassador Davies had spoken to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in late November. During his talk, according to the New York Times, Davies criticized the “long prison sentences handed to some of those found guilty of criticizing [the] king” under Thailand’slèse majesté laws, generally considered the harshest in the world. 

Behind the Ronald Reagan myth: “No one had ever entered the White House so grossly ill informed” - Reagan embarrassed himself in news conferences, Cabinet meetings. Recalling how GOP cringed at his lack of interest. 
His team devised ingenious ways to get him to pay attention. Aware that he was obsessed with movies, his national security adviser had the CIA put together a film on world leaders the president was scheduled to encounter. His defense secretary stooped lower. He got Reagan to sign off on production of the MX missile by showing him a cartoon. Once again, the president made a joke of his lack of involvement: “It’s true that hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?”

The north pole gets a heat wave while it's an honourable mention for Laura Tingle in other news and views

Worst word or phrase of 2015 announced by Plain English Foundation
Worst euphemism of the year: We've heard many euphemisms for fibbing over the years. "Over-firm denial" might just be our new favourite. The UK's Tory party chairman was found to have worked a second job under another name when he was a serving MP. When asked why he had previously denied this, he admitted that his denials were "overly-firmly" stated.
Mixed metaphor of the year: An honourable mention goes to Laura Tingle of the Australian Financial Review:
The high moral ground has become such a tiny wedge in the ocean for the government to stand on.
The Best Worst Quotes of 2015 - The top 20 bloviations, lies, and just plain dumb lines from U.S. government officials and politicians this year.
No. 9: Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Central Command:
“I don’t currently know the specific goals and objectives of the Saudi campaign [in Yemen], and I would have to know that to be able to assess the likelihood of success.” (Hearing on U.S. Central Command, U.S. Africa Command, and U.S. Special Operations Command Programs and Budget, Senate Armed Services Committee, March 26, 2015)
Just days later, an anonymous Pentagon official stated, “If you ask why we’re backing this…the answer you’re going to get from most people — if they were being honest — is that we weren’t going to be able to stop it.” To summarize, Obama backed the Saudi-led bombing campaign of Yemen, even though the military commander in charge of that effort did not know its goals, because the humanitarian-disaster-creating war could not be stopped. A black mark on Obama’s foreign policy legacy.
The Scariest Part of This Season’s Weird Weather Is Coming Soon: Tornadoes, floods, and a heat wave at the North Pole - The remarkable storm will briefly boost temperatures in the Arctic basin to nearly 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal—and the North Pole itself will be pushed above the freezing point, with temperatures perhaps as warm as 40 degrees. That’s absolutely terrifying and incredibly rare. Keep in mind: It’s late December and dark 24 hours a day at the North Pole right now. The typical average high temperature this time of year at the North Pole is about minus 15 to minus 20 degrees. To create temperatures warm enough to melt ice to exist in the dead of winter—some 50 or 60 degrees warmer than normal—is unthinkable.

ENSO: Recent Evolution,Current Status and Predictions - Update prepared by: Climate Prediction Center / NCEP 28 December 2015 - El Niño conditions are present. Positive equatorial sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies continue across most of the Pacific Ocean. El Niño is expected to remain strong through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, with a transition to ENSO-neutral anticipated during late spring or early summer 2016.

Global Temperature - Below are maps of the mean surface temperature anomaly for the past month, the past three months, and the past 12 months. Regional weather patterns, apparent on the monthly time scale, tend to disappear in averages over longer time scales. In the chart in the lower right we show the 12-month running means of the global land-ocean temperature anomalies.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Will the polls that were so wrong on the UK election get the referendum on Europe right or wrong?

Will pollsters redeem themselves in 2016? - In the event, the final 2015 election campaign polls from nine polling companies resulted in three giving Labour leads, three offering a dead heat and three suggesting Conservative leads - two registering one-point leads and the other a lead of three points - far below the eventual seven-point gap. ... Polling on the forthcoming European referendum is alive and kicking; and the seeming neck-and-neck support for "Remain" and "Leave" that emerged in December will do little to discourage the commissioning of further polls on the subject. How the polls perform in predicting the result of that referendum, following the scale of their failure in the general election, will be of great significance.

ISIS Influence on Web Prompts Second Thoughts on First Amendment - It is one of the most hallowed precepts in modern constitutional law: Freedom of speech may not be curbed unless it poses a “clear and present danger” — an actual, imminent threat, not the mere advocacy of harmful acts or ideas. But in response to the Islamic State’s success in grooming jihadists over the Internet, some legal scholars are asking whether it is time to reconsider that constitutional line.

Who runs Russia with Putin? First, there has been continuity in terms of the personnel closest to Mr Putin. Real reshuffles are rare, and very few have been evicted from this core group. Second, the heart of the leadership team is made up of allies who served with Mr Putin in the KGB, in 1990s St Petersburg, or both.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Submarines under threat from underwater drones and other news and views

Trident: Nuclear deterrent under threat from underwater drones, expert warns - Advances in technology may turn Britain’s £31bn nuclear submarine programme into an expensive liability. ... Rapid advances in underwater drone technology – autonomous underwater vehicles that can be controlled by ship- or land- based operators – threaten to make the controversial Trident nuclear submarines vulnerable, according to Paul Ingram, the chief executive of the British American Security Information Council ( Basic).

Candidates’ Children in the Peanut Gallery - Presidential candidates’ children and grandchildren are turning up once again. Ted Cruz’s decision to cast his daughters in an attack ad and Hillary Clinton’s “just like your abuela” misfire make one wonder anew, Why do candidates seek advantage by shoving the next generations center stage while insisting that they remain politically off limits?

Paris summit failed, so Alaska must look out for itself on climate change - There is both good news and bad news from the Paris climate change summit that ended earlier this month. The good news is that the summit produced a global agreement. The bad news is that the agreement fails to prevent or slow dangerous climate change. For Alaska, this means that climate change impacts will go from bad to worse. ... The final Paris agreement fails to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for decades; there is no enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance with the voluntary emissions reduction pledges by nations (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions); and there is no agreed fee for carbon emissions. To many involved in the climate issue, Paris was a tragic failure.

ISIS leader threatens to strike Israel - "Jews, soon you shall hear from us in Palestine, which will become your grave," the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reportedly said
"The Jews thought we forgot Palestine and that they had distracted us from it," he added. "Not at all, Jews. We did not forget Palestine for a moment. With the help of Allah, we will not forget it."

Cheeseburger ethics - Are professional ethicists good people? According to our research, not especially. So what is the point of learning ethics? ... Our results on vegetarianism were particularly striking. In a survey of professors from five US states, we found that 60 per cent of ethicist respondents rated ‘regularly eating the meat of mammals, such as beef or pork’ somewhere on the ‘morally bad’ side of a nine-point scale ranging from ‘very morally bad’ to ‘very morally good’. By contrast, only 19 per cent of non-philosophy professors rated it as bad. That’s a pretty big difference of opinion! Non-ethicist philosophers were intermediate, at 45 per cent. But when asked later in the survey whether they had eaten the meat of a mammal at their last evening meal, we found no statistically significant difference in the groups’ responses – about 38 per cent of professors from all groups reported having done so (including 37 per cent of ethicists).

Sunday, 27 December 2015

What is it about the right as they turn on their own?

It clearly not just an Australian phenomenon. Just as Tony Abbott's mates keep sniping at Malcolm Turnbull for being too moderate, so too are American hard-liners attacking the new Republican House of Representative Speaker Paul Ryan.
Fury of the right falls on Ryan | TheHill:
Outside the Beltway, the right is livid with new Speaker Paul Ryan’s trillion-dollar spending deal with Democrats.
Conservative pundit Ann Coulter says Ryan, just seven weeks on the job, is ripe for a primary challenge. “Paul Ryan Betrays America,” blared a headline on the conservative site And Twitter is littered with references to the Wisconsin Republican’s new “Muslim beard.”
'via Blog this'

Saturday, 26 December 2015

An America moving left and other news and views

Why America Is Moving Left - Republicans may have a lock on Congress and the nation’s statehouses—and could well win the presidency—but the liberal era ushered in by Barack Obama is only just beginning.

Why the Movie ‘Concussion’ Spells Trouble for the NFL—and Moral Angst for the Rest of Us We deserve to know, and we are obligated to know, the cost of America’s love for football. -  Concussion is the true tale of Dr. Bennet Omalu—brilliantly played by Will Smith—and his effort to get the National Football League to acknowledge the existence of the brain disease he discovered, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Dr. Omalu first identified the football-related brain disease in examining the brain of Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, who died at age 50 in 2002. Webster’s mind was so deeply damaged that he was living in a van, using Super Glue to keep his rotting teeth in place and tasing himself as a method of handling the pain.

A still from a video released by ISIS militants in June 2015 called ‘A Message to Our People in Jerusalem,’ in which they threaten to overthrow Hamas in Gaza because the group is not extreme enough.
ISIS in Gaza

Clinton casts wider net for cash - Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is building the most expansive fundraising network in recent memory, taking its prospecting far beyond the usual Democratic strongholds on the East and West coasts. Those familiar with Clinton's fundraising operation say she's tapping smaller cities to avoid running dry in California and New York, which have only so many Hollywood producers and trial lawyers.
  Obama just released the biggest energy efficiency rule in U.S. history - They dribble out regularly — Energy Department rules or “standards” that require ever improving levels of energy efficiency for dishwashers, refrigerators, and much more. On Thursday, though, the Department dumped what it is describing as the “largest energy-saving standard in history” and one that “will save more energy than any other standard issued by the Department to date” — a standard governing commercial air conditioners and furnaces. These devices consume a gigantic amount of energy across America because, well, they keep us comfortable in large buildings.

People Who Were Certain Climate Change Is Fake Are Now Certain That Paris Can’t Stop It

U.S. Takes Steps To Protect Two Breeds Of African Lion - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has placed one breed of African lions on its endangered species list, a move aimed at discouraging hunting of the animals at a time when their numbers are dwindling. A second breed of lion will be designated as threatened,the agency said today.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The need for referendums on moral questions

It was many years ago, when I was employed as a lobbyist by a Country Liberal Party Northern Territory government, that I suggested to euthanasia advocates that they change the nature of their campaigning from trying to get state parliaments to legalise it to urging politicians to hold referendums on the issue. History shows that I did not get very far but maybe things will change if the same-sex marriage plebiscite is ever held and the vote is in favour as I expect it will be.
MPs hate having to vote on moral issues because they know opponents of change are more likely to change their vote on a single issue than supporters are. Whatever the members might think on the issue, keeping their job is deemed more important. Which is something that perhaps is becoming more understood.
Openly gay Liberal senator Dean Smith questions precedent same-sex marriage public vote sets - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation):
"The Liberal Party's first openly gay federal parliamentarian has questioned the precedent a plebiscite on same-sex marriage could set. Senator Dean Smith, a vocal same-sex marriage supporter, said a public vote on legalising marriage for same-sex couples may open the door to votes on issues such as military deployment or euthanasia. Writing today for Fairfax Media, Senator Smith said such issues were informed by people's moral views and had just as much impact upon people's personal lives as same-sex marriage."

'via Blog this'

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Free at last - A happy orangutan story from the Jakarta Post

Click to enlarge
Page one news 20 December 2015

A game show about integrity and other news and views

'American Idol' Can't Compete With Liberia's 'Integrity Idol' - She was one of the five finalists in an American Idol-style competition. But she did not have to sing. This was Integrity Idol 2015 in Liberia. The candidates all worked for the government and had a record of integrity. The public voted by phone and by the Internet. The winner, announced this week, was Jugbeh Taplar Kekula. She's a registered nurse who works nights in the emergency room at the Liberia Government Hospital in Buchanan, the third-largest city in the country, and also educates people about family planning through Planned Parenthood of Liberia. ...

It {the program] was the brainchild of Blair Glencourse, who runs Accountability Lab, a nonprofit group that fights corruption. "We thought, 'What about some kind of TV show calledIntegrity Idol where people would vote for honest government officials instead of pop stars?" he recalls. The goal is to recognize people "for simply doing what they think is their job and being the person that they are" — to give them "a sense that they're on the right track."

Right wants door open for Christian Syrians - Conservatives are outraged over the small number of Christian Syrian refugees who have been allowed to enter the United States — even as some on the right float a ban on their Muslim counterparts. The U.S. has allowed just 34 Christians to enter as refugees from Syria since the civil war broke out there more than four years ago, according to the State Department’s most recent available data. That accounts for just 2 percent of the roughly 2,100 Syrian refugees the U.S. has accepted — disproportionately smaller than the 10 percent of Syrians who are Christian.

Tax sugarcane farmers, not sugary drinks - Mixing morality and taxation typically produces hypocrisy.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Temperatures rising

The world is well and truly on the way to its warmest calendar year for centuries.
Below is a graph of temperatures for the 12 months ended November for recent years.
It certainly looks like a warming world to me.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Are interest rates now at the old low normal and other news and views

(Click to enlarge)

Why Very Low Interest Rates May Stick Around - Investors have often talked about the global economy since the crisis as reflecting a “new normal” of slow growth and low inflation. But, just maybe, we have really returned to the old normal. Very low rates have often persisted for decades upon decades, pretty much whenever inflation is quiescent, as it is now.

Climate Deal Is Signal to Industry: The Era of Carbon Reduction Is Here - If nothing else, analysts and experts say, the accord is a signal to businesses and investors that the era of carbon reduction has arrived. It will spur banks and investment funds to shift their loan and stock portfolios from coal and oil to the growing industries of renewable energy like wind and solar. Utilities themselves will have to reduce their reliance on coal and more aggressively adopt renewable sources of energy. Energy and technology companies will be pushed to make breakthroughs to make better and cheaper batteries that can store energy for use when it is needed. And automakers will have to develop electric cars that win broader acceptance in the marketplace.

Can Robots Be Lawyers? Computers, Lawyers, and the Practice of Law

Are Efforts To Overthrow Assad Counter Productive? Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard says that in order to defeat ISIS, the U.S. must stop trying to remove Syrian president Bashar al Assad from power.

Obama Administration Eyes Detention As More Central Americans Cross Border

Surprised About Donald Trump's Popularity? You Shouldn't Be - ... when you look at Americans' attitudes, not only on that specific question of Islam but toward politics in general, a lot of things that have surprised the political establishment about Trump aren't surprising at all. ... It's not clear whether Americans are growing more polarized ideologically (that is, whether their ideas are growing further apart politically). What is clearer is that Americans are experiencing more affective polarization — that is, regardless of where their views are moving, liberals increasingly dislike conservatives, and conservatives increasingly dislike liberals. ... Notably, trust is lower among Republicans during a Democratic administration (just as trust is low among Democrats during GOP administrations) — and trust is exceedingly low among Republicans right now. All of that creates a perfect environment for a Trump to arise right now in the Republican Party. Lack of trust in government means Americans — particularly non-Democrats — may be particularly willing to vote for an "outsider."

Treasurer Scott Morrison's drive back to surplus.with apologies to National Lampoon's Vacation

'Are we there yet, are we there yet?': Treasurer Scott Morrison compares the drive back to surplus to a family holiday despite budget deficit of $37.4 billion
On Nine News: "There may be some delays with road works or things like this and there'll be plenty of people on the back seat, which often happens when I'm driving away, saying 'Are we there yet, are we there yet'."
Is this the appropriate video?

You've just got to love scomo the backslider's myofo economic analogy of him driving the family car and keeping the family safe.
For those of you interested in the back slider reference:
Brethren, Scott Morrison has informed national TV he can no longer attend Hillsong simply because of the tyranny of distance. Any other suggestions are purely mischievous. So there you are!,%20Tracts%20&%20Preaching/Printed%20Books/Dr%20John%20Rice/Backslider/bs_01.htm

A tale of two polls: a whopping big lead or a modest one

The deficit blows out to record levels and the party that promised us balanced budgets increases its lead in the opinion polls. Such is the meaningless way of politics.
Though with those polls it is a case of paying your money and taking your choice between a whopping big lead and a modest one.
First up Morgan. L-NP increases lead over ALP – now 57.5% cf. 42.5%; biggest lead for Coalition since being elected in 2013.
Then Essential. Liberal National 52% Labor 48%
And both of them claiming to measure what the Australian public thinks.
What a nonsense all of them are.

A song for Ian Macfarlane

Monday, 14 December 2015

You have got to love a good conspiracy theory - Trump a Democratic secret agent?

Is Donald Trump a Democratic secret agent? - BBC News:

"Republican leaders are currently thrashing about - holding secret meetings, issuing confidential memos and making public denunciations - as they approach a state of near panic over what Donald Trump is doing to their party. It's enough to make some believe that Mr Trump may not have the Republican establishment's best interests at heart. Could Donald Trump be a secret double-agent, sent by Democrats to destroy their party from within? Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has borne the brunt of more than a few Trump barbs, seems to think there's a possibility. "Maybe Donald negotiated a deal with his buddy Hillary Clinton," Mr Bush tweeted this week, after Mr Trump cited a poll showing his supporters would stick with him if he left the Republican Party. "Continuing this path will put her in the White House.""

'via Blog this'

Saturday, 12 December 2015

A new target for Newscorp columnists? Adding Google to the Fairfax and ABC list?

It's only a matter of time. Get ready for Google to be added to the list of biased lefties when it comes to reporting politics.
The US website Slate on 1 December analysed search results and found "Google is not fair; it favors some candidates, and it opposes others. And so far, it seems to prefer Democrats."
Slate's article Why Google Search Results Favor Democrats says its crowdsourced analysis of Google search results on Dec. 1 for the names of 16 presidential candidates revealed that Democrats fared better than Republicans when it came to supportive and positive sites within the first page of results. Democrats had, on average, seven favorable search results in those top 10, whereas GOP candidates had only 5.9.
Our data was collected by automatically gathering nonpersonalized search results from Google for each candidate’s full name, focusing on the top 10 result links and excluding advertisements. The first page of results is important because that’s where users end up clicking 7 out of 10 times. Next, we asked our crowdsourced raters to evaluate each website on two scales: one that measures its favorability toward a candidate and another to gauge its opposition to him or her. For each candidate, some websites are completely supportive, some are completely against, and some have a little bit of both. We validated the method against our own careful coding on a subset of data and found the crowdsource workers to be accurate. It’s worth saying that we collected results in D.C., but we know geography can affect nonpersonalized search results, so we’ll be looking to collect results in other parts of the country in the future to see how they vary.

What food should we call healthy?

Why you can’t call nuts, avocados, olives, or salmon “healthy” - The Washington Post:
"Earlier this year, the FDA sent the maker of Kind Bars a stern message. The company, which sells granola bars, among other things, was using the the word "healthy" on its packaging. And that wasn't going to fly.
"The labels of the aforementioned products bear the claim 'Healthy and tasty, convenient and wholesome,'" the warning, which is available online, said. "However, none of your products listed above meet the requirements for use of the nutrient content claim 'healthy.'"
Specifically, the government was talking about the company's Fruit & Nut Almond & Apricot, Fruit & Nut Almond & Coconut, Plus Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein, and Fruit & Nut Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew bars, which, it said, would be removed from stores if the packaging wasn't changed. The bars, which are essentially just nuts and fruit and little sugar, had too much fat for the FDA's liking, and Kind acquiesced, because what choice did it have?
But the battle is hardly over. By engaging the company publicly, the government opened the doors for a broader and thornier discussion, which revolves around what has become an increasingly provocative point of contention: What exactly does "healthy" even mean? And Kind gladly stepped through.
Last week, the company announced that it was launching a citizen petition, protesting what it argues is an outdated and misleading official policy regarding the use of the word "healthy." While Kind's protest comes with a tinge of self-interest—after all, the company would like nothing more than to return to its old labels—it raises an interesting question about what can and can't be called healthy under current regulations. "

'via Blog this'

Friday, 11 December 2015

Preparing for a warmer Australia

As Andrew Bolt is fond of reminding us, actions by Australia to reduce carbon emissions have little impact in the overall scheme of things. What happens to the world's temperature will depend on global responses of which ours are but a small part.
I thought Ziggy Switkowski writing in The Australian this morning put it well:
it’s worth remembering that the futures of our coral reefs, coastlines, rainfall and drought patterns, and weather have little to do with Australia’s climate change strategy except, long term, where it helps discover globally useful enabling technologies or contributes to an international effort that is supported by the major emitters.
What is within the control of our government is taking steps to prepare for the warmer times ahead when with average temperatures one degree higher "Sydney may feel a bit more like Brisbane is today, or Beirut; Melbourne like a blend of Sydney, Adelaide and Rome."
... federal, state and local government attention must focus on helping us to adapt to and to mitigate near-term climate-driven changes in our environment and society in general. Fighting to preserve our current lifestyles may be a costly indulgence when pragmatic adaptive steps appropriate to the climate ahead are available to us. ...
We’ll need flood control systems, coastal protections, up­graded emergency response processes and technologies, energy and water-efficient buildings and landscapes, improved planning frameworks and zoning restrictions, state-of-the-art communications capability and efficient healthcare for more heat-stressed patients, plus forecasting and predictive capability for extreme weather events. These are ‘‘no regrets’’ steps — no matter the actual trend of our weather or the ultimate efficacy of emission reduction strategies.
These initiatives do not require global accords, are within our control, affordable and make sense under all planning scenarios. Australia could thrive rather than just survive in a globally warming world and, reassuringly, work is under way to this end.
The whole article is well worth the reading and it does not appea to be behind the paper's paywall.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The media bored with the Paris climate talks?

As part of my daily reading I look at the front pages of 80 or so newspapers from around the world. With the Paris climate change talks reaching their finale I thought that today there might be some coverage.
And what did I find?
Only two of them had the climate change talks on page one. And both of them were Indian.
The Hindu - Paris climate draft goes into final round
Times of India - New draft in Paris but little progress
Make of that what you will

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Wasting our money on teaching coding?

For our politicians coding is a new buzz word. Malcolm and Bill are both out their spruiking it as they promise to make a cleverer and richer Australia. Millions will be spent on this search for innovative excellence. Education expands again.
And for what?
An old non-coder like me would not have a clue but I was taken with this comment in a book review I stumbled across this afternoon:
Geoff Colvin, a senior editor at Fortune magazine, also looks for hope in the softer side of human nature. In Humans are Underrated, he makes the case that there is no point trying to beat machines at their own game. Computers may not actually think, but they do a very good job of using massive number-crunching to emulate our cognitive functions. Any job that relies on applying the grey matter is in jeopardy.
The irony here is that the spread of IT has brought huge demand for analytical skills. In education, science and technology are all the rage. These, though, are the very jobs that machines are best at copying. Learning how to code may be exactly the wrong response to the spread of computing, since this is the kind of work the computers will eventually do for themselves (which provokes an entirely different set of anxieties).

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A fair commentary on the Grand Mufti - and in the Sydney Tele no less

A balanced view on the Grand Mufti. Because it's behind the paywall here are some extracts of what Zushan Hashmi, a research co-ordinator of the South Asia Study Group at the University of Sydney, had to say/

We need many voices not just Grand Mufti’s

In Australia critics are slamming the Muslim community for ‘‘not doing enough to condemn the Paris attacks’’.

The problem does not lie with the Muslim community itself. Rather, it exists within their leadership and those who are upholding this leadership. Hence, my concerns are regarding the Muslim community leaders, and in particular the so-called Grand Mufti of Australia Ibrahim Abu Mohamed.

He is the highest authority and most important representative for Muslims in this country. It is not surprising that he is under scrutiny from politicians such as Josh Frydenberg, who accuses him of failing to provide sound leadership. Although others such as Labor MP Tony Burke have spoken out to support him, as a Muslim I cannot help but wonder whether or not he truly represents our community?

Why is it that a man, who cannot speak English (let alone any of the other languages that Muslims in this country speak), is viable to represent the whole community? Especially considering the Muslim community consists of people from several different backgrounds holding significant differences when it comes to practising their religion?

Having spoken to several Muslims (especially the youth) I discovered that a vast majority had not even heard of the Grand Mufti until the recent attention from the media. And even if they had heard of him, they held him in very low esteem and deemed him irrelevant.

Dr Ahmed Kilani has recently spoken out against this matter of misrepresentative leadership as well. Like him, I believe it is this leadership that is disallowing Muslims in Australia from progressing and truly voicing their views and opinions on a national platform. The reason why leaders such as the Grand Mufti continue to be a voice for Muslims is because most Australians have failed to truly understand and appreciate the diversity within the Muslim community.

Muslims make up just over 2 per cent of Australia’s population. They speak languages such as Urdu, Farsi, Turkish and Bahasa Melayu, and originate from several parts of the world including Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Europe. Therefore, one must consider, is it fair to have a sole leader and one major organisation (Australian Federation of Islamic Councils) representing each and every one?

... A leader disconnected from his own people cannot comprehend or possess the knowledge to successfully lead and represent their community. Muslims should be aiming to work their way towards self-representation by partaking in Australian politics, as have Ed Husic and Mehreen Faruqi.

Some risks in Turnbull's benign view of business failure

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull spruiks his lines like one of those optimistic entrepreneurs that he urges Australians to become. The positive tone of the message is the first step to eliciting a favourable response for the content.

Thus it was with Monday’s innovation statement and Turnbull’s news conference launching it.

Turnbull’s exhortation – that Australians should be more willing to take business risks and less fearful of failure – is an attempt to promote a major cultural change in the community. This drive to transform thinking is arguably of greater significance than the particular measures that were announced.

But the often-compelling nature of Turnbull’s presentation can discourage forensic examination of what he’s actually saying, and its implications.

He is a man who doesn’t blush at his own hyperbole – as in this Monday observation:

If you start a new venture, a new business and it goes well for a while and then, for whatever reason, it doesn’t succeed, you may have lost some money, your investors may have lost some money, but the overall economy massively benefits because you are wiser, your employees are wiser, your investors are wiser, everyone’s learnt something and the ecosystem benefits. That’s why cultural change is so important.

This cheery view of the benign nature of failure surely represents a very specific perspective.

It’s one appropriate to the deft person who can muster the resources and has the skills to bounce back – and good on those people. We do need more of them.

But to claim that a business failure is just a glitch replete with upsides and never mind the downsides ignores a whole lot of things.

While the “ecosystem” might be benefiting, the family who mortgaged the house to launch a business that has now gone kaput could be devastated. Some investors who put money into a start-up that could not live up to its big idea may have lost part of their retirement nest egg. The now “wiser” employees may be having trouble getting other jobs.

None of this is to deny that it’s vital for Australia to become more innovative, or that start-ups deserve fostering. Rather, it is to argue that the statement in the innovation policy that “we need to leave behind the fear of failure” overhypes and oversimplifies something that requires a more sophisticated approach.

The old adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is all about the need to take risks. But in start-ups and the like, it is also a matter of the nature and degree of risk, who is taking them, and what the consequences of failure will be. If the risk-taker is going to be financially or personally destroyed by a venture going wrong, it’s a risk better avoided. Only some will be able to endure the several failures now being extolled as a reasonable pathway to success.

A balanced view is required, but Turnbull’s rhetoric often has a balance bypass.

In his quest against the fear of failure, he has been influenced not just by his own experience of the business world, but apparently by talks he had recently with Israel’s chief scientist. The refrain is also a mantra of Bill Ferris, who will head the new Innovation and Science Australia that is replacing Innovation Australia.

The innovation statement has specific measures, involving reform of the insolvency laws, that are designed, if you like, to somewhat reduce for entrepreneurs the risk of taking risks.

The default bankruptcy period will be shortened from three years to one. A “safe harbour” will be brought in to protect directors from personal liability for insolvency trading, if they appoint a professional restructuring adviser to develop a plan to rescue a company in trouble. And, if a company is restructuring, there will be a ban on “ipso facto” contractual clauses that allow an agreement to be ended solely due to an insolvency event.

These changes might bring their own risks in a laxer attitude by directors, but Turnbull stresses that other obligations on directors would remain so protections would continue to be there.

Helped by the sheer force of his personality and messaging, Turnbull has pulled off his innovation policy, leaving Labor lamely pointing to the fact that it had plans out first in some of these areas.

It’s not just a matter of the government stealing ideas worth having. What else would an agile and innovative administration do? And it’s only partly that most attention inevitably focuses on what a government does, especially one with a new leader, rather than what an opposition says.

The real lesson is that Turnbull can bring together a policy and enthuse it with a special life that makes it attractive (even when it raises questions) while Shorten’s announcements are piecemeal, often sludgy and lack a narrative or a spruiker who can radiate confidence.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Introducing a military trained MP

Ellen Whinnett in the Herald Sun gives an interesting insight into the new member for Canning.

From fighting Taliban to Federal Politics, Andrew Hastie was born to serve | HeraldSun:

"At just 33, former Captain Andrew William Hastie is one of the most intriguing politicians elected to Australia’s House of Representatives.

His years with the Army and as an elite soldier with the SAS give him a unique life experience.

A deep thinker who has studied history, politics and philosophy, he wrote a thesis deconstructing Charles Bean’s history of the Anzacs and toyed with becoming a journalist.

He is deeply rooted in the Christian faith. He has done two tours of Afghanistan and visited a third time, and spent months in the Middle East with the SAS on a secretive anti-terror mission, which he describes only as “counter-IS operations and intelligence’’.

He found his way to Parliament via a bruising by-election that came at the height of the internal war against then-prime minister Tony Abbott."

'via Blog this'

The Local Goes Global, As Mayors Talk Climate Change In Paris

The Local Goes Global, As Mayors Talk Climate Change In Paris : NPR:
"With nations struggling to agree on how to reduce greenhouse emissions, many cities have stepped in to fill the gap. Some 1,000 mayors from around the world pledged new measures in Paris this week."

'via Blog this'

Saturday, 5 December 2015

A problem to come - dementia

By 2017, one in 17 Japanese will have dementia. Here’s how the country plans to cope - Quartz:
"Like young children, elderly people with dementia are prone to wandering off and getting lost. Few nations know this like Japan, where last year more than 10,700 people with dementia were reported missing—up by about 460 from the previous year, according to the national police agency.
That number is only likely to keep climbing. Japan now has more than 10 million people over the age of 80, and enough women over 100 to fill New York’s Yankee Stadium.
One quarter of the country’s residents are already above 65, the working-age population is rapidly shrinking, and the nation’s birth rate fell to a record low last year—as it did in the previous three years.
And its life expectancy, meanwhile, remains unusually high."

'via Blog this'

John Howard continues to get the recognition he deserves

How a Conservative-Led Australia Ended Mass Killings - The New York Times:

"In the continuing debate over how to stop mass killings in the United States, Australia has become a familiar touchstone.

President Obama has cited the country’s gun laws as a model for the United States, calling Australia a nation “like ours.”

On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has said the Australian approach is “worth considering.” The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, has dismissed the policies, contending that they “robbed Australians of their right to self-defense and empowered criminals” without reducing violent crime.

The oft-cited statistic in Australia is a simple one: There have been no mass killings — defined by experts there as a gunman killing five or more people besides himself — since the nation significantly tightened its gun control laws almost 20 years ago.... The tightened laws, which were standardized across Australia, are more stringent than those of any state in the United States, including California.
Pushed through by John Howard, the conservative prime minister at the time, the National Firearms Agreement prohibited automatic and semiautomatic assault rifles and pump shotguns, in all but unusual cases. It tightened licensing rules, established a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases, created a national gun registry, and instituted a temporary buyback program that removed more than 20 percent of firearms from public circulation."
'via Blog this'

Friday, 4 December 2015

How to make a fool of yourself as a political journalist

The prediction  from the Daily Mirror pundit: Labour was on course to a dismal result ,,, the party's majority ,,, could be cut to less than 1000 in a head-to-head battle with UKIP,
And the result: Labour's candidate Jim McMahon secured a 10,722-vote majority from UKIP's John Bickley, and a 62% vote share that was higher than at the general election.
The Mirror's Dan Bloom was obviously not given the advice I was as a young journalist playing political  correspondent in Canberra for the first time.
"The closer it gets to an event, the less definite should become your opinion" was how the then doyen of the Press Gallery Ian Fitchett warned me. People will laugh at you forever when your prediction is hopelessly wrong but hardly notice and never remember when you get it right.
Get ready for the laughter Dan.

Who says our PBS scheme is inefficient?

Cancer-Drug Prices Vary Widely Even Among Countries With Curbs - Bloomberg Business:
  • "Gemzar costs five times more in New Zealand than in Australia 
  • Study limited by available information on cancer drug prices.
Even among countries with curbs on drug prices, the costs of cancer treatments vary widely, researchers wrote in the Lancet Oncology journal.

New Zealanders pay almost five times what Australians do for Eli Lilly & Co.’s Gemzar, used to treat breast, lung, pancreatic and ovarian cancers, according to the study of publicly available pricing information from 18 countries.

In Germany, Merck & Co.’s Intron A for skin and blood cancers costs triple what it does in Greece, the researchers found."

'via Blog this'

What is it about Victoria: Andrew Bolt's Bill Hartley view

The idea that for a political party there are things more important than winning has a long history in Victoria. It was something of a mantra for Bill Hartley and his socialist left crew. It took a Gough Whitlam to begin the cleansing that saw Labor adopt the view that unless you won office you could do nothing and might as well all stay home.
But the idea that purity of principle is paramount lives on down south. Not, these days, among the maddies of the left but on the rabid conservative fringe of the Liberal Party.
From the Herald Sun Andrew Bolt Blog this afternoon
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pushed the Liberal party to the Left. The media cheered, and the have polls [sic, Andrew must have been typing in a hurry] improved - for now.
But many Liberals aren’t in politics just to help a Labor-lite party get re-elected. They aren’t there just to make Turnbull Prime Minister. Policies and principles still matter more than victory.
'via Blog this'

Wouldn't it be nice to hear a speech like this in the Australian Parliament

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The ignorance of a commentator in The Australian shines through again

A remarkable opinion piece in The Oz this morning by a so-called political scientist Jennifer Oriel. Remarkable for showing the author's ignorance of some basic facts of Australian history.
The extracts below give the Oriel flavour.

Malcolm Turnbull must take note of the Menzies strategy:
Malcolm Turnbull’s inaugural national security address reset Liberal Party philosophy from the neoconservative interventionism of Tony Abbott to a classical liberal policy of containment.
However, classical liberal faith presupposes a desire for individual enlightenment and civil society — consciously rejected by Islamists, whose collectivist ideology of jihadism threatens life and liberty across the globe. ...
Turnbull has acknowledged Robert Menzies’ role in preventing totalitarian ideology at the dawn of World War II by introducing a national security bill. The bill effectively contained the antipodean threat of Nazism, but it is Menzies’ later fight against communism that illuminates a possible path of progress to ­address the jihadist threat we face.
Menzies fought communism by introducing the Communist Party Dissolution Act in 1950. The act aimed at thwarting the communist threat to Australia’s sovereignty by blocking its path to political legitimacy. The tactics prohibited by that act are almost identical to the tactics outlined in Islamic State’s playbook.
Menzies identified communist ideology with the intent to “assist or accelerate the coming of a revolutionary situation” by subverting the state’s security apparatus, defence capabilities and vital industries. He rightly classified the subversive strategy as treason. As a result, the Australian Communist Party was banned and its proselytising faith prohibited.
While the measures introduced by the government thus far have reduced the threat of jihadist attacks, they have not mitigated the long-term subversion of the state by jihadist ideology.
It didn't take long for Melbourne University Laureate Professor Emeritus Cheryl Saunders AO to point out the absurdity. She was up bright and early to tweet:
Nothing more needs to be said really.

Note: This item was corrected to remove references to the IPA. The original said Oriel was an IPA commentator. She is not although they once published something of hers. The lesson I have relearned is treat googled references with care. Thanks to Tim Duncan for pointing out my error. It is always nice to know you have a reader.

Monday, 30 November 2015

The more we overreact to terrorism the more we will get

The Threat Is Already Inside | Foreign Policy:
"The cheapest and easiest way to reduce the benefits of terrorism is to stop overreacting. That 129 people were killed in the Paris attacks is a terrible tragedy and a vicious crime, but 16,000 people in the United States are murdered each year in “ordinary” homicides, 30,000 die in accidental falls, 34,000 die in car crashes, and 39,000 die of accidental poisoning. We should mourn each and every death, and we should take all reasonable steps to prevent more deaths from occurring and punish those responsible for intentionally inflicting harm. But we need to stop viewing terrorism as unique and aberrational. The more we panic and posture and overreact, the more terrorism we’ll get. "

'via Blog this'

Some things never change: Greens demand action against Japan whaling

Greens demand action against Japan whaling:

"The Greens are demanding the federal government use submarine contracts to pressure Japan out of sending whaling ships to the Southern Ocean. The Japanese government says it will dispatch a "research" whaling mission to the Southern Ocean on Tuesday. The announcement came as Attorney-General George Brandis told parliament Australia was making diplomatic representations at "the highest levels" in a bid to get Japan to change its mind. He told the Senate on Monday the government would consider sending a Customs patrol vessel to the Southern Ocean if talks weren't successful. Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson says Japan are "thumbing their nose" at the Australian people."

'via Blog this'

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Vote buying

Election-day vote buying: Evidence from monetary aggregates | VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal:

"Central bank independence was supposed to end politically driven monetary policy. This column discusses new evidence showing a sizeable spike in the growth rate of cash and overnight bank deposits centred on election days. The spike is present in countries with weak political institutions, but not in OECD countries. The cycle seems to be related to the cash demand created by systemic vote buying."

'via Blog this'

Pope Francis on the new Colonialism’

Pope Francis, in Nairobi Slum, Denounces ‘New Forms of Colonialism’ - The New York Times:
"When it came time to speak, Pope Francis delivered his sharpest remarks yet on his first trip to Africa. He lashed out against what he called “new forms of colonialism, which would make African countries parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel.” Francis said that “countries are frequently pressured to adopt policies typical of the culture of waste, like those aimed at lowering the birthrate.” He called the slums “wounds” inflicted by the elite. “How can I not denounce the injustices which you suffer?” he said."

'via Blog this'

Climate change policies doing more harm than good?

A view worth thinking about from Scientific American

Climate Change Will Not Be Dangerous for a Long Time - Scientific American:

"The climate change debate has been polarized into a simple dichotomy. Either global warming is “real, man-made and dangerous,” as Pres. Barack Obama thinks, or it’s a “hoax,” as Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe thinks. But there is a third possibility: that it is real, man-made and not dangerous, at least not for a long time. This “lukewarm” option has been boosted by recent climate research, and if it is right, current policies may do more harm than good."

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Newspoll 2010 to 2013 elect

DateALPLibNatCoalitionDemGreenOneNatFamFOther2 Pty ALP2 Pty LNP