Inequality is bad you say? But isn’t my second gold toilet more important than food for everyone?
Matthew Klein and Michael Pettis’ Trade Wars Are Class Wars attempts to argue that inequality distorts the way money flows around the economy and thus undermines the efficient and rational capitalisation of the economy. He draws upon historical and contemporary examples from around the world to show how this is bad. For the USA….. (sigh)
I picked up a copy of this book after reading Mark Blyth’s Austerity: History of a Dangerous Idea. The idea that many of the trade and economic issues are tied to inequality and class divides was an interesting one. And the central thesis is largely acknowledged as true by anyone who has seen how quickly economies tumble when the average person can’t afford to buy stuff.
Unlike Blyth’s excellent books, Klein and Pettis have a limited understanding and unwillingness to engage with broader socio-political issues in the discussion of their thesis. They continually place the political as removed from the economic as though that is a fair and unbiased thing to do.
But how can you engage in discussing economic history and outcomes without honestly engaging with all, or at least some of the major, other factors? It essentially makes any of their arguments and analysis useless as anything other than fodder for very serious nodding competitions at corporate retreats.
In summary, this book was garbage as it deliberately or unintentionally failed to engage with reality to argue something that most would accept as true.
Comments while reading:
Good quote on China:
“China’s policies do not just hurt Americans (because fuck those other countries) – they also harm ordinary Chinese workers and retirees. Chinese workers are underpaid relative to the value of what they produce, and they are taxed too much. They are unable to access the goods and services they ought to be able to afford. They breathe dirty air and drink polluted water because many local government officials place the financial interests of politically connected business owners above the well-being of the public.”
Trying to explain this idea to people is often a challenge.
In the “how we got here” section there is a misleading bit about Natural Advantage. While a bit later it implies how the idea is untrue, there is no direct refutation of the idea. Natural Advantage isn’t a rational nor economic reality, but rather a political and exploitative one. People will often hold up the idea of (e.g.) gold producing nations being those with natural gold resources who will trade with the nations without gold for the thing they have a natural advantage in. Just don’t tell that to the resource-rich nations of Africa, South America, etc, who are dirt poor despite their supposed wealth.
I’m a little unimpressed with the overall stance being taken in the presentation of economic history. The very liberal tone (i.e. capitalist apologism) is managing to gloss over things like imperialism, coups, and the fights for democracy. One example that made me almost throw the book away was with the statement “which caused the British financial sector to remove support from the country” glossing over a very bloody war of oppression the British waged on that country only to be overthrown and independence declared. It places the political as removed from the economic as though that is a fair and unbiased thing to do.
There is a strong “if only those stupid other countries did capitalism right” vibe to covering the issues with the economy. It’s pretty much implied that the policy frameworks have been poorly done and if we just do it correctly then everything will be fine.
But this argument isn’t just ahistorical nonsense, it is narrow, ignorant, and woefully naive. Does Klein-Pettis just assume that inequality is something that rich/powerful people did by accident? (The answer to that rhetorical question is, of course, yes).
The section on China’s growth is… problematic. I’ll be kind and say that this is once again due to the very narrow economic scope Klein-Pettis uses for his discussion of very complex socio-political-economic interactions. If I were unkind I’d have to call it racist. But to suggest that China suddenly grew because they started doing capitalism and before that those silly commies just couldn’t do anything right and were creating poverty, is wonderfully wrong. I mean, the issues for Mao’s China can fill entire books, but the summary here doesn’t even hint at that.
Odd to summarise the systemic defanging of unions worldwide by corporate, business, and oligarch interests via their flunkies in government, legal, and industry as “workers lost interest in unions”. I mean, it’s like saying that coastal flood insurance costs have gone up whilst ignoring that someone keeps dropping bombs offshore to send tsunamis.
The installation of a right-wing government with deeply racist, anti-semetic, authoritarian, and nationalist views as a move to democracy in Hungary is an interesting take on history and politics. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archiv…
Another example: South Korea and the statements about yay democracy and capitalism curing poverty there… Look, I’m not well versed in South Korean politics, what with its every shifting, amalgamating, and disbanding political parties, but I’m pretty sure that referring to a literal military dictatorship in the 1980s as democracy, and its brutal regime which included at least one massacre, as progress is a what us thinky types refer to as wrong.
I’d bet money the authors worked in finance and write for very serious industry publications now.
I checked, yep, Klein was at an investment firm and now writes for Barron’s, a right-wing financial news page.
It’s so unrealistic to have a story about a media smear campaign…
Against all pundit expectations, Harry Perkins wins the UK election with his lefty policies. As soon as his government takes office the populace celebrates while the rich and powerful start plotting his downfall. The rich owners of the media lead a smear campaign. The landed gentry in positions of influence and those wishing to win titles with their appropriate service in the public sector undermine Perkins at every turn. And the UK allies, like the US, try to block the removal of bases and nuclear warheads with their extensive network of spies and monetary power. Can Harry and his government survive this Very British Coup?
I really enjoyed this book.
A Very British Coup popped onto my radar after the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. In this revised edition, Chris Mullin had added a foreword discussing the revised interest in the novel and the Corbyn link. One point he made was quoting from an article written by a recently retired head of the security services (MI5). The quote revealed that Mullin’s plot wasn’t far fetched at all. And given this novel was based on rumours that the security services had undermined a lefty government in the 70s (not to mention something similar happening in my home country of Australia), it appears this book is on the money.
That isn’t to say this is a perfect book. I found the writing, whilst fast-paced, a bit flat. I’m not sure if that is the same for the characters, as I watched the mini-series before reading the book, so it is hard to tell how much I imported the actor’s characterisations. But it is fair to say that this Very British Coup will ring true for anyone watching global north countries’ politics closely.
Give it a read and then sceptically eye those media headlines and scandals.
Comments while reading: Intro to the new version makes reference to an article written by the former head of MI5 saying that Jeremy Corbyn was evil and would have been targeted by them. So, let’s dive into this totally fictional book….
The Utopia of Rules is a collection of David Graeber’s essays around bureaucracy. He dives into where bureaucracy came from, how it was changed by the rise of large private companies, how this is impacting society, and how we secretly love all this stupid stuff just a bit too much. Graeber combines history, illustrative anecdotes, anthropology, and insights that you realise have been staring you in the face for years. He also argues that we’ve largely accepted bureaucracies as they now stand, but because of the implications for power relations, we should try to change or remove them.
With the recent passing of David Graeber, I thought I should read some more of his work. I’ve previously read the excellent Bullshit Jobs and wanted to dive into some of his other work. That lead me to his essay Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit which in turn lead me to The Utopia of Rules. That essay is incorporated and expanded in this book to bring it into the main thesis. Other sections similarly come from essays published elsewhere, so if you’ve already read many of Graeber’s essays and articles, you’ll recognise a lot of the material here.
I think one of the most interesting insights from Utopia of Rules was how bureaucracy has morphed from the civil service that ran society (and was a great place to park stray aristocrats and military officers) into the bureaucracy of big business. Some will bristle at this insight until they realise that “cost recovery”, “KPIs”, and “performance reviews” are in all big organisations, regardless of them being public or private. This builds on Graeber’s insights from Bullshit Jobs, that showed the private sector was often more guilty of waste, mismanagement, paperwork, etc. to the point of creating entire useless jobs to do them.
How this bureaucratic system is then used to exploit the public, uses implicit and explicit violence, and obfuscates accountability is also interesting. Graeber’s example of trying to apply for health insurance for his mother is how companies profit. They effectively keep money for the company/government that is due to the public they are meant to be servicing.
This is also where I disagree slightly with Graeber. In a complex society, there is a need for some level of organisation (bureaucracy). Is it a good idea to have a senior research scientist spend a large part of their time filling out paperwork, applying for funding, and reporting to the funders rather than doing research? Well, no. But is it a good idea for that researcher to just get money and do whatever they feel like without any reporting? Well, no. As much as no researcher is just going to blow their grant money on a sports car and Columbian Marching Powder, the paperwork is meant to create a solid research plan, figure out what underlings they’ll need, and get the creative work solidified (hypotheses, designs, etc). That the paperwork doesn’t really achieve this is something that needs to be criticised, especially as the reason it fails and is needlessly time-consuming and complex is because of that private company influence Graeber outlined.
And Graeber argues that bureaucracies are no longer analyzed or satirized. This is a large part of the problem. We experience them every day, but those with power effectively stifle any input we have to reforming them. Satire and social critique are a useful tool in this regard, which I assume is why Graeber’s review of The Dark Knight Rises was included. He uses it as an example of institutional power using popular media to control the narrative and condemn social critique and movements.
Overall, I enjoyed The Utopia of Rules and look forward to reading more from Graeber, particularly Debt.
“I asked him why everyone was still waiting for even one bank official to be brought to trial for any act of fraud leading up to the crash of 2008.
OFFICIAL: Well, you have to understand the approach taken by U.S. prosecutors to financial fraud is always to negotiate a settlement. They don’t want to have to go to trial. The upshot is always that the financial institution has to pay a fine, sometimes in the hundreds of millions, but they don’t actually admit to any criminal liability. Their lawyers simply say they are not going to contest the charge, but if they pay, they haven’t technically been found guilty of anything.
ME: So you’re saying if the government discovers that Goldman Sachs, for instance, or Bank of America, has committed fraud, they effectively just charge them a penalty fee.
OFFICIAL: That’s right.
ME: So in that case … okay, I guess the real question is this: has there ever been a case where the amount the firm had to pay was more than the amount of money they made from the fraud itself?
OFFICIAL: Oh no, not to my knowledge. Usually it’s substantially less.
ME: So what are we talking here, 50 percent?
OFFICIAL: I’d say more like 20 to 30 percent on average. But it varies considerably case by case.
ME: Which means … correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that effectively mean the government is saying, “you can commit all the fraud you like, but if we catch you, you’re going to have to give us our cut”?
OFFICIAL: Well, obviously I can’t put it that way myself as long as I have this job …”
“The soul of our politics is the commitment to ending domination.”
Feminism is for Everybody is bell hooks’ attempt to have a text that acts as a summary of feminism in an easy to read format for everyone. She had always wanted a book she could hand to people that did away with the exclusionary academic language of feminism. So she caved and wrote one.
This was an interesting book. As much as it is a book about feminism, it also gives a fairly good argument and overview of intersectionality. Its strengths certainly lay in covering the goals of feminism and why it is important, despite the supposed rights gained since the feminist movement started.
Feminism is for Everybody isn’t without flaws. Aside from her inability to use the word “the”,* hooks doesn’t achieve her stated aim of a book free of academic language. While she does keep it to a minimum, I still noted an academic tone to the writing. So while this is accessible, it does fall short of its stated aim.
Overall, I’d recommend this book to everybody.
* Seriously, it was so distracting. Obviously, this was a style choice but I’m not quite sure why it was made.
What if I told you that we don’t measure most of the things we value in our economy?
Mariana Mazzucato sets out to show that when we talk about the economy we are only talking about certain parts of it (and of our society). She shows how the parts that are included is determined primarily by the history of economic thinking, ideology, and what’s currently making people rich. Mariana then argues that this is flawed and fails to account for several very important aspects of the economy to our current and future detriment.
I’ve read several economics books over the past year that have addressed the failures of the neo-liberal economic ideology. The solid argumentation, countless references, piles of evidence, and rather obviousness of the problems leave me scratching my head as to why these books need to exist. Why isn’t this obvious to the various “experts” who are running our economy?
The Value of Everything is a very solid argument for rethinking the way we diminish the role of government in our economy. The current “get out of the way while we’re making money, but bail us out when we mess up”* approach is clearly wrong. I’ve heard the very charismatic arguments from the likes of Friedman on why free markets are the way to go, and I thought Mariana’s rebuttals to those arguments were good if a bit too charitable.** But it is clear that governments have a long history of being the innovators, investing early, creating the value that business then exploits, and without that, we’re going to see things fall in a heap.
Well worth a read so we can all start to take off our neo-liberal ideological goggles.
Amusing Ourselves to Death is Neil Postman’s ode to the “good old days” before television when entertainment wasn’t ruining everything. TV bad, reading good!
I decided to read this book after it once again started to be referenced as prophetic in the modern age. The first time someone mentioned this book to me I couldn’t help but feel the argument was likely to lack substance – you can amuse and inform at the same time.* What I found in this book was a supposition that isn’t without merit – slogans and sound bites can be influential whilst lacking any substance – but is argued in a cherry-picked and biased manner.
One example is how Postman claims that political campaigns used to be written long-form to influence voters, whereas now (meaning then in 1985, but many say it is highly relevant today) we get political messages in sound bites and 30-second adverts. This argument underpins his work and is at best convenient revisionism, at worst it is naive drivel. To suggest that there is no modern day long form political articles (and interviews, etc) is rubbish, just like the idea that the historical long-form articles he alludes to were well read by the masses is rubbish.
Another example is Postman claiming that media organisations aren’t trying to (in general) maliciously misinform their audience. We know that this isn’t the case. Even at the time this was written there were several satires addressing how “news” is deliberately framed for ratings (e.g. Network, Brave New World, the latter he references in the book). Either he has a different interpretation of malicious misinformation or he just thinks the media are incompetent.***
Now, his idea that we should be trying to educate kids to be able to navigate this new media landscape – instilling critical thinking, understanding of logic, rational thought, basic knowledge so that we are less likely to be fooled – is laudable. I completely agree. I’d also agree that there is a desperate need for this in people of all ages when we have an attention economy in place that is less interested in informing you than making sure your eyeballs stay glued for the next advert. I think this is why Postman’s book has resonated with people, the arguments aren’t without merit. But they are also deeply flawed and problematic.
I can’t really recommend this flawed book, but it isn’t without merit.
* This modern review from an education professional sums up this point:
“Instead of striking a balance between the use and over-use of media in education, Postman has completely shut down the debate in the belief that there is no good way to use visual media like the television and film in education. If you take his thesis to its logical conclusion, the number of technological tools in the classroom would be reduced to the overhead projector, the ScanTron grading machine, the copier and the laser pointer, and the field of educational technology would be greatly reduced in the process.”**
** Read this review particularly carefully. The author cites a number of problematic sources for claims made, such as Ben Shapiro, David Barton, Glenn Beck, Jonathan Strong (of The Daily Caller). All are known to deliberately misrepresent their sources (e.g. see my review of Ben Shapiro’s book covering this issue).
***Hmmm, could be something to that argument. As I regularly say, don’t attribute to malicious intent that which could be incompetence.
NB: I don’t normally post reviews of books I haven’t enjoyed (3 stars or more out of 5). It is my intention that this particular review will be one of few exceptions.
Reading old books reminds you that nothing has changed.
Political Ideals is an essay Bertrand Russell wrote during World War 1 – stay tuned for WW3 – that offers critiques of capitalism, socialism, nationalism, politics, education, and offers insights into how we should go about building a better society. He does this in less than 100 pages.
Russell’s essay is filled with interesting and insightful ideas. Even if you disagree with any of them, there is value in engaging with what he is saying. E.g.:
“Few men seem to realize how many of the evils from which we suffer are wholly unnecessary, and that they could be abolished by a united effort within a few years. If a majority in every civilized country so desired, we could, within twenty years, abolish all abject poverty, quite half the illness in the world, the whole economic slavery which binds down nine-tenths of our population; we could fill the world with beauty and joy, and secure the reign of universal peace. It is only because men are apathetic that this is not achieved, only because imagination is sluggish, and what always has been is regarded as what always must be. With good-will, generosity, intelligence, these things could be brought about.” Source.
This quote has been paraphrased, rephrased, and appropriated by many in the last century (although, I’m sure these thoughts weren’t original when he wrote them). It shows Russell’s reputation as a founder of modern analytic philosophy and as having made significant contributions to many subjects is well deserved. Few could so concisely state such a complex social idea.
Worth a read, even if you disagree with Russell on some or all points.
With pork-barrelling season in full swing, we will be seeing plenty of politicians hitching their wagons to prominent sports and sporting teams. The proclamations that sports are True-blue, dinky-di, Aussie will come to win over voters, with a little somethin’ somethin’ in the budget to sweeten the deal. Because sport is king in Australia, right?
Aussies are routinely described as sports mad, sports addicts, and that we love watching and playing sports in sporty sports ways. But how many of us actually play sports? How many of us actually watch sports? Given that you could describe weekly matches of football as repeats of the same teams doing the same thing for months on end annually, it is worth taking a look at a few of our assumptions about the claims.
Let’s start with a look at how many Aussies play “sports”. Inverted commas around sports? Yes, because when people say that 60% (11.1 million) of Aussies play sports – down 5% compared to 2 years previous – what they actually mean is that we’re classifying walking and generally not sitting on the couch watching TV as sport. Let’s make it fairer on sports and subtract the walkers from being classified as sport participants. And let’s not succumb to temptation and call golf just more walking with intermittent cursing. That means that our 11.7 million “sports” participants is suddenly 7.5 million, which is 41.4% of the population (and falling with the ageing population). That figure sounds impressive until you realise that figure is participation of at least once in the past year and doesn’t account for the regularity of participation. How regularly someone is involved in sports is a much better indicator of our interest and love of sports. As opposed to accounting for that time you went to the gym because of a New Year’s resolution or because the doctor ordered you too out of concern for being dragged into an orbit around you at your next visit. The reality is that less than half of the population engage in regular (3 times per week on average) physical activity, with roughly a third of those people being gym junkies (NB: young men are more likely to play a sport, that drops with age and isn’t replaced with other activities, whilst women are more likely to be involved in non-organised sports and remain doing so).
The Top 20 most popular physical activities are dominated by fitness activities like the already mentioned walking, aerobics/fitness, swimming, cycling, and running. One of the big name sports, AFL, ranks 16th on the list behind yoga. When yoga beats football for popularity it must only be a matter of time before the PM declares it the most exciting sport. For those wondering where rugby is on the list, the rest of Australia says ‘hi’.
Of course, this is only looking at sports. How does sports participation compare to other activities? Well, ABS figures show that we spend roughly 23 minutes a day reading, versus 21 minutes on sports and outdoor activities (NB: this varies between genders and age groups). The US figures show similar results with more time reading than playing sports, but they also spend less of their day on both activities. So at least we are still better read and fitter than Americans in the low barmetrics.
Obviously sports aren’t all about participation and most would regard themselves as avid armchair sportspeople. It could be argued that the best way to stay injury free in sports is to participate from the comfort of the couch in front of the TV at home. The other option is to attend a sporting stadium dressed in clothes made from random assortments of gaudy colours to cheer on a team who are wearing similar clothes but are less inebriated. Or would the most appealing option be to go to a movie, concert or theme park? The correct answer is that people would prefer to attend a movie (59%), a concert (40%), or a theme park (34%). Live Comedy (31%) was more popular than Football (30%), Cricket (29%) and Rugby (25%).
Of course, someone is bound to point to spectator numbers for AFL, A-League, and NRL that look very impressive. With average match attendances in the tens of thousands, and millions annually, sports are clearly important.
At a glance the figures look mildly impressive, but much like enhancement pouch underwear, things aren’t nearly as impressive when you look at the attendance figures in the cold light of day.
Even if we disregard the doubling up and totalling of attendance occurring in the stats, it is easy to see that even the most popular sport in Australia would rank behind visiting Botanic gardens, zoos and aquariums, and libraries. They aren’t even in the same ballpark as cinema attendance. But we can go deeper on the reading, library and cinema figures, even getting frequency statistics so we can tell the difference between the people doing something “at least once” versus people doing something regularly in the past year. 47.7% of people are reading a book weekly, 70% of library attendees (mostly women) visited at least 5 times in the past year, 65% of Australians are (computer) gamers, and 65% of Aussies go to the cinema an average of 6-7 times a year. And yet sport has a segment in news broadcasts whilst reading, gaming, and parks and zoos battle to get media coverage. Technically if we wanted to be fair then the sport segment would be cut to make way for movie news and a live cross to the local library.
What about the economy? How much are households spending on sports? That’s a great question and a great segue into a discussion of howtrickle-down economicsdoesn’t work in sports either. I mean, funding sports that way when it hasn’t worked in the economy must be a no-brainer, right? [Insert low IQ athlete joke here] Or we could stay on topic and discuss the $4.4 billion sports and physical recreation spend by households annually. Let’s not complicate things by talking about the buying of stuff like footwear, swimming pools, and camper vans. Seriously, camping is in the sport spending category? Either way, $4.4 billion sounds like a lot of money, until you realise that gaming is a $3 billion industry, and that households spend $4.1 billion on literature and $4.7 billion on TV and film.
We allow governments to spend a lot of money on big sports and big sporting events. Think that hosting the Olympics will encourage people to play sports? Nope. Actually, seriously, nope. One report described this idea as nothing more than a “deeply entrenched storyline”, sort of like a fairy tale handed down from one Minister for Sport to the next. Part of the problem is that we buy this narrative hook, line, and sinker, such that the sports themselves (and surrounding data agencies) never really bother to keep statistics to prove the claims. But they make for great announcements and ribbon cutting events on the election campaign trail, so the myth keeps on keeping on.
Ultimately the argument isn’t that sports are unpopular or bad but rather that we spend an inordinate amount of time pretending we like them far more than the reality. And that is impacting our elected officials more than a chance to wear a high-viz vest at a press conference. Maybe it is time to rethink what media and funding we throw at sports, and perhaps consider a gaming segment on the news.
So this pork-barrelling season look forward to the announcement of a new multi-million dollar yoga stadium in a marginal electorate near you.
Update: Charlie Pickering and The Weekly team cover some similar points for the Grand Prix events in Australia.
So it isn’t unreasonable to think that there are better qualified people who could rise to the top despite our casual racism. We still can’t get sexism right, but we managed to have a female Prime Minister.
I notice that the question implies Aussies elect the Prime Minister directly. We’re not silly here in Australia. The last thing you want in a democracy is the people getting to decide important decisions like who is preselected to run for a political seat, how their elected representative should represent them, or who is Prime Minister. Best to keep these decisions out of the hands of the people they impact and make sure only the political insiders get to make those calls.
Our Prime Minister is the leader of the political party that holds the balance of power. Thus, the party decides who is Prime Minister, and is not directly elected. For an Indigenous Aussie to become leader of the party would be no small feat, and they’d have to watch out for knives to the back.
Hopefully we will see an Indigenous Australian Prime Minister. Hell, they might even be non-male just to shake things up a bit. Just hard to tell how many old white guys we’ll see before that happens.
I’m looking forward to 2015. With each New Year there is a chance to change ourselves and the world around us, to make it better, to lay plans to bring about a better Australia. It is always best to make these plans at the beginning of the year, not at any other times throughout the year, because the earlier we make the plans, the easier it will be to forget them when it comes time to follow through.
This year I plan to make a few small changes, and if others follow my lead, we may have a better country by 2016.
Join a gym.
Last year I tried to lose weight using the Paleo Diet, which was based on the diet that someone who failed history and biology thought our ancestors ate. This year I’m going to join a gym for the year and then stop attending sometime in the second week of January. Regular gym members appreciate it if New Year’s Resolutioners leave before the end of January so that they have forty-eight to fifty weeks of the year they can work out unhindered. Gyms appreciate the extra memberships to keep their business running without having to invest in more equipment and space.
Do something about climate change.
I know I’ve been putting this one off since the 1980s, but this year for sure. Look, I know that coal is good for humanity and that climate change is crap, but I have all of these scientist friends who work for all of these science organisations who have been pestering me. I think at this stage it would be easier to stop using fossil fuels just to shut these experts up.
Stop reading the fantasy fiction genre. There has been a lot of fantasy fiction released this past year. Regular series were back again with tales from Fox News, The Australian, in fact just about everything published by News Corporation. Until these fantasy authors start producing more realistic stories, such as Matthew Reilly’s story about a zoo filled with dragons, then I will have to stop reading them.
End my expectation of entitlement and join team Australia.
Australians have been far too entitled for far too long. Living in a first world economy that survived the 2008 Global Financial Crisis relatively unscathed has made us complacent. We have to stop expecting welfare, job security, privacy, and a fair go, unless we are rich, white, coal miners.
Start saving for my kids’ education.
Part of being entitled was the idea that we could expect an education that would give Aussies a good start at the fair go. Now it is up to me to make sure that my kids can afford an education. Our leaders know that it isn’t realistic for Aussies to expect a free education like they had, it is much more realistic to saddle young Australians with huge education debts, or have rich parents. Not being rich I’ll have to save money now for my kids’ education, they’ll just have to do without clothes, shoes and food in the meantime.
Write more letters of support for politicians. Our nation’s elected leaders had a tough time in 2014 with experts from science, economics and ethics disagreeing with their policies and statements. Whether it be scientists pointing out that climate change was real, economists disagreeing with the budget measures and pointing out that the carbon tax was working, or the Human Rights Commission condemning the asylum seeker policies, it is clear that our politicians need more support for their uninformed policies. So I will be writing letters of support in 2015 encouraging them to stay the course, no matter how many uppity experts, with their facts and logic, disagree with them.
I love technology. So many cool things have been made during my lifetime that it is hard to believe that as a 30-something I can remember a time before mobile phones, laptops, CDs, DVDs, tablets, and even personal computers. Since I love technology and love to read, it is a no-brainer for me to keep abreast of the latest developments via tech articles, especially since these articles are so woefully out of touch with the average person that they are comedy gold.
The article that tickled my funny-bone this time was all about Google’s new internet service. As part of Google’s plans for world domination, whilst not being evil of course, they are entering the market with an optical fibre broadband rollout in the USA. This video explains the deal with Google Fibre (video a little old now):
The funny part is the article author lamenting his current internet pricing and speeds relative to the service offered by Google:
My $52-per-month plan bestows me with the unheralded power of 30Mbps down and 5Mbps up, a depressing far cry from the (Google Fibre) $70 (and 1 Gbps up and down).
Sorry, not funny ha-ha, but funny sad. According to the reports into global internet speeds, the average US internet user is downloading at 10Mbps, with only 34% of users getting speeds above that (see figure below), ranking them top 10 in the world for speed.
Meanwhile my Aussie internet is ranked 44th in the world, with average speeds of 5.8Mbps and 9.7% of users having average speeds higher than that.
So the tech author was lamenting internet that not only ranks as some of the best in the world, but is also some of the cheapest. In Australia we have some the most expensive broadband in the world (although not as a % of income) and the service is quite possibly far worse than our average speeds would suggest. Just a few kilometres from where I’m sitting, deep in rural Australia, there are people who can’t get the internet. Whilst I have above average internet at work and at home – although that average bar is low enough for an asthmatic 2 year old with no coordination to jump over – the copper network is antiquated and slows the speed of internet down the further you get from the hub. Once you are 20-30 kilometres out of town, the internet is so slow that you are running dialup speeds, which is ridiculous and annoying when most of the web assumes broadband speeds. These slow speeds means that most people not in town have satellite broadband, which is speed limited by the number of users at any one time, is really expensive, and even the top speeds are capped at 800kbps. No, I’m not kidding.
Australia isn’t even in a position to climb the internet rankings in any great hurry either. There were two broadband plans taken to the last Australian election: Fibre to the Home and Fibre to the Node. Since optic fibre (that stuff Google is rolling out) is only going to the node, that means people in cities will have to pay to get their connection upgraded, while we can now expect to see most rural areas of Australia covered by satellite plans (the ones I just told you sucked). Both of these options are more expensive regionally or where the “node” is a long way from the “home”. See the outline below (source):
Access to the internet is a wonderful thing: information at your fingertips, streaming news and entertainment, commerce on a global scale, and lots of porn. Australia is not really in the digital age, limping along with second-rate connections, political plans for second-rate upgrades, and monopolies charging big $$ for second-rate services. Which is why the tech articles are so interesting in the way they show the massive disconnect between the writers, tech services, and the rest of the world.
Walk in a crooked line
Let’s face it, walking in a straight line is something people now practice. Make the line crooked and you’ll quickly have people staggering like drunken zombies, regardless of the number of drinks they’ve had.
Not buy a kebab
Somewhere between the pub and home there is always a kebab store. If someone can walk past it and not buy a kebab, then they are sober.
Discuss politics without yelling
Although this may just mean the person yelling is a politician. Either way, just lock them up to be on the safe side.
Not heckle a comedian
Unless they are on this list, in which case don’t stop at heckling, molotov invented a drink that needs to be served to them.
Check that they don’t use the phrase “I’m not drunk.”
May be combined with the phrases “I’ve only had one/couple of drinks” or “Just a wine with dinner.”
Refuse to sing karaoke
Much like the kebab, there is no way a drunk person can refrain from busting out a classic tune in all its warbling, tone deaf, shouted glory.
Normally I don’t talk politics. It really hurts my head when I repeatedly bash it against the desk when listening to politicians speak. Being apolitical I see little point in discussing what a bunch of self-serving failed lawyers do on a daily basis. Regardless, I’ve reblogged this post from uknowispeaksense – a fellow science nerd – as he has done a very good breakdown of both the houses of Australian parliament and where they stand on climate change.
Being a scientist, I find the current political inaction on climate change to be unacceptable. I find the denial of climate science to be akin to disputing gravity. Then again, I’m sure we could find politicians that would argue pigs can fly if there were enough votes in it. The science is settled. So I think it is important that people know where their politicians stand on what is quite possibly the most important issue to face humanity.
Also, this link has position statements of various parties.
In September this year, 2013, Australians will head to the polls to exercise their democratic right and vote in the federal election, with each eligible voter hoping the party of their choice wins enough seats to govern for the next 3 years. Recently, Australian politics has seemingly become much like American politics with the right shifting to the extreme right and what were formerly centre left shifting slightly to the centre. In the process, the issue of climate change has become highly politicised. The idea of this page, is to highlight where each party and some selected individuals stand on climate change. In particular, I am interested in whether they accept the science or not.
Recent climate change is real, it is happening now, it is caused by humans and it is serious. This is not up for debate because the science is settled. Every major national scientific body in the developed world and the tens of thousands of scientists researching the climate accept this as fact. In my opinion, and many others, it is hands down the most important global issue and challenge facing humanity, and urgent action is required…now.
In order for global initiatives to be implemented to tackle the threat of climate change we must have governments who are prepared to act, and that means we must first have governments that accept the science. So how does our current crop of politicians stack up? To find out, Hansard, party websites, individual websites, press releases, newspaper, radio and television interview transcripts were searched for definitive statements made by our politicians that demonstrate that they either accept the science or not. Where a definitive statement wasn’t apparent, but the Member had mentioned some aspects of climate change, I emailed the Member requesting clarification of their position. Where no response was provided, the Member was classified as “no data” or “insufficient data”. Two Members made no mention of “climate change” or “global warming” at all in the places searched. They have been placed in the denier category. Retiring politicians (as at February 16, 2013) have been excluded.
An example of a definitive statement accepting the science on climate change is this one from Steve Irons, the Liberal Party Member for Swan, who when rising to speak in parliament on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and associated Bills (CPRS2009), said…
“I accept the premise that climate change exists and that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to the accelerated rate of climate change. There is evidence to support this and I lend my weight to those arguments.”
The link for that speech is here. An example of a definitive statement or statements rejecting the science is this barrage from Warren Truss, the National Party Member for Wide Bay as reported in the Australian newspaper.
”It’s too simplistic to link a finite spell to climate change.”
”These comments tend to be made on hot days rather than cold days.
”I’m told it’s minus one in Mt Wellington at the present time in Tasmania.
”Hobart’s expecting a maximum of 16.
”Australia’s climate, it’s changing, it’s changeable. We have hot times, we have cold times…
”The reality is that it’s utterly simplistic to suggest that we have these fires because of climate change.”
This is the usual grab bag of inane throw away lines, or variations of, one can find on any climate denial website. So, just how many of our politicians accept or reject the science of climate change?
Position on the science of climate change of current Australian members of the House of Representatives. n=150
What is clear from this graph is that the majority of Members accept the scientific consensus on climate change and have made definitive statements to that effect. When we break it down into party affiliations v position, we get an interesting look into the politicisation of the issue.
Position on the science of climate change of Members of the House of Representatives by political party affiliation. n=144 (6 retiring)
The striking thing about this graph that should be immediately apparent, is the fact that nearly every Australian Labor Party Member has made a definitive statement accepting the science of climate change. For the conservatives, the split is nearly 50/50. This can be broken down further…
Position on the science of climate change of Coalition Members of the House of Representatives by political party affiliation n=59
No real surprises here that the Nationals, being the representatives for large areas of “the bush” are climate change deniers. Their constituents tend to be highly conservative. Please note: retiring members and those for which there is no data have been excluded from this graph.
So, who accepts the science and who doesn’t? What is clear is that if you are of the right, there’s a good chance you are in the wrong. Here is a complete breakdown of the results with each member and their position.
Current sitting Members of the House of Representatives and their position on climate change science.
It’s probably fitting that the leader of the opposition, with a bit of help from alphabetisation, tops the list of deniers. This is the man who wants to lead the country and he refuses to accept the science of climate change. Remember, it is Abbott who claimed that “climate change is crap.” Now I’m sure there are supporters of Mr Abbott who will find quotes about his direct action plan to tackle climate change and hold this up as evidence that he is serious about the climate however, this is the man who will say anything for political expediency.
The thing that really bugs me about the list of deniers, is the presence of those National Party Members. While it isn’t surprising, these 8 people are supposed to represent Australian rural communities and have their best interests at heart. Climate change is likely to have very severe impacts on agricultural production in Australia. The CSIRO State of the Climate 2012 report states…
Australian average temperatures are projected to rise by 0.6 to 1.5 °C by 2030 when compared with the climate of 1980 to 1999. The warming is projected to be in the range of 1.0 to 5.0 °C by 2070 if global greenhouse gas emissions are within the range of projected future emission scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These changes will be felt through an increase in the number of hot days and warm nights, and a decline in cool days and cold nights.
Climate models suggest long-term drying over southern areas during winter and over southern and eastern areas during spring. This will be superimposed on large natural variability, so wet years are likely to become less frequent and dry years more frequent. Droughts are expected to become more frequent in southern Australia; however, periods of heavy rainfall are still likely to occur.
These changes will require mitigation and adaptation activities to be undertaken not just by the agricultural producers, but also the communities in which they exist, and without government support, many will go to the wall. One wonders if a government full of climate change deniers will be able to make the important decisions that will secure Australia’s food future? For an insight into the potential challenges faced by agricultural producers in the future, as well as what will be required to adapt and mitigate, it is well worth reading the 2012 paper by Beverly Henry et al titled, Livestock production in a changing climate: adaptation and mitigation research in Australia. From the abstract…
Climate change presents a range of challenges for animal agriculture in Australia. Livestock production will be affected by changes in temperature and water availability through impacts on pasture and forage crop quantity and quality, feed-grain production and price, and disease and pest distributions. This paper provides an overview of these impacts and the broader effects on landscape functionality, with a focus on recent research on effects of increasing temperature, changing rainfall patterns, and increased climate variability on animal health, growth, and reproduction, including through heat stress, and potential adaptation strategies.
So, here are a few examples of the kinds of statements made by the deniers in our parliament. Remember, these people are ignoring the advice of tens of thousands of experts from around the world who are all saying the same thing, and they want to make decisions on your behalf, that won’t just affect you, but your children and grandchildren as well.
“The Prime Minister and her ministers have repeatedly declared that the “science is settled” and there is no need for further debate on how to respond to the environmental challenges from climate change. A Nobel Prize-winning scientist told me recently that “science is never settled” and that scientific assumptions and conclusions must always be challenged. This eminent Noble Laureate pointed that had he accepted the so-called “settled science”, he would not have undertaken his important research, which challenged orthodox scientific propositions and led to new discoveries, which resulted in a Nobel Prize.” Julie Bishop
“We are after all only talking about models and forecasts. Just as an aside, when the weather bureau cannot reliably tell me what the weather is going to be like tomorrow and then tells me that in 100 years there are going to be sea level rises of a metre as a result of climate change, I think I am entitled to exercise a level of caution in deciding whether to accept everything that is put to me about weather, climate and long-term trends.” Darren Chester
Darren Chester, failing to understand the difference between short-term weather forecasts and long-term climate trends. Scarily, he then goes on to discuss how wonderful it would be to dig out and burn all the brown coal in the Latrobe Valley. For the uninitiated, burning any coal is bad, but burning brown coal specifically is very bad. It burns much cooler than anthracite due to higher water content and less lithification and so you have to burn more of it to produce the same amount of energy.
“As I rise to speak on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills, I do so wondering whether the debate is being driven by alarmists or scientists. Are we debating this subject from a scientific standpoint or are we being caught up in the emotion of the times? We do live in an uncertain world and it is understandable why it can be easier to accept statements at face value rather than questioning what we are being told. I have been reading Professor Ian Plimer’s book on his response to the global warming debate. It makes for very interesting and illuminating reading, and I would recommend it to any member entering the debate on global warming.”Joanna Gash
Joanna Gash basing her uneducated and ill-informed opinion on the writings of a non-expert who has never published a single peer-reviewed paper on the subject of climate change and who is the director of seven mining companies. Can you say “vested interests” Joanna?
“To say that climate change is human induced is to overblow and overstate our role in the scheme of the universe quite completely over a long period of time. I note that the member for Fraser came in here today with a very strong view about how human beings have been the source of all change in the universe at all times. He has joined a long line of Labor backbenchers I have spoken about in this place before—amateur scientists, wannabe weather readers, people who want to read the weather, people who like to come in here and make the most grandiose predictions about all sorts of scientific matters without even a basic understanding of the periodic table, or the elements or where carbon might be placed on the periodic table. So the member for Fraser has joined this esteemed group of people who seem to be great authorities on science.” Alex Hawke
Alex Hawke, also confusing weather with climate but doing so in a spectacularly arrogant way. I love it. He’s not just saying, “I’m an idiot” but rather “I’m really an idiot and you better believe it! So there!” Who wants to ask Mr Hawke where carbon is on the periodic table? I know I do.
“As the only PhD qualified scientist in this parliament, I have watched with dismay as the local and international scientific communities and our elected leaders have taken a seemingly benign scientific theory and turned it into a regulatory monolith designed to solve an environmental misnomer. With a proper understanding of the science, I believe we would not even be entering into this carbon tax debate. To put it simply, the carbon tax, with all its regulatory machinations, is built on quicksand. Take away the dodgy science and the need for a carbon tax becomes void. I do not accept the premise of anthropogenic climate change, I do not accept that we are causing significant global warming and I reject the findings of the IPCC and its local scientific affiliates.” Dennis Jensen
Dennis Jensen, legend in his own lunchtime appealing to his own non-authority and single-handedly dismissing the honest, dispassionate work of tens of thousands of real scientists from around the world. At this point I should point out that Dennis Jensen does indeed have a Phd….in materials engineering on ceramics. Next time it starts raining cups and plates I’ll be sure to look him up. Oh, and he is also tied in with the Lavoisier Group and according to Wikipedia, boycotted parliament the day Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation. I know that isn’t relevant to climate change but hey, if he’s a racist arsehole then everyone has the right to know about it. Anyway, I strongly urge my readers to check out the rest of his parliamentary rant. It is a cracker. Every single paragraph is filled with…well….crap. Who voted for this clown?
“Perhaps more concerning is the evidence that suggests climate scientists have engaged in manipulation of data, routine alienation of scientists who dispute the theory of anthropogenic global warming and the overall culture of climate change science that encourages group think and silences dissent.”Don Randall
Don Randall, reflecting on a newspaper article about “Climategate”no less. Obviously 9 independent investigations into “Climategate” all finding no wrong doing isn’t enough for the wilfully ignorant. For a good roundup of the whole saga, skepticalscience is the place to go.
These were just a few of the deniers and their ill-informed statements that I randomly selected. Having read through so many speeches and transcripts and media releases, I can attest that these are representative of the other deniers in the list. For me, the mind boggles when it comes to climate change denial. Presumably, these politicians are meant to be rational people. The appeals to the authority of non-experts really confuse me. It is akin to getting a plumber instead of an electrician to rewire your house. They wouldn’t get a vet to perform the brain surgery some of them clearly need. Why do they think the opinions of non-experts has any weight when it comes to climate science? It is completely irrational.
I guess it may seem to some that I am picking on the conservatives…and that would be correct, but I also have one or two big questions to ask of the ALP. If you all accept the science behind climate change as you claim and see fossil fuel combustion as the primary cause of recent climate change, why do you subsidise the fossil fuel industry to the tune of billions of dollars every year? Why not use that sort of money to develop the renewable energy sector and get us off our dependence on coal quicker?
This year’s election, if recent polling results carry through to September, is going to be won by the conservatives. Their leader, who admits to lying, who is on the record as holding different policy positions based on political expediency, is surrounded by men and women who are irrational in their non-acceptance of the science of climate change, many of them failing to grasp simple concepts such as the difference between weather and climate. Some of them suffer heavily from arrogance and one inparticular the Dunning-Kruger effect. A number of them have links to the mining industry and right-wing think tanks that are funded by mining companies and/or have mining executives on their boards. I wonder where their royalties loyalties lay? Is it with the people who have elected them, or their mining mates? I think I know the answer and it isn’t we the people. But then you’ve got the ALP subsiding the very industries they are claiming are the problem. Decisions decisions. For some, the decision might be about the lesser of two evils. Choose wisely.
Thanks to John Byatt for his valuable assistance with data collection.
If any politicians read this and feel they have been misrepresented, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org preferably with a definitive statement and I will make the necessary corrections and publish your response.
Tyson Says: A point I should make about the results here, which was also made on The Drum last night: The Labor Party doesn’t allow for crossing the floor or dissenting public comment. Now, it isn’t like there aren’t penalties in the other parties for doing so, but this point needs to be considered when viewing the statistics.
Essentially, where it has all of Labor politicians on board with climate change, that is actually a party stance, not the individuals. I know from first hand discussions that there are Labor politicians who don’t believe in climate change science, but they won’t go on record as such because the party room has voted against them.
This is partly why we see such pathetic policies and hypocritical positions (e.g. mine coal like it is going out of fashion whilst claiming coal is to blame). Remember, politicians don’t care about science or facts, they care about making their supporters happy. Just don’t think that the voting public are their key supporters, because they certainly didn’t donate tens of millions to their party.
I could post a bunch of statistics and the data from various countries, but instead I’m going to post The Daily Show’s three part series on the topic.
Now, I don’t like the idea of making it illegal for people to be able to be involved in the sport of shooting, nor making vermin control prohibitive. I think in some respects that Australian gun laws are probably a little too restrictive. I also think that the figures on how effective our gun control measures have been are a little overstated, as law enforcement had already made inroads into lowering gun crime prior to the new laws in 1996. But overall, in my opinion, Australia doesn’t have much of a gun problem now. Making sure gun owners are responsible people who are involved in the sport of shooting and not a disgruntled time bomb going unnoticed until they start shooting people, seems to be a good thing.
Every time I walk past a book store I just have to take a wander through and see what is on the shelf. The last time I saw two books that caught my eye, Luther: The Calling and Red White and Blood. I’d never heard of the latter, never heard of the author, Christopher Farnsworth, and this was the most recent in a three book series.
Sadly I’ve been burnt before, so I only walked out of the store with Luther. No matter how interesting this book looked, it was about vampires, politics and secrets, this could have been Twilight in the Whitehouse for all I knew. So instead I contacted my trusty local librarian and asked if they had any of the books on the shelves, they had all three. I’m glad they had them all.
Chris’s writing is witty, fast paced and well crafted. Essentially he has written a supernatural thriller in direct opposition to the sparkly lameness that has infected the supernatural genre. Despite the themes, the line isn’t crossed into horror territory, remaining firmly enjoyable to thriller fans who don’t like the gore aspect.
In short, I won’t be getting to Luther: The Calling, until after I finish all three of Chris’ Nathaniel Cade novels.