25 October 2010

Progress v Freedom

The 21st Century paradigm?  

Left v Right was so 18th Century.
Collectivism v Individualism was so 19th Century
Socialism v Capitalism was so 20th Century

The cultural and political debates that are emerging in the 21st Century seem to be better framed in the related, but more informative, dichotomy of "Progress v Freedom", than the opaque, out-moded and blunt, " Left v Right ".  Labelling that tries to be more descriptive of the political content of a person's ideas is more helpful than the arbitrary putative positioning of that person relative to  opponents. Admittedly there is a residual problem that "progress" is also merely a directional indicator, that on its own doesn't indicate a destination. This means it can be appropriated as a label by anyone who wants to takes us to a different place.

"Progressive" is still used as a virtually inter-changable label for the Left today, even though the Left appear to oppose "progress", in its old 19th and 20th Century sense of building or placing more human infrastructure and services in under-developed places.  The Left originally appropriated the "progressive" label by contrasting themselves with "conservatives" who resisted societal change. As politics and society have evolved over the past couple of centuries this has become a little misleading. "Conservatives" or the "Right" have in more recent times become the party advocating the primacy of free markets. This positioning of the "right" is not "conservative". It is in furtherance of letting  free market choices determine failure and success dispassionately, with a minimum overlay of moral judgement. Markets are inherently dynamic, not conservative.

The "Left" have largely become the party advocating the primacy of government intervention to solve social ills rather than allowing unregulated market processes to take their disspassionate course. This often sees "progressives" advocating preserving institutions and resisting market dictated changes that would create what they perceive as undesired social displacements. In this way progressives are the conservatives.  The continued appropriation of "progessive" by the Left  depends now on a redefinition of the different places they want to take us. Rather than any developmental change it is now change of a more nuamced  sort: only progress towards certain defined social equity goals and the betterment of the collective lot of humans and the planet, is now considered "progrssive".  "Progress" thereby can still be used as a label by the Left even though Greens, such an important part of the progressive Left's current self identification, are passionate opponents of people being free to pursue progress in the physical developments of land and the environment.

More descriptive labels than Left v Right would seem to be more helpful . Confused political journalists and commentators might get a more realistic perspective on what is driving the Tea Party movement if they were more nuanced in their labellingAs it is many lazy, incurious or agenda driven reporters seem to just reflexively call the emerging grass roots opposition to both government's excessive intervention in citizens' lives and its fiscal irresponsibility, "right wing extremism".  By doing so they thereby either deliberately or inadvertently, but certainly misleadingly, equate such opposition with fascism, which is its polar political opposite.

The problem is that the 20th century progressive "Left" has always seen itself as having permanently appropriated the political cause of the masses. Both the Left and many of those who who purport to report on our political process, are apparently too conservatively inflexible to see that this convenient long standing appropriation, no longer truthfully describes what is actually happening in contemporary society. The progressive project of the political Left has, with its successful decades long march through the institutions, become the default position of the ruling elites. The masses are now, with a slowly dawning new political consciousness, beginning to spontaneously revolt against the accumulating and accelerating intrusions of the progressive State excessively intervening in citizens' lives. This polar flip in mass political consciousness is potentially quite an exhilarating prospect to behold, even if it remains difficult to predict the the pace and places at which it breaks out.

What's amazing is that so many of our 'would be' disaffected anti-establishment radicals in journalism and commentary (who want to "make a difference" in their work) remain so blinkered by the ideological straight jackets of their educational culture, that they don't seem to be able to acknowledge that this growing inversion in populist sentiment is taking place at all. The evidence, as seen in the much disparaged but clearly massively influential Tea Party movement, is becoming plainer to see by the day. But it seems it is so much easier and politically more convenient to a contemporary journalist's "life's project", to just continue to stay with their old narrative of populist Left and elitist Right, even whilst such facile characterisations aren't holding water anymore.

One of the puzzles of humanity that has always perplexed me, is why otherwise intelligent, serious and curious people seem to be so ready to blithely prioritise their particular current notion of desirable collective social progress over individual freedoms. And this occurs seemingly without any regard being had to the accumulated consequences. This seems to be a common trait of the collectivist worldview: a reflexive willingness to sacrifice others' individual freedoms in the name of their perceptions of the collective good.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Indeed one of the ways you might interpret the civilization we have inherited, is that it is the sum of the lessons passed down to us by our forebears about how we can satisfactorily resolve the conflict between individual freedom and collective good. My concern is that within the current paradigms of this perpetual battle for our political souls, there does not seem to be sufficient , if any, merit afforded  to the case for individual liberty in the contest with collectivist strictures. Although this long term imbalance may be beginning to be redressed.

If a political activist in a contemporary western democracy calls for "something to be done" about a perceived problem, then "being seen to do something" about that problem, has become almost the sole driver of the political narrative. For someone to observe, let alone advocate, that nothing effective can be done, or that the solution could be worse than the perceived problem, has become too difficult a case to make, lest the person putting such a case be characterised as uncaring or heartless. That such shallow polemics is often a complete mis-characterisation of the actual situation, because such observations or advocacy are often actually driven by a deep and real concern for the liberties and prosperity of the wider collective body politic, seems to be ignored.

We live in a world that is dictated to by 15 second sound bites, 140 character Twitter feeds and sensationalist headlines. These days an argument suggesting that there are net benefits to citizens from  preserving their individual freedoms against the constant erosions to them of the state, risks ridicule by all the university (or wanna be) educated strivers for conformity to collective moral purity, amongst the self important opinion makers in the media.  Surely, we say, everyone must acknowledge that seat belts save lives. Why should we be free to not wear them if we chose to take that risk?    (Can it not be legitimately argued anymore that this is something that is a personal choice and a personal risk for each adult to make and take responsibility for, and not something for editorialists and the Roads and Traffic Authority to dictate to society?)

Today's climate of disparagement of free choice and routine demonisation of advocates for personal freedom of choice, as reckless, uncaring and unintelligent, has seen the balance that is at the core of this perpetual political conflict, badly skewed towards collectivism. The dreadful lessons of the 20th Century's disastrous efforts to impose prescriptive notions of collective well being on humanity from above, seem not to have been heeded.  By allowing collectivism to nearly always trump individualism, we inadvertently risk a steady descent into statist totalitarianism. We are all now live lobsters in a pot being brought without protest, by slow and imperceptible increments, to the boil, so that others may later dine on our carcass. And it is because we have an insufficient appreciation of the importance and value of our individual liberties, that we do not feel justified in protesting when some new minor stricture from the collectivist scolds in power is imposed on us.

The most prominent recent iteration of this persistent theme of contemporary political life is the global warming debate. Most progressives, who prioritise collective coercion over individual responsibility, are currently preparing to compel all of us to sacrifice many of our few precious remaining personal liberties and choices, in the name of the greater good of the planet. The collectivists would have us believe that; like other great progressive achievements of post-Enlightenment Western civilization like universal suffrage, the liberation of women and freedom of religion; endorsing and enforcing low carbon industry and life styles is a great human or planetary good that requires and demands great personal sacrifices from each of us. If needs be, this will be done by force of law with severe punishment for transgressions, and this is for our own good. And it is taken for granted that this is so, even if it means for each of us to be prepared to subsume ourselves under a vast and highly intrusive global bureaucratic apparatus that all non-delusional thinkers know will be not just be imperfect, but potentially totalitarian in character.

As discussed above, "progress" used to mean development of infrastructure for the improvement of living conditions for humans. Climate change alarmism seems to oppose this kind of "progress". Can being Green really be progressive? Well yes, provided you can change the object towards which you wish to progress. Even, it seems,  if it means going in the other direction (from pro-development to anti-development), which is what the Green appropriation on "progress" has done.

This was all prompted by yet another thought provoking post in early October by David Foster on the Chicago Boyz website called "The Scribes and the idea of Freedom".  His post, amongst other things, takes a pre-emptive swipe at Richard Franzen's new novel Freedom, which apparently questions the sanctity of the concept of freedom. Could this be another new beginning for an interesting debate on "freedom" in contemporary academia?  I note that the ABC's book review TV program, First Tuesday, has set Franzen's "Freedom" and Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" as its two novels for review on air in November. So let's get in and dabble a bit in this pond now before these TV literary elitists pontificate from their high cultural altar.  Will the elitist "Scribes" class rally against this impending 'tea party" insurrection from the masses with scorn and ridicule, a la Franzen, for the little folks' misplaced love of "freedom", or will there be some revision in the intellectual ranks towards a new found respect for the chaotic creative power of individualism ?

I was quite taken by this from David Foster's Chicago Boyz post:

The question of why the conceptual and emotional traps that affect human decision-making don’t also apply to these elites–the question of “who will nudge the nudgers”–tends to go unanswered.
You get the distinct feeling Western intellectuals (pseudo and otherwise) are feeling compelled by unfolding events to scramble a justification for their apparently failed, almost universally leftist collectivist prescriptions for society since the second world war.   Could this be the fear that is driving current efforts by the authorial class to re-contextualise the idea of  "freedom"?  The western social democratic hegemony now appears to be on the brink of being openly challenged politically from below by the Tea Party movement. Such a challenge must be confronted otherwise the elite's power will be eroded.

I also liked this observation from one of the commenters on Foster's post:

It is one of the major blind spots of leftist’s elitism that they can’t see that the behaviors that they see as corrupting individual decision-making and private organizations also affect themselves and government institutions. There is no way to evade our programmed impulses to selfishness. Almost all leftists ideas are ultimate based on the idea that an altruistic subset of humans exist who will only use the violent-based coercive power of the state for the good of all.
The Greeks, the Romans of the Republic and the Founders knew better. The farther we deviate from that hard earned wisdom, the worse we do.
I've got a feeling we are going to see from our academic elites and the commentariat in coming months and years, a lot more sanctimonious belittling of the plebians' inability to choose wisely. As the backlash against Obama's failed experiment in government beneficence gathers pace in the US and slowly spreads to the outposts of the empire here in Australia, all the enablers and apologists for statism in the educated cultural elites will desperately stretch to find something to cling to on the mountainside. All the time forgetting or failing to acknowledge how unwise the leftwing choices they have made or would have had us make, in the last century have been.

Capitalism is not pretty, but it has delivered prosperity to the majority who have learnt to survive its indifference to their fate. Socialism looks pretty, but it has impoverished the majority of those who suffer under its loud proclamations of concern for their well being. The cultural elites of Western Democracies do not seem to want to face up to this palpable truth, because it would mean their constant expressions of concern would be without content.

09 September 2010

Questions on degrees of stupidity

What is stupider than being stupid while calling other people stupid?

Nice question. It was put by Ann Althouse after reading this piece of stupidity from progressive US commentator Jonathan Chait in The New Republic, whilst he sought to ridicule as stupid an economic recovery proposal put forward by the Republican governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels:
A proposal that seems remotely close to reality will be widely praised, as if we were watching a person with severe disabilities manage to finish a race. Wow, look at that! You have a plan! With numbers! Hooray for you!
Yeah. Wow. Just how stupid is that? This sanctimonious galah apparently feels so morally superior that he could not even contemplate that whilst carefully crafting these acerbic words he could also be caught in the act of transgressing a sacred tenet of the Talibanic moral code of political correctness: thou shalt not to be seen to belittle minorities or the handicapped. It's not like he wasn't warned that progessives can no longer always get away with such public displays of blatant hypocrisy. Obama made a similar "Special Olympics" gaffe about his bowling prowess on the Jay Leno TV program in March 2009 and was then forced to publicly apologise. Will Chiat or The New Republic now have to do likewise?

But is it possible that at least one thing stupider than being stupid whilst calling other people stupid, is quoting the stupidity of the person being stupid whilst calling someone stupid ? Now this is getting really stupid.

06 September 2010

No independence on Independents at the ABC

During this intriguing inter-regnum as Australia waits to see if a minority government can be cobbled together in Canberra between one or two of the major parties and the independents, we have again been shown the brazen double reporting standards of Fairfax and the government media.

As occurred throughout the Rudd Government, these influential news agencies have seen their primary self appointed role as holding the Opposition to account. As they see it, the Government is so clearly on track with their urban latte sippers' approved policy and clever news management systems, that independent press scrutiny can be focused on the easy sport of picking at the Opposition's failings, rather than the substance of holding the Government's actual performance to account. And some people still seem to wonder aloud why Australia was caught by surprise when the Labor party killed off their own Prime Minister late in his first term. The ALP, unlike their journalistic fan clubs in the ABC and Fairfax, could actually see that the electorate was going to punish them for their incompetence in government. But the fellow travellers of the ALP in the press corps apparently still haven't figured out that their failure to report on this government let the Australian public down badly then and it continues even now. The ABC and Fairfax  failure of competence as independent reporters on the Government's performance remains a disgrace.

Last night I watched the ABC1's 7 pm evening TV news broadcast. The lead item was an allegation (unspecified) that the Coalition was "intimidating the Independents".  I can't link to the story today because the dishonest weasels at that taxpayer funded news organisation have now substituted a link to a new and different story that will not be run on the broadcast evening TV news. The ABC  now reports on its website that the independents do not feel intimidated. And check the time stamp on the story, 17.52 Sunday. So how come the Sunday 7 pm news didn't report  this? Is it balanced of the ABC to continue to run with their "intimidation of the Independents" story even though the Independents denied being intimidated before the report went to air?  Somebody should investigate this derogation of duty and manipulation of the media narrative by the ABC. But who has the authority? The ALP government or the ABC who are helping to put them in office?

As we moved from the newsreader's tele-promptings on this lead item on the Sunday evening 7 pm ABC1 TV news, to the accompanying visuals it became apparent that this "news" item was derived from a statement by ALP government minister, Anthony Albanese, some time earlier on Sunday declaring something to the effect that the Opposition were "clearly getting desperate and that they were almost resorting to intimidating the Independents". So this was just some tactical political trash talking of opponents by a government lackey. Only someone without an editor and/or without an independent bone in their body could decide such a piece of fluff would be "newsworthy" enough to run it as an item on the main 7 pm ABC 1 broadcast, let alone be a lead. I suppose it might conceivably have had some minor legs if an "Independent" had said he felt intimidated. But from the ALP's Anthony Albanese? This is just the ABC doing some convenient water carrying for the ALP by passing on the ALP government's preferred line on the state of play in the negotiations. How can the ABC credibly justify this act of doing the partisan bidding of the caretaker government of the day whilst that government is in the midst of negotiating for its survival? It seems neither fair nor independent.  Maybe the ABC's Media Watch will tell us. Ha.

It's not like this has been an isolated event either. Tony Jones was disgracefully rude and dismissive of Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb when interviewing him on Lateline last Thursday evening about the dispute between the Coalition and Treasury over costings and independent, Andrew Wilkie's highly ethical betrayal of his negotiating tactics in coming out in support of the ALP. Let's see him do that with Treasurer Wayne Swan or Lindsay Tanner's replacement ( How about Adam Bandt Julia?).

As for Fairfax. Check out this morning's offering from the ALP's defacto communication spokesman at  the Sydney Morning Herald, Phil Coorey. Abbott losing his grip on an Independent ? Abbott's the leader of the Liberal/National parties in Opposition. He's not in power. He doesn't have a grip on Independent, Tony Windsor to lose.  That's why we have a hung parliament. We know that Fairfax journalists, along with their ABC brethren, cannot seem to adjust to the fact that the Coalition lost office three years ago. And even today they continue to seek to hold the Coalition to account, leaving the Government unmolested by inquiry or speculation as to its motives. After all such reporting might imperil their preferred team's chances of securing a majority on the floor of the House. Independence? That's for Independents. Not journalists.

Have we had a single prominent report from either Fairfax or the ABC critical of Julia Gillard's negotiating tactics with the Independents (without the usual inevitable weasel words also equally critical of the Coalition for the same purported offence) or which might have impaired her negotiating position with the Independents since the weekend of the election? Show me.

If, as increasingly seems likely, Prime Minister Gillard can do a deal with the rural Independents sufficient to get the confidence of the House, will we then predictably see an orgy of reporting in Fairfax and the ABC on Abbott's failure to win government? Or will they finally report to us adequately on the grubby compromises, inducements and attacks on the Opposition that this already deeply compromised Prime Minister has had to engage in to secure her pyrrhic victory to obtain a fragile and unstable government.

Will the ABC and Fairfax ever be able to report adequately or fairly on the manifest failures of their much loved, gender preferred, unreligious, unmarried and childless, Prime Minister Gillard in Government, rather than the unliked, wrong gendered, faith-bound and married parent, powerless Abbott in Opposition? It seems highly unlikely whilst they continue to recruit and retain the vast majority of their journalists from the inner urban hordes of fashion affected zeitgiest sniffers and sanctimonious academic crusaders for amorality. Can they change so as to report the news more accurately and reliably in future? Only if the light bulb wants to change.

02 September 2010

Emily Dickinson blogging

I'm Nobody! Who are you?

Are you—Nobody—too?

Then there's a pair of us?

Don't tell! they'd advertise—you know!

How dreary—to be—Somebody!

How public—like a Frog—

To tell one's name—the livelong June—

To an admiring Bog

Emily Dickinson

Simple and easy. Not to be confused.

HL Mencken: "There is always an easy solution to every human problem; neat, plausible, and wrong."

Ronald Reagan: "There are simple solutions, just no easy solutions."

30 August 2010

Dirty Development Mechanism

I reckon that if a bunch of well meaning central planning ideologues can choose to brand their artifical process for the global reduction of the main chemical element in all known life forms, carbon, the "Clean Development Mechanism", without recognising the hubristic over-reach and irony of such aspiration, they deserve to have this happen to them.


There is something dangerously seductive about the idea of being able to deliberately plant an idea, cut down to its simplest form, so that it can take hold in the human psyche and self propagate like a virus. Whilst bravely putting to one side the whole of the advertising and marketing industries, I have recently been prompted to ponder the genesis and success of some quite influential ideas:
But what if an idea is bad? Do we have choices about the ideas we propagate? Are we responsible for the ideas we foster? Or is it all just a Darwinian contest and to the victor goes the spoils? Can there be a meta-context, a higher perspective, from which it is legitimate to form a judgment on the merits of an idea, independently of its mere success in propagating itself?

Needless to say I saw Christopher Nolan's movie Inception for the first time yesterday. It was the inception for these musings, as it no doubt has been and will be for countless millions of other meanderings. It provides an opportunity to again posit the threalmic heuristic of this website, as one possible pathway to resolving such imponderables:

Truth beats Justice;
Justice beats Freedom;
Freedom beats Truth.
But Inception has now potentially given birth to another "scissors, paper, rock"  heuristic trilogy:

Dreams conquer Reality;
Reality conquers Desire;
Desire conquers Dreams;

Nah. It doesn't seem to work quite as well as our existing threalmic trilogy, but there is still pleasure in experimenting with such ideas, even with this newly perceived risk of inadvertent bad idea inception.

Inception is a cinematic masterpiece; a surpassingly well executed rendition of a seductively illusive idea.

* * * * *
5 Threalmic jelly starbursts.

10 August 2010

Questioning Mother Julia

I watched Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard with compere Tony Jones and a studio audience in Adelaide, on ABC1's Q&A program last night, 9 August 2010.

She's certainly a clever and accomplished politician, with a plenty of negative schtick for her opponents. My abiding impression however was that it was like watching an over-confident suburban school principal dealing with questions in assembly. No one dared challenge her on her display of well honed defensiveness about her ruthlessness, although there was the occasional cheeky little boy who tried to play it for some laughs.

It was not a debate and there was little policy substance.  She returned whenever she could to her saintly parents, sacrificing themselves, emigrating from Wales and doing it tough in suburban Adelaide for the sake of the children, Julia and her sister. This stuff clearly must poll well in focus groups. And I must not be very focused. My mind wandered back to when another sentimental would be Welsh miner, US VP Joe Biden, plagiarised the UK's Neil Kinnock stump speech harping on about mine shafts and the boyos in the valleyos. The anglosphere seems to be rich lode for leftists seeking political colour. But I digress.

The most interesting observation of the night was a comment in the, mostly irritating, continuous Twitter feed at the bottom of screen during the show. Someone observed there that she had a very good technique in affirming a question and the questioner. Yes. You got the sense that she is very practised and carefully schooled in one-on-one inter-personal political combat, not just the politics of public affairs. If this was the real Julia, then she is one scary and calculating mother.

When cornered, like nearly all politicians, she goes to enormous lengths to avoid directly answering an awkward question. And, what's more intriguing, she seems to get a pass on this from her interlocutors, even when called on it. Tony Jones pressed her a number of times on whether she had apologised to Kevin Rudd. She couldn't bring herself to say that she had not, even on the third try. We just had to take it that her repeatedly reconfigured non-answer, essentially that she felt that what she did to him was necessary in the circumstances, meant both that she didn't think an apology was necessary and that she therefore hadn't given him one. But that's not what she said. Gillard's persistent lack of grace about her shortcomings requires us to draw the negative inferences about her conduct ourselves.  By doing so she seeks to exploit to her own political advantage the generousity of spirit of many Australians. This deceptive trait could well bite her her on the bum one day. That's the day when the voting public (like Lindsay Tanner and John Faulkner before them) finally have had a gutful of her constantly holding herself out as a woman of conviction, when she is so clearly a purely pragmatic political animal.

I also continue to be mildly bemused by her brazen attacks on Tony Abbott over Work Choices and his economic competence.

It beggars belief for me that she gets a free pass from the media when claiming that Abbott's promise not to tamper with her Fair Work laws 'til the next election, should not be believed because he is ideologically opposed to the rigidities of her new labour laws.

How can this line of argument have any credibility coming from a politician who has been in the Left faction of the Labor Party all her adult life (she was even on the management committee of the Socialist Forum at Uni and was still a member of that quasi-communist front body as recently as 2002), but who now is spruiking herself in this election campaign as a fiscal conservative who believes in strong border protection and who doesn't have an agenda for pricing carbon. If, as she would have it, Abbott can't be believed on a clear promise to leave the existing labour laws in place for one more three year term, just because he's always been in favour of liberalising the labour market, where does that leave her promise to put the Budget into surplus within three years and not raise taxes, when 'til now she's always been a working class Union warrior reflexively sprouting all the usual big government pieties of the progressive Left ?

The commentariat have also negligently avoided challenging this Prime Minister on this line she is selling about an increase in the company tax rate for big business under Abbott's plan to fund his parental leave scheme, inevitably leading to higher grocery prices at Woollies and Coles. This argument of hers is misleading political voodoo economics. Commentators should be calling a foul on her.

Just a few short weeks ago Ken Henry, the Government's own Treasury Secretary, testified on national television before a Senate Committee, that the proposition that an increase in a tax on company profits increases the price of goods sold by the company, is a fallacy anyone interested in economics learns in High school. So why haven't the press pressed the Prime Minister on this?

Our friends at the taxpayer-funded ABC were delighted at the time to be able to embarrass the Liberal Party senators questioning Mr Henry on this, by broadcasting his testimony on their 7pm national news bulletin.  So why are the ABC now being silent about this intellectual neanderthalism when the Prime Minister openly sprouts such economically illiterate bull for political point scoring in an election campaign?

Amazingly there was even the hint of a suggestion at one point, initiated by Tony Jones putting Abbott's re-opening of the Henry Report to her and the PM's somewhat ambivalent answer, that the time might be becoming ripe during the next parliamentary term for a genuine flat tax debate. Now that would be a debate with some true policy substance to it.

The Prime Minister's answer to the last question of the show from Lowitja O'Donoghue pretty much summed up the emptiness and hypocrisy of an old leftist, reformed from the folly of pursuing ideals,  now that she has obtained power. Lois asked Julia why all the parties were silent on indigenous issues in the campaign.  Julia answered that Labor has not been silent on indigenous issues in this campaign.  She in effect said:

 "..look; Kevin has apologised, my education policies are helping and Jenny Macklin is looking into constitutional recognition...".
There lies a politician.

It seems however that because she survived this "test", didn't look uncomfortable and there were no "gotcha" moments, that the media now think the populace is more likely to elect her.  We really do set a low bar for public leadership these days. It's not about the quality of the political vision or the soundness of the policy proposals under analysis.  Mere survival without major embarrassment through the glare of an intense public spotlight is all that is now required to be considered fit for leadership.

All the anodyne stuff you're required to say and do is just so much colour and movement for the cameras. It seems that if you risk getting in front of current perceptions of popular sentiment, then you will be humiliated publicly, so any opinion leadership on matters moral, strategic or cultural, is now considered too treacherous for an aspiring leadership candidate.

02 August 2010

Slimy local leaders

 ..Whitlam, Fraser, HawkeKeatingHoward, Rudd, Gillard & ...Abbott ?
The election news in Australia over the weekend was more than usually depressing.

Yeah, I know it's just another election campaign and it is as always pitched at people who aren't interested in politics or policy: swinging voters in marginal seats. I'm not in that target audience.

And I know that this is, due to the absence of any actual leadership, a Seinfeld election; about nothing, other than the identities of the leaders. And yeah, the Labor Party has recently and unexpectedly taken a potentially election losing hit in the polls, which, as usual, none of the Fairfax or ABC experts foreshadowed (now why might that be?)   But that's not why for me it's been so depressing.

It's because of what we've now learnt, from people who actually knew him, about our former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.  It seems he was a seriously morally deficient little creep.

Mark Latham, Alexander Downer and David Penberthy are only the latest observers who are now piling onto the growing band wagon, along with the Union heavies who knifed him like Mark Arbib and Bill Shorten.  It is giving us all a pretty clear picture that our former Prime Minister was a self absorbed, manipulative and untrustworthy back- stabber with a vile temper and a serious case of adult interpersonal immaturity.

He was also the leader of our nation.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but it is still depressing to have your worst, most cynical, fears confirmed. This seems to be an all too common case of how manipulative, over ambitious, morally challenged individuals who are prepared to actively undermine perceived rivals, are the ones who reach the top, and thereby have the most influence over our lives. Good does not out in the end. Evil is too seductively attractive to be resisted by the ambitious. Nice guys finish last. Only the nasty succeed in politics.

Prime Minister Gillard has also now decided to play catch up in the polls by actively targeting Abbott the man rather than the ball of policy. This is a shameful tactic, and it should be called as such by the public punditry, but they are just salivating at the prospect of the campaign getting interesting now that it is to become openly personal.  This just reinforces the deeply depressing nature of this campaign.

Can it really be that this power seeking, gender exploiting politician, who rose through the party ranks to the top job on a wave of sanctimonious leftist purity and identity politics, is now so predictably showing us that all her idealistic puffery in getting there was just that, a clever bluff?  She seems to be now living out the same ugly truth about the powerful as her predecessor, whom she so brutally eliminated to get there.

I didn't think I particularly liked Tony Abbott's brand of moral politics, especially his alleged inclination to want to dabble in social engineering, but at least he seems to be who he says he is, including admitting that, like all of us, he lies at times. I like also that he at least seems to be talking, in this election anyway, about the limitations of government intervention, as if that is an OK thing.

The crumbs of comfort to be found in all this are in seeing that our politicians aren't really all that powerful, even if they can sometimes be pretty scary when wielding their huge taxation and regulation levers.  But there's also the increasingly palpable feeling that the putative glory that is sought by these miserable shits is merely transitory. Ozymandias anyone?

For all its sub-optimal failings in so often putting the wrong people in power, democracy seldom seems to allow these self promoting moral cripples to stay in power for too long.  Churchill was right. Democracy is the worst form of government. It's just the least worst form of government that humanity has so far been able to conceive.

I guess the flesh crawling sliminess of these politicians must come from the greasiness of the pole they've had to climb to get to the top. They can't have been like that from birth can they? Otherwise no-one would have fed them.

24 June 2010

Rudd: another "greatest moral challenge" victim

Kevin Rudd was right. Climate Change has been "the greatest moral challenge of our time".

First Malcolm lost the Liberal leadership trying to lead his party into a path of challenging the climate. Now Kevin has lost the Prime Ministership for being seen to avoid leading his party into challenging it.

So can Julia Gillard now survive the change challenge?

Or will Tony Abbott get away with evading the challenge ?

The political climate sure seems to be a'changin' at present anyway.

What with the recent demise of Gordon Brown in the UK and with the coming mid-terms in the US in November, there is much to chew on in all sorts of places. Then, as well as the Australian federal election sometime in the next 6 or 7 months, there's the NSW and Victorian State elections looming as well. It is going to be an interesting 12 months.

And amidst all this colour and movement in Canberra today, is Obama's replacement, in Washington overnight, of his hand picked commander in the Afghanistan theatre, General Stanley McCrystal, with General David Petraeus. Are we seeing here the inadvertent fostering of Obama's eventual nemesis? If Petraeus does execute a successful Afghanistan strategy over the next couple of years, as he did in Iraq, then he could become an almost unstoppable force as a Presidential candidate. But if Petraeus fails in Afghanistan then Obama and the US fail with him.  For once, however, it seems to have been the right thing to do, so maybe this executive green-horn has finally made a good decision for his nation, rather than his his own self interest.


22 January 2010

Curling: the latest in libertarian insurrection

Check out this delightful story that has emerged from the current deep winter freeze in the Northern Hemisphere:   emergency workers and Police prevented from preventing a curling contest on a Scottish loch by the very Occupational Health and Safety regulations they were trying to enforce.

From that well known curling website, Skip Cottage Curling:

Apparently it was quite a day in Lochmaben. The ice had been checked by the local council and was 7-8 inches, and solid. However, someone phoned the police to say there were lots of people on the ice and they didn't think it was safe. Anne tells the story, "Six police officers arrived but they couldn't go on ice to warn people because of health and safety so they passed the buck to the Nith rescue who came with a rescue boat but because of heath and safety they couldn't go on ice either. So the Coast Guard arrived, lights flashing! But guess what? Because of health and safety he couldn't go on the ice either! A great day was had by all
Lid dip: Bishop Hill

Unfortunately the follow up to this inspiring story (from the Observer) shows that the regulatory over-reach of the modern bureacratic state eventually succeeded to squib out, as it always seems to, any further instances of such spontaneous outbreaks of human freedom.  The tentacles of the nanny state this time reached even to the icy wastes of northern Scotland and have seemingly permanently snuffed out any prospect of convening another Grand Match, the ancient curling tournament between the North and South of Scotland, last held in 1979.

Ah well, such set backs, should only embolden us all to continue the perpetual fight for human freedom against the dread hand of the state.
 Long live loch curling and the Grand Match !

21 January 2010

Is "Nature" apologizing for disparaging by its edict against disparagement?

It seems almost emblematic of how poor Nature's communication skills are, that it can only bring itself to, sorta kinda, say sorry for its recent disparagment of sceptics, by sermonising to scientists about the perils of disparaging others:

"...scientists should be careful not to disparage those on the other side of a debate: a respectful tone makes it easier for people to change their minds if they share something in common with that other side..."

Maybe Nature could benefit from some research into how to communicate more effectively. But these clever scientific folk seem to have already thought of that. Here's Nature's prescription for preventing this malady of disparagement:

..Even as climate science advances, it will be just as important to invest in research on how best to communicate environmental risks. Otherwise scientific knowledge will not have the role that it should in the shaping of public policy...

But the communication bibful that this Nature editorial unexpectedly dribbles, is that it thinks science is about shaping public policy. Some of us thought science was about the rigourous pursuit of scientific truth, even if it loses you a role in the shaping of public policy. Could it be that it is this self glorifying public policy role that Nature  sees for itself has distracted it from its former central mission: publishing unimpeachable peer reviewed scientific research? Just asking. Maybe if it had stayed focussed on the importance of the science rather than the importance of scientific knowledge's role in shaping public policy, Nature might have avoided the embarrassing predicament it now seems to be in. It looks like it's now going to have to walk back from its recent open advocacy of a settled scientific position on AGW.  The clear damage that has been done to the credibility of science with the public, now that a more sceptical and less definitive perception of the state of climate science than previously openly espoused by Nature, seems to be emerging in the wake of Climategate, might have been prevented if Nature had been more focussed on the science and less on the policy.

Maybe some of the investment that Nature is looking for in how best to communicate climate risks can be spent in teaching Nature to at least look like it is capable of taking its own medicine a little more manfully when, say, apologising for disparaging sceptical scientists as "denialists".

For yes, Nature did overstep the mark and diminish its standing by taking an activist's role in the climate debate by launching ad hominem attacks on scientists it disagreed with.  It's not just that it resorted to labelling appropriately sceptical scientists as "denialists", which alone is pretty egregious, it's that it continues to openly champion a hypothesis even it seems to concede is built largely on computer models' projections of nature.   Yet, whilst making this seemingly quite significant concession (which seems to make these hypotheses quite speculative and vulnerable) Nature would still seek to punish those who participate in the scientific process of testing and critically analysing these models. This looks especially bad for Nature and its fellow travellors, when, as this season's unexpectedly bitter Northern winter has shown us, these models fail to accurately predict nature. This hypothesis testing process used to be called the scientific method, not denialism.

And no, this purported apology by Nature is not adequate. A truly rigourous self aware journal would  be prepared to openly acknowledge its own transgression of a standard that it now sets for others. We are expected to live by the standards we publicly espouse for others if we are not to be called hypocrites.

Lid dip: Bishop Hill