24 October 2012

Step away from the computer. Now. You are not working.

I stumbled across an article in Forbes via GeekPress today called "Eight Ways Goofing Off Can Make You More Productive".

Now this sounds like the kinda management theory I could buy into. The author, Susan Adams, refers to James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic saying:

'... you work in concentrated 15-minute periods, divided up by breaks. “The thought process is not designed to be continuous,” he tells the Times. He points out that efficient, productive work is much more valuable than long hours of wasted or partially productive time. ..'
That is pretty much my take on my own productivity during a work day, with the exception of those rare longer periods of white hot intensity, when you are "in the zone" working on a creation that is attempting to pull together diverse threads of thought and that can't be let go off lest the whole thing collapses losing shape and coherence.

the whole thing. It's not long. And there are only 8 items in the list of Forbes approved goof offs. Dare I suggest a 9th one: writing a blog post. Now I must away, I have an important lunch to go to.

23 October 2012

Scientists convicted of manslaughter for not predicting natural catastrophe

If the judicial system of a major Western European nation can convict and imprison seismological scientists for not accurately predicting the severity and timing of an unpredictable earthquake (this really happened this week in Italy), is it any wonder that climate scientists have felt the need to constantly predict imminent climate catastrophe as a means of self preservation against the inevitable happening of natural catastrophes, which are certain to occur at some unpredictable time in the future.

But it does somewhat undermine our confidence in the impartiality of the scientific reporting process if they have such a substantial and real incentive to overestimate catastrophe.

17 October 2012

Justice.Freedom.Truth. .......... Scissors. Paper. Rock.

 Justice trumps Freedom. Freedom trumps Truth. Truth trumps Justice.

I am prompted to revisit the above hubristically concocted heuristic from the early days of this blog, by an interesting paper I stumbled across recently by John P. Anderson of the Mississippi College of Law, Trading Truth for Legitimacy in the Liberal State: Defending John Rawl's Pragmatism.

Anderson states:
"Philosophers have challenged the idea of justice without truth as incoherent; and social critics have attacked it as naive. This paper defends Rawl's pragmatism against such critics and argues that the future of liberal constitutionalism may depend on its success".

That's a pretty high burden to place on the success of a defence of pragmatism. If it's any assistance I am prepared to suggest that my heuristic might, if someone could only explain it half competently, partially lend support to Anderson's case. The case and the heuristic share many potential and actual threats and challenges from ardent absolutists, relativists and justice crusaders, but the end point, for the case and the heuristic, is the potential realisation of an opportunity to satisfactorily reconcile some apparently irreconcilable contradictions in liberal democracy. It requires the partial sacrifice of belief in the absolutism of truth by affording high status to freedom and with only some cost to the paramountcy of justice.

It's clear that many people don't share the high regard for freedom that some post-enlightenment liberals do, so we are going to have our work cut out for us making this case.

But now that Mr Anderson has advised that the future of constitutional liberalism may depend on the success of this case, I feel duty bound to knuckle down again soon and do my bit for the cause by making a better case for the efficacy, desirability and accuracy of the heuristic.

I'll start by letting Mr. Anderson make his case for Mr. Rawl's pragmatism in the above article. Read the whole thing. He seems so much better equipped for these polemics than I at present, but I will return to have another shot at this soon. 

In the meantime, here is my first attempt at this on this blog from over four years ago. I'll be back.

16 March 2012

Will Ray Finkelstein's statutory "News Media Council" enable a totalitarian state?

"The fight for freedom begins with free speech"
Aung San Suu Kyi, The Observer, Sunday 11 March 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi was not saying this specifically in response to the report published 11 days earlier by the Honourable Ray Finkelstein QC on 28 February 2012 of his "Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation", but she could have been. Mr Finkelstein says in his report to the Australian Federal Labor government, who commissioned it, the following:

11.44 To rectify existing and emerging weaknesses in the current regulatory structures it is recommended that there be established an independent statutory body which may be called the "News Media Council", to oversee the enforcement of standards of the news media. ...

11.55 The News Media Council requires clearly defined functions. It is not recommended that one of them be the promotion of free speech. There are other ample bodies and persons in the community who do that more than adequately. ...
                  [bolding added by me]

What "ample bodies" would they be Ray? How would any such freely formed voluntary bodies compete with a statutory authority Ray? Are you suggesting they defy the News Media Council's rulings to promote free speech? Are you suggesting that speech coerced by a government body would be free speech?

I didn't think the Australian Federal Labor Government's opportunistic "Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation in Australia" would be anything more than an irritating bye-product of a government under pressure looking for an easy media distraction from its then prevailing political woes.  The ostensible reason proffered by the ALP government for this enquiry was the moral frenzy over revelations of illegal phone hacking of private citizens by journalists on the other side of the planet in the United Kingdom. This was seized on as an opportunity to stick it to the publishers of what the government perceived as tiresome and unjustified criticism of it in the News Limited media in Australia (principally awkward speculation of internal ALP rumblings of a possible Rudd leadership challenge to the PM). Threatening such media organisations with a Leveson-like media enquiry was itself, at the time, a reprehensible misuse of government power, but surely any such  politically motivated enquiry would not be so reckless as to go on to make substantive recommendations to increase government power at the expense of freedom of speech in Australia? Nah, Mr Finkelstein QC has taken the opportunity to release a 474 page report with substantive recommendations that seriously imperil free speech in Australia.

Many other journalists and media commentators on all sides of politics have already contributed to an outcry by citizens around the world  defending free speech in Australia from this egregious attack by an Australian Labor Government commissioned enquiry. Apparently this government felt so threatened by criticism in the press and robust debate that it felt it as OK to muzzle free speech with a trumped up enquiry that has produced this result.

Mr. Finkelstein has also recommended a statutorily mandated "right of reply".

9.49   An enforceable right of reply is a desirable reform for the media. There are no significant moral or policy objections to such a right ...

Oh yes there are significant moral and policy objections to such a right Mr Finkelstein.  Not the least of which is that the modern world affords more avenues than ever before to express oneself and publish those expressions other than in a publication you disagree with. If someone publishes something you disagree with, you can now publish yourself. For instance, I disagree with Mr Finkelstein's recommendations. I do not call on him to publish my contrary views in an addendum to his report.  To compel others under pain of government sanction to publish a view for you is an act of the totalitarian thought police.

John Stuart Mill's classic and enduringly relevant 1859 treatise "On Liberty" established the modern philosophic and moral baseline for freedom of expression in Western civilization, and with the clear understanding that such a freedom is not absolute. It is understood that this freedom must always be tempered to a tolerable degree by the "harm principle", that one's speech must not actually harm others. There is clearly much debate on where the line is to be drawn, but freedom is the starting point. Mr Finkelstein seems to think that the starting point is that freedom of speech is a privileged afforded to citizens by a gracious government on conditions that the government imposes.

It is also seems less than evenhanded and unbalanced of Mr Finkelstein to suggest that a justification for having such a News Media Council and an enforceable right of reply, is the risk of defamation to person's reputations from media publications. Each of our States and Territories already have longstanding laws protecting people's reputations from defamation by media publications. Whether these laws are adequate and appropriate is always a matter for debate. But this was not an enquiry into the adequacy of current defamation and libel laws. There have been many previous such enquiries which were better equipped to deal with and focus on such law reform issues than Mr Finkelstein's media enquiry. To conflate defamation law reform with media regulation, as Mr Finkelstein appears to have done in his taxpayer funded enquiry, only demonstrates the dangers that can befall a free society that permits a government appointed official to determine the powers of government appointed officials.

Democracy is necessarily messy and noisy. Freedom of speech is not, cannot and should not be guaranteed in any one expression of speech, but in the protection of the right of any person to say or defend their views across a variety of media and time frames. The notion of "balance" is misconceived in the context of just one expression of speech. To assert that one expression of speech should be "balanced" erroneously assumes the patently false position that there is, for any one view expressed, an opposite view that for fairness sake must also be expressed. This willfully ignores both that in most instances of the expression of a view there are multiple other different views from multiple other perspectives, not simply one opposite view, and that such an opposite view may itself be unfair and irrelevant to the view expressed. To mandate "balance" in any one given expression of speech is to compel speech in an other that the person expressing it may not believe in or want to express. This is coercion, not freedom.

I have many other beefs with Mr Finkelstein's 474 pager, including that here in Australia we do not have any clear constitutional protections for freedom of speech, unlike in the USA. In such circumstances, to assert, as Mr Finkelstein does, that freedom of speech can "more than amply" be promoted by persons other than the statutory body that he recommends be set up to regulate media speech, is to leave freedom of speech at the mercy of that body.

The establishment of a statutory "News Media Council" as recommended by Mr Finkelstein is a dangerous and unnecessary attack on the freedoms of the citizens of Australia. The recommendations appear to be capable of being used to constrain criticism of government and control speech by corercive edicts from a government body. Those recommendations should not be implemented.

The fight for freedom begins with free speech

06 March 2012

Who are you going to believe – Government climate scientists or the Data?

Dr David Evans, formerly a full time consultant to the Australian Greenhouse Office and a PhD from Stanford, has written a brief Skeptics Case which was been republished recently on WUWT.

It is a succinct and well argued case essentially making many very similiar, if not identical, points to those made by Professor Richard Lindzen in his presentation to Westminster about the exaggeration of CO2 forcings in the CAGW climate models.

Here's Dr Evan's take:

... This is an unusual political issue, because there is a right and a wrong answer and everyone will know which it is eventually. People are going ahead and emitting CO2 anyway, so we are doing the experiment: either the world heats up by several degrees by 2050, or it doesn’t.
Notice that the skeptics agree with the government climate scientists about the direct effect of CO2; they just disagree just about the feedbacks. The climate debate is all about the feedbacks; everything else is merely a sideshow. Yet hardly anyone knows that. The government climate scientists and the mainstream media have framed the debate in terms of the direct effect of CO2 and sideshows such as arctic ice, bad weather, or psychology. They almost never mention the feedbacks. Why is that?...

When is the importance of this "feedback" issue in the climate models finally going to filter into the mainstream media and the political consciousness? There is a lot at stake politically in Australia, in particular, on this. The Federal Labor Government have nailed themselves to the mast backing the CAGW scientific models by legislating for a punitive Carbon Tax on all large Australian businesses. The CACW climate model is increasingly looking like it is mistaken but the ALP can't admit that. The science has certainly now been well and truly politicised here.

What will our scientific community now say?  Will they be scientists enough to be able to put the science before their politics? Will they be able to communicate to the world that the IPCC models on which the Carbon Tax is predicated, are probably wrong?

Or will they stay silent and just let the ecomonic damage of this Carbon Tax wreak its toll, in lost jobs, reduced competitiveness and lower productivity for Australian industry?

CAGW theory is not settled science

What's Up With That has directed me to a tutorial in physics and science contained in a comment by Professor Robert Brown of the Duke University Physics department on a post on WUWT about Climate Science and Special Relativity.

I enjoyed Professor Brown's post as much for its excellent exegesis on the nature of scientific certainty in physics ,as for its application of scientific principle to the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming theory.

This is Professor Brown's take:

You compare the predictions of their “catastrophic” theory five, ten, twenty years back to the actual data. If there is good agreement, it is at least possible that they are correct. The greater the deviation between observed reality and their predictions, the more likely it is that their result is at least incorrect if not actual bullshit. That’s all. Accurately predicting the future isn’t proof that they are right, but failing to predict it is pretty strong evidence that they are wrong.

Such a comparison fails. It actually fails way back in the twentieth century, where it fails to predict or explain the cooling from 1945 to roughly 1965-1970. It fails to predict the little ice age. It fails to predict the medieval climate optimum, or the other periods in the last 10,000 years where the proxy record seems to indicate that the world was as warm or warmer than it is today. But even ignoring that — which we can, because those proxy reconstructions are just as doubtful in their own way as the tree-ring reconstructions, with or without a side-serving of confirmation bias to go with your fries — even ignoring that, it fails to explain the 33 or so years of the satellite record, the only arguably reliable measure of actual global temperatures humans have ever made. For the last third of that period, there has been no statistically significant increase in temperature, and it may even be that the temperature has decreased a bit from a 1998 peak. January of 2012 was nearly 0.1C below the 33 year baseline.

This behavior is explainable and understandable, but not in terms of their models, which predicted that the temperature would be considerably warmer, on average, than it appears to be, back when they were predicting the future we are now living. This is evidence that those models are probably wrong, that some of the variables that they have ignored in their theories are important, that some of the equations they have used have incorrect parameters, incorrect feedbacks....     
                                                        [the bolding is added by me]

The IPCC is now sorely in need of a revisit to its earlier predictions and its recommendations about the future. CO2 does not look like the main culprit for the Global Warming from 1975 to 1998. The world does not appear to need to take drastic measures to reduce CO2 emissions by changing its energy sources. Australia does not have to tax its largest companies CO2 emissions making those companies less internationally competitive, imperilling workers' jobs. In fact the Carbon Tax is increasingly looking like a spectacular political folly.

And, in Professor Brown's opinion, the whole alarmist schicht is pointless anyway because:

No matter what, we will be producing far less CO_2 in 30 years than we are today. Sheer economics and the advance of physics and technology and engineering will make fossil-fuel burning electrical generators as obsolete as steam trains. Long before we reach any sort of catastrophe — assuming that CAGW is correct — the supposed proximate cause of the catastrophe will be reversing itself without anyone doing anything special to bring it about but make sensible economic choices.

28 February 2012

Professor Lindzen's seminar on Global Warming at Westminister in February 2012

Professor Richard S. Lindzen of the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gave a seminar to the House of Commons Committee Rooms in Westminster, London on 22 February 2012.

Here is the link to the PDF of the slides he used at that seminar.

There are many interesting quotes from these slides. This is one which took my fancy:

“Future generations will wonder in bemused amazement that the early 21st century’s developed world went into hysterical panic over a globally averaged temperature increase of a few tenths of a degree, and, on the basis of gross exaggerations of highly uncertain computer projections combined into implausible chains of inference, proceeded to contemplate a roll-back of the industrial age.”

Of the many new things I learnt from this, one is a better understanding of the importance of the scale of the attributed amplification effect of "forcings" from alleged positive feedbacks on the amount of temperature increase that is said to arise from a doubling in CO2 concerntrations in the atmosphere. The agreed position of both sceptics like Professor Lindzen and Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming ("CAGW") proponents like the IPCC, appears to be that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere causes a direct, unamplified, 1 degree C increase in the global surface temperature. It is clear there is Greenhouse effect and that CO2 is a contributor to warming but the degree and scale of that effect over and above the base case 1 degree C per doubling in concertration is this key issue. The uncertainty is  over the extent of the effects, if any, of feedbacks on this base case temperature effect of a doubling of CO2 concertrations.
The CAGW and IPCC position appears to be that a positive feedback from an additional "forcing" from alleged consequential additional increases in water vapour, which is the most important Greenhouse Gas, from CO2 increases, is assumed to produce a further 3 fold increase in the temperature effects over the base case. This increased temperature effect apparently caused by related increases in water vapour from the increases in CO is alleged to triple the temperature effects of the base case of 1 degree C per doubling in CO2 concerntration, to a 3 degree C increase per doubling in CO2. Professor Lindzen suggests there is no empirical evidence for this very large "forcing" assumption in the observed temperature and CO2 concerntration data. He seem to suggest that if anything there appears to be a slight dampening (negative feedback) in the temperature effect of a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concerntrations from feedbacks from other factors.
The 15 year period of no statistically significant change in averaged global temperatures that we are currently experiencing, despite accelerating increases in CO2 concerntrations in the atmosphere over the same period, seem to support Professor Lindzen's position on this.

This does seem to leave the credibility of the IPCC's models' (which assume the 3x forcings) predictions of climate catastrophe from runaway temperature increases with CO2 increases looking overblown.

01 February 2012

What if CO2 has nothing to do with the Earth's climate?

There'd be a huge scramble of egg, vegetable and waste matter on the faces of, and obstructing the vision of, the vast worldwide army of over-sensitive and deeply concerned prognosticators in politics, academia, journalism, workplaces and kitchens, who have been scolding us all about our carbon emissions for nearly 2 decades.

And, make no mistake, this is now a completely legitimate question. Anyone genuinely interested in and curious about climate change must start asking themselves this in the light of the confirmation from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Institute and the British Met Office that there has been no no material change in the Earth's surface temperature in the last 15 years.

CO2 emissions have continued to rise unabated over that same 15 years but the planet has stubbornly refused to heat up. It looks mightily like there must be an explanation other than increases in atmospheric CO2 for the global warming in the 20 year odd period between 1976 and 1997.

Mike Stopa has now started the ball rolling on the rethink. There are many intriguing further questions consequent on this too, including, as Mike Stopa puts it, how will the history of this colossal mistake be written?

He suggests that:
  • "... They will say that the theory was seemingly invalidated by the decrease in global temperatures from 1940-1975, but that the adherents patched this up by explaining the cooling with pollution, specifically sulfur, from industry"...
  • "... They will say the theory was seemingly invalidated by the evidence that the atmosphere was already nearly opaque in the wavelengths that are absorbed by CO2 and so the additional CO2 could have, on its own, little effect, but that the theory was patched up by positing a feedback mechanism between the small temperature increases directly due to CO2 and the production of water vapor which is the main greenhouse gas..."
  • "... They will note that the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) proceeded much like any scientific theory (cf. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) in that it was modified and patched up and adjusted to fit empirical challenges until it finally collapsed altogether under the weight of incontrovertible evidence..."
                                                                                  [underlining added]

Most of the rest of the world have just entangled themselves in words and bureaucratic waste over this false alarm in the past decade. But Australia actually did something more than blow hot air in UN IPCC forums and at COP conferences. The Australian Labor government legislated last year to tax the country's largest 500 businesses with an impost of $23.00 per tonne of CO2 produced by those businesses, commencing 1 July 2012.

Now that it appears likely that CO2 probably does not contribute meaningfully to the warming of the planet, this tax is just a pointless handicap on Australian business. This pointless tax makes all Australian industry less competitive with the rest of the world. For no benefit. Not even the mystical benefit of "moral leadership" in the world. Just the dunces prize for being sucked in by all the smoke and mirrors from self-appointed important people who wanted to save us all from ourselves.

Just how this massive group-think folly is going to be backed away from by the educated opinion making elites in the West will indeed be intriguing.

These folk are not good at eating crow. So is there a face saving mechanism by which all the great and the good in the world who jumped on this absurd prosperity depleting bandwagon, can be redeemed?
We watch and wait.

It might take a while for these rubes to even realise that the game is over. But as it dawns on them gradually over the coming years that they got it so badly wrong, both the shrieks of pain and the silence of denial will be deafening. Indeed the deafening silence has already begun. This emergence of this clear conclusion of no warming for 15 years based on apparently rigorously collected and collated data remains pretty much unremarked on in the mainstream media to date. The dam will break soonish, methinks, especially here in Australia as the commencement date of the Carbon Tax looms closer.

So we might yet just be saved from both the oppression of unnecessarily intrusive world government edicts seeking to save us from climate perdition and the irritation of constantly being belittled by our betters for the mortal sin of high energy usage. Is it too much to hope that at some point soon it might even be possible to be able to resume creating prosperity for all without being told we can't use the cheapest, easiest and most abundant sources of energy?

30 January 2012

Move along. Nothing to see here.

It is now clear that Tony Hodges, Prime Minister Gillard's now former Media Adviser, rang  UnionsACT secretary Kim Sattler on Thursday 26 January. Ms Sattler is quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying:

"I spoke to Tony Hodges on the phone. He mentioned that Tony Abbott had made a statement about the embassy, that it shouldn't exist at all, ... I do now accept that wasn't what was Tony Abbott said."

The same day ("Australia Day") Ms Sattler according to the Herald Sun posted this statement on her Facebook page:
"Tony Abbott just announced the Tent Embassy should be closed down and a huge crowd from the Embassy went to greet him and he had to be rushed away with a police escort!"
On Saturday 28 The Prime Minister is quoted in the Sunday Telegraph as saying:

"At no point did Mr Hodges say to Ms Sattler that Mr Abbott had suggested that the tent embassy be torn down or removed in any way,"

Ms Sattler says Mr Hodges told her that Tony Abbott had said the tent embassy shouldn't exist at all. The Prime Minister says that at no point had Hodges made any such suggestion.  So is the Prime Minister or is Ms Sattler lying to us about what Mr Hodges said to Ms Sattler?

I understand that Ms Sattler has now changed her version of events so she is now not seen to be contradicting her leader. Ms Sattler's Facebook site has also now been removed from public scrutiny. That's better message management Prime Minister. There may be still a few loose ends to tuck in about this but the press won't press the point. Umm.. was Ms Sattler lying before or is he lying now?

What is clear is that nobody involved in protesting at the Lobby Restaurant in Canberra on Australia Day bothered or cared enough to listen to what Tony Abbott actually said in Sydney that morning about the aboriginal tent embassy:

“Look, I can understand why the tent embassy was established all those years ago. I think a lot has changed for the better since then. We had the historic apology just a few years ago, one of the genuine achievements of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. We had the proposal, which is currently for national consideration, to recognise indigenous people in the constitution. I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian, and, yes, I think a lot’s changed since then and I think it probably is time to move on from that.”

The facts? Who cares about facts in the Press Gallery and the ALP when there are potential political points to be scored against bogeyman Tony Abbott at a bipartisan emergency workers' bravery awards ceremony in Canberra on Australia Day?

And how is it that the Prime Minister apparently did not know about Tony Hodge's phone call on Thursday afternoon to Kim Sattler, 'till late on Friday evening? The PM's office appears to have conceded that Tony Hodges told the PM's senior media adviser on Thursday evening about his phone call to Kim Sattler at the Tent Embassy earlier that day? Surely the Prime Minister was told that her own office was implicated in fostering the protest event at which she was put in peril. It's not as if the protest and the PM's rescue from it wasn't getting full media coverage around Australia and internationally on the telly on Thursday evening.
The Prime Minister probably now agrees with the Leader of the Opposition's original suggestion: "it probably is time to move on from that". Nothing to see here.

10 January 2012

To employ or to contract?

It is heartening to potentially see emerging to legitimacy in contemporary polemics the notion that employment, with all its attendant rights and long term benefits for the employed, may not be an optimal relationship for the encouragement and fostering of success and prosperity in small business.

This article, "The Growth Agenda - the Self Employment Option" by Dr Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute advocates for "all small and medium enterprises to treat their workers as self-employed people under contract". He argues that "employers could take on extra people on a self employed basis without imposing any additional burden on themselves".

This argument strikes me intuitively as quite compelling. Inevitably any discussion of possible changes to the existing structures for workers' rights can provoke unnecessarily over emotional responses from the entrenched conservatism of trade unions and their enablers in protecting prevailing guild privileges, but in principle this idea seems to have a lot to recommend it, if the frame of reference is for the well being and prosperity of the whole economy, not just the quite specific sectional interests of large employer and large employee associations.

It is interesting to observe the UK Conservative government potentially entertaining such a far reaching reform, whilst at the same time the Australian Labor government seems intent on discrimination against out-sourcing and independent contracting by encouraging the taxation system to create heavy disincentives to contractors who might further threaten the long term drop in the numbers of workers who join trade unions.

This looks like yet another example of how the allegedly "progressive" side of politics is "regressive" in reinforcing authoritarian legal rigidities, whilst the allegedly "conservative" side of politics is  "progressive" in advocating for increased freedoms and flexibility in labour markets.

It seems, in Australia at least, to continue to support the "progressive" side of politics, is, ironically, to be an enabler of the preservation of institutional inflexibilitiy in existing workplace relationships and against the interests of a dynamic and flexible workplace environment susceptible to change and progress in overall societal prosperity.