Archive for category Article

The climate science isn’t “in”

aka back and better than the same as ever

MK has been dormant since June 2013 — almost 2 years! It’s been a while since I wrote a bona fide blog post, but I miss doing that, so I figured I would, and on one of my favourite old topics (see HERE). This one is dedicated to my handfuls upon handfuls of readers.

I believe in climate change. I also am not all that bothered by it.

That attitude seems to raise a few eyebrows. Most people assume that if you believe in climate change, then you must see a desperate need to “take action” against it and, conversely, if you do not care much about climate change, then you are obviously one of those “climate change deniers” (a term that’s a little too close to “Holocaust denier” for my liking).

I don’t fall into either category. My thoughts can be encapsulated quite neatly in three points (and I think I may be paraphrasing John Humphreys):

  1. Is the climate changing? Yes.
  2. Are humans causing that? Probably.
  3. Is it as bad as we think? No.
  4. Does it warrant drastic government intervention? Almost definitely not.

As points 1 and 2 have been adequately canvassed elsewhere, and point 4 follows from point 3, I’ll concentrate on point 3 for the balance of this post. Before I do that, I should give this qualification: I’ll admit that I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I do have a statistics major, so I am at least somewhat qualified to comment on the research findings that people like to throw around. And I have read the most authoritative material out there, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports and the major Royal Society reviews (see HERE).

So with the power of that limited knowledge and drawing on my hours of research, here is what i think:


The future hasn’t happened yet

People have been predicting the end of the world for as long as there have been people, and that includes in this “enlightened” age of “science” that we now live in. Yet the doomsayers have been proven wrong each time.

The problem with predicting the future is that it hasn’t happened yet. That may seem obvious, but it is constantly overlooked by “scientists” the world over. The standard way of predicting the future using maths, “time series analysis”, boils down to this: take what has happened in the past, figure out what the average was, and assume that the future will be the same.

This might seem intuitive — after all, the best indication of what will happen in the future that we have is what has already happened — but it is in fact an extremely flawed way of looking at the world. The best and most well known critic of the formula is probably Nassim Taleb. He makes the following criticisms:

   1. Outliers

The past is peppered with what Taleb calls “Black Swan” events and what everyone else calls “outliers”. Outliers are rare events that are different to all other events, and therefore cannot be predicted. It is impossible to predict the unpredictable, therefore any statistical projections will invariably miss the outliers, especially if it is predicting the future based on the past average.

This results in things like financial analysts missing the Global Financial Crisis (bad outlier), or Thomas Malthus predicting that all the food would run out and missing the productivity improvements of the industrial revolution (good outlier, back in Malthus’s time).

   2. Knowing it all

Time series predictions involve a degree of hubris. They assume that we understand the past and why everything in the past has happened, and can confidently reduce the infinitely complex universe into a few variables that will inevitably explain anything, and so if we know how one or two of these will behave then we can comfortably predict everything else.

We give ourselves too much credit. Our actual understanding of complex systems is much weaker than we’d like to think. “Experts” modelling complex systems mathematically are constantly even getting the past wrong, so how anyone thinks they can predict the future with much accuracy I have no idea.

   3. Proxies and correlations

Some things are easier to measure than others. Whenever an analysts wants to measure something complex that cannot really be measured they will use a “proxy variable” that would generally correlate with the unmeasurable variable. For example, it is not possible to measure “health”, so if you want to measure the health of a population, you might measure their average life expectancy. After all, if people tend to live longer, you would assume that they are healthier.

Makes sense right? Well maybe. One problem is that you might be missing some other variables that are affecting the situation. For example, maybe your “unhealthy” group are actually super fit and super healthy, but have an unfortunate habit of dying in car crashes. So perhaps life expectancy doesn’t correlate as well with health as you would expect.

But assume that the two variables correlate perfectly. That itself may be a problem.

Take this example: Christian Rudder from online dating website OK Cupid has found that regardless of gender, OK Cupid users who like the taste of beer tend to prefer having sex on the first date. That statistic is quite amusing, but no one would seriously suggest that this means that drinking beer changes the way someone thinks about sex, right?

Wrong. “Scientists” do that all the time, and the journalists who report their findings do it even more.

That example makes it especially obvious that the correlation between beer and sex is not causative. Liking beer does not cause someone to want to have sex on a first date, and wanting sex on a first date does not cause someone to like the taste of beer. More likely, there is a third factor at play that causes a lot of people who like beer to also want sex on a first date — probably youth culture or something. Or it could simply be a coincidence.

But that doesn’t stop people saying that hormone replacement therapy can help stop heart disease.

   

4. The Wayne Swan error*

Ever wondered why the government’s budget always seems to blow out? Here’s why. Say the government projects that next year’s budget will balance, with a 2% margin of error and 95% confidence. This means that there is a 95% chance that budget will be within 2% of a balanced budget (a pipe dream right now, I know).

In reality, it is almost impossible that the budget will come in below the projection — as once allocated money to spend, very few (if any) government departments will choose not spend it. On the other hand, it is quite likely that the budget will blow out, as government departments have many unforeseen expenses. So there is not so much a 95% chance that the budget will be within 2% of balanced, there is a 95% chance that there will be a deficit of 2% or less, and a 5% chance of a deficit of over 2%. I like to call that the “Wayne Swan error”, after the former Australian Treasurer who seemed to manage to blow out the budget every year that he was in office (it is also fast becoming the “Joe Hockey error”).


Getting to the point

The reason I don’t think that climate change is so bad is that the predictions that I have seen of the impact of climate change fall into all of the above traps, along with an unhealthy dose of confirmation bias. Arctic sea ice at record lows? We’re doomed! Arctic sea ice at record highs? We’re still doomed!

Remember Professor Tim Flannery? The “climate expert” who predicted unending drought when we had a drought, then unending floods when we had floods? My point exactly.

Even the most respectable science journals make outlandish predictions about mass-extinctions, rising sea levels, and economic misery based on people trying to predict the future from past averages and assuming that they understand complex systems.

Their predictions are constantly wrong. It turns out that nature is a lot more robust than we give it credit for. We forget that life on Earth has not been eliminated despite ice ages, periods of warming, super-volcanoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and everything else that nature throws at us. I seriously doubt that the atmosphere warming a couple of degrees will mean the end of the world as we know it.

Further, as a result of nature being more robust than we think, as well as humanity’s propensity for alarmism, climate scientists’ projections are subject to the “Wayne Swan error”-style second order effects that I was talking about earlier.

Scientific papers wrongly predicting the end of the world are much more likely to be published than ones predicting that everything will carry on the way it has in the past, and are much more likely to attract attention once published. Also, scientists are more likely to miss mitigating factors than exacerbating ones, and therefore overestimate both global warming and its effects. We know what causes warming — greenhouse gas levels — but not what mitigates it. Accordingly, our measurements of warming are biased towards warmer rather than cooler, and our projections are biased towards “worst case” rather than “best case” scenarios.

The biggest problem with the way we think about projections is that people are not held to account for getting it wrong. Climate forecasts made 20 years ago have proven woefully inaccurate, yet they are somehow touted as being correct. A couple of years ago, the IPCC released a report saying how accurate their 1990 projections were, and headlines around the world said “climate predictions come true”, when what had in fact happened was that the world had consistently warmed more slowly than the IPCC’s projections, but (big woop!) the warming had been within the range that the IPCC predicted. See this graph:

Now, remember that the predictions were made in 1990. Notice how the model “predicts” that temperatures before 1990 (which would have been factored into the model) would be roughly evenly distributed around the middle line, but that temperatures since 1990 (which obviously were not known when the projections were made) have been consistently below that line.

Sure enough, according to the IPCC’s projections, the world should have warmed about 0.55 degrees between 1990 and 2010. It actually warmed 0.39 degrees. That’s 30% less than projected — a pretty dismal result really. Although I’ll admit that sea levels seem to have been rising at the top end of what was projected, despite the rise in temperature being lower than projected.

Anyway, the point is that a PhD in climate science is about as useful as a crystal ball and a red and white tent when it comes to making soothsayers. Meanwhile, both humanity and nature constantly surprise with their ability to not be destroyed by whatever calamity we are predicting at the time.

All this is not to say that we shouldn’t be reducing our CO2 emissions and switching to renewable energy. But a carbon tax? No.


Taleb makes some other criticisms which are a lot more technical and would be lost on most readers without a mathematical background. I encourage everyone to read his books, where he explains his ideas in a very accessible way.

For people who do understand this kind of thing, the Wayne Swan error is this: Most models use a 95% confidence level to compute “statistically significant” findings. If you’re lucky this will be at 99%. Not only does this a priori overlook the 5% or 1% of outliers which can have a far more significant impact on whatever the model is measuring than the 95-99% of “normal” cases, another common oversight make it likely that the confidence level is substantially underestimated: namely the assumption that the error terms are random. Often, the error terms are actually non-linear, which adds unseen biases to the model.

, , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Public official makes precedented announcement

A senior public official today announced that over the coming months a large government department will be following more or less the same policy that it has been following for as long as anyone can remember.

“We are proud of our department’s record, and see no reason to change anytime soon,” said the official in the press statement accompanying the department’s quarterly report. “Over the next few months, the people of this country can expect more of the same mediocre services at the same almost-but-not-quite exorbitant prices.”

No party seems to be proposing any real changes to the current policy, however the announcement has sparked the storm of controversy in the political chattersphere that regularly follows these reports.

In response to the announcement, the Opposition’s spokesperson for the portfolio lashed-out at the government, saying that this was yet another example of the “brazen mismanagement” that we have come to expect, and warning that if something does not change soon, the fabric of our society might collapse.

The Minister responsible for the department backed the announcement and refuted the attack from the Opposition. The Minister said that the government has a “commendable record” in this area, and that the Opposition’s complaints were “nothing more than a self-serving political exercise”.

“If they don’t like it, they can come up with a better idea!” the Minister declared. “This is just empty posturing from an Opposition with no real ideas and nothing to do except attack the government.”

The department’s field has seen very little change over the past few decades, yet it has consistently been the subject of much debate amongst public figures. That debate is alive and kicking, as seen when the media’s go-to expert in the field expressed ambivalence about the recent announcement when interviewed on the evening news.

According to the expert, it is positive that the government has not gotten rid of any of the good work that the department is doing, but it is disappointing that the government has not taken the opportunity to take on board the changes that the expert has been recommending for the better part of the last decade.

“I’ve been telling them for years: listen to me,” the expert told Major Karnage, going on to lament that “my last three reports on this issue have been completely ignored, even though the government gave me million of dollars to conduct them.”

That expert’s regular sparring partners took their usual stance against the proposed changes.

“Those reports were rubbish!” said a renowned newspaper columnist, insisting that the “so-called expert” had no idea what the policy was even about.

Many other public officials made such comments as “why are we still talking about this?” and “seriously? That again? Don’t we have better things to look at?”

While no tangible change in policy is likely to eventuate, the issue is expected to fill many a newspaper column-inch over the coming days, as journalists find more and more public figures to give quotes that sound a little controversial when taken out of context.

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Gawker blogger gawks at high school teen’s humour

While trawling Facebook recently, I clicked through to a link leading me Gawker‘s Caity Weaver delivering a vicious and biting Fisking to an op-ed by high school student Suzy Lee Weiss in the Wall Street Journal in which Weiss complains about not getting into university. Here is a little extract of Weaver critiquing a little extract of Weiss:

Attention Students: ‘Just Being Yourself’ Isn’t a Skill That Should Earn You Admission to College.

The gist of Suzy’s opus: while some try-hards spent their high school career trying—hard—to build an impressive résumé so that they could get into their dream colleges, Suzy opted to take a more virtuous path; the path of just being herself and hoping for the best. It didn’t work. And that is unfair.

Like me, millions of high-school seniors with sour grapes are asking themselves this week how they failed to get into the colleges of their dreams. It’s simple: For years, they—we—were lied to.

Colleges tell you, “Just be yourself.” That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms. Then by all means, be yourself!

Suzy’s mistake, it seems, was interpreting the advice “Just be yourself” literally. Like perhaps someone told her, “Applying to colleges? Ah, just be yourself,” and she accepted this as an instruction to pursue no activities other than being herself.

Being yourself is not a talent. If you worked two full-time jobs all the way through high school and one of them was “being yourself” and the other was “trying your best,” you actually worked zero full-time jobs. It’s important to make time for yourself, of course, but you should be making other things in addition to that. Like goals and plans and effort.

By the way, why are “killer SAT scores”—a very reasonable requirement for college admission—sandwiched between “three varsity sports” and “two moms” on that sarcastic list of things college students “ought,” but could not reasonably be expected to have? Is demanding good test scores really as ridiculous as demanding participation in nine extracurriculars?

Right, a high school student complaining that having bad grades is a bar to university admission? It almost seems too ridiculous to be true.

Well, actually it does seem too ridiculous to be true. And that’s because it is. Here is the last paragraph of Weiss’ piece – also the one paragraph that Weaver figured she wouldn’t address:

Suzy Lee Weiss: To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me – WSJ.com.

To those claiming that I am bitter – you bet I am! An underachieving selfish teenager making excuses for her own failures? That too! To those of you disgusted by this, shocked that I take for granted the wonderful gifts I have been afforded, I say shhh – “The Real Housewives” is on.

Now it would seem to me from that paragraph that Ms Weiss did, in fact, know how she came across in her article. She is very openly playing the character of an “underachieving selfish teenager making excuses for her own failures”.

So what Weaver has essentially succeeded in doing is spend 1,000-odd words explaining Weiss’ joke to anyone who didn’t get it in the first place, except without acknowledging that it was a joke (I guess maybe Weaver herself was too indignant to get it).

What Weiss has managed to do is actually quite impressive: as a high school student, she wrote an entertaining article and had it published in one of the world’s top newspapers. Yes (as Weaver points out) her family connections may have had something to do with it, but it is nevertheless an impressive achievement.

On the other hand, Weaver is using her podium on a fairly widely-read blog (not nearly in the WSJ’s league, but sure as hell bigger than Major Karnage) to bully an innocent high school girl. For shame.

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

At least SOMEONE gets it (re Israelis and Palestinians)

I was a little heartened when I readt his profile of Sami al-Ajrami by Sarah Topol a few days ago.

Ajrami is apparently the only Palestinian living in Gaza who reports events there in Hebrew to the Israeli media. He has figured out something that seems to go over the heads of pretty much everyone else I ever see who try to push the ‘Palestinian’ line — including most of the Jewish left. My bold:

Translating Two Bitter Enemies In Gaza – The Daily Beast.

Ajrami says he tried to create common ground by comparing the Israelis who fled their towns in the south for the relative safety of Tel Aviv to Gazans evacuating their homes in heavily-targeted areas of the enclave. “I can understand your misery, as people, as humans—but you have to understand the message from Gaza,” he remembers saying. “It’s the same misery and there are politicians who rule and govern in a way that makes a lot of civilians dead.”

Israelis are more prone to understanding that message, Ajrami believes, than if he accused the Israeli military of targeting Palestinian civilians. “They won’t understand me, and they will say: ‘What? Fuck, you are launching rockets randomly on our houses!’ They won’t understand and they won’t feel sympathy towards your misery,” he says.

Ajrami’s mission is not to be a one-way bullhorn on the situation. When he speaks as an Israeli expert on local television and radio in Gaza, he tries to explain that Israel is a segmented society, with different factions that should be engaged in different ways. “Let’s separate between Jews and Israelis, and Israelis citizens and Israeli government and the Israeli policy, because I can have the support of a lot of Israelis because they understand and they call for the end of occupation, just like me,” he says.

I wrote last week about the common experience of being shot at and the futility of trying to be The Victim in the conflict. Ajrami understands that. He sees that the way to make Israelis sympathise with Palestinian suffering is not to start telling them how evil they are and how much worse it is for Palestinians than for Israelis, while trying to downplay the impact of Palestinian terrorism. The way to do it is to concentrate on shared suffering and common experiences.

Fear, suffering, and anger are things that Israelis understand. Trying to claim a monopoly on these emotions is what hurts the Palestinian cause the most (the same, by the way, can be said for the people on the Israeli side of the fence who do the same thing).

We need more people like Ajrami, and we need people on the Israeli side broadcasting to the Palestinians in Arabic. In fact, it seems insane that nobody in Israel has thought to do that yet (or at least, hasn’t done it well).

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Shameless propaganda hurts pro-Israel cause

I am often a spokesperson for the pro-Israel community in Australia. I do deliberately put-forward a line that is favourable of Israel and I admit that, from time to time, I will downplay information that runs contradictory to that line.

It is not an attempt to deny or whitewash anything, more a necessary aspect of being a part of a public debate. Ceding ground can have severe consequences, so must be done very carefully. It is made especially difficult for people like me to give honest criticisms of Israel when faced with opponents who are unrelenting, intolerant and even genocidal.

Any small criticism of Israel made by someone in my position is taken to be vindication for views that I find abhorrent. A common and very prominent example can be seen in comments made by now Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak a few years ago that Israel could become an apartheid state if action was not taken on the peace protest.

Barak was playing domestic politics — trying to malign his right wing rivals for not taking enough action on the peace process. However, I cannot count the number of times I have heard that Barak quote followed by something like ‘I agree with Mr Barak, I just think that Israel already is apartheid’, as though this were a perfectly natural conclusion to come to and there was just a minor disagreement between the speaker and Barak.

And of course, as a certain Jordanian BDS group reminded us recently, many of my opponents have some kind of racial prejudice thinly masked by their adopted rhetoric. In a charming Facebook discussion, several Jordanian Palestinians made it perfectly clear that, to them, any Jewish presence in ‘historic Palestine’ is illegitimate and the Jews should all ‘go home’. No, none of them could answer where exactly ‘home’ is.

Anti-normalization and the Israeli Left – a Facebook debate | +972 Magazine.

ALL CITIZENS OF THE ILLEGAL STATES OF “ISRAEL” ARE A PART OF THE ZIONIST COLONIAL PROJECT, EXCEPT THE ORIGINAL PEOPLE OF PALESTINE, AND SO, ALL THOSE WHO SERVE THE ZIONIST PROJECT ARE ZIONISTS FOR US, REGARDLESS OF THEIR RACE, RELIGIOUS BELIEVES OR DISBELIEVES OR POLITICAL VIEWS, FOR DISAMBIGUATION, ANY NON-ISRAELI JEW IS NOT A ZIONIST, ANY PALESTINIAN JEW IS NOT ZIONIST, AS LONG AS THEY ARE NOT SERVE THE ZIONIST COLONIAL PROJECT BY OTHER MEANS THAN CITIZENSHIP

That said, I think it is extremely important to be credible when speaking on these issues. Using ‘their’ tactics against them is not a strategy that I can follow in good conscience.

While I may write carefully in order to give a certain impression, I am not dishonest, I do not lie, and I do not manipulate the truth for convenience’s sake. This is why I am extremely bothered by people like Maurice Ostroff, who has done all of the above in an op-ed in today’s Jerusalem Post regarding a group of African asylum-seekers who were trapped between Israel and Egypt for the past week.

Setting the record straight: Migrants… JPost – Opinion – Op-Eds.

Contrary to the claim that the Convention obligates Israel to permit these refugees to enter the country, there is no provision at all in the Convention requiring a contracting state to allow entry of refugees who are not already in its territory. Article 33 refers only to refugees who have already entered, whether legally or illegally.

This omission of a requirement to admit refugees not already in the territory was evidently deliberate, as described in the judgment in the matter of Regina v. Immigration Officer at Prague Airport [2004].

The judgment refers to the important backdrop to the Convention as described in “Refugees under International Law with a Reference to the Concept of Asylum” (1986), as follows: “States the world over consistently have exhibited great reluctance to give up their sovereign right to decide which persons will, and which will not, be admitted to their territory and given a right to settle there. They have refused to agree to international instruments which would impose on them duties to make grants of asylum.”

As regular readers will be aware, I make a habit of checking sources.

Here is the UK House of Lords case to which Ostroff was referring (European Roma Rights Centre and others v Immigration Officer at Prague Airport [2005] 1 All ER 527). The passage that he quoted was not a ruling by the Court, it was one judge quoting an Australian case that the court had been referred to by counsel for the appellants.

In fact, referring to that case at all is disingenuous to say the least. The case concerned Czech citizens who were trying to claim asylum without leaving the Czech Republic — meaning they could not possibly be considered ‘refugees’ as they were not ‘outside their last country of habitual residence’. This was also at a time when the UK was being flooded with asylum seekers from the Czech Republic, the majority of whom were not valid refugees.

There is not really any comparison to a group of African asylum seekers fleeing from Egypt, which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and which has some rather unnerving practises like shooting asylum seekers as they try to reach Israel.

In fact, the Prague Airport case was brought by Roma who claimed to have been discriminated against when British immigration officials would not let them board planes to the UK — and they won! The Court ruled that British authorities could not refuse to allow Roma into the country on the premise that they might claim asylum once there.

Meanwhile, this was just sickening:

In terms of Article 33, a refugee (as defined in Article 1) may not be expelled or returned (“refouler”) to territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Clearly this does not include threats by common criminals. If this were the case it would apply to citizens of all countries suffering from a high crime rate like Colombia, Mexico and South Africa, which was plainly not the intention.

It is therefore obvious that the Convention does not cover the circumstances of refugees seeking admission to Israel from Egypt.

‘Common criminal’ is a broad and meaningless phrase. Let’s look at the actual situation and see if it fits.

Ostroff was referring to these comments by the UNHCR representative in the region:

UN refugee envoy: Eritreans trapped at Israel-Egypt border must be allowed in – Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper.

“The most worrying thing to me is the discussion of pushing them back into Egypt, which is highly irresponsible, because if they go back to Egypt there is a high risk these people will fall in the hands of human smugglers, and it is well known, it is all documented, that many of these people have been abused, there are cases of torture or rape, and if you send them back you are sending them to a situation with a very high degree of insecurity.”

The Sinai is a largely ungoverned and chaotic region of Egypt. Its local population is mostly Bedoin and they make their money through organised crime, exploiting their convenient location on the land-bridge between Africa and Europe/Asia.

They also like to dabble in things like the human slave trade and kidnapping for ransom. They particularly like to target the vulnerable Africans trying to escape the continent as they know that these people have no real protection.

The Egyptian authorities have struggled to control this at the best of times and right now is probably the worst of times in this regard.

There is no ambiguity for Ostroff to hide behind, sending the asylum seekers back to Egypt would have meant that their “life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership”.

Attacking Egypt for turning a blind eye to inhumane treatment is entirely valid, however it is completely unjust to try and pretend that Egypt is an acceptable place for these people and Israel is under no obligation to take them in.

The worst part of Ostroff’s polemic, however, was this:

The lack of credible information from the Foreign Ministry and the IDF spokesperson is a sad reflection on Israel’s public diplomacy. While admiring the valuable humanitarian work performed by Israeli groups like “We Are Refugees” that filed a petition in support of the migrants, I am disturbed by the ill-founded criticism which has been disseminated worldwide by them and by William Tall, the UNHCR representative in Israel.

Clearly, Ostroff does not admire the petitioners who managed to convince the High Court that Israel had to let the refugees in. He is essentially advocating that the Government of Israel do everything it can to oppose them and then take credit for their work when it loses.

That is dishonest and contemptuous. It does the pro-Israel cause no favours at all.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Yom Kippur bike rental and the Israeli anti-freedom lobby

Chaim Eckstein thinks that the Tel Aviv municipality has gone too far in not suspending their bike rental service on Yom Kippur:

Yom Kippur bike rental – secular fanaticism – Israel Opinion, Ynetnews.

Suspending the bike rental service on Yom Kippur does not constitute capitulation to the religious community, and it has nothing to do with religious coercion. Why? Because Yom Kippur is not a religious day; it is an Israeli day. It is one of the state’s symbols.

You do not have to observe the Torah and the mitzvahs to deem Yom Kippur a holy day. Even avid seculars fast on Yom Kippur. Even those who regularly eat bacon with cheese feel uncomfortable upon hearing that an Israeli who plays for a European basketball team took part in a game that was held on Yom Kippur. Eat falafel, go to a barbecue but also fast one day a year – this is what it means to be Israeli in modern times.

That may be true, but these avid seculars may also want to ride a bike while they are fasting. Or maybe the 30% of Israelis who are not Jewish may want to ride a bike around Tel Aviv on a day when you can’t really drive. Or perhaps the tens of thousands of tourists that keep the Israeli economy running may want to ride a bike around Tel Aviv on that day.

Either way, who the hell is Chaim Eckstein to tell them they can’t?

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

Thank Government for that!

English: Barry O'Farrell in 2010.

Barry O’Farrell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: en:Nicola Roxon, federal ALP Member f...

Nicola Roxon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s always great to see Australian domestic issues making headlines around the world. This morning, it is yesterday’s High Court decision on plain packaging of cigarettes that is doing the rounds.

The judgment upheld the benevolent decision by my Government to not allow me to look at all of those cigarette packages that were already hidden away in a cupboard behind the counter of any store.

Thank Government, I say. The temptation from that multicoloured packaging underneath the pictures of cancer and gangrene was so strong sometimes, it was all I could do to pull myself away. Now I guess I will be able to overcome the overwhelming desire of buying a little blue and white box with a huge picture of a diseased eye.

I particularly liked this report from the Jerusalem Post:

Australian court orders drab cigarett… JPost – Health & Science.

Several major tobacco companies challenged Australia’s legislation. But the industry’s attempt to derail this effective tobacco control measure failed.

Plain packaging is a highly effective way to counter industry’s ruthless marketing tactics, Chan said.

It is also fully in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which was ratified by 170 countries including Israel – but not the US, due to its strong tobacco lobby, and went into effect in 2005. “The Australian lawsuits filed by Big Tobacco look like the death throes of a desperate industry.

Sounds horrifying. Ruthless marketing tactics, Big Tobacco, strong tobacco lobby. Lucky Nicola Roxon and Tanya Plibersek are here to protect us from this evil!

… as they were very keen to point out.

Australian Court Strikes Down Tobacco Challenge – NYTimes.com.

“This is a victory for all those families who have lost someone to a tobacco-related illness,” Nicola Roxon, the attorney general, and Tanya Plibersek, the health minister, said in a joint statement. “No longer when a smoker pulls out a packet of cigarettes will that packet be a mobile billboard.”

Mobile billboard?? Quick! Ban them! We can’t have mobile billboards with cigarette company logos under all those pictures of gangrenous feet and rotten teeth!

Even better was Roxon in Question Time:

 I do indeed have some good news for the House: today the highest court in the country has confirmed legislation that was passed by this parliament. That means that Australians will no longer be subjected to tobacco being sold in packaging which is attractive to young people and which entices them to take up what is a deadly and addictive habit. This decision is good news for every parent who worries about their child taking up this habit.

Attractive to young people? Government forbid! Thanks Nanny Nicola for protecting us from that. As a ‘young person’ myself, it’s nice to know that I am in good hands.

But it’s not just the ALP that is looking out for my best interests. See, a few weeks ago a young man was tragically killed in Sydney’s Kings Cross by a random attack. Fortunately, the perpetrator was found and imprisoned. It seems as though he was on some kind of a rampage at the time.

Luckily, the NSW Liberals know exactly how to respond to such random acts of violence: regulate!

Kings Cross owners plan crisis talks amid crackdown on violence.

The Premier, Barry O’Farrell, has announced the government will introduce a ban on shots, doubles, ready-to-drink beverages and glassware after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays for the area’s 58 venues.

No more than four drinks may be purchased at a time after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays under the changes and from 11pm two responsible service of alcohol ”marshalls” must patrol all venues and alcohol sales must cease one hour before closing.

Clearly there is a problem with alcohol-fuelled violence in Kings Cross after 11pm.

Yes, you could say “well the boy was killed just after 10pm”, or “there’s no evidence that the attacker had been drinking heavily”, or “this was a random attack and is not really evidence of an ingrained culture”. And you would technically be completely right on all counts:

Thomas Kelly Kings Cross killing: Kieran Loveridge charged.

The man accused of murdering Sydney teenager Thomas Kelly, 18, in Kings Cross this month went on a crime spree lasting more than an hour, punching four people in total, police said.

According to police documents, Kieran Loveridge, also 18, allegedly began his crime spree at 10.03pm on Saturday, July 7, assaulting an 18-year-old boy on the corner of Darlinghurst Road and Victoria Street.

But why let a little thing like the truth get in the way of some good regulation? Clearly if I am no longer allowed to keep ordering drinks at night before I wonder out onto poorly-policed streets with no way of getting home, I am much less likely to go around punching random people in the head!

It must be all that alcohol that’s the problem, not the fact that the 3am enforced closing time happens to coincide with cab changeover and comes two hours after all public transport has ended, which actually leaves no way of getting home for hundreds of people.

That couldn’t be it.

This is actually one of those rare occasions where I agree with NSW Labor.

The Opposition Leader, John Robertson, said the measures ”will not put a single extra police officer on the streets and they do nothing to address one of the biggest problems in Kings Cross – and that is getting revellers home on Friday and Saturday nights”.

I know, someone pinch me.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Women can’t have it all and neither can men

With extraordinary timing, just after last night’s post on high-powered career women, The Atlantic‘s July issue was released with a cover story addressing exactly that issue. In her essay, former director of policy planning for the US State Department Anne-Marie Slaughter  has given her treatise on why she left that dream job after just two years in order to be with her family and how society can change our expectations in order to better accommodate work-family balance.

I can’t do her argument justice, so please go and read the essay (it’s very important). There is, however, one point that I would like to focus on relating my post yesterday (my bold):

Magazine – Why Women Still Can’t Have It All – The Atlantic.

Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case.

This supposition is the issue. Slaughter does give evidence later that is closer to my perspective, however it does not seem to change her perception from what she has encountered in her “experience” (my bold):

To be sure, the women who do make it to the top are highly committed to their profession. On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen.

Seeking out a more balanced life is not a women’s issue; balance would be better for us all. Bronnie Ware, an Australian blogger who worked for years in palliative care and is the author of the 2011 book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, writes that the regret she heard most often was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” The second-most-common regret was “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” She writes: “This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.” …

What I glean from this type of thing is the harm that is genuinely being done by gender-normative assumptions — not just to women, but to us men as well. The assumption here is that men won’t care about being away from their family and will naturally just spend more time working.

It seems that people have been extremely reluctant to acknowledge the sacrifices that men at the top actually make in order to be there. It could be that this phenomenon that we’re seeing is not a case of society having created top-jobs that women can’t do because women care about family too much. Maybe it’s a case of society having created top jobs that are extremely difficult, and the women who were born into the egalitarian era are just beginning to discover how true this is.

I am a little offended by this idea that it is something reasonable to expect of men, but unreasonable to expect of women. Even Slaughter here has made the assumption that the men around her were not hurting just as much about the fact that they weren’t spending time with their family.

Maybe the difference was not that she had some kind of inherent need that they didn’t feel — maybe it’s simply that it is more socially acceptable for her to make the decision to sacrifice career for family because, while she may be seen as “betraying her feminist principles”, she will not face the stigma that the men would of being “weak”, “not dedicated enough”, or — dare I say — “girly”.

Of course, evolutionary psychologists would disagree with this idealised view that human nature is so malleable and would argue that men and women really are wired that way. Even accepting this as true, the furthest that this argument can go is to say that most women on average will be inherently more likely to want to sacrifice their careers for their families than most men. There would still be countless men and women who do not fit this characterisation.

Men have, of course, become much more involved parents over the past couple of decades, and that, too, suggests broad support for big changes in the way we balance work and family. It is noteworthy that both James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, and William Lynn, deputy secretary of defense, stepped down two years into the Obama administration so that they could spend more time with their children (for real).

Going forward, women would do well to frame work-family balance in terms of the broader social and economic issues that affect both women and men. After all, we have a new generation of young men who have been raised by full-time working mothers. Let us presume, as I do with my sons, that they will understand “supporting their families” to mean more than earning money.

I don’t see why this needs to be a “framing” issue. Why can’t we just accept that work-life balance is important for everyone? This idea that it’s a “feminist” fight immediately isolates anyone who does not define themselves that way. This is not about making work easier for women or men, it’s about strengthening families, improving peoples’ working lives and improving the wellbeing of parents and children.

And where are the Unions on this one? It seems a hell of a lot more important than keeping those damn foreigners from taking our jerbs.

That said, I will end with the point made here by Rod Dreher — who, as he describes in that post, is a man who sacrificed his career to spend more time with his family.

Slaughter is still hanging onto the 1960’s feminist dream that women can “have it all” and that is what her solutions are geared towards. Her solutions would definitely help with peoples’ work/family balance in general, however they would not allow women to “have it all”.

The unfortunate reality is that no one can ever have it all. It is impossible to do everything. There is no conceivable way that someone can work a 60-hour week and still have a huge amount of time with their families and there is no way that someone who works less than that can compare with someone who does work that much. At some point, everyone has to make a trade-off: some will choose their family, and some will choose their career. We can try to ease the conflicts as much as possible, but they will never go away completely.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Union progression towards White Australia

I recently had a long conversation with a Union representative who was trying to convince me that I was wrong about the Australian Union movement. As I explained, my thoughts are generally that I am theoretically in favour of an organised workforce and I have no qualms with workers coming together to demand certain rights – but this is no longer what the Union movement is (which is the reason I capitalise the “u”).

From my perspective, Australian Unions are mostly opaque, bloated, entrenched organisations that represent a very small portion of the workforce. Their institutionalisation and the extend to which they are favoured by successive Labor governments have given them hubris, to the point where they seem to care more about perpetuating their own existence than actually doing anything in the interest of Australia’s workforce and spend a lot of time playing political games instead of concentrating on their nominal mission.

What bothers me the most is the dogmatic adherence to certain anachronistic principles because these used to be good for “workers”. I see absolutely no self-reflection and no desire to reevaluate the policies of the movement in light of the world that we live in. As I have noted before, this has resulted in Australia having ridiculous penalty rates and bad teachers.

Well here’s yet another example, which follows this post:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told: migrants or the mine | The Australian.

In an increasingly bitter dispute over the management of the mining boom, ministerial splits are emerging within the Gillard government and unions have started a racist campaign to hound West Australian-based minister Gary Gray from his seat. …

Yesterday, five unions ran a full-page newspaper advertisement in Mr Gray’s seat of Brand, south of Perth, alluding to high levels of indigenous unemployment and accusing the Special Minister of State and former ALP national secretary of not standing up for “Aussie jobs”.

Joe McDonald, the assistant secretary of the West Australian branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, accused Mr Gray last night of betraying Australians and vowed to run a union campaign to get rid of him.

“He’s betrayed the people of his constituency,” Mr McDonald told The Weekend Australian. “He’s betrayed them. He should pack up and piss off. If the union movement puts a politician in, they shouldn’t forget where they came from and if they do then we should piss them off and put someone else in.”

Last night Mr Gray, who won his seat with a margin of just 3 per cent in 2010, said EMAs, for which projects with more than $2bn in investment and 1500 jobs are eligible, would create “many, many mining jobs for Australians”.

Note that the story calls the campaign against Gray “racist”. I don’t like when a news story editorialises like this, but in this case I don’t see a lot of other ways to describe it.

The CFMEU is notionally a “progressive” Union, yet its officials are spouting rhetoric that would not have been out of place during the days of the White Australia Policy. I am also disgusted by the way that McDonald is threatening to remove Gray from Parliament if he doesn’t “play ball”.

This is the tragedy of Australia’s major social democrat party being beholden to these groups; it is also a problem that the Union rep in the conversation that I mentioned above did not seem to understand. The current system of preselection means that we get exactly the wrong people into Parliament. A few conversations between key people within the Union movement or the ALP can be enough to get someone a safe seat for life – the process is completely opaque and prone to corruption and abuse. Once there, do/say the wrong thing and upset the wrong people and goodbye – no matter what the public may want. (Incidentally, this is not a partisan issue. Union movement aside, the same principle holds for the Liberal party.)

So now we have a situation where the Government is being pressured from inside to bow to xenophobic demands and prevent people who want to come to Australia and contribute to the country’s economy from doing so. They are also using arguments like this gem from Senator Doug Cameron:

Good jobs for Aussies is not a miner matter | thetelegraph.com.au.

Since when was it unreasonable to expect that highly profitable mining companies should provide Australian workers with the skill upgrading, training, travel support and accommodation to ensure they have genuine access to employment opportunities?

I am constantly amazed by the Union mentality that the way to achieve these demands is for the Government to force mining companies to provide them. What is preventing the Unions from doing something useful like developing their own training programs and apprenticeships, investing in the development of mining towns to allow workers’ families to move there, or forming recruitment initiatives to connect their members with the mining companies to fill employment vacancies? (Note: I’m aware that some do this already, but obviously not very well, or else there wouldn’t be an issue.)

Why do they think that playing the political system to force the mining companies to do it would be a better idea?

I am shocked by the silence from people I know who are generally pro-immigration and usually speak-out against xenophobic rhetoric like this. Even the Greens are behind the migrant workers idea – and they think that Australia is overpopulated and the world is ending.

Clearly, there is something wrong here. I could go on, but plummeting membership figures speak for themselves. It is paramount that we introduce stronger requirements for Union transparency and accountability and remove the disgraceful Rudd/Gillard industrial relations reforms that force workers to be represented by organisations that they have no intention of joining. Otherwise, backwards thinking may just win the day yet again.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO ME??

Max Read in Gawker  on the “race war”

Are You Prepared for the Race War?.

If nothing else you’ve probably noticed that “race relations are probably worse now among the average person on the street than they were the day President Obama was elected,” as activist Ward Connerly tells McKay Coppins in Coppins’ “In Conservative Media, A ‘Race War’ Rages,” an excellent summary of the current state of conservative journalism. Connerly is filled with pearls of wisdom: “Obama has been more racial than any white president has ever been in my lifetime,” he tells Coppins in an attempt to explain his perception of a current low ebb in American race relations. What a wonderful way of putting into words the conservative problem with Obama! He’s more racial than other presidents.

But maybe you haven’t experienced the Race War at all. Maybe you’ve somehow managed to avoid the dangerous gangs of black teens, flash-mobbing across the country in their insatiable search for white flesh. It’s okay. I myself didn’t know there was a Race War on until I read Sowell’s most recent column and learned that “the authorities and the media seem determined to suppress” the plain fact that “the hoodlum elements in many ghettoes launch coordinated attacks on whites in public places.” How frequently do these “coordinated attacks” take place? As McKay Coppins points out, Sowell’s column doesn’t “cite any statistics, relying instead on anecdotal evidence.” But what anecdotal evidence …

The local media might try to sweep these episodes under the proverbial rug, through its sophisticated false-flag tactic of “immediately and extensively covering these episodes,” but the national media will have trouble ignoring them when we have intrepid minds like Sowell (once called “our greatest contemporary philosopher” by no less a thinker than David Mamet) on the case. So long as someone is willing to do the hard, boots-on-the-ground journalistic work of visiting the Drudge Report, the truth of the Race War will never go unknown.

This brought to mind Randa Abdel-Fattah’s missive last week on The Drum:

What must Palestinians do to get your attention? – The Drum Opinion (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Dear Western leaders and the international media, what must a Palestinian do to get your attention?

I ask this question as I recall watching Gandhi with my parents when I was a teenager. With the confident zeal of an adolescent, I vividly recall telling my father (born in Palestine in 1945 and dispossessed of his land in 1967) that what the Palestinians needed to do to draw international attention to their plight was simply go on a mass hunger strike.

… since April 17, 2012, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, there have been more than 2,000 Palestinian hunger strikers demanding an improvement in their living conditions in Israeli prisons, family visitations, education, an end to solitary confinement, repression and night searches.

And yet, in the face of this dramatic expression of Palestinian non-violent resistance, the media and our leaders remain unmoved.

That’s a very good question Ms Abdel-Fattah, what could Palestinians possibly do to get peoples’ attention? Because they definitely don’t have it now.

I mean, they could maybe try and get all of the major international newspapers to base their Middle East bureaus in Jerusalem. Or perhaps they could try and win sympathy from some major press outlets — like the BBC, or CNN, or our very own ABC and SBS. Maybe even that new Al Jazeera network that seems to be quite popular for its Middle East coverage — I’m sure it could be convinced to air a story or two about Palestinians.

Well yes, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict gets more media coverage than just about anything else on the planet. What Abdel-Fattah is really complaining about is that the coverage by-and-large does not reflect her worldview.

You can criticise someone for ignoring a problem (like I criticise people for ignoring Africa), but your criticism sounds a lot more hollow when you’re just complaining that no one agrees with you. It’s a common message from people on the extremes of the political spectrum — they all complain that their publications don’t sell and they aren’t given column inches in The Australian, therefore the media must be “biased”.

What never seems to occur to them is that they may just be wrong.

Think about it, Ms Abdel-Fattah. Maybe it’s not censorship. Maybe you’re being ignored because your views are based fringe ideas that people who know what they are talking about dismiss as misinformed and not worth giving a pedestal to.

I know it’s a harder truth to deal with than the idea that everyone is being sucked-in by some mass conspiracy that doesn’t want you to be heard, but it’s also far more realistic…

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: