Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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  • Jason Soon
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  • Centrist
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    Saturday, October 25, 2003
    Spider's like it Hot
    The Green house effect may yield some nasty surprises in the out-house, unless we mend our ecological ways.

    The Global Green house effect has turned on the creepy-crawlies. There is evidence that increased CO 2 emmissions and associated higher temperatures may be have encouraged a baby boom in spiders, including Australia's feared red-backed spiders.
    The Australian reports Queensland Museum arachnologist Robert Raven as saying that spiders are breeding faster, further and bigger
    "Everything is cranking up a lot earlier," Dr Raven said.
    "Spiders which should be juveniles at this time of year are already adults. We're looking at some spiders doubling their lifespan."
    He said the redback spider was expanding its range, becoming more common and even growing in size.
    "Redbacks are just exploding everywhere."

    I am no fan of Greenie extremists, such as Bob Brown or the Friends of the Earth. In general, ecology is for the Birds. It is in technology that mankind find's the realisation of his true potential. But we cannot stand by and let our excessive car exhaust fumes pave the way for a takeover of earth by these scuttling, bum-biting venomous creatures.
    I urge the Parliament to ratify Kyoto now.

    Google for books

    Logging on to Amazon books yesterday I saw announced a major new feature - a search not just of book titles, but of books themselves. Obviously this can be a big benefit when researching topics that are not made obvious by the book's title, and will help ease the bias to on-line periodicals rather than often better-researched books that search engines have encouraged. It will also help replicate a purchase-decision process I use in bookshops, which is to check references before purchase. If there is more than half a dozen references to Chomsky, or Foucault, or Derrida, etc. etc. a good rule of thumb is that the book's rubbish. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you usually can by its bibliography. The only problem that I can see is that this search is incorporated into the main search, as well as offering searches of books you have already found. This did not cause a problem when finding the books I bought yesterday, but with common words or names it might generate too many results.

    Friday, October 24, 2003
    Even if Howard Loses, He still Wins

    In politics, imitation by one's rivals is the gift that keeps giving

    It is certainly true on socio-economic issues, the Labs have the upper hand over the Libs, most Australians support state action for socio-economic equity. The polls show that so long is the debate is on domestic issues, the Labs have the upper hand, people want more socialism in their community services.
    The Howard Government has lost across-the-board support for its handling of key electoral issues ranging from health and education to tax and inflation. After months of Labor's campaign on Medicare and bulk-billing, health is now at a record level of importance for voters

    And so the latest round of polls indicate that Howard may well lose the next election, unless we are involved in another war, the terrorist strike at our cities or a load of boat people wash up on our shores.
    The Howard Government is "eminently beatable", Labor frontbenchers said yesterday as they welcomed opinion poll results giving the ALP a lead over the Coalition for the first time this term.

    So this C-Filer's prediction that Howard would win the next election is now looking a little shaky. (This was always conditioned by the provisos that:

    • the housing boom did not bust

    • Simon "Al Gore" Crean remained leader of the ALP)

    But the pundits and psephologists who think that Howard's electoral losses translate into ideological failings are missing the point. On what I call Howard's UnHoly Trinity, it is clear that Little Johnny is still the Big Shot. If you don't believe me, look at what his competitors are doing:
  • National Security: Howard's pro-US foreign policy philosophy is triumphant with even the, ever-bitter, Terry Lane gracelessly conceding that:
    more than 70 per cent of us regard the American alliance as of crucial importance to our well-being and security

    Lane might have added that current Australian donations to the US alliance are payback for US assistance dealing with the Indonesians on E Timor. So it is little wonder that Crean ordered the Labs to make nice to GWB;

  • Civic Identity: Howard's defining moment came with his ringing declaration of Australian national sovereignty:
    We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come

    Border Protection has the support of more than 2/3 of the Australian voting public, which is why the Labs followed Howard's nationalistic suit when the Tampa hit our shores;

  • Economic Prosperity: Interest rates and inflation are at historic lows and the housing boom is in it's seventh straight year of escalation. This caused the Minister for Sadistic Gloating, Nick Minchin, to chortle that:
    no-one has ever complained to him about their house price going up.
    Which is why Crean won't touch negative gearing, or the slashed capital gains tax rate.

  • Howard may not win the election, but the fact that his rivals are falling over themselves to fall inline with his policies means that his victories will live on beyond him, and that it is still to early to gaze in vindictive awe at his "shattered visage".

    Are Financial Review readers unhappy?

    The Australian Financial Review, oddly for a business newspaper, likes to question the value of what its readers do. In today's paper Julie Macken runs the by now rather tired line that 'the truth is, not only does money not make you happy, but the blind pursuit of it could be making you-and your nearest and dearest - miserable'. As I argue in my critique of Clive Hamilton all other things being equal more money does, on average, make people more happy, though it is undoubtedly true that there are severely diminishing returns from acquiring extra cash. The truth in Macken's point is the 'blind pursuit'. Having more wealth won't of itself make you unhappy, but the sacrifices to acquire it might if they distract you from activities with higher happiness rewards. There's an irritating assumption in Macken's article, and the literature on happiness generally, that most people are unware that trade-offs have to be made between various aspirations. I'm yet to find research on precisely this question, but I suspect most people are quite aware of the trade-offs. If they are not, AFR readers would be less happy than most, since they are closer than readers of other papers to the time-consuming process of making money. As we already know that people on higher incomes in Australia on average have higher well-being than poorer people, that seems unlikely.

    Thursday, October 23, 2003
    Does anyone know what's happened to c8to aka Tom Vogelsang's blog? I was just starting to enjoy its understated elegance.
    I'm so oppressed because people call me 'Jason'
    I personally think that the legislation associated with this Supreme Court judgement is the most racist I've ever come across:

    A Supreme Court judge has warned prospective parents of adoptive children that they no longer have the unfettered right to change their children's first names.

    The warning this week came in the case of a couple who wanted to give their Korean-born son, now aged two, a new first name, that of a famous Catholic saint. The NSW Department of Community Services opposed them.

    While Justice John Bryson allowed the name change in this case, he alerted prospective adoptive parents to restrictions in the new NSW Adoption Act, proclaimed earlier this year.

    The new adoption act prohibits a court from approving a change in a child's given name if the child is more than one year old, or a non-citizen, "unless there are special reasons, related to the best interests of the child"...

    While some are concerned about pronunciation, assimilation at school and parents' rights to name their children, others believe a given name is an important link to the child's culture...

    The judge said the act reflected a perception that "adopted children, including children adopted from overseas, go through change and dislocation and disruption of everything in life that is familiar, and the maintenance of the child's name may have some beneficial influence in this disruption"...

    In the case before Justice Bryson, the couple had cared for their Korean-born son since he was six months old. When he was 18 months old they applied to adopt and to change his name. Devout Catholics, they had baptised their son after the saint, but kept his two Korean forenames as middle names.

    The judge said that in Korea the child was known as H.B. and may well have begun to recognise and respond to that name at the orphanage. But the parents had used the saint's name for the past 18 months.

    The parents contended the new name helped create a special bond, and would foster the child's sense of belonging. The department argued the use of the Korean names contributed to the child's sense of identity, including with his birth family

    The principle behind this legislation is utterly wrong. We're talking about children who are going to spend the rest of their lives with their adopted parents of a different culture and what this legislation seems to imply is that they will never be perfectly comfortable as human beings as long as they don't maintain a link to their original culture at the particular time, whatever the hell that means. So as a reductio ad absurdem, many years ago foot-binding must have been an essential part of being Chinese, something that people of Chinese ancestry should continue to maintain a link to, regardless of the fact that they are growing up in another culture. If a child, after growing up, wants to research its roots, then that's it's business but what is the Department doing wasting taxpayers' money to in effect promote cultural segregation and the idea that the culture of one's ancestors is somehow inherent to a person's being?
    Media studies student does something useful

    University media and journalism courses are notoriously bad, often disqualifying rather than qualifying students from work in the media. John Henningham has a good discussion of the problems in the Media supplement of The Australian this morning (no link, sorry). Education Age illustrated the problem earlier in the week, running a piece (possibly her first and last in the mainstream press) by a media studies student complaining not just that her fellow students were apathetic about the Nelson higher education reforms, but that they did not even know about them. That's right, media studies students who don't read newspapers or even watch TV news. Earlier this year I had an e-mail exchange with a journalism student who did at least know about the reforms, but believed that the reforms would affect university "fee's". Like many of his generation, he believed that plurals required apostrophes. It wasn't just a typo-he said he was confused by apostrophes. That's right, somebody who wants to be a professional writer is confused about something that should have been entirely clear before his age was in double figures. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

    Amidst this media studies gloom, it was good to see in today's Age a story about a quick thinking media studies student who saved the life of a teenage prankster. It's good to see that they aren't completely useless.

    Wednesday, October 22, 2003
    War reprisals?

    The Higher Education Supplement reports this morning that the Germans are turning to Australia for advice on how to fix their higher education system. Things must be really bad if they think they can learn anything from Australia. Sending DEST officials to Germany looks more like late reprisals for World War II than genuine assistance. The HECS system that seems to have caught their eye was certainly innovative, but in the end it was a tax and equity policy, not something which affected the universities much.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2003
    The Deakin (Reid) Lecture

    Rather confusingly, the Reid Group is made up of Deakinite liberals, while the Alfred Deakin Lecture Trust is run by people (including me this year) who are more comfortable with the legacy of George Reid.

    The 2003 Alfred Deakin (George Reid) lecture is to be given by ACCC Chair Graeme Samuel this Thursday 23 October, 6.30pm in the Public Lecture Theatre, Old Arts Building, The University of Melbourne. His topic is "The Building of an Island Nation: Some thoughts on markets, competition and the Australian way of life". Entry is free.




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