Monday, 29 August 2011

Links of interest

1. The Australian Labor Party - the gift that keeps on giving.

THE federal government has come under unprecedented attack from one of its biggest union allies over the failure to bail out hundreds of family businesses owed more than $7 million from collapsed Building the Education Revolution (BER) projects.

A sordid tale of unintended consequences, some of which have already devolved upon the public school system (late completion, shoddy workmanship, schools forced to accept buildings that didn't match their needs, and so forth). "Unintended consequences" seems to be what this government does best. Unfortunately, all of those consequences are bad. From the link:

A spokesman for Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans said last night the government sympathised with sub-contractors who worked for builder Project Kendall. "It is, however, the state and territory governments and non-government education authorities who are responsible for managing the implementation of BER projects in their schools including tendering, contracting and procurement," he said.

He can 'shift the blame all he likes, but this was the Federal Government's baby and the ultimate responsibility rests there. Specifically it was the current Prime Minister's baby - this was her ministerial portfolio at the time. In retrospect, that should have been a warning sign. It's a bad sign for a Labor government when the unions take up the cudgel against it.

2. It's a bad sign anyway, because in related news...

Hard-working Federal MP for Chisholm Anna Burke, popular lefty Bendigo MP Steve Gibbons, painful and Ruddite Daryl Melham, grumpy teddy bear Laurie Ferguson, NSW Right patriot John Murphy, and former Minister and Left factional titan Alan Griffin have all decided not to re-contest their seats.

There was a lot of this sort of thing in the lead-up to the New South Wales state election, an event which saw NSW Labor utterly routed after a long string of scandals, screw-ups, and more leadership changes than you can poke a stick at. The rats are deserting the sinking ship. (I use the phrase metaphorically; there is every possibility that these are honest men and women who are despairing of their chances and would rather retire than face inevitable defeat - the political equivalent of tipping over one's king in chess.)

3. When your position is under siege, when the 'facts' you spruik are eroded by observations, and when the science suddenly isn't all that settled any more, there's always ad-hominem attack:

One day climate change skeptics will be seen in the same negative light as racists, or so says former Vice President Al Gore.

Um, no. From the article:

When Bogusky questioned the analogy, asking if the scientific reasoning behind climate change skeptics might throw a wrench into the good and evil comparison with racism, Gore did not back down.
“I think it’s the same where the moral component is concerned and where the facts are concerned I think it is important to get that out there, absolutely,” Gore said.

The most fascinating part of this is that Gore is trying to reframe the debate as a moral one. It isn't - it's firmly scientific. The thing about science is that it's very rarely "settled", and those parts of it that are settled are the ones which can be subject to rigorous analysis - shifting one variable at a time while the others are held constant and seeing where theory and observation diverge. The other problem I find with "settled" climate science is that we have detailed historical records of massive climate shifts with no human input at all, which suggests that the science either isn't really all that well understood or that the models have massive holes in them, or possibly both. As for Gore's assertion that...

This is an organized effort to attack the reputation of the scientific community as a whole, to attack their integrity, and to slander them with the lie that they are making up the science in order to make money,

I would point him to this and this and this as evidence of the sort of money there is to be made. In addition, this is by no means an attempt to attack "the scientific community as a whole", which is not a monolith on the topic of climate change and never has been. When those who question a majority opinion in science are vilified and have their ethics and morality called into question for doing so, especially by public figures who are not themselves scientists, we have stopped doing science and started doing dogma. The way you "beat the climate denialists" is by repudiating their opinions scientifically, not by attributing dubious motivations in the first instance.

The other big problem I have with the whole carbon-trading business is that it is an invitation to a South Sea Bubble of enormous proportions, mostly because it's a trade in toxic intangibles - and that should remind you of something.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


The Sydney Morning Herald's chief political editor, Phillip Coorey, quotes a Labor MP on Craig Thomson, a fellow Labor MP currently under fire due to serious accusations of criminal stupidity in his previous life as a union boss. From the article:

And of course, Craig Thomson. The whole affair is a millstone to drag down Gillard. No matter how implausible his denials become and how unpleasant any new revelations, the government does not have the luxury of sacking him.

Why not? Because it's a minority coalition hanging in by only one seat, and his seat would likely fall to the Opposition in the ensuing by-election. Bye-bye government.

And survive he should, because the only mechanism to force him out is a criminal conviction and there is no investigation under way.

Survive he should not if he is guilty of horrific malfeasance. That no investigation is (at the time of writing and to my knowledge) under way is something I regard personally as curious in the least. But let us get on to that quote:

"Mate, if he f---ing murdered someone, we'd try to keep him in until 2013,'' a Labor MP said.

At which point an election would be constitutionally mandatory. If we take that statement at face value, it says nothing good about the government's moral compass. Julia "No Carbon Tax Under A Government I Lead" Gillard must be feeling the heat by now, and I restate my belief that the government is in zugzwang. Thomson certainly is.

Former Hawke/Keating Labor MP Graham Richardson is said to have had the motto "Whatever it takes". It seems that attitude has rubbed off.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A cosy, but dangerous fantasy.


I don't currently have time or opportunity to go into it in detail. Suffice to say that this is the sort of "Green" propaganda that causes my blood to boil - a factory formerly spewing ugly smoke, suddenly transformed into something "clean and green" with the addition of a windmill and a few solar panels.

The utter ignorance of scientific and engineering reality that goes into propagating these images is mind-boggling. And that's before we even get started on the assumptions underlying the accompanying text.

Wind and solar have their place, but that place is in relatively small-scale applications in carefully chosen locations. To insist that they and they alone can replace the 24-hour baseload requirements of a major industrial civilisation without a massive impact on standards of living - particularly among lower-income-earners - is a dangerous fantasy.

I have stated my opinion before, and will do so again. If any industrial civilisation is serious about consuming less fossil fuels per quantity of electrical energy it uses, it must actively embrace the large-scale use of nuclear energy, not to mention any hydroelectric assets it may have.

(Picture sourced via this Andrew Bolt post.)

Monday, 15 August 2011

Questions climate scientists should be obliged to answer.

Given that governments everywhere seem determined to press forward with extremely expensive and generally non-productive policy on the basis of "the science" and "the models" that "the science" produces, it seems fitting that "the science" should answer some rather harsh questions.

1) To what extent do the predictions of the models correspond to what is seen in the real world? Beginning in 1995, for example, to what extent do their predictions correspond to what is known to have happened in 2000? In 2005? In 2010? What are the confidence levels and the size of the error bars at these various waypoints?

2) Are any new models that are generated being validated in this fashion, or is their inner mathematics being adjusted against known observations for a "better fit"? If the latter is the case, how valid are the starting assumptions?

3) Every computer simulation has to be fed a starting set of input values in order to produce an output. What is the exact nature of these input values? Are they assumed to be fixed over the timespan covered by the simulations, or are they allowed to vary? If fixed, how does this correspond to real-world behaviour? If varied, in exactly what way? Are the input values also output variables, which are then recursively "fed back" into the simulation for the next iteration? If so, are those variables being output in such a manner as to correspond to what has been happening in the real world? Is the real-world variation of these inputs adequately understood? If not, what faith can we have in the models?

4) "Garbage in, garbage out." To what extent are real-world data influenced by urbanisation of the areas in which the data are gathered?

This is before we even begin to consider the question of "who is actually right". These are the questions that Government should have been asking of the scientists before embarking on multi billion dollar policies that may or may not actually alleviate the problem if it exists. And I say "if it exists" because if any of the steps above have not been adequately performed, we can't be sure that it does.

Australia points to what China is doing to "alleviate" the problem, but what China is doing (apart from building huge numbers of coal-fired powerplants) is includes building massive hydroelectric schemes and embracing nuclear power, something the current Australian government will not even permit consideration of and which its Green compatriots consider moral anathema.

ETA because I was interrupted by real life:

Meanwhile, the only solution Australia can consider is regulatory. Build nothing, improve nothing, prepare no mitigating defences or construction, just regulate. And insist that the population accept government-mandated restrictions in the standard of living.

This is not the way for an advanced civilisation to behave.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Today's links of interest

Don't go chasing polar bears... Memo to soft-lefty nature lovers: Mother Nature is a bitch, and she will kill you  if you are not adequately prepared. In this case Mother Nature was a polar bear who snacked upon a 17 year old would-be medical student on Svalbard Island. (Yes, the same Svalbard that features in Philip Pullman's novel Northern Lights (aka The Golden Compass). Apparently it is illegal there to leave human settlements without a firearm.

Boy versus wild. With a father like Bear Grylls to set the example, what do you do when the little girl you're playing with falls into the river? Why, you fish her out, of course. Well done to Master Grylls, aged seven, who keeps alive the finest traditions of British boyhood. Somewhere, Enid Blyton is smiling.

The Nanny State is coming to save you! The Australian Government is set to throw ten million dollars at programs to help teenagers avoid binge drinking. Perhaps if the Australian Government was not so expert at screwing up employment opportunities for said young people by imposing stupid workplace restrictions, and so determined to put the fear of God (or should that be the fear of Gore) into its youngsters that they will all die screaming if they don't pay through the nose whenever they flick on a switch or fill a car or even buy food, youngsters wouldn't feel the need to binge-drink so much?

Then again, if every teenager who binge-drank got a large-calibre nasogastric tube rammed down their gullet and their stomach pumped out every time they presented to hospital intoxicated, they might not be disposed to repeat the experience.

A few years too late, and not necessary. The 66th anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb is upon us, which means the anti-nuclear nutcases are coming out to play once more. This nauseatingly obsequious individual feels the need to apologise for something neither he nor his ancestors had any part in or control over, a common obsession among the (virulently anti-nuclear) Australian Left. Perhaps he doesn't understand that what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the demonstration to the world of how destructive these weapons really were; and that if they had not been used then, they might have been used later when both sides of the Cold War had them and their destructive power was orders of magnitude greater.

Nuclear weapons are the bulwark of the West's defence against tyranny, because dictators and demagogues want them (and sometimes get them), don't give a damn what people like that nauseatingly obsequious individual think, and usually take pains to have them rounded up, imprisoned, tortured, shot, or "any or all of the above". A world without Western nuclear weapons is a world in which dictators and demagogues who have them can bully others into submission. If Obama takes the US out of the nuclear club, he should be impeached and tried for treason. Ditto Cameron, ditto Sarkozy (though I think the French have a far more hardline and realistic attitude to their nuclear arsenal, and will hold on to it as long as they can afford to).

They could probably be done for treason against humanity too, because a well-placed nuke or three or four or five could be the only thing powerful enough to give an approaching asteroid the heavy nudge to the side* that will get it out of Earth's path - ironically it is only nuclear weapons which might one day save us from what is commonly called "nuclear winter" but would in fact be caused by any large celestial body throwing a sufficient volume of dust into the atmosphere. If the time came and the window of opportunity was short, I would not want to have to go begging, cap in hand, to an autocracy (or worse, an Islamofascist theocracy) for the warheads needed to save the world. We need lots of them and we need them to be REALLY powerful (on the order of several megatons). 

* = A nudge to the side is the correct manoeuvre, using a close-range or contact burst to vaporise part of the rock and create a reaction that will divert it to one side. Because the conditions for a hit have to be just right, a hard enough shove the right way will convert it to a miss and buy us some time to ensure that the offending object is either diverted into the Sun or shifted to an orbit guaranteed not to interfere with the Earth-Moon system. Most of these things are too big and tough to blow to small bits, and even if they were we'd be faced with a radioactive meteorite shower when the stuff arrived in Earth orbit. Granted, given the number of nukes we have exploded in tests over the last sixty-odd years without too much damage, and depending on the yield we throw at it, this MIGHT be preferable to taking a hit from an intact object. The further back we find it, the less angular deviation we need to make it miss, but having the ability in extremis to seed its path with nuclear explosives and give it shove after shove after shove is not something I'd like to give up in any great hurry.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Today's links of interest

DIY Cholesterol Treatment: Drug company Pfizer is looking to sell the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor over the counter. The FDA has previously said no, and rightly so in my opinion. People will abuse this as a magical eat-all-the-crap-you-want-and-not-get-heart-disease solution, and go on it when they shouldn't. Then will come side-effects and lawsuits. Pfizer should seriously rethink this. Plus the dose is something that needs to be juggled with regular bloodtests, which is WHY it's a prescription drug.

The Death of Free Enterprise: When a kid needs to dive through bureaucratic hoops to set up a lemonade stand, you know something is drastically wrong. Likewise when the church fundraising bake sale gets nailed by intrusive inspectors or the local wholefoods store gets done in a snap raid more suited to the sellers of crack cocaine or illegal firearms. (I smell a rat about that last one for some reason I can't put my finger on, and there could be something we're not being told.)

Spending without a budget: Quite literally, it seems. The standout quote is this:
Meanwhile, it has been over two years since the Democrat-controlled Senate passed any budget at all.
How is that even possible? There is no way in hell an Australian government could even begin to behave like this, and the last time attempts were made to get around the need to pass a budget through the Senate, the Prime Minister was sacked by the Queen's representative and a general spill of every seat in both Houses of Parliament followed shortly thereafter - the result of which effectively ratified the Governor-General's decision.

A Bad Penny? The chaps over at Catallaxy Files discuss the possibility of the return of ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to his former position at a moment when the Australian Labor Party's poll hopes could not be much lower.  Okay, they could in mathematical terms, but when your party's primary vote is 29% and even your preference allocations don't get you much above forty, the only word to describe your future is "dismal", and it gets proportionally worse below that. The debate is sharp, and the reply-posts are at least as informative as the actual article. (Disclosure: yes, I am part of that debate.)

Supercilious twaddle doesn't sell papers: The blogger who calls himself Professor Bunyip (and if you don't know what a bunyip is, think of it as the Australian Aboriginal version of an Eldritch Abomination) reflects upon the miserable fortunes of the share price of the Fairfax Press, publisher of two of Australia's major dailies. He offers a reason why, namely a mind-destroying column of twaddle in the online version of The Age, in which the writer (who normally scribes for the Sydney Morning Herald) bemoans the lack of aesthetically pleasing places in her vicinity to drink her champagne. 

I'm quite familiar with both of the major broadsheet dailies in question, and I can vouch for their utter irrelevance to the man or woman in the street - the one who fixes pot-holes in the roads or mops the floors of the local hospital before going home to three kids under ten - who can barely afford a glass of bubbly on a good day, let alone have the time to sit somewhere congenially upmarket and sip an overpriced glass or three of the best methode champenoise while whining piteously about how dreadful the surroundings are. I can afford the champers, and I can afford to sit somewhere congenial and drink it too, so it's not envy that makes me want to ram my fingers down my throat until everything I've eaten in the last six hours retraces its steps. It's that staring at the result of that return journey would be more palatable to me than either the article or the mind-set behind it.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Today's links of interest

Tim Flannery, Climate Prophet: James Paterson writes a scorching exposé on the man the Australian Labor Party pays $180,000 a year to spew what amounts to quasi-religious bullshit. The willingness of some climate-change advocates to tinker with the idea of ‘suspending democracy’ is frankly scary. This is becoming less and less about saving the world (if it ever was) and more and more about riding a gravy train to wealth and power – if you can get on it.

Terrorist idiot stymied: Not from carrying out more terror attacks, thank heavens, but from making money from his autobiographical fantasy. Naturally his supporters, including the Australian Greens, aren’t happy. Suck it up, folks. Your hero elected to plead guilty before he could face trial, which means that he is indeed a convicted terrorist supporter and that what he’s doing now is indeed making money from telling the story of his crimes. He’s lucky he isn’t a pile of bones in Afghanistan, with a small hole in the front of the skull and most of the back missing.

Civil discourse, my arse: Jonah Goldberg writes on the US Democrats’ hypocrisy regarding ‘civility of speech’, noting that it’s all about who’s doing the speaking. The Democrats’ reflexive demonisation of the Republicans and their Tea Party confreres does them no credit, pisses in the mouth of ‘civility of speech’, and blinds them to any possibility of accepting that they themselves may be at fault on an issue. Their willingness to stick the boot into Sarah Palin, especially with regard to her personal life, is particularly nauseating. If the Republicans were to perform a similar hatchet job on a female Democrat with a pregnant teenage daughter and a special-needs baby who was married to a part-Native American, there would be hell to pay. Can’t the Dems see they’re up to their necks in double standards? Or have they stopped caring?

Spinelessness and Creeping Fascism: The long and the short, a Canadian in a public place in Canada gets hit in front of his nine year old son for taking photographs of a well known tourist attraction before which certain members of a certain well-known religion happen to be standing. Islam is claimed as the justification. A crowd surrounds the photographer and angrily demands the camera. Police get involved. Or rather, not.

Beauty Pageant Update: Following on from my earlier posts, it seems the Australians are just as mad. “Best personality” at the parade went to a nine-year-old autistic girl, whose mother is incensed that she walked away with that particular prize, because she “doesn’t have the best personality” (the mother’s words). Maybe she doesn’t, but a lot of people find Harry Potter’s Luna Lovegood (who’s pretty close to autistic) strangely endearing, and maybe they thought the same about Tahnee Myles. Usually these sorts of competitions get slagged for ignoring or marginalizing someone who’s different or disabled. Now they go out of their way to give this child a prize and they still get slagged.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Today's links of interest

(Header "Links Today" moved to formal title. No other changes made.)

To cut a long story short, there’s evidence to suggest that rival current-affairs programs are behind this, with one of them offering the visiting mother money to pull her daughter (on a pretext) out of the pageant its rival had exclusive rights to, in order to bushwhack the other’s story and create its own. Death threats to the managers and/or the parents are way out of line, but they are an accurate barometer of the (justified) moral repugnance felt against people who are (probably rightly) perceived to behave in this fashion.

I’ve got no problem with the concept of child beauty pageants, but some of the parents are definitely taking it too far…

…and need to be removed from the pageant environment and probably their children as well. Canning the whole phenomenon is (as with restrictive gun laws in the wake of massacres) simply punishing the innocent along with the guilty, the antithesis of the Western moral and legal tradition. Some people will do anything to get their kid in lights and money in the bank. But that is their problem and nobody else’s.

Onto another topic: Libya. It would appear that the ‘limited’ war in Libya is taking a turn for the worse. Not only are our nominal ‘allies’, the Libyan rebels, seemingly unable to finish what they started despite ongoing Western airborne intervention, but they’re fighting among themselves in a manner which suggests that we’re backing the right horse for the wrong bettors:

The outstanding successes of the Western World in war come when the objectives are clear and every effort is made to carry them out. Nothing could be less true about the shemozzle in Libya. Our allies are unreliable and may incorporate a significant proportion of our enemies, and the pretext on which we went in - an exclusion of Libyan government air assets to even the odds - has now expanded to the striking of ground targets with still no indication of when the end will be.

On top of that, the Tunisian and Egyptian "revolutions" are at significant risk of being Islamicized, meaning that what they end up with could well be worse for all concerned than what went out (much worse in the case of Egypt, which for all its faults was friendly - or at least not actively hostile - to Israel). In the light of this I have to view what's happening in Syria in two minds, knowing that it could easily be more of the same.