Posts Tagged ‘Random’

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The illusion of the reasonable centre

4 February 2013

Republican strategist Karl Rove in 2002 notoriously disparaged “the reality-based community [who] believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality”. He continued: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

That quote has become a symbol for the Republican Party’s detachment from empirical reality, like Mitt Romney’s recent declaration “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers”. I’m a proud member of the “reality-based community”, in that I try to base my views as much as possible on observed facts rather than instinct or ideology. Yet Rove understood something his political opponents don’t: “political reality” is an illusion.

Campaigners who pride themselves on being “political realists”, and voters who pride themselves on being “centrists”, make the fundamental mistake of assuming the political centre is a real thing fixed in one position. Although political scholars talk about an objective centre halfway between the most extreme possible ideological orientations, it has no influence on political debate. In practice, the political centre is a perception that can be manipulated by various political forces. Thus it is possible to shift the political centre, or “political reality”, without deluding as the Republicans do – you only need to change the perception of where the centre is.

Here’s another way of looking at it. The “Overton window” is the range of political positions considered to be the scope of reasonable debate. The perceived political centre is in the middle of the Overton window. Positions toward the edges of the Overton window are considered radical, and positions beyond the edges are considered unthinkable.

A third way of conceptualizing this is “Hallin’s spheres”, three nested ideological spheres illustrating the implicit bias of ostensibly objective media coverage. In the centre is the “sphere of consensus”, consisting of propositions considered by the journalist (or other observer) to be self-evident to all reasonable people. The intermediate shell is the “sphere of legitimate controversy”, matters considered suitable to be debated among reasonable people; journalists generally strive for balanced coverage of the views in this shell. The outer shell is the “sphere of deviance”, positions considered to be outside the range of mainstream debate. In this metaphor it is journalists who (consciously or otherwise) decide which ideas belong in which sphere, and they tend to make those decisions based on the thinking of the political establishment. Read the rest of this entry ?

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2012: The year the world snoozed

31 December 2012

The Guardian described 2006 as “The year the world woke up” to climate change. If that’s the case then I guess 2007 was the year we rolled over and went back to sleep. Our alarm clock has continued to ring ever more loudly and clearly, but we just keep on hitting the snooze button – if we even hear the alarm at all. The events of 2012 have continued the pattern, both in Australia and around the world.

January

A diverse group of organizations warned there is a “carbon bubble” in global financial markets. Yawn… oh look, Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open!

February

Mining magnate and climate change denier Gina Rinehart tried to take over an Australian newspaper chain. Business news is so dreary… wow, congratulations to Queen Elizabeth II for reaching her Diamond Jubilee!

Australian ex-PM Kevin Rudd attempted to regain the top job and lock in a meaningless greenhouse gas emissions target. Hey, someone leaked a video of him saying the F-word!

March

Greenpeace exposed Australia’s plans to multiply its already-world-beating coal exports on a scale dwarfing its emissions at home, to which the government responded by passionately defending the industry. Soporific stuff… look, Clive Palmer is fighting with his soccer team!

Australia introduced a tax on coal mining profits that failed to raise any revenue. How dull… whoa, Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th international century in cricket! Read the rest of this entry ?

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Good Arctic sea ice pic and vid

28 September 2012

I’ve already blogged about the record Arctic sea ice melt. The following picture and video further illustrate the point. This graphic from the Australian Conservation Foundation shows what the Arctic melt would look like if Australia was melting:

Note that Arctic sea ice volume has declined even more dramatically, with four-fifths disappearing in the 34-year record.

This video from The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media also explains it well:

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Climate change, foxes, and hens

25 September 2012

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced yesterday the Labor Government will introduce a tax on the consumption of hens by foxes.

“By making hen consumption more expensive, this policy will make alternative food sources relatively cheaper,” said Gillard.

From 2015, Australia will have a hen consumption trading scheme, in which foxes will be able to buy and sell rights to eat hens.

The scheme aims to cut hen consumption by 5% by 2020.

“A market mechanism is the most cost-effective way to reduce hen consumption,” said Gillard.

All her economic advisers agreed, rejecting demands by animal rights groups that the market mechanism must be complemented by other measures including fox-proof fences around poultry farms.

“We look forward to working very closely with foxes and other stakeholders over the coming months to ensure we reduce hen consumption at the lowest possible cost and while maintaining the competitiveness of our fox industry,” said Hen Minister Greg Combet.

Reaction from foxes

The pro-hen industry coalition, the Global Organization of Businesses for Bantam Liberation and Emancipation (GOBBLE), cautiously welcomed the announcement.

“We will work with the government to achieve a price on hen consumption, as it is the most cost-effective way of reducing the consumption of hens.” said a spokesperson for GOBBLE, who was previously a senior government adviser. “It’s much cheaper than, say, just banning hen consumption.” Read the rest of this entry ?

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Gillard’s policy slammed by… younger Gillard

17 August 2012

Charles Berger from the Australian Conservation Foundation has unearthed a very interesting episode in our Prime Minister’s past. In 1999, then-backbencher Julia Gillard criticized the Howard government for trying to delegate to the state government its decision-making power on a proposed toxic waste dump in her electorate:

I rise to speak to this legislation because in my electorate environmental issues are pivotal. My electorate contains within its bounds both internationally protected wetlands, specifically the Port Phillip Bay western shoreline site, which is protected under the Ramsar Convention, and hazardous industries including, most notably, the petrochemical industry. Under this bill, there is nothing to stop—indeed this bill is predicated on allowing—the hand back of approval and assessment processes on issues like internationally protected Ramsar wetlands to the states.

Yet 13 years later, Gillard has promised business lobby groups her government will hand back approval and assessment processes on environmental issues to the states. Business wants all federal environmental protection powers abolished. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Politics isn’t bad; it’s the reporting

19 July 2012

As people in other parts of the world fight for the right to vote, too many Australian voters dismiss politics as boring, unimportant, even irrelevant. 15% of Australians believe “for someone like me, it doesn’t matter what kind of government we have”. They couldn’t be more wrong. It’s not politics that is the problem; it’s the way it’s reported.

I don’t believe in such a thing as a “national spirit”, but there does appear to be some truth to the idea that Australians tend to be apathetic. There are probably multiple reasons for our apathy. Perhaps our economic fortunes have made us complacent. I suspect the Liberal Party may be deliberately trying to trash the reputation of politics to win support for reducing the size of government. But I think the most fundamental reason voters believe politics is irrelevant, unimportant, and boring is because political reporting focuses on the aspects that really are irrelevant, unimportant, and (while often superficially attention-grabbing) unable to hold long-term interest.

Politics is reported as though it were a sport or a reality show. Lazily, formulaically, brainlessly, journalists slot every event into a narrative which says one party or person is going up or down in popularity. It’s a “bad week” for some political party or leader; there’s a “good poll” for another; someone is “ahead” in the race; someone is “behind” in the game. The Prime Minister’s latest speech appeared “Prime Ministerial” (whatever that means), but in yesterday’s speech she appeared “weak”, and another speech she will make tomorrow will be a pivotal event because she will “assert her authority”.

The headline political events are not policies but parliamentary stunts, leadership spills and plots, and scandals about individual MPs. For example, on 30 May, the House of Representatives passed legislation to create a Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Also, in an unrelated and unimportant procedural vote, Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott realized he was on the same side as an MP whose vote he considers illegitimate, and ran for the door. The latter event became the day’s major political story. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Titanic and Global Warming

15 April 2012

After the RMS Titanic’s collision with an iceberg a century ago today, the passengers did not believe the ocean liner would sink. The ship was so gargantuan and stably designed it showed few outward signs of being in imminent danger, and took 2 hours and 40 minutes to sink. But sink it did. The Earth’s climate is rather like the Titanic: an enormous beast that is deceptively stable and slow to respond to disturbances.

(Source: Wikipedia.)

The parallels between global warming and the Titanic disaster begin before the collision, with the failure to heed iceberg warnings. If you’ll forgive me for quoting Wikipedia:

The North Atlantic liners prioritised time-keeping above all other considerations, sticking rigidly to a schedule that would guarantee their arrival at an advertised time. They were constantly driven at close to their full speed, treating hazard warnings as advisories rather than calls to action. It was widely believed that ice posed little risk […] Titanic‘s future captain, Edward Smith, declared in an interview that he could not “imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” Read the rest of this entry ?