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Why can't everyone condemn Hamas?

Following Hamas' atrocities in Israel, the media are awash with commentary, so I will keep my comments short. I am shocked by the willin...

Tuesday 27 September 2016

PC pestilence

Funny how things creep up on you. Some words that were once acceptable, even in polite company, have not only changed meanings but have been made totally taboo. Words such as "golly wog", or "negro", or "abo" are now a real no no, and any one using them will be immediately branded a "racist" and shunned.

But really, calm down everyone, They are only words. They are innocent. Their use does not make the user anything but perhaps insensitive to mass criticism. Sure many words have negative historical connotations and their use can cause offence. So as always, "user beware"!

The passion for conformity however nowadays seems to have taken a dictatorial tone. Any expression of ideas contrary to the accepted norm generates explosive derision, a widespread communal attack on the offender and banishment from polite company.

We didn't see it coming!

Words are but one example of an insidious "political correctness" that has come to dominate many aspects of our lives. Our PC straight-jacket restricts the very words we are allowed to use, the ideas we are allowed to express and I guess by implication the truths we are forced to deny, or at least not express.

It is stifling open free exchange of ideas, stifling our free society. Without discussion, scrutiny and debate ideas stop evolving. No doubt that is the intent. To set boundaries around expression and to corral thoughts into the accepted norm to prevent radical ideas from taking hold.

Woe betide the transgressor

We have seen this PC straight jacket applied with great effect. Consider the attacks on Sonia Kruger for daring to suggest Muslim immigration should be stopped. Incidentally, in a recent poll, this view was shown to be supported by half the population. Yet, being one of the first to call suggest "the emperor has no clothes", had her excoriated by the thought police, and even threatened with dismissal. So too Bill Leak for pointing out that aboriginal delinquency had its roots in the home, was attacked from all sides, again irrespective of the merits of his point.

Almost in all such cases the thought police attack the transgressor personally, rather than debate the issue. Transgressors are labeled, homophobes, racists, deniers and worse. Labels serve to denigrate the individual so their opinions can be discarded as unworthy without even the need to provide a counter argument.

Our Universities are failing their role.

Hasn't this always been the case? New ideas are not accepted by the mob easily. Remember Galileo.

I don't think so. Sure there were periods in history where questioning accepted dogma was seriously dangerous to one's lifespan. Indeed this is true in many parts of the world even today. But in Western  democratic societies we had largely moved past this.

I recall in the 60s and 70s of my youth, no ideas were untouchable. On the contrary it was an era when many traditional views were analyzed, criticized and some were cast asunder. It was an era that saw great developments in Civil rights, Pacifism, Women's Liberation, and Gay Liberation. All movements born from free discussion and exchange of ideas supported and encouraged by Universities. Now University students and even academics unite to shout down and shut down discussion of "unorthodox" views.

Consider the attitude to the proposed Australian Consensus Centre on climate change. Despite an offer of federal funding, the University of Western Australia was forced by students and academic staff at the university to withdraw from hosting it. Why? It was perceived that the centre under its proposed head Bjorn Lomborg would give voice to unorthodox views on Climate Change. This is despite the very successful Copenhagen Consensus Centre also headed by Lomborg in Denmark.
Equally telling after the UWA withdrew no other Australian University stepped in to accept the fully funded Centre.

This unfortunately is not unique. Consider the disruption of a presentation by retired British Colonel Richard Kemp on "Ethical dilemmas of military tactics" in Sydney University. invaded by demonstrators including one of the university's lecturers to keep him from presenting his views. Views which were perceived by the demonstrators as favoring Israel over Hamas.

These are just a few examples of a sickness in our society that tries to shut down discussions which may seem uncomfortable.

It is a symptom of malaise, a society wanting to conform and ignore issues rather than fight them.

Successful societies evolve

A vibrant developing and ultimately successful society has to give voice to all views. Let every point of view be given access to the media, especially the publicly funded media. Let every view be presented by those most capable of presenting the views. Then let the arguments fight it out!

The most important consequence of open reasoned debate is a gradual evolution of ideas. Ideas that once were in direct competition evolve to accommodate some opposing views and as a result receive wider acceptance. A society that handles such debates without explosive passion will always evolve. In the past Australia has evolved to become a very tolerant, equitable society that is the envy  of the world.

The unsavory fall into the PC syndrome is hopefully only a temporary setback. We can see signs that attempts to stifle debate are unsuccessful, whether it be immigration or SSM or climate change. The vote in the senate with the election of Xenophon and Hanson. shows that you cannot disenfranchise large minorities.  Now the major parties will have to win back these lost votes by accommodating their views.   

Friday 16 September 2016

I have a dream!

"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my fellow Australians.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in our Australian values, the fair go, helping a mate and respect for the law.

I have a dream that one day Australians will live out the true meaning of the words " all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day, throughout this sunburnt country, the sons of former convicts, the daughters of former aborigines, and the children of our wide range of immigrants will sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day our institutions, all our institutions, be they our ABC, our Human Rights Commission, our state and federal governments or our judiciary, will renounce discrimination and recognize all Australians as equal.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that all our children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their gender, their religion, or their political disposition but by the content of their character.

I have a dream.

( with apologies to Martin Luther King Jr - original version here)

Monday 12 September 2016

There is a third choice!

I guess I am like many external observers of the US presidential race, shaking my head grateful that I don't have to select between the two highly undesirable candidates on offer and lamenting the state of US politics that has selected these candidates.

As Dave Rubin put it;
"A broken system ..has given us two broken candidates from two broken parties competing in a broken election competing for control of a nation going broke"
Hillary Clinton is tainted by a range of issues; the Benghazi affair, her incompetence or worse in using a private email server, the Clinton Foundation with ties to various foreign governments, a lacklustre political career, and her pandering to the social justice rhetoric that pervades the Democratic party today.

Donald Trump on the other hand is a bombastic, ignorant, arrogant, inconsistent, rude, and worst of all unpredictable, candidate with absolutely no political experience and none of the qualities we have taken fro granted as essential for leadership of the most powerful nation in the world.

This does not augur well. There is little doubt that one of these undesirables will be president. I shudder.

So is there any option? Well it seems there is a third candidate, Gary Johnson representing the Libertarian Party. I knew nothing of him till I saw his interview Dave Rubin;

Look I don't pretend I know much about him after seeing but a short video, but given the alternatives, he has my vote.

Monday 5 September 2016

Climate Change theatrics, again!

With the recent release of the report Towards a Climate Policy Toolkit by the Climate Change Authority (CCA), the finger-waggers are at it again. Two board members of the CCA joined by vested interests and an unquestioning media, are once again demanding Australia sign up to greater reduction targets than the those made at COP21 some 10 months ago.

But are such calls justified? Certainly not! Since industrialization Europe, the US and China have contributed the most to global warming. So they have to contribute the most to mitigate the impact of their emissions.  Australia, and the rest of the world, have had smaller contributions and therefore their fair share is lower.

Yet, self-serving advocates and the compliant media seem to gloss over these inconvenient facts.

Consider historical contributions

The greatest contribution to climate change since industrialization has come from the USA and Europe with significant contributions by China , Russia and Japan. (see graphic below.)

China is most notable for the speed with which it has become the largest annual emitter and a significant driver of global warming in its own right, despite its much more recent industrialization.

The historical contributions of just 5 countries, if you will permit me to call Europe a country, to global warming is approx 75%. Three quarters of all global warming (to 2011) is due to just these 5. One would therefore expect that the contribution to the mitigation effort should be commensurate. Quite simply if you caused 75% of the problem you should clean up 75% of the problem. You clean up your own mess. Well, let's see.

A vast majority of the pledges made at Paris were based on a nominated percentage reduction of GHG emissions below some baseline rate by a nominated deadline. The actual percentages and baseline dates vary but do not really impact on the problem. At first glance it may seem quite reasonable that each country makes commitments that reduce their own emission rates, especially if the reductions are of the same magnitude, and indeed most countries have chosen roughly similar reductions. So each country is effectively making equal commitments based on their own contribution. That's ok, isn't it?

No it isn't.

Climate change is the result of the cumulative impact of emissions over decades. So any mitigation should relate to the cumulative impact of a country.

But all Paris pledges are based on emissions rates as opposed to cumulative historical emissions.

And here is the problem. The large emitters, Europe and the US, and to a lesser extent Russia and Japan, went through industrialization a long time ago and have had high emissions for a much longer time. Their current annual emissions may still be high, but nowhere near their cumulative impact.

Lets look at the numbers. While the top 5 contributors to climate change represent 75% of cumulative emissions they only represent 50% of current emission rates. (see below)

So pledges based on current emission rates will always favor the earlier industrialized countries. 

But wait there is more

If that were not bad a enough there is a second problem.  GHG emission rates do not take into account the impact of imports and exports. The GHG generated in the production of goods is generally not included in the emission rates attributed to a country. So the producing country  has the burden of the emissions which are enjoyed by the consuming country. Countries like the US and Europe are major importers of high GHG products and therefore benefit from this error, while exporters like China bear the burden in their emission figures.

China is the elephant in the room

But let's not start feeling sorry for poor China. Yes, China can rightly expect an adjustment in their emission rates for the impact of exports, and it is not insignificant. It amounted to some 22% in 2005 and would, I guess be similar today (see my earlier post Seeking a fair GHG reduction target - Part 5: Who is responsible? which presents some of these figures with sources). However, even after adjusting for the exports error, China remains the largest annual emitter, by far.

In any case, China has virtually opted out of any reduction commitments. It has agreed to decrease the carbon intensity of its economy by 60-65% by 2030. But it had already committed to a 40% reduction by 2020, and it seems its extended commitment is really 'Business as usual', requiring it to simply continue along its current path of building more gas/nuclear power stations than coal fired ones.

China has justified its stance on the basis that its industrialization is relatively recent and that it should be accorded the same 'free emissions ' that the rest of the industrialized world enjoyed over the decades. That too may sound like a reasonable argument, but the figures don't stack up. China's Emissions per capita is already equal to that of Europe and also rising fast. So it should increase the standard of living of its citizens as is the case for Europe with no greater emissions than Europe's.

So like many arguments posed in this messy battle for the moral high-ground, it is self-serving, deceptive and false.

What is the fair share?

The fair share of global warming mitigation is for each country to clean up their own mess.

In other words their emissions reductions should be related to their historical contributions NOT their current emissions.

On this measure Europe, the US and China are not doing their fair share and have hoodwinked the rest of the world to contribute disproportionately to the global mitigation effort. Shame on them!

Friday 2 September 2016

Lies , Damn Lies!

I am sure you have seen it , but it may well have washed over you like many a heart-wrenching ad targeted to tug at our already over-stretched heartstrings. It shows a miserable daughter and tearful mother at the funeral of the father and husband who died presumably due to an accident in the construction industry.

Overlaying the scene is the message
"The last time a liberal government had their way with workplace laws one construction worker was killed every week, now the Turnbull government wants to bring back these laws"   - Authorised by Troy gray for the ETU (Electrical Trades Union of Australia)
While even a single death in the workforce is tragic, the cynic in me asked is this really correct?

Perhaps not quite.

Safe Work Australia provides extensive statstics on work place safety including a detailed report title "Work-related injuries and fatalities in Construction, Australia, 2003 to 2013".  The following statistics are taken from this report and the Safe Work Australia web site.

Construction worker deaths never at 1 per week over past decade

Table 10 covers the period 2003 to 2014. In 2015 there were 26 fatalities and 17 YTD in 2016.

Contrary to the claim over the past decade fatalities in the construction industry have NEVER been one per week.

Similarly there is no basis for the claim that the rate of fatalities changed when Liberal government was last in power.

The number and rate of fatalities in construction and indeed other industries has declined slowly over the past decade irrespective of which party was in power. For example, the number of fatalities in 2005 under the Howard Liberal government was lower than that of 2009 and 20011 under the Labour governments of Rudd and Gillard. But the differences are small and unlikely to be statistically significant.

Nevertheless the claims by the ETU seem to be totally fictitious. Their ads are nothing but self-serving propaganda  and in the vernacular of the Trade Practices Act are guilty of deceptive and misleading conduct.  Union's have every right, and indeed, obligation to their members, to promote workplace safety but they also have an obligation to tell the truth.

On this occasion they are well wide of the mark and their claims are simply "lies, damn lies" not statistics.