I don’t believe in Gaia theory

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:28 pm

… the notion that the biosphere, or even the earth, as a whole can be considered as a single great organism. Some versions of it even credit Gaia with a sort of consciousness.

But one could be forgiven for seeing Hurricane Sandy, aka Sandy-Athena, aka Frankenstorm, as a note:

Um, no-one mentioned climate change in any of the three presidential or the one vice-presidential debates. Here’s a little aide memoire before the election – love Gaia

The tragic irony, though, may be that Gaia’s political calculation is terrible: stopping people voting in the North-east is much more likely to help the guy who will do more to exacerbate than ameliorate climate change.


A Balanced Case For Obama

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:45 pm

An editorial from the Denver Post, explaining their decision to endorse Barrack Obama for president: http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_21804862/editorial-barack-obama-president

I think it provides a good balanced overview of both men and both campaigns.

I’d actually be even tougher on Obama than they are – Guantanamo Bay is still open, the government and agencies have vastly increased powers to infringe on citizens’ freedom and privacy at home and extrajudicial killings by drone in countries with which the US is not at war are routine.

Over all, though, it’s clear that America would be in deep, deep financial trouble with a Romney/Ryan government and budget. And that the futures of Americans young and old, with the exception of the wealthiest 1%, would be much bleaker.


Research Funding Freeze Redux

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:19 pm

So, the minibudget came out today, and I guess the news wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Looks like the competitive grant programs’ funding is safe, and the ARC Linkage grant funding round has been opened up for applications, a month or so late.

The Linkage program requires applicants to gain some industry funding to couple with the government funding. It’s a great program, but this hiatus won’t have helped with the already very tough process of finding industry partners in a tight economy.

The final cuts – $500m is the headline number – are to future growth in the Sustainable Research Excellence (SRE) program. Slightly bitterly: apparently sustainable research excellence is no longer a priority.

That program gave funding to universities to cover the associated costs of research. Research grants cover things like infrastructure, researcher salaries, travel and so on, but there are lots of administrative costs, building space costs, electricity and water and a huge number of other costs that go into keeping research happening. Prior to the SRE program – and, to some extent in the future now – this money had to come out of recurrent federal funding for universities, and even be cross-subsidised by taking money the universities earned for teaching and using it to find the indirect costs of research.

That means today’s decision has the potential not only to impact on research in Australia – the thing that’s going to keep our living standards up once the resource boom winds down – but also to damage education at universities.

I’m a Labor supporter, as everyone knows, but this is a dumb decision, made for political reasons – to fulfil the stupid promise to return the budget to surplus this year, regardless of external factors. I hope that now that stupid promise has been fulfilled, we might see some smarter long term strategic decisions made about funding the things that will build our nation’s future.


Giving a Gonski 2

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:04 am

I’ve been promising a more detailed response to Monday’s announcements from the government in response to the Gonski report into school funding – so I guess this is that.

One of the first points is that the government hasn’t, as yet, really responded to the Gonski report… rather, it has made a major announcement about school funding.

This from the Opposition: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/oppn-call-for-detailed-gonski-response/story-e6frf7kf-1226465566079

Now, Pyne is a bit of a petulant git, and it’s silly to demand detailed funding commitments, because the funding *does* depend on the states coming to the party. School education is a state responsibility in Australia, and the Federal government’s funding is only 30% of the total. Demand all you like, the national government can’t simply mandate what the states will do.

But a more detailed response to the recommendations in the Gonski report – many of which were focused on the problems of equity in Australian school funding – would be very helpful, and address quite a lot of my disquiet about the response.

This post from The Conversation does a nice job of addressing the major issues: http://theconversation.edu.au/the-real-agenda-behind-gillards-gonski-response-9305

The key point I had in addition to the good points raised in this article is that this response does not arrest, but expands, the culture of teacher ‘accountability’, measurement and surveillance.

Higher entry requirements for the profession (defined in terms of university entry scores – which it could be argued don’t actually predict teacher excellence very well at all), more surveillance – more and more of the things that make teaching no fun, and no more of the things that make teaching fun: actually teaching kids. More paperwork, less trust.

There is already a shortage of secondary science teachers (though there’s a bit of a glut of primary teachers in Queensland). Making the job both harder to get into and harder to stay in is only going to make that worse.

More funding is welcome – but it’s not really being targeted well, and the tradeoffs in terms of breaking down the public school system are deeply worrying.


Science and Politics

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:26 pm

It’s not *necessarily* the case that those on the right politically have to be anti-science: indeed, conservatism has typically supported science. This is a very disturbing trend.



On With The Body Count

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:46 am

It’s something that comes up fairly often in discussions of religion, for all sides. Atheists point to the death toll and suffering in the Crusades and the Inquisition. Christians point to the deaths in Russia and China and ascribe them to atheism.

Personally I don’t find it a particularly interesting argument, just because it’s so slippery and prone to bias. Here are a few of the issues:

  1. Raw numbers tend to be compared, but that’s not logical. If the Crusades killed a million out of a world population of 200 million at the time, that’s half a percent of the world population. If Stalin killed 20 million out of a world population at the time of 4 billion, that’s one tenth as many in relative terms. So saying ‘atheism has killed more people’ is not really honest unless the number comparisons are relative rather than absolute.
  2. To what should the deaths be ascribed? The deaths in the Crusades are usually ascribed to Christianity, but it’s fair to acknowledge that that was allied to a fair degree of desire on the part of European monarchs to gain reputations as warriors and to extend their domains and tributes. Similarly, the deaths in China and Russia this century are often ascribed to either atheism or communism, depending on the motives of the speaker, but can also be seen as the results of totalitarianism more than either. There is so much rationalisation and re-interpretation done that the argument becomes almost meaningless.
  3. Hitler is a convenient case in point. He used elements of Christianity in his writings and speeches and claimed God was on Germany’s side, so some claim his massacres should be ascribed to Christianity. Others recognise that he was probably using these elements strategically and for propaganda purposes rather than out of real belief. The word ‘Socialist’ in the name of the National Socialist (Nazi) party is sometimes used to ascribe his crimes to socialism, despite the fact that his politics were far to the right.

And so on. It’s a propaganda device people use, but I’ve seen it used so many different times by different people in different contexts to support their own positions, often in very counterfactual ways, that I tend to just reject it entirely because I don’t have the energy any more to try to teach people enough history to understand why they’re talking nonsense.

This discussion will get echoed to Facebook, and it’s been inspired by and should complement the discussion sparked by my ‘religion eats your brain’ status update.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:13 pm

Conservative Christians tend not to believe in climate change. But they do believe extreme climate events are Signs of the End. Cannot freakin’ win with these people. THE WORLD can’t win. REALITY can’t win.


Dear Christians: Please get a freakin’ grip!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:18 pm

I still, in many ways, count myself as Christian, or maybe post-Christian (that’s another post for another day). But increasingly I find myself utterly revolted by the beliefs and actions of Christians.

I know, I know, ‘don’t judge God by the church, people are just people’, all that jazz. But, again, the claim is that the church makes people better.

The most recent catalyst is Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s statement that she is not a believer. For the full horror, read the whole hundred-and-something comments after this story: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/julia-gillard-wont-bow-to-christian-vote/story-e6freon6-1225885797143

She gets called a Communist, and the most frequent comments are about how someone who ‘believes in nothing’ can lead the country, and that such a person would be driven only by self-interest.

This one might be a smidge more insane than most, but not by much:

Gillard won’t bow to the Christian vote, Gillard and Labor hasn’t abided, adhered and complied to and with the wishes, Laws, Act and Constitution of the Australian people, Queen Victoria and Almighty God. If Gillard doesn’t believe in God, then she is a infedel by Muslim and Islamic beliefs, a evil sinner by judism, Hebrew and Christian beliefs, a treacherous and treasonous racist criminal by the Laws, Act and Constitution of the Commonwealth. The mandatory punishment according to and with the Laws, Act and Constitution is forfieture, banishment or self-banishment.

Pastors, you’re falling down on the job of educating your parishioners in basic humanity.


Why I reckon Rudd will still win the election

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:04 am

The polls for Australian PM Kevin Rudd (prior to yesterday’s Federal Budget) seemed to be in free fall:

Since the previous poll a month ago, Mr Rudd’s approval rating has nosedived 14 percentage points to 45 per cent, while his disapproval rating has skyrocketed 13 points to 49 per cent. (from the Sydney Morning Herald/Nielsen poll)

There are a number of issues in this, but this particular huge drop was related to his decision to postpone the Emissions Trading Scheme, intended to address climate change:

The poll finds 58 per cent of voters still support an ETS. Only 30 per cent oppose it.

Mr Rudd once called climate change ”the greatest moral, economic and environmental challenge of our generation” and his decision to shelve the policy polarised the electorate – 43 per cent supported the delay, 45 per cent opposed it and 13 per cent were undecided. (ibid)

The reason for the delay was basically that he could not get the legislation past the Senate, and the only solution would have been to trigger a ‘double dissolution’ of Parliament, bringing on an election immediately. Presumably he’s chosen to avoid that in the hope of being able to get some ‘runs on the board’ by later in the year when the election is required to be called.

Two things make me confident that we’ll still have a Labour government after the election. One is that although Rudd’s popularity has dropped, that of Tony Abbott, the Opposition leader, has not really risen. Mr Rudd is still the preferred prime minister by a relatively large margin: only the really rusted-on conservatives really like Abbott.

The other is that I think the disapproval of Rudd is hiding two separate groups. One is the aforementioned rusted-on conservatives: who would not approve of Rudd even if he personally showed up at their houses with a cheque for a million bucks.

The other is that large proportion of the Australian populace that cares about climate change. They are very angry that, after proclaiming that climate change was ”the greatest moral, economic and environmental challenge of our generation”, Rudd has ended up allowing political considerations to force him into inaction.

But where can those voters go? If their issue is climate change, and even if the impulse to punish Rudd is strong, Tony Abbott is definitely not the alternative PM they’d choose. He is on record as calling the science behind climate change ‘absolute crap’ – a statement from which he has since resiled. But he was telling schoolkids as recently as this week, on no evidence at all, that it was warmer in Christ’s time than it is now. He pays lip service to climate change because he wants to woo that nearly 60% of voters, but his true views (on this and other issues) keep sneaking out.

So although the polls look bleak for Rudd, I reckon there’s not a huge amount to worry about. Of course, that assumes the voters in general are smart enough to come to this same conclusion about Abbott and climate…


Is there a way to vote -1 Tony Abbott…

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:12 am

…so that my vote would cancel one vote for him? 😉

He seems very determined to demonstrate his utter unfitness for the role: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/environment/climate-change/climate-scientists-cross-with-abbott-for-taking-christs-name-in-vain-20100509-ulqt.html


Mercantilisation and Education

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:40 am

Businesses used to have (at least) two purposes – making the best possible ‘product’, and making money. Over the past perhaps 50 years we have seen a shift in the direction of making the cheapest, crappiest possible product and maximising shareholder return (money). This is not inevitable, it’s just an evolution in our consumerist society. We’ve also seen a strong ideological push that prefers private, user-pays approaches to things over publicly funded services and utilities. That just takes us further in the same direction: it’s all about the shareholders, and the customers get screwed as hard as possible. It’s a very odd and ultimately unsustainable way to run a society – it makes it inevitable that the rich get richer and the poor poorer, and it destroys the middle class, the engine of upward mobility and economic growth.

Now, apply those ideas to education. The notion of education as a ‘public good’ – if all citizens are well educated, the whole society prospers, both in business and in less tangible ways – is key, and it has been dramatically eroded. The valorisation of private schools at the expense of public has gone further here in Australia than in the US, but the trends are similar. It becomes about the education an individual’s parents can afford, rather than the education the society as a whole needs the person to receive. Education comes to be seen as a user-pays ‘private good’.

Doing that means we end up with a large portion of society studying in under-funded, under-resourced and depressed public schools that don’t do the best possible job of educating them (despite the sometimes heroic efforts of committed teachers). Apart from anything else, that robs society of the brains of very bright students who happen to be born on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’. It also perpetuates and enhances inequity in society.

It’s hard to imagine the way out, but passionate advocacy on the part of those of us who care is a start.

(And yes, of course the financial side of schooling should be administered well: but education is not a money-making business it’s a society-building business… the ‘triple bottom line’ would be a great addition.)


Who would Jesus intern?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:27 am

Tony Abbott, Australia’s opposition leader, opined in a TV interview last night that Jesus would turn back asylum seekers: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/even-jesus-christ-would-not-accept-every-asylum-seeker-says-tony-abbott/comments-e6freon6-1225850156617

Maybe Tony’s Bible is missing Matthew 25…


Government, Welfare, Healthcare Reform and the Incoherence of the ‘Tea Partiers’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:05 am

Check it out (from Esquire):



God doesn’t really hate poor people

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:27 pm

I’d been wondering a bit, after Haiti and Chile. I mean, some of his self-proclaimed servants seemed to think so… But this article does a nice job of explaining why a significantly smaller quake than the one in Chile killed a lot more people in Haiti:



Tea Partiers and Republicans – shh, don’t tell them their views are diametrically opposed

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:59 am

Glenn Greenwald, as usual, is penetrating through the spin to the heart of the matter:


…that GOP limited government rhetoric is simply never matched by that Party’s conduct, especially when they wield power. The very idea that a political party dominated by neocons, warmongers, surveillance fetishists, and privacy-hating social conservatives will be a party of “limited government” is absurd on its face. There literally is no myth more transparent than the Republican Party’s claim to believe in restrained government power.

Is there a way back?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:08 am

Listening to a very interesting program on Radio National the other day. We’re currently going through a series of scandals in Australian politics because the government rushed into place a policy to insulate millions of houses in a short period. Turned out a lot of the operators were shonky, using poor materials and poorly trained staff, and there have been electrocutions as people stapled the sheets of foil they were lying on into live electric wiring, and roof fires from poorly integrated solar panels…

Anyway, that’s background. The broader point being made on the program was that in the ‘olden days’, governments made policy, and public servants implemented them by directly providing services to the public. The chain was short, and public servants could feed back on the implementation process to the government, so there was good 2-way communication.

In the past couple of decades, there has been this huge push to privatisation and public-private-partnership models, largely based on the idea that the public sector is bloated and inefficient and the private lean, mean and productive. That’s been an ideological push, but it’s been pervasive, not just here but in most western democracies.

What that means, though, is that rather than providing services to the public, public servants are now administering contracts to people in the private sector, who then further subcontract for the actual service delivery. Instead of one step there are 2-3 (or more) in the chain, and the power relationships are all about ‘deliverables’ and contracts, not about 2-way information flow. The claims about efficiency are, of course, also being falsified, since everyone in each layer needs a cut, and more layers means more money going to middlemen and less to services.

The problem is, I’m not sure we can roll it back. It’s been an experiment, it’s failed in all the ways that count… but I suspect we’re stuck with it anyway.


One more must-read post from Glenn Greenwald

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:01 am

This time on why what counts as ‘journalistic objectivity’ is apparently quite different for the New York Times and for Al Jazeera – especially when describing US conduct:



Tony Abbott, waving bye-bye to reality

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:22 am


Global warming has stopped, says Tony Abbott

This decade ‘warmest on record’



Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:47 pm

One of the local newspapers included in today’s edition free small Australian flags to be flown from cars, so there were lots of them about on the weekend. Lots of flags everywhere else as well, including on clothes and even bikinis.

I had a bit of a rant-ette to the family in the car about it being ‘unAustralian’ to fly the flag too aggressively, and later chatted with some South African friends about the issue as well. I wasn’t sure of the reason for my unease with it, but spent a bit of time thinking about it later.

Part of it is just discomfort with any too-aggressive displays of nationalism. There were race-related fights on the Gold Coast yesterday as some idiots got too aggressive in their ‘love it or leave it’ rhetoric and got in the face of perceived ‘foreigners’ – most of whom are loyal Australians. Nationalism has caused more than its share of trouble in the past century and a bit.

But that’s more of an afterthought. I think what I was really reacting to was just the old thing about security: if someone feels the need to proclaim his masculinity too loud and long, you have to figure he has some doubts about it. And so on. So my feeling is that Australians should just *know* we live in one of the best, freest, most beautiful and blessed countries on earth, and just quietly, laconically, Australianly recognise that. Protesting too much, waving the flag too hard, just looks like trying too hard and like insecurity.


The Best of Both Worlds

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:48 pm

Sean Carney on education in Australia and making the the public/private split work much better: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/the-best-of-both-worlds-20081125-6hdw.html?page=-1