Friday, November 16, 2007

Goat Friday

click to enlarge  —  image source

Yep, these guys again. A uniform group, like a typical homogenous blog membership.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Much explained

Tim Dunlop boils down an experiment that illumines much observed phenomena in the blogosphere:

Groups of people were brought together and divided according to their political views (left-of-centre and right-of-centre, or “conservative” and “liberal” in US parlance) and the groups were then invited to discuss amongst themselves various key social and political issues. The issues included civil unions, global warming, affirmative action and others...

The results were simple. In almost every group, members ended up with more extreme positions after they spoke with one another. Discussion made civil unions more popular among liberals; discussion made civil unions less popular among conservatives. Liberals favored an international treaty to control global warming before discussion; they favored it more strongly after discussion. Conservatives were neutral on that treaty before discussion; they strongly opposed it after discussion...

Aside from increasing extremism, the experiment had an independent effect: it made both liberal groups and conservative groups significantly more homogeneous—and thus squelched diversity.

Kind of explains the sort of stuff that occurs, for instance, here, here and here.

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The magic of Alex dazzles again

Australia’s certainly clever Head Prefect Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has again put opposition leader Kevin Rudd in his box.

During a debate with his opposition counterpart, Robert McLelland, Mr Downer was invited to demonstrate his linguistic talents, as an answer to Mr Rudd’s girlie swot performance speaking Mandarin with Chinese President Hu.

“In life you come across some boys who are show-offs, I’m more self-confident than that,” he said.

Mr Downer gave a brief demonstration of his French speaking skills in which he mentioned his knowledge of the language but how he spoke English as an Australian.

He received an applause from the audience.

The report doesn’t identify the polite individual who was the source of the applause, but the self-effacing Mr Downer was having none of it anyway:

“That doesn’t deserve applause, that is not clever,” he said.

QED — Alex trumps Kevni in the mediocrity stakes. Those National Press Clubbers must have been so glad they came.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

sweetheart like you

Pictured is our dear wee laddie that we sponsor in China, whom we shall call ‘John’.

John lives with his family in the south-western province of Yunnan, a far-flung area of the People’s Republic that shares a frontier with Burma/Myanmar, Tibet, Laos and Vietnam. John and his family belong to one of around two dozen ‘nations’, or language groups, in that province.

John is going on nine years old, enjoys singing, and his favourite subject at school is language. We look forward to visiting someday and hearing him sing.

His health is thankfully quite good, despite malnourishment and preventable disease being regrettably endemic risks to children’s health in such parts of the world.

He’s probably just a little under optimum bmi for a boy of his age, which would not be at all unusual. My niece, on perusing John’s latest annual progress report, expressed surprise at his weight relative to her strappingly healthy 3 year old.

I said something in reply about ‘developing’ countries, suggesting that’s why programs such as World Vision’s child sponsorship are so essential.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ahhh, the serenity...

Duck Saturday...line astern.

Ok. So much for the serenity. Now for the Rectrory multi-media centre on tour. In the cottage...

And, of course, in the boat: DVD with 'phones for the kids, digi-cam for the Lady Rector (somewhere), digital camera (and black beer) plus the last day of the VRC carnival (on the stereo) for Father Park. Serenity indeed!

novel perspective

“Any goodwill [the Coalition] may have had from employees and trade unions will have been blown away by their desperate, divisive attempt to remain in office at all cost. If I were running a business I would be hoping Rudd and Gillard would be around to pick up the pieces.”

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poet’s corner

While I can’t hope to match the originality and verve of Josh’s artistic output, a friend recently reminded me of the following lines, inspired by the Cosmic Cowboy’s signature opus, I’d composed as a teen...

On my shoulders
Gives me sunburn

In my eyes
Can make me blind

On the water
Makes it evaporate

Almost always
’Cept at night

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Congratulations Indonesia!

Moving on from my previous post, it’s nice to see that Indonesia has been awarded the Democracy Medal by the International Association of Political Consultants.

I don’t know much about the IAPC or its award, but previous recipients of this prize have included Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.

And Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — who with his country is a co-recipient of the award — is fairly beaming with pride...

Although sceptics had claimed Indonesia would splinter or radicalise, “the heart and soul of Indonesia remains moderate and progressive”, Dr Yudhoyono said. “In Indonesia democracy, Islam and modernity go hand in hand.

“Democracy in Indonesia has reached a point of no return,” said the nation’s first directly elected president...

“Indonesia has proved that no matter the size of the population, the difficult geography, ethnic diversity, political complexity or historical background, democracy can come and grow.”

And long may Indonesia continue from strength to strength.

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I Like Fish
By postulant Josh
I really like fish,
I don't get bigger,
That's my wish,
At least I don't get fatter.
I think fish is good,
But my sister doesn't,
She'd rather eat wood,
But I hope you find it pleasant.


Monday, November 12, 2007

A tale of two Jims.

"You lose a close friend, I say to you: 'David, I'm sorry that you lost your mate Jim'," Howard said. "But I don't say I apologise for it. I don't accept responsibility for it."

The PM, John Howard, with part of his well practiced lawyer’s humbug trotted out regularly when Aboriginal reconciliation is raised. Dead simple and works a treat too – especially on a compliant press corps. In fact, it works so well that the PM was inclined to wheel it out for the latest interest rate rise.

Calling a press conference he fronted the journos, Costello at his side playing Danny Glover to his Mel Gibson, and somberly intoned that he was “sorry”for the sixth rate rise since the ’04 election. Except that he wasn’t actually sorry. What he failed to inform the press, as well as those of us watching on the TV news grabs, was that he was speaking as an individual – not the Prime Minister. Therefore he wasn’t apologising for the rise, merely expressing sorrow to us Davids out there.

Well, it appears that business may now be called by the moniker David. The business Davids may be the next in line for a non apology. Professor Mark Wooden, from the Melbourne Institute (sounds like a hotbed of socialists that), has taken to the PM with – pardon me – a wooden spoon. He is most upset over the treatment of his mate Jim, the AWA (hereafter Jim) and states that the government’s “fairness test” has “killed” him off:

Mark Wooden says the Prime Minister has killed off Jim - the Howard Government's individual employment contracts - by introducing a fairness test that prevented employers from cutting labour costs.

Professor Wooden, from the Melbourne Institute, said employers were "lining up" before the fairness test started in May because they could legally reduce pay and conditions.

But the advantage vanished, he said, when Mr Howard "rolled over"
to public pressure and guaranteed that penalty rates and other conditions could not be traded away without giving workers compensation.

The “advantage” vanished. Which advantage? Why the one that “legally” allowed employers to “reduce pay and conditions” of course. The one created by the raftof laws – unannounced during the ’04 campaign – that required no such “scuttling” safety net.

And it would appear that employers aren’t aware that Jim (and his advantage) is “dead” as they are still submitting agreements, at least fifty percent of which, would only pass pre “safety net”. Or, to put it in the words of Nick Minchin: the fairness test is having "teething troubles" as employers take time to understand their obligations. The question here is: how many are now in place that contravene this “safety net”, that is, that pre-date May?

Professor Wooden is really quite peeved at the PM’s pandering to popular politics. Not only that, he quite neatly skewers another ideological reason for these laws:

"AWAs are dead - he can say what he likes. You'll still get companies like Rio Tinto going for AWAs, but that will be for reasons other than cutting labour costs. They're using them to get rid of unions."

Ouch! Not in an election campaign Professor! If the good professor is looking for an apology from the PM he’ll have to accept one from the private individual like the rest of us.

The quoted article from the OZ finishes with the following paragraph:

Mr Howard introduced AWAs in his first group of workplace laws in 1997 with a "no disadvantage test" that meant workers could not be worse off than under
minimum awards. This test was abolished under Work Choices last year, then reinstated to some degree by the fairness test in May.

One would do well to remember it. You see, the “fairness test” was not ever required last year. There would be no further changes – they were not needed. The fact is, business does not believe it was needed and, as I’ve said before, you can bet your last dollar the PM doesn’t either. He never has; he stated so many times last year and when the laws were shoveled through Parliament in November ’05.

Should he win this election, I suspect that average working Davids, sometime not too long after – certainly before “well into the term”, will have a little sorrow directed his or her way. It will not be an apology, just an expression of regret or sorrow from a private individual at the passing of another Jim, Jim the “fairness test”.

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Give a dictator an even break

In a recent column Greg Sheridan pleads, “If only Pervez were more like Suharto.”

Sometimes the word dictator can prevent clear thinking in the Western liberal mind, as often does the word war. But, as George Orwell observed, wars have results, and different wars have different results, depending who wins.

So it is with dictators. There are more and less ruthless, bloodthirsty, legitimate and effective dictators. The quality of the dictator influences profoundly the quality of the nation.

Ooh, Sheridan has my head spinning with all this ‘realist’ talk of mach politik... but I will persevere and take the plunge with him.

Sheridan denounces Musharraf as “a weak, ineffective and foolish dictator” because, for instance, he has failed to stem the rising tide of Islamist extremism in his country. Apparently such extremism in Indonesia is not an issue for Sheridan, forgetting that it’s almost certainly an issue for the victims of the Bali bombings and their families.

By contrast, Suharto was presumably a strong, effective and astute dictator, a veritable pin-up boy of dictatorhood by Sheridan’s lights.

Suharto was a dictator and there were many bad things about his rule, especially his human rights record. But here’s the complex bit: he built a modern Indonesia that was capable of sustaining democracy.

It may not occur to Sheridan, but it may be the case that Indonesian democracy survived despite Suharto, thanks to the aspirations and dedication of millions of his countrymen.

But okay, giving the much-maligned Suharto the benefit of the doubt, surely Sheridan doesn’t need it pointed out to him that Suharto had over two decades, not to mention thousands upon thousands of bloody corpses, head-start on Musharraf.

It’s early days yet, so Musharraf may yet earn his place in Sheridan’s pantheon of benevolent despots. Give a dictator an even break!

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Minchin stuffs big, fat, pregnant cat back into bag

Following Prime Minister John Howard’s disavowal of a further wave of industrial relations reforms should his government be returned to office in the coming election, Finance Minister Nick Minchin has disavowed his avowed view of last year that a further wave of IR reforms is desirable.

As is well known, Senator Minchin touted the need for further IR reforms in a speech last year to the H.R. Nicholls Society. But now we can confidently rewrite history and confirm that he didn’t say it, he never did say it, and he never will say it — well, certainly not during the present election campaign.

This is important, indeed momentous, because Senator Minchin is a man with an uncanny sixth sense about what the voting public thinks, wants and feels.

Defending the convention that politicians may claim travel allowance on the election trail right up until their formal party launches, the Minister oraculated:

I think Australians understand they want to hear the political messages from both sides of politics and to do that you’ve got to get around the country.

Given the fuzziness of Senator Minchin’s avowals and disavowals, we can’t be sure whether this is actually a defence of that particular convention, or laying the groundwork for jettisoning yet another convention.

We can only anticipate with bated breath further communiqués from this enigmatic articulator of the zeitgeist.

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