Monday, December 19, 2011

Bad People:

The guy who decided that his religious views justify taking unilateral action against what is actually a kind of awesome billboard put up by a church in Auckland.  Apparently his name is Arthur Skinner and he thinks that everyone should accept his belief set.  Bad.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Onion is better than most US news media....

 On the Penn State child rape case:

In the wake of the sex abuse scandal that rocked Penn State earlier this month, a coalition of 10-year-old boys from across the nation held a press conference Saturday outside Beaver Stadium, home of college football's Nittany Lions, to remind Americans that if they see someone raping a prepubescent boy, they should contact the police immediately

This should, of course, go without saying.  But if you watch mainstream media coverage, the simple things like this are pretty well concealed.  More here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Youth wages

Are a bad idea.  If you can do the work, you deserve your wage.  The only reason suggestions like this ever get off the ground is that young people are politically impotent... a natural consequence of not letting them participate.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Polygamy in Canada

B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman upheld the law. He concluded that while the law does infringe freedom of religion, the infringement is justified because polygamy is inherently harmful.
Full story here.  Will be interesting to see how this plays out if it goes further through the legal system.  Inherently harmful is a claim that could at least potentially be used to shut down many controversial minority cultural practices.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gabe Newell on Piracy:

"We think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy," Newell said. "Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem. For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24/7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country three months after the U.S. release and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate's service is more valuable.

Thanks IGN .

This is at least partially right.  It might be that piracy is also a pricing problem, but for things like television shows, movies, games, books....  Yes, living in Australia, it annoys me no end that various purchases are region locked, don't arrive, extortionately priced by local businesses, and so on.

Of course, the problem isn't limited to software.  I tried to buy the new kindle a couple days ago (not the Fire, the e-ink touchscreen).  They won't ship it to Australia, they will only ship the crappy ones.  This is stupid, Amazon.  But then, the piracy solution doesn't really exist for hardware...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Enfranchising Permanent Residents

Seems like a good idea.  New Zealand does it, many other places (Australia, US, UK) do not.  Why not?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Exam marking:

Respect for economic rights is essential to democracy because without it you get socialism and communists suck.

I'm not sure how many marks to give an answer that starts like this.  Many, perhaps.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Public Accountability

Might succeed where other things have failed, at stopping malicious authority figures abusing their positions:

As the officer began spraying the group of students, onlookers screamed, "Don't do it! Don't you do it!"
A news account captured the officer on camera spraying the students. The account names the officer as UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike. He did not return a voice mail message nor an email left Friday night. His voice-mail box eventually filled up to capacity as his name and phone number were posted on Twitter.

It is so much more effective to be critical, when you know who the bad guys are.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#ows needs more coverage:

I'm happy not to be in the US right now, local governments there seem to be getting quite militant on the #ows protesters.  Amanda has some good detail on it here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Students at Penn State

Have got their priorities all sorts of messed up.  Things you probably shouldn't do include: Holding violent protests against the firing of the guy who covered up child rape allegations.

I'm sure there is a background issue related to the professional nature of college sport in the US, and the revenue the football team provide, plus all sorts of rubbish about community pride, but all of this should fall aside when you consider the whole aforementioned child rape consideration.  No sensible person thinks the guy who covered up child rape is worth defending, no matter what he has done for you in the past.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Really, Oakland PD?

You are stupid enough to shoot (with a rubber bullet) the guy filming you from  reasonable distance while repeatedly asking you if it is ok for him to do so?  Of course there is video, he was filming you!

Monday, November 7, 2011

There is a name...

For what is wrong with left leaning protest movements:  Black Bloc anarchists.  These people are why I am not optimistic about the prospects of mass public protest as a catalyst for change.

Friday, November 4, 2011

People who need to never hold public office again:

Judge William Adams.  Do not watch this video, it is sickening.  Do, if you are in the right kind of place, do everything you can to ensure this man never holds any office again.  (I take it that legal ramifications for his actions are unlikely to come to pass, as he is a judge and the wrong kind of Christian).

Discussion at Pandagon, by Amanda, is highly worth reading.  The post title, 'The Culture of Christian Child Abuse', about sums it up.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Anarchists and other violent protesters are the worst possible thing to have happen to a protest movement.  They provoke official retaliation, deter moderates, and cannot do anything but harm the cause they claim to support.  Unfortunately, they are also often a substantial part of the core of a protest movement. 

From within any such movement, separating and distancing oneself from the offensive element is key to movement success.

Riot police make sense for riots...

...But not so much for when peaceful protesters are peacefully protesting.  When that happens, and the police decide to take off their name-badges (Or so I hear, from those who were watching) and get all violent, it only makes them look bad.

I am not convinced that this movement travels as well as the organisers of the global companion protests hope.  That is, I think that the particular circumstances of the US make the protest much more meaningful there than it is in, say, Melbourne, Australia.  But if any government wants to build support for a protest movement, actions like the one linked to above are only going to help the protest.

One might also consider that the Victorian police force is not exactly renowned for being a shining beacon of professionalism.  Perhaps they should take more care of their public image, and refrain from senseless violent retaliation against peaceful protesters?


Interesting also to read the comments to the above linked post.  A lot of people who are not just openly sympathetic to the protesters, but actively opposed to the restrictions that underly the government response.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hashtags, Swastikas and the embarrasing ineptitude of the American right.

Thinkprogress has a wonderful story up about right wing US commentators claiming that the # symbol, being used by the OWS protesters, is in fact a cunningly disguised swastika, because OWS is all about Nazism.

It would be hilarious if it were less scary.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Turns out at least one of them is known...

The Guardian has named the officer involved in pepper spraying bystanders at one of the Occupy Wall Street protests some days ago.  Anthony Balogna... who is already facing legal action arising from his actions at earlier protest actions.  Nice.

But then, that is only pepper spray.  I do wonder who the white shirt going nuts with the baton was.  Especially given that the rest of the officers surrounding him didn't look at all interested in joining in.  It looks a lot worse for you when everyone else on your side thinks it is unnecessary.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Is this happening yet?

If you look through this Guardian report on the Occupy Wall St protests, you will notice, on more than one occasion, pictures and video of white shirted (read: senior) police officers beating/macing protesters.  It seems clear that they were doing this not because the protesters were acting violently, indeed, there are no reports of violence from the protesters such as would explain the police resort to violence.  Stark contrast to the recent London uprising.

Now, what I am wondering is whether any enterprising young rebel has decided yet to find out who these people are.  Get some nice head shots of the perpetrators, run some video, search for names, and start a campaign.  '' has a good ring to it.  I say his advisedly, as I have yet to see any footage of senior female police officers waving their sticks around with no regard for their targets (did you see that they managed to mace and beat a Fox News crew?).

I would be somewhat surprised, and a little disappointed in the resourcefulness of the protesters, if some sort of site tracking and naming the officers in charge of this behaviour does not exist.  I also think that I would probably think it a reasonable response for the protesters to make to the police actions against them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fantasy novels, feminism and misogyny.

Sady Doyle at Tiger Beatdown started an (ongoing) shitstorm on the interwebs with her critique of George RR Martin's 'Song of Ice and Fire'.  Essentially: "It is rape-y, he is creepy, I disapprove."

Well and good, you might think.  But this set off a round of secondary conflicts, which are popping up in other places, like Crooked Timber, where a 300+ comment post started by Belle Waring has been thoroughly derailed into a discussion of whether Martin is bad, whether Sady approached his badness in a reasonable way, and whether she handled the ensuing mess appropriately.

I want to avoid the Martin based chronicles of messiness associated with all this and focus on 2 features which I think are valuable and being brought to the fore by the whole debacle. First is the presence of good male writers of feminist fantasy, and second is the amusing riffing on the concept of 'mansplaining' which begins at about comment 254 of the Crooked Timber thread.


1.  If you want good feminist fantasy, strong female characters doing strong things in ways that defy gender stereotyping, and for which they are respected as people (rather than particularly as women), look no further than Terry Pratchett.  Then read what he writes.  His female characters are never in danger of rape (indeed, the context of his world is such that that particular kind of violence is not present), and they are constantly both acting against the stereotypes present in his world, and showing those to be misguided.

2.  'Mansplaining' (horrible term which I think serves no good purpose) gets linked to much more interesting things:

Fansplaining is a much-needed term. We’ve all seen it: fans who over-identify with a work, who take every critical reading of that work as a personal attack, and who think that sufficiently forceful arguments might persuade the rest of the world that their own reading is the only valid one.

Commenter 'Gareth Rees'

Fans of Jersey Shore, of course, engage in tansplaining.

Commenter Doctor Slack

I’m going to have to unsubscribe from this blog if it degenerates into nothing but splainsplaining.

Commenter mds

Sorry mds, I couldn’t hear you over the sound of Gordon Ramsay pansplaining.

Doctor Slack again...

There’s nothing worse than someone wearing the wrong tartan who defends her error by clansplaining.


I think Brown Eyed Girl is a really good song, and Astral Weeks is in no way over-rated.

Soru  (This comment is wonderful.  Really.)

“We’re just trying to preserve our Southern culture’n’heritage, you Yankees wouldn’t understand,” Slidell klansplained.


And so on for far too much of the comment thread.  I felt as though I had no need to get invovled, really, other than to enjoy all of this.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On the decline of American Power

Ed at Gin and Tacos tells us all how it works, again:
I know that the average person in other countries understands that there is no reason to fear Americans individually – really, they might be loud assholes but all they want to do is buy tacky, overpriced souvenirs – but there is ample reason to fear America as a whole. The political majority is not guided by anything approaching reason and is obsessed with reliving the Gilded Age. The nation as a whole is unhealthily obsessed with its former glory and isn't good at much anymore except turning foreign countries into smoldering piles of rubble.
I'm not sure any more whether the correct response to the US political environment is to spend a lot of time worrying about the possible consequences of Republicans regaining power, or to ignore it and hope really hard that it all goes away.  Maybe if the Democrats hold on for another cycle or two, US power will have faded sufficiently that the collapse will not be so bad for the rest of the world.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Another action about which there should be no argument...

Naming a member of the Catholic church who stands accused of rape.  Other things being equal, individuals should be given the benefit of the doubt, but the consistent position of the Catholic church on matters of sexual abuse seriously undermines this presumption.  The church is not investigating because:
The priest concerned has categorically denied the allegation and has been a person of good standing in the archdiocese for a very long time.
... of course.  It is clear, and has been for a while, both that the Catholic church has a problem with sexual predators, and that it is in denial about it.  Continuing denial helps no-one, and forcing the issue seems the best approach to take.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Another one:

Forthcoming in Criminal Justice Ethics... "The Limits of Criminal Disenfranchisement."  As usual, a late draft will go up on soonish.


This article begins with the assumption that criminal disenfranchisement is at least sometimes theoretically defensible, as a component of punishment. From this assumption, I argue that it is only legitimate in a constrained set of cases. These constraints include: implementing disenfranchisement only for serious crimes; tying disenfranchisement to both the electoral cycle and to the length of imprisonment imposed for an offence; and assessing a background condition of sufficient justice present within the state that wishes to disenfranchise. Once these constraints are considered, I argue that there are very few instances in which disenfranchisement is defensible. To prove this, I examine both current disenfranchisement practices and the commonly present factors that undermine the constraints outlined above.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rioting in London: Distinctions are important

Criticising the police response to the rioting in London (or should that now read 'the UK') neither implies nor entails acceptance of the rioters actions.  Equivalently, the riots themselves can be condemned without approving of either the police actions to date, nor of the increasingly hyperbolic and surely counter-productive measures being proposed by those in power as solutions to the rioting.

I am pretty sure that the most sensible available option is to condemn both the actions of the rioters and the response (+ institutional structure) of the police to them.

Today in Blaming things you don't understand...

A report (credence: lowish) that at least one member of the UK police force thinks they can make the rioting go away by... blaming it on violent video games!  Of course that is the problem!  Man, if only kids played friendly co-operative games, they would be able to ignore the poverty and institutional injustice being foisted upon them by the state.  Why didn't anyone else think of this?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Australian Bigotry Watch, part something

Someone who really shouldn't be an MP of anywhere, given the views he espouses, has decided that a child being brought up by a lesbian couple is being denied its human rights... or that is at least what this quote sounds like (
"I'm totally against a baby being brought up by two mothers - the baby has human rights"
Of course, the idea that the Reverend Fred Nile is not always right about everything doesn't seem to have crossed said reverend's mind.  If he was merely a fringe crazy, this might be less of an issue.  But the man is being elected by some large group of people, and I want to know why.  (He is an MP in the upper house of the NSW state parliament, for those who are lucky enough not to have run into his crazy before)


Blog coverage:  Lenin's Tomb  (Short version: Its all class, baby!)

London Burning! (Still? Again?)

Rioting isn't the best way to change things, but when the other options have been (or are being) systematically removed from you, it is fairly easy to understand why it happens.  The reputation of the police amongst the communities most involved here cannot be helping their case, either.  Maybe some thought to public relations would have helped prevent (or mitigate) things?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Trying to explain the problem of the religious endgame of the relativism argument to first year students...

Spur of the moment attempt:

Imagine a card player who sits down to play poker with you.  You explain the house rules to them, and they agree to these rules.  They then proceed to win a number of hands, while using the house rules to their advantage (deuces wild, high-low straights, the whole works, whatever it is that your particular card group buys into).  A few hands further on, they go in big on a hand, and lose to someone else who is utilising one of the house rules.  They object to the use of the house rule in this case, and refuse to give up the money that they have lost, leaving the game in a huff.


The religious defender of relativism about ethics does not, standardly, want to abandon reason in favour of religion.  Rather, they want to be able to use both reasons and religion when it suits them, while reserving the right to claim not to be bound by reason when it clashes with their religious convictions.  If you engage with them, while allowing them to make this move, you can only ever lose in the long run, because they are simply not acting in good faith.  They are purporting or pretending to be bound by a series of conventions (reason), which they are willing to sacrifice (and to deny ever having been bound by), when it suits them.


The religious objection that you are 'privileging reason' without good authority, collapses as it purports a false dichotomy between choosing to follow religion or reason, whereas the actual goal is to follow both when it suits them, and religion alone when it does not suit to follow both.

Monday, August 1, 2011

How short is too short?

I got a rejection letter recently, from a journal I will not name here, which told me that the article I had sent them, at 6000 words, was not long enough for their journal, where standard articles ran 9000.  This seems to me somewhat of a silly reason to say no to a piece.  I would like to think that 6000 words is plenty for making the kind of point that an article is intended to get across.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I hope...

That climate change denial will turn out to be like overt racism.  Eventually, it will just be an embarrassing memory that progressive types use to remind conservative types that they are (almost always) wrong about everything.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Travelling and Conferences

I'm at the AAP in Dunedin. I've been travelling for a while.  Updates accordingly absent.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"But conservative values are bad..."

I am drawn to US political coverage like a moth to a flame.  I know reading about it will hurt, I know that the most liberal positions on display make conservatives in New Zealand (and even some of the centrists in Australia) seem liberal by comparison, and I know that the rhetoric will make me angry.  But still I click through to see Rick Perry claim that the US needs to embrace conservative values like banning abortion and killing off the poor for the sake of corporate profit.  Then I get sad at the state of the US system.

I also wonder, quite often, why countries like New Zealand don't offer huge numbers of immigration spots to liberal young USians fleeing the wreckage of their crumbling society.  It could help out a lot.

Friday, June 17, 2011

So True...

Parfit:  "It is Kant who made really bad writing philosophically acceptable."

Thursday, June 16, 2011


"Reconciling the Criminal and Participatory Responsibilities of the Youth" in Social Theory and Practice.


In this article I criticise the differential treatment of the youth between the criminal and participatory spheres.  I examine the reasons given for the setting of the age of criminal responsibility and that of participatory responsibility, noting that criminal responsibility is attributed significantly earlier than is participatory responsibility.  I question the purported justifications that warrant this differential treatment.  I claim that the requirements for being a capable participant in democratic processes are less onerous than those required to be responsible for criminal acts, and that as such, we have reason to question the system that denies youth participatory responsibility.  Two methods of resolving this difficulty are suggested.  Firstly, I suggest lowering the voting age to enfranchise the capable youth who are currently excluded.  Secondly, that criminal responsibility ought to be modeled on the Australian system, which retains a doli incapax standard giving provisional immunity from prosecution to youth between ten and fourteen years of age.

Link to a late draft will go up shortly.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

NZ By-Election

I hope this poll is somewhere near accurate.  Hone Harawira is, at this stage, less a politician and more a publicity generating machine.  Fading away after a humiliating defeat, with his newly formed party disintegrating, would be nice.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Publicity for Assisted Suicide

Courtesy of Terry Pratchett and the BBC, a documentary showing the death of a British millionaire in a Switzerland clinic.

I am pretty certain that I agree with Pratchett and the right to die side of this debate, in that I think there clearly are situations in which someone can, in full knowledge of their position and life prospects, reasonably decide that they want to end their life on their own terms, before an illness/whatever does so for them.  I also think that we can probably establish principled reasons for not extending a right to die beyond illness/suffering related cases.  I am not, however, sure as to whether we should attempt to establish these reasons.  I worry that doing so would be overly paternalistic. 

What limitations should there be on the right to die?  Age restrictions spring immediately to mind, because of the popular notion of the depressed teenager for whom it actually would get better if they stuck around. (Side Issue: That link goes to the It Gets Better Project, which is dedicated to helping LGBT teenagers cope with their sexual identity.  A worthy cause, and immediately relevant to this issue, due to the high rate of self harm and suicide amongst this group of people).  But some people of any age would have legitimate reasons to want to end their lives (the terminally cancer-stricken teenager, for example).  So a simple age limit will not suffice, it must be modified by something like the necessity requirement arising from illness/suffering.  We might also worry, as we do for age restrictions generally, that these are ill founded.



Thursday, June 2, 2011

Elderly Japanese folk have a plan to help fix the nuclear situation...

Stop sending in the workers, and start sending in retirees, because they are old enough that cancer probably won't get a chance to kill them before old age does.  Oh, and they are volunteering for the work.

Monday, May 30, 2011

W(ork) I(n) P(rogress) : 1

Enfranchising the cognitively disabled...


There is little inter-jurisdictional consensus on the role played by cognitive disability in determining political inclusion.  That is, different jurisdictions treat the cognitively disabled significantly differently, in terms of their entitlement to vote, the restrictions place upon them in the exercise of both voting rights and other aspects of political participation, and in terms of the tests or thresholds that they must pass in order to be politically included.  In this article, I ask whether there is any reason to favour some particular approach to the enfranchisement of the cognitively disabled.  Potential reasons to favour a particular approach can be found in the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (UNCRDP), in our democratic theory, particularly those aspects which limit the legitimate reasons to deny people rights to participation, and occasionally in the domestic law of particular jurisdictions, where the question of the enfranchisement of the cognitively disabled has arisen and been addressed.  I argue in light of these considerations that we should favour an inclusive approach to the enfranchisement of persons with cognitive disabilities, in which we only sparingly exclude these persons from political participation, and where possible, we provide them with opportunities to show that they are capable of participation.  For all who take these opportunities, we should, of course, enfranchise them.

The structure of the article is as follows.  In the first section, I describe the differing approaches taken to the enfranchisement of the cognitively disabled across a range of jurisdictions.  This explication is intended both to highlight the lack of agreement among the international community as to the best way to approach the enfranchisement of the cognitively disabled, and to illustrate the broad range of currently instantiated approaches that are available as options.  In section 2 I analyse the different sources that can bear on the question.  Using the examples discussed in section 1 I analyse the requirements imposed by the UNCRPD, by democratic theory, and by relevant aspects of jurisdiction specific legal practice.  Finally, I suggest that having taken all these into account, the approach to the enfranchisement of those with cognitive disabilities that best achieves our obligations is an inclusive one, in which significant numbers of the cognitively disabled are entitled to participate.


Hoping to get this one wrapped in the next week or so.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pessimistic advice from Luciano Floridi

 In the latest Figure/Ground interview, Luciano Floridi has the following to say about deciding to become an academic:

In the humanities, and especially in philosophy, I would strongly urge the student to reconsider the choice. The positions are so few, the competition so high, the sacrifices before obtaining a permanent job (tenure) so many and tough, that pursuing an academic career looks unreasonable when, with half the brain and efforts, one would get a much better chance of enjoying the handful of decades at one’s disposal. So the advice is: do not do it, unless you absolutely cannot help doing it, in which case no advice is necessary anyway.

Not such a positive outlook.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Virtual Friendships!

Forthcoming in Ethics and Information Technology.  Draft up on my page at

Short version:  People can and do make friends (solely) online.  This is compatible with thinking of friendship from within the Aristotelian tradition, and it raises some interesting issues for discussion of special relationships and obligations.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Easter in NZ was a good chance to get away for a bit.  Lectures are all lined up for next week and I'm back to the grind.  Thoroughly sick of the media hype about weddings though, and I agree wholeheartedly with Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon who says that:
The royals are a bunch of leeches, and the people who are enthusiastic about them have barely-concealed anti-democratic imperialist fantasies underpinning it.  The whole thing is disgusting.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Juan Cole nicely summarises the current US situation, comparing governments to corporations:

Government is not bad. It builds your roads, funds your hospitals, pays your social security (the elderly were the poorest group in American in the 1920s, now they generally not so badly off, because of a government program), and could help solve global warming by building high speed rail and promoting green energy. Corporations don’t do anything of that sort for you. Some of them are well-run and make things that improve lives. But many of them (as with industrial fishing) are destroying the species-wealth of the planet, or strip-mining it, or pumping enormous amounts of poisonous carbon into its atmosphere. Or they are ponzi schemes or modern-day slavers who get people deeply in debt and charge them usurious interest rates, turning them into serfs-for-the-lender.

Read it all by following the link above.

Women in Combat

A strange mix coming out of the ADF these days.  We have horribly dated expressions of disinterest in the wellbeing of female cadets a couple days ago, and now some pretty clear support for gender equality in service:

Major General Molan, who served as chief of operations to the Iraq multinational force in 2004-05, said he supported the opening up of all roles in the military to women if that was what society wanted.
“If society makes the decision to put women in combat, then we in the military will manage that and we'll do it,” he said.
Good stuff! Of course, it hasn't happened, but it is on the table.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Colour me unconcerned

I find it difficult to care about those who will be disadvantaged by restrictions on tobacco sales. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Not a good time to be a PR flack for the Australian Defence Forces

Concerns about misogyny in the ADF are making news again (Canberra Times), as a female cadet is secretly recorded having sex, while the camera broadcasts this to a group of other cadets in a separate room.  To compound matters, the ADF initially claims that there was no criminal activity involved in this non-consensual recording, and then goes on to show a complete lack of tact (not to mention a complete lack of common decency) by just so happening to mention that the victim here (for the female cadet is clearly a victim) may herself be liable to disciplinary action for fraternisation.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Obnoxious political blathering in Australia, Part far too many

Federal Labour isn't content to let the Coalition have all the fun of badmouthing Julia Gillard.  Former members of the party itself want in on this!  Latham (abc) has decided that Gillard is 'wooden' and lacks empathy, because... she doesn't have kids!  Weclome back to the 1960s, Australia, where a woman belongs in the kitchen.

Seriously, who are these people and why do they open their mouths in public.  This kind of gender essentialism is so far from appropriate in even a minimally decent modern society.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Isn't the Australian political situation bad enough?

...without Julia Gillard insulting the only reason we aren't still being run by the Coalition?  Really, if the Coalition are constantly criticising labour for acting too closely with the Greens, the problem is the Coalition, and the solution is to start being honest about the value of Green Party policies and the fact that on a number of issues where the Coalition is most vocal in opposition, the Greens have a much stronger hand than does Labour.

Labour had been doing so well recently with regards to Climate Change policy, as well.

Things that are too good to pass up:

With thanks and shameless promotion for 'Alas, A Blog', we should all know that the Florida republican party thinks that 'uterus' is such a scary word that it should not be mentioned on the floor of the house of representatives.  Context?  A democratic representative suggesting that Republicans would care more about deregulation if his wife had had her uterus incorporated.  Good times.

Issues with 'hearts and minds'

(Some ideas from a paper I am working on.  I intend to run numbers on this, assigning values and probabilities to the various conditions, as I think it will probably end up fitting quite well into a pseudo-game-theoretical framework, but numbers minimal to non-existent in this version, wait for the paper itself)

Part of the approach to modern warfare involves an emphasis on winning over the 'hearts and minds' of the population in whichever country you are warring in.  The goal of doing so is, of course, to create or increase popular support for your mission, and to decrease the opportunities your opponents have to blend into the civilian population and engage in traditional insurgency defences.

I am concerned that the hearts and minds game (in the game-theory sense of game) is un-winnable.  There are a number of reasons to think this might be the case.  Firstly, we can look at the relative availability of praiseworthy and blameworthy actions to the participants in the game.  Doing this leads, I think, to the conclusion that praise is more difficult to achieve than blame.  Secondly, we can analyse the effect of particular praise or blame worthy acts.  Doing this, I believe, we will find that individual blameworthy acts resonate far more than do individual praiseworthy acts.  This is going to be particularly problematic in conjunction with the first point.  Thirdly, I suggest that the very idea of a program to win hearts and minds introduces cognitive dissonance in the minds of the population of the country in which this action is undertaken, when the hearts and minds program is undertaken by the same forces who are engaged in military conflict in that country.

Relative Availability
This point arises as follows.  The most prominent ways in which a state can succeed in winning hearts and minds are by having the military forces engage with the civilian population on civil terms.  To do this, the occupying (is occupying any better a term than invading? Is there an available non-value laden term that would be more appropriate?) forces have to treat the civilian population as relevantly equal and deserving of respect and assistance.  The problem is that this is simply the basic level of treatment that we expect anyone to give any other person at any time.  So soldiers in a conflict zone who treat the civilian population in that zone kindly and with dignity and respect, are doing much more than soldiers are expected to do, but not to any meaningful degree any more than people are expected to do in more general cases.  Accordingly, the degree to which soldiers will be praised for acting excellently qua soldier towards the civilian population is minimal.  An excellently behaving solider is acting just as a minimally decent stranger or neighbour.

By contrast, soldiers doing normal soldierly things will elicit blame from the civilian population of the area in which they are operating.  The presence of the soldiers disrupts civilian life.  Any hostile action undertaken by the soldiers causes property damage and runs the risk of civilian casualties.  These problems arise even if the soldiers otherwise act in exemplary ways.  If even some portion of them do not act in exemplary ways, further problems swiftly arise.  Examples are easy to find.  Consider the village flattened in Afghanistan because the US commander was sick of Taliban forces using it, or the small group of rogue soldiers who murdered a number of Afghani civilians and pretended they had been insurgents.  Or the recent furore over racial and ethnic slurs on Australian Defence force facebook pages, originating from those serving in Afghanistan.

Differential Resonance
The examples above give us opportunity to consider the second point of concern.  Winning over the hearts and minds of the civilian population requires a concerted effort by all involved over a long period of time.  Losing those same hearts and minds can be achieved very quickly through the actions of a small group of people acting independently.  When the 'kill team' (seriously, what is the world coming to when Rolling Stone is the source of things like this?) of US troops in Afghanistan plot to murder civilians and disguise it as legitimate conflict action, they destroy in days or weeks the goodwill that has been built up over years in a carefully orchestrated campaign to show the civilian population that the US forces are a better alternative to the Taliban, and that they should be assisted, and can be trusted.  Similarly, although not quite so immediately, even something like racist facebook postings (9 news) serves quickly to undermine goodwill.  Afghani immigrants to Australia learn that the ADF thinks these things, and they send messages to their relatives in Afghanistan telling them not to trust the Australians, because they might treat you well, but they secretly claim you are "sand niggaz", "dune coons", "ragheads" and "smelly locals".  (I feel somewhat sick having repeated those...)  Quite quickly, the mood in the villages where Australian troops have been present could change.  Do these troops really want to help us?  Or is it just a cover?  Goodwill.... gone, by the actions of an unrepresentative few.

Cognitive Dissonance
This issue arising because of what it is soldiers do.  In Iraq, where the hearts and minds doctrine has most recently been prominent, or in Afghanistan, where it is ongoing, the soldiers are there to kill 'bad guys', and they frequently do just that, often within earshot, and even within sight of the same people whose hearts and minds they are trying to win over.  This situation is clearly going to be problematic for the hearts and minds doctrine, as those whose hearts and minds are to be won know that these people with guns are willing and able to use them, and have done so, perhaps against people they know.  Even where a particular Iraqi village despises Saddam Hussein and has suffered as a result of his rule, it is not at all far fetched to imagine them having sympathy or even respect for some of those who fight for Saddam, and who, accordingly, are the target of these foreign troops.  Similarly, even if particular villagers in Afghanistan oppose the Taliban, they may well know and like some individual Taliban members, who they will not want  to give up to the soldiers, and whose death or injury would cause them to think poorly of the soldiers.

Where to from here?
None of this means that a hearts and minds doctrine is a bad idea.  It might well be that even where the chances of successfully implementing this are slim, due to the kinds of factors outlined above, the potential benefits from being seen to try make it worthwhile.  Further, if we move beyond explicitly military operations such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and toward policing and armed humanitarian interventions, then the third point in particular becomes less problematic, as fewer actual conflicts occur.  Similarly, in these situations, the risk of the first two points diminishes.