Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The World Bank talks Global Warming

The World Bank recently published a delightful report called Turn Down the Heat in which they laid out the case for taking seriously the threat posed to our civilisation by Global warming.  In it they detail the consequences of a 4 degree centigrade global average temperature rise.  This, by the way, is what an overwhelming majority of scientists are predicting will occur if we don't change a lot of our practices very drastically, very quickly.  The numbers, you will not be surprised to learn, rise from 'an overwhelming majority' to 'near unanimity' once you filter the set [scientists] to exclude creationists/religious fundamentalists and corporate shills.

The forward sets the tone:
It is my hope that this report shocks us into action. Even for those of us already committed to fighting climate change, I hope it causes us to work with much more urgency
The data which follows is as depressing as it is obvious to anyone who is willing to pay attention to what is happening.  But the solutions are harder.  A high priority has to go to discrediting those groups who try to maintain, for their own selfish ends, the illusion that this is a two-sided issue.  Who comprise these groups?  I think there is a coarse grained division to be made amongst them, into the greedy and the religious.  The greedy are those who stand to profit from the maintenance of the status quo.  In particular, big businesses working within greenhouse-emitting industries, such as oil companies, but also industrial capitalists more generally.  The religious are those for whom the idea that we can cause or prevent these harms strikes at the foundation of their belief systems.  So not all religious people are at fault, only those who are willing to deny the evidence of the world in favour of the evidence of their [interpretation of their] sacred texts.

Attacking greed/growth is probably the easier of the two.  We at least have a template in place by which governments can (although they seldom, and more seldom effectively do) restrict the activities of industry, and enforce standards for emissions which will reduce the harm caused by these actors.  But our society as a whole is reluctant to criticise religion and religious beliefs, even when the maintenance and acceptance of these positions creates actual, identifiable harms.  We see this reluctance in the continued respect paid to, for example, the Catholic Church, even as the evidence mounts that, from Ireland to the USA to Australia, the Church has systematically aided and abetted sexual abusers in evading justice.  We see it further in the ideological acceptance of climate change denial as a legitimate position, backed by evidence.  It is not.  Religiously motivated climate change denial is a deliberate evil, which governments, the media, and the general public should stop dignifying with attention, and begin to more actively oppose.


Because of course, that is likely to happen.


Friday, October 26, 2012

"Kids have good Instincts"

There is a pretty awesome profile of Obama in Rolling Stone at the moment. (Well, permanently, because internet).  It includes the following passage:

I was reminded of this incident when our interview with the president ended. As we left the Oval Office, executive editor Eric Bates told Obama that he had asked his six-year-old if there was anything she wanted him to say to the president. After a thoughtful pause, she said, "Tell him: You can do it." 
Obama grinned. "That's the only advice I need," he said. "I do very well, by the way, in that demographic. Ages six to 12? I'm a killer." 
"Thought about lowering the voting age?" Bates joked. 
"You know, kids have good instincts," Obama offered. "They look at the other guy and say, 'Well, that's a bullshitter, I can tell.'"

One of those policies which there is never going to be political consensus in favour of, but which would actually be quite useful. I am biased towards the idea of lowering the voting age, of course. It just makes me happy to see it getting some play, even as a joke.

I have mentioned it before, but US journalism is messed up. Rolling Stone magazine is actually one of the better sources for good long form political coverage.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012



I post more there than here.

US Presidential Election

This electoral cycle has been interesting.  Before the debates, I was happily watching the trainwreck that was the Romney campaign, as it staggered towards electoral annihilation.  This impression was backed up by the polling data collected by Nate Silver at 538, who showed Obama becoming steadily more likely to win, peaking over 80% probability just before the first debate.  Then the first debate happened.  Obama dropped 17% or so in chance to win rates, everything looked bad.  Andrew Sullivan was inches away from committing ritual suicide live on webcam.  People began taking seriously the possibility of a Romney/Ryan comeback (oh, those alliterative tickets, will they ever be defeated?)

Things got better.

It began, really, with the vice-presidential debate. Well, with the cheesy exercise photos (cast-offs from a Time magazine shoot, I gather) which were released just prior to the debate.  These were... prime candidates for memeification.  Also for tumblr's. Then there is @PaulRyanGosling on twitter.  Oh, and there was the fact that Biden mopped the floor with Ryan, sending him screaming home in abject terror at the fact that he was expected to know things about stuff.  Apparently that hadn't been in the job description.

But that was only a VP debate.  The numbers didn't change much.

Then came debate 2.  Romney decided to put some women in binders.  He decided, in fact, to claim that his binders were filled with them.  Turns out, when you do something like that, people will make fun of you for it. (If you thought the tumblr was good, check out the google image search results)  Of course, it isn't all just photoshopping women into binders.  There are serious issues arising from blunders like this.  What does Romney think about the role of women in the workforce? (He doesn't) Is he aware of the difficulties still faced by women in contemporary society (No), and does he have a plan to alleviate these difficulties? (No). Look at what the Atlantic had to say about it.  Or Jezebel.

This was better.  Romney looked like a muppet. Obama looked good.  The polls started to come back around.

It also made for good television.  The mainstream media was immensely excited.  Underdog challenger narrows the race after first debate. Incumbent gamely fights back in the second, with an invaluable assist from his Veep.  Going into the third, the momentum is poised to tip either way.  A Romney return to form could doom Team O.  Similarly, if Obama keeps up with what he did in the second, all the RR gains from the first will be for naught.  Oh, the suspense.

Debate 3.  Nominally a foreign policy debate, it turns out to feature as much discussion of teachers unions as of Palestine.  More debate of each of these than of climate change. (Marking the first time since 1988 that the issue didn't get a mention in *any* of the debates).  Romney looked cool, calm and collected. Obama did too.  Maybe it would go down to the wire! (Oh, the excitement).  Then Romney wound up for a knockout blow.  Military spending. Naval spending.  The Navy, he claims, is "smaller now than at any time since 1917."  Oh no! crushing blow!  How will Obama recover?  He plays to twitter, opening up with a smile to note that "we also have fewer horses and bayonets." Yes, that last link is to a tumblr.  Of course it is to a tumblr.  That is how politics works these days.  It should be mentioned that this was evidently not as catchy as was #bindersfullofwomen.  As the Atlantic notes, it took 9 minutes to go from Obama's mouth to a parody tumblr account.  Compared to the speed at which the binders full of women tumblr appeared, that is glacial.  I should mention that the headline in the Atlantic originally said 'under half an hour' ... they have revised their estimate down.

This exchange did it for Team O.  From then on in, Willard was rattled.  He stumbled, he sweated (this is a big deal!  Remember what happens once people can see you. They judge you on your appearance). Obama took control.  All told, he won this one by more than he won the second (if not by as much as Mitt won the first).

Where to from here?  I'm not sure. I hope this translates into a comfortable Obama run to victory, but there is time yet for some things to get messed up.  And there is always the risk of Republican initiated voter intimidation/profiling to make things interesting.

Twitter, however, is the clear winner for coverage.  The idea of watching on television, isolated from real time updates of how the electorate is reacting to the claims made, seems archaic and inefficient by comparison.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Myth Watch: Arts vs. Sciences

Press Release claims - "Professor of Agribusiness at the University of Waikato, Jacqueline Rowarth says if students are looking for lucrative careers, then they should study science."

(US) Statistics Show!

Mid career median income for philosophy majors: $81,200.  Strangely enough, this is higher than the salaries for people in:

Agriculture ($71900)
Chemistry ($79900)
Biology ($64800)
Business Management ($72100)

(It is also higher than for many other fields, but these seem like a good sample of those who will be getting 'Agribusiness' degrees).

Of course, if graduates really wanted to make as much money as possible, they should do degrees in...

Chemical Engineering ($107,000)
Computer Engineering ($105,000)
Electrical Engineering ($103,000)
Aerospace Engineering ($101,000)
Economics ($98,600)

These being the top rated 5 professions on the above list.  Or, our graduates could move to Australia, where they can work in the mines in Western Australia and earn a comfortable 6 figure salary.  But then, they would not even need a degree to do that.

Maybe the salary isn't the only important thing?  Crazy idea, I know.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fishing, Overfishing, and governments (finally) taking an interest.

It doesn't happen often, but occasionally a political party displays backbone and does something positive for the natural world.  This time, it was the Australian Federal Government, the Labour party, rapidly shoving through restrictions on a mammoth 'super-trawler' that was hoping to suck up vast amounts of fish in Australian waters.

Recreational fishers and the Green party are happy.  The 'business lobby' is apoplectic.  But the business lobby is consistently incredibly short sighted about their own interests.  If any of them had paid any attention to the history of the fishing industry, they would know how this works.  You take too many fish, all the fish are gone, everyone loses their jobs and your business collapses.  (For popular press coverage of this, see Mark Kurlansky's 'Cod' & 'The Last Fish Tale' detailing the collapse of European and US fisheries)  If there is anything this boat was going to do, it was take too many fish.

Old posts from LGM are relevant: Fish

Also from thinkprogress (linked in the LGM post): Top 5 fisheries stories of 2011

Friday, August 31, 2012

The best thing about US Elections: Commentary

Discussion of the Republican National Convention, via Gin & Tacos...
"the apparent theme for the convention is luring the truth into a derelict ice cream truck with promises of candy and then repeatedly touching it in the bathing suit area"

Yeah.  Ladies and Gentlemen, US politics!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Yeah, about that...

Headline: "Syria: West Looking for Excuse to Send in Troops"

Reality: Have you people been paying any attention to what is happening in Syria at the moment?  If the West wanted to send in troops, the process of 'looking' for an excuse wouldn't take long.  If anything, the issue runs in the other direction: Given the multitude of excuses for intervention which the Syrian regime keeps offering the world, why hasn't the world intervened?  Do we not care about humanitarian issues in Syria? Are Syrian civilians somehow less important than others?  Why is the Syrian government getting away with what it is doing?  You know, real questions.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Well. This will be fun. John Rogers said everything that needed to be said about Ryan in 2009:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What is wrong with the publishing industry?

It isn't like they cannot get it right.  Look at this photo!

You know what that cost me? 2 hardcover books, total length somewhere over 1200 pages, delivered from the UK, published by Oxford University Press.  Under $60NZ.  At that price, who is going to steal it, really?

No, the problem is that the above is not standard.  This is the rare case of someone doing it right.

Using the Olympic logo for good

This tumblr, oceaniaeuropeamericasafricaasia, has a wonderful take on the Olympic rings.  Varying them in size to give visual representations of any number of things in each of the regions.

Come for the Catholic Priest comparison:

Stay for the McDonalds one...

These and many more available on the tumblr linked above.

Friday, August 3, 2012

NYT paywall getting you down?

Private browsing (firefox), or Incognito mode (Chrome), or whatever the other browsers call this feature.  Works a treat. No more 10 article/month limits.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The news media is broken, part whatever.

No, the problem is not that various parts of the Australian media (Fox Sports, the Herald Sun) are excitedly reporting on a viral video clip of Michelle Jenneke bouncing before a race a few days ago.  The problem is that this all happened, went viral, then disappeared, a few days ago.

The media is a long way behind the news cycle on this, as they are on so many things.  That, in a nutshell, is the problem they face.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Building Things

David at Digby's place adds to the pushback against Romney.

Yes, I've worked hard to earn some modest success. But make no mistake: I haven't built that. I merely stood on the shoulders of a vast network of civilization paid for by tax dollars, without which I would never have had the opportunity to succeed at all.

Read it all.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hello Libertarians!

John Scalzi has a story for you.

Turns out, it doesn't look much like the one you tell.

I am surprised.

How did I not know...

That Paul Krugman wrote a paper on interstellar trade?

It should be noted that, while the subject of this paper is silly, the analysis actually does make sense.  This paper, then, is a serious analysis of a ridiculous subject, which is of course the opposite of what is usual in economics.


Winning comment thread

This post over at Lawyers Guns and Money descends into awesomeness in the comment thread, as the great generals of history get characterised as football coaches.

What, Ghengis Khan's record doesn't count just because he was in the Eastern Conference?

On the other hand, when Alexander played the sport was integrated: Europeans, Africans, Persians, Indians - all got to take part. Napolean was facing a more circumscribed talent pool

Not true - Napolean famously played away games in Egypt and Syria, and wanted to play in India but those stuck up Brits wouldn't let him.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The 'right to bear arms' is a national embarrassment for the USA.

Ladies and gentlemen, Senator Ron Johnson!

"The left always uses the term 'assault rifle,' and they're really talking about semi-automatic weapons that are used in hunting," Johnson explained. "That's what happens in Wisconsin. These are rifles that are used in hunting. Just the fact of the matter is this is really not an issue of guns. This is about sick people doing things you simply can't prevent. It's really an issue of freedom.

That is, the AR-15 rifle with the hundred round magazine is just a hunting weapon...

Is it any wonder that the US stance on gun control (or the lack thereof) is seen as crazy by the civilised world?  Even other Western countries that are big on guns (such as Switzerland, where every male of military age is required by law to have a military grade weapon in their home) have restrictions to stop the rampant abuse of weaponry that just occurred in Colorado.  (In Switzerland, access to ammunition is tightly controlled, and use is tracked.  In the US, this killer bought 6000 rounds online without anyone thinking this might be suspicious).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Framing is important.

Via LGM, a link to some stats showing that belief in climate change increases during heatwaves (US based, naturally).  It decreases correspondingly during cold winters.

Framing [climate change] as [global warming] in so much of the public discourse is the problem here.  Those who don't pay much attention are going to laugh at the idea of 'warming' when it is cold.

Things have improved in this regard, but the legacy of [global warming] is still dominant.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Daniel Tosh

Daniel Tosh is a comedian.  Last week, he made a rape joke. It wasn't funny.  A female audience member called him on it ('Rape jokes are never funny').  He responded with a gang-rape joke, directed at the audience member ('Wouldn't it be funny if, like, 5 guys...').

 The interwebs have been having a field day with this, both on the 'rape: so funny' and the 'rape: bad' side of things.  I think the whole discussion makes for interesting reading.  Here is my take on it.  In common with other terrible things, rape can be a legitimate subject matter for jokes.  Turns out, lots of people not only agree, but have gone to the trouble of identifying the features of rape jokes that they (comedians / writers / interested observers) see as influencing whether a particular joke about the subject 'works'.

Kate Harding: Rape Jokes that Work

 Needless to say, Daniel Tosh fails by the standards of all the above linked commentators.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Debtor's Prisons

They are a thing in the US.  Because the standard interpretation of Article 11 of the ICCPR ("No one shall be imprisoned merely on the ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation") clearly doesn't apply to America.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Messed Up...

(Via Crooks & Liars) So a lifeguard saves some guy who is in trouble outside of the flagged area.  The (private) lifeguard organisation:

a) Congratulates him;
b) Gives him a bonus;
c) Fires him.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Semester over. Semester begins.

My heavy teaching semester has just ended (14 contact hours over 3 courses at 3 different universities).  In the downtime, I packed up my life and shipped it to New Zealand.  Well, I had removalists pack up my life, and it is sitting on a dock in Melbourne, from whence it will hopefully make its way to New Zealand to join me.  This is all in pursuit of my new job as a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Waikato, which I began today.

With more time on hand, I should have more to say.

Friday, April 6, 2012


This article at Al-Jazeera provides a pretty clear argument against the current publishing industry, and in favour of making access to scholarly work possible for the majority of the world population.  I understand why the industry doesn't want people like me downloading their books rather than buying them, but the available methods of prevention at the moment destroy any chance of access for most everyone else.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

This week in 'Evil people being aided and abetted by the system'...

George Zimmerman, killer of unarmed 17 year old Trayvon Martin.  It has taken some days for the sense of outrage to build, as it becomes more obvious that yes, this guy (Zimmerman) is a dangerous gun-wielding irritant, who against the express wishes of the police decided to track down and confront Trayvon Martin for the heinous crime of being black in public.

We all know what happened next, and that Zimmerman seemed to get away with it.  That looks less likely now, at least.  Coverage is widespread, but for my money, Ta-Nehisi Coates has the best of it, over multiple posts and days.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The US right and blog use

Interesting study out of the Berkman center at Harvard here.

Notably, we find evidence of an association between ideological affiliation and the technologies, institutions, and practices of participation across political blogs. Sites on the left adopt more participatory technical platforms; are comprised of significantly fewer sole-authored sites; include user blogs; maintain more fluid boundaries between secondary and primary content; include longer narrative and discussion posts; and (among the top half of the blogs in our sample) more often use blogs as platforms for mobilization as well as discursive production.

(Linked by Leiter)

This seems to tie in quite closely to the ongoing discussion I am in over at the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective.  The link is to a critical discussion of my article 'The New Political Blogosphere' in Social Epistemology 26(1), 55-70.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Implicit bias and race

The Hendricks thing happening over at newapps has been painful to read for a while now, and has just taken an interesting turn with a new focus on the possible racial component of the criticism of Hendricks.  Buried in the commentary to that thread is a link to an interesting test run through Harvard, which attempts to measure implicit bias in comparisons between two groups, European Americans and African Americans.

The test can be found here and is worth doing, it uses the standard methodology for this kind of thing.  I was surprised to find that I have a moderate bias in favour of African Americans.  Trying to determine why this is, my first thought is that, living outside of the US, my primary exposure to American people is through political coverage, and there are comparatively few African American Republicans.  As such, I am more likely to trust African Americans than European Americans, because they are less likely to be spouting Republican nonsense.  Now, this explanation is appealing, but unlikely to be complete.  Oh well.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Australian (Federal) Labour Party...

Seems to have a death wish.  Surely someone has told these people that messy, intrigue filled leadership contests are a bad way of convincing voters that you will be able to provide a stable government if you are elected?  Even the mess that is the Republican primary system in the US at the moment seems better than what is going on here with Gillard and Rudd.

Monday, February 6, 2012

This is just silly...

Outrage in NZ over a Smokefree ad featuring Piri Weepu, in which he bottlefeeds his young child!  Bottlefeeds! As if breastfeeding were not good enough!  (Forget, for the moment, how difficult breastfeeding would be for him).

Really?  Really?

I would take it as a good thing that a man is being portrayed as a nurturing, involved figure in a popular ad campaign.  Complaining about this can only be counterproductive for the pro-breastfeeding groups making the complaints.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Rolling Stone: Best news source in the US?

At the very least, they do a wonderful line in long form journalism.  That talent is noticeably under-represented in more traditional new media.  For a thoroughly depressing example, take a look at this piece about how a small town in Michelle Bachmann's home district is creating such a strong anti-homosexual vibe (linked, naturally, to the strength of evangelical religion in the area) that many young kids have killed themselves there.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Articles online:

'The New Political Blogosphere', in Social Epistemology, here.

'The Limits of Criminal Disenfranchisement', in Criminal Justice Ethics, here.