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Weekend reflections

November 19th, 2004

This is a chance to make comments on any topic of your choosing, to be written and read at the leisurely pace of the weekend. I’d welcome pieces a little longer than the usual comments, but not full-length essays. If you want to draw attention to something longer, try an extract or summary with a link. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language.

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  1. November 19th, 2004 at 15:20 | #1

    Sociology in the Reality-Based World

    After that interesting exchange on Sociology and other Arty subjects: Common Sense, I found a piece of actual practical research from a prestigious Faculty of Sociology!

    Did Kieran Healy just confused the issue in his original complaint? Perhaps it should be taken as a complement: they expect your BS detectors to be set to HIGH. So they are just avoiding trouble. Plus, sociologists rebuttals do tend to get quite complex… & confusing? ;^)

    Meanwhile in the Reality-Based World… Any thoughts?

    UC Berkeley Research Team Sounds ‘Smoke Alarm’ for Florida E-Vote Count; Irregularities may have awarded 260,000 or more excess votes to Bush in Florida – Nov 18th, 2004 4:43 pm

    Statistical Analysis – the Sole Method for Tracking E-Voting – Shows Irregularities May Have Awarded 130,000 – 260,000 or More Excess Votes to Bush in Florida

    The three counties where the voting anomalies were most prevalent were also the most heavily Democratic: Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, respectively. Statistical patterns in counties that did not have e-touch voting machines predict a 28,000 vote decrease in President Bush’s support in Broward County; machines tallied an increase of 51,000 votes – a net gain of 81,000 for the incumbent. President Bush should have lost 8,900 votes in Palm Beach County, but instead gained 41,000 – a difference of 49,900. He should have gained only 18,400 votes in Miami-Dade County but saw a gain of 37,000 – a difference of 19,300 votes.

    “For the sake of all future elections involving electronic voting – someone must investigate and explain the statistical anomalies in Florida,” says Professor Michael Hout. “We’re calling on voting officials in Florida to take action.”

    The research team is comprised of doctoral students and faculty in the UC Berkeley sociology department, and led by Sociology Professor Michael Hout, a nationally-known expert on statistical methods and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the UC Berkeley Survey Research Center.

    For its research, the team used multiple-regression analysis, a statistical method widely used in the social and physical sciences to distinguish the individual effects of many variables on quantitative outcomes like vote totals. This multiple-regression analysis takes into account of the following variables by county:

    * number of voters
    * median income
    * Hispanic/Latino population
    * change in voter turnout between 2000 and 2004
    * support for Senator Dole in the 1996 election
    * support for President Bush in the 2000 election
    * use of electronic voting or paper ballots

    “No matter how many factors and variables we took into consideration, the significant correlation in the votes for President Bush and electronic voting cannot be explained,” said Hout. “The study shows, that a county’s use of electronic voting resulted in a disproportionate increase in votes for President Bush. There is just a trivial probability of evidence like this appearing in a population where the true difference is zero – less than once in a thousand chances.”

  2. vee
    November 19th, 2004 at 16:58 | #2

    I know this isn’t an “essay” like you are after but I want to say:

    Does anyone get the feeling that the girl on trial in Indonesia for drug smuggling is just a political pawn?

    Howard may be approaching Indonesia nicely but Indonesia is telling Howard to leave them alone. (I’m using an euphemism)

    Is Indonesia trying to send a message?

  3. November 19th, 2004 at 22:58 | #3

    vee – Don’t know about a pawn but something smells funny. Usually no one needs to import weed into Bali, in fact it can come the other way. I can’t see how she could have got through customs x rays and such without the surfboard bag being searched or at least x rayed and from what I can see the bag of dope would have stood out like a dogs….well it would have stood out like a bag of dope in a surfboard bag.

    It does seems like she will be expendable. Anyway its her own fault for not being a sporting role model. If she was a male cricket player then she could have been pissed as a fart, picked a fight with the pilot in the air, sexually assaulted a hostie or two, spewed on the granny in the seat in front and got caught with 5 Kilos of heroin in a bum bag and Howard would be at war with the Indons before you could say pre emptive strike.

  4. November 19th, 2004 at 23:00 | #4

    Support CEPU’s petition for a national plebiscite over Telstra sale!

    For further information see story in Sydney Morning Herald. Also visit our web site for details when they become available.

    As we have argued here
    the Coalition parties (except for candidates claiming to be opposed to privatisation) said virtually nothing about the sale of Telstra during the campaign, and the Government’s case for Telstra received almost no scrutiny from the newsmedia (notwithstanding our own modest efforts).

    During the campaign in which the supposed mandate was obtained, Ziggy Switkowski made it quite clear that he preferred that the issue of Telstra or privatisation to be in the news.

    So the CEPU should be commended for standing up to the Government and not being intimidated by the nonsense uttered by the Government that it has achieved a ‘popular mandate’ for the sale.

  5. spare us
    November 19th, 2004 at 23:13 | #5

    Went to Mark Latham’s address to the Fabians tonight. Lucky he won the election. Otherwise he might have had to change something about the way he did things, or his policies or something. A true stinker. Just as Oscar Wilde congratulated the audience on their performance at the opening of The Importance of Being Earnest so the audience lined up in true ALP fashion to join in the meriment. He got a standing ovation. The ALP may not have a replacement as leader but it is pretty academic with this guy in charge. Not really all there I’m afraid.

  6. November 20th, 2004 at 02:56 | #6

    Voting patterns and party allegiance based on
    survey data in the 1970s.

    This is a summary of David Kemp’s aper “Political Parties and Australian Culture” in the collection of 25 years of Quadrant (1955-1980).

    Kemp was a professor of politics at Monash Uni where this research was conducted. He later worked in the Office of PM Fraser.

    The central concerns of the research were voting behaviour and party loyalty and especially how much these affiliations fell along class lines.

    By 1975 the indicators of occupation, income and education had ceased to predict voing behaviour. At that time it appeared that equal numbers of
    skilled workers were supporting the Coalition and the ALP. Among the unskilled and semi-skilled the ratio of support for Coalition/ALP was 7 to 10. As to income, among those under $6000 the Coalition drew more support than the ALP.

    This was hard to reconcile with the observation of the map in capital cities which showed that “working class” areas voted Labor and “middle class” areas voted Liberal.

    The question to be asked, before revealing more of Kemp’s findings, is whether they would predict the transformation of that suburban voting patterns which was showing up two elections ago and was consolidated in the
    last election.

    He wrote “The affiliation of trade unions to the Labor Party has greatly confused perceptions of the Australian party system. Wide acceptance of the mythology of the trade union movement – that trade unions are mass organisations representing a broad range of interests of their members
    (indeed their basic interests) has led observers to confuse the electoral and organisational levels of politics. It is assumed that because trade union officials are prominent in the organisation of the Labor Party that therefore trade union members have some special relationship to the Labor Party – that it somehow or other represents their interests.”

    “The myth of a mass popular movement represented by trade union officialdom is just that – a myth. The reality is that one of our major parties provides excessive access to the upper echelons of one of Australian’s major power groupings. It is an echelon held in deeper suspicion than any other section of Australian society – not merely by the great majority of Australians who are not trade unionists, but by the members of trade unions themselves.”

    He noted how that affiliation forced business to seek closer links to the non-Labor parties. He speculated that if the link between the unions and Labor were severed, both the major political parties could seek support from unions and business, the polarization of politics would be mitigated and we could think about other issues in addition to industrial relations and peace in the workplace.

    Kemp then elaborated on the various influences and trends that have unhooked the class base of the major parties, to the extent tht it ever existed. These include the plays that the parties have made for the migrant vote, the move of tertiary educated people into the ranks of the ALP, the rise of effective lobby groups, even minor parties, pushing various issues (anti-Vietnam war, the environment, women’s issues) that do not align with traditional class or party lines.

    The second part of Kemp’s paper turns from voting behaviour to Parties and the Culture, drawing from a major survey of the Melbourne population in the mid 1970s. The questions tapped the dimensions of Social Equity, Individualism, Leadership, Government, Threat and Other People. Kemp emphasised the rudimentary nature of the instrument and the preliminary nature of the findings, however they represented the best corrective to fragmentary impressions and mythology that was available at the time.

    “The research suggests that Australians draw a clear distinction between social egalitarianism and material egalitarianism. They believe that
    everyone should have the right to become rich and they disagree that taxing the rich more heavily is the way to improve conditions. Moreover they do not carry their egalitarianism over into their assessment of individual abilities. Australians believe that that people are born with unequal
    abilities and they they should have the right to realise their abilities. It is just that those with abilities, who use these abilities to get rich, should not thereby think they are better than anyone else…Australians do not resent success – they detest the airs and graces of some of those who are successful”.

    He detected a pervasive individualistic theme in the Australian culture despite the amount of commentary that favours the emphasis on
    egalitarianism, racism or collectivism. He also found that the puritan ethic of work was alive and well. In Government, strong leadership is admired, but only so long as the leader appears to be in touch with the people.

    “We identified at least one cloud over this happy and orderly land. A consensus accepted the perception that there are always people trying to
    undermine our way of life, and refused to accept that all those worries about communist subversion were things of the past. Further, there are
    clearly racist and nationalist themes in the culture, though they did not command the breadth of adherence of those ideas discussed above”.

    As to the implications of these findings for the political parties, Kemp considered that the non-Labor coalition appeared to be better equipped to
    traverse the cultural terrain because the Labor party was burdened with ideas that challenged the consensus and an association with subversive
    elements in the trade union movement.

    [A factor from "left field" which Kemp did not consider because it was only just happening was the seismic shift in allegiance of politically active young people during the 1970s as a reaction to the Coalition stand on conscription for military service].

    “The alternative [to the explanation of party support in terms of interests] that I am now proposing in explaining the political partnership is not a person’s location in the social structure but his location in the culture”.

    The cultural landscape that Kemp discerned in his data has mountains representing the consensus values and hillocks and ridges, some attached to
    the mountains and some removed, which represent minority cultural formations. “Left egalitarianism” commanded about 5% and so was outside the consensus, as was a position with strong views on rugged individualism and another concerned with the Crown and traditional religion.

    Statistical manipulation of the data extracted an indicator of cultural position which was a powerful indicator of party loyalty (correlation 0.44 which is high in research of this kind especially at a preliminary stage before the qualifying factors have been mapped).

    To gloss Kemp’s lengthy discussion, as cultural change proceeds the parties will need to do a delicate balancing act to keep close to the consensus cultural values while maintaining the support of those non-consensus groups that are supposed to be their constituency without going so far that they lose support from mainstream people.

    Kemp of course had nothing to say about any events after the 70s. But his analysis is born out by the demise of Hewson and Keating who went too far (in different directions) outside the comfort zone of the consensus. Howard has got it just about right, to the intense irritation of those who would demonise him. Despite the spin generated by Labor/left commentators (the residue of ’68) the cultural consensus has held (so far) and this threatens to make the Coalition the natural party of government for some time.

  7. November 20th, 2004 at 17:10 | #7

    This is not an essay either. Quite frankly I am a member of Generation something or rather and have a short attention span.

    Spare us, you are right, spare us. So Mark got a standing ovation. For what? I can just see all the ALP meetings in which the yuckiness and political wiles of John Howard will be endlessly discussed and agreed upon, and the real problems will continue to go unaddressed and fester. Mark Latham will never be the right leader for the party, but he will hang on in there for a little while.

    Perhaps the party should have paid a bit more attention to John Button after the last election.

    On an unrelated topic, I just wasted a bit of time deleting spam off the site I write for. Just wanted to register my lame and meaningless protest at this garbage.

  8. James Farrell
    November 21st, 2004 at 17:21 | #8

    I’ve just discovered to my sorrow but not surprise that Gummo is gone.

    Among Australian bloggers, he was the best writer.

    I hope it wasn’t because he didn’t get enough comments. Probably not, but I am caused to wonder to what extent bloggers need support, feedback and indeed a bit of praise from commenters, to sustain them. I am talking not about bloggers who write any old rubbish, but the ones who put real sweat and tears into their posts, the artists, the perfectionists. Most are are far too classy to actually complain if they don’t get attention, but this doesn’t mean they are indifferent to it.

    That in turn got me wondering what the responsibilities of a civic minded commenter are. I don’t mean the transient web surfers who stumble across a blog and comment, never to return. Those of us who hang around, establish a presence, and to some extent shape the writer’s sense of his audience. If we fraternise, as fellow commenters, with people who are themselves bloggers, should we visit their blogs from time to time to give some encouragement? These are uncharted waters, but I wonder if any bloggers or regular commenters have worked out some rules and principles.

  9. November 21st, 2004 at 18:27 | #9

    Alas, poor Gummo… I knew him, Horatio. That is, I bumped into him a few times at Melbourne Trivial Pursuit pub nights. Quite a character, and I will say no more for fear of putting my foot in it as is my wont.

    Mainly I wanted to bring up my own personal usual suspects, by pasting in the introductory subject matter of my email signature. I have had a thing about Professor Kim Swales’ ideas for addressing unemployment for some while now, and I have got quite a few bits and pieces in the area at my publications page. Mainly, I want to get discussion started so I can find out the bits I missed through personal tunnel vision and also – if possible – get the area onto real agendas. Even if it isn’t quite the go, it may well still turn out to be fruitful error giving thinking a nudge in new and as yet unexplored directions.

    Well, the following is the material I have where my signature leads:-

    Letter printed in the Australian Financial Review of 7.11.97

    Tax rebate on employees a better option [than negative income tax]

    Professor Dawkins’ article on unemployment and tax reform states that “the best way to attack these problems is with a negative income tax”. Another approach uses broad based taxes on producers. If employers received rebates for all their employees, e.g. classifying them as a GST business input, there would be an incentive to hire at corresponding wage levels.

    The only difference is where the tax falls. Yet this has three major consequences:-

    - Negative income tax physically transfers funds. This means churning with additional compliance costs. Employee rebates have no counterflows of cash, so they are only dummy intermediate figures for purposes of calculation with no great administrative burden.

    - Negative income tax improves employment indirectly. First, people have to accept that lifestyles are unaffected, harder with low inflation as nominal wages are “sticky” and slow to adjust. Further increases in the natural level of unemployment would offset this slow improvement. But employee rebates do not affect nominal wages and so do not need a change in expectations. The quicker response not only means employment recovers more rapidly but also means recovery can keep pace with any simultaneous damaging processes.

    - Social security is a general cost, not falling on particular employers. This currently creates a bias towards retrenching. But employee rebates do affect particular employers, cancelling the bias. Negative income tax does not benefit employers directly, so what would happen depends on just how much of unemployed people’s willingness to work actually flows through to create jobs, and how fast. Opinion is divided on the subject.

    Perhaps a drug cocktail attack on unemployment could combine these and other approaches.

  10. November 21st, 2004 at 20:57 | #10

    James..

    Trivia nights seem to be the secret meeting place of Melbourne Bloggers.

    I am all for celebration of good blogging as in any area of cultural endeavour. And Gummo has been identified as terrific and occasionally mentioned around the blogosphere for that reason, and got a steady flow of comments.

    The big issue is numbers – nothing encourages as much as an upward curve. The problem here is that the blogging audience is enthusiastic, responds to comments, creates sometimes fantastic dialogue, but is small.

    The big trick is to convert new readers. All those people who automatically assume that what we do is timewasting, while they are so busy…

    The sad truth is that blogs seem to have a lifespan. Back Pages has quit, and so has Gummo. I fear there is a few like that.

  11. Mark Bahnisch
    November 22nd, 2004 at 09:54 | #11

    Carlos, I think you’ll find that most sociological research is “reality-based” and “factual”.

  12. November 22nd, 2004 at 12:43 | #12

    I know Mark. Maybe I should make my lame and twisted dark humor more obvious…

    But, what I meant is that the very nature of sociological research tends to get concrete answers and has good practical uses, even with some VERY important consequences and effects… even in our own day-to-day world (hence that example & link).

  13. November 22nd, 2004 at 13:18 | #13

    Sociology may seem too “obvious” and utilitarian especially when compared to more whishy-washy social sciences like economics, politics and philosophy, that can get away with talking a lot, thinking and doing little… and effecting even less! a bit like blogging actually!

    Before I get told so — I know, I know… that also is (or should be) the focus of those sciences as well. But too many times that’s forgotten, in the first few pages of the book’s intro or in the stated aims of research and not carried through.

    Ultimately, I’d argue that the real problem is one of communication and “marketing”. Social scientists have been unsuccessful in communicating the attraction and real benefits that do come from studying those areas. But try telling that to the Dean… or Vice-Chancellor while the “Arty” school is halved and the Business, Computing or Law schools bring in the perceived reputation …and the money!

    Basically the “agenda” is set up by others and, at most, social scientists get a grant here and there to prove the line pushed by those who funded it: business, gov, etc.

    Too many find their comfort zone (or career limits) and become complicit and complacent. Don’t even let me get started on political economy, feminism, or even post-modernism… hehe

  14. Peter F,
    November 22nd, 2004 at 23:21 | #14

    Rafe,
    I haven’t read the original, nor the Quadrant excerpt of David Kemp’s paper, although I certainly recall reading reports of the research at the time.
    I wish to offer three observations about your post:
    1. If Kemp was using 1975 (or 1977, for that matter) as his specific snap-shot, his voting patterns would have been distorted by the unusually poor Labor results in that (those) election(s). Obviously when the Labor vote disintegrates, plenty of workers jump ship. Sean Carney’s warnings about the progressive decline of the Labor primary vote since circa 1984, but markedly so since 1993 is more relevant, as an indicator of why Labor is in deep **** right now.
    2. The 1980-1993 results suggest that Kemp was at least premature, if not way off beam. Who if not those Liberal supporting workers of 1975 was supplying Labor with comfortable majorities during that period?
    3. Surely the most significant element of Kemp’s CV are his Ministerial roles in the Howard Government, and his long tenure in Goldstein, after certain factional elements of the Liberal Party shafted Ian McPhee? Is it rude to suggest that the late 1970′s Professor Kemp may have been offering a slanted interpretation of the data – or engaging in some wishful thinking – given his subsequent career directions.

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