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Monday Message Board

May 18th, 2009

Its time once again for Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language.

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  1. Steve
    May 18th, 2009 at 13:03 | #1

    I tried out the new whizz bang search engine “Wolphram Alpha”

    It seemed generally less useful than google+wikipedia

    Might be useful for web neophytes, but if you have a decade of familiarity with navigating the web and finding what you need, it wont be that useful.

    I asked it some tough questions:

    who is god?
    (gave a boring dictionary like definition)

    How do you impress an autistic child?
    (no response)

    Is the globe warming?
    (no response)

    What is global warming?
    (climatology content under development)

    Henry Ford
    (told me his birth and death dates and the place he was born. that’s it.

    Pythagoras Theorem
    just spat out the rule and gave me a little calculator so that i could stick two sides in and get the third side.

  2. Ikonoclast
    May 18th, 2009 at 13:46 | #2

    I’m going to be a little tongue in cheek and jaundiced here. However, I feel there may be some truth in what I am saying.

    The internet is on the way to becoming worse than useless. Looking for information with google or other engines is just a pot luck trawl. Most information on most sites is badly presented, badly written and full of errors. Much of it is unsubstantiated opinion. I guess my comments fit that bill too so they don’t refute my case in one sense. ;)

    I can’t think of the last time I found any truly useful information on the internet; as opposed to just getting a bit of idle entertainment from the net like playing networked computer games or reading blogs. (And eventually you realise nobody listens to anyone else in blogs anyway.)

    For example, if you are having a computer problem rebuilding a PC (as I am now) you can search sites for hours and get no useful information.

    Be honest now, how much useful information do you get off the net? I find it to be minimal.

    Some interesting stats to know would be these. What total percentage of net traffic is comprised of;

    (a) viruses
    (b) phishing
    (c) junk emails (including chain emails)
    (d) other scams not covered above
    (e) advertising (another form of junk IMO)
    (f) online gaming (RTS, MMORPGs etc)
    (g) gambling
    (h) porn
    (i) opinionated drivel
    (j) chats and other forms of fatuous social drivel?

    I would wager about 99%. The other 1% may be useful. The net is 99% frivolous.

  3. Ikonoclast
    May 18th, 2009 at 13:59 | #3

    I guess I forgot downloading entertainment, usually in the form of movies and music. 99% of this is also lowbrow garbage for bored fat white people.

  4. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    May 18th, 2009 at 13:59 | #4

    Ikonoclast – compared to what? Surely most stuff written on paper is garbage. The trick is to sort and classify and search so that you get the good stuff. The issue then is with search engines and the like not with the Internet in general. If you want to know the height of mount everest or other basic facts the Internet is still a fantastic place to visit. And as a communication medium it is without equal.

  5. Ikonoclast
    May 18th, 2009 at 14:13 | #5

    TerjeP, I agree most stuff written on paper is garbage too. I doubt that 1% of modern publications are worth reading. I also agree that the “trick is to sort and classify and search so that you get the good stuff”.

    However, when the good stuff is the proverbial needle and the junk is not just the proverbial haystack but probably 1,000 haystacks, then the process of searching and sorting becomes all-consuming and returns effectively nothing. The internet has reached that point. I’m rapidly losing interest in it I must admit.

    I think I’ll find a good second hand bookshop and spend my search time there. Anway, the internet will fail when mains power reliability fails and brownouts become daily events for all of us.

  6. Ernestine Gross
    May 18th, 2009 at 15:52 | #6

    “And eventually you realise nobody listens to anyone else in blogs anyway.” I wouldn’t say that if I were you, Ikonoclast.
    EG

  7. Donald Oats
    May 18th, 2009 at 18:10 | #7

    Actually, I think that the internet is still a great resource, it is just that the best sites have to be known to the user – back B.G. (before google) it was tricky to find the useful sites. Google nowadays though is losing its relevance due to the gaming of its ranking by the various opinionators. (Sometimes it is so brazen I wonder whether money has surreptitiously passed hands.)

    For this reason I search for the work produced by specific individuals for whom I have a (hopefully) well-founded high opinion and respect, and follow up those that cite them. Organisations such as NIH with their own database and search facilities are useful too.

    I still get my hands dirty mucking through some of the climate-flake sites in order to see what, if anything at all, has been discovered to challenge AGW as the strongest theory to explain our current global temperature trends. I’m not expecting high signal to noise ratio at those sites.

    My guess is that if the websearch SNR drops too much further, some bright spark will come along with a new approach to finding the competent and/or significant info online. That is pretty much what google did, as it replaced search engines that were really not much more than a list of sites without a proper ranking scheme.

    Oh, note J.A.s opinion piece in the neocon news? They are pushing *that* book “Telling Lies for Plimer” (oops, I mean “Heaven and Earth” *by* Plimer) really really hard. I very much doubt that they will stop pushing the business-as-usual line, ever.

  8. Ikonoclast
    May 18th, 2009 at 18:34 | #8

    EG, I’ve already realised that nobody listens to me. Of course I have. :)

    I am boring, opinionated and have no remarkable or fruitful knowledge or views which could possibly enlighten anybody. It follows from one and two that I should take a vow of silence (written and verbal) excepting that minimal transactional communication necessary to prevent myself starving to death or dying from exposure.

    However, given the predisposition of the heart to beat, the lungs to inflate and the gums to flap it is sadly unlikely that I will be able to shut myself up until I shuffle off this mortal coil.

    Solzhenitsyn made perhaps his most telling observation when he said that one could say or write almost anything of a political nature in the West but it didn’t matter because nobody listened.

  9. nanks
    May 18th, 2009 at 18:37 | #9

    “It follows from one and two that I should take a vow of silence”

    not necessary Ikonoclast – by being “boring, opinionated and [with] no remarkable or fruitful knowledge or views which could possibly enlighten anybody” you have effectively done that.

    Not that you’ll listen to my opinion. No-one ever does :(

  10. May 18th, 2009 at 18:52 | #10

    And you with a brain the size of a planet…

  11. Ernestine Gross
    May 18th, 2009 at 19:36 | #11

    Its not very kind of you, Ikonoclast, to call me a nobody. (smiley)

  12. Alice
    May 18th, 2009 at 20:38 | #12

    Ikono isnt boring and Ernestine isnt a nobody (and has a brain the size of the planet)…but hey guess what? I have made an amazing find for my historical economics works as a result of the cleaning out of a storeroom where I work..
    “Selected papers from the first Australian Political Economy Conference, Sydney University, 18-20 June, 1976″
    What a ripper! (and I have the second!)

  13. Alice
    May 18th, 2009 at 20:50 | #13

    Here is a little extract from the intro…
    ” the original conception of the conference was a modest one. It was hoped a few hundred people would joing together in a 3 day session to discuss political economy themes which had been entirely neglected in almost every teriary institution in Australia….It wasnt long, however, before it was realised that the conference, which became known as the first Australian Political Economy Conference, was turning into an event which far exceeded their wildest expectations. The response received was overwhelming, with letters from many supporters as far away as Perth and New Zealand. In letter after letter, students and teachers expressed their enthusiasm, saying they hoped they might get access to an alternative to the conservative, uninteresting, and irrelevant economics courses that they were currently learning or teaching.”

    By June 18, the day thye conference began, more than 1500 tickets had been sold…

  14. Alice
    May 18th, 2009 at 21:26 | #14

    Alas…the first year economics (mic and mac) courses remain as conservative and irrelevant as they were in 1976….seriously we need major changes in economics teaching…like some interesting first year courses.

  15. paul walter
    May 18th, 2009 at 21:51 | #15

    Alice, the Pope is ..( fill in the dotted line)
    Then what are you saying about economics courses?

  16. Alice
    May 18th, 2009 at 22:09 | #16

    15# paul …one word. Boring.

  17. David C (aka Smiley)
    May 18th, 2009 at 22:12 | #17

    Why don’t you go and have a look at what Steve Keen has to say about economics Alice? I’ve purchased his book but have only just started to read it.

    With the advent of tools like Wikipeadia, the internet in recent years has provided a mechanism for checking statements that stick in your craw.

    For example, while reading Margo Kingston’s “Not Happy John” (in 07) I came across an often quoted statement attributed to Mussolini. When I first read this quote (in 05), it appealed to my idealogical bent, but it aroused my suspicious for the reasons stated in the Wiki article. Had Margo not included that gem I might have been inclined to finished her book.

    And the advent of blogging and news/media aggregation has been a boon, because it provides a mechanism to access subjects that you may not want to study in depth but are still interested in. Just recently I’ve read two fantastic books – “Your Inner Fish” and “Why Evolution is True” thanks to Pharyngula and a review by Richard Dawkins linked from Arts & Letters Daily – a website that my doctor recommended to me (of all people).

  18. paul walter
    May 18th, 2009 at 22:32 | #18

    Well Alice, you know we can’t afford to have economics “ideologicised”.
    Let collateral damage remain collateral damage.
    Never forget Mr “facts and figures” Gradgrind, from Hard Times with,
    “With a rule and a pair of scales…
    ready to weigh any parcel of human nature and tell you what it comes to… it is a mere question of simple arithmetic”.
    The capitalist world does not want informed specialists with hearts. Build a bigger better bomb, and let those who know better decide what to do with it.

  19. Alice
    May 18th, 2009 at 22:33 | #19

    David # 17 I am inclined to agree with Steve Keen on the matter of “toxic textbooks”. There is also the “post autistic economics” site started by french students disgusted with the economics they were being taught (PAE – aptly named).

    Ill link to their specific objections but the web site is also interesting – go back one link in eb address.

  20. Alice
    May 18th, 2009 at 22:33 | #20
  21. Alice
    May 18th, 2009 at 22:34 | #21

    18# Paul…so true. Mr Gradgrind is alive and well…

  22. Alice
    May 18th, 2009 at 22:37 | #22

    Paul – or maybe the Pope is ancient and boring.

  23. Alice
    May 18th, 2009 at 22:38 | #23

    But then again…lots of economics is ancient but NOT boring …so why arent we teaching it?

  24. Alice
    May 18th, 2009 at 22:41 | #24

    I want to teach Smith and Mills and Marshall and Says and Malthus and Keynes and Veblen and Rothbard and Galbraith and Friedman and if I must Mises… and and and…so why isnt it happening?
    The students would be interested for goodness sakes…and we could keep them coming back for more (are they silly in unis? Mic and Mac – boring!)

  25. SJ
    May 18th, 2009 at 22:42 | #25

    Steve Says:

    I tried out the new whizz bang search engine “Wolphram Alpha”

    It seemed generally less useful than google+wikipedia

    It’s not really a search engine, and despite the hype, isn’t intended to be an internet search engine.

    You can ask it to solve math problems, provide statistics, graph things, etc, but the answers come from its own internal database. It doesn’t search the web and interpret for you.

    If you type in “factorise 2^67 – 1″, or “integrate log x” it’ll give the correct answer.

    If you type in “gdp australia” it can answer that, too, but it doesn’t understand the concept of PPP, so its usefulness in that area is a bit limited.

  26. Hermit
    May 18th, 2009 at 23:09 | #26

    The announcement that Rudd is to fund a gigawatt of solar power has been kept low key
    http://www.reuters.com/article/GCA-GreenBusiness/idUSTRE54G0C820090517
    It is not stated whether the technology will be thermal or photovoltaic nor whether there will a few large plants or many small ones. I presume that gigawatt is the total peak capacity of all the plants at their local summer noon. The budget is $1.4 bn or $1.40 a watt capital cost which nobody has achieved yet on a large scale.

    I wonder perhaps whether this is Fremantle Fright Factor at work. The logistics of this project would be difficult and it would soon be apparent that solar can’t easily replace coal fired electricity. Rudd seems to making all kinds of wild promises hoping not to lose more support to Greens. He needs at least one green initiative to show results before the full term election.

  27. SJ
    May 18th, 2009 at 23:29 | #27

    Hermit, the ABC reports that there will be up to four plants across the country.

    The whole thing sounds like bullsh*t to me. The media statements refer to it being the biggest solar plant in the world, even bigger than some unspecified plant in California, which as far as I can tell doesn’t exist.

  28. Alice
    May 18th, 2009 at 23:37 | #28

    I agree with you SJ. It looks suss (an appeal to the Green vote? iIwill believe the 4 plants when I see them and the 1.4 bill…thats outrageous when we could do with real stimulous). There is no info there on ABC (brief as brief). Id say its an appeal to green Hunter residents….thats all and it will come to nothing. Politiking.

  29. SJ
    May 18th, 2009 at 23:41 | #29

    According to Rudd, via the ABC

    Currently the largest operating plant is in California in the United States.

    The Government’s Solar Flagships program hopes to create three times as much energy as that project.

    But this simply isn’t true. There is no solar plant in California generating around 300 MW.

    The closest you can get is the company Solar Energy Generating Systems which owns nine solar plants with a total capacity of about 354 MW.

    So the whole thing looks like hastily cobbled together rubbish to me.

  30. SJ
    May 18th, 2009 at 23:47 | #30

    Oops, wrong link to Solar Energy Generating Systems.

  31. paul walter
    May 19th, 2009 at 00:09 | #31

    Alice, you are getting at stuff that gives context, proportion and perspective. Economic history, history of ideas, pol economy, sociology(achhh!), ethnology, crit theory, cultural theory, “vision”, philosophy in comprehensible form…
    Didn’t Arts/ humanities teach abbreviated slabs most of this, bypassing any obduracy from classical economics, but its the stuff Arts faculty hard (wo)men seemed to have slashed at deepest.
    Just when we have tutes filled with youg offshore people, as much in need of a critical faculty as locals in need of same, to cope with ecorationalism.

  32. plaasmatron
    May 19th, 2009 at 04:35 | #32

    Apparently Mildura was going to get a big PV solar power plant. Anyone know what happened to that one? Another in the list all talk no action!

    http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article613720.ece

  33. plaasmatron
    May 19th, 2009 at 04:36 | #33

    That was back in Oct 2006 btw

  34. Alice
    May 19th, 2009 at 08:09 | #34

    31# Paul Walter -
    “Just when we have tutes filled with young offshore people, as much in need of a critical faculty as locals in need of same, to cope with ecorationalism.”

    I agree Paul “critical faculty” is the missing ingredient in student courses these days but when the number of subjects got slashed from degrees the hard hats of a rationalised pared down ecorationalistic degree emerged victorious over real choice in student education.

  35. Chris Warren
    May 19th, 2009 at 08:53 | #35

    I do not think that there is such a problem with the basic microeconomic and macroeconomic theory, as far as they go.

    The problems are in the form of political economy underpinning microeconomic and macroeconomic behaviour. Politics distorts events.

    For example, once incomes have been determined by politics (capitalists by various degree of monopoly, workers by wage-cases, rulers by remuneration tribunals) then all microeconomic behaviour is disrupted, values go haywire, and this feeds upon itself over time.

    Also if debt creation is biased towards one element of the economy – private banks and big business – then again, macroeconomic behaviour is disrupted, values go haywire, and this feeds upon itself over time.

    It is a huge mistake to blame basic micro amd macro theory. The real problem is the mode of political economy.

    You have to read David Ricardo and Karl Marx.

    “There is no alternative”.

  36. Alice
    May 19th, 2009 at 09:18 | #36

    Chris – Agree..the problem is not so much in the models of mic and mac – you are correct (they are fine to teach) but as I see it they are a very poor way to attract and retain students in this discipline if we put them off with this dry old stick basic lego model intro approach…doesnt do the discipline justice at all and its boring for many students……some economic history or HET as an entree I suggest. Encourage them to consider many famous economists broad views on the nature of what makes “an economy” and how you “treat” ills, with some history of development (international or national) before they get to the “mic mac models”.

  37. Alice
    May 19th, 2009 at 09:22 | #37

    36# Except that it doesnt fit with a half starved, business commerce $5 lunchbox approach to providing degrees. Bare minimum to produce half rounded technocrats.

  38. Salient Green
    May 19th, 2009 at 10:23 | #38
  39. Jim Birch
    May 19th, 2009 at 10:58 | #39

    David C, if you haven’t read it, have a look at Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind. This is a book on Darwin’s other “overlooked” theory of evolution, sexual selection. It illuminates the biological basis for a broad range of the more curious human activities that don’t really fit natural selection; things like religion, philosophy, conspicuous consumption, and so on. Also, it explains why everyone wants to post but no one reads anyone else’s comments. Best thing I’ve read for yonks.

  40. Peter Rickwood
    May 19th, 2009 at 11:59 | #40

    Any chance the Henry tax review will suggest anything radical? I mean, I guess it is most likely that the review will call for a rationalization/simplification of the tax system, but I wonder if any major shifts will be proposed.

    I have always wondered why we don’t move away from taxing income to taxing resource use. I don’t say this because I have a high income and wish to avoid paying income tax (I don’t). Although technically it is regressive to tax consumption, the ability of the rich to engage in tax-avoidance probably makes it less regressive than you think. And you could always have some hybrid system of income support and consumption tax that would limit the impact on the poor.

    What are the main objections to a big shift to consumption taxes* and away from income taxes? Are they solely political?

    Thoughts?

    *My preference would not be for a GST-style tax, but resource-use taxes only (i.e. no direct tax on services).

  41. Peter Rickwood
    May 19th, 2009 at 12:07 | #41

    I really disagree with Ikonoclast about the internet being next to useless. I am sitting here listening to Ray Lamontagne via the internet, while reading about positivism, empiricism, Popper and John Locke. In between which I can read JQ’s blog & share exchanges will you fine people, play on-line chess, find out about and book my ticket to seminars at the Whitlam institute. I could go on…. but won’t

  42. Alice
    May 19th, 2009 at 12:44 | #42

    Peter#40 asks
    “What are the main objections to a big shift to consumption taxes* and away from income taxes? Are they solely political?”

    No Peter. I dont think so. Its the lack of progressiveness.

    High income earners, you are right, still avoid paying income tax despite the pretty generous tax reductions they have been given since the 1970s under trickle down ideas (as a consequence inequality grew, and wealth trickled up into Goldman Sachs and AIG and a multitude of Investment houses who gambled it away, not down) …

  43. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    May 19th, 2009 at 13:30 | #43

    If we raised the tax free threshold to $100,000 that would be heaps more progressive. So how about it?

  44. derrida derider
    May 19th, 2009 at 13:43 | #44

    Alice and Chris, the type of economics course you want is the type that any well educated person should do to help get a broad understanding of the world. As part of that they should also learn some basic analytic techniques. That’s really useful but it doesn’t suit everybody.

    Many people doing first year economics courses want to beome professional economists or econometricians, and for these people there is no substitute for the formal tools of the trade – identifying demand curves, cost-benefit analysis, modelling general equilibrium effects, non-experimental program evaluation, theories of money, etc. IOW plenty of maths and stats.

    It’s the difference between learning about quantum physics so that you can understand what the field does, and being able to do quantum physics yourself.

  45. Alice
    May 19th, 2009 at 14:03 | #45

    Derrida Derrida – I did not suggest maths is not required in the study of economics ie the formal tools of trade. Yet there is also qualitative research and economics traditionally has encompassed both and should continue to do so, less it ossifies in some corner behind a computer stats package, overtaken by the cacophany of newspaper columnists views of economics.

    Its called a meaningful blend of information Derrida.

    What I am suggesting is that we equip “first year students” with an understanding of the underlying philosophies and assumptions of various economic views, on why they are doing what they are doing -before we hand them with Mr Gradgrind’s rulers…. Perhaps those rulers may be put to better use with a better and more critical understanding as a consequence.

  46. David Irving (no relation)
    May 19th, 2009 at 14:11 | #46

    Steve @ 1, the answer to “How do you impress an autistic child?” was spot-on. (I have two of them … mild and high-functioning, thank god.)

  47. May 19th, 2009 at 19:42 | #47

    The IP debacle continues:

    http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/2009/05/12/argentina-copyright-case-brings-access-to-education-into-the-spotlight/

    “”"An Argentinean philosophy professor is being sued for alleged copyright infringement for posting translated versions of French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s works on a website, according to the Copy South Research Group. The case is bringing international attention to the limitations on access to education brought about by copyright.”"”

    Copyright is a tool to make sure your work gets absolute minimal diffusion, ie only to the rich. Pretending that copyright helps diffusion is nonsense.

  48. Chris Warren
    May 20th, 2009 at 09:05 | #48

    derrida

    I tend to agree with you, plus they need to be taught how politics, and gaming often produces opposite results to the “good” theory.

    I was not talking about first years.

    All graduate economists need to be aware that given oligopolies and capitalist relationships competitive markets do not exist, and prices are determined by “bad” political economy.

    Intelligent economists should incorporate concepts of “good” and “bad” for society and not be totally focussed on apparent (bad?) “scarcity” and (good?) “productivity”.

    All higher degree economists must be aware of Marxist critique, as for at least one future generation, this will come to bite them hard.

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