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Weekend reflections

February 27th, 2010

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

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  1. February 27th, 2010 at 09:06 | #1

    The plasma physics drama (Outlook from Moscow)

    Moscow plasma physicist, Boris A. Osadin comes in from the cold winter with a fascinating account of the political history of trends in plasma physics theory, experiment and finance in Russia during the Cold War and today. This is an account of exotic Soviet scientific personalities and rival theoretical schools, as well as the broader associated military and international politics and the tolls on science of an ‘atomic Gulag’. It is also a tale of how the financing of the ITER project today may be an outcome of the ways in which US, European and Soviet scientists exploited the crazy Cold War politics to the benefit of their research preferences and to survive.

  2. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 27th, 2010 at 10:51 | #2

    The Australian had an article this week that said that people who had insulation installed had more comfortable homes but that the occupants didn’t subsequently consume less energy. Apparently the government was told this some time ago.

  3. smiths
    February 27th, 2010 at 11:29 | #3

    ahh, going back to our roots
    this is a great guardian op-ed about the splintering and reformation of the global climate activist left after copenhagen and although they dont mention it i think climatgate is a factor
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/feb/25/climate-change-movement
    it never gave advantage to the left to be shaped into a single well dressed advocate organisation based on capitalist ideas of good form,
    back to the local, anarchistic, anti-capitalist roots … yeeehaaaaa

  4. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 27th, 2010 at 11:52 | #4

    Are anarchists left wing? Surely they are the ultimate advocates of small government.

  5. smiths
    February 27th, 2010 at 12:02 | #5

    you frame things in concepts and terminology that are at least a century out of date terje

    what the hell does small government actually mean now?

    the government interferes very little in my life when i consider it,
    of more concern to me for instance are the relentless commercial and inappropriate messages my 8 year old son is bombarded with on a daily basis that i have to fight permanently to try and counter,
    i would like the freedom of children not to be brainwashed, i would like the freedom of children not to be obese at ten years old,

    this obsession with the size of government and its level of interference is a smokescreen occluding your view whilst business poisons the minds and bodies of our youth in the nameof freedom of choice

  6. Hermit
    February 27th, 2010 at 12:02 | #6

    I know senior rural citizens (not quite there yet) who have the fire on 9 months a year as they have done for the last 60 years before they got their new fangled insulation. For those who stick to electricity and gas for thermal comfort the average saving was supposed to be $200 a year. I wonder if that was a factor in pricing tribunals allowing steep price increases from January 1 when the CPRS wasn’t supposed to kick in til July 1. Now that is extraordinarily unlikely and perhaps will never happen.

    The next wave of residential efficiency was thought to be smart meters with reduced energy bills of 20%. Trials in the US and elsewhere aren’t supporting that target. Of course if draconian measures are ever needed the meters could be use to ration energy. Example odds and evens on house numbers to get half hour segments of air conditioning. For some reason Aussies find it easy to cut back on water but not electricity and gas.

  7. smiths
    February 27th, 2010 at 12:04 | #7

    well designed buildings would be a more constructive longterm step,
    those old aussie houses with balconies all around are way ahead of the monstrous urban crap that is being built across this land

  8. Michael
    February 27th, 2010 at 12:47 | #8

    Hermit :
    For some reason Aussies find it easy to cut back on water but not electricity and gas.

    This is especially interesting since cutting back on water doesn’t really save you much money compared to cutting back on electricity usage. I have cut back on my own electricity to the tune of about $400-$500 a year without spending much money.

  9. Alice
    February 27th, 2010 at 12:55 | #9

    @smiths
    Damn good point Smiths -”this obsession with the size of government and its level of interference is a smokescreen occluding your view whilst business poisons the minds and bodies of our youth in the name of freedom of choice”

    Business and its advertising and marketing intrudes far more into our lives than government as well..
    take google for example with its cameras prying on our backyards and us and goodness only knows what else its cameras see through our windows. Its not big brother (Terje is as out of date as George Orwells novel)…its big business watching us!

  10. Fran Barlow
    February 27th, 2010 at 12:56 | #10

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    Anarchists, by opposing illegitimate resort to power, and given that power arises from control over proporty, including property in the labour power of others, must be leftwing.

    They favour not so much small government as governance deriving from bona fide expression of the will of the people who labour. Authenticity rather than size is the key question.

  11. paul walter
    February 27th, 2010 at 13:37 | #11

    Re Smiths and Fran, its true, the operative concept is consent. Small government, for neoliberals, is merely the appropriation of power from small government to the control of a self seeking oligarchy, as occurred with the USA, with the Cheney/ Bush Presidency.

  12. Monkey’s Uncle
    February 27th, 2010 at 14:24 | #12

    On the subject of paranoia, delusionism, and conspiracy theories there has long been a claim circulating that Ross Perot helped elect Bill Clinton in 1992 by taking votes off George Bush.

    Now in the American Thinker site there is an article claiming that Clinton and Perot colluded extensively and that Perot was merely running to ensure Bush lost and Clinton was elected.

    If anyone bothered to check their facts they would know that the exit polls conducted during the 1992 US elections found that if Perot had not been running Perot supporters would have split almost evenly between Bush and Clinton. So Clinton would have won easily regardless of whether or not Perot was on the ballot.

  13. Monkey’s Uncle
    February 27th, 2010 at 14:33 | #13

    The article is called ‘The Left Will Try to Split the Conservative Vote’. And if anyone ventures over to that site, don’t bother posting a comment correcting anything. You will die waiting for it to be published.

  14. Fran Barlow
    February 27th, 2010 at 14:34 | #14

    @Monkey’s Uncle

    Correct, MU

    In any event, the Presidential contest is an obvious example of one in which something like the preferential system we have here could address the problem of spoiler candidates. Perot supporters could have directed their preferences so that after he was eliminated in each college, the preferences from the Perot primary would be distributed.

  15. Graeme Bird
    February 27th, 2010 at 14:43 | #15

    Right. But the knowledge after the fact that Clinton would have won either way, does not alter Perot-Clinton co-operation, if that is what really happened.

  16. gerard
  17. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 27th, 2010 at 15:25 | #17

    the government interferes very little in my life when i consider it,

    Lucky you. Spare a thought for the rest of us.

    Anarchy is the absents of government. Hence my point about small government. A lot of libertarians I know are anarchists at heart. John Humphreys is probably the most notable. I think footpaths should be owned by a local government but he thinks this is a bit risky and we should live with any footpath deficiencies for the sake of being free of the state. I appreciate his logic but I’m an incrementalist. Less government in strategic areas is in my view the best way to proceed even if we might hypothetically end up at the same point.

    My eight year old lives in the same world. We turn the TV off mostly but when it is on I must admit I’m worried about what he might see on my ABC. The commercial crap is less incidious. If you want to stop people advertising on their own property then you need a government and you aren’t an anachist, even if you think you wear the right clothes.

    Personally I don’t care whether you call anarchists left, right, black or blue. If they want less government interference in out lives then they are mostly on the correct side. However if they’re a pro tax anarchist then their just intellectually confused.

  18. Monkey’s Uncle
    February 27th, 2010 at 16:41 | #18

    Graeme, I understand the logic that the end result does not necessarily disprove the original intention.

    But think about it. If the whole purpose of Perot’s candidacy was to elect Clinton, they could have done more to achieve that end. The Perot campaign could have targeted their resources in areas where they were likely to take more votes off Bush than Clinton. They could have co-operated more with the Clinton campaign and shared intelligence and the like. They could have somehow encouraged strategic anti-Bush voting in competitive states.

    It beggars belief to think that any individual would spend such a vast amount of their own money allegedly running a spoiler campaign that turned out to make virtually no difference to the final margin in a race that was not that close anyway. And presumably the Perot campaign would have had access to polling on whether they were taking more votes from Bush or Clinton, in which case Perot could have abandoned the campaign if it was not having its desired effect.

    Also, Perot backed GW Bush in 2000. Is that likely for a Democrat stooge?

  19. Graeme Bird
    February 27th, 2010 at 16:50 | #19

    Perot is not going to spend tens of millions of his own money because he thinks the young Clinton is just marvelous. We don’t want to be too absolutist about these things. Perhaps it was a case of Perot thinking that Bush was the front-runner. Therefore prudence would have him co-operate with the supposed underdog. It ought not be thought that such co-operation, if indeed it did happen, was entirely useless. People don’t co-operate in such matters unless they feel that its going to have some effect.

  20. Graeme Bird
    February 27th, 2010 at 16:53 | #20

    Peoples motives aren’t as absolutist as you may be implying. Its not an either or thing. We have the myth of the single motive. Lets track down the single motive. If it is one motive it cannot be another.

    In the real world if there is only one motive for taking some action, it probably isn’t worthwhile acting. So most actions are going to have many motives attached to them.

  21. Alice
    February 27th, 2010 at 17:26 | #21

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    Terje – I find this statement of yours absurd

    “My eight year old lives in the same world. We turn the TV off mostly but when it is on I must admit I’m worried about what he might see on my ABC. The commercial crap is less incidious.”

    I dont think so…I really dont think so. So your son watches every insidious ad for breakfast cereals filled to the brim with sugar and he learns that unless you have a houseful of electronic gadgets, are the ultimate consumer and have 6 bedrooms and never get involved in anything “outside” you are a failure in life (sitcom land), or that the one’s that win are the biggest losers? Or that every show thats on is about mindnumbing entertainment that is not real and if he doesnt have the latest Ipod, computer, whatever …your son is missing out on life…

    Please Terje…I know whats insidious and its the advertising world….even dressed up as commercial TV. So you let your son watch only the commercials and make him avoid the ABC…does he have an American accent yet?

  22. Chris Warren
    February 27th, 2010 at 18:03 | #22

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    Geez a tax free anarchist wasteland.

    All the bullies will have a field day and the dispossessed will have raise funds to employ others to defend themselves.

    Where will the funds come from….er……um…….maybe taxation?

    .

  23. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 27th, 2010 at 18:38 | #23

    Chris – I don’t think you have the patients for the long version. I suspect that I don’t either.

    Alice – my kids watch the commercials. They tell us what is cool and what they want. We generally agree on what is cool and tell them to keep saving their pennies. Which they do. And once in a while they get to gratify that defered desire with a planned trip to the toy department. Without advertising how would they know what to plan for. TV advertising helps us teach them how to avoid impulse shopping. Although now that we have a TiVo the kids are experts at fast forwarding past most ads.

  24. Alice
    February 27th, 2010 at 18:44 | #24

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    Yes Terje

    I used to do the same with my son…make him save his pennies until he got what he wanted to buy. One day I sat having a milkshake after he had made his purchase and I asked him how it felt to get what he wanted. Clutching the bag with the electronic game inside that he wanted he looked at me as a 7 year old or so and said ….”It feels good Mum…but….the wanting never stops”?

    Smart kid. Infinite wants Terje. Do you really want to make your kid a victim of it? It was that day I decided to try to educate my son about the advertising world.

  25. smiths
    February 27th, 2010 at 18:47 | #25

    chris are you channeling hobbes, ooo, nasty brutish chaos

    dont worry, anarchism gets nowhere serious due to its inherent paradox,
    anarchists cant organise without selling out their anarchism – brilliant really
    its poetic i think
    the most utopian vision that is practically useless at the moment of conception

    anyway, the idea that you need to raise money is old hat,
    hobbes didnt know ben bernanke, ben and the wizards of central banking smack alchemy down onto hobbes’ medieval arse

    and terje, a lot of your responses leave me dumbfounded,
    anyone who thinks the ABC is insidious and commercial TV is fine for kids has a warped view of the world

  26. smiths
    February 27th, 2010 at 18:57 | #26

    They tell us what is cool and what they want.

    at the moment what is cool for eight year olds revolves around films that are too old for them to watch,
    the clever bit is to make films that are really violent and although kids under 15 are not technically allowed in you make loads of toys for young kids that are tied to the film,
    so 8 year olds really want to see spiderman, and cool kids are the ones who’s parents dont care and let them watch anything,
    anyway,
    the culture is violent now, the films are violent, and the kids are absorbing it,
    can anyone think of any reason why american films have got much much more violent in the last ten years?

  27. Michael
    February 27th, 2010 at 21:58 | #27

    smiths :
    the clever bit is to make films that are really violent and although kids under 15 are not technically allowed in you make loads of toys for young kids that are tied to the film,
    so 8 year olds really want to see spiderman, and cool kids are the ones who’s parents dont care and let them watch anything,

    Too true….

    the culture is violent now, the films are violent, and the kids are absorbing it,
    can anyone think of any reason why american films have got much much more violent in the last ten years?

    Sorry to go off topic, but the depiction of violence has become very baroque lately. I’m not sure but sometimes I think the Matrix ushered in a new era of violence as art (for Hollywood films anyway, because it had many precursors elsewhere). Can anyone explain the obsession with CSI style shows. You can hardly turn on the TV without seeing an autopsy.

  28. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 28th, 2010 at 04:03 | #28

    can anyone think of any reason why american films have got much much more violent in the last ten years?

    It’s probably just that you had kids in the last ten years and you now notice. You don’t have to watch it you know.

    Anyway how does this concern get resolved in your preferred form of anarchy?

  29. Grim
    February 28th, 2010 at 13:25 | #29

    daggett,

    Really nice try, mate, but it’s a very long article full of physics and Soviet Union politics (which I confess I will have to read in bits over a long period of time to get it all).

    So, although there’s a distinctly Australia connection via the work of Peter Thonemann (Oxford and Harwell) and Oliphant (plasma, ANU), I just don’t think you’re going to get a bite. Even though it has been one of the ‘hidden elephants’ for years that whereas ‘religion’ cannot be mandated by governments, science is (oops, did I just channel Feyerabend ?). And especially, but by no means exclusively, science in the old Soviet Union.

    But the whole topic simply doesn’t have the gut-grab of the “my evidence-immune belief system rulez” wars.

    Sheesh, even TerjeP can’t tell the difference between information and marketing (hint: marketing is about persuading by fair means or foul, information is about judgement independent ‘informing’).

  30. smiths
    February 28th, 2010 at 13:40 | #30

    It’s probably just that you had kids in the last ten years and you now notice.

    no, thats incorrect, graphic sadistic violence is up terje, just compare jack nicholsons joker to heath ledger’s, screenviolence is up more than gold
    with regard to anarchy, as i made clear earlier i think its a sentiment rather than a system,
    comparable in its utopian fantasies to the concept of the ‘free market’
    anarchists were reacting to an oppressive system at the end of the nineteenth century,
    they struck out at figureheads in general,
    only emile henry purposefully attacked ‘bourgois’ people as accomplices of an evil system,
    most people even today hold anarchist views in opposition to something they think of as oppressive and intolerable,
    i like the idea of the end of the current capitalist system, i would like to see the didntegration of giant multi-national fims,
    its not really a call for an anarchist uture,
    if your question is what kind of government is legitimate to me then i would say that i favour the best ideals of the post-war social democratic system,
    i see it as something that you never get right, but permanently refine and oscillate,
    i see commerce and trade as essential human activities but i see unregulated capitalism as cancerous to healthy democratic systems,

    one of the main problems i see at the moment is how dishonest the discourse is about the actual state of governing and control globally,
    its clear to me that any discussion that includes america as a deomcratic nation is farcical,
    any discussion of governmental systems that doesnt recognise that giant corporations andbanks have more power than most countries is simply redundant,
    in all of this, throwing around words like anarchy or small-government or free-trade is just anachronistic clap trap

  31. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 28th, 2010 at 15:45 | #31

    most people even today hold anarchist views in opposition to something they think of as oppressive and intolerable

    When most people say anarchy what they mean is chaos. And what they envisage is a world without rules, social conventions or institutions where the strong beat the weak. That is a long way from what most political philosophers think of when they refere to anarchy. John Humphreys recently wrote a provocative article on the practicality of anarchy at the ALS blog. It is worth a read along with some of the links it offers:-

    http://blog.libertarian.org.au/2009/12/14/another-look-at-anarchy/

    i like the idea of the end of the current capitalist system

    Me too. I’d like the IMF to be extinct. I’d like to see an end to central banks. I agree with reducing barriers to international trade but frankly I think the predominate trade barriers in the world today are domestic barriers produced by the tax code. I think government bailouts of private industries is perverse and should stop.

    if your question is what kind of government is legitimate to me then i would say that i favour the best ideals of the post-war social democratic system

    I’d be very happy to see our governments per capita spending reduced to the level it was at in the 1950s and 1960s. Prefereably in real terms but even relative to the size of the economy would be an improvement.

    its clear to me that any discussion that includes america as a deomcratic nation is farcical

    America was formed as a constitutional republic with a demoncratic system of appointing officials. If you find it undemocratic in the sence that the majority can steal what they please then that is by design. I think that America has drifted to far away from it’s foundations towards majoritarian might makes right. It ought to get back to the roots that made it great.

    any discussion of governmental systems that doesnt recognise that giant corporations and banks have more power than most countries is simply redundant

    You’re not differentiating between soft power and hard power. I think there is a big distinction. Any discussion that does not recognise this distinction is redundant. ;-)

    no, thats incorrect, graphic sadistic violence is up terje, just compare jack nicholsons joker to heath ledger’s

    I can’t comment on this example as I have seen neither. Nor have the kids. Do you think consumers have any responsibilities?

  32. smiths
    February 28th, 2010 at 16:42 | #32

    Do you think consumers have any responsibilities?

    again, i dont like the way the question is framed because i dont like a discussion where all of what it is to be a human is reduced to a commercial element
    people have responsibilities of course,
    i cant see any pragmatic way that can be avoided when there’s 6 billion humans on the planet,
    the places where anyone can physically opt out of the globalised system are diminishing rapidly

  33. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 1st, 2010 at 08:50 | #33

    It is a pity that we don’t have more opt out options. There are few frontiers remaining. In Europe it used to be that you could move to the New World. In America it used to be that you could move west. Today the options are limited although you may want to check out the Seasteading Institute. Small limited government and strong property rights are the best means I know of to permit people to opt out of the mainstream. If you know of some other means I’d be interested to hear about it.

  34. March 1st, 2010 at 10:58 | #34

    Grim,

    The article tells of how in the former USSR, false promises about the viability of nuclear fusion have resulted in money and resources in that area. The same is happening in the west with the ITER project.

  35. Jim Birch
    March 1st, 2010 at 12:48 | #35

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    What if you want to opt out of property rights? This is a pretty strong impulse for a lot of people. :)

  36. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    March 1st, 2010 at 15:34 | #36

    Jim – collectively buy a large patch of land and start a commune. I’ll defend your right to do so.

  37. smiths
    March 1st, 2010 at 20:56 | #37

    terje your response to jim is an admission that a person cant opt out of property rights

    personally i think the rabid defense of property as though it were as sacred as life itself is an irrational hangover from an age when it actually made sense

  38. Grim
    March 8th, 2010 at 14:55 | #38

    daggett,

    (sorry to be so long in replying). Yes, I did basically get that message. My comment about ‘state mandated science’ was an oblique reference to another fine example in the USSR: Lysenkoism.

    My note about Thonemann was somewhat along your ITER line: he was publicly lauded in the late 1950s (IIRC) for having ‘found the way’ with fusion power. The recognition was embarrassingly withdrawn a short while later when it became very obvious that no breakthrough had actually happened. Oliphant also had a failure or two in his plasma work as well.

    But I’m not too concerned about ITER – hope springs eternal and all that. Though I agree that if it had been presented as an experiment in pure science with unknown, if any, commercial benefits it would almost certainly not have got the funding it required. Compare Thonemann’s success in gaining some funding in the UK with the failure of the ‘grand vision’ of Sir George Thomson (J J Thomson’s son). And yes, a little bit of cold war “if we don’t they will” jingoism has never been known to hurt a funding request – just consider the Apollo program.

    But it is the way of governments and public services (most of whose members are science ignorant if not outright anti-science) to be ‘take in’ by fast talking, confident scientists, isn’t it ? Just think Large Hadron Collider, Hubble Telescope and large Radio Telescope Arrays for instance. What commercial benefit have any of them ever returned ?

  39. Donald Oats
    March 8th, 2010 at 16:09 | #39

    @Grim
    Grim says:

    Just think Large Hadron Collider, Hubble Telescope and large Radio Telescope Arrays for instance. What commercial benefit have any of them ever returned ?

    Answer:
    Uhh, Wireless L Local Area Networks, ie Wi-Fi, which came from trying to improve research tools in astronomy, as can be seen here.
    To quote Dr. John O’Sullivan: “We were trying to detect [the radio pulse] of exploding mini black holes.”; and the from the article: While he never found mini-black holes, O’Sullivan’s chips became a vital part of modern day computing.; and again in more detail:

    Wireless LAN had been around since the 1970′s says O’Sullivan, but it was very slow, much slower than wired computers.

    “We believed the networking had to go as fast as the wires.”

    O’Sullivan says the problem with wireless networking is reverberation, where the radio waves from the outgoing signal bounce around the surrounding environment causing an echo that distorts the signal.

    Utilising their past experience with Fourier transforms, O’Sullivan’ and his team build a fast chip that could transmit the signal whilst reducing the echo.

    O’Sullivan says it’s “incredible” to think of the amount of people using the technology today.

    “We thought we were starting something big, but we’re blown away at how widespread it now is.”

    This sort of discovery happens as scientists attempt to improve the instruments that they need to do the science itself. Each new innovation then fans out into other area in which the basic idea is fruitful. Note that Dr. O’Sullivan was originally using mathematics as one of the essential research tools, and that mathematics was specialised by O’Sullivan et al to become one part of the patented algorithm for the Wi-Fi protocols.

    Yeah, what have scientists every done for us? [Sarcasm intended.]

  40. Grim
    March 8th, 2010 at 17:16 | #40

    @Donald Oats,

    Well, I think you might just have been explaining the workings of serendipity to me.

    But in my, and dagget’s, defence, I’m totally unaware of anything even remotely as useful as WiFi that’s emerged from tokomaks and ITERs after 60 years of moderate to intensive research. We sure do know a lot more about plasmas now though.

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