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Weekend reflections

April 2nd, 2011

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. In keeping with my attempts to open up the comments to new contributors , I’d like to redirect discussion, and restatements of previous arguments, as opposed to substantive new contributions, to the sandpit(s). As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

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  1. Alice
    April 2nd, 2011 at 21:31 | #1

    @oscar
    dont click the link above people – I think its a problem spammer – prof – you better clear this one out

  2. Charles Worringham
    April 2nd, 2011 at 22:45 | #2

    Suppose we woke up one day to find that the State ALP (or LNP, come to that) had made a freedom of information request for all of Prof. Quiggin’s e-mails, not long after he had written a post they didn’t like on this, his personal blog? We would see it as crass political intimidation – but it’s exactly what has happened to University of Wisconsin History Professor Bill Cronon. (for update, see http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_c73f5c2c-5c8c-11e0-a5f7-001cc4c03286.html). A blog piece last month examining the networks Republicans use to develop legislation followed a few days later by the State party officials demanding all of his e-mails. I trust that a) this would not happen here; b) our University leaders would be as robust as UW’s Chancellor Biddy Martin in complying only as much as the law absolutely requires, and c) it would create a reaction of similar dimensions to the one this event has unleashed. As a Brisbane-based graduate of Wisconsin – much renowned for its ethos of “continual fearless sifting and winnowing” of ideas, I’ve been very happy to let Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP have my two cents on this thoroughly anti-democratic act.

  3. Freelander
    April 3rd, 2011 at 00:21 | #3

    Sees a thoroughly anti-Free Speech act. At most I think a research ought to be called upon to properly justify research they have undertaken, which would never seem to include as necessary being called on to release a bunch of irrelevant emails.

    The looney right rapidly adopts techniques from what they see as the left. One example was how copying the creation of Environmental Impact Statements, the looney right created the necessity of Regulatory Impact Statements (RISs). There have been many other examples. The creation of the RIS, was, itself, as far as I know, never subjected to a RIS. If it was I am sure that making the creation of a RIS obligatory every time someone creates regulations could not be justified.

    The example you give just seems one more example of the looney right’s war on decency, reality and the search for knowledge.

  4. Chris Warren
    April 3rd, 2011 at 08:16 | #4

    As Fukushima goes from bad-to-bad-to-bad, it is worthwhile reflecting on the underlying feature of such issues (not JUST nuclear).

    The unaswerable question is:

    What happens if background radiation increases continuously, little bit by little bit?

    What happens if greenhouse gases increase continuously, little bit by little bit?

    What happens if population increases continuously, little bit by little bit?

    What happens if per capita debt increases continuously, little bit by little bit?

    In fact as we have no conception of ever reaching any steady state in any of these, no expectation of a plateau, and no dream of any decrease, it seems that future generations will be left with intractable problems leading to in massive conflicts. All because public policy is driven by right-wing economic/nuclear dinosaurs who have no understanding of exponential growth, even though it stares them in the face in population time series and hockey-stick temperature data.

  5. Ikonoclast
    April 3rd, 2011 at 08:21 | #5

    Tariq Ali almost hit the nail on the head with his speech at the Perth Writers’ Festival. He criticised Obama for representing no change at all from the Bush years. The American Imperial project goes on unchanged despite any changes in the White House. What Tariq Ali failed to highlight properly is the fact the America clearly and palpably cannot change. Perhaps he hinted that America could only change if it saw a people’s revolution from below on the scale of the revolutions beginning in the Middle East. Such a revolution seems extremely unlikely. Politically, the US has proven congenitally incapable of becoming a true democracy.

  6. Ikonoclast
    April 3rd, 2011 at 08:34 | #6

    @Chris Warren

    What happens? Physics happens. Biology happens. Ecology happens.

    There will be the inevitable and necessary crash of the human population. The human population will be reduced to about a tenth of its current level. Our species might even go extinct. This will be fitting as it is clear that our species is incapable of exercising the necessary wisdom to avoid such obvious disasters.

  7. Ikonoclast
    April 3rd, 2011 at 08:42 | #7

    If we had any doubt about the deeply embedded militaristic culture of the US this list might dispel it;

    US Presidents who were Generals (12);

    •Washington, General of the Armies of the US. (Six Stars)
    •Eisenhower, General of the Army. (Five Stars)
    •Grant, General, (Four Stars)
    •Jackson, Major General, (Two Stars)
    •Harrison, William, Major General, (Two Stars)
    •Taylor, Major General, (Two Stars)
    •Hayes, Major General, (Two Stars, Temporary Rank)
    •Harrison, Benjamin, Major General, (Two Stars, Temporary Rank)
    •Pierce, Brigadier General, (One Star)
    •Johnson, Andrew, Brigadier General, (One Star)
    •Garfield, Brigadier General, (One Star)
    •Arthur, Quartermaster General, (One Star)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_Presidents_by_military_rank

  8. April 3rd, 2011 at 11:28 | #8

    Chris Warren, you might find the Wikipedia page on World Population informative:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population

  9. David C
    April 3rd, 2011 at 12:09 | #9

    @Chris Warren
    Jared Diamond in his book – “Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” makes this very same point; that societies in the past have experience dramatic collapses because of their inability to perceive very subtle incremental changes that have played out over decades or centuries.

    …Politicians use the term “creeping normalcy” to refer to such slow trends concealed within noisy fluctuations. If the economy, schools, traffic congestion, or anything else is deteriorating only slowly, it’s difficult to recognize that each successive year is on the average slightly worse than the year before, so one’s baseline standard for what constitutes “normalcy” shifts gradually and imperceptibly. It may take a few decades of a long sequence of such slight year-to-year changes before people realize, with a jolt, that conditions used to be much better several decades ago, and that what is accepted as normalcy has crept downwards.

  10. Freelander
    April 3rd, 2011 at 12:22 | #10

    @Ikonoclast

    Interesting that Major Washington (Major in the British Army and later a traitor) is given six stars, given that before WWII americans didn’t even have five star generals. Five star generals were created during WWII because the Germans and the British had Field Marshals and the american generals were feeling bling deprived in comparison.

  11. Ikonoclast
    April 3rd, 2011 at 13:40 | #11

    I am not sure of the veracity of the 6 star claim for Washington. It may be a posthumous or retrospective award of rank given that he is listed as “General of the Armies” (plural).

    Of more interest to me is the American propensity for electing Generals as Presidents. There is no parallel in Australian politics. The more I research history, the more I realise that the US is not what we would or should recognise as a modern democracy. It probably has a lot to do with the era and circumstances of its birth and the ongoing success of its capitalist plutocracy. It is difficult to come up with a term for the US system of government. Probably for much of its history it has veered from being a Proto-democratic Republic to being a Crypto Plutocracy and a Crypto Military Republic.

    Many of the more perceptive commentators like Tariq Ali, Pilger and Chomksy now regard the US as a proto-fascist or even fascist state. Certainly, extra-legal actions like illegal wars, rendition, torture, illegal imprisonment, black prisons, black projects, extra-judicial murders, CIA-backed overthrows of elected governments etc. are fascistic actions.

  12. Freelander
    April 3rd, 2011 at 15:51 | #12

    According to that Wikipedia article, Gerald Ford gave Washington his posthumous position as el supremo of all american generals for all time. Interestingly, the commander-in-chief title that american presidents have is one of numerous titles King George III had. Probably another case of bling envy. Or maybe just a remnant of their considering making Washington their King before they decided on having Presidents.

  13. Freelander
    April 3rd, 2011 at 16:04 | #13

    Part of the US’s problems is that they unimaginatively copied aspects of the British monarchy, King, President, House of Lords, senate, etc. Unfortunately, the British King was evolving into a powerless figurehead from originally being a dictator, and it was the in US that the President rapidly became an elected dictator (with some limits on his powers within the US), but with the President progressively taking (by making up) new and new powers until they had the ugly entity we see today. The role of ‘crises’ has been important in allowing the President to confer himself with new powers. Would be useful if the US had a constitution, but the so-called constitution is simply a piece of paper that might as well be blank. The highly political Supreme Court seems able to interpret the constitution in any way they wish with greater ease than if it were a Rorschach test.

  14. Alice
    April 5th, 2011 at 10:52 | #14

    Per this interesting book I am reading (Rainbow Pie), the US doesnt want to acknowledge its massive white underclass. When the US media talks about a US underclass it generally means you have to be “a shade darker than a paper bag” and US citizens themselves dont even want to acknowledge that there are some 60 million who can now count themselves part of the US white underclass. When WW2 began 44 percent of Americans were rural and over half farmed for a living. By 1970 only 5% were on farms and the great migration to to the cities was established as their farm jobs were bulldozed by large corporate industries and imports. The US white underclass now outnumber all other poor working class groups and have added their children to their growing numbers. Dominant history has us believe that these people left rural America in search of supposed opportunity and excitment in the cities, but many ended up plucking chickens or telemarketing to the shrinking middle class or working in call centres for banks in a labour market so flexible “that they can be S****** in any position”.

    Yet mention class to the average US citizen and they will still tell you they live in a classless society.

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