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January 25th, 2014

A new sandpit for long side discussions, idees fixes and so on.

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  1. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 15:41 | #1

    PrQ, I would just like to make one more point on GM before moving on. My point concerns your opinion that in the name of choice all GM food should be labelled as such. I think mandatory labelling is:

    * unnecessary because producers are already free to promote their products as GM free

    * irrational because the scientific consensus is that mutagenesis is inherently more likely to produce unintended consequences than genetic engineering as it it involves the random shuffling of hundreds of thousands of genes (yet scientsists still overwhelming think even mutagenesis is only slightly risky) AND mutagenesis will become more common if the public rejects GM labelled food, and

    * mischievous because of what we know about how people process information. That is to say, psychological research already shows that if you expose folk to true and false statements on a contentious matter, say climate change or GM food, they will soon get mixed up about what is true and what is false. Note for example how BilB got befuddled about the terminator gene. This in part explains why we on the Left see calls for balanced reporting on climate change as a con job. So-called balanced reporting also in part explains why the public is now very confused about climate change.

    You are a smart guy and you must know this. You must also understand how your stance equates to the lukewarmer position of people like Matt Ridley and Judith Curry re climate change.

  2. January 25th, 2014 at 16:03 | #2

    I made a big comment about this on the other thread but it got eaten. It included links to scientific studies about water contamination by roundup, and the spread of roundup resistant weeds. Unfortunately it’s gone into the aether, probably because of the links. I also pointed out the hypocrisy of using poison-the-well techniques on Bilb and complaining when tehy’re done to you.

    The claim that opponents of GM are anti-science is itself an anti-science claim.

  3. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 17:08 | #3

    Well alright, I will reply to faustus with this link which plots Roundup resistance pre- and post-GMO.

    Note how the trendline on the graphs ….. stays exactly the same.

    The first Roundup ie. glysophate resistant weed, Lolium rigidum, developed in Australia in the 1990s and had absolutely nothing to do with GM crops, as faustusnotes is undoubtedly aware.

    Australian State Agricultural Departments and tertiary institutions typically encourage farmers to use Integrated Weed Management to prevent herbicide resistance and this advice is just as applicable to GM crops as to others. GM crops nor any other crop by themselves cause herbicide resistance, rather herbicide resistance is the product of herbicide misuse.

    Various GM crops reduce the need for the use of agricultural chemicals, so much so that some recent studies report a net reduction in pesticide use with associated climate change benefits:

    The adoption of the [GM] technology has reduced pesticide spraying by 474 million kg (-8.9%) and, as a result, decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on these crops [as measured by the indicator the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ)] by 18.1%. The technology has also facilitated a significant reduction in the release of greenhouse gas emissions from this cropping area, which, in 2011, was equivalent to removing 10.22 million cars from the roads.

    www. ncbi.nlm.nih. gov/pubmed/23635915

    Studies like this are commonplace but they never make it onto the front page of the Daily Mail or onto shock horror current affairs programs on the telly.

    Funny that ….

    Finally, Roundup (Glysophate) went off patent 13 year ago. You can buy it cheap and without any sort of licence or training. I have a twenty litre container of it on my back porch and spray it about the place like nobody’s business.

  4. rog
    January 25th, 2014 at 17:24 | #4

    @Mel Mel, one of the problems with glyphosate is that the wetting agent is harmful to various organisms and constant usage can result in a reduction in soil texture. I try to limit my use to once or twice a year and only to problem areas.

  5. rog
    January 25th, 2014 at 17:25 | #5

    A lot of the GM campaign is one of competing market forces, frankenfoods was and still is a great slogan.

  6. David C
    January 25th, 2014 at 17:26 | #6

    Oh the shaudenfreude.

  7. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 17:51 | #7

    A lot of the GM campaign is one of competing market forces, frankenfoods was and still is a great slogan.

    Well spotted, Rog.

    We shouldn’t forget that the organic industry in America alone has triple the revenue of Monsanto worldwide (approx US$30 billion versus approx US$10 billion).

  8. John Quiggin
    January 25th, 2014 at 17:55 | #8

    Anyway, enough of GM foods. I think Mann vs the deniers is a much more interesting topic.

  9. rog
    January 25th, 2014 at 17:59 | #9

    @John Quiggin Ahem, this is the sandpit que?

  10. Donald Oats
    January 25th, 2014 at 18:49 | #10

    @John Quiggin
    I’m wondering if an attempt to settle will occur, rather than face the potentially damaging consequences of the legal discovery process. If so offered, I hope Michael Mann refuses it and continues through to a full court case. Given that Mann initiated this one, I dare say he feels he has nothing to hide from the court, whereas the defendants might be in a rather different position.

    Looking forward to seeing how it progresses.

  11. David C
    January 25th, 2014 at 19:58 | #11

    I’m not sure that the defendants have anything to hide, other than that they just made stuff up. As it is with most climate denialists it is a case of pretending to know things you don’t know.

    The thought of all the gnashing of teeth going on at WUWT is somewhat satisfying.

    If anyone has any doubt about how scary CC may be please view this video at YouTube about the Permian extinction.

  12. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 20:16 | #12

    Well, yes, ultimately climate change is at least 20 times more important than GM crops.

    I only bang on about the latter more than the former because I have much higher expectations of my side, the Left. And out of sheer embarrassment.

    And yes it would be great to see Mann inflict some pain on screwballs like Steyn.

  13. rog
    January 25th, 2014 at 22:10 | #13

    @Mel I think the position against GM is based on emotions and is in response is due to a whole raft of issues. Monsanto et al haven’t done a very good job of marketing either.

  14. rog
    January 25th, 2014 at 22:11 | #14

    @David C It seems that Steyne was dropped by his lawyers.

  15. rog
    January 25th, 2014 at 22:13 | #15

    @David C It seems that Steyne was dropped by his lawyers.

  16. rog
    January 25th, 2014 at 22:18 | #16

    @rog That should read “is in response to a whole raft of issues”

    People want to retain their identity and freedom of choice and the whole corporate agri business threatens to remove that sense of individual uniqueness.

  17. Megan
    January 25th, 2014 at 22:51 | #17


    If a large amount of the population (I saw a figure of 88% for Germany) is against following a certain path, it raises an interesting question.

    They may be emotional, misguided, stupid, misinformed, propaganda victims or just maliciously against progress for ideological reasons.

    Getting slurred and defamed by dogmatic bullies might not persuade them to change their opinion. It’s possible it may even make them more wary of anything coming from what they perceive to be that direction – simply because it is an unpleasant place.

    Therefore, to convince those people to support something will require solid evidence, patience, transparency, and above all good will. Alternatively it could be imposed upon them in a dictatorial fashion ‘for their own good’.

    Although never afraid of a scrap if someone really wants one, I’ve always preferred to follow the saying:

    “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

  18. Mel
    January 25th, 2014 at 23:27 | #18

    Umm, Megan, you’ve linked to the most vile and immoral claims I’ve ever seen anyone make about genetically engineered crops, including the filthy and oft-debunked claim that Indian farmers are killing themselves because of GM.

    If you argued like a mature adult I wouldn’t be so antsy.

  19. Megan
    January 26th, 2014 at 00:24 | #19


    You have often flagged a ban on certain people for certain behaviour.

    In my view the leniency has been disproportionate, and bans have been applied undeservedly to me for transgressions of policy of which I have been the victim rather than the perpetrator.

    On at least three occasions I have been banned when the offense came from elsewhere and for some reason (akin to stalking) I have been the focus of attacks which breach comment policy.

    I particularly like this site because of the generally intelligent and diverse discussion and the fact that it is that rare gem – Queensland based. I don’t really frequent much else on the ‘blogosphere’. I’ve been a regular here for years.

    I’m the last person in the world to be a ‘dobber’ or a ‘sook’, and I’ve put up with this for (literally) a few years now.

    It was less than a month ago that you issued the last injunction in this regard.

    Please consider.

  20. rog
    January 26th, 2014 at 04:30 | #20

    @Megan It was an EU study that reported 75% against GM. My point is that there a host of reasons for this, cultural identity being one of them. For the US the EU is their biggest trade customer and their GM product would compete against local produce. So trade protection is another reason.

  21. John Quiggin
    January 26th, 2014 at 06:46 | #21

    Mel, you’ve ignored quite a few warnings. You’re banned.

  22. sunshine
    January 26th, 2014 at 07:22 | #22

    If a large amount of the population (I saw a figure of 88% for Germany) is against following a certain path, it raises an interesting question.

    Just speaking generally (not to or about you or GM Mel ), that phenomena raises interesting questions for democracy . Does the government simply enact the will of the people (as I imagine naive Libertarianism would say?) or does it seek to do what is true or good as well? Remembering that over time the Govt plays a big role in shaping public opinion whether it likes (or admits to) it or not. Even by not acting the Govt is shaping opinion. Anyone can easily find examples of majority opinion from around the world on various issues which they would consider obviously and provably wrong. “We wont always be enacting the will of the people” would not be a very popular thing for a Govt to say .

  23. sunshine
    January 26th, 2014 at 07:25 | #23

    Sorry that quote above is from Megan not Mel. The comment is just a general one tho.

  24. Ikonoclast
    January 26th, 2014 at 07:32 | #24

    Several debates are complex because the science is complex and also because of other issues. I mean for example the debates about;

    (a) Climate science;
    (b) GM foods;
    (c) Vaccination;
    (d) Flouridation.

    How should citizens form their views on such matters? What is the average level of scientific literacy amongst all citizens of voting age in Australia? The Science Literacy survey report on the Australia Academy of Science website barely scratches the surface of this issue.

    Then there are sources of information and debate. The print media are arguably worse than useless. They range from giving equal weight in debates to science and nonsense and going right on to promoting science denialist propaganda. TV does much the same but provides some general knowledge in nature shows, geology shows, astronomy shows etc. Searching the internet will usually result in more crank site hits than hits on reputable science sites.

    The number of important issues is now great and the issues are deep. Scientists specialise in narrow fields, yet the citizen, even the scientifically literate citizen, has to be a generalist and usually a self-educated generalist at that. It is little wonder that people are having trouble forming valid or adequate views on some topics.

    History can be a handy help. If one reads some history of disease outbreaks (smallpox, polio etc.) one can then compare the world without vaccination and the world with vaccination. If you are old enough you might remember parental history not only of the great depression but also of disease outbreaks and student mortality in their school days.

    Other than that, one might sometimes apply heuristics rather than invest heavily in personal research. For example, in relation to GM, heuristics will revolve around questions like. Have problems sometimes emerged long term in other areas of science? Yes, antibiotic resistance, drug safety, inadequate research, faked research results and so on. Can I trust government deregulation and industry self-regulation? The record shows the answer is no so why should I trust the US GM approach which leaves most research, even safety research, to the corporations? Should I trust corporations to care about citizen safety long term compared to short term profits? No, corporations have a dreadful track record telling lies about tobacco, CO2 etc. etc.

    Short of the ability to deeply research every issue, citizens need to make heuristics-guided assessments on at least some issues. Given what has happened under de-regulation not just of finance but of almost all areas of modern life as affected by corporations, is it any wonder that citizens feel a high level of mistrust and want to hasten slowly in some arenas like GM foods?

    As a final point, forming a view on GM foods (safe or not?) is far more difficult than forming a view on LTG (Limits to Growth). In a very real sense, LTG science or modelling is very basic, clearly based on physical quantification of materials and energy and on fundamental laws of physics like the laws of thermodynamics. Genetics and gene expression, emergenisis, epistasis and so on are enormously complicated as are human diversity and human reactions to proteins, allergens, toxins etc. in foods. Then there is the issue of unforeseen consequences to the entire biome or set of biomes of planet earth.

  25. January 26th, 2014 at 07:53 | #25

    You are a great man, John Quiggin, and an ornament to Australia as a public intellectual. However, on the GM issue, it was disappointing to see you dismiss the scientific case against GM technology in such cavalier terms. That case is indeed substantial, and has been for many years. A good summary of it can be found at the Union of Concerned Scientists site, http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/. The science is clearly still evolving, but the risks are becoming clearer; and they are risks whose effects, if realised, could not be easily reversed. At present the case for the continuing application of the precautionary principle to this technology seems to me to be very strong.

  26. Ikonoclast
    January 26th, 2014 at 08:27 | #26

    This being a sandpit where the idee fixe is permitted (I presume…)

    Is there a notable rise in world instability recently? I am thinking of Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Ukraine and Argentina specifically though one could no doubt add in several more African nations. Of course, local and regional instabilities have been a feature of recent decades too: Lebanon, Balkans, Congo, Somalia etc.

    I wonder if something new is happening. With the arrival of peak oil, some of these trouble spots specifically Egypt, Syria, Ukraine and Argentine have energy problems. Trouble seems to commence shortly after such countries become net energy importers, especially of oil. This appears to be because they have little else to export (in some cases like Egypt and Syria) to earn foreign currency. In Ukraine and Argentina the issues are more complicated but still relate at least partially to energy in terms of (in)stability of domestic supply and the need for energy imports.

    Of course, Japan is a net energy importer and a hugh oil importer and has been so at least since WW2. In a global situation of adequate energy supplies and the ability to trade manufactured goods for oil and food imports, the Japanese model worked. So the mere transition to or permanent position of being an energy importer might be a necessary but not sufficient condition for instability or economic trouble. The question would be whether the country has other exports to offer and how self-sufficient or not it is in other key requirements like food.

    However, the world is entering a different phase, where China in particular is out-competing all other nations in the business of selling manfuctures and importing oil and this is occurring at about the time of peak oil. Even in 2010, value-addedmanufacturing in China was $1.92 trillion; for the U.S., the total was $1.86 trillion. More oil for China now mean less oil for other countries because of peak oil.

    Countries which are vulnerable to world energy supply shocks (net energy importers and especially net oil importers) are now living in a world of constrained energy supply and oil supply. The remaining oil as it goes to market is getting more expensive. These countries are now more likely to experience recession, unrest or even civil war especially when they have recently moved from being oil exporters to oil importers and when they also have other key import requirements eg. lack of self-sufficiency in food. This was and is clearly the position of Egypt and Syria.

    Australia needs to look to its situation. We are more vulnerable than people think. From 2000 to 2014 Australia has moved from a position of oil self-suffiency (in the lighter fractions like petrol) to a position of significant reliance on oil imports. With the decline of the Bass Strait fields we can only supply about half of our oil needs from domestic production. In 2011, Australia’s oil production stood at 484,000 barrels per day (bpd) but Australia consumed over 1,000,000 barrels per day. Australia’s oil production has dropped by 41% from the peak of 819,000 bpd in 2000.

    While we make other exports (coal, food, gas) we can afford this import bill. We also are self-sufficient in food (clearly since we are net exporters of food). Our $30.5 billion in food exports was nearly three times the $11.3 billion food import bill in 2012. (I think that was the year of those statitistics.) However, we are clearly still suspectible to an oil supply shock despite also being next exporters of energy via coal and gas. The simple reason is that an oil shortage (and thus a petrol and diesel shortage) cannot be quickly or easily averted by utilising coal or gas. Most of our transport fleet does not run on coal and gas.

    So whilst Australia is a long way from the Egypt, Syria, Ukraine and Argentina models we are still suspectible now to a global oil supply or price shock be it a sharp episode or the grinding decline after peak oil. Either of these scenarios could easily plunge Australia into a severe recession. I won’t argue the “D” word yet. Australia needs to act now to reduce its dependence on oil. Strategies should include;

    1. Convert more of our transport fleet to run on gas.
    2. Convert more mass transit to run on electricity.
    3. Build more mass transit systems; trains, buses, trams, light rail, trolley buses etc.
    4. Encourage more fuel efficiency and fuel savings.

    Along with these measures we should reduce gas exports and possibly domestic gas prices consistent with using more gas fuelled transport.

  27. rog
    January 26th, 2014 at 09:16 | #27

    I have a reasonable confidence in the CSIRO on the matter.

    CSIRO position statement

  28. alfred venison
    January 26th, 2014 at 09:35 | #28

    thank you Geoff Wells, its hard to fault a union of concerned scientists as anti-science. i have deep reservations about gm food and i don’t like being labelled anti-science because of it. -a.v.

  29. sunshine
    January 26th, 2014 at 10:53 | #29

    Just back from our local citizenship ceremony .Bill Shorten is there -the 2nd time in 3 days I have bumped into him here in West Melb .He gave a good speech -a huge contrast to Abbotts Davos effort .I cried when the singer sang the ‘We Are Australian” song .The official anthem is a bit of a dud. I felt proud to be Aust as opposed to the usual feelings of embarrassment and shame. Also the 1st line of the pledge is suspect , it says ‘… under God …’ .

    On GM – I think it may be ok as long as we take it slow and the mega-corporations dont monopolise it .

  30. Donald Oats
    January 26th, 2014 at 11:15 | #30

    During the previous week, I have had a look at a few properties within my budget. Several of them have been out in the Adelaide Hills, e.g. Stirling, Mount Barker, Aldgate, Urrbrae, etc. I was amazed at how some of these properties have been constructed in such a way as to virtually guarantee (otherwise avoidable) flooding events. The houses/home units are built with the floor at soil level, perhaps a few centimetres above at best; the houses are at the bottom of short, steep driveways, with a drop of two or three metres from the footpath; the houses are dotted along steep straight roads, nearer the bottom than the top. Anyone of those factors of siting could increase the likelihood of storm related flooding. But to have all factors in a new property, that is just criminal. Sure, no one has to buy these places (except to live somewhere rather than nowhere), but how did they even get approved?

    In contrast, most of the old stone houses in the same areas were constructed with significant elevation above their foundations, typically having a metre of elevation—or more—at the lowest end of the house, with steps up to the verandah or front entrance. While that still doesn’t guarantee no flooding, it sure makes it significantly more difficult for it to occur. I guess the modern houses and units would cost too much to build correctly…

  31. Alan
    January 26th, 2014 at 12:36 | #31


    I would not include vaccination as a complex issue. Research into the effects of vaccination was faked. Some years later the fakery was exposed. There is no scientific argument.

    Vaccination is an uncomfortable example of the protest groups being wrong and the institutions being right.

  32. Ikonoclast
    January 26th, 2014 at 13:23 | #32

    @Donald Oats

    As someone who has written on this blog about flood-proofing and fire-proofing homes, I agree. Of course, flood-proofing and fire-proofing includes preventative measures like building above pre-climate warming 1 in 200 year flood levels ( a bare minimum now I believe) and building with buffer zones between homes and bush.

    Any residential, commercial or industrial building below pre-climate-warming 1 in 200 year flood levels is just plain criminal morally speaking. There is plenty that can be done with urban land below that level; open parks, native riverine gardens, sporting fields, bikeways, safely submersible shelters and park equipment. These would emerge from floodwaters largely unscathed. (Correct land contouring can minimise scouring and wash-outs.)

    There is so much that could be done to do away with flood and fire losses and at the same time provide green spaces and flood and fire buffer zones in our cities, suburbs and satellite acreages. But greed for the fast real estate buck is opening us to losses of life and property later in the cycle. In the long run, a prevention policy is usually much cheaper than a crisis response and recovery policy.

  33. January 26th, 2014 at 16:43 | #33

    The Mann vs scumbags thing is interesting. It seems that the judge thinks that calling Mann’s hockey stick “fraudulent” without proof is defamatory. Which means that a great many faux skeptics are in trouble. I’m reasonably sure the hockey stick graph is not perfect, but also sure that it is pretty close, and almost certain that there was no fraud in its production.

    I know you can have a class action against one defendant. Is there something that works in reverse, where one plaintiff can initiate a class action against a whole class of defendants?

  34. January 26th, 2014 at 16:46 | #34

    @Donald Oats

    Many houses in the Perth Hills are built on stilts. Which basically makes them immune from flooding. Mind you, the lack of rainfall probably helps…

  35. Ernestine Gross
    January 26th, 2014 at 17:29 | #35


    Excellent exposition of the notion ‘bounded rationality’.

  36. John Quiggin
    January 26th, 2014 at 17:37 | #36

    I don’t see too much wrong with the UCS position, bearing in mind that it refers to the very weak regulatory situation in the US. It’s very close to the actual policy position in Australia and the one I’ve advocated.

    There is nothing in the UCS statement that could justify or even mitigate the wrongness of anti-scientific sabotage attacks like those of Greenpeace Australia, or the scaremongering anti-science propaganda that accompanies them.

  37. paul walter
    January 26th, 2014 at 19:14 | #37

    Couldn’t agree less.
    The Greens are against, first of all, the secrecy and abuse of process for venal or political purposes (therefore unavoidably in some cases, “anti science”) imperatives provoking serious down stream problems and suffering.
    Theyare sceptical of the science you mention whilst focussing on a single example, their protest against GM foods and the system that produces themm, related to consumer capitalism, as much as an urge to feed the poor. If their response to GM is”unscientific”, it is only because politicians and developers have been so anti science on ecological and other matters (eg privatisations, a good parallel).
    As has been mentioned elsewhere, recent history is littered with exampes of incomplete science employed for profit, the most spectacular example being Fukushima2…THAT, is anti science, not the call to have accountability and scrutiny against a trend of furtive”developer rules”characterised by secrecy and down stream disasters because corporations were too desperate to maker a buck rathe than do science properly before releasing their toxic products upon a consumer fetishist market.

  38. Ikonoclast
    January 26th, 2014 at 20:30 | #38

    @John Quiggin

    Has anyone on this thread or the GM thread actually supported sabotage? I stated I opposed sabatoge as a disproportionate response and dangerous in its own right. Damaged experiments and trials could release greater dangers. Is it Greenpeace or a splinter group that is actually making the sabotage attacks?

    In using “anti-science” as a pejorative one has to be careful the smear is not being spread too wide. Climate change denialism is anti-science. That is pretty clear. Concerns that we don’t know all we need to know about GM yet and concerns that there probably will be some unforeseen consequences is not being anti-science in itself. Fabricating false claims about GM or referring to highly doubtful “studies” about GM is being anti-science.

    Despite being an vowed empiricist I am still in some ways anti-science or at least anti-scientism. And it is scientism to apply simplistic deterministic views to complex science. As in “we have GM theory and tech all nailed down, we know everything or enough of everything, it’s safe and we won’t make mistakes”. Well we have heard all that before about applied nuclear science and nuclear engineering haven’t we? Then we get Chernobyl, Fukishima and many other concerning events over the years.

    If nuclear power worries you because of the attendant dangers of weaponisation then GM sure as heck should worry you about its attendant dangers of weaponisation. It also seems to me that a lot of GM is fairly frivolous. It’s often not about feeding malnourished people (who could be better helped in other ways) but about getting purple designer tomatoes high in anti-oxidants.

    I would also draw a distinction between pure science and applied science. Pure science to any level is essantially fine. It’s applied science where you have to start being very careful. Climate science is pure science when it’s all said and done. In many ways it merely suggests precautionary changes in other areas of life and economics rather than suggesting a new applied science agenda. Most applied science agendas spun out from climate science (not by climate scientists themselves) are plain loopy and almost certainly highly dangerous.

    GM is applied science and applied science in complex and risky areas indicates a very high need for caution. This is precisely because modern applied science is so powerful and the biosphere and its ecosystems are now known to be relatively fragile compared to the power of modern technology and industry.

    The above is why the test for “anti-science” activities propaganda and the labelling of activities as such is different for climate science and GM. They should not be conflated.

  39. BilB
    January 26th, 2014 at 20:36 | #39

    The UCS article reminded me of a GM crop issue where post harvest material left in the field was releasing genetically created insecticide which was then severely negatively affecting waterways.

  40. Ikonoclast
    January 26th, 2014 at 20:50 | #40

    On another topic completely. Why are painkillers allowed in sport? Surely a painkiller is a performance enhancing drug? And it’s injurious or even dangerous too. Pain is a warning.

    I’ve always being against painkillers in sport. I mean anything stronger than an aspirin or panadol. Certainly painkilling needles should be completely illegal. I remember the days in the Sydney Rugby League when commentators talked glibly about the painkilling shots which seemed to be given to elite players as easily as halftime oranges to schoolboys.

  41. Megan
    January 26th, 2014 at 20:58 | #41

    There is a case heading to court in WA on 10th February about GM.

    Steve Marsh is the plaintiff, he was an organic farmer with a GM farming neighbour. He alleges that GM contamination onto his property caused him to lose his organic certification and he is claiming damages – as far as I understand the case.

    At common law we had the rule in Rylands v Fletcher for many years until the High Court merged it into the general law of negligence (Tort) in Burnie Port Authority.

    The principle still applies – if you have/hold/bring etc.. onto your land something and it escapes onto my land and causes damage then you can be held liable for my loss.

    Quite sound and reasonable law. There is a lot of big bio-tech/agribusiness money lined up against Mr Marsh and he is struggling to fund his case but he is getting a fair bit of small donations as I understand it.

    It will be an interesting case to follow. It should be of interest to anyone interested in justice and fair play regardless of views about the science of GM.

    Just throwing in another interesting angle.

  42. paul walter
    January 26th, 2014 at 22:55 | #42

    Hooray for that!!@Megan

  43. Megan
    January 27th, 2014 at 00:51 | #43

    On a tangent – we have an establishment media constantly pushing certain memes.

    The highlight is their relentless attack on the rule of law (‘Judges Go Soft On Crime-Outrage!’, ‘Judge Made Law-Shock!’, ‘Courts Let Criminals Into Your Home To Do Whatever They Like-Fury!’, ‘Lawyers’ Picnic’ and so on…) always led in this country by the Murdoch press – and blindly followed by his ABC.

    Similarly, they attack universal health, public transport, public education and environmental protections with about the same vigour and regularity.

    On any issue where the establishment media chooses to weigh in (especially if they have earlier chosen to ignore it), the simple rule of thumb is that whatever line they are putting, the opposite is likely to be closer to the truth.

    One of the last functioning pillars of our democracy is the judicial system (the executive, parliament & media having been reduced to pointlessness), and while it has always had its own flaws, it gets things right more often than wrong.

    When we no longer have a properly independent functioning judiciary, we’ve lost our democracy – see Nauru for a recent example.

  44. Hermit
    January 27th, 2014 at 07:19 | #44

    An unexpected outcome of using natural gas a vehicle fuel is that it could reverse the export LNG push. Industrial users of piped gas have been paying under $5 a gigajoule spot prices. Since the Japanese have been paying up to $17 a GJ for LNG the pre-liquefaction price for piped gas could go as high as $12. If excise included liquid diesel goes to $1.75 a litre with 35 MJ thermal value that is 5c per MJ or $50 per GJ, an order of magnitude higher than recent gas prices.

    A switch to NG as a domestic vehicle fuel could mean the multibillion dollar investment in the three LNG ‘trains’ at Gladstone Qld is wasted. No need to dredge Gladstone harbour with silt pollution and toxic sludge. Right here at home we will pay a much higher price than for export. A recent white paper pointed to the high cost of converting trucks to compressed or liquefied natural gas (CNG,LNG). The key may be factory built bifuel whereby the vehicle uses widely available but expensive petrol or diesel then cheaper compressed gas when a filling station can be found. Over time the number of bowsers will increase.

    In the US General Motors appears to have adopted this line of thinking. The 2015 Chevrolet Impala will petrol/CNG bifuel. GM’s plug-in hybrid the Chevrolet Volt has had limited sales due to a high sticker price (about $60k here for the Holden badged vehicle) and limited battery only range. The bifuel vehicle should be able to go 800 km on a ‘fill up’. Expect gas powered vehicles to get more prominence from next year.

  45. Ikonoclast
    January 27th, 2014 at 07:59 | #45


    Yes, there are so many looming problems and so little in the way of proactive actions from our government. We we will soon be in reactive mode struggling to deal with a series of shocks to the economy and shocks to and from the environment.

  46. alfred venison
    January 27th, 2014 at 09:06 | #46

    thank you, paul walter, at 19:14. -a.v.

  47. January 27th, 2014 at 16:17 | #47

    No one is recommending or supporting sabotage, as Ikonoclast points out. That kind of smear by association is indeed not legitimate, as John would certainly be aware. The case against GM technology is a scientific one. It is particularly unhelpful to label either for or against GM positions as anti-science. Critical debates are in fact the hallmark of science. The debate is a scientific one and will be settled scientifically. At present it’s not settled, as the UCS summary shows. The development of a scientific consensus takes time. In the meantime, given the potential consequences of getting it wrong, to take the position of the precautionary principle seems highly responsible.

  48. Neil
    January 29th, 2014 at 05:16 | #48

    Geoff, I think you are overstating the level of science on the anti-GM side. Pretty much every national academy of science on the planet is supportive of the safety of recombinant DNA techniques in agriculture, and yet apparently there is no consensus?

    As someone with 20 years experience in the field it frustrates me that people are willing to listen to advocacy organizations rather than seeking out the opinion of scientific experts.

    As Mel pointed out, rDNA techniques are considered safer than mutagensis methods that have far less regulations surrounding their commercialization (and hence are cheaper to commercialize) and I have not yet heard a rational defense from the anti-GM movement about this obvious gap in logic. I can’t help but think that if rDNA products were cheaper to commercialize then we would be seeing more products from publicly funded research rather than multinational corporations and then the public would more clearly see the benefit of the tool.

  49. rog
    January 30th, 2014 at 12:32 | #49

    At a national organic conference some time ago attendees interrupted and heckled CSIRO reps who were discussing GM. The organisers had to overrule the protestors saying that it was important for everybody to properly understand the science. Some attendees thought otherwise and wanted to close down the session – fortunately they were over ruled.

  50. Paul Norton
    January 30th, 2014 at 13:09 | #50

    A controversy has arisen over the lyrics of the song Royals by Lorde.

    Does the Feministing blogger have a point, or is it the case that if Veronica Bayetti Flores did not exist, Jack Strocchi would have to invent her?

  51. February 1st, 2014 at 08:04 | #51

    According to a recent study:

    We find that CO2 emissions per capita are lower in nations where women have higher political status, controlling for GDP per capita, urbanization, industrialization, militarization, world-system position, foreign direct investment, the age dependency ratio, and level of democracy. This finding suggests that efforts to improve gender equality around the world may work synergistically with efforts to curtail global climate change and environmental degradation more generally.

    Christina Ergas and Richard York ‘Women’s status and carbon dioxide emissions: A quantitative cross-national analysis’ Social Science Research 41(4)

    I post this for general information, also because of my concerns about sexism on this blog. Recently here I’ve been participating in threads about the new wind farm enquiry and about misguided pro-nuclear advocacy. On three occasions in quick succession I was reproached or made fun of by male name commenters for having said supposedly stupid things (none of which I had actually said). When I protested about this I was accused of behaving like a “petulant child” and distracting discussion from the main points.

    It’s well known that women participating in discussions on the web are likely to be subjected to put downs and hostility. I suggest it’s the responsibility of blog owners to be mindful of this and make sure that it doesn’t happen. Unfortunately on this blog John Quiggin has engaged in similar behaviour towards me, which presumably makes other commenters feel they have even more licence to do so.

    As the above research suggests, this is not only an issue of fairness or human rights. It is also important that women are able to participate fully in order to promote sustainability. If female commenters are subjected to put downs and hostility on discussion threads about environmental (or other) issues, it is damaging not only to the individual women, but to the cause of environmental sustainability. So I one again urge everyone on this blog, including Professor Quiggin, to start taking the issue of sexism on this blog seriously.

  52. Ikonoclast
    February 1st, 2014 at 15:37 | #52

    From a musical point of view Lorde’s song is a jingle. The lyrics are a little more interesting, though like most pop lyrics they look rather bare on their own.

    The whole pop culture thing is looking threadbare to me. Joni Mitchell called Bob Dylan a “fake” and these days I agree. His tunes are all stolen. His lyrics are all banal doggeral. His style and delivery is mock-profound. But Dylan was a consummate and conscious trickster. He once said he was a high wire artist. It is clear he meant that he was staying up high with very little to hold him up. Such artistry becomes the ability to live (be acclaimed) as an artist without producing any art. It is a genuine talent but it leaves no legacy, no trace, except albums in his case that sound like sets of distorted, burlesque carnival songs.

    I still enjoy some popular songs from various eras but essentially all pop, rock, rap, hip-hop, dub etc. is just spak-filler for empty lives or at least empty moments.

    There once was a compilation album called Trash! Probably from the rock and punk genres. The advertising byline was:

    “This is Trash! You will buy Trash!”

    Sums it up really.

  53. Nathan
    February 1st, 2014 at 17:02 | #53

    I’ve just spent a good couple hours reading a lot of your posts over multiple comment threads here. I’ve read and reread some lines over and over, thought about it a lot and I still cannot understand precisely what your position is. Roughly speaking I read your comments as coming in two varieties that make quite different arguments about the discourse on this blog.

    Maybe a good illustration is an interaction in the Farewell to LP post on Jan 15. In response to a comment by Alfred Venison, who gives a critique of Gillard’s MMRT negotiations and the end of the Rudd Mk I, you say that you think the substantive point valid or at least reasonable to bring up. This is consistent with your repeated statements that you don’t want anybody go give up criticising female politicians in general or Gillard in particular. You then say that the problem with the comment is av’s framing “that’s why i despise julia gillard: she sold her country short to further her career.” with the distinction being that this language has synergy with a long existing sexist narrative. Seems fair enough, but there’s a problem which is that it’s not clear that it’s possible for Alfred to avoid this altogether if, after consideration of the evidence his view is that Gillard’s actions were against the national interest, involved dishonesty, and were motivated partially (or even primarily) by personal ambition. You seem quite cognisant of this though, because you go on to say “I can see that you may object to this analysis, and this is an issue that would take ages to argue through.” This exchange seems reflective of the first variety of your comments: criticism is fine but everyone should always think about their comments within the context of sexist narratives and choose their language as thoughtfully as they can. At the end of the day however, it seems you are leaving open the option that, having thought about all of this, Alfred has a sensible grievance that is to some extent unavoidably reminiscent of other nonsensical criticism of Gillard but that it’s perfectly okay for him to go ahead and express it in this way. This seems like the most reasonable position in the world.

    On the other hand, at some point we have to make an actual decision about Alfred’s criticisms and all the others that appear on this blog and progressive commentary generally. You’ve been having similar discussions in comments here for a while and I read the various responses people have made to you as essentially claiming that they’ve thought about it, made their best efforts to avoid unnecessarily echoing sexist narratives, and that their subsequent criticism are substantive rather than sexist. Given this amount of time, and the second variety of your comments where you assert that there definitively is a sexist bias across the board here, it seems fair to ask you to provide arguments as to why the comments such as Alfred’s are not reasonable (and ideally, if you think the substance of the criticism is valid, provide language which makes the same point without falling into the same trap) , or to withdraw the claim that the Gillard criticisms are sexist and unfair. I should emphasise this doesn’t have to be a blanket statement, in fact the clearest things would be some examples of comments here that you see as fair or not fair.

    I’ve not seen either other of these things, and immediately following this exchange JQ appeared and essentially made the same point. This discussion had gone on for a while and it seemed that neither a specific defence or a withdrawal of these claims was forthcoming so he was closing the thread off. You responded to this by equating it to an accusation that your were an “idiot who is only driven by personal emotional feelings”. I understand that these things depend a bit upon the context of past interactions between the two of you that I may not have read, but at face value I see no way JQ’s comments admit an interpretation remotely like this.

    So I don’t know what to make of it all. Some of the things you’ve written seem the height of reasonableness and well worth bearing in mind. Others seem very unfair. Any light you can shed would be appreciated.

  54. Paul Norton
    February 1st, 2014 at 17:41 | #54

    Val @51, the finding reported in the study you quote is intuitively reasonable, although it seems as though the authors went through a fairly complex regression analysis to come up with it. My own immediate response is that both better performance on reducing CO2 emissions and better performance on gender equality would be favoured by the relative strength of social democratic (and general democratic left) sensibilities in a polity.

    In any case, even if working to combat sexism and achieve gender equality wouldn’t make a difference to CO2 emissions, it would still be well worth doing for all sorts of other reasons.

  55. Paul Norton
    February 1st, 2014 at 17:48 | #55

    On the question I introduced about the lyrics of “Royals”, the claim of racism was first raised by a feminist blogger who is not African-American. I have done a Google search and there is not a large number of African American writerrs supporting the view that the allegedly offending lines are racist, and there are African American writers such as Aziza Jackson rejecting this view.

    I have raised this issue on my Facebook page and people whose opinions I generally respect have come on on both sides of the issue. I have formed the view that what this debate comes down to is whether Ms Flores has cried “Wolf!” when there isn’t one, or whether she’s cried “Wolf!” after seeing a puppy.

  56. alfred venison
    February 1st, 2014 at 18:49 | #56

    ” You may have had your eyes on the real enemy, but in my recollection that didn’t stop you from putting most of your energy into attacking Gillard. ”

    ” go back and have a look AV and just see for yourself how much time you spent criticising Abbott as opposed to criticising Gillard ”

    dear Val, the real enemy is transnational capital, which admits of no constraints on its business even to the point of having troublesome first world governments removed from office between elections and which will soon be enabled by solemn treaty to take first world governments to court over sovereign policy.

    first, i owe julia gillard and the australian labor party nothing. they sold out. they were from that moment as nothing to me. i am deadly serious and resolutely consistent on this.

    second, you should know by now my gripe with julia gillard is precise & specific. you seem unaware though that with regard to the conduct of julia gillard’s government & its policies i have steadfastly refrained from saying anything. if i recall correctly (iirc), i have made no comment anywhere regarding the julia gillard government’s refugee policy, on education, on foreign affairs, on palestine, on disability, on the intervention, on the price on carbon, on gambling machines, on the nbn, on balancing the budget: tacit. i have had plenty to say about tony abbott. sincerely, alfred venison.

  57. February 1st, 2014 at 19:03 | #57

    Thanks for the long and serious analysis Nathan. The short answer to your question about Alfred’s comments is that there are a number of different ways of interpreting what happened eg
    Gillard did not negotiate hard enough (a possibility that I’ve previously mentioned, and noted that there is research suggesting this can be a problem for women – again a really complex issue)
    Gillard was influenced by the right and some unions (I would think this likely)
    Gillard gave away too much because she wanted to shut the issue down for political reasons – it was doing damage
    Mining companies can pay for extremely smart accountants and lawyers as well as buying media coverage and having media mates
    Australia did not previousky have an MRRT – there were pitfalls and problems that weren’t foreseen
    I’m not an expert in all this, but I know a little bit about politics, having gone through about ten years when I was pretty heavily involved as an adviser, candidate, policy coordinator etc (first for Labor, later for Greens). I know that politics can be really difficult. Any of this kind of stuff could have happened, and there’s probably more that I haven’t thought of or wouldn’t know about. You could analyse this kind of thing for years and no doubt there are people who have done or are doing that. However what is not necessary is to say the Mining Tax was too weak because Julia Gillard was a devious person who was prepared to sell Australia out just to realise her ambition to get rid of Kevin Rudd and lead the Labor party. That’s what Alfred was saying, and it’s a hugely long bow to draw with no evidence whatsoever. People like me, who actually know and have worked with Julia Gillard, say that she is a basically decent person and very competent. That’s what most of her colleagues said, and that’s what the Independents said. Why would Alfred know better?

    The point about John Quiggin is that this is what he actually said to me:

    “OK Val, I think we’ve established that your only concern about sexism on this site relates to your view that criticism of Gillard, even on policies which you are unwilling to defend, was automatically sexist.

    It seems to me pretty clear that I am being dismissed as someone who has no rational basis to her argument. My “only” concern is that I misguidedly believe any criticism of Julia Gillard to be “automatically sexist”.

    I’m doing a PhD as my blog says, but I am not young – I’m distinctly mature as I think my photo on the blog, and a lot of my comments make clear. I’ve not only worked in politics, I’ve been in the workforce for a long time and I’ve experienced first hand a lot of the discrimination in the workplace that existed openly when I first started work and still exists covertly now. I actually made a discrimination complaint against the Labor leadership after I lost my job as an adviser, and although I can’t say that I “won”, as the case was settled before hearing, it is a fact that the Victorian Parliament introduced anti-discrimination training for MPs following my case. In addition, I hold an MA by research in Australian history. The subject of my thesis was maternity in twentieth century Australia, which included a lot of research on gender issues, including attitudes to gender in the Australian parliament. I also served as post grad rep in the Monash history department for a year while I was doing my thesis, and worked with the Equal Opportunity Unit at Monash to raise the awareness of the department about gender issues (briefly that women were under-represented at post grad level). I also served as convenor of the women’s network in the Victorian Greens during the time I was a member.

    So overall I have a considerable amount of personal experience and academic knowledge in this area. Yet John Quiggin, who has never met me and probably knows nothing about me, is happy to dismiss all my concerns about sexism as arising from the fact that I apparently just can’t bear to hear any criticism of Julia Gillard. I ask again, why would that be? Presumably because I am both stupid and driven by my emotions. I think it’s an amazingly insulting and patronising thing for him to say.

  58. Chris O’Neill
    February 1st, 2014 at 21:26 | #58

    From http://johnquiggin.com/2014/01/18/a-few-more-observations-on-nuclear-power/comment-page-6/#comment-220591 :

    I already acknowledged that having solar would change the calculations. But I think the broader point – in the context of this thread – is that when you take into account the cost of being on the grid (service charge) for low use householders the cost of renewable + battery is already similar to the cost of being on the grid.

    If you genuinely did acknowledge that having solar would change the calculations then you would acknowledge that having enough battery to go off-grid would make the cost of batteries MUCH more than the optimistic 50c/kWh. So you simply cannot say that the cost of renewable + battery is already similar to the cost of being on the grid for low use householders.

  59. February 1st, 2014 at 22:57 | #59

    Hi again Nathan. I’ve been reading through old entries on this blog, and I have to say it makes for pretty depressing reading, especially my belated realization that John Quiggin was trying to get rid of Julia Gillard as PM from early 2011. It changes my perspective but I haven’t entirely digested it yet.

    The Abbott narrative of Julia Gillard as “incompetent and dishonest” seems to have really got going in early 2011 – Abbott was using those terms in March 2011, although Bolt had already called for Gillard to resign in December 2010. It appears that the left wing version, as exemplified on this blog, wasn’t all that far behind.

    I also noted that women who cautioned that the anti-Gillard rhetoric was damaging to Labor, were accused of being unable to tolerate any criticism and/or of seeing any criticism as sexism. Men who raised the same concerns didn’t seem to get that response, although I have to go back and check that more carefully.

    I also came across my first comment on this blog. I’ll put a link to it even though that will probably mean it will be held up in moderation for a while, because the comment itself is rather long.

    An interesting thing is that I made some quite clear and specific criticisms of Gillard on this first comment. There has never been any substance to the accusation that I can’t tolerate any criticism of Gillard, so it’s very interesting – it definitely looks a tactic to discredit women in particular.

    I will write more about this on my own blog soon, I hope.

    • John Quiggin
      February 2nd, 2014 at 17:50 | #60

      Val, I gave up on Gillard after “cash for clunkers” and the Citizens Consultative Council, well before 2011.


      I judged at the time they were both bad policy and bad politics, on the most important issue facing the world, and I was proved right. They would have been just as bad if Gillard had been male.

      But we have all had our say on this, and I don’t propose to discuss the issue any further. By all means raise it on your own blog, but not here.

  60. Megan
    February 2nd, 2014 at 00:30 | #61


    I criticised Gillard for a lot of things – particularly her decision as PM to send refugees to Nauru and Manus again.

    Taking her refugee policy in isolation – would that criticism be sexist (especially if it came from a male)?

  61. alfred venison
    February 2nd, 2014 at 01:28 | #62

    i intended to get this reply in much earlier, but, now i think i’ve found the auto-moderation trigger-word, i offer it belatedly for the record, here goes:-

    ” You may have had your eyes on the real enemy, but in my recollection that didn’t stop you from putting most of your energy into attacking Gillard. ”

    ” go back and have a look AV and just see for yourself how much time you spent criticising Abbott as opposed to criticising Gillard ”

    dear Val, the real enemy is transnational capital, which admits of no constraints on its business even to the point of having troublesome first world governments removed from office between elections and which will soon be enabled by solemn treaty to take first world governments to court over sovereign policy.

    first, i owe julia gillard and the australian labor party nothing. they sold out. they were from that moment as nothing to me. i am deadly serious and resolutely consistent on this.

    second, you should know by now my gripe with julia gillard is precise & specific. you seem less aware though that with regard to the conduct of julia gillard’s government & its policies i have steadfastly refrained from saying anything. if i recall correctly (iirc), i have made no comment anywhere regarding the julia gillard government’s refugee policy, on education, on foreign affairs, on a certain vote in the u.n., on disability, on the intervention, on the price on carbon, on gambling machines, on the nbn, on balancing the budget: tacit. i’m not soft on tony abbott. sincerely, alfred venison.

  62. BilB
    February 2nd, 2014 at 03:27 | #63

    Chris ONeill,

    You are wrong about the cost of batteries, and the cost of being off t2300 @ 25e grid.

    I demonstrated earlier that the current cost of conventional batteries is $200 /who (100 amp hour battery = 1.2 kw hrs which if operated with 80% charge range will give extended service so = 1.0 kwhr).

    So a 6kwhr storage set with gas for cooking,solar water heating and 4kw of rooftop pv makes an energy set that looks nothing like 50 c/kwhr. The batteries would be replaced one per year at $200. The solar components of this set are supplying 9000 kwhrs per year for an offset saving of $2300, or $23,000 over 10 years. Factor in the cost of batteries and cooking gas and a mortise the cost of the whole system, and you will see that you are well in credit.

  63. BilB
    February 2nd, 2014 at 03:36 | #64

    Line one ignore “t2300 @ 25e”, this is the auto text feature going mad. I’ve now killed it so it won’t be a problem. Without it there is more area on the screen for the preview window.

  64. February 2nd, 2014 at 06:59 | #65

    Megan did you read my original post? I criticised Gillard’s asylum policy myself.

    It seems like you have just completely ignored everything I said and then just gone on with the same old ‘you think any criticism of Gillard is sexist’ nonsense. Strange.

  65. Ikonoclast
    February 2nd, 2014 at 07:40 | #66

    @Paul Norton

    This might come down to the question: “Is any criticism, real or implied, of an individual or sub-group of an oppressed oppressed minority ipso facto racism?” If this is answered in the affirmative, this then means that certain indivuduals or sub-groups groups become immune to criticism, not in the mainstream, which is presumably still oppressive, but in the progressive reformist movement itself. In this case, the progressive reformist movement has created a double-standards moral dilemma for itself.

  66. alfred venison
    February 2nd, 2014 at 08:24 | #67

    i give up.

  67. Paul Norton
    February 2nd, 2014 at 09:11 | #68

    Ikonoclast, the extreme form of that phenomenon is where sections of the left become cheerleaders for groups and movements that, by the criteria of general progressive and democratic principles, are utterly reactionary and destructive, simply because they have a significant following among some oppressed other. Support for Hamas and Hezbollah at the present time among some sections of the left is the paradigm example. (This is not to deny that in times passed some sections of the left erred for similar reasons in the other direction in relation to events in that part of the world.)

  68. February 2nd, 2014 at 10:26 | #69

    Megan and Nathan
    I’ve thought about this further and I think I understand where you’re coming from – I think your question is how can you distinguish between genuine criticism of a woman and sexism, right?

    I’ll try to answer briefly and put more info on my blog soon. Firstly, sexism in contemporary society often expresses itself as bias rather than outright criticism of women per se. There been a fair bit of research on this, eg showing that if you put a female name on an assignment or CV, it will tend to get less favourable responses than if you put a male name on the same CV or assignment.

    So given that it’s bias rather than outright criticism, the question about what is fair criticism becomes a judgement call, but the things I would advise you to look for are:

    Going beyond the evidence – eg Gillard didn’t just fail to get a good deal on the mining tax, she did so because she was prepared to sell Australia out in order out to realise her ambition to overthrow Rudd (even though there is clear evidence that caucus preferred her to Rudd)

    Conspiracy theories – eg Gillard made Rudd back down on the CPRS because she wanted to make him look bad and overthrow him.

    Rejecting counter evidence – eg when former staffers like myself, or caucus colleagues or Independents say that Gillard is a decent person who is very competent and good to work with, that evidence is dismissed as bias.

    Maximising and personalising failures and minimising or generalising achievements – eg, ‘Gillard’ was opposed to a carbon price but ‘the government’ actually passed reasonably carbon price good legislation (Fran Barlow on several occasions produced evidence that Gillard was not opposed to a carbon price, but it was ignored)

    Applying differential standards – eg Gillard was reprehensible when she shifted to the right on asylum seekers, but when Rudd did the same even more harshly, it was merely “puzzling”.

    I’ll put reference details and examples on my blog later.

  69. February 2nd, 2014 at 10:37 | #70

    I think my explanation at #16 is also relevant to your question. Again there is research showing that if you put a “non-Anglo” name on a CV it’s less likely to get a response. Not sure if I can find that again but I will try.

    (doesn’t apply to Italian names in restaurant/cafe sector though)

  70. Ikonoclast
    February 2nd, 2014 at 12:10 | #71

    @Paul Norton

    Yes, it is not really possible to find a “right” side or a virtuous side in quite a few disputes. More modern examples will prove too contentious so let us look at the conflict between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. The ruling regimes were both totalitarian and engaged in ethnic cleansing, holocausts, pogroms and so on. Who was right? Which side was it morally correct to support? Almost certainly neither.

    Realpolitiks meant Russia and the West became allies. This occurred essentially because Germany was between them and attempted to exapand both ways. As soon as Germany was defeated, Russia became the enemy again. The whole process repeated the centuries olfd ongoing struggle for Imperial or hegemonic control of Europe (and north Asia). France, Russia, the Habsburg Empire, the Ottoman Empire and then Prussia and finally a united Germany had been carrying on this struggle for several centuries. This struggle continues on till the present day (for those left standing in new alliances like the EU) through proxies and semi-vassal territories. Syria and Ukraine are a cases in point (in somewhat different ways).

    Russia (diminished from Soviet days, semi-tottering, but still a giant) maintains peripheral allies like Syria and Iran as bulkwarks against the West. The Ukraine too is meant, by Russsia, to stay in the zone of Russian economic and military influence. Hence the struggle there.

    The Berlin Wall might have fallen but the struggle for empire and hegemony is not over. The line has moved east and now bisects Ukraine. This pushing back and forward of the line of approximate control in wartime and peacetime merely continues the paradigm of the last several centuries of major power struggle. Nothing has changed.

    However two new strategic elements did enter after WW2. These are nuclear weapons and the combined threat of climate change and limits to growth. But I am rambling too far off topic now.

  71. paul walter
    February 2nd, 2014 at 13:06 | #72

    I see the age-old question of who do you support between the Wahab insurrectionaries and the fearful Assad dynasty surfaces again. Personally, I wonder who created the pit in which the dogs are fighting.

  72. alfred venison
    February 2nd, 2014 at 13:28 | #73

    my comments don’t get through so i give up.

  73. Ikonoclast
    February 2nd, 2014 at 13:34 | #74

    @paul walter

    Clearly the fault line between Western (EU&US) power and Russian power runs through the middle of Syria just as it runs through the middle of the Ukraine. That probably answers the question of who created the pit they are fighting in.

    The Russian Bear is a very difficult beast to understand geostrategically speaking. It is weak demographically and economically. Yet it is still very powerful in its nuclear arsenal and conventional military. The USA’s still more powerful conventional military is rendered meaningless vs. Russia. Any attempt to use it only results in Mutually Assured Destruction. Russia is also very powerful in land and resource possessions, especially in water and energy. More powerful than any other nation in this respect.

    The EU, USA and China appear to have more to lose from Limits to Growth than Russia. That is to say they have hit their national limits while Russia has not. The EU, USA and China are not energy self-sufficient. This will rapidly become a major problem for them as energy exports dwindle around the globe. Nations with energy reserves will apply them to their own use first unless conquered and stripped like Iraq.

  74. Ikonoclast
    February 2nd, 2014 at 13:41 | #75

    @alfred venison

    More than one link is deadly. Even the “at” reference to a previous post is counted as one link.

    Too many words that get abuse weightings or hate speech weightings or “pawn” weightings will likely sink the post too. This makes it difficult when referring to one of these topics and making reasonable use of the words to discuss the concepts.

    You have to get clever and use like sounding words in inverted commas, asterisks and so on.

    But I agree, sometimes you can use even all these tricks to no avail.

  75. February 2nd, 2014 at 14:37 | #76

    Hi Megan I thought again about your comment and I think I understand what you’re getting at now ( and Nathan also) so I’ve tried answer it at #15 (or#16?) above in case you missed it.

  76. Hermit
    February 2nd, 2014 at 15:22 | #77

    Compare Australia and Russia. The cards are falling their way not ours. On paper both countries are resource rich. Their population is declining ours is growing at twice the world average. Climate change could make our major cities unliveable without expensive energy. Their tundra is turning into farmland, ours to desert and the pesky Arctic ice cover is melting away to provide oil drilling sites, hence the Greenpeace hooliganism. No p***ters allowed but if they use Tchaikovsky tunes in the ice skating it’s just being pragmatic.

    Here we have men in blue ties who know what’s best for us. There they have dictators and oligarchs. I think I’d prefer the latter.

  77. Megan
    February 2nd, 2014 at 15:49 | #78


    I think your question is how can you distinguish between genuine criticism of a woman and sexism, right?

    Yes, that’s more or less correct as far as what I was getting at.

    By picking one topic I was trying to unravel pretty much that distinction but, to use another example I raised a while ago, I still believe that Gillard was “devious” in the case of Wilkie’s pokies proposal.

    In that example I am quite entitled (I believe) to observe conduct and label it as devious – and by obvious extension the person doing it as devious. But I haven’t ignored your comments and I think I have a better idea of where you’re coming from.

  78. Ikonoclast
    February 2nd, 2014 at 16:08 | #79


    The cards are indeed falling Russia’s way more than the way of the EU, USA, China or Australia. However, these are long term cards not short term or mid-term cards. Climate change and limits to growth help nobody but do harm some faster than others. It’s not all peachy for Russia either. Melting tundra can make vast landscapes impassable and unuseable.

    For example, climate change and limits to growth will harm China’s position much faster and earlier than Russia’s position. China is over-populated, above its sustainable footprint, short of domestic conventional energy and vulnerable to desertification and sea level rise. The EU needs renewable energy to work or it collapses wholesale. The US is way over its sustainable footprint, vulnerable to climate change (look at its recent droughts), not self-sufficient in conventional energy and has some key cities and states vulnerable to climate change, sea level rise, hurricanes, twisters, super storms and the polar vortex or polar cyclones.

  79. alfred venison
    February 2nd, 2014 at 19:27 | #80

    thanks for your kind remarks, Ikonoclast, but i’ve had my why do i bother moment . there were no links. it was firm and not rude. in reply to something said about me. a day ago. in relation to a topic now closed. i did it three times in all. i am suddenly over seeing my writing up in lights. i have a choice of ways to spend my free time that do not involve perpetually double guessing an automated censor the decisions of which appear to be not reviewed. au revoir. -a.v.

  80. February 2nd, 2014 at 22:11 | #81

    Thanks Megan I think I understand your point of view also, but I’ve been asked not to discuss the issue any more here so I won’t.

  81. February 2nd, 2014 at 22:12 | #82

    @alfred venison
    Alfred I’ve enjoyed our conversations no matter our differences. All the best.

  82. Nathan
    February 2nd, 2014 at 22:57 | #83

    Thanks for your replies, the second and third one particularly were exactly the kind of clarification I was looking for. I…would like to say more but I guess this is not the forum so I’ll save my comments for the event that you blog about these issues in the future. Suffice to say I think better grasp your point of view, and I agree with some, though definitely not all of it. In short I think your generalised criteria for spotting illegitimate criticisms is spot on, and the things to bear in mind about JG in particular are fair enough as well. My only difference is that in my opinion, while some commenters here fall afoul of these, quite a lot don’t. In particular, I tend to be bit more negative about Kevin than our host, but I thought his criticisms of Gillard were generally focused upon the evidence.

    All the best.

  83. rog
    February 3rd, 2014 at 03:38 | #84


    You can see the sexism creeping with the use of the word sisterhood

    It was recently used in support of calls for a Royal Commission into unions eg Paul Sheehan in the SMH – Abbott will use sexism as a tool to separate the “goodies” from the “baddies”.

  84. rog
    February 3rd, 2014 at 03:55 | #85

    I think that there has been a backlash against women in high (political) places and Abbott has been part of that. There has also been a backlash against policies that restrict or hinder activities that may have social or environmental consequences eg coal mining and dredging in sensitive marine environments. This backlash is seen in Newmans “get outta my way” attitude to resource extraction and human rights ie freedom of association.

    Certainly sexism is alive and well in boardrooms despite a credible body of evidence that gender diversity is good for profits. Our current govt has more parallels with a corporate body than those in the recent past.

  85. paul walter
    February 3rd, 2014 at 05:54 | #86

    Deleted for coarse language and more Rudd-Gillard stuff. Nothing more from anyone on this topic, please – JQ

  86. Donald Oats
    February 3rd, 2014 at 08:08 | #87

    Now that Abbott has made it clear for (mainland) Australian businesses that they should not expect a handout from the government if they can’t run their businesses in the normal operating environment they find themselves in, what will happen with farming businesses crying out for money because they failed to take into account the natural variability of the Australian climate?

    Abbott is in for an interesting discussion with his colleagues in cabinet…

  87. paul walter
    February 3rd, 2014 at 10:29 | #88

    I didnt use coarse language and what I asked was fair.

  88. John Quiggin
    February 3rd, 2014 at 10:38 | #89

    @paul walter

    My decision is final, both on which words are coarse (essentially, anything non-PG) and on which topics are open for discussion.

  89. paul walter
    February 3rd, 2014 at 12:10 | #90

    A bit like Punxutawney Phil..

  90. Val
    February 3rd, 2014 at 12:20 | #91

    Without commenting further on forbidden topics, I do want to reiterate that I thought your earlier comment to me (quoted in my response to Nathan above) was sexist, since it was not supported by evidence, and it also referenced sexist stereotypes in the clear implication that I was not capable of being “objective” on the topic in question.

    Put downs like this deter women from taking part in public discussions, including important discussions on sustainability, even when, like myself as someone doing a PhD on this topic, we are well-placed to contribute.

  91. paul walter
    February 3rd, 2014 at 12:32 | #92

    On second thoughts, my apologies.

  92. Val
    February 3rd, 2014 at 12:41 | #93

    @paul walter
    I take it you are apologising to John Quiggin, not me – I think our sequence of comments has got a bit confused here. My comment was directed to Professor Quiggin.

  93. Chris O’Neill
    February 3rd, 2014 at 21:37 | #94


    No BilB, you are wrong about the cost of off-grid solar-batteries for at least three reasons.

    First, you greatly overestimate the longevity of “conventional”, presumably you mean lead-acid, batteries. Your apparent assumed lifetime of 6 years equates to 2191 cycles, which is extremely optimistic for 80% depth of discharge (DOD). You would be lucky to get 800 cycles with that DOD.

    Second, you have ignored the effect of solar output varying greatly between summer and winter. If you get enough solar cells to make it through winter, then you will have a large excess of generation for most of the year which will be wasted and wreck the economics of the solar cells because you are off-grid and can’t even get feed-in for the excess energy.

    Third, like nearly everyone else, you ignore the lost opportunity cost of the capital that needs to be stumped up for the batteries to begin with.

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  95. paul walter
    February 4th, 2014 at 06:32 | #96

    @Paul Norton Paul Norton..I doubt whether the left are”cheerleaders” for Hamas and Hezbollah.

    Rather, it is recognised , the extreme and adverse conditions under which such groups emerged, a sense that the anger has been relentlessly provoked by oppression over decades.

    Had the West included the”other” in its post ww2 politics instead of reducing neglected mid eastern people to an insufferable and humiliating level of abjection, for no better reason than corporate greed, it is likely that much of the mid east would be a society more peaceful, rational, amenable to the west and on the advance.

  96. Fran Barlow
    February 4th, 2014 at 06:48 | #97

    @paul walter

    Paul was careful both to qualify his remarks by speaking of “sections of the left” and with that qualification, he is correct. He also noted a tendency to bend the stick the other way, in effect, siding with one’s own privileged classes (which failing, IMO, is the greater in practice, at least in the West).

    Submerging one’s own politics based on the empowerment of working people within the politics of some political formation openly opposed to that end, or to the intensification/affirmation of social exclusion is a dreadful error for those identifying with the liberation of working humanity from scarcity and the struggle for circumstances in which every human being can realise their full human possibility.

  97. paul walter
    February 4th, 2014 at 08:53 | #98

    Fran, its a recognition of the political forces that create extremist groups, not an endorsement of them on my part. I believe it slips under the radar of most people, the mix and complexity accidental and covert running to overt factors, that develop some of the players in the mid east and elsewhere.

    I actually feel sorry for many involved with such groups, half the time the groups seem astroturfed or infiltrated by enemies who realise that clumsy violence alienates the cause from potential supporters and actually have the footsoldiers embark on violence to actually discredit what is initially a fair cause.

    As for Paul Norton, I like and respect this knowledgeable bloke and agree with him on 95% of what he says, but am not unhappy with my take on that isolated post, rather am surprised at it.

    On the wider issue much of this conversation pertains to, Syria, I think progressives are oddly split, mainly because to take a position entails endorsing participants lacking what we would feel to be fair credentials: Wahab interventionists, Assad and co themselves, Shia groups; also dubious outside influences like Israel, Russia, the US, the Saudis, etc.

  98. Alan
    February 4th, 2014 at 14:16 | #99


    The weakness in your argument is that it forgets what happened at the Winter Palace. A day always comes when the troops refuse to fire on the crowd.

    It does not matter how cleverly you organise the security agencies or how many special armies you include within the armed forces. Iraq had not only a Republican Guard to watch the army, but a Special Republican Guard to watch the Republican Guard. The security arrangements to control the armed forces in the USSR were elaborate and comprehensive. But one day the troops refused to fire.

    Analysis that ignores the Winter Palace is going to find that China, and to a lesser extent, Russia are going gangbusters. Protesters in the streets of Kiev may disagree.

    The US discovered in Vietnam, to its infinite shame and equal cost, that you cannot impose a regime on a foreign country. They promptly forgot that in Iraq. It is to be hoped they won’t forget again for another generation.

    The Russians learnt that in Afghanistan and have apparently forgotten it again in Kiev, Damascus, and a number of capitals in the Near Abroad.

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