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Weekend reflections

May 17th, 2014

It’s time for another weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Side discussions to sandpits, please.

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  1. Megan
    May 17th, 2014 at 18:34 | #1

    I saw a quote this week along the lines: “If they’re going to call me a conspiacy theorist, then I will have to call them coincidence theorists.”

    In the span of a few weeks, an energy firm little-known inside the United States added two members to its board of directors — scoring connections to Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden in the bargain.

    On April 22, Cyprus-based Burisma announced that financier Devon Archer had joined its board. Archer, who shared a room in college with Kerry’s stepson, Christopher Heinz, served as national finance co-chair for the former senator’s 2004 presidential campaign.

    Then, on Monday, the firm announced that Biden’s younger son, R. Hunter Biden, would join the board of directors.

    Why would the company, which bills itself as Ukraine’s largest private gas producer, need such powerful friends in Washington?

    The answer might be the company’s holdings in Ukraine. They include, according to the firm’s website, permits to explore in the Dnieper-Donets Basin in the country’s eastern regions, home to an armed pro-Russian separatist movement. They also include permits to explore in the Azov-Kuban Basin of the strategic Crimean peninsula, annexed earlier this year by Moscow.

    If/when Bush did this type of thing ‘Left’ types got quite upset but when it’s Democract crooks apparently it doesn’t matter.

    I see the ALP is organising another cynical bogus pro-ALP rally tomorrow. It goes by #MarchinMay or #BusttheBudget and I’ll not be going for the same reasons I stayed away from the last one. If anyone goes, good luck but I can’t give the ALP even tacit approval (which these rallies, by default, are supposed to do).

  2. Megan
    May 17th, 2014 at 20:41 | #2

    While I still think the AFR is not an entirely useless propaganda sheet, its editorials have been getting steadily worse.

    Today’s editorial lectures us that the budget is a “defining test for the nation” and that we poor simpletons must “recognise that governments can not always give but sometimes, such as now, need to take”.

    Here are two quotes from the editorial:

    Tony Abbott and his government are now facing their defining political test as they set out to fix the country’s budgetary shambles…

    sounds like we’re in pretty bad shape,

    Contrast this with the hysteria of…Shorten in his budget reply, out to convince voters in one of the wealthiest economies in the world that they are victims of a mean, spiteful, wicked government run for the robber barons.

    so we’re actually rich? How did that come to be?

    neither Labor nor their Green cohorts can offer any credible correction to their financial mismanagement

    in that case, I don’t understand – are we rich or stuffed? any explanation editor?

    The Coalition is the elected government, and it is the only one with a plan to remove the drag of government debt, and free up the private sector to invest in growth. The government has a strong case that is not hard to understand.

    Seriously. That is today’s AFR editorial.

  3. May 18th, 2014 at 00:43 | #3

    What did you do this weekend?

    Maybe you were a cleaner mucking out toilets at a privatised airport or fast food joint.

    Maybe you were marching on the streets to get the ALP re-elected because they care about such workers.

    Maybe you were doing some pro-LNP work to help sell the budget.

    Maybe you were digging up the dirt on the real news and doing journalism.

    Only joking!! Of course only a loser would have done any of that stuff.

    The real winners were ALP/LNP stooges, Union sell-outs (protect), neo-liberal operatives, PR flacks and opinionaters from the world’s leading hacker of murdered children’s phones.

    Australia’s business and political elite have gathered near Byron Bay for the wedding of outgoing Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes and Qantas corporate executive Olivia Wirth.

    The A-list of wedding guests included Wirth’s Qantas boss, Alan Joyce, as well a host of names from Labor including former prime minister Julia Gillard, former treasurer Wayne Swan and current Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

    Celebrity chef Neil Perry posted a picture of the happy couple on Instagram, while other guests included actor Les Hill, well-known Labor spinner John McTernan, senior Liberal Party figure Michael Kroger and News Corp columnist Janet Albrechtsen.

    The wedding venue was reportedly Deux Belettes, 35 minutes’ drive south of Byron Bay. It is described as a “16th century-style French chateau” and states on its website: “Some of our guests have included a special function, anniversary, engagement or elopement wedding.”

    This is “end of empire” stuff.

  4. Graham White
    May 18th, 2014 at 04:28 | #4

    I fear ultimately shorten and abbott will have to play by 2 different sets of rules since there is just SO much right wing media in Australia that have years to change the publics mind. Roles reversed Abbott could just oppose with no alternative vision. I think however, shorten needs to eventually have an alternative budget after informing the public as much as he can about the betrayels in abbott

  5. Fran Barlow
    May 18th, 2014 at 08:14 | #5

    Again, I’m suggesting that anyone who opposes the reactionary policies of the current regime attend March in May today at your nearest location. I will be at Belmore Park near Central in Sydney.

  6. May 18th, 2014 at 08:51 | #6

    @Fran Barlow

    All the best (I think we both understand each other’s reasoning from last time, so no need to re-hash here).

    Look forward to your impressions and observations afterward.

    My guess is that inhumane treatment of refugees (an ALP policy) will not be featured very prominently in the “official” sections of the rallies.

  7. J-D
    May 18th, 2014 at 10:09 | #7

    @Megan

    I saw a quote this week along the lines: “If they’re going to call me a conspiacy theorist, then I will have to call them coincidence theorists.”

    And you thought this was worth mentioning why? It adds another piece of evidence for the prevalence of smart-aleck ignoramuses, but that’s not something in short supply.

  8. Fran Barlow
    May 18th, 2014 at 11:28 | #8

    @J-D

    While Megan’s response (“coincidence theory”) may be snarky, she raises a serious point. To assert that two events occurring near to each other in time and that seem capable of being situated within a single hypothesis are completely unrelated causally is as much an assertion about causality as is the assertion that one of the events has caused the other or that both are caused by some overarching cause.

    To call one group of assertions ‘conspiracy theory’ while regarding assertions of the randomness of phenomena as the default position is a specious excursion into epistemology, IMO.

    While explaining observable phenomena by resort to conspiracies of one kind or another is likely to predispose people to look in the wrong places for insight, as ICAC has shown most recently, conspiracies are a feature of governance. Collaboration, for good or ill substantially explains the state of contemporary societies. Conspiracy cannot, IMO, overwrite the more profound drivers of policy — class interest key amongst them — but neither should we rush to assert that every suggestion of skullduggery ought to be dismissed out of hand for fear of being labelled a conspiracy theorist.

  9. Fran Barlow
    May 18th, 2014 at 11:30 | #9

    Oops …

    labelled a conspiracy theory.

  10. alfred venison
    May 18th, 2014 at 12:07 | #10

    @Megan
    back in march at the g7 stephen harper said: “within the context of canadian foreign policy, we will do what we can to maximize the commercial opportunities for our firms, but we will not shape our foreign policy to commercial interests. and when it comes to, you know, a global crisis – a security crisis like the ukraine, russia situation – you know, business people have to be aware that there may be risks to them.”

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/russian-business-elite-excluded-from-canada-s-sanctions-list-1.2645375

    but yesterday, the cbc reported that certain individuals of the russian business elite, banned from the united states, have been excluded from canada’s sanctions list.

    1/ sergey chemezov – his company rostec will still assemble 100 short-haul aircraft in russia in joint venture with canadian firm bombardier which will build the assembly line.

    2/ igor sechin – his company rosneft will still keep its 30 per cent stake in an exxon mobil tarsands field in alberta

    3/ vladimir yakunin – his russian railways has a commercial agreement from 2009 with the railway association of canada that will not be affected.

    the canadian gov’t did not respond to cbc questions, however, a spoke-suit is quoted by reuters as saying: “our goal is to sanction russia, it is not to go out of our way to sanction or penalize canadian companies. we will continue to apply pressure to russia, we will continue to impose sanctions along with our allies, but we will also look out for canada’s broader interests”.

    so, sanction those russians for their violation of ukraine’s national sovereignty, but not if you have commercial contracts with them: sanctions are sanctions, but business is business & a contract between plutocrats & oligarches is always a contract. -a.v.

  11. J-D
    May 18th, 2014 at 12:20 | #11

    @Fran Barlow
    I am well aware that both coincidences and conspiracies are real phenomena. But the line Megan quoted was not ‘Coincidences and conspiracies are both real phenomena’.

    Megan presented the statement ‘If they’re going to call me a conspiracy theorist, then I will have to call them coincidence theorists’ stripped of any context to explain who produced it, who the ‘they’ being referred to were, or what (if any) was the specific subject matter of the theorising referred to. That leaves an emotional rhetorical content of ‘Well, if they’re going to sneer at me, then I can sneer right back at them too, so I’m just as good as they are, but actually better, because they’re the ones who started it, so nyah-nyah-nyah’.

    People who argue against conspiracy theorists don’t do so on the basis of an assumption that conspiracies don’t exist; they don’t assume that everything is to be explained by coincidence; they don’t even assume that coincidence should be treated as the default explanatory assumption. To misrepresent them in such a way would be typical of a smart-aleck ignoramus.

    A presentation of good evidence for a specific conspiracy at work in a specific case is more impressive without the puerile rhetoric.

  12. Fran Barlow
    May 18th, 2014 at 13:10 | #12

    @J-D

    I don’t disagree with much of that, but it is often asserted that the default explanation for bad stuff happening is ‘cock up rather than conspiracy’. That in practice is probably a safer default than the reverse most of the time, but neither of them is safe enough to use, IMO.

    Often, those alleging dirty work in politics are, unfairly, dismissed as conspiracy theorists, so a kind of reflexive snark is hardly surprising, and if it provokes the kind of corrective exchange we’ve just had, then perhaps it is warranted.

  13. David C
    May 18th, 2014 at 15:42 | #13

    People who argue against conspiracy theorists don’t do so on the basis of an assumption that conspiracies don’t exist

    No but the term is intentionally used to denigrate anyone who might have points of contention (whether they are valid or not). It’s playing the man not the ball and should always be disregarded as a good argument.

  14. J-D
    May 18th, 2014 at 17:06 | #14

    @David C
    If you suspect somebody of playing the man and not the ball, then the best response is not to retaliate in kind but instead to maintain focus on the ball.

  15. J-D
    May 18th, 2014 at 17:19 | #15

    @Fran Barlow
    Megan did not make her comment in the context of having been accused of being a ‘conspiracy theorist’, nor in the context of anybody here having accused anybody of being one. She posted it by way of introduction to something substantive. I don’t know whether it’s what she intended, but the impression she created was that she expected that when she posted it people would accuse her of being a ‘conspiracy theorist’, and was in effect advancing the argument that if people accuse her of being a ‘conspiracy theorist’ it just proves that she’s right, an argument which deserves to be rubbished.

    If that wasn’t Megan’s intention in introducing her comment the way that she did, she’s at liberty to give an alternative explanation. That’s what I asked her in the first place: why she thought the quote she reproduced was worth mentioning.

  16. May 18th, 2014 at 17:23 | #16

    @Fran Barlow

    It wasn’t intended to be “snark” (if I’m understanding that term correctly), more of an interesting aphorism I came across. Obviously I deliberately juxtaposed the aphorism with the information about the US appointments to the Ukraine gas company. And the point you and David C make about the use of the term “conspiracy theorist” are quite correct.

    I have found the term used derogatorily against anyone even pondering curious convergences of facts and events, let alone going so high as to “assert” anything as being incontrovertibly true.

    Evidence is a funny thing. In court for example the standard of proof will usually be “beyond reasonable doubt” in a criminal case but “on the balance of probabilities” in a civil case. And even evidence that secured a conviction in a criminal case on that high standard can later be discovered to have been flawed or innocence later proven via other evidence.

    Evidence can also be circumstantial, similar fact and even hearsay but that doesn’t mean it isn’t evidence and that doesn’t mean it necessarily has no weight or value.

    To demand “evidence” (of a standard required and set by the person making such a demand) before accepting some state of affairs to be possible is only useful if that person’s aim is to deny or delay consideration of that possibility.

    Here is a recent example of “evidence”:

    On March 12, 2013, during a United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing, Senator Ron Wyden quoted the keynote speech at the 2012 DEF CON by the director of the NSA, Keith B. Alexander. Alexander had stated that “Our job is foreign intelligence” and that “Those who would want to weave the story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people, is absolutely false…From my perspective, this is absolute nonsense.” Senator Wyden then asked Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” He responded, “No, sir.”

    Thanks to Snowden we know that to be a lie (given under oath by the US director of national intelligence) or, as James Clapper himself later put it, “I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner by saying no.”

    The point here is that prior to that, many people suspected/suggested that the US was spying on and collecting vast amounts of information about hundreds of millions of people – such people were denigrated as being “conspiracy theorists”. The fact that the US probably had the means, the motive, the form for doing exactly that was disregarded and, presumably, “hard evidence” was demanded.

    There is even a “conspiracy theory” that the term “conspiracy theory” was invented by PR at the CIA and put into circulation in the 1960s for precisely the purpose we’ve been discussing here.

  17. J-D
    May 18th, 2014 at 17:50 | #17

    @Megan
    You say the remark was ‘interesting’; maybe, but only as a pathological manifestation.

    Yes, the term ‘conspiracy theorist’ is typically used derogatorily. Being the target of derogation doesn’t make somebody any less likely to be right; but it doesn’t make somebody any more likely to be right, either.

    The course of wisdom is to proportion belief to evidence. This does not provide a guarantee against error; nothing does that. But it’s better than forming beliefs without regard to evidence, which can only increase the rate of error.

    Proportioning belief to evidence includes accepting a lower standard of evidence as a basis for concluding that something is possible and requiring a higher standard of evidence before concluding that something is true. It does not entail automatically accepting the word of an intelligence official about what kind of information a security agency is (or is not) collecting. Personally I would attach little evidentiary weight to such an assurance.

    If the question is whether a government agency is secretly collecting information about people, then the general past record of government misdeeds is strong evidence that such a thing is possible, but not by itself sufficient evidence that it’s actually happening in any given particular case. Given the general past record of government dishonesty and secretiveness, government denials have little or no value as evidence that it’s not happening. If that’s the only evidence, the question remains open. To say that we now know what’s happening thanks to Edward Snowden is to accept that conclusions should be based on evidence, treating Snowden’s disclosures as the relevant evidence in this case. If you think you can tell what’s happening without evidence, what difference would it make what Snowden disclosed?

    The term ‘conspiracy theory’ is recorded in an issue of the Journal Of Mental Science for 1870, well before the CIA existed.

  18. alfred venison
    May 18th, 2014 at 19:50 | #18

    jung wrote “synchronicity” in 1952. arthur koestler wrote “the roots of coincidence” in 1972. in 1972 my old friend rocky was commuting on a bus in edmonton, sitting on a window seat, intently reading thoreau’s “walden”. the bus passed an intersection & another stream of traffic joined the road the bus is on, in the other lane. when the traffic stopped at the lights, rocky looked up from his book & saw next to his window the side of a van, colourfully emblazoned with the business name “concord removalists”. certainly less than a conspiracy, but more than a coincidence? -a.v.

  19. May 18th, 2014 at 21:01 | #19

    @J-D

    And of course between “possible” and “true” lives “probable”.

  20. May 18th, 2014 at 21:29 | #20

    @alfred venison

    I can’t pretend to have got that by myself. I had to look it up.

    Very droll.

  21. alfred venison
    May 18th, 2014 at 22:16 | #21

    yeah, i like that one, it illustrates clearly what synchronicity is all about. sure he may have glimpsed, with his peripheral vision, the truck & logo on the other road, before it pulled up beside his bus. but its not important whether he unconsciously saw the van peripherally, rather that the van, with its logo and its trajectory that morning, and him with his trajectory that morning and with that book & not another, coincided.

    here’s another, less obscure perhaps.

    i’m having a day off work a couple of months ago. we eat the last of the porridge for breakfast and i get a flake stuck in an obscure crevice, unmovable by brush, floss or toothpick, so i forget it. i’m enjoined to get more porridge, which i do during the day. i come home and log on & as i read an email from my partner, asking if i got the porridge, the elusive flake suddenly appears between tooth & gum. uncanny.

    it happens a lot if you know what you’re “looking” for. jung called it a “non causal connecting principle”. of course the flake was going to come out sometime, but not necessarily while i’m reading an email on the subject of porridge. -a.v.

  22. Megan
    May 18th, 2014 at 23:37 | #22

    @alfred venison

    Who said this:

    Shrimp. Or plate. Or plate of shrimp.

  23. rog
    May 19th, 2014 at 06:11 | #23

    Stephen Koukoulas is to meet with Joe Hockey on tonight’s Q and A; he has 10 questions that need answering.

  24. alfred venison
    May 19th, 2014 at 07:30 | #24

    iha ha! forget who, but its “repo man”, eh? -a.v.

  25. Megan
    May 19th, 2014 at 09:47 | #25

    Yes, it was Miller – the mechanic.

  26. J-D
    May 19th, 2014 at 18:15 | #26

    To particularise: people who reject the conclusion that JF Kennedy was assassinated by a conspiracy don’t take the view that he was assassinated by a coincidence, nor do they take the view that he was assassinated by a cock-up; people who reject the conclusion that the Reichstag building was burned by a conspiracy don’t take the view that it was burned by a coincidence, nor do they take the view that it was burned by a cock-up. In both cases the alternative explanation to a conspiracy is the deliberate action of a single individual.

    In the case of the destruction of the World Trade Centre towers, I don’t know of anybody who doubts that it was perpetrated by a conspiracy; I don’t see how anybody could doubt that, or attribute it to a coincidence or a cock-up (or to the deliberate action of a single individual). What people disagree about is who was involved in the conspiracy (and with what motives, and what methods they used).

    It is for reasons like these that I don’t make general use of the description ‘conspiracy theorist’, although I can imagine that it could have limited usefulness in some special contexts.

    However, given the common pejorative use of the expression, when I see people preface whatever they have to say with some variant of ‘I know this will make me sound like a conspiracy theorist but …’ or ‘Don’t call me a conspiracy theorist but …’ or ‘I’m not a conspiracy theorist but …’, I suspect that it’s because they’re expecting to be accused of being a conspiracy theorist in the pejorative sense, meaning that they’re expecting to be accused of spouting baseless rubbish, and I further suspect that it’s because they have frequently had the experience of being accused of spouting baseless rubbish, and I also suspect that the commonest reason why people frequently have the experience of being accuses of spouting baseless rubbish is because they’re frequently guilty of spouting baseless rubbish. Qui s’excuse s’accuse.

  27. Ernestine Gross
    May 19th, 2014 at 23:26 | #27

    @rog

    My Baysian expectation, given tonight’s observations, is that Joe Hockey will not hear the questions. That is, the words given by the current Treasurer in reply to a question from the audience may be an answer to a question but not to the question that has been asked.

  28. Sancho
    May 21st, 2014 at 00:27 | #28

    Conspiracy theories exist because conspiracies do, but not all theories are equal. The suggestion that American aristocrats are placing their children with foreign corporations to provide leverage is such elementary powerbroking that it barely deserves to be called a conspiracy.

    That’s somewhat different from suggesting the world trade centre was laced with explosives or shot with a hologram or whatever.

    I just think it’s funny that, if not for an unusual and probably unique set of circumstances, today people would be laughing about the nutty conspiracy theorists who actually believed Richard Nixon would send goons to burgle a hotel.

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