Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

15 thoughts on “Weekend reflections

  1. Some number crunching on the Haneef case…

    From the GG today, http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,22186214-601,00.html

    “The Haneef investigation has been going for four weeks now,” Mr Keelty said. “The Operation Pendennis counter-terrorism investigation (into alleged home-grown terror cells in Sydney and Melbourne) took us two years.

    “We’ve had four weeks, so far, of an investigation spanning three continents, with enough information to fill 36,000 four-drawer filing cabinets for us to examine. We will take all the time we need to thoroughly investigate every lead and piece of evidence.”

    A standard filing cabinet drawer holds roughly 4,000 pages; 36,000 4-drawer cabinets represent 576 million pages. According to an earlier report there were 230 Fed police working on the case. Call it 250 for ease of calculation and assume that they are bilingual in English and Urdu and can each speed-read at 4 pages/minute. If they each put in 60 hours a week, they’ll get through all the material in a little over 3 years.


    The most recent AFP budget posted is 2005-6. It allowed $344 million for investigation services. At a guess the cost per agent is at least $100,000, thus a headcount of 3400 – maximum. That’s only enough to investigate 15 Haneefs.

    What are they going to do if something really serious comes along?

    Maybe Peter Faris is right in suggesting that the AFP are not equipped to handle these types of investigation.

  2. If this is out of place, please delete.
    From August 4, New Scientist article ‘Ignition impossible: When willdfires set the air alight’ by Caroline Williams ( subscription needed):
    “A few kilometres away, firefighter Neil Cooper was surrounded by burning vegetation and sought refuge in a bare field locally called the Oval. In theory it would be the safest place to sit out the blaze, but when he got there he saw a “blanket of flame over the paddock about a metre high, shimmering like oil on water”. It was like nothing he had seen in his 20 years on the job.

    The Canberra firestorm that ravaged Australia’s capital in January 2003 surprised everyone. No one expected the blaze to reach the city and enter the suburbs with such force, killing four people and destroying almost 500 homes. But for some scientists the biggest mystery of all is what firefighters like Cooper and Dutkiewicz saw. Bare earth shouldn’t be able to sustain a fire of such ferocity at ground level, let alone metres up in the air, and flames from burning vegetation should be yellow or orange, not blue. As far as most scientists are concerned, what the firefighters saw was impossible.”
    There is also a video:

    and an illustration:

  3. I’d like to raise an issue: the utterly idiotic way that politics is now discussed as a clash of personalities.

    If I hear one more time that we are ‘getting more talent’ in a political party I think I will throw my radio out the window.

    The reality of modern politics is that most ministers simply tick off on policies developed by their departments.

    But we persist with this nonsense that the personal styles of ministers and leaders matter, so we endlessly discuss which side of politics has better ‘talent’ without actually discussing the policies they are implementing.

    I was amused to hear a recent candidate for preselection for the ALP in Victoria blathering on about how he was ‘new talent’ and ‘new blood’ for the party, but when asked what new policies and what changes he would introduce was totally lost for words.

  4. dave, the mechanism of government here is parliament- you vote for people.

    surely you noticed?

    you can not vote for a policy, for referendums are rare, and rigged. pollies will tell you voting for them will get you a policy, but this is simply a lie. to get the ‘best’ treasury policy, you may have to vote against the ‘best’ policy in heath and education and environment. then there is the question of whether the announced policies can be carried out, or are merely lollies displayed by pollies for the entrancement of the credulous.

    the electorate responds to these social conditions by ignoring politics beyond the level of “who will steal least/who will give most”? this is sensible, it is foolish to waste time in an activity in which you have little information and almost no input.

    in the end, pretty faces and vacuous phrases are the currency of politics in a parliamentary society. if you want a better result, you need a better system.

  5. Al, I’d be interested in your suggestions for a better system. You seem to be suggesting that it would be one which did not involve people – maybe true, but not very helpful.

    As regards the irrelevance of choices, rational ignorance and so on, I assume you’re claiming it makes no difference who you vote for.

    I’d be interested in whether you think this analysis applies to the US Presidential elections in 2000 and 2004.

    Or are you claiming that a presidential system overcomes the problems you describe.

  6. Democracy is still clearly the least worst system, but I do feel that on the whole it is going backwards. The effectiveness of modern political parties anti-information tools such as spin, media manipulation and even the quality of political advertising are so high now that the amount of energy a citizen uses in getting to the truth is almost prohibitive.

    The two major problems are lack of time on the part of voters and a media that lacks resources. These essentially create rational ignorance on the part of voters and what might be thought of as rational dumbing down on the part of political parties.

    For example, if a political party introduced a new well thought out highly detailed health policy the effect on the electorate would be
    * most media outlets would try to digest it into one or two headline points with a few supporting paragraphs. Many journalists might not even read the entire policy. How favourablly they viewed it would depend more how effectively they were spun to and what was the best sounding sound bite rather than the policy itself.
    * 90% of voters make a decision on the policy based on about 10 minutes worth of that same media’s shallow analysis.

    Under that situation the incentives to do politics the way Coca Cola sells drinks are pretty overwhelming.

    I think there is an alternative. Some form of Demarchy or Deliberative Democracy seems to me could take over the crown of least worst system. In our democracy Representatives to make decisions for us because there are so many decisions to make and they are so complicated decision making is a full time job. We choose these Representatives under a democratic vote with the ideal that this will give us a Representative who is the most “representative” of the electorate. Its a nice theory but all the problems of politics interfere with the process to give a quite unsatisfactory result. In a Demarchic or Deliberatively Democratic system the “Representatives” are chosen at random from the community rather than by democratic vote. This gives a Representative decision making body that is genuinely representative of the community. This overcomes the problem of rational ignorance by reducing the voting pool to the point where individuals feel that their votes is proportionately large enough to make a difference. Also it gives a real choice by giving a proportion of the community a chance to vote on a policy by policy basis, rather than the somewhat fake choice of having just two options to cover every single aspect of government.

  7. These charts on Ozpolitics are very interesting.


    They suggest that if the most recent trend contnues that, by around November, Howard could just get over the line. I think this election campaign will be one of attrition by the Coalition where they work on gradually pegging Rudd back. A bit of well targetted pork barrelling, a campaign pushing State Labor government “incompetence”, and a continuation of the line that the Coalition is both tougher on national security and a better economic manager is likely to cause Labor support to soften and will be enough to get them back.

    I think $2.40 for the Coalition are very good odds.

  8. It wasn’t much of a spectacle, but the mighty Lions triumphed yet again last night. Is it too early to book the flight to Melbourne for that last weekend in September, or is the diminishing risk of the lads not making it outweighed by the certainty of a cheap fare now and a dear fare if I wait until the preliminary final? Is there an economic theory to solve this conundrum?

  9. I found your comments very interesting swio. I find it interesting that there is no attempt to grow our democratic system to enhance it capabilities to deal with issues of accountability and the techniques of media management – controlling the media environment. Instead, for example, electoral divisions steadily increase in size with reduced capability for local initiative.

    These issues to me are non-partisan to the degree that they are independent of changing the government by elections. All governments will be inclined to act in similar ways, although personalities, as we can observe between Brown and Blair in the UK, do make a difference.

    Of course, we have the definitive judgment of the prime minister that [“Australians are not interested in matters of governance”], or what ever he declared to the truth cast in stone or wet clay.

  10. “Is there an economic theory to solve this conundrum?”
    Yes it’s the roosters one week feather dusters the next rule and some of us are suffering badly the jibes of certain fruit tingles fans. Streuth, if the Crows forwards hadn’t attended the Nick Gill school of goalshooting, it was really a 10 goal mauling in the wet. The only consolation is Richmond supporters would be feeling worse at how well their cast off in David Rodan played, in trying to shame Port’s walkabout onballers into doing the same. When he finally cramped up in the last quarter from exhaustion, even the Crows goalkicking couldn’t prevent the inevitable. It seemed a long way from the side that mauled last years Premiers 3 weeks ago.

  11. On the government front, there have been periods in the past where the Executive has extensively managed the Legislature so that the Legislature became pretty much a pussycat, doing what the Executive wanted – I’m thinking particularly of Walpole’s administration, but I’m sure there are other examples. Change came through a split in the ruling class, ie. within the Executive. So, in the short term, wedge ’em. In the longer term, changes in representation, so that a broader range of vested interests had representation (Reform Bill) make it difficult for such management of the Legislature to succeed. However this strategy implicitly depends on there being a wide variety of vested interests. I wonder whether, in an increasingly unequal society, vested interests may become so interlinked that the broader representation strategy becomes impossible.

    On the Canberra firestorm front, Gaddeswarup says: “The Canberra firestorm that ravaged Australia’s capital in January 2003 surprised everyone. No one expected the blaze to reach the city and enter the suburbs with such force, killing four people and destroying almost 500 homes.” Surprise wasn’t such a big factor. The ACT Govt. didn’t want to do anything about fires in a National Park, which they saw as outside their jurisdiction. The NSW firefighters weren’t interested in putting out a fire which only menaced the ACT, which is outside their jurisdiction. In the event, nobody did anything, with the result Gaddeswarup notes. Since the fire, there has been opportunistic development of fire-cleared areas which previously were devoted to plantation forestry, so the ACT Govt. is pleased with the opportunities for development revenue and of course developers and building unions are also pleased. For some, (not the homeowners or the dead people) the fire was a very good thing.

  12. Yes, Obs, the Lions appeared to have been at the same goalshooting clinic, and they didn’t even have the excuse of rain and wind. Jonathan Brown shot 6-5, with all of those 5 eminently gettable. Still, we doubled the highly fancied Kangaroos’ score. The Lions play the form-slipped Hawks at the MCG next Saturday, while I see the Crows are up against the Cats at Kardinia Park. Best of luck.

  13. gaddeswarup

    I’ve seen something similar from a small wood gasifier stove I bought from the US. Above a certain temperature wood releases hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and volatiles that burn with a blue flame some distance from the wood. If there is a mild breeze about even when I turn off the battery fan on the stove it continues like a small jet engine. A wee ripper if you can control it and a nightmare if you can’t.

  14. mr q, and all, my point is that parliamentary society is nothing like democracy.

    people complain endlessly about the workings of parliamentary society, but are unwilling to consider modifying the functioning of the state. changing to democracy is much easier than switching to renewable energy, it just needs a lot of people to change their minds about submitting to pollie rule.

    this is not rocket science: democracy is easy to run, and easy to run well. getting there from here is simple. but it needs citizens who are tired of what happens when the fortunes of the nation are tied to, and subservient to, the careers of politicians.

    by the way, aristotle, jefferson, and lincoln, thought democracy was rule “by the people”, not rule by pollies. a nation that does not have cir and direct election is not a democracy.

    oz is a parliamentary monarchy, and kerr demonstrated that the constitution is the fundamental law of the land. not the wishful thinking of self-styled democrats, not the ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ of the pollies hi-jacking tradition. only when you admit you are not a democracy, can you begin to become one.

    imagine for a moment that a would-be minister had to publish a plan, budget, and resume before election. further, that the activities of ministries must be in public record. the electorate would know what they were getting, the opportunities for incompetence and corruption would be largely eliminated, and most important: an informed and effective vote would be possible. that’s democracy. not paradise perhaps, but a much better society than this hag-ridden sheep station.

    by unbundleing policies, we can have the best on offer, and insist that it be administered by a person skilled in the area. there can be public input improving execution to best practice. money will be spent to achieve the goals set by the electorate, not to enrich special interests.

    is the electorate capable of making good decisions? the history of switzerland suggests so, but there’s a better argument: they only have to be better than what we’ve got. that ain’t hard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s