Other people’s music

A bit belatedly, I’m reposting my piece on the Fin from last week, on background music, a topic we’ve discussed previously.

Also in the Fin Review section (paywalled) a couple of weeks ago was a piece by Andrew Ford which inlcuded an observation I’ve made myself, that contemporary music in the classical tradition often sounds like the soundtrack to a horror/thriller movie, and went on to point out that David Lynch has actually used ‘modern classical’ compositions in this role. He asks why people who are perfectly happy with the music as a soundtrack are totally unwilling to listen to it in concert. I think the potential audience falls into two groups, both small
(i) classical concert-goers who like horror/thriller movies
(ii) horror/thriller fans keen enough to go to a concert performance of the soundtrack

Anyway, here’s the article

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Ergas v Quiggin on risk and social democracy

A while ago, I wrote a piece for the Centre for Policy Development (PDF) , making the case that risk and its management, in various forms, would be the central policy issue of the 21st century. The central idea of the piece was to show how an improved understanding of risk could contribute to a modernised social democratic model.

The piece got a bit of attention, and has now been paid the compliment of a full length reply in Quadrant by Henry Ergas . Ergas raises some good points, and usefully extends the discussion in important respects. Unfortunately, he misses the point of the article fairly thoroughly, to the point where he often seems to be arguing against an imaginary opponent. His repeated claims that the paper is unclear reflect the problems he is having matching my paper to the one he thinks he is reading. The debate isn’t helped by the fact that, although Quadrant is now at least partly online, the idea of hyperlinks is too new for its editor, with the result that most of Ergas readers will probably not have read the piece he is criticising.
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Weekend reflections (Iowa edition)

It’s time again for weekend reflections. With the 2008 US Presidential campaign now officially underway, I’d be interested in hopes, fears and predictions after Iowa. My massively premature call on the result: a relatively narrow win for an Obama-Clinton ticket over McCain-Lieberman for the Republicans. Feel free to fill in, and dispute, the underlying analysis.

Happy New Year

A bit belatedly, Happy New Year to everyone. Some optimistic wishes for 2008

* The end of the Bush era will prove to be the end of political power for the Republican party in its current (religious right/militarist/pro-rich class warfare) form, and will be followed by a return to reality-based politics

* The crisis in Pakistan will provoke the world’s leaders into serious action on nuclear disarmament. Pretty clearly, unless this happens, nuclear weapons will sooner or later fall into the hands of someone who wants to use them. There was quite a good article in Prospect unfortunately paywalled, making the point that Gordon Brown could take a lead on this if the UK (one of the prime examples of a country maintaining nuclear weapons for no better reason than national pride) was willing to offer disarmament as a bargaining chip.

* The Rudd government will deliver the goods on education, industrial relations and global warming. Despite some silly mis-steps, I’ve been favourably surprised so far at how well things have turned out.

* The slow-motion financial crisis will stay slow-motion producing a gradual reversal of the explosion of dubious debt derivatives seen over the past decade, and a relatively smooth rebalancing of household and national balance sheets.

Science and antiscience, part 2

All discussion threads eventually wander way off-topic if they are left to run long enough, and that’s certainly happened with my last post on the peppered moth controversy. At Crooked Timber, the debate was mainly about the role of experts and drifted into debate and meta-debate about Iraq and WMDs. On this blog, it’s got even odder, into a discussion of the well-known rightwing talking point “environmentalism is a religion”. A couple of links back to the original post have been missed though.

First up, it’s important to note that the “environmentalism is a religion” gambit is straight out of the creationist playbook. Creationists have long argued that evolution is not a scientific theory but part of a religion of “secular humanism”.

Second, the peppered moth controversy has an exact parallel in the global warming debate, the dispute over the hockey stick graph showing global temperatures at their warmest level for the past thousand years. As with the peppered moth

a striking, though minor, scientific finding, was used to illustrate a well-established scientific theory, and becomes the target of those opposed to the theory, and to science in general, for political or religious reasons. Minor errors in and procedural criticisms of the work supporting the finding are conflated into accusations of fraudulent conspiracy that are then used to attack the theory as a whole. Distorted versions of the whole story circulate around the parallel universe of antiscientific thinktanks, blogs and commentators, rapidly being taken as established fact.

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