Monday Message Board

I’ve been travelling, in and out of Internet contact, as well as being overloaded with work, so updates have been scarce lately. Also, comments threads have been getting out of control. I’m making a special request for increased civility, meaning that personal criticism of other commenters (and of me) should be avoided altogether. If you can’t make your point without such criticism, leave it for another time. I’ll try for a more nuanced version of this policy when I have time to formulate it, but for the moment, I’ll be handing out red cards to anyone who violates it.

With that, it’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language.

65 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. The Australian on Saturday, February 13 demonstrated the case for stringent regulations on workplace safety and unintentionally confirmed that responsibility for the safety of insulation workers is a State responsibility.
    In its front page story under the byline of Sid Maher and Nicola Berkovic, the following statistics were given of insulation fires in the various States:
    • NSW: 67 insulation fires in 2009 compared to 16 in 2008.
    • Victoria: 19 in 2008 to 38 in 2009.
    • Queensland: 43 July 1 to 31 December 2009, compared to 35 for 12 months from July 1 2008 to June 30, 2009.
    • South Australia: 1 in 2009 compared to 2 in 2008.
    • Canberra: Three house fires being investigated by ACT Coroner. No details given as to possible cause of these fires. No figure given for 2008.
    • Western Australia: 20 insulation fires reported since July 1 2009.
    The article provides comparison statistics only for NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. Significantly, it does not attempt to put the fire numbers in perspective by comparing the number of home insulation fires in 2009 and 2008 to insulation installations in those years.
    By the end of November last year more than 700,000 houses had taken advantage of the home insulation rebate, which was probably at least four times the total number of insulations in 2008.
    On this basis, the number of insulation fires in NSW to actual insulations is running about the same as in 2008, the number in Victoria is about half that of 2008, the number in Queensland is about 60 per cent less, while the number in South Australia has declined from two in 2008 to one in 2009.
    Now, besides failing to make meaningful comparisons, it apparently never entered the minds of these journalists to wonder why South Australia’s rate declined from the extremely low level in 2008.
    Well, perhaps they could have found a clue in this South Australian requirement:
    “Any person or company seeking to operate as an insulation installer in South Australia must be licensed to do so under the Building Work Contractors Act 1995 (SA). Licensing requires applicants to demonstrate that they have relevant competencies in installing insulation. Contact the South Australian Office of Consumer and Business Affairs (OCBA), Builders Licensing Section for further information…”
    The OCBA site shows that the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gail Gago, issued a media release on 2 April 2009 following two house fires in the State being blamed on incorrectly installed insulations.
    This media release said: “It is obvious that a voluntary standard is not providing the level of protection that South Australians deserve and we will work with the bulk insulation industry to introduce a workable arrangement that offers greater safety.
    “The standard will be further supported by a potential penalty of up to $10,000 for any breaches of the standard.”
    The media release said the main safety issues appeared to be with the incorrect installation of loose fill or blow-in insulation. However, any type of insulation installed too close or covering electrical devices, such as downlights and fans, “can cause them to overheat and start a fire”.
    The media release also said: “With an anticipated increase in households installing insulation, including as a result of the Federal Government’s new energy efficiency measures, OCBA is concerned that inexperienced and untrained installers could be attracted to the market, highlighting the need to address potential safety risks in advance.
    “OCBA and the OTR (Office of the Technical Regulator) have been liaising with the Federal Government and welcome its inclusion of safe installation practices as part of the eligibility conditions for its program, and also the work underway to develop an installer training framework.
    “This reinforces a second layer of consumer protection for people having insulation retro-fitted.
    “Anyone who installs insulation in SA is required to be licensed under the Building Work Contractors Act 1995.
    “The proposed safety standard will likely include basic safety requirements, such as clearances around electrical fittings and wiring in ceiling spaces, use of fire resistant barriers to protect electrical devices and ensuring loose-fill insulation is properly restrained. It is expected that compliance should not be overly onerous for installers.
    “All consumers who are considering installing insulation should ensure the work is done by a licensed contractor.”
    That makes it clear the responsibility for safety of insulation installation is a matter for State authorities.

  2. I am a retired electrical engineer in the USA and I have invented a new way to fight

    bushfires.

    http://www.electric-fluid-pipeline.com

    I have applied for an Australian patent with the goal of getting an Australian company
    to develop and sell the invention. Please help me find a company.

    My invention uses existing technology, and can be made to work with a modest amount
    of development. It can save lives and property.

    Respectfully,

    Steve Shoap
    MSEE MIT

  3. John, I agree. The threads have been getting out of control. Have you thought about charging people to comment? Say, $6.00 a comment for a maximum of 200 words. You could give free credits or rebates to civil/good commenters.

  4. Hear hear, and about time for the crack-down. A couple of people, mostly more recent arrivals, and from across the political spectrum, have made this site far less welcoming, far less interesting and positive than it usually is.

    Tin Tin, one of the best and best moderated weblogs, MetaFilter, has a one time only $5 charge to be able to post. Keeps the riffraff out.

  5. Better get in my $6 worth early. The brouhaha over the insulation scheme reminds us that it is the only really green thing Rudd has done in 2.5 years. It really bugs me to recall all the high fives and sanctimonious speeches over Kyoto and the environment. Even if the ETS gets through the Senate will it really start full-on in July? I suspect that if some version gets the go-ahead then everybody’s-best-mate Rudd will find some lame reason to postpone it.

    Can’t vote for Rudd as he chronically disappoints, can’t vote for Abbott since he is a ticking bomb, can’t vote Green as they lack economic realism.

  6. @shopa
    Dear shopa, I know you’re probably just spam, but in Australia we do not fight bushfires with water, because that would be futile.

  7. re Insulation:

    I heard a program on Radio National (sorry no ref) that looked at a home insulation program in New Zealand that was run as a health initiative, not a energy program. They found that retrofitting installation and eliminating draughts would improve the health of the occupants sufficiently to be economically justified with a ROI for the government of several times the cost. Cold interiors significantly increased the chance of hospitalisation due to asthma and viral infections. During the 35 year lifetime of insulation about three less hospitalisations could be expected from the average home, with each event costing the government more than the insulation would have. I can’t recall for sure if the program was demographically targeted.

    This argument obviously might not apply in different climates, though high temperatures have well-known negative health consequences. I haven’t heard this argument in the Australian situation.

  8. Jim Birch, extraordinarily (but true), kiwis suffer from a cultural condition whereby they refuse to turn up the heating because they’re too tough and too cheap. Which directly results in a number of additional hospitalisations and deaths in the elderly and infirm, because their houses are iceboxes.

    I read this in the Dominion Post last year.

  9. In case this is relevant … I’ve raised the matter with Prof Quiggin in private correspondence.

    It so happens that I’m collecting materials towards an eventual biography of my father, the famous Australian philosopher David Stove (1927-1994). For those who don’t know about him, details of his life and thought can be found here:

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

    Should any readers of this website have personal memories of my father, I’d be most interested to hear from them. He plays a large role in James Franklin’s recent history of Australian philosophy, Corrupting The Youth; and during his heyday as a “public intellectual” in the Vietnam War years, he attracted a certain amount of mainstream (not to mention specialist) media coverage.

    What I’m particularly interested in obtaining are anecdotal accounts, of the sort that don’t normally make it into print. Anyone who can help is welcome to write to me on stoverobertjames @ yahoo.com.au – normally people can reach me via my website, http://www.rjstove.com, but that seems to have crashed of late. Not sure why. I can’t be sure that all replies will be usable, but certainly all replies will be seriously considered.

  10. For all those who are still scratching their heads over the burqua issue:

    Radio National cobered the issue on Sunday. The program can be downloaded at:

    [audio src="http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2010/02/sot_20100214.mp3" /]

    Mona protests the covering of women as a human rights issue. This is an excellent review of the moral/political issues.

  11. Shopa @ 2,

    Wilful is correct. There is so much energy in the fires (and the weather systems that drive them) that we are see with increased frequency that no amount of water, however carefully or efficiently applied, can have any real effect. Your interest and concern is well placed, but I think that you have to see the problem first hand to understand. However, getting close enough to appreciate the problem is a risky proposition.

  12. Energy companies on the move.

    I was talking earlier with a technology partner in NZ, and learnt that Shell have announced a refocussing of their future towards alternative energies. And in support of that new policy have sold all of their petrol stations throughout New Zealand.

    Hearsay at this stage which requires confirmation.

  13. Hermit @ #5, my opinion is that both Labor and Liberal lack economic realism being addicted to Growth in a finite world.

    I believe both major parties are economically “off with the fairies” believing we need population growth to support an aging population, thinking that digging up and selling off our resources while continually losing jobs to other countries is sustainable, and belief in regressive taxation policies.

    They are also economically on another planet by deliberately delaying action on climate change by either putting up crap policies designed to fail or by outright denialism.

    The reality is that the world needs to change the way it does business and The Greens accept that reality while the major parties are cornucopians which as you probably know is based on a form of magic which ensures that this planet will always provide for us no matter how much the Human plague grows, consumes and craps in its nest.

  14. Salient – a finite world only places limits on the growth in the consumption of material products. And with recycling we can still grow consumption of material stuff by recycling. You ought to qualify your opposition to growth. For instance are you really against a growth in medical services?

  15. TerjeP (say tay-a) :
    Salient – a finite world only places limits on the growth in the consumption of material products. And with recycling we can still grow consumption of material stuff by recycling. You ought to qualify your opposition to growth. For instance are you really against a growth in medical services?

    Recycling is a furphy. The rate of recycling cannot keep pace with the present growth in consumption (and therefore precursor production).

    If my lust for medical services, destroys the environment for future generations, then my desire for growth in medical services is immoral – it ensures that future generations have worse medical services.

    This is the problem. People seeking their own interests now, destroy this right for the future.

    Also – should we have less growth in medical services in OECD states if by this we divert medical services to the Third World?

    What are these medical services? Should an ex-president of the United States be propped-up with multiple stents if the same funds could save the life of a dozen babies in Ethiopia-Sudan-Chad-etc.

    A democracy is best guided by morality not (Western) individual greed and self interest.

  16. So, Chris – do you get to say what is the best for the rest of us? I presume that you would see the use of force as an appropriate strategy given you seem to broadly reject the use of the market as an allocation strategy.
    How do you propose to formulate the maxima that all of us have to use and what sort of force would you see as justified in imposing them?

  17. Plasma gasification seems poised to turn recycling into a massive industry in which 99% of municiple waste can be harvested for commercial reuse. It is even a net producer of energy.

  18. @Andrew Reynolds

    Andrew

    You are deliberately putting inflamatory words into my mouth.

    You do not understand issues nor what comprises appropriate conduct.

    Democracy determines morality better than you.

  19. Interestingly, googling plasma gasification was how I discovered Barry Brook’s blog, and hence became one of those nuclear industry stooges. Which I do not intend to debate on this weblog again.

  20. Growth in health spending does not necessarily improve health. Cubans for instance are ranked just below USA in health and spend about one tenth per capita. Japan is one of the healthiest nations and spends less per capita than Australia and less than half per capita than USA.

    My point was that the pursuit of Growth as a necessary and fundamental goal of economic performance has to become redundant. It needs to be replaced with something sensible and sustainable which measures the well being of the citizens and the environment in terms of health, happiness, education, security and employment rather than how much “stuff” they consume.

  21. I welcome JQs attempts to keep civility in the threads. I find and I know others find that the level of sarcasm and denigratory comments is very offputting and yes the threads have become less rish lately because of it and I do know some posters who post less frequently because of it(where are you Phlio and Alicia and Megan?)…

    Ive been guilty of returning sarcasm and put downs in like fashion…so Im not spot free in this regard but I do find that in general people who tend to share JQs views are less rude and less obnoxious than people that dont.
    There are people here or that drop in here that appear to see themselves on some sort of an ideological war between right and left or right and centre left and seem only to happy to spray insults on arrival or in a long run and more insidious sense…derail the thread or distract or waylay the general discussionn with denialism and petty snarks.

    It is annoying. Even if people are here who do not share the prof’s views they should come with civility and courtesy and thats not too much to ask. They should not come with the intention of bringing disruption or antagonising or targetting others who are having genuine discussions, simply because they disagree with a point. It is far too easy to label others as an enemy tribe and behave tribally and far less easy to make an intelligent comment expressing your own point of view honestly.

    But even if they do see themselves as “on enemy turf” JQ, they should remember that the host is demonstrating the most courtesy of all to make this blog open to as many different ideas as possible and perhaps it is only their own narrowness that sees you and your supporters as enemies.

    I am tired of it too.

  22. plasma gasification – It is important to note that no municipal-scale waste disposal plasma arc facilities have as yet been constructed
    i shall place in my folder titled Perpetual Motion etc etc along with carbon capture and storage, fourth generation nuclear facilities, safe nuclear waste disposal facilities and commercial geothermal power,
    all of which are of course possible theoretically, they just arent quite living up to the rhetoric yet

  23. Andrew Reynolds :
    Chris,
    Do you care to explain how you plan to do it without the use of force and through not having someone arbitrarily deciding what is good for everyone else?

    OK – I’ll do it slowly…

    P
    a
    r
    l
    i
    a
    m
    e
    n
    t

    QED

  24. So Chris, you genuinely think people will vote to severely reduce their own living standards, deny themselves lifesaving medical treatment and impose those restrictions on others based on your opinion that they are consuming too much. Fair enough.
    What do you propose to do if they disagree with you? Do you feel that the “immoral” position every one else is taking justifies anything more, or could justify anything more, than simply doing the best you can (i.e. refusing medical treatment for yourself) and pointing out to others that what they are doing you consider to be immoral?

  25. wilful, my original quote was from the wiki page you linked to,

    if you read it, it says “no municipal-scale waste disposal plasma arc facilities have as yet been constructed”

  26. Andrew Reynolds :
    So Chris, you genuinely think people will vote to severely reduce their own living standards, deny themselves lifesaving medical treatment and impose those restrictions on others based on your opinion that they are consuming too much. Fair enough.
    What do you propose to do if they disagree with you? Do you feel that the “immoral” position every one else is taking justifies anything more, or could justify anything more, than simply doing the best you can (i.e. refusing medical treatment for yourself) and pointing out to others that what they are doing you consider to be immoral?

    I can only suggest you undertake some study of the roles and functoins of the democratic state.

    All these issues are well-settled.

    Everyone knows what to do if they disagree with Parliament or common laws.

    So what is your problem?

  27. Here’s a couple of links on Plasma Gasification of waste.
    http://www.slate.com/id/2181083/
    http://www.no-burn.org/section.php?id=84

    Andrew Reynolds @ #28. Many people who are a lot smarter than me and possibly you are working on solutions for a world constrained by energy and resources. One of those is J Quiggin himself. Have you ever visited Movement for a Democratic Mixed Economy or researched the Steady State Economy?

    Conservatives are performing true to their label in showing their fear of change despite the overwhelming evidence that change is vital. Change to a new economic and political system would be less traumatic if it was begun earlier but resistance by often privileged conservatives means that it will happen at the last minute.

    When it becomes imperative to change the way the world does business, when it is obvious even to cornucopians that our sustaining ecosystem is collapsing, forward thinkers and wise ones of today will see their efforts rewarded.

  28. from salient’s Slate link

    Maybe the environmentalists are right, and maybe they’re overreacting—unfortunately, nobody really knows.
    There is a noticeable dearth of impartial studies assessing the emissions of existing plasma gasification plants that handle municipal solid waste. The hope is that someone will closely monitor the operation of Plasco’s pilot project in Ottawa, which aims to process a somewhat piddling 75 tons of garbage per day.

    having read those two stories from Salient, i have to wonder Terje,
    when you proposed this PG were you aware of the criticism’s, drawbacks and lack of reliable data on whether it really is poised to do anything

  29. the Fichtner Consulting Engineers report “The Viability of Advanced Thermal Treatment in the UK” commissioned by the United Kingdom Environmental Services Training in 2004 states that
    Many of the perceived benefits of gasification and pyrolysis over combustion technology proved to be unfounded. These perceptions have arisen mainly from inconsistent comparisons in the absence of quality information

    Click to access thermal%20treatment%20report.pdf

  30. Chris,
    So if Parliament does not legislate to restrict access to medical treatment then you are prepared to forego it yourself?
    If so, you and I have little to argue about over this.
    .
    SG,
    The world as it is has always been energy constrained, as it has been constrained by every other factor of production. It does not take any special theory to realise this. Any argument is over how we deal with this. There is no one out there at all arguing that there are no constraints.
    The argument is, as always, how to deal with these constraints. Some conservatives and most socialists generally prefer to have things directed by the government, a process I see as not only normally futile but generally counter-productive. I prefer people to make their own minds up based on their own moral framework and their own capacity to pay.
    BTW – if you want to argue with a conservative you will need to find one to argue with.

  31. Andrew Reynolds, do you have a mild Asbergers Syndrome? You seem to take things completely at face value. The alternative to understanding your viewpoint is to ask whether you bother to educate yourself on things like Peak oil and EROEI and peak phosphorous.

    Modern Civilization in the developed world has been made possible by the relatively cheap and abundant fossil fuels. Using fossil fuels has resulted in serious consequences to the health of the biosphere on which Humans depend.

    The EROEI on fossil fuels has reduced markedly in recent years. Capacity to pay is not a fair or moral way to divide limited resources going into the future. I’m sure you understand that.

  32. As a general observation wonder technologies usually disappoint. Fortunately new ones bob up regularly so true believers can latch on to another when the last one fails to emerge victorious. In addition to plasma gasification of garbage there has been clean coal, dry rock geothermal, fuel cell cars, hot/cold fusion and cellulosic ethanol. These technologies all work to some extent but seem to permanently struggle to deliver on cost or scale.

    Other technologies may be thereabouts but need more time or the playing field needs to be tilted. Examples are plug-in hybrid cars, fourth generation nuclear and solar thermal. Of course we could also voluntarily use less of a troubled technology (like coal fired electricity) but we cling to the idea of a complete replacement.

  33. Andrew Reynolds :
    Chris,
    So if Parliament does not legislate to restrict access to medical treatment then you are prepared to forego it yourself?
    If so, you and I have little to argue about over this.

    Yes, if parliament decides to prioritise medical aid to the Third World compared to plastic surgery for the rich in Australia then I would forgo plastic surgery.

    If climate change requires restriction of growth then we have to forgo the extra cars or ipods.

  34. since that other thread degenerated into such extreme silliness it looks like my response to Jack Strocchi regarding 19C America will never see the light of day. I would like permission to repost it, minus all unnecessary personal snark of course!

  35. Chris,
    Would you forego some of the most expensive procedures, for example a heart transplant or long cancer treatment? This is where a lot of the money spent on health actually goes.
    .
    SG,
    My health, the lack or presence thereof is none of your concern.
    I understand those well – and my position on them has not changed for a long time. Other than the issue of carbon output, I am confident that as the prices of those good increase we will get more of what has happened over the last 50 years – output increasing per unit of fossil fuel use to the point, as some time in the future, where fossil fuels are no longer used and output has continued to increase. It is only an extension of existing trends so I do not see it as hugely difficult. Humanity has coped well with changes of primary power sources before, we can do it again.
    As for fairness and morality, I have my picture of what those are. Would you consider it moral to use force to impose your picture of fairness and morality on to me?

  36. Andrew Reynolds :
    Humanity has coped well with changes of primary power sources before, we can do it again.

    from everything i have read this seems hopelessly unrealistic,
    to cope a significant reduction in consumption patterns and lifestyle must occur

  37. Growth in health spending does not necessarily improve health. Cubans for instance are ranked just below USA in health and spend about one tenth per capita. Japan is one of the healthiest nations and spends less per capita than Australia and less than half per capita than USA.

    Interesting. Our government keeps saying that they will and are spending more on health than the opposition and this seems to be the main metric that they think we should judge them by.

  38. Andrew Reynolds @ #39 “As for fairness and morality, I have my picture of what those are. Would you consider it moral to use force to impose your picture of fairness and morality on to me?”

    It’s not a matter of ME using force and if by force you mean laws or regulations with consequences for non-compliance, then it is matter for the Government which is elected by a majority so my answer is yes. We are talking here about a future of (much more) constrained resources and energy and leaving the sharing entirely to the market will not work.

    As for your health, I didn’t want an answer. It was a rhetorical question used to persuade you that it is difficult to get through to you by normal methods of discourse and your position is difficult to understand. A prime example is in fact your inability to take my question as it was meant, rhetorically.

    Finally, if you are not a Conservative, what are you?

  39. smiths,
    That is an interesting opinion. Is there any evidence that humanity has lost its ability to replace power sources? There are plenty of others out there. ATM they are just that bit too expensive to use as fossil sources are so cheap.
    .
    SG,
    If you misunderstood my answer perhaps I should make it clearer – my health (whether I suffer from any disease or not) makes no difference. If you cannot get through to me perhaps it is my fault in lack of understanding, or perhaps it is due to the weakness of your argument. Perhaps you might consider both possibilities.
    As for “…it will not work…” perhaps you can justify that statement. I can see many times where it has happened before as our power needs have exceeded the known sources. I see no reason (or perhaps none have been pointed out to me) why this time should be any different.
    As with Chris, perhaps you can also show why you believe the people will vote for permanently lower living standards. Personally, I cannot see that they would be needed.

  40. Andrew, you almost answered it yourself, the alternatives to fossil fuels are more expensive and will always be. At the moment, all alternatives are being constructed using cheap fossil fuel but eventually they will be made using more expensive alternative energy.

    As resources become scarce, they require more and more energy to extract or process – energy which will be more expensive. As you know, these higher energy costs will affect the price of everything dependant on energy. The rich will simply have less money to waste on non-essentials while the poor will struggle even to pay for essentials and will have a lower standard of living.

    Personally, I think much of the developed world has a standard of living which is far too high and allows us to indulge in stupid, wasteful and unsustainable entertainment, habits and practices instead of pursuing much wiser activities which enhance personal development and quality of life.

  41. Andrew Reynolds :

    As with Chris, perhaps you can also show why you believe the people will vote for permanently lower living standards. Personally, I cannot see that they would be needed.

    They won’t vote for lower standards of living. But standards of living are somewhat subjective. They are effected by technological change, education and are subject to the vagaries of fashion. Sometimes I think there is an almost autistic approach to understanding culture in economics that is inbred through a lack of general arts education. Of course that is a generalisation so don’t all take it personally.

  42. @Andrew Reynolds

    I do not think you know the potential risk of climate change.

    How do you have heart transplants in a world disrupted by climate change?

    How can you treat cancer if the health system is destroyed by climate change?

    You don’t have any choice to forgo, if it has already gone.

  43. Sometimes I think there is an almost autistic approach to understanding culture in economics that is inbred through a lack of general arts education.

    I think some on the left think culture is a government service. They seem to live in fear that one day a right wing government will come to power and culture will be abolished.

  44. SG,
    That is why I put in “…just that bit…”. The fact is that they are not that much more expensive, but just enough that fossils beat them under many circumstances. The switch, as and when it comes, will not be that expensive or that tricky.
    .
    Michael,
    I will not take it personally as I have had what I would consider to be a good general arts education.
    .
    Chris,
    I note you left my earlier question unanswered, merely going on about cancer treatments and climate change. Interesting.
    Given the best scientific evidence that I have seen I do not think that we will need to live in caves to mitigate it – nor, AFAICS, will we need to give up the capacity to perform heart transplants.
    That said, if you are prepared to show how much you feel about it, I would be interested to know what forms of surgery or other treatment you would be willing to give up.

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