61 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. My grovelling apology to Herr Schäuble

    German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble writes an article proclaiming the economic success of the Eurozone. He is taken to task by Evans-Pritchard. It really gets into stride a third of the way down:

    I apologise for mentioning that unemployment is 27.8pc in Greece, 26.3pc in Spain, 17.3pc in Cyprus, and 16.5pc in Portugal, or for pointing that it would be far worse had it not been for a mass exodus of EMU refugees. Nor was is proper to mention that Greek youth unemployment in 62.9pc. These are trivial details.

    I apologise for pointing out that the EU-IMF Troika originally said the Greek economy would contract by 2.6pc in 2010 and then recover briskly, when in fact it contracted by roughly 23pc from peak-to-trough, and will shrink another 5pc this year according to the think-tank IOBE. This slippage is well within the normal margin of error.

    I apologise for mentioning that the debt trajectories of Spain, Greece, Italy, and Ireland have accelerated upwards under the austerity plans, and therefore that the policy has been self-defeating.

    It was quite uncalled for to point out that Italy’s debt ratio has jumped to 130pc of GDP, or to so suggest that debt cannot keep rising on a contracting nominal GDP bas, and I will wash my mouth soap if I ever utter the words “denominator effect” again. It is shabby to use such cheap language.

    I apologise for mentioning IMF studies showing that the fiscal multiplier is three times higher than first thought by EU officials in EMU crisis states, and therefore that the contractionary effects of belt-tightening are far greater than first calculated.

    et cetera et catera

    This has the makings to be a classic rebuttal article.

  2. @Ronald Brak
    For practical purposes I expect gas will be too expensive to burn in power stations within a decade. We’ll need it to fuel trucks and make fertiliser. That still leaves the problem of how to generate or retrieve solar power at night and in overcast weather.

  3. @Will

    I had to laugh when I read an article lauding a country’s policies for getting it a big tick from the IMF. A tick from the IMF is the Kiss of Death for any economy.

  4. Beyond Nuclear says;

    “Pandora’s Promise, is a new pro-nuclear propaganda documentary released theatrically in the US in July 2013. It is funded in part by individuals with a vested interest in seeing the development of new reactors and is seemingly a vehicle by which to raise the profile of the anti-environmental Oakland think tank, The Breakthrough Institute, whose personnel feature prominently in the film. Despite the film’s premise and early claim that it features “a growing number of leading former anti-nuclear activists” who now support nuclear energy, no one in the film ever led the anti-nuclear movement. Nor was any credible, independent scientific or medical professional with expertise in the areas covered in the film consulted or featured. Beyond Nuclear has bird-dogged the film from the beginning, and has produced numerous critiques. We have also published a definitive report – Pandora’s False Promises: Busting the pro-nuclear propaganda – and a two-page synopsis. These documents address virtually all of the myths, lies and omissions typically found in pro-nuclear rhetoric and are intended to address these long after Pandora’s Promise fades into deserved oblivion.”

  5. @Ikonoclast

    Truly, Fran? You haven’t learned anything or drawn any lessons from Fukishima?

    I again concluded that plants slated for closure because they are at the end of their useful life ought to be closed. I also concluded that corrupt and venal governments ought not to be in charge of running the safety regimes attending critical infrastructure (but that was clear from Chernobyl too). Building a nuclear plant in a place at risk of tsunami without secure back up generators to run the emergency SCRAM and cooling units was incredibly reckless. Having an insufficient bulwark against damage to the site from a tsunami was also ill-advised. Clearly, excavating the site back in the 1960s to bring it to sea-level was simply mad.

    I also note though that during the life of the plant since 1964, its footprint was a mere fraction of the likely footprint of all the other energy technologies that would have served in its place had nuclear been unavailable/not chosen.

    As to nuclear power more broadly, I remain open-minded about the contribution it can play in a decarbonised energy system. Speaking for myself, if nuclear power remains economically uncompetitive even with a suitable carbon price and/or for any reason is not likely to be deliverable on the timelines needed in any important energy market, whereas other technologies can, then I’m for those. Indeed, if even for reasons that really don’t go to its utility but rather to their cultural concerns, people prefer to exclude nuclear power and prefer to bear the costs of some other more expensive suite of low carbon technologies or other arrangements, then I will accede to the majority happily enough. If our energy mix is fairly benign in its impacts on the ecosystem I don’t much care what it costs. I would be troubled though if rejection of nuclear meant in practice an extended life for coal or gas — if not here, then in the much larger energy markets.

    I’m relaxed about people seeing documentaries and criticising their flaws if indeed they have them. This is the first I’ve heard of Pandora’s Promise and if it is indeed no better than a dishonest propaganda piece then let it be panned. Personally, I will find it interesting to see how (or whether) they deal with contemporary objections to nuclear power in the mix.

  6. Its quite possibly inappropriate for a State to give priority to a AAA rating but that’s politics. Following on from the WA loss of their AAA rating I expect a Costello commission of audit to identify waste etc etc, particularly in light of the windfall royalties flowing into their coffers.

  7. Yeah, if Pandora’s Promise isn’t going to go into the high cost of modern nuclear reactors, the prohibitively high cost of insuring even modern ones, and the low and decreasing cost of the renewable competition I don’t think it can really be called a documentary. Sure, it’s documenting something, but not reality.

    I could say that it should also mention the history of cover ups and down playing of accidents and how nuclear safety culture always seems to deteriorate in favour of keeping costs low, but then documentaries are rarely more than two hours long.

  8. I have written a response to Pandora’s Promise which I hope will appear closer to the time it is shown.

  9. @Fran Barlow

    Clearly, excavating the site back in the 1960s to bring it to sea-level was simply mad

    I believe it was done to cut down to bedrock. This is important for seismic protection which actually worked pretty much as designed (ie quite well) even though some measurements showed ground acceleration in excess of design basis during the great earthquake. Not really mad at all.

  10. Corrupt and venal don’t have quite the same in meaning. I think corrupt implies dishonesty for monetary or personal gain while venal means one is mercenary without necessarily being dishonest, although it does imply that one is not acting morally in some way by being mercency. It typically suggests that one has no principles.

  11. @Ronald Brak I was being slightly facetious, and conceived of the redundancy as being between ‘corrupt/venal’ and ‘corporation’. Corporations are venal by legal design, I suppose, and inevitably corrupt in practice.

  12. @Crispin Bennett
    I can believe it. Around here they make children stand in the hot sun wearing white clown clothes and throw hard wooden balls at each other. They make them wear big clown gloves and clown feet as well, except the clown feet are strapped to their shins instead of their shoes.

  13. Hi J-D (and apologies for pushiness in other forums)

    J-D … I don’t mind repeating myself in more detail.

    I think it’s misleading to refer to scientific laws as ‘operating’. That could create the impression that, for example, the laws of quantum electrodynamics are things that exist independently of matter and electromagnetic fields and that cause matter and electromagnetic fields to behave the way they do, which is not the case. I think it can sometimes be misleading to use the word ‘laws’, for that matter, and I think you’ll find that scientists often don’t.

    [They are formulations of regular behaviour. Some scientists (Newton, Gauss, Kepler are referred to as concocting “laws”:


    It seems a useful term for expressing the fact that matter acts in a regular way, and can be expected to act in a regular way, even at a time before we had any expectations – our point of debate.]

    … the only thing it can mean to say that the laws of quantum electrodynamics ‘operate’ is that matter and electromagnetic fields interact in the patterns stated by those laws (and not otherwise), and they ‘operated’ before humans existed in just the same way they do now.

    [OK, so we agree that matter and electromagnetic fields interacted in the patterns stated by human scientific laws, even before humans existed to conceive of and write down those laws.]

    On to your second post, and its first point:

    Being a collection of atoms is not enough by itself to make something capable of reasoning, just as it is not enough by itself to make something capable of photosynthesis. But that doesn’t mean that no collection of atoms is capable of reasoning. I think you have committed the fallacy of illicit process of the minor term.

    [Quite possibly. But then reason can also be self-referential. Unlike photosynthesis, human reason purports to (and largely does) explain how humans came to exist so as to have or engage in reason in the first place. Photosynthesis does not purport to give an account of how it itself came to occur. That capacity to stand outside of itself, and to reflect on its particularly human manifestation of itself marks human reason as different from other organic processes such as photosynthesis, IMHO.

    As you can see, I’m circling back to the question of how reason can give an independent account of itself. And if you don’t consider such independence necessary, then may I again ask “In what form did scientific laws (such as gravity) occur, even before humans showed up, conceived them, and wrote them down?”]

    Second point:

    For an act of measurement to take place, there must be interaction between the instrument of measurement and whatever is being measured. Therefore it is not possible for something to function as an instrument of measurement and yet remain completely independent of whatever is being measured.

    [Probably. But I posit Reason as a pre-existing, independent thing that then interacts with our process of reasoning by founding it, once we exist. I don’t suggest that Reason remains independent of humans when we reason.]

    Third point:

    Words mean what people use them to mean. To say that the word ‘wrong’ means the same to you and me, or very nearly the same, is to say that you and I use it in the same way, or very nearly the same way. I have never observed or had reported to me any instances of the universe as a whole using the word ‘wrong’, so I see no basis for drawing any conclusion that the word has any meaning to the universe as a whole. But I don’t see how that interferes with our communications using that word, so long as we keep using it in the same way, or nearly enough so.

    [So, consequently, you would then infer that human scientific laws are not right or wrong, but more approximations of how natural phenomena occurs? Fine and dandy, but then we discover reason to be something that is not just a feature of human reason (even before scientists invented robots that can reason).

    Einstein for example discovered that Newton’s law of gravity for example described the universe well up to a point, but that reason required the articulation of a broader principle.

    So far as Newton’s law did not describe special relativity or general relativity, wasn’t Newton “wrong”? In an absolute sense?

    I freely acknowledge the brilliance of human reason.

    I just find it annoying that certain forms of atheism limit human reason, by insisting that it is a peculiarly human thing, or just a local thing (when they are forced to admit that other things such as robots can also reason).

    Instead, why not acknowledge that there is an independent standard of reasoning, which must be postulated as pre-existing, independent, transcendent Reason? Only thus can we escape from subjectivism, as if reason is really just an accident in our heads.

    Or have I missed something?

  14. I may not get to see Pandora’s Promise in full until it comes out in DVD. However those who have already prejudged it would do well to study the promised German nuclear phase-out. Bottom line; most of their nukes are still operating, coal fired power stations are being built, emissions increased in 2012 and are expected to increase in 2013 and the green energy levy may have to be increased. Google it on English language Der Spiegel or this article in thenergycollective Trash, Trees, and Taxes: The Cost of Germany’s Energiewende. If their facts are wrong please supply new and better facts.

  15. Oh, look, a Liberal who can’t keep a budget. The solution? Break federal election promises and increase a toxic tax—the GST—to 12.5% or whatever. Well, that should be an interesting discussion to come…

    Actually, I’m curious as to just how Premier Barnett has resided over a three- to four-fold increase in the debt.

  16. @Donald Oats
    How has Premier Barnett resided over a three to four-fold debt increase? With sheer and pure honesty – the same way he became associated extremely closely with extractive industry interests without IN ANY WAY becoming dodgy himself.

  17. @Michael
    All the evidence available to humans now about events that occurred before humans existed supports the conclusion that there are regular patterns over time independent of the existence of humans. Human scientists have attempted to express these regularities using mathematics. At the time of Newton’s work, and for some time afterwards, it appeared that the mathematical systems he had developed were accurate descriptions of some of these regularities. More recent scientific investigation has shown that in fact the Newtonian model does not fit all the evidence with complete accuracy. For a wide range of situations, including those with which human beings naturally have most direct experience, the Newtonian model approximates almost exactly to the evidence, but outside that range it doesn’t. This is of some practical importance: for example, in order to be used effectively, the Global Positioning System requires the use of corrections calculated according to the mathematics of special and general relativity, and Newtonian calculations would give incorrect results. Newton, and later scientists working on the basis of Newton’s system, thought that he, and they, had expressed the regularities of nature, but it turns out that they hadn’t, although they had critical insights which produced highly useful models that also paved the way for the later work that corrected what they’d done.

    If you want to talk in terms of ‘scientific laws’, then I would say that Newton thought he had stated scientific laws, but in fact it turns out that he hadn’t, not quite.

    So what about the formulations produced by later scientists, working with relativistic and quantum models? Have they stated ‘scientific laws’? That depends. If their statements do in fact match exactly with the regular patterns of real events, then they could be called ‘scientific laws’ (if you like that expression), but if not, then not. That is, unless you want to use ‘scientific law’ to mean ‘a statement with matches the regular patterns of real events as closely as any we have been able to produce, and which has not been shown by the evidence to fail to match’. It is because of complexities like this that I often prefer to avoid the term.

    Newton had excellent reason to have a high level of confidence in the accuracy of his formulations, and the Newtonians who followed may have had even greater justification. However, modern scientists have even better grounds for even greater confidence in the latest replacements for Newton’s work. Does this mean that they’ve arrived at a final answer which matches the evidence as well as it’s possible to do and can never be improved on? By the nature of things, that’s something you can never know at the time, only with hindsight. If you ask scientists now for the best answer possible to questions about how things work, then, by definition, they can only give you the best answer possible now, and nobody can know that it’s the best answer possible ever.

    Other points:

    Yes, I agree that it’s possible that the capacity to reason isn’t restricted to humans, or at least may not remain restricted to humans. I don’t see that as problematic, and I don’t see how it’s relevant to the discussion we’re having. My position is not that the concept of ‘reason’ is restricted to human beings, but only that the concept of reasoning is restricted to reasoners: no reasoners, no reasoning. The only kind of thing that could justification for supposing that reasoning was going on before human beings existed would be if there was justification for supposing that there were reasoning beings before human beings existed.

    You admit that you may have committed the fallacy of illicit process of the minor term. If that’s so, then your argument was faulty and your conclusion did not follow from your premises. Does making an error not bother you? When I am detected in error I want to correct myself. Don’t you?

    You ask ‘In what form did scientific laws (such as gravity) occur, even before humans showed up, conceived them, and wrote them down?’ I thought I’d already answered this, but I don’t mind repeating. If it is in fact the case that there is a regularity in real events which is accurately described by something you want to call a ‘law’ of gravity, then the description is accurate for events before humans showed up in exactly the same way it’s accurate for events since.

    You ask ‘why not acknowledge that there is an independent standard of reasoning, which must be postulated as pre-existing, independent, transcendent Reason?’ You ask why not; I ask why. I see no justification for adopting such a postulate, and I am inclined to suspect that it’s meaningless (what Pauli described as ‘not even wrong’).

  18. @TerjeP

    I’ll be fascinated to see how the LDP reconciles doctrinal purity with the desire to cut deals with Abbott – for example, whether they will vote to support budget bills that leave the size of government pretty much unchanged.

  19. @J-D

    Hi J-D

    To your lengthy reply I can respond briefly by again asking “In what form did scientific laws occur before humans arrived to conceive of them, and write them down?”

    You say that you had already answered this, and state:

    “If it is in fact the case that there is a regularity in real events which is accurately described by something you want to call a ‘law’ of gravity, then the description is accurate for events before humans showed up in exactly the same way it’s accurate for events since..”

    But you don’t actually name the form. (I reckon the rest of our debate is secondary.)

  20. @Michael
    I have striven to state my position as clearly as I can. You seem to be insisting that I conform to a particular mode of expression which I have been trying to avoid because I consider that using it will reduce clarity. However, I comply at your insistence: the form in which scientific laws occurred before humans arrived is the same form in which they continue to occur, namely, the form of patterns in events. I still think that my compliance is only going to make the discussion less clear, but you did insist.

  21. @J-D

    Thanks J-D. But if I can push the point even further: A microsecond before those events began to occur, just before there were observable events, in what form did those laws exist?

    Or didn’t those laws exist until there were events, and hence patterns that could be observed?

  22. @TerjeP

    Hi Terje

    The (Australian) Liberal Democrats have the same name as a British political party, yet their policies seem much libertarian.

    If it’s not the same party, they happen to have chosen a name that was likely to lead at least some voters to mistakenly conclude that they resemble the British Lib Dems (who greatly resemble and have friends in the Australian Dems).

    Was that honest?

  23. @kevin1

    To be highly encouraged. As noted above, I’m for what works best to remove fossil hydrocarbons from the energy cycle as soon as possible. I’m not so much in favour of nuclear power as not opposed to it in principle. At worst, the case is plausible. It’s not a carbon-intensive energy source. Properly managed, its ecological footprint is tiny compared with coal and gas, but there are some other perfectly valid considerations that make resort to it problematic — cost and schedule feasibility, the issue of civil rights and plant security (which is much too little discussed, IMO). There are some settings where the technical expertise and the management required would not in practice be adequate. People are entitled to think the nuclear game isn’t worth the candle, so I wouldn’t say the case for the inclusion of nuclear power is compelling or even persuasive in all settings.

    If Pandora’s Promise simply retails a series of half-truths, or fails to deal seriously with reasonable objections, then I will be amongst those who are annoyed.

  24. @J-D
    Hi J-D

    … and yet you’re saying

    “… the form in which scientific laws occurred before humans arrived is the same form in which they continue to occur, namely, the form of patterns in events”.


  25. @Michael
    The expression ‘a time before any human beings existed’ is meaningful. The expression ‘a time before any events occurred’ is not. The two expressions are not equivalent.

  26. Michael – the name was chosen circa 2001. I became involved with the party circa 2006. The name is based on the fact that the party advocates a shift to liberal democracy.

    In terms of friends in the Australian Democrats one of our candidates was recently elected to the Campbelltown council and now is in fact the mayor (Cr Clinton Mead). He used to be in the Australian Democrats. He didn’t find them liberal enough for his liking so he joined us.

    To answer the question directly “yes it was honest”. Voters have had plenty of opportunity to research our the policies and over time our popularity has grown. On a national basis we won nearly 4% of the vote this election.

    If the media or others feel there is some confusion between us and the Democrats, the Liberal Party or the Liberal Democrats in Britian then they are free to promote and highlight the differences. In fact I hope they do.

    There are lots is party names that share words:-

    Australian Democrats
    Liberal Democrats
    Christian Democrats
    Democratic Labour Party
    Liberal Party
    Labor Party
    Progressive Labour Party
    Social Equity
    Socialist Alliance

    And on it goes.

  27. @John Quiggin

    John – the devil is always in the detail. I doubt the LDP have many or even any deals to cut with Tony Abbott. Maybe a few suggestions if he will listen. Perhaps Tony Abbott has something to offer but there is nothing that I know of on the table. Time will tell but David Leyonhjelm has stated the party position pretty clearly. He is not there to stop the government governing. He will vote against any tax increase. He will vote for any reduction in civil liberties. No doubt he will be judged by LDP constituents and opponents on every decision. That is as it should be.

  28. @Hermit

    “..promised German nuclear phase-out. Bottom line; most of their nukes are still operating, “ Not true

    4 closed down in the 1970s
    5 closed down in the 1980s
    4 closed down in the 1990s
    2 closed between 2000 and 2005
    8 closed in 2011

    19 closed down in total

    Only 9 are still operating.



    “…coal fired power stations are being built,” True.

    How many, Hermit?

    “…emissions increased in 2012” True

    By how much, Hermit?

    Below is a U.K. summary report on the relationship between economic crises, coal power station investment and their expected future.


  29. @TerjeP
    That’s great Terje P.

    Why don’t you also say that you won’t vote for fascism, totalitarian versions of socialism, or communist dictatorships?

    That would add about as much to the conversation.

  30. So the Greens are fascists as well as socialists and communist dictators?

    Perhaps Clive Palmer was on the money when he said the CIA funds Greenpeace!

  31. I’m not sure which of those the Greens would be if they were ever in government but they are close to all of them in outlook. The common thread in thinking being the notion that state power must be mobilised to make a nation great.

  32. @TerjeP

    Though you did preference One Nation … who aren’t totalitarian/f@scist or c0mmun|st, but certainly were anti-libertarian, pro-protectionist etc …

    I regard your implication that The Greens fit one out of the descriptors:

    fascism, totalitarian versions of socialism, or communist dictatorships

    as ludicrous on the face of it. No part of our usages or policy has a totalitarian or even an authoritarian component. We have a more liberal policy towards free speech and civil rights than does the Coalition whom your party also preferenced ahead of us.

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