35 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. Ideas like this http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/07/will-helsinki-make-automobiles-obsolete.html make me think that we are a long way from seeing today’s technology pay off in full, but that there’s a lot of good stuff to come, and it needs changes in institutions, not necessarily changes in technology. Also that something like the NBN which pushes more data into peoples homes is not what we need — improvements in mobile data are more important.

    Ideally the Finnish system would be a ‘platform’ that any transport provider could ‘plug in to’.

  2. The NBN is the backhaul for mobile data, also. And the replacement for the telephone system.

  3. I have seen no discussion to the argument that if you are going to have a tax, the Carbon levy is not a bad one to have. The entire push by the coalition seems to be “is tax, is bad”. An argument that cannot be prosecuted to its logical conclusion.

    The response has been almost entirely that “Climate Change is real and this is the best way to tackle it”

    Can the case be made for the proposition that “A Carbon Levy is equivalent or less bad for the economy than other forms of revenue raising, but with the added advantage that changing behavior in the economy reducing the output of carbon into the atmosphere”?

  4. Mobile phones are the replacement for the telephone system — and more backhaul from exchanges is a good thing. But I should not have mentioned the NBN — guaranteed to derail any conversation 🙂

  5. I was surprised by the lack of comment on the recent call by a coalition backbencher to exempt the aluminium industry from “climate change legislation”

    I would have thought that for the world to move to a low carbon economy in the long term, the first industry to be targeted would be the aluminium smelting industry. It uses so much electricity that it needs to be sited where electricity is produced using renewable energy cheaply. (this is why Iceland has such a large smelting capacity with it’s geothermal electrical generating industry)

    There may be an argument that the aluminium smelting industry performs a network balancing function for the electrical grid (they come on when there is excess solar production and when the demand drops at night such that the coal fired generators have the pump in fuel to keep the generators turning over with no net electricity generation. But I have not seen any data to support this contention.

  6. @Mr T recall Joseph Stiglitz said on Q&A it’s politically easier to tax bad things than good things. That suggests we could tax carbon as net revenue raiser. However if any form of carbon abatement resurfaces in the political cycle perhaps it would be unwise to use the term ‘tax’.

    Pr Q has previously said there was too much discussion of that industry to which you refer. A couple of points I would note. Firstly no form of new energy can get within a cooee of the low prices that industry feels it is entitled to. Details are a commercial secret but are said to be in the range 2-4c per kwh which only already built big coal plants can get near on a 24/7 basis. The second point is that the industry used to insist it cannot throttle back since the molten aluminium will set hard or freeze. However apparently they can throttle back in heatwaves and re-sell some of their contracted power on the spot market. They are a good case for carbon tariffs rather than c.t. exemption which as of this morning was 90%.

  7. @Mr T
    It seems ridiculous that a quite rational and competent Treasurer like Costello didn’t get behind a carbon tax (preferably Carmody version) and use the proceeds to improve the structure of income tax. Howard would have been handed a political answer to the climate change clamour and, inter alia, Costello would have had some defence against Howard doing to him what Fraser did to Howard….

    Presumably the beat up on the carbon tax has been 90 per cent pure party political politics after Gillard had given the Coalition the amazing gift of her ridiculously extravagant promise. The Coalition could salve its consciences with the knowledge that nothing Australia does will affect the climate appreciably and the only issue was therefore which lot of money wasting politicians were the worst wasters. (I wonder if that great sportsman Malcolm Fraser forgave himself for setting up the Australian Institute of Sport when he opposed almost everyone- though giving way in the end- over our massive city in a hill known as Parliament House).

    What is the explanation for Gillard’s big blunder? The blunder I mean is her failure to ensure that the politically toxic so-called carbon tax was wrapped up from the outset in Emissions Trading guise? Abbott might have been just as dumb on that sort of issue but Turnbull wouldn’t have been.

  8. @Mr T
    Mr T: I thought aluminium pot lines have to run 24/7. Without power they solidify, which you really don’t want. The same goes for LD steel mills. But you are quire right that these should go where the energy’s cheap: Icelandic geothermal, Siberian, Brazilian and Canadian hydro, Gulf spare gas (else they just flare it).

  9. Now that power distribution companies can be sued for at least half a billion dollars of damages caused by power cables starting a massive bushfire, will power prices go up yet again? Presumably every power distribution company with wires running through bushland will need a good insurance policy, as well as better maintenance schedules. The insurance companies, on the other hand, are perfectly aware that with AGW in progress, the likelihood of such fires starting in the first place, and burning more ferociously once started, is only going to go up. Is it even insurable, or will power consumers simply have to bear the extra cost of law suits?

  10. @Midrash

    Presumably the beat up on the carbon tax has been 90 per cent pure party political politics after Gillard had given the Coalition the amazing gift of her ridiculously extravagant promise.

    So you making ridiculously extravagant claims about a “ridiculously extravagant promise”, yes?

  11. @Donald Oats
    Wow, that’s a real game changer. If there isn’t a legislative response to limit these kinds of damage payouts, I can see this moving power companies much quicker in the direction of distributed generation.

  12. There are multiple issues with electricity supply and fire hazard. This week people in Perth died when a blackout turned off their respirators. In heatwaves the frail elderly in 60’s built homes will need air conditioners as a necessity not a luxury. Fuel reduction burns can get out of control and destroy homes and livestock again with WA as a confirmed example. Also put kids in hospital with asthma from smoke. In my own case the sole access road to home is a fire hazard but the relevant forestry company has said it’s not their problem.

    With distributed generation there are the issues of average cost, redundancy and power quality standards. Your aircon may work in a bushfire if the power is locally generated but may not like it if the frequency or voltage goes out of whack. There are a raft of related issues and it is not clear that case by case litigation will achieve a best solution.

  13. @Hermit

    I would not be attempting to run my aircon if a bushfire was approaching. I would be evacuating early or attempting to defend my property depending on the estimated level of threat. Most likely I would remain on site defending. One of the first things I would be doing, well before the fire front hit, would be disconnecting all solar and mains power switches, circuit breakers etc. So there would be no question of running anything connected to house power circuits.

  14. Here’s the plan
    1) get out early unless the escape road is ablaze
    2) assuming mains power is out start the petrol powered water pump
    3) hose everything down leaving some water in the rainwater tanks for the last minute
    4) when it gets too much retreat to the fire bunker.

    The airtight bunker has LED lighting, sterilised water, a radio tuned to ABC Community and a copy of the house insurance policy. However on emerging there could be a burnt house and vehicles, dead or dying animals, melted water tanks and several kilometres of road blocked by smouldering trees. If the fire is ‘mega’ the emergency services may not get to you for several days. Despite the PM’s assurance this is all minor (he said AGW worsening the October fires was ‘hogwash’) some of us take it quite seriously.

  15. I’m reading Glen Greenwald’s book about Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations – “No Place To Hide”.

    It makes tin-foil hats sound like a very sensible choice of headwear after all.

    Tonight my mobile phone rang and I answered it, stating my name as I usually do. The call was from another mobile phone and I didn’t recognize the number. The person on the other end said their name and there was a long silence. I have known this person for years but apart from one or two occasions a few weeks ago we have never called each other.

    The conversation went like this:

    1. “Yes?”
    2. “Did you ring me?”
    1. “No – I just answered my phone when you rang me.”
    2. “But my phone rang and I answered it, I didn’t call you.”
    1&2. “That’s strange. Ok then, bye””

    I’m assuming that is the NSA, ASIO, ‘Five Eyes’ or DSD etc… until someone comes up with a watertight explanation of why that isn’t so.

    How often have others here had the “two phones ringing each other” experience?

  16. PS: The person is close to some people at the highest levels of conservative politics. The VERY highest.

  17. Megan – assisted synchronicity? but seriously, these are not normal times – suspicion is warranted. -a.v.

  18. I am having weird phone calls on my landline from a recorded message that says it is Virgin Airlines calling and my last flight was selected to receive a discount off my next flight if I press 1 to hear more.

    Thing is I have not ever flown with Virgin or any airline for the past 12 years.

  19. Well, well, well….

    Latest revelation just today in “The Intercept” in a piece by Greenwald includes this from GCHQ:

    “For connecting two target phone together in a call” (IMPERIAL BARGE)

    Not only was I right, they even have an official name for it.

  20. ZM :
    @Troy Prideaux
    The only thing I can think of is to create meta-data

    That doesn’t make sense unless I’m missing something. Why create meta-data for the sake of creating meta-data? To justify an increase in next year’s capital expenditure or budget? I can’t think of any meta-data that would be generated that would be unknown to an agency involved other than to verify the owners of the mobile phones are within close location of the devices (ie. close enough to answer the calls). The location of the devices should be available without needing to engage in a call?

  21. I don’t know – that doing so creates metadata was the only objective I could think of. I suppose seeing if people are near their phones is another. The only additional objective I can think of is to make particular targeted people feel anxious. Exactly how it is constitutional for the parliament to engage the public service to pursue these sorts of objectives against the people is a question that should be answered.

  22. @Troy Prideaux

    I don’t know either, but ZM is probably right.

    They have two numbers and they may want to fish? E.g. do the people know each other? How, and on what basis? It could even be as simple as freaking you out by letting you know ‘Big Brother Is Watching’?

    Snowden’s worst fear, by his own account, was that “nothing will change.”

    “People will see in the media all these disclosures, they’ll know the lengths the government is going to grant themselves powers, unilaterally, to create greater control over American society and global society,” he told The Guardian last month after he’d asked it to identify him as its source. “But they won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.”

    Maybe some people are quite OK with unaccountable pervasive government intrusion, I’m not.

  23. @Megan

    Remember, I run an annoying website which is critical of our political and media establishment and the other person has connections to politicians.

    Dissent will not be tolerated. Remember also that they spy on peace activists, environmental activists etc..

  24. @Megan
    OK, that does make sense and is quite scary. A couple of years ago I would’ve said that such a conspiracy hunch would be just plain wacky. It’s quite sad that now I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it were spot on the money [deep sigh]

  25. Bugging can create glitches in communications systems. In the old days it was odd clicks on the line, lines open when they shouldn’t be and unexplained odd connections like the instance Megan notes.

    An odd event or odd series of events could be a normal bug event or sequence of the system or it could be induced by the interference of bugging and hacking. There is no way to know from the limited information a user or customer has access to.

    However, it is patently clear that the modern security state has access to everything if it wants to access, and I mean both metadata and data. So you could proceed on the assumption that the state can listen to very word you utter into any communication device, every piece of text you type on an electronic device, and that it has the potential to make full access to your social media accounts and indeed full access to your home PC if it is connected to the internet.

    Note I used the word “can”. Saying the state can do this is not the same as saying it is doing it in all cases for all citizens.

  26. @Troy Prideaux

    As an aside, I’m now onto my fourth computer in 3 weeks. Two brand new ones were returned and replaced in quick succession when they inexplicably had issues. In each case the ‘techs’ went through them thoroughly and ran a full factory reset but couldn’t resolve the problems. A third one had a complete failure and couldn’t even run the factory reset or an external reset. After two weeks in repair (hard drive and mother boards replaced and new factory reset using a new set of discs ordered in) it still has some issues – even though it is essentially a brand new computer.

    Just a coincidence, probably. Surely.

    I’m a bit surprised at the level of complacency around the hard evidence we have seen from Snowden so far. For example, the documents show around 20Billion communications recorded and stored daily from all over the world. The NSA explicitly (see the documents) declares its goal to “Collect It All”.

    So on that basis it strikes me as counterintuitive to adopt the position of assuming they’re not doing it rather than that they are.

  27. And what’s more, those who sleep well at night under the impression they’re safe from such activities because it’s illegal for our agencies to do it should be aware that there’s no legal barriers stopping foreign agencies/parties from conducting such activities and for such agencies/parties to just handover the data to our agencies/parties because they deem it to be in “our public” interest.

  28. @Troy Prideaux

    I wondered that too (I mean, about what would be the point) but then I reconsidered on the reflection that there’s no reason to expect the activities of ASIO (and like secret intelligence organisations) to make sense.

  29. Yee-ha! Just wait for this to hit the Newscorpse outrage bureau.

    The Islamic State claimed that an Australian fighter killed several Iraqis in a suicide attack at a Shia shrine in Baghdad today.

    The Islamic State said today’s attack in Baghdad was executed by “the brother,
    the knight, the emigrant, Abu Bakr al Australi,” according to a translation of the statement by the SITE Intelligence Group. Abu Bakr’s real name has not been disclosed.

    Australian jihadists in Iraq and Syria

    Several prominent Australian clerics are known to have traveled to Syria to support the jihad. Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, a firebrand cleric while in Australia, is currently a senior sharia (Islamic law) official in the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, which is a rival of the Islamic State. Abu Sulayman has been critical of the Islamic State in the past.

    Mustapha al Majzoub, a dual Australian and Syrian citizen who resided in Sydney before traveling to Syria, was killed in a rocket attack in Aleppo on Aug. 19, 2012. According to jihadists, Majzoub was known for his efforts to recruit fighters from Australia, and had gone to Syria in June 2012 to “join the resistance alongside jihadi Salafis.”

    Also, Musa Cerantonio, an Australia cleric who supported and joined the Islamic State, was captured in the Philippines on July 11. Cerantonio claimed on July 1 that he was traveling to Syria to support the Islamic State.

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