33 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. Tony Abbott, right on cue, says he’ll do what we expected of him: stay on. That’s one shoe dropped; the other shoe, tipping PM Malcolm Turnbull out of the chair by way of returning the favour, should drop just before the election is called, or thereabouts. Put on the kettle, brew a cuppa, and turn the telly on: it should be news soon enough :-0

    Really though, I bet he has fantasised about book-ending Turnbull by toppling him before he can gain the vindication of winning an election in his own right. And I hope he does try that.

  2. @Donald Oats

    One can only hope the Liberals have learnt how to self-destruct from Labor. Maybe if both neoliberal parties self-destruct we can hope for a better future… one day, probably after I am dead. Maybe my adult offspring (English needs a word for this) will see good government in their lifetimes. Crikey! I am almost becoming an optimist.

  3. What is the essential reading for a progressive political nerd (or any political nerd, really)?

    It occurs to me that for all my engagement with political commentary and activism, I haven’t actually read that deeply, and I’m mostly informed by journalism.

    What are the key texts to understanding modern economics, political theory and the basis of power? I assume Das Kapital and the Piketty behemoth, but please hit me with everything you consider indispensable.

  4. @Sancho I would start with a book or two in economic history first (which, in a way both Marx and Piketty are). It may also be better to start with easy to read books, which I’ve tagged here with ER.

    ER: Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction, by Robert C. Allen [tiny introduction to world (economic) history, less than 200 pages].

    Another interesting way of looking a economic history is to look at what the commentators wrote, at the time, about their own world and why they wrote it.
    * I like Bolshevik dissident: Isaac Rubin’s “A History of Economic Thought”. It’s an interesting review of economic thinkers before Marx written from a Marxian perspective. Pluto reissued it for Kindle last year. Since I read it there are now tons of books on economic history and analysis. It used to be Schumpeter’s “History of Economic Analysis” was the standard. There are quite a few more now.
    * Steve Keen rebuking a conventional economics: “Debunking Economics” is readable and interesting, as are many of his free online videos:

    ER: Ha-Joon Chang has a few popular economics books:
    * 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism
    * Economics: The User’s Guide
    * Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism
    * Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective

    The Piketty (700 pages) and Marx (1152 pages) books you spoke of are both long. I guess you still need to read Piketty. It is a, sort of, introduction to economics. Beware : some of Marx’s most important arguments are missing from Das Kapital I.

    ER: Our host, John Quiggin has a good book on the GFC: “Zombie Economics”, which is well worth a read.

    I’d be fascinated to read what John Quiggin suggests.

  5. @Sancho

    Reading books on economics does not really instil a proper understanding. Frank Stilwells “Political Economy” textbook can possibly be read on its own.

    If possible I recommend enrolling in a standard regular university first and then second year microeconomics course and do the tutorials and exams.

    Then you will be equipped to read Marx and have a good laugh at Keynes’ User Cost theory.

    You will then get good value going through Joan Robinson’s essays and Samuelson’s textbook.

    If none of that applies in your situation then many people have spoken highly of Jim Stafford’s “Economics for Everyone”.

  6. The latest polls have Trump way ahead of Cruz in Iowa, it’s yuge. National Review have published a special issue attacking Trump, but there are hints other conservative elites are favourable towards him because they think they can deal with him haha. If his endorsements plus Palin work out for him, he should have an easy run through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, building up pretty good momentum before the bigger states come into play. Are we witnessing the fantastic crash and burn of the Republican clown car, or the birth of a truly frightening new era in American history? Let’s hope the former!

  7. Thanks for the feedback.

    I considered taking an actual course of study, but realistically I’ll have to wait until retirement. All my study time until then will be professional development.

    Re Trump, I think he’s grossly misunderstood. Rather than a right-wing extremist, I reckon he’s more of an amoral Glenn Beck-style performance artist who’s more interested in how far the act can go than in actually achieving ideological goals.

    His presidency would be nasty, but not the sort of fascist dictatorship that’s being predicted.

  8. For intelligent commentary on the US presidential election see Nat Silver’s site Five Thirty Eight http://fivethirtyeight.com/contributors/nate-silver/ which discusses some of the political theory and assessment of the role and limits of the US party system. There are some subtleties of the primaries which need to be kept in mind = some of the early Republican primaries are proportionate in assignment of delegates – many of the later winners takes all. Totally confusing – but the commentary makes more sense of the polls than most of the media

  9. Just back in Australia for a moment can I belatedly urge everyone to get behind the Survival Day, Invasion Day movement if you haven’t already (I guess most readers of this blog already would be in fact). It’s an important symbolic step to reconciliation to stop celebrating a day that separates us rather than unites us.

  10. @Ikonoclast

    “Maybe my adult offspring (English needs a word for this) ”

    Well there’s over a million words in English (depending on who, or more precisely, what, is doing the counting) and the Global Language Monitor reckons a new (English) word is created every 98 minutes*.

    So there probably is a word for it, or if there isn’t (who’s volunteering to search the dictionary ?), then follow the tradition and pick up a suitable word from any other language on the planet.

    * the Oxford Dictionary folks reckon there’s really only about 250,000 ‘unique’ English words, so take your pick.

  11. @GrueBleen
    What is the problem with a two-word noun phrase? The classic route is first to hyphenate, then drop the hyphen: cup bearer, cup-bearer, cupbearer. This does not work with “adult offspring” for some obscure reason, but it would with “grown children”. Note that there is no compaction in this process.

  12. @James Wimberley

    I don’t have a problem with it James (I don’t have any, anyway), I was just trying to help Ikonoclast (2nd comment posted) who apparently wants a single word for it.

    I mean, having shadenfreude instead of “taking pleasure from another’s misfortune” is one thing, but I quite agree that saying, or writing, “adult offspring” isn’t very demanding.

    On the other hand, the economists of the free market are always insisting that we must be maximally efficient in everything we do, no matter how small or insignificant. So I guess saying or writing two words when one should do is a form of attempted sabotage of the invisible hand.

    Or something.

  13. I used to think we needed another national day apart from Jan 26. But now I think we can do all that we need to do for our national day on the 26th. We can remember and mourn the invasion, and we can celebrate survival, Australia and the fair, diverse and free future we are working towards – all at the same time.

  14. Australia should try something different. How about not having a national day? Why do we need a national day? This self-congratulatory celebration mania needs to stop. Maybe we could try actually fixing things, like fixing unemployment and inequality instead of congratulating ourselves on how great we are… NOT.

  15. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/11/microcredit-muhammad-yunus-bono-clinton-foundation-global-poverty-entrepreneurial-charity/

    Remember Microcredit, that phenomenon from a few years back that showed so it was claimed that capitalism can be warm and cuddly like carbon trading.

    Sadly a bit like Mother Theresa this emperor also appears to have no clothes.

    Of course bursting the bubble needs more than one independent source. Still comments / observations on this would be interesting.

    Thoughts? Verification?

  16. @Newtownian

    Of course, neoliberal or unfettered capitalism always exploits. It immiserates or sends backwards the fortunes of all except the capitalists and their functionary classes (managers, bankers, econocrats, technocrats, securitats). You can count on unfettered capitalism to do this 100% of the time.

  17. In terms of the discussion of Australia Day/Invasion Day, Noel Pearson in the Guardian today had what I thought was a good idea of making the day (or another date) a day to commemorate three events:

    “Pearson also called for changes to Australia Day, suggesting the event be adjusted to commemorate three moments in Australian history rather than just the arrival of the first fleet.

    Also celebrated should be the moment 53,000 years ago “when the first Australians crossed the Torres Strait land bridge to this continent” and the removal of the White Australia policy in the 1970s.

    “It is these dates that speak to the three parts of Australia, our Indigenous heritage, the fact of our British colonisation and the removal of discrimination against migrants,” he said.

    “It can’t just be about what was destroyed. It must also be about what we have built.””


  18. Vale Marvin Minsky – thinker, innovator, educator, genius.

    A renaissance person of our times, who touched all our lives in many ways.

    “”You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way.””

  19. @ZM
    I’ve also heard it suggested that the date should be moved to 16 August, which was when Whitlam handed back Vincent Lingiari title to the Gurindji land (i.e. the first formal recognition of Aboriginal land rights). Seems like a pretty good idea to me. Of course, because the date has something to with Whitlam, it would be difficult to get bipartisan support for it. But then, that’s nothing new.

  20. It has been 30 years since the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up. Looking at an American site I see it was a really big deal for them. Nowadays “Space Shuttle” is just a two word word for expensive killer space boondogle, but in general Americans did not even start to cotton on that the space shuttle program was a disaster until after the disaster. But that’s to be expected, I guess. Only 14 years had passed since they had finished plonking people on the moon and bringing them back again, which was something they were very proud of. And to be fair, the Apollo program completely achieved its goal, which was to plonk people on the moon and bring them back again, and only directly killed three people and they were on the ground and so they were easier to ignore than if they had died on launch or on the way there or back again.

    But the shuttle program was a complete disaster in that it never achieved its goal which was to make space travel cheaper. It was not capable of achieving its goal in the form that was approved, and two out of five of them blew up. Looking on the bright side though, I guess one could always say the space shuttle was actually quite safe as measured in terms of deaths per kilometer.

    Concorde was a similar, though smaller scaled disaster. The British government share of developing Concorde was 900 million pounds. They made 7.2 million in ticket sales and then they sold it for 9.3 million pounds for a total cost to the British public of about 884 million pounds. And while its kill rate of around 1 per 10,000 passenger flights is horrible compared to modern trans Atlantic flight, it doesn’t seem so bad compard to the space shuttle’s rate of around one fatality per 50 passenger flights.

  21. @Ronald Brak
    Also, the Concorde: travelling at Mach 2, at 54,000 feet, gazing down at the visible curvature of the Earth, glass of champagne in hand. Yep, it was an elitist boondoggle – but what a boondoggle!

  22. Well, I guess one could make the arguement for either or both the Concorde and Space Shuttle being clever machines. The Concorde for being a successful, though expensive, supersonic airliner which may well have lasted until retirement without a serious accident if the dice had rolled the other way. And, looking back, the Space Shuttle for managing not to explode 133 out of 135 times. Looking at the design, its flaws, and the inherent danger or rocketry, it is a testament to NASA’s ingenuity that the orbiters only had a two fifths catastrophic failure rate. And it is a testament to their stupidity that they tried in the first place.

  23. @Ronald Brak
    Without dismissing the shuttle’s flaws, I was thinking of a couple of its good points, which haven’t been present in other spacecraft (to date) – namely, the capacity to deliver up to seven astronauts into low Earth orbit at a time (in only moderately extreme danger ;)), to retrieve large objects from orbit, and to have been reusable to a surprising degree.

    Although the shuttle program was undoubtedly a failure in terms of both its original objectives and its safety record, I’m not convinced it’s fair to say NASA was stupid to pursue the project, even if achieving the objectives proved beyond the technological capability at the time with the budget available.

    I suppose, if one takes the view that all human space travel is pretty stupid, compared with robotic exploration, then the program was stupid, but personally I vacillate between agreeing with that position and thinking it takes an excessively rationalist approach. Non-rational goals are important – without them, most human reasons for doing anything would disappear. 🙂

  24. Yes, reuseable to a surprising degree is exactly how I would describe the space shuttle.

    I definitely come down on the side that NASA was stupid to go ahead with the shuttle program in the final form that it came down to. One didn’t have to be rocket scientist to realise that after all the horse trading and compromises that were rolled into the program that it was not possible for the shuttle program to achieve its goals with the budget it was offered.

    Of course it does help to be a rocket scientist when it comes to reaching this conclusion, but NASA had plenty of them, so that’s no excuse. The only reason I can see for NASA agreeing to go ahead with the program was that without a major new program NASA was at definite risk of becoming a much smaller organisation.

    I am willing to admit that stupid may not be the best term to use to decribe NASA’s decision. But it seems so much more polite than evil.

    And if their goal was to irrationally put more people into space, then they would have been much closer to achieving that goal if they had rationally chosen a project that would move them closer to it, rather than set them back.

    And here we are in 2016 and someone has finally gotten a first stage booster to land in one piece after use 42 years after the start of the Space Shuttle program and 4 years after its end.

  25. I am willing to admit that stupid may not be the best term to use to decribe NASA’s decision. But it seems so much more polite than evil.


    @Ronald Brak
    The rest sounds like 20-20 hindsight to me. Just sayin’.

  26. @Tim Macknay
    The whole program was a compromise from the start and let’s face it – it was a jobs program 1st and foremost. NASA wanted a fully reusable vehicle back in the IIRC late 60s after the development of Apollo effectively started winding down – effectively an up-scale X-20 ie a 2 stage vehicle but 75 times larger than dyna-soar. After the Apollo bottomless money pit, there was no way the OMB was willing to fund the development cost of NASA’s proposal. So, it was either a compromise with a lower development cost project and ditch the fully reusability low launch cost proposal or possibly wind up with nothing at all. That was the pistol that was firmly pointed into NASA’s temple.
    IIRC the Air Force also required something of substantial payload capacity to launch their spy sats which was utilised in getting what finished up being the successful proposal over the line although I’m not sure it was ever used for such missions.
    It was all politics at the end of the day. No stupidity, but an awful waste of money and NASA knew it all along even before Nixon approved the final design. NASA never liked it.

  27. Tim, they were shooting people into space for no good reason. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that is going to get people killed at some point and it didn’t require hindsight to realise that. After all, people had already died as a result of being shot into space and there had been plenty of close calls. And I’m sure that performing actions that kill people for no good reason would be described as evil by some people. But as I pointed out, not me. I’ll stick with the word stupid for now because I’m a polite person.

  28. @Ronald Brak
    I think you’re over-egging it by saying they were doing it for no reason (Also, I could be wrong but I seem to recall that participation in the NASA astronaut program was voluntary). But anyway, I’m not being paid to defend NASA’s past decisions, so I’ll leave it there. 🙂

  29. Tim, I know all about that. In a very real and legal sense. It appears that people are allowed to volunteer to be put into dangerous situations as much as they like, but if I actually put them in a life threatening situation then I am committing a “crime”. It seems like a clear set of double standards to me. One standard for the military and another for would be genius game show producers.

  30. Exactly RB, or as my favourite scientist concluded: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

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