31/5/2007

Meet the Aboriginal People…

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:49 am

…they never taught you about at school: http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/time-to-meet-the-aborigines-you-werent-taught-about/2007/05/30/1180205335534.html

(paging Marshie ;))

30/5/2007

More on Public and Private Schooling

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:07 pm

Again, not a balanced consideration of the issues, an opinion piece. In particular the opening anecdote of the disgruntled private school teacher is just that, a single anecdote, not a description of a whole system. But this article does address some of the reasons why my kids attend a good state high school, not a private school.

http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/time-to-go-local/2007/05/29/1180205246164.html

29/5/2007

‘Offsets’ is a dirty word

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:19 am

At least we’re starting to see some acknowledgement of the reality of climate change on the part of the Australian government – if only because it’s an election year and they’re miles behind in the polls and they realise the electorate is miles ahead of them on this issue. So they’re going to spend $23m on advertising to inform us about ‘their leadership on climate change’. What? The response to climate change is to use taxpayer funds for a massive campaign blitz for the sitting government? Hardly surprising we’re in the mess we’re in. As someone pointed out, that $23m would have bought close to 3000 full solar systems for houses, significantly cutting the need for coal-generated power.

The other piece that is really annoying me is the fact that the discussion is almost entirely about ‘offsets’ and ‘carbon trading’, and not at all about carbon sequestration, alternative energy or energy efficiency. You can now pay $2 a day on top of your car rental to ‘offset’ the carbon from the fuel used. You can do the same with airline tickets, and the government is basically all about creating a system for carbon trading within the region.

But all that does is shift money around, without reducing carbon emissions. It might get some trees planted, but all the incentives would be to plant fast-growing trees, harvest them quickly then plant more to get more offsets. The rest will just go to people who would not be producing carbon anyway, as a kind of ‘indulgence’ so that we in the industralised countries can keep spewing out as much as we like.

I guess if there ends up being a net transfer of wealth from rich to poor countries it’s not all bad, but basically ‘offsets’ and ‘carbon trading’ are systems for moving money around (and making sure Howard’s banker mates get a good slice of the action on the way through) that do nothing to reduce total carbon emissions. These approaches might be stopgaps if they were being used in addtion to serious funding for research and development of alternative energy sources, but are part of the problem rather than part of the solution when they’re used instead.

More on Leaving Iraq

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:19 am

Glenn Greenwald takes up a question we discussed here last week: about the consequences of withdrawing from Iraq:

http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/?last_story=/opinion/greenwald/2007/05/28/iraq_risks/

28/5/2007

More Google Fruit

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:37 am

‘Bravus’ brand condoms

Strange Fame

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:45 am

I went on a bit of a google this morning to see which libraries around the world might have picked up my Undead Theories book. Heaps bought the earlier book (Weaving Narrative Nets), but probably as much because it was part of a series as on its own merits.

In the process I found this reference, in a place I wouldn’t really expect to find myself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photomontage

Turns out I’m being used on Wikipedia as a source for the term ‘photoshopping’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photoshopping

It ain’t ‘cyberspace’, but it’s cool in a sideways way.

Here’s the relevant paragraph:

The metaphor of photography may seem on the surface to accord more closely with positivist and quantitative views of research than with qualitative ones – capturing a ‘snapshot’ of reality as it really is. But even in photography there is selection in the framing of the shot (space) and when the shutter is opened (time). There is the selection of lenses and filters. And with digital photography there is also the possibility of photoshopping – digitally editing the representation to make it more aesthetically pleasing, or to change decisions about framing. More importantly, the selections made can be used to make a case for particular changes to practice – what we are working on is not holiday snaps to stimulate memory so much as a photo essay intended to inform others and incite action. I don’t want to wear out the metaphor, but ‘ways to look’ essentially correspond to Eisner’s (1998) ‘connoisseurship’ – it is only when we find ‘ways to share’ (the equivalents of drawing, painting, photography, cinematography) that we move into being educational ‘critics’ who can share the qualities of an experience with others in rich ways.

25/5/2007

The News Continues Bad

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:09 am

Southern Ocean not absorbing as much CO2

There are a number of different ‘positive forcings’ that seem to all be occurring sooner and bigger than expected. Far from the natural world finding ways to neutralise human activity, it seems that human activity is unbalancing natural systems in ways that will reinforce the effects of that activity.

Which is to say that it is rapidly coming to look as though climate change will be worse, faster, than even the most pessimistic models.

24/5/2007

I Find That It Helps To Believe…

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:41 am

…that Someone is guiding my path and planning my days. We’ve put in rental applications for two houses, both quite different but both of which would have been great for us. Both missed out for various reasons (not ones that will impact further applications), but I’m going to see another one today, and if it doesn’t have any glaring flaws, then it will be better for us than either of the others (and cheaper) and we’ll put in an application. It helps to believe that we missed the two because something better was in store, and if not this one it’ll be another one.

Same with bikes… found an absolute bargain on the kind I wanted, missed out by literally an hour because someone else snapped it up. Found another bargain last night, went so far as to apply for a loan, rang the guy this morning… and found out that he knows it’s a very cheap price, he priced it that way when he was desperate to sell it to get cash for another opportunity, but that opportunity has since fallen through, he’s fallen back in love with the bike and spent more money on it… he’s having a think over night about what he wants to do, but my gut feeling is he’ll either say he’s taking it off the market or that he wants more money for it (which I don’t have permission from She Who Must Be Obeyed to do).

It helps to think that the perfect bike for me is still out there. After all, He did pretty well on guiding me to the perfect wife.

Genocide in Iraq

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:46 am

…seems to be the default assumption if the US – sorry, I mean the Coalition of the Willing, of course – leaves the country1.

I doubt it, or at least, doubt that it would occur in a way any more dramatic than the violence that’s already occuring there. The occupation is the irritant and the target… sure, there’d be some on-going sectarian violence2, but as has been noted elsewhere, it would be necessary for the regional powers to start using their influence for stability, for their own sake.

The best way out of this war, absolutely, was never to get into it. I believe I said so at the time. But with the greatest respect to the notion of fixing the damage done before leaving, I do think that’s impossible, because the local people will be focusing on destroying the occupation, not on rebuilding their country, as long as the occupation is in place.

This thoughtful piece of analysis from Robert Dreyfuss4 suggests that (surprise) maybe the conventional wisdom is wrong on the question of what would happen in the case of a withdrawal:

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2007/0703.dreyfuss.html

  1. Some recycled electrons (from the William Gibson Board) used in the construction of this post
  2. You broke it, you bought it3… but there’s no way to glue it back together – congrats, neocons, you just created a whole new Israel/Palestine
  3. And incidentally it was never for sale
  4. Thanks to RobW for the link

23/5/2007

End Public Funding for Private Schools

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:35 pm

My mates on the right of politics might disagree with me on this one… but hey, most of them homeschool so they probably aren’t keen to see their taxes go to private schools. But this article from The Age by Catherine Deveny, along with the Shane Moloney speech it links, takes on this issue head on:

http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/nauseating-obsession/2007/05/22/1179601407657.html

One little fact Deveny quotes? “…federal funding for private schools will increase from $5.8 billion to $7.5 billion over the next five years. Funding to public schools will rise from $3.1 billion to $3.4 billion over the next five years.”

The Plaint, and the Plight, of the Privileged

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:13 am

A couple of things came together in my mind yesterday as I was sitting at the Ipswich police station, waiting to be fingerprinted1. I was reading the posters on the wall, which were about all sorts of things, but some were about domestic violence. I noticed a couple that called on all men to take responsibility for stopping domestic violence, and others with help line numbers and so on. But I also noticed a couple saying things like ‘Domestic violence happens to men too’. In fact, there were probably as many of those as the others. On closer inspection they all said they were sponsored by the Men’s Rights Agency.

Now, I know it’s true – men do get beaten by women sometimes, and it’s a horrible thing when it happens. But it happens at a tiny fraction of the rate at which the reverse happens, so equal billing doesn’t seem proportionate somehow. It seems as though the men, whose sex produces so much of the pain of domestic violence and suffers such a proportionally small amount, are protesting too much.

This linked up in my mind with Newt Gingrich’s commencement (graduation) address a few days ago at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. It includes this comment:

A growing culture of radical secularism declares that the nation cannot publicly profess the truths on which it was founded. We are told that our public schools cannot invoke the Creator, nor proclaim the natural law, nor profess the God-given equality of human rights. …today it is impossible to miss the discrimination against religious believers.

Gingrich goes on to cite some cases, such as those of a teacher suspended for wearing a cross to work (without bothering to mention that the case went to court and she was rehired because the action was found to be unconsitutional). But it seems like the plaint of the privileged: when was the last time an athiest was President? There is massive and institutionalised discrimination for Christianity and against other faiths (Gingrich also talks about the ‘evil ideology’ of Islam in his speech without noting the irony) in the United States. There might be small and few occasions on which the courts decide that that massive ‘positive discrimination’ is unfair and seek to create some balance, but to claim that there is a culture hostile to Christianity in power in America is just delusional.

And yet… How much would it suck to be a beaten husband? The system is set up to protect beaten wives and children from male agressors, and many of its assumptions are slanted that way (this is changing). So in addition to the abuse itself, the man would face extra hassles in getting support and protection, as well as any stigma from ‘not being able to stand up for himself’ or whatever nonsense people can imagine. In other words, I guess I’m saying that most times the plaint of the privileged is just the squealing as the playing field is leveled, and whinging about losing some of the advantages they have enjoyed in the past (Affirmative Action policies to make hiring and educating women and minorities easier come to mind as an example of this).

But in situations where an individual from a privileged group suffers genuine abuse or discrimination, that individual’s plight is likely to be particularly difficult and need to be treated with particular compassion.

  1. Don’t worry, I haven’t embarked on a life of crime. I’m trying to get registered as a teacher in Queensland so I can supervise practice teachers, and as part of that need to send my fingerprints to Canada to get a criminal record check for my time there

22/5/2007

Big Words 2

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:53 am

I posted a month or so ago on the topic of using big or unfamiliar words. Messing about today I found a poem I wrote around the same time on the same topic:

I didn’t use that
Word you’ve never
Heard before to
Put you down
Honest

It’s just that I
Couldn’t think of
Any other one that
Meant the same and
Rang with all the
Appropriate connotations
And signifiers

Ah crap
I’ve done it again
Haven’t I

21/5/2007

The Tide Is Turning

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:57 pm

Party Popularity

This graphic shows the poll results for the two major Australian political parties over the past few years, since before the last election. The next election is later this year, and it’s certainly looking at this stage (as acknowledged by the current Prime Minister today) as though we might be in for a change of government. It’s well overdue, in my opinion, and I’ve ranted about the Howard government here before.

One interesting artefact is that the Labor party’s popularity was already on an upward trend prior to the arrival of Kevin Rudd, the new Labor leader, who has been being given much of the credit for their revived fortunes. The trend has continued, and he hasn’t done anything major to derail it, but I suspect more of the credit (or blame) goes to the Howard government’s ‘WorkChoices1 industrial relations package. The changes came into effect in March 2006 – not coincidentally about the time of that huge dip in government popularity and spike in opposition popularity on the graph.

Much as I’d like to think Australians have also woken up to Howard’s divisiveness on race and (dis)advantage, his selling off of all our assets and his extreme economy with the truth, I suspect it’s those changes – which basically mean companies can erode workers’ pay and conditions at will – that are the core of the changes we’re saying. I suspect that housing affordability might be beginning to bite to: Howard is very popular with those who owned houses before the current housing bubble, and have seen their (illusionary) net worth boom, but more and more voters are going to be the young couples who can see the dream of home ownership (and any sort of sane commute to work) slipping further and further out of their grasp.

I hope that, whatever the reasons, we do get a change of government. And, perhaps even more optimistically, that Labor don’t just end up being ‘Howard Lite’… more neoliberal economic policy and shareholder driven attacks on our rights and standard of living, just with a slightly kinder and gentler face.

  1. In a fairly typical piece of early 21st century ‘perception engineering’ that term has now been banished from the government’s IR lexicon.

20/5/2007

Environmental Stewardship and the ‘Good King’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:32 pm

It’s a fairly common theme in fantasy literature, and in history: the good king is the one who, despite having absolute executive authority1 cared for the land and the people, and found ways to increase the prosperity and the living conditions of all his subjects. The bad king2 was a tyrant and had no concern for the land, only for increasing his own wealth and luxury. The good king is loved and cheered, the bad king is hated and feared.

The traditional Christian belief structure, which has been very pervasive in Western society, is that God gave humans dominion over the rest of the natural world at creation. Verse 28 of Genesis One, in the King James Version, says:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

‘The Message’ paraphrase renders it as ‘be responsible for’, but I suspect that’s a bit of a modern spin: most of the translations use some variant of ‘rule over’.

But it often seems to me as though the alliance between Christianity and capitalism in the last century and this one has led to Christians endorsing the exploitative, unconcerned ‘bad king’ role in relation to the natural environment. Might there be a case to be made for being good kings: for taking the power that we have over the natural world by virtue of our intelligence and technology, and using it to sustain, defend, protect and extend the natural world, rather than to exploit it to death?

  1. “…derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony” – sorry, Monty Python moment there
  2. or more usually the usurper to the throne, since part of the myth of the divine right of kings was that a king of the true line was always a good king and a usurper always had ‘bad blood’

19/5/2007

Pascal’s Reverse Wager

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:32 pm

Pascal’s Wager, as described in his Pensees, is as follows:

“God either exists or He doesn’t. Based on the testimony, both general revelation (nature) and special revelation (Scriptures/Bible), it is safe to assume that God does in fact exist. It is abundantly fair to conceive, that there is at least 50% chance that the Christian Creator God does in fact exist. Therefore, since we stand to gain eternity, and thus infinity, the wise and safe choice is to live as though God does exist. If we are right, we gain everything, and lose nothing. If we are wrong, we lose nothing and gain nothing. Therefore, based on simple mathematics, only the fool would choose to live a Godless life. … Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have nothing to lose. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

In other words, for any bet, whether or not it is a good bet is related to two things: the probability of the bet winning, and the size of the possible winnings. In fact, you can multiply one by the other to figure out how good a bet is. (Lotto is not a particularly good bet, because the first prize is large but the odds against winning are even larger. Nonetheless the size of the potential prize is compelling enough that lots of people play.)

Pascal said that if we don’t believe in God, and are right, we gain nothing (in terms of rewards beyond those of normal living, that is). If we don’t believe in God and are wrong, we lose eternal life, an infinite prize. If we believe in God and are wrong, we lose nothing. If we believe in God and are right, we gain eternal life. So, based on probability, it makes more sense to believe in God.

Now, leave aside for a moment the complications of the fact that humans have concieved of not one God, but many, and that even those who believe in the same God believe in him in different ways. That complicates the probability argument enormously. I want to look at another part of the argument.

That is the notion that if you believe in God and are wrong, you lose nothing. That is true only if believing in God makes your life here on earth better, or at the very least does not make it worse. That may well be the case, but it’s a separate matter that complicates Pascal’s Wager. So let’s turn the logic around:

If it turns out that this short life on earth is all we have: that we are the (sublime) products of evolution, and we have a few years of consciousness between aeons of non-existence… then whatever happens in this life is all we have, and therefore, for us, subjectively speaking, is of infinite significance.

If that is the case, and believing in God makes our lives worse, then it doesn’t cost us nothing, it costs us everything, turning Pascal’s Wager on its head. So the logic does need to be that fraction more complicated. In Pascal’s Wager there are two variables: (1) the reality of God’s existence and (2) our belief in God. Adding this dimension adds a third variable (3) whether the effect of belief in God has a net positive or negative effect on our lives – the lives that are potentially all the eternity we ever get.

The conclusion of the whole matter, for me, is that if we are to believe in God it must improve our lives. I don’t mean that in hedonistic terms: I’m not saying we believe in God and drink and drug and whore and fight and steal. That doesn’t improve our lives. Service and even sacrifice can improve our lives if they’re fulfilling, if we’re doing them because they’re the right thing to do and they spread health, life and happiness. But a religion that keeps us feeling guilty, depraved and fearful all the time, and tells us we’re worms, and manipulates us? If it turns out that this is all the life we get, that religion is the worst bet of all.

18/5/2007

Complexity – A Metal Sampler

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:02 am

There were a variety of comments on this week’s earlier post about metal and the ‘bright child’, so I thought I’d play with it a little more. For a start, the Telegraph (with the linked article) clearly didn’t know much about metal, since they included AC/DC (hard rock) and a photo of Brian May from Queen (rock) and facts and info on Dexter Holland of the Offspring (punkish rock).

A comment on the original story at the Telegraph by a reader rang true for me: the research and the article seemed to concentrate too much on the ‘metal as catharsis’ factor – metal is loud and angry-sounding, and (they seemed to imply) helps to make woossy little swots feel big and tough. I think it’s much more about the richness and complexity of metal’s music and lyrics (yeah, OK, I’m biased). But I also felt as though most people who read the article in the paper and my earlier post probably don’t really have a sense of what modern metal is like, so here’s a bit of a sampler. I’ve including lyrics links too for your edification.

Haggard – Eppur Se Muovelyrics – Operatic metal from Germany about Galileo’s trial for heresy for claiming that the earth orbits the sun

Agalloch – In the Shadow of Our Pale Companionlyrics – folky doomy metal from the northwestern US

Zao – The Psalm Of The City Of The Deadlyrics – Christian metal – a concept album about the notion of the world turning away from God and the consequences of that

Beneath the Massacre – Society’s Disposable Sonlyrics – extreme metal from Montreal – you’ll almost certainly hate the vocal style, but try to listen to the drums and guitars and the sheer skill and talent involved

Doesn’t matter so much whether you like it (or agree with the words), as that you recognise why a smart kid might find it more complex, thoughtful and compelling than the latest repetitive and banal top 40 pop hit.

17/5/2007

On Smoke and Mirrors (and looking after your richest mates)

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:27 am

Kenneth Davidson consistently writes thoughtful, excellent, well-informed commentary on the Australian economy. Here’s his take on the Federal Budget and the Education Endowment Fund I wrote about last week:

http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/smoke-and-mirrors-hide-funding-facts/2007/05/16/1178995233015.html

How shocking and surprising (not!) that the much-vaunted Howard government achievement of ‘paying off government debt’ has the net effect of lowering middle class wages, raising the real tax burden and further enriching banks and investment advisers! That selling off all the furniture in the house at bargain basement prices then renting it back from scumbags at higher prices is a bad idea long term! (In the 12 years of the Howard government Australia has lost virtually all of its public assets into private ownership… not coincidentally the ownership of Howard’s rich mates.) And that the much-touted 5 billion dollar endowment for education has the net effect of funding education worse but further fueling the speculative sharemarket bubble.

Campaigning on responsible economic management and calling the Labor party economic vandals… don’t make me laugh.

800

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:00 am

Some time in the past couple of weeks this blog quietly and without notice passed the 800 post mark

16/5/2007

Bill Bailey is a brilliant, hilarious, multi-talented freak

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:37 am

He speaks several languages, plays several musical instruments expertly, is a fantastic standup comedian and actor and sprinkles his standup routine with jokes about Neitsche, Chaucer and general surrealism. Some people just get way too much out of the talent pool. Here are a couple of excerpts from YouTube, but check out the 10 part full live show ‘Part Troll’ also available on YouTube, and the TV show ‘Black Books’ for more.

Chaucerian Pubbe Gagge (slightly rude, as fits Chaucerian language)

Cockney Music and the Classical Repertoire

Love Song

Bill plays the Theremin (and Jonathan Ross)

15/5/2007

‘A Comfort for the Bright Child’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:50 pm

This article from Britain’s ‘Telegraph’ newspaper reports a study of the correlation between being smart and listening to heavy metal: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/03/21/nmetal21.xml

Intelligent teenagers often listen to heavy metal music to cope with the pressures associated with being talented, according to research.

The results of a study of more than 1,000 of the brightest five per cent of young people will come as relief to parents whose offspring, usually long-haired, are devotees of Iron Maiden, AC/DC and their musical descendants.

Researchers found that, far from being a sign of delinquency and poor academic ability, many adolescent “metalheads” are extremely bright and often use the music to help them deal with the stresses and strains of being gifted social outsiders.