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Archive for December, 2014

With a friend like Tony Blair who would need an enemy?

December 31st, 2014 Comments off

Hardly cheerful New Year’s eve reading for the UK Labour leader Ed Milliband on page one of London’s Daily Telegraph. Tony Blair, his party’s last election winning leader, and the most electorally successful politician in Labour history, declares that Mr Miliband risked taking his party back to the dark days of the Eighties and early Nineties, when it suffered a series of heavy defeats to the Tories. May’s general election risked becoming one in which a “traditional Left-wing party competes with a traditional Right-wing party, with the traditional result”.

Asked by The Economist if he meant that the Conservatives would win in those circumstances, Mr Blair replied: “Yes, that is what happens.”

Mr Miliband has repeatedly attempted to distance himself from New Labour, but has faced criticism for Left-wing policies, which some have argued are anti-business.

In a thinly veiled condemnation of Mr Miliband’s leadership, Mr Blair said that Labour “succeeds best when it is in the centre ground”.

“I am still very much New Labour and Ed would not describe himself in that way, so there is obviously a difference there,” Mr Blair said.

“I am convinced the Labour Party succeeds best when it is in the centre ground”. When asked what lessons he derives from his experience of winning elections, Mr Blair replied: “Not alienating large parts of business, for one thing.”

So far the opinion polls are predicting a better result for Ed Milliband’s Labour than Tony Blair appears to be if the Telegraph can be believed. The UK Polling Report website in its poll of polls survey has Labour three points ahead of the Conservatives – 34% Labour, Conservatives 31% with the Liberal Democrats on 8% trailing UKIP at  15% with the Greens on 5%.

The Owl’s market based UK Election Indicator similarly has Labour marginally more likely than the Conservatives tp be the party that wins the most seats.

UK election indicator

When it comes to predicting the party that provides the Prime Minister after the election things get more complicated. The greatest probability is that no party emerges with an overall majority

Majority government indicator UK

 

Fox the clear US cable news winner again

December 31st, 2014 Comments off
The O’Reilly Factor the top news program

“The O’Reilly Factor,” was again top dog among all cable news programs

  • Fox News Dominates Cable News Ratings in 2014; MSNBC Tumbles – In a generally overall down year for the cable news genre, Fox News remained the dominant ratings force in 2014, while CNN made some meaningful demo strides relative to a sagging MSNBC. Behind the highest-rated programs in cable news — including “The O’Reilly Factor,” which was again top dog among all programs — Fox News finished on top in both total viewers and the adults 25-54 news demo for a 13th straight year, according to Nielsen’s “most current” estimates through Dec. 26.
  • Greece’s election: The euro’s next crisis – Why an early election spells big dangers for Greece—and for the euro
  • A Greek Crisis, but not a Euro Crisis
  • Pot Pie, Redefined? Chefs Start to Experiment With Cannabis – Recreational marijuana is both illegal and controversial in most of the country, and its relationship to food does not rise much above a joke about brownies or a stoner chef’s late-night pork belly poutine. But cooking with cannabis is emerging as a legitimate and very lucrative culinary pursuit. In Colorado, which has issued more than 160 edible marijuana licenses, skilled line cooks are leaving respected restaurants to take more lucrative jobs infusing cannabis into food and drinks. In Washington, one of four states that allow recreational marijuana sales, a large cannabis bakery dedicated to affluent customers with good palates will soon open in Seattle.
  • The big kill – New Zealand’s crusade to rid itself of mammals.
  • Working Too Hard Makes Leading More Difficult
  • Broken sleep – People once woke up halfway through the night to think, write or make love. What have we lost by sleeping straight through.
  • 31-12-2014 yachtingforsaleCYC bans Oz reporter Sue Neales from Sydney to Hobart for her story – ‘When seemingly unbeatable Wild Oats XI glided first across the finish line of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Sunday afternoon for the eighth time in 10 years, cheers rang out from thousands of admiring spectators lining Hobart’s historic wharves. But elsewhere around Australia there were collective groans from less avid sailing fans. Social media was full of posts and tweets that repeatedly linked the great race with the words “boring”, “predictable” and, most worryingly for race organisers, “yawn” and “I’m not interested any more”.’

There’s never been a safer time to fly

December 30th, 2014 Comments off

safer time to fly2014 air fatalities

Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

In cricket two neutral umpires are better than one and certainly better than none

December 26th, 2014 Comments off
  • Not really cricket: Home bias in officiating – “There has been interest among both sports fans and academics in whether pressure from home crowds affects decision making of officials. This column investigates this problem using new data from cricket matches. The authors find that neutral umpires decrease the bias against away teams, making neutral officials very important for a fair contest. “
  • 26-12-2014 thegreatreformer
  • Chronicle of a papacy foretold – The ideological roots of Latin America’s Jesuit pontiff, Pope Francis – “The pope also shows more sign than his predecessors of understanding the human dilemmas posed by abortion and assisted suicide, but still hews to the church’s teaching on the sanctity of life. Even among people who disagree with all those views, Francis commands sympathy. For his part, he has acknowledged the integrity of people, including atheists and Marxists, whose beliefs differ from his own; and the respect is often mutual. His idiosyncratic humanism, forged in a land of political and economic turmoil, seems infectious. This book explains where it comes from.”
  • Religion Without God – “… God-neutral faith is growing rapidly, in many cases with even less role for God than among Unitarians. Atheist services have sprung up around the country, even in the Bible Belt. Many of them are connected to Sunday Assembly, which was founded in Britain by two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. They are avowed atheists. Yet they have created a movement that draws thousands of people to events with music, sermons, readings, reflections and (to judge by photos) even the waving of upraised hands.”
  • Video games should be in Olympics, says Warcraft maker – “Millions watch the most popular games, both at stadium-sized events and online.”
  • Race to Deliver Nicotine’s Punch, With Less Risk – “The rush by Philip Morris and other tobacco companies to develop new ways of selling nicotine is occurring as more consumers are trying e-cigarettes, devices that heat a nicotine-containing fluid to create a vapor that users inhale. While only a small percentage of smokers have switched to the devices — experts say early e-cigarettes did not deliver enough nicotine to satisfy a smoker’s cravings — major tobacco companies are deploying their financial resources and knowledge in a bid to dominate a potentially huge market for cigarette alternatives.”
  • Growth slowdowns: Middle-income trap vs. regression to the mean – “Dozens of nations think they are in the ‘middle-income trap’. Lant Pritchett and Larry Summers present new evidence that this trap is actually just growth reverting to its mean. This matters since belief in the ‘trap’ can lead governments to misinterpret current challenges. For lower-middle-income nations the 21st century beckons, but there are still 19th century problems to address. Moreover, sustaining rapid growth requires both parts of creative destruction, but only one is popular with governments and economic elites.”

The quality of your grade three teachers matter throughout life

December 24th, 2014 Comments off
  • The Importance of Teacher Quality – From an interview with he John Bates Clark medal winning economist Raj Chetty: “Much to our surprise, it immediately became evident that students who were assigned to high value-added teachers showed substantially larger gains in terms of earnings, college attendance rates, significantly lower teenage birth rates; they lived in better neighborhoods as adults; they had higher levels of retirement savings. Across a broad spectrum of outcomes, there were quite substantial and meaningful impacts on children’s long-term success, despite seeing the same fade-out pattern for test scores.”
  • Politicians ought to have a pint with their opponents more often – Politics without blind tribal dogma? I’ll drink to that.
  • The more things shuffle, more they stay the same – “Reshuffling the cabinet is like changing who wears which colour skivvy in the Wiggles: it doesn’t make any difference, and they all end up singing the same old tunes, writes Tim Dunlop.”
  • France PM calls for calm after spate of attacks – “French authorities have called for calm after a string of attacks across the country left dozens of people injured, saying there was no evidence to connect the spate of violent acts.”
  • Is Saudi Arabia Trying to Cripple American Fracking? Well, it’s said as much, but the real reason for the flood of new Saudi oil is more complicated. “Saudi Arabia isn’t flooding the oil market to cripple America’s shale revolution, it’s doing it to win favor with Washington by weakening Russia and Iran.”
  • Average temperature in Finland has risen by more than two degrees – “According to a recent University of Eastern Finland and Finnish Meteorological Institute study, the rise in the temperature has been especially fast over the past 40 years, with the temperature rising by more than 0.2 degrees per decade. “The biggest temperature rise has coincided with November, December and January. Temperatures have also risen faster than the annual average in the spring months, i.e., March, April and May. In the summer months, however, the temperature rise has not been as significant,” says Professor Ari Laaksonen of the University of Eastern Finland and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. As a result of the temperature rising, lakes in Finland get their ice cover later than before, and the ice cover also melts away earlier in the spring. “

The reaction to cabinet and leadership changes? Support falls

December 24th, 2014 Comments off

The Federal Coalition does a few ministerial sackings and a little of Cabinet reshuffling. NSW forces out its parliamentary leader. And the immediate reaction is a general yawn of indifference and a market that marks down the election chances.

Not big moves admittedly. But a warning for both the Federal Coalition and NSW Labor nevertheless. The slides of both will not easily be turned around.

Federal indicator

NSW Indicator

Categories: Political indicators Tags:

El Niño conditions persist so Australian summer will be hot

December 23rd, 2014 Comments off

The Bureau of Meteorology reports that indicators remain broadly consistent with borderline El Niño conditions. Regardless of El Niño status, the Bureau report, El Niño-like impacts are likely to continue. For Australia, this means drier and warmer than average weather is likely in many areas.

Sea surface temperatures have exceeded thresholds for a number of weeks, and the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) has generally been negative for the past few months. Trade winds have been near-average along the equator, but weaker in the broader tropical belt. Together, these indicate some weak coupling of the atmosphere and ocean may be occuring.

Climate models expect little change over the next two to three months, with most predicting a persistence of the current warm sea surface temperatures. If current conditions do persist or strengthen into next year, 2014–15 is likely to be considered a weak El Niño. As a result, the Bureau’s ENSO Tracker status remains at ALERT.

Model outlooks

Four of the eight surveyed international climate models predict that central Pacific Ocean SSTs will reach El Niño thresholds before autumn. Around half of the models predict SSTs will be above the threshold value during some or all of the austral autumn, while the others indicate warm but neutral conditions. On the whole, these outlooks continue to indicate that peak central equatorial Pacific SSTs are unlikely to rise far beyond the threshold value.

poama

Categories: Environment Tags:

Basic rights for an orangutan

December 23rd, 2014 Comments off

sandra

  • A court in Argentina has ruled that a shy orangutan who spent the last 20 years in a zoo can be granted some legal rights enjoyed by humans. Lawyers had appealed to free Sandra from the Buenos Aires zoo by arguing that although not human, she should be given legal rights.
  • Peter Singer on The Ransom Dilemma – “Governments that pay ransoms are saving the lives of some of their citizens, but putting the remainder of their citizens – and others – at greater risk. The refusal to pay ransoms to terrorists can seem callous, but in truth it is the only ethical policy. Every government should adhere to it.”
  • A change is gonna come – “The great civil rights song turns 50 – the political made personal, and heartbreak transmuted into fiery action”
  • Army of Spin – “Following in Putin’s footsteps, the Turkish government is gearing up for full-fledged information warfare.”
  • Japan: ‘Solo weddings’ for single women – “A travel agency in one of Japan’s most beautiful cities, Kyoto, has started organising bridal ceremonies for single women. Kyodo news agency reports that Cerca Travel’s two-day “solo wedding” package includes choosing your own special gown, bouquet and hairstyle, a limousine service, a stay at a hotel and a commemorative photo album. “This package boosted my sense of self-esteem… the effect was equal to a more extraordinary experience, such as visiting a World Heritage castle,” says Tomoe Sawano, one of the first to try out a “solo wedding”. About 30 women from across Japan have become “solo brides” since the service was launched in May.”
  • Sky: All to play for – “Broadcaster is facing the toughest competition of its 25-year history”

NSW Labor searching for another sacrificial leader?

December 23rd, 2014 Comments off

New South Wales Labor seems to be back playing its familiar game of throwing another good person after bad. From this morning’s tabloid terror:

RobbofacesLaboraxe

Opposition Leader John Robertson meets the definition of a bad leader if the ability to win an election is the principal criterion. Under his stewardship Labor is heading for near certain defeat. The latest Newspoll in The Australian had the gap at 10 percentage points. Hence this new round of change the leader.

But what would be the point of changing with three months to go? Perhaps a new man might salvage a point or two but more likely the sacrificial leader would just remind voters of the side-show during the years before the Liberals and Nationals were given such a resounding victory next time.

Better to let Robbo roll on to inglorious defeat without destroying one of the few remaining Labor members with talent.

owlnswindicator

Categories: Elections, NSW election Tags:

Tony Abbott now has a dangerous duo of spurned colleagues in the Senate

December 23rd, 2014 Comments off

Now there will be little argument about David Johnston not really having the gift of the political gab. As Defence Minister he suffered by actually saying what he thought and that will never do when the political contest is about avoiding unwanted controversy. Fancy a politician saying that he would not trust the Adelaide based submarine corporation to build a canoe? Leave aside the truth that the feather-bedding of ship building in South Australia has cost taxpayers unnecessary billions. Surely the man realised that honesty would put thousands of votes at risk? Breaking an election promise to hand the next submarine construction contract to such a wasteful contractor needs finesse not brutal honesty.

So off to the backbench with the one Liberal and National Party member of parliament who actually made a keen study of defence matters during those long years in opposition. The Tony Abbott government wants safe hands ijn charge of our armed forces not sensible ones.

So David Johnston will move to the red back benches to join another mature aged Liberal rejected for ministerial office because of a perceived inability to play the modern political game where perception is king.

Now Ian Macdonald is a Senator I would not claim to know well but when I was in my Eden fish-sausage making days, and doing the books for some of the battling south coast trawler owners, I found him a knowledgeable and understanding Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation. During my 50 years on the fringes of political life I’ve met far less competent and decent occupants of high office and I’m sure that’s the case today; a veteran Queensland stalwart of the Liberal Party just did not fit in to the ministerial mold prescribed by the modern Liberal party apparatchiks who Tony Abbott bows down to.

So Senator Macdonald has spent the year and a bit since being passed over after the election sitting on the backbench and making the occasional pointed criticism of how the Abbott government is performing without really rocking the boat.

But now that he is joined on the Senate backbench by another Liberal veteran in Senator Johnston, the potential for influencing the shape of government decisions increases considerably. Not that I expect the pair of them to indulge in a pubic game of threatening to cross the floor in a closely divided Senate. Rather they have the potential to play a game of bluff with the Prime Minister who spurned them before things get to the voting stage.

I am sure the lobbyists will be aware of the potential.

A Tuesday morning addition:

Perhaps I should have referred to three spurned colleagues rather than two. Peter van Onselen had this interesting insight this morning (behind The Australian’s paywall) after writing how Johnston was supported by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop:

The Bishop slight within Abbott’s reshuffle didn’t end there. The only other dumping from the frontbench was Queensland senator Brett Mason, Bishop’s parliamentary secretary. The two got on well, building a strong working relationship.

 

Categories: Lobbying and PR, Political snippets Tags:

An editorial in “The Australian” that should be read by all political journalists

December 9th, 2014 Comments off

Forget you prejudices. This morning The Australian has an editorial that deserves to be read; an editorial that puts the political adventure of Clive Palmer into a proper perspective.

The conclusion from the well argued Media can’t see story for dinosaurs and twerking:

Mr Palmer is our very own Silvio Berlusconi; a cashed-up bully willing to use his lawyers, money and, apparently, his business partner’s funds to get his way, even at the expense of our country’s future. But to what end? To settle scores, sure, and, perhaps, to advance his business interests, but certainly not to assist the national fiscal challenge. In fact, he does great harm. The only eventuality more humiliating for our national political discourse than Mr Palmer’s ability to win seats and hold sway in our national parliament is the parallel willingness of the bulk of our journalists to indulge his antics, ignore his failings and refuse to report or investigate his business affairs.

I, for one, plead guilty to having, in the editorial’s words, “suspended normal scepticism about Mr Palmer’s political plays and business dealings.” I will endeavour to do better.

Categories: Australian media, Media Tags:

Please send Tony Abbott to the beach with a novel – he looks and sounds like a tired and troubled man

December 8th, 2014 Comments off

When the morning television hosts turn on you a politician knows he is in trouble. Last week for Tony Abbott it was Karl Stefanovic on Today treating him with scant respect. This morning it was Sunrise’s David Koch out to prove that a Port Adelaide man can be tougher than a friend of that rugby loving Alan Jones like Karl. Both interviews would make Liberals squirm as their leader made a botch of trying to appear like an honest man.

2014-12-08_sunrise

The Prime Minister looked and sounded tired and troubled.

Surely it is time to get him out of sight and into his Speedos for rest and recuperation and a little contemplation about what to do and say in the year ahead.

 

Categories: Political snippets Tags:

A slowing growth in China, the myth of the American dream and other news and views for Monday 8 December 2014

December 8th, 2014 Comments off
  • China trade data well below expectations – “Trade data from the world’s second largest economy, China, came in well below expectations on Monday, heightening fears of a sharper slowdown. China’s exports rose 4.7% in November from a year ago, compared to market forecasts of a 8.2% jump. Imports fell 6.7% in the same period against predictions of a 3.9% rise.”
  • David Murray has gone rogue – “David Murray, and panel members Craig Dunn, former CEO of AMP, and Carolyn Hewson, former director of Schroders and BT Investment management, seem to have had a late life conversion, realising that the system they’ve been part of has failed. Consumers, it says, have not been getting fair treatment and the current regulatory framework ‘is not sufficient’. This is directly contrary to what the government, and the banks and retail super funds such as AMP, have been saying.”
  • It’s Brown, It’s Barrel-Aged, It’s … Gin? – “While many know gin for its light, bright and dry characteristics — citrusy, herbal flavors that go so well with tonic water — another gin sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. Malty, lightly tannic, and with the subtle sweetness and spice of a young whiskey, dark, barrel-aged gin is pushing the frontiers of this spirit forward. Dark gins are distilled the usual way, then spend months or even years resting in oak barrels — the same ones used to age whisky, wine and sherry. That final step yields surprisingly complex results. The wood tones down the intensity of the juniper, and adds notes of vanilla, caramel and often baking spices, somewhere between a bourbonlike gin and a ginlike bourbon.
Maca root

From Wikipedia

The pupils made their games using software made available with the popular medieval fantasy game Neverwinter Nights 2 - University of Sussex

The pupils made their games using software made available with the popular medieval fantasy game Neverwinter Nights 2 – University of Sussex

  • Girls better than boys at making story-based computer games, Sussex study finds – “Researchers in the [Sussex] University’s Informatics department asked pupils at a secondary school to design and program their own computer game using a new visual programming language that shows pupils the computer programs they have written in plain English. Dr Kate Howland and Dr Judith Good found that the girls in the classroom wrote more complex programs in their games than the boys and also learnt more about coding compared to the boys. There are persistent concerns about the underrepresentation of women in computing – only 17% of the UK’s computer science graduates in 2012 were female, despite a promising reduction of the gender gap in maths-related subjects at school level.”
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Force me to bet on the Australian election and I’d back the Coalition

December 8th, 2014 Comments off

The opinion polls showing Labor with a comfortable lead over the Coalition keep coming. At the weekend there was Galaxy putting the twp party shares at 45% for the Coalition and 55% for Labor. This morning Fairfax-Ipsos had it 48% Coalition 52% Labor.

It is an uncommon thing to have a government so consistently behind the opposition for such a lengthy period in its first year or so in office but would you really like to put your own hard earned on Labor winning? I certainly wouldn’t and if you forced me to have a wager I’d be backing the Coalition. To me the Owl’s federal election indicator considerably overstates Labor’s chances of being the majority party come polling day.

Australian federal election indicator

Now don’t get me wrong. Tony Abbott is an unpopular Prime Minister. It’s just that with almost two years to go one of two things will most likely happen. Abbott will change his ways or his party will dump him. In both cases the voting public will start to look more closely at Labor’s Bill Shorten.

To my mind Shorten is a man who will fall short under real scrutiny, bringing the Labor vote down with him.

 

A big story with little coverage – Nick Xenophon and his NXT

December 8th, 2014 Comments off

The stultifying impact of the group think that dominates the federal press gallery was never more obvious than at the weekend when the announcement of a new political party went virtually unreported. In my opinion, Nick Xenophon’s announcement that he is taking his independent  ideas national is the most significant political event of 2014. The NXT – the Nick Xenophon Team – should rock the major parties to their very foundations as it boosts the already strong movement by voters away from Liberal, Labor and National. Yet the launch by Senator Xenophon of his new Team was ignored at the weekend and again this morning by the so-called movers and shakers of political journalism. Such reports as you will find are based on an orthodox straight report from AAP with this, stuck away at the bottom of the Sydney Sunday Telegraph, being typical:

nxt

Only the Senator’s home town Sunday Mail gave the Xenophon statement the prominence it deserved:

Party time for Mr X

Not that being so stupidly ignored by most of the media will blunt for long the South Australian Senator’s plan to take his attack on the two party system. He is the supreme parliamentary publicist of my 50 years reporting from Canberra. We will be reading and hearing much about NXT in 2015 and beyond.

Here is the full text of the statement that should have been on page one everywhere”

NXT Launch
Speech by Nick Xenophon, 7 December:

The last two weeks in federal parliament are glaring proof that politics in Australia has become so toxic, so negative that its destroying our trust in our democracy, and the ability to fix nation’s problems.

Every couple of years the major political parties have expected us to walk into a polling booth and put a number one in the box of the political party we dislike the least.

Voters are sick of parties that promise one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards. And they’re sick of the sort of behaviour we’ve been seeing in Parliament.

Now, there are good people in the Coalition and Labor.

But the current two-party system is so suffocating that good politicians can’t do what they believe is the right thing.

Way back in 1988, when the current Parliament House was opened in Canberra, Australians were actively encouraged to walk on the huge lawns above our nation’s capital building.

The designers of Parliament House thought that symbolically, it was incredibly important that any Australian – woman, man, or child – could casually stroll above their elected leaders.

It was a reminder that at the top of our political system are the people – not the pollies, not the donors, not the spin doctors – but the people.

And that’s the way it must always be.

That’s why today I am announcing my intention to launch a new and better national political choice for Australia.

While I’m a little uneasy about using my name for this new choice, I’ve been convinced by others that it’ll make it easier to find NXT on a ballot paper.

NXT is about politics, done differently.

It’s about creating a common sense approach to politics.

NXT will be a centrist choice.

It’s not about left or right, it’s about right or wrong.

It’s about looking at every issue on its merits and working out the best outcome for everyone.

For too long the major parties have cynically got together to block sensible reforms, because of narrow powerful interests. Pokies are a classic and tragic example where the public interest has been crushed by the vested interests of the gambling lobby.

It’s time politicians were honest with the Australian people.

Voters shouldn’t be forced to choose between the left or the right of the political spectrum, when most of us just want to be somewhere in the middle.

For the past few months I have been working with a small team planning this launch.

And in the next year I will find like-minded people to run in every state and territory who share the same common sense approach to politics.

The NXT will be committed to open and honest communication with the Australian people.

We’re not going to spin. We’re not going to rely on fear campaigns.

We’re not going to spend all our efforts trying to make our opponents look bad.

NXT will simply tell you how we see things, get your advice and then tell you straight what we intend to do about it.

If you like what we plan to do, you can vote for us. It’s that simple.

If successful, we will continue the kind of collaborative approach I’ve always employed in my dealings with my fellow Senators.

I believe that a spirit of co-operation should be the norm, not the exception.

That said, real independence will be important to NXT.

We’re not going to be for sale to the highest bidder in the way the major parties sometimes seem to be.

Put simply, you can give NXT money if you like what we do, but you can’t give us money to change what we do.

The NXT wants donors, not owners.

Hopefully the NXT will be able to sustain itself with small donations from ordinary Australians who just want democracy to work for them.

Now, I’ve been in politics for a decade and a half.

And I can’t think of a time when Australian voters have seemed more disillusioned and disengaged.

I cannot tell you how many people have stopped me around the nation, from Broome to Ballarat, from the top end to Tasmania – especially in the last two years – and asked if they will ever be offered a different, better choice in Canberra.

The answer is yes, and that’s why I am sticking my neck out.

Politicians should listen to the people instead of walking all over them.

And they should respect the fact that they are here to serve, not to rule.

That’s what NXT will stand for.

And I hope the people of Australia will support NXT.

Categories: NXT, Political parties Tags:

A truly meaningful stand-off between the upper and lower house

December 7th, 2014 Comments off

I am pleased to see that in the mother of parliaments disagreements between the two chambers take place on matters of great principle.

Champagne wars in the Lords as peers say no to a cheaper vintage | Politics | The Observer.

It has emerged that a proposal to save taxpayers some money by making peers and MPs share a catering department has been rejected “because the Lords feared that the quality of champagne would not be as good if they chose a joint service”.

The disclosure, made last week by Sir Malcolm Jack, clerk of the Commons between 2006 and 2011, as he gave evidence to a governance committee examining how the palace of Westminster should be run, was met with gasps and open laughter. The astonished chair of the committee, former home secretary Jack Straw, asked: “Did you make that up? Is that true?” Jack responded: “Yes, it is true.”

Were the Lords right to bee so sniffy, asked another committee member,mber, Demad Democratic Unionist

MP Ian Paisley? Jack, who had responment responsibility for catering procurement in the Commons, responded: “I don’ton’t think they were; we were very carefulul in our selection.”

Categories: Drinking Tags:

The future looks incredibly bleak for social democrats

December 7th, 2014 Comments off
  • Surfers Without Waves – Is Social Democracy Dead In The Water? – “No social democratic party anywhere in the world is on the front foot. Sure, parties may find themselves in government – as they do in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and France, in their own right or as part of a coalition – but this happens by accident and tends to be down to the failures of the right. And in office, social democrats tend to follow austerity or austerity-lite measures. No social democratic party has a strident and confident set of intellectual and organisational ideas that propel a meaningful alternative political project. The future looks incredibly bleak. Why? … The brief upturn in the electoral fortunes of social democrats in the mid 1990s around the third way, the new middle and Clintonism was won at the expense of the further erosion of an increasingly ignored electoral base. In the mistaken belief it had nowhere else to go, core support was traded for core values and reliance pinned on a dysfunctional financialised capitalism that backfired spectacularly in 2008 with social democrats caught with their fingers in the neo-liberal till. … Instead of more things we didn’t know we wanted, paid for with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t know, social democrats are going have to talk about more of other things – more time, public space, clean air, community and autonomy.
  • Antarctic seawater temperatures rising – “New research published … in the journal Science shows how shallow shelf seas of West Antarctica have warmed over the last 50 years. The international research team say that this has accelerated the melting and sliding of glaciers in the area, and that there is no indication that this trend will reverse.”
  • Racial Divide: The Tragedy of America’s First Black President – Police killings of black youth in Ferguson and Cleveland have outraged many in the US. The tragic events show how deep the societal divide remains between blacks and whites. Many have given up hope that President Obama can change anything.
  • The Last Chapter – Books and bookselling have been with us for a couple of thousand years, in which time they have progressed out of the libraries and into bookshops and homes, away from institutions and towards individuals. A great success story, but nearly all stories have an ending.
  • New Asahi Shimbun chief promises to restore public trust in daily – “The Asahi Shimbun’s new president vowed Friday to rebuild domestic and international trust in the beleaguered paper by broadening the range of views expressed in its pages, correcting erroneous information in a timely manner and being more careful with investigative stories. Masataka Watanabe, 55, formally assumed his new post as president Friday, taking over from Tadakazu Kimura, who stepped down to take responsibility for errant reporting based on the transcript of a government interview with Masao Yoshida, the late head of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”

New Republic

  • Have You Resigned from The New Republic Yet? – “Yesterday, the magazine’s two top editors, Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier, quit before they could be fired. Gabriel Snyder, a former editor of Gawker and the Atlantic Wire, is the new editor of the magazine, which will reduce its frequency from 20 issues per year to 10. (Foer reportedly learned he was going to be replaced from reading a post on Gawker.) … The pair’s ousting has led to a mass exodus from the masthead, which began yesterday when contributing editors Jonathan Chait and Ryan Lizza cut ties via Twitter, and picked up this morning. By our count, 33 of the magazine’s editors and contributors have also resigned.
  • Can anyone be a journalist? UGA researcher examines citizen journalism – Citizen journalists are expanding the definition of journalists. And new research by a University of Georgia professor looks at how two court cases work together to uphold freedom of expression.
  • Looking at El Niño’s past to predict its future

Some Conservative ideas for Joe Hockey’s MYEFO

December 4th, 2014 Comments off

If Joe Hockey really is keen on some deficit reducing action, perhaps Britain’s Conservative Government has provided some ideas.

UK autumn statement

That’s how the business section of London’s Daily Telegraph headlined the tax changes outlined by the Chancellor.

GEORGE Osborne has used his last Autumn Statement before the general election to launch an £8bn tax raid on big business, targeting banks and multinational technology companies.

The Chancellor intends to raise billions by enforcing a “Google tax” on multinationals which artificially divert their UK profits overseas, while also blocking a corporation tax rule that allows banks to use the losses they racked up during the financial crisis to offset their future profits. The moves, combined with a string of other measures to stop companies avoiding tax, will help to fund a major overhaul of stamp duty and an increase in the personal income allowance to £10,600.

A different kind of approach to raising the dosh than being taken in Australia by our Treasurer Joe Hockey.

World’s hottest year without El Niño and other news and views of the day

December 4th, 2014 Comments off
This year we are poised to set the global temperature record in an ENSO-neutral year. And while eastern tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures have been warmer than normal in recent months, those temperatures were colder than normal in the beginning months of the year, so the net effect of ENSO on 2014 global temperatures has been minimal.

This year we are poised to set the global temperature record in an ENSO-neutral year. And while eastern tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures have been warmer than normal in recent months, those temperatures were colder than normal in the beginning months of the year, so the net effect of ENSO on 2014 global temperatures has been minimal.

  • 2014 Headed Toward Hottest Year On Record — Here’s Why That’s Remarkable – 2014 is currently on track to be hottest year on record, according to new reports from both the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the U.K.’s Met Office Wednesday. Similarly, NOAA reported two weeks ago that 2014 is all but certain to be the hottest year on record. … It’s usually the combination of the long-term manmade warming trend and the regional El Niño warming pattern that leads to new global temperature records. But not this year.”
  • A Global Health Care Spending Slowdown: Temporary or Permanent?
  • Better Off With Bibi? – “Despite all the petty politics and infighting, there are still reasons we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that elections — and (possibly) a new prime minister — will solve Israel’s problems.”
  • How Monsanto’s Big Data Push Hurts Small Farms – “Genetically modified seed/pesticide giant Monsanto envisions itself transforming into an information-technology company within a decade, as a company honcho recently told my colleague Tim McDonnell. A year ago, Monsanto dropped nearly $1 billion on Climate Corp., which ‘turns a wide range of information into valuable insights and recommendations for farmers,’ as Monsanto put it at the time. … Big Data may help monocrop farmers use less fertilizer and pesticides per acre harvested than they had been before, but if they drive out more diversified and less chemical-intensive operations, the result might not be as clear-cut as the agribusiness companies suggest.”
  • Profiling the Islamic state – n a new Brookings Doha Center Analysis Paper, Charles Lister traces IS’s roots from Jordan to Afghanistan, and finally to Iraq and Syria. He describes its evolution from a small terrorist group into a bureaucratic organization that currently controls thousands of square miles and is attempting to govern millions of people. Lister assesses the group’s capabilities, explains its various tactics, and identifies its likely trajectory.
“Strangerland” (Australia, Ireland) Director: Kim Farrant Cast: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Lisa Flanagan, Meyne Wyatt, Maddison Brown

“Strangerland”
(Australia, Ireland)
Director: Kim Farrant
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Lisa Flanagan, Meyne Wyatt, Maddison Brown

  • Sundance Film Festival Unveils 2015 Competition, Next Lineups – World Cinema Dramatic Competition – “In the World Cinema dramatic competition, [director of programming Trevor] Groth noted a number of titles pairing emerging filmmakers with established-name actors, including Australian director Kim Farrant’s “Strangerland,” a marital drama starring Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes and Hugo Weaving”
“Partisan” (Australia) Director: Ariel Kleiman Cast: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara

“Partisan”
(Australia)
Director: Ariel Kleiman
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara

The growing world of internet gambling

December 4th, 2014 Comments off

Worth a read if you like the occasional bet on-line:

The King Of Online Gambling (Is 34) – A detailed look by Forbes at “the Wild West of online gambling” and the man who controls the biggest share of it.

PokerStars is the giant of online gambling, and all kinds of jurisdictions and politicians want a piece of its free-spending players. What else can Baazov sell them? The global online gambling industry will reach $38.7 billion this year, according to H2 Gambling Capital–with poker making up only about 10% of the total. PokerStars recently launched casino games in Spain and within weeks grabbed double-digit market share. Full Tilt has now launched casino games in much of the world, and 30% of its eligible poker players have already given those games a try. Sports betting is next, and Baazov expects it to launch in certain markets by March 2015. His securities filings suggest he wants to eventually offer social gaming, while fantasy sports seems like a natural extension.

Baazov just needs to make sure he doesn’t alienate his core customers. Some online players are already grumbling about recent changes at PokerStars, like higher rake fees of as much as 5% that PokerStars gets for hosting games and currency exchange fees of 2.5%. But Baazov is moving forward, cooking up his next deal. He has put Cadillac Jack up for sale and should make a good profit on the asset given the price other slot machine makers have fetched recently. He also just unloaded Amaya’s Ongame unit.

Categories: Betting Tags:

Memories of KB, DA, Flag Ale and even Fosters Lager

December 3rd, 2014 Comments off

Memories of popular beers past. They came flooding back to this old liquor store owner when I read on the net this week: Budweiser’s fall from grace, visualized. It told how America’s self-proclaimed “King of Beers” is looking more like a pauper than a prince these days.

Budweiser sales have fallen each and every year for nearly a decade now, according to data from market research firm Euromonitor. The decline is such that Americans drink nearly 40 percent less of the famously mediocre mass brew than they did 10 years back. And it’s even worse when considered on a per person basis: Americans, on average, now drink only 18 cans of Budweiser per year, more than 13 cans fewer than in 2004.

Very much like a repeat of the Australian Fosters story. From the moment the brewer started promoting the hell out of it the drinkers began turning off. Can you even buy it these days? I expect VB will be the next to fade into oblivion. There’s been too much of that hard earned thirst.

Bring back Resch’s Pilsener is what I say.

Note: You will find other eating and drinking items on the restaurants, wine and food australia blog that I am slowly developing.

Categories: Drinking Tags:

The man called M — and a cuckoo called Goo

December 3rd, 2014 Comments off
  • Nest of spies – The cuckoo is both an icon of Englishness and a symbol of suspicion and deceit — a perfect pet for an MI5 officer, then – “When I was small, I read a book by a man called Maxwell Knight. It was the story of how he had reared a baby cuckoo. Back then I thoughtA Cuckoo in the House was just another animal book from the 1950s, and that Knight was just an ordinary man. But the BTO project spurred me to read it again, this time knowing more about Knight. On rereading, I found it a very different book — a fascinating and troubling fable about the meanings we give to animals, and a book that unwittingly revealed all sorts of strange collisions and collusions between natural history and national history in post-war Britain.This, then, is the story of Maxwell Knight — the man called M — and a cuckoo called Goo.”
  • Is Tunisia a role model for the Arab world? – “When Tunisians vote in their presidential run-off election later this month, it will be the fourth time they have been to the polls in as many years.Tunisia not only started the Arab Spring, it is now leading the way in terms of democratic development in the Middle East and North Africa.”
  • Tunisian policeman beheaded by militants in Kef2014-12-02_hobbitt
  • Film Review: ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ – “This is the way “The Hobbit” ends: not with a whimper, but with an epic battle royale. True to its subtitle, “The Battle of the Five Armies” (revised from the initially more pacific “There and Back Again”), the final installment of Peter Jackson’s distended “Lord of the Rings” prequel offers more barbarians at the gate than you can shake an Elven sword at, each vying for control of mountainous Erebor. The result is at once the trilogy’s most engrossing episode, its most expeditious (at a comparatively lean 144 minutes) and also its darkest — both visually and in terms of the forces that stir in the hearts of men, dwarves and orcs alike.”
  • Feeling Like A Holiday Glutton? It May Be Time To Try A Fast
  • Le Pen’s French National Front eyes route to power
  • The Teen Brain “Shuts Down” When It Hears Mom’s Criticism – “… when listening to Moms’ criticism, and for a period afterwards, the teens’ brains showed more activity in areas involved in negative emotions (no surprise there), but they actually showed reduced activity in regions involved in emotional control and in taking other people’s point of view. This suggests, the researchers said, that in response to maternal criticism: ‘youth shut down social processing [and] possibly do not think about their parents’ mental states.’ They add: ‘… the decrement in brain activity in regions involved in mentalizing or perspective taking could help to explain the high frequency of maladaptive conflict resolution in parent-adolescent dyads.” ‘

2014-12-03_fmristudy

xkcd comment:
They also showed activation in the parts of the brain associated
with exposure to dubious study methodology,
concern about unremoved piercings,
and exasperation with fMRI techs who won’t stop talking about Warped Tour.

 

Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

A warm summer creating another political problem for Tony Abbott

December 3rd, 2014 Comments off

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology this week put out one of what it calls “The Bureau’s Special Climate Statements”. Such statements are “produced on an occasional basis for weather/climate events which are unusual in the context of the climatology of the affected region.” And this time the unusual event is about Australia’s warmest spring on record.

Spring 2014 was Australia’s warmest on record, the ABM reported. Seasonal mean temperatures, averaged nationally, were 0.1 °C warmer than the previous record set just 12 months ago, during spring 2013. Temperatures were 1.67 °C above the 1961–1990 average, the largest such departure from the long-term average observed since national records began in 1910. The previous record positive seasonal departure, set during autumn 2005, was 1.64 °C above the average.

And more hot weather appears to be on the way. The latest ENSO Wrap-Up, released yesterday, says many climate indicators remain close to El Niño thresholds, with climate model outlooks suggesting further intensification of conditions likely. The Bureau’s ENSO Tracker status is currently at ALERT, indicating at least a 70% chance that El Niño will be declared in the coming months.

2014-12-03_ensotracker

Regardless of whether an El Niño is declared, El Niño-like effects are likely, as shown by the Bureau’s December–February Climate Outlook, which shows a drier and warmer summer is likely for many parts of Australia. Some El Niño-like impacts have already been seen this spring in Australia and several regions around the globe, including Asia, South America and southern Africa.

And experience shows that a drier and warmer summer makes people much more likely to  believe that global warming is occurring and that governments should be doing something to try and stop it. That will be further bad news for Tony Abbott and his Coalition government and their association with the climate change deniers.

The Key points from the Special Climate Statement:

A number of significant national temperature anomalies have been reported during spring,
including:

• Australia’s warmest spring for mean (+1.67 °C) and maximum (+2.33 °C) temperatures
• Australia’s largest positive mean temperature anomaly for any season (surpassing +1.64 °C set in autumn 2005)
• Australia’s largest positive maximum temperature anomaly for any season (surpassing +2.17 °C set in autumn 2005)
• Australia’s warmest October for mean (+1.91 °C) and maximum (+2.76 °C) temperatures
• Australia’s October maximum temperature anomaly (+2.76 °C) is the fourth-largest positive maximum temperature anomaly for any month
• Australia’s warmest November for mean (+1.88 °C) and maximum (+2.19 °C) temperatures
• Australia’s third-largest positive 3-month maximum temperature anomaly for any three month period (behind +2.70 °C in July–September 2013 and + 2.51 °C in August–October 2013)
• Australia’s third-largest positive 3-month mean temperature anomaly for any three month period (behind +1.94 °C in July–September 2013 and +1.93 °C in August–October 2013)

A significant daily maximum temperature record was also set during spring 2014:

• Australia’s warmest October day on record (36.39 °C on 25 October)The spring period resulted in numerous State and Territory temperature records including:

• The warmest September maximum temperature for Western Australia (with an anomaly of +2.74 °C)
• The warmest October mean temperature anomalies for New South Wales (+2.58 °C), South Australia (+2.81 °C) and Western Australia (+2.45 °C)
• The warmest October maximum temperature anomalies for New South Wales (+4.06 °C), South Australia (+4.14 °C) and Western Australia (+2.86 °C)
• The warmest October minimum temperature anomaly for Western Australia (+2.05 °C)
• The warmest November maximum (+2.83 °C), minimum (+2.33 °C) and mean temperature (+2.58 °C) anomalies for Queensland

2014-12-03_temperaturemaps

 

Categories: Environment Tags:

Silence not salesmanship might be the best answer for Abbott

December 2nd, 2014 Comments off

Take a look at this interview from morning television and consider the question: Would a silent Abbott do better for the Coalition’s popularity than a talking Abbott?

2014-12-02_abbotttoday

Not much doubt in my opinion that the smartest leak out of the Prime Minister’s camp for a while is this one:

2014-12-02_abbottholiday

Tony Abbott just makes things worse.

And it will take some very creative spinning when the revised spending and revenue figures come out in a couple of weeks for people to understand just what the PM means when he says of the budget “we are making progress every day – we are committed to budget repair” with a determination to end “the crime of inter-generational theft.” The way things are going this Coalition government will end up presiding over the biggest increase in government debt in the country’s history!

The new round of climate talks

December 1st, 2014 Comments off

pepperrobot

A benefit of global warming – winter deaths decline in UK

December 1st, 2014 Comments off

2014-12-01_winterdeaths

  • Why don’t we hear about the beneficial side of climate change? “There is a very good reason why excess winter deaths fell so sharply in the space of a year. Last winter was particularly mild: December and January were 2° Celsius above the long-term average. The winter 2012/13, by contrast, had prolonged periods of cold. There is a long term correlation between cold winters and excess winter deaths.”
  • The Language of Climate Change – “The data in this report will be used by policymakers when making reforms. This importance makes the act of understating the findings—so as not to repeat the wave of criticism of the fourth report—a questionable endeavor. It also strains the IPCC’s relationship with international policymakers. If it is muffling the data so as not to scare people, it might not be fully trusted to provide legitimate information for future changes.”
  • Deficit fetishism – John Quiggin writes: “As the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook approaches, talk about the budget deficit is approaching panic. This piece from Deloitte, warning that ‘the budget is burning’ is typical.”
  • Nicotine Without Death – “Are e-cigarettes completely safe? asked Saul Shiffman, an addiction expert at the University of Pittsburgh. ‘There is not enough data to say that,’ he acknowledged. But on a relative basis, electronic cigarettes are far preferable to the old-fashioned kind. After all, e-cigarettes are essentially nicotine delivery devices, and while nicotine is addictive, it is the tobacco in cigarettes that kills.”
Jeff Koons - 'Self portrait' (1991)

Jeff Koons – ‘Self portrait’ (1991)