Tuesday, July 14, 2015


12 am, 1 am, 2 am, drowning
Into the valley
Of the brother of,

3 am, 4 am, 5 am, laughing
Joke's on the awoken
And the not sleepy, still

Under starlight, before first dawn
The speakers first born
Fearing naught, ere demons roamed

Before cities, before tall walls
A treaty with the wolves
And grace
Their only safety

4 am, 4 am, 4 am - onward?
Living in the shadow of dawn

End of an old age
World turns, anew
Send out the wise page
Proclaiming prince's peace

Do you remember
When we were young, and fools?
In that dream, in that world
We fled dreams and dawns, both

Shall we be old, and foolish still?
Has our wisdom grown so
To keep us unwise?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hey you guys!

Sick and tired of how I never update this blog?

Well I have a new one I'm trying on for size! Go check it out at http://withrespect2x.posterous.com/. I opened with a political rant, so Nonchalant Adventurer, you owe me one.

What's that you say? In what way am I more likely to update regularly just because of switched hosting platforms?

Wow, what an astute question!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sorry, readers

Assuming I still have any.

I haven't been neglecting you completely, I swear. I've been thinking up and drafting all sorts of interesting posts... I've just struggled with that perennial "getting things finished off" issue.

So here's a very quick throwaway post to, hopefully, get some momentum going.

Why has Amanda Palmer's song Oasis generated more controversy in the U.K. than the U.S.?

British broadcasters have supposedly objected to the trivialisation of rape, abortion and religion in the song (and the corresponding music video.)

Now clearly this is a crock. The song trivializes these issues in the same way that, say, Oliver's Army trivializes war and conscription. Well, censorship has a noble tradition of not necessarily

However, the interesting thing is that religion and abortion, in particular, are far, far more potent sources of open political controversy in America than anywhere in the Western World, including Britain. So why is an American song on the topic finding itself on the wrong end of British sensibilities?

Two possible explanations come to mind. First, Britain, indeed Europe in general, is more "politically correct", in a very broad and loose sense of that term, than America. Americans, with their first amendment protected flag burners, and indeed their first amendment protected anti-abortion protesters, are more accustomed to robust differences of opinions on all kinds of things. In Britain, mainland Europe, Australia and so on, people are in general more concerned about offending others.

Second, the broadcasters in question are actually offended because they perceive the song as unflattering in its portrayal of Britpop fans (a category which for a while at least presumably included themselves). The stated reason is just a convenient mask.

Anyone got any other suggestions?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One argument for the U.S. First Amendment

In a discussion I was involved with a while ago on Facebook concerning the merits of free speech, I posited an idea that surprised me a little as it occurred to me. It's probably not an especially novel view - I'd imagine it's an argument libertarians would be fond of making - but I think it's worth expanding on and defending the thesis here.

Free speech is far more fundamental to a democracy than voting.

How can that be? Democracy is about the people exercising collective self-determination. The people express their will through votes, either directly on issues via referenda and the like, or indirectly via a layer of abstraction, namely electing representatives. (In fact there is more than one such layer in Australia's Westminster system, since the elected representatives themselves then go on to elect the cabinet and prime minister/premier that compose the core decisions makers of the executive government.)

A plethora of other rights ascribed to citizens are seen as critical to the modern idea of democracy - the right to impartial trial by jury, freedom to associate and peacefully assemble, and so on. Sometimes this is framed in terms of a trade-off, between more or less the Democratic and Republican ideals for which the two major American political parties are named - the collective right of the majority to make decisions about how society should be run, versus the individual rights of citizens to self-determination free from the interference of other parties, including the State.

Never mind that particular balancing act. Free speech is not just an important right for the individual person, it is a necessary precondition for the collective right embodied in voting to be meaningful.

Of course, nearly everyone accepts that you need free speech to have a proper democracy. My point goes beyond that, though. First, try and imagine a society in which there is free speech, but no multi-party democratic elections - a benevolent dictatorship of sorts. Not so hard to do, right? I can picture autocratic government that is perfectly tolerant of pro-democracy rallies, allows private citizens to own newspapers and publish editorials that advocate their own political views, etc. Of course, few if any such governments tend to exist in the real world, because inevitably open discussions of a government's failings (and in the long run, any government will have failings) result in sustained and coherent pressure for it to change, so real world dictators keep a tight reign on civil discourse, acutely aware of how critical it is to maintaining their grip on power. Still, its not an inconceivable arrangement.

Now, consider the converse scenario - a country where it is perfectly legal to form and join political parties, and genuine elections are held once every few years to decide which members of which parties should form the government. Except, its illegal for any of those parties to publicly disclose their criticisms of the existing leadership, or advocate their alternative views on policy.

On election day the ballot boxes aren't rigged, the candidates on the paper really are different, and no one is going to punish you in any way for voting for the opposition. You just have no access to any of the information needed to make an informed political decision.

Which society would you rather live in? Which society do you think would be better governed?

At least when you're free to criticise a regime, there's a chance, however small, that the leaders will take your ideas on board, even when you have no ability to hold them accountable. How much hope do you have though when at best you can vote arbitrarily for an unknowable alternative, on the random chance it will prove a better option?

To draw an analogy. The people of a nation without elections lose the right to self-determination; much akin to the individual case of a human slave, they possess no real control of their own joint destiny. But a slave at least retains one key freedom, that of conscience.

Whereas the people of a nation without free speech may be perfectly able to make collective decisions, subject only to the constraint that no ideas are exchanged amongst them in the process - like a person who is free to do whatever she wants, after merely having had certain beliefs forcibly prevented from circulating within her brain.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Congratulations Google

Just a quick shout out to Google for taking what must have been a tough commercial decision to end its controversial compliance with Chinese government censorship in response to attempted cyberattacks on human rights activists' gmail accounts.

Of course many detractors will argue this is simply the reversal of what was a heinously unethical decision in the first place. Keep in mind, though, that this is the world's largest search engine effectively pulling out of the world's largest internet market; hard to justify to shareholders on a matter of principle, which is why this new security angle is probably helpful to the corporate leadership in adding more solid-sounding business reasons - on top of what was previously just a manageable PR problem - for making the call.

In honour of what will hopefully be a step forward for the cause of free speech in China and ultimately around the world, this blog will soon return properly from its holiday slumber via a post on free speech I'd half written some time ago.

Oh and while on the topic of free speech and China, I'd just like to personally express my desire that the Chinese Government (technically, its judiciary) go fuck itself for summarily trying and executing a man who was almost certainly manipulated by criminals while suffering from delusional psychosis due to Bipolar Disorder, without assessing his mental health, or allowing access for foreign psychiatrists to do so. Just one more instance of appalling disrespect for human rights in a long, long list - hopefully

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More thoughts on carbon

In light of all the brewhahaha at Copenhagen still finding its way into the news, and having faced an accusation my views on this topic follow from my heart and not my head, I thought I'd expand a little on my views about carbon emissions.


I am far from what most people would consider an environmentalist, as perhaps readers of my first ever blog post might have inferred.

I am strongly in favour of nuclear power (with costs such as waste management duly internalised) as part of the strategy to mitigate climate change.

I support the farming of GM crops and livestock and continued research into genetic engineering techniques.

I think most anti-whaling sentiment in this country is fuelled by sheer racist hypocrisy - there is a legitimate case to make against the practice, but most Australians aren't in a position to make it.

As far as limited resources I am a relatively radical Cornucopian - I don't believe we will run out of any material economic inputs for a very long time, for reasons that are best left for explanation in another post.

I believe the lives of all other animal species are worth significantly less than human lives (which is a distinct proposition from animal suffering being less important than human suffering, for me a far murkier issue.)

More generally I think nature and the biosphere are wondrous and precious things in their own right, but human civilisation is overwhelmingly more precious. The universe in which humanity destroys every other living species on earth but survives to colonise another star system is infinitely preferable to one in which humanity itself goes extinct but life goes on for the rest of planet Earth.

Anyway, that is probably enough ranting to establish my non-green credentials.

Why I support a price on carbon

If I'm not an environmentalist, why on earth would I support reducing emissions?

Well, in spite of how some may read the above, I do care about the environment, for both its own sake but especially to the extent that damaging it is bad for humanity. And to be extremely generous to the climate skeptics, lets measure such damage to human welfare chiefly by reductions to global GDP - so this becomes pure economic number crunching and never mind moral abhorrence of so many impoverished Bangladeshis dying.

There are lingering (although small and diminishing) uncertainties over how much of the climate change is anthropogenic. Likewise concerning exactly how much warming we can expect. Most crucial to my mind are the oft neglected economic benefits of the world heating up - and I'd say there are more of these than most people are admitting. Weigh all this up in a hugely complex and uncertain cost-benefit analysis, and you might come out with carbon restrictions reducing the expected value of global GDP in say 2100. I tend to think you don't, but I'm really not well versed enough in the science or economics of it to have a solid idea.

However, I will openly admit that in this context I am quite risk averse, and also what you might term volatility averse.

The former is a concept with wide currency in economics. It means I am very happy to lose 1% of GDP guaranteed, to avoid a 1/20 chance of losing 20% of GDP, even though probabilistically this is a neutral trade off.

By the latter, I mean that I'd rather see 20 years of flat 2% GDP growth, than 17 years of 3% growth followed by 3 years of 3.5% decline, even though the resulting GDP level after the 20 years is the same.

I think these are utterly reasonable positions to take concerning the global economy, and that strong carbon reductions now are sure to minimise both the risk and volatility associated with potential economic change that follows from what's happening in the atmosphere.

So that's how you can be a filthy planet hating economic rationalist bastard, and maintain reservations about the probability of global catastrophe from a changing climate, and still be very firmly in favour of a carbon price.

An equitable solution

What would a genuinely fair and workable globally binding agreement look like, if it were actually politically possible to come up with such a thing (which is clearly not the case at the moment)?

Since the effects of emitting are truly global - my carbon ends up in every other person's atmosphere and heats every other persons' planet - its incoherent to view the problem on the scale of nation states. The climate is the equivalent of a commons for our entire species, and we are trying to instil some market forces to prevent a classical tragedy.

To me, the only just way to do this in a morally justifiable fashion is more or less to partition the resulting property rights equally, between every single person on the planet.

So there should be a global emissions market, initially with as many permits as our current total emissions. These should allocated to each government on a per capita basis - it being impractical, even within this idealised world I am imagining, to assign them directly to individuals - to do with as they wish. (There are a few countries where the government is simply too corrupt or powerless for this to be a good idea - but they aren't significant to the carbon picture. The permits for the populations of such countries can accumulate in trust until they get better governments.)

Most developing countries would sell the bulk of their permits to the developed world, as they don't need them. This would amount to a massive "wealth transfer", as Tony Abbott has put it, but I am no opponent of wealth transfers as a rule.

Would this amount to too radical a shock to the structure of the global economy? Perhaps. Certainly I don't think the U.S., to take an obvious example, is in a financial position at the moment to buy all the carbon permits it would need to sustain its current levels of economic activity. Now, shocks are bad, as I hope we agreed earlier when I was making arguments concerning volatility. To halve the real wealth of the top 10% of the worlds population and spread it amongst the remaining 90% is not bad thing - in the long term. Occurring instantaneously, though, it would likely prove disastrous.

So, to temper my thought experiment scheme with some pragmatism, I would say countries should also have the option of buying additional carbon permits at a fixed price. This would act as an upper ceiling on the price of permits, which mitigates one of the major disadvantages of an ETS with respect to a tax. The money spent purchasing these "excess" permits would be invested into a fund that countries having to adapt to negative effects from climate change could make claims against - much less messy, politically, then the small Pacific island nations having to beg for the odd billion here and there from their rich counterparts. Of course, what body could be left in charge of stewarding and dispensing all that money is itself a vexatious political question - can you say One World Government, conspiracy theorist nutbags?

Back in the real world

All the speculation above is of course ridiculously idle. No such scheme is likely to come into existence for decades, if ever, as the farcical arrangement decided upon recently in Denmark shows all too clearly.

So how do I see the course of events playing out? I don't think climate change, directly, will be responsible for wiping out human civilisation. My generation, or the generation to follow us, may end up paying dearly for humanity's current folly. But eventually, pay we will - the hotter the planet gets, the clearer and more precise the science comes, and the richer we get (making carbon reduction comparatively cheaper), the more political will to actually do something about the problem should grow. Perhaps there will be a horrible runaway positive feedback cascade via sea bed deposits of ice-trapped methane or some other mechanism, but I take liberty to doubt it, given all the evidence we have suggests the biosphere has survived through significantly higher temperatures and carbon concentrations than what the foreseeable future holds. It is the shock of the change occurring so rapidly that is the problem, but while this no doubt spells doom for many species, humanity should survive, in some form, in nearly any conceivable scenario.

What bothers me more are the possible indirect effects of climate change. Consider the Middle East, where scarce water is already a cause for conflict in an area that hardly needs more excuses for war to break out; where one nuclear power already exists, surrounded by enemies, and where another state, already an international pariah, may soon come into possession of the atomic bomb. If Iran and Israel are close to the brink of war now, as many observers believe, and unrest grips many of their Arabic neighbours, how much worse will the situation be when the only fresh water to be found in the region is that manufactured in desalination plants?

Or what of China and America? Although the current global deal is in truth the agreement these two countries reached bilaterally, the negotiations fell far short of success, and the world's two biggest carbon emitters both seem keen to manoeuvre so that the blame falls upon the other. The world desperately needs these two countries to establish better relations, not find new grounds for conflict. We have enjoyed such a remarkably peaceful era over the past 20 years in part because of the dominance of a single, unchallenged super power. The transition back to a world more akin to pre-1914 Europe, where multiple entities vie for supremacy, is fraught with danger. We, as a species, can afford to pay a carbon tax, and we can even, probably, afford to pay the costs of living in a world that is 3 or 4 degrees warmer. I doubt we can afford to fight World War 3 over the issue, though.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Witching Hour

It's been a while
Since four a.m.
Things have happened
While you slept soundly

At four a.m.
I'm still not sleepy
Where do I go, now?

Have you been to Lothlorien?
I could give you
The full guided tour
It is never four a.m. there
Or it always is
I can't quite tell

Once at four a.m.
I journeyed to Oxford
And sought after Truth
From a silver tongue
And truly, I found It
It was not to my liking

Do you remember
That time at four a.m.
We were on the fourth round
Of long island iced teas
And all laughing
And I wished I didn't know the punchline
We drowned our mirth
But I walked on water
You couldn't see it
I'd walk to Andromeda
Fence singularities
Ascend the arithmetic hierarchy
And then some
Would you have followed
If I'd have asked?
Then again, I don't ask

A little while later
And it's still four a.m.
It's funny like that
No one has been here
I can smell their footprints
They didn't linger
I can see why
I could tell the ones left
I could answer their questions
I'm not yet that cruel

I dragged you to four a.m.
On a rip tide of conciousness
What were we still doing
On that bench in that place
At that time in that dream?
We should know better
By now, you would think
We'd have learned not to think, there
Where the wild shining notions
Haunt the lives we can't reach

What have I been up to
All this time that has passed?
That's a very good question
I've been asked it, before
I have stared long
At the burning gates of heaven
And listened, close, and deep,
To the seductive song of hell
Things I've learned
That I'd never tell you
And if I told you
You'd never believe me
And if you believed me
You'd scream yourself silent
And under diamonds you'd dance naked on a hill
And not care
As much as you'd never cared before
But you wouldn't want that
And neither would I

I keep coming back here
I play tricks with clocks
I'm drawn by the beauty
So says my attorney

How long since you wandered
Through the streets at four a.m.
And how long since you've wondered
What waits round the corner
You never realised
No one ever does
Where that terror abides
To roam unafraid
It was not worth the price

At four a.m., for a drunken hour or so
I'd say more than you'd hear
In a lifetime
If only
You'd catch me

Its four a.m.
Dawn will be here soon