Saturday, 20 December 2014

Not a “play” at all

Yesterday, after thinking so for a long time after it was suggested by a relative of mine, I actually emailed Benjamin Wiker to ask his if his 2008 Ten Books that Screwed Up the World was a play on John Reed’s 1919 Ten Days that Shook the World. The assumption that Wiker’s publishers took the title directly form Reid’s book I never questioned even though there are just too many lists of ‘Ten...’ to be sure.

Although Wiker – despite not being the “vice squad” type person one critic of his work said – is not perfectly responsive to emails and I admit without a grudge he almost certainly considers too trivial or too repetitive the majority of what I have sent to him, he did respond to this email form yesterday smoothly and said quite simply
“no, nothing at all”
So, what I’ve found is that I had a myth on my hands from my half-sister for six full years! It’s notable that one discussion of Human Events’ ‘Ten Most Harmful Books of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’ did mention Reed’s book (these are just the relevant texts altered as little as I can):

Books unworthy enough but not listed by Human Events include:

  • Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (Mark Twain called it “the latest and best of all Bibles”)
  • Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man (“Fiction calls the facts by their name and their reign collapses,” “the prevailing mode of freedom is servitude,” “the process by which logic became the logic of domination,” blah, blah, blah)
  • Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (critique)
  • Leo Strauss’s Persecution and the Art of Writing (“one may wonder whether some of the greatest writers of the past have not adapted their literary technique to the requirements of persecution, by presenting their views on all the then crucial questions exclusively between the lines”)
  • John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World (“the author sleeps forever under the Kremlin Wall”)
  • Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation (PETA awards an abridged version to new members)
  • Henry George’s Progress and Poverty (save for the Bible, said to be the most widely read book in the English language in the 19th century)
  • Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker
  • Michael Harrington’s The Other America
  • Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dillema
  • Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism (“although it is rightfully a critique of Nazism he argued that it stemmed from sexual repression. The book was a huge hit with the 60s generation and New Left and we now have social decay as a result”)
  • The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley (“death and brain damage, the human wreckage from the book can be found in many nursing homes today.”)

Friday, 5 December 2014

Egalitarianism versus global warming inaction

I have been of recent weeks investigating whether Australia’s dreadful record on greenhouse gas emissions may be related to absence of egalitarianism inherent in its unpredictable and low-productivity environments. I do not believe Australia’s dreadful per-capita emissions should ever be explained away in terms of distances. After all Australia’s extremely flat terrain is perfectly suited to high-speed rail transport that could eliminate most direct and indirect emissions from cars and airline, yet Australia lags fifty to seventy years behind most of the Enriched World in developing fast rail!

The notion that Australia’s extremely low secondary productivity and variable runoff – or superabundant flat land in a hot climate – compared to the young Enriched World inherently produces different cultures from the same initial settling population is one I have come to accept as potentially very true. This month, the CSIRO’s Jennifer Price and Zoe Leviston have provided a study that does show:
  1. the conflict between egalitarianism and global warming inaction
  2. how the extreme isolation of outer suburbs from a global culture contributes to greenhouse scepticism being entirely mainstream there
Titled ‘My country or my planet? Exploring the influence of multiple place attachments and ideological beliefs upon climate change attitudes and opinions’, Price’s and Lewiston’s article shows how a strong “nationalist” perspective and acceptance of hierarchies as mandated by traditional Christianity – especially Catholicism and Orthodoxy – among residents of “remote” suburbs contributes to denial of global warming.

The study pitifully failed to separate inhabitants of fringe suburbs, who because they are less dependent upon natural bounty for their livelihood are probably even more likely to be greenhouse-sceptic than rural people, from residents of inner cities. This would be particularly useful in the table asking “What do you think would be the economic impact on Australia of making significant reductioons in greenhouse gas emissions, as part of global action involving all major countries?” (though as Jan-Erik Lane shows, this action really should be confined to energy-producing Indian Rim nations), where it would certainly reveal whether climate-dependent rural communities really do understand man-made global warming or confirm to John Snarey’s prediction that highly variable hydrology is the prime producer of strong religious faith and potential belief that God will always provide rain regardless of how much greenhouse gases we emit.

The results do confirm stereotyped viewpoints that atheist and globally-oriented people are most concerned about global warming. This, of course, reflects the extremely developed sectors they participate in, which my previous posts emphasise as unable to build a stable civilisation, because economic change is too rapid to raise children and political demands too extreme.

Australia’s uniqueness compared to nations of the Enriched World – who share essentially the same soils, flora and fauna – undoubtedly should encourage nationalism, even if not warlike as in the fascism. Radical internationalism is unlikely to cover the core population of a nation specialising in primary production and which possesses large and mostly undiscovered quantities of resources glaciated or “collided” (plate tectonic activity) out of existence elsewhere.

The problems noted in Two Nations when Pauline Hanson emerged almost two decades ago have not diminished, and cannot whilst the suburbs and rural areas remain culturally and economically isolated from the rest of the world without being in any way self-sufficient (after all, low-input agriculture in Australia has been a known impossibility since the Austronesians saw our north coast). They will always seek to work with people of similar interests, and Price and Leviston have only confirmed what we know.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Australia’s debt for the pollution it exports

Today The Guardian has shown a list of wanted environmental fugitives, all connected either with rhinoceros poaching or illegal logging. Whilst the rhinoceros poaching epidemic which claims up to six percent of the global rhinoceros population each year is deplorable, and illegal logging of tropical forests can have major consequences in terms of erosion and loss of species, Interpol’s list cannot by any means be complete. Whilst killing of endangered species is a grave offence, the much more delicate, but potentially more destructive in the long-term, issue of the “export” of large quantities of pollution from Australia needs to be discussed as well.

Export of greenhouse pollution from Australia is a global concern, and there is no doubt that corporations who profit from unlimited greenhouse gas emissions have major direct and indirect influence on Australian politics. Being completely legal, these polluting corporations’ influence is likely larger than rhinoceros poaching and logging corporations of the humid tropics, but no doubt exists they should pay the global costs of the pollution they produce.

Australia’s politics – which the last few years plainly show as diverging rapidly from Europe, East Asia and the Americas especially regarding issues like greenhouse emissions and freeway building – is generally ignored by ecologists, even whilst admitting Australia possesses unique problems with  ancient soils, warm oligotrophic seas, low biological productivity and high rate of postindustrial species extinctions. The notion that Australia be naturally ultraconservative and community-oriented (contrasting with individual-oriented Eurasia and the Americas) precisely owing to the low and variable productivity of its ecosystems is seldom asked by ecologists but firmly supported by ecological anthropology. John Snarey’s ‘The Natural Environment’s Impact upon Religious Ethics: A Cross-Cultural Study’ (from the June 1996 Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion) shows a powerful relationship between scarcity of water and belief in the type of deity found in Abrahamic religions. Snarey’s model suggests in the long term that Australia, with even in humid regions half the ratio of runoff to precipitation and three to five times the variability in runoff of Europe, East Asia, the Americas and New Zealand, would maintain traditional Christianity whilst those nations become uniformly atheist.
Global distribution of coefficient of variation of annual runoff taken from ‘Global streamflows – Part 3: Country and climate zone characteristics’ in Journal of Hydrology (2007) 347, pages 272 to 291.
The failure of Australia to even equal reduction targets of incomparably smaller per-capita polluters, together with a change from lip service to outright opposition regarding emissions-cutting investments (public transit, renewable energy, abandonment of proposed roads) suggests Australian culture today is fundamentally different from other OECD nations and that these differences are rapidly intensifying.

If Australians be unwilling to accept the sacrifices (higher taxes, short-term loss of the freedom from cars, less personal space) needed to reverse transport and energy policies toward public transit, then international organisations possess no choice but to step in and state bluntly that Australia has a basic duty to pay for (present and future) disasters abroad that are substantially its making.

Monday, 24 November 2014

The hard truth about fuel excise

Although it is news to me that proposals to re-index fuel excise in Australia have been made and – remarkably due to the dilly-dallying of the Greens – failed, my discovery that evening has made me wish to look at how absurd in ecological terms Australia’s extremely low and declining (in real value) fuel excise is.

Although in the real world fuel excise pays for road upkeep and not environmental services, my opinion is that fuel excise is legitimate if and only if it pays for ecological services that a free market cannot, whether conservation reserves or mass transit projects. Thus a country’s legitimate level and quantity of fuel excise can be determined by the amount of land it needs conserved, but which a free market cannot protect from ecologically destructive development.

To determine the area of land requiring conservation, but un-conservable under a free market, one needs to subtract successively from a country’s land area:
  1. land whose flora and fauna is younger than 15,000 years due to glaciation and hence completely lacks unique species or refuges therefor
  2. land over the slope limit for efficient arable farming of 11 degrees
  3. land which can support low-input agriculture – defined as agriculture without phosphatic and chalcophile element fertilisers or artificial river impoundments
(It is important that if a point of land meets more than one of those categories, it be counted only once).

If we follow those criteria, we find that Australia’s land almost never meets any of the three criteria that deem conservation unnecessary. The only soils in Australia capable of anything approaching “low-input” agriculture – the cracking clays of the Darling and Cooper basins within a crescent approximately from Singleton to Birdsville – are too heavy plow without heavy machinery. Not to mention that most of this region has much too erratic a rainfall for rainfed farming and no truly permanent water sources, which is unlike other areas with similarly erratic rainfall in, say, Central Chile or northwest India or California.

The proportion of Australia’s land under 11˚ slope, as can be seen here, is easily the highest of the world’s larger nations – in fact the proportion of land of very low slope that Australia has is exceptionally high and not exceeded even by small nation-states.

Thirdly, virtually none of Australia’s land was glaciated during the Quaternary, whereas Canada and many European nations (approximately those north of a line from the Severn to the Rhine to the southern border of Poland to the Gulf of Anabar) were entirely glaciated for most of the Quaternary and have been habitable for only brief periods.

If we combine these three, we see that Australia has over seven million square kilometres (well over 90 percent of its land surface) needing conservation but not conservable in a free market. In contrast, all the other OECD nations combined possess only very small areas that fail all three tests above – highly leached land in the American South and a few sandplains in California, France and Portugal. These could not total more than about ten thousand square kilometres or 0.1 percent the total area of “valuable but economically unconservable” land in Australia.

From this simple if unrefined and imperfectly measured logic, it follows that Australian fuel excise should by ecological criteria total well over ninety-nine percent the total fuel excise of all OECD nations, measured as a percent of the total fuel excise paid buying one litre of fuel in each OECD nation. This is especially true if one takes into account potentially high conservation costs for example in controlling pests like the cane toad and rubber vine, over remote areas. The fact that actual Australian fuel excise is not 99%, but nearer 1% of the OECD total says much about the influence of the car and energy industries in Australia, as well as our family- and community-oriented “car culture”.

This does not in any way diminish the fact that a situation where Australia pays a fraction the fuel excise of many entirely-glaciated nations with no land requiring uneconomic conservation should not be accepted, nor that improvement as inadequate as increasing Australian excise from 25 percent to 50 percent the OECD mean would do nothing to help. History shows that even modestly and inadequately less cheap petrol (say down from 800 millilitres/$ to 600 millilitres/$) produces major effects on motoring habits – so what would a realistic cheapness of under 30 millilitres/$ achieve?? Fuel efficiency would increase spectacularly but resources to pay for the global costs of the vast quantity of greenhouse pollution Australia and its minerals produce would nonetheless become much greater. Moreover, Australia’s land supply is so abundant that such fuel taxes would not affect – especially if development regulations were simplified – family formation so much as lower taxes in the Enriched World do.

Friday, 21 November 2014

“Cat playing the organ”? Emphatically no, but deception is so much easier than with the piano!

In a recent post about the offensive but funny criticism my mother and brother have give on-and-off for the past decade of Olivier Messiaen’s keyboard music that it is “a cat playing the piano” or “a cat playing the organ” rather than humans, I discussed my own efforts to compare real Messiaen performed by humans with a real cat playing the piano. I concluded that there is so way to confuse the two though some resemblances may exist.

Last night when I played Vingt Regards sur l‘Enfant Jésus by Yvonne Loriod downstairs at the same time as I was watching Essendon beat Melbourne in Round 9, 1996 – Messiaen defeating football for the attention of my ears – my brother said Vingt Regards was like a cat chasing a mouse inside the piano! My mother said Vingt Regards sur l‘Enfant Jésus – the French of which I have always been dreadful at pronouncing – was like a cat on drugs playing the piano, although unlike with Catalogue d‘Oiseaux I was listening to the very performance recommended in 1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die.

Tonight I have tried to look for cases of a cat playing the organ as opposed to the piano – after all it was with Messiaen’s organ works that the notion of a cat playing first occurred! As I said in the previous post, Messaien’s organ works are much more inaccessible and mystical than his piano pieces with their dramatic dynamics that are oddly accessible and to me likeable.
This is the only video of a cat playing or sleeping on the organ I have found. My brother says that the long quiet parts in Messiaen’s organ works are just like a cat sleeping on the organ.

If you listen briefly to real Messiaen after hearing this, you can think it is a bit like this, but a really careful listen to Jennifer Bate will show that she is much, much further removed from any sort of cat playing the organ than such pianists as Håkon Austbø, Roger Muraro (who looks on the cover like a monk), Martin Zehn or Carl-Axel Dominique could! the dynamics in real Messiaen organ pieces, though quiet, are much more planned and softer than a cat could ever be!