Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Was the 1989 Sydney Morning Herald wrong?

Yesterday I read a special Sydney Morning Herald article from the end of August 1989 to commemorate fifty years sicne the outbreak of World War II.

Such a finding is of itself nothing to seriously note, except that I found a very interesting article about how, contrary to what was believed at the time, Japan's imperial government had never planned an actual invasion of Australia, as apparently some 1980s historians thought. It said that Japan would have required a full twelve divisions for an invasion of Australia, and that doing so would have necessitated a diversion of huge numbers of troops away from the war being fought with China over Manchuria. The article also said that the Japanese would have, despite the absence of opposition to invasion in the north of Australia, had a great deal of trouble with an invasion of Australia because of the extremely harsh environment in the north and centre of the continent, to which their troops would have been completely unsuited. The Sydney Morning Herald said that Australia's military would have had a major advantage had their been a war on our soil, which even with the climatic differences compared to Australia's milder southern regions,

What I cannot agree with is the idea that there would have been no point for Japan to try to invade Australia, for reasons relating to Australia's vast and still not-fully-explored mineral resources. However, in the years of the Great Depression, the proportion of Australia's economy contributed by mining reached its lowest level on record, and it has risen since.

Because of this fact, the Imperial Japanese would naturally have failed to realise how much benefit they could have gained from invading Australia. If the Japanese had succeeded in gaining control of Australia's metal ores, there would have been a chance to monopolise valuable industrial resources that would have been as valuable in peacetime as in war, which would have given them an economic power far greater than they gained from the postwar "economic miracle". The history of Europe and East Asia after the war shows how a boom in a resource-free nation cannot be sustained because of the cultural changes no industrialising nation except those with abundant flat land has ever escaped. (In this context, it is interesting to see what effect Federation in 1901 had on Britain's twentieth-century history by removing Australia's enormous undiscovered resources?)

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The most ridiculous song list ever

Today, as I was searching for possible blogs on music to make sure I can discuss it better than I have been lately, I found a list that makes me laugh hard because it is so, so, so absurd!

It was titled Top Ten Songs for Obama Haters and was originally written by the Miami New Times. When I saw it I was really curious because I wondered so much what songs of significance would criticise Obama or - if older than Obama's presidential campaign - would have themes coherent with the current opposition to him?

As it turned out, the songs were, with two exceptions, songs that I had never heard of. The full list is:
  1. ‘Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,’ (by Jerry Jeff Walker and written by Ray Wylie Hubbard)
  2. ‘Teach Your Children’ (by Crosby, Stills and Nash)
  3. ‘Ignorant ****’ (by Jay-Z)
  4. ‘Liar, Liar’ (by the Castaways)
  5. ‘Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White, American Males’ (by Todd Snider)
  6. ‘Waves of Fear’ (by Lou Reed)
  7. ‘People Putting People Down’ (by Bob Dylan; written by John Prine)
  8. ‘Highway to Hell’ (by AC/DC; written by Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Bon Scott)
  9. ‘Your Racist Friend’ (by They Might Be Giants)
  10. ‘Rednecks’ (by Randy Newman)
All of these are either unknown joke songs or ones that do not make sense. ‘Rednecks’ could fit the bill because it could be seen as a defence of racism with the use of “n******”, but ‘Your Racist Friend’ is an attack on someone for befriending racists, and thus would be pro-Obama. ‘People Putting People Down’ is analogous, whilst ‘Waves of Fear’ may have been chosen because it reflected fear of loss of personal control under Obama, though nothing in its lyrics is directly anti-liberal.

However, of the top five songs only ‘Teach Your Children’ and ‘Ignorant ****’ are likely to be at all familiar. The former was chosen because it encouraged children to listen to parents instead of politicians - which any sensible person would see as decent advice.

‘Ignorant ****’ is a ridiculous choice even if it is vilely anti-female (which as we shall see is not so politically incorrect as people think), whilst the other three songs in the Top Five are just ludicrously silly conservative pieces nobody except specialised listeners could possibly know and which offer no constructive criticism of Obama.

However, what really amazes me is the inclusion of AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’. For a start, every website of almost any Right faction will deny the justification given for its listing. The real problem is however that, more than any other band in music history, AC/DC have driven Western culture in precisely the direction desired by the modern Democratic Party and almost every party in Europe, Canada and New Zealand. AC/DC, as a result of their catchy songs and populist working-class message of easy fun with not the tiniest restraint, have turned the West towards a libertinism and radical individualism that has no room for any ethical standards. Their songs contrast with even the pre-AC/DC rock era where many singers had a sense that there was a definite “wrong” ethically and that what rock musicians were doing could have consequences, as is noted by JKM here.

The playing of ‘Shoot to Thrill’ on the radio has always startled me because the lyrics quite explicitly say one should kill the defenceless if one desires, especially women. However, AC/DC’s sexism is hardly that politically incorrect. It is undeniable that radical feminists, rather than protest as I imagined they would have back in 1980 when Back in Black came out, instead found clear common ground with AC/DC. They view AC/DC’s songs as a call to completely shed all femininity and create a culture consisting only of males. If we should define Left and Right in terms of defeminisation (left) versus refeminisation (Right), then we can see that AC/DC would be seen as “far left” even if apolitical. Add their cultural influence in turning society towards people like Obama and it becomes a total joke to have a list of songs for “Obama haters” containing anything by them.

All in all, one must see the Miami New Times as having made a list, than which I can hardly imagine anything worse.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Simply shift smelting where there’s hydropower and look to conservation for jobs.

In today’s Age, there is a lengthy and clear discussion of the problems posed for Australia’s extremely high greenhouse emissions by Portland’s and Geelong’s aluminum smelters, and how things have changed since the smelter first opened in 1979 (people forget it was the year of the inaccurate and destructive Lonie Report for which Robin Underwood really should still be prosecuted given the environmental damage of expanded car usage).

The Age is saying that the government is maintaining subsidies to the aluminum smelting industry to prevent it moving overseas “into the arms of countries with little carbon conscience” is the best thing that can be done.

I cannot agree with that at all. If we exclude sub-Saharan Africa and perhaps the Pacific, virtually every nation in the world now has more “carbon conscience” that Australia. Moreover, I cannot see it likely that sub-Saharan Africa is being proposed as a location for new aluminum smelters!

Because likely energy sources in developing nations are closer to major population centres and are  likely to be hydropower, it is actually probable that any large-scale movement of jobs will reduce greenhouse emissions in spite of far lower government standards. Since Australia’s extremely old soils and low runoff coefficients completely rule out reliable hydropower, the cost might also be less than improving the energy efficiency of brown coal.

When it comes to jobs in areas affected, we must take George Megalogenis’ call that Australia cease growing crops for export on its extremely old and impoverished soils at a time when the subtropical dry belt is moving a degree poleward every three years and according to Tertiary paleoclimate records will not settle until Tasmania is completely within the arid zone. A logical replacement would be conservation: Australia’s uniquely fragile soils and geology ought to be ample justification that it have a level of conservation far, far greater than any other continent. The real aim, given likely climates in the next decade, should be that all land from the south coast at least as far as Dubbo be returned to native flora – and that the road and coal lobbies pay the price for this.

Farmers abroad also should be willing to pay for this since revegetation of Australia’s farmland – exceptionally labour-efficient but unsustainable even with the best technology – will allow them to make money without subsidies that strangle and innovation and produce wasteful spending on pesticides and excessive fertiliser use.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Sam Harris is half-right

Atheist philosopher Sam Harris, a favourite of my brother, has argued that religious people are more motivated by emotional reactions than are atheists.
"A comparison of both stimulus categories suggests that religious thinking is more associated with brain regions that govern emotion, self-representation, and cognitive conflict, while thinking about ordinary facts is more reliant upon memory retrieval networks."
It is surprising that someone as unlikely to see both sides as Sam Harris can - at least in a very broad sense - come to conclusions that are not radically different from what I argue here.

Psychologist Michael Fitzgerald, in discussion with me, has agreed with my point that high empathy, conservatism and religiosity are tightly linked, despite opposition to this viewpoint from my relatives. Religious belief is undoubtedly very closely related to personal experience ("cognitive conflict" means conflict between right and wrong) and how someone feel about it, whereas mere memory without any feeling (as I have so much of about my childhood) is unlikely to be related to religion because people are unlikely to learn much from it (I will state straightforwardly that I seldom learn from the mistakes I made as a child when really pressed).

The problem with Sam Harris is that he - and other ethicists who hate him - fails to realise that there is an important psychological distinction between:
  1. shallow, spontaneous emotions and
  2. deep-rooted emotions
Astrology, for all the absurdity of planets being able to influence personal behaviour, is correct in its theory that there is a crucial distinction between shallow, short-lived emotional reactions (represented by fire signs) and deep, empathetic emotional reactions (represented by water signs). It is because of this confusion that one has claims:
"People "accept religion on emotional grounds" - I look around today, and the most emotional people I see are atheists."
The emotion of these atheists is likely to be really what Myers-Briggs theorists call "intuitive" types or what astrologers call fiery types, and is not true "feeling". Truly feeling-oriented types are likely to view rigid gender roles are a necessity, laws against extramarital sex or contraception as protecting women, and limited government as protecting people's privacy. They are even more likely to see respect for tradition as critical to the advancement of cultures and to fear rapid breaks from tradition in pursuit of individual freedom to do whatever one desires.

It is strange that religious conservatives do not recognise these points, preferring to compete on a field where they simply cannot win. It is no wonder religious conservatives who do not know how (or if) they can use their strength at a truly deep emotional level make so many lamentations nowadays.

Yet, this does not mean atheists like Sam Harris are right to yearn for (if they haven't already got) a world in which truly deep emotion has disappeared. The effects on demography and economics (government debt) are such that questioning the assumption a world divorced from deep emotions is a utopia cannot be a bad thing.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Bush Senior Era’s revolutionary nature revealed through music

In this article, KEXP FM has a look at what its listeners regard as the best years for music. In order to avoid albums that might not hold up well with age, I will exclude years listed by the station since 2000, and the final result for the best years in music is this:
  1. 1991:
    The La’s (The La’s)
    Teenage Fanclub (Bandwagonesque)
    Nirvana (Nevermind)
    Soundgarden (Badmotorfinger)
    Throwing Muses (The Real Ramona)
    My Bloody Valentine (Loveless)
  2. 1966:
    Bob Dylan (Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The Royal Albert Hall)
    The Beatles (Revolver)
    The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds)
    The Sonics (Boom)
    ? Mark & the Mysterians (“96 Tears”)
    The Troggs (“Wild Thing”)
    James Brown (“I Got You (I Feel Good)”)
    Swinging Medalions (“Double Shot”)
    Bobby Fuller Four (“I Fought The Law”)
    Johnny Rivers (“And I Know You Wanna Dance”)
  3. 1994:
    Sugar (File Under Easy Listening)
    Beastie Boys (Ill Communication)
    Veruca Salt (American Thighs)
    Portishead (Dummy)
    Guided By Voices (Bee Thousand)
    Pavement (Crooked Rain Crooked Rain)
    Built To Spill (There’s Nothing Wrong with Love)
    Beck (Mellow Gold)
  4. 1977:
    The Jam (In the City)
    Ramones (Rocket to Russia)
    The Stranglers (No More Heroes)
    Iggy Pop (The Idiot)
    Richard Hell & the Voidoids (Blank Generation)
    Elvis Costello (My Aim Is True)
    Bob Marley and the Wailers (Exodus)
    Wire (Pink Flag)
    Television (Marquee Moon)
    Talking Heads (Talking Heads: 77)
  5. 1979:
    AC/DC (Highway to Hell)
    Sex Pistols (The Great Rock and Roll Swindle)
    Cheap Tricks (Dream Police)
    The Undertones (Kicks)
    The Police (Regatta de Blanc)
    Joy Division (Unknown Pleasures)
    Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Rust Never Sleeps)
    The B-52’s (The B-52’s)
    The Clash (London Calling)
    The Jam (Setting Sons)
    Gang of Four (Entertainment!)
  6. 1997:
    Old 97’s (Too Far to Care)
    Modest Mouse (The Lonesome Crowded West)
    Pavement (Brighten the Corners)
    Richard Buckner (Devotion + Doubt)
    Built To Spill (Perfect from Now On)
    Elliott Smith (Either/Or)
    Cornershop (When I Was Born for the Seventh Time)
    Sleater-Kinney (Dig Me Out)
    Yo La Tengo (I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One)
  7. 1992:
    Lemonheads (It’s a Shame about Ray)
    Buffalo Tom (Let Me Come Over)
    Pavement (Slanted and Enchanted)
    Sonic Youth (Dirty)
    The Jesus and Mary Chain (Honey’s Dead)
    L7 (Bricks Are Heavy)
    Alice In Chains (Dirt)
  8. 1993:
    Afghan Whigs (Gentlemen)
    Radiohead (Pablo Honey)
    Nirvana (In Utero)
    Liz Phair (Exile in Guyville)
    Björk (Debut)
    Snoop Doggy (Dog What’s My Name?)
    Frank Black (Frank Black)
    James (Laid)
    Catherine Wheel (Chrome)
    U2 (Zooropa)
    The Breeders (Last Splash)
    Belly (Star)
    New Order (Republic)
  9. 1968:
    Love (Forever Changes)
    Marvin Gaye (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine’)
    Sly and the Family Stone (Dance To the Music)
    The Doors (Waiting for the Sun)
    James Brown (Live at the Apollo)
    Johnny Cash (Folsom Prison Blues)
    The Zombies (Odysessey and Oracle)
    Elvis Presley (68 Comeback Special)
    Rolling Stones (Beggars’ Banquet)
    Van Morrison (Astral Weeks)
    Bob Dylan (John Wesley Harding)
    The Beatles (The White Album)
If you look carefully, you will notice the three early 1990s years that form the heart of the Bush Senior Era.
What is more, these years make it without any of the
  1. thrash albums by Slayer, Pantera or Sepultura
  2. rap albums by Public Enemy, N.W.A., A Tribe Called Quest etc.
If we were to add all the culturally influential albums from those two genres made during the Bush Senior Era, we see an era of great radicalism. For all Leaf's failings in his Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties, he is able to show in
this interview that the whole Reagan Era was much more sexually radical than even the late 1960s.

One gets the impression that the Reagan Era was the closest America has ever got to the typical story of twentieth-century urban Europe - a nation of atheists ruled by a religious elite - and that the Bush Senior Era’s radicalism was an inevitable result, even if the collapse of Stalinism and Hussein’s invasion of oil-soaked Kuwait overshadow this in typical histories (apart from the L.A. riots).

Friday, 9 October 2009

Rhino poaching soaring

According to this article, rhino poaching in South Africa's famous national parks has reached such a level that the government has had to do something about it.

It reports that, because of the high demand for rhinoceros products in Asia, more than eighty rhinos have been killed by poachers, with thirty-three of them near the border with Mozambique. In fact, all the poachers so far arrested have been Mozambican citizens, which suggests that it is poverty that is the primary cause of people engaging in killing rhinos.

Privatisation of rhinos is the favourite suggestion of Robert P. Murphy as the solution, so that if rhinos have value, than private owners will want to make poaching costly enough in terms of access that owners of rhinos will gain enough money to ensure that only a tiny number are ever killed.

The trouble I have always thought is that it is possible that those who deal in rhino horn want rhinos to become extinct because the prestige rhino horn would carry could multiply. If it did, rhino horn could rise to orders of magnitude above its present price of $100 per gram, and it is easy to imagine the wealthy dealers currently existing bargaining on such increases in a legalised market.

Moreover, since the supply of rhino horn, owing to the animals' territorial behaviour and slow growth rate, is necessarily inelastic, prices rises would have to be large to reduce demand. Moreover, is there not a possibility that rhinos could be owned by the very people who make huge profits today from dealing in its horn?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Unwind's seven worst artists

Recently, a site called Unwind has made a list of the seven (actually "Top Five" but they give two ties) worst artists in music history. The list is:
  1. Nickelback
  2. Kid Rock
  3. (equal second) Uncle Cracker
  4. Sheryl Crow
  5. (equal with Crow) Melissa Etheridge
  6. Michael Bolton
  7. Hinder
One cannot really think too much of the list, which is far more stereotyped and focused on a small number of commercial artists after the rap revolution. However, I can say I agree with almost all the artists listed there, for it was after (and during) the rap revolution that I began to be annoyed by the music on the radio. Still, a list of seven artists can never be remotely definitive.