Saturday, 28 May 2011

We don’t need either a carbon tax or emissions trading

In the midst of Liberal governments refusing to do even the most basic things to improves Australia’s dreadful performance on greenhouse gas emissions, The Business Spectator is trying to suggest that emissions trading may be just as good a solution as the unpopular carbon tax flouted by Gillard. It argues that an emissions trading scheme may actually be effective in capping carbon emissions. However, the difficulties of measurement, as more radical commentators have noted, make this in my view an unlikely scenario.

More than that, I can easily sympathise with those who see problems in a carbon tax for its ability to reduce the living standards of the majority of Australians, who could lose quite a lot in living standards if the government is unable to do something to eliminate the causes of the problem, that is, coal-fired electricity and fuel-inefficient cars. A carbon tax is almost certainly an extremely regressive tax, because the poorest people in rural areas generally have the least ability to rely on public transit or higher cost renewable energy. For this reason, it is very hard to push a carbon tax on the populace of a spread-out, low-density country like Australia.

The real solution – one advocated by radical socialsts but to my mind amenable to more moderate views – is the mining tax which was so unpopular at recent elections.

People think that a windfall tax on wealthy mining companies will ruin Australia’s economy, but such articles as Quarry Vision really show that is not the case. People in Australia need to be informed that Australia’s mining industry is quite largely non-competitive. This is because the combination of a hot climate and extremely thick cratonic crust means that Australia has been entirely immune from the tectonic and glacial upheavals that have destroyed the lithophile mineral wealth of Eurasia, the Americas and New Zealand. (“Lithophile” means the reactive metals that form strong bonds with silicon and oxygen like aluminum and titanium, as distinguished for the more easily extracted but greatly rarer “chalcophile” and “siderophile” metals like copper and gold.)

Paleopedological records show that most of the present-day soil types of Eurasia, the temperate Americas and New Zealand were non-existent or nearly so until the appearance of the Greenland Ice Sheet in the late Pliocene five million years ago. Combined with the growth of the Himalayas and Rockies/Cascade Ranges, the repeated growth of the Laurentide and Scandinavian Ice Sheets in Europe and North America, the Patagonian Ice Sheet in South America and the Himalayas and their glaciers in Asia has produced new soil on a scale probably never known before in the 4,500,000,000 years since the Earth formed. This formation of new soil has been accompanied by the decomposition of FePO4 and AlPO4 to soluble phosphorus to form soils of a chemical fertility not known for at least 280 million years.

In Australia, because most of its continental crust (overlain by high-density iron rich rocks) is as much as fifty five kilometres thick as against twenty for typical crust, none of these processes have occurred at all. The result is that all the lithophile metal ores that in almost all the rest of the world have been largely destroyed remain. Even today, after two hundred and twenty three years of European settlement, new deposits of lithophile metals are still being discovered. The result is that Australia’s established mining companies, as extensively documented by Guy Pearse, have since the 1950s been able to establish a super-tight control over the country’s energy and transport policy. Because of Australia’s very flat topography, there is no tendency for even those regions most remote from the main mineral deposits in the Pilbara to rebel against this power, especially as it gives Australians electricity prices one-sixth those of the Enriched World.

Another far more important and potentially significant result is that, unlike most other industries where high taxation simply leads to inefficiency, if Australia’s masses were to realise the potential use of a mining tax to fund the exceptionally high-quality public transport that such an old and fragile continent absolutely must have (as I have stressed many times before, acceptable standards of public transport in Australia would be greatly higher than in Eurasia, the Americas or New Zealand) and the revegetation and conservation of at least the exceptionally biodiverse South West Botanical Province there could be many improvements in conservation without efficiency loss, simply because there is no alternative source for lithophile metals. This would mean that, rather the destroying the most critical and fragile environment, Australia’s metal ore resources are used to preserve it in a rigorous manner.

Friday, 20 May 2011

A real surprise from Huffington Post editors?

This morning, after a very late night trying to upload extracts from a couple of 1997 AFL games (one of which is of immense statistical interest) I found a list from the Huffington Post of its writers’ recent reading experiences:
  • Katie Bindley, Style and Culture Reporter: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  • Amanda Terkel, Senior Political Reporter: O by Mark Salter
  • Amanda M. Fairbanks, Education Reporter: Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • David Wood, Senior Military Correspondent: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • Andrea Stone, Senior National Correspondent: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
  • Shahien Nasiripour, Senior Business Reporter: Confidence Game by Christine S. Richard
  • Jon Ward, Senior Political Reporter: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
  • Jen Bendery, Staff Writer: Just Kids by Patti Smith
  • Laura Gottesdiener, General Assignment Reporter: Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
  • Joy Resmovits, Education Reporter: Macbeth by Shakespeare
  • Lila Shapiro, Business Reporter: Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
  • William Alden, Business Writer: Thy Neighbor’s Wife by Gay Talese
  • Catherine New, Reporter: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Caroline Dworin, Culture Reporter: Here is New York by E.B. White
  • Elise Foley, DC Reporter: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
  • Michael Calderone, Senior Media Reporter: India: A Million Mutinies Now by V.S. Naipaul
  • Saki Knafo, Reporter: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
The list is very varied. Many of the books are heat-of-the-moment nonfiction that people will not be reading for anything - even biographical information - but the proportion that are not are very varied, which is the way I actually like it to be. There is, too, some historical works I could consider buying after a proper read, such as the one about Theodore Roosevelt and about the political problems facing India today.

The only two I really know much about - courtesy of Elizabeth Kantor and Wendy Mulford - are the two works of “classic” (by date) literature in Macbeth and Lolly Willowes. Lolly Willowes, of course, is the kind of work adherents of classic literature like Kantor will regard as a pre-PC godhead of feminism for its proto-Wiccan theme, whereas Macbeth is seen by such people as representing the real nature of men and women. it is, however, hard to see from the profiles of these two people why they would take an interest in such different works of literature: Shapiro is after all a business reporter!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Easton’s list revealed

One list that I had seen in book form on eBay and perhaps some other places but never noticed in this high-tech age on the web is Easton’s list of the 100 best books of all time.

Unlike most book list form the Modern Library to Benjamin Wiker, this list caters for both fiction and nonfiction. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that with a few exceptions most of the material would be familiar from the variety of lists I have read. The major expectin in fact is the first book, which I had seen heavily criticised by most critics beforehand.
  1. Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne
  2. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  4. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  5. Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathan Swift
  6. Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville
  7. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  8. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  9. The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling
  10. The Odyssey by Homer (5 stars!)
  11. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
  12. A Portrait of the Artist as s Young Man by James Joyce
  13. Paradise Lost by John Milton
  14. Tales From The Arabian Nights by Richard Burton
  15. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  16. Candide by Voltaire
  17. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
  18. The Hunchback of Notre Dame [Notre-Dame De Paris] by Victor Hugo
  19. The Last Of The Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
  20. The Sea Wolf by Jack London
  21. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmund Rostand
  22. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  23. Collected Poems by Robert Browning
  24. The Essays Of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson
  25. The Portrait Of A Lady by Henry James
  26. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  27. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  28. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  29. Collected Poems by John Keats
  30. On The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin
  31. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  32. Collected Poems by Robert Frost
  33. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving
  34. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  35. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  36. She Stoops To Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith
  37. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  38. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  39. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  40. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  41. The Iliad by Homer
  42. Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
  43. The Count Of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  44. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  45. Aesop’s Fables by Aesop
  46. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
  47. The Autobiography Of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
  48. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  49. Politics and The Poetics by Aristotle
  50. The Aeneid by Virgil
  51. Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  52. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  53. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  54. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  55. Pygmalion and Candida by George Bernard Shaw
  56. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  57. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  58. The Cherry Orchard and the Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
  59. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  60. The Analects of Confucius by Confucius
  61. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
  62. Collected Poems by William Butler Yeats
  63. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  64. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  65. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
  66. Beowulf
  67. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  68. The Necklace and Other Tales by Guy de Maupassant
  69. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  70. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
  71. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  72. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  73. The History of Early Rome by Livy
  74. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  75. The Talisman by Sir Walter Scott
  76. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  77. Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  78. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  79. The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám by Omar Khayyám
  80. The Red and the Black by Stendhal
  81. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickins
  82. The Republic by Plato
  83. Collected Poems by Emily Dickinson
  84. Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  85. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
  86. The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay
  87. Silas Marner by George Eliot
  88. The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
  89. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  90. Billy Budd by Herman Melville
  91. The Confessions by St. Augustine
  92. Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe
  93. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  94. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
  95. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  96. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  97. Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
  98. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  99. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  100. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Thursday, 12 May 2011

A favourite joke

One of my favourite jokes about Melbourne is about what the name of the next new Melbourne suburb should be.

I always say it should be called Wass, because one of the major outer suburban growth areas is called Hallam.

The names Hallam and Wass may not seem related to most people, but to old county cricket buffs like myself they are intimately related because of Nottinghamshire’s 1907 County Championship record of fifteen wins and four draws from nineteen games due to their amazingly effective bowling on sticky wicket after sticky wicket in England’s coolest summer of the twentieth century, taking 298 wickets for 12.66 runs apiece. Hallam’s flighty off-spin and Wass’ deadly fast leg cutter popped and spun in a manner even batsmen with better technique than today’s spoiled cricketers could not counter.

I know this is a joke because Albert Hallam, who did not play for England even in the Tests of 1907, cannot be the person for whom the Hallam in Victoria is named after, but it is just too funny and is a story probably few people even in England know!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Intelligence and atheism: watertight or an artefact?

Richard Lynn, a controversial scholar known for his extensive studies of racial differences in intelligence, has recently published an interesting if familiar look at how religious belief correlates with phenotypic IQ for one hundred and thirty seven nations.

What is striking from the database is how average intelligence, it seems, is able to predict rates of atheism and nonbelief across nations. It is notable that virtually all nations with mean phenotypic IQs of less than ninety have almost no atheism, whilst those with phenotypic IQs above 90 have generally significant to very high levels of atheism. This relationship may be even stronger than Lynn actually shows because for political reasons many people in Catholic Europe who are actually very much nonpractising and politically radical will not claim to be atheistic.

Supporters of atheism, however, must not say “hey, hooray” that the more intelligent are necessarily more atheistic. The few exceptions outside of Catholic Europe are explained very easily and in a satisfactory manner, except that Lynn probably has not heard of the arguments of Lestaghe and Surkyn that the higher religiosity of the United States is due to its much smaller welfare state than that of European countries, which means people are more dependent on private religious charities if in need.

A much worse problem is that, whilst in the past Lynn has easily explained the increased intelligence of Europeans, East Asians and to a lesser extent other Enriched World races in terms of adaptation or past adaptation to the cold winters in and north of the Himalayas, his thesis about how increased atheism relates to increased phenotypic IQ is rather problematic in that context. If atheism were purely related to phenotypic IQ, then for the negligible levels of atheism in medieval European populations, we would require a “phenotypic depression” (in simple terms the difference between genotypic IQ and phenotypic IQ) of about fifteen IQ points. There are many writers - for instance Mike Davis in Late Victorian Holocausts - who do suggest peasant living standards in Europe were poorer than those of the Tropical World before the colonial era - but that creates a further problem since the observed genotypic IQs of farming peoples in the Tropical World are between twenty and seven IQ points lower than those of Europeans. Unless most farming peoples in the Tropical World really had much more productive environmental conditions for farming than did Europeans, it would be unlikely that “phenotypic depression” in European peasant IQ could have reached to 15 IQ points.

If “phenotypic depression” did reach 15 IQ points for a substantial period, it contradicts Lynn’s whole thesis for why Europeans were able to surpass Southeast Asians and the more numerous South Asians in cultural achievements. The Openness of South Asians is virtually the same as that of Europeans; that of South East Asians unknown. However, since Southeast Asians have never lived in environments where conformity is valuable like the highly infertile Unenriched World or extremely cold climates, one could not expect their Openness to be much lower than that of Europeans. Thus, if these theories are at all correct, then it would be predicted that South Asians and South East Asians in the Tropical World would have overtaken Europeans in scientific achievement - which of course did not happen.

Thus, we are left with the probability that medieval Europeans cannot have had sufficient “phenotypic depression” to explain their high religiosity and that this fact undermines Lynn’s thesis quite severely. We are left with a very strong probability that big government remains a major cause of atheism, especially when one moves it beyond welfare to other aspects of government regulation which make countries like Hong Kong look much less like capitalist models.