Monday, July 28, 2008

Gambling the Future

It's pretty obvious to everyone who understands the basics of climatology (and many who don't) that the plans by some Liberals to oppose an ETS until everyone else has one are a short term move. In a few years time when the current La Nina has faded and global warming is even more in people's faces than today the Libs will be trying to shake off the image of having done nothing about the problem under Howard. Nelson's prevaracating is just going to make things harder.

But that's not the real problem for the Liberals in all this. In a decade people will remember Howard, but Nelson will be a blip on the memory screen. The bigger problem is this. Party membership is down to 13,400 in Victoria (from 45,000 at its peak) and half of them are over 62. Membership would be lower, per capita, in most other states, although the age ratios may not be quite as bad.

I suspect that truly reviving the party membership is a lost cause, but if there is any hope it has to rest with the several thousand students who signed up for university Liberal Club memberships at universities around the country in February and March. Every year thousands of first years sign up, and every year most of them slip through the party's fingertips, never getting engaged or involved.

Now is actually a pretty crucial time for addressing that. Clubs are gearing up for student elections, and the smarter Liberal presidents will be calling all those members and seeing if they can get them to participate in a team. Participation may go nowhere, but its an opportunity to network people in with those already involved, build a bit of experience and love of the contest (or at least hatred of the opposition).

Now the question for Nelson is, who does he want to attract to this year's Liberal tickets: Young people who are politically conservative but concerned about their own future and that of their generation? Or a bunch so scientifically inept they believe everything Andrew Bolt tells them and so lacking in long term planning they can't give a stuff about anything past the next beer?

Either way, these people will make up a goodly chunk of the future of the party. Choose wisely


Grafitto spotted today:

There is no emoticon for existential despair.

Personally I think that @( might do the trick if not already taken, but somehow I don't think the author was looking for a suggestion.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Not Getting It

There's an interesting/frustrating discussion over at LP.

One frustrating aspect is that the original poster wanted to have a feminist discussion and it got hijacked by some men drawn like flies to the honeypot at the mention of breasts, who've turned the focus very much to women's sexuality and whether its women's fault they don't like their bodies. No doubt this is frustrating to the women who wanted to take part in the original discussion.

But its also frustrating to me, because I have to admit I'm actually much more interested in issues resembling those the men have been raising than the original topic. On the other hand, I don't want to be part of yet another thread hijack where women are prevented from talking about the issues they're interested in by men coming along and doing a slightly more sophisticated version of "giggle, she said breasts".

So after one post far back on that thread, I thought I'd express myself here, losing 99.9% of the potential audience, but at least not adding to the hijack.

The incomparable Pavlov's Cat sum's up the women's frustration like this
stop assuming that just because men think of women’s breasts exclusively as “sexual apparatus”, women also must think of them that way. Because most of us Just. Do. Not.

To which my response is: I hear you. I understand women don't think of them that way. What I don't understand is how you do think of them.

A lot of the thread is taken up with questions of breast reduction because some of the dimmer men seem obsessed by the idea that women would be doing this in order to make themselves more attractive to men. The point is made, over and over again, that women have breast reduction surgery for lots of other reasons - back pain, ability to exercise etc. You don't have to be too bright to grasp this point. As PC says:

Breasts are objects of desire to most blokes, and to women who fancy other women. To the rest of us, they are a source of constant worry, either because (1) they are large, weighty objects necessitating expensively engineered bras and will give us shocking back and neck problems by the time we’re 40, (2) because the world is full of blokes who think it’s acceptable to comment audibly on (if not actually grab) the breasts of anyone who happens to be passing, (3) because we have good reason to fear either failing to breastfeed our children with them successfully or getting cancer in them

But the problem I have, and i imagine a lot of other blokes share, is that this doesn't explain why so many more women have breast enlargement than reduction operations. None of these reasons, or anything like them, seem to explain why a woman would want to make her breasts bigger unless its to increase their chance of attracting a man.

Dr Cat does offer,

or (4) because we think they are ‘too small’ and we have not yet thought through the logic of this enough to realise that if a bloke’s attitude to you depends on the size of your breasts then the smart thing to do is get away from him as quickly as possible.

But this pretty much takes us back to the women concerned seeing their breasts as ways of attracting men. It's not just the minority of women who have breast enhancement surgery I'm trying to work out, its all those who spend time trying to make their breasts look bigger, make their cleavage more visible etc, when its not actually about trying to score.

Why does this matter? (Besides the obvious point that its another excuse for a straight man to talk about breasts) Well if women did see their breasts purely as sexual advertisements then one could conclude that every time a woman tried to enhance her breasts, make them more visible etc she was trying to pick up. Not necessarily (or even usually) me of course, but pick up someone. In such a situation, it would be reasonable to think that polite advances would receive either a favourable response or something equivalent to "actually I'm chasing someone else, but thanks for the compliment".

Now most men have worked out that this is not the case. A woman wearing a revealing neckline may be distinctly uninterested in advances from anyone, and if we're reasonable human beings we try to respect this. But that doesn't mean we don't have all sorts of trouble trying to work out when a woman is actually interested in being approached, and when she isn't. I certainly do.

Some men deal with this by hitting on every woman they're attracted to, and taking plenty of slaps on the basis that sometimes it will work out. Others tend to respond with great caution, avoiding asking someone out on a date for fear of giving offense, and spending a lot of evenings alone in front of the TV in consequence.

Obviously I fall into the second category.

Presumably if I had a better understanding of what women who want their breasts to look/be bigger, but aren't really seeing them sexually, were thinking I'd be a bit more popular.

Alas I don't think the thread in question has enlightened me much, which is fair enough, since that wasn't the intention.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dying to save the planet

The news on global warming is so bad these days its easy to just lose oneself in a funk of depression. So its important to remember that this is a problem we certainly can solve, if we have the political will.

To replace all electricity sources in the world with renewables, plus back-up storage would cost about 3% of GDP over the next ten years, even if there are no significant breakthroughs in that time. That's a lot of money - about 1.5 trillion dollars. More if you allow for increased consumption. Do it more slowly and the cost comes down a lot, but then again this is just the electricity component. Phasing out petrol and doing something about emissions from agriculture are likely to cost more.

These sort of figures lead the inactivitsts to say its all too hard. They prefer to avoid the fact that the world spent more than this on invading Iraq. Generally speaking most people assume that if we're going to come up with those amounts of money we're either going to have to slash defense budgets, or do things that really hurt.

But I wonder if bequests are not an alternative source of this kind of money.

Very soon, the Baby Boomers are going to start dying in large numbers. The oldest are 62, which is getting close to the point where mortality rates shoot upwards. Let me stress this is not something I am happy about. I don't go in for the Boomer-bashing common amongst my fellow Xers, and those born before the boom. And discussion of Boomer mortality can't but remind me that my parents are pre-Boomers and I don't want them dying any time soon.

But Boomers will die whether I want them to or not, and its worth thinking about the consequences. The Boomers are not just the largest generation in the history of the developed world, and the richest. They are also the first with fewer offspring than themsleves.

Prior to the Boomers, even childless people usually had quite a few nephews and nieces to leave their wealth to. Boomers, generally speaking, do not. They might have one or two, but mostly their younger relatives are quite well provided for by a mix of parents and other uncles and aunts. They are in a position to leave a fair chunk of their wealth to charity without leaving those close to them in poverty.

In most countries this is going to be a huge boon to the state. Death duties haven't raked in all that much up till now, because people with children exploit loopholes to avoid them. But as more and more of those dying don't need to worry about close relatives, that's likely to change.

Australia is stupid enough to be one of the few nations without probate taxes, and we're really going to feel the pinch.

Nevertheless, this is all a bit of a side issue, since probate taxes are usually a relatively small portion of the total. The real test is going to be what wealthy people who don't have kids to provide for choose to do with their money. Many will shower it on relatives who don't need it, or find other ways to fritter it up against the wall. Others will give to art galleries and museums - worthy causes but not world-saving.

But if people get serious about putting the money into a mix of environmental projects and aid to the developing world, we may find that problems that seem intractable are a lot easier to fix than we thought.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mayo Malaise

After three US posts its time to get back to Australian politics. As noted below I think the Liberals' troubles are far more long-term than most people recognise, and particularly a product of their lack of recruiting talent.

As exhibit A I'd like to present the field for preselection for the Mayo by-election. To understand my case you need to realise that Mayo is not just another seat. For Adelaidean Libs it really is THE seat. Labor holds six seats in Adelaide, and they pushed the other two Liberal MPs pretty close. Were it not for disastrous candidate selection they would probably have taken Boothby, and if the government is returned at the next election its likely they'll rectify that this time.

Sturt was held by less than 1%. Anyone taking over the seat can't count on a long career.

Mayo is a different story. With a margin of 7% in a bad election its not likely they'll lose it anytime soon. Since it's creation the only scare the Libs have ever had there was the truly freak result in 1998, and even that ended up being a wider margin than it looked at first. What's more, its not particularly vulnerable to redistributions - it generally borders Liberal held seats, or the Liberal voting parts of Labor marginals.

The other two Liberal South Australian seats are Grey and Barker, and they'll never preselect anyone who isn't a local. Perhaps some one who grew up there could go back, but otherwise if you want to represent them you have to go the Sophie route, which is a bit too arduous for most people.

So if you're an ambitious Liberal from Adelaide your choice is to win Mayo, go for the Senate (and give up on being leader, deputy or treasurer) or move interstate. So this field is basically the cream of the crop. If a South Australian Liberal doesn't have their hand in the air for Mayo they're not serious.

So lets look at what's come forward: Ian Evans is the current front runner. He's been state leader so the party obviously thinks something of him and he could hit the ground running. However, he's 49 and there is a reason his leadership is ex. They could do worse, but he's clearly no star.

The other candidate who gets lots of mentions is Jamie Briggs, who apparently is one of the geniuses behind Workchoices. It's important to stress here that this was someone who was presumably involved in a lot of the detail - and it was the detail of Workchoices that really bit the Liberals. It was one thing to go for class warfare, another to produce a document so long and complex employers found it a nightmare and were unwilling to go into battle for. He does at least have the advantage of being young, but if he has any other positives no one seems to know what they are.

If there is anything to the other 7 candidates it doesn't seem to be making the media either, other than the millionaire businessman Bob Day. Despite spending a heap of his own money Day suffered an 8.6% 2PP swing against him on his only prior electoral outing, in a seat where scandal had pulled down the Liberal MP's support last time. It's possible one of the other 6 is actually a genius who just hasn't shown their colours yet, but I'm not betting on it.

We all know South Australia is a state in decline, but seriously, this is one of the Liberals' best chances to put some talent on their bench as part of the long rebuilding. If it doesn't happen here, why should one expect it anywhere else.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Has The West Wing changed the world?

In honour of my first real comment (see immediately previous post). I thought I would riff off the comment that Obama "is Jed Bartlett, and I swear to God, his speeches are written by Aaron Sorkin".

I'm inclined to think that, Obama's script actually was written by Sorkin to the extent that, without The West Wing, Obama wouldn't have one the nomination. Even if he had, his chances of winning the presidency would have been a lot lower.

The question of whether art, and particularly popular culture, can "make a difference" is an old one. It's probably the single biggest debate I have with my parents. They just don't accept that politics turns, except to the most flimsy degree, on such fripperies. I have a tendency to overstate the case, perhaps because one of the first campaigns I was devoted to was to get sportspeople and musicians to boycott South Africa, which I believe drastically hastened the fall of Apartheid.

So that bias stated, here is why I think The West Wing cleared the way for Obama:

1) Most obviously the program legitimised liberalism. Millions of Americans who thought "liberal" was a dirty word tuned in because they had the hots for Donna or Josh, or like the snappy drama. They may not have had their politics turned 180 degrees, but it sure made liberal politicians look worthy of consideration. For evidence I'd point to the 2000 poll that showed Jed Bartlett winning a plurality in a theoretical contest against Gore and Bush.

2) It encouraged liberals to fight for what they believed in. Pre- The West Wing (and still to a large extent today) the message we kept hearing was that liberals couldn't win as liberals. They needed to triangulate and abandon at least half their core beliefs to win. Much of the debate was over which beliefs to drop. The West Wing sent a powerful message the other way - when Bartlett tests the water before backing down his popularity plunges. It's only when he stands up for unpopular positions that voters like him again. Of course Obama has compromised on many liberal positions - perhaps because he doesn't believe in them, or perhaps because he thinks disavowing them will get him elected. But he's stood his ground and fought with remarkable toughness on some surprising issues, and I think The West Wing helped his supporters, and perhaps he himself, not go to water at the idea of talking to Iran.

3) The West Wing has broken some of the cynicism about politics amongst leftists. The key to the Obama campaign is the way it has turned voters into donors and activists. Vast numbers of people who have volunteered or sent in money because Obama inspires them. To achieve that inspiration he had to overcome cynicism. I know that this cynicism is vastly lower in the US than Australia (and probably Europe as well) but I'm pretty sure it was a problem. There's no doubt that people around the world have had that cynicism about US politics worn down by The West Wing. I'd imagine the same goes at home as well. By weakening the wall, Sorkin opened people's minds to the possibility the Real Thing was out there, and many of them have decided Obama is it. Take away a few thousand volunteers, a few million dollars and a few hundred thousand people who convinced family and friends to back him and Obama wouldn't be where he is.