Odds and sods part 3

Adani and Indian banks

Australian politicians seem mesmerised by Adani and his proposal for a giant Queensland coal mine. Whether to do the obvious thing and protect the environment and our future by stopping it; going along with mythical claims of job creation; or, to just wait it out seems to perplex everyone except the coal zealots in the Federal Government.

Adani has recently announced a smaller scale project will proceed funded by Adani internal resources. Now while nobody would doubt Adani’s claim to have ample financial resources it is to perhaps appropriate to consider it in the context of events in India which either preceded or coincided with the Adani announcement.

The Indian Prime Minister, Modi, has been at war with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and in July appointed a right wing commentator and accountant, S. Gurmuthy, to the bank board. Gurmuthy is a strong Modi supporter and advocates loosening bank policy, bailing out indebted Indian banks and supporting the many Indian business moguls in hock to those same banks. Needless to say, with a national election coming up early next year, Modi agrees with Gumurthy and is keen to keep the money flowing and avoid any crises.

Now the RBI Governor, Urjit Patel, has resigned following the earlier resignation of the last Governor, Raghuran Raja, an internationally renowned economist. As to whether all these things are connected or not – you may well think that but the blog couldn’t possibly comment. Whether they make things easier for Adani is another matter just as whether Australian politicians are aware of the possible implications of all these events.

Raghuran Raja is famous for delivering unpopularly unfashionable views. Adam Tooze in Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World recounts that at the Jackson Hole 2005 meeting of central bankers and others Raja delivered a paper – Has Financial Development Made the World Riskier? Larry Summers, then former Treasury secretary and less than a year away from his controversial departure from Harvard, scoffed saying he found the “basic, slightly Luddite, premise of this paper to be largely misguided.”

Will Raja be as prescient about the Indian banking system as he was about Wall Street?


And amidst all this stuff and nonsense of politics some really important news – the original Galileo letter on the Earth’s orbit has surfaced. In a recent Nature article Alison Abbott writes: “It had been hiding in plain sight. The original letter — long thought lost — in which Galileo Galilei first set down his arguments against the church’s doctrine that the Sun orbits the Earth has been discovered in a misdated library catalogue in London. Its unearthing and analysis expose critical new details about the saga that led to the astronomer’s condemnation for heresy in 1633.

“The seven-page letter, written to a friend on 21 December 1613 and signed “G.G.”, provides the strongest evidence yet that, at the start of his battle with the religious authorities, Galileo actively engaged in damage control and tried to spread a toned-down version of his claims.”

Toxic bosses

An instructive counterpoint to news of the outsize remuneration of Australian executives – irrespective of performance – is news of a new book, Dying for a Paycheck, by Jeffrey Pfeffer. Reviewing it in the Weekend Financial Times Pilita Clark says: “Pfeffer, a Stanford Business School professor, argues that it is not workers who should change, but the toxic employers imposing relentless lay-offs, long hours and other woes that are making white collar office jobs as dangerous as manual labour.”

The book comes with a list of possible solutions including some old-fashioned naming and shaming. Although, perhaps as Australia’s banking Royal Commission showed, the naming and shaming are no substitute for legal action.

And the book is also a sobering reproach to all those PR companies who spruik their ‘change communications’ practice and aid and abet the toxic process.

Who are they?

What do the names Ivan Ilyn, Carl Schmitt, Alexander Borodai, Igor Girkin, Lev Gumilev, Alexander Prokhanov and Vladislaw Surkov mean to you?

Well obviously Gumilev is Anna Akhmatova’s son and, like Ilyn, a proponent of a sort of mystical Russian reactionary philosophy. But as for the others – please join the blog in a high degree of ignorance.

What they have in common though is their contributions to the mystical reactionary strain of thought which Timothy Snyder discusses in his new book, The Road to Unfreedom, which analyses Russian disinformation campaigns and aggression as well as their active support for European far right parties and their active attempts to destabilise Western democracies.

Some reviewers have baulked at Snyder’s emphasis on the intellectual and philosophical influence on Putin policies. But whether they inspired the policies or merely provided intellectual cloaks is probably irrelevant and it is a great read like Snyder’s other work. In particular it follows Snyder’s recent brief, but compelling book, On Tyranny, which the blog has discussed before.

Counter-productive fear campaigns

With a Federal election approaching one can expect the mother of all fear campaigns. But sometimes they can backfire as when Bob Hawke dismissed Malcolm Fraser’s call for voters to put their money under the bed if Labor won. “You can’t do that – that’s where the Reds are,” Hawke retorted.

But nothing backfired quite like the Scottish Kirk’s pre-invasion warnings of the 1650 advance of Cromwell’s troops. The Kirk had warned that the troops would “cut of the hands of all youths above six, runne (sic) hot Irons through the breasts of women and burn and destroy all before them.” Needless to say most inhabitants of border towns packed their houses and ran taking their goods and provisions with them leaving no-one to put up any resistance other than a few old people who fell to their knees begging for their lives.

The story comes from Geoffrey Parker’s monumental The Global Crisis which threads the history of the Little Ice Age of the 17th century into a recounting of violent wars from Europe to China, South America and Japan. As a study of the impact of climate change and how it can impact on society it is brilliant and has contemporary resonance in how the Syrian civil war coincided, not with a Little Ice Age, but with the worst drought in the region’s history – a subject the blog addressed some years ago.

Dunning Kroger

Angela Fritz, writing in the Washington Post, reminds us of the ongoing relevance of the Dunning-Kroger effect – particularly in the current US climate. She wrote: “In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of ‘the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.’ Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with ‘ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.’”

“During the election and in the months after the presidential inauguration, interest in the Dunning-Kruger effect surged. Google searches for “dunning kruger” peaked in May 2017, according to Google Trends, and has remained high since then. Attention spent on the Dunning-Kruger Effect Wikipedia entry has skyrocketed since late 2015.”

Now why on earth would that be the case?

Kurt Godel and US dictatorship

When Kurt Godel, the Austrian mathematician, was applying for US citizenship in 1948 he was being coached on his application by Albert Einstein and Oskar Morgenstern. While there are various versions of the story the most common is that Godel told Einstein and Morgenstern that in his studies to become a citizen he had identified a flaw in the US Constitution which would allow it to become a dictatorship. The pair urged Godel not to mention this although he apparently did and a kindly judge merely passed over the comment.

Nobody has yet identified the flaw Godel saw although there have been many guesses and proposals. But as the blog’s friend John Spitzer mentioned to him recently, perhaps Godel was thinking on the Presidential emergency powers. Trump may never have heard of Godel but no doubt he would love to know what the flaw actually is.

Speaking of Einstein and Modi

Indian researchers took to the streets last weekend to criticize claims made at India’s largest annual gathering of scientists. Speakers at the Indian Science Congress made a number of amazing statements. One, a university vice-chancellor said that ancient Hindus invented stem-cell science. Another speaker contested Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity and Isaac Newton’s theories of gravity during the children’s section of the science congress. Scientists already had their hackles up about the conference offering a platform for outlandish beliefs: in 2015, a symposium speaker claimed that ancient Indians were the first to build aeroplanes.

The forthcoming Federal election

And a final thought. In the forthcoming Federal election there will be many claims and many counter claims and even more ‘analysis’ and commentary by political reporters about what it all means, how the campaign is going and what might happen.

The blog recommends that to put it all in perspective keep uppermost in your mind the Royal Society motto – Nullius in verba (Take nobody’s word for it).