Taking a break part 1

The blog is taking a break in a week or so but in the meantime the first of four odds and sods compilations.

How much has the climate changed since you were born?

This year, the Monash Climate Change Hub has been working with ABC Story Lab interactive project, See how global warming has changed the world since your childhood, which allows you to insert your birth date and then see how much the world has warmed since.

Dr James Goldie, the Hub Knowledge Broker and climate scientist, provided much of the science, source datasets and climate change communication advice for this wonderful resource.

For the record the blog put in its birthdate and found that in the year it was born, Australia was 0.72 degrees below average, or put another way 2.05 degrees cooler than Australia’s hottest year on record, 2013, when temperatures hit 1.33 degrees above average.

The site then spits out an interpretation relevant to you age. In the blog’s case it said: “But what does this even mean? Well let’s expand it out a bit. Think back to when you were six. By this point you’ve seen a few summers, probably run through a few sprinklers, burnt your feet on hot pavement — as six-year-old you know what hot feels like.

“Well, not compared to a six-year-old today, you don’t. They’ve lived through four of the five hottest years in Australia; you were 67 years old before you experienced the warming they lived through in the first year of their life.”

The forward estimates are depressing for people with grandchildren but presumably not for people like the Prime Minister who think the fires will only burn up the wicked – which would be the sort of joke a god, if there was one, would love to play on people like Morrison when the end times came.

Speaking of the gods

Judith Jesch, in a TLS review of Christopher Abram’s book Evergreen Ash Ecology and catastrophe in Old Norse myth and literature says that Icelandic literature shows that “it was the gods’ own misplaced nostalgia for a golden age that failed to prevent the cataclysm of Ragnarok”. Perhaps Boris Johnson should have spent more time on the sagas and less on the Greeks and Romans?

If you are worried in lifts

If you are worried in lifts start worrying more. The oligopoly which controls the lift (elevator for US residents) may become more oligopolistic as Thyssenkrupp seeks to raise money by flogging off its Elevator Technology business. Currently Kone, Otis and Schindler have more than 50% of the market.

Among the frontrunners for the business are a variety of private equity firms – all renowned for asset stripping and loading acquisitions up with debt with all sorts of ramifications. So watch the financial media and if one of the private equity companies is successful check carefully what sort of lift you are entering.

You can always learn something new in the communications field

The blog’s friend Tony Jaques introduced it to a new concept – ‘firehousing’ – which is derived from Russian propaganda tactics. The term was coined by two Rand researchers Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews in 2016 to describe propaganda tactics the Russians use to quell dissent and control the political landscape.

Trump’s Twitter feed is a classic example along with the anti-vaxxers who are responsible for the growing number of deaths around the world from measles and the current dreadful situation in Samoa.

Dr Lucky Tran, describing the phenomenon, says: “Firehousing inundates us with so many wild opinions that it becomes exhausting to continually disprove them.”

“It relies on pushing out so many lies as frequently as possible and is effective because its goal isn’t to persuade but to rob facts of their power. Indeed, some research indicates that repeating or refuting a life can ingrain the false claim rather than refuting it.”

Where do rapists lurk?

A new collection of essays and other writing, Last Days at Hot Split, by the late Andrea Dworkin has been released. A recent review reminded readers that in 1975 she had lectured students about the sites where rapists lurk – the football team, “priests, lawyers, judges, politicians, doctors, artists, corporations, psychiatrists and teachers. Prescient what?

The tunnel theory

The blog has written before about the Harvard Economist, Albert Hirschman, but was not aware of another of his insights – ‘tunnel theory’ – and how it explains increasing tolerance for economic inequality.

Monica de Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics paraphrases the theory by saying that if a driver is stuck in traffic jams in adjacent lanes in a tunnel and the lane next to you starts to move but your lane doesn’t there’s no direct gain for you but your expectations rise that things will improved. When it doesn’t, then the “frustrated expectations generate a sense of anger and revolt”. Replace a few words about borders, immigrants and what not and you recognise a lot about how Trump, Morrison, Orban et al operate.


Both left and right are very good at linking events, ideas and what not and then positing that there is a correlation between them or even some causal link.

However, the antidote is now available. Whether it will be used is another matter given how convenient ignoring or fudging the boundaries is. But the antidote is The Book of Why by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie.

The authors present a Ladder of Causation which canvasses various methods of establishing causation and, in the processes, have some profound things to say about the limitations of AI.

In a similar vein more than 800 scientists have called for an end to hyped claims and dissimilar of possibly important effects.

In essence the book argues that being too ready to claim that results were ‘statistically non-significant’ or vice versa leads to the lazy assumptions that that the null hypothesis or the opposite are necessarily wrong or right.

Australian political commentators, of course, ought not to read the paper as they are still battling with the concept of margin of error let along the broader significance issues.

Dodgy surveys

Probably the only real advantages the blog got from studying Psych 1 at university was how to manipulate graphs by manipulating the axes; and, an understanding of the agreement set response problem.

The blog thought of this when it got a ‘survey’ on the Victorian recycling ‘crisis’ from the Liberal Upper House politician in the area.

The questions were straightforward – you just had to answer yes or no to questions such as: are you worried about Victoria’s recycling crisis; did you know the Andrews government mismanagement of recycling collection means recycling is going to landfill; do you support the decision of the Andrews government to divert the bin tax away from recycling solutions; and, should the Andrews government spend some of your bin tax to fix the problem?

Obviously it wasn’t meant to elicit responses and obviously, if that was the quality of Liberal research (eg questions such as are you terrified of African gangs invading your house?) it’s no wonder they got walloped in the last State election.