January 28, 2010 | Ronda Jambe

A corporation in Congress? just a logical step

From the Institute for Public Accuracy, a new twist on lobbying. I quote their message, it is a logical next step for those who have seen the doco The Corporation:
“Following the recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to allow unlimited corporate funding of federal campaigns, Murray Hill Inc. today announced it is filing to run for U.S. Congress. “Until now,” Murray Hill Inc. said in a statement, “corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence-peddling to achieve their goals in Washington. But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves.” Murray Hill Inc. is believed to be the first “corporate person” to exercise its constitutional right to run for office.
The campaign’s “designated human,” Eric Hensal, will help the corporation conform to “antiquated, human only” procedures and sign the necessary voter registration and candidacy paperwork. Hensal is excited by this new opportunity: “We want to get in on the ground floor of the democracy market before the whole store is bought by China.” Murray Hill Inc. plans on filing to run in the Republican primary in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.
See the just-released video ad:
Now that may be a cynical spoof, but the US gov is in someone’s hands other than the people when spending for the military goes up and spending on social programs goes down. Obama has put a freeze on non-security discretionary spending while freeing up ever more funds for military adventures. He has said he would prefer to be a good one term president than a mediocre two term president, but what he is delivering is much worse than mediocrity. Truth-telling is needed, and a turn away from adventurism.
In yet another twist, two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Obama and Oscar Arias, president of Costa Rica, have included weapons manufacture in their free trade agreement. Will someone please lock up the real crazies?

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 4:21 pm | Comments (1) |

January 18, 2010 | Ronda Jambe

Is Google China’s David?

We know China is a Goliath, but is Google now willing to use its slingshot to give it a black eye? Google is at last standing up to China, going to pull the plug rather than give in to China’s demands to censure sites relating to democracy, Tibet and other irritants to the status quo.
Some say this is just a convenient way for Google to leave China, given that the home grown search engine is dominant. Others say this conflict is representative of many other Davids with chips on their shoulders (or in their factories) who are weary of the way the Chinese government bullies business.
Having two bob each way is not sustainable: allowing nepotism and restrictive business practices to go unchecked, while pretending that China has an open economy that embraces the even playing field of the rule of law.
Either the internet is an open platform that encourages innovation, or it is the property of the goverment in aid of a controlled economy that plays favourites and restricts real social improvements.
Hard to say what the unintended consequences of openness are, but attempts at total control tend to go towards the oligarchical model and then, ka-boom! another revolution in the making.
But the Chinese are real smart, and long-sighted. They should know where their best interests lie. But I’m just an arm chair economist, wondering where my model of the Harbour Bridge was made….
green chair with harbour bridge.jpg

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 10:55 am | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Commerce

January 09, 2010 | Ronda Jambe

Is Avatar Apocalypse Then?

Everyone might as well go see James Cameron’s Avatar. It’s visually delightful and imaginative, especially in 3D, and I just wish I’d seen it on an IMAX as well. The characters are good enough, and Sigourney Weaver as the crusty but conscientious scientist is sort of a reprise for her. Sam Worthington is easy to take, and the plot is reasonably engaging. I’ll see it again sometime.
We saw it when it first came out, and there had been few reviews. I trot along with the spouse, who keeps a closer watch on the movie offerings. One of my observations was that the Americans have become the defacto archetype of plunders and spoilers. Sort of the way the Russians have taken over from the Italians as nasty gangsters in movies and shows like The Wire. Let’s hope we never see movies showing Australia becoming bullies in the south Pacific.
The bad invaders in Avatar were chasing an elusive mineral. Having just seen a reworked version of Apolcalypse Now, I’m not too sure what the Americans were chasing in Vietnam. Comparing the two, one might say the Francis Ford Coppola movie was much more vehemently and specifically anti-American. Especially the added in scenes of the go-go girls and the French dinner party, not to mention the violence. The grimy violence was about all I recalled from having seen it when it first came out.
My whole life has been framed by consciousness of American imperialism and invasions, and not much has changed since Apocalypse Now came out thirty years ago. Apocalyptic destruction of the environment has come more to the fore since then, and the sadness of that knowledge has also shaped my adult weltanschauung. Pundits are saying Avatar will do more to raise environmental awareness among the young than Al Gore has, but that remains to be seen and measured. I hope young people don’t think a happy ending is coming their way if they embrace an inner spirituality, or that salvation will come via social networking and mobile internet.
Don’t know what was said at the time about Apocalypse Now, but the American right wing is reacting strongly and negatively to Avatar. It is set in the future, and is therefore more abstract and sci-fi than Apocalypse Now, which was set in the immediate and still very raw past.
The US only pulled out of Vietnam in 1975, and the movie came out about 5 years later. Too bad that current anger about such cinematic portrayals of US military-industrial collusion doesn’t translate into a plan to enact change the rest of the world can believe in. Instead the man of peace gives a speech justifying war, and the number of countries they need protecting from just multiplies. Now add Yemen, and why not Nigeria? Lots of angry young men, how do you begin to change that tide? For every one they add, my world of possible travel and communication diminishes by that much. So much for one world and open borders of free trade. We’re becoming more afraid of each other instead.
CODA: Does a huge plasma TV at the coast qualify me for hypocrite of the year? Spouse wanted it, it was on sale, and the extra energy use should be balanced by much non-use while we’re in Canberra. Anything that lures him to the coast gives me more time in the warm ocean. Life could hardly get better, and can’t say I deserve it, but unless I set up a bicycle to generate the energy, don’t know how to atone for good fortune and living in a lucky country.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 11:47 am | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Arts

January 06, 2010 | Graham

Confirmation bias rams Japanese

Just how incompetent can a journalist be and still retain their job? I’ve yet to work it out, but it is no wonder that members of my profession are held in much the same regard as used car salesmen, based on the competence of their work.
I’ve been listening to reports all afternoon that the Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru rammed the Sea Shepherds’ Ady Gil while it was stationary. This report ought to have been regarded with suspicion. First, the Sea Shepherds have a deserved reputation for dishonesty and dangerous and illegal tactics. Second, the Ady Gil was alleged to have been stationary at the time.
Ships are rarely stationary at sea. They are stationary in harbour, and when they are broken down. They are stationary when transferring passengers or goods from another ship. So what was the Ady Gil doing stationary anywhere near the Shonan Maru?
Well, looking at the footage that you can download from the Cetacean Research Institute website, or view on The Associated Press’s the Adi Gil wasn’t stationary at all.
What you see is in the first place the Adi Gil maintaining it’s position close to the Shonan Maru using minimal throttle. Then you see the Adi Gil accelerate into the path of the Shonan Maru as it gets closer. Sea Shepherds claim that the Adi Gil was in reverse when hit. It may have been, but this was after it put itself in front of the Shonan Maru.
That journalists represent this as the Japanese ramming the Sea Sheperds is a result of clever manipulation by the Sea Shepherds. One wonders how much longer the Japanese will continue to retain their current NZ publicity agent, who hasn’t taken a trick as long as I’ve been watching this issue.
But journalists aren’t supposed to allow themselves to be manipulated. That they do is evidence of just how strong confirmation bias is. Journalists have bought the story “Sea Shepherds good, Japanese bad” and can’t write it any other way.
This bias was on display earlier today when Fairfax newspapers ran a story saying that the Japanese had hired planes in Australia to track the Sea Shepherds. Instead of asking why the Sea Shepherds were allowed to use Australian ports to carry out acts of piracy in the Antarctic without hindrance (or surveillance) from the Australian government, the news stories, and the government response, condemned the Japanese.
It doesn’t matter whether one thinks whaling is wrong or not. If it is to be stopped it should be stopped legally. Encouraging vigilantes to do the work of government by breaking the law is no solution.
Imagine if the Sea Shepherds were heading to the Timor Sea not to stop whaling, but to stop the arrival of illegal immigrants, by attempting to damage boats. What would the media narrative be then?
The test of a society is how well it treats the interests of those least deserving of its protection. In the case of Japanese whaling we do not come up well. It is also the test of a society how well it values truth. Again, based on this incident, we do not value truth highly.
When faced with a story that everyone else is writing, even if it is contradicted by the facts, most journalists will climb on board. No wonder newspaper sales are falling and parliamentary government has become so bad.

Posted by Graham at 11:32 pm | Comments (23) |
Filed under: Environment

January 03, 2010 | Ronda Jambe

We’re forever blowing bubbles

If you have just hummed that tune correctly, you may avoid being caught with bubble gum on your face. It’s an old tune, probably from the 1940s, but familiar enough to those who like jazz or who grew up with big band music in their background. That cohort has been more risk averse, less inclined to borrow and more intent on being debt free than younger groups.
And the bubbles keep blowing, and popping. Currently we have heard all too much about the housing bubble in the US. Time for the gold bubble to be considered. Has it peaked? Or is it just heading sky high? Purely academic questions for me, as the few bits of gold I own could all be worn at once without weighing me down.
A heavier question is which way the US dollar is going. Will the Aussie reach parity, or will the Yankee dollar make a full recovery and hold the world’s economy on its back, a greenback Atlas?
Paul Krugman has bemoaned the past ten years as a decade of zero growth and zero learning. The belief in the good sense and good management of US corporations has popped like the other bubbles, yet the regulators don’t seem to have made many substantial changes to the ways that lending is done and accounted for.
‘We’re on a road to nowhere’ – a song that puts you more in my generation. By definition we’re headed somewhere towards a future, we just can’t say where it is going.
After much lively discussion with my Canberra friends on a quiet New Year’s Eve in the bush, we agreed to have a reprise in ten years, assuming we are all present and accounted for. The division was between those who think Australia’s economy is so solid that it will remain more or less impervious to the global storm surges of over-population (which we all agreed on), over-capacity for production and environmental challenges vs the more pessimistic who maintained that in ten years time certain chickens will be coming home to roost, and that China will no longer be the prop for our economy that we have come to take for granted. And that climate change will be biting hard by 2020, with particularly adverse affects on an Australia that has made little attempt to wean itself off fossil fuels for electricity, transport and export.
You can easily guess where I stand in this divide. But of course I was full of bubbly at the time.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 2:42 pm | Comments Off on We’re forever blowing bubbles |
Filed under: Economics