Sunday, October 09, 2011

A Leftist who opposes a carbon tax

AMERICAN Michael Shellenberger may be a left-wing but he is anti-carbon tax and a nuclear power champion. He is in Adelaide for the 2011 Festival of Ideas to tell us to put our faith in the human race to develop new technologies to combat climate change.

Mr Shellenberger yesterday outlined his philosophy on how the world and Australia should tackle climate change. He said the Federal Government's controversial carbon tax bill - to be introduced to Parliament this week - was not the solution.

"Our basic view is the most important thing is to make clean energy cheaper through technological innovation," the 40-year-old said. "Our proposal is to put a small fee on coal production, that no one will notice, but will create enough money to fund those new technologies to reduce the cost of clean energy." Mr Shellenberger also believes nuclear power has a big future in this country.

"It is definitely an option for Australia in the future. "You have uranium mining, great universities (to train technicians and scientists) and can move to fourth generation nuclear plants which don't have the same (safety) challenges older plants have and can be as cheap a power source as coal," he said.

Mr Shellenberger, who was named one of Time magazine's 2008 Heroes of the Environment, is one of 80 international and local speakers challenging perceptions and sparking debate among audiences at this year's ideas fest.

Mr Shellenberger will host a talk titled A New Politics for a New Century with Ted Nordhaus, his co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute, at Elder Hall from 1.15pm.

The US experts will explore how to achieve a future where the world's population can live a secure, free, prosperous and fulfilling lives on an "ecologically vibrant planet".


Women are hardest on other women

The "sisterhood" is a myth

DIPPING my toes into the forum of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas with a panel devoted to the topic All Women are Sluts, I decided it would be an appropriate venue to take a young date. Thus armed, we sat in the Playhouse at the Opera House, in front of the great orator and storyteller Mike Daisey and his director wife, and waited for fierce debate to break out.

The panel was all women, including the moderator - an embarrassing bias to begin with.

The Melbourne convener of Slutwalk, Clem Bastow, spoke eloquently for women to dress sexily, briefly, scantily and not to get raped. Samah Hadid, a young Muslim girl in a green hijab and multi-layered, comfortable pants and top, smiled widely with bright red lipstick and make-up and promoted the right of Muslim women to dress up and not be dressed down. Catharine Lumby stirred the middle-aged feminist critique, under attack for attacking the aggression of young feminists.

In many arenas women are under attack from other women. The great debate in feminism is between women themselves, about their roles, robes and attitudes. In my own world, I would pick a jury of women over men in a rape case because women are harder on women. Women judges, in my humble observation, are more critical of other women appearing as advocates before them. Women gossip more cattily and crushingly about other women.

In a world where economic currency is falling, the most favourable currency is sex. In the cardboard kingdom of Richard Pratt, sexy women fight for a piece of cardboard to call their own. In my own building, bylaws were stuck to the mirrors in the lift, foreshadowing the board's intention to ban brothels in the building. I suspected they were there when I used my iPad or iPhone. The screen displayed in the scan for a wireless connection the names of nearby networks. Imagine my shock when the names of two were WHORES and C---S. I finally put two and two together, confirming Madison Ashton as the madam in residence, but only briefly given the bylaws were passed and eviction followed. Dick Pratt was a pants man even when his own masculine scaffolding must have been failing under the pernicious disease that is prostate cancer.

Since Adam pinged Eve the world has always been a sex world but now it is getting the publicity and media to match its partner in crime, money. Sex and money go hand in gland. Rich men get more sex than the poor. Charisma and character get men somewhere but currency takes you further. Fathers plead with their daughters to marry rich, not for love. Fortune trumps fame every time.

Perugia in Italy is a peaceful place for a murder trial. I miss Vanity Fair's Dominick Dunne's description of the countryside and details of the death of Meredith Kercher. The murder was an exquisite interaction of sexual frenzy, bisexual behaviour and bloody handprints on the pillow.

Amanda Knox, known as Foxy Knoxy, and the victim were perfectly cast for Dunne's classic penmanship. He had written about money and sex for 50 years, having had some experience in both.

The prosecution initially argued ''cult sacrifice'' before settling on ''sex game gone wrong''. There were many problems with the prosecutor's DNA evidence. There was no DNA from Knox in the murder room. Nevertheless she was convicted and sentenced to 26 years. The judges reasoned that the actual perpetrator, Rudy Guede, was assisted by Knox and her boyfriend in subduing Kercher after she resisted Guede's sexual advances. They said Knox smoked hash and read sexually explicit comics, provoking her behaviour. She was acquitted and released last week. She can look forward, if she can cope, to her own show, Knox on Fox, millions in advances for her story, Playboy centrefold requests and perhaps resumption of her studies.

It will be hard to lead a normal life after being described as a drug-taking, sex-crazed she-devil. In proceedings by a Congolese bar owner against her false accusation, she was called, ''an explosive mix of drugs, sex and alcohol'', ''Lucifer-like, demonic, satanic, diabolical''. The prosecutor told this jury to ignore her ''doll-like appearance'' and said she was a ''spell-casting witch, a virtuoso of deceit''. The world is indeed sexist. Knox's co-accused boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, barely gets a mention in coverage of the trial, in the same way Michael Chamberlain was just a bloke in long socks who was married to the alleged baby murderer Lindy Chamberlain.

Before Knox on Fox starts, the Murdoch network needs to eat a lot of humble pie because correspondents Ann Coulter and Jeanine Pirro said Knox had been convicted and punished fairly. As I said, women are harder on other women than men would dare to be.


Unhistorical history

By Frank Furedi. Frank seems to be back in Australia at the moment

LAST month Julia Gillard insisted the final test of public life was not whether you were "on the right side of the politics" but whether you were on "on the right side of history. And in my experience, the judgment of history has a way of speaking sooner than we expect."

US President Barack Obama confidently declared this year: "History will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt, that we were on the right side of history."

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says the countries that stood up to the old regimes during the Arab spring are "on the right side of history" while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thinks countries trading with Syria are on the wrong side and should "get on the right side".

Suddenly history not yet written has emerged as a source of legitimacy for a bewildering variety of claims and causes.

Invoking the blessing of history is an implicit claim on a higher form of providential validation.

It is a way of saying: "You are not only opposing me but also the almighty figure of history, a sacred transcendental being who must be appeased." It represents a half-hearted, ineffective stab at a moral judgment.

When Gillard advises people to keep in step with the march of history on climate change, her words convey an implicit warning.

Those who get on the wrong side will face not only the judgment of the electorate but risk being trampled under history's jackboot.

Recycling history as a cautionary tale is simply a tried and tested form of guilt-tripping. The prophecy is unlikely to be proven wrong, at least not in the short run, but the fear is raised that if we are not careful we could find ourselves in history's dustbin.

History, however, does not work according to divine laws that can be second-guessed by soothsayers and oracles.

While it was understandable for the ancient Greeks to personify history through the muse Clio, it is a little disturbing to encounter 21st-century public figures assuming her mantle.

One of the most important achievements of the Western Enlightenment was to go beyond the superstitious notion that history works to a preordained plan or that it is a purposeful movement towards destiny.

The idea of history as Fate has been challenged since the 16th century by humanist thinkers who argued that the world changed in accordance with human action rather than a host of demi-gods that needed to be appeased, and contained no inner meaning that only the prophets could interpret.

It does not reward or punish those who disregard its message. History is what we make it.

Of course not everyone is comfortable with the idea that history is open-ended and its direction is uncertain. That is why some have opted to seek refuge in philosophies that seek to endow history with inner meaning and purpose.

Such views of history are often expressed through the ideology of historicism. The Oxford English Dictionary defines historicism as the "belief that historical change occurs in accordance with laws, so that the course of history may be predicted but cannot be altered by human will".

Those who claim the authority of standing on the "right side of history" are in effect endorsing the historicist belief that the future is already foretold. During the past century historicism often dominated the world views of the dogmatist and the simpleton.

One of the most memorable example of this orientation was provided by Nikita Khrushchev, the former leader of the Soviet Union. In a self-consciously provocative speech delivered in November 1956, he noted "whether you like it or not, history is on our side", before he threatened the Western world with the memorable phrase "we will bury you".

Not for the first time a prediction of who would be on which side of history proved to be wildly misguided.

The problem with appealing to history is not only that it tends to be at best a rhetorical affectation rather than an argument. It is also a rhetorical tactic used to avoid discussion and the clarification of difficult issues. It is not possible to argue against a prophecy.

Moreover, the claim that an act or a policy enjoys the authority of history closes down discussion. Its practitioners are not only putting forward their own opinions, they are claiming to speak on behalf of an unquestionable higher authority that cannot be held to account by mere mortals.

If history has spoken and given its verdict on climate change or on the Arab spring, any opposition to it can be castigated as not only wrong but malevolent.

One final point worth noting. Until recent times most serious political figures were too embarrassed to use the phrase "on the right sight of history". Through searching the Lexis-Nexis database, I found only one reference to this phrase during the 1970s. In September 1979, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson called on American businesses to stop trading with South Africa and "choose to be on the right side of history".

During the next decade until September 1990, the database provides only 120 references. Compare that with the past 12 months, which provide 1375 claims speaking on behalf of the right side of history.

With so much energy invested in upholding the authority of history it is evident that what we are experiencing is a 21st-century variant of the old doctrine of fatalism. This elevation of Fate assigns human beings the unflattering role of deferring to forces beyond their control. Surely there is much more to the human experience than acting out a script casually scribbled down by Fate.


Sigh, another review of Aboriginal welfare policy

Sara Hudson

The federal government seems preoccupied with writing discussion papers and conducting reviews but very little seems to eventuate from them.

Released with little fanfare recently was a government review into employment services in remote Indigenous communities and the beleaguered Community Development and Employment Projects (CDEP). The discussion paper, 'The Future of Remote Participation and Employment Servicing Arrangements,' only came to my attention by chance – perhaps the government was trying to avoid having to analyse lots of submissions.

When it comes to publishing reports on reviews it has conducted, the Labor government has a poor track record: last year the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) released a discussion paper on Indigenous homeownership. But 18 months later submissions are yet to be posted on its website, let alone a report summarising those submissions.

What’s the point of having review after review if they are not going to eventuate into anything? Could it be that the Labor government is using these reviews as a stalling tactic – to delay making decisions on difficult and seemingly intractable issues?

The government still fails to recognise that the property rights issues preventing Indigenous homeownership on Indigenous land have also stymied any chance of economic development.

The decision to make Indigenous land communal – and to have land councils acting as gatekeepers for any leasing decisions – is the principal reason why Indigenous communities, even those with a thousand or more people, have few of the shops and services normally found in country towns of similar size.

Without these retail outlets and services, there are few employment prospects for many remote Indigenous people. Add to the mix the effects of disastrous education in Homeland Learning Centres and you arrive at the present predicament, where remote Indigenous residents are on welfare or channelled into dead-end CDEP jobs, with neither the entitlements nor responsibilities of real employment.

Even in communities near major towns such as Alice Springs, Katherine and Nhulunbuy – where there are labour shortages and real job opportunities – few Indigenous residents have the skills needed for mainstream employment.

Unconditional welfare has helped create a cycle of welfare dependency where education and employment is not valued or even considered necessary. The first step in reforming employment services is to remove the Remote Area Exemption, which has allowed Indigenous residents to avoid mutual obligation rules. Indigenous men and women must demonstrate that they are either actively looking for work or undertaking job training to be eligible for welfare.

It is also vital to introduce business and residential leases so that a real economy on Indigenous land can develop. Where genuine economies exist, only a small percentage of the population is on welfare and requires employment services.


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