Sunday, January 17, 2021

Left selective in showing contempt, outrage


It was the incorrect answer to a politically correct question. On Wednesday, ABC Radio National Breakfast presenter Sally Sara interviewed New York-based Anti-Defamation League vice-president Greg Ehrie. The ADL is a leading anti-hate organisation, profoundly opposed to white supremacist groups and other extreme domestic ideologies.

Discussion turned on the decision of Twitter and Facebook to ban Donald Trump following the riots at the US Capitol on January 6. Sara ran a recording of acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack comparing the storming of the Capitol with “those race riots we saw around the country last year”. She asked Ehrie, “what’s your response to that comparison?”.

Ehrie replied: “Certainly, it’s very hard not to compare. They happened almost contemporaneously, one after another. And there were a lot of similarities — other than the ideologies — involved with the genesis. How they formed and how the crowds …”

At this stage Sara interrupted: “Hang on, this is storming the Capitol building …” The message was clear; Ehrie had given a response Sara did not want. As it turned out, he went on to condemn the January 6 riots. All he had said was that, in this time of social media, the strategies adopted by rioters of various ideologies were similar.

It is true Trump’s “Save America” speech, delivered in front of the White House, was designed to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election as determined by the vote in the electoral college. Trump lost narrowly to Joe Biden in 2020 as Hillary Clinton had lost narrowly to Trump in 2016.

It was a Trump-like rambling but captivating 75-minute address. At about the 18-minute mark, the US President said: “We have come to demand that congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been fully slated, lawfully slated. I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

Clearly, Trump called for a peaceful demonstration. However, in view of the dynamics of the rally, his overall comments were irresponsible. There are such phenomena as unintended consequences, and they took place with a vengeance on January 6. But they do not make Trump a terrorist, as some of his political opponents now assert.

Trump has reason to query the predominance of mail-in ballots in the 2020 election, conducted at a time of pandemic. In November 1960, Republican candidate Richard Nixon had reason to query the validity of some ballots in Illinois and Texas, which led to Democratic rival John F Kennedy entering the White House. Nixon accepted the decision with little dissent; Trump chose another tactic. On Wednesday (US time), Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives — with about 5 per cent of Republican members supporting the unanimous Democrat turnout led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It remains to be seen if he will be convicted by the Senate, but this seems unlikely.

To win elections, Republicans need their traditional voters plus lower-income Americans, including those of African-American and Latino backgrounds, whom Trump got on board. That’s why it will be difficult for the Republican Party to distance itself from Trump and his supporters if it wants to win in 2024.

In recent times, Australia has had its own violent political riot, when left-wing demonstrators attempted to break down the doors of Parliament House in 1996 as part of a protest against John Howard’s recently elected Coalition government. The story is well told by Tony Thomas in the current issue of Quadrant Online. Fortunately, the Australian Federal Police was better equipped to repel rioters in 1996 than was the case with Capitol police in 2021.

It should be remembered that during the period of the Trump presidency, demonstrators invaded the Capitol building in 2018 while protesting over the President’s decision to nominate Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. They also demonstrated outside the court.

Previously, Trump had succeeded in getting another conservative, Neil Gorsuch, appointed to the US’s superior court. In March 2020, leading Democrat senator Chuck Schumer declared at a left-wing rally: “I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released a whirlwind and you will pay the price.” An irresponsible statement, to be sure.

Obviously, the overwhelming majority of the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump were not present at the “Save America” rally. And the overwhelming majority of those who were did not storm the Capitol. Even so, many of the wealthiest and well-educated left-liberal types despise so many of their fellow Americans.

We are familiar with Clinton’s 2016 reference to the Trump-supporting “deplorables”. In the wake of January 6, CNN presenter Anderson Cooper sneered at the demonstrators, violent and peaceful alike. He told viewers: “And they’re going back to, you know, the Olive Garden and the Holiday Inn that they are staying at.”

The Holiday Inn in Washington DC is a three-star hotel. Olive Garden is a moderately priced dine-in and takeaway food chain. Cooper is a left-wing multi-millionaire, born to the Vanderbilt family. Like so many contemporary left-wing journalists, he expects everyone should agree with him. In the event, the Americans making most sense in recent times were the likes of Ehrie, who got the correct perspective, and VicePresident Mike Pence who did his constitutional duty in ensuring an orderly transition to the Biden presidency on January 20.

Phoenix of hope rises from ashes of pandemic disaster

For much of the past decade the pace of innovation underwhelmed many people — especially those miserable economists.

Productivity growth was lacklustre and the most popular new inventions, the smartphone and social media, did not seem to help much. Their malign side-effects, such as the creation of powerful monopolies and the pollution of the public square, became painfully apparent. Promising technologies stalled, including self-driving cars, making Silicon Valley’s evangelists look naive. Security hawks warned that authoritarian China was racing past the West and some gloomy folk warned that the world was finally running out of useful ideas.

A dawn of technological optimism is breaking. The speed at which COVID vaccines have been produced has made scientists household names. Prominent breakthroughs, a tech investment boom and adoption of digital technologies during the pandemic are combining to raise hopes of a new era of progress: optimists giddily predict a “roaring Twenties”. Just as the pessimism of the 2010s was overdone — the decade saw many advances, such as in cancer treatment — so predictions of technological utopia are overblown. But there is a realistic possibility of a new era of innovation that could lift living standards.

In the history of capitalism, rapid technological advance has been the norm. The 18th century brought the Industrial Revolution and mechanised factories; the 19th century railways and electricity; the 20th century cars, planes, modern medicine and domestic liberation thanks to washing machines. In the 1970s, though, progress — measured by overall productivity growth — slowed. The economic impact was masked for a while by women piling into the workforce, and a burst of efficiency gains followed the adoption of personal computers in the 1990s. After 2000, though, growth flagged again.

There are three reasons to think this “great stagnation” might be ending. First is the flurry of recent discoveries with transformative potential. The success of the “messenger RNA” technique behind the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, and of bespoke antibody treatments, shows how science continues to empower medicine. Humans are increasingly able to bend biology to their will, whether to treat disease, edit genes or grow meat in a lab. Artificial intelligence is at last displaying impressive progress; spectacular falls in the price of renewable energy are giving governments confidence their green investments will pay off.

The second reason for optimism is booming investment in technology. Having shrunk for years, public R&D spending across 24 OECD countries began to grow again in real terms in 2017.

The third source of cheer is the rapid adoption of new technologies. It is not just that workers have taken to videoconferencing and consumers to e-commerce — significant as those advances are — the pandemic has also accelerated the adoptions of digital payments, telemedicine and industrial automation. It has been a reminder that adversity often forces societies to advance.

Alas, innovation will not allow economies to shrug off structural drags on growth. As societies get richer they spend a greater share of their income on labour-intensive services, such as restaurant meals, in which productivity growth is meagre because automation is hard. The ageing of populations will continue to suck workers into low-productivity at-home care. Decarbonising economies will not boost long-term growth unless green energy realises its potential to become cheaper than fossil fuels. Yet it is reasonable to hope a fresh wave of innovation might soon reverse the fall in economic dynamism responsible for perhaps a fifth of the 21st century’s growth slowdown. Over time that would compound into a big rise in living standards.

Although the private sector will ultimately determine which innovations succeed or fail, governments also have an important role to play. The state can usefully offer more and better subsidies for R&D, such as prizes for solving clearly defined problems. The state also has a big influence over how fast innovations diffuse through the economy. Governments need to make sure regulation and lobbying do not slow disruption, in part by providing an adequate safety net for those whose livelihoods are up-ended by it. Innovation is concentrated among too few firms. Ensuring the whole economy harnesses new technologies will require robust antitrust enforcement and looser intellectual property regimes. If governments rise to the challenge, faster growth and higher living standards will be within their reach, allowing them to defy the pessimists.

Aussie cherry growers hit back at China report

Australian cherry growers have hit back at China’s claims their fruit is inferior to other countries, as the sector hopes to avoid being the next target in Beijing’s trade war.

It follows a report in Chinese state-owned media that the taste and quality of Australian cherries had dropped, prompting buyers to turn to other countries’ products.

Cherry Growers Australia president Tom Eastlake rejected the claim, saying: “We are positioned as the premium cherry product in the world.

“Seventy-two hours from hanging on a tree, it is in the market.”

Growers did not send fruit to international markets when the quality had been affected, such as during extreme weather events, because they did not want to damage the industry’s reputation, Mr Eastlake said.

He also said the sector had received no complaints from Chinese customers.

The Global Times reported fruit traders had claimed Australia’s share of cherries in the market had dropped due to “inferior quality”.

But Mr Eastlake said the fall in exports to China during 2020 was due to the grounding of planes during the pandemic.

His first thought after the Global Times report was “this doesn’t sound good”. But buyers told him they actually needed more fruit.

“The most reassuring thing for me is when you ring your key people in China and say is everything OK?

“And they say, ‘Well look, Mr Tom, if you could send us more that would be wonderful.’

“We don’t have a plan B for China. Not because we don’t have any other options, we’ve got plenty.

“We want to keep working with them, which we will, to see our product get there.”

While other luxury products have fallen victim to worsening trade tensions between the two countries, Aussie growers believe they will continue to thrive in the Chinese market because of their decade-long connection with buyers.

“Trade tension or diplomatic relations is not one of our principal concerns because we are an industry that is built on relationships,” Mr Eastlake said.

“The federal government should, and does, maintain their relationship with China and we, as an industry, do the same.

“Everything has been clearing, everything has been going in and everyone has been really happy.”

Publicity-seeking academics on social media are influencing school policy

A social media-driven "cult of the guru" within education is giving flashy "Kardashian" academics disproportionate influence over schools at the expense of more complex ideas and research, new research argues.

Scott Eacott, an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of NSW, applied the "Kardashian Index" to 50 education researchers from around the world, including 11 from Australia, and found almost a quarter - eight men and four women - had a score high enough to qualify them as a social science Kardashian.

Three were from Australia, and eight were frequent keynote speakers at education conferences.

Named after influencer Kim Kardashian, the index was developed in 2014 to measure the discrepancy between a scientist's social media profile and their publication record. A high index increased the likelihood that they were famous for being famous.

Dr Eacott said this guru culture threatened to undermine the sector. "My big concern is education de-professionalising itself from the inside," he said.

He also examined academics' Twitter mentions, as tagging like-minded gurus can create "cumulative advantage". Seven like-minded researchers out of the 50-strong sample contributed half of all the mentions exclusively among themselves.

Dr Eacott's paper, published in Leadership, Education, Personality: An Interdisciplinary Journal, argued Twitter presence was conflated with expertise in education, and became a means of influencing and shaping the sector's direction.

It did not name any of the alleged Kardashian researchers, but cited University of Kansas Professor Yong Zhao, University of Toronto Professor Michael Fullan and Boston College Professor Andy Hargreaves as examples of gurus in education.

Dr Eacott said social media was an easy way for time-poor teachers and principals to interact with research. "[Social media] devalues the role of regular research, because it reduces everything to slogans," he said. "They say things at face value that are difficult to argue against. Who doesn't want to 'foster creativity'? But they give you nothing to operationalise.

"You need systemic leaders, and professional associations that are more research literate. We say schools are complex, but we ignore that for simple solutions. If schools are complex places, then you need complex solutions not simple solutions. That takes time."

But Professor Hargreaves, who has more than 80,000 citations in peer-reviewed journals and more than 40,000 Twitter followers, said it was important for academics working in professional fields to share their findings in an accessible way, as epidemiologists have done during the pandemic.

"I would be very opposed to anyone saying it was a bad thing to have an impact in the public square, virtually, in print, or physically. Indeed, it would be irresponsible," he said.

Public intellectuals should also not be confused with gurus, Professor Harvgreaves said. "Whenever someone calls me a guru (in a positive way), I am very clear they should call me a teacher as my job is not to get them to follow my ideas, but to engage with those ideas then think and learn for themselves."

"When social media are well used, they are a way to draw people [and] followers into longer, more substantive reads, including academic papers, and to move knowledge around. Some people use social media simplistically. Many in our field don't."

The Kardashian Index was a lighthearted attempt by biologist Neil Hall to highlight the growth of the rock star researcher on the conference circuit, and suggest scientists should be less concerned about social media and focus more on traditional research.

Critics of the Kardashian Index say neither citation numbers nor any other metric adequately measures an academic's value. Professor Zhao declined to comment and Professor Fullan did not respond to the Herald's request for comment.





Paul said...

"The ADL is a leading anti-hate organisation,..."

That's hilarious.

Paul said...

China is concerned that something isn't a quality product.

That's also hilarious.