Monthly Archives: April 2017

Economists split over Turnbull’s plan to reserve gas for Australian customers

The Conversation

Emil Jeyaratnam, The Conversation and Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

The federal government has pledged to bring in legislation that would allow it to restrict gas exports and force Australian producers to reserve supplies for domestic consumers, amid continuing fears of an east coast supply crisis. The Conversation

The move comes after the apparent failure of crisis talks earlier this month, aimed at easing the forecast price squeeze.

But experts are split on whether domestic gas reservations are a wise move. In a survey of 32 economists by Monash Business School and the Economic Society of Australia, 38% agreed with the following statement, whereas 47% disagreed.

In response to energy shortages around Australia, government policies requiring gas producers to reserve some production for domestic consumption are a good way to ensure that Australian consumers have access to sufficient gas supplies while still allowing for gas exports.

Weighting the scores by confidence pushed the balance even further towards a negative verdict, as shown below.

David Prentice, principal economic adviser at Infrastructure Victoria, who summarised the results, said the forthcoming gas supply problems had “raised a lot of concern” as Australia heads into winter.

Lucrative export contracts have sent huge amounts of Australian gas overseas, meaning it is now cheaper to buy Australian gas in Japan than in Australia.

Western Australia already has a domestic gas reservation policy aimed at holding local prices in check amid a boom in liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. But Prentice said many of the economists arguing against a similar policy for the eastern states feared that it would distort the market, pushing gas prices artificially low.

“A common theme in many of the arguments of those that disagree with the policy is that the appropriate response to rising gas prices overseas is to let the domestic price rise and firms and households work out the best way to adjust to higher prices – that is, let the ‘invisible hand’ work,” he said.

In contrast, several of those who favoured the policy argued that higher prices could pose a risk for many consumers, such as businesses that may struggle to compete internationally if their gas bills are too high.

Read the panel’s full responses below.

The ESA Monash Forum is a joint initiative between Monash Business School and the Economic Society of Australia.

Emil Jeyaratnam, Multimedia Editor, The Conversation and Michael Hopkin, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Weird and slightly alarming – the chaos game

Why Evolution Is True

by Matthew Cobb

This video from the excellent Numberphile YouTube channel shows a very simple game that has the most unexpected outcome. My only criticism of this video is that I’d like to be shown the explanation, even if it’s complicated! Maybe readers can help me.

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The intractable problem of North Korea

Why Evolution Is True

As you may know, North Korea, the world’s most repressive nation, is about to test a new nuclear weapon. Within two decades, says the New York Timesin an article published today, the DPRK will have the ability to deliver nuclear weapons via intercontinental missiles. That means the U.S. will be in danger.

So far there’s no stopping that country. Weapons development has been faster than predicted, sanctions haven’t worked, and China doesn’t have the stomach to apply the pressure it should, perhaps because they actually want the U.S. to be threatened.  Trump is making threatening noises, but really, what can he do? If he takes unilateral action, North Korea will simply destroy Seoul, only a few miles south of the border. There’s little doubt of such a reprisal, except that it will be a suicidal move by Kim Jong-un.  But the man is not rational, so who knows?


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The Art of War, by Betty Churcher

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

Last week, with Anzac Day approaching, it seemed a good time to browse through Betty Churcher’s magnificent tribute to the artists who depict war.  The Art of War was written to coincide with a TV program on SBS, produced by Film Australia, and I had not long ago stumbled on my copy at Bound Words in Hampton St Hampton.  But the day after I started drafting this review, my father unexpectedly died, and I forgot about this post until tonight, the eve of Anzac Day 2017.  So for now, I’m just going to focus on what I’ve read of the book, just Chapter One.

The Art of War is a paperback, but it is full-sized and printed on quality glossy paper so  the reproductions of the paintings are superb.  (You need to click the links to see most of them, because of copyright).

This is the blurb:

The wars that have been…

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RFK Jr and vaccine safety – using a bad study to come to bad conclusions

Source: RFK Jr and vaccine safety – using a bad study to come to bad conclusions

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Step up for science at the crossroads for humanity

The Conversation

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Science and technology have helped us picture that we all live together on a single world. NASA / Bill Anders

Alan Duffy, Swinburne University of Technology

Globally, science is at a crossroads.

In the USA, a protectionist stance from policymakers and an increasingly inward focus have resulted in a restive public, giving rise to protest across spheres and sectors. This has sent ripples across the world, including in Australia.

While the practice of scientific inquiry is apolitical, science and technology themselves are a litmus test for a healthy political system. The ability to pursue science and technology freely and without favour serves as a measure of political freedom, and their applications provide the tools to preserve and enhance it.

In providing a universal language that transcends culture, science bridges communities across the globe. Its pursuit is impossible without collaboration and connection, and the benefits it yields serve our species as a whole. Consider transformational technologies such as the internet and smartphones, or the inspirational and pioneering recent discoveries of gravitational waves and liquid water on Mars.

Scientific research also allows countries to work together, and succeed together, in global arenas separate from political interest. It builds common ground and unites us against the common enemies of humankind – disease, hunger, poor sanitation, disadvantage and catastrophic threats to our environment.

Now, though, the international litmus test of policy and political support for scientific and technological advancement internationally is creeping dangerously towards the downside. It is vital that we do not forget the long list of advantages and benefits that come from collaborating internationally, from cooperating across cultures to learn, and from sharing our knowledge with the world – they far outweigh the risks or dangers.

Allowing free movement of researchers, empowering institutions and universities to attract the best and brightest from around the world, and allowing these women and men to conduct their work unimpeded by political machinations will benefit us all.

This isn’t the stuff of ivory towers. The potential for science to improve our health, wellbeing, and environment are recognised and supported by the average Australian voter. This week a poll conducted by the College of Arts and Social Science at the Australian National University showed that 82% of Australians want science to play a greater role in politics, and more than two-thirds say government funding is the best mechanism for this to occur.

On 22 April 2017, hundreds of thousands – perhaps even millions – of people will take to the streets globally to March for Science. Whether they march or not, Australians should ask themselves if they will stand strong in the future to defend and support the positive impact science and technology has had in their lives. Science is not just for scientists.

If decision makers understand the value we place on science and technology, and the gifts we reap from their discoveries and applications, we can look forward to an exciting and productive future.

We’re standing at the crossroads, and science can’t be alone in taking the first step in defence of creating and applying knowledge. The Australian people must also step out and stand up for science, so that together we can forge a strong path towards a healthier, safer, more empowered future for our species and our planet.

This article was coauthored by Kylie Walker, chief executive of Science & Technology Australia

Alan Duffy, Associate Professor and Research Fellow, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Jeff Sessions implies that a Hawaiian judge’s decision isn’t relevant to America

Why Evolution Is True

Jeff Sessions is the Attorney General of the United States, which means he’s our chief law enforcement officer. Nevertheless, he doesn’t seem to recognize that Hawaii is part of the United States, as valid a state as any other.  Nevertheless, he didn’t seem to recognize that a Federal Court ruling in Hawaii, overruling Trump’s second executive order on immigrants, has the force of law. When Federal judge Derrick K. Watson of Hawaii issued the block, Sessions (who voted to confirm Watson) put his metatarsals in his mouth:

CNN reports:

Sessions told “The Mark Levin Show” earlier this week that he was “amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.”

Called out on this gaffe, Sessions didn’t take it back:

“I don’t know that…

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Peter Doherty: why Australia needs to march for science

The Conversation

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March for Science events will be held across the world on April 22 2017. From

Peter C. Doherty, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

The following article is adapted from a speech to be delivered at the Melbourne March for Science on Saturday 22 April, 2017. The Conversation

The mission posted on the March for Science international website states:

The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest. The March for Science is a celebration of science.

To me, it seems the reason concerned people across the planet are marching today is that, at least for the major players in the English-speaking world, there are major threats to the global culture of science.

Why? A clear understanding of what is happening with, for example, the atmosphere, oceans and climate creates irreconcilable problems for powerful vested interests, particularly in the fossil fuel and coastal real estate sectors.

Contrary to the data-free “neocon/trickle down” belief system, the observed dissonance implies that we need robust, enforceable national and international tax and regulatory structures to drive the necessary innovation and renewal that will ensure global sustainability and a decent future for humanity and other, complex life forms.

Here in Australia, the March for Science joins a global movement initiated by a perceived anti-science stance in Donald Trump’s administration.

Trump’s 2018 budget proposal

In the USA, President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 incorporates massive cuts to the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

And, though it in no sense reflects political hostility and deliberate ignorance, British scientists are fearful that Brexit will have a terrible impact on their funding and collaborative arrangements.

How does this affect us in Australia? Why should we care? The science culture is international and everyone benefits from progress made anywhere. NOAA records, analyses and curates much of the world’s climate science data. A degraded EPA provides a disastrous model for all corrupt and regressive regimes.

Science depends on a “churn”, both of information and people. After completing their PhD “ticket”, many of our best young researchers will spend 3-5 years employed as postdoctoral fellows in the USA, Europe and (increasingly) the Asian countries to our north, while young American, Asian and European/British scientists come to work for a time with our leading scientists.

The proposed 2018 US President’s budget would, for example, abolish the NIH Fogarty International Centre that has enabled many young scientists from across the planet to work in North America. In turn, we recruited “keepers” like Harvard-educated Brian Schmidt, our first, resident Nobel Prize winner for physics and current Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University (ANU).

We might also recall that – supported strongly by Prime Ministers JJ Curtin and RG Menzies – the ANU (with 3 Nobel Prizes to its credit) was founded as a research university to position us in science and international affairs.

Not a done deal, yet

What looks to be happening in the US is not a done deal.

The US political system is very different from our own. The Division of Powers in the US Constitution means that the President is in many respects less powerful than our PM.

Unable to introduce legislation, a President can only pass (or veto) bills that come from the Congress. Through to September, we will be watching a vigorous negotiation process where separate budgets from the House and the Senate (which may well ignore most, if not all, of the President’s ambit claims) will develop a “reconciled” budget that will be presented for President Trump’s signature.

How March for Science might help

The hope is that this international celebration of science will cause US legislators, particularly the more thoughtful on the right of politics, to reflect a little and understand what they risk if they choose to erode their global scientific leadership.

There are massive problems to be solved, along with great economic opportunities stemming from the development of novel therapies and new, smart “clean and green” technologies in, particularly, the energy generation and conservation sector.

Ignoring, or denying, problems does not make them go away. Whether or not the message is welcome, the enormous power of science and technology means we can only go forward if future generations are to experience the levels of human well-being and benign environmental conditions we enjoy today.

There is no going back. The past is a largely imagined, and irretrievable country.

Peter C. Doherty, Laureate Professor, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Tobruk 1941, by Chester Wilmot

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

Doug Allan 1970

I don’t usually read military history, but I couldn’t resist this latest release in the Text Classics series.  Tobruk 1941 interests me because The Offspring had a great-uncle who was a Rat of Tobruk.  Uncle Doug Allan, who died in 1985, was a gentle, kind-hearted soul, generous to a fault and with the typical laconic Aussie sense of humour, but this apparently ordinary Aussie Bloke was also a hero, the like of which we’ll never see again.

Early in 1941, Australian troops captured Tobruk from the Italians: it was an important victory because it was Mussolini’s stronghold on the Libyan Coast.  Bordered by pitiless desert, Tobruk was a strategic fortress because it had a deep-water harbour on the eastern Mediterranean.   Rommel’s Afrika Corps quickly arrived to reclaim it and so began a 241-day siege beginning in April and not lifted until November of that year.  Germany had successfully stormed through Europe using Blitzkrieg tactics, and the Afrika Corps had never been defeated.  Tobruk…

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Where Do We Go Next? — IV

Footnotes to Plato

Polling survey[for a brief explanation of this ongoing series, as well as a full table of contents, go here. Note: this is the last entry in this 27-part series]

What do philosophers think of philosophy?

I am about to wrap up my tour of what philosophy is and how it works, which has taken us throughout these seven chapters to examine subjects as disparate as the Kyoto School and Quineian webs of beliefs, the history of progress in mathematics and the various theories of truth as they apply to the explanation of scientific progress. Before some concluding remarks on the current status and foreseeable future of the discipline, however, it seems advisable to pause and reflect on what philosophers themselves think of a number of issues characterizing their own profession.

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