Saturday salon 24/1


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Here are a few bits and pieces that came to my attention last week.

1. Stuart MacGill sues Cricket Australia

Stuart MacGill would have been among the greats as a test bowler, had his career not largely coincided with Shane Warne’s. Still 208 wickets in 44 tests at an average of 29.02 is far from shabby. Now he is making waves legally, suing Cricket Australia for $2.5 million:

In a writ filed in the Victorian Supreme Court, 43-year-old MacGill claims the sports body failed to pay him injury payments after his retirement from Test cricket in May 2008.

MacGill’s lawyers say the cricketer suffered multiple injuries during his career, including broken bones and had ongoing problems as a result.

MacGill claims numbness in his hands, swelling and pain in a knee as well as shoulder pain ended his Test career.

2. Now, n-n-n-now!

I’ve always been interested in time. The past doesn’t exist. It’s done with, except as remembered and represented in the present. The future only exists as a possibility, contained in the present. But then which nanosecond of the passing kaleidoscope is ‘now’?

It turns out to be a package, created by the brain, about 2.5 (2-3) seconds long. You might call it, the experienced moment.

According to Laura Spinney in the New Scientist (paywalled) the brain reacts in terms of milliseconds but organises what it sees in meaningful packages. If you take a movie of say a baton change in running and shuffle the images within a 2-3 second envelope your brain corrects them, rearranges them and smooths the movement out according to contextual meaning. You don’t notice the jumble, you ‘see’ a smooth baton change.

The contextual meaning is taken from what is held in short term memory up to 30 seconds.

So we all fudge it a bit at times – see what we want to see.

Our sense of self is an abstraction made up of a series of snapshots of imperfect self-observation.

Then there is this Yugoslav aphorism, which comes via Immanuel Wallerstein:

“The only absolutely certain thing is the future, since the past is constantly changing.”

3. Living to 150: a quick reality check

John Quiggin does some mental gymnastics on life expectancy in response to Joe Hockey’s brain fart concern about living to 150 and the affordability of Medicare.

The short story is that we are living longer, but not as much as the stats would superficially indicate. The average life expectancy at birth has improved in part because we are better at surviving the first five years.

Life expectancy is 80/84 (for men and women respectively) today. In 1910 it was 55/59. The improvement is 25 years.

But in 1910 at age 65 you could expect to live to 76/78. Now that has become 84/87, an improvement of only 8-9 years.

Hockey worries too much! Quiggin says the bigger worry underemployment of prime-age workers.

4. Wallerstein worries about 2015

Speaking of underemployment, sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein reckons that, in a world of pain, the best indicator to measure the well-being of the world-economy and the well-being of the vast majority of the world population is employment rates.

Unemployment, he says, has been abnormally high for some years and has steadily crept upwards over the last 30-40 years.

The reality is, he says, that we are living amidst a wildly oscillating world-system, and this is very painful. The world system is gradually self-destructing.

Certainly inequality is increasing according to a new Oxfam study. By next year the richest 1% will own more stuff than the other 99%.

The charity’s research, published on Monday, shows that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, while the least well-off 80% currently own just 5.5%.

5. Russia’s plans for Arctic supremacy

This map from Stratfor sketches in the claims:


Remember that the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea regulates ownership of the Arctic, allowing for exclusive economic zones stretching 200 miles from land and even further if undersea resources sit on a continental shelf. The claims beyond this limit are becoming increasingly relevant, as the ice thins and clears in the summer.

Soviet-era bases in the Arctic are being reactivated. A third of the Russian navy is based there.

Going into 2015, it is estimated that the Russian armed forces have around 56 military aircraft and 122 helicopters in the Arctic region. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that 14 military airfields on Russia’s Arctic seaboard would be operational by the end of the year. The Ministry of Defense also said some of the 50 modernized MiG-31BM Foxhound interceptors expected by 2019 will be charged with defense duties over the Arctic.

Defense spending was the only sector escaping budget cuts. In fact it increased by 20%.

Russia’s interest is in part economic. The region is said to host 30% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 13% of its gas.

On the political side, of the eight countries in the Arctic Council, five are members of NATO, fuelling Russia’s suspicion that opposing forces are massing against it.