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.

25 thoughts on “Saturday salon 24/1”

  1. First !! woohoo !

    Can anyone tell me what ” the left ” and islam have in common ?
    I can’t , for the life of me, understand the reasons for the lack of condemnation of islam by ” the left “.
    All I come up with is ” “The right” hate em so we protect em “, but it can’t be that shallow, can it ?
    I’m genuinely perplexed on this.
    Any enlightenment would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Can anyone tell me what ” the left ” is?
    I’m genuinely perplexed on this.
    Any enlightenment would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Jumpy: We didn’t condemn Christianity on the basis of the troubles in Northern Ireland. We didn’t because we understood how few Christians were involve in the Irish troubles.
    Blanket condemnation of Islam for the behaviour of Islamic extremists seems a bit like condemning christianity on the basis of the troubles.

  4. zoot, I read that in 19th century Prussia everyone other than the nobility was on the ‘left’. Peasants linked with the professional classes to oppose them politically.

  5. zoot@1
    I find it difficult to believe that a google-master, such as yourself, could be ” genuinely perplexed ” by this.
    I was talking more of the general teachings and culture of islam rather than specific conflicts.
    The mandated gender inequity,intolerance of homosexuals, no separation of church and State ( sharia ), capital punishment…..
    That sort of thing.
    Good old Voltaire ( pictured above ) was around about there and then wasn’t he ?
    His views on islam and mohammed seem quite scathing, and openly so.

  6. Brian @ 4: When you speak of the nobility in Prussia being opposed to “the left”, I take it you are referring only to the Hochadel(courtiers?) because, believe me, some Niederadel(landhiolders?) were right into progressive, radical and reforming activities (and I know of two couples who had to leave Prussia temporarily for Prussia’s good)

    2. Now, n-n-n-now!
    Wow! Until I can get to read the New Scientist article itself, my guess is that the implications of this will send the police and legal professions into a real tizzy. What will this do to evidence, such as witness statements, and to cross-examination in courtrooms?

    3 & 4. underemployment.
    There’s an adage that revolutions come from frustrated ambitions rather than from dire poverty. To which I would add the exacerbating factors of muddled government, confused identity and blatant unfairness – and with an unwon war thrown into the mix as well.
    Imperial Russia fell and later the Nazis were elected; these both happened in an atmosphere of hope that things would be a lot better – and they weren’t. We will probably suffer the same sort of fate when all our misemployed, underemployed, unemployed and over-worked all decide together that they have had enough of the current set-up. It would be very nice if all that happened here was something like the Velvet Revolution or the Arab Spring – however, I think it might be a bit rougher than that. Anyway, despite gloomy reality on the horizon, I shall remain cheerful for as long as I can. 🙂

  7. Which Islam? There are as many variations of Islam in history and culture as there expressions of Christianity and versions of Marxism for that matter. Which one did you have in mind?

  8. The mandated gender inequity,intolerance of homosexuals, no separation of church and State ( sharia ), capital punishment…..
    That sort of thing.

    Sounds like a fundy Christian’s ideal world (think Fred Nile, Danny Nalliah et-bloody-cetera), why are you picking on Islam?

  9. zoot @9
    I’m no fan of christianity either but they seem to have woken up to themselves and become non-violent.
    They were and still are roundly criticised by ” the left ” ( you know of who by now ) , and rightly so.
    The koran ( yes I’ve read it as painful as it was ) teaches violence, discrimination, intolerance and one way integration.
    Why are you defending such a destructive cult ?

  10. I’m no fan of christianity either but they seem to have woken up to themselves and become non-violent.

    Like the non-violent way they blew up abortion clinics in the USA and murdered doctors who provide terminations.
    Or Google “Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church shooting, July 27, 2008” (I know you can do it) for more Christian non-violence.
    Or remember George W Bush describing his assault on the Middle East as a “crusade”.
    The problem is not the religion, it’s the fundamentalist thinking.

    I note that I have never seen you condemn domestic violence.
    Are you still beating your wife?

  11. zoot
    I was trying not to bring up specific events, rather the texts and teachings themselves.
    But, since you want to go there, are you seriously stating that christian violence is, in any way, as numerous as islamic violence in todays world ?
    ( well done on finding 2 historical events, flick the tv on for todays islamic horror )
    Do you really want to compare list of even the last 12 months?

    Are you still beating your wife?

    Absolutely, I’m far superior at ping pong but I give her raps for determination and persistence.

  12. Oh zoot, just looked up your examples.
    Example 1:- 8 deaths in 22 years.
    Example 2:- 2 deaths, politically motivated ( non- religious )
    Do the cool kids still say ” lame ” these days ?

  13. Jumpy: If you are reading the Koran to attack Islam you should read the Bible as well from cover to cover. The Bible is full of very nasty stuff that makes modern, moderate, Christians cringe.

  14. John
    That would be the old testament, leviticus( mind boggling for sure )
    and such, superseded by the new testament, according to my xian friends.
    To muzzies the big Mo’s word is be all end all.
    ( I admit to not reading all of the bible, that’s asking too much )

  15. Jumpy @ 5, Voltaire was 18th century.

    Graham Bell @ 7, I was in fact talking about the landed gentry as a class. No doubt there were exceptions.

    On Now, n-n-n-now! I think the cops and the legal fraternity already know that memory is very imperfect. The New Scientist article perhaps helps to explain why.

  16. Jumpy on Islam, I’m currently reading the chapter on global jihad in Karen Anderson’s Fields of Blood: religion and the history of violence.

    Seems all religions teach against violence, including Wahhabism. She says that if you are looking for inherent violence, look no further than the state, where a monopoly on violence is ostensibly used to keep the peace, but has frequently been misused, especially against minorities. The secular state was supposed to cure the violent tendencies of religion, but has itself been horrific, even genocidal in putting down internal rebellion.

    On global jihad, she talks about the process of radicalisation by the actions of dictators and the West’s support for same. Some of it is blowback against structural violence perpetrated by Western secular democracies.

    Historically Christians often fared better under Muslim hegemony than the other way around.

  17. Brian @19
    Thanks for that. I now wait on jumpy’s condemnation of the violent cult of secularism.

  18. One example (leaving aside Hitler, Stalin and Mao) comes from the French Republic’s treatment of the Vendée rebellion in the 1790s.

    Armstrong says that a quarter of a million men, women and children were slaughtered by the Republican army. She calls it genocide.

    The second and one of the worst was the Assyrian genocide perpetrated under a secular state, unfortunately one of a string of massacres in Turkey. Armstrong calls it genocide. The numbers are about a million.

  19. In those cases I don’t think religion came into it, but religion is often appropriated to the cause, which is essentially about fear of difference. More racism than religion.

  20. I read somewhere that one of the strategies Britain to build its empire was to encourage missionaries to go to places where they weren’t wanted, waiting till the natives killed them and then used this as an excuse for invasion. The sociopaths we have been talking about on another thread are experts at using religion as an excuse for all sorts of sociopathic behaviour.

  21. Brian @22: I remember Karen Armstrong being interviewed about a book she had written on fundamentalism (probably “The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam”) and her thesis, if memory serves, was that fundamentalism in the Abrahamic religions had its roots more in political issues than religious belief.

  22. zoot, that would be right. Armstrong says that with the introduction of agriculture hierarchies, injustice and essentially state violence came as part of the package.

    Christianity in particular was basically communist (give to those who have not) and non-violent (love your enemies etc.) It was corrupted when it was adopted by the Roman empire as the official religion.

    Some of her ideas gel with Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order. He says you need (1) a strong and capable state, with taxation and a robust justice system, (2) rule of law, followed by everyone including rulers, (3) accountability to all citizens through democracy.

    Western democracies are further down that track than most, and also happen to be predominantly Christian, which Jumpy is I think picking up on. Japan and Korea perhaps provide alternative examples.

    Nothing’s perfect.

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