Saturday salon 4/6

1. Here come the Chinese

One million Chinese tourists account for 23% of tourist trip spend at $8.9 billion, an increase of 38% in the last year.

I’m not sure how excited we should get. I remember being told in Heidelberg Castle in 2008 that they got 4 million each year. In Prague the number of 70 million was quoted. Tourism here is small beer, but I wouldn’t like to live in that sort of melee. Our Brisbane Queen Street mall on Friday afternoon was pleasantly cosmopolitan.

Education is also doing well as an export industry, if we don’t ruin our reputation by exploiting student workers.

Housing is still a worry, in part because prices are still going up – 13.9% in Melbourne and 13.1% in Sydney. There’s a looming oversupply of apartments in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Bursting the bubble, however, could take the whole economy down, worries the OECD.

2. Tax matters

One of the more interesting economic graphs I’ve seen recently added company social security contributions to company tax to give some idea of real company tax levels on a comparative basis. From memory Australia was the seventh lowest in the OECD, but I’ve lost the link.

Here’s a graph of the “tax wedge” companies pay in labour costs:


Australia is the eighth lowest.

The graph comes from here, sourced from the OECD, where you can follow the links to get the definition.

3. Gorilla shot to save boy

Cincinnati Zoo keepers shot a lowland gorilla to save a three-year old boy, who had mounted a fence and crawled through bushes and then fell 3.7 metres into the gorilla enclosure. The UK Mirror has video footage and covers the subsequent public outrage. This image gives an outline of what happened:


Some are excited because the gorilla appeared to care for the boy and was showing no aggressive behaviour.

Some are saying that a tranquilliser dart could have been used.

I think the staff did what had to be done, as the boy could have been killed in a split second by the gorilla, whether by intent or accident.

Questions can later be asked about the responsibility of the parents and the safety of the zoo setup and action taken as appropriate.

That being said, a gorilla’s life is not intrinsically worth less than a human’s. However, we are social creatures and have to look out for each other, or the world would dissolve into chaos.

4. Toilet terror as python bites man’s private parts

A Thai man, going to the loo as you do in the morning, got a big surprise. A four metre-long python slithered up the sewer pipe and latched onto his man bits. This report doesn’t quite say how it all happened, but his wife brought a rope, then he managed to yank the jaws open, and rope the snake’s head to the door, before passing out from loss of blood. Emergency services extracted the snake from the toilet, but not without destroying the toilet.

The man has all his bits, recovering in hospital, and the snake was returned to the wild.

I had another item about huge apes that wandered around Asia, and one about Neanderthals, but I might save them for later.

Introduction to Saturday salon

Because of the way the blog currently presents posts on the home page I think it’s better to remove the introductory material to a different place. For new readers, here’s the rationale for this space.


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.

34 thoughts on “Saturday salon 4/6”

  1. Jumpy, your link didn’t take me anywhere. I did Google, though, and I like it. Tells me why Malcolm wants to scare the pants off us and Bill wants to give us information.

    The most important thing she said is that the brain is plastic. We are not prisoners of the cards we were dealt at birth, or indeed our parent’s upbringing.

  2. Thanks BilB, I reckon there were 5 million there when we were there last October!

  3. Yes it is a busy city. I’ll be back in Prague in October. I lost all of the photos I took two years ago in a phone failure so I am going to have to retrace my steps and take them all again. I stayed at the U Medviku Brewery Hotel, quite close to the “Old Town” and a short distance from a subway station and Vodaphone store. Where did you stay in Prague?

    I had one of the most memorable hot dogs of my life in Prague surprisingly, though the very best I’ve had were in Christcurch NZ.

  4. BilB, we were in the City-Inn Hotel in Hybernska Str. It’s about 3.5 stars. We found it quite satisfactory, with a great breakfast. It is well-booked.

    Google tells me it is about 10 mins walk from the Old Town Square, but seems not far away from trams and the underground.

    Generally the layout of Prague confused me, but my wife and my brother seemed to be able to navigate the place.

  5. Prague Old Town IS confusing, and that is part of its charm along with the beauty and age of the buildings (up to 900 years old).

    City Inn near the central station, I think I remember walking past that Hotel several times. I just love Prague.

  6. Yes, we arrived at the central station, by bus from Nuremberg. My wife had about 10 days there. I went off to Poland for four days with my brothers and sister-in-law.

    My wife lost all her photos too, but I have quite a few and might do some more travel posts if I get time.

    The one-day jump-on jump-off bus tour was good value, took in the castle and ended up with a boat trip on the river.

  7. Tells me why Malcolm wants to scare the pants off us and Bill wants to give us information.

    Interesting take away from that. I’m thinking Malcolm has a bigger liberal ACC than he is currently displaying.
    In fact I think most try to engage our ACC

    A typical task that activates the ACC involves eliciting some form of conflict within the participant that can potentially result in an error.

    The greens are no exception.

  8. jumpy, I brought up Prague. I’ve never met anyone who’s been there and didn’t love the place, so BilB’s comment was very natural.

    I haven’t been to Clermont, but I’ve been to Boulia and Betoota.

    On Turnbull’s brain, I think you and I should leave brain taxonomy alone.

  9. On Turnbull’s brain, I think you and I should leave brain taxonomy alone.

    On the contrary, if science can aid us in choosing our representatives, I say more info to educate.
    And of course far more debate at the grass root level.

  10. Thanks for that jumpy. It’s not in the league of Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs, thank heavens, which are mostly ridiculous as well as being magnificent. It’s modest and I hope he’s happy there.

    Let me explain my aversion to talking in terms of brain bits.

    I’ve been pondering a bit about the brain, the idea of thought and actually thinking and feeling. I’m a realist materialist. What happens is what happens chemically and with electricity in the physical brain, and what we think of as thoughts and feelings are just products of that same heap of lard.

    When I read Richard Davidson’s book on emotional style many things became apparent, including the following two.

    Firstly, specific parts of the brain are involved in multiple functions.

    Secondly, when one part lights up it’s not working alone, but in a network with other parts.

    So telling me Turnbull has a big AMC doesn’t actually tell me anything. It’s better to describe the behaviours in the usual way and leave the ‘brain bits’ talk to those who know what they are doing.

    So what did you actually mean to say?

  11. What Jumpy was referring to is demonstrating that people, in this example Dr Gail Saltz, in the US are finally attempting to understand their political dilemma.

    I began attempting to understand the thinking of TerjeP who blogged on JQ’s site. I eventually was able to see the issue as being a conflict between different empathy levels within the community. Gail Saltz has analysed the conflict from an anatomical point of view, but as you say the anatomy gives rise to how we perform and that is the what we have to live with. Saltz makes the connection between the anatomy and empathies which are a macro of the total functions of the brain.

    The way I believe that it all works is that we all have a place in the empathy spectrum which spreads in a bell curve for the total population from unworkably hyper empathy to at the other (right) side zero empathy in the psychopathic person. But the empathy spectrums for men and women are different. For women the distribution curve is compressed towards the high empathy end while in men the distribution is compressed towards the low empathy end. This is an evolutionary construct intended to ensure human survival as a family unit. Women do the nurturing that requires a high degree of empathy, men do the building, hunting and protecting functions which are best performed with less empathy. But in the family both empathy sets need to work together for the family to be successful and ensure the family and community’s survival.

    More than often enough the empathy bonds that hold the family together break and the male moves away leaving the high empathy unit the mother and the children. This is where the community which is more stable as it is made up of family groups at all stages of development acts to protect the family remnants and the community as whole remains strong.

    The problem in the US is that empathies have become expressed in the political ideologies have become so polarised that they are at the point of divorce. The have lost sight of the fact that the community is like a family and requires the cooperation of the empathies. High empathy delivers nurturing , caring (health) and education, and low empathies deliver construction, industry and defence. The US has lost site of the need to share equably within the community just as sharing is essential in a family, and the end result of loss of understanding will be first political divorce, and then collapse.

    Th low emps do not have the numbers to win absolutely politically in a fair democracy, and so they must cheat to maintain control in order to protect wealth extracted and with held from the population. Excessive cheating escalates to brutality and eventually leads to collapse. IMHO.

    A while ago Jumpy made the claim that if you took all of the wealth of the one percent and give it to the two billion poorest, they would only get $500 each and how long would that last. It took me a while to see the fallacy in that argument. It is not about absolutes. The poorest only need enough to get a start, their solution to the situation is through their own efforts. People never do well with handouts, they do best with assistance, and assistance generally cost virtually nothing. America’s wealth problem is a structural one. The wealthy elite took a shortcut to getting that wealth. They used the low wages of another country to bleed the wealth out of their own once very wealthy population progressively robbing their own people of the means to maintain their living standard, right down to the point where most Americans are living from one week to the next. All reserves for more than half the nation are completely gone, or rather relocated, and the American Dream is now just that, a distant dream.

    Enter stage right King Trump.

  12. A while ago Jumpy made the claim that if you took all of the wealth of the one percent and give it to the two billion poorest, they would only get $500 each and how long would that last.

    I suspect Jumpy’s figures may not be the most accurate (quelle surprise!) According to this page

    … if the world’s wealth were distributed completely evenly and every adult human had an even share, everyone would have $51,600,

    The same page points out that as my “wealth” (hah!) is more than $4000 I am richer than half the humans on earth. It’s an interesting read.

  13. One way of looking at how morality develops is to see it in terms of who is included in the group that gets your moral consideration. For example, a very young child may be very self centered and see everything in terms of how it affects them. As they grow older the number of people who get your moral consideration expands to include immediate family, then extended family etc. In the more advanced moral systems all living things may be considered.
    People (or animals) that are outside the moral consideration boundaries may be treated terribly by people who are considered morally upstanding, good people within their moral consideration group.
    Empathy may work in a similar way. Sure, there are some people who are better than others at understanding how others are feeling and behaving on the basis of that understanding, but, for most of us the world is divided into those who we have a lot of empathy for and those for which we have little or no empathy. “People like us” that we actually know are more likely to benefit from our empathy than those who are very different and not connected.
    Being able to exclude refugees from the circle of people who you feel empathy for may be an essential life skill for some politicians.

  14. Just a note of caution about the concept of empathy. There was an article in the New Scientist recently warning that empathy seems good, but can lead to burnout and paralysis, if we actually feel as others do who are in trouble.

    Some Buddhist meditators emphasise compassion, which leaves all our energy free to act as the situation demands, without emotion interfering with our analytical processes.

    Social workers, emergency services workers, and similar professions is what I’m talking about.

  15. Indeed, Brian. The people who fall into the Ultra Empathy range are crippled by their condition and dar less able to live normal lives.

    JohnD, great observations. Pets, refugees, and “developed empathies. That requires somd analysis and thought.

    An extention to the theory is that empathies affect our cognitions, hiw we perceive things and subsequently our decisions and actions.

    An excellent, though fictional, depiction comes in chapter one of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility where the inheriting Dashwood’s wife Fanny rationalises away their commitment to assist the second family about to be cast out after the death of the father, concluding with the line “they should better be able to afford to pay something to us”. Its a very present day conservative theme, Republican and LNP.

  16. Brian: I felt some empathy toward Barnaby Joyce on Q&A last night because, like Barnaby, I have had to face difficult meetings from time to time in the past. However, this empathy doesn’t mean that I won’t be pleased if he loses his seat at the coming election or feel obliged nor would it stop me using this empathic insight against him if I were campaigning in New England.
    The point I am making is that empathy is morally neutral even though a moral consideration may be strengthened by empathy with the person involved.
    I know a number of people who have managed to to do a lot of good for people over a long period of time without getting burned out. They tend to be deeply sane, down to earth people who, as you say, don’t waste their energy on emoting about what they couldn’t do and are driven by the desire to help rather than the desire to be liked by everyone.

  17. Don’t get overexcited over the influx of Chinese tourists. They may indeed spend that much money – but how much of that goes into the general local economy – and how much is either repatriated to China or put in Chinese off-shore investments here.

    No, I’m not picking on the Chinese – they are merely following the model which gullible Australian governments and businesses allowed, even encouraged!!, Japanese tour businesses to set up here two decades earlier.

    Sometimes, it pays to be a tough negotiator BEFORE you run amok celebrating all the imaginary wealth raining down on you from the heavens.

  18. That is a good understanding and expression of the concept there, JohnD.

    The empathy/cognition connection in politics plays out in the use of government funds. A person with low empathy for those on lower income see (cognition) social welfare spending as a waste of government funds, and worse, a waste of their money as they seem to have a personal connection to money paid as taxes, and particularly where it is paid to people they perceive (cognition) as being lazy. The average empathy person sees social welfare spending as a necessary balancing of community opportunities. The high empathy person (bleeding heart liberals – Sarah Hansen Young springs to mind) focusses predominately on the social welfare spending to the exclusion of all else (having low empathy for non personal matters). The hyper empathy person would drain their bank account to give to those they perceived as suffering (lost cats, anyone with a tale of woe, etc). Then there is the zero empathy person such as Bashar al Assad who believes he personally owns the entire country including the people in it, and anyone who thinks otherwise are better of dead.

    So with that range it isn’t hard to spot the empathy levels of various political movements. Start with Tea Party Libertarians who by my estimate are just short of the sociopathic empathy level.

    I think the attitude of people to economic migrants and asylum seekers introduces aspects of territorial protection which distorts natural empathies, and I have no great insights on this at all.

    GrahamB, you might be interested in this item sent to me by Caroline Pidcock of Pidcock Architects.

    That is the Australian experience with leasehold land. So when you realise that all land in China is owned by the Chinese government and leased on 99 year leases (remember Britain and Hong Kong) you will understand why the Chinese are ever so keen to use Chinese loan money at 1.5% to buy land in any other stable country.

  19. I will highlight Immigration, if I can.

    The Liberal Democratic Party believes the free movement of people, within and between countries, generally contributes to greater prosperity.

  20. That is a fair hit back, Jumpy. My notions on Libertarian Party policies would be sketchy at best and based on impressions gathered from news articles and blogger’s comments. I will make an effort to read some of that document.

  21. Jumpy, I don’t know how misleading this article is about libertarians in the USA, but the author describes them as ” lost in the clouds of utopian anarchism.”

  22. Jumpy. I’m working on a new election link. I’m a bit busy and indulged in some TV last night, so it will be a day late, probably, and SS a day late too.

    But nearly every day I hear about something that’s really essential or worthy that’s been cut by the Government.

  23. I might agree with about 20% of the LDP platform, Jumpy, but then I might disagree with how they want to go about achieving that 20%.

    Where I believe in freedom, I believe that everyone should have the minimum impact on nature. I believe that animals in nature have as much right to the planet as we do, therefore I believe in community, but a tight community as we see in Europe, rather than the sprawling community we have here and in the US. That means that I know that we get a far better deal from some kinds of businesses funded by the community such as water, sewerage, drainage, waste collection, low or zero carbon primary electricity production and distribution, roads, education, and health services. So naturally I believe that a progressive taxation system is an essential property of fair community, and a minimum wage is an essential backstop. I don’t support total free trade but in the current reality I believe in a broad uniform import levy for goods and services linked to local unemployment levels funding employment programs is the missing element required to balance labour cost disparities. I believe in immigration primarily fit for purpose ie immigrants are required to accept directed location depending on the properties they arrive with for a nominal term. Freedom of lifestyle, generally yes. I don’t believe in religion, but freedom of moderate religion is probably an essential in a broad community, ie any religion moderately practised. Extreme religious zeal is a negative to community harmony. Compulsory voting yes, citizens initiated referenda probably not but I think that elections offer an opportunity to register particular opinions and that should be a feature of elections to measure what is being “mandated” and what is not. I believe that the dominate form of employment should be individual entrepreneurialism and therefore I believe in individual contracts as well as group contracts for employment, but where I believe there is a community obligation to provide work (or rather opportunity in the entrepreneurial context) I believe people have the right to not work if they choose. Foreign aid yes; firearms, cannabis, and gambling no; defence, plusses and minusses; smoking no; regulated assisted suicide yes. Business should be fully tax assessed in the country of activity and resources should be tax linked to the market price, not just operational cost. Aboriginal affairs are and always will require special and positive consideration.

    So I suspect, Jumpy, that we live at opposite corners of the same page. Government makes some horrendous cock ups, cane toads, regional planning and housing regulation for instance, but it is the system of community we have and therefore it is up to us to make it work….by having opinions and engaging constructively.

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