Saturday salon 12/5

1. What do you see?

What colours do you see in this image?

I’m told that most of us see pink and white but some see grey and green. Actually I see grey with a faint pinkish tinge and aqua. My wife sees reality quite differently.

You might recall this dress, which I maintain is blue and brown:

Together with this cartoon:

2. Women’s brains

It is widely thought that women and men have different brains, but on the whole, no, says Dr Sarah McKay talking to Lyn Malcolm on All in the Mind – see Women’s brain business. Every brain is different, a mosaic, and there is no way of telling whether a scan is from a male or a female brain.

There are some differences. For example, men on average have a better ability to rotate a 3-D object in their mind’s eye, but the difference is statistical. Some women can do it brilliantly and some men are hopeless. There is no way of telling whether the difference is genetic, or based on differences in cultural experience growing up.

McKay has looked at all the other myths about women – whether they experience PMT and whether menopause affects their moods. Research has shown that only one in 20 women have mood changes which appear to be linked to menstruation. Significantly, that was in a study when the women were asked how they felt on a daily basis, but were not told that the study was looking at the link if any with menstruation. Other life experiences are way more important.

However, with menopause, a quarter of women may suffer reasonably severe symptoms, about half of women may have the odd symptom and another quarter of women may just sail through completely unaffected.

In pregnancy, the story is complex. In general terms the baby is not affected in utero by the life experiences of the mother. However, severe trauma can affect the health and cognition of the baby, as Canadian researchers found with children who were in utero during a severe, damaging storm.

And the mother’s brain does change with the hormonal changes of pregnancy. For example, the empathy and social cognition brain regions are fine-tuned.

Unfortunately most brain research is done on healthy young males, for a variety of reasons including availability. One reason is that some researchers think including women might confuse the study, and some:

    are just kind of too scared to start looking at women’s health and comparing it to men’s health for fear of having their research abused to support outdated gender stereotypes, so they’ve kind of shied away from that.

3. Is there virtue in housework and other caring roles?

Waleed Aly and Scott Stevens, with help from Anne Manne address a question sent in by Jessica Lake, a lecturer in the Swinburne Law School. She suggested them we look at the moral dimension of housework:

    “Here I don’t simply mean the gender imbalance with regards to labour within the home, but rather whether we have a moral obligation to care for ourselves and others. And whether, by increasingly outsourcing these dimensions of our lives to cleaners, au pairs, nannies, shopping assistants etc we are losing some important moral grounding in our own humanity. Should we all endeavour to clean the toilet or calm a tantrum? Would it make us better people?”

To cut to the chase, yes it would make us better persons, but only if we undertake the work in order to help other people rather than to make ourselves better persons.

This made me think of an experiment described by Johann Hari in talking to Phillip Adams about his new book Lost Connections: Uncovering the real causes of depression – and the unexpected solutions. The experiment asked the question, If you decided to spend two hours a day making yourself happier, would it work?

In one country, the USA, it did not work. In three other countries – Japan, China and Russia – it did. What is going on?

In the USA people chose to do something for themselves, in the other countries they chose to do something for other people. In the US, and probably Australia, people have an individualistic idea of what it is to be happy, in the other countries they have a collective idea.

4. A new dawn in Malaysia

For now, the people have spoken, and Malaysia has been saved from kleptocracy.

    Malaysia woke up this morning [Thursday] to a new dawn. The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition lost their 61-year hold on government and Mahathir Mohamad, now the prime ministerial candidate for the Pakatan Harapan coalition, is poised to be sworn into power after a 15-year hiatus.

    Former Malaysian leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad is poised to become the world’s oldest prime minister after defeating Najib Razak in a fiercely contested election that put an end to the ruling coalition’s six-decade hold on power.

The plan is for Anwar Ibrahim, Mahathir’s former deputy, who has been in the slammer for trumped up charges, to be given a royal pardon, win a seat somewhere in a bi-election, and then take over.

Meanwhile Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, will be Mahathir’s deputy prime minister.

There had been a heist of public money where billions of dollars had gone astray, some $700 million directly into Najib Razak’s pocket. All sorts of laws had been introduced to restrict press freedom and to make it difficult for any opposition to gain a footing. Corruption was well on the way to becoming a structural part of the state.

We’ll have to see how it all works out over time, but many Malays are over the moon that a first step has been taken. Here’s more:

‘I was the dictator’: 92-year-old brings a new era to Malaysia

Defeated Malaysian Leader, Wife Barred From Leaving Country

Malaysia’s former leader set to become world’s oldest prime minister at 92

Commentary: Malaysia reborn? Does GE14 spell an end to racial politics?

There is a good summary by Dr Bridget Welsh talking to Tom Switzer.

5. Trump withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal

Probably the most important thing to happen in Trump-land last week was Trump withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. There is a handy analysis by John Mearsheimer, Professor of international relations at the University of Chicago and author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics talking to Tom Switzer.

Mearsheimer reckons, either the whole nuclear deal will fall over and Iran will be making bombs in no time flat (how will Israel react?), or the Europeans will stagger on without the USA. In which case the deal may still fall over later.

Mearsheimer says the US is on best mates terms with the country most responsible for instigating terrorism – Saudi Arabia. Trump will not get a ‘better’ deal out of Iran. They should get out of Iran’s face and learn to live with them.

6. Shorten’s masterstroke of timing

Most of the commentary was that Shorten had bombed out badly in his handling of the citizenship thing. I’d suggest that on the contrary it may work out well. In five bi-elections we can now have a test run for the next election, four of them Labor seats. However, the Liberals are not going to run in the two seats in WA. If Labor had lost those two seats, plus Susan Lamb’s Longman in Queensland, Bill Shorten’s leadership would have been toast. But then with Albo or Plibers at the helm, Turnbull would have been toast in the election.

The LNP strategy is to ‘kill Bill’, so they want to preserve him for the election. And to turn the WA bi-elections into a boxing match between Labor and The Greens. Longman is centred on Caboolture, north of Peter Dutton’s seat and south of the Sunny Coast. One Nation could be quite strong in that area, and it is not natural Labor country.

Susan Lamb is in trouble in Longman according to a ReachTel poll with the LNP ahead 53% to 47%. But:

    A majority of respondents (53.7%) believe the third phase of the income tax cuts proposed by the Turnbull government, to flatten the tax rate on incomes between $41,000 and $200,000, is unfair.

Moreover, One Nation, whose preferences delivered Longman to Labor last time and is on 15% there, will not preference Labor over the Liberals unless they preference The Greens last.

I’m not keen on ReachTel individual seat polls, which had Kevin Rudd losing his seat by about 10 points in 2013. Currently Labor only hold 7 of the 30 seats in Queensland. The LNP can’t afford to lose any. If Labor holds Longman Turnbull is in trouble. Jane Prentice, an assistant minister, being dumped in preselection in Ryan won’t help.

However, in Insiders today Laura Tingle told us that the economy is genuinely improving, including in regional Australia. Turnbull is likely to let this sink in. Most likely he will call an election next year so Australians stick with a safe pair of hands and don’t risk that shifty Bill character, whose word cannot be believed.

And then Australia misses the chance to be led by a person who could have been one of the best PMs ever, and turns away from a fair and decent society.

45 thoughts on “Saturday salon 12/5”

  1. Sorry this is late again. Yesterday I had to render assistance to my favourite 89 year-old. They still live on a 10-acre acreage made possible with my assistance.

    Last night we went with John D and his wife to hear Hugh Mackay at the Powerhouse re-imagining Australia.

    In recent years Australia has moved from having 1 in 5 people experiencing anxiety, depression and such to 1 in 3. We are pretty much world champions at loneliness.

    No easy solutions, but hey, we are definitely on the wrong track, and re-electing Turnbull would ensure that we stayed there.

  2. Colours – I have wondered whether we all see the same colour when we look at “red” or any other colour. That is, I have learned to recognise red, but is what I am seeing the same colour as someone else who has also learned to recognise red?

  3. My eyes,
    The shoe- light grey with a pink tinge, trim and laces light aqua.

    The dress – white and gold.
    Funnily, my wife initially saw the dress white/gold but later blue/black.
    It’s strange.

  4. I’m not surprised more people are experiencing anxiety.
    Constantly being told we’re on the edge of catastrophe, the majority of us are hateful bigots.
    In the media, both social and institutional, we are either victims or oppressors.
    Contentment is something that’s being stolen from you or you’ve gained illegitimately.
    Everything is unfair…

    It’s hard enough to resist anxiety facing that as an adult, no wonder the youth are struggling.

  5. Shoes slightly pink grey with light green trim
    Dress brown stripes with hints of gold in places and bluey strips between the brown strips.
    The interesting things was that people reported differently. Who knows what each of us sees if we all agree that it is brown.
    People are suggestible. If the experts start talking about how many people are depressed the percentage of depressed people rises.
    As a matter of interest my favorite positive person spends a lot of time doing things that help people because she wants to, not because she wants people to like her even though she does like people liking her.

  6. Shoes grey with Aqua trim and laces. Dress – rather creepily – was brown and blue when I first looked then changed to gold and white later.

    (I know – it didn’t change, I saw it differently)

  7. Well look at that Geoff, Val and I see two things the same.
    Probably more but baby steps….

  8. Well, I finally finished Wolff’s book – Fire and Fury etc. It would have been riveting but I took so long to read it most of the book was no longer surprising as real-time events from the WH unfolded.
    What was interesting were the internal machinations of the WH with the high-level conflicts e.g. Bannon v Ivanka and there were many others. This from a place where the world expects leadership. The other thing that emerged to me anyway was that Trump emerges as an under-developed school boy, still stuck in primary school. A bit too, like the Wizard that was uncovered by Dorothy hiding behind a screen. This is the person supposedly negotiating a deal with North Korea under China’s eye (‘can’t believe that Trump is the main actor here).
    Well anyway, don’t pay more than $6 for a used copy of the book…
    Just started “The Coal Truth” and that might be interesting because hopefully, it goes a bit further than Carmichael.

  9. As a matter of interest my favorite positive person spends a lot of time doing things that help people because she wants to, not because she wants people to like her even though she does like people liking her.

    That’s good, John, I like it.

  10. John, Brian

    There are folk going round these days saying, “Be pleasant to people and help them, because studies show it will make you feel better too.”

    In other words, “you should be unselfish and friendly – for selfish reasons.”

    Bl**dy h*ll.
    What ever happened to the Golden Rule as a fundamental basis of human living? Did Mrs Thatcher abolish society, or merely wish it so? Where’s the carpenter of Nazareth gone? Why is there such an appetite for the latest self-help fads.

    Of course we should be pleasant to people, to the best of our abilities and means. FULL STOP.

  11. Ambi you might be interested in neuroplasticity. This deals with ways in which the brain can change both physically and functionally.
    The concept has been around for a while but it seems that PET scans can now verify certain mood changes that have been intentionally caused – say through meditation.
    There are plenty of videos out there now but a good starter is this TED talk:

    What it means is that there is much more capacity to change our brain functions. E.g. moods and behaviour.

  12. “you should choose to be unselfish and friendly – for selfish reasons.”

    You don’t need PET scans to see the vast majority of us do this every day.
    Some even think that Citizens are better at it than Politicians ( or insert any self proclaimed ‘ better ‘ )

  13. Jump

    Are you saying this is just how we all get along together and there’s nothing remarkable about it? Nothing to see here.

    So, does “society” exist, or only “family” or “family, friends and neighbourhood”?

    Any person who is unfriendly or selfish…. do they become ostracised? exiled? scorned? imprisoned? friendless? unemployed? … or do folk reach out to them and assist them in a change of attitude and behaviour?


    Thanks, Geoff Henderson.

  14. Ambi, I think Jump must be tallking about nice people like us.
    He can’t possibly be referring to those bludger neighbours he used to complain about so bitterly.

  15. Jumpy there is a thing called science, and it does carry (if done well) some authority. Only some politicians don’t believe good science e.g. those supporting coal.
    Now PET scans are able to detect changes in brain activity. A branch of nuclear science , it can detect very small changes invisible to the naked eye and whilst the subject is wide awake.
    Perhaps you are right, we don’t need PET to decide if someone’s mood is off. But if you want to understand what is happening to the brain during an “off” episode then a PET scan may provide an answer. Unless you are a politician of course…

  16. On the colours, may I hazard a guess?

    Some of us have red-green colour blindness, in many people partially so.

    But there are several other factors that may be at play.

    a) under very low light conditions, our ability to see colour reduces markedly. e.g. an amateur astronomer has to get used to the dark, before she will see the colour of a red planet or a blue star. Limitation of the human eye/brain.

    b) through our experiences of looking at photos or videos many of us are accustomed to unusual lighting, and (I think) adjust our colour guesses accordingly. And the viewer of the photo or video wasn’t there to perceive the actual light conditions on the spot. Unknown unknowns.

    c) A person wants to take the garment out into the daylight rather than peer at it under fluoro lights in a changing room or shop; she knows what a difference it can make. Known unknown.

    I’m guessing.
    (BTW, IMO the infamous disquisition on “known unknowns” etc. by that Secretary of Defense seemed completely logical.)

  17. zoot

    I thought Jump was arguing that everyone acts as if they are unselfish, in order to serve their own purposes.

    Heaven forfend they should do it to improve someone else’s circumstances or mood!

    And yes, I recall them bludgers!!
    Real shockers.
    You wouldn’t get any of them into a PET scan: they’d think you were trying to interfere with their vicious dog.

  18. Geoff H

    What is this “science” of which you speak?
    Is Jump an unwitting beneficiary of “science”?
    e.g. internet, computers, phones, TV, pharmaceuticals, stronger nails, good building tools, Youtube, banknote production and credit cards?

    Or would Jump be a person who forgoes all that kind of stuff in order to maintain his brave and staunch individualism?

    Curious minds await an explanation.

  19. Geoff H

    What is this “science” of which you speak?

    Is Jump an unwitting beneficiary of “science”?
    e.g. internet, computers, phones, TV, pharmaceuticals, stronger nails, good building tools, YouTube, banknote production and credit cards?

    Or would Jump be a person who forgoes all that kind of stuff in order to maintain his brave and staunch individualism?

    Curious minds await an explanation.

  20. Mr A
    There is a “ society” in the same way there is a bucket of sand, each sharing the majority of characteristics but each very individual if you look closely.

    The most important thing, in my honest opinion, is each individual.

    “ Societies “ can’t be racist or kind or selfish of unfriendly or generous, only individuals can.

    Collectivism is a lazy, terrible thing.

  21. Science is great, I just said you don’t need one particular test to understand humans are fundamentally kind.

    But ay, riff on whatever you wanted me to have said.
    I’m sure the misguided ridicule make you feel some sort of good.

  22. humans are fundamentally kind

    except, of course, those who feel some sort of good from misguided ridicule.

  23. Is there virtue in housework and other caring roles?

    My oath there is. Your own survival – as well as your own resilience in a disaster – are virtues, aren’t they?

    Just look at who does not do well at all, or, who perishes, when confronted by extraordinary and hazardous situations and you will find those who lack the ability and experience to help others and to help themselves.


  24. I prefer to think the misguided ridicule was for the benefit of the group ( majority) at the expense is an individual ( minority ).

    5 giggles trumps 1 frown sort of thing.

    It’s unfriendly and selfish yet giving it seems.

  25. …. if you missed out on chatting with an Australian prisoner-of-war of the Imperial Japanese, you should try to listen to the ABC radio series from the 1980s, “Prisoners Of War”. It gives excellent insights into why Australians tended to do better in those awful conditions than did those of other nationalities. Helping others does, overall, help you yourself.

  26. Ambi:

    There are folk going round these days saying, “Be pleasant to people and help them, because studies show it will make you feel better too.”

    This is how it should read:

      “Be pleasant to people and help them, because studies show it will make you feel better too.”

    You could even leave out ‘studies show’.

  27. Geoff H, I watched the youtube from the brain researcher from the Univ of British Columbia. We have the Queensland Brain Institute here at QU and I seem to hear them all the time on local radio.

    There is also ABC RN’s All in the Mind which recently broadcast a program on neuroplasticity.

    The Big Ideas program recently had Memories and fears – memories and fears are formed and processed, and why – and Bridging the brain-mind gap – essentially looking at the contribution neuroscience is making to psychiatry, unpacking the latest scientific approaches to understanding and treating brain disorders.

    I would also mention my post Compassion, empathy, feelings, emotion and other posts under the tag Brain where I’ve wandered into this area.

  28. A long time ago I went to a week-long seminar on management where the presenter gave us a hypothetical problem to solve. It involved being an astronaut in a moon landing where something went pear-shaped and we had to find a way of getting back to the capsule, or something, can’t remember the detail. We all had a crack at solving the problem individually.

    He then split us up into groups of five or six. There was a way of scoring the effort.

    In no case did an individual do better than the group.

    He had obviously done this presentation many times so I asked him if there were instances where an individual did better.

    He said that across about 160 groups he recalled two instances where an individual had done better, but was unable to convince the group, or was persuaded by the group to a less felicitous approach.

    In the vast majority of cases the group did better.

  29. Thanks for the extra info, Brian. ‘Seems its been around for a while but I just did not notice. In retrospect, I can see examples where neuroplasticity may have been a component in human behaviour.
    Group tasking – interesting again. But a bit of a standing joke is the value of “committees”. Maybe they are more vulnerable to other influences e.g. personalities, than the groups you referred to?

  30. Many thanks Brian.

    I suppose I may have been raising the pedantic objection: wise persons have been advocating kindness, compassion, brotherly love, generosity, selflessness for thousands of years, so why on earth do brain scans add anything???

    Personally I find scientific investigations much more convincing than “self help gurus” whose widely read output seems largely waffle.

    But that’s my prejudice showing.

    It may be that science will soon complete the circle and show ever more strongly why advocacy of The Golden Rule has been grounded in basic human psychology, and in foundations of social strength.

    + + ++ +++ +++++ ++++++++

    BTW, on science.
    Science doesn’t always merely confirm commonsense.
    Often it contradicts “everyday commonsense”.

    The Sun doesn’t move around the Earth. The stars don’t move across the sky. Malaria: named for “bad air” but not caused by swampy, smelly air: coincidentally the swamps were the home of mozzies.

    My radio works because of invisible rays.
    Someone figured out how to produce those rays.

    An invisible gas in tiny quantities can warm the atmosphere. Diseases can be caused by tiny creatures we can’t see; and someone worked out ways of stopping the invisible creatures killing thousands of humans and thousands of farm animals. You can make fertiliser out of air (thanks John D, sounds like a fantasy straight out of Gulliver’s Travels).

    And don’t even start on quantum effects or the far reaches of astrophysics. Two invisible but massive things collide and in the very last moments of their collision they “twang” empty space like plucking a guitar string, sending an invisible ripple across empty space, and the ripple can be detected if you build the right super-sensitive gear. Gravitational waves.: that’s a long way from a bloke dropping two heavy objects from the Leaning Tower at Pisa. Who could have guessed??

    Science: so often the unexpected, strange, …. human miracles.

  31. In my experience, a job requiring anything more than the most basic skills that should take 1 person x 10 days to complete will never get done by 10 people in 1 day.

  32. If we’re talking about education, now we have 1 teacher in a room with 28 students, would 4 teachers in a room of 112 students deliver better outcomes ?

    I don’t know, it’s not my area.

  33. In my experience, a job requiring anything more than the most basic skills that should take 1 person x 10 days to complete will never get done by 10 people in 1 day.

    Which is why the tradition of barn raising and busy bees have been such an abject failure.

  34. Mr A,
    I find the work of evolutionary psychologists interesting when trying to understand the way we do what we do.

    We all embrace or battle some inherited evolutionary stuff I recon.

  35. Yep, Jump, we all do.

    See also Philip Larkins’ sardonic poem about what your parents do to you. And a reminder implied therein, on trying to be an OK parent.

    So, parents, eh??

    Then generations stretching back millenia…. Crikey, what chance do any of us have???

  36. Geoff H, when I worked for the Ed Dept I was on 18 committees, which was definitely too many, but gave me a chance to observe how they worked.

    The group I mentioned in the moon problem was a working group rather than a committee. In my experience such groups should not be bigger than five.

    Beyond that it depends what the committee is for.

    Neither of Jump’s cases were analogous to my example.

  37. Geoff H, during the first five years of this century our son was in secondary school. One year I recall the school counsellor coming back from a conference in Melbourne, saying that plasticity of brain and how we use it was all the go. About 2003, I reckon.

    Around about that time there was a case worth mentioning. Psychologists had done brain scans of someone with dyslexia, and found the patterns different from a ‘normal’ brain.

    The person underwent extensive remediation, and in the end was able to read normally. They did the scans again and were shocked to find that the scans were now normal.

    I would have been surprised if they weren’t.

    At that time psychologists were talking about “correlates” between mental and physical processes. I thought there was just chemistry and electricity in motion, and mental processes was how we experienced and talked about what was happening.

    Apparently we have 86 billion neurons, each with 10,000 connections, inside our heads.

  38. BTW

    On generosity, kindness and human bonds, I give thanks to the internet and its capitalist and government sponsors, that it provides the framework for information sharing and most particularly for this blog where you, Brian, and many others educate and assist us readers!!

    (Set aside unwanted ads, porn, bullying, data manipulation. There is a corner of this sceptered isle which will be forever free.)

  39. Brian:
    Thank you mentioning that there is a difference between working parties and committees. Many people in positions of authority seem ignorant of any difference.

    Size of a successful group? Agree that 4 is good – but have seen good results come from 2 ~ 6, depending entirely on the situation; 7 is the maximum, more than that and the participants get tangled, distracted, form factions, etc.; there is probably a wealth of research on the topic but I’m too lazy to look. Could that be a reason why the Committees of parliaments seem to get more useful work done than is ever done in the Chambers?

    You said, “Some even think that Citizens are better at it than Politicians ( or insert any self proclaimed ‘ better ‘ )”. Spot on! Could it be that Our Betters are too busy defending their privileges and their vanity to perceive, think and behave normally?

    Geoff Henderson:
    Thanks for your comments on Wolff “Fire And Fury”. Why do George IV, Wilhelm II, Ludwig II and a few dud Roman Emperors come to mind whenever I hear Trump mentioned? Don’t know who turned the U.S. into an autocracy (probably Reagan’s vice president G H Bush) but it ain’t no republic now? By the way, I’m disgusted at Trump’s vicious comments about John McCain having been a prisoner-of-war; this is in stark contrast to the attitude of businessman Trump way back in 1985.

  40. ‘Been looking at some geopolitics lately, especially in our region.
    It was unchallenged just a few years ago that the US had primacy in the Asia region. That has actually been in decline, beginning with Obama whose response to a move by China was to station a few marines in Darwin. Trump has made it clear he is all about the US becoming great again and his wrecking of long-time agreements (and some new ones) has made it clear he is unconcerned about the change in political primacy. Helping the US out of influence is his fumbling treatment of the North Korea summit and the cave of his trade war.
    The problem for us is the question: can we rely on the US to defend us?. ‘Hard to say I think. The Quarterly Essay #68 by Hugh White (Without America) is great, and his responses to comments in QE #69 very clear.
    Meantime China rolls on with its soft power campaign steadily changing the power landscape as we look the other way. One day we will be forced to choose between China and the US.

    If interested in Asia power, see Lowry’s Nick Bisley article. Note the very natty Asia Power Index embedded in the text.

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