Weekly salon 9/6

1. Race is not a thing

Race is a social construct, largely based on culture and language. In biological and genetic terms it simply does not exist. Looking at the genes, scientists simply cannot form racial categories. Angela Saini, of Indian heritage and living in England, has been investigating the issue in her recently published book Superior: The return of race science. See her New Scientist article and in The Guardian Why race science is on the rise again.

In the 19th century there was a common assumption that a hierarchy existed with the European male at the pinnacle. Yet modern science shows that:

    There is no gene that exists in all the members of one racial group and not another. We are all a product of ancient and recent migration.

Saini says:

    It was only towards the end of the 20th century that genetic data revealed that the human variation we see is not a matter of hard types but small and subtle gradations, each local community blending into the next. As much as 95% of the genetic difference in our species sits within the major population groups, not between them. Statistically, this means that, although I look nothing like the white British woman who lives upstairs, it’s possible for me to have more in common genetically with her than with my Indian-born neighbour.


    When we define ourselves by colour, our eyes don’t consider that the genetic variants for light skin are found not only in Europe and east Asia, but also in some of the oldest human societies in Africa.

However, race keeps finding its way back into science:

    William Shockley, the Nobel prize-winning physicist at Stanford University in California who wanted black women in the US to be voluntarily sterilised. Then there was Arthur Jensen, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who claimed that black people had innately lower intelligence levels than white people.
‘I never imagined I might live through times that could leave me so anxious for the future’ … Angela Saini. Photograph: ✎ Gareth Phillips/The Observer

Having written the above, I then heard on ABC RN’s The Science Show author Rose George talk of sending out a call for “black blood”. Is this a scientifically established category? She then tells us that there are actually 37 different blood types. Or 300 if you look more closely. Why stop there? Every human is unique.

So I’m sceptical as to whether ‘black blood’ is a genuine scientific category.

2. Clearly designed to intimidate

John D has already made reference to ABC chair Ita Buttrose’s statement concerning Australia Federal Police raids on the home of journalist Annika Smethurst and on ABC offices.

AFP officers arrived at 7am at Smethurst’s house, stayed 7 hours and even rummaged through her underwear drawer.

There was a robust exchange between Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton, with Dutton accusing Albo of attacking the federal police officers involved in the raids. Albo:

    “I’m targeting you, buddy. I’m targeting you, you’re the government.

    “I don’t even know who (the AFP officers) are. I’m on to you.

    ” I have said it’s outrageous that (journalist) Annika Smethurst’s house was raided by seven police for seven and a half hours. That’s an outrage.”

    So, what happened?

Phillip Coorey in the AFR (pay-walled):

On the ABC:

    Similarly, the ABC revealed in 2017 allegations of war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012.

    Again, the public had every right to know. Had the allegations been aired while troops were still on the ground, it would have increased their risk and arguably posed a national security threat, but not several years after they left.

Why raid the ABC when the alleged leaker, David McBride, had already admitted he handed over the documents?

Coorey says that there was an understanding that a level of discretion would be applied in using these laws, which were designed for extreme cases.

Coorey says:

    Until now, Labor has worked with the government on national security in a bipartisan fashion through the backchannels of the Joint Intelligence and Security Committee and, over the past six years, has negotiated the acceptance of more than 300 recommendations.

Labor was always in danger of being wedged on these issues. The well of goodwill may just have run dry.

All the usual free speech warriors are silent.

Laura Tingle says Australia’s national security laws should protect the country, not its politicians in power. She says “a contempt for accountability that has become utterly pervasive in Canberra.”

Remember, current laws allow people to be taken from the streets, locked up and interrogated, and then they are not permitted to tell anyone where they have been.

Remember also Martin Niemöller:

    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Tingle suggest it is time for a root and branch re-think.

3. Why the government sacked Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison’s election was superbly timed. Now after the deed is done Karen Middleton in The Saturday Paper tells us that more papers are available showing the true reasons why Morrison was sacked from Tourism Australia in 2006.

He was hired for three years, but terminated more than a year early. No-one has ever said why. Speculation has been that the sacking was the result of a personality clash between Morrison and the Howard Government tourism minister Fran Bailey or differences over her plans to restructure the agency.

It is clear now that it was over the handling of three major contracts:

    The contracts were worth $184 million, and the auditor focused most on the two biggest – those with companies M&C Saatchi for global creative services or advertising campaigns, and Carat for media placement.

    The audit report revealed that information had been kept from the board, procurement guidelines breached and private companies engaged before paperwork was signed and without appropriate value-for-money assessments.

Yep, it was about that stupid ad “So Where the Bloody Hell Are You?”

The sacking apparently instigated by Kelly, and was unanimous on the part of the board, chaired be former deputy PM Tim Fischer.

    Other members included Andrew Burnes, the owner of what is now the Helloworld travel company and the current Liberal Party treasurer.

At the time any expenditure over $5 million required ministerial approval.

Fran Bailey still won’t say why:

    Now retired from politics, Fran Bailey will not explain her decision, telling this newspaper in November last year: “I reiterate that it was a unanimous decision to get rid of Mr Morrison by the board and the minister.”

Tim Fischer is now praising Morrison and distancing himself from it, telling the AFR last year that Morrison had been “full of energy” as the agency’s managing director. Now:

    “They were electrifying times at Tourism Australia with a strong minister and a strong CEO,” Fischer said. “… Scott deserves full credit for the ‘So Where the Bloody Hell Are You?’ campaign. It took some courage to run that campaign and he saw it through. He was let go, wrongly perhaps.”

“Let go” may be technically correct. It may have been a case of, go or be sacked, which was what happened to Richard Nixon.

The way it was handled, he actually got a pay rise just before he left, which fed into his payout. This was not kosher according to the Remuneration Tribunal, who wrote to Fischer about it. Seems Fischer effectively lost the letter.

All this raises the question as to whether we are being governed by a fit and proper person for the job. As the matter stands, the ‘free’ world now has Trump, it has Morrison, and it may soon have Boris Johnson. Have no doubt our standing in the world is in play.

4. The Keneally blunder

Mumble (Peter Brent) thinks that appointing Kristine Keneally to shadow Peter Dutton was Albo’s first big blunder.

The reason? Every time attention goes to asylum seekers or national security, the Morrison government wins.

We’ll see. That may have just changed.

5. Pollies pay rise

From The New Daily Scott Morrison gets $11,000 pay rise on the day workers lose penalty rates.

Enough said.

6. Reserve Bank cuts interest rates

Not all economists thought the interest rate cut was a good idea. The amounts saved on a mortgage are relatively small, and won’t lead to a huge consumer spend. Many, including the Reserve Rank think there may have to be fiscal stimulus beyond what the government has already planned in a tax refund of around $1000 to middle income earners.

Josh Frydenberg has pointed also to the government’s $100 billion infrastructure program and tax cuts to come in 2022 and 2024. The tax cuts are irrelevant to the now, and $100 billion over 10 years is on the pathetic end of the scale. Victoria I believe is spending $27 billion in its latest budget. Queensland had been promised $2 billion by Labor for cross-river rail, for which it will now get nothing.

Much concern, as usual, is about whether the banks will pass on the rate cut in full, or be greedy and keep it for themselves.

“Themselves” actually means the shareholders, of which I am one. This is what it means to me, from competent advice:

    • We estimate the 25bps reduction in the term structure of interest rates reduces majors’ profitability by ~2-3% and the regionals by ~4-7%.

    • However, the next forecasted 25bps rate cut would have a cumulative impact on earnings of ~5-7% for the majors and over 10% for the regionals.

    • We expect banks to reprice ~10-15bps (cumulatively), with two rate cuts, which should provide ~3-6% earnings offset.

I can get better dividends elsewhere, fully franked, and with less risk. If I sell my shares, and everyone else does also, then there is no bank.

What’s keeping me is the prospect of having to pay capital gains, having bought the shares years ago. Most shareholders don’t have that impediment.

We need strong banks, and if they are to stay strong, it is in the national interest to look after shareholders.

7. Tim Costello slams middle-class Australians for their ‘huge sense of victimhood’

He took a parting shot on his last day with World Vision:

    “Middle-class people think they’re doing it tough – the sense of victimhood is huge. We’ve got a whining middle-class culture.

    “We are blessed, we’re the third-richest country per capita in the world. When you lose that perspective, you lose that generosity.”

    Stepping down on Friday after 13 years as chief advocate of the charity group, Mr Costello said the nation suffers from ‘compassion fatigue’ and felt overwhelmed by world events.

    “My diagnosis is that the global ill-winds turn us inwards. We think, ‘We are just going to look after ourselves, we’re doing it tough, we don’t need to be responsible’. You start to get an evaporation of empathy.”

    The numbers back up Mr Costello’s remarks, with the proportion of Australians donating to charity steadily dropping since 2015.

8. Why did the Chinese war ships come to Sydney?

The answer is quite simple – baby formula.

Plus Devondale long life milk and other products, including, for some reason, whitening sheet face masks.

21 thoughts on “Weekly salon 9/6”

  1. Brian: If you measured the height and blackness of our Nuer friends and compared it with the same measure for our friends of European origin you would find that the Nuer friends were a lot higher and a lot blacker than the European friends of the same age and gender. If you put your mind to it you could probably find other clear differences and if you delved into the two groups genetics you would expect to find more differences in addition many similarities. Hardly surprising given the historical separation and different selective pressures.
    Acknowledging and researching these genetic differences can be used to support put downs and discrimination. However, acknowledging and researching the differences may have important benefits in terms of things like health. One of the dangers of our reaction to the racism of the past is to be hostile to any research that wants to differentiate between groups with different origins.
    You seem fairly hostile to the woman seeking “black blood” for research. My reaction would be to find out more the proposed research before developing an opinion. (Did she appear to recognize that “black blood from our Aboriginal friends might be quite different to that from our Nuer friends? – Be surprised if it was not different given that Aborigines and the Nuer would have had their last shared ancestor much further back than Nuer and European.

  2. You seem fairly hostile to the woman seeking “black blood” for research.

    John, I’m not hostile as such, and I only heard a bit on the fly. Rose George had written a whole book on blood – Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of Blood. She’s a journalist and author whose qualifications were in modern languages and international politics. I gather the book is more about customary attitudes to blood.

    I think the call was from medicos wanting blood banks to give them “black blood” for black patients. However, I’m doubtful that scientifically any such category exists which can be associated with people who are actually black.

    The point made by Angela Saini, who is a science writer, is that when you try to establish such categories scientifically, the science is either shonky, or fails.

    It’s perfectly obvious that looks, colour and body type are inherited, but Saini is saying, I think, that groups are always well-mixed (traditional people marry out to preserve strong genes and infidelity was always a thing) so that there is more variance within any group than there is across groups.

    I suspect two things can be said. The first is that the genetic basis which makes people look the way they do is relatively trivial, and infers little about their how their brains, bodies, creativity, emotions, feelings etc. work.

    Secondly, categories like black, white and yellow are very broad, and have a lot of variety within them.

    Both Saini and George are both angry and hostile about certain attitudes and customs. Not me.

  3. After being brought up on legends of the great Polynesian navigators of the Pacific and the arrival of Maori in Aotearoa around 1350; then Thor Heyerdhal’s demonstration that balsa rafts could make it partly across the Pacific from South America…..

    imagine our astonishment in Te Papa Museum, Wellington, to see a small sign saying that DNA testing proves the Maori originated in two valleys on the island now called Taiwan (formerly Formosa)!!

  4. In the long term Mumble is right. At election time Labor won’t want attention directed to its immigration policy. In the short term it is good strategy to have atop performer like Keneally applying the blowtorch to Dutton and Morrison re the way Home Affairs is being used for political purposes and to wind back important freedoms.

  5. Ambi, John, the Pacific islands is a good example, I think, where body types adapted to the local circumstances. The men seem to have great upper body strengths, which is appropriate to rowing. In terms of running they are built for speed over short distances, quite different from the highland dwellers of Kenya and Ethiopia.

  6. Brian: The Polynesians never got a foothold in Aus. Their solid bodies were not suitable for dodging spears thrown with a woomera and they didn’t use shields. (Then again, the Australia they reached may simply have been unattractive to agriculturists.)
    Humans are adaptable. For example, if we train for a sport, the type of muscles needed by the sport develop. Some changes don’t have to wait for natural selection.

  7. Brian and John

    Do I detect a particular interest in the skills and physiques of Polynesian Rugby players?

    Fair enough.

    John, certainly New Zealand provided fertile soil and dependable rainfall (in the North Island at least ) for stockade settlements supported by agriculture. Also, good coastal and river fishing. Shellfish to eat, e.g. toheroa, pauwa. Hunting the huge moas until their numbers dwindled.

    In the late 1950s NZ schoolkids were taught that the warlike Maori had artived in canoes and seized the lands occupied by the Moriori people.

    Scoreline: Maori 1, Moriori 0
    (Play abandoned due to extirpation of Moriori.)

    It seems the Moriori actually inhabited only the Chatham Islands. There were certainly battles, but the Moriori apparently had not inhabited the whole of the North Island at all.

    Conclusion: treat all tales of history with scepticism, including dramatic massacre stories.

    PS: the woomera, now there’s an impressive piece of applied physics!!

  8. …. some artived in canoes, but most Maori did the conventional seafaring thing and simply
    arrived .

  9. Ambi: My understanding was that the Maoris only invaded the Chatham Is after the poms told them where they were. The result was reported to be not very nice.

    They killed several hundred Moriori. Many were eaten and the rest were enslaved. Protest was met with a tomohawk blow to the back of the head. In one ‘oven’ alone, over 50 Moriori were roasted. On one section of Waitangi beach, the bodies were laid together, touching, for over a quarter of a kilometre. The fact that Moriori did not respond with force may have further enraged the Maori conquerors, as they respected those enemies that were brave and noble warriors. Not those that either ran and hid, or sat waiting for the end.

    At one stage during this conquest, shocked by the events unfolding around them, Moriori called a council of 1,000 men at Te Awapātiki to discuss what to do. The younger men were keen to repel the invaders and argued that even though they had not fought for many centuries, they outnumbered the newcomers two to one and were a strong people. But the elders argued that Nunuku’s Law was a sacred covenant with their gods and could not be broken. Unfortunately for them, the Maori found out about this meeting and quickly sought to stamp out any opportunities for rebellion. They intensified their attacks and the consequences for Moriori were devastating.

  10. Looking at the UKs EV policy, just one is cobalt supply.
    And that’s just one little Country going totally EV.

    A more concerning issue for me is the escalating Ebola epidemic in the DR Congo that, given the civil war, will get worse.
    The more cases of this strain of Ebola, the more chance for it to mutate into a worse, drug resistant strain.
    That would be very, very bad for humanity real quick!

    They also supply over half the cobalt in the World.

  11. Jumpy: Solar panels, batteries and other components currently required for renewable energy require a whole range of materials that are currently in short supply. This short supply may reflect world geology or China playing games because it is the major world source of some rare earths.
    Some developments may use different tech that needs less or none these exotic materials. Problem is that key suppliers may manipulate prices to block new developments.

  12. True John.
    To my mind if global warming is a threat that needs a war footing then scientific resources requires at least 90% directed to fossil fuel replacements and the resources needed.

    The private sector looks to be trying harder than the public.

  13. Jumpy:

    The private sector looks to be trying harder than the public.

    In research, appearances can be deceiving. Private organizations tend to concentrate on problem solving and product developments that are expected to yield results in the short term. Public organizations like CSIRO and universities spend more time on long term basic research (understanding what is going on and why.) As a result, private researchers may be seen to be more productive because of what the papers say about research. In both cases it is desirable that the researchers and their financiers have a research strategy that identifies what is needed.
    When I was doing site research I used to say I had a bucket of solutions and a bucket of problems. When I got a new solution/problem I used to scrabble about in the other bucket to see if I had a match.

  14. Just a note to say that Things are going to get worse for me in blogging time before they get better. On Friday we are going out to Miles, where my sister has just moved from hospital to respite care in the nursing home to see whether she can regain the mobility to get back to her independent living apartment.

    Unfortunately it has been a case of hospitals make you sick, especially when staff are stretched so far that they can’t keep up with services compatible with basic expectations.

    It’s not their fault, more a case of mendacious funding.

    Anyway, we’ll be back on Monday, just in time for an ALP meeting to review the election effort in Ryan, one of three seats in Qld that swung a little towards Labor in TPP terms.

    So I’m really not sure what I’ll get done in posting, as I’m actually quite busy with work and stuff.

  15. Anybody with access to Netflix can can watch the latest episode of Patriot Act (titled ‘Internet Inequality’) for a fine example of some of the shortcomings in “free market” Capitalism.
    And before Jumpy makes his usual excuse, it’s not government interference that has denied decent (or any) internet to up to a third of our Yankee cousins, but two companies being arseholes. (Something Mr J never addresses in his sermons to us.)

  16. Mr A ( from the Bob Hawke thread )

    Mr J: do you support “consumer law” and “company law” that is designed to reduce horrible behaviour? Or is The Market Going To Sort That Out…. ?

    You’ll need to be more specific about which laws and what constitutes “ horrible behaviour “.

    In general I think there are too many of those laws to police properly.

    And they’re not being applied equally either, think weekend market stalls compared to supermarkets, huge difference.

  17. More from Netflix, this time showing Capitalism working well. ‘Silicon Cowboys’ is well worth a look (it’s about the rise of Compaq computers).

  18. Thanks for the UK PM contest link Mr J.
    Good stuff.

    Reminded me of a radio reporter doing a vox pop in London recently:

    Reporter to citizen, “What about Boris J?”
    Citizen, ” Well, we’ve tried sensible. Why not try daft, next.”

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