Friday, May 16, 2003

Budget Impressions

I missed Simon Crean's reply to the budget on telly last night: Thursday is always trivia quiz night. Today I'm sorry that I did: according to AM on everyone to the left of Ken Parish's ABC, Crean gave a fine impassioned performance, undeterred by interjections from the Government benches. Peter Costello, perhaps miffed by the way he had been blindsided by Crean's use of his reply time to Labor's alternative policy on Medicare, was less impressed:

Labor hasn't learned a thing. Labor supports budget deficits and higher taxes. Now, this was an absolutely irresponsible budget speech, because this wasn't, in truth, a reply to the Budget. This was a speech to Labor Party faithful, and when Simon Crean speaks to the Labor Party faithful he tells them what the Labor Party stands for – budget deficits and higher taxes.

The Minister for Budget Surpluses at All Cost's response neatly encapsulates a couple of the basic truths of Australian politics, each an example of The Truth that is Established by Frequent Repetition: the ALP never learns and Labor stands for budget deficits and high taxes. Federal Health Minister, Senator Kay Patterson also resorted to the enunciation of repetition verified truths in her interview with Matt Brown:

MATT BROWN: Well he's [Crean] given us a fair amount of detail about how he's going to fund it, and there is some money there in the surplus, presumably. Let's just look at the effect of the package that he's outlined, and the reaction to it.

Ken Mackey, from the Rural Doctors' Association, you've just heard say that under the Labor plan more country practices would be encouraged to boost bulk-billing. In other words, more country people would get a better chance of going to a doctor and not having to open their wallets.

KAY PATTERSON: But it doesn't guarantee bulk-billing. It also gives rural people and people in outer-metropolitan areas, they're treated as second-class citizens.


MATT BROWN: Let's look at the lower target for country doctors, before they can quality for their tens of thousands of dollars in incentive payments. Isn't setting a lower target for that just making it easier for them to qualify, just making it more realistic for them to try and meet that bulk-billing target?

KAY PATTERSON: No, what it's saying is that you don't have to reach the same target in a rural area as you do in a city area, so it will be still harder for country people to find a bulk-billing doctor at the same rate.

Now that treats them ...

MATT BROWN: But what's the average rate of bulk-billing in country areas?

KAY PATTERSON: ... as second class citizens.
[My emphasis]

Having scored two memorable soundbites, Paterson uses the rest of the interview to demonstrate her excellent ducking and weaving skills:

MATT BROWN: What's the average rate of bulk billing in country areas?

KAY PATTERSON: There are people in country areas, on low incomes, who don't ever have a bulk-billing doctor. Our package increases the likelihood that people on low incomes will be able to see a bulk-billing doctor.

Also, under the Crean package, if you have a doctor who charges a gap, you get a lower rebate, you have to pay the upfront fee, you have to either wait for the Medicare check or go into a Medicare office.

The other thing that he's done is he's said no to our new safety net, both for people on concession cards and for people who are not on concession cards. What he said is, if you're very sick, then we don't care about you, we don't care about the fact that you have unexpected bills that you may not be able to meet, we're going to scrap that safety net.

So there are a lot of losers in the Crean package.

Translation: I don't know what the average rate of bulk-billing in country areas is, but Simon Crean's proposal sucks.

MATT BROWN: You've spoken about people who can't easily find a bulk-billing doctor being disadvantaged by the different rebates that will be paid to doctors who do bulk-bill. But under the Labor plan wouldn't there be a pressure on that doctor who doesn't bulk-bill to keep their fees down because they know their patients might have a better chance of going somewhere else to see another doctor who is being encouraged to bulk-bill?

KAY PATTERSON: There is nothing in Mr Crean's package that will guarantee, and he said, and he's been saying for months, "I will guarantee the 80 per cent bulk-billing".

He cannot guarantee 80 per cent bulk-billing, and now what he's done is backtracked and said I have a target of 70 per cent for people in rural areas, a target of 75 per cent for people in outer metropolitan areas, and a target of 80 per cent.

Translation: I can't answer that point, but Simon Crean's proposal sucks.

MATT BROWN: What target have you set?

KAY PATTERSON: He will not achieve that. My goal is to ensure that people on very low incomes, people on health care cards and concession cards, have a greater chance of being treated the same, irrespective of where they live.

Crean's package does nothing to do that, in fact it makes rural people and outer metropolitan people second class citizens, and if the people can't find a bulk-billing doctor they get a lower rebate. That is the first time in the history of Medicare that we've seen a different rebate for people depending on whether a doctor bulk-bills or not.
[my emphasis]

Translation: We haven't set a target, because we might not achieve it, but Simon Crean's proposal sucks. And incidentally don't forget that he's treating country people as second class citizens.

MATT BROWN: And just briefly, new figures are out today on bulk-billing rates. If they show a fall, what will that mean to you?

KAY PATTERSON: I've said that the bulk-billing rates, the overall bulk-billing rates, don't show the inequities, where you get very high bulk-billing in city areas, very low bulk-billing in country areas, and the people who suffer the most from that are people on low incomes, people on health care card and concession cardholders.

Translation: Don't bother me with questions about facts, you impertinent bastard. Simon Crean's proposal sucks.

MATT BROWN: Why not put up a target though? Why not put up a target, the way Simon Crean has, for what you want to see bulk-billing return to?

KAY PATTERSON: Because Mr Crean cannot guarantee that target. He said, "I will guarantee bulk-billing for 80 per cent". Now he's backtracked. He hasn't funded it. He needs to come out today and say whether he's going to keep the private health insurance rebate or not, because I suspect that's how he's going to fund it, and the nine million ...

Translation: We won't set a target, because we might not achieve it, but Simon Crean's proposal sucks.

MATT BROWN: He said he won't scrap it, if you're asking for no tampering with it.

KAY PATTERSON: He has shilly-shallied around about the private health insurance rebate. He needs to come out today. I challenge Mr Crean to come out today and say to the nine million Australians who have private health insurance, we will not touch the 30 per cent rebate. If he does, it will mean and $800 hike in tax for Australian families.

Translation: Simon Crean's proposal sucks and I refuse to believe him when he says that he isn't going to scrap the health insurance rebate.

MATT BROWN: Kay Patterson, thanks for joining us on AM this morning.

KAY PATTERSON: Thanks very much, Matt.

Translation: Thank Christ that's over.

The overall impression I got from both interviews was that Crean's speech has put the Government on the back foot. I might have more to say on the budget, once I've read Costello's Speech and Crean's response (Hansard in PDF. Crean's speech starts on page 88 of the file).
Stewart Kelly reports that a vanity search for Stewsblog on Yahoo turned up this. I did a self-Google yesterday and found that some charitable soul in Japan is mirroring my site. Dont' forget to check out the link in the top left hand corner of the page - if you're lucky, it might take you somewhere interesting.
Chinese Government experiments with traditional cure for SARS

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Another Waste of Public Library Shelf Space

I turned up a copy of Keith Windschuttle's The Killing of History (How a discipline is being murdered by literary critics and social theorists) at my local library on Sunday. What I really wanted of course was a copy of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History but that doesn't appear to have arrived on the shelves yet. So I settled for The Killing of History (etc): I though reading it might help me catch up a little on the current state of received opinion.

It's an irritating read, especially Chapter 7 "History as a Social Science", where Windschuttle presents an extended rebuttal of Kuhn, Popper et al drawing heavily on the work of David Stove, who is to Windschuttle as SL MacGregor Mathers is to Aleister Crowley. I have to admit here that it pisses me off when historians and philosophers pontificate about science in a way that makes it perfectly obvious that they know jack shit about that whereof they speak. Reading this chapter is as agonising as watching some klutz with a hair-triggered Uzi point it playfully at his own feet.

Chapter 7 begins:

History is a discipline that straddles both the humanities and the social sciences. History's credentials as a science derive from three of its objectives: first, it aims to record the truth about what happened in the past; second, it aims to build a body of knowledge about the past; third, it aims to study the past through a disciplined methodology, using techniques and sources that are accessible to others in the field.

This bold claim is what leads Windschuttle, the apostle of history as science to his disastrous excursion into the history and philosophy of science. After David Stove, Windschuttle takes Kuhn, Popper et al to task for using causal [sic] expressions (such as 'is defeated', 'is removed') as if they were logical expressions, such as 'is refuted' (p 201). This is shortly followed by a spectacular howler (the first of several):

... By applying Stove's distinctions to the most common example used by the radical sceptics, we can put these myths in their place. Even though the Copernicus [1473 - 1543] -Galileo-Kepler theory that the Earth and the planets orbit the Sun has now been replaced (a sociological concept [sic]) by far more sophisticated and adventurous Einsteinian theories of cosmology, the central findings of the seventeenth century [sic] thesis have not been refuted (a logical concept) by the newer theories. The planets still orbit the Sun, just as the scientists of the Renaissance discovered 350 years ago ... [my emphasis]

Here Windschuttle has tripped over his own petard. Earlier in the chapter he has denounced Kuhn, Popper et al for:

... their attempt to resolve questions of logical value by appealing to matters of historical fact.

There's also an obvious logical howler here: if modern cosmology fails to refute Copernicus, then equally, Copernican cosmology failed to refute Ptolemaic cosmology, or Tycho Brahe's alternative geocentric cosmology.

Reading further in Windschuttle's defence (after Stove) of Knowledge accumulation, we find this bold statement:

Even if we concede to Feyerabend that Einstein's theory does not share a single statement with its predecessor, this is not an argument against the accumulation of knowledge. Einstein, as a matter of historical fact, wrote his theory of relativity in response to Newton's mechanics.

I'm not sure where Windschuttle got this historical fact from, but it's a gross oversimplification: for one thing it ignores the importance of James Clark Maxwell's electrodynamics to Einstein's theory: it was from Maxwell, not Newton, that Einstein got the idea that the speed of light was constant in all frames of reference.

One last example (because I'm getting as bored by this as you probably are by now): at the bottom of page 202, we get this:

Another furphy in this debate is the claim that all observation statements are already preladen with theory. Now, if all observations were laden with theory, we could ask of any observation which particular theory it is laden with. Once we do this, it becomes apparent that the claim cannot be sustained. Consider the case of Galileo's observation through a telescope of the planet Jupiter and its moons in 1609. ... would anyone imagine that if a supporter of the old Ptolemaic theory of astronomy had looked through a telescope at the same time he would have seen anything different? Would we expect the Ptolemaic theorist to see the moons not in orbit but roaming the skies above Jupiter as his own theory might have expected ... ?

Once again Windschuttle is resorting to historical example as a substitute for logical argument. Worse, as a soi-pissant historian, he is ignoring the social, intellectual and above all technological context in which Galileo made his observations. Windschuttle also conflates what Galileo saw with what he inferred from what he saw. It's not as if Galileo pointed his telescope at Jupiter and saw the moons whizzing around the planet at amazing speed. A Ptolemaist would have seen precisely what Galileo saw through his telescope: most likely a vague greenish dot (Jupiter) with some smaller dots (the moons) around it. What he might infer from that observation is anyone's guess: possibly that Jupiter was falling apart and that the end of the world was nigh. As most of Galileo's contemporaries preferred Tycho Brahe's cosmology, the point is moot anyway.

In his introduction (p 4), Windschuttle tells us how he intends to defend history from the murderous hordes of literary critics and social theorists:

Apart from the first, introductory chapter of this book, each of the others can be regarded as a road test of one or more of the latest season's theoretical models to see, first, how it handles the rougher terrain of actual historical subject matter, and second, how it stands up to competition over the same ground from those empirical jalopies that the new crew want to consign to the junk yard.

I think Keith drove his own anti-theoretical Land Cruiser into a tree and wrote it off.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Letters From Mum

Thanks to this AM report on the procedures involved in the Governor-General stepping aside, I learnt a new phrase the other day: Letters Patent. Apparently, Peter Hollingworth can't stand aside as Governor-General until John Howard gets her Maj to change the Letters Patent. It reminds me of the letter from mum I forged when I was in 5th Form, to give myself permission to skip Religious Instruction. From memory, that one went something like this:

Dear Petit-Bourgeois Lackey of the Capitalist Expropriators,

I demand that you immediately desist from poisoning my son's mind with reactionary religious dogma. His father and I both agree that he gets no educational benefit from weekly doses of the opium of the masses.


Gummo's Mum

According to AM, the process works something like this. First, the PM has to write to the queen:

Dear Mrs Battenburg-Saxe-Coburg-Gotha,

Please change the Letters Patent to allow Peter to take the day off from being Governor-General as he is in bad odour with the Australian media and the Australian people.


John Winston Howard

Then the Queen writes back:

ELIZABETH THE SECOND, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth,


WHEREAS, by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, certain powers, functions and authorities are vested in a Governor-General appointed by the Queen to be Her Majesty's representative in the Commonwealth:

AND WHEREAS, by Letters Patent dated 29 October 1900, as amended, provision was made in relation to the office of Governor-General:

AND WHEREAS, by section 4 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth, the provisions of the Constitution relating to the Governor-General extend and apply to the Governor-General for the time being, or such person as the Queen may appoint to administer the Government of the Commonwealth:

AND WHEREAS We are desirous of making new provisions relating to the office of Governor-General and for persons appointed to administer the Government of the Commonwealth:

NOW THEREFORE, by these Letters Patent under Our Sign Manual and the Great Seal of Australia-

The Governor General can take a few weeks off while this unholy mess is sorted out.

GIVEN at Our Court

at Balmoral
on 21 August 1984

By Her Majesty's Command,


Prime Minister

PS: Don't forget to publish this in the Commonwealth Gazette.

PPS: Try not to let this happen again.

This is going to take a few days, so in the meantime, Peter Hollingworth will just have to bunk off and hide behind the shelter sheds. Which is what I did, after my brilliant forgery had been exposed.