Saturday, April 08, 2006

Shortest Ever Francis Fukuyama

I'm so pissed off with the Bush Administration for trying to kick-start history again that I'm deserting the neo-cons.

(cross posted at Larvatus Prodeo).

Friday, April 07, 2006

Junk. Period.

There's nothing like a bad analogy to put you in a foul mood for the day. Over at Catallaxy, Rafe Champion asks:

What if there was a minium price law for cars? Say $8,000?

What would happen to all the servicable but not very new or flashy cars that nobody is prepared to pay $8000 to own?

I suppose they would have to be junked, or just left sitting in the street or the back yard.

Rafe then continues with an argument from analogy that manages to be grossly imept and middling offensive - in a patronisingly patrician way. No mean feat that:

That is happening to people who are slow, with minor physical and mental or intellectual handicaps, and people who are untrained and lacking experience, or all of the above. And some of the most caring people around are all in favour of the minimum wage legislation that croduces [sic] that outcome.

So here's another argument against labour market regulation that provides for minimum wage laws - there are perfectly serviceable, workworthy "junk" people out there who have been priced out of the labour market, in the same way that perfectly serviceable barely roadworthy old bangers would be priced out of the used car market if cars had a legislated minimum sale price. Let's leave aside all the "people ain't cars, Rafe - there are some fairly obvious differences" snark and move onto Rafe's suggested solution:

What if some clever people spent an hour or two working out how to adjust the wage laws, taxation and welfare system to permit:

(a) employers to put on a person at a price that they can afford to pay for less productive workers, bearing in mind the oncosts of employment.

(b) the workers to have enough extra cash in hand (after tax and adjustment of benefits) to make it worth their while to work.

What if, indeed. The answer is that it's been tried in the past - I know, because back in the early eighties I started a ten year term in the Department of No Fixed Portfolio, as an "Employment Officer" in the CES. What we used to have before the current government decided, for purely ideological reasons, that the service was going to be contracted out to private providers. A lot of the work was about trying to get various classes of junk people - the long-term unemployed, those handicapped people, and youf - into employment with the help of a government subsidy towards their wages. Oh and this was under a Liberal government, when Neil Brown (QC MP) was the Minister for whatever Department we happened to be at the time.

It worked too - sort of. Every time you rang up an employer looking to get a job for some junker kid who'd spent the past four months rusting in the street or the back yard you'd mention that the Government would kick in for first four months' wages, to cover training costs. And if the kid got the job, and managed to hold onto it for long enough, you got a subsidised placement under SYTEP (Special Youth Training and Employment Program) to count towards your monthly target - your share of the section target which in turn was part of the office target, set by the Office Manager at the start of the financial year when he got his annual targets from the Zone Manager whose targets were set by the State Director who answered, of course, to the National Director who answered to Neil Brown (QC MP). Which was great.

As for the kids, well they'd most likely be back in the office in about four months, looking to sign onto the dole again so they could spend another four months rusting on the street or in the back yard and get put through the mill again. A very common occurrence if the job had been listed as a junkers only job.

Of course, now that the CES no longer exists and the whole thing's been privatised, that sort of bureaucratic maladministration doesn't go on. It's been largely replaced by private sector maladministration which, depending on how much of a hard-line privatisationist you are, either doesn't exist or is nowhere near as bad as the kind you get in the public sector. Personally, I doubt that the unholy alliance of Job Network and Centrelink is capable of delivering one of Rafe's key requirements:

Some of the people who I envisage in this scheme would need to have a mentor to assist in negotiating the pay and conditions and I don’t mean a standover man from a union theatening a strike, but a person who is looking for a win/win outcome .

Actually Rafe, it needs to be win/win/win: win for the employer, win for the mentor and win for the employee. I reckon a union organiser for whom each new worker is also a new member for the union - and therefore a win for her - would make a better mentor than an employment agency hack for whom the newly employed worker is just another government fee to collect.

Postscript: after reading over this piece Zeppo Bakunin reminded me that subsidised employment is still going on through Job Network and Centrelink. And the practice of listing jobs as junkers only still exists, with all the risk of corruption that this entails.

(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo)

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Jobbernowl is a real word - I found it in an old OED we have kicking around the place. And a jobbernowl is definitely a creature to beware of. However amusing it might appear.

Thanks to Kim at Larvatus Prodeo for the link to this specimen of the species. Which led me on to this fine example of what happens when you tangle with a jobbernowl who's got things completely gurmbled.

What a Difference a Day Makes

You've got to strike two balances when you're siting a wind farm; one is you've got to find the area where you've got the best and most reliable wind, and you also want to make it where it's got the lowest impact on the nearby residents... My plea to the states is let's look at a national code. It doesn't have to be Canberra telling you how to do it; it's really just some principles that guide the process and really try to make wind the friendly solution for the future, not one that divides communities, one that sees them unite behind the need for a cleaner, greener future.

I think everyone's trying to find the right balance and I think a national code could be of assistance because if the States want to go it alone well that's their right. I have deeply strong respect for States' rights, I have planning controls, and I have a lot of other controls, I just think sometimes for the benefit of the wind industry and a clean renewable future, having a sensible set of principles right across Australia can sometimes be a good thing.
[Senator Ian Campbell on ABC Albany, Tuesday, April 4]

I've announced this morning that I have decided not to approve the Bald Hills wind farm in Victoria. I have done so on the basis that the report commissioned by my department has said that the Orange-bellied Parrot, which is threatened and is in a very precarious situation as a species, can't really stand any further potential impacts. The wind farm proposed could have such an impact and hasten the extinction of that species. So based on that and for all the reasons I will cause to be published, this wind farm proposal will not proceed.
[Ian Campbell on Wednesday, April 5]

The announcement is also covered in a press release, where the Minister, perhaps with the assistance of a ghost writer says:

“While the report found that the impact of wind turbine collisions on the Orange-bellied Parrot may be small, up to one bird death per year, it concluded that almost any negative impact on the species could be sufficient to tip the balance against its continued existence.”

The report concluded:

“Given that the Orange-bellied Parrot is predicted to have an extremely high probability of extinction in its current situation, almost any negative impact on the species could be sufficient to tip the balance against its continued existence. In this context it may be argued that any avoidable deleterious effect - even the very minor predicted impacts of turbine collisions - should be prevented.” Wind farm collision risk for birds – Cumulative risks for threatened and migratory species, p47 (Orange-bellied Parrot report)

The full report is available here (various PDF files) - its contents are described in the introduction:

In 2005, Biosis Research Pty Ltd was contracted by the Australian Government to develop a means of modelling the predicted cumulative risks posed to birds from collisions with turbines at multiple wind farms. Cumulative risk modelling was then undertaken for four endangered species of birds: the Orange-bellied Parrot, the Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle, the Swift Parrot and the Australian population of the White-bellied Sea-eagle. The risk of collision for a number of other birds and a bat species was also modelled, focusing on wind farm developments in Gippsland, Victoria.

Now let's take a look at what the Minister has said about Bald Hills and compare it with what the report has to say:

The wind farm proposed could have such an impact and hasten the extinction of that species. [Andrews]

We have used a precautionary approach to input assumptions to modelling. For instance, Orange-bellied Parrots have not been recorded at twenty of the 23 wind farm sites under consideration despite active searching for them at most of the sites. One or two sightings of individuals have been made at the other three sites. Thus there is no informative empirical data about actual numbers or variation in numbers of birds that might reside at any site. However we have modelled on the basis that numbers of birds do spend time at the great majority of sites. The modelling here thus exceeds all actual experience. ... We have intentionally adopted this approach in an attempt to err, if at all, on the basis of over- rather than underestimation of potential risks to the species. [Orange-bellied Parrot report, p14-15]

Predictions of the current modelling suggest that between 1.35 and 0.84 additional parrot mortalities might result annually from the cumulative effects of wind turbine collisions across the species range if all potential wind farms were to be built. We consider that a collision avoidance rate for the species will be 99% or higher. Thus the additional mortality predicted for the cumulative effects of turbine collisions for wind farms within the range of the Orange-bellied Parrot is likely to result in the additional death of less than one bird per annum. [Orange-bellied Parrot report p34]

In other words, even assuming the worst possible situation, the consultants expect less than one parrot to die from banging its head into a windfarm turbine per year, once all potential windfarms are built. In the case of Bald Hill, there are no recorded sightings of the Orange-bellied Parrot at the site, and it is included as a possible migration passage only.

“Given that the Orange-bellied Parrot is predicted to have an extremely high probability of extinction in its current situation, almost any negative impact on the species could be sufficient to tip the balance against its continued existence. In this context it may be argued that any avoidable deleterious effect - even the very minor predicted impacts of turbine collisions - should be prevented.”
[Andrews, quoting page 48 of the report]

Our analyses suggest that such action will have extremely limited beneficial value to conservation of the parrot without addressing very much greater adverse effects that are currently operating against it. [The very next sentence - and the end of the report]

Of vital concern for the Orange-bellied Parrot, is the fact that PVA modelling utilising the most up-to-date and comprehensive population information indicates that the species has a very high probability of going extinct within about 50 years in the absence of any mortality due to wind turbine collisions. Despite the best efforts of the Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery effort, there are clearly substantive factors that are presently largely preventing growth of the population and placing it at very significant risk of extinction. [Further up page 48 - original emphasis]

Perhaps Campbell - officially Minister for the Environment and Heritage, in this case acting more as Minister for Appeasing Nimbies in Marginal Electorates - would have got the point if the consultants had come right out and said "In this context a complete idiot might argue that any avoidable deleterious effect - even the very minor predicted impacts of turbine collisions - should be prevented."

More at The Age.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

WorkChoices, Australia 1892

All the Ophir's firemen who were engaged in the dispute at Melbourne returned to work except three, who persistently refused to obey the orders of the second engineer, and thereby caused inconvenience. Captain Ruthven handed them over to the police on reaching Largs Bay and they were removed to Port Adelaide Police Station.

At the Port Adelaide Police Court, on Monday, Alfred Stevens, George Janier, and David Morgan, firemen of the Ophir, were charged with disobeying lawful commands. The defendents pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment and ordered to pay a proportion of the costs.
(The Argus, 12 January, 1892)

Marvellous Melbourne

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Consultation fee (by letter) £1.

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He Took an Imitation

Joseph Brandon, 58 years of age, a ntive of London, and who for many years hs carried on business in Bendigo as a fancy goods seller, committed suicide this afternoon by hanging himself in a stable at the rear of his residence in McLaren street. He had been suffering from softening of the brain for a long time, and leaves a wife and three children.
(The Argus, 12 January 1892)