This is democracy

500 BCE, Athens
This is democracy.

Each year, 500 names are randomly drawn afresh from the pool of eligible voters. These 500 citizens will serve the next year as the legislators for the city. All citizens of Athens are required to vote on any new law that this body creates. Votes are won by a simple majority: one voter, one vote.

There are some people whose opinion does not count; who do not get to vote. In ancient Athens, these include women, children, and slaves. Modern estimates indicate that of up to 300,000 people living in the region at the time, about 20% have voting rights.

Political literacy is high. The opinions of the people are heavily influenced by the media of the day – political satire performed in the theatres.

There are no politicians.

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The government that doesn’t want to govern

Originally published on The Australian Independent Media Network on 26 August 2013.

On 1 October, the Affordable Health Care Act comes into force in the United States. It has split the US down the middle – by some polls, over half of the population hates the Act. Detractors call it “Obamacare”, as if to identify it with a single person is to devalue the raft of policy and the nation-changing effects it will have. Republicans, quite simply, hate it outright.

I recently requested clarification from a right-wing, evangelical Christian blog as to why, if the Act is of so much benefit to the poor and downtrodden of America, the right oppose it. Continue reading

Worse than disrespect

On the face of it, Joe Hockey’s statement that talking about things like “costings” in this election campaign will bore everyone to death seems like run-of-the-mill disrespect for the electorate. After all, we’re in week two of an official election campaign, and spin and mistruths are par for the course regardless of your poison of choice. (Actually, this is not quite true: I cannot find any examples of egregious mistruth or deliberate spin in any statements by the Australian Greens. This may simply reflect that they have such a low proportion of the media coverage.) Continue reading

NBN: Redefining Possible

There’s been a lot of noise in certain corners of the media about Rupert Morlock Murdoch and his opposition to the NBN in Australia, which translates to his pulling out all the stops to bury the Australian Labor Party’s chances of electoral victory. It is unknown whether he will be successful in this effort. It’s certainly possible; by the American model of politics, it is possible to buy elections, and he wouldn’t be using such prime broadsheet real estate if it wasn’t at least somewhat effective. It’s also unclear whether the sudden ramping up of hysterical anti-Labor rhetoric is specifically due, as Fairfax posits, to a fear of the NBN’s commercial impact upon Murdoch’s cash-cow, Foxtel, or simply because News Ltd papers have been steadfastly against Labor since day one and the announcement of an election was a bait they couldn’t resist. But let’s, for the moment, accept the former proposition: this is all about the NBN and Foxtel. What a great excuse to examine the potential benefits of the NBN under Labor’s FTTP model. Continue reading

Worst-case scenario

Climate science today is suffering from an acute crisis of confidence. You could point to the “ClimateGate” conspiracy-that-wasn’t, or the occasional mis-statements, over-estimates and outright exaggerations in the writings and statements of prominent climate change activists, from Tim Flannery to the IPCC itself. But put aside the ad hominem attacks, ignore the wilfully misconstrued attacks on the impartiality of science, and at the root of the problem is the nature of the science itself. Climate science, like so much else in our modern world, relies upon models in order to predict outcomes on the basis of changed starting conditions.

In this, climate science is not dissimilar to virtually any other discipline of science. There are very few sciences that rest solely upon observation of the natural world. Our understanding of everything from meteorology to the physics of light and electromagnetism, from chemistry to biochemistry, to genetics and growth… virtually every scientific endeavour operates within modelled frameworks that allow us to understand, make sense of and frame the raw data. But in the case of climate science, the politics and entrenched interests with an intent to discredit the science have latched upon the “falsifiability” component of modern scientific practice as a means to challenge the outcomes. Climate science appears to be uniquely privileged in this way: we don’t hear armchair critics arguing that the law of gravity might be wrong because it’s built on models.

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A strategic approach to science

A strategic approach to science

Recently I blogged on the hostility of the Australian mainstream to expertise and research, and lamented the loss of pure (i.e. not firmly directed at an expected commercial outcome) research. Professor Ian Chubb AC, Australia’s Chief Scientist (what a cool title is that?!?) has just released a position paper arguing that Australia is falling behind the rest of the world and we need a coordinated strategy to secure our future in the knowledge era.

If we don’t believe in the value of knowledge, we run the risk of really becoming the “white trash of Asia”.

Read the position paper at the link at the top.