Economics professor Ross Garnaut says Australia voluntarily keeps hundreds of thousands unemployed

Greenie economist Garnaut appears also to be a fan of Modern Monetary Theory.  He says government should maximize employment and to heck with everything else.  In particular we should stop worrying about inflation.  

It is true that for the last 8 years the USA has allowed levels of monetary growth that would once have been regarded as inviting roaring inflation.  It is still a puzzle as to why U.S. inflation has in fact remained quite modest.  Modern Monetary theory simply says "That's the way it is and so what?"

So Garnaut is saying that Australian governments too could spend up big and not worry.  It's a logical position if you accept MMT as a rule rather than as a one-off happening.

It's clear that there IS a limit to government spending.  The roaring inflation in Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Argentina show that.  And in such economies the people's savings are destroyed, which is deplorable for several reasons.

So would big Australian government spending end up with us like the USA or like Argentina?  That is the issue and the answer appears to be that you can go so far and no farther.  How far  is too far in the Australian case remains to be seen.  But, as a short-term policy, Garnaut's recommendations could be beneficial

With weeks to go before the JobSeeker rate is cut, one of Australia's most respected economists has suggested there are potentially hundreds of thousands of Australians on unemployment benefits who shouldn't be there.

Professor Ross Garnaut, a Professorial Research Fellow in Economics at the University of Melbourne, has condemned Australia's economic policymakers for the situation.

But his criticism refers to how they've been running the economy for years, not just for the last 12 months.

He's referring to the federal government and the Reserve Bank.

He says their decision to "allow" hundreds of thousands of Australians to languish in unemployment in recent years, to suppress wages and inflation, as part of the country's broader economic policy settings, has immiserated people and cost the economy hundreds of billions dollars in lost economic activity.

In his new book, Reset: Restoring Australia after the pandemic recession, Professor Garnaut says our policymakers should drop that policy and return Australia to having genuine full employment.

He says that would mean an unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent or lower — the lowest it's been since the early 1970s.

The unemployment rate is currently 6.4 per cent.

He says it's hard to know for sure, but that lower level of unemployment will probably be the point at which wages finally start to rise and inflationary pressures emerge. But we would have to test it. It could be much lower than that.

"Certainly, it is lower than the 'well below 6 per cent' that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said would trigger efforts to reduce the budget deficit," Professor Garnaut has written.

The problem with Australia's economic policy architecture
It's a scathing assessment.

Between 1946 and 1975, when Australia pursued an official policy of full employment, the national unemployment rate averaged below 2 per cent.

Successive federal governments (both Labor and Coalition) deliberately recorded budget deficits to achieve that full employment.

But since the 1980s, Australia's policymakers have accepted higher levels of unemployment, which they say are "natural" for prevailing conditions.

They developed a new definition of full employment: full employment would mean the level of unemployment that keeps a lid on inflation (i.e. that stops wages and prices growing too quickly).

The ugly term for that level of "full employment" is the NAIRU, or non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment.

When 'full employment' isn't

One of the Reserve Bank's targets is full employment, but back when that target was set it meant a very different thing to what does today.

Professor Garnaut says Australia's policymakers have repeatedly miscalculated the NAIRU in recent years, meaning they have often suspected the economy is getting close to full employment when it is far from that point.

For example, consider a situation in which the national unemployment rate was 5.5 per cent and falling, and the RBA suspected full employment (i.e. the NAIRU) was 5 per cent.

That means the RBA would expect inflation and wage pressures to start building soon, because the unemployment rate was apparently getting closer to "full employment," so it would prepare to start lifting interest rates.

However, what if, in this scenario, the economy was only going to be in genuine "full employment" when the unemployment rate was 3 per cent?

That means the RBA would start lifting interest rates prematurely, when the unemployment rate was 5 per cent (rather than 3 per cent), effectively killing the momentum in the labour market before everyone who wanted a job could find one.

Professor Garnaut says Australia's policymakers have to stop guessing where full employment could be.

"We can find out where it is by increasing demand for labour until wages in the labour market are rising at a rate that threatens to take inflation above the Reserve Bank range for an extended period," he says.

He says the difference between the actual level of unemployment and the lower level of genuine full employment represents people who are "unnecessarily unemployed."

"The number of unnecessarily unemployed people is actually larger than this, because more people would be encouraged to seek employment if unemployment rates were lower," he says.

He says the years since 2013 have been particularly bad.

"An average of several hundred thousand fewer people were employed [from 2013 to 2019] than would otherwise have been possible," he says.

"This is voluntary unemployment — voluntary for the Reserve Bank, because it is unemployment that the Reserve Bank chooses to allow.

"At current levels of economic activity, having several hundred thousand people unnecessarily unemployed holds annual gross domestic product [GDP] down about $50 billion below what it could be, and, all other things being equal, raises Australia's public deficits by nearly $20 billion each year."

Support for idea promoted by Modern Monetary Theory
Professor Garnaut says Australia should use as many resources as possible to get the unemployment rate down to 3.5 per cent by 2025, as a matter of national urgency.

He says the budget deficits needed to achieve full employment should be funded "directly or indirectly" by the Reserve Bank, "at least until full employment is in sight."

That puts him squarely on the side of people like former Prime Minister Paul Keating, and economists of the Modern Monetary Theory school, who say the RBA has the power to create money itself to finance the federal government's stimulus spending, so there's no reason why the federal government's deficit spending should be supported by an explosion in Commonwealth government debt.

Modern Monetary Theory explained

MMT attacks the obsession with government deficits and debt, and is gaining traction at a time when both are rising fast. Gareth Hutchens explains what MMT is, where it comes from and what its critics say.

As things currently stand, the Reserve Bank is waiting for Treasury to sell new Commonwealth government bonds (via the Office of Australian Financial Management) to private banks, pension funds, and insurance companies that comprise the so-called "secondary market", before buying those same bonds from those private entities at an agreed interest rate.

That traditional practice of "raising money" from the secondary market for government spending is what has led to the explosion of Commonwealth government debt over the last year.

Professor Garnaut says that's unnecessary.

"We're really arguing about angels dancing on a pinhead when we talk about a difference," Professor Garnaut told journalist Alan Kohler's Eureka Report this week.

"The only difference between the Government selling bonds into the market and then the Reserve Bank buying them is you give a margin to the small number of players in the bond market, to the banks that participate in that trade.

Can modern monetary theory knock out free market capitalism?
A white piggy bank sits in the centre of the image surrounded by rows and rows of pink piggy banks.
Modern monetary theory is taking on free market capitalism promising to end the "surplus fetish". But is it a brave new future or "voodoo economics"? "I'd say, let's take away their free lunch."

Phil Lowe, the RBA governor, has repeatedly dismissed suggestions that the RBA should be directly financing the Government's stimulus spending.

However, he's never said it's not possible. He's only said it's unnecessary.

"I want to make it very clear that monetary financing of fiscal policy is not an option under consideration in Australia, nor does it need to be," he said in July last year.

"The Australian Government is able to finance itself in the bond market, and it can do so on very favourable terms."

Brisbane flood victims awarded $440m settlement over Wivenhoe Dam disaster

Conservatives built a dam that should have ended Brisbane floods. But a Leftist government misused it catastrophically. To avoid building a new dam, the Bligh government used the flood compartment to store water. So when the floods came threre was nothing to contain them

On top of that the bureaucrats in charge of the dam failed to heed danger warnings -- because it was not in their manual. They killed a lot of people. An early discharge could have kept the flood within bounds. Morons all round

Almost 7000 people in a class action will be paid $440 million in a landmark settlement with the Queensland Government and SunWater, the dam’s operator.

The figure – the largest-ever in a class action in Australia – was announced to the ASX today by litigator funder Omni Bridgeway.

“This has been a hard-fought and extremely difficult case on behalf of approximately 6700 claimants, against determined defendants over many years,” Omni Bridgeway said.

Releases from the Wivenhoe Dam in January 2011 saw water levels rise up to 10 metres. Hydrologists determined the releases were the main cause of flooding in the riverine area of Brisbane.

The class action lawsuit represented some 6700 victims of the disaster.

SunWater and the Queensland Government have settled to split a 50 per cent share of the liability for the class action.

Another state owned enterprise, Seqwater, has not settled with the claimants, the statement from Omni Bridgeway said. Seqwater has been allocated the remaining 50 per cent liability for the disaster.

“Seqwater has been allocated 50% of the aggregate liability” by the NSW Supreme Court in the first instance, the statement said. The enterprise plans to appeal the finding in May 2021.

However, based on the current allocation of Seqwater’s 50 per cent liability, Omni Bridgeway estimate the claimants currently look to settle with the parties with a total value of $880 million.

The class action suit was previously estimated to reach a settlement between $130 to $170 million.

In light of the settlement, Omni Bridgeway said they now consider the previous upper level estimate to be “conservative”.

The settlement comes a decade after the 2011 Brisbane floods, which affected more than 200,000 people and caused $2.38 billion worth of damage.

Conservatives aren't more fearful than liberals, study finds

This is a  long overdue study below. At least since 1950, Leftist psychologists have been trying to show that there is something psychologically wrong with conservatives.  And a favorite claim is that conservatives are more fearful. It is fear that causes conservatives to oppose the innovations that Leftists want, you see.  That the changes that Leftists want are invariably half-baked and destructive cannot possibly be the explanation for conservative opposition, of course.

So bits of research have been trotted out showing that conservatives do have some fears.  But fears have their place so when are fears too weak or to strong?  Perhaps the degree of fear that conservatives have is just right.  There is of course no metric that would enable such a judgment to be made so Leftists just ignore the issue.  Whatever degree of fear that conservatives show is wrong, wrong, wrong -- with the wrongness being a mere opinion, not something inferable from the research results.

At any event, someone has now done a really good study which shows that there is no overall correlation between fear and ideology.  That does not of course rule out other psychological differences between Left and Right

Are conservatives more afraid of threats than liberals? Political psychologists have long found evidence that people on the right are more sensitive to scary stuff, on average, than people on the left, a basic psychological difference thought to drive some political disagreements between the two groups. 

But new research suggests that's overly simplistic. 

In a new international study, conservatives and liberals both responded to threats — but they responded more strongly to different kinds of threats. And to make matters more complex, those responses don't always map nicely onto the political divide, or stay consistent from nation to nation.

"This link between threat and conservative beliefs, or conservative ideology, is just not simple," said study leader Mark Brandt, a psychology professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. "It depends on a lot of different things. It depends on the type of threats that we study; it depends on how we measure political beliefs and what kind of political beliefs that we measure; and it depends on the precise country that we're looking at." 

Let's rewind to 2012, well before the 2016 election and the dramatic political fallout that's happened since. That year, psychologists reported that conservatives responded more strongly to scary images than liberals did on a basic biological level: They literally started sweating more. This tracked with earlier research suggesting that conservatives were more prone to disgust, on average, than liberals. Multiple studies reached similar conclusions.

It made for a neat story. People physiologically prone to fear and disgust would pay more attention to threats and thus turn to a conservative political ideology that promises safety and the status quo. But there was a lingering problem. Seventy-five percent of the research cited on the topic in one influential 2003 meta-analysis was done in the United States, and only 4% was conducted outside of Western democracies. Another problem? The definition of "threat" in most studies on the topic was usually narrow, focused on threats of violence or terrorism. Political persuasion was often defined narrowly too, without accounting for differences between social ideology and economic ideology. 

"Many of the studies cited in support of this conclusion use threat measures or manipulations that exclusively tap threats emphasized by conservative elites," said Ariel Malka, a political psychologist at Yeshiva University who was not involved in the new study, referring to politicians and media figures. 

This is a problem because the link between threats and politics can run both ways. For example, a recent POLITICO poll found that 70% of Republicans thought the 2020 election was marred by fraud, compared with only 10% of Democrats. Before the election, only 35% of Republicans thought the election would be fraudulent, and 52% of Democrats did. The post-election shift makes it pretty clear that people's fears of fraud are driven by party affiliation and messaging from party elites, not the other way around. If studies on threats focus on fears usually emphasized by conservatives, they're likely to find a connection between threat and conservatism. 

Brandt and his colleagues wanted to broaden the scope. They turned to a dataset called the World Values Survey, which asked people from 56 different countries and territories about their perceptions of six different categories of threats, including war, violence, police violence, economics, poverty and government surveillance. Economic threats were broad-based worries about the job market and availability of education; poverty threats were more personal concerns about being able to put food on the table or pay for medical care. The survey also captured people's political beliefs in nuanced ways, ranging from whether they called themselves conservative or liberal to their individual opinions on immigration, government ownership of industry and abortion. Data on 60,378 participants was collected between 2010 and 2014.

Economic fears were slightly associated with some left-wing beliefs, but not all. For example, a fear of personal poverty was linked with more acceptance of government ownership of industry, but fears about the wider economy weren't. The fear of war or terrorism was sometimes associated with right-wing beliefs, but reporting worries about violence within one's neighborhood was associated with left-wing beliefs, as was fear of police violence. 

And there were many unexpected findings. The threat of war or terrorism was linked to left-wing beliefs on government ownership, for example, and economic worries were linked to left-wing beliefs on social issues. The threat of personal poverty was associated with right-wing views on social issues and on protectionist job policies that would reserve the highest-paid jobs for men and non-immigrants. What was clear was that threats and right-wing beliefs weren't married. There were six statistically significant associations between certain threats and conservative beliefs, nine associations between other threats and liberal beliefs, and 15 potential relationships between threat and belief that didn't turn out to correlate at all. 

Making matters more complicated, the relationships between ideology and threats weren't consistent from nation to nation. For example a fear of war or terrorism was associated with left-wing beliefs in Kazakhstan just as strongly as a fear of war or terrorism was associated with right-wing beliefs in the United States. Likewise, Brandt told Live Science, experiencing the threat of poverty leads to left-wing beliefs in the U.S., but in Pakistan and Egypt, the threat of poverty is linked to right-wing belief. 

If you look only at the United States, the researchers report, it's true that right-wing beliefs and a fear of war or terrorism go hand-in-hand. But expanding to other threats shows an inconsistent mix of associations. In other words, even in the U.S., conservatism and a physical sensitivity to threats aren't clearly linked. 

It's not clear from the study which comes first, the political belief or the focus on a threat. It's possible that experiencing a particular threat moves people to adopt a certain political belief, but it's also possible, as with voter fraud in the 2020 election, that people adopt a political identity first and focus on specific threats as a result. 

The new work is likely to be influential, said Bert Bakker, a political scientist at the University of Amsterdam who studies the relationship of personality and political ideology. Bakker was not involved in the current study, but his work has shown that the difference in disgust between conservatives and liberals may also be overstated.

"I am less certain about what we know about this now than I was a couple years ago," Bakker told Live Science. 

It's still possible that people gravitate toward political beliefs for deep-seated psychological reasons, Brandt said. 

"It's definitely plausible that people experience some threat or some event and then adopt this attitude," he said. "But what 'this attitude' is and the best one to address that threat might be different depending on the particular context." 

There may also be other psychological reasons to associate with a political group, Malka noted. People have a social need to fit in, and may adopt attitudes that help them do so. Future research should focus more on how pre-existing political affiliation leads people to focus on different threats, he told Live Science.

As clean as electricity: Porsche to start making synthetic fuel next year that could slash petrol-engined cars' CO2 emissions by 85%

I get the idea.  It is to build up a fuel from basic components rather than modifying an existing fuel.  It would have to be very expensive

And I can't see how it would help.  The fuel will still be a hydrocarbon and burning a hydrocarbon gives off CO2

The whole thing is very light on detail  -- probably for good reasons

Porsche has outlined plans to begin trials in 2022 that could save its high-performance petrol cars from extinction.

The German sports car maker has been developing its own synthetic fuel - or eFuel - that it claims would cut CO2 emissions produced by internal combustion engines by as much as 85 per cent. 

The fuel would not require any modifications to a car and be compatible with both current and older vehicles - and it could make existing motors as clean as electric cars, when you take into account the carbon footprint created during production and supply.

Porsche has been working in partnership with Siemens Energy and other international companies since last year to develop and implement a pilot project in Chile designed to yield the 'world's first integrated, commercial, industrial-scale plant for making synthetic climate-neutral fuels'.

Last week, the company's head of motorsport, Dr Frank Walliser, provided an update on the plans ahead of the unveiling of the new £123,100 Porsche 911 GT3. 

With a 4.0-litre naturally-aspirated flat-six engine that can rev to a wailing 9,000rpm and produce a maximum 503bhp, it's no slouch - accelerating from 0-to-62mph in 3.4 seconds and to a top speed of 199mph.

But while it might be quick, it won't be particularly good for the planet when using traditional unleaded petrol. Porsche quotes CO2 emissions of 283 to 304g/km, depending on the car's specification.

With strict carbon targets set for manufacturers to meet and the impending ban on new petrol and diesel cars across various nations - it comes in from 2030 in the UK - it will spell an end to Porsche's internal combustion engine sports cars.

Porsche has already started its own transition to electric vehicles, with the launch of the impressive Taycan - priced from £70,690 in the UK - from 2019.

However, Walliser says the brand is set to begin trials of its own synthetic fuel next year that Porsche believes could make its high-performance petrol cars just as economical as an electric vehicle.  

He explained that the company, working with partners in South America, will 'for sure' start trials in 2022, though they will be 'very small volume' initially. 

'It's a long road with huge investment, but we are sure that this is an important part of our global effort to reduce the CO2 impact of the transportation sector,' he added. 

In December, the company announced a new partnership with energy firms Siemens Energy, AME and Enel and the Chilean petroleum company ENAP.

The aim is to build a plant specifically for the commercial production of synthetic fuels in Chile, which will use the location's blustery environment to produce eFuels with the aid of wind power.

If operational in 2022, Porsche says it could be producing 55 million litres of greener synthetic fuel by 2024, and as much as ten times that amount two years later. 

Commenting on the plans last year, Porsche CEO Oliver Blume reaffirmed that 'electromobility' remains the top priority at Porsche but eFuels for cars are a 'worthwhile complement to that' – as long as they’re produced in parts of the world where a 'surplus of sustainable energy is available'. 

'They are an additional element on the road to decarbonisation,' Blume said in December. 'Their advantages lie in their ease of application: eFuels can be used in combustion engines and plug-in hybrids, and can make use of the existing network of filling stations. 

'By using them, we can make a further contribution toward protecting the climate. As a maker of high-performance, efficient engines, we have broad technical expertise. We know exactly what fuel characteristics our engines need in order to operate with minimal impact on the climate. Our involvement in the world’s first commercial, integrated eFuels plant supports the development of the alternative fuels of the future.' 

Speaking last week at the premier of the 911 GT3, Walliser added: 'The general idea behind these synthetic fuels is that there is no change to the engine necessary, unlike what we have seen with E10 and E20, so really, everybody can use it, and we are testing with the regular specs of pump fuel.'

'It has no impact on performance - some horses more, so it's going in the right direction - but emissions are way better; we see less particles, less NOx - so that's going in the right direction'.

Explaining how they work, Walliser detailed: 'Synthetic fuels have around eight to ten components, where today's fuels have between 30 and 40. 

As it's an artificial, synthetic fuel, you have no by-products, so it's way cleaner - everything positive for the engine 
'As it's an artificial, synthetic fuel, you have no by-products, so it's way cleaner - everything positive for the engine.'

He added: 'At full scale, we expect a reduction in the CO2 impact of around 85 per cent. 

'If you consider well-to-wheel, where we have to transport fuel, we have a global supply chain, everything around that - you have efficiency across the whole process. In a well-to-wheel consideration, it is on the same level as an electric car.'

Ditch the white bread! Eating more than seven portions of refined grains a day can increase your risk of early DEATH by 27%

Journal reference:

This study is nonsense on stilts.  What they actually found was that people in countries where they ate little white bread had fewer heart attacks and related problems. So Chinese people live longer than Americans?  Problem:  They don't.  Americans live a couple of years longer.

So what is  going on?  All the effects were tiny and hence likely to be unstable.  Most of the hazard ratios were just above 1.00 whereas a figure of over 2.00 would normally be needed to support policy prescriptions.  So ignoring the study would be wisest

From a delicious piece of white toast to a bowl of pasta, many of us enjoy consuming refined grains.

But a new study has warned that eating too many of them can have serious consequences, including an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and even early death.

Refined carbohydrates, including croissants, white bread and pasta, have had the high fibre parts removed, meaning they get broken down faster and lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels when consumed.

Based on the findings, the researchers are urging people to consider replacing their favourite refined grains with wholegrain options, such as brown rice and barley.

The Wholegrains Council explained: 'White flour and white rice are refined grains, for instance, because both have had their bran and germ removed, leaving only the endosperm. 

'Refining a grain removes about a quarter of the protein in a grain, and half to two thirds or more of a score of nutrients, leaving the grain a mere shadow of its original self.'

In the study, researchers from Simon Fraser University looked at the effects of following a diet high in refined grains.

Their analysis included 137,130 participants from 21 countries, including those from low-, middle- and high-income areas.

Grains in the participants' diets were categorised into three groups – refined grains, whole grains and white rice.

Refined grains included goods made with white flour, including white bread, pasta, noodles, breakfast cereals, crackers and baked goods.

Meanwhile, whole grains included any foods made with wholegrain flours, or intact or cracked whole grains.

The analysis revealed that participants who consumed more than seven servings of refined grains per day were at a 27 per cent greater risk for early death.

This group was also found to be at a 33 per cent higher risk for heart disease, and a 47 per cent higher risk for stroke.

Professor Scott Lear, who led the study, said: 'This study re-affirms previous work indicating a healthy diet includes limiting overly processed and refined foods.'

Street lamps can increase your risk of CANCER: People who live near artificial neon lights are up to 55% more likely to be diagnosed with thyroid cancer

The journal article:

Good that the authors made no causal inferences. It is for starters a study of retired people so should not be generalized to other age cohorts.  There was also no way they could control for income so we may be looking at a poverty effect only

The study also used extreme quintiles, which suggests that there was no overall effect in the data

One also wonders why thyroid cancer was singled out.  Was it the only one showing any effect?  Very bad methodology if so

Living in an area with high levels of outdoor artificial light can increase the chance of developing thyroid cancer - with neon lights increasing the risk by 55 per cent, study shows.

Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center looked for a link between people developing thyroid cancer and levels of artificial outdoor light.

They looked at data from a cohort of 464,371 participants followed for about 13 years as part of the NIH-AARP diet and health study - then analysed satellite imagery to estimate levels of light in the areas where the people involved in the study lived.   

They found that those in areas with the highest level of night light pollution had a 55 per cent higher risk of developing thyroid cancer than those in low-light areas. 

They believe that one reason for the link is that light at night suppresses melatonin, a modulator of oestrogen activity - which may have an anti-tumour effect.  

Light pollution, also known as photopollution, is the presence of anthropogenic light in the night environment. 

Artificial light that’s excessive, obtrusive and ultimately wasteful is called light pollution, and it directly influences how bright our night skies appear. 

With more than nine million streetlamps and 27 million offices, factories, warehouses and homes in the UK, the quantity of light we cast into the sky is vast. 

While some light escapes into space, the rest is scattered by molecules in the atmosphere making it difficult to see the stars against the night sky. What you see instead is ‘Skyglow’. 

Over the past century, night scapes - particularly in cities - have changed dramatically due to the rapid growth of electric light, study authors said.

Studies have also reported an association between higher satellite-measured levels of nighttime light and elevated breast cancer risk.  

As some breast cancers could share a common link to thyroid cancer, lead author Qian Xiao and colleagues decided to hunt for an association between night light and later development of thyroid cancer.

They used the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study - featuring data on hundreds of thousands of people aged 50 to 71 - recorded in 1995 and 1996.

Xiao then looked at satellite imagery of each of their homes to determine whether those living in high-light areas were more likely to develop thyroid cancer.

The team then examined state cancer registry databases to identify thyroid cancer diagnoses through 2011 and found 856 cases among the 464,371 volunteers.

'When compared with the lowest quintile of light at night, the highest quintile was associated with a 55 percent higher risk of developing thyroid cancer,' said Xiao.

'The association was primarily driven by the most common form of thyroid cancer, called papillary thyroid cancer, and it was stronger in women than in men,' he found.

In women, the association was stronger for localised cancer with no sign of spread to other parts of the body, while in men the association was stronger for more advanced stages of cancer, the team discovered. 

The association appeared to be similar for different tumour sizes and across participants with different demographic characteristics and body mass index. 

The researchers noted that additional studies are needed to confirm their findings. 

If confirmed, it will be important to understand the mechanisms underlying the relationship between light at night and thyroid cancer, Xiao said. 

The scientists noted that light at night suppresses melatonin, a modulator of oestrogen activity that may have important anti-tumour effects. 

Also, light at night may lead to disruption of the body's internal clock (or circadian rhythms), which is a risk factor for various types of cancer.

'As an observational study, our study is not designed to establish causality,' said Xiao, adding 'we don't know if higher levels of outdoor light at night lead to an elevated risk for thyroid cancer.' 

'However, given the well-established evidence supporting a role of light exposure at night and circadian disruption, we hope our study will motivate researchers to further examine the relationship between light at night and cancer, ' said Dr. Xiao. 

'Recently, there have been efforts in some cities to reduce light pollution, and we believe future studies should evaluate if and to what degree such efforts impact human health.'

The findings have been published in the journal Cancer.

Mediocrity's Envy of Genius: The Dirty Secret of Cancel Culture

David Goldman below is obviously right about the idiocy of a "racist" approach to classical music. And Ewell equally obviously misses the point of such music.  

Our esteem for Beethoven and other classical composers is no function of anything other than the pleasure that they give us. If they give you no pleasure you should have nothing to do with them. They are not for you.  They are not for most people in fact. In the Western world only something like 2% of the population like classical music. 

But if you have been so moved by a performance of Beethoven's "Emperor" concerto that you have been moved to tears with the beauty of it then you know what it is all about. I have so wept

And most people have a favorite piece of music of some kind that they like to listen to repeatedly. I do. It is Polina Osetinskaya playing the Bach piano concerto no. 1 in D minor.

The Cultural Revolutionaries at the New York Times this week reviewed the witch hunt against classical musicians, who stand accused of racism simply because the great Western composers happened to be white. Cancel culture is despicable in all of its manifestations, but I take this particular instance personally: I trained in the school of musical analysis founded by Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935). My principle teacher was Carl Schachter, who also taught Prof. Timothy Jackson of the University of North Texas, the target of this particular witch hunt.

It’s all about envy.

My childhood piano teacher kept a recording of Florence Foster Jenkins, the deluded society lady portrayed by Meryl Streep in a 2016 comedy, as a horrible example for youth. Her voice would de-feather a screech-owl, but no-one was allowed to tell her she couldn’t sing. The only classical musician still active who bears comparison to Ms. Jenkins is a certain Philip Ewell, now a professor of music theory at Hunter College, who posts videos of himself torturing a cello until it squeals in pain. Prof. Ewell is African-American and has won his fifteen minutes of fame by denouncing whiteness in classical music.

All this would be of scant interest except that Prof. Ewell has become the scourge of alleged racism in the classical music world, and may have succeeded in extirpating from the academy a grand tradition of musical analysis that began with Beethoven. Ewell also dismisses Beethoven as merely “an above average composer” whose prominence erases the contribution of composers of color. Thanks to Ewell’s rampage against supposed white supremacy in classical music, the living chain of teacher-to-pupil transmission of this aspect of Western civilization may be broken irreparably.

For the strong of stomach (or hard of hearing), I refer to the fugue of Bach’s 5th Cello Suite as performed by Prof. Ewell (at minute 3:25) in a video posted on his personal website. It is hard to find a single note in tune; it is the sort of butchery that would earn an aspiring high school musician a condescending pat on the shoulder and a suggestion that he switch to the triangle. No-one was allowed to tell Florence Foster Jenkins how awful she was because she was rich and connected; it is a complete mystery to me why no-one has had the courage to stop Prof. Ewell from humiliating himself in public. Unlike the deluded Mrs. Jenkins, Ewell surely knows that everyone is laughing at him behind his back. The work he has put into his performances shows that he wants to play well, but is condemned to sotto voce ridicule.

To have played Bach this way is a humiliation. To push it into the public’s face is an act of unadulerated rage: You, my listeners, will have to suffer along with me, the talentless Prof Ewell thinks. This isn’t the Emperor’s new clothes so much as the Emperor as flasher. And Ewell is entirely right; the music world must bite its collective tongue and suppress a laugh on pain of excommunication.

Whatever our musical preferences, these are moments in which we need the classical style of composition. The musical style we inherit from the great composers is a continuing presence in our lives through film. The classical style of composition will never go out of fashion, my teacher Carl Schachter liked to say, because the movies need it; it is the only kind of music that can tell a story. “There are those,” intoned Ewell in a recent blog post, “who would actually take issue with me saying the Ninth Symphony is no more a masterwork that Spalding’s 12 Little Spells simply because we are told by whiteness and maleness that this couldn’t be the case. Beethoven was undoubtedly an above-average composer and he deserves our attention. But to say he was anything more is to dismiss 99.9% of the world’s music written 200+ years ago, which would be unscholarly, and academically irresponsible.”

Wrote the New York Times:

Professor Ewell, who also is on the faculty of the City University of New York Graduate Center, declined an interview with The Times. He is part of a generation of scholars who are undertaking critical-race examinations of their fields. In “Music Theory and the White Racial Frame,” the paper he presented in Columbus, he writes that he is for all intents “a practitioner of white music theory” and that “rigorous conversations about race and whiteness” are required to “make fundamental antiracist changes in our structures and institutions.”

For music programs to require mastery of German, he has said, “is racist obviously.” He has criticized the requirement that music Ph.D. students study German or a limited number of “white” languages, noting that at Yale he needed a dispensation to study Russian. He wrote that the “antiracist policy solution” would be “to require languages with one new caveat: any language — including sign language and computer languages, for instance — is acceptable with the exception of Ancient Greek, Latin, Italian, French or German, which will only be allowed by petition as a dispensation.”

Last April he fired a broadside at Beethoven, writing that it would be academically irresponsible to call him more than an “above average” composer. Beethoven, he wrote, “has been propped up by whiteness and maleness for 200 years.”

The grudge that mediocrity bears against genius is the purest form of evil. Thomas Mann’s postwar reworking of the Faust legend tells of the failed composer Adrian Leverkuhn who, in the final phase of syphilitic dementia, has written a cacaphonous cantata “to take back Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.” Leverkuhn had made a deal with the Devil and suffers the consequences. If the Devil has any taste in music, he won’t be in the market for Ewell’s soul.

Black Americans have a splendid history in classical music. The great Marian Anderson, who sang the national anthem at both the second Eisenhower inauguration and the Kennedy inauguration, had the voice of the century according to Toscanini, as well as sublime musicianship. Hear her in this arrangement of Brahms’ song “Of Eternal Love.” The soprano Kathleen Battle is the best coloratura of my generation, a far cannier interpreter than, say, Joan Sutherland. Battle used high intelligence and unerring musicianship to turn a rather small natural voice into a virtuoso instrument. Anderson became an icon of the civil rights movement by showing that a black contralto could produce authoritative interpretations of the Western classics. Ewell’s envy-ridden rampage is a disgrace to her legacy.

Governor General's staff to be asked to do woke 'privilege walk' so they can identify how entitled they are

Encouraging humility in people is fine and dandy. It's an important part of Christian teachings.  But centering it on race is obnoxious.  It is our personal characteristics we need to feel humble about.  Making us feel humble about our race is a distraction.  Like people, races can have both their good and their bad sides but no individual is responsible for either

It seems like only yesterday that Leftists were loudly condemning racism.  Now they seem determined to bring it back. Condemning a person solely because of his/her skin colour was always stupid and obnoxious and it still is, whether the colour is black, white or brindle

The bureaucrats have been signed up to do bizarre activity which may require them to identify how privileged they are, but it has been criticised by previous participants as being too personal.

The exercise will require staff to step forward or backwards depending on their answers to prompts such as whether their parents have been arrested or addicted to drugs. 

The training is run by Charles Sturt University (CSU), with over 330 staff at the Australian institute completing the exercise in 2019 and offering mixed feedback, reported The Daily Telegraph.

One participant remarked 'facilitators need to acknowledge some people may find the issues raised in the privilege walk (and open disclosure) too personal'.

Another said 'I think the walk of privilege needs more work - questions should be contextualised a little more'.

Some staff members described it as 'confronting but valuable', 'very effective', and 'interesting and revealing'.

In variations of the activity, attendees have been asked whether parents told them they were 'beautiful, smart, or successful', if they feel comfortable with others knowing their sexuality or if they worry about crime or drugs in their neighbourhood.

Questions around family may include whether parents have been incarcerated, been addicted to drugs or alcohol or are still married. 

The exercise was developed from a 1998 essay by academic Peggy McIntosh titled 'White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack'.

The article used a backpack full of tools and maps as a metaphor for the advantages Ms McIntosh said white people have over others.

Psychologist Michael Mascolo wrote in Psychology Today that the activity can backfire and make people at the front of the 'privilege line' feel defensive.

He said while some people 'experience an enhanced awareness and appreciation of how they have been advantaged' others are offended and feel 'personally blamed'.

The exercise is one component of unconscious bias and inclusivity training run by CSU.

A spokesperson from the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General told The Daily Telegraph the 'training is not mandatory.'

A new $20m hydrogen plant in Australia is part of an ambitious green agenda

We read: "LAVO™ is a solar sponge, using patented hydride to store hydrogen in metal alloy to enable the world’s first, long term capture, hydrogen battery within a secure vessel."

From what I can gather this is an extremely inefficient way to store low voltage DC current. Who would want that?  It's a clever way to bypass the need for a massive pressure vessel but the "battery" is a massive object too and it would be hard to use the output

An Aussie firm that has pioneered one of the world’s first hydrogen energy storage systems plans to establish a foothold just outside Brisbane.

We learned on Monday that Sydney-based tech outfit LAVO expects to start production next year at a $20 million plant at Springfield.

Work on the facility, which will kick off later this year and create about 200 jobs, is just one part of a larger and highly ambitious green agenda promoted by Springfield City Group co-founder and boss Maha Sinnathamby.

Costing nearly $35,000, LAVO’s batteries are about the size of a big refrigerator, last up to 30 years and can be connected to solar panels, using the power to create hydrogen from water. The company also makes hydrogen-powered household goods.

They are part of a fast-growing global shift to renewable power, with the current $US150 billion a year spent on hydrogen expected to soar to $US2.5 trillion by 2050.

LAVO’s new outpost will be based at Springfield’s 40ha Vicinity business park and help the city achieve the lofty goal of producing more energy than it consumes by 2038.

“LAVO has the first and only commercial-ready hydrogen energy storage system in the world designed for everyday use by residential homes and businesses,’’ Sinnathamby said.

“We will work closely with LAVO to identify co-development opportunities, including the integration of LAVO technology into utility scale solar farms developed in Springfield City.”

Late last year Sinnathamby, in collaboration with French power group ENGIE, vowed to commit $3.1 billion to make Springfield “the world’s greenest city’’.

That means the current population of 46,000—which is expected to triple over the next 20 years—will all get their power from renewable sources and have access to electric vehicle charging stations.

Hydrogen-powered buses will provide public transport, solar panels are set to proliferate and at least a third of the city should remain as green space.

Meanwhile, Sinnathamby is also ramping up pressure on the federal government to help fund a range of initiatives that could create 20,000 jobs and help kickstart the post-COVID recovery.

He lobbied deputy PM Michael McCormack in person late last week for Commonwealth financial backing for at least a dozen shovel-ready projects in a planned new 120ha “knowledge and innovation district’’ expected to pump around $12 billion in to the economy by 2026.

McCormack, the Minister Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, toured Springfield for the first time and pored over a model of the city with Sinnathamby and his colleagues.

Accompanied by Senator Paul Scarr, he also met with a group of two dozen players in the health, education, defence and IT spaces across Queensland.

McCormack seemed pretty impressed with what he called the “national and internationally significant development going on in Greater Springfield’’.

Sea level data confirms climate modeling projections were right

Ya gotta laugh.  The journal article is "Reconciling global mean and regional sea level change in projections and observations" by Wang et al. 
The key sentence in it is "The central values of the observed GMSL (1993–2018) and regional weighted mean (1970–2018) accelerations are larger than projections for RCP2.6 and lie between (or even above) those for RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 over 2007–2032, but are not yet statistically different from any scenario"

In other words the data is consistent with even extreme scenarios, implying that no specific scenario predicted it.  ALL of the projections were "right".  That's a remarkably loose definition of "right".  As the showman said: "You pays your money and you takes your choice"

Projections of rising sea levels this century are on the money when tested against satellite and tide-gauge observations, scientists find.

Climate model projections of sea-level rises in the early 21st century are in good agreement with sea level data recorded in the corresponding period, a recent analysis has found.

And the scientists who crunched the numbers say the finding does not bode well for sea level impacts over coming decades if greenhouse gas emissions are not reined in.

In an article published recently in Nature Communications, the scientists from Chinese and Australian institutions including UNSW Sydney examined the global and regional sea level projections of two reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) and Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC).

They compared the reports’ projections with the observed global and coastal sea level data gathered from satellites and a network of 177 tide-gauges from the start of the projections in 2007 up to to 2018. The scientists found that the trends of the AR5 and SROCC sea level projections under three different scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions “agree well with satellite and tide-gauge observations over the common period 2007–2018, within the 90 per cent confidence level”.

Study co-author and leading sea-level expert, Professor John Church, says while he thought the projections from modelling would be accurate at the global level, he was pleasantly surprised that they were as accurate at the regional and local level.

“Our analysis implies that the models are close to observations and builds confidence in the current projections for the next several decades,” says Prof. Church, who is part of UNSW’s Climate Change Research Centre.

But he adds a caveat that because the available comparison period is short, at just 11 years, he would be hesitant to extend the same degree of confidence over the longer term – from the end of this century and beyond – where acceleration of ice-sheet contribution to sea-level rise is less understood and could lead to larger rises.

“There remains a potential for larger sea level rises, particularly beyond 2100 for high emission scenarios. Therefore, it is urgent that we still try to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement by significantly reducing emissions,” Prof. Church says.

The analysis looked at the three different emissions scenarios in the IPCC’s reports that corresponded to three different climate futures depending on what greenhouse gas mitigation strategies were adopted – known as Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) scenarios.

The lowest scenario (RCP2.6) examined is for strong mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, about in line with 2oC of global warming by 2100 but still larger than what is required to meet the Paris Agreement of well below 2oC.

The middle scenario (RCP4.5) requires stabilisation of radiative forcing in the latter half of this century and results in warming well above the Paris Target.

And the highest scenario (RCP8.5) is for large greenhouse gas emissions resulting in ongoing rapid warming and implies a commitment to large sea level rises.

“The analysis of the recent sea level data indicate the world is tracking between RCP4.5 and the worst case scenario of RCP8.5,” Professor Church says.

“If we continue with large ongoing emissions as we are at present, we will commit the world to metres of sea level rise over coming centuries.”

Next the group will attempt to gain a greater understanding of the processes determining regional sea level rise.

<i>Press release from Uni NSW.</i>

China loses trust of some its closest allies after punishing Australia

I predicted this.  China had been on a charm offensive to the rest of the world and that made sense. But it just needed Morrison to utter a sharp rebuke to China over the coronavirus for Xi to lose it and try to punish Australia.  Xi could very easily have simply ignored Australia so Xi must have been thin-skilled to react as nastily as he did.

At any event China has now lost what it had been aiming for -- a good "face".  It is now seen as a bully and there is no obvious way back from that.  Instead of respect China has now generated hostility to itself

China is losing the trust and respect of some of its closest allies and neighbours who are increasingly worried about the superpower following its punitive trade embargoes against Australia.

Beijing’s anti-Australia measures like blocking our coal have already backfired on a number of fronts, with coal supplies running out, residents struggling to heat their homes in the coldest winter in 50 years, and Australian exports booming as other economies like Japan and India fill the void.

Michael Shoebridge, the director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) Defence, Strategy and National Security Program, told the measures were “not about Australia”, rather they were about sending a message to the world — that smaller countries should not dare go against China’s interests.

He said China is even prepared to let its own people suffer to make a point.

But if China is trying to impress other nations with its tough stance, it is failing miserably according to damning new survey of its closest neighbours.

The study from the think tank ISEAS canvassed views from 1032 academics, policymakers, business people, civil society leaders, the media as well as regional and international organisations from 10 ASEAN member states — which have a combined population of 655.51 million people — and it raises significant concerns for China.

Despite Donald Trump ruffling feathers on a global scale over the past four years, more than six in 10 respondents now say they would choose the United States over China if the grouping was forced to align with either power.

This is an increase from last year’s survey, where 53.6 per cent were in favour of the US. In contrast, only 38.5 per cent chose China, down from 46.4 per cent last year.

Nations like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines said they their support for the US over China has increased.

In a slap in the face to China’s economic posturing against Australia, only military-run Myanmar, Brunei and Laos now say they prefer working with the Asian superpower.

The survey found that although China was overwhelmingly regarded as the most influential economic power in the region, the people who live there are not happy about it.

Among those who see China as the most influential economic power, 72.3 per cent are “worried about its growing regional economic influence”.

Respondents were also asked if they had confidence that China will do “the right thing” to contribute to global peace, security, prosperity and governance. This year, 63 per cent said they either had little confidence or no confidence that China would do the “right thing”.

The simmering distrust had increased from 51.5 per cent in 2019 to 60.4 per cent last year.

Researchers directly linked the Asian superpower’s economic showboating with the decline in trust, combined with its increasing military power.

The respondents saw these factors as a potential threat to their respective country’s interest and sovereignty.

“The region’s best hope is for China to take the mantle of leadership in a manner that does not impinge on the sovereignty and strategic autonomy of its neighbouring countries,” said the researchers.

Here in Australia, the ASPI’s Mr Shoebridge said the results show that China’s economic muscle-flexing with Australia was spectacularly backfiring.

“It shows that China is losing trust on a global stage, and that trust in America has risen,” he said. “It proves to me that other smaller nations are looking at how China has treated Australia and they do not like what they are seeing.”

The trade stand-off is having worrying repercussions for China domestically too, with an eye-watering surge in prices for coal, supply shortages and its residents struggling to heat their homes in the coldest winter in 50 years.

In a desperate bid to shore up its supplies, the government has curtailed electricity to businesses to make sure there’s enough supply for home heating – leading to a surge in orders for portable generators and extra demand for the diesel that fuels them.

Not only is the coal shortage affecting everyday citizens, it is hitting China’s industries hard as factories are forced to use poor-quality domestic coal.

Steel mills in particular were reliant on using high-grade Australian premium hard coking coal – a crucial raw material for steel making.

Now they are forced to use expensive low-quality coal that is highly polluting to nearby residents. It also damages the equipment used in the process and can lead to the production of brittle steel products.

In other circumstances, they have been forced to pay steep premiums for imports from farther afield – like US, Russia, Canada and Mongolia – on top of prices that have risen 84 per cent since mid-year, according to the The Wall Street Journal .

In a further slap in the face for China, its punitive measures designed to hurt Australia have had precisely the opposite effect. Other major buyers like Japan and India have stepped in to fill the void, and Australia’s coal prices have boomed.

Another additional unofficial Chinese ban on imports of Australian-mined copper imposed in November may also come back to bite China.

The South China Morning Post reports that the superpower is facing a potential shortage with disruptions in the production and transport of copper from key producer Peru.

Mr Shoebridge said it was clear China didn’t care about the impact of the trade stand-off on its own people. “They claim to be doing this on behalf of the Chinese people, but clearly that’s not what it’s about. Chinese people want coal for the winter to heat their homes,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“But I don’t think they are bothered by Chinese people not having energy to heat their homes because they don’t want to course on their message to the rest of the world.”

The Decline of Intelligence in the West

The article below by Canadian essayist David Solway is a dazzling display of cultural awareness but lacks sober consideration of any of the issues he addresses. So let me fill in some of the gaps.

Why the decline in average IQ? There does seem to be such a decline but it is no mystery. For around 50 years, effective contraception has enabled women to enjoy sex and male company generally without childbirth resulting. So many women have opted out of childbearing. And, sadly, highly intelligent women are more likely to do that. And that means that they do not pass on their genes for intelligence. So present-day mothers have a lower average IQ. And that can only mean a population with a lower average IQ.

So what are the implications of a population with a lower IQ? We do of course already have some such populations: Africans and Arabs, for instance. And both those have created societies where it is not inviting to live. But such societies have many differences from ours so the dysfunction could be due to other factors than IQ.

A much more hopeful observation is that all societies are only superficially democratic. It is the smart fraction that rules the roost. So Israel is run by the Ashkenazim, Brazil and Mexico are run by whites and the 7% of Britons who get a private school education run almost everything in that country. And such elites trend to be self-perpetuating. Private school boys tend to marry the sisters of their classmates and black/white marriages are rather rare. And Sephardi/Ashkenazi marriages are the exception rather than the rule.

So what will happen is that as long as the smart fraction intermarry, their societies will tend to be run much as before. A large dumb majority will not matter much

But one needs to be cautious in attributing everything to IQ. There are other influences which have produced the dumb behaviour that Solway documents. An obvious one is the decline in American education. American education is now decisively in the hands of the Left and producing well-informed citizens does not seem to be one of their priorities. They want to produce "woke" people above all. And being woke is rather inimical to real knowledge.

And woke attitudes are now society-wide, with few on the Left being immune to them. Most conservatives have no time for wokery but they too sometimes make obeisances to it for the sake of peace. So the deterioration in the national discourse can largely be traced to the ideological needs of the Left

Recent studies have reported a worrisome decline in IQ scores in Western nations over the last decades, a reversal of the once-hopeful Flynn Effect (named after the late philosopher and psychologist James R. Flynn) which posited a growth in cognitive abilities for much of the 20th Century. Now the Flynn Effect seems to have reversed, leading to predictions of a general dumbing down of selective populations. Other studies report that IQ erosion is not confined to this century but that IQ has dropped by an average of 14.1 percent over the last century. As Evan Horowitz writes for NBC News, “A range of studies using a variety of well-established IQ tests and metrics have found declining scores across Scandinavia, Britain, Germany, France and Australia.”

Horowitz argues that the plummet in cognitive abilities “could not only mean 15 more seasons of the Kardashians, but also… fewer scientific breakthroughs, stagnant economies and a general dimming of our collective future.” Flynn himself, who did the original research on the eponymous effect, has stated that “The IQ gains of the 20th century have faltered.” Flynn’s more optimistic Are We Getting Smarter: Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century was published in 2012; his subsequent findings led in an opposite direction.*

The brainchild of French psychologist Alfred Binet, the IQ construct is a controversial issue with many different interpretations and applications. Charles Spearman proposed the variable notion of a g factor, or general intelligence measure, responsible for overall performance on various mental ability tests such as memory retention, spatial processing, and quantitative reasoning. The g factor has been compared to general athletic ability which allows a person to excel in different fields and activities. There has been vigorous debate over the strict equivalency between IQ scores and intelligence, but there is broad agreement on a general waning of intelligence or, from a clinical perspective, an ebbing of IQ scores. Of course, smart people can sometimes do poorly on IQ tests and obtuse people can sometimes rank high on aspectual tiers of these tests. But the consensus appears to be that the correlation approximately holds while allowing for scalene anomalies. In effect, the g factor is eroding.

One recalls MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, the architect of Obamacare, who referred to “the stupidity of the American voter” as helping him to pass the controversial law. One wonders if Gruber ever heard of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget’s test results purporting to show that “the rot starts at the top.” This would implicate Gruber and his cohort in the experience of what Piaget calls horizontal décalage, which stymies the application of cognitive functions and logical operations to extended tasks. In other words, Gruber et al. are also stupid, gradually destroying the very society that enabled them to flourish. But the rot can also start at the bottom, as a combination of generalized mental vacancy and low-to-no-information voters furthers cultural and social degeneration. As Morris Berman remarks in The Twilight of American Culture, “A society cannot function if nearly everyone in it is stupid.”

Why should we be surprised that an American president should pronounce “corpsman” as “corpseman”? Or that a Canadian prime minister says “peoplekind” in lieu of “mankind”? Or that a Washington, D.C., mayor and his staff should have objected to a perfectly good word like “niggardly”? Or that a Methodist pastor and Congressman should follow the exclamation “Amen” with “a-woman,” when an ordained minister should surely know that “Amen” is an acronym for the Hebrew אֵל מֶלֶךְ נֶאֱמָן (El melech neeman: “Lord and faithful King”)—or, as some scholars think, a calque for the Aramaic “so be it”? One can multiply these gaffes, misnomers, and malapropisms indefinitely among those who should know better—and that is merely scratching the surface. The dumbing down phenomenon is virtually encyclopedic in heft and extent.

One sees the same intelligence deficit in the names chosen for some of our major social media networks. “YouTube” is cringe-worthy—just say it dispassionately to yourself. “Facebook” is a ridiculous moniker, as well as a dubious platform: as Niall Ferguson quips in The Great Degeneration, Facebook is “a vast tool enabling like-minded people to exchange like-minded opinions about, well, what they like.” Then there’s “Twitter.” A conversation between human beings is compared to birds twittering on a digital branch—the implicit message is that communicants are bird-brained. (Contrast to such infelicity a beleaguered platform like “Parler” with its French connotation of real speech and an analogy to a living room where people gather to converse amicably and share ideas.) The Apple logo—an apple with a bite taken out of it—is the fruit of pure bathos and corporate stupidity, inadvertently reminding us of the primal sin in the Garden of Eden and warning us about the perilous quest for knowledge that tantalizes on another digital tree. “Think different” is thus contra-indicated, an original sin. Apple, seriously?

Top or bottom doesn’t seem to matter. In his spy thriller Early Warning, Michael Walsh comments about government officials who, presumably “the best minds of the Republic,” are merely a “collection of hacks, time-servers, and affirmative-action appointees” whose advancement depends heavily on nepotism. “It was really pathetic, when you thought about it: that more than two centuries of American history had come to this.” Believe it. An American congressman fears the island of Guam will capsize. So-called “ambush journalist” Jesse Watters in Watters World interviews young university students; the level of ignorance, functional illiteracy, and smug self-esteem he uncovers is enough to turn the specter of our cultural practices, general knowledge, and university system into a cosmic joke.

And so it goes. A London community activist, asked about removing a Churchill statue during the summer of BLM love, admits she hasn’t “personally met” Winston Churchill. A swarm of Twitter users condemns Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady as “racist” for defeating half-black Kansas City Chiefs’ QB Patrick Mahomes on Super Bowl LV during Black History Month—the fact that the great majority of Brady’s teammates are black and are clearly Brady enthusiasts seems to have escaped their attention. Major economic and energy policies seem planned not by cerebral giants but by weed-addled pubescents. Bill Gates, for example, wants to pepper the sky with aerosols to reflect sunlight out of the atmosphere and initiate global cooling—the risks are incommensurable and likely irreversible. Gates has what we might call “sector-intelligence” and might do well on segments of the Stanford-Binet IQ test, but I wouldn’t bet on his g score. The travesty of intelligence, prudence, and wisdom is beyond calculation, and it is only getting worse as IQ continues to slip down the great chain of thinking. This is the world that the classic film Idiocracy extravagantly punctures.

Why this should be is anybody’s guess. No one really knows. Various theories have been proposed to account for accelerating neural descent, ranging from the Dewey-inspired “progressive education” agenda working its leveling passage from the turn of the 20th century to the decrepit public schools and failed universities of the present day; to the softening effect of prolonged affluence and ease on a culture; to the debilitating influence of “smart” technology that performs our cognitive functions for us; to the assumption that women of higher intelligence are having fewer children, implying that women of lower intelligence are driving population growth; to the effects of increased media exposure and the consequent lessening of reading; to the emergence of the vices of envy and resentment owing to radical egalitarianism and the rancor of the under-performing against the skilled, hard-working, and successful, a dynamic cogently analyzed by Dinesh D’Souza in Stealing America; or to the merely inescapable fact of decay: as Robert Frost wrote, “Nothing gold can stay.” One thinks, too, of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ remark in his Journal: “From much, much more; from little, not much; and from nothing, nothing.” Whatever the cause or causes may be, intellectual deterioration seems to be the case.

What, then, is to be done? We need to go to literature to contemplate possibilities for restoration. The problem, says Barry Lopez in Arctic Dreams, is that “The good minds still do not find each other often enough.” In his reflections on culture In Bluebeard’s Castle, George Steiner imagined a future of small, eremitic clusters of intellectual light dotting an arid landscape, recycling Max Weber’s notion of frail enclaves of enlightenment as the last resort of a civilization sinking into darkness. Walter M. Miller Jr.’s classic A Canticle for Leibowitz portrayed an obscure abbey in the Utah desert where historical knowledge is kept alive and preserved from the “Simpletons,” even if it’s only a sacred shopping list or a mysterious blueprint for circuit design. “Let us change the icons,” wrote Will Durant in The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time, “and light the candles.”

Berman calls this the “monastic option,” but he does not regard it as an assembly of cenobites residing in a physical plant somewhere in the outback. Instead, it consists of a disparate collection of individuals, “cultural nomads,” who may not know one another but are dedicated to a life of private decency, “the disinterested pursuit of truth, the cultivation of art [and] the commitment to critical thinking.” The “new monks” derive from and support “traditions of craftsmanship, care, and integrity, preservation of canons of scholarship, critical thinking, individual achievements and independent thought.” Their purpose is “to transmit a memory trace of what a culture can be about.”

It’s a daunting task. The number of people incapable of lucid argument and civil debate, whether Internet trolls, social media vulgarians, angry progressivists, media ignoramuses and intellectually challenged political leaders, is legion. It is therefore by no means astonishing that the greatest civilization the world has ever known, the Judeo-Christian West, is subsiding into a state of cognitive expiry, prone to fantasies and delusions, unable to confront and parse the reality of the world, oblivious to the symbiosis of man, history and nature, distracted by pseudo-scientific baubles, bereft of spiritual substance, and foreign to the very idea of truth.

In Social and Cultural Dynamics, Pitirim Sorokin, one of the great thinkers of our time, distinguished between “ideational” cultures, which are knowledge-and-spiritually focused, and “sensate” cultures, which are primarily informational and materialistic, the latter eventually devolving into a condition in which coercion, fraud, debasement of the creative impulse, family breakdown, and the encroachment of “untruth” into the human conscience (read: political correctness, fake news, electoral debauchery) are paramount. The latter is our present cultural home, lacking reflective capacity and experiencing a downtrend in clarity of thought and general percipience, shaving off IQ points as clarity and percipience drop. The concept of intelligence is complex and multifactorial, but if by “intelligence” we mean something like the ability to see the world as it is, to understand context, and to act in ways proven to be beneficial over time, then, according to Sorokin, intelligence is likely to decline in the latter stages of a “sensate” age.

The decline of intelligence—moral rectitude and creative exuberance are collateral casualties—is now in full throttle. The exceptions to the debacle—monks, nomads, people of integrity, people capable of common sense, the classically educated—represent the only viable hope for a new “ideational” age to arise out of the rubble of a “sensate” disaster. It may take another century to bring about what Sorokin called “the turn,” the slow ascent up the IQ ladder, which is cold comfort indeed. But I suspect it’s the only real comfort we have

Surge in ozone-depleting CFCs appears to have been reversed, ozone layer recovery back on track

Note the dog that didn't bark in  the story below.  No mention of what effect the CFC levels actually had on the ozone layer.  It is implied that the ozone levels dropped as the CFC levels dropped but no actual ozone levels are given.  

The fact is that the oxone levels do NOT follow the CFC levels. One would think that the diminishing levels of CFCs would lead to a steadily diminishing ozone hole.  Nothing of the kind has happened.  In terms of Dobson units, the ozone hole was at it smallest in 1994 and at its highest during this century in 2019:  No progress at all and completely opposite of what the theory would lead us to expect

From the graph below one can see that the post 1994 picture is one of random fluctualions up and down with essentially no trend, though a RISING trend could possibly be fitted

NASA Ozone Watch

The global increase in ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon-11 (CFC-11) emissions, which was first detected in 2013 and continued to rise in the following years, appears to have been halted.

Data from monitoring stations in South Korea (AGAGE station), Japan (NIES), and Hawaii (NOAA), showed that global CFC-11 emissions began dropping in 2019, after inexplicably surging between 2014-17, according to two research papers published in Nature today.

And preliminary data from late 2019 and early 2020 shows the atmospheric CFC-11 concentration decline during that period was "the fastest since measurements began".

"The increase [in atmospheric CFC-11] we noticed and announced in 2018 was the most surprising thing I'd seen in 30 years of my work here at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)," lead author of the first paper, Stephen Montzka from NOAA said.

"To tell the truth, these new results were a close second."

The rapid turnaround of a trend that could have seen further damage to the ozone layer is reassuring evidence that the Montreal Protocol is working as intended, said researcher Luke Western from the University of Bristol, the lead author of the second paper.

"It's pleasing to see that the mechanisms of the Montreal Protocol … enabled a rapid and effective response to its first major violation."

The Montreal Protocol was an international agreement made in 1987 to phase out the use of ozone-depleting substances (ODS), principally CFCs used as propellants in things like aerosol sprays, as refrigerants in fridges and freezers, and as blowing agents for foams.

Globally, CFCs including CFC-11 — the second most commonly used chlorofluorocarbon — were completely banned in 2010, after which point researchers expected to see rapid declines in atmospheric levels, according to Dr Montzka. "The Montreal Protocol phased out CFC production in developed countries in the '90s," he said.

"It was post-2010 where we expected it to drop off more rapidly and it didn't, which raised our suspicions."

By analysing the chemical signals from their monitoring stations and combining that with a knowledge of atmospheric circulation, researchers were able to pinpoint the source of around 60 per cent of the new CFC emissions to north-eastern mainland China.

It was suspected that the CFCs were mostly used illegally in the manufacture of closed-cell foams.

Using the leverage of the Montreal Protocol, combined with scientific knowledge and industry expertise, China was asked to crack down on the source of emissions, according to Dr Western.

"In 2018 and 2019, Chinese authorities discovered small quantities of manufactured CFCs and confirmed seizures of the chemicals and closure of factories," he said.

Those reported seizures amounted to tens of tonnes. While not enough in itself to explain the 26 per cent drop in emissions between 2018 and 2019, the message sent by China's crackdown may have had the desired effect on illegal manufacturing.

Although the manufacture of CFCs was banned in 2010, there is what is called a global "bank" of chlorofluorocarbons that will continue to produce emissions into the future, even if our use of new CFCs is zero.

The CFC bank refers to the CFCs already contained in products like refrigerants and foams and which will continue to leak into the atmosphere until their end of life, according to Paul Krummel from the CSIRO.

We must abandon expectations of sexual fidelity

Since the arrival of the contraceptive pill, expectations of sexual relationships have steadily changed.  We  now see frequent  mentions of WAGs (wives and girlfriends) as if the two were equivalent.  And they largely are.  And for both types of relationship, breakdowns are common.  Some WAGs stay together for less than a year and others last for many years.

The notable thing is that permanence of any relationship is always uncertain.  Couples who have been together for most of their lives can still split up.

So what is going on and what can we do about it?  The first thing to say is that the splitups are often very painful to at least one of the partners involved.  So the problem is an urgent one.  Must we give one-another so much pain?

I think the first thing to acknowledge is that splitups will always happen so we have to expect them and arrive at the best way of dealing with them.  

My solution is not necessarily easy but I believe that the solution is tolerance.  It is absurd to blame one another for infidelity if you accept that infidelity is a normal part of life -- which it clearly is.  At age 77 I have had plenty of breakups in my times and what I do is quite the opposite of blaming the partner concerned.  I say: "I have clearly not been meeting your needs so I don't blame you at all for our breakup.  You must meet your needs and I am sorry that I was not doing that.  I hope we can at least remain friends". 

I realize that for most people that reaction will sound unnatural and I am perhaps unusually blessed by being able to see points of view other than my own.  But it works a treat.  What exactly you say does not matter. The fact that you remain peaceful and unaccusing is the key.

Perhaps some evidence of that from my own life may be that I have had four marriages and divorces without suffering any significant financial penalty from the divorces.  That is pretty striking, I think.  

It is not entirely to my credit.  I actually think it is partly because I marry nice women.  But in this day and age when women work, a separation may not create a great need to seek money from an ex-partner.  Demands for money are often a form of anger and if the anger is absent both parties may be content simply to go their own way financially.  Continuing friendship can cause both parties to consider the financial welfare of the other

That will of course sound crazy blue-sky talk to many readers here but if one has a reasonably kindly nature it can work.  One does not have to be totally unselfish but a considrable degree of unselfishness will be a big help. Selfishness is normally self-defeating in any case.

And the big bonus from a peaceful and friendly approach to a breakup is that the other party is there to help you cope with the new circumstances.  I have had two breakups in my life that were very painfulto me but in both cases the ladies concerned continued to have friendly contact with me and so did not make me feel deserted and alone.  Friendship is in any case an important part of a good relationship so not losing that part of it is a big part of being able to adjust well to the new reality.

I don't want to make this post an exercise in self-congratulation but showing that a theory works well in practice tends to be persuasive so let me give a little detail of my life in relationships.

I have never been good-looking but I have nonetheless ended up in bed with a lot of women.  I have often said that I am attractive to only about 2% of women -- but that is a lot of women.  So when I have a breakup I have usually been able to avoid much pain by going on to a new woman.  A new love is undoubtedly the best cure for a broken heart.

But there were two long-term relationships that DID cause me much pain when they ended.  One was the ending of a 10-year marriage when I was 49 and the other was the ending of a 14 year relationship about a year ago when I was 76.  Both relationships had been very satisfactory to me and I had given them unreserved committment -- so they were not easily replaced.

But to skip to the conclusion, I will be dining with the first lady mentioned tonight and the other lady tomorrow night.  I have succeeded in keeping warm friendships alive despite substantial changes in our circumstances.  At my age, I am lucky just to be alive so I am in an advanced state of decreptitude which makes it unlikely that I will be able to form any new relationship.  But I still have excellent emotional support from the two most special ladies in my life so I am not suffering at all and still enjoy a lot of my life. With the right approach, one can sometimes turn a disaster into an asset.

I hope that my stories will give hope and guidance to someone else but, if not, I am still convinced that we must expect and accept changes in our relationships.  Permanence is nice but it is unreasonable to expect it.  When a person changes partners we must see it as natural and not to be condemned -- JR.


A reader has written that my approach above abandons all morality and ethics in relationships.  I can see his point.  There is one very common circumstance wherein considerations of ethics  intrude:  Where promises have been made which get broken. That is clearly distressing and may lead to a justified claim of an ethical lapse.  

But biology is stronger than ethics and I think we have to back the strong horse. The most realistic way of looking at it is to say that promises made at one point in time refer only to that point in time.  If circumstances and situations change -- as they do -- the promises cease to be binding.  

If a man (for instance) meets an available  woman who suits him in various ways much better than his wife does, the outcome is virtually foreordained.  The instinctive wish for a different partner can be so strong that much will be sacrificed in order to achieve it. The change is inevitable and the only issue is how to deal with it constructively. Railing at the change is a mug's game.  Accusations will mainly tend to jeopardize the friendship.

Victoria gives $10m for hydrogen hub which will study storage and clean energy vehicles

Idiots. Where are they going to get the hydrogen from?  It is all about us but separating it out needs energy, electricity.  And where is the electricty coming from?  From fossil fuel power stations, mainly.  It is just an indirect way of using fossil fuels

And what about the cost and weight of the massive pressure vessels needed to store it?  Whatever it is, it is not environmentally friendly

The hub will be based at Swinburne University of Technology and study both clean energy vehicles and hydrogen storage.

The government says about 300 jobs will be created and construction is expected to take about 18 months after it commences in 2022.

Swinburne will partner with the CSIRO to establish it.

“This hub will help give Victorians the skills and experience we need to unlock the hydrogen industry – driving down emissions while creating green jobs in a growing industry,” Victoria’s energy minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, said on Saturday.

The CSIRO said that as part of the arrangement it would get $1m to help develop a refuelling station for hydrogen vehicles.

“As Australia considers energy alternatives, we know hydrogen is clean and will be cost-competitive, but a major barrier to it becoming a fuel source for cars and trucks is how to refuel, and the lack of refuelling infrastructure,” the CSIRO’s executive director, Nigel Warren, said.

“The refueller is a significant step towards removing that barrier.”

Swinburne university’s vice chancellor, Pascale Quester, thanked the government and said the hydrogen hub would demonstrate the ways in which technology can “create a better world”.

A sister site will also be built in Stuttgart, Germany.

The Victorian government is also expected to release a hydrogen industry development plan in the coming weeks.

Taxi service under fire for Australian driver requirement

I use Taxis a fair bit and most drivers I encounter are Indians with very limited English. It can be very frustrating when you are trying to give directions and keep them on the right path. So having drivers who spreak good English would be a relief

But we should nonetheless be thankful to the Indians. It is a dangerous job and not many "old" Australians are willing to risk it. I was myself a taxi-driver many years ago and, although I was wary enough to avoid getting hurt, there were some hairy incidents. Something like half of one's customers are drunk

A taxi company is under fire after revealing it only hires Australian drivers whose first language is English.

Eureka Taxis launched its service in Ballan, about 78km northwest of Melbourne, on Monday, announcing the news to locals by posting in a community Facebook group. In the post, Eureka Taxis’ Matthew Matters said people in Ballan would be able to book a taxi and “be picked up by an Australian driver”. “All drivers are: Australian drivers, fully insured (and) have current working with children checks,” he wrote.

The majority of commenters seemed excited about having a new taxi service but not everyone was impressed with the prerequisite for drivers. “Up your arse I’m a wog,” one person wrote.

Co-owner Vivian Wilson responded to the man, pointing out she is from a European background and has no problem with the requirement for drivers to have English as a first language. “I have no issues when businesses ask for drivers to have English being your first language. I personally don’t take offence to it,” she said.

On another post Mr Matters made about Eureka Taxis, a few other locals questioned what the “Australian drivers” requirement meant. “Australian drivers means that English is their first language and they hold an Australian driving licence (not an international licence),” Mr Matters responded.

Ms Wilson clarified to The Ballarat News that English as a first language was a strict requirement for drivers but they could come from any background.

She said there are a lot of “multicultural drivers” where the company is based in Ballarat and Eureka Taxi’s requirement for their drivers to hold an Australian licence was based on customer demand.

“You’ve got drivers that will sit there and talk their own language while they have customers in the car which is quite rude,” she told the publication.

“The attention to the customer isn’t 100 per cent, so we are fulfilling that gap.”