September 27th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Malcolm Turnbull topples Brendan Nelson

EDITORIAL: Defence: new situations demand new policies

GLOBAL WAR ON TERRORISM: Landmark terrorist trials in Melbourne and London

FINANCIAL AFFAIRS: Why Wall Street imploded

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Australia facing external economic pressures

SCIENCE: Global-warming - myth, threat or opportunity?

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Breaking the truce on abortion

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The undeserving poor / The bolt from the blue / Sarah Palin / Ladder-kickers / Peter Costello

UNITED STATES: Sarah Palin appointment leaves Left apoplectic

ASIA: Rocky road ahead for Malaysia

HUMAN-TRAFFICKING: Vietnamese slave-labourers in Malaysia

COLD WAR: The spy who teetered on the edge

EDUCATION: Co-educational secondary schooling's drawbacks

SCHOOLS: Queensland school bans cartwheels

Water resources (letter)

Hearing the arguments (letter)

Palin for president? (letter)

Bio-fuels (letter)

BOOKS: 10 BOOKS THAT SCREWED UP THE WORLD: And 5 Others That Didn't Help, by Benjamin Wiker

Books promotion page

The undeserving poor / The bolt from the blue / Sarah Palin / Ladder-kickers / Peter Costello

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, September 27, 2008
The undeserving poor

The debate on whether to give single pensioners an increase of $30 a week - now - is bringing out attitudes which, frankly, I hadn't expected from Labor.

From the beginning, Kevin Rudd has been very frosty towards the aged, appears to have his eyes elsewhere, and seems determined to give out $30 billion in tax cuts to people who aren't exactly short of a bob. Brendan Nelson's response to all that seemed quite normal... Instead of which our hack commentators put it all down to grandstanding or his fighting for his leadership.

Rudd is simply reflecting new-class attitudes. They are unmoved by the old, the poor and the young who, they think, eat too much and crowd the table.

According to the new class, such people should be put in a separate room and given a different, cheaper meal. Their very presence upsets our new rich. Hence, perhaps, the fervent enthusiasm for euthanasia.


The bolt from the blue

My youngest son has given me a book called The Black Swan by a Lebanese mathematician and statistician, Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Penguin Books).

Taleb finished up working in the US financial system, specialising in risk-management. After a time he became interested in random events - those which escaped from the system of classification set up by economists and share-traders.

These random events are not predicted, perhaps are not predictable. They could not have been anticipated, but turn the received wisdom (e.g., "the market") on its head. Much of the book is about this received wisdom, its proponents and its practitioners.

In the end, our author decides that their models and the models which he used to be called upon to supply, are just that - models. He also decides that the advocates of all this received economic wisdom are self-deceived or, in some cases, fraudulent.

There is no certainty, and random events can have a totally disproportionate effect upon other events, even upon the world. He cites numerous examples of this indeterminacy principle at work.

As a risk-manager with a portfolio of clients, he has some advice. It is sobering, even chilling stuff.

He is not surprised by the ongoing meltdown about which he writes. Meantime, our media is continuing to intone the received wisdom, and it has been a joy this week to watch ABC television's Lateline thrashing around. If you have read what the people were saying in the 1930s Great Depression, you'll get the Lateline scene by now - lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Lateline, via a Fairfax journo interviewee, decided that it was all the fault of the US Administration. Blame George W. Bush.

Taleb also very cleverly traverses some of the philosophers, and all in all is a culturally engaging polymath. He says he does not read newspapers, and he rarely watches television, for they stop you thinking, or learning. Instead of which, he has a library of 30,000 books, and tries to read two a week. Want to try?


Sarah Palin

An example of the unpredictable but momentous event is the appearance of Sarah Palin, Republican Senator John McCain's choice for his vice-presidential candidate. Until her bursting upon the scene, the Democrats appeared to control the game.

Admittedly, they had damaged themselves through the long, obnoxious struggle between the factions for the swill buckets, and revived John McCain's campaign. And there were growing doubts as to whether Barack Obama was for real.

Nevertheless, the new class, nouveau riche cardboard Left, here and in America, were happy with the way things were going.

Sarah has suddenly taken the election by the scruff of the neck. Who could have contemplated this?

Caveats may, however, be necessary. To return to things we said much earlier on, as the world gets much harder for more and more Americans (and Australians?), the big question may become: who will look after the underdogs and the victims better? Who is more in touch?

The answer, of course, is neither of them. Nor their media supporters. The whole Camelot / Hollywood / business-friends-with-deep-pockets, which became the Democrat establishment, made expressions of concern for the weakest of society a little difficult to believe. But the Republicans were worse.

So the main questions for US voters might be: who will run the economy better? And who will protect the underdogs better?

But how much say do the parties have anyway?



One can talk - until laryngitis intervenes - about the widening gap between rich and poor, here, and just about everywhere.

Yet, just consider what schoolteachers are now demanding and getting, for doing even less and less. Something like three times what the working poor and large numbers of pensioners are getting after a lifetime of service.

What does this make our chalkies? Marxist aristocrats of labour? As to these aristocrats and the nomenklatura who infest the now bloated public sector generally - many of whom not only do not spin, nor do they sew - they really regard the old, the young, the poor, despite their radical exclamations, with something approaching disdain.

Being busy kicking the ladder away, they have no desire to help others climb it. Rather the contrary. Just watch them, as the social product shrinks, and there are calls for belt-tightening. Whose belts?


Peter Costello

I watched Peter Costello at the National Press Club this morning (Tuesday, September 16). He toyed with a privately hostile, but quite incompetent clutch of investigators.

Every question had been prepared before his address, and in many cases it was obvious that the interrogators had not read the book. In doing so, they revealed their natural incompetence.

Eventually wearied by this impotent malice, Peter promised a second volume on the media, with pen-portraits.

The hookers all blanched. It would be a great thing if Peter did as Mark Latham has done.

- Max Teichmann

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