Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Freedom from speech

It was Voltaire who said (paraphrased): "I disapprove of what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it" in his defence of the importance of freedom of expression. However, he did not go on to say "I'll defend to the death your right to not be criticised when you say something stupid" which appears to be the instant reaction that comes from the right-wing commentariat every time they are subjected any criticism of their views. Often this criticism is framed as somehow interfering with their right to free speech (although they are very happy to dole out criticism of other's views).

In Australia, this attitude was hardened during the Howard years, particularly during the rise of One Nation. Comments criticising the idiotic statements by Hanson were countered by the phrase "political correctness" (see previous blog post). In fact, it was Howard himself that lent credence to this position by commenting that the expression of these views showed that a "pall of political correctness" had been lifted from Australia.

Since then, the right has become emboldened to expect that their commentary will go unchallenged as the mere mention of "political correctness" along with other right-wing favourites such as accusations of "left-wing bias", "chattering classes" and "chardonnay-sipping lefties" can defeat even the most structured and compelling of arguments.

In fact, any criticism at all is construed as the inherent left-wing bias of the media that in some way is out to gag those poor commentators of the right - who, of course, don't get any coverage for their views.

The recent offensive comments by Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby have added a new excuse to the lexicon of right-wing commentary: "the vitriol of twitter". Indeed, according to Jim the offensive comments should have been allowed to pass uncritically as they were just a reflection of his views and those of "older diggers" who had come to not recognise the Australia in which they lived. Wallace accused [video] a small cabal of "twitter activists" who sought to "manipulate the media" of taking his offensive comments out of context. So it appears that "twitter activists" can be added to "chardonnay-sippers, "inner-city latte drinkers" "political correctness" and "chattering classes" as pejorative terms that the right can use to defeat any argument or criticism.

Free-speech is a nebulous thing to the right-wing commentariat. It is something that they should enjoy without criticism or having to defend their comments in any way. It only extends to things they agree with and things that they don't should be censored.

So although we may take Voltaire's words to heart and attempt to defeat stupid comments with reasoned argument (or reasonable criticism), the right (and in particular the Christian right), continue to use pejorative accusations to howl down anything with which they don't agree.

In the end, maybe it is Voltaire's famous prayer that ultimately explains the right's continual making of indefensible, idiotic comments and their outrage at the criticism that follows:

"I always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: "O Lord, make our enemies quite ridiculous!" God granted it."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Recipe: Crispy Mongolian Tofu

Crispy Mongolian Tofu


Crispy Tofu
1 pkt of firm Tofu
3 TB cornflour
1 Tsp garlic powder
pinch salt
3 TB peanut oil for frying

2 TB Dark Soy sauce
1 TB Light Soy sauce
1 TB Chinese rice wine
2 Tsp Rice wine vinegar
1/2 Tsp Sesame oil
2 Tsp Brown sugar

2 cm piece of finely chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves Garlic
1/2 Tsp dried chili flakes
3 Spring onions (green and white parts separated)
1 Capsicum
1 Bok Choy chopped
(any other vegies you'd like)
1 TB peanut oil for frying


For the crispy tofu:
Combine flour, salt and garlic powder
Cube the tofu and coat with the flour mixture
Fry in the oil until crispy (not brown) and set aside on kitchen paper to drain.

Quickly fry the chili flakes until fragrant and then add the garlic, ginger and whit parts of the spring onion. Fry for a few seconds more.
Add the chopped bases of the Bok Choy and the capsicum( and any other veg that need longer cooking)
Stir fry for 2 minutes or so.
Add green parts of the spring onion and bok choy leaves
Stir fry until cooked.

Add the combined sauce ingredients

Stir through the vegetable mix until all the vegies are coated (if the sauce is too thin, add 1 Tsp cornflour dissolved in a little water)

Just before serving, add the crispy tofu and stir to coat.

Serve with rice.

The Art of Censorship

Australia has always had a sorry record  of censoring the arts. From literature through to film, Australia's censorship scheme has been accused of being arbitrary and of being subject to political interference in what is meant to be a independent regime. This is despite the fact that the object of the scheme, set out in the classification guidelines, is to:
"...give effect, as far as possible, to the following principles:
  1. adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want;
  2. minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them;
  3. everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive;
  4. the need to take account of community concerns about:
    1. depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence; and
    2. the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner."
Despite these principles, a new attempt by the conservative elements of the Liberal party and the overly powerful Australian Christian Lobby to control what adults can see, is being mounted through the current inquiry into the Australian Film and Literature Classification Scheme chaired by conservative Christian Sen. Guy Barnett. Submissions to this inquiry have suggested that all art should be subject to classification before public display, and that the defence of "artistic merit" be removed. These submissions imply that this new regime merely "harmonises" the classification of artworks with the scheme that applies to other forms of media. However, this is just a thinly veiled attempt to use the economic disincentive of the requirement to classify artworks as a censorship regime.

The minimum fees applicable under the current regime range from $520 for a publication to $990 for a short film. A review of an adverse finding by the classification board is listed at $8,000. The visual arts, particularly the fine arts, has not been a traditionally high-earning sector for the vast majority of participants and so a financial imposition of this magnitude is likely to bar the display of their works for reasons of financial means rather than artistic merit or even the supposed "protection of minors from material that may harm or disturb them".

Although the proponents of this new regime argue that the classification of artistic works in this way is to prevent artworks being displayed that are grossly offensive, they continue to use the example of Bill Henson's work (described by Liberal Senator Julian McGauran as "paedophilia art") which was classified by the classification board as 'PG'. Regardless of what artistic merit or otherwise is attached to Henson's work, it is obvious from the continued use of this example that the real motive of these senators is to place an unacceptably high financial bar to the display of such work. This is despite the fact that it is unlikely to be classified in such a way that it cannot be displayed. It should be of grave concern that the classification scheme is to be subverted in this manner.

The display of artistic works is an important feature of any society; it adds richness and challenge to the way that we see ourselves. The creation of financial disincentive for artists to display their works is a grave act of subversive censorship. It should concern us all that those who advocate this regime are unable to see that a depiction of nudity is anything other than sexual in nature. This perception of the arts by the ACL and Liberal senators is more a reflection of the prurience of their own perceptions rather than the moral probity of their position.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Recipe: Japanese Curry

Japanese Curry is very different in flavour than other types of curry - sweeter and less spicy. Today I've tried to emulate the flavours from scratch rather than using one of the various packet curry mixes.


Spice Mix
3 tsp Turmeric
2 1/2 tsp Corriander
1 1/2 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Cardamon
1/2 tsp Black pepper
1/2 tsp Fennel
1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp Allspice
1/4 tsp Nutmeg

1 Star anise
1 Bay leaf
1 Clove of garlic (finely chopped)
2 1/2 cm Fresh ginger (finely chopped)
4 Carrots
2 Small turnips
1/2 Daikon radish
1 Brown onion (finely chopped)
1 Can crushed Tomato
1 Cup Dashi
2 TB Mirin
2 TB Sake
4 slices of Firm tofu
Pickled ginger to garnish

2 TB plain Flour
1 TB Ghee

Melt the ghee and add the onion and cook briefly on high heat. Turn the heat down, add a pinch of sea salt and continue to cook the onion until it is caramelised - about 15 mins.
Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant.
Add a small amount of the dashi and scape the carmalised bits of the bottom of the pan before adding the rest of the dashi.
Add the bay leaf and star aninse.
Add the mirin
Add the carrots, turnip and radish and continue to simmer until they start to soften (about 10 mins)
Add the tomato and continue to simmer over a low heat until the vegetables are softened (about another 10 mins).
Add the sake and simmer for a little more while you prepare the roux.
In another pan dry roast the spice mix.
Remove the spice mix from the pan and melt the ghee.
Add the flour and cook until the colour changes slightly.
Once the roux is cooked, add the roasted spice mix (add more ghee if it is too dry).
Add some liquid from the curry to fully dissolve the roux and then transfer the roux/spice mix back into the curry to thicken. You may need to add some water if it is too thick.
Pan fry the tofu slices until browned.

Pour the curry over the tofu slices and serve with rice. Use some pickled ginger as a garnish.

Enjoy with the remaining sake.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The paradox of neoconservative incentive

It has always been a feature of neoconservative economic theory that if a person has a large amount of wealth, then they should be encouraged to accumulate more wealth with generous incentives. These incentives have taken the form of tax cuts, subsidies and deregulation. However, at the other end of the scale the incentives are of more a punitive nature, such as income quarantining, welfare cuts, faux-employment (such as work for the dole) and other coercive measures.

There is an economic theory that describes this seemingly paradoxical position. However, it has become so distorted by the entrenched interests of those that use it to reflect their interests and beliefs - that the wealthy should be rewarded with more incentives from taxpayers, whereas the poor should be punished - that it has become unrecognisable as the original "marginal productivity theory". At its heart, this theory relies on the fact that it is inefficient for a company to pay more wages to an employee than they would produce in profits - which is true. However, the application of this theory tends to be distilled to "people who get paid more are more productive and therefore of greater utility to society" which may also be true up until a point. That point however gets lost when the class of those that are paid at the highest rates are also those who set those rates. It is then that the theory becomes distorted beyond its somewhat reasonable premise.

This is what we see when we examine the sort of executive salaries and bonuses that are handed out at the top levels. It is hard to see how these wages and bonuses are efficient, especially when companies perform worse under the stewardship of an ever more highly paid CEO. In fact, some of the highest paid CEOs in the world were responsible for the recent financial crisis which one would think was hardly an efficient allocation of the company's funds. That is probably why they cynically altered the name from "performance bonus" to "retention payments". However, these captains of industry still have the government conned arguing that any possibility of paying a reasonable share via tax will "send jobs offshore" or "destroy the productivity of the industry". They continue lobbying for even more subsidies, tax cuts and deregulation - arguing that the payment of these monies will spur further productivity which usually translates into a higher executive pay at the top and job cuts down the bottom - remember the marginal productivity theory?

At the other end of the scale we have the punitive measures that are bought to bear on the unemployed. The neoconservative theory goes something like this: "The unemployed are not productive; therefore it is inefficient to pay them". However, this makes the assumption that the unemployed are not made more productive (in the sense that they are more motivated to find work) by giving them money and the only way to give them more incentive is to remove it from them. This only works if the only reason why people are receiving unemployment benefit is for the money which, considering the paltry amount provided by the dole, is not as prevalent as "Today Tonight" and "A Current Affair" would have us believe. However, our very own neoconservative opposition leader is pandering to precisely those views. In a grab-bag of "bludger" bashing he has suggested punitive measures such as: income quarantining, forced re-location and the provision of labour at below minimum-wage cost (work for the dole). None  of these measures have been proven effective at lowering unemployment. However, they are effective at pandering to the ACA and TT crowds and to those that believe that it is inefficient to provide resources to the unemployed.

It is difficult to see how removing the unemployed from the usual workings of the economy by controlling their spending, removing them from their family support networks by forcing them to move to areas of higher employment or making them work at menial tasks at less than minimum wage will encourage them to find work. It is far more likely to marginalise them further.

However, this is a paradox that the neocons feel comfortable with because of this distorted perception of the efficient allocation of resources. When those perceptions are built from the perspective that only those that have access to wealth and resources should have access to further wealth and resources courtesy of the state because it is efficient merely because they have access to those resources. Not only does this allocation at the very top of the economy have no connection to productivity but it also feeds the distorted belief that the allocation of resources to those that have few resources is inefficient merely because they have few resources. Of course, the fact that this view has lead to a distortion of wealth distribution and a severe financial crisis does not seem to register with them, probably because it is in their interests to ignore it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

ICC entrenches the decline of world cricket

After a memorable 2011 Cricket World Cup, culminating with a great match between India and Sri Lanka, the ICC has once again shown its inability to see the big picture for the sport. The ICC has chosen to cut the number of teams from fourteen to ten - effectively freezing out the top Associate nations until 2019. This is despite the Associates providing some of the most entertaining matches and individual performances of the World Cup.

The traditional arguments that have been put forward by the ICC is that the Associates provide too many one-sided matches and that their inclusion increases the length of the already lengthy World Cup.

Both of these assertions are demonstrably false (and I have written previously on how the ICC can address the issues that lead to these assertions).

As we saw in this year's World Cup, the Associates provided some of the most entertaining cricket of the tournament - including the Netherlands putting together a total of 292/6 against England, pushing England to the last 8 balls of the match and Ireland's win over England. Although in some of the other matches the Associates were given a thrashing, the same could be said of Bangladesh- losing to the West Indies by 9 wickets (221 balls remaining) and South Africa by 206 runs - and Zimbabwe - losing to New Zealand by 10 wickets (99 balls remaining) and Sri Lanka by 139 runs. Even some of the stronger teams in the competition went down by big margins on occasion, for example Pakistan was defeated by New Zealand by 110 runs early in the competition.

The length problem is false too, considering that the ICC's broadcast contract guarantees a Word Cup of a certain length.

So the only conclusion that can be reached is that the ICC's decision is merely to entrench the interests of the test-playing nations to ensure that none of them are knocked out of the competition by the Associates. In other sports this would be tackled by those teams actually out-playing the Associates, but it seems that the ICC is intent on ensuring that incumbency defeats talent. As the chief executive of Cricket Ireland, Warren Deutrom, stated:

"It's a betrayal of the principles of sport and the principles of meritocracy and a level playing field. Surely the principle of sport is that if you are good enough you should have the chance to be involved. You have an Associate member who has been out-ranking a Full Member [Zimbabwe] for most of the last four years, who has got through to the Super Eights of the 2007 World Cup, and who has been genuinely been recognised as having performed even better at this one, yet on the back of those performances it [the ICC] has been seen fit to reduced the number of participants at the World Cup."
The true tragedy of the ICC's decision is that it will deny an entire generation of Associate players access to the premier ODI competition, most of whom will probably seek qualification with incumbent sides (particularly England, which is likely to deplete the Irish, Scottish and Dutch sides). In addition to the loss of players, the ICC's decision will also starve Associate nations of sponsorship. This will likely leave the Associates in the 2019 competition lacking in player depth and susceptible to the tired old arguments about one-sided competitions. This self-fulfilling prophesy will undoubtedly be used by the ICC to vindicate this decision.

William Porterfield, Ireland's Captain, was succinct, describing the ICC's decision as 'an absolute  joke'.

And indeed, if you were to look at the ICC's statement of values and see the following:

  • Openness, honesty and integrity
  • Excellence
  • Accountability and responsibility
  • Commitment to the game
  • Respect for our diversity
  • Fairness and equity

in the context of the decision to bar the Associates from competition, you could be forgiven for agreeing  that the ICC is a parody of a sports administration.