Archive for November, 2013

Right side of history but offside with the electorate

November 19th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

NOT for the first time, Labor has fallen for the fallacy that defeat is more virtuous than victory. 

As I write in The Australian today, September’s loss seems inexplicable to many in the party, since Labor had the strongest moral claim on government.

National secretary George Wright told the National Press Club recently:

I would say we are on the right side of history. We are on the right side of science, we are on the right side of economics and on the right side of preserving for the long term our living standards.

Awkwardly, being on the right side of history puts the party on the wrong side of parliament. I write:

Once again, the Labor Party appears to be convinced that while they may not have run the best of election campaigns, it was the electorate that really stuffed it up.

And Kevin Rudd too, of course, but he has gone now, so everything is back on track. The party will show it is on the right side of history by digging in its heels in defence of an unsellable principle.

Having failed to make a persuasive case to put a price on carbon from government at two elections, Labor will now try to make the case from opposition and see how things go.

Averting the coming climate catastrophe is, of course, a laudable ambition but Labor should surely have registered by now that tree hugging is a middle-class luxury the workers’ party can ill afford.


ABS purges archives of inappropriate number crunching

November 12th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

2013-11-12 06.39.59 amThe Australian Bureau of Statistics has issued a warning about the language used in past editions of the Commonwealth Year Book advising that some readers may find it “inappropriate and offensive.”

A disclaimer was inserted at the front of 91 archived editions  last December. In The Australian today I comment:

Like the disturbing decision to remove the phrase “Known unto God” from the Tomb of the Australian Unknown Soldier, thankfully now reversed, the disclaimer reflects the modern habit of casting aspersion on our ancestors.

The monotonous narrative of progressivism, framed as a journey of moral improvement from barbarism to civilisation, encourages us to take a dim view of our predecessors.

The presumed moral turpitude of former times is seen as evidence of present-day virtue… [FULL ARTICLE]

The disclaimer is crass, intrusive and superfluous.

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In any case, the Commonwealth’s first official statistician, George Handley Knibbs, had the grace to acknowledge in the preface to the 1910 edition that he might be wrong:

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Fight to the death: The Age versus Latin

November 8th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The Age’s campaign against the teaching of Latin must surely be one of the longest in newspaper history.

Konrad Marshall and Craig Butt gave the language a good thrashing with the sarcasm stick on Wednesday:

 Latin is wonderfully useful language in everyday life … if you want to translate a school motto, or understand hidden messages in the novels of Dan Brown and the spells of Harry Potter.

Latin is also a crucial part of the professional lexicon … for Catholic priests reading church rites, or gardeners and medical students boning up on their biological taxonomy.

Melbourne readers with long memories will not have forgotten The Age’s withering assault on Melbourne University when it opened in 1855:

“We are struck with amazement at the costliness of this new toy. Already more than fifty thousand pounds have been sunk, and fifty thousand more are wanted; and, in addition, nine thousand pounds per annum must be spent – and all for what ? For teaching sixteen boys a little of Latin and Greek, a little of logic, and a little of Euclid. Nine thousand a year! Why it is at the rate of £600 a student. “

Naturally, the last word on Latin goes to Hilaire Beloc:

In vino Veritas. In Aqua satietas. In_ … What is the Latin for Tea? What! Is there no Latin word for Tea? Upon my soul, if I had known that I would have let the vulgar stuff alone.





Deniers may mock, but the science on Coca-Cola is in

November 5th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

FEDERAL Health Minister Peter Dutton remains conspicuously silent on his plans, if indeed he has any, to tackle the scourge of Coca-Cola.

2013-11-05 07.23.01 amSurely he cannot simply ignore the behaviour of this international sugar-peddling syndicate, for we now have it on the authority of the Obesity Policy Coalition that urgent government action is required.

“A failure to act now,” warn our fat-fighting friends, “will contribute to our growing public health crisis.”

Deniers may mock, but the science on Coca-Cola is in. We now know, thanks to sugar-temperance campaigners, of “a clear link between drinking soft drinks regularly and weight gain”.

It remains to be seen if Tony Abbott’s government will take steps to reduce carbonated beverage consumption. To be honest, his track record on carbon reduction is not exactly sparkling.

Should he fail to act, however, Abbott risks the ignominy of becoming the second worst prime minister in the nation’s history in the realm of preventive health. [FULL ARTICLE] 


The Enlightenment Made Us – book now

November 4th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments


What the sugar prohibitionist don’t tell you

November 4th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Obesity Policy Coalition tells us Coca-Cola consumption is contributing to a ‘growing public health crisis,’ yet there is scant evidence of a crisis at all, let alone one that is growing.

There is little doubt that Australians themselves are growing and the proportion of the population classified as overweight or obese is larger today than it was in 1995.

We can agree too that obese adults have in increased risk of contracting at least three chronic diseases: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

Does that constitute a growing health crisis however? Or could we in fact be getting healthier?

Here is what the anti-corpulence crusaders will not tell you:


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Sources: Commonwealth Year Book, ABS, 1971, p.182. and Causes of Death, ABS, 2011.

Australians are less than half as likely to die from heart disease at less than half the rate they were in 1970.


The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported a sharp  rise in the age-standardized prevalence rate of diabetes in Australia from 1.5 per cent of the total population in 1989-90 to 4.1 per cent in 2007-8.

Since then, however, the rate has stablised, rising only slightly to 4.2 per cent in 2011-12.

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Diabetes-related death rate, 1997-2010

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Source: AIHW National Mortality Database

Deaths from diabetes-related causes fell by 20per cent between 1997 and 2010.

Public health bodies recoil from good news because it is bad for business.

Yet the Obesity Policy Coalition cannot get away with calling for…

 “urgent and comprehensive action, including a range of regulatory reforms, policies, projects and programs”

… unless it is prepared to make a more convincing case that obesity is a growing public health crisis.

More on this in my column in tomorrow’s The Australian.

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When Facts give way to truthiness journalism is finished

November 2nd, 2013 | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The texts have been coming all day about my essay in The Weekend Australian today about the decadence of modern journalism.

All agree with me that the problem is not just broken business model; the profession has lost it’s way. It has abandoned the search for objective truth and the empirical method.

Am I wrong? I’d like to hear someone defend ‘journalism” like this or an editorial like this because it’s beyond my ability.

A taste of The Weekend Australian piece:

The truth has become secondary to what American comedian Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness”, the selection of facts one wishes to be true, rather than facts known to be true…

By abandoning the pursuit of truth, modern journalism appears to have fallen for the philosophical error that blights modern academe, the training ground for almost every recruit to the profession. The empirical route to knowledge through investigation, observation and reason is rarely respected. Instead, journalists have come to believe knowledge comes through revelation, a reversion to the pre-Enlightenment when the truth was revealed by the Almighty and mediated through his priesthood.

Which you can read in full here.

Expunging God from the Nation’s Soul

November 2nd, 2013 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The reaction to my story in Tuesday’s The Australian about the plans to remove the inscription “Known unto God” from the Tomb of the Australian Unknown Soldier in Canberra has been passionate.

Fortunately the idea has been knocked on the head after intervention from the Prime Minister, although many of us feel deeply uncomfortable that some other words on the tomb are being removed to make way for a quote from Paul Keating.

Peter Kurti and I discussed the boundary between the sacred and the profane in a podcast for the Centre for Independent Studies this week. [soon to be posted here]

Anne Summers in The Sydney Morning Herald today claims the stories this week by Miranda Devine and I are to blame for stopping an admirable proposal.

The zealots of News have saved us from the folly of using Australian words to honour Australian war dead. No doubt their victory will inflame their enthusiasm for further cultural and political vandalism.

Summers is wrong of course – the plans had been changed before our stories appeared. More to the point, the reaction from readers to the story shows how deeply out of touch the cultural elite are with the sentiments of the nation.

Merv Bendle’s emotional letter to The Australian expresses the popular mood on this issue.