Pessimism of the will

I’ve reviewed Eric Hobsbawm’s How to Change the World in the new issue of Jacobin:

It is a little bright spot at the end of the penultimate, gloomiest chapter of Hobsbawm’s history of Marxism: at least the albatross of “really-existing socialism” might not hang around the neck of the latest generation to turn to Marx. “… [E]ven today only those in their thirties and above have any memory of the actual years of Cold War.” The idea that Marx was “the inspirer of terror and gulag, and communists… essentially defenders of, if not participants in, terror and the KGB” was no more valid than “the thesis that all Christianity must logically and necessarily lead to papal absolutism, or all Darwinism to the glorification of free capitalist competition.” Most “really-existing communists” in the West had been critics of Stalinism since 1956 (yes, says Hobsbawm, who stayed in the British Communist Party into the 1980s, even “by implication” within Moscow-line parties). But the line that socialism meant Stalin and Mao was always an effective rhetorical strategy for anti-communists, always a way to change the subject whenever socialists were in the conversation. As the Soviet Union and the Great Leap Forward recede into history, surely the shadows they cast over the very idea of a post-capitalist society will lighten. […]

Published in: on 16 March, 2011 at 8:07 am  Leave a Comment  

It Came from the Desert


Sydney does a good apocalypse. Our first Spring in Sydney, a plague of Bogong moths arrived, darkened the sky, coated the balcony for several days, then went back to their migration, though we kept finding stragglers for weeks. Today was much weirder.

Published in: on 23 September, 2009 at 2:43 pm  Comments (2)  

Natural disaster

In this study, the potential impact of climate change on southeast Australia is estimated. Simulations from two CSIRO climate models using two greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions scenarios are combined with historical weather observations to assess the changes to fire weather expected by 2020 and 2050. In general, fire weather conditions are expected to worsen. By 2020, the increase in ΣFFDI is generally 0-4% in the low scenarios and 0-10% in the high scenarios. By 2050, the increase in generally 0-8% (low) and 10-30% (high). The largest changes are expected in northern New South Wales. Little change is expected in Tasmania. With this increase in ΣFFDI, a larger number of days with a Fire Danger Rating of ‘very high’ or ‘extreme’ are also expected. The number of ‘extreme’ fire danger days generally increases 5-25% for the low scenarios and 15-65% for the high scenarios. By 2050, the increases are generally 10-50% in the low scenarios and100- 300% for the high scenarios. The seasons are likely to become longer, starting earlier in the year.

These results are placed in the context of the current climate and its tendencies. During the last several years in southeast Australia, including the 2006-07 season, particularly severe fire weather conditions have been observed. In many cases, the conditions far exceed the projections in the high scenarios of 2050. Are the models (or our methodology) too conservative or is some other factor at work?

Examining longer-term observations at eight stations, back to the early 1940s in many cases, reveals considerable inter-decadal variability. Periods of increasing and decreasing fire weather danger are apparent in the record. The peaks of these ‘cycles’ occur roughly every 20 years and the time series might suggest that we are at (or near) a peak, although there is no physical basis on which to estimate when or to what extent a decrease might occur.

There is also evidence for anthropogenic climate change being a driver of this upswing. The current peaks in ΣFFDI are much higher than observed in past instances. There are also a greater number of VHE days at many locales. There is also the suggestion that the fire season is starting earlier. Finally, the severity and length of the recent drought [e.g. Nicholls 2006] and the associated fire danger has not been seen in the available records.

The hypothesis posited in this study is that the naturally occurring peak in fire danger due to interdecadal variability may have been exacerbated by climate change. The test of this hypothesis comes over the next few years to decades. If correct, then it might be expected that fire weather conditions will return to levels something more along the lines of those suggested in the 2020 scenarios. If fire danger conditions stay this high, then the conclusion must be that the models used to make these projections are too conservative. Whatever the case, continued observation, as well as improved modelling are required to resolve this question.

What of the human impacts of these projected changes? The last few years, particularly the 2006-07 fire season, may provide an indication for the future. Early season starts suggest a smaller window for pre-season fuel-reduction burns. Logically, more frequent and more intense fires suggest that more resources will be required to maintain current levels of bushfire suppression. Shorter intervals between fires, such as those which burned in eastern Victoria during 2002-03 and 2006-07, may significantly alter ecosystems and threaten biodiversity. It is hoped that planning authorities can use this information in the development of adaptation strategies.

– Lucas, Hennessy, Mills and Bathols [2007]: “Bushfire weather in Southeast Australia: recent trends and projected climate change impacts”, Bushfire CRC, Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research. [Cheers for the link from Clive Hamilton in Crikey!]

Published in: on 10 February, 2009 at 11:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Scene in a Honolulu courtroom

Last Tuesday, September 2, in the court of District Judge Helen Gillmor:

Justice Department attorney Andrew Smith: OK, let’s assume that there was a NEPA [National Environmental Protection Act] obligation, and maybe there’s a NEPA document out there, maybe there’s not. But we don’t even need to get there. Plaintiffs’ complaint says they have to be injured by this project. Their only claim to injury…

Judge Gillmor: … is that the world might blow up, and so we shouldn’t get concerned about that. You’re right. Why was I even considering it? Mr. Smith, I mean, I really find that, you know, I don’t know if there’s anything to this case, but that’s just not a great direction to be going.

Smith: I’m not following you. I mean, if their only claim to injury is that the world’s …

Gillmor: That they might die.

Smith: Right.

Gillmor: Yes.

Smith: So they have to show that that’s a credible injury. Is it actually going to happen? I can’t just go into federal court and say, you know, ‘the United States is participating with Israel to launch a nuclear missile, satellite that has nuclear material in it, and that nuclear material might land on my house in Albuquerque. They didn’t do NEPA. I have standing.’ That’s what this case is about.

Gillmor: I understand what you just said, that hypothetical, but that’s not his [Wagner’s] hypothetical. His hypothetical … I mean, and you know, his hypothetical is that the world would be made into a, you know, hard iron rock, which is different than ‘I might be an unintended casualty of something that’s happening half around the world – way around the world, but the person next door wouldn’t be.’

Published in: on 10 September, 2008 at 7:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

A fly on the wall at the 2020 Summit

But the meeting’s facilitator, Insurance Australia Group’s Sam Mostyn, searching for solutions, not problems, replied: “Warwick, I’m looking for an idea.”

If parliament’s main committee room wasn’t carpeted, you could have heard a pin drop.

And McKibbin didn’t disappoint.

“The idea,” he replied, “is to build a framework.”

Soon everyone was piling onto the idea. After all, McKibbin wasn’t just proposing any old framework. It was, as Mostyn told the group, “a national framework, a big framework”.

But just as it seemed the room would erupt in some sort of national framework/co-ordinated policy/enabling institution fever, CSIRO economist Steve Hatfield-Dodds chipped in with a reality check.

“I think the idea we should have a co-ordinated approach to climate change does not qualify as big or new,” he proffered.

Before long, the nation’s best and brightest found themselves in a lengthy debate about what this thing might be called.

Yesterday afternoon they had their answer, as group leader Roger Beale revealed his panel’s first Big Idea: “a national, sustainability, population and climate change agenda”.

– John Breusch, “Getting to grips with the big one”, Australian Financial Review, 21 April, 2008.

Published in: on 21 April, 2008 at 9:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

More Brenner and Gindin

The Brenner-Gindin exchange has spilled over onto Louis Proyect’s site, where he collects their replies. Leo Panitch and Patrick Bond enter the field, too, and Doug Henwood sides with Gindin. Though as Brenner points out, we shouldn’t over-emphasise the disagreements. I would have posted this link as an update in yesterday’s post, but I didn’t want you to miss it.

Published in: on 6 January, 2008 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Waiting for crisis

This discussion at the Brecht Forum last month between Robert Brenner and Sam Gindin gives a good intro to two major strands of Marxish political economic thinking about what’s happening. The videos stop before each speaker is finished unfortunately, but there’s enough there to get the picture. Otherwise, if you prefer not to stuff around with Google Video, Louis Proyect helpfully supplies links to both sides’ arguments in print.

To the extent they disagree, I’m firmly on Gindin’s side. In the long run, capitalism has been pretty healthy on its own terms these last couple of decades. The ‘credit crunch’ may well trigger a major recession, especially in the US. But it’s pretty unlikely to be a systemic crisis.

Brenner is right to focus on the profit rate and to suggest its fall was a major link in the chain of the 1970s crisis. But his explanation for the decline – “the onset and persistence of chronic overcapacity in world manufacturing” – is not very convincing. And as Gindin points out, it’s the postwar boom that was the real exception in capitalism’s history, not the less impressive performance since. Not too much should be made of the failure of mature capitalism to maintain a long boom forever. Brenner’s hypothesis about the replacement of state debt by private debt is really interesting, though, but he is not entirely clear about how it has happened.

Gindin’s argument is the one he has been making for quite a few years along with Leo Panitch. You can read a lengthy version here, and I highly recommend it. The gist is this: the neoliberal turn of the 1980s has been very successful in re-establishing capital’s social dynamism. Of course economic cycles and financial crises are going to recur, but they are not systemically threatening – without a political alternative, with capitalism firmly naturalised in the political consciousness, crisis in fact makes a good excuse for restructuring and it is easy to pass the real costs onto labour. The real crisis is still for the left, and economic crisis is no short cut.

Published in: on 5 January, 2008 at 2:53 pm  Comments (4)  

Construction site, shrine, tourist destination

To mark the occasion, which seems so long ago now, here are some photos I took you-know-where last year.





Published in: on 11 September, 2007 at 12:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

A nightmarish alternative horrible to contemplate

Scott posts a spam poem at Reading the Maps. I’m also a connoisseur of this artform, although I think it has been in decline since the great wave of stock pump-and-dumps last year. Apparently, these scams actually do/did make the originators some money. Below is one of my favourites from that era. It says something about the source material that a random computer cut-up can generate something simultaneously hilarious and so full of dread.

‘Alexander Downer, media release at DFAT site But the Australian contingent of yes-men for bellicose American masters has been distracted somewhat in recent weeks.


The release of a new audio recording this month from famous al Qa’eda leader and spoken word artist Osama bin Laden went unmentioned by US President George W Bush.

But some analysts now maintain this is the best rather than the worse case scenario, painting a picture of a nightmarish alternative horrible to contemplate. Brown excuses SBS with the usual claims about the necessity of obtaining revenue from rapacious, inhuman corporate interests by selling airtime for the broadcasting of their repugnant messages.

Since making the 17-year old comments for which he has been brought to trial, new documents have apparently been brought to Irving’s attention which have shed new light on the issue.

And half of Israel’s nuclear arsenal will be put at Lebanon’s disposal. But around Australia there was record attendance at marches held to remember Australia’s wars and those that fought in them to such distinction.

But some analysts now maintain this is the best rather than the worse case scenario, painting a picture of a nightmarish alternative horrible to contemplate. ”’How do you justify this logic of having a full arsenal of nuclear weapons, but when it comes to nations such as ours, you do not even allow research? He was slapped again, once on each cheek. ‘Transcript of ABC Stateline Tasmania report on the upcoming State election .

The success of the rigorous community-based health care incentivisation programme for doctors is unfortunately not supported by the Coalition that controls Iraq. The Prime Minister is equal to the Zone of Chaos threat. Occasionally there is something to break the monotony of the long nights of intermittent mortar attack and other modes of Yankee-baiting.

Many of the pictures were also published by Salon. Most time capsules are designed to inform and provide a point of human contact between one generation and their descendents. Local authorities everywhere are prone to losing their pliability when world attention is on them.

But these are only minor contributing factors to the swelling pride in the Australian heart at the dawn of this new century.

Recent interventions in the Middle East have exacerbated rather than alleviated lingering resentment towards the West born of old injustices.

Musharraf expressed shock and disappointment at the publication of caricatures of Mohammed in Europe and the United States. In one incident in Australia’s capital Canberra, the image of Downer’s pixellated face was slapped several times about the cheeks.

Sharon’s condition has not improved significantly since a series of operations were performed to reduce bleeding on the brain.

The potential for carefully cultivated future generations is limitless, as long as this youthful nation stays the course.

In order to make Coca Cola truly democratic – the ultimate dream of the corporation’s executives, and those already drinking the refreshing beverage – some compromise is necessary in some areas.

The war on terror may get us all killed, say our capable leaders, statesmen, and officials. While the United States authorities declare that Bin Laden is alive, somewhere, and probably Pakistan, another possibility is under consideration. Institutional investors and money-men are now keenly reinvesting in companies likely to see significant profits from the production of the new-style vaccine for the deadly disease. Critics of the project say it is unreasonable to present Twenty-First Century humans in this poor light. The Liberal Party does not and has and will never supported the socialist nanny state that places close controls on the lives of the citizenry.

The Australian Government is critical of the Kyoto Protocol ratified by all the nations of the world except Australia and the United States.

In addition to the initial impact on the American psyche, a slow and wearing global war of attrition on American interests is centred on theatres chosen by the US.

Uranium enrichment is a key technology for producing nuclear fuel but also nuclear weapons.

Published in: on 15 August, 2007 at 10:02 pm  Comments (2)  

The last wave

Over at Homo Ludens Paddington wallows in the British floods and evokes great watery apocalypses of myth and literature.

Speaking of Dreamtime floods… a great cinematic rendering is Peter Weir’s The Last Wave [1978]. The premise is ever-so-slightly cliched: modern civilisation with its delusions of linear progress runs up against an Aboriginal vision of a cycle (and, of course, civilisation is on the down-stroke). But the execution is wonderfully creepy. Check out Pitt Street under water:

Shamefully, The Last Wave is out of print in Australia, and you can’t find it in the video store. I had to import the US Criterion Collection version.

Another great literary flood is in Wakefield’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which my evil twin blogged here.

Published in: on 31 July, 2007 at 9:05 pm  Comments (5)