Jul 31, 2015

WeMo home automation system easy to operate | afr.com

ust about every night when I get home from work, our little Scottish terrier Sherlock is there waiting to greet me.
He doesn't run to the door, but I can see he's glowing with anticipation at my arrival.
Literally, Sherlock is glowing when I get home.
Actually, most nights I presume he's glowing when I am 180 metres away, at the boundary of a rule I have set that turns on the lights as I approach the house. For, alas, we don't have a real dog, just an electric "Scotty Dog Light" that I have plugged into my WeMo home automation system.
The WeMo system, made by the networking and computer accessories company Belkin, is a portfolio of very-easy-to-install power switches, light switches, web cams, light globes and motion sensors that all have Wi-Fi built into them (or in the case of the light globes, another wireless technology known as ZigBee, which connects to a Wi-Fi bridge), that enables them to be controlled by an app that runs on your phone.
There's now also a metered power point, known as the WeMo Insight Switch, which not only allows you to turn devices on and off remotely, but also measures how much power the devices are using, and shows your consumption either as a summary in the phone app or as a 30-minute-interval spreadsheet you can download onto your phone.
It's not the broadest portfolio of home automation products, though Belkin does plan to release security motion sensors, keychain fobs that announce your presence to the house, door and window sensors, even siren detectors that relay fire and gas alerts to your mobile phone, that will help to make it much more complete
And nor is it the most sophisticated home automation system. You can set rules that combine, say, the motion sensor and the switch, that will turn on a light if movement is detected and if the sun has set but not yet risen, and then leave the light on for ten minutes after it detects the last movement, but that's the most sophisticated rule you can do.


But what's brilliant about the WeMo system is, it's one of the most compatible systems out there, and it's very popular, so many other apps and devices work with it. It works with the internet-based automation system If This Then That (IFTTT), which is how I was able to get Sherlock to switch on as I approach home: the IFTTT app running on my mobile phone triggers a rule on the IFTTT server when my location is within 181 metres of my house, and the IFTTT server communicates with my Insight plug to switch it on.
The trouble with IFTTT is that it can only cope with one condition at a time. You can create an IFTTT "recipe" that turns your WeMo switches on when it's dark, based on the official sunset and sunrise times for your location, and you can create a recipe that turns a WeMo switch on as your approach your house, but you can't create a recipe that turns the switch on as you approach, but only if it's dark outside. It's a gaping (and slightly absurd) weakness in the IFTTT system. That, and it's not 100 per cent reliable, which you sort of need in an automation system.
Belkin is doing what it can to enable IFTTT-type conditions in its slightly more sophisticated automation engine – the motion sensor rule I mentioned above, that only turns the light on when it's dark outside, was inspired by IFTTT – but it's only a drop in the ocean of what you could do if IFTTT only allowed you to gang conditions together the way it should.
But all is not lost on that front, either. Because Belkin has sensibly designed the WeMo platform so that it's visible to third-party devices on your home network (Belkin says it's holding back some features from third-party access, but all the features that matter seem to be available at this stage), there are very sophisticated home automation platforms available that can control your WeMo devices, as well as myriad other devices such as air conditioners, hifis, watering systems and even TVs, all within the context of a proper, fully programmable rules framework.


Using an open-source automation platform such as openHAB 2, for instance, you'd be able to set up a rule that paused your Sonos hifi and dimmed your WeMo lights in your living room when you turned on your Samsung TV, but only if it's night time and only if no one else is home, and simultaneously turned on your garden sprinklers, but only if Yahoo Weather hasn't reported rain in your location in the last 24 hours.
openHAB 2, which looks to me like the most promising of the free, open-source home automation platforms, also provides you with a web-based interface for WeMo, which Belkin itself has neglected to build. Its Android and iOS apps are very good – they're easy to use and reliable – but a web interface wouldn't hurt. In the few weeks I've been reviewing the WeMo system, there have been countless times I've had a PC in front of me, but not a phone, and I've had to hunt around for my phone just to turn the dog off.
The thing about openHAB 2, though, is it's still a work in progress. It's only at the alpha stage at the moment (that is, it's not even a beta!), and its developer tells me it won't be ready for beta release till the end of the year.
But that's true of this current "Internet of things" wave of home automation in general: it's a work in progress, and no one really knows how it will play out. Samsung, Google and Apple all look likely to be major players, but thanks to its popularity and its compatibility with other systems, Belkin looks like it could be big player, too.
That doesn't mean WeMo is a safe bet, if you're looking for a long-term home automation system. But what is a safe bet nowadays? Even the love of my dog Sherlock isn't a sure thing. Some nights I come home and he's just sitting there. He's not lit up, and he's paying me no attention whatsoever.
Stupid electric dog.

Protectionist sentiments against national interest | The Australian

For a country that has prospered immensely from trade, capital inflow and migration, it defies belief that xenophobia continues to rear its head in our politics and political debates. You’ll find such ugly and wrongheaded sentiments aired in the bush, in outer suburbs, on the shopfloor and, most bizarrely, among the delegates of Labor’s national conference. Having concluded a historic free trade agreement with China, Australia is poised to reap tremendous benefits, not only economically but in cultural and social terms as well. Yet the economic vandals and workplace Visigoths of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union want to keep out Chinese workers and are running a fraudulent advertising campaign to scuttle the trade deal. To preserve their cosy position on building sites, the CFMEU risks destroying a chance to boost our exports, reduce the cost of inputs, create jobs and improve the efficiency of our local producers.
The ALP conference has indulged the militant union’s dangerous, nativist tilt and given succour to other protectionist sentiments of the illiterate Left and Right. The resolution on the China FTA committed the party to “exploring every possible option” and pursuit of “all possible parliamentary processes” to ensure local workers were not disadvantaged under its terms. Bill Shorten has miscast the agreement as a “race to the bottom on wages and con­ditions” and under the weasel-word banner of “safeguards” wants to rewrite provisions on labour standards, skills testing and conditions. These are spurious arguments. Normal 457 visa conditions will apply, where Australian workers have first call on job vacancies. Chinese workers will have their skills accredited here. As always, wages and conditions on projects will be determined by our workplace laws.
Over its history, organised labour has fanned fears that temporary foreign workers will steal Australian jobs. As economics editor David Uren argued yesterday, foreign workers need to be housed, fed, clothed and entertained. They boost local retail sales and services. After the global financial crisis, the increase to demand from the influx of temporary workers to fill workforce gaps may have had a broader economic impact than Kevin Rudd’s extravagant stimulus program at its peak. In the spirit of reformist Labor leaders such as Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, Mr Shorten and his treasurer-in-waiting Chris Bowen should denounce this self-defeating, forlorn push. That both men are encouraging this union-led hysteria tells you how weak their commitment to the free market is and who holds the real power within Labor ranks.
Logically, any tampering to the FTA will be economically costly; Trade Minister Andrew Robb argues delay could hurt our industries by as much as $300 million next year. Labor should heed the words of former leader and trade minister Simon Crean, who argues free trade is “a multiplier of economic growth”. Mr Crean urged Labor not to vote against the China FTA, but to work closely with the Abbott government. If Mr Shorten and Mr Bowen, both avowed economic pragmatists, are true champions of jobs and investment, they must stop this nonsense, enhance engagement with our largest trading partner and promote policies that reduce trade barriers. Such ominous tendencies on the Left do not bode well for the ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership, currently being negotiated by Mr Robb in Hawaii. The vast TPP aims to cover a dozen nations, which account for 40 per cent of global GDP.
If anyone thought conservatives were immune to economic idiocy, there are protectionist holdouts within the Coalition. Tony Abbott is facing a Nationals revolt on the TPP. MPs from Queensland’s so-called “sugar seats” are opposed to the watershed deal because they fear the US will not open its market to sugar producers. More than a decade ago when we negotiated an FTA with the US, sugar was not liberalised. Our canegrowers were compensated at the time by the Howard government. Of course, Mr Robb will try to carve out better access for our local producers. But if he can’t succeed, where others have failed, Nationals MPs must yield to the national interest.
A Hansonite, nay Palmerite, strain has emerged on the Coalition side, fearful of foreigners buying agricultural land and residential property. The TPP has the potential to transform the region’s economies and to promote the cause of multilateral free trade, which has struggled for progress since the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of talks just over two decades ago. Although the Prime Minister was berating the Left’s troglodytes yesterday for xenophobic impulses on the China FTA, the same broad principles come into play on the TPP. When trade barriers come down, so do production costs. Productivity is able to flourish, capital can flow more easily, jobs are created and living standards rise. It is a virtuous circle.

Jul 30, 2015

Why Organic Isn't 'Sustainable'

As can be seen from the popularity of rip-off artists like Whole Foods markets, organic foods are popular.  The U.S. market for organic produce alone was $12.4 billion last year.
Some of the devotion from consumers attains almost cult-like status, which is why a recent article by Stanford University researchers that was dismissive of health or nutritional benefits of organic foods created such a furor.
The study, by researchers in the university’s Center for Health Policy and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was a meta-analysis in which results from the scientific literature were combined but no new, original laboratory work was conducted.  Data from 237 studies were aggregated and analyzed to determine whether organic foods are safer or healthier than non-organic foods.  They concluded that fruits and vegetables that met the criteria for “organic” were on average no more nutritious than their far cheaper conventional counterparts, nor were those foods less likely to be contaminated by pathogenic bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella.
The investigators themselves were surprised by the result.  “When we began this project, we thought that there would likely be some findings that would support the superiority of organics over conventional food,” according to physician Dr. Dena Bravata.
Many devotees of organic foods purchase them in order to avoid exposure to harmful levels of pesticides.  But that’s a poor rationale: Although non-organic fruits and vegetables do have more pesticide residue, more than 99 percent of the time the levels are below the permissible, very conservative safety limits set by regulators – limits that are established by the Environmental Protection Agency and enforced by the Food and Drug Administration.
Ironically, the designation “organic” is itself a synthetic construct of bureaucrats that makes little sense.  It prohibits the use of synthetic chemical pesticides – although there is a lengthy list of exceptions listed in the Organic Foods Production Act  – but permits most “natural” ones (and also allows the application of pathogen-laden animal excreta as fertilizer).
These permitted pesticides can be toxic.  As evolutionary biologist Christie Wilcox explained in a September 2012 Scientific American article (“Are lower pesticide residues a good reason to buy organic?  Probably not.”): “Organic pesticides pose the same health risks as non-organic ones.  No matter what anyone tells you, organic pesticides don’t just disappear.  Rotenone is notorious for its lack of degradation, and copper sticks around for a long, long time.  Studies have shown that copper sulfate, pyrethrins, and rotenone all can be detected on plants after harvest—for copper sulfate and rotenone, those levels exceeded safe limits.  One study found such significant rotenone residues in olives and olive oil to warrant ‘serious doubts…about the safety and healthiness of oils extracted from [fruits] treated with rotenone.’”  (There is a well-known association between rotenone exposure and Parkinson’s Disease.)
There is another important but unobvious point about humans’ ingestion of pesticides: The vast majority of pesticidal substances that we consume occur in our diets “naturally, and they are present in organic foods as well as conventional ones.  In a landmark research article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesUniversity of California, Berkeley, biochemist Bruce Ames and his colleagues found that “99.99 percent (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves.  Only 52 natural pesticides have been tested in high-dose animal cancer tests, and about half (27) are rodent carcinogens; these 27 are shown to be present in many common foods.”
The bottom line of Ames’ experiments: “Natural and synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be positive in animal cancer tests.  We also conclude that at the low doses of most human exposures the comparative hazards of synthetic pesticide residues are insignificant.”
In other words, consumers who buy overpriced organic foods in order to avoid pesticide exposure are focusing their attention on 0.01% of the pesticides they consume.
There seems to be confusion about these issues even at the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), which in October released a report that appeared to endorse organic produce because of its lower levels of pesticide residues, while at the same time admitting, “in the long term, there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease.”
Perhaps the most illogical tenet of organic farming is the exclusion of “genetically engineered” plants – but only if they were modified with the newest, best, most precise and predictable techniques.  Except for wild berries and wild mushrooms, virtually all the fruits, vegetables and grains in our diet have been genetically improved by one technique or another – often as a result of seeds being irradiated or genes being moved from one species or genus to another in ways that do not occur in nature.  But because genetic engineering is more precise and predictable, the technology is at least as safe as – and often safer than – the modification of food products in cruder, “conventional” ways that can qualify as organic.
There are examples of new varieties of plants, including two varieties each of potatoes and squash and one of celery, that have sickened or killed consumers, but all of these were the result of conventional genetic modification – which would qualify for organic farming.
The organic community remains unswayed by either biology or history, however, and modern genetic engineering remains prohibited from organic agriculture.  This bias against genetic engineering in organic agriculture makes recommendations such as those of the American Association of Pediatrics especially dubious because as genetically engineered “biofortified” foods with enhanced levels of vitamins, antioxidants and so on appear, none of them will be available to organophiles.

Another rationale for buying organic is that it’s supposedly better for the natural environment.  But the low yields of organic agriculture – typically 20-50 percent lower than conventional agriculture – impose various stresses on farmland and especially on water consumption.  A British meta-analysispublished in September of this year in the Journal of Environmental Management identified some of the environmental stresses that were higher in organic, as opposed to conventional, agriculture: “ammonia emissions, nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions per product unit were higher from organic systems,” as was “land use, eutrophication potential and acidification potential per product unit.”

Questioning the banality of evil | The Psychologist

S. Alexander Haslam and Stephen D. Reicher re-examine the established view, in an article based on the 2007 Argyle Lecture
There is a widespread consensus amongst psychologists that tyranny triumphs either because ordinary people blindly follow orders or else because they mindlessly conform to powerful roles. However, recent evidence concerning historical events challenges these views. In particular, studies of the Nazi regime reveal that its functionaries engaged actively and creatively with their tasks. Re-examination of classic social psychological studies points to the same dynamics at work. This article summarises these developments and lays out the case for an updated social psychology of tyranny that explains both the influence of tyrannical leaders and the active contributions of their followers.
Us and them
And, after all, we’re only ordinary men.
Me and you
God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do.
Pink Floyd, Us and Them

It is relatively rare that the ideas in psychology texts become so well known that they influence popular culture.  However, as the above lyrics attest, one such idea maintains that if you put ordinary decent people in groups and create a division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ then they will descend mindlessly into brutality, to the extent that they might even be prepared to commit mass murder. And in a world where the brutality of groups is as apparent as ever, this idea continues to have widespread appeal.
A search for the roots of this position takes us on a well-worn trail through many of the most famous psychological studies ever conducted. It starts with the work of Solomon Asch, which has been understood to show that fellow group members can influence people to deny the evidence of their own eyes so that they mismatch lines of clearly different length. It continues through the obedience studies of Stanley Milgram (1974), in which well-adjusted men participating in a bogus memory experiment proved willing to deliver electric shocks of murderous magnitude to another person who posed as a ‘learner’. It culminates with Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. Here college students who were randomly assigned to be guards in a simulated prison adopted their roles with such brutality and vigour that the study had to be halted before it was half-way through.
But the evidence is not just psychological. At the very same time as Milgram was running his studies in the United States, the influential political theorist Hannah Arendt was in a courtroom in Jerusalem watching the trial of Adolf Eichmann — one of the chief architects
of the Endlösung der Judenfrage (the ‘final solution to the Jewish question’). In many ways, then, Eichmann should be the personification of evil – akin to the monster Saturn depicted devouring his own son on the cover of this issue. Yet at his trial what struck Arendt was not how evil he appeared but, on the contrary, how utterly normal he was. He came across as a bland, passionless, simple man. This, for her, was the truly frightening thing, because it meant that Eichmann could not be dismissed as mad or as different from the rest of us. In Arendt’s (1963) words, the lesson of the trial was that of the ‘fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil’.
This view that ordinary people can do monstrous things derives strength neither from psychology alone nor from history alone, but from the convergence between the two. And that convergence extends beyond identification of the phenomenon, to the way in which it is explained. According to Arendt, Eichmann and his fellow bureaucrats became obsessed with the technical details of genocide (e.g. timetabling transport to the death camps) and, in so doing, they lost sight of the larger picture. They had no awareness that their acts were wrong. They simply followed orders mechanically, unimaginatively, unquestioningly.  
When Milgram sought to make sense of what had happened in his own obedience studies, he explicitly adopted this explanation, noting that ‘Arendt’s conception of the banality of evil comes closer to the truth than one might dare to imagine’ (1974, p.23). In his own writings, though, he translated Arendt’s ideas into the concept of an ‘agentic state’ in which people suspend their capacity to make informed moral judgments and relinquish responsibility for what they do to those in authority. Regardless of what it is that they are being asked to do, once in an agentic state, the person’s sole concern becomes how well they do the bidding of these authorities.
These ideas were later taken even further by Zimbardo. He argued that the sense of obligation and duty to which Milgram referred was not dependent on the presence of strong authority figures. Instead, he suggested that people can be led to perpetrate atrocities not because they blindly follow orders, but because they conform blindly to what is expected
of them as a group member. Thus, in the specific case of the Stanford study, Zimbardo and colleagues argued that ‘acts of guard aggression were emitted simply
as a “natural” consequence of being in the uniform of a “guard” and asserting the power inherent in that role’ (Haney et al., 1973). The message here is that even the most thoughtful and humane individual will become a brutal zombie if put in the wrong sort of group. Accordingly, tyranny is not something we have control over or responsibility for. It is not only ‘natural’, in many situations it is inevitable.  
To bring things full circle, just as Milgram based his analysis on Arendt’s historical observations, so the historian Christopher Browning (1992) later used Zimbardo’s psychological explanations to explain historical evidence related to the activities of Reserve Police Batallion 101, a Nazi killing unit that murdered around 40,000 Polish Jews at the height of WWII. Browning argues that the members of this unit were just ‘ordinary men’ (the title of his book) and that the situation in 1940s Poland, together with the role expectations placed upon Nazi battalions, was enough to make mass murderers of them – just as, in Stanford, ‘the prison system alone was a sufficient condition to produce aberrant, anti-social behaviour’ (Browning, 1992, p.168). Browning ends his book with the disturbing question: ‘If the men of Reserve Police Batallion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men cannot?’ (p.189).    

The ingenuity of evil

Until recently, there has been a clear consensus amongst social psychologists, historians and philosophers that everyone succumbs to the power of the group and hence no one can resist evil once in its midst. But now, suddenly, things don’t seem quite so certain. On the historical side, a number of new studies – notably David Cesarani’s (2004) meticulous examination of Eichmann’s life and crimes – have suggested that Arendt’s analysis was, at best, naive. Not least, this was because she only attended the start of his trial. In this, Eichmann worked hard to undermine the charge that he was a dangerous fanatic by presenting himself as an inoffensive pen-pusher. Arendt then left. Had she stayed, though, she (and we) would have discovered a very different Eichmann: a man who identified strongly with anti-semitism and Nazi ideology; a man who did not simply follow orders but who pioneered creative new policies; a man who was well aware of what he was doing and was proud of his murderous ‘achievements’.
A spate of books have made similar arguments about the psychology of Nazi functionaries in general (see Haslam & Reicher, 2007a, for a review). They all suggest that very few Nazis could be seen as ‘simply following orders’ – not least because the orders issued by the Nazi hierarchy were typically very vague. As
a result, individuals needed to display imagination and initiative in order to interpret the commands they were given and to act upon them. As Ian Kershaw notes, Nazis didn’t obey Hitler, they worked towards him, seeking to surpass each other in their efforts. But by the same token, they also had a large degree of discretion. Indeed, as Laurence Rees (2005) notes in his recent book on Auschwitz and the ‘final solution’, it was this that made the Nazi system so dynamic. Even in the most brutal of circumstances, people did not have to kill and only some chose to do so. So, far from simply ‘finding themselves’ in inhumane situations or inhumane groups, the murderers actively committed themselves to such groups. They actively created inhumane situations and placed themselves at their epicentre. This was true even of concentration camp regimes:
Individuals demonstrated commitment by acting, on their own initiative, with greater brutality than their orders called for. Thus excess did not spring from mechanical obedience. On the contrary; its matrix was a group structure where it was expected that members exceed the limits of normal violence.
(Sofsky, 1993, p.228)

In short, the true horror of Eichmann and his like is not that their actions were blind. On the contrary, it is that they saw clearly what they did, and believed it to be the right thing to do.
But even if Hitler’s killers were not the mindless functionaries of fable, doesn’t the work of Milgram and Zimbardo still show that ‘ordinary men’ can become brutal by becoming mindless under the influence of leaders and groups? Not really. For if the studies of Milgram and Zimbardo are subjected to the same close critical scrutiny that has transformed Holocaust scholarship, their explanations are also found wanting. In arguing this, we are not questioning the fact that both studies are of great importance in showing that ordinary people can do extreme things. The issue, rather, is why they do them.
In Milgram’s case there are three key problems with his ‘agentic state’ account. First, there is no relationship between the extent to which people cede responsibility to experimenters and the extent to which they obey them. It is not true that people obey because they have put themselves in the hands of an authority figure.
Second, if one listens to the conversations that occurred between participants and experimenters, it is clear that people are not concerned simply with how well they are ‘following orders’. Rather they are very aware of the shocks they are inflicting on ‘learners’ and they wrestle with their consciences in seeking to determine whether what they are doing is morally justifiable in general terms or even noble in terms of assuring scientific progress.
Third, there is considerable variation in the level of obedience displayed in different variations of the study which are hard to explain in Milgram’s own terms. For instance, the study was conducted both in prestigious Yale and down-market Bridgeport. One might expect the relative authority of the experimenter to be greater in the less privileged area, thus leading to more of an agentic state and hence more compliance. Yet obedience was actually lower in Bridgeport than Yale. An alternative approach is to suggest that participants were less likely to identify with experimenters in Bridgeport and hence less likely to take on board their scientific priorities (relative to the welfare needs
of fellow participants). This suggests that whether we listen to authorities or support victims depends upon the extent to which we perceive ourselves to share social identification with them (Turner, 1991).
There are even stronger grounds for doubting the received wisdom in Zimbardo’s case. As we have already outlined, the Stanford study is often used to argue that researchers do not have to
go to the lengths that Milgram did in order to elicit brutality. Brutal roles will suffice even in the absence of brutal leaders. But the problem with this argument is that, in reality, Zimbardo went further than Milgram in encouraging his participants to abuse others (Banyard, 2007). In briefing guards at the very start of his
study, he told them:
We can create in the prisoners feelings of boredom, a sense of fear to some degree, we can create a notion of arbitrariness that their life is totally controlled by us, by the system, you, me… They’ll have no freedom of action, they can do nothing, or say nothing that we don’t permit. We’re going to take away their individuality in various ways. In general what all this leads to is a sense of powerlessness.   
(Zimbardo, 2007, p.55)

What is striking here is the way in which Zimbardo both defines the guards and himself as part of a common group (‘we’) and then defines the tyrannical ways in which all should behave. That is, not only is he the source of malevolent leadership (like Milgram’s experimenter), but he also actively encourages the guards to identify with his leadership.
Even so, not all the guards went along with him. Zimbardo notes how some sided with the prisoners, some were strict but fair, and only a minority became truly brutal – notably one guard dubbed ‘John Wayne’ on account of his arrogant swagger. After the study, ‘John Wayne’ explained his actions, and it is apparent that he identified so fully with Zimbardo’s leadership that he fancied himself an experimenter in his own right – using his creativity and imagination to invent new humiliations and pushing people ever further to see how far they would go before they snapped (Zimbardo, 2007).
So from Stanford, as from the obedience studies, it is not valid to conclude that people mindlessly and helplessly succumb to brutality. Rather both studies (and also the historical evidence) suggest that brutality occurs when people identify strongly with groups that have a brutal ideology. This leads them to advance that ideology knowingly, creatively and even proudly. The question we need to address then is ‘What leads people to create and maintain such social identifications?’ We suggest there are three parts to the answer.
1) Individual differences
In a simple but powerful study, Carnaghan and McFarland (2007) placed two adverts in a newspaper. The first advert was an invitation for individuals to participate in a standard psychological experiment. The second followed the wording of the original advert for Zimbardo’s Stanford study — calling for people to participate ‘in a psychological study of prison life’. Those who responded to the second advert were very different from those who responded to the first. They were much more likely to believe in the harsh and hierarchical world that exists in prison. This finding suggests that, where there is a free choice, not just anyone would elect to put themselves in a ‘prison’ situation and take on a ‘prison’ role.
The simplest way of explaining such choices would be to put them down to personality, level of authoritarianism, social dominance, or some other such individual factor. However, our own prison study (conducted in collaboration with the BBC; Reicher & Haslam, 2006, and www.bps.org.uk/pris) suggests a more nuanced explanation. Here (as in Zimbardo’s study) several of those assigned to be guards refused to embrace this role. The primary issue for these individuals was how an enthusiastic embrace of the guard group membership would impact upon their other valued group memberships. Would tyrannical behaviour undermine their social identities at home, at work, at leisure? This suggests that people will be less likely to identify with groups with tyrannical norms the more that their membership of groups with different norms is salient and the more that they are made accountable to those alternative groups.
2) Contexts of crisis and group failure
It may be that there are certain people who, in any given context, are more likely to identify with tyrannical and brutal groups, but equally there are some contexts which make everyone more likely to accept such groups. Perhaps the most surprising finding from the BBC Prison Study was its demonstration of the way in which our participants, who started off holding democratic views and opposing inequality, gradually became more authoritarian as their groups failed to function effectively and the overall system fell into chaos. In such situations, the notion of a strong leader who would forcibly – even brutally – impose and maintain order became, if not actually attractive, at least less unattractive (Haslam & Reicher, 2007b). What we saw here, then, was that authoritarianism – often seen as the key personality variable that explains the dynamics of tyranny – was itself changed as a function of social dynamics.  
There are strong parallels here with historical studies of the context in which the Nazis ascended to power (e.g. Hobsbawm, 1995). The Weimar Republic, which preceded Nazi rule, was riven between democrats and those who dreamed of a strong domineering leader. As the republic fell into economic and political crisis, so the middle classes deserted democracy and embraced Hitler as the man who would save them. This process
is encapsulated in the words of a school teacher who, writing in 1934, explained why he had joined the Nazis:
I reached the conclusion that no party but a single man alone could save Germany. This opinion was shared by others, for when the cornerstone of a monument was laid in my hometown, the following words were inscribed on it: ‘Descendants who read these words, know ye that we eagerly await the coming of the man whose strong hand may restore order’.
(quoted in Abel, 1986, p.151)

Theoretical and practically, the dynamics through which such views emerge point to ways in which standard personality-based accounts of tyranny need to be radically rethought.   
3) Leadership
Whatever is going on in the world, however great the crisis, it is still necessary for people to make sense of events, to explain how current difficulties came about and to have a vision of how they can be resolved. But we do not interpret the world on our own, as many social psychological models tend to imply. Rather, people are surrounded by would-be leaders who tell them what to make of the world around them. For this reason, the study of leadership must be a central component of any analysis of tyranny and outgroup hostility. Indeed, tyrannical leaders only thrive by convincing us that we are in crisis, that we face threat and that we need their strong decisive action to surmount it. In the BBC study, participants as a whole may have become relatively more authoritarian, but it still needed active leadership to exploit this and to make the case for a new tough regime.The role of leaders becomes particularly pernicious when they suggest that ‘our’ problems come about because of the threats posed by a pernicious outgroup. In this way they can begin to take the groups with which we already identify and develop norms of hostility against outsiders. Their role becomes even more dangerous when they tell us that ‘we’ are the sum of all virtues so that the defence of virtue requires the destruction of the outgroup that threatens us. These are the conditions which allow groups to make genocide normative and to represent mass murder as something honourable (Reicher et al., 2006). It was the logic to which Eichmann subscribed when, after the end of the war, he said: ‘If, of the 10.3 million Jews…we had killed 10.3 million, then I would be satisfied. I would say “All right. We have exterminated an enemy”’ (quoted in Cesarani, 2004, p.219).
Changing the mantra
Until recently, psychologists and historians have agreed that ordinary people commit evil when, under the influence of leaders and groups, they become blind to the consequences of their actions. This consensus has become so strong that it is repeated, almost as a mantra, in psychology textbooks and in society at large. However critical scrutiny of both historical and psychological evidence – along with a number of new studies, e.g. Krueger (in press); Staub (in press) – has produced a radically different picture. People do great wrong, not because they are unaware of what they are doing but because they consider it to be right. This is possible because they actively identify with groups whose ideology justifies and condones the oppression and destruction of others.
As we have suggested, this raises a whole set of new questions: Who identifies with such groups? When does identification become more likely? How do genocidal ideologies develop? What is the role of leaders in shaping group ideology? We do not pretend to have a full set of answers to these questions. But we do insist that, unless one asks the right questions, any answers will be of little use.
Our complaint against the old consensus is that, for far too long, it has asked the wrong questions and led us to seek the key to human malevolence in the wrong place. Cesarini’s study of Eichmann led him to conclude that: ‘the notion of the banality of evil, combined with Milgram’s theses on the predilection for obedience to authority, straitjacketed research for two decades’ (2004, p.15). We agree. As John Turner (2006) argues,
it is time to escape our theoretical prisons.
BOX: Ordinary women?
When we think of torturers, tyrants and their lackeys, we tend to think of men. And it is certainly true that most of the psychological studies of conformity, obedience and inhumanity have only involved male participants. However, history shows that women can be every bit as inhumane as men. One need only think of Irma Grese, the most brutal of the 200 female SS guards at Auschwitz or Ilse Koch, the head female guard at Buchenwald. As with their male counterparts, research by Claus Christensen (2006) suggests that the female SS killers did not have extraordinary backgrounds but were ‘ordinary women’ who, for a range of reasons, became highly identified with the ideology and goals of the Nazi regime. 
This is not to say that gender is irrelevant to the issue of tyranny. For numerous women, the content and norms of their gender identity would be strongly at odds with any form of hierarchy or inequality. Yet for many women, gender was integral to the appeal of Hitler, a powerful patriarchal leader. So, rather than making general statements about how sex and gender might relate to tyranny, we need to examine how different definitions of gender identity may be more or less compatible with authoritarianism and hence facilitate
or impede identification with authoritarian groups.
I    S. Alexander Haslam
is Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Exeter
I    Stephen D. Reicher
is Professor of Social Psychology and Head of the School of Psychology at the University of St Andrews


Abel, T. (1986). Why Hitler came to power. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Arendt, H. (1963). Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the banality of evil. New York: Penguin.
Banyard, P. (2007). Tyranny and the tyrant. The Psychologist, 20(8), 494–
495. See www.thepsychologist.org.uk.
Browning, C. (1992). Ordinary men. London: Penguin.
Carnahan, T. & McFarland, S. (2007). Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 603–614.
Cesarani, D. (2004). Eichmann: His life and crimes. London: Heinemann.
Christensen, C.B. (2006). The women from Lublin: The guards of Majdenek. Historisk Tidsskrift, 106, 583–585.
Haney, C. Banks, C. & Zimbardo, P. (1973). Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison. International Journal of Criminology and Penology, 1, 69–97.
Haslam, S.A. & Reicher, S.D. (2007a). Beyond the banality of evil. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 615–622.

Henderson’s Santamaria book highlights NCC’s crucial role | The Australian

Gerard Henderson has written a fascinating new biography of BA Santamaria that is published this week. Santamaria was the founder and leader of the National Civic Council until his death in 1998. He was the spiritual founder of the Democratic Labor Party, the anti-communist group that split from the Labor Party in the mid-1950s.
Santamaria was also famous for his weekly Point of View television broadcasts and the column he wrote for The Australian.
Henderson’s detailed and very readable biography adds a great deal of new information about Santa and the internal workings of the NCC. Yet the NCC, separate from Santa himself, has mostly been erased from history. It was partly to colour in some of the whited out aspects of our political history that I wrote the chapters about the NCC in my memoir published this week, When We Were Young and Foolish.
A slightly bizarre convention has grown up in much Australian commentary that seems to invert history, morality and common sense. This inversion is that if you are a former communist who has become a little less radical, you are celebrated as someone whose youthful idealism was perhaps a little excessive but who was always working heroically for the underdog. If, on the other hand, you were identified as an anti-communist, you are suspected of likely having been obsessive, a fantasist, nasty, somehow undemocratic and a little bit crook.
But consider the record of Australian communists and anti-communists. Australian communists strongly supported the Hitler-Stalin pact at the start of World War II and actively campaigned against Australia’s involvement in the war until Germany attacked the Soviet Union. In other words, Australian communists thought it was wrong to fight Adolf Hitler until Hitler became an enemy of the Soviet Union.
Australian communists routinely rigged union ballots, as was definitively established in the court cases around Laurie Short’s anti-communist victories in the ironworkers union in the 50s. Australian communists practised systematic violence as a tool in politics, as union and university campaigns demonstrated.
Australian communists actively supported the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and in the years of the Khmer Rouge genocide many denied that it was happening. They actively supported Soviet and Chinese communism when these governments oversaw the violent deaths of tens of millions of people. Australian communists received tens, probably hundreds, of thousands of dollars from the Soviet and other foreign governments.
In the US and France many former communists and their sympathisers, who remained on the centre-left of politics, came to grips with the enormity of the moral mistake they had made in supporting communism. This did not happen much in Australia. Our sense of history is the poorer as a result. The NCC was for a time the most dedicated and effective anti-communist organisation in Australia. It did not receive money from foreign governments, it did not break any laws, it did not practise violence.
Its social policy was never much more exotic than favouring large-scale immigration and wanting tax benefits for single-income families, child endowment payments and state aid for non-government schools. The DLP was the first political party to oppose the White Australia policy.
The NCC has been whited out of history because of a number of peculiar factors. After thousands of anti-communists left or were expelled from the ALP in the mid-50s, Labor proscribed the NCC, a proscription I believe is in force even today. That meant any ALP member who was suspected of being a member of the NCC, or even of co-operating with it, was liable to be expelled. This happened to Brian Harradine, who became an independent senator in Tasmania, and to others.
However, in 1983, Bob Hawke brought the four big NCC-controlled or influenced unions back into the Labor Party. This is one of the reasons we have a much more sensible ALP than otherwise might be the case. However, because of proscription against the NCC and the conflicts of the past, the men and women who went back into Labor understandably downplayed their NCC backgrounds. This also suited the right-wing Labor people who all along had co-operated closely with the NCC, often in secret.
The odd result is dreadful gaps in the historical record. Giant figures of Australian unionism, such as Jim Maher of the shop assistants union and Mike O’Sullivan of the clerks union, commanded mainstream media obituaries on their deaths. But these obituaries, written by their friends, played down or didn’t mention the central political affiliation and commitment of their lives.
Because the extreme Left is so effective at, and dedicated to, long-term vilification and demonisation of its enemies, many NCC alumni, even beyond the world of unions, also have found it convenient to play down their old NCC associations. This is true of some folks who practise the law and like to take cases from both sides of politics, and would likely suffer some commercial disadvantage if they were seen as NCC types. But it is true of others, too, who simply don’t want to have to go through the business of explaining that there never was a clerical fascist organisation in Australia, they never carried out sinister Vatican plots and, no, they were never enemies of democracy.
The NCC of today does interesting work but is not the power it once was. Since an internal split in the 80s it has not really had any trade union influence at all.
Santamaria is often thought of as a failure because he didn’t realise his social vision for Australia. But probably 30,000 people or more went through his movement one way or another. The list of NCC alumni includes Tony Abbott, the head of the Sydney Institute and countless other luminaries. Its long-term institutional consequences are substantial. This was certainly less than total success, but much, much more than failure.

Jul 28, 2015

Uber driving Left crazy as it takes an axe to the taxi cartels | The Australian

Progressive New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Socialist Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo found common cause on a shared threat while attending a recent climate-change conference at the Vatican.
“The people of our cities don’t like the notion of those who are particularly wealthy and powerful dictating the terms to a government elected by the people,” de Blasio declared.
“As a multi-billion-dollar company, Uber thinks it can dictate to government.”
But before de Blasio could ­return from Rome, he learned that people really don’t like it when politicians try to take away their favourite app for getting around the government’s taxi cartel. The mayor was forced to drop his plan to limit Uber to a 1 per cent annual increase in cars, far below the ­current rate.
It’s hard to see why de Blasio thought that would be good politics. Two million New Yorkers have downloaded the Uber app on to their mobile devices — a quarter of the city’s population and more than twice the number of ­citizens who voted for de Blasio.
But it’s easy to understand why he views Uber as an ideological threat. A tipping point is in sight where big-government politicians can no longer deprive consumers of new choice made possible by technology — whether for car rides, car sharing or home rentals. De Blasio’s experience should ­encourage other politicians to sign up for innovation.
Uber has become a wedge issue. The Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson, took the opposite approach from de Blasio. “You are dealing with a huge economic force which is consumer choice, and the taxi trade needs to recognise that,” he told a gathering of taxi drivers. “I’m afraid it is a tragic fact that there are now more than a million people in this city who have the Uber app.”
When cabbies objected that Uber drivers were undercutting their prices, Johnson replied: “Yes, they are. It’s called the free ­market.”
Presidential candidates are divided as well. Hillary Clinton implicitly criticised Uber in her campaign speech on economic policy, saying the “so-called ‘gig economy’ raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like”.
By contrast, Marco Rubio has a chapter in his presidential campaign book, American Dreams, ­titled “An America Safe for Uber”.
He describes explaining to a college class he taught how Miami had banned Uber cars. “As my progressive young students listened to me explain why government was preventing them from using their cell phones to get home from the bars on Saturday night, I could see their minds change,” he writes. “Before I knew it, I was talking to a bunch of 20 and 21-year-old anti-government activists.”
For its part, Uber hired David Plouffe, who managed Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, to help wage the political fight.
De Blasio didn’t know what hit him. He justified the cap on Uber cars by blaming the company for traffic congestion, citing a ­1.36km/h decline in Manhattan’s average vehicle speed between 2010 and 2014. That took chutzpah, given it was the mayor who pushed through a 10km/h ­reduction in the speed limit to 40km/h. It also ignored the ­numerous bike lanes and pedestrian roadblocks the city built during that period.
Uber made the fight personal by adding a “de Blasio” mode to its app, estimating how long the wait would be under the proposed law. Model Kate Upton tweeted in Uber’s support. Errol Louis wrote in the Daily News that “Mayor de Blasio is leaving NYers stranded — like a black man trying to hail a cab uptown”. An Uber spokesman picked up the theme: “There is nothing progressive about protecting millionaire taxi donors who mistreat drivers and discriminate against riders.”
New York taxi plates have plummeted in value due to competition. Owners made the fatal miscalculation of assuming City Hall would always protect them by limiting the number of cabs. They failed to anticipate how new technology disrupts every industry. Apps like Uber give consumers better ­protection, prices and services than regulators ever can.
Government-enforced cartels fall faster and harder to disruptive innovation than most businesses. When change comes, it is more dramatic than in industries that already have competition. The fate of taxis is a warning to other regulated industries that new technologies always give consumers more choice. And citizens can always make the choice to vote for candidates who embrace innovation over regulations that protect entrenched interests.

Fishing industry keeps Thailand on human trafficking shame list | The Australian

Thai fishers’ trafficking shame
A Rohingya man carries a basket of fish, as Thailand is accused of forcing migrants into its workforce.Source: Getty Images
Thailand’s infamously abusive fishing industry has kept the country on the US’s people trafficking shame list for the second year running.
The State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report again highlights forced labour of migrants, who constitute about 80 per cent of offshore crews because of the Thai industry’s dire conditions.
“Some Thai (government) officials are complicit in trafficking crimes and corruption continues to undermine anti-trafficking efforts,” according to the report released overnight
It comes as an Indonesian Government taskforce investigating widespread illegalities in eastern fisheries uncovers evidence of Thai involvement and practices, including enslavement of migrant fisherman, though that is not canvassed in Washington’s report.
However Thai seafood exporters, a major foreign revenue earner, are unlikely to suffer sanctions as a result of Thailand’s continued Tier 3 bottom-ranking.
The trafficking report is drawing criticism from human rights groups for upgrading Malaysia this year from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 watch list, for countries now “making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance” with US anti-trafficking law.
Thailand and Malaysia were the focus of an international uproar during May as thousands of boat people, Rohingya asylum-seekers and Bangladeshi migrant workers, were trapped at sea by a Thai crackdown on trafficking networks.
More than 3000 people struggled to land in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, as Thai and Malaysian investigators uncovered horrific evidence of extortion camps in jungles on either side of their border.
There, traffickers held and violently abused migrants headed for Malaysia’s black labour markets, to extort money from their families under threat of selling men and boys onto Thai trawlers.
Bodies of 135 migrants have so far been recovered from graves around the camps.
“Malaysia’s record on stopping trafficking in persons is far from sufficient to justify this upgrade from Washington,” said Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Roberston.
“Migrants are being trafficked and abused with impunity, Rohingya victims’ bodies are being pulled from shallow graves at the border and convictions are down this year compared to last year — so how can the State Department call this ‘progress’?”
Mr Robertson and other critics are linking Malaysia’s upgrade, and removal from immediate threat of sanctions, to the looming US-driven trade pact, known as Trans Pacific Partnership.
Malaysia, alongside Australia, is one of 12 nations negotiating the ambitious and controversial TPP. Thailand is not.
Australia’s near-neighbour, Papua New Guinea, was also upgraded to State’s people-trafficking watch list after seven years on Tier 3.
So far, Thailand’s military government is responding carefully to its continued inclusion with the likes of North Korea, Syria, Iran and Russia among the 23 countries on the Tier 3 shame list.
However officials and exporters are complaining the report’s March 31 cut-off excludes consideration of recent efforts to crack down on people trafficking and illegal fishing, where slavery and other labour abuses are rife.
Last week Thailand indicted 72 alleged people traffickers including a senior military officer, Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan, four policeman and government officials, in relation to the May exposures.
Tier 3 listing by the State Department “may” draw limited US sanctions, on non-humanitarian and non-trade aid, and Washington pressure on international lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to withhold funds.
Last year, Barak Obama waived sanctions against Thailand and he is expected to do so again before October.
However, the Thai fishing and processing industries are at risk of commercial sanctions from the European Union issued a six-month “yellow card” against Thailand.
An EU decision on sanctions is due by October 21.
Thai seafood exports last year were worth Bt108 billion ($4.25 billion), with the US taking more than 20 per cent and the EU about 13 per cent.
Australia in 2014 imported $324 million-worth of Thai fisheries products.

Jul 27, 2015

Ageing population not draining health budget but reforms needed | The Australian

  Source: TheAustralian
When Ovid, in the Metamorphoses, made the first recorded use of the term “reformare”, it meant the sudden rejuvenation of an old man — but for one day only.
How fitting then that the premiers, hiding under the banner of reform, have simply sought to keep “business as usual” going that little bit longer, instead of placing their health services on an efficient basis.
That the states have been roused into action is hardly surprising. In its first budget, the Abbott government turned the tap off on the hospital and schools agreements Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had signed but never funded. With public hospitals due to get some $50 billion of the $80bn that was withdrawn, the states were finally forced to face a hard budget constraint.
It may have been too much to expect them to respond through an outburst of innovation. But before seeking to slug taxpayers for the shortfall, surely they could have provided an even vaguely plausible justification.
Instead, imitating the medieval cartographers whose maps contained wildly imagined illustrations of uncharted territories inscribed with the warning “Here be Monsters!”, the best the ­premiers could do was point to population ageing as the Bermuda triangle swallowing up our health dollars.
However, modelling by David Cullen, chief economist of the commonwealth Department of Health, shows that changes in age structure have only made a small contribution to the recent growth in health expenditure. From 1995 to 2010, 17 per cent of the rise in per capita health expenditure was due to the increased share of the population aged 65, while the fall in the share of the 0 to 14 age group reduced it by 8 per cent.
As a result, less than 10 per cent of the net increment in per capita health spending could be ­explained by demography.
What is true is that demographic trends could have a greater impact going forward. Indeed, the modelling suggests that were the health system to stay as it is, population ageing would account for a third of the overall growth in per capita health spending over the next 15 years. Already now, a 75-year-old costs the commonwealth, in outlays on the pharmaceutical and medical benefits schemes alone, some $500 more each year than a 70-year-old does; as 70 to 80 per cent of each cohort survive beyond age 80 (as compared to barely 40 per cent in the mid-1960s), the challenge to ­future budgets seems obvious.
But there are some crucial ­caveats. While a growing proportion of the population will live to very high ages, there is much less certainty about how that translates into the hospital costs the premiers complain about.
For example, in France, which has some of the best data on health outlays, recent analyses suggest rising longevity has either not materially increased costs or may actually have reduced them. That is mainly because it has postponed both the years of severe illness and the very costly period leading up to death. And with growing numbers coming to the end of life at very high ages, patients, families and physicians are more likely to opt for palliative care than insist on expensive interventions that prolong life but destroy its quality.
Also, whatever population ageing’s effect under the “business as usual” scenario, there is great scope for our health system to do better, in the process reducing the growth in hospital costs.
The fundamental issue here is not, as often claimed, cost shifting between jurisdictions; it is the fact that no one bears overall responsibility for managing consumers’ interactions with the health system and ensuring the best use of its resources. Rather, key decisions are thrust on to individual patients and health practitioners, who lack both the incentives and the ­capacity to seek value for money.
That approach may have coped in the past; but as the Rudd government’s National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission concluded, it will become ever more inadequate as the burden of chronic conditions rises. It would, instead, be better to empower competing health insurers to act as comprehensive care managers and take overall responsibility for costs, much as Obamacare, whatever its flaws, aims to do.
Sure, such a change would face many difficulties; but the risk, if our system remains unchanged, is that any additional spending will quickly be dissipated in excess costs.
Queensland’s experience shows just how great that danger is. During the mining boom, Queensland’s health spending more than doubled; with outlays on wages rising by 8 per cent annually, the bulk of that spending was captured by well organised input suppliers, including doctors and nurses, with few gains in outcomes for consumers. Rather, the steepest improvements came under the LNP, which froze overall spending while using private hospitals to clear waiting lists. Now, as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk reverses the LNP’s changes, cost escalation is set to return: and the more money she has, the greater the waste will be.
Were each state merely increasing its own taxes, it would be up to its voters, and its voters alone, to prevent public funds being squandered. But the states want to spread the blame for the tax slug, including to the Abbott government. Before it lets them get away with that, it should require credible commitments to lift productivity, including by using private hospitals where they are cost-effective.
After all, while the Rudd-Gillard agreements promised rivers of cash, they demanded serious changes in return; it would be absurd to restore the flood with no assurance of real reform.
The alternative, of course, is for “reform” in Australia to revert to its meaning in Ovid’s time: not an improvement but a miraculous step backward. Then again, ­perhaps it already has.