Feb 25, 2016

Female genital mutilation | Western progressives are colluding in cruelty and abuse

Female genital mutilation | Western progressives are colluding in cruelty and abuse

Feb 24, 2016

The Sketch: Barnaby Joyce lost in Zoolander vortex

Had Malcolm Turnbull misled the house on capital gains tax?
Had he been taken out of context? Was he morphing into Tony Abbott? Would Labor
leave the average Australian house worth little more than a sack of chokos?
While all these topics enlivened question time, Barnaby
Joyce was — in a minor masterpiece of multi-tasking — conducting a different
campaign against Chris Bowen.
After one of the opposition Treasury spokesman’s needling
questions, Joyce’s voice could be heard: “Say it again, you sexy man.”
Bowen’s face is one that spans the ages. In profile, it has
the classical lines of an ancient Greek battle helmet. But his beard speaks of
gentler times — of troubadours who sit about plucking lutes and stroking ruffs.
However, as Bowen stood at the dispatch box in a natty blue suit, all Joyce
could see was the title character of Zoolander, a vacuous but good-hearted
“Blue steel,” he yelled, referencing one of Zoolander’s
trademark catwalk duckface ex­pressions.
Truth be told, a far more ­cutting-edge fashion had unfurled
earlier in the day when Glenn Lazarus lumbered through parliament’s corridors
attired in a tie, business shirt, shorts and runners. But what looked like a
surprise salute to the ghost of Don Dunstan was the result of a TV interview in
which he appeared only from the waist up.
Back in question time, the Deputy PM was having a wonderful
“Magnum,” he roared, invoking the facial expression from
­Zoolander’s climax. When Julie Bishop’s hand gently alighted on his arm, it
was hard to tell if she was egging him on or, to borrow from Pride and
Prejudice’s Mr Bennet, informing him he had delighted them long enough.
The PM lobbed grenades and unveiled the splendour of a
five-word slogan (“Vote Labor and be poorer”). Labor ripped into him in return
with a bit of false dichotomy (“Either this PM is dishonest or he is
incompetent; he cannot be both”).
But the Zoolander booby-traps were everywhere for Joyce, who
was immersed in his metaphor. Not least when Speaker Tony Smith welcomed a
parliamentary delegation from Malaysia; it was if an electric current had
passed through Joyce. (For those unfamiliar, Zoolander is brainwashed and
pulled into a plot to assassinate the sweatshop-closing Malaysian PM.)
Luckily, Shorten pulled Joyce out of the Zoolander vortex
when he recycled a joke from a speech that morning: “We saw the bewildered
looks of the faces of the members behind (Turnbull); to be fair, for the Deputy
PM it’s a standard look.”
Joyce responded with a theatrically hearty slap of the

By the time Turnbull offered some sound universal advice
(“When you are in a tax hole, stop digging”), he was finally at peace.

Feb 18, 2016

Trust in Catholic Church lost ‘for generations’: adviser

Trust in Catholic Church lost ‘for generations’: adviser

FEBRUARY 18, 2016 12:00AM

Rick Morton

How does the Catholic Church regain its moral authority?

It will take the Catholic Church “two to three generations” to regain­ the moral authority it had before the revelations of widespread, global child-sex abuse and attempts to cover it up, according to a cultural adviser to the Vatican.

John Haldane — a Catholic philosopher in Australia for a semester professorship at Notre Dame University and a series of 13 lectures titled The Good Society, its Nature and Foundations — said the rebuilding of trust was “no small question” .

“Even within Catholicism itself it has been recognised that sexual exploitation by the clergy is a particularly heinous offence, so heinous that it cannot be ordinarily forgiven or absolved,” Professor Haldane told The Australian.

“The effect on the church ... is for it to lose respect and authority. On this rebuilding, it is not going to happen in the lifetimes of people alive today. I think we are looking at two or three generations.”

Part of Professor Haldane’s lament­ about modern society is its inability to prosecute arguments in a reasonable and civil manner.

He said he was moved after hearing a “compelling, human argument” of the father of two sexua­l-abuse victims yesterday in which the father made the case for victims travelling to Rome to hear Cardinal George Pell give evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

“This would, he said, create the conditions for the existential real­ity of that suffering to be present in the room at the same time in which he (Pell) was giving evidence,” Professor Haldane said.

“I thought this contrasted very sharply with (musician) Tim Minchin’s, it seemed to me, coarse and rather self-indulgent contribution, which I thought did him no credit.

“It contributes to something that is more pervasively problematic, which is the kind of coarsening and aggression which has entered into public exchange and discourse.

“He (Minchin) is not even a victim­ himself, he has parked in on the back of real suffering.”

Minchin has written a song urging Cardinal Pell to come home to give evidence. Proceeds from the song are going to a crowdfunding effort to send victims­ and their families to Rome to hear him give evidence.

Professor Haldane said part of the aggression in society came from people treating others as “aliens”, remarking on a tension in some nations in relation to immig­ration and the mix of religions.

“The kind of philosophy of multiculturalism has urged immig­rant peoples to retain their identities, not only their ethnic trad­itions and so on, but also urged them not to see themselves as subject to a requirement to become Germans or French or British,” he said.

“So we have had this issue and I think it is increasingly problematic of large communities who have almost been encouraged not to think of themselves as British.”

He said it remained to be seen whether Australia could hold on to its successful integration strateg­ies, particularly as friction around the nature of Islam increased. “I think what Islam needs to do is find a way of locating that text (the Koran) and faithfulness to that text within a world that recognises difference and disagreement, even about the text itself,” Professor Haldane said.

“And it hasn’t really. Islamic scholars who are open to that issue themselves have been subject to various kinds of threats.”

He called the Vatican “witless” on its messaging but noted there was a “disappointment” coming for those who believed Pope Francis was either a reformer or about to dramatically change the church’s teachings on marriage.

“I will put any money you require­ on the table that it is not going to support same-sex marriage­,” he said.

Feb 9, 2016

Build your portfolio like a castle - Morningstar.com.au

According to the old saying in sport, "form is temporary, class is permanent". It means that when a class player or team loses their form, you stick with them as class will prevail and form will return.

The saying also transposes to investments. Morningstar's economic moat methodology is designed to identify exceptional companies that will stand the test of time.

Morningstar's equity analysts look for structural competitive advantages that allow a company to earn above-average returns on capital over a sustained period of time, which prevent these returns from quickly eroding. Simply put, they are looking for class rather than form.

Great management, size, dominant market share, easily replicable technology and hot products are "form" characteristics that do not create economic moats. These are all attractive aspects of a business, but not structural advantages that can sustain high returns over a long period, according to Morningstar.

There are five sources of sustainable competitive advantage: intangible assets, switching costs, network effect, cost advantage and efficient scale.

The best way to understand these moat characteristics is through examples. Coca-Cola's source of sustainable competitive advantage is intangible; its ubiquitous brand means consumers are willing to pay a high premium for what is essentially sugar water.

Oracle is a good example of a "switching cost" moat source, as moving away from its tightly integrated databases could cause massive disruptions for clients. UPS's moat is its low-cost courier network's high capital return.

Evaluating companies based on their moat characteristics is a qualitative process. Morningstar also calculates the fair value of the identified wide moat company because there is no point overpaying, no matter the quality of the company.

Morningstar's team of analysts use a three-stage discounted cash flow model to determine fair value estimates of each company in its coverage universe. Over time, a company's stock may trade above or below Morningstar's fair value estimate and this creates potential opportunities to invest in a company at a discount to fair value.

By combining its qualitative economic moat methodology and quantitative fair value process, Morningstar has developed a comprehensive analytical framework.

The results are ranked and the top 20 most attractively priced US wide moat companies are captured in the Morningstar Wide Moat Focus Index. The index components are equally weighted and the components are reviewed and rebalanced quarterly.

Current companies in the index include Warren Buffett's own Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett is a great proponent of economic moats, which are one of his key considerations when he invests in a company. It is not surprising then that the Wide Moat Focus Index has provided a Buffett-like 32.8 per cent annual return over the three years to 31 July 2015.

Other holdings in Morningstar's Wide Moat Focus Index are Google, Twenty-First Century Fox and Harley Davidson.

Australian investors can access this investment strategy through the Market Vectors Morningstar Wide Moat ETF (MOAT). MOAT tracks the Morningstar Wide Moat Focus Index.

Feb 2, 2016

Marvin Minsky, “father of artificial intelligence,” dies at 88 | MIT News

Marvin Minsky, a mathematician, computer scientist, and pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, died at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Sunday, Jan. 24, of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 88.

Minsky, a professor emeritus at the MIT Media Lab, was a pioneering thinker and the foremost expert on the theory of artificial intelligence. His 1985 book “The Society of Mind” is considered a seminal exploration of intellectual structure and function, advancing understanding of the diversity of mechanisms interacting in intelligence and thought. Minsky’s last book, “The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind,” was published in 2006.

Minsky viewed the brain as a machine whose functioning can be studied and replicated in a computer — which would teach us, in turn, to better understand the human brain and higher-level mental functions: How might we endow machines with common sense — the knowledge humans acquire every day through experience? How, for example, do we teach a sophisticated computer that to drag an object on a string, you need to pull, not push — a concept easily mastered by a two-year-old child?