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Xi warns Chinese officials to prepare for 'black swan' event

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The leaders of China's provinces and government ministers were told by Xi Jinping the Chinese economy was in good shape but facing “new and worrisome developments”.
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denubis
16 hours ago
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I.. but... um... you... but... ::sigh::
Sydney, Australia
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Fears of mass exodus: Liberals brace for more MPs to quit before election

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Liberals fear former minister Craig Laundy will be the next Coalition federal MP to quit politics ahead of the election, as questions linger over a number of senior figures.
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denubis
22 hours ago
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Sydney, Australia
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This was in a tourism brochure for far North Queensland. Love...

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This was in a tourism brochure for far North Queensland. Love the single-scale axis to handle two completely different data series (temperature and rainfall). If it ever reaches 100 degrees in Cairns (the first point on the scale!), we’ll have bigger problems than where to go on holiday…

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denubis
22 hours ago
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Sydney, Australia
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The Yellow Vests Are Going to Change France. We Just Don’t Know How.

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PARIS—This past week, President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated a vast national debate, a kind of ongoing town hall and airing of grievances that will unfold across France for the next two months. The grand débat, as it’s called, is the government’s response to the “yellow vest” protest movement that began in November with citizens protesting a fuel-tax hike and has grown exponentially into a massive groundswell of popular discontent, peppered with occasional flare-ups of violence.

By organizing these discussions, which will be mediated by mayors, the government is essentially acknowledging that frustrations now run so deep that they can’t be ignored. Much of the anger has been aimed at Macron, who was elected on a platform of change but has come to be seen as arrogant, imperious, and tone-deaf to the concerns of the less fortunate. The French leader didn’t exactly dispel that perception when he sent an open letter to the nation outlining the themes of the debate—the environment, taxes and public spending, political representation and public services—essentially saying, “We can talk about anything you want, as long as it’s what I want.”

[Read: France’s fuel-tax protests expose the limits of Macron’s mandate]

That’s one reason this national conversation may quell tensions for a while but probably won’t end the yellow-vest movement for good. The gilets jaunes, so named for the roadside safety vests that drivers must keep in their vehicles at all times, are here to stay precisely because the movement is so inchoate in form, so leaderless in organization, and so diffuse in its demands. And also so successful in driving the debate. Political parties across the spectrum and labor unions have been trying to channel the movement’s momentum, but so far to no avail. That puts France in uncharted political territory.

That is what makes this grand débat all the more complex. Normally, elections are held to gauge political sentiment. But how do you harness the concerns of citizens without undermining the government’s own mandate, at a time when the government’s only significant political opposition comes from the far right and the far left?

Some political scientists are calling Macron’s approach an unprecedented step in representative democracy, a step toward greater citizen engagement and more direct democracy while still keeping France’s august hierarchical structures in place. It’s the country’s attempt to capture some of the anger of the moment without forcing an array of issues into a Brexit-like referendum, a yes/no question whose answer doesn’t solve any of the underlying problems.

The philosopher Bruno Latour this week compared France today to Britain ahead of the 2016 Brexit vote, when vague questions of national identity coalesced around membership in the European Union. The French situation has had its own elements of strange political theater, though, and Latour sees the grand débat as more of a kind of poll than a means of changing the government’s program. We have “the yellow vests who don’t know exactly what they want and a government that’s completely incapable of listening,” Latour told French radio.

As part of the national debate, citizens can register their concerns in cahiers de doléances, or grievance logs, a practice first put into use during the French Revolution. An online forum that polled citizens’ concerns showed a vast range of issues: Some wanted to change unemployment compensation, or increase taxes for the rich and on second homes, or proposed the elimination of bank fees; others were upset that the government had reduced the speed limit to 80 km an hour. For his part, Macron asked his constituents to consider which public services they wouldn’t mind reducing. That’s something of a taboo in France, where citizens of every political persuasion rely on the state for all manner of support—the exact opposite of American-style mistrust of government.

“This grand debate is a kind of reality test,” Étienne Balibar, a Marxist philosopher and scholar, said at a debate last week in Paris, where he expressed his enthusiasm about the yellow-vest movement. If the discussion unfolds the way the government hopes it will—peacefully, leading to constructive proposals that don’t contradict the ones on which the government was elected—it will raise a tricky new question: What should the government do? “In what circumstances can a political power decide to choose not only to use chaos as blackmail, but to choose chaos as a political strategy?” Balibar asked.

Balibar’s enthusiasm for the movement is indicative of how some on the left see in the yellow vests the potential for revolutionary promise, a chance to bring about more social equality and to increase awareness of regional inequalities—some of the same factors that led to the Brexit vote in Britain and the election of Donald Trump in the United States. But the yellow vests also seem to be anything and everything. Socialists see them as a way to claw back the terrain they lost to Macron’s centrist La République En Marche party. The far right wants to harness the anti-government sentiment into an electoral victory in the European parliamentary elections in May. So, for that matter, does Macron’s party.

Much like the Occupy movement in the United States, the yellow vests haven’t transformed party politics, but they’re certainly driving the conversation. And they’re driving it all over the place. There’s a strong social element. Demonstrators have enjoyed the conviviality of their gatherings at traffic circles and don’t want the party to end. Catholic-inflected social conservatives are piling on and want to use the national debate to defend the traditional family. While some want more social justice and greater openness to migrants, others have made anti-Semitic gestures that have gone viral, entertained wild conspiracy theories in online forums, or shown disgust and even outright physical violence toward journalists from the mainstream media, raising fears that the movement is essentially veering to the far right.

There has been an undeniable current of violence, with some demonstrators smashing the windows of shops and banks, and setting fire to cars and scooters in central Paris. French police have brought more than 5,300 people in for questioning across the country since the protests began, and have sent more than 150 to jail, according to Le Monde. More than 1,700 demonstrators have been wounded since November, the paper reported, and authorities have opened 71 investigations into police violence. In Le Monde, Michelle Zancarini-Fournel, a political scientist, criticized the government for “criminalizing” dissent in ways she compared to the police crackdown during the student uprisings of May 1968.

[Read: Emmanuel Macron and the ghosts of 1968]

Macron, the first French president whose political life wasn’t in some way shaped by 1968, kicked off the debate this week by meeting with 600 mayors in a gathering outside Paris, and has since been traveling the country meeting with other mayors. For hours he listened as they described problems that had been building up over decades, and he often responded with an impressive command of public-policy details. One mayor, Dominique Chauvel—a former Socialist and the mayor of Saint-Valéry-en-Caux, a town of about 300 people in Normandy—told the president she was deeply disappointed in his government and afraid France was abandoning the safety net that has been an essential part of the French social contract here for decades. “My country has men and women, young people and old people, people of all colors, all beliefs, and it leaves no one by the side of the road,” she said, adding that mayors, of which France has a plethora, were the “social backstop.”

Macron watched Chauvel intensely. He sat with his legs spread wide, his hands on his thighs and elbows out, as if he were huddling for a fight. He seemed at times glacial, or tired, with occasional flashes of what might have been empathy. He seemed aware that the stakes were very high. He was elected to change France, to make it easier for companies to hire employees whose taxes will prop up the system. His majority is strong, but he is surrounded by critics, and enemies. How the grand debate unfolds will define his presidency.

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denubis
2 days ago
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Sydney, Australia
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A Relationship Under Extreme Duress: U.S.-China Relations at a Crossroads

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A Relationship Under Extreme Duress: U.S.-China Relations at a CrossroadsThe U.S.-China relationship is confronting its most daunting challenge in the forty years since normalization of relations. Current trends portend steadily worsening relations over the long term and the threat of an even more dangerous decline in the relationship demands serious corrective measures.
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denubis
3 days ago
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Sydney, Australia
kazriko
3 days ago
China's been making some pretty overt threats towards Taiwan the last few weeks... Along with deciding to execute a Canadian citizen out of the blue.
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I Asked 400 Undergrads to Perform 90 Minutes of Kindness for No Reward. Here's What Happened

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Followers of this blog will recall my post from October 30, where I solicited ideas about a "Kindness Assignment" for my lower-division philosophy class "Evil". The assignment was to perform ninety minutes of kindness for one or more people, with no formal accountability or reward. I canceled one day of class to free up time for students to perform their act of kindness. I described the Kindness Assignment as "required", but I told them I would not be checking on or grading them in any way.

Here's the full text of the Kindness Assignment.

During the final exam, I gave students a single detached page, front and back, on which they could write about their experiences with the Kindness Assignment. The page was prominently marked as "optional". I said I would not grade their responses and would only view the responses after final grades were submitted, so that their reports would have no influence of any sort on their grades.

On the page, students could say what they did (if anything), what they learned (if anything), how they felt about the fact that there was no reward or accountability, how they felt about having spent 90 minutes that way, and how their thoughts about the assignment connected to course themes. I also asked students whether they thought I should give the Kindness Assignment again, and if so, what if anything they would recommend changing. Here's the full text of the response sheet.

Three hundred and ninety-eight students took the final exam. Of these, 150 (38%) wrote something on the Kindness Assignment response sheet. It was a long and difficult exam, and since responding was optional and not for credit, some students who completed the Kindness Assignment may not have submitted a response. I assume that many or most of non-submitters did not complete the assignment. Reviewing the responses, I estimate that 20% of the students who submitted a response said that they did not perform the assignment. Thus, approximately 120 students performed the Kindness Assignment and chose to tell me about their experience.

Understandably, in the context of an exam, only a minority of students took the time to answer all eight questions on the two-page response sheet. Some just gave a brief summary of what they did. Others praised or criticized the assignment without detailing what they did.

Responses to "What, if anything, did you do for the Kindness Assignment?"

Among the approximately 20% who said they didn't complete the Kindness Assignment, a substantial minority said they had planned to do so but forgot or were prevented. Others said that with no reward or accountability, they didn't feel motivated to do it.

Among those who reported completing the assignment, about 25% chose to spend the time helping a friend or family member with chores, about 25% chose to spend the time in a unusually meaningful or thoughtful personal interaction with a family member, about 25% helped strangers with chores or gifts (esp. homeless people or the elderly, sometimes through an organization), and the rest did a variety of other things.

One student bought five extra-large pizzas and shared them with people on Skid Row, which he described as "a really humbling experience.... Seeing people who were down on their luck cry/smile over some warm food really impacted me. Not sure how to succinctly phrase this, but it showed me a good and kind side of humanity that I often have trouble seeing."

Among students who interacted meaningfully with family:

  • One decided to dedicate the whole weekend to her family and "learned that I needed to re-evaluate my priorities.... I was working and making money... and in a way I was becoming greedy." She concluded "It's sad that it took an assignment... for me to realize this."
  • Another took her niece, who she usually ignores, out for ice cream, and said she came to appreciate that "little kids... are the nicest types of human beings."
  • Another student had a long, personal phone call with her stepfather, from whom she normally felt emotionally estranged, and said he finally realized that his stepfather wasn't really a bad person.
  • Still another "decided on actually listening to my parents about their issues & problems. Each of them had a curious look and asked where all of this had come from. I told them all about the course.... I could even see my dad tearing up while talking. I bet it's from not just having a heart to heart talk in who knows how long but also with his own son for I think the first time."
  • One student, saying he was inspired by Peter Singer's work on charitable giving gave $5000 (!) to an acquaintance in financial need.

    Responses to "What, if anything, did you learn from doing the Kindness Assignment?

    Answers to this question varied considerably. Maybe 20% of respondents said they learned nothing. Maybe half of respondents said something about learning how kindness can be pleasurable both for the giver and receiver. Some who had especially moving experiences said that they learned something important about people close to them, or about their own values, or about the kindness of humanity.

    Several students said that they learned, from the fact that they didn't complete the assignment, that they weren't much motivated to be kind without the benefit of some further reward.

    Responses to "How do you feel about the fact that there is no formal accountability or reward for completing this assignment?"

    For this question I coded responses as pro, con, or mixed/ambiguous. Thirty-four out of 78 (44%) of respondents were pro. They offered a variety of justifications, including (a.) having no tangible reward ensures that the kindness is authentic rather than forced; (b.) it allows students who are introverted or otherwise not disposed to do the assignment the opportunity to decline to participate without penalty; and (c.) it led them to think about whether they or other people would really be willing to go out of their way to be kind for ninety minutes without any tangible benefit.

    Ten out of 78 (13%) were con. When they offered a reason, it was generally that people wouldn't be sufficiently motivated without reward.

    The remainder, also 34/78 (44%), were ambiguous or mixed. Most of these said they "didn't mind" not receiving reward or that it "didn't matter" to them that there was no reward.

    Responses to "How do you feel about having spent ninety minutes in this way?"

    The majority of respondents reported feeling good about having done the assignment: 53/70 (76%). Only a few felt negative about it: 6/70 (9%). One student, for example, who offered to clean a friend's dorm room ended up feeling taken advantage of, especially after other friends started asking for their rooms to be cleaned too. The remainder were mixed or ambiguous 11/70 (16%).

    Unfortunately, the student who gave the $5000 expressed mixed emotions at having given so much, saying that "I can feel my soul feel happy about this" but "looking at my bank account, I am not happy. In fact, close to very sad/depressed." He recommended that in the future I suggest that students not give money.

    This student happened to be among the several students in the course I had come to know personally. I emailed him, asking if he's doing okay, and inviting him to discuss his experience further if he wants. After a brief exchange, he consented to my sharing his experience with others, so that others might learn from it.

    Singer argues that we should give away all of the money that we would otherwise spend on luxuries. My impression is that few students who read Singer on this topic are convinced by his arguments (I have opinion survey data to support this claim), and that among the few who do decide to give, almost all give well within their means, without regret.

    However, once in a rare while, people probably are inspired to radical sacrificial actions by reading the ethics texts that we philosophy professors assign. I tend to forget that this can be a consequence of teaching ethical views like Singer's. Arguably, as a teacher I have partial responsibility for such consequences, perhaps especially for students who are still in their teens.

    Responses to "Should the professor give a version of the Kindness Assignment in the future?"

    The large majority who responded -- 54 out of 63 (86%) -- answered yes, some with big exclamation marks and high enthusiasm. Only four (6%) answered no and 5 (8%) were mixed or ambiguous.

    Recommendations for changes to the assignment.

    Many students said the assignment was excellent as-is, but a substantial minority recommended one change or another. The most common recommendations were to offer credit for it (10 students), to clarify better what sorts of kind actions I had in mind (7 students), and to shorten the length of the act of kindness (6 students).

    Next time, I probably will better clarify the kind of actions I have in mind -- and I will suggest that students not give money.

    [image source]

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    denubis
    4 days ago
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    Sydney, Australia
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