Category Archives: politics

Malcolm Turnbull’s Word Cloud

My last post looked at the favourite words of Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd. In the interests of balance, I will now turn the word cloud lens onto the opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull’s speeches are conveniently assembled online and the graphic below illustrates the frequency of his words from speeches made in 2009. Unlike the analysis of Rudd’s speeches, this analysis does include some speeches given in parliament.

Turnbull Word Cloud

Just like Rudd, Turnbull’s favourite word is “Government”, and “Australia” is not far behind. But from there, differences appear. The word “billion” is far more prominent, reflecting the opposition leader’s obsession with growing public debt. The appearance of “Rudd”, “Labor” and “Coalition” clearly reflect the realities of life in opposition where so much time is taken attacking the other side.

Interestingly, the word “emissions” is clearly visible in the cloud, whereas nothing relating to climate change was visible in Rudd’s cloud.

“Now” is as prominent as Rudd’s “also”. Does this reflect a constant sense of urgency from a man of little patience?

The Big Arms Traders

My last post looked at the international arms trade. Taking data from SIPRI, I produced maps showing arms exports for a number of countries, including Australia and the USA. While these maps gave an indication of the spread of arms trading, it did not show which are the biggest overall importers and exporters of arms.

To remedy this, I have created two “word clouds”. The first shows arms importers. The size of the text varies with the total value of arms imported over the period 1980 to 2008 (figures are adjusted for inflation and are expressed in 1990 US dollars). The three biggest arms importers over this period were India ($58 billion), Japan ($37 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($35 billion). Australia’s imports over this period totaled $15 billion.

Arms Import Cloud

Arms Importers (1980-2008)

The word cloud for exporters is far more concentrated. Between them the USA and Russia* accounted for almost 65% of total arms exports, with exports of $60 billion and $48 billion respectively. France then comes in at a distant third with exports totaling just under $12 billion.

Arms Imports Cloud

Arms Exporters (1980-2008)

If you like the look of these word clouds, you can easily create your own. With Wordle you can create word clouds which are based on word frequency. This example is based on words used here on the Stubborn Mule (notice the prominent appearance of the word “debt”). For a bit more flexibility, IBM have a freely available Word-Cloud Generator, which can either work on word frequencies or take columns of words and numbers. It is written in java and is very easy to configure and run. I used it to produce the images in this post.

* As in the previous post, figures for the USSR and Russia have been aggregated.

The Arms Trade

Yesterday iconoclastic commentator on technology, politics and culture, Stilgherrian, shared an interesting discovery on twitter. He had come across the website of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and their Arms Transfer Database. SIPRI has been monitoring international arms trades since 1968 and in the process have assembled an extraordinary database with details of all international transfers of major conventional weapons since 1950. Since March 2007 this database has been available online.

The business of international arms trading is certainly not within my area of expertise, but a rich data-set like this presents a perfect opportunity for a type of data visualization that has not yet appear on the blog: maps. The SIPRI database provides “Trend Indicator Value (TIV)” tables which aggregate trade values between countries. Values are inflation-adjusted, expressed in 1990 US dollars.

Starting with Australia, the data shows that the total value of arms imported by Australia from 1980 onwards exceed exports by a factor of almost 30 times. Imports are largely sourced from North America and Europe, while exports are spread more broadly and include a range of Asian and Pacific countries. Click on the charts to see larger images.

From Australia (Small 2)

Arms transfers from Australia (1980-2008)

To Australia  (Small 2)

Arms transfers to Australia (1980-2008)

Needless to say, the distribution of arms transfers in and out of the USA looks very different. Over the last 30 years, the USA has exported arms to well over 100 countries across every continent other than Antarctica.

From USA (Small 2)

Arms transfers from the USA (1980-2008)

To USA (Small 2)Arms transfers to the USA (1980-2008)

Another big exporter of arms to a wide range of countries is the United Kingdom.

From UK (Small 2)

Arms transfers from the UK (1980-2008)

To UK (Small 2)Arms transfers to the UK (1980-2008)

Russia offers a rather different distribution of arms transfers. Russia has exported arms to almost 100 counties, most notably China, but since 1980 has only imported from Germany, Poland and the Ukraine.


Arms transfers from Russia (1980-2008)

To Russia (Small 2)Arms transfers to Russia (1980-2008)

I will not offer any further comment on this data, but will leave the maps to speak for themselves. If you would like to see a map for any other countries, feel free to contact me on twitter, @seancarmody. I will add them to this flickr image set.

UPDATE: As Mark Lauer correctly pointed out, these maps were originally inaccurate when it came to countries which were formerly part of the Soviet Union. This has now been corrected in the maps above.

No Alternative View of Dubai

Back in April, I announced that the Mule was to be graced with a guest post providing an alternative, more positive picture of Dubai than the one painted by The Independent. Sad to say, although written, the piece is not going to see the light of day. My guest poster’s employer has ruled out any scope for publishing the piece, even if it is done anonymously.This experience suggests to me that on the score of openness at least, Dubai does not do well!

I was excited at the prospect of the occasional different voice here on the Mule, so if anyone has something they are itching to share with the world, let me know. There could be a guest spot for someone here yet!

RIAA Continues to Stifle Innovation

Back in August, muxtape, a popular music playlist site, was forced to close by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Now mixwit have announced that it is closing too. The only explanation offered was as follows:

We’ve put a year of work into Mixwit so this choice wasn’t taken lightly. I won’t go into the details of our situation but state simply that we boldly marched into in [sic] a position best described as “between a rock and a hard place.”

Reading between the lines, it looks as though they too have fallen at the hands of the RIAA. Under the cover of claims to be protecting artists, claims that do not bear close scrutiny, the RIAA is building an impressive track-record of stifling innovation. While it is possible to take comfort from the fact that attempts to stem the tide of progress always fail in the end, it is nevertheless frustrating to see the suffering of victims of this pernicious organisation in the meantime, whether those victims are single mothers sued for file-sharing or the creators of sites like muxtape and mixwit.

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Volkswagen: The Biggest Company in the World?

One of the more peculiar stories of late in these times of turbulent financial markets is how, briefly, Volkswagen became the biggest company in the world. In the process, hedge funds around the world suffered losses estimated at over US$35 billion.

Over the last few years, Porsche has been building a stake in Volkswagen. By November 2007, the size of their stake had reached 31%, much of which was achieved by means of share options* rather than direct share purchases. Significant increases in the Volkwagen share price meant that these options delivered large profits for Porsche, prompting criticism that the company was acting more like a hedge fund than a car manufacturer.

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To Vote or Not?

On the eve of the US election, occasional commenter here at the Stubborn Mule, Michael Michael, sent me links to a couple of articles on Slate on the merits of voting.  Of course, as an Australian citizen, I don’t have the option of voting in the US election, but the issues raised are relevant to democracies around the world.

In the first, Don’t vote, Steven E. Landsburg argued that the chances of your vote determining the result of the election are so slim that it would make more sense to play the lottery. In the second, Vote!, Jordan Ellenberg responds with a detailed mathematical analysis (including a dose of Bayesian inference) to argue that the odds of affecting the result, while long, are better than winning the lottery.

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Couch Potatoes

A colleague has lent me a copy of Oliver James’ book “Affluenza” and, while I am not far through it yet, it is scathing in its damnation of the effects of capitalism on individuals in society. At a time when capitalism is rapidly losing it shine on a global scale, with the financial sector collapsing around us, this individual perspective is an interesting small scale counterpoint to the large scale picture we are seeing on the news each day.

The thesis of the book is that an “affluenza virus” has spread thoughout English-speaking countries. This virus leads us to be obsessively focused on shallow material pursuits. At the same time, it leaves us anxious and prone to low self-esteem, addictions and depression as there is always someone with a faster car or a bigger cigar (to quote The Beautiful South).

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The Garnaut Report and “Tit-for-Tat”

For those outside Australia, the Garnaut Climate Change Review is our equivalent of the Stern Review and last week a draft report was released. In this report, a nation’s decision as to how to act in the face of climate change is compared to the prisoner’s dilemma:

Effective international action is necessary if the risks of dangerous climate change are to be held to acceptable levels, but deeply problematic. International cooperation is essential for a solution to a global problem. However, such a solution requires the resolution of a genuine prisoners’ dilemma. Each country benefits from a national point of view if it does less of the mitigation itself, and others do more. If all countries act on this basis, without forethought and cooperation, there will be no resolution of the dilemma.

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Sydney Petrol Prices

Soaring petrol prices have led to all sorts of calls for action to help reduce prices. The Opposition called for a 5 cents per litre reduction in the excise on petrol, which currently stands at 38.1 cents per litre. (See note below for an explanation of the strike-throughs). the abolition of the double taxation of petrol by eliminating Goods and Services Tax (GST) on petrol excise. Since the excise is currently 38.1 cents per litre, this would save 3.8 cents per litre. One Victorian Liberal MP, Chris Pearce, went further and called for a 10 cent reduction in petrol excise. The Rudd Government initially claimed that there was nothing more that they could do, but then buckled to the pressure and has proposed the introduction of a national FuelWatch scheme aimed at promoting price transparency at the bowser. The Minister for Competition Policy & Consumer Affairs, Chris Bowen, has indicated that this scheme is expected to save around 2 cents per litre. So, what is going on with petrol prices and what are the merits of these proposals?

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