Archive for May, 2004

Monday Message Board

May 31st, 2004 24 comments

Time as usual for the Monday Message Board. Post your thoughts on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language).
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Categories: Regular Features Tags:

What I'm reading

May 31st, 2004 11 comments

A PhD thesis. This is the entry ticket to the academic guild, the last survival of the medieval masterpiece.[1] The old-style thesis has largely disappeared in the United States, being replaced by a combination of coursework and a “three essays” dissertation. I think it would be a good thing if Australia went the same way. But, in the meantime, examining theses is part of the job, and often a painful one. The one I read this weekend was one of the easy ones, without any need for radical revisions or the ultimate catastrophe, a failing grade. I can write my report today and send it off with a light heart.

fn1. Not, as in today’s usage, an artist’s greatest work, but the piece done by an apprentice to qualify as a master, without any expectation that it should involve notable difficulty or efforts of a truly exceptional kind. premarin vaginal cream applicator

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

What would de Tocqueville think ?

May 30th, 2004 5 comments

Tim Lambert has more details on yet another Astroturf operation, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, recently in the news for attacking open source software and also a shill for the tobacco industry.

A point of interest for me is that I don’t think you really need detailed evidence in cases like this (though of course, its handy to have the kind of chapter and verse Tim provides). Unless it’s devoted to the life and works of de Tocqueville, an outfit with a name like the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution is bound to be bogus.
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May 30th, 2004 3 comments

I’ve added links to some more fellow-members of the Crooked Timber academic group weblog, including Eszter and John and Belle. Eszter mostly crossposts her material from CT, but John and Belle have more on their own site than on CT.
Also, another economics site, with the overconsumptionist title General Glut

And, for the hard-core fans among you, I’ve added another picture, published by Gianna a while back, but supplied I think by James Farrell, who seems to be responsible for the Captain Haddock ID.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:


May 29th, 2004 2 comments

For those who want to inform themselves of the situation in Darfur (Western Sudan), I’ve put up a report from the International Crisis Group (PDF file). , via Sudan: The Passion of the Present.

This opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof is also worth reading.

Clearly this is one of the biggest disasters happening in the world at present, and we should all be concerned about it. I want to learn and think more before committing myself, and my very limited resources of persuasion, to a particular course of action, but time is short. glucophage xl side effects

Categories: World Events Tags:

Peace with Sadr

May 28th, 2004 3 comments

Now that the inevitable peace deal between the American forces and Sadr’s Mahdi army appears to have been reached, amounting to restoration of the status quo ante

, can anybody provide a coherent rationale for Bremer’s decision to drive Sadr into revolt in the first place, by closing his newspaper and arresting his supporters? The assault on Fallujah was bound to be a disaster, but it’s not surprising that the Americans felt impelled to take some drastic action in response to the killing and mutilation of US contractors there. But the attack on Sadr seemed gratuitiously stupid, even more so than the disbanding of the army and the banning of the Baath party.

Tacitus, still taking the view that “failure is not an option in Iraq” is naturally furious about the deal . But any realistic analysis of the planned election must recognise that Sadr has enough support to make him a powerful force. He may not be a particularly attractive character, but he’s no worse than dozens of other world leaders with whom we deal for want of any better alternative. The notion that a military option with a June 30 deadline could take him and his movement out of the picture was never more than a delusion.

Whether you think, like Tacitus, that the attack on Sadr should been pushed through to its bloody conclusion, or like me that it should never have started, this is another appalling stuffup on Bremer’s part. Even at this late stage he ought to take responsibility and resign or, failing that, be sacked.

Categories: World Events Tags:

How Democracies Lose Small Wars

May 27th, 2004 25 comments

Below the fold is my draft review of Gil Merom’s How Democracies Lose Small Wars. Comments and criticism much appreciated.

UpdateAs regular readers will know, I have a habit of making small mental slips, and this post had two, with a reference to the downfall of Charles II following the English Civil War and to Saddam’s actions following the First Gulf War. Within hours of this post going up here and at Crooked Timber, four different people pointed these errors out to me in email and comments, in the nicest possible way (they’re fixed now)

It’s really great to know that I have so many attentive readers for a long, and rather academic post. And of course, it’s very helpful to have these errors picked up in Ozplogistan where errors are rife and correction is easy, before committing them to the unforgiving permanence of print.
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Categories: World Events Tags:

Paddy packs it in?

May 27th, 2004 9 comments

This piece in Crikey includes what purports to be PP McGuinness’ resignation letter from the Sydney Morning Herald. I can’t say I regret this. While McGuinness still does good stuff occasionally, the defining characteristic of his columns for the past decade or so has been sprays of vitriol, directed at a large, but predictable, range of targets. Even if you like this kind of stuff, the blogosphere supplies more, and purer, vitriol than any newspaper columnist, rendering the contributions of people like Paddy largely obsolete.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Parish backs Kyoto

May 27th, 2004 27 comments

Hot on the heels of Vladimir Putin, Ken Parish throws his weight behind Kyoto. As Ken says, the evidence of the last few years leads to a very strong presumption that the world is warming, at least at the surface[1].

There are still a lot of uncertainties to be resolved. But it’s better to take the low-cost measures required by Kyoto now, and prepare for more substantive action if current trends continue, than to do nothing and hope that things will turn out to be better than we now expect.

Since Ken and I are now in fairly close agreement, our long debate on this issue seems to be at an end. I enjoyed it and learnt a lot, and, although we both got bad-tempered on occasion, I think this was, in general, an example where blog debate worked the way we might hope. Certainly Ken has shown the kind of willingness to change his mind in response to new evidence that we should all seek to emulate.

fn1. In addition to climatic evidence, Ken cites superstitious fear as a reason for his change in position.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Where we should be looking

May 27th, 2004 Comments off

While the world’s attention (and mine, I admit) has been focused on Iraq, events that matter far more are happening elsewhere. As regards weapons proliferation, it’s obvious that North Korea and Pakistan are far more dangerous than Saddam ever was. And for a problem that cries out for some sort of humanitarian intervention, there’s none more urgent than that in Sudan. Although I’ve been aware of this for a while, it’s very hard to get the kind of information needed to motivate action, even as little action as writing a blog post. A new website Sudan: The Passion of the Present helps to fill that gap (link via Chris at CT).

Categories: World Events Tags:

The point of paradox

May 26th, 2004 5 comments

Suppose you have encountered Zeno’s Achilles paradoxfor the first time. Zeno offers a rigorous (looking) proof that, having once given the tortoise a head start, Achilles can never overtake it. Would you regard this as[1]

# A startling new discovery in athletics;

# A demonstration of the transcendent capacity of the human spirit – although the laws of logic forbid it, Achilles does in fact catch and overtake the tortoise; or

# A warning about how not to take limits?
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Categories: Philosophy Tags:

Productivity takes a breather

May 26th, 2004 4 comments

That’s the headline the Fin gave to an Op-Ed piece by Dean Parham today. This is, as far as I know the first acknowledgement from official sources of the productivity growth slowdown of the last four or five years. It’s significant because Parham is the most prominent advocate of the hypothesis that microeconomic reform has generated a new economy.
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Categories: Economic policy Tags:


May 26th, 2004 Comments off

Ken Parish has inaugurated his “Blog bile” awards, a category that should not lack for entrants. The first winner is Chris Sheil appropriately enough, since he notes that Howard’s 30th anniversary bash made him “puke all over my keyboard”.

At least according to regular commentator Observa, writing in the comments thread, I’m not in the running, and am in fact notable for “serenity”. This word always reminds me of the holiday shack scene in The Castle

, with the high-voltage transmission lines crackling in the background, and not at all of blogging, but there you go.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Kto, kgo ?

May 25th, 2004 10 comments

When you want the most succinct statement possible statement of the power politics view of the world, VI Lenin is your only man[1]. A lot of free-market advocates of revealed preference theory, and supporters of<a href="exit over voice“> exit over voice, would be surprised to learn who they are quoting when they refer to people voting with their feet.

In relation to the proposed “handover” of power in Iraq on June 30, the only question that really matters is the one posed by Lenin “Kto, kgo ?”, that is, “Who can do what to whom?”.
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Categories: Economics - General, Environment Tags:


May 25th, 2004 5 comments

From an NYT story on “ghost” prisoners in Abu Ghraib

The memorandum criticizing the practice of keeping prisoners off the roster was signed by Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, and a James Bond, who is identified as “SOS, Agent in Charge.” Military and intelligence officials said that they did not know of a Mr. Bond who had been assigned to Abu Ghraib, and that it was possible that the name was an alias.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Some good news

May 25th, 2004 3 comments

Abu Ghraib prison is to be demolished. Obviously, I welcome this news and hope that this symbolic measure will be accompanied by the substantive changes it should represent, including the abandonment of the policy of detention without trial.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Copenhagen Con ?

May 24th, 2004 7 comments

I’ve written a couple of posts critical of the Copenhagen Consensus exercise being run by Bjorn Lomborg”s Environmental Assessment Institute and The Economist . The stated objective is to take a range of problems facing developing countries, and get an expert panel to form a consensus on which ones should be given the highest priority. This is a reasonable-sounding idea, and the process has produced some useful contributions in the form of papers by experts arguing the importance of particular problems.

There are however, two big difficulties.
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Categories: Environment Tags:

Time to give up the day job ?

May 24th, 2004 3 comments

I’ve been meaning for a while to post on some of the claims made by Ross McKitrick . Since McKitrick is, like me, an environmental economist, I feel some responsibility to rebut his arguments, but I’ve been put off by the thought of untangling the mess he has made of the global warming issue, most notably in his attack, written jointly with retired mining executive Stephen McIntyre, on the Mann et al study of the history of global temperatures.

Fortunately, Tim Lambert is on the job. As his demolition of pro-gun academic fraud John Lott showed, Tim has exactly the required qualities for a task like this. He’s careful, painstaking, scrupulously honest and (unlike me) hardly ever loses his temper even when faced with the most arrant nonsense. He’s started off with a truly devastating blow, nailing McKitrick (and co-author Christopher Essex) as the source of the absurd claim, now required belief in many anti-global warming circles) that there is no such thing as an average temperature (see also here.

The work of Lambert and others has made it pretty certain that Lott will never again hold an academic job, though that doesn’t stop the American Economic Institutions. McKitrick reports that he has started taking bagpiping lessons, and this sounds like a good career move to me.

Categories: Economics - General, Environment Tags:

Global warming and nuclear power

May 24th, 2004 10 comments

While we’re on the subject of climate change, I ran across a statement made by James Lovelock, described as a “celebrated Green guru[1]”, that “only nuclear power can now halt global warming”. The core point is

He now believes recent climatic events have shown the warming of the atmosphere is proceeding even more rapidly than the scientists of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) thought it would, in their last report in 2001.

On that basis, he says, there is simply not enough time for renewable energy, such as wind, wave and solar power – the favoured solution of the Green movement – to take the place of the coal, gas and oil-fired power stations whose waste gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), is causing the atmosphere to warm.

I agree with Lovelock’s analysis up to a point, but there is a big problem that he has overlooked.
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Categories: Environment Tags:

Monday Message Board

May 24th, 2004 14 comments

Time as usual for the Monday Message Board. Post your thoughts on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language). and clarithromycin cialis

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Putin and Kyoto

May 23rd, 2004 1 comment

The announcement by Vladimir Putin that Russia will move rapidly to ratify the Kyoto treaty, thereby bringing it into force, is encouraging news, though scarcely conclusive. Putin has gone back and forth on this several times before, and it’s not immediately clear what has prompted the latest announcement.

What is obvious is that it’s bad news for Bush and Howard. Putin can scarcely have been unaware of the impact on Bush, and has presumably made the judgement that he’s on the way out, and this judgement may in fact have been one of Putin’s motives for switching sides. Howard, of course, is merely collateral damage.

One good thing about the long delay is that it’s given those who want to do something other than Kyoto plenty of time to put up or shut up. In effect, they’ve done the latter. Both Bush and Howard have gone for business as usual, while alternatives to Kyoto like the McKibbin-Wilcoxen Proposal have gone nowhere. It’s Kyoto or nothing, and I certainly hope it will be Kyoto.

Categories: Environment, World Events Tags:

What I&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;#039;m reading and doing

May 23rd, 2004 7 comments

I’ve spent most of the weekend at our annual karate training camp. As a result, I’m both stiff and bruised, but still, a good time was had by all. The camp was at Tallebudgera, one of the most pleasant places on the Gold Coast. We stayed at the Recreation Centre there, which has been extensively, and expensively, upgraded since last year. The 1950s bunkrooms are gone. The new ones are much brighter and airier, and include their own bathrooms as well as what appeared to be Internet ports, though I didn’t have any capacity to check on this. The other main essential has been dealt with, as the centre now has a cafe. The high point of the weekend, after some rugged training on the beach was to walk past a tree full of rainbow lorikeets – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many so close.

Although most of the non-training time was spent sleeping, I managed to get a bit of reading done, finishing Gil Merom’s book on democracies and small wars (on which more soon), Tiffin and Gittins How Australia Compares and Stephen Bell’s The Money Mandarins

, certain to be the standard work on the Reserve Bank for years to come.

Fertility and partnering

May 21st, 2004 41 comments

There’s been a bit of discussion of fertility issues in comments threads. Rather than present a view of my own, which I’m still refining, I’ll point readers to a paper by coming out of the Monash Uni Centre for Population and Urban Research, and commissioned by the Australian Family Association[1]. Here’s the blurb. As I read it, the central theme is a causal chain from economic reform to less secure employment for men with low education to low rates of partnering to lower fertility. The paper gives some good evidence on the later links in the chain, while assuming the earler ones. I don’t have a problem with this, since I think it’s clear that there has been a general increase in economic insecurity, though it rises and falls over the economic cycle.

I’m less concerned than the authors, and some commentators on this blog, about declining aggregate fertility levels. But I think the study makes a strong case that economic insecurity is producing a society in which central life goals like having a family are out of reach for (or at least not attained by) an increasing proportion of the population.

fn1. The AFA is a socially conservative lobby group, which is very concerned about things like cloning and the “gay agenda”. As with all such groups, it’s necessary to apply an appropriate level of scepticism. But in my reading of the Monash study, I haven’t noticed any obvious signs that the research has been slanted to fit a particular agenda.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Responsibility, part2

May 21st, 2004 Comments off

In an earlier post , I suggested it was startling to find that the Daily Mirror has more stringent standards of personal responsibility than the Blair government in relation to the dissemination of falsehoods about the war in Iraq Looking at parallel cases in the US[1], Jack Shafer at Slate is surprised but in the opposite way, saying that until NYT editor Bill Keller publishes an apology for the bogus WMD reports published by Judith Miller

we’ll be occupying a bizarro world in which the secretary of state is more accountable than the New York Times.

Pardon my naive idealism, but isn’t the government in a democratic society supposed to more accountable than any newspaper. Still, it does seem rather alternate-universe that the Daily Mirror should be the only actor in this whole drama to uphold traditional standards of responsibility.
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A shameful episode

May 20th, 2004 30 comments

With the claims of the last of the Tampa refugees being recognised, one of the most shameful episodes in recent Australian history has drawn to a close[1]. All those involved in the government’s actions deserve undying historical obloquy.

fn1. I don’t intend to enter into debate on this post, but I do plan to put forward and defend a more general assessment of the issues in the near future.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Howard channels Whitlam

May 20th, 2004 14 comments

John Howard is a well-known admirer of Gough Whitlam,so it’s not surprising to see him returning to one of Gough’s favourite centralist themes

Mr Howard said this week that the federal system was being undermined by bickering between the states and Canberra.

He was angered by repeated claims by the states that they were being underfunded when they were receiving more money courtesy of the goods and services tax.

“I don’t think our present system, federal system, is working all that well,” he said.

“I think if we were starting a country all over again we’d have a national government and a whole series of regional governments – we wouldn’t have states if we were starting all over again; but we’re not, so that’s quite academic.”

Unfortunately, Gough and John are both wrong on this one. If we started completely from scratch, we might have some different state boundaries, or perhaps an extra state in North Queensland, but with these modest qualifications, the Australian states are natural political units. I’ll try and do a longer post on this.

That said, I’m glad to see that the government is once again floating the idea that the Commonwealth should take over the entire health system. If, in return, the Feds got out of the school sector, we’d have a much more manageable division of responsibilities. buy zyvox

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Australia and Abu Ghraib

May 19th, 2004 5 comments

Although Australia, as part of the Coalition that invaded Iraq, has a general responsibility for the actions of the occupying forces, it’s been generally assumed that we don’t have any direct involvement with the Abu Ghraib prison/interrogation centre/torture chamber. So it’s disturbing, to put it mildly, to find that the front man for the Abu Ghraib operation appears to be Captain Mark Doggett, an Australian army officer and press officer for the Coalition forces.

Doggett is quoted here, for example, in a piece by Deroy Murdock in the National Review Online, the general tenor of which is that we need more and better torture if we’re going to win the war on terror. Doggett doesn’t say this, or anything like it, himself, but he clearly has the job of defending the operations of Abu Ghraib and minimising the crimes committed there, thereby providing ammunition for the likes of Murdock. As another example, he’s quoted here , defending a decision to exclude human rights groups from the first of the Abu Ghraib trial.

I’d like to know something about the conditions under which Doggett holds this job. To whom is he answerable? In particular, are his statements endorsed by the Australian government? If so, is not Australia just as responsible as the US for conditions at Abu Ghraib? If not, how does it come about that an Australian army officer is a spokesman for a foreign government? buy sinequan

Categories: Oz Politics, World Events Tags:

Two envelopes

May 19th, 2004 7 comments

Via Juan at Philosophy617 (who doesn’t think much of the proffered solutions, and probably won’t like this one) I came back to this version of the two-envelope problem put forward by Brian over at Crooked Timber last year.

In this case, once you observe that Brian’s angel is giving you faulty theology, it’s easy to show that you should reject his[1] mathematics, and his offer. At the end of the problem, the angel says “It’s purgatory,” says the angel, “take all the time you want.” But the whole point of Purgatory is that it’s finite – you purge off your sins one at a time until they’re all paid off. Since we now have a finite problem, the solution is straightforward.
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The Shanahan spin

May 19th, 2004 4 comments

As Crikey points out, Dennis Shanahan does his best to find the good news in the Newspolls showing general public rejection of the Budget. I was particularly struck by this bit

After last year’s budget, which included a $5-a-week across-the-board tax cut, 15per cent of people said they would be personally better off and 32per cent said they would be worse off.

This year, almost twice as many people said they would be better off and only 22per cent said they believed they would be worse off.

This is all true. The only problem is that last year, Shanahan reported on the results of the same poll, and also found it to be good news for the government. How did he manage this, given the awful results? Simple. He reported that 53 per cent of voters thought the Budget would make them better off or no worse off .(emphasis added)

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:


May 18th, 2004 7 comments

It’s striking to observe that the Daily Mirror has more stringent standards of personal responsibility than the Blair government (or, for that matter, any government in the Coalition of the Willing).
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