Archive for June, 2005

A new (to me) scam

June 30th, 2005 3 comments

I just got a letter on impressive looking letterhead, from Domain Registry of America, offering to renew my domain name “” at fairly exorbitant rates. I don’t actually have this domain: out of a frivolous desire to be a dotcommer, I chose “”, rather than the more appropriate “” when I got my own domain from Dotster.

This looked like an Internet version of the old subscription invoice scam, and sure enough, it was. I was happy to find that one practitioner of this scam has been nailed in Canada

These guys give what looks like a physical address at 189 Queen St., Suite 209, Melbourne, so I’ve written to Consumer Affairs in Victoria, suggesting a visit.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

The next double dissolution

June 29th, 2005 19 comments

Right now, it doesn’t look very likely that Labor will win the next federal election. But a week is a long time in politics, and the fortunes of the government are so closely tied to the real estate market and therefore to the unpredictable course of world interest rates.

In defending the Howard government’s plans to centralise Industrial Relations, one commentator (link lost) argued that Labor couldn’t reasonably expect control of the Senate before 2011, so there was no medium-term risk associated with the plan as far as business was concerned. I immediately thought about the double dissolution option.

Today I was thinking about this again and I realised that the combination of a Labor government and an anti-Labor Senate would almost certainly lead to the blocking of supply within a three-year term. The precedent has already been set, and every government goes through rough patches when such an option would look appealing to the other side. It follows that, regardless of its desire for specific legislation, a newly elected Labor government would need to find some popular double dissolution triggers as rapidly as possible (otherwise the blocking of Supply might require a Reps election, but leave the existing Senate in place).

Once the triggers were in place, we would have an unstable situation where an election would be postponed only as long as neither side felt sure of a win. In the nature of things, that couldn’t last forever, and a double dissolution election would be more or less inevitable.

Of course, all of this is contingent on a hypothetical Labor victory, but I’d be interested to see what others think.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Freedom of the press is great if you own one*

June 28th, 2005 9 comments

I was going to respond to this piece by Margaret Simons about bloggers and journalists but, as often happens, Tim Dunlop has written exactly what I would have said, only better. This used to happen with such frequency that we coined the term ‘blogtwins’ and perhaps now that Tim is returning to Australia, the pattern will re-emerge.

Meanwhile the US Supreme Court has declined to hear a case in which journalists have appealed against a ruling that they should either reveal anonymous sources or go to jail. A noteworthy feature of the NY Times treatment of the story is the presentation of the issue in terms of whether journalists are entitled to special protection not available to bloggers. At the end of the story Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the University of Richmond School of Law is quoted as follows

The federal judiciary, from the Supreme Court down, has grown very skeptical of any claim that the institutional press is deserving of First Amendment protection over and above those of ordinary citizens … The rise of the Internet and blogger culture may have contributed to that. It makes it more difficult to draw lines between the traditional professional press and those who disseminate information from their home computers.

The failure of journalists to establish a special exemption raises the more general question of whether and when people should be compelled to reveal details of their private conversations. If constitutional limits are to be imposed on such questioning, it may be better to derive them from the right to privacy in general rather than the specific claims of the press. Alternatively, and perhaps preferably, it might be better for the legislature to provide a public interest exemption of some kind.

* And nowadays everyone does

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Economic rationalism, water and conservation

June 28th, 2005 17 comments

Following on from yesterday’s post , I note that
Howard has moved quickly to oppose the idea of urban-rural water trade. Putting on my economic rationalist hat, it’s hard to see the rationale for this, and certainly those offered in the article are incoherent.

In thinking about irrigation water and trading, I always find it useful to mentally substitute “land” for “water” and see what conclusions you draw. The analogy doesn’t work perfectly, since water is movable and land is not, but it often works well enough to be helfpul.
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Categories: Economics - General, Environment Tags:

Labor roots

June 27th, 2005 70 comments

In the Monday Message Board, Paul Norton points to this piece by Trevor Smith of the CFMEU, advocating a culturally conservative agenda for Labor, and points to similarities with Michael Thompson’s Labor Without Class. There is one important difference, in that Thompson sought to combine cultural conservatism with support for economic rationalism, while Smith is opposing it.

I reviewed Thompson’s book when it came out (over the fold). The conclusion I drew was that it was, in effect, a policy manifesto for Howard.

I’m not necessarily averse to a conservative approach. And I’m no fan of cafe latte. Still, I don’t think the apparent equation of “conservative” with “whatever Howard supports” is valid. And I don’t think much of Smith’s one concrete example, the fight over Tasmanian forests, the issue on which Smith and his union sold out Labor’s chances last year and helped to give us such blessings industrial relations reform. If conserving our natural environment isn’t conservative, what is?
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Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Bradfield in reverse

June 27th, 2005 20 comments

Australians have long been captivated by the idea of turning coastal rivers back, to irrigate the dry inland. The most famous advocate of such a scheme was John Bradfield, designer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Such schemes have always foundered on the ugly physical fact that water is heavy. Any significant amount of uphill pumping is prohibitively costly, so schemes of this kind require lots of expensive tunnelling, and can only get access to water from the upper slopes of the Great Dividing Range.

As coastal populations have grown, we’ve seen increasing interest in the reverse option, of taking inland water to the coast. Adelaide is already buying water back from irrigators on the Murray. Current Victorian policy prohibits Melbourne from doing the same, but it’s hard to see this ban being sustained as water restrictions are tightened, and the technical difficulties are not great.

Today’s Australian has a proposal from Dennis O’Neill of the Australian Council for Infrastructure Development to take water from the Tantangara Dam on the Snowy to Sydney, via Googong dam near Canberra. This sounds a lot more expensive than the options for Melbourne and Adelaide, though not in the same league as Colin’s canal. And at least the scheme works with gravity rather than against it. I’ll look forward to seeing a more detailed proposal.

All of this will certainly make for interesting times for irrigators on the Murray-Darling, the main focus of my research and modelling. On the one hand, those who are able to sell water rights stand to do very well. On the other hand, those wanting to buy will be competing with the swimming pools and gardens of the big cities (the uses currently subject to the tightest restrictions).

Categories: Environment Tags:

Request for help: US Quality press ?

June 27th, 2005 13 comments

I’m busy writing an academic paper on blogging, wikis and so on, which will form the basis of my presentation at the forthcoming Adelaide Festival of Ideas, and as on past occasions, I’m hoping to enlist the help of readers as unpaid research assistants.

I want to compare blogs (or rather plogs) with the mainstream press alternatives, and I’ve started by comparing Australian political blogs with the alternative provided by the quality press, which I say is generally agreed to comprise four newspapers (Age, Australian, Australian Financial Review, and Sydney Morning Herald) [more over the fold]

My question is whether there is a similarly agreed notion of the quality press, applicable to the United States. I read fairly widely, both Internet and print sources, and the only papers I see mentioned regularly are the NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and LA Times. Are there others that are similarly taken seriously, or is the whole idea of “quality press” inapplicable given the greater dominance of TV?

<b>Note</b> I imagine most readers will find at least one paper listed above objectionable. I’m going to delete comments bashing particular papers on the grounds of ideological bias, stupid columnists and so on. I’m only interested in whether the paper is taken seriously, either as a source of useful analysis or as a target for criticism.
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Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Monday message board

June 27th, 2005 23 comments

As usual on Monday, you are invited to post your thoughts on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Tsunami update

June 26th, 2005 4 comments

Six months ago, a number of readers of this blog gave generously to the Red Cross Tsunami appeal. I’m planning another appeal before long, and I thought it might be useful to link to this report (PDF file) on what’s being done.

Progress is slow, as a number of recent reports have pointed out, but things would be much worse if not for the generosity of the relief effort.

Aid is good, and so is trade. Watching TV tonight, the beaches of Phuket looked very tempting, and as one of the few hardy tourists pointed out, there’s no real reason to fear another tsunami hitting the same spot. If you’re thinking of a beach holiday, it looks like this might be a great opportunity to get a good deal and do a good turn at the same time.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

What I’m reading

June 26th, 2005 10 comments

“Vision Splendid: A Social And Cultural History of Rural Australia” (Richard Waterhouse) A valuable work in the Raymond Williams cultural tradition, notably free of any desire to interrogate boundaries or supply transgressive hermeneutics, but still capable of challenging some of my preconceptions. I’ve written a review which is over the fold. It’s aimed at my local economics journal, Economic Analysis and Policy, hence the somewhat idiosyncratic focus.
Read more…

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Weekend reflections

June 24th, 2005 60 comments

This regular feature is back again. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Ferguson out, Tanner in

June 23rd, 2005 89 comments

I haven’t had time to digest the details of Labor’s Shadow Cabinet reshuffle, and of course it’s somewhat academic given that there’s a long period of opposition ahead and no sign of a serious attempt at policy and organisational renewal.

Still, I’m glad that Lindsay Tanner is back on the frontbench. He’s probably the best single candidate for future leadership Labor has at present. And I’m even more pleased to see the dumping of Laurie Ferguson. As far as I know, his sole achievement in politics has been to make a good choice of parents, and he has been an absolute disgrace on refugees, making even Vanstone (may she freeze in hell) look good.

Update Less sensible (in fact, very silly) is the (reported) continued omission of Bob McMullan and Craig Emerson. I have no idea what the rationale was for this, given that the shadow ministry is apparently being expanded.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Was the Pacific solution necessary ?

June 22nd, 2005 60 comments

As the cruel policy of mandatory detention is gradually relaxed (though we should remember that Nauru is still holding prisoners on our behalf), it’s worth considering the claim that the policy was necessary in the crisis situation of 2001, and can be relaxed now because of the Howard government’s border protection measures. To respond to this, it’s necessary to consider what would have happened if we had pursued a different policy, without reliance on mandatory detention or exploiting our neighbours as prison camps.

As an alternative, I’ll consider the option of seeking to discourage boat arrivals through negotiation with Indonesia, and using a system akin to bail, in which only asylum-seekers judged to be at risk of absconding would be subject to detention.

What can we say about this policy? First, the large flow of refugees that caused the crisis in 2001 would have ended anyway, because the fall of the Taliban regime greatly reduced both the flow of refugees from Afghanistan (in fact, many went back) and the chance of making a successful claim. Similarly, although it appears that there is still a net flow out of Iraq, the fall of Saddam has made it very difficult for Iraqis to claim political asylum. It seems reasonable to suppose that we could have obtained the co-operation of the Indonesian authorities with a commitment of diplomatic and financial resources no greater than that required for the Pacific solution, though of course without the kind of instant compliance available from a dependent client like Nauru.

Overall, I’d guess that an alternative policy would have resulted in perhaps 10 000 more boat arrivals, and maybe a similar number of people arriving in other ways. Given that the direct cost of the Pacific solution has been estimated at $500 million, that means that the cost of deterrence is about $25 000 per person, or $100 000 for a family of four. Of course the moral cost of the crimes committed in our name, and with our electoral endorsement is far greater.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Blog birthday

June 21st, 2005 30 comments

This blog is three years old today. I hinted at this anniversary in yesterday’s Monday Message Board, and Chris Sheil was the first to guess what I meant.

Three is an advanced age for a blog. Only a handful of those who were around back then are still going. Tim Blair, Rob Corr, Jason Soon and my blogtwin Tim Dunlop are among the hardy survivors.

It’s not hard to see why people stop blogging, but also why more and more people are blogging and reading blogs. It’s exciting, exhausting, useful and very demanding on time and attention. Although I’ve had moments when I’ve been sick of the whole business, mostly I’ve enjoyed it very much. Thanks to all my readers, fellow bloggers and especially to those who’ve commented on the blog, regularly or otherwise.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Markets in everything (not) [Part 2 of a CT debate]

June 20th, 2005 13 comments

In an illustration of the BlogGeist at work, the issue of using lotteries to allocate scarce tickets to public events has come up in the Monday Message Board here and also at Crooked Timber. At first sight, the dispute over Bob Geldof’s attempts to prevent resale of tickets to Live Aid 8, discussed by Henry Farrell at CT, looks like a classic dispute between hardheaded economists and soft social scientists. In reality it’s nothing of the kind. The critics have not only ignored the issues raised by sociology and other disciplines, they have got their economics wrong.
Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Monday message board

June 20th, 2005 28 comments

As usual on Monday, you are invited to post your thoughts on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Sticking with a seasonal theme, I’ll start by asking for thoughts on the occasion of the winter solstice tomorrow (or maybe Wednesday, I’m never sure on this). Also, tomorrow is a significant date in another way, and the first to pick it will get a valuable free acknowledgement in the relevant post.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Crossing the floor

June 19th, 2005 26 comments

The Howard government’s partial backdown on mandatory detention laws points up a striking feature of the Australian political system, the iron discipline that makes a threat by four backbenchers to cross the floor and vote against the government a major news event in itself. The government was in no danger of being defeated on a vote, with a majority of 27, and in many other countries an event like this would not be news. But in Australia it happens perhaps once in a decade.

Until recently, the US was at the other extreme. I recall a news story saying that Jimmy Carter had copped some flak for refusing to campaign for any Democrat who hadn’t voted for at least half the legislation he proposed. I doubt that either alternative is healthy.
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Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Fact-checking in the blogosphere

June 19th, 2005 116 comments

One of the benefits that ought to arise from the existence of the blogosphere is that of fact-checking. False claims can be refuted quickly, and, we might hope, not repeated thereafter. Sadly it doesn’t seem to work out that way, as the following examples show.

Tim Blair points to yet another repetition of the “plastic turkey” story, this time in Pravda. Not surprisingly he’s frustrated by this.

Meanwhile, the claim that bans on the use of DDT in anti-malaria campaigns have cost millions of lives, has been repeated yet again, by Miranda Devine in the SMH, and Rafe Champion at Catallaxy.

So in the interests of accuracy and bipartisanship, let’s get the facts straight

* In his visit to Iraq in November 2003, Bush did not pose with a plastic turkey, as has been often claimed, but with a decorative, real “show turkey” not intended for eating. The “show turkeyâ€? is a routine part of the presentation for the soldiers eating in the mess hall, so there’s nothing surprising about the fact that Bush posed with one.

* DDT has never been banned in antimalarial use. The main reason for declining use of DDT as an antimalarial has been the development of resistance. Antimalarial uses have received specific exemptions from proposals to phase out DDT, until alternatives are developed. Bans on the use of DDT as an agricultural insecticide, promoted by Rachel Carson and others, have helped to slow the development of resistance, and therefore increased the effectiveness of DDT in antimalarial use ( links on this here

If Tim is willing to make the same points, maybe we’ll get somewhere on this (begins holding breath).
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Categories: Environment, Metablogging Tags:

Aka! Aka! Aka!

June 19th, 2005 5 comments

I missed out on tickets to the Lions game against Geelong today. Halfway through the second quarter, watching at home on TV, with the rain falling and what looked likely to be a low-scoring mudfest in prospect, I was thinking maybe I hadn’t done too badly. How wrong I was

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Backing away from mandatory detention (crossposted at Crooked Timber)

June 19th, 2005 Comments off

Having had part of the weekend to think about the changes to mandatory detention laws, I realise that it will take quite a few posts to get through all the questions I want to think about. The first is to assess how significant these changes are.

As Andrew Bartlett points out, these changes are an inadequate compromise, which won’t for example end the detention of children or prohibit indefinite detention (see also this analysis from Chilout (group campaigning for the release of children from detention (Word doc)). They greatly increase the discretion given to the minister (Vanstone) and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, both utterly discredited by their previous handling of these issues.

But what’s significant here is the turn of the political tide. For the first time, mandatory detention has clearly become a losing issue for the government. Howard may be overstating the extent of the reforms, but that fact is significant in itself. It’s an indication of the pressure he faces to do more.
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Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Labor landslide in NT

June 18th, 2005 24 comments

At least, that’s the headline on the ABC website. The story quotes a puzzled senator

CLP senator Nigel Scullion at a loss to explain the huge swing towards the Labor Party.
“This is a political tsunami,” he said.
“I mean…the obvious question is why? You’d have to grope for answers.”

I would have thought it was obvious that just about everyone in the Top End reads the Financial Review closely, and that it was this column that sank Opposition leader Denis Burke’s chances. Well, maybe not, but Burke’s absurd proposal for a 3000km powerline clearly hasn’t helped him.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Cold in Brisbane!

June 18th, 2005 25 comments

Since arriving here a few years ago, I’d always thought that Brisbane had only two seasons: Summer and Not-summer. In comments on this theme, I recall James Farrell describing winter in Brisbane, but I didn’t believe him.The place looked snowbound a few weeks ago after an exceptional hailstorm, but I put that down as a once-off.

Now with an overnight minimum of 7 last night (and zero in Ipswich), I have to concede that Brisbane does have a winter. I even put on a warm jacket when I went out to get the fish and chips tonight. Still, having just returned from Canberra, where the maximum was 7, I know where I’d rather be (though easy access to snow would be nice, I must admit).

Update It strikes me that the Brisbane reaction to cold is much like the way Washington DC responds to the heavy snow that falls there once or twice a year. We don’t so much deal with it as hunker down and wait for it to go away.

Categories: Life in General Tags:


June 18th, 2005 9 comments

Now that it’s been established that meme means “Internet chain letter”, I’m happy enough to embrace the concept. Mark Bahnisch sent me the Book meme, which most of you will have seen already.

Total number of books I’ve owned
I haven’t counted, but I imagine it would be several thousand
The last book I bought:
“End of Poverty, The : Economic Possibilities for Our Time” (Jeffrey Sachs) I’ll probably try and review this soon. For the moment, I’ll just say that it’s the most plausible case for optimism about the possibilities open to us that I’ve seen for some time
The last book I read
“The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent” (Richard Florida) Again, more to come on this one soon.
Five books that mean a lot to me
This is a pretty hard one. I’m a voracious reader, but I’m also quite promiscuous, so I’ve been influenced a little by lots of different books. More generally, my mind is full of bits and pieces that I can’t recall where they came from. The Internet has been great in this respect. Anyway, here’s my list

George Orwell, Collected Essays Although adulation of Orwell is a bit of a cliche in the blogosphere and elsewhere, he really is worth it. If he were alive today, he’d be the greatest of bloggers

Raymond Williams “Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society” I’ve mentioned this before and a reader pointed out that there’s an updated version (a collective effort). I’ll try to track down the (rather lukewarm) review I read

Ursula Le Guin “The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia” I reread this not long ago, and it was mentioned on this list also.

Anthony Trollope“The Warden” As an archbishop is supposed to have said, there’s no better way of spending a Saturday evening than in bed with a good Trollope. I love all the Barchester novels, but The Warden is the original and best

“Work for All: Full Employment in the Nineties” (John Langmore, John Quiggin) Some of it stands up well after ten years and some does not, but working on this book it certainly made a big difference to me. It was my first significant participation in public policy debate in Australia, and I haven’t let up since.

As with most chain letters, I think everyone has already had this one, but I’ll flick it on anyway to Jason Soon, Gianna, and Kim Weatherall. I’ll keep the remaining two places for commenters on this post (those who actually have a blog will have to wait another 15 seconds for the meme to propagate to them).

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

A happy day

June 18th, 2005 Comments off

Not just for the many families who are to be released from the horrors of mandatory detention but for all decent Australians. Every country has causes for pride and shame, but there have been few things in my lifetime that have made me as ashamed of my country as the way we have treated asylum-seekers. It remains to be seen how the changes announced yesterday will work in detail, but we can hope that it means, as Judi Moylan says, the practical end of indefinite detention.

Congratulations to the four Liberals [Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan, Russell Broadbent and Bruce Baird] whose threat to cross the floor, combined with a shift back towards decency in Australian public opinion to bring about this change.

I’ll have some more to say later on this whole episode, and there’ll be plenty of room for debate than, but for the moment I don’t feel like hearing any of the old arguments, so I’ve closed this post to comments.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Weekend reflections

June 17th, 2005 23 comments

This regular feature is back again. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:


June 17th, 2005 9 comments

I spent yesterday at bobfest a conference and dinner in honour of Bob Gregory, Australia’s leading labour economists, and one of the great figures of the Australian economics professsion. Just about everyone in the profession was there (or so it seemed) and a number of papers were given, some learned, some amusing and some a bit of both. My contribution to proceedings was limited to a song, which is over the fold. This was part of a double act, as Geoff Brennan also sang, (he’s much better than me).

Update The event gave real meaning to “singing for my supper”. Owing to disorganisation, I didn’t get around to paying in advance, and when I asked afterwards, the organiser Bruce Chapman said the song was more than enough. Actually, this isn’t an entirely new experience. There’s a general practice of paying in wine for (otherwise uncompensated) presentations at industry conferences and so on: an echo of the days when rum was Australia’s main unit of account, perhaps.
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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Some really good news from Iraq

June 16th, 2005 48 comments

The release of hostage Douglas Wood by Iraqi troops, apparently as the result of a lucky raid, is good news for us all. And while we’ll probably never know the full story, it’s likely that the efforts of the Australian government’s negotiating team, and of Sheikh Taj Aldin Alhilali, helped to convince the kidnappers not to proceed with their original threat to kill Mr Wood within a few days of his capture. Regardless of the details, and of differing views about Iraq in general, this is an event worth celebrating.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Tim Blair – pointy-headed liberal ?

June 15th, 2005 70 comments

Tim Blair takes umbrage at a claim by Michael Gawenda that most Americans are creationists and also at my suggestion (put forward as a “fun factoid”), that “The great majority of climate change sceptics, globally speaking, are also creationistsâ€?.

I’ll leave it to Tim Lambert to deal with Blair’s numbers. Meanwhile, what interests me is why Blair apparently regards “creationist” as an insult, a point raised rather plaintively by one of his commenters. As this Gallup poll report shows, the only groups in the US to show majority agreement with the proposition “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Is a Scientific Theory Well Supported by the Evidence” are
* Those with postgraduate education (65 per cent)
* Liberals (56 per cent)
* College Graduates (52 per cent)

By contrast, only 29 per cent of Republicans and 26 per cent of conservatives believe evolution is well supported by the evidence. Surely Blair is not suggesting that there is an important issue on which pointy-headed academic types, and, worse still, liberals are correct, while right-thinking conservative Americans are wrong.

Of course, the liberals are right about evolution. But they’re also right about global warming. The evidence for and against the global warming hypothesis is much the same as the evidence for and against evolution (not quite as overwhelming, but more than enough for anyone who takes scientific evidence seriously). In favour of both hypotheses are the conclusions of the vast majority of scientific studies of the subject and the professional opinion of virtually all independent experts; against are the claims of a handful of qualified scientists (mostly with an obvious conflict of interest), and the fervent wish of large numbers of people to believe the opposite of what science says on the topic.

And far more damage is being done by interest groups denying the reality of climate change than by religious groups denying evolution. It’s the creationists and not the global warming contrarians who ought to be worried here.

Categories: Environment Tags:


June 14th, 2005 50 comments

As I’ve said before, I hate being conned. Looking back over my archives in the period leading up to the Iraq war, I realise that I consistently underestimated the likelihood of war, and that the main reason for this was that I thought Blair was fundamentally honest about what he was doing. Of course, there was the dodgy dossier and the 45 minutes claim to show that the spin doctors were hard at work, but I nevertheless accepted that Blair had made an independent decision to support action against Saddam, based largely on his record of crimes against humanity, and that he took the UN process seriously.

It’s been obvious for some time that this wasn’t true, but for some reason the latest revelations from a leaked Cabinet Office briefing dating back to July 2002, along with the Downing Street memo have really hit home. They make it clear that Britain’s policy was entirely determined by the fact that the Americans were going ahead regardless, and that US reliance on British bases meant there was no option of abstention[1]. Everything done thereafter was designed to find a pretext for an action the British government knew to be illegal. The appeal to the UN was a cynical ploy – there was never any chance that war would be avoided.

What’s also clear is that Blair knew there were no proper plans for the postwar period, making the chaos that actually ensued entirely predictable. This fact completely undermines his stated humanitarian concerns, but it makes sense given that the central object of US policy was to pursue a vendetta against Saddam, and that the British government had decided it had no choice but to go along.

fn1. It’s not clear that this was correct. The Iraq war relied heavily on bases in Germany, but that didn’t stop the German government opposing the war. Still, in this context, it’s what the British believed that matters.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Experts and interests

June 13th, 2005 57 comments

A question that’s often raised in relation to public policy issues involving science is whether conflicts of interest matter. For example, does it matter if scientists who publish reports suggesting that the dangers of smoking are overstated turn out to be funded by tobacco companies? Common sense suggests that it matters, but a lot of commentators, often with a vague recollection of classes in elementary logic, suggest that this is an ad hominem criticism and that the only thing that is relevant is the argument, not who makes it. You can see a defence of this position from Elizabeth Whelan at Spiked here[1] (hat tip, Jennifer Marohasy in the comments to this interesitng Catallaxy post on values and science.

I’ll argue that common sense is right here.
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Categories: Science Tags: