Archive for November, 2005


November 30th, 2005 30 comments

The government spent $50 million of our money telling us public holidays were Protected by Law (emphasis in original). So how is it a great victory for Barnaby Joyce to get amendments which mean that we can’t be sacked for working on Christmas Day[1]. Not that I’m bagging Joyce, who’s at least doing something. But it just points up the mendacity of the ad barrage to which we’ve been subjected.

fn1. If we’re lucky we may get Good Friday and Anzac Day protected as well.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Jonathan Strange Seminar

November 30th, 2005 2 comments

Henry Farrell at CT has organised another book seminar, this time on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. Several CT members (Henry, Maria Farrell, John Holbo, Belle Waring and I) review the book, and the author Susanna Clarke, responds. This is one of the best blogging innovations I’ve seen.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Feed of the day

November 30th, 2005 5 comments

i got a note from James Gross at to say this site has been picked as Feed of the Day by which seems to be an RSS-based version of blog search services like Technorati, Blogpulse and IceRocket.

Obviously, part of the implied social contract in such selections is a reciprocal plug, which I’m happy to provide, since I think RSS is a really big deal.

Following on from my previous post, I’m a bit dubious about the potential for RSS-based advertising, at least for general rather than product-oriented blogs, but Feedster seems to have the lead running in this field, and it will be interesting to see what they can do with it.


Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Pub Ecology

November 29th, 2005 24 comments

I’ll be at a Pub Ecology event at the Red Room, UQ Union 7pm tonight, talking about biodiversity trading. The rest of the week will be pretty hectic. I’m giving a couple of papers at the State of Australian Cities conference, on Wednesday and Thursday (one on water and one on global cities), then a flying visit to Sydney.

I plan a lot of relaxation next week.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Blogs and ads

November 28th, 2005 7 comments

With the general resurgence in Internet-related commercial activity and speculation, it’s not surprising that a fair bit of attention has turned to the commercial and advertising possibilities of blogs. Blogging as a large-scale phenomenon came too late to cash in on the dotcom mania last time around, but plenty of people are keen on a bite at the cherry this time around. The multi-million dollar purchase of Weblogs Inc got lots of people thinking about how much their site might be worth.

But just like last time around, there are plenty of reasons for scepticism. Looking at the prices being charged by leading bloggers on Blogads, it doesn’t seem as if many people are making a lot of money. Nic Duquette did the sums and concluded[1] that a site with 10 000 page views a day ought to be able to gross around $US4500 a year. Putting in 10 hours a week for this kind of return amounts to a wage of $US9 an hour, and that’s before you allow for any costs.
Read more…

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Monday message board

November 28th, 2005 27 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

What I’m reading, and more

November 27th, 2005 5 comments

Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow, a novelist who’s also a blogger. He hangs out at Boing Boing. It’s good fun. The idea of the title is that Net-oriented people orient themselves into tribes according to the time of day at which they are active. The hero is one of a team of saboteurs who’s job it is to persuade rival tribes to implement user-unfriendly and unreliable software, adopt time-wasting bureaucratic measures and so forth. So, while the first part is pretty far-fetched, the second is the most realistic explanation I’ve so far seen for Microsoft. But the big question I have is how someone can blog and write novels at the same time.

Yesterday was the Seiyushin karate grading and Christmas party. I wasn’t grading, so it was a very relaxed and pleasant occasion for me, though I did have one round as a sparring partner, which was fun (a respectable draw).

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Anti-americanism redux

November 25th, 2005 228 comments

Following the recent discussion here of critics of US foreign policy being labelled as anti-American, I saw a snippet in the Fin (subscription required) in which the Wall Street Journal (also subscription required) applied the same epithet to anyone critical of US labour market institutions and their outcomes, even extending this to former PM Bob Hawke, about as prominent a supporter of the US alliance as you could find, though, like many others, a critic of the Iraq war. The relevant quote

Even Labor leaders who have previously been strong supporters of the alliance have not hesitated to stir anti-US prejudices this time. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke warned that making it easier for workers to negotiate wages directly either their employers would be “a move down the path to” horror of horrors “an Americanisation of labour relations

Unfortunately, my efforts to find the full piece have been unsuccessful – I assume it’s behind the paywall somewhere. I’d appreciate it it anyone could supply the full text.

I’d be interested to know, for example, whether the WSJ has extended its net to catch that notorious anti-American, John Howard, who has warned against taking the “American path” in relation to gun laws and tort litigation.

In the meantime, let me offer the hypothesis that lots of American workers share the “anti-American prejudice” that they would rather have a union on their side than enjoy the benefits of direct “negotiation” with employers. For example, this Gallup Poll reports that 38 per cent of Americans would like to see unions have more influence, as against 30 per cent who would prefer less. And I’ll guess that the WSJ itself would be happy enough to endorse Howard’s anti-Americanism, at least as far as tort law is concerned.

Update Thanks to several readers, the full column is over the fold
Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics, World Events Tags:

Weekend reflections

November 25th, 2005 57 comments

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Gunns drops accusations

November 25th, 2005 28 comments

The Gunns case in which woodchip exporter Gunns’ is suing a large number of critics, has taken an interesting turn, with Gunns abandoning claims of criminal damage made against the respondents in general and a number of specific individuals. The case is now confined to the attempt by Gunns to suppress public debate using the deplorable SLAPP method, now largely prohibited in the US, where it originated.

The criminal allegations, if there were evidence to support them, would have justified a court action. Instead, it appears, the existence of court proceedings has enabled Gunns to make allegations that would be defamatory in normal circumstances, then drop them without providing any evidence.

The Wilderness Society has put out a press release (over the fold) calling for an apology, but I can’t see that happening. Still, it seems certain that Gunns and its shareholders will pay dearly for this exercise, in both money and reputation.
Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:

Peak Oil

November 25th, 2005 387 comments

I’m talking today at a Brisbane Institute forum on oil and whether it’s running out. 12:30 at the Hilton. I’ll try to post my presentation soon.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Let’s hear it for Barnaby

November 25th, 2005 37 comments

My column in yesterday’s Fin was about the desirability of more independence and less party discipline. It’s over the fold
Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Communications Research and Strategy Forum

November 23rd, 2005 1 comment

I spoke at this forum on Monday on the topic “Where to now for Telstra?”. There was an interesting session on the future of the Internet, with a paper by Alex Burns and Darren Sharp which included a screen shot of this blog; the discussion of blogs and wikis was spot on, though it was striking that even with a communications-oriented audience, these concepts seemed to be new to many.

I’ll try to upload my presentation soon.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

The Unsustainability of Trade Deficits

November 22nd, 2005 101 comments

I’ll be talking on this topic to the Economic Society of Australia (Queensland branch) on Thursday night at the Exhange Hotel, a well-known Brisbane cultural centre. I’m preparing a presentation and I found this graph of the US trade balance at the St Louis Fed

Bopbgs Max

The graph is in billions of dollars per quarter, unadjusted for inflation, so the pattern is exaggerated. Still it’s a good illustration of how the recent massive deficits are historically unprecedented, something which is true even when the more appropriate measure of percent of national income is used.

Australia’s experience is less dramatic, but we are, nonetheless hitting new records in terms of deficits and debts.

fn1. No animals were harmed in the preparation of this talk.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Support bloggers rights!

November 22nd, 2005 5 comments

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is campaigning to defend bloggers’ rights. Most of the action is in the US, but many of the same issues arise here.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Just Google it?

November 21st, 2005 24 comments

The availability of search engines like Google provides an easy way of checking on factual claims you may find questionable – just enter the relevant keywords into a search engine and see what comes up. If such a search produces nothing to support the claim, or evidence to refute or qualify it, then it’s time to start demanding evidence.

This started me thinking about a more general problem with search engines. Using search engine results in the way I suggest rests on the assumption that a given query will produce given results. The same is true if I want to say “Site X is the top result on engine Y for query Z”. But what happens if, as is already possible, search results are personalised, based on, say, previous search history and choice among search results. The same search, undertaken by someone else, might produce completely different results.

Personalisation has some obvious benefits. if I’m searching for bus routes in Brisbane, I probably don’t want results about Brisbane, California. But it undermines the usefulness of search engines results as evidence in analysis or argument.

Full-scale personalisation might get us to the point feared by writers like Cass Sunstein. Dogmatic leftwingers or rightwingers, supporters and opponents of the Iraq war, and so on, might be presented exclusively with search results that confirmed their prejudices, and might never realise that they were looking at a completely different Web to that seen by someone with different views. This process would work only for people who usually don’t follow search results that lead to views contrary to their own – personalisation would reinforce this tendency until it became automatic.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Monday message board

November 21st, 2005 54 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Weekend reflections

November 19th, 2005 67 comments

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Why do they hate America?

November 18th, 2005 170 comments

In the leadup to the Iraq war, we were repeatedly told that anyone who disagreed with the rush to war, or criticised the Bush Administration, was “anti-American”. It now appears that the majority of Americans are anti-American. A string of polls has shown that most Americans now realise that Bush and his Administration lied to get them into the war and that it was a mistake to go to war. The latest, reported in the NYT is this one from the Pew Research Centre.

It has a lot of interesting statistics on the views of Americans in general, and various elite groups. The truly striking figure is Bush’s approval ranking among leading scientists and engineers, drawn from the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. In Aug 2001, it was 30 per cent – not strong but not negligible either. In Oct 2005, it’s fallen to 6 per cent, with 87 per cent disapproving. I’d guess that the scientists in the sample are more hostile than the engineers (though, obviously, the engineers must be pretty hostile). Looking around science-oriented blogs and websites, I’d say that the attitude of Academy members is pretty representative of scientists in general. Anytime you find a favourable remark about Bush you can count on it that the site is an astroturf operation like Flack Central Station or the aptly-named Junk Science.

Scientists and engineers are not generally seen as a highly political group, but they can recognise enemies when they see them, and no government in US history has been more anti-science than this one.

Update: In the comments thread at CT and elsewhere, it’s been denied that anyone ever asserted that opposition to the war was anti-American. This post from Media Matters gives a number of instances, and there are more in the CT comments thread. Others, like Instapundit, preferred objectively pro-Saddam

Categories: Science, World Events Tags:


November 17th, 2005 31 comments

I saw a fascinating doco running over the last two Sundays on the ABC, called 1421: The Year China Discovered America?. This is the title of a book by Gavin Menzies, described as a “historian and former submarine commander”, who claims that the fleet commanded by Zheng He, and known to have sailed to India and East Africa, actually continued on to America and circumnavigated the world.

The first episode gave the historical background on Zheng He and a reasonably sympathetic outline of Menzies’ theory. In the second episode, the pieces of evidence advanced by Menzies were presented in more detail, along with responses from experts on a wide range of topics, nearly all of whom tore Menzies’ claims to shreds (though in a very polite way). He didn’t seem to be fazed and was busy mounting an expedition to look for more evidence.

What struck me, watching this, was how different everything would have been if it had, for some reason, been politically useful for the US Republican Party and their Australian offshoots, to support Menzies’ claim. Then we would have had opinion pieces from Andrew Bolt and the like denouncing the experts as elitists only concerned to suppress dissenting views, claims of ABC bias, blogospheric recycling of bogus quotes, claims that many scientists support the 1421 theory and so on. The whole panoply of postmodernist tricks would be pressed into the service of a patent absurdity, just as we’ve seen with Intelligent Design, global warming denialism, defence of CFCs and so on.

Categories: Environment Tags:

After all these years

November 17th, 2005 37 comments

The Socceroos are finally through to the World Cup, after beating Uruguay 1-0 last night, then winning a penalty shootout. They certainly deserved the win, dominating most of the game, while the Uruguayans mostly seemed happy enough to hold the goal difference down to one (though they still came close to scoring in extra time, against the run of play).

Although the shootout was exciting to watch, and we got the result, I can’t help feeling this is an unsatisfactory way of resolving a tied game (or, in this case, a tied series). I’d prefer more extra time, maybe with a rule change like sending the goalkeepers off.

Categories: Life in General Tags:


November 16th, 2005 15 comments

In the Media and Culture journal M/C, Lelia Green has an interesting piece on self-plagiarism, linking referring to a site called Splat which asserts

Self-plagiarism occurs when an author reuses portions of their previous writings in subsequent research papers. Occasionally, the derived paper is simply a re-titled and reformatted version of the original one, but more frequently it is assembled from bits and pieces of previous work.
It is our belief that self-plagiarism is detrimental to scientific progress and bad for our academic community. Flooding conferences and journals with near-identical papers makes searching for information relevant to a particular topic harder than it has to be. It also rewards those authors who are able to break down their results into overlapping least-publishable-units over those who publish each result only once. Finally, whenever a self-plagiarized paper is allowed to be published, another, more deserving paper, is not.

Splat also refers to

textual self-plagiarism by cryptomnesia (reusing ones own previously published text while unaware of its existence)

(I know all about this) Green takes a more nuanced view and has some interesting discussion.
Read more…

Categories: Intellectual 'property' Tags:


November 16th, 2005 3 comments

Via Kieran at CT, I learn that a new multi-blog enterprise with the working title Pajamas Media is about to be launched in New York. The name is redolent the early days of blogospheric triumphalism, with fact-checkers sitting at computers in their bedrooms, waiting to pounce on the errors of the tired and discredited MSM and their uncritical regurgitation of dripfeeds from inside-the-Beltway sources.

So who is giving the keynote address to this group of rebels against the established order (Answer over the fold).
Read more…

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

TV appearance

November 15th, 2005 5 comments

I did an interview for Inside Business a while back, about the Internet and similar. A brief snippet went to air last Sunday, though I didn’t see it. There’s a transcript for those interested.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Web site update

November 15th, 2005 1 comment

I’ve got on top of my backlog of work sufficiently to spend a couple of hours updating my UQ website with lots of journal and newspaper articles for 2005. I’m also planning for an update and redesign of the Risk and Sustainable Management Group site in the near future.

Read and enjoy!

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Bogus quote yet again

November 14th, 2005 117 comments

Via Jennifer Marohasy, I found this recycling of the infamous doctored Schneider quote, this time by Frank Furedi who writes in the Times Higher Education Supplement

Appeals to a “greater truth” are also prominent in debates about the environment. It is claimed that problems such as global warming are so important that a campaign of fear is justified. Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University, justified the distortion of evidence in the following terms: “Because we are not just scientists but human beings… as well… we need to capture the public imagination.” He added that “we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified statements and make little mention of any doubts that we have”.

Schneider’s statement was originally quoted in an article in Discover magazine (not available online as far as I can tell). Reading it in full and in context, it’s an unexceptional statement about the difficulties of dealing with the media and their penchant for oversimplication and overdramatisation. However, the history of the quote, and its use by anti-environmentalists is fascinating and, in many ways, a demonstration of Schneider’s point.
Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:

Alarmed and alert

November 14th, 2005 6 comments

Joanne Jacobs points to this emergency evacuation of Brisbane public transport apparently in response to an anonymous terrorist threat, which appears to have been a false alarm. She notes the way the story evolves in successive news editions.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Parham vs Quiggin on productivity

November 14th, 2005 57 comments

Dean Parham of the Productivity Commission has written to the Fin to criticise my piece on the (productivity) surge we didn’t have. His letter, with some responses, is over the fold.
Read more…

Categories: General Tags:


November 14th, 2005 22 comments

Having gained unchallenged control of Parliament John Howard is displaying the same kind of arrogance that helped to doom Paul Keating after 1993. The huge expenditure on IR ads is one example, as is the general tendency to ram legislation through with no significant scrutiny or debate.

An even more striking instance was on display in Brisbane over the weekend. Howard has long been under pressure to upgrade the Ipswich Motorway, and has now decided that only a partial upgrade will be offered. Nothing surprising in that, and there may be a defensible rationale, though none was offered.

What is surprising is that Howard decided to make the announcement in Brisbane at the Liberal party state conference, with no advance warning for the local Libs, who are, not surprisingly furious. Then, when the Liberal Lord Mayor of Brisbane protested, he apparently got a threatening dressing down from one of Howard’s minders. These stories dominated the local TV news over the weekend.

I can only assume Howard believed that he could pull the local Libs into line in supporting his views, and ignore the inevitable attacks from the State government. If so, he appears to have miscalculated.

I’m surprised by this. Howard warned his colleagues against this kind of thing after the 2004 election victory, but he doesn’t seem to have learned his own lesson.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday message board

November 14th, 2005 40 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags: