Archive for December, 2005

Peace in Aceh

December 31st, 2005 39 comments

The long-running guerilla war in the Indonesian province of Aceh is finally over. Indonesian troops (other than those recruited locally) have been withdrawn, and the military wing of the Free Aceh Movement has been disbanded and disarmed. The pointlessness of this long war was brought home to both sides by the catastrophic tsunami a year earlier, which killed 170 000 people and forced everyone to co-operate in rescue and rebuilding.

Sadly, a similar impetus towards peace in Sri Lanka, appears to have faded. And of course the slaughter just goes on in places like Iraq and Darfur.

Overall, though, it’s Aceh that is representative of the trend. The number and severity of wars and conflicts has declined greatly since the end of the Cold War.

It would be a salutory effort to look over the wars, revolutions and civil strife of the last sixty years and see how many of the participants got an outcome (taking account of war casualties and so on) better than the worst they could conceivably have obtained through negotiation and peaceful agitation. Given the massively negative-sum nature of war, I suspect the answer is “Few, if any”.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Terrorism and Cancer

December 30th, 2005 31 comments

I just received an email drawing the (far from original) comparison between terrorism and cancer. It struck me that, to make this metaphor exact we’d need

* attacks on cancer researchers for seeking to ‘understand’ cancer

* even more attacks on anyone trying to find ‘root causes’ for cancer in the environment, such as exposure to tobacco smoke

* lengthy pieces pointing out that the only thing we need to know about cancer cells is that they are malignant

* more lengthy pieces pointing out that criticism of any kind of quack remedy marks the critic as “objectively pro-cancer”

I guess Steven Milloy and other “junk science” types come pretty close to providing the first two. Has anyone seen examples of the third and fourth?

Categories: World Events Tags:

Man of Middle Eastern Appearance

December 30th, 2005 34 comments

In the right light, I certainly am, as has been noticed both by commentators here, and In Real Life. As far as actual ethnicity goes, I’m a mixed bag, but mostly Celt. Quiggin is a Manx name, and my ancestry on my mother’s side is mostly Scots.

None of that signifies anything much except the arbitrariness of distinctions over which a lot of blood has been, and is still being, shed.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Xmas in Oz

December 28th, 2005 13 comments

This year, I had as close to a classic Oz Xmas as I can remember. At the beach, in Sydney, with prawns and pavlova for Xmas dinner. The atmosphere at the beach was great, with no hint of the troubles a couple of weeks ago, and no-one interested in much more than getting wet, grabbing a wave or two and soaking up some sun.

Admittedly I was staying at Avalon, about as far from Cronulla as you can get and still be in Sydney, but the scene was just the same all up and down the coast as far as I could tell. And even in that fairly Anglo stretch of the coast, the beach crowd was diverse, including a sprinkling of hajibs along with more traditional beach attire (or lack thereof).

Great prezzies too. I got a facsimile version of the last incomplete voyage of Aubrey and Maturin from my younger son, and, from my older son and his wife a high-tech corkscrew, guaranteed to uncork the old Black Stump Bordeaux at a rate of three seconds per bottle. Came in very handy as you can imagine. Plus A Hundred Years of Solitude, which I’ve never read, from my wife, along with more from Margaret Atwood and Shirley Hazzard.

A great time was had by all, and a slow return to normality is indicated.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Back to the Future

December 24th, 2005 23 comments

Offering the converse of a point made here not long ago, the Economist observes that

France quarrels with America not because the pair are so different but because they are so alike

What struck me most about the article was a reference to the appeal in France of US culture, epitomised by “Harry’s American Sandwich Shop”.

Thinking about this, it struck me that this kind of reference to American culture always, for me, brings the the 1950s to mind – Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, diners, Corvettes, the Mickey Mouse Club (OK, mainly Annette Funicello). And the same is true for France. I think of Sartre and existentialism, Bonjour Tristesse, Truffaut and so on.

By contrast, the 1950s in Australia are pretty much a blank for me – there was plenty happening before and after, but nothing then that made an impact. Culture at that time, and for most of the 60s, was something that came from overseas (this was true of both ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture). Is all this something generational, a personal idiosyncrasy on my part, or do particular cultures have defining decades?

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Very long weekend reflections

December 23rd, 2005 43 comments

The blog seems to have been running itself very nicely during my summer slowdown, and with a big and lazy four-day weekend coming up it will have to.

Best wishes to all readers and commenters for Christmas and New Year, summer solstice or whatever other feast and holiday you plan to celebrate.

As usual, please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in lengthy contributions suitable for holiday reading.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Dark Matter

December 22nd, 2005 103 comments

Over the fold, my column in today’s Fin, which deals with the latest “don’t worry, be happy” theory on the US (but not Australian) current account deficit.
Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Cash for comment in the US

December 20th, 2005 7 comments

In a US case reminiscent of our own cash for comment scandal, Cato Institute Senior Fellow Doug Bandow has resigned following the revelation that he wrote (for pay) articles promoting the interests of Jack Abramoff’s clients, including the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands and the gaming interests of the Choctaw tribe. This is disappointing – I liked Bandow best among the Cato crew (unless you count Julian Sanchez). And the amount of money involved was piddling – $2000 a pop or about $24K all up. A few quick-and-dirty consultancy jobs could have brought in a similar amount, without raising the same conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the Institute for Policy Innovation is sticking to his job despite taking Abramoff’s cash. No surprise there.

But the question that really strikes me is this: If Bandow’s relatively minor ethical lapse is a sackable offence, how can Cato continue to harbour Steve Milloy? He’s not only a corporate shill of the worst kind, but a walking offence to civilised standards of behavior. Cato Institute President Edward Crane, who has failed to sack Milloy, ought to resign before Bandow.

Update IPI responds, confirming the basic facts noted above, but criticising other aspects of the Business Week story I linked.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Monday message board

December 19th, 2005 91 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

December 18th, 2005 11 comments

Civil Passions by Martin Krygier. An interesting set of essays on a wide range of subjects. I was particularly struck by his observation on Keith Windschuttle’s claim to be a fearless seeker after truth, as opposed to the ideologically-driven history of his opponents. Writing in 2003, Krygier observed that Windschuttle had not yet done the research for his promised volumes on Queensland, and asked ‘Who can even conceive Windschuttle saying after a few more years in the archives “Whoops. Got it all wrong. Hats off to Henry.” Unless of course he has yet another across the board ideological conversion’. This, I think, says everything that needs to be said about Windschuttle*. Krygier (a second generation Cold Warrior) also has some fascinating things to say about the collapse of communism

I also went to see Red Dust, a film about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, from a novel by Gillian Slovo, which I found compelling. I saw it at the Schonell theatre, a Uni of Queensland institution that is under threat of closure as a result of voluntary student unionism. If you live in Brisbane and have been vaguely thinking about going, do so now while you still have the chance.

* As my last sentence implies, I don’t feel like engaging in another long debate about Windschuttle. I’m going to delete (or, at my discretion, disemvowel) any comments defending him, or criticising his opponents, unless the author is willing to state that they think it reasonably likely that Windschuttle might reach, and publish, the conclusion that Henry Reynolds and others were broadly correct in their assessment of the situation in Queensland. The same will apply to any meta-discussion about my position on this. I’d ask those who agree with me not to feed the trolls by piling on.

Update Since readers have been unwilling to abide by my requests, I’m closing comments on this thread.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Iraqi elections

December 16th, 2005 96 comments

The Iraqi elections appear to have gone well, with a high Sunni turnout. Hopefully, the post-election haggling won’t take months like last time, now that there is no longer a requirement for a two-thirds majority.

The big question now is whether this will lead to a US withdrawal, either because the new government demands it or because the Bush Administration decides to declare victory.

Among the possible victory conditions, the holding of elections is the only one likely to happen any time soon. There’s no reason to think that the insurgency will end as long as the occupation continues – similar insurgencies have lasted for decades in many countries.

As for training Iraqi troops, it’s clear that the problems here are not going to be resolved simply by the passing of time. Basic training for US marines takes 13 weeks, and (IIRC) the Iraqis get less, so obviously there has been plenty of time to train troops. The real problem is that any serious armed force is bound to be under the control of one or other of the militias, which might turn against the US.

A staged withdrawal would probably lead to an intensification of the insurgency in the short run. But the end of occupation would reduce support for the insurgents in the long run. It’s not a great option, but it’s hard to see a better one.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Weekend reflections

December 16th, 2005 17 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:

After the riots

December 14th, 2005 258 comments

There’s not much to say about the riots that hasn’t already been said, but one point that hasn’t been stressed enough is the small numbers of people actively involved. The crowd at Cronulla on Sunday was large, but it seems that only a couple of hundred were engaged in violence. Similarly, forty car loads of thugs were said to have been involved in the subsequent round of attacks on Monday night. That’s alarming but again it amounts to a couple of hundred people. The same was true in the French riots, which mainly consisted of small groups burning cars under cover of darkness. The availability of mobile phones makes organising this kind of thing a lot easier, and calls for a response. I hope that, in addition to those already charged, the police will pursue everyone involved in this shameful behavior. Many of them have been recorded on film and ought to be easy to identify.

Then there are the instigators of the violence. The senders of SMS messages will no doubt be hard to trace, but there’s no doubt about the role of talkback radio and 2GB in particular. It’s unclear whether Alan Jones or his talkback callers have committed a criminal offence, as suggested in comments here and elsewhere, but if he hasn’t, then the government’s spanking new sedition laws are clearly a dead letter.

The laws governing broadcasting are also relevant. Radio stations like 2GB get free allocations of valuable spectrum under a system of licensing which includes a prohibition on broadcasting matter that is likely to incite violence. If this system is to be maintained, 2GB should be stripped of its license by the Australian Broadcasting Authority for broadcasting people like Jones.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Christmas Charity Appeal

December 13th, 2005 3 comments

I’m always interested in new ways to raise money for charitable causes using blogs. Tim Worstall has a plan which involves referral bonuses for those signing up for Google’s Adsense account. If you’re thinking of including ads on your site, you can do a bit of good on the way.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Summer schedule

December 12th, 2005 1 comment

I’m going to practise what I preach and take it a bit easier over the summer. That includes a less regular schedule for blog posting from now until I get back to full speed some time in January. I plan to keep the regular open threads going, and I’ll also be happy to publish guest posts (subject to the usual blog rules).

It should be easy enough to keep things going along in my semi-absence. Two threads have managed to pass 200 comments with only occasional intervention from me, and with the usual wanderings off-topics. A two-line post on Peak Oil has produced 210 comments on such issues as the electrical conductivity of gold and the theory of market failure, but is still focused on energy issues. A piece on American labour markets turned into a pile-on demonstrating the statistical illiteracy of Donald Luskin. That’s how it goes.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Monday message board

December 12th, 2005 89 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

December 11th, 2005 24 comments

I’ve been very slack about this regular feature, but I’m encouraged to persevere by the discovery that it really annoys a certain class of semi-literate blogger. This soi-disant (look it up, Richie), purveyor of right-wing rants links to me, objecting to ‘pretencious bloggers‘ who discuss what they’ve been reading, and asks:

How often would a blogger who goes to effort of providing his current reading material list a title like The Da Vinci Code?

If Richie knew how to use Google, he’d know the answer was Once – do you think I’m going to reread Dan Brown?

Anyway, what I’ve been reading this week is The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney. Mooney does a great job documenting the postmodernist and anti-science stance of US Republicans on issues like global warming and evolution, reproduced in Australia by commentators like Andrew Bolt.

Meanwhile, on the movie front, I finally hired Heathers which was great. My son and I also watched Team America which was fun, if crass – I guess it’s the kind of satire you can take either way.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

US backdown on post-Kyoto agreement

December 10th, 2005 16 comments

Today’s papers report contradictory assessments of the latest climate talks in Montreal. The NY TImes reports that the US Administration has backed down on attempts to stop negotiations for the setting of new targets for the post-Kyoto period. The US was apparently left out on a limb by China and Australia, its main allies in attempts to stop any real action, neither of which were prepared to join the US and Saudi Arabia in walking out of the talks. The result is likely to be a slight softening of language in the final agreement, but determined attempts to sabotage the process have failed.

It’s noteworthy that, despite a lot of speculation that Tony Blair was preparing the ground for a capitulation to the Bush Administration, nothing of the kind actually happened, and the US stance was repeatedly and vigorously attacked by nearly all the participants in the conference, including British delegates.

On the other hand, Australia’s environment minister was reported in today’s SMH as saying that the Kyoto protocol was almost dead

A number of [countries] are saying ‘Look, we made a mistake. We don’t think that it’s worth opening up a new negotiation about a future commitment when the commitments we have today are looking so unreasonable’,

The only support I can find for Campbell’s statement in the NYT report is the observation that the agreement on negotations does not include a specific date for ending talks, reflecting the difficulties in meeting existing targets.

An alternative interpretation is that Campbell’s statement is designed to give him cover with the domestic anti-Kyoto lobby for his break with the US position at the talks, which undoubtedly contributed to the American backdown. If so, good for him – he’s been about as good a minister as possible, given the Howard government’s generally bad position.

Overall, the outcome of these talks was about the best that could be hoped for. Undoubtedly, the accumulation of evidence over the past couple of years, to the point where no-one who is both well-informed and honest can deny the reality of human-caused global warming, has contributed to this outcome, despite the obvious reluctance of governments everywhere to do anything painful.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Weekend reflections

December 10th, 2005 30 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:

Income and Consumption Inequality (crossposted at CT)

December 9th, 2005 23 comments

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to work out what’s been going on with income and consumption inequality in the United States. Partly that’s because the subject is of interest in itself and partly because social and economic developments in Australia often (not always) follow the lead of the US.

However, there seem to be lots of contradictions in the data, and between data and popular perceptions, for example regarding social mobility and consumption inequality. I’ve finally managed to sort out what seems (to me, at any rate) to be a coherent account of what’s going on. A list of the main points follows, with supporting links, some of which may require registration/subscription. I’ve tried to indicate which bits of the story reflect my judgements, and which are drawn from the literature.

Comments and criticism on this are most welcome.
Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:


December 9th, 2005 5 comments

Last weekend, I went to a seminar organised by the Ngiya National Institute of Indigenous Law, Policy and Practice to discuss various issues relating to economic policy affecting indigenous communities. In doing some background research, one point (familiar to those who’ve followed the debate closely, but not to most others) cam through very clearly, particularly in this paper by John Taylor and Owen Stanley

Contrary to claims that the problems of indigenous communities have had buckets of money thrown at them with nothing to show for it, expenditure on services for indigenous communities is typically less (or no more than) what would be spent on comparable non-indigenous communities. In discussion over dinner, the case of Jigalong in WA was mentioned. This community has been trying for some time to set itself up a town council so that it can get funding comparable to nearby, mainly white, communities, notably Mt Newman. Today’s Oz has a prominent report on this.

A nice feature of the weekend was that quite a few participants turned out to be readers of this blog. Since my site counter broke a few months ago, I have no idea how many readers there are at present, but these days I seem to meet them wherever I go.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Contests and departures

December 8th, 2005 5 comments

It’s the time of year for blog contests, and the inevitable sore losers are a lot sorer given that one of the contests involved real money. Hosting service Smartyblog put up $10k, for a contest won by a site about Singing Bridges. Kinda strange, but that’s the magic of the internets. Not having got off onto my bottom to put in an entry*, I’m not going to second-guess the judges. Gianna shares the pain of her defeat here

While I’m at it, I should note the departure of Margo Kingston’s departure from Webdiary (apparently to continue as a group blog). Margo was one of the first mainstream journalists to realise the significance of blogging, but her efforts to make a living at it have not worked out.

More personally significant to me is the closure of Robert Corr’s Red Rag, as Rob is now “Another Suit on the Terraceâ„¢”. Insofar as this blog has a blogfather it’s Rob. Not only did his blog encourage me to start, but he provided support and hosting during my move away from the training wheels of Blogger. Good luck with your new career, Rob!

* Being officially ranked the best blog in Queensland, at least until next Australia Day, I can afford to be complacent.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

HTML tags in comments

December 8th, 2005 31 comments

HTML tags haven’t been working in comments for a while. Prompted by Andrew Reynolds, I checked and found the problem was a plugin, which I’ve disabled. So you can all go back to including hyperlinks, as well as bold and italic tags. Just part of the friendly service.

I’ve also switched the RSS feed to provide the entire article rather than just the summary. Some people wanted this, and it seems like the way of the future, but feel free to discuss.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Another milestone

December 7th, 2005 2 comments

A big statistical milestone, and a well-earned standing ovation, for Lanard Copeland, who racked up his 10 000th point in the NBL in the course of a nailbiting 110-107 win for the Bullets over the Cairns Taipans. Most of those were scored in his long and illustrious career with the Melbourne Tigers, but he’s still averaging 10 points per game coming off the bench for Brisbane.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Thirty thousand comments

December 6th, 2005 14 comments

The 30 000th comment on this blog[1] has just been posted. I was going to award a prize but, rather embarrassingly, the comment was one of mine. So I’ll announce a shared award between comment #29999 (Andrew Bartlett) and #30001 (still working it out).

More seriously, thanks to everyone who’s helped to make the comments threads on this blog some of the best on the web.

fn1. That’s in the Movable Type and WordPress incarnations, not counting comments made in earlier systems such as Haloscan, and those lost in the great database disaster. of 2003. Including these lost contributions, the total number is probably close to 50 000. WordPress numbers comments at about 38500 suggesting a loss of 8000 or so in the database disaste.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

The Gerard affair

December 6th, 2005 30 comments

I’m not a huge fan of political scandals, but I’ve seen enough of them unfold to have a pretty good feel for the process. The vast majority can be put into one of three categories: beatups, stonewallers and one-hit wonders.

Beatups are bogus scandals where claims that look damaging turn out to have an innocent explanation, or at least a plausible rationalisation. Mostly these do the government concerned no harm.

Stonewallers are cases where the government’s response is to brazen the whole thing out, on the principle “never apologise, never explain, never resign”. Some governments are more given to stonewalling than others, and (after a brief and costly period of upholding high standards) this has been the Howard government’s response in nearly all cases.

Finally, there are one-hit wonders. In these cases, the pressure is severe enough to force the resignation of the person most directly concerned, usually an expendable junior minister or public servant. Once the resignation has taken place, attempts to push the issue further, and look at the involvement of more senior figures go nowhere.
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Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Some more recent presentations

December 5th, 2005 7 comments

Here are some more presentations from the last couple of years. I’ll be putting them all up here as I get time.

  • Quiggin, J. (2005), ‘Consumers Attitude to Risk’, Presentation at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Roundtable on Consumers and Competition, Melbourne, 18th March.
  • Quiggin, J. (2005), ‘Government, Market and Citizen: From Adam Smith to Peter Beattie’, Presentation to the Institute of Public Administration (Qld Division) 2005 IPAA Four Seasons Seminar Series, Brisbane, 9th March.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘Discount Rates’, Presentation to a symposium on Cost–Benefit Analysis sponsored jointly by the ACT Branch of the Economic Society of Australia and the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), Canberra, 3 September.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘How Should We Pay for Pharmaceuticals?’, Presentation to the ACT Branch of the Economics Society of Australia, Canberra, 2 September.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘Infrastructure Financing: Options and Reality’, Presentation to the Property Council, Smart Transport and Property 2004: Leveraging Transport Infrastructure for Property and Land Use Development, hosted by the UQ Centre for Transport Strategy and Transport Roundtable Australasia Pty Ltd, Customs House, Brisbane.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘Innovative Taxation Arrangements’, Presentation to the Financing Development Colloquium sponsored by the Foundation for Development Cooperation, Gold Coast, 14 August.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘Research Funding and Commercialisation’, Presentation to a public forum on ‘The future of University Research in Australia’, hosted by the UQ Research Staff Committee of the National Tertiary Education Union, University of Queensland, Brisbane, 5 August.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘The Australia–Us Free Trade Agreement’, Presentation to a Forum on ‘Evaluating free trade, and beyond: assessing trade prospects, impacts and practicalities in a time of free trade agreements’ hosted by the School of International Business, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, 23 February.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘The Equity Premium: Explanations and Implications’, Presentation to the NSW Branch of the Economics Society of Australia,Sydney, 8 September.
  • Categories: Economics - General Tags:

    Another attack on academic freedom

    December 5th, 2005 23 comments

    James Farrell advises me that Professor Tom Valentine[1] has been dismissed from the University of Western Sydney for “misconduct”, which apparently consists of criticising the (mis)management of the University in relation to matters such as the creation of a new medical school.

    I’ve rarely agreed with Valentine about anything, but I’m unreservedly opposed to the University’s action in this matter. Obviously, it violates everything a university is supposed to stand for. Unfortunately, that consideration doesn’t weigh much with the managerialist hacks who’ve been pushed into positions of power by the reforms of the past 15 years.

    A more general problem is that, with the scrapping of the collegial role of faculties and academic boards, universities have some of the least accountable governance structures of any institutions in Australia. There are no shareholders as there would be in a private company. The universities derive most of their funding from the Commonwealth but operate under state acts of Parliament. Although DEST imposes all manner of burdensome reporting requirements, it lacks any effective power to constrain rogue vice-chancellors, of whom we have seen quite a few. On the other hand, state governments have the legal responsibility and power, but no budgetary control or interest.

    For an institution so unaccountable to victimise and suppress internal critics and whistleblowers is deeply concerning. This affair should be investigated by ICAC.

    fn1. I’ve had several disputes with Valentine over a variety of issues, but I’d be the last to deny that he has played a significant role in Australian economics, notably in his work with the Campbell Committee.

    Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

    Monday message board

    December 5th, 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:

    Computer, print me a new computer

    December 2nd, 2005 6 comments

    Desktop manufacturing is one of those ideas that sometimes seems obvious and inevitable, sometimes a bit too good to be true and sometimes completely off the planet, depending on the angle at which you look at it. If it happened, it would certainly make a huge difference, creating up the potential for open-source everything.

    David Pescovitz has the optimistic version of the story.

    Categories: Science Tags: