Archive for January, 2006

Pakistan earthquake appeal

January 30th, 2006 31 comments

It’s more than three months since Pakistan suffered a devastating earthquake, with huge loss of life, and still many people are in desperate need of help. Much of the aid promised in the immediate aftermath has not materialised (sadly, this often happens). You can read more here.

So with most people back from the Christmas break, I thought this would be a good time for another fundraising appeal. Given some of the mammoth comments threads we’ve seen lately, I thought about reviving the “cash for comment” idea, but I decided to stick with the simpler plan of matching funds.

Please give as much as you can afford to a Pakistan earthquake appeal of your choice (I’m giving to Oxfam), and send a comment or email advising me of the amount. I’ll match the total amount given, up to $1000.

Remember that all this is tax-deductible, so the final cost to a taxpayer on the top marginal rate is only $50 cents for a final donation (counting my matching money) of $200. Or someone on the 30 per cent rate could give $50 and get $15 back, a net cost of $35 for an effective donation of $100.

Update Tuesday 0830 Already a total of $600 has been raised, with generous $100 contributions from Harry Clarke, James Farrell and (by email) Steve Edwards.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Monday message board

January 30th, 2006 73 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and absolutely no coarse language, please[1].

fn1. Given recent problems with trolls and generally heated debate, I’m going to come down harder on this. Please don’t use any abusive language, swear words including *ster*sked versions and so on.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

The race is not to the swift …

January 29th, 2006 19 comments

nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.

Marcos Baghdatis put up an impressive fight, but ran out of legs in the end against the calm professionalism of Roger Federer in the Australian Open. Still, there’s always next year.

Update While we were all looking to Melbourne for an upset that never came, this was happening in Sydney.

Categories: Sport Tags:

What I've been reading

January 29th, 2006 36 comments

Orwell, Collected Essays. I bought a set of these years ago, but lost Volume 3, which I’ve just replaced. It still stands up very well after all these years, and has lots of fascinating stuff to dip into, such as a defence of English cooking.

Orwell is one of those writers, like Shakespeare, who lots of people have tried to claim, particularly during the Cold War. I was particularly interested therefore, to read his very level-headed assessment of the British Communist Party and his observation that its fluctuating membership was inversely proportional to the extent to which it embraced revolutionary politics and to which Russian and British foreign policy was in conflict. However sharp his phraseology at times, Orwell always stood against heresy-hunters, and he would certainly have recognised the kinship between McCarthyism and Stalinism.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

In plain view

January 28th, 2006 26 comments

The New Republic has a piece by Paul Thacker pointing out that Fox News science columnist Steven Milloy is a shill for, among other corporations, Philip Morris and ExxonMobil. It’s behind a paywall but that scarcely matters, because the relevant facts have been on the public record for years. As usual, Tim Lambert has the most detailed coverage, but a search of this blog or Crooked Timber will produce plenty more, and most of the info has been in Milloy’s Wikipedia entry for some time. In this context, the claim by Fox News, reported by TNR, that they were unaware of Milloy’s corporate payoffs speaks volumes for their capacity as a news organisation. I guess when you can just make it up, you don’t need to use Google.

What seems to be happening here, as with the Abramoff scandal is that facts that have been in plain view for ages can now be fitted into a media narrative – Republican sleaze in general and pundits for hire in particular. Whereas evidence of these kinds of links has been ignored or brushed aside in the past, they can now be seen as part of a systematic pattern of corruption.

If this narrative keeps running it’s going to make life a lot more difficult for the network of rightwing thinktanks and lobby groups that have proliferated in the US over the past two decades or so. Apart from the fact that most of them have at least one individual shill or fraud already exposed (AEI with Lott, Hudson with Fumento, Cato with Bandow and Milloy, TCS from top to bottom[1]) it’s going to become increasingly obvious that these guys have done little more than some unauthorised moonlighting. The organisations are engaged in the same kind of shilling, but on a larger scale. It’s hard to see how they can retain any credibility, or how any reputable person can continue work for any of them, unless all of the shills are sacked, and the organisations become a lot more open about their funding.

In this context, it’s heartening to note that Milloy has quietly departed from Cato where he was an adjunct scholar until the end of 2005. I don’t suppose this post had anything to do with it, but having called for Cato to sack him, I’m glad they’ve parted company. How long will it take Fox News to do something similar?

fn1. Except for Tim Worstall, who seems unaffected by the general atmosphere there.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Castles and Henderson, again

January 27th, 2006 92 comments

People who’ve been following the debate about global warming closely will be aware that the economic modelling used in projections of future climate change by the IPCC has been severely criticised by former Australian Statistician Ian Castles and former OECD chief economist David Henderson. The critique emerged in a rather confused form, with a number of letters and opinion pieces before finally being published in contrarian social science journal Energy and Environment. Responses, including mine, have been similarly partial and sporadic.

I’ve finally prepared a full-scale response to the main claim made by Castles and Henderson, that the use of market exchange rates, rather than “Purchasing Power Parity” conversion factors for national currencies, biases estimates of future emissions upwards. My conclusion is that although PPP measures are preferable in comparisons of national welfare, the biases introduced by using market exchange rates are not important in modelling emissions and will, on average, cancel out. You can read it all here.

Update: Ian Castles has sent a response which I’ve posted here. It doesn’t seem to me that Ian responds to my argument except to deny that the MER/PPP issue was the main point of the critique.

I should also note that Holtsmark and Alfsen (2004), whose paper I’ve just found, present much the same argument as mine.

Further update In the comments discussion, a fair degree of common ground has been reached. Ian clarifies that he and Henderson object to MER conversion factors, but not because they bias projections of emissions, saying

I agree that these arguments (about the errors in GDP growth and emissions intensity reductions cancelling one another out) are sound as a first approximation.

Ian makes the valid point that use of MER conversion produces the incorrect conclusion that the energy-intensity of LDCs is about the same as prevailed in developed countries when their income was similar. This could lead to misleading policy inferences, for example with respect to mitigation policy and should be corrected.

I agree with Ian that it is better to use PPP measures consistently, and that the sooner the IPCC does this the better. On the other hand, I think it’s important to make the point that the widely-repeated claims that IPCC projections of emissions are fundamentally erroneous because of the choice of exchange rate are not supported by careful analysis.

Categories: General Tags:

Weekend reflections

January 27th, 2006 54 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:


January 26th, 2006 4 comments

In every sense of the term.

The NYT runs an Op-ed Piece by John Lott, reporting statistical work he claims to have undertaken.

(Only too believable section). Lott’s results support current Republican talking points.

(Via Tim Lambert and Kevin Drum)

Categories: General Tags:

Monday message board (Wednesday edition)

January 25th, 2006 35 comments

I thought I had posted the Monday Message board, but as James Farrell points out, it’s nowhere to be seen. So this is the Wednesday edition. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

An ounce of inefficiency (Crossposted at CT)

January 24th, 2006 75 comments

This post by Belle Waring at CT, on the fact that the US appears unlikely ever to go metric prompted me to try and put together some thoughts I’ve had for a long time.

When I lived in the US around 1990, I was struck by all sorts of minor inefficiencies that seemed to be sanctified by tradition. In addition to its unique system of weights and measures (similar to, but confusingly different from, the Imperial system I had grown up with), there was the currency, with no coin of any substantial value, thanks to inflation (this particular inefficiency was subsequently enshrined in the Save the Greenback Act), and the practice of quoting prices net of sales tax, so you always had to pay more than the marked price. And then there was a huge, but ill-defined, range of activities where tips were expected, apparently regardless of the quality of service. In all of these cases, Americans seemed much more willing to put up with day-to-day inefficiency in the name of tradition than Australians would be, and much more resistant to government action that would sweep such inefficiencies away in the name of reform.

Bigger issues like creationism can be fitted into this picture. As far as I can see, very few supporters of creationism (or intelligent design or what have you) have any desire to see it taught in university biology departments [there are a handful of exceptions, like Bob Jones, that are resolutely stuck in the pre-Civil War era on most things] or applied by oil geologists. Their big objection is seeing evolution stated as fact in museum displays or taught in high schools. Broadly speaking the position seems to be like that with the metric system – scientists are welcome to be evolutionists as long as they don’t try and ram it down the throats of our kids. Obviously, this is costly; as with metric and traditional measures, the two systems are bound to clash from time to time.

Then there’s the inefficiency that seems to be built in to the US system of government. When I lived there, I was subject to four different levels of government (town, county, state and federal) with multiple overlapping responsibilities, and procedures that seem designed to achieve maximal inconvenience for citizens (not to mention resident aliens!).

All of this of course, was set against the background of a general level of technology in advance of very other country in the world, and an economic system in which the pursuit of efficiency wasn’t much hindered by concerns about equity. At least for the upper-middle class to which I belonged, these things produced a very high standard of living.

How much do these minor inefficiencies matter? In one sense, I think, quite a lot. In another, they don’t matter very much at all, and can in fact be defended on cultural grounds

The direct costs of the inefficiencies I’ve mentioned are all small, but taken together I wouldn’t be surprised if they added up to several percentage points of national income, or hundreds of billions of dollars per year. I think, for example, that a payment of a dollar a day would be a bargain for an average American adult if it could deliver a sensible coinage and posted prices that actually corresponded to the amount to be paid. Multiplied out, that’s around $60 billion a year or 0.5 per cent of national income. And requirements for goods to be made in non-metric measures amount to a kind of trade barrier which seems likely to have a similar cost.

Even more than this, the attitude underlying the adherence to traditional measures is that the US is rich enough and important enough to do what it likes, and the rest of the world can like it or lump it (an attitude not unique to this issue). There’s a lot of truth in this, and it helps to explain why the US is pretty much self-sufficient in a wide range of cultural services. On the other hand, it’s not conducive to success in export markets for goods. Now that the US no longer has a big technological lead, the lack of interest in what foreigners think is one of the factors explaining big trade deficits with almost every other country in the world (Australia is one of the few exceptions).

So, in these ways, adherence to inefficient traditions matters quite a lot. On the other hand, taking the long-term historical view, they scarcely matter at all. Suppose inefficiency costs 6 per cent of national income. With productivity rising at a rate of 2 per cent a year, that means that the average living standard that might have been reached in 2006 will in fact be reached in 2009. For any given person, this trend effect will be swamped by year to year fluctuations in income and expenses. And in most households, there are probably inefficient arrangements that cost a fair bit, but are maintained because that’s the way things have always been done in the family.

Moreover, looking around the world it seems that nearly every country has its sanctified inefficiencies. France has its heavily protected agriculture, as does Japan, and Britain has a whole set of hangovers from the class system and reactions against it. I don’t buy general claims about Eurosclerosis, but there are clearly plenty of features of European social welfare systems that don’t stand up to close scrutiny. In Australia, although agricultural protection is pretty much gone, we spend a lot of money ensuring that much the same bundle of services is available everywhere in the country at the same price, regardless of the cost of delivery.

In a world where the level of technological development and the basic pattern of consumption are much the same in all developed countries, such idiosyncratic differences between countries that are an important barrier to a completely globalised uniformity.

BTW, if you want to comment on this post, you might be better off at CT which is currently leading JQ 92-0.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Pub ecology

January 24th, 2006 10 comments

If you want to hear my thoughts on biodiversity in the context of a moderately-lubricated pub discussion, you can hear it on Radio National today at 1305 (1605 in WA).

Categories: Environment Tags:

Yet more nonsense on global warming

January 24th, 2006 567 comments

There’s no longer any serious debate among climate scientists about either the reality of global warming or about the fact that its substantially caused by human activity, but, as 500+ comments on my previous post on this topic show, neither the judgement of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, nor the evidence that led them to that judgement, has had much effect on the denialists[1].

And the Australian media are doing a terrible job in covering the issue. I’ve seen at least half a dozen pieces this year claiming that the whole issue is a fraud cooked up by left-wing greenies, and January isn’t over yet.

The latest is from Peter Walsh in the Oz. Walsh is still banging on about the satellite data, and the Medieval Warm Period, suggesting that his reading, if any, in the last few years has been confined to publications emanating from the right-wing parallel universe. But that hasn’t stopped the Australian from running him, and a string of others.

If an issue like genetically modified food, or the dangers of mobile phones was treated in this way, with alarmist cranks being given hectares of column space, most of those who sympathise with Walsh would be outraged and rightly so.

Walsh does make one valid point however, saying. “If your case is immaculate, why feed lies into it?” To which, I can only respond, “If the cap fits …”

fn1. At this point, the term “sceptic” is no longer remotely applicable. Only dogmatic commitment to a long-held position (or an ideological or financial motive for distorting the evidence) can explain continued rejection of the evidence.

Categories: Environment Tags:

What I've been reading and watching

January 22nd, 2006 11 comments

Mainly watching, this week. I went to see the new film of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley. Enjoyable, at least if you like the idea of a fanfic rewrite of the original, as it would be written by, say, Marianne Dashwood, casting herself as Elizabeth Bennet.

For a real travesty, though, you can’t go past the 1940 version starring Greer Garson. At the end, Lady Catherine de Burgh turns out to have been good all along.

I used to think this was a deplorable, but trivial, concession to audience snobbery. Actually, however, it’s like one of those final scenes in a film noir that completely unravels everything you’ve thought until that point. If Lady de Burgh is really good, then Mr Collins, who we all thought to be a ridiculous and pompous fool, was in fact right in his admiration for her, while Elizabeth is shown to be blinded by prejudice in her dislike of both of them. And in that case, Charlotte Lucas’ decision to marry Collins showed insight into his true character. Now its Elizabeth, who rejects Collins and ends up with the far wealthier Darcy, who appears to be the one marrying for money. Fortunately, of course, the movie rushes to the wedding scene and the credits before we can work out that it now makes no sense at all.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Easter running late this year?

January 22nd, 2006 9 comments

It’s nearly Australia Day, and my local Coles has only just got the Easter eggs and Hot Cross Buns on sale. This slackness was apparently due to delays in clearing out the mince pies from Christmas las year.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Weekend reflections

January 20th, 2006 56 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:

Turning off

January 19th, 2006 27 comments

My article in today’s Fin was on digital TV policy (but was peripherally influenced by discussions here about the AWB monopoly and Kerry Packer). Over the fold. Comments appreciated, as always

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

AWB Overboard

January 18th, 2006 149 comments

I’ve always thought that the Oil-For-Food scandal and the parallel scandal (promoted mainly on the left of the blogosphere) about corruption in Iraq’s postwar reconstruction were overblown. Under the circumstances, corruption was inevitable in both cases.If you supported feeding Iraqi children or attempting to repair the damage caused by the war, you had to expect, as part of the overhead, that those with power in Iraq would seek to skim money off the top, and that they would find willing accomplices in this task. Having said all that, corruption shouldn’t be passively accepted. It’s a crime and, wherever they can be caught, those guilty of it should be punished.

By far the biggest fish to be caught in the net so far is Australia’s monopoly wheat exporter, AWB, which was, until 1999, the government-owned Australian Wheat Board. It has become evident that AWB paid hundreds of millions of dollars to Saddam’s regime, and it has now been stated in evidence that the deals in question were discussed with Australia’s foreign minister, Alexander Downer.

Based on past experience, particularly the Children Overboard case, we can be pretty confident of the following

* Both Downer and Howard knew that the AWB was paying kickbacks to the Iraqi regime

* This information was transmitted in a way that preserves deniability, so no conclusive proof will emerge

* No government minister will resign

* Endless hair-splitting defences of the government’s actions in this matter will emerge from those who have previously made a loud noise about Oil for Food.

On the point of resignation, I’d note that the information that had come out before today, showing the AWB up to its neck in corruption, would have been enough, under any previous government to require ministerial resignations, on the basis of the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. But that doctrine is now obsolete in Australia. If anything short of a criminal conviction is considered sufficient to justify an enforced resignation under present conditions, I’m not aware of it.

“Gandhi” has a bit more

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Subeditors at work ?

January 16th, 2006 12 comments

The NYT reports the victory of Socialist Michelle Bachelet (briefly a refugee in Australia) in the Chilean presidential election under the headline “What Is Missing in This Woman’s Victory? Coattails?”

I would take this to mean that there were also Parliamentary/Congressional elections at the same time, and that Ms Bachelet’s party had lost, but the body of the report implies the opposite saying her win “assured another four years in power for the [centre-left] coalition, which has governed Chile without interruption since Gen. Augusto Pinochet was forced to step down in 1990. “Has anyone got any idea what the NYT sub-editor who chose this headline was thinking? As pointed out in the CT comments thread, this is a reference to the point made about halfway through that other female elected presidents in the region have been the widows of political leaders.

In other news from the Chilean campaign, the much-vaunted privatised pension scheme introduced under Pinochet is in serious trouble. Even conservative candidate Sebastián Piñera, brother of José Pinera who introduced the scheme, described it as being in crisis.

The success of the Chilean scheme was always illusory. It was introduced not long after Pinochet’s mismanagement of the exchange rate had generated an economic crisis and stockmarket crash. So early investors got the benefits of above-average returns as the market recovered. These were enough to hide the high administrative costs (between a quarter and a third of contributions) and poor design of the scheme. Once returns fell back to normal the problems became apparent. The government is still footing a huge ‘transitional’ bill, and coverage is patchy at best.

Categories: Economic policy, Politics (general) Tags:

Monday message board

January 16th, 2006 15 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've been reading

January 15th, 2006 13 comments

Johnno by David Malouf. The main interest for me was the setting, the Brisbane of the 40s and 50s, starting out as a combination of overgrown country town and sleazy wartime garrison town, then gradually metamorphosing into the repressed provincial city that I remember from visits in the 70s and 80s. Malouf mentions the closure of the brothels (where the protagonist creates some havoc) as an instance of this.

Of course, brothels and gambling dens continued to operate with the protection of corrupt police. This ultimately led to the collapse of the seemingly invulnerable Bjelke-Petersen government following the Fitzgerald Commission.

Read more…

Categories: Books and culture, General Tags:


January 15th, 2006 57 comments

Martin Ferguson’s comments in support of the Howard government’s bogus climate forum[1] remind me of why I dislike the hereditary principle in politics. Australian politics and the Parliamentary Labor party in particular is full of people who are there only because their fathers (or, more rarely, mothers) were politicians themselves.This wasn’t true, or not to anything like the same extent, thirty years ago.

A few of these hereditary princelings have made a reasonable contribution, but on the whole, they’re a dead weight, and Ferguson is a prime example of the latter category. If he’s done anything to justify the positions he’s held, I’m not aware of it.

The core of the problem is that the membership of the major parties has collapsed to the point where an extended family and its retainers can form the basis of an effective sub-faction, capable of winning preselections. Short of radical changes in both politics and society, it’s hard to see this changing.

One possible response would be to move to a primary system for preselections, on the US model. This hasn’t, of course, stopped the operation of the hereditary principle there, but I think that there is less of a cult of political celebrity here – I can’t imagine that names like Downer or Ferguson command many votes among the Australian public.

fn1. The derisory contribution offered by the US Administration (a budget request for $52 million, equal to about 0.0005 per cent of US GDP, which will probably not be delivered anyway) is an indication of the seriousness with which the US took the meeting, as is the fact that (as far as I can tell) it wasn’t even reported in the US press. The same is true, from what I can see of the other participants. The whole thing is, in essence, window-dressing to cover the Howard government’s failure to ratify Kyoto.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Draft review of Mooney

January 14th, 2006 41 comments

I’ve done a draft review of Chris Mooney’s Republican War on Science (over the page). Comments much appreciated. I’d prefer comments on the review, and on the process by which the campaign against science identified by Mooney works. There’s plenty of room to discuss the substantive issues of ID theory, GW contrarianism and so on on other threads. That said, feel free to comment on whatever interests you.

Read more…

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Weekend reflections

January 13th, 2006 31 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:

Worse than nothing

January 12th, 2006 63 comments

It’s pretty clear that the “Asia-Pacific partnership on clean development” is simply a front for inaction. Apart from Howard’s promise of $20 million a year for research (apparently the meeting itself cost about as much as the first year’s budget) none of the participants made any concrete commitment. The US representative took the opportunity to plug nuclear energy, rather laughably since the US hasn’t commissioned a new reactor since 1978, the year before Three Mile Island. Some recent initiatives might lead to a handful of plants being constructed in the next decade or so, but even this is far from settled.

This farcical episode was a demonstration that, as far as responses to global warming are concerned, Kyoto is the only game in town.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Defining victory down, part 2 (Crossposted at CT)

January 10th, 2006 192 comments

In this post, I mentioned that I hadn’t seen any commentary from pro-war bloggers on reports that the US will spend no more on Iraqi infrastructure once the current allocation of $18 billion, most of which was diverted to military projects, is exhausted. Although there was lengthy discussion both here and at Crooked Timber, no one pointed to any examples of comments on the topic.

I said at the time I didn’t want to get into a “Silence of the Hawks” pointscoring exercise on this. As a general rule, no particular blogger is obliged to post on any particular topic. But I would have thought, if you made it your business to report regularly on Iraqi reconstruction, that such a report was worth covering or correcting.

The Winds of Change website gives a weekly report on Iraq, with a focus on reconstruction news. It appears to be a successor to Chrenkoff’s Good News from Iraq, though less relentlessly upbeat. This week’s report contains no mention of the end of reconstruction funding. In case the WOC editors missed it, the WP report is here.

Update Armed Liberal at WoC responds (graciously) to this provocation, calling the Administration’s decision “bizarre” and pointing to an earlier critique of the wiretapping policy. That still leaves the policy undefended, so I thought I’d try again.

Instapundit is usually quick to disseminate pro-Administration talking points (for example on wiretapping) and has posted regularly on Iraqi reconstruction. Only a month ago, Instapundit linked to an Austin Bay post headed (rather ironically in retrospect) The White House Finally Gets Serious About Iraqi Reconstruction. So, now that the nature of “seriousness” in the White House has become clear, does Glenn Reynolds support the cessation of reconstruction funding? Does anybody? End update

Oddly enough WOC links to a WP piece from October 2004 on the diversion of funds to military purposes with the revealing quote

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in a written statement that the administration always knew that “reconstructing Iraq’s infrastructure would require enormous resources beyond what the Congress appropriated — after 30 years of neglect, decay and corruption.”

Whitman said the United States is working to ensure it is “not starting any project without finishing it.”

Presumably that statement does not apply to the big project of building a “peaceful and prosperous” Iraq.

Winds of Change has done a more reasonable job than many of presenting a case for war, but they’ve relied heavily on the assumption that the Administration is committed to the task of leaving Iraq, in its own words “peaceful and prosperous”. Now that the second of these goals has been abandoned, thereby undermining the first (which in any case looks further away than ever), I’d be interested to know if their views have changed.

A final note on all this is that Kim Beazley, has finally called for the withdrawal of Coalition troops from Iraq, arguing, correctly in my view, that their presence is doing more harm than good. Given Beazley’s extreme caution and love of all things military, he must really believe that the whole project is beyond any chance of redemption.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Monday message board

January 9th, 2006 18 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Defining victory down

January 6th, 2006 64 comments

Lots of people have already commented on the announcement that the Bush Administration plans to cease funding reconstruction programs in Iraq when the existing allocation of $18.5 billion is exhausted. Some comments, here, here and here. Coming late, there’s not much for me to do but survey the field and toss in some numbers.

The numbers first. From the article in the WP it appears that at least $6 billion of the reconstruction money has gone directly to various aspects of counterinsurgency. In addition, around 25 per cent of each project goes to security. That leaves about $9 billion.

Corruption[1] and the general increase in costs associated with dangerous work mean that the cost of general services is inflated, I’d guess by at least 50 per cent, and probably more. So, the effective expenditure on civil reconstruction would be around $6 billion.

How does that compare to what would have been needed to achieve the minimal victory condition of making things no worse than they were shortly before the war (which means much worse than in, say, 1980, 1990 or 2000). Shortly after the war I estimated the cost of such a program at between $25 billion and $50 billion and other estimates I saw were similar. The subsequent years of insurgency and civil strife would probably have doubled that. In The Assassin’s Gate, George Packer estimate the damage caused by postwar looting alone at $12 billion[2].

In these circumstances, it’s not surprising that Iraqis are worse off, on the majority of economic and social measures, from mortality to power supplies, than they were before the invasion. And it’s hard to see how such an outcome can be described as “complete victory” or how even a partial military victory is going to be feasible once the reconstruction work stops, presumably throwing thousands of people out of work in the process.

I can’t see how this makes any sense at all, except in the context of plans for a rapid and complete pullout. Why spend another $100 billion or so on military efforts which are now pretty much pointless?

As I said, lots of people have posted already, but from what I can see, nearly all the comments have come from opponents of the war and of the Bush Administration. I’m not interested in a “silence of the hawks” pointscoring exercise, but I’d really be interested to know what supporters of the war have made of this. In particular:

(1) has the accuracy of the Washington post been disputed?
(2) has anyone defended the decision to stop reconstruction funding ?
(3) has anyone changed their mind about support for the war as a result of this ?

I would have thought that any remaining liberal and left supporters of the war ought to realise by now that, whatever the abstract merits of the case for overthrowing Saddam, they backed the wrong horse in supporting Bush and Blair to do it.

fn1. As an aside, the corruption in the current reconstruction appears to be on much the same scale as in the Oil-for-Food program. In both cases, corruption was inevitable given the circumstances. While individuals involved in corruption should be prosecuted, it was silly to condemn Oil-for-Food, which saved tens of thousands of lives, because Saddam managed to skim money off the top, and it’s equally silly to oppose Iraqi reconstruction because the Halliburtons and Chalabhis have their fingers in the till.

fn2. It’s worth recalling that looting wasn’t the product of mere neglect. It was condoned and sometimes actively encouraged by both Britain and the US, and cheered on by pro-war bloggers.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Weekend reflections

January 6th, 2006 94 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:

At home with the Bullets

January 4th, 2006 5 comments

Coming home from another great win for the Bullets, it struck me that the part of the season I’ve seen has been great. After a few early hiccups, they’ve won consistently, beating more highly-fancied teams with ease. The problem has been that, in the away games I haven’t seen, they’ve lost just as consistently. Tonight, for example, coming off a 30+ point loss at Wollongong, they beat an impressive Sydney Kings outfit by 13.

What accounts for such a huge difference between home (8-3) and away (4-10) performance. I’d like to think it was the crowd. But even if the days when the Brisbane Entertainment Centre was referred to as “The Library”, teams with more enthusiastic crowds seem to have less of a home-court advantage.

Categories: Sport Tags:

The end of the global warming debate

January 4th, 2006 647 comments

The news that 2005 was the warmest year ever recorded in Australia comes at the end of a year in which, to the extent that facts can settle anything, the debate over human-caused global warming has been settled. Worldwide, 2005 was equal (to within the margin of error of the stats) with 1998 as the warmest year in at least the past millennium.

More significantly, perhaps, 2005 saw the final nail hammered into the arguments climate change contrarians have been pushing for years. The few remaining legitimate sceptics, along with some of the smarter ideological contrarians, have looked at the evidence and conceded the reality of human-caused global warming.

Ten years or so ago, the divergence between satellite and ground-based measurements of temperature was a big problem – the ground based measurements showed warming in line with climate models but the satellites showed a cooling trend. The combination of new data and improved calibration has gradually resolved the discrepancy, in favour of the ground-based measurements and the climate models.

Another set of arguments concerned short-term climate cycles like El Nino. The late John Daly attributed the high temperatures of the late 1990s to the combination of El Nino and solar cycles, and predicted a big drop, bottoming out in 2005 and 2006. Obviously the reverse has happened. Despite the absence of the El Nino or solar effects that contributed to the 1998 record, the long-term warming trend has dominated.

Finally, there’s water vapour. The most credible of the contrarians, Richard Lindzen, has relied primarily on arguments that the feedback from water vapour, which plays a central role in climate models, might actually be zero or even negative. Recent evidence has run strongly against this claim. Lindzen’s related idea of an adaptive iris has been similarly unsuccessful.

Finally, the evidence has mounted up that, with a handful of exceptions, “sceptics” are not, as they claim, fearless seekers after scientific truth, but ideological partisans and paid advocates, presenting dishonest arguments for a predetermined party-line conclusion. Even three years ago, sites like Tech Central Station, and writers like Ross McKitrick were taken seriously by many. Now, anyone with access to Google can discover that they have no credibility. Chris Mooney’s Republican War on Science which I plan to review soon, gives chapter and verse and the whole network of thinktanks, politicians and tame scientists who have popularised GW contrarianism, Intelligent Design and so on.

A couple of thoughts on all this.

First, in the course of the debate, a lot of nasty things were said about the IPCC, including some by people who should have known better. Now that it’s clear that the IPCC has been pretty much spot-on in its assessment (and conservative in terms of its caution about reaching definite conclusions), it would be nice to see some apologies.

Second, now that the scientific phase of the debate is over, attention will move to the question of the costs and benefits of mitigation options. There are legitimate issues to be debated here. But having seen the disregard for truth exhibited by anti-environmental think tanks in the first phase of the debate, we shouldn’t give them a free pass in the second. Any analysis on this issue coming out of a think tank that has engaged in global warming contrarianism must be regarded as valueless unless its results have been reproduced independently, after taking account of possible data mining and cherry picking. That disqualifies virtually all the major right-wing think tanks, both here and in the US. Their performance on this and other scientific issues has been a disgrace.

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