Archive for February, 2006


February 28th, 2006 31 comments

I’ve been going to post on various things, but others have already done it. First up, here’s Mark Bahnisch at Larvatus Prodeo making the point that Howard hasn’t, as so many have suggested, succeeded in shifting Australian political attitudes to the right. Gianna has more.

Tim Dunlop covers hearing impairment at the AWB inquiry. It’s good to know the Howard government hires the disabled, and at a million bucks a pop, too.

And, off-topic a little, Tim Lambert shares with me and CT blogger Eszter Hargittai an Erdos number of 3

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Iranian Oil Bourse

February 27th, 2006 126 comments

I got an email asking me about the Iranian Oil Bourse, which is causing great excitement among the Peak Oil crowd. Here’s my draft response. Comments appreciated.

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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Monday message board

February 27th, 2006 46 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:


February 26th, 2006 3 comments

I’ve been invited to sign up with Newstex Blogs on Demand. It seems like a reasonable way of getting more circulation and there might also be some monetary payoff. The latter might be a negative if I wanted to use CC non-commercial content from others, but so far I haven’t done much of this.

Anyway, I thought I’d ask if anyone else has tried this and if they have any thoughts. Feel free to email me if you don’t want your views published.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

What I've been reading

February 26th, 2006 5 comments

The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard. Another Christmas present I’m only just getting to. I quite liked People in Glass Houses, but I’m finding this one slow going, despite its Miles Franklin Award.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

February 25th, 2006 44 comments

This NYT piece about America’s emptiest county starts off with the usual stuff about closed-down schools and vanished churches. Then, without any warning, it segues into a story about Libertarians plotting to take over the county and legalise cannibalism (no, really!).

As they say, read the whole thing.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Bait and switch

February 25th, 2006 85 comments

Lawrence Kaplan (with Irving William Kristol) selling The War over Iraq

The United States may need to occupy Iraq for some time. Though the UN, European and Arab forces will, as in Afghanistan, contribute troops, the principal responsibility will doubtless fall to the country that liberates Baghdad. According to one estimate, initially as many as 75,000 US troops may be required to police the war’s aftermath, at a cost of $16 billion a year. As other countries’ forces arrive, and as Iraq rebuilds its economy and political system, that force could probably be drawn to several thousand soldiers after a year or two. After Saddam Hussein has been defeated and Iraq occupied installing a decent democratic government in Baghdad should be a manageable task for the United States. quoted here (pp19-20)

Lawrence Kaplan presenting “The Case for Staying in Iraq” in TNR

The administration intends to draw down troop levels to 100,000 by the end of the year, with the pullback already well underway as U.S. forces surrender large swaths of the countryside and hunker down in their bases. The plan infuriates many officers, who can only say privately what noncommissioned officers say openly. “In order to fix the situation here,” Sabre Squadron’s Sergeant José Chavez says, “we need at least 180,000 troops.” Iraq, however, will soon have about half that. An effective counterinsurgency strategy may require time and patience. But the war’s architects have run out of both.

Maybe if Kaplan, Kristol and others had told us this in the first place, there wouldn’t have been a war.
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Categories: World Events Tags:

Calling all Chomskyites

February 24th, 2006 10 comments

David Horowitz is holding a competition where you get to vote for America’s worst (ie most dangerously leftwing) professor. In the true spirit of laissez-faire, there’s none of this “one person, one vote” nonsense. It’s vote early, vote often and bots are just as welcome as humans. As a result, “Marvellous Michael” Bérubé is outpolling all other contenders combined, with 130 000 votes.

I’m a big Bérubé supporter myself, but I think it’s kind of unfair that someone like Noam Chomsky (659 votes), who’s devoted his life to annoying the likes of Horowitz, should be lagging so far behind just because his fans can’t be bothered programming a few bots. So get your noses out of Syntactic Structures and start coding.

Update 26/2 Perhaps my call has been heeded. Chomsky has rocketed to #5 on the list with over 30000 votes. He’s gaining fast on historian Eric Foner whose crime, I believe, is to point out that the Reconstruction era was not, as generations of Southern historians had claimed, an orgy of corruption, but was in fact a period of democratic reform brought to an end by Ku Klux Klan terrorism. FPM attacks Reconstruction here.

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:


February 24th, 2006 21 comments

Reader and occasional commenter Paul Knapp advises me that he’s set up a site called NewsBump. It’s modelled on US sites such as Digg, where participants nominate stories of possible interest and others can rank them, pushing the interesting ones to the top of the page. The focus is on Oz current affairs. Free registration required for participation. Go and take a look.

I picked up this story, saying that 55 per cent of Americans think the Iraq war was a mistake. Given the frequency with which opponents of the war have been told we are “anti-American”[1], it’s good to know that the majority of Americans are in the same boat, as they have been for some time now.

fn1. For some reason, war supporters seem to have a bit of amnesia about this. So here a couple of links, one from Australia and one from the US. There are plenty more if you look, along with variants like “pro-Saddam”.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Weekend reflections

February 24th, 2006 48 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 least now we know …

February 22nd, 2006 31 comments
Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The Kingmaker, Part II

February 22nd, 2006 21 comments

Peter Beinart runs a TNR piece with a theme implicit in my post on the Sadr interview, the fact that Sadr’s rise to power in Iraq has attracted almost no media attention. Not having access to US TV, I didn’t realise how completely this has been ignored (Technorati suggests the same is pretty much true for the blogosphere). It’s behind their paywall, but I can’t resist quoting the first few paras
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Categories: World Events Tags:


February 22nd, 2006 6 comments

Today’s Fin (subscription only) has a piece by AGW contrarian Garth Paltridge claiming that, while he was establishing the Antarctic CRC in the early 1990s, CSIRO threatened to pull out of the project if he didn’t stop saying in the media that there were doubts about the science of global warming. CSIRO’s motive, he says, was the desire to extract millions of dollars in funding from the “newly-established” Australian Greenhouse Office. Paltridge presents this as a counter to the recent Four Corners program about suppression of scientists like Graham Pearman, and it reads very effectively. The same story is reported by Andew Bolt

There is just one slight problem with the story. The Antarctic CRC was set up in 1991 with CSIRO participation. Further negotiations (given the timelags in putting together a CRC bid and getting it approved, these would have been in the mid-1990s), led to a new version of the CRC which commenced operations in 1997 (it’s not clear if CSIRO was part of this one).

The Australian Greenhouse Office wasn’t “newly established” in the early 1990s, or even in 1997: in fact it wasn’t established at all until 1998. Its formation wasn’t even announced by the Prime Minister until November 1997.

Of course, it may be that this dispute took place at some other time and in the context of some other negotiation. But if Paltridge is wrong on dates and context, maybe he has also got other things wrong, such as the content of the conversations he describes.

Update My guess is that Paltridge is referring to this Sunday program broadcast in November 1997. It’s about the time the AGO was announced, but clearly too late for the alleged threat to have been made. It’s interesting to note, by the way, how heavily the sceptics who got nearly all the running on the Sunday program rely on Christy’s satellite data, and on now-discredited hacks like Pat Michaels.

Categories: Environment Tags:

The Kingmaker

February 21st, 2006 42 comments

Juan Cole translates an Al-Jazeera interview with the new kingmaker of Iraqi politics. In many ways, he’s just what the Bush Administration has been hoping for. He’s a Shi’ite but favors a broad government of national unity, reaching out to Sunni nationalists. He has an impeccable record of opposition to Saddam and isn’t compromised by any links to the occupation or to the interim Allawi regime. And while he’s previously called for an immediate pullout of US forces, he’s now prepared to accept a timetable for withdrawal.

He is, of course …
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Categories: World Events Tags:

Ad hominem ad nauseam

February 21st, 2006 108 comments

The comments thread lately has been full of what might be called the “”ad hominem fallacy” fallacy”. This is the fallacy that, because a logical syllogism is equally valid or invalid no matter who propounds it, evidence in favour of a judgement about a matter of fact should be treated the same no matter who puts it forward. But classical syllogistic logic has essentially nothing to say in relation to reasoning about the plausibilty of judgements based on evidence.

No one sensible takes this idea seriously when, for example, money is at stake. A member of a board of directors who has a financial interest in a proposal is expected to declare it and withdraw from the discussion for example. By contrast, believers in the “ad hominem fallacy” fallacy would suggest that the director’s arguments were just as valid as anyone else’s, and they do not need to declare their interest before taking part in the discussion (though they should not vote).

The problems with conflict of interest are twofold. First, it is usually impossible to check every factual claim made by someone putting an argument. Second, even if all the facts asserted in support of some position are verifiable, they may have been selected (cherry-picked) to favour a case, while facts pointing the other way have been ignored. If you’re willing to go to the trouble of fully informing yourself about the topic using independent sources evidence from interested sources is redundant, and if not, it’s unreliable.

I had a lengthy go at this here, and for convenience I’ve reposted it over the fold.

There’s more from Don Arthur , Tim Lambert and Cathy Young
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Categories: Science Tags:

Cold Duck Redux

February 21st, 2006 23 comments

Riffing off a comment from Mark Bahnisch, Andrew Norton has a nice post on Latte Leftism/Libertarianism. This gives me the chance to reprise this old post from 2003 (Over the fold). There were some good comments, now lost forever.
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Categories: Life in General Tags:

Monday message board

February 20th, 2006 32 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

What I'm reading

February 20th, 2006 8 comments

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. It’s told from the view point of an old (or, as we now have to say older) woman, whose sister committed suicide, leaving behind a controversial novel (also called The Blind Assassin) that became a bestseller (maybe not really hers, but I haven’t finished the book yet) . I got it for Christmas, but have only just managed to start on it – very good so far.

The only other thing of Atwood’s I’ve read was The Handmaid’s Tale. I enjoyed it, but was miffed by the various literary types who raved about it when they would scorn to mention, say, Ursula Le Guin. That reaction goes in spades for Doris Lessing’s ventures into SF. Writing this, it strikes me that the inner novel The Blind Assassin also has an SF theme.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

The Cross-City Tunnel fiasco

February 19th, 2006 17 comments

An all party committee has slammed the Sydney Cross-City tunnel PPP project, and particularly the payment of an up-front fee. By coincidence, I’ll be on Four Corners tomorrow night, saying exactly the same thing.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Most "economists" aren't

February 19th, 2006 38 comments

I’ve always thought that an economist is someone who understands opportunity cost. If there is one thing a first-year undergraduate economics course should teach, it’s an understanding of this concept. So it’s alarming to discover that most members of a sample drawn from participants in the profession’s most important conference are not, at least by my definition, economists.

Via Harry Clarke, I found this paper by Ferraro and Taylor (guest registration or subscription required). Ferraro and Taylor presented their volunteer subjects with this question.

Please circle the best answer to the following question:

‘You won a free ticket to see an Eric Clapton concert (which has no resale value). Bob Dylan is performing on the same night and is your next-best alternative. Tickets to see Dylan cost $40. On any given day, you would be willing to pay up to $50 to see Dylan. Assume there are no other costs of seeing either performer. Based on this information, what is the opportunity cost of seeing Eric Clapton?

(a) $0
(b) $10
(c) $40
(d) $50.

Take some time to think before looking over the fold
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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Mudslide in the Phillipines

February 19th, 2006 3 comments

The latest news from the mudslide in the Phillipines is grim. There have been no more people rescued from the village of Guinsaugon, even though students and teachers in the local school survived the intial slide and sent text messages calling for help. The Australian government is giving $1 million for relief and rescue.

In general, the world is pretty good about responding to disasters of this kind. But it’s worth remembering that the huge death toll associated with these disasters is often the result of the poverty of those affected, and that it is in our collective power to end extreme poverty once and for all. Simple improvements in health care and agrlculture would save millions of lives every year.

We should be pressing the government to maintain, every day of the year, the generosity it shows on occasions like this, and doing our individual best to help as well.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Theme competition

February 18th, 2006 3 comments

I finally got around to checking out the podcasting feature in iTunes today (I know I’m way behind the times, but I’m a texty kind of guy). It’s pretty kewl.

By coincidence, I also got an email today from Nicholas Gruen about a Theme Competition for The National Interest. The idea is to get an open-source theme that will allow podcasting of the show, by avoiding copyright problems with the existing theme.


February 18th, 2006 4 comments

My wife forwarded this sequence of photos that are doing the rounds, headed “Irish Salvage”.

No doubt eagle-eyed Irish readers will be able to point out that the truck is of a make used exclusively in the UK, or that the superscript on the manifest is of a type not found in the Irish localisation of MS Word.

Update: As expected, too good to be true. The second spill is faked. Still, it’s pretty funny.
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Categories: Life in General Tags:

New arrival

February 17th, 2006 40 comments

Regular commenter here, Mike Pepperday, has started his own blog

Consensus Republic

It is to promote an Australian republic via ‘Sovereign Appointment’, whereby the people take over the sovereign’s duty of appointing the PM’s nominee for GG.

I proposed an Irony ON alternative solution here. Irony OFF

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Unemployment: forgotten, but not gone

February 17th, 2006 78 comments

My opinion piece in yesterday’s Fin was about unemployment. It’s over the fold.
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Weekend reflections

February 17th, 2006 6 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:

The Washminster system

February 16th, 2006 35 comments

Peter Shergold, head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has stated what has long been apparent. The Westminster system, under which ministers are responsible for wrongdoing by their departments, is dead in Australia. Shergold says, in relation to incidents like the AWB scandal, that ministers should resign only if they ordered public servants to breach the law or “or if a minister had their attention drawn to matters and then took no action”.

Although Shergold apparently went on to deny this, it’s obvious that the current setup, in which ministers are screened by staff appointed on a basis of personal loyalty, ensures that ministers need never have their attention drawn to anything likely to compromise their position. Such information can always be communicated to a private secretary or similar staff member, who will judge what the minister needs to know and, more importantly, what the minister needs not to know.
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Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

US vs EU, Round XXVIII

February 15th, 2006 41 comments

Fareed Zakaria has yet another piece on the inevitable decline of Europe. In it, he makes the claim

Talk to top-level scientists and educators about the future of scientific research and they will rarely even mention Europe. There are areas in which it is world class, but they are fewer than they once were. In the biomedical sciences, for example, Europe is not on the map.

High energy physics, anyone? Western European output of scientific papers surpassed that of the US about 10 years ago and the gap is still widening. The US is relatively stronger in biomedical research than in the physical sciences, but Europe has caught up there as well. The loss of the US lead in science is sufficiently widely-accepted that proposed responses made it into Bush’s State of the Union speech.
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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Global warming and careerism

February 14th, 2006 215 comments

ABC Four Corners ran an interesting show last night on the anti-science interest groups who dominate the formulation and official discussion of policy on global warming in Australia. Transcript here, along with discussion from Tim Lambert and Larvatus Prodeo.

What particularly interested me was the number of scientists who had been pushed out of CSIRO, or had left of their own volition, after being tightly censored in what they could say about global warming, and the emissions reductions that would be needed to stabilise the climate (the latter point is particularly sensitive since any actual number implies a target and government policy is opposed to targets).

In particular, I was struck by the fact that global warming contrarians commonly explain the overwhelming support of climate scientists for the consensus view on anthropogenic global warming in terms of careerism. The contrarians say that if the scientists deviated from the dominant consensus, they would lose their jobs or their grant funding.

THe Four Corners report made it clear that, in Australia (as also in the US) the exact opposite is the truth. Speaking out in support of science on global warming is a very bad career move, at least for anyone employed by the government. In climate science, where the big organisations have been CSIRO and the Met Bureau, that constraint applies to most people working in the field.
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Categories: Environment Tags:


February 13th, 2006 4 comments

The AWB wheat deals with Iraq also involved the Export Finance Insurance Corporation (EFIC) which, as the name implies, insures exporters like AWB when they sell goods on credit. I actually did some work on this fifteen years ago, and concluded that the operations of EFIC were likely to lead to cross-subsidisation of bad customers by good ones. Even then, Iraq was at the top of the list of bad customers. As Ken Davidson points out (via VVB), the involvement of EFIC in the deals also implies high-level involvement by government departments like Treasury and Finance that have so far not been mentioned.

Meanwhile, as the hearings roll on, it’s clear that the government knew nothing about the bribery in exactly the same way as Bill Clinton did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. Indeed, looking at the things they didn’t know, it’s testimony to their organisational ability that they could manage to know exactly what they needed not to know, without ever being told.

Categories: Economics - General, Oz Politics Tags: