Archive for September, 2006


September 30th, 2006 22 comments

Another great Grand Final, with some excellent play and some misses that will be rued for a long time to come. I’ve never followed either team, but men watching a sporting match have to take sides, and I went for the Swans, while my son backed the Eagles.

Categories: Sport Tags:

The browning of Australia

September 30th, 2006 82 comments

Reader Proust points me to this helpful BOM site showing rainfall trends in Australia. You can choose your own region, season and time period.

Here’s the most relevant to consideration of the effects of global warming, the trend since 1970, which demonstrates how much drier the climate has become over the period in which warming has been observed. As various people have pointed out, is was even drier during the famous Federation drought at the beginning of C20, so the role of global warming isn’t conclusively established, but it would certainly seem unwise to bet on a rapid return to the average observed in the historical record

Rainfall trend

Categories: General Tags:

Auto-immune disorder

September 30th, 2006 2 comments

My antispam software, Akismet, has started classifying my own comments as spam. Until I’ve fixed this, I’ll be a bit slow participating in the discussion.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:


September 29th, 2006 33 comments

The Coroner’s report into the death of an Aboriginal man, Mulrunji, in the Palm Island lockup in 2004 has found that his death was the result of a bashing by the police officer in charge of the station. Since the case may result in a criminal prosecution, I don’t intend to discuss issues of guilt or innocence in relation to Mulrunji’s death.

What is clear as a result of the case is that the system failed in all sorts of respects. The initial police investigation was a farce, with the investigators having dinner with the office under investigation, and other aspects were no better. Even in the absence of criminal charges, there’s more than enough in the coroner’s report to suggest that the officer should be stood down until the matter is fully resolved.

More importantly, the government seems to have done very little to implement the recommendations of the 1991 inquiry into deaths in custody and, by inaction, has let things go backwards putting at risk the modest gains of the 1990s. The dismissive attitude of Police Minister Judy Spence along with the government’s post-election decision (not mentioned in the campaign) to scrap the Indigenous Policy portfolio, suggests that things are only going to get worse.

There aren’t any easy answers to the problems of drunkenness and crime in Aboriginal communities. But that’s not a reason for ignoring those problems, and letting things slide back to the worst days of the past.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Weekend reflections

September 29th, 2006 69 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:

Water, again

September 28th, 2006 45 comments

My piece in today’s Fin is about water pricing. My main idea is to set prices equal to marginal cost, but to give every person a free allocation as a basic right.

I’ve also uploaded my presentation at the ACE conference.

Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:


September 27th, 2006 28 comments

I’m at the Australian Conference of Economists in Perth, where I’m presenting a paper on water policy. I went to a paper today on ‘home bias’ and the International Capital Asset Pricing Model. The general home bias story is that most people hold most of their assets in their own country, when standard theory suggests the optimal portfolio should be much the same for everyone, regardless of location.

Following this up, this suggests that everyone should hold assets in a given country in proportion to its vaue share in the total world market (about 2 per cent for Australia).

It struck me that there’s a paradox here. Suppose I’m considering investing in two overseas stock markets with similar characteristics (mean return, variance, covariance with the Australian market). It seems obvious that I should invest the same amount in each market. But, if you accept ICAPM this is wrong, unless the two markets have the same capitalisation. ICAPM implies that I should invest more in whichever market is larger.

The paradox can be resolved if larger markets are more stable, but casual observation doesn’t support this. Has anyone seen this issue addressed?

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

What I’ve been reading

September 26th, 2006 24 comments

I finally got around to The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery, which I’ve had on my shelf for ages. I was happy to see I got a brief mention, pointing out the misleading way that model simulation results from MEGABARE on the cost of Kyoto were presented in public debate.

Overall, the book is impressive but depressing. It seems clear that lots of species are doomed to extinction even if we move rapidly to stabilise CO2 concentrations, something which the denialist lobby is doing its best to prevent.

An interesting (and alarming) sidelight was the observation that the destruction of the ozone layer would have gone much faster, potentially leading to catastrophic damage, if we’d used chemicals based on bromine rather than chlorine-based CFCs. It was only a matter of chance that the economics turned out better for chlorine. It’s worth recalling at this point that many of our leading climate change denialists (such as Pat Michaels, Sallie Baliunas, Fred Singer, John Brignell and Steve Milloy) were also ozone hole denialists and some still are.

Categories: Books and culture, Environment Tags:

Republican War on Science: the book of the on-line seminar of the reviews

September 26th, 2006 1 comment

A while back, I organised a seminar at Crooked Timber, on Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science. Now, thanks to Parlor Press and the tireless efforts of John Holbo, the seminar has appeared in book form, and the presentation is beautiful. I’m looking forward to getting a physical copy, and to the promised appearance of more in the series.

Categories: Books and culture, Science Tags:

Monday message board

September 25th, 2006 14 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:

Bin Laden dead ?

September 23rd, 2006 28 comments

French Newspaper L’Est Republicain has published a report, citing sources in the French security services who claim that Osama bin Laden is dead of typhoid, having been unable treatment by virtue of his isolation.

« Selon une source habituellement fiable, les services saoudiens auraient désormais acquis la conviction qu’Oussama Ben Laden est mort. Les éléments recueillis par les saoudiens indiquent que le chef d’Al-Qaïda aurait été victime, alors qu’il se trouvait au Pakistan le 23 août 2006, d’une très forte crise de typhoïde ayant entraîné une paralysie partielle de ses membres inférieurs. Son isolement géographique, provoqué par une fuite permanente, aurait rendu impossible toute assistance médicale. Le 4 septembre 2006, les services saoudiens de sécurité ont recueilli les premiers renseignements faisant état de son décès. Ils attendraient, d’obtenir davantage de détails, et notamment le lieu exact de son inhumation, pour annoncer officiellement la nouvelle ».

Via ABC News

Categories: World Events Tags:

A good year

September 23rd, 2006 27 comments

I’ve been checking my publications and I’ve had 15 refereed journal articles published (in print or online) so far this year, which is the most ever for me (though I’ve read that Harry Johnson had 18 articles in press at the time of his death). There are a few more that have been accepted, and might make it through by the end of the year.

Thinking about there are a few factors that contribute to this happy outcome. One is random fluctuation. Last year was a little below average, and some papers that should have been published then slipped into 2006. Similarly, I expect 2007 to be a bit light.

Another is that, with the Federation Fellowship, I’ve tended to do more applied policy stuff, particularly on water. That’s easier to write and publish than theory pieces aimed at international journals (though I’m still doing those).

Finally, I’ve cut back on travel. While some travel is necessary, I think most academics would benefit from less time on the road and more in front of the computer.

What’s really good about this is that it allays the fear that blogging will have a bad long-term effect on my productivity. I think it probably takes time that I might otherwise have put into a book or two, but books are a high-effort, low-payoff exercise for economists, unless you have something you really need to say at book length.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Free the Tripoli Six

September 22nd, 2006 7 comments

This Nature editorial reports the alarming news that six international health workers face execution in Libya on bogus charges of spreading HIV. As the editorial points out, despite the absence of any real improvement in its human rights record, Libya is being treated as a Beacon of Light by both the US and EU because it has backed off its previous support for terrorism and WMDs. It should be made clear to the Gaddafi regime that murdering aid workers is on a par with terrorism as a crime against the international community.

More from ScienceBlogs

Categories: World Events Tags:

Weekend reflections

September 22nd, 2006 50 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:

War on Science: Science Strikes Back

September 21st, 2006 64 comments

The war on science driven by a combination of Republican* ideology and corporate cash has been ably documented by Chris Mooney (see the Crooked Timber seminar here). Now, finally, science is striking back at one of the worst corporate enemies of science, ExxonMobil. As evidence of human-caused global warming has accumulated, leading energy companies like BP have seen the need to respond, with the result that industry groups like the Global Climate Coalition have broken down, leaving ExxonMobil to carry on a rearguard action through a network of shills and front groups. Now the company is finally being exposed by a major scientific organisation.

In an apparently unprecedented move, the British Royal Society has written to Exxon, stating that of the organization listed in Exxon’s 2005 WorldWide Giving Report for ‘public information and policy research‘, 39 feature

information on their websites that misrepresented the science on climate change, either by outright denial of the evidence that greenhouse gases are driving climate change, or by overstating the amount and significance of uncertainty in knowledge, or by conveying misleading impression of the potential impacts of climate change

(full copy of the letter here)

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

Guest post on Noongar native title claim

September 21st, 2006 45 comments

Another guest post, this time on the Noongar native title claim from reader Bree Blakeman. Comments appreciated, with particular emphasis on the requirements for civilised discussion.
Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

A view from Bangkok

September 21st, 2006 6 comments

I’ve been sent the following, which appears to reflect the views of a lot of people in Thailand (or at least among the educated classes in Bangkok), welcoming the coup that displaced PM Thaksin. The author is an academic at Thammasat university, and he is writing a message addressed to foreign students

My own views of Thaksin, whose career I’ve followed reasonably closely, are similar to those of the author – I would have welcomed his removal by constitutional processes. On the other hand, like John Howard, I would have hoped that Thailand, and our region in general, had got past the point where military coups were part of the political process.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs, I hope for a peaceful outcome and a quick return to democracy.
Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:


September 20th, 2006 5 comments

I’ve finally joined the podcasting revolution, with this Business Matters interview about prospects for South-East Queensland. More here

Update: More broken links fixed, I hope

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Presentation: climate change and the precautionary principle

September 20th, 2006 94 comments

I’ve uploaded my presentation on climate change and the precautionary principle, which I gave at City Hall on Monday night. It’s here in
Powerpoint (4.9Mb)
PDF (1.9MB)

Finally, here’s a version Zipped Mac Keynote (4.8Mb).

Thanks to everyone who’s given helpful suggestions for the upload, and noted problems with the download.

Sorry for the accidental temporary disappearance of this post. I somehow set it to “private”, which meant that it appeared for me, but for no-one else

Categories: Environment Tags:

Heaven and Hell

September 19th, 2006 21 comments

Pessimism seems to be a newly popular theme in American cultural discourse. Having written a bit about worst-case scenarios, I was interested to get a review copy of Karen Cerulo’s Never Saw It Coming: Cultural Challenges to Envisioning the Worst. Perhaps because I’m naturally optimistic by temperament, I’m finding Cerulo’s relentless pessimism a bit annoying, and, not coincidentally, finding a lot to disagree with in the book.

One point particularly struck me. Cerulo claims that “positive asymmetry” is demonstrated by the fact that, in theology and art, Heaven is given a detailed and appealing description, while hell is described only in vague and non-specific terms. She mentions, as an illustration of the latter point, an etching inspired by Dante’s Inferno.

My recollection of Dante is that the descriptions of Hell, and the various categories of sinners, were detailed and intricate, making the Inferno a fascinating book, while Purgatory was less distinctly graded and the Paradiso was unreadably dull. I haven’t read Paradise Lost or Paradise Regained, but I get the impression that the same is true. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but I thought this was one of the standard criticisms of religious art – Hell and the Devil are made much more interesting than Heaven and Hell.

Cerulo focuses mainly on paintings, and maybe she’s right on this score, but even here I’d hazard a guess that the work of Hieronymus Bosch is much more widely reproduced than any detailed representation of Heaven.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

The science and politics of DDT

September 18th, 2006 14 comments

Arguments about DDT have been going on for a long time in the blogosphere and similar circles. These debates typically involve a confusion between two unrelated issues
* The bogus story, popular in rightwing circles, in which the US ban on agricultural use of DDT, inspired by Rachel Carson, is morphed into a global ban on DDT, bringing to an end a previously successful compaign to eradicate malaria
* The real disputes, among malaria experts, about the relative merits of insecticide-treated bednets and spraying of house walls, and of DDT and alternative insecticides.

Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:

New economics blogs and blogs by economists

September 18th, 2006 Comments off

Andrew Norton has abandoned Catallaxy and set up his own blog, describing himself as Carlton’s lone classical liberal. Andrew has an official comments policy, something I’ve been meaning to set down for ages.

Meanwhile, one of my fellow economists, and occasional commenter here, rabee at has set up a blog offering Progressive occidentalist commentary on a range of issues, including Islamism and the left

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Springborg, Seeney, Simpson

September 18th, 2006 15 comments

Queensland opposition leader Lawrence Springborg has quit. The reason given “to spend more time with his family” is often a euphemism, but in this case it’s the real deal. I thought Springborg was the best of the National party leaders I’ve observed, with the arguable exception of Mike Ahern.

His replacement, Jeff Seeney has always struck me as a thug and, from the reports I’ve seen, I’m not alone in this view. Since he has no chance of becoming Premier, except if he can manage to push through a merger with the Liberal party, and hold on to the leadership of the combined party, I don’t suppose this matters too much.

I managed to ignore Fiona Simpson altogether in my Fin piece last week, writing that the Nats had been wiped out on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts (Mark Bahnisch alerted me to this error). Simpson has held the seat of Maroochydore for some time an now she’s popped up as Deputy Leader. I’ll chance another unchecked assertion and say that this is the most senior parliamentary position to be held by a woman in the National Party. please feel free to correct this.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday message board

September 18th, 2006 14 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:

Ipods and irony

September 17th, 2006 15 comments

Christopher Breen writes

Far and away, Playlist’s most popular story is Two-way Street: Moving Music Off the iPod, a tutorial, as the name hints, on copying music from an iPod to a computer. (Who knew iPod users were so plagued by hard drive crashes that forced them to use these techniques for recovering their music libraries? I mean, why else would you need to do this?)

He’s teasing, I know, but you can count me as an example. I had a hard disk crash and lost all my music files, and had huge problems recovering them from the iPod.

Categories: Mac & other computers Tags:

Double-header plug

September 16th, 2006 4 comments

I’ll be back at City Hall on Monday for a combined BrisScience and UQ Research Week event entitled “Planning for Climate Change: From urban design to complex systems”. I’ll be talking on “Complexity, Climate Change and the Precautionary Principle ” while Ed Blakely will talk about “Climate change: Planning for it and not just worrying about it. ”

Date: Monday, 18 September 2006
Time: 6:30pm – 9:00pm
Room: Ithaca Room
Location: City Hall, St Georges Square, Brisbane City

More info here

Categories: Environment Tags:

Weekend reflections

September 15th, 2006 51 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. (Polite) meta-comments on the tipping competition in the previous post are also invited.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Tipping competition

September 15th, 2006 54 comments

Tim Blair is always keen to correct any errors I’ve made, and jumps in on the latest revelations in the long-running Plame-Wilson scandal. My response is over the fold, but I thought it might be a good idea to check on some of his earlier corrections. One of the first is this one from May 2004 when Tim noted my observation that “the anniversary of Bush’s declaration of victory looks as good a time as any to date what seems increasingly certain to be a defeat [at least for the policies that have been pursued for the last year]” and suggested that I should “Try Footy Tipping”.

Given, the implication that I’m not much of a tipster, I thought it might be a better idea if I organised a tipping competition, allowing Tim and others to do better than me. The obvious topic is the date of the victory in Iraq, which I foolishly suggested, back in 2004, that Bush might not actually deliver. To get a definite winner, I’ll specify some rules corresponding to a conservative interpretation of the desired outcome of US victory culminating in a “democratic, stable and prosperous” Iraq. So here are the conditions
A No more than 30 000 US troops in Iraq
B A democratic government with control over the entire country
C Stability defined as no more than 100 deaths in a month from insurgency, civil and sectarian strife, kidnapping and so on
D Prosperity defined as restoration of 1990 levels of income per person and electricity supply per person

To enter, just nominate the first month, during Bush’s remaining term in office, when all four conditions will be satisfied, or vote “Not under Bush”. One nomination per person, please. Only comments nominating a date will be accepted.

To forestall disputes, I’ll offer a second competition, allowing entrants to nominate three of the four conditions and a month for their fulfilment.
Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Darfur: impending disaster

September 15th, 2006 17 comments

The tragedy in Darfur is approaching a crisis point which could lead to genocide on a huge scale. The inadequate peacekeeping force sent by the African Union is about to reach the end of its mission, and the Sudan government is refusing to allow its replacement. Russia and China forced a requirement for Sudan’s agreement into a UNSC resolution on the subject, and so far efforts to secure that agreement have gone nowhere. Even if they are successful, there’s no guarantee that an adequate force will be found.

No one comes out of this terrible story with much credit. China has followed its usual policy of backing dictatorships, and Russia has joined in. The US and, even more, the Europeans have been intermittent, at best, in their attempts to do anything. The Sudanese government has made brutal war on its own people. The Darfur rebels, who seemed to be in a strong position earlier this year, rejected a peace deal that might have prevented the disaster that is now approaching.

But condemnations all around don’t help anything. Sunday 17 September is the Global Day for Darfur, and we should all support it as best we can. I haven’t been able to find out anything happening in Australia, but we can at least provide help to the victims through charities such as CARE or MSF.

Passion of the Present has more, as does Jeff Weintraub.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Another try at a comment thread

September 14th, 2006 92 comments

I’m having another go at opening comments on the Fabianism post below. I think the problem is that the ideology under discussion is objectionable to my spam filters, not for political reasons but because it contains the name of a well-known treatment for male performance problems.

Anyway, if you have comments, you should be able to post them here, but try to avoid the text string in question.

Categories: Metablogging Tags: