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Archive for November, 2006

Weekend reflections

November 10th, 2006 8 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:

Social democracy triumphant?

November 10th, 2006 25 comments

Among other things, the 2006 US election marks the end of the Republican revolution that began in 1994 when the Republicans led by Newt Gingrich gained a majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years and sought to push through the radical “Contract with America”. This can be seen not only in the Congressional results but in the defeat of a series of tax limitiation initiatives. Even in the US, the appeal of social democracy remains strong.

So, this is a good time to run my piece on Sheri Berman’s The Primacy of Politics, which was part of a Crooked Timber seminar. Mark Bahnisch has more. And the debate with Tyler Cowen over US and European economic performance continues.
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How many votes ?

November 9th, 2006 13 comments

A couple of questions, one substantive and one rhetorical

1. What share of the aggregate popular vote did the two major parties receive in the US House elections ?

2. Why isn’t this reported anywhere (at least anywhere I can see) ?

As regards 2, I know that the aggregate popular vote doesn’t determine anything, but that’s true in all constituency systems and for indirect elections like the US Presidential elections, and the popular vote is generally reported in these cases. Also, I know there were some uncontested seats, but there are usually ways to adjust for this kind of problem.

Update Andrew Gelman writes:

Regarding your blog question on votes, you might be interested in our post-election summary here:

The short story is that the Democrats did much better in 2006 (56% of the average district vote) than the Republicans did in 1994 (when they only received 51.3%). In terms of national voting, the Democrats received much more of a mandate in 2006 than the Republicans did twelve years earlier. Our graph is helpful too, I think, both in showing this pattern and putting it into a longer historical context.

I’ve seen a range of estimates of the Democrats’ share of the two-party vote, from 53 to 57, but I’ve generally been impressed with Gelman and his cobloggers, so I’ll take this as the best estimate.

I still wonder that US national media don’t care about this. Even the exit polls reported by the NYT, which had all sorts of breakdowns, didn’t make it easy to get the aggregate result.

Further update Andrew Gelman has written again to advise that a more detailed recalculation produces an estimate of 54.8 per cent.

Categories: World Events Tags:

A good day to be pro-American

November 9th, 2006 59 comments

For the majority of pro-American people around the world, Election Day 2004 was a bitter pill to swallow. Just about everyone outside the country could see what a mess Bush was making in Iraq and what damage he was doing to America’s international standing, but the majority of electors voted for him (a narrow majority, but more than he got when falsely presenting himself as “a uniter not a divider” in 2000).

Still, getting things wrong from time to time is part of democracy, and some things are more easily seen from abroad than at home (think of how badly we collectively got it wrong on asylum-seekers in 2001, and how long its taken to achieve even a partial reversal of those policies). As Tuesday’s election results have shown, most Americans have come to the same view of Bush and his war as most people everywhere else in the world.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Watching the polls

November 8th, 2006 59 comments

I’m watching the US election results with particular impatience, as I’ve agreed to do a piece for the Fin on implications for Australia, which are hard to figure out until we actually see the results.

My general desire for an overwhelming Democrat win is in line with personal self-interest. For the last two presidential elections, I’ve had to write three different pieces covering a win for either side or “too close to call by deadline time”. I really don’t want to do that again.

So far things look good for the Democrats. Leaked exit polls, for what they’re worth, show leads in most key races, and the early counting has confirmed some gains in the House, Senate and state governorships.

Update 1:40 I’m going to get in early and call a win for the Dems in the House. They’ve gained around nine seats already (no losses at all so far), and only need to hold onto leads to pick up the six more they need.

Update 3:15 It looks like the Dems will gain about 30 seats, which also means a majority of 30. The odds are still against a win in the Senate, but the size of the loss will make it hard for the Republicans to hang on next time around.

A big winner out of all this is John McCain. The Republican establishment will have their work cut out to stop him getting the nomination now, especially if they put up a member of Team Bush.

Categories: World Events Tags:

The end of Eudora

November 8th, 2006 22 comments

I’ve used hundreds of different programs in the 20+ years I’ve owned a Mac (I’ve got 15 running right now), but the two I’ve used most consistently, for more than a decade have been the word processor NisusWriter and the email package Eudora. I’ve just downloaded the last commercial version of Eudora for the Mac (6.2.4, the Windows version went to 7.1.

The pill has been sweetened by the announcement that the Eudora code will be released as open source, but I can’t see anyone stepping forward to work on this, at least for the Mac, given that Mail is freely bundled with OS X and there are several excellent free or low-cost alternatives.

Of course, the program still works, so there’s no need to change it any time soon. And Nisus made a successful transition to OS X quite a while ago, with the new name Nisus Writer Express.

Categories: Mac & other computers Tags:

Megaprojects and risk

November 7th, 2006 7 comments

There’s lots of big projects on the go at the moment, and experience suggests that some will go badly wrong. The man who wrote the book on this (literally) is Bent Flyvbjerg of Aarlborg University in Denmark. He’ll be appearing at a symposium organised by Griffith’s Urban Research Program at 80 George St, Brisbane (wasn’t there a blog with a name like that?) on Friday 1 December. I’ll be the local support act.

Over the fold is the promotional poster. Here’s a review by Darryl Jarvis. I also wrote one which I will try to post later.
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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Parallel universe quiz

November 6th, 2006 75 comments

Which of these claims has not been put forward by prominent global warming denialists ?

A Cycle analysis by a well-known astrologer proves that global temperatures will soon decline
B Data supporting global warming was faked by NASA along with the bogus moon landings
C There is no such thing as global average temperature, and therefore the whole idea is meaningless
D A voyage through the Arctic Circle by the Chinese fleet in 1421 proves that temperatures were much higher then

Answer over fold
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Categories: Environment Tags:

Monday message board

November 6th, 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:

Saddam sentenced to hang

November 5th, 2006 71 comments

There can be few people on the planet more deserving of death than Saddam Hussein. However, the crime for which he has just been sentenced to die was, by his standards, relatively minor. Following an assassination attempt attributed to terrorists and traitors, his regime responded with indiscriminate arrests. Those seized were held incommunicado in secret prisons, tortured (in some cases to death) and then, in many cases, executed after trials by special tribunals set up to secure convictions where normal courts would not.

If the precedent set by this case is applied consistently, we can expect to see many more death sentences arising from events in Iraq and elsewhere, and not just among the remnants of the Baathist regime.

Categories: World Events Tags:

What I’ve been reading

November 5th, 2006 11 comments

New: A couple of books on the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economics in memory of Alfred Nobel (more familiarly the Nobel prize in Economics). My review, posted over the page, drew on discussions here – thanks, everyone.

Old: Northanger Abbey I’d forgotten how much fun this was.
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Categories: Books and culture Tags:

More on daylight saving

November 4th, 2006 2 comments

Undercover economist Tim Harford comments in Slate. Unusually for a US publication, Queensland gets a mention.

Surfdom goes MSM

November 3rd, 2006 5 comments

Tim Dunlop has just announced that he will be running a blog for News Limited, on their news.com.au site. The title is Blogocracy, and it’s going to start on Monday.

Tim’s blog, Road to Surfdom, will continue, which is good since it’s always been my favorite among Australian blogs. I was reading the Crikey report on this, and it made an observation that had also occurred to me.

At the very least, the News Limited move suggests that a a back door into journalism is ajar. Don’t want to do a communications course followed by a cadetship to break into journalism? Consider starting up a blog – if you can make it good enough to get noticed.

Tim isn’t the first to follow this route. Back in the Cambrian era of Australian blogging (2003), Gareth Parker was one of the pioneers. He got a job with the West Australian, but giving up blogging was part of the deal, if I recall correctly. Admittedly, Gareth was a journalism student, so it wasn’t just the blog that got him the job, but it didn’t do any harm.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Weekend reflections

November 3rd, 2006 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:

Meanwhile back in the parallel universe …

November 2nd, 2006 54 comments

Andrew Bolt is still touting the Oregon Petition. Is he too lazy to spend the five minutes’ with Wikipedia and Google that would tell him this was a fraudulent exercise put together by professional shills, and that its main claims about satellite data have long since been abandoned even by hardcore denialists, or does he just not care?

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Categories: Environment Tags:

On the RSMG Web – Climate change

November 2nd, 2006 Comments off

Mark asks whether The Price is Right ?

Nanni classes the AP6 as Missing in Action

I’m still working on the details of our Carbon Neutrality Policy

Categories: Environment Tags:

For daylight saving: Some second thoughts

November 2nd, 2006 22 comments

Brisbane blogger Joanne Jacobs is campaigning for daylight saving in SE Queensland. Last year, Mark Bahnisch came out against, arguing that, in Brisbane’s summer weather it’s better to finish work after sunset. I thought this might be a good time to review the issue, which we discussed at length last year

I’m generally in favour as I tend to wake up with the sun. Because Brisbane is so far east (we’re not far from Byron Bay), sunrise in summer is very early – it’s light before 5am. In some ways, that’s good (it’s a great time to get work done), but not if you want to stay up past about 9pm. It starts getting dark pretty early, around 6:30.

I suspect that daylight saving here does little more than restore the time in Brisbane to what it would be under “God’s time”, without time zones or other fiddles.

The problem is, of course, that the state is big in both directions. The tropics have very little seasonal variation in the length of the day, which makes daylight saving in summer nonsensical while the west has the opposite problem to Brisbane. As various commentators noted, the idea that resistance to daylight saving in these regions is based on ignorant provincialism is itself ignorant and provincial, reflecting an assumption that the conditions of the temperate-zone eastern seaboard hold universally.

But if we have to have one time zone for the whole state , we should pick it to suit the majority. My guess is that a majority of people in SEQ would prefer daylight saving, and this would outweigh the majority against in other regions. But there are certainly sizeable minorities in both areas, so it’s hard to predict for sure.

Last time around, I dismissed as ludicrous the idea of an internal time zone border, but as commentators pointed out, NSW has one, with Broken Hill on Adelaide time. On reflection, I think the idea has a bit of appeal on general subsidiarity grounds.

Starting with the current situation, Queensland has to choose whether to go along with the southern states and get the benefits of consistency along with the benefits and costs of daylight savings. Clearly the benefits are larger in SEQ, so if we go that way, it would be reasonable to offer the same choice to the north and west. Those regions would then have the same choice between a more convenient time system, with the costs of inconsistency with the South-East, or a less convenient but consistent system.

Of course, anyone who really doesn’t like daylight saving could leave their watch unchanged, stick to their old schedules as far as possible, and just bear in mind that everyone else is using a different time. The reverse is true in the present situation if you really like daylight saving – you can just get up early.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Out with the new

November 1st, 2006 20 comments

I’ve gone back to one of the old layouts. So far, I’ve picked up a strong preference for a serif font, which I share, and mixed feelings on the rest of the design, including the mugshot. So please comment away, and I’ll consider a redesign when I’ve digested it all.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

The Stern Review on MER/PPP

November 1st, 2006 34 comments

One of the issues that’s been debated at length here is the choice of exchange rates to use in converting different currencies for projections of future economic growth and energy demand. The scenarios developed by the IPCC have used market exchange rates (MER) Ian Castles has argued, in very strong terms, that it’s crucial to use exchange rates adjusted so as to exhibit Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). In my submission, I made a couple of points. First, that there is no uniquely satisfactory method of obtaining PPP exchange rates. Second, and more importantly, the choice doesn’t make much difference to projections of energy use or CO2 emissions, as long as the same values are used consistently. A method like MER, which tends to overstate income differences between poor and rich countries relative to PPP will yield a lower income elasticity of demand for energy. And since MER data have been, until recently more readily available for more countries, there are some practical arguments in favour of using them.

That said, there are a couple of reasons to favour a move to PPP-based scenarios. First, since these are now becoming the norm, continued use of MER numbers is likely to cause confusion. Second, while the crucial numbers regarding emissions aren’t much affected (and any error may be either up or down) other variables, particularly those used in calculations of economic welfare, might be significantly affected.

In this context, it’s unfortunate that the debate has been seized upon by denialists as a basis for attacking the whole IPCC process. The energy that’s gone into pointless disputes could have better been used in a constructive attempt to improve things.

Where does the Stern report come out on all this? Pretty much right in my view. Key quote

efforts are under way to improve the provision of PPP data. The International Comparison Programme (ICP), launched by the World Bank when Nicholas Stern was Chief Economist, is the world’s largest statistical initiative, involving 107 countries and collaboration with the OECD, Eurostat and National Statistical Offices. It produces internationally comparable price levels, economic aggregates in real terms, and Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) estimates that inform users about the relative sizes of markets, the size and structure of economies, and the relative purchasing power of currencies.

In the IPCC SRES scenarios that use MER conversions, it is not clear that the use of MERs biases upwards the projected rates of emissions growth, as the SRES calibration of the past relationship between emissions per head and GDP per head also used GDPs converted at MERs as the metric for economic activity (Holtsmark and Alfsen (2003)). Hence the scenarios are based on a lower estimate of the elasticity of emissions growth per head with respect to (the incorrectly measured) GDP growth per head. As Nakicenovic et al (2003) have argued, the use of MERs in many of the IPCC SRES scenarios is unlikely to have distorted the emissions trajectories much.

I should point out that the World Bank ICP is a successor to the earlier ICP work of Heston and Summers who initiated the idea of systematic PPP comparisons and produced the well-known Penn World Tables. Still, as the quote makes clear, Stern can speak with authority on this topic.

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Categories: Economics - General, Environment Tags:

The Stern review -first impressions

November 1st, 2006 26 comments

The Stern review report is big, and I haven’t had time to digest more than a little bit so far. One point to make is that the apocalyptic numbers that have dominated early reporting represent the worst-case outcomes for 2100 under business-as-usual policies. But even looking at the less dramatic cases, the same basic messages emerge.

  • We can stabilise CO2 levels over the next fifty years at very low costs of around 1 per cent of GDP.
  • The costs of doing nothing are large and unpredictable
  • The costs of stabilisation will be greater the longer we delay
  • Poor countries will be worst affected

More on all these points soon.

Categories: Economics - General, Environment Tags: