Archive

Archive for June, 2007

Talking Point Whack-a-Mole (1997 edition)

June 30th, 2007 12 comments

Debating science with the postmodernist right is that their position is not so much a worldview as a collection of talking points. As regards passive smoking, for example, I don’t suppose anyone seriously believes that breathing cigarette smoke is harmless. But since all good rightwingers oppose regulation to restrict smoking, and are (mostly) unwilling to simply come out and say that nonsmokers should put up with the risk associated with other people’s smoke, they cling desperately to the occasional wins they have had such as the Osteen decision in 1998 (a court judgement, later overturned, critical of an even older report by the US EPA).

As this example illustrates, these talking points are just about impossible to kill. People like Andrew Bolt are still going on about the 1997 Oregon petition, in which a lot of people (about 1 per cent of whom had any more relevant qualifications than I do) agreed with a misleading statement sent out by a lunatic-fringe thinktank, and were then quoted as ‘scientists who reject global warming’. But delusionism on the science of global warming is pretty much dead, even if it maintains a zombie existence in the columns of the Sun-Herald and the fringes of the blogosphere. The main line of argument now is that, granted that global warming is real, we should do nothing about it, at least for the next few decades.

So, another talking point from ten years ago has surfaced. The factual basis is that, back in 1997, the US Senate passed, by 95-0, the (non-binding) Byrd-Hagel resolution, which stated that the US should not sign an agreement at Kyoto unless it included emissions targets for developing countries. Later that year, the Clinton Administration went ahead and negotiated the Kyoto protocol without first-round targets for developing countries, but did not submit it for ratification.

This ten-year old vote is being cited today, most recently in the Shergold report (the PMs Task Group on emissions trading) as evidence that the US will never ratify Kyoto, or, more generally, an agreement that imposes more stringent requirements on developed countries like the US than on China and India. This isn’t quite as silly as Andrew Bolt quoting the Oregon petition, but it isn’t a whole lot better.

It’s reasonable enough to cite Byrd-Hagel as evidence that, as of 1997, the US Senate was unlikely to ratify an agreement like Kyoto. But ten years is a long time. Even if the Senate had never addressed the issue again, it would be a bit silly to refer to this vote as conclusive evidence on how Kyoto is viewed today. But in fact, of course, the Senate has addressed the issue again. In 2003, the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, which called for caps on emissions of greenhouse gases was defeated by 55-43, with strong opposition from the Bush Administration.

43 votes is a long way short of the two-thirds majority required to ratify a treaty. On the other hand, the Senate looks a lot greener after the 2006 elections, and could be even more so after 2008. And a determined Administration, especially a newly-elected one, can usually swing a fair number votes. Maybe the US will ratify Kyoto after Bush goes, and maybe not. Either way, the evidentiary value of a non-binding resolution passed ten years ago is close to zero.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Howard and history

June 29th, 2007 57 comments

Inevitably, after 11 years in office, Howard’s dramatic intervention in indigenous communities is going to be judged on his past history. The question is, which history. He has made a couple of moves, like introducing gun control after Port Arthur (over the objections of many of his own, or at least the Nationals’ supporters) and intervening in East Timor (against the will of a significant segment of the foreign policy establishment) that show him at his best, responding to an obvious need. Those are the precedents he’d like to draw on.

Against that, there’s children overboard, the $10 billion water plan earlier this year, the Iraq war and his long history, going back twenty years or more, of playing to racist sentiment when it seemed politically appealing. Until I see evidence that this proposal has serious planning behind it, and, equally importantly, serious money (unmet needs amounting to billions have already been pointed out) I’m putting the latest move in the latter category.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Weekend reflections

June 29th, 2007 7 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:

Last charitable appeal for 2006-07 – update

June 28th, 2007 Comments off

As the end of the financial year is approaching, it’s a great time to give charitable donations. I’ve used up all the gimmicks I could think of for the Great Australian Shave appeal, so this is going to be a bog-standard fundraiser. I’m giving $500 to Oxfam as my last donation for 2006-07. Anyone who would like to be part of a collective effort can announce their donation in comments, or (if you’re modest) in email to me. I’ll post a running total until 30 June. Give to whatever charity you choose, and whatever amount you can manage.

Thanks to some generous donations from readers, we’re up to $800. There’s still time to get in with a donation and make Peter Costello cough up his share.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Thatcherism after Blair

June 27th, 2007 10 comments

While there will doubtless be plenty of discussion of Blair’s contribution on his departure, it might be more useful to take a step further back and re-evaluate Thatcher. When Blair took office, he was generally seen as offering Thatcherism with a human face. Thatcher herself was generally seen,as a successful (counter-) revolutionary and aspirants to the Tory leadership were still competing for her mantle.

Ten years later, the picture is quite different, superficially at least. Brown seems much more Old Labour than Blair, and Cameron is eager to be seen as anything but Thatcherite.
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Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Horde

June 26th, 2007 14 comments

Snarky, I know, but I couldn’t resist quoting this headline from the ABC website

Illegal weapon horde seized in Customs raid

Scary in more ways than one!

Categories: Life in General Tags:

New on the RSMG blog

June 26th, 2007 Comments off

There’s lots of important and interesting stuff on the RSMG blog.

First up, RSMG is hiring. More on this soon.

Nanni takes a sceptical look at peak oil (more precisely the claim that market failure prevents impending peak oil from being reflected in prices) and notes the news that China has overtaken the US in CO2 emissions.

Most interesting is a post with links to a piece The Economist making, yet again, the point that most of the cheap options for reducing CO2 emissions are in the area of energy conservation. There’s a nice graph, which I’ve reproduced over the page.
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Categories: Environment Tags:

The moderate march chant

June 25th, 2007 3 comments

Over at CT, Henry’s given all you need to know about the recently concluded EU treaty negotiations. It strikes me that this would have been an excellent occasion for a march with the classic chant of moderates everywhere:

WHAT DO WE WANT? A REASONABLE COMPROMISE !
WHEN DO WANT IT? IN! DUE! COURSE!

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Monday message board

June 25th, 2007 61 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:

The myth of “The Myth of the Paperless Office”

June 24th, 2007 20 comments

The “paperless office” is one of those catchphrases that gets bandied about for a while, only to disappoint and eventually be used in a purely derisive way. As Wikipedia says, it has become ‘a metaphor for the touting of new technology in terms of ‘modernity’ rather than its actual suitability to purpose’. The death of the phrase was cemented by a 2001 book, by Sellen and Harper “The Myth of the Paperless Office”. This book wasn’t a snarky debunking but a fairly sophisticated analysis, pointing out that a sensible analysis of task requirements could allow a significant reduction in paper use. Here’s a good review from Kirk McElhearn. But it was the title that stuck. No one would ever again refer to the paperless office with a straight face.

Six years later, though, looking at my own work habits, I find that I have virtually ceased to use paper, in all but a couple of marginal applications.

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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

BrisScience reminder

June 23rd, 2007 Comments off

BrisScience is on again, this Monday 25 June at City Hall, with a lecture by Dr Paul Francis entitled WHAT WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT COMETS (ALMOST ANYTHING!) (details over the fold

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Categories: Science Tags:

The second reliberation of Iraq

June 22nd, 2007 7 comments

It appears that General David Petraeus is a reader of William Tenn, having recently announced that the US is once again liberating Iraq. Tenn’s classic story The Liberation of Earth in which two alien races, the Dendi and the Troxxt repeatedly liberate earth from each other, was published back in 1953, but has, sadly, never lost its relevance for long. The ending, if I recall correctly, has the planet’s remaining inhabitants gasping for air but taking consolation in the reflection that “no planet in the history of the galaxy had been as thoroughly liberated as Earth”.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Weekend reflections

June 22nd, 2007 7 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:

One cheer for Howard

June 22nd, 2007 74 comments

At least in one respect, John Howard’s announcement of a federal takeover of indigenous settlements is good news. Having taken such a drastic step, Howard can’t escape the obligation to deliver substantial improvements in outcomes, regardless of the cost. And, having endorsed the broad thrust of the measures, Kevin Rudd, should he be the next PM, is under the same obligation.

The measures announced yesterday, while drastic, are politically pretty easy for the government in the light of the recent report on child abuse in indigenous communities. But they are focused almost exclusively on enforcement measures. Such measures sound good in a press release, but are unlikely, by themselves, to achieve much. Alcohol is a huge problem, and anything that could reduce alcohol abuse is welcome, but many of the communities concerned, such as Wadeye, have been officially dry for years, so it’s not clear what difference Howard’s policy will make. Of course, if he was willing to be really draconian and ban alcohol in nearby (white) towns, that might make a difference, but there are some cows too sacred to be slain.

The problems of substance abuse and unemployment go hand in hand, but there is nothing, so far, to suggest that anything is going to be done on the jobs front. The last significant innovation in this area, the CDEP scheme, came in under Fraser. Despite all Howard’s talk of practical reconciliation, his government has done less than nothing to promote indigenous employment.

Dealing with unemployment is not going to be easy. People who’ve been permanently excluded from the labour force can’t be made job-ready in short order, and the number of ‘real’ (economically viable at market prices) jobs that can be created in remote indigenous community is always going to fall short of the number of potential workers. And, just as enforcement alone is not enough, so there’s little point in trying to generate economic development in an environment of rampant alcohol abuse and crime. But, having claimed emergency powers on the enforcement front, Howard will stand condemned if he doesn’t go all out to deliver economic development as well.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Mulrunji case not over

June 21st, 2007 28 comments

The acquittal of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley on charges of manslaughter and assault leading to the death of Cameron Doomadgee (Mulrunji) does not resolve all the issues raised by this tragedy. I won’t comment on, or discuss, the trial itself. The jury has given its verdict and Hurley is entitled to treat it as conclusive.

The whole sequence of events shows failure by the Queensland state at every level.
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Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Five years old

June 20th, 2007 13 comments

It’s the winter solstice and this blog is five years old today. Not the oldest in the blogosphere by any means, but older than most.
Bloggrowth

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

The euro and the dollar

June 19th, 2007 29 comments

The appreciation of the euro against the dollar has taken the currency close to its highest value ever around $1.35. By contrast, the rate estimated as Purchasing Power Parity by the Penn World Tables International Comparisons Project (ICP) is around $1.00 for most eurozone countries (It’s 1.10 for Italy, 1.05 for France and Germany, 0.96 for the Netherlands. The price differential between eurozone countries is interesting in itself, but that’s another post).

A gap of this magnitude between market exchange rates and estimated PPP values raises all sorts of problems. For example, using the Penn numbers, income per person in the Netherlands is about 75 per cent of that in the US, and this number is often quoted on the assumption that purchasing-power parity means exactly what it says. But using exchange rates, as would have been standard a couple of decades ago, income per person is a little higher in the Netherlands than in the US. Which of these comparisons, if either, is valid?

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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Broken link problem

June 18th, 2007 1 comment

Technical problems are continuing to plague me. The main page http://www.johnquiggin.com/index.php appears to load reasonably reliably, but http://johnquiggin.com and http://www.johnquiggin.com, which should do the same, often produce blank pages. I thought this might be caused by the wp-cache plugin, but I’ve turned it off and the problem persists. If anyone has any ideas how to fix this, please advise.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Monday message board

June 18th, 2007 19 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:

Last charitable appeal for 2006-07

June 17th, 2007 5 comments

As the end of the financial year is approaching, it’s a great time to give charitable donations. I’ve used up all the gimmicks I could think of for the Great Australian Shave appeal, so this is going to be a bog-standard fundraiser. I’m giving $500 to Oxfam as my last donation for 2006-07. Anyone who would like to be part of a collective effort can announce their donation in comments, or (if you’re modest) in email to me. I’ll post a running total until 30 June. Give to whatever charity you choose, and whatever amount you can manage.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

What I’ve been reading

June 17th, 2007 2 comments

Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. I’ve bought a lovely Folio edition of this, and have just got started on it. While I’m not a book fetishist, and am perfectly happy to do most of my reading on screen, the book does embody a great tradition of craft values, which will, I hope, never disappear.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Women in Art

June 16th, 2007 6 comments

I once doubted that user-produced video would amount to much. This beautiful montage is one of many on YouTube that prove me wrong. (Via Jeff Weintraub, via Norm Geras)

On the other hand, it remains to be seen whether I can make the necessary code work. In the meantime, go here

Categories: Media Tags:

Weekend reflections

June 15th, 2007 19 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 Oz loses it

June 14th, 2007 22 comments

Following the collapse of its delusionist position on climate change, and the manifest failure of the war in Iraq it pushed hard, and with contempt for anyone who warned of the likely results, The Australian had a lot of ground to make up if it was to regain its status as a credible participant in Australian public debate. A straightforward admission of error, unlikely as it ever was, would probably have been the most effective way of achieving this goal. The more traditional route, safe enough in the days before Internet archives would be to change tack and simply forget about past mistakes. It seemed, a week or so ago, that the Oz would go that way.

Instead we’ve had a series of increasingly bizarre editorials, in which the national daily reads as if it is on the losing side in a blogospheric flamewar. The editorial on Saturday (the headline Editorial: Reality bites the psychotic Left gives the drift) made no sense until Clive Hamilton gave the backstory in New Matilda, showing how the Oz did its best to squelch Clive’s justified criticism in Scorcher. The Oz has come back with even sillier responses, such as today’s odd little snark (end of the page)

Although the Oz has been happy to personalise this dispute, demonising Clive and dragging in the usual suspects like Robert Manne for good measure, I’d rather not do so. Quite a few people I’ve generally respected at the Oz have gone way over the top in relation to both global warming and Iraq. My attempts to warn some of them that the paper was in danger of discrediting itself fell on deaf ears.

The problem appears to be institutional rather than individual. On these and other issues, the whole culture of The Australian has become insulate itself from reality in the same way as the US right. Now that reality is rudely obtruding itself, the reaction has been thoroughly counterproductive.

Given the inevitable parochialism of the Sydney and Melbourne Fairfax papers, the narrow focus of the Fin and the poor quality of papers elsewhere, Australia needs a high-quality national daily. The Australian went a fair way towards meeting this need in the past, admittedly with a clearly rightwing orientation. But the last few years have been disastrous, and it’s hard to see how the paper can recover now without a radical shakeup.

More from Tim Dunlop inside the news.com.au tent at blogocracy.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Deluge of Dershowitz

June 13th, 2007 7 comments

For some reason, Alan Dershowitz has been everywhere I’ve turned lately. Until a few years ago, I knew of him, very vaguely, as a celebrity defence lawyer (OJ Simpsons, IIRC) with the civil libertarian views that generally go with this role. Then after 9/11 he apparently underwent a massive change in views, emerging as a supporter of torture, detention without trial and so on. I remember reviewing a book refuting his (very weak) case for torture. But shmibertarians of this kind are so common I didn’t pay him much mind.

Right now, though, it seems as if I can’t get away from him.
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Categories: World Events Tags:

Watch the watch

June 13th, 2007 10 comments

This video is the latest to sweep the Intertubes

What do you see happening?
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Categories: Life in General Tags:

BrisScience does comets, Stern does climate

June 13th, 2007 4 comments

I have to admit that comets have been mostly a source of disappointment to me. After waiting thirty-odd years for Halley’s comet and driving far out of town to look for it, I thought I saw a faint smudge on the horizon. Apart from that, there’s been Kohoutek and Hale-Bopp, both more notable for failed apocalyptic prophecies than for lighting up the sky. The lesson, I guess is that if you want to find out about comets, you should find an astronomer who has the proper equipment.

BrisScience is giving you the chance, this Monday 25 June at City Hall, with a lecture by Dr Paul Francis entitled WHAT WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT COMETS (ALMOST ANYTHING!) (details over the fold

For the net couch potatoes among us, Sir Nicholas Stern and other eminent figures (Christian Azar,Bert Bolin, Carl Folke,Karl-Goran Maler, Martin Weitzman, Barbara Wohlfarth) will be discussing climate change, live on the Web if you can work out time difference (it’s form 9am to 12 noon in Stockholm) (via Terry Hughes).
See the lecture on Friday 15th June. (Windows Media Player) mms ://wmedia.it.su.se/Nicholas_Stern

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Categories: Science Tags:

Congratulations!

June 13th, 2007 31 comments
.!.

To Al Gore and the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change for the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. This is the second time the Nobel prizes have honored work on climate change, the first being the award of the 1995 Chemistry Prize to Crutzen, Molina and Sherwood for their discovery of the chemical reactions that led CFCs to deplete the ozone layer.

That award came at an opportune time. Although the world had agreed under the Montreal protocol to phase out CFCs, US Republicans working through the aptly-named DeLay-Doolittle committee were working to undermine it, attacking the science and so on, with the support of a number ofleading delusionists (Sallie Baliunas, Pat Michaels, Fred Singer and others). The Nobel award took the wind out of their sails and most of the “skeptical scientists” involved went very quiet on the issue thereafter. That didn’t stop them using the same tactics and arguments regarding CO2 and global warming.

I hope the 2007 Peace Prize award will have a similar impact. While it’s not a science prize, it would certainly not have been awarded if there was any serious doubt about (rather than politically motivated opposition to) the science of climate change. And it rightly honors Gore’s role in solidifying public opinion on the issue.

Of course, for those inside the Republican bubble of delusion, it will have the opposite impact (since they are opposed to both peace and science, it could hardly do otherwise). But it will certainly have an impact in Australia, leaving those who have been scathing about Gore and the IPCC with (yet more) egg on their faces. Of course, that group includes John Howard who refused to meet Gore last year. Since he seems to be in the mood for changing his tune, he would be well advised to take this opportunity to ratify Kyoto.
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Categories: Environment Tags:

Where does academic freedom end?

June 11th, 2007 9 comments

This story about the suspension of two QUT academics is very worrying. I haven’t got full details yet, but the story so far is that a graduate student in the QUT Creative Industries faculty* produced, as part of his PhD work, a film entitled Laughing at the Disabled which was supported by some groups advocating for disabled people and criticised others. The two academics. John Hookham and Gary McLennan criticised the film in a confirmation hearing, then in correspondence with the Vice-Chancellor and finally in an article in The Australian, which also made more general criticisms of postmodernism, relativism and so on, including specific criticism of the dominant views at QUT (it seems to be behind the paywall now).The only result was that the title of the film was changed to “Laughing with the Disabled” and the academics were charged with ethics violations, though details don’t appear to be public.

The two have now been suspended without pay for six months, which is virtually dismissal.

This case raises concerns both in relation to academic freedom and as regards the implications for whistleblowing more generally.

update There’s lots of comment on this story all around Ozplogistan, including Andrew Bartlett and Kim at LP. Peter Black gives an excellent summary
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Categories: Life in General Tags:

Monday message board

June 11th, 2007 10 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and absolutely no coarse language, please. Feel free to add your thoughts, loya or otherwise, on the Queens Birthday.

Categories: Regular Features Tags: