Archive for August, 2008

More MWF blogging: Who are the gatekeepers

August 30th, 2008 11 comments

I’ve been to some great sessions at the Melbourne Writers Festival, most recently meeting and listening to Andrew Davies who’s written of the lot of the great BBC adaptations of classics like Pride and Prejudice, not to mention Bridget Jones’ Diary.

My first session last night was about blogging, under the title “Who are the Gatekeepers” with Margaret Simons and Antony Loewenstein, both of whom, unlike me, had an actual book to talk about. I read both The Content Makers (made even more relevant by the Fairfax job cuts and strike happening as the Festival got under way) and the Blogging Revolution and both are well worth it.

The topic led me to think about the gatekeeping function of the mass media (this is cultstud jargon for deciding what’s important and who’s authoritative). My assessment, based on recent experience was fairly negative. I see three ways in which the old media gatekeepers have failed, and in which bloggers have been effective critics.

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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Real and fake

August 30th, 2008 1 comment

Until now, the blogospheric fuss over former TNR diarist Scott Beauchamp has been notable only for the amount of attention paid to disputing utterly trivial anecdotes. But the Beauchamp saga has suddenly and surprisingly collided with the reality of war in Iraq, as Moon of Alabama explains.

Categories: World Events Tags:

MWF blogging

August 29th, 2008 11 comments

I’ve only been to a couple of events at the Melbourne Writers Festival so far[1], but already this statement from Nobel Prize winner Peter Doherty has been worth the trip for me. Responding to a rant against Darwinism as religious orthodoxy, coming not from a creationist but from a neo-Lamarckian viewpoint[2], Doherty said:

Science is revolutionary, which is why George W. Bush and John Howard hate it so much

Well said!

I’ll be talking about blogging and gatekeepers at the BMW Edge, Federation Square this evening at 5:30 and on Parched, the Politics of Water tomorrow (nearly sold out, so hurry if you’re interested). More details here.

fn1. I had to go to a climate change symposium in Canberra en route which made for a hectic trip, but also allows meant I could do the Canberra gig while minimising extra CO2 emissions.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Fortunes of war

August 27th, 2008 56 comments

Things have gone better than expected (certainly better than I expected) in Iraq over the past year[1]. On the other hand, things are going very badly in Afghanistan. For those, like me, who have supported the war in Afghanistan and opposed the war in Iraq, this raises some points to consider.

Most obviously, war is inherently unpredictable and dangerous, and there is no necessary correlation between the justness of a cause and its military success. That means, among other things, that launching a war (or revolution) on the basis of a cause that seems justified to those starting it, but which has little or no hope of success (indeed without strong grounds for expecting a good outcome after the inevitable loss of life on all sides is taken into account), is not glorious but criminally reckless.

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Categories: World Events Tags:

Blogging about water

August 26th, 2008 18 comments

I haven’t really overcome my backlog, but I am going to appear at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Friday and Saturday this week, talking about blogging and water, so it seemed like a good idea to run a blog post about water.

My piece in the Fin a couple of weeks ago appeared simultaneously with the news that the government would accelerate its buyback of water, definitely a step in the right direction. It’s become fashionable to suggest that the government is all review and no action, but compared to the decade of paralysis we saw from the last lot, culminating in the farcical National Water Plan, the pace of change is amazing.

Still, the situation bequeathed by Howard (and, it must be said, Turnbull) is truly dire

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Categories: Environment Tags:


August 14th, 2008 1 comment

I’m taking a break for a while, in an attempt to catch up on various real-life backlogs. I may post a bit at Crooked Timber. While I’m away, check out the many excellent blogs in the blogroll.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

War again

August 13th, 2008 115 comments

The short, but miserable, war in South Ossetia seems to be over for the moment at least. Some not very original observations over the fold

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Categories: World Events Tags:

Monday Message Board

August 11th, 2008 74 comments

It’s time, again, for the Monday Message Board. Comments on any topic, civilised discussion, no coarse language please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

The CIS and delusionism

August 10th, 2008 178 comments

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, the claim that mainstream science is totally wrong about global warming is an orthodoxy that is almost universal among commentators, bloggers and thinktanks on the political right in Australia, even though the great majority of ordinary Australians, including Coalition supporters, believe the science.

The great majority of Australian take the view that, while scientists aren’t always right, it’s much better to act on the basis of the best available science than to assume that the scientists are wrong. For this, they are attacked by rightwing commentators as religious fanatics or, at best gullible innocents.

One limited exception to this appeared to be the Centre for Independent Studies. A while back Andrew Norton got stuck into Clive Hamilton for listing CIS in the delusionist camp on the basis of some fairly tenuous links. As Norton observed, the CIS had never published much on the topic (though what it did publish was in line with delusionist orthodoxy) and had published nothing since 2003.

CIS has made up for it now, with this piece by Arthur Herman (also published, less surprisingly, in the Oz). It’s got everything – “global warming as a religion”, Al Gore conspiracy theories, Godwin’s Law violations on eugenics, the Spanish Inquisition and so on, backed up by some typically dodgy Internet factoids. As with much in this genre, it’s important to note the call for the replacement of science, as it currently exists, with “real science” in which people like Herman (self-described as “an historian and author”) will lay down the rules.

What’s striking here is the contrast between the willingness of just about everyone on the political right to sign up to a set of beliefs that are dictated entirely by political tribalism and their self-perception as brave heretics, spelt out in more than usually ludicrous fashion by Herman.

Tim Lambert does garbage pickup on Herman’s “facts”. Strikingly, given that he’s supposed to be an (sic) historian, Herman seems to have a lot of trouble with dates and references. And there’s more from Nexus 6 and Gary Sauer-Thompson.

Update: In a comment from Jennifer Marohasy it was announced that Michael Duffy was willing to give $1000 to anyone who would nominate ““Some work/some research results that have been published in reputable scientific journals that:

1. examine the causal link between anthropogenic carbon dioxide and warming, and

2. quantify the extent of the warming from anthropogenic carbon dioxide. ”

Several people provided responses and, after coming back from my hiatus I wrote to Duffy asking the status of my offer. He replied “I asked Jennifer Marohasy about this, because she’s the one who needs to be satisfied. ” and appended a response from her indicating that she was, in fact, not satisfied.

From the original statement, I didn’t realise that Duffy meant to include “satisfactory to Jennifer Marohasy” as a term of the offer. Now that we’ve cleared that up, I think we can regard the offer as in line with the Socratic irony approach to scientific discussion.
There seems to have been something of a meltdown chez Marohasy, so I think we can take this offer as being off the table for all practical purposes

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Weekend reflections

August 10th, 2008 18 comments

It’s time for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:


August 8th, 2008 15 comments

Via BitchPhD (69F, 31M) I found this fun site which checks (but doesn’t save) your Google cache, and looks at the popular sites you visit to predict your gender. The comments suggest both some striking hits and some big misses. I got 51 per cent probability female, 49 per cent male.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Information and energy

August 7th, 2008 51 comments

Via Felix Salmon, I found this interesting piece by Tim Wu, comparing monopolies in broadband and energy, and looking at ways to make better use of currently idle spectrum. Wu’s starting point is that “Like energy, bandwidth is an essential economic input”. In fact, as he implies, information is more essential than energy to a modern economy. It’s massive amounts of information, rather than massive amounts of energy, that distinguishes our economy from that of 50 or 100 years ago.

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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Everything old is new again

August 6th, 2008 26 comments

After trying out three alternatives, the WA Liberals are back to Colin Barnett as leader, and, amazingly, he still hasn’t given up on the idea of a canal from the Kimberley to Perth.

Longtime readers will remember that we had loads of fun with this and similar crazy ideas last time around.

According to my quick calculations, broadly consistent with a study commissioned after the election, it could well be cheaper to supply Perth with water by towing icebergs from Antarctica.

I blush to admit it, but according to his Wikipedia article, Barnett is a fellow economist. (It gets worse – Buswell also has a BEc).

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The great risk shift, yet again

August 5th, 2008 10 comments

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article about how corporations like Intel are loading up their general pension funds with obligations to pay massive “supplemental” benefits to senior executives. It’s partly a tax dodge, and partly an example of what Jacob Hacker has called the great risk shift. The extra liabilities increase the risk that the fund will fail, but the top brass can be protected against this eventuality with a trust fund, while the rank and file get to take their chances.

Update To clarify, in response to comments here and at Crooked Timber, the pension entitlements of ordinary workers are supposed to be protected by the government through Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and to the extent that this works as expected, risk is shifted to the PBGC rather than to workers. But as both the WSJ story and the discussion at CT make clear, things don’t always work as planned. Some benefits paid to ordinary workers turn out to be classed as supplemental and therefore lost when the scheme fails.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Suppressed viewpoints on climate change

August 5th, 2008 56 comments

There’s a lot of complaints about how some viewpoints in the climate change debate are being suppressed. As Tim Dunlop notes, most of them come from a group which gets lots of press attention (in fact, far more than its support among the public, let alone among climate scientists, would justify). But there is one viewpoint that seems almost completely suppressed. Like other Australians, the vast majority of supporters of the Coalition parties accept the scientific evidence and support action to mitigate climate change but I can’t think of a single member of the rightwing commentariat who does so with any enthusiasm. (The closest in the print media is John Hewson, who has a fortnightly column in the Fin. He’s good on climate change, but I wouldn’t regard him as a full-time member fo the commentariat). Among rightwing bloggers, the orthodoxy is similarly monolithic. The only exceptions of whom I’m aware are Harry Clarke and Opinion Dominion.

(Note: I’ve changed some terminology in response to comments)/

BrisScience reminder

August 4th, 2008 Comments off

Wolf in a sheep’s labcoat: pseudoscience in the 20th Century – Mike McRae

Monday 4th August 2008
6:30 pm to 7:30 pm (Doors open at 6 pm)
Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
Free, no booking required

Categories: Science Tags:

Monday Message Board

August 4th, 2008 21 comments

It’s time once again for the Monday Message Board. Comment on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

A new payments and savings system?

August 3rd, 2008 19 comments

With US banks, and even brokerage firms like Bear Stearns, being bailed out on a massive scale, and the rating agencies largely discredited, it’s unsurprising that the question of whether governments could do a better job of some of the tasks now assigned to financial markets is being raised again, after a long period when any such suggestion was taboo. Nicholas Gruen had an interesting piece in the Fin, reproduced at Club Troppo, on the possibility of governments mobilising bonds as a liquid asset and using them as a basis for a payments and saving system to compete with private banks. I haven’t had time to think through the details, but the proposal is certainly worth a hard look. Certainly, the kind of knee-jerk anti-government reaction that used to come from the finance sector and its supporters is no longer tenable since their sudden conversion to [email protected] (at least when it comes to rescuing banks).

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Weekend reflections

August 2nd, 2008 29 comments

It’s time once again for weekend reflections, the longer version of Monday Message Board. Civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Friedman units

August 2nd, 2008 2 comments

My column in Thursday’s Fin says “the next six months will be crucial”.

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Categories: Economics - General Tags: