Archive for August, 2009

Saving the cat

August 29th, 2009 15 comments

Quite a while ago, I raised a question about the practical implications of the “rapture” doctrine, held by large numbers of evangelicals.

Do they install automatic watering systems for their gardens and arrange for unsaved neighbours to feed the cat? Or do they just pay into their IRAs as if they expect the world to last forever?

Now it appears, some enterprising atheists have set up a service addressing one of the problems I raised. In the event of rapture, they guarantee that , assured of being left behind, they will look after the pets of those who are taken up. (video here)

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Weekend reflections

August 29th, 2009 73 comments

It’s time again 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:

Some amateur political theory

August 28th, 2009 35 comments

As I mentioned, I’m at a conference on Logic, Game Theory and Social Choice. Attending a session on experiments in voting theory (some very interesting ones for which I will try to find links) I started thinking about a case for Instant Runoff/Single Transferable/Preferential systems (like many Australians I’m a big fan of this system which works well for us, with none of the disasters we’ve seen produced in the US and UK by plurality voting). For those interested, an outline of an idea is over the fold. It’s not my field, so I’m quite prepared to be told my argument is wrong, well-known or both.

Update 29/8 The original claim I made was wrong, but now I have one that, I think, works better.

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Categories: Politics (general) Tags:

Turning Japanese

August 28th, 2009 7 comments

I’ve been in Japan for the last few days, at a conference on Logic, Game Theory and Social Choice where, among other things, we’ve had some interesting discussions on electoral mechanisms. Meanwhile, Japan appears to be on the verge of tipping out the almost-permanent LDP government.

But, as a (non-Japanese speaking) visitor, I can hardly tell there was an election on. I’ve seen no rallies or badges, only a handful of posters and one loudspeaker truck, with a decidedly non-strident woman’s voice issuing what may have been a political message. The English language media I have access to (Asahi Shimbun and so on) has been giving the election about the level of coverage I’d expect for a boring state election at home. I’ll give some very ill-informed thoughts over the fold, but can readers say anything from their own knowledge, or point to useful sources?

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Categories: World Events Tags:

Brendan Nelson leaves politics

August 27th, 2009 109 comments

As the recipient of two Federation Fellowships, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for their originator, Brendan Nelson. So, I thought I’d do a quick post marking his departure from political life. It was his misfortune to be thrust into the job of Opposition Leader, thanks to Peter Costello’s refusal and the unwillingness of his colleagues to accept Malcolm Turnbull. This was just too tough a job for Nelson. Maybe if he’d had a few more years as a minister or frontbencher he would have been ready for this challenge, but as it was, he wasn’t ready and it showed. He’s done the right thing by leaving.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Two degrees of warming

August 26th, 2009 53 comments

Now that it looks as if some sort of agreement may come out of Copenhagen, its natural to ask what sort of agreement we need. The current targets being proposed suggest that warming should be limited to 2 degrees over the next century. That implies stabilising atmospheric C2 concentrations at 450 ppm, and an agreement to cut developed country emissions by 20-25 per cent by 2020, with convergence to a level 90 per cent below current developed country levels by 2050 would be adequate (note that this part of the post is based on my reading of Garnaut, Stern & IIPCC, not my own expertise).

At least some discussion in Australia suggests that these targets are hopelessly weak and by implication that it would be better to oppose any action than to lock ourselves into an agreement of this kind. I disagree, and I will try to spell out why.

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Categories: Environment Tags:

Bookblogging:The Failure of the Great Moderation

August 24th, 2009 140 comments

Another section of the Great Moderation chapter from my book. I’m getting a lot of value from the comments, both favorable and critical, so please keep them coming.

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Categories: Dead Ideas book Tags:

Whitlam Institute talk on the financial system and the crisis

August 24th, 2009 7 comments

The talk I gave at the Whitlam Institute in July is up on SlowTV. Comments from Steve Keen and Guy Debelle.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Weekend reflections

August 23rd, 2009 62 comments

It’s time again 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:

Bookblogging: Great Moderation Intro, Beginnings, Implications

August 20th, 2009 16 comments

Another longish extract from my book project. Corrections and suggestions of all kinds are welcome. I’m also thinking it might be good to have a website where it’s possible to look at, and comment on, all the draft chapters, but I suspect people prefer the atmosphere of a comments thread. Any thoughts on this?

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Categories: Dead Ideas book Tags:

Gap is one of credibility

August 19th, 2009 35 comments

Talking of zombie ideas that wont die, my column in last week’s Fin (run under the headline above) was yet another assault on the generation game. I don’t suppose it will stop the likes of Greg Melleuish, but perhaps it might persuade a few people that this kind of stuff serves only to obscure the real issues.

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Categories: Boneheaded stupidity Tags:

Bookblogging: new name(s), new intro (slightly updated 18/8)

August 16th, 2009 75 comments

The current working title for the book is Zombie Economics: Six Dead Ideas that Threaten the World Economy (suggestions for a better subtitle are welcome) and that requires a new intro.

Also, I’ve come to the view that “market liberalism”, as opposed to “economic liberalism”, is a better name for the viewpoint, based on the efficient financial markets hypothesis and other ideas criticised here, that has dominated policy thinking in recent decades.

Any thoughts on these points, or the revised intro, would be most welcome.
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Categories: Dead Ideas book Tags:

Weekend reflections

August 16th, 2009 29 comments

It’s time again 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:

The politics of the CPRS

August 15th, 2009 81 comments

In the process leading up to the Senate’s rejection of the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, no one has covered themselves with glory. Starting with the Independents, there’s little that can be said about Fielding except that the sooner he is sent home to nurse his delusions, the better. Nick Xenophon has unfortunately followed his customary line of trying to come up with his own alternative scheme. At this stage of the game, this position is not much different, in practice, from Fielding’s, though it offers more chance of a rethink on the second round. The Nationals have pretty much followed the Fielding line, and the Liberals have been all over the shop, as usual.

That leaves Labor and the Greens, neither of whom can be particularly proud of themselves. In the absence of a disaster, they will control the Senate between them in the next Parliament and will have little choice but to make deals on climate policy. As a leadup to this, it would be great if they could have reached an agreement on an improved, if still imperfect, CPRS. But Labor is more interested in wedging the Libs, and the Greens are more interested in political purity.

What would an improved CPRS look like? First, as I’ve argued already, the government’s conditional target of 25 per cent is about right. There’s no way Copenhagen will produce a number much larger than this – the US is offering 17, and the EU 30 with an asterisk (a choice of start date that makes them look particularly good). The 5 per cent target could be higher, but really, if we don’t get a global agreement, nothing Australia does really matters. The big flaws in the CPRS are the excessive giveaways of free permits (and the correspondingly limited compensation for households and displaced workers) and the fact that the design negates the benefits of any voluntary reductions (I initially thought the changes announced in March addressed this point, but they don’t).
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Categories: Environment Tags:

Light blogging ahead

August 7th, 2009 35 comments

A combination of work, travel and my book commitment means that blogging here will be light for the next few months. I plan to post excerpts from the book in progress, and I’ll try to put up open threads from time to time.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

GLAM-Wiki & Coral COE

August 5th, 2009 2 comments

I’ll be appearing tomorrow (virtually, via Skype) at this event which promises (and may well help to deliver!)

Thousands of years of heritage at your fingertips

Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums and Wikimedia:
Finding the Common Ground
6-7 August 2009, Australian War Memorial, Canberra

More details here

Meanwhile, in meatspace, I’m speaking tomorrow and Friday at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies symposium Securing Coral Reef Futures on 6th and 7th August in Brisbane at Customs House. There’s a public event on Friday evening

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Is this the same Steven Pinker?

August 5th, 2009 17 comments

A couple of days ago, Jack Strocchi and I were discussing Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, a book which I thought, when I reviewed it in 2002, was much below the standard of his earlier work, though no worse than the average book about the ‘nature-nurture’ controversy. In particular, I thought his discussion of war and violence was hopelessly confused, putting forward a Hobbesian view of violence as the product of rational self interest as if it was consistent with the genetic determinism that was the central theme of the rest of the book.

Now, via John Horgan at Slate, I’ve happened across this broadcast by Pinker at TED (which, by the way I’ve just discovered and is excellent). The broadcast has a transcript which is great for those of us who prefer reading to listening.

In this piece, Pinker appears to me to change sides almsot completely, from pessimist to optimist and from genetic determinist to social improver. Not only does he present evidence that war and violence are declining in relative importance, his explanation for this seems to be entirely consistent with the Standard Social Science Model he caricatured and debunked in The Blank Slate. He’s still got a sort of rational self-interest model in there, but now Hobbes is invoked, not for his ‘nasty, brutish and short’ state of nature, but for his argument that the Leviathan of social order will suppress violence to the benefit of all.

But even more striking is this:

[Co-operation] may also be powered by cosmopolitanism: by histories and journalism and memoirs and realistic fiction and travel and literacy, which allows you to project yourself into the lives of other people that formerly you may have treated as sub-human, and also to realize the accidental contingency of your own station in life; the sense that “there but for fortune go I.”

I agree entirely, but we seem to have come a long way from the African savannah here.

Categories: Science Tags:

After the EMH, what next?

August 4th, 2009 38 comments

Writing a critique of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis in terms rigorous enough to stand up to scrutiny, but comprehensible to the average reader hasn’t been easy, and I still have a lot more work to do. But thanks to the help I’ve had from commenters here and at my blog, and from other readers, I hope to make a go of it. Now comes the hard bit: suggesting some alternatives, both in theory and policy. I’m not by any means satisfied with this draft. In particular, I need to go back and get a better linkage to the question “if the market price for assets is not the “right” price, what is?”. But, I thought I’d do better getting some help and criticisms now, rather than trying for some more polish first.

Read more…

Categories: Dead Ideas book Tags:

Monday Message Board

August 3rd, 2009 348 comments

Its time once again for Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Irony alerts missing

August 3rd, 2009 24 comments

From Christian Kerr in the Oz today

BLOGS attack newspapers all the time. It’s rarer for a broadsheet to launch into an ezine.

Sane Republican hunt

August 2nd, 2009 106 comments

Looking at this video of GOP members running away (in one case literally) from questions about Birtherism it struck me that rather than looking at the vast majority of GOP types who consistently trade in delusion, it would be more interesting to see if there is even one prominent GOP figure certifiably sane. By “certifiably sane”, I mean someone who has clearly and publicly rejected all the main forms of delusion propounded by the majority of Repugs. These include:

AGW delusionism (an explicit statement of support for mainstream science is required)
Creationism (must reject both creationism /ID and “teach the controversy’)
9/11 Trutherism (not, in most cases, the “Bush knew” version, but the “Saddam organised it, via meetings in Prague” version)
Crank medical theories: on passive smoking, the Terri Schiavo case, abortion-breast cancer link, AIDS reappraisal, claims about stem cells (to make it easy, getting any of these right will suffice)
Rejection of plate tectonics: According to the same poll that found most Republicans to be Birthers/sceptics, the majority also deny or doubt that America and Africa were once part of the same continent (brand new, so I’ll take absence of evidence on this one).

Bonus points if we can find one who’s not from Maine.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity Tags:

The Price is Right?

August 2nd, 2009 44 comments

In my discussion of the efficient markets hypothesis, I’ve asserted at various times that if (strong or semi-strong) EMH holds, then the market price of an asset “the best possible estimate of the value of the asset” or, more simply, the “right” price. Quite a few commenters asked me to spell out what this means, and there was some useful discussion. This really is the central issue in evaluating the EMH, so I want both to get it right and to express myself as clearly as possible for non-specialist readers. There’s a draft over the fold. I await your brickbats and (hopefully) bouquets.

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Categories: Dead Ideas book Tags:

Bookblogging, again

August 1st, 2009 11 comments

Another section from the forthcoming book. Casting suggestions for the blockbuster movie will be gratefully accepted, along with more prosaic correction of errors, omissions, and of course, compliments. I’m trying to get a nice HTML version, but will see how it goes

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Categories: Dead Ideas book Tags:

Birthers and sceptics

August 1st, 2009 66 comments

The Internets are buzzing with the latest survey showing, among other things, Republicans are split on the Birther issue with only 47 per cent accepting the claim that Obama was born in the US. That’s almost exactly equal to the 48 per cent who agree that global warming exists – it’s evident from the public debate that the overlap between Birthers and opponents of AGW is very high ).

But I wouldn’t want to give the impression that over 50 per cent of Republicans are conspiracy theorists who believe in a secret plot to impose a Kenyan-socialist dictatorship as part of the UN/IPCC system of world government. On the contrary, the proportion is only about 25 per cent (more in the South). As on the global warming issue, the balance of opinion within the Republican Party holds to the sensible “sceptical” position: the science isn’t settled, the birth records are unclear, sightings of black helicopters need further investigation and so on. That’s good to know.

Categories: World Events Tags: