I’ll be in Adelaide tonight, talking at the Elder Hall, University of Adelaide, 6;00pm to 8:00pm in a forum organised by the Don Dunstan foundation on ‘The Electricity Crisis: What Can be Done?’

Monday Message Board

It’s time, as usual, for the Monday Message Board. Please post your comments on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). I’d be interested to hear how long people have been reading this blog (any claims in excess of two years will be viewed with great suspicion) and how they first heard about this blog or blogging in general.

For the record

Ahmed Chalabi, being interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and urging that Australian troops remain in Iraq had this to say (emphasis added).

I think that we wasted a year now. The security plan for Iraq that was put forward by the Coalition has collapsed. We must face this fact and we must involve Iraqis right away in the training and the recruitment of the police. I believe that a year to 18 months of hard work on the right track will be sufficient to train an important and significant security force.

Obviously, this assessment suited Chalabi’s argument on the day, but it’s closer to the truth than anything anyone else associated with the Administration has been willing to say.

So last millennium

Following up on a discussion at Crooked Timber, I looked at this much-linked piece by Camille Paglia, and was struck by its dated references to television and the 60s[1]. She goes on to talk about computers, but apparently sees the computer as nothing more than a turbocharged TV set. This impelled me to dig out a piece I wrote nearly ten years ago, making the point that far from privileging visual media, the computer, and particularly the Internet are contributing to a new golden age of text. Blogs weren’t thought of when I wrote this piece, but the argument anticipates them, I think.

fn1. Oddly enough, although the main argument is a restatement of positions that were familiar 50 years ago, the piece is full of references to the young, as though the current generation of young adults has been, in some way, more saturated in TV than were the baby booomers.
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Science vs the Republicans: Part 1 (the US)

I’ve previously observed that it’s now virtually impossible to be an orthodox Republican (or an Australian follower of Republican ideology) and believe in science. To be counted as one of the faithful, it’s necessary to take a party-line view on scientific issues ranging from global warming to epidemiology to evolution. One aspect of this, which I’ve pointed to in the past, is the proliferation of “junk science’ sites, which, while purporting to defend science, act like trial lawyers, selecting (and if necessary distorting) the evidence that supports the party line, while ignoring or libelling any researcher whose findings are politically inconvenient[1].

The eponymous Junk Science site of Stephen Milloy sets the pattern here, but it has largely been eclipsed by Tech Central Station, an Astroturf operation, run by James K. Glassman and featuring such luminaries as David Legates, Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas. A pretty good list of other party-line sites can be found by looking at Stephen Milloy’s recommended links, though by some mistake the list of recommendations includes the (entirely reputable) American Meteorological Society [I didn’t check every single recommendation, so there may be other similar cases, but the majority are clearly advocacy sites].
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A disturbing letter

The issue of whether the Howard government is, as the Labor party has claimed, the highest-taxing government in Australian history[1] is not only politically contentious, but statistically complicated. A couple of weeks ago, David Bassanese had a piece in the Fin using Australian Bureau Statistics data to argue in support of this claim.

I was disturbed today, to see a letter from Rob Edwards of the ABS, responding to Bassanese and supporting the government line. In particular, the letter accused Bassanese of unspecified errors and argued in favor of relying on cash measures of the deficit (Bassanese used accruals for recent years and “cash converted to accruals” estimates for earlier years). While the ABS has occasionally responded to direct criticism of its figures (for example, my own criticisms of its multifactor productivity estimates), I don’t recall a previous instance where it’s been involved in partisan controversy of this kind.

As readers of this blog will know, the issue is far too complex for simple answers like those put forward by Bassanese and Edwards to be regarded as definitive. But Bassanese is a journalist writing what’s clearly intended as commentary rather than news. He’s entitled to put forward his own views. Edwards is supposed to be a neutral public servant.

It’s been a long time since I took on trust anything coming out of policy departments like Treasury and the Productivity Commission. Under the present government, we’ve already learned we can’t trust statements from the armed forces, the Defence Department or the Electoral Commission. But until now, I’ve never seen any serious evidence of political interference with ABS. This letter suggests that the process has begun.

(The Edwards letter follows).
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Blair bereft

The day before Tony Blair turns up in Washington to give yet another demonstration of support for the mess Bush is making of Iraq, we have the spectacle of Bush and Sharon tearing up the “roadmap for peace”, one of the key elements on which Blair sold the Iraq war to the British Labour Party, and Bush endorsing Sharon’s plans to annex most of the West Bank. It’s hard to imagine that Blair could stand for such a gratuitous insult, but equally hard to imagine him doing anything about it.
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Investment and the FTA

At least one reader has asked for my views on the investment aspects of the proposed FTA between Australia and the US. The provisions aren’t that extensive. It appears that the threshold for Foreign Investment Review Board review will be raised, but this will have little direct impact since hardly any proposals are rejected.
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I’ve been interviewed by the 7:30 report regarding the resignation of Bob Mansfield, the Telstra chairman. Unless something more newsworthy bumps it, some of the interview should go to air tonight. Those who don’t care about the visual component can read my general views on Telstra here, here and here.

On the proposal that led to Mansfield’s downfall, that Telstra should buy Fairfax, my reaction is “What were they thinking!?” Obviously the majority of the board could see howinappropriate this idea was for a company owned by the Federal government and directly controlled by the shareholding ministers. But even if Telstra were fully privatised, it would be a terrible idea for a major regulated monopoly to own large chunks of the press or, as in the previous proposal to buy Channel 9, TV.