MayDay again

Another year, another May Day, reminding me that I still haven’t got round to my long-planned posts on the erosion of workers’ rights under the present (and for that matter the preceding) government.

In the short term, though, the most important historical fact about May 1 is that it’s the anniversary of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on Iraq in 2003. When I wrote about this anniversary last year, I observed

the anniversary of Bush declaration of victory looks as good a time as any to date what seems increasingly certain to be a defeat [at least for the policies that have been pursued for the last year] … The Administration seems to be inching towards the position I’ve been advocating for some time – dumping the policies of Bremer and Chalabi (though not, unfortunately Bremer and Chalabi themselves), and handing over real military power to Iraqis. If the interim (still inchoate) government has substantial real power, manages to hold early elections and can get enough support to permit a rapid US withdrawal, the outcome might not be too bad. But there’s very little time left, and this scenario assumes exceptionally skilful management of the situation from now on.

How do things look a year later? Bremer is gone, thankfully, and I doubt that there’s anyone left who would suggest that the Coalition Provisional Administration he ran was anything better than a set of incompetent bunglers who achieved less than nothing[1]. Chalabi, by contrast, seems to be the eternal survivor, . The Americans dumped him after all, but he promptly switched sides and has popped up as some sort of Deputy Prime Minister in the new Iraqi government and looks set to get the lucrative oil ministry he’s been after for so long..
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Back to DTP

When I first started using Macs, back in 1984, one of the big selling points was desktop publishing. The resulting explosion in amateur publishing produced some pretty awful results, but the net impact was a huge increase in the quality of computer-generated output, which went from being almost unreadably awful to quite pleasant to read. I produced a bunch of things in the 80s, including various newsletters and even a book of satirical songs, using long-dead packages like ReadySetGo and Deluxe Music Construction Set[1].

But once the real professionals started using packages like Quark and Pagemaker, the competition got a bit too hard, and I stopped worrying about page layout. Now however, I’ve started having some real fun with Apple’s iWork package, consisting of Keynote, a presentation package, and Pages, a page layout program. They produce really nice output, but are still easy and fun to use.

I’ve been working on the annual report for the Risk and Sustainable Management Group which is the little team I’ve set up to run my ARC Federation Fellowship and Discovery projects. If I can get the PDF file down to a manageable size, I’ll post the report here when it’s done. In the meantime, feel free to check out what we’ve been up to here and here.

fn1. Having picked the minority platform, I showed a fairly unerring instinct for minority software packages. I still use NisusWriter rather than the ubiquitous and awful MS Word for most of my word processing, and Bookends rather than Endnote for bibliographic stuff. Both well worth a look if you’re a Mac user unhappy with the usual offerings.

Weekend reflections

This regular feature is back again. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Time to go nuclear ?

My column in yesterday’s Fin was about the option of nuclear energy as a solution to the problem of climate change, an issue that’s been discussed a few times here already. One point I didn’t make is that the availability of nuclear-generated electricity as a ‘backstop’ technology puts an upper bound on the costs of a strategy that would reduce CO2 emissions enough to stabilise atmospheric concentrations (this is much more than Kyoto which aims only to stabilise emissions from developed countries, as a first step to a solution).

There’s lots more on global warming over at Troppo Armadillo, with a lengthy comments thread raising some interesting points.
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Academics and athletics

Via Rafe Champion at Catallaxy, I found this NYRoB review of a book Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values on the vexed topic of sport in US colleges. Bowen and Levin view the US system, where colleges use all sorts of inducements to recruit students who will play in their sporting teams, as entirely deplorable, and spend a fair bit of time on its various pernicious effects, but don’t really seem to have much of a solution. The reviewer, Benjamin DeMott has a more favorable view, pointing among other things to the fact that sports provide a route to college for working-class kids who wouldn’t otherwise get in, but doesn’t have a very effective response to the central point made by Bowen and Levin about the negative effects of a group of students who are mostly well below the average in ability, not academically motivated and are effectively employed full-time in their sporting careers in any case. Proposals to restore the ideal of the amateur student athlete have gone nowhere, and it seems unlikely that the radical approach of getting large numbers of colleges to pull out of the game altogether will do any better.

I’d like to suggest an alternative that is probably still too radical, but would not challenge the existence of college sports, and would overcome at least some of the problems aired by Bowen and Levin along with many others. College should recruit athletes as they do now, but let them defer all their classes for the four(?) years they play for the college team (unless they get cut earlier on). At the end of that time, a minority will make it into the professional leagues and big money, and won’t need a college degree. The rest will no longer have sporting commitments or the illusory hope of sporting riches. At this point, the college should give them their deferred education, with an explicit recognition that they are likely to need more help than the average student.

This seems like an improvement all round to me, but no doubt there’s lots of things I haven’t thought of, so I’ll let better-informed readers set me straight.

Global glut

The big question in global macro policy today is : Why are long-term interest rates so low. I had a go at this topic over at Institutional Economics and i thought I’d reprint it here. Very preliminary, needless to say.

A general comment on why so few economists trust the market on bubbles. It’s obvious that low interest rates are crucial, and that current asset prices make sense if and only if sustained low interest rates are a market-driven response to changes in the real economy.

But in an environment with near-zero savings in the English-speaking countries, and large unfunded state obligations in the rest of the developed world, interest rates should be high, not low.

The proximate cause of low interest rates is the willingness of Asian countries to run large current account surpluses (that is, capital account deficits), but there is no convincing micro story as to why people in poor countries should want to save massive amounts to lend to fund consumption in rich countries.

The leading optimist on all this is Bernanke, but he sees the surpluses as the product of macro policy, governments building up reserves in reaction to the crises of the 1990s. This source of surpluses presumably won’t be sustained, since the countries concerned are incurring huge unrealised losses on their US dollar holdings. So the ‘global savings glut’ is a temporary one, and is being squandered by borrower nations in high levels of consumption.

Beazley on Gallipoli

I was just getting vaguely reconciled to the idea of Beazley as Labor leader when he came out with the following claim in a speech at the Lowy Institute (PDF):

We cannot understand the decisions of 1914, and we cannot understand Gallipoli, if we do not understand that Australia had compelling direct and distinctly Australian reasons for being there, he argued. Australia recognised that Britain would become increasingly less able and willing to guarantee Australia’s future security. So it was in Australian interests to become an active participant in imperial security, to ensure British power was not eclipsed.

This is wrong in just about every way a historical claim can be wrong
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Back on air

I foolishly decided that I would do the upgrade of WordPress to v1.5 myself, rather than getting it done for me by someone who knew what they were doing. Four or five hours of frustration later, the upgrade is done, though I still have to reconfigure the template. Enjoy the default layout for the moment.

Update Well, I can get the main page working fine with the old layout, but the comments are a mess. The header is displayed in a botched form, when it shouldn’t be there at all. If anyone can give me advice on what to do, that would be great. Otherwise it’s the default layout for the moment.