We shall remember them

On Anzac Day, there are two important things to remember

* Thousands of brave men died at Gallipoli and in the Great War and we should always honour their memory

* The Gallipoli campaign was a bloody and pointless diversionary attack in a bloody and pointless war. Millions were killed over trivial causes that were utterly irrelevant by the time the war ended. The 1914-8 War only paved the way for the even greater horrors of Nazism and Stalinism. Nothing good came of it.

From what I’ve seen of the last surviving Diggers they were fully aware of both of these things. At one time, it seemed possible that, as the generation who fought in the war passed on, we would forget the first of them. Now the danger is that we will forget the second. We should judge as harshly as possible the political and religious leaders who drove millions, mostly young men, to their deaths, and honour the handful who stood out against the War, including Bertrand Russell and Pope Benedict XV.

What I’ve been reading

“Singularity Sky” (Charles Stross) and The Algebraist (Iain M. Banks)

I enjoyed Singularity Sky very much and am looking forward to getting hold of Iron Sunrise, which has been nominated for this year’s Hugo awards, along with The Algebraist and two books I’ve reviewed earlier Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Iron Council, plus River of Gods, which I haven’t seen yet.

I had planned to spend the afternoon in front of the TV, but it was so depressing (50 points down at haftime) that I went back to work on my review of Freakonomics An incomplete draft is over the fold: comments appreciated as always.
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The latest London Review of Books has a great review article by David Runciman (subscription only, unfortunately). The books covered are Restoring Responsibility: Ethics in Government, Business and Healthcare by Dennis Thompson , NHS plc: The Privatisation of Our Healthcare by Allyson Pollock and Brown’s Britain by Robert Peston.

Of these, I’m most interested in the book by Pollock, who’s been a prominent critic of the Private Finance Initiative, particularly in relation to health care. I think the biggest problems with the PFI are going to emerge ten or twenty years into the contracts, when any safeguards written into the original contracts will be obsolete, and the private party will have an incentive to extract as much rent as possible from the remaining life of the deal.

The whole idea of governments signing these long-term contracts is dubious in many respects. It’s bad public policy for a government to bind its successors in this way. And it’s bad commercial policy to sign 30-year contracts for services where ordinary principles of risk allocation would suggest a term more like five years. The PFI and similar initiatives have already run into plenty of problems, but I think the worst is yet to come.

A particularly egregious example came to light in Australia recently. The late, and not much lamented Kennett government signed contracts giving monopoly rights monopoly rights to operate gambling enterprises to two firms, Tabcorp and Tattersalls.

It now emerges that, if these contracts are not renewed, obscure clauses entitle the monopolists to compensation of up to $1 billion.

Darfur again

Via Jeff Weintraub, I got this link from Harry’s Place on possible actions that can be taken to pressure the Sudanese government into calling off the continuing campaign of terror in Darfur. Things have improved somewhat under international pressure, but a lot more needs to be done. A good source of up-to-date information is Passion of the Present

Having opposed the war in Iraq, I should perhaps explain why I support intervention in Sudan. There are two aspects to the issue. The first is simple costs and benefits. A few tens of millions of dollars and some modest military force could save thousands of lives in Darfur. By contrast, the war in Iraq has cost tens of thousands of lives (quite possible more than 100 000) and hundreds of billions of dollars, for prospective benefits that have not yet been delivered.

Second, I think it’s necessary to strike a balance between the extreme claims for national sovereignty, defended, for obvious reasons by the Chinese Communists, and the US doctrine, backed by Howard and endorsed in blood by Putin, that any sufficiently powerful government should be able to do what it likes in response to perceived threats. Where a government engages in war against its own citizens, the international community should be willing to step in, starting with sanctions and going on to safe areas protected by no-fly signs and peacekeepers with rules of engagement that allow them to defend themselves and refugees against any attack. If this leads to the downfall of the government, as it did with Milosevic in Serbia, so much the better. The step of overthrowing a government, even a brutal and dictatorial one, and imposing rule by an occupying army is one fraught with danger, which should be an absolute last resort.

Surfdom is back: but where has it been?

Despite my expectations of a bit more free time, I’ve been scrambling all week, and much of my blogging time has been spent dealing with comment spam and similar nuisances. So, although I noticed Tim Dunlop hadn’t posted for a while, I didn’t get around to emailing him, and I also didn’t tour Ozplogistan as I do when I have free time. Imagine my surprise when I found out he’s spent the week at Tim Blair’s. I’ll be interested to read the comments threads, again when I get time. Meanwhile, Tim D is back on air and blogging up a storm.

Two in one

Today is a bit of a red letter day for me as the late email brought in my second journal article acceptance for the day: the first time I’ve managed this, I think, though I’ve had three rejections in the same day before now. So no more work for me; it’s time to uncork the Hentschke’s Hensckes!Henschke’s

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.


Assuming there are no car crashes or political scandals in the next couple of hours, Brisbane-based readers might catch a glimpse of me on the Channel Ten news at 5:00pm, talking about oil prices. Nothing you haven’t already read here on the blog, of course.

A request for help

In the discussion over Michael Duffy’s SMH article, we had a lot of trouble with a survey supposedly showing that 25 per cent of climate scientists doubted the reality of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change. We’ve tracked the survey downhere and it appears that the relevant question is number 40

Climate change is mostly the result of anthropogenic causes.
Respondents have to answer on a 7 point Likert scale from Strongly agree to Stongly disagree

Tim Lambert observes that this was an online survey, which may raise doubts about the sample frame, though it appears that Dennis Bray, who ran the survey, tried to keep participation limited to those in the study population.

Brian Bahnisch comments

To me the question is too open-ended. Surely any rational, logical scientist would see that “climate change� has been going on a lot longer than we have been walking upright.
It is also possible to think that anthropogenic causes are less than natural ones, but still a significant, indeed critical, influence.
How does he count the fence-sitters who marked “4�?

and I share these concerns.

Anyway, the immediate problem is that Bray has set up some fancy code to display the survey results and neither Brian or I can make it work. It appears to be set for either Mozilla or Windows IE. Can anyone find the results and advise me.

Update Thanks to TIm Lambert, who has located what appear to be the results to Question 40 here The number giving “Disagree” responses (29 per cent) roughly matches the 25 per cent cited by Duffy, who was apparently relying on a second-hand and not very reliable source. But, as we’ve seen the description of the question given by Duffy was incorrect, as was the date of the survey and the description of the sample population, not to mention the characterisation of the thinktank where the results were presented.

There’s obviously a big difference between “the modest warming of the past 150 years is due to human activity” (Duffy’s description) and “Climate change is mostly the result of anthropogenic causes” (Bray’s actual question) and neither represents the IPCC position, which is that at least some of the warming observed over the last 50 years is anthropogenic and that, under current policies, this warming will continue. For appropriate time scales (say, as short as an El Nino cycle or longer than 1000 years) it seems pretty clear that natural causes are dominant, so it’s perfectly reasonable to disagree with, or give a “Can’t answer” response to Bray’s question, while agreeing with the IPCC view.