A new (to me) scam

I just got a letter on impressive looking letterhead, from Domain Registry of America, offering to renew my domain name “johnquiggin.info” at fairly exorbitant rates. I don’t actually have this domain: out of a frivolous desire to be a dotcommer, I chose “johnquiggin.com”, rather than the more appropriate “johnquiggin.net” when I got my own domain from Dotster.

This looked like an Internet version of the old subscription invoice scam, and sure enough, it was. I was happy to find that one practitioner of this scam has been nailed in Canada

These guys give what looks like a physical address at 189 Queen St., Suite 209, Melbourne, so I’ve written to Consumer Affairs in Victoria, suggesting a visit.

The next double dissolution

Right now, it doesn’t look very likely that Labor will win the next federal election. But a week is a long time in politics, and the fortunes of the government are so closely tied to the real estate market and therefore to the unpredictable course of world interest rates.

In defending the Howard government’s plans to centralise Industrial Relations, one commentator (link lost) argued that Labor couldn’t reasonably expect control of the Senate before 2011, so there was no medium-term risk associated with the plan as far as business was concerned. I immediately thought about the double dissolution option.

Today I was thinking about this again and I realised that the combination of a Labor government and an anti-Labor Senate would almost certainly lead to the blocking of supply within a three-year term. The precedent has already been set, and every government goes through rough patches when such an option would look appealing to the other side. It follows that, regardless of its desire for specific legislation, a newly elected Labor government would need to find some popular double dissolution triggers as rapidly as possible (otherwise the blocking of Supply might require a Reps election, but leave the existing Senate in place).

Once the triggers were in place, we would have an unstable situation where an election would be postponed only as long as neither side felt sure of a win. In the nature of things, that couldn’t last forever, and a double dissolution election would be more or less inevitable.

Of course, all of this is contingent on a hypothetical Labor victory, but I’d be interested to see what others think.

Freedom of the press is great if you own one*

I was going to respond to this piece by Margaret Simons about bloggers and journalists but, as often happens, Tim Dunlop has written exactly what I would have said, only better. This used to happen with such frequency that we coined the term ‘blogtwins’ and perhaps now that Tim is returning to Australia, the pattern will re-emerge.

Meanwhile the US Supreme Court has declined to hear a case in which journalists have appealed against a ruling that they should either reveal anonymous sources or go to jail. A noteworthy feature of the NY Times treatment of the story is the presentation of the issue in terms of whether journalists are entitled to special protection not available to bloggers. At the end of the story Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the University of Richmond School of Law is quoted as follows

The federal judiciary, from the Supreme Court down, has grown very skeptical of any claim that the institutional press is deserving of First Amendment protection over and above those of ordinary citizens … The rise of the Internet and blogger culture may have contributed to that. It makes it more difficult to draw lines between the traditional professional press and those who disseminate information from their home computers.

The failure of journalists to establish a special exemption raises the more general question of whether and when people should be compelled to reveal details of their private conversations. If constitutional limits are to be imposed on such questioning, it may be better to derive them from the right to privacy in general rather than the specific claims of the press. Alternatively, and perhaps preferably, it might be better for the legislature to provide a public interest exemption of some kind.

* And nowadays everyone does

Economic rationalism, water and conservation

Following on from yesterday’s post , I note that
Howard has moved quickly to oppose the idea of urban-rural water trade. Putting on my economic rationalist hat, it’s hard to see the rationale for this, and certainly those offered in the article are incoherent.

In thinking about irrigation water and trading, I always find it useful to mentally substitute “land” for “water” and see what conclusions you draw. The analogy doesn’t work perfectly, since water is movable and land is not, but it often works well enough to be helfpul.
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Labor roots

In the Monday Message Board, Paul Norton points to this piece by Trevor Smith of the CFMEU, advocating a culturally conservative agenda for Labor, and points to similarities with Michael Thompson’s Labor Without Class. There is one important difference, in that Thompson sought to combine cultural conservatism with support for economic rationalism, while Smith is opposing it.

I reviewed Thompson’s book when it came out (over the fold). The conclusion I drew was that it was, in effect, a policy manifesto for Howard.

I’m not necessarily averse to a conservative approach. And I’m no fan of cafe latte. Still, I don’t think the apparent equation of “conservative” with “whatever Howard supports” is valid. And I don’t think much of Smith’s one concrete example, the fight over Tasmanian forests, the issue on which Smith and his union sold out Labor’s chances last year and helped to give us such blessings industrial relations reform. If conserving our natural environment isn’t conservative, what is?
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Bradfield in reverse

Australians have long been captivated by the idea of turning coastal rivers back, to irrigate the dry inland. The most famous advocate of such a scheme was John Bradfield, designer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Such schemes have always foundered on the ugly physical fact that water is heavy. Any significant amount of uphill pumping is prohibitively costly, so schemes of this kind require lots of expensive tunnelling, and can only get access to water from the upper slopes of the Great Dividing Range.

As coastal populations have grown, we’ve seen increasing interest in the reverse option, of taking inland water to the coast. Adelaide is already buying water back from irrigators on the Murray. Current Victorian policy prohibits Melbourne from doing the same, but it’s hard to see this ban being sustained as water restrictions are tightened, and the technical difficulties are not great.

Today’s Australian has a proposal from Dennis O’Neill of the Australian Council for Infrastructure Development to take water from the Tantangara Dam on the Snowy to Sydney, via Googong dam near Canberra. This sounds a lot more expensive than the options for Melbourne and Adelaide, though not in the same league as Colin’s canal. And at least the scheme works with gravity rather than against it. I’ll look forward to seeing a more detailed proposal.

All of this will certainly make for interesting times for irrigators on the Murray-Darling, the main focus of my research and modelling. On the one hand, those who are able to sell water rights stand to do very well. On the other hand, those wanting to buy will be competing with the swimming pools and gardens of the big cities (the uses currently subject to the tightest restrictions).

Request for help: US Quality press ?

I’m busy writing an academic paper on blogging, wikis and so on, which will form the basis of my presentation at the forthcoming Adelaide Festival of Ideas, and as on past occasions, I’m hoping to enlist the help of readers as unpaid research assistants.

I want to compare blogs (or rather plogs) with the mainstream press alternatives, and I’ve started by comparing Australian political blogs with the alternative provided by the quality press, which I say is generally agreed to comprise four newspapers (Age, Australian, Australian Financial Review, and Sydney Morning Herald) [more over the fold]

My question is whether there is a similarly agreed notion of the quality press, applicable to the United States. I read fairly widely, both Internet and print sources, and the only papers I see mentioned regularly are the NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and LA Times. Are there others that are similarly taken seriously, or is the whole idea of “quality press” inapplicable given the greater dominance of TV?

<b>Note</b> I imagine most readers will find at least one paper listed above objectionable. I’m going to delete comments bashing particular papers on the grounds of ideological bias, stupid columnists and so on. I’m only interested in whether the paper is taken seriously, either as a source of useful analysis or as a target for criticism.
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Tsunami update

Six months ago, a number of readers of this blog gave generously to the Red Cross Tsunami appeal. I’m planning another appeal before long, and I thought it might be useful to link to this report (PDF file) on what’s being done.

Progress is slow, as a number of recent reports have pointed out, but things would be much worse if not for the generosity of the relief effort.

Aid is good, and so is trade. Watching TV tonight, the beaches of Phuket looked very tempting, and as one of the few hardy tourists pointed out, there’s no real reason to fear another tsunami hitting the same spot. If you’re thinking of a beach holiday, it looks like this might be a great opportunity to get a good deal and do a good turn at the same time.

What I’m reading

“Vision Splendid: A Social And Cultural History of Rural Australia” (Richard Waterhouse) A valuable work in the Raymond Williams cultural tradition, notably free of any desire to interrogate boundaries or supply transgressive hermeneutics, but still capable of challenging some of my preconceptions. I’ve written a review which is over the fold. It’s aimed at my local economics journal, Economic Analysis and Policy, hence the somewhat idiosyncratic focus.
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