Labor landslide in NT

At least, that’s the headline on the ABC website. The story quotes a puzzled senator

CLP senator Nigel Scullion at a loss to explain the huge swing towards the Labor Party.
“This is a political tsunami,” he said.
“I mean…the obvious question is why? You’d have to grope for answers.”

I would have thought it was obvious that just about everyone in the Top End reads the Financial Review closely, and that it was this column that sank Opposition leader Denis Burke’s chances. Well, maybe not, but Burke’s absurd proposal for a 3000km powerline clearly hasn’t helped him.

Cold in Brisbane!

Since arriving here a few years ago, I’d always thought that Brisbane had only two seasons: Summer and Not-summer. In comments on this theme, I recall James Farrell describing winter in Brisbane, but I didn’t believe him.The place looked snowbound a few weeks ago after an exceptional hailstorm, but I put that down as a once-off.

Now with an overnight minimum of 7 last night (and zero in Ipswich), I have to concede that Brisbane does have a winter. I even put on a warm jacket when I went out to get the fish and chips tonight. Still, having just returned from Canberra, where the maximum was 7, I know where I’d rather be (though easy access to snow would be nice, I must admit).

Update It strikes me that the Brisbane reaction to cold is much like the way Washington DC responds to the heavy snow that falls there once or twice a year. We don’t so much deal with it as hunker down and wait for it to go away.


Now that it’s been established that meme means “Internet chain letter”, I’m happy enough to embrace the concept. Mark Bahnisch sent me the Book meme, which most of you will have seen already.

Total number of books I’ve owned
I haven’t counted, but I imagine it would be several thousand
The last book I bought:
“End of Poverty, The : Economic Possibilities for Our Time” (Jeffrey Sachs) I’ll probably try and review this soon. For the moment, I’ll just say that it’s the most plausible case for optimism about the possibilities open to us that I’ve seen for some time
The last book I read
“The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent” (Richard Florida) Again, more to come on this one soon.
Five books that mean a lot to me
This is a pretty hard one. I’m a voracious reader, but I’m also quite promiscuous, so I’ve been influenced a little by lots of different books. More generally, my mind is full of bits and pieces that I can’t recall where they came from. The Internet has been great in this respect. Anyway, here’s my list

George Orwell, Collected Essays Although adulation of Orwell is a bit of a cliche in the blogosphere and elsewhere, he really is worth it. If he were alive today, he’d be the greatest of bloggers

Raymond Williams “Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society” I’ve mentioned this before and a reader pointed out that there’s an updated version (a collective effort). I’ll try to track down the (rather lukewarm) review I read

Ursula Le Guin “The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia” I reread this not long ago, and it was mentioned on this list also.

Anthony Trollope“The Warden” As an archbishop is supposed to have said, there’s no better way of spending a Saturday evening than in bed with a good Trollope. I love all the Barchester novels, but The Warden is the original and best

“Work for All: Full Employment in the Nineties” (John Langmore, John Quiggin) Some of it stands up well after ten years and some does not, but working on this book it certainly made a big difference to me. It was my first significant participation in public policy debate in Australia, and I haven’t let up since.

As with most chain letters, I think everyone has already had this one, but I’ll flick it on anyway to Jason Soon, Gianna, and Kim Weatherall. I’ll keep the remaining two places for commenters on this post (those who actually have a blog will have to wait another 15 seconds for the meme to propagate to them).

A happy day

Not just for the many families who are to be released from the horrors of mandatory detention but for all decent Australians. Every country has causes for pride and shame, but there have been few things in my lifetime that have made me as ashamed of my country as the way we have treated asylum-seekers. It remains to be seen how the changes announced yesterday will work in detail, but we can hope that it means, as Judi Moylan says, the practical end of indefinite detention.

Congratulations to the four Liberals [Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan, Russell Broadbent and Bruce Baird] whose threat to cross the floor, combined with a shift back towards decency in Australian public opinion to bring about this change.

I’ll have some more to say later on this whole episode, and there’ll be plenty of room for debate than, but for the moment I don’t feel like hearing any of the old arguments, so I’ve closed this post to comments.

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.


I spent yesterday at bobfest a conference and dinner in honour of Bob Gregory, Australia’s leading labour economists, and one of the great figures of the Australian economics professsion. Just about everyone in the profession was there (or so it seemed) and a number of papers were given, some learned, some amusing and some a bit of both. My contribution to proceedings was limited to a song, which is over the fold. This was part of a double act, as Geoff Brennan also sang, (he’s much better than me).

Update The event gave real meaning to “singing for my supper”. Owing to disorganisation, I didn’t get around to paying in advance, and when I asked afterwards, the organiser Bruce Chapman said the song was more than enough. Actually, this isn’t an entirely new experience. There’s a general practice of paying in wine for (otherwise uncompensated) presentations at industry conferences and so on: an echo of the days when rum was Australia’s main unit of account, perhaps.
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Some really good news from Iraq

The release of hostage Douglas Wood by Iraqi troops, apparently as the result of a lucky raid, is good news for us all. And while we’ll probably never know the full story, it’s likely that the efforts of the Australian government’s negotiating team, and of Sheikh Taj Aldin Alhilali, helped to convince the kidnappers not to proceed with their original threat to kill Mr Wood within a few days of his capture. Regardless of the details, and of differing views about Iraq in general, this is an event worth celebrating.

Tim Blair – pointy-headed liberal ?

Tim Blair takes umbrage at a claim by Michael Gawenda that most Americans are creationists and also at my suggestion (put forward as a “fun factoid”), that “The great majority of climate change sceptics, globally speaking, are also creationistsâ€?.

I’ll leave it to Tim Lambert to deal with Blair’s numbers. Meanwhile, what interests me is why Blair apparently regards “creationist” as an insult, a point raised rather plaintively by one of his commenters. As this Gallup poll report shows, the only groups in the US to show majority agreement with the proposition “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Is a Scientific Theory Well Supported by the Evidence” are
* Those with postgraduate education (65 per cent)
* Liberals (56 per cent)
* College Graduates (52 per cent)

By contrast, only 29 per cent of Republicans and 26 per cent of conservatives believe evolution is well supported by the evidence. Surely Blair is not suggesting that there is an important issue on which pointy-headed academic types, and, worse still, liberals are correct, while right-thinking conservative Americans are wrong.

Of course, the liberals are right about evolution. But they’re also right about global warming. The evidence for and against the global warming hypothesis is much the same as the evidence for and against evolution (not quite as overwhelming, but more than enough for anyone who takes scientific evidence seriously). In favour of both hypotheses are the conclusions of the vast majority of scientific studies of the subject and the professional opinion of virtually all independent experts; against are the claims of a handful of qualified scientists (mostly with an obvious conflict of interest), and the fervent wish of large numbers of people to believe the opposite of what science says on the topic.

And far more damage is being done by interest groups denying the reality of climate change than by religious groups denying evolution. It’s the creationists and not the global warming contrarians who ought to be worried here.


As I’ve said before, I hate being conned. Looking back over my archives in the period leading up to the Iraq war, I realise that I consistently underestimated the likelihood of war, and that the main reason for this was that I thought Blair was fundamentally honest about what he was doing. Of course, there was the dodgy dossier and the 45 minutes claim to show that the spin doctors were hard at work, but I nevertheless accepted that Blair had made an independent decision to support action against Saddam, based largely on his record of crimes against humanity, and that he took the UN process seriously.

It’s been obvious for some time that this wasn’t true, but for some reason the latest revelations from a leaked Cabinet Office briefing dating back to July 2002, along with the Downing Street memo have really hit home. They make it clear that Britain’s policy was entirely determined by the fact that the Americans were going ahead regardless, and that US reliance on British bases meant there was no option of abstention[1]. Everything done thereafter was designed to find a pretext for an action the British government knew to be illegal. The appeal to the UN was a cynical ploy – there was never any chance that war would be avoided.

What’s also clear is that Blair knew there were no proper plans for the postwar period, making the chaos that actually ensued entirely predictable. This fact completely undermines his stated humanitarian concerns, but it makes sense given that the central object of US policy was to pursue a vendetta against Saddam, and that the British government had decided it had no choice but to go along.

fn1. It’s not clear that this was correct. The Iraq war relied heavily on bases in Germany, but that didn’t stop the German government opposing the war. Still, in this context, it’s what the British believed that matters.

Experts and interests

A question that’s often raised in relation to public policy issues involving science is whether conflicts of interest matter. For example, does it matter if scientists who publish reports suggesting that the dangers of smoking are overstated turn out to be funded by tobacco companies? Common sense suggests that it matters, but a lot of commentators, often with a vague recollection of classes in elementary logic, suggest that this is an ad hominem criticism and that the only thing that is relevant is the argument, not who makes it. You can see a defence of this position from Elizabeth Whelan at Spiked here[1] (hat tip, Jennifer Marohasy in the comments to this interesitng Catallaxy post on values and science.

I’ll argue that common sense is right here.
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