What I’m reading and more

Civil Passions by Martin Krygier. An interesting set of essays on a wide range of subjects. I was particularly struck by his observation on Keith Windschuttle’s claim to be a fearless seeker after truth, as opposed to the ideologically-driven history of his opponents. Writing in 2003, Krygier observed that Windschuttle had not yet done the research for his promised volumes on Queensland, and asked ‘Who can even conceive Windschuttle saying after a few more years in the archives “Whoops. Got it all wrong. Hats off to Henry.” Unless of course he has yet another across the board ideological conversion’. This, I think, says everything that needs to be said about Windschuttle*. Krygier (a second generation Cold Warrior) also has some fascinating things to say about the collapse of communism

I also went to see Red Dust, a film about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, from a novel by Gillian Slovo, which I found compelling. I saw it at the Schonell theatre, a Uni of Queensland institution that is under threat of closure as a result of voluntary student unionism. If you live in Brisbane and have been vaguely thinking about going, do so now while you still have the chance.

* As my last sentence implies, I don’t feel like engaging in another long debate about Windschuttle. I’m going to delete (or, at my discretion, disemvowel) any comments defending him, or criticising his opponents, unless the author is willing to state that they think it reasonably likely that Windschuttle might reach, and publish, the conclusion that Henry Reynolds and others were broadly correct in their assessment of the situation in Queensland. The same will apply to any meta-discussion about my position on this. I’d ask those who agree with me not to feed the trolls by piling on.

Update Since readers have been unwilling to abide by my requests, I’m closing comments on this thread.

Iraqi elections

The Iraqi elections appear to have gone well, with a high Sunni turnout. Hopefully, the post-election haggling won’t take months like last time, now that there is no longer a requirement for a two-thirds majority.

The big question now is whether this will lead to a US withdrawal, either because the new government demands it or because the Bush Administration decides to declare victory.

Among the possible victory conditions, the holding of elections is the only one likely to happen any time soon. There’s no reason to think that the insurgency will end as long as the occupation continues – similar insurgencies have lasted for decades in many countries.

As for training Iraqi troops, it’s clear that the problems here are not going to be resolved simply by the passing of time. Basic training for US marines takes 13 weeks, and (IIRC) the Iraqis get less, so obviously there has been plenty of time to train troops. The real problem is that any serious armed force is bound to be under the control of one or other of the militias, which might turn against the US.

A staged withdrawal would probably lead to an intensification of the insurgency in the short run. But the end of occupation would reduce support for the insurgents in the long run. It’s not a great option, but it’s hard to see a better one.

After the riots

There’s not much to say about the riots that hasn’t already been said, but one point that hasn’t been stressed enough is the small numbers of people actively involved. The crowd at Cronulla on Sunday was large, but it seems that only a couple of hundred were engaged in violence. Similarly, forty car loads of thugs were said to have been involved in the subsequent round of attacks on Monday night. That’s alarming but again it amounts to a couple of hundred people. The same was true in the French riots, which mainly consisted of small groups burning cars under cover of darkness. The availability of mobile phones makes organising this kind of thing a lot easier, and calls for a response. I hope that, in addition to those already charged, the police will pursue everyone involved in this shameful behavior. Many of them have been recorded on film and ought to be easy to identify.

Then there are the instigators of the violence. The senders of SMS messages will no doubt be hard to trace, but there’s no doubt about the role of talkback radio and 2GB in particular. It’s unclear whether Alan Jones or his talkback callers have committed a criminal offence, as suggested in comments here and elsewhere, but if he hasn’t, then the government’s spanking new sedition laws are clearly a dead letter.

The laws governing broadcasting are also relevant. Radio stations like 2GB get free allocations of valuable spectrum under a system of licensing which includes a prohibition on broadcasting matter that is likely to incite violence. If this system is to be maintained, 2GB should be stripped of its license by the Australian Broadcasting Authority for broadcasting people like Jones.

Summer schedule

I’m going to practise what I preach and take it a bit easier over the summer. That includes a less regular schedule for blog posting from now until I get back to full speed some time in January. I plan to keep the regular open threads going, and I’ll also be happy to publish guest posts (subject to the usual blog rules).

It should be easy enough to keep things going along in my semi-absence. Two threads have managed to pass 200 comments with only occasional intervention from me, and with the usual wanderings off-topics. A two-line post on Peak Oil has produced 210 comments on such issues as the electrical conductivity of gold and the theory of market failure, but is still focused on energy issues. A piece on American labour markets turned into a pile-on demonstrating the statistical illiteracy of Donald Luskin. That’s how it goes.

What I'm reading, and more

I’ve been very slack about this regular feature, but I’m encouraged to persevere by the discovery that it really annoys a certain class of semi-literate blogger. This soi-disant (look it up, Richie), purveyor of right-wing rants links to me, objecting to ‘pretencious bloggers‘ who discuss what they’ve been reading, and asks:

How often would a blogger who goes to effort of providing his current reading material list a title like The Da Vinci Code?

If Richie knew how to use Google, he’d know the answer was Once – do you think I’m going to reread Dan Brown?

Anyway, what I’ve been reading this week is The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney. Mooney does a great job documenting the postmodernist and anti-science stance of US Republicans on issues like global warming and evolution, reproduced in Australia by commentators like Andrew Bolt.

Meanwhile, on the movie front, I finally hired Heathers which was great. My son and I also watched Team America which was fun, if crass – I guess it’s the kind of satire you can take either way.

What I’m reading, and more

I’ve been very slack about this regular feature, but I’m encouraged to persevere by the discovery that it really annoys a certain class of semi-literate blogger. This soi-disant (look it up, Richie), purveyor of right-wing rants links to me, objecting to ‘pretencious bloggers‘ who discuss what they’ve been reading, and asks:

How often would a blogger who goes to effort of providing his current reading material list a title like The Da Vinci Code?

If Richie knew how to use Google, he’d know the answer was Once – do you think I’m going to reread Dan Brown?

Anyway, what I’ve been reading this week is The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney. Mooney does a great job documenting the postmodernist and anti-science stance of US Republicans on issues like global warming and evolution, reproduced in Australia by commentators like Andrew Bolt.

Meanwhile, on the movie front, I finally hired Heathers which was great. My son and I also watched Team America which was fun, if crass – I guess it’s the kind of satire you can take either way.

US backdown on post-Kyoto agreement

Today’s papers report contradictory assessments of the latest climate talks in Montreal. The NY TImes reports that the US Administration has backed down on attempts to stop negotiations for the setting of new targets for the post-Kyoto period. The US was apparently left out on a limb by China and Australia, its main allies in attempts to stop any real action, neither of which were prepared to join the US and Saudi Arabia in walking out of the talks. The result is likely to be a slight softening of language in the final agreement, but determined attempts to sabotage the process have failed.

It’s noteworthy that, despite a lot of speculation that Tony Blair was preparing the ground for a capitulation to the Bush Administration, nothing of the kind actually happened, and the US stance was repeatedly and vigorously attacked by nearly all the participants in the conference, including British delegates.

On the other hand, Australia’s environment minister was reported in today’s SMH as saying that the Kyoto protocol was almost dead

A number of [countries] are saying ‘Look, we made a mistake. We don’t think that it’s worth opening up a new negotiation about a future commitment when the commitments we have today are looking so unreasonable’,

The only support I can find for Campbell’s statement in the NYT report is the observation that the agreement on negotations does not include a specific date for ending talks, reflecting the difficulties in meeting existing targets.

An alternative interpretation is that Campbell’s statement is designed to give him cover with the domestic anti-Kyoto lobby for his break with the US position at the talks, which undoubtedly contributed to the American backdown. If so, good for him – he’s been about as good a minister as possible, given the Howard government’s generally bad position.

Overall, the outcome of these talks was about the best that could be hoped for. Undoubtedly, the accumulation of evidence over the past couple of years, to the point where no-one who is both well-informed and honest can deny the reality of human-caused global warming, has contributed to this outcome, despite the obvious reluctance of governments everywhere to do anything painful.