Yet more nonsense on global warming

There’s no longer any serious debate among climate scientists about either the reality of global warming or about the fact that its substantially caused by human activity, but, as 500+ comments on my previous post on this topic show, neither the judgement of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, nor the evidence that led them to that judgement, has had much effect on the denialists[1].

And the Australian media are doing a terrible job in covering the issue. I’ve seen at least half a dozen pieces this year claiming that the whole issue is a fraud cooked up by left-wing greenies, and January isn’t over yet.

The latest is from Peter Walsh in the Oz. Walsh is still banging on about the satellite data, and the Medieval Warm Period, suggesting that his reading, if any, in the last few years has been confined to publications emanating from the right-wing parallel universe. But that hasn’t stopped the Australian from running him, and a string of others.

If an issue like genetically modified food, or the dangers of mobile phones was treated in this way, with alarmist cranks being given hectares of column space, most of those who sympathise with Walsh would be outraged and rightly so.

Walsh does make one valid point however, saying. “If your case is immaculate, why feed lies into it?” To which, I can only respond, “If the cap fits …”

fn1. At this point, the term “sceptic” is no longer remotely applicable. Only dogmatic commitment to a long-held position (or an ideological or financial motive for distorting the evidence) can explain continued rejection of the evidence.

What I've been reading and watching

Mainly watching, this week. I went to see the new film of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley. Enjoyable, at least if you like the idea of a fanfic rewrite of the original, as it would be written by, say, Marianne Dashwood, casting herself as Elizabeth Bennet.

For a real travesty, though, you can’t go past the 1940 version starring Greer Garson. At the end, Lady Catherine de Burgh turns out to have been good all along.

I used to think this was a deplorable, but trivial, concession to audience snobbery. Actually, however, it’s like one of those final scenes in a film noir that completely unravels everything you’ve thought until that point. If Lady de Burgh is really good, then Mr Collins, who we all thought to be a ridiculous and pompous fool, was in fact right in his admiration for her, while Elizabeth is shown to be blinded by prejudice in her dislike of both of them. And in that case, Charlotte Lucas’ decision to marry Collins showed insight into his true character. Now its Elizabeth, who rejects Collins and ends up with the far wealthier Darcy, who appears to be the one marrying for money. Fortunately, of course, the movie rushes to the wedding scene and the credits before we can work out that it now makes no sense at all.

Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

AWB Overboard

I’ve always thought that the Oil-For-Food scandal and the parallel scandal (promoted mainly on the left of the blogosphere) about corruption in Iraq’s postwar reconstruction were overblown. Under the circumstances, corruption was inevitable in both cases.If you supported feeding Iraqi children or attempting to repair the damage caused by the war, you had to expect, as part of the overhead, that those with power in Iraq would seek to skim money off the top, and that they would find willing accomplices in this task. Having said all that, corruption shouldn’t be passively accepted. It’s a crime and, wherever they can be caught, those guilty of it should be punished.

By far the biggest fish to be caught in the net so far is Australia’s monopoly wheat exporter, AWB, which was, until 1999, the government-owned Australian Wheat Board. It has become evident that AWB paid hundreds of millions of dollars to Saddam’s regime, and it has now been stated in evidence that the deals in question were discussed with Australia’s foreign minister, Alexander Downer.

Based on past experience, particularly the Children Overboard case, we can be pretty confident of the following

* Both Downer and Howard knew that the AWB was paying kickbacks to the Iraqi regime

* This information was transmitted in a way that preserves deniability, so no conclusive proof will emerge

* No government minister will resign

* Endless hair-splitting defences of the government’s actions in this matter will emerge from those who have previously made a loud noise about Oil for Food.

On the point of resignation, I’d note that the information that had come out before today, showing the AWB up to its neck in corruption, would have been enough, under any previous government to require ministerial resignations, on the basis of the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. But that doctrine is now obsolete in Australia. If anything short of a criminal conviction is considered sufficient to justify an enforced resignation under present conditions, I’m not aware of it.

“Gandhi” has a bit more

Subeditors at work ?

The NYT reports the victory of Socialist Michelle Bachelet (briefly a refugee in Australia) in the Chilean presidential election under the headline “What Is Missing in This Woman’s Victory? Coattails?”

I would take this to mean that there were also Parliamentary/Congressional elections at the same time, and that Ms Bachelet’s party had lost, but the body of the report implies the opposite saying her win “assured another four years in power for the [centre-left] coalition, which has governed Chile without interruption since Gen. Augusto Pinochet was forced to step down in 1990. “Has anyone got any idea what the NYT sub-editor who chose this headline was thinking? As pointed out in the CT comments thread, this is a reference to the point made about halfway through that other female elected presidents in the region have been the widows of political leaders.

In other news from the Chilean campaign, the much-vaunted privatised pension scheme introduced under Pinochet is in serious trouble. Even conservative candidate Sebastián Piñera, brother of José Pinera who introduced the scheme, described it as being in crisis.

The success of the Chilean scheme was always illusory. It was introduced not long after Pinochet’s mismanagement of the exchange rate had generated an economic crisis and stockmarket crash. So early investors got the benefits of above-average returns as the market recovered. These were enough to hide the high administrative costs (between a quarter and a third of contributions) and poor design of the scheme. Once returns fell back to normal the problems became apparent. The government is still footing a huge ‘transitional’ bill, and coverage is patchy at best.

What I've been reading

Johnno by David Malouf. The main interest for me was the setting, the Brisbane of the 40s and 50s, starting out as a combination of overgrown country town and sleazy wartime garrison town, then gradually metamorphosing into the repressed provincial city that I remember from visits in the 70s and 80s. Malouf mentions the closure of the brothels (where the protagonist creates some havoc) as an instance of this.

Of course, brothels and gambling dens continued to operate with the protection of corrupt police. This ultimately led to the collapse of the seemingly invulnerable Bjelke-Petersen government following the Fitzgerald Commission.

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