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.

Romance of the gun

The various disasters in the Middle East keep on getting worse. About the best analysis of the whole situation that I’ve seen in some time was by Rami Khouri in Salon. The write-off sums up the case

Hamas and Hezbollah, Lebanon and Palestine, Syria and Iran, the U.S. and Israel: Unless these four pairs of actors turn away from their failed policies, the Middle East will sink further into violence and despair.

What is striking about the Middle East is that, more than anywhere else in the world, it is the place where belief in the effectiveness of violence to achieve political goals has reigned supreme, and the place where nothing of substance has changed, except for the worse, in generations. Whether it’s the gunman firing an AK-47 into the air, the suicide bomber’s macabre video clip, the Revolutionary Guard armed with Islamic fervour or the official military parading its power to deliver terror by air and armoured brigade, the romance of the gun seems to obscure the reality of murdered children and the dismal failure of all concerned to move even an inch towards any sort of solution.

The only new thing about the current crisis is that lots of Australians are directly in the line of fire. This raises the stakes dramatically for anyone who wants to endorse the actions of one side or another.

Lords of Climate Change

I see in this piece by Alan Wood that the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs inquiry into “The Economics of Climate Change” (which strongly questioned the science of climate change) is still getting a run in denialist circles.

I haven’t bothered posting on this before, because the main outcome of the inquiry was the establishment of the Stern Review which issued its first discussion paper back in April, stating (from the Executive Summary)

Climate change is a serious and urgent issue… There is now an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that human activity is increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and causing warming.

There’s more like this, giving an excellent summary of the mainstream scientific position.

So the House of Lords exercise was something of an own goal for the denialists. But how did a supposedly serious inquiry come up with with such nonsense in the first place?
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Room at the top

One of the beliefs that is (or at least used to be) influential in discussions about the War on Drugs is that, if only the Mr Big(s) at the top of the distribution chain could be caught, the problem of illegal drugs could be controlled. The Melbourne gangland wars provide an ideal test of this idea. The leading gangsters did a better job eliminating each other than any police force has ever managed and most of the survivors are in jail or on the run. So, at least for a while, drug crime ought to be under control if Mr Bigs count for anything.

According to this story in The Age, the opposite is true. The void created by the war is rapidly being filled. Takeaway quote

Police say the profits from drug trafficking mean little-known criminals can became major influences in months.

In most cases, gangsters like those involved in the gangland wars don’t facilitate the illegal drug trade, they tax it.

Adventures in social network analysis

The latest round in the Republican War on Science is a report prepared for US Representative Joe Barton aimed at discrediting the ‘hockey stick’ analysis of global temperatures first undertaken by Mann, Bradley, and Hughes, and subsequently supported by many other studies. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, this peripheral issue in the analysis of climate change has attracted disproportionate attention from denialists, most notably Ross McKitrick and Steve McIntyre. One result was that the US National Academy of Sciences recently reviewed the work, reaching conclusions broadly supportive of MBH.

The report for Barton was prepared by three statisticians, Edward Wegman, David Scott and Yasmin Said , and its only novel contribution is a social network analysis, which is meant to show that the various independent studies aren’t really independent and that peer review has broken down, since the same group of interlinked academics is reviewing each others’ papers.

Kieran Healy and Eszter Hargittai at Crooked Timber are experts on this stuff, and I’ll be interested to see what they have to say. But in the meantime, I have a couple of observations (feel free to correct errors in my interpretation).
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