Love Libraries

As well as being Valentine’s Day, today is Library Lovers Day.

Libraries are one of the great institutions of our society, and the public library was the first great manifestation of the idea that ‘information wants to be free’.

These days, I do most of my library use online, and physical visits to libraries are more of a consumption experience. It’s great to browse through stacks of books and enjoy the odd contiguities created by cataloging systems – in my experience, Dewey has a particularly large random element. Of course, the Internets have their own versions of this kind of thing, but the magic of the stacks is still there.

A really great experience not long ago was touring the New York Public Library, one of the great public libraries of the world, which benefits hugely from endowments provided by once-poor migrants who got their education in its reading rooms. Over the fold, there’s a picture of one of its treasures, a Gutenberg bible (it turned out I wasn’t really supposed to photograph it, but I wasn’t asked to delete the photo so I assume it’s OK to share it in the general spirit of library love).
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Warning the Czar (cross-posted from Crooked Timber)

Australian news rarely makes it out of the sporting pages internationally (and we’re not looking too good there just now) so it’s pretty exciting for us to make into New York Times coverage of the presidential election campaign. The occasion is a statement by our prime minister, John Howard, to the effect that a vote for the Democrats, and in particular for Barack Obama, would be a vote for Al Qaeda*.

This is not the first time an Australian political leader has commented on the choices available to US electors. A few years ago, then Opposition leader Mark Latham described Bush as ‘incompetent and dangerous’, but this accurate observation did not seem to have much effect in the 2004 US election campaign and probably contributed to Latham’s defeat in the Australian election the same year.

Latham was well known as a loose cannon, and this kind of remark was in character, but Howard has generally been seen as the embodiment of cautious solidity. As far as US politics go, he’s generally been seen as an advocate of unconditional support for US policy, regardless of the political colour of the Administration. He’s been very happy to cash in on his close relationship with Bush, but he was quite keen enough for photo-ops with Clinton. So what possessed him to take a high-risk, low return line like this ?
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Water paper for CEDA

Just before Xmas, I wrote a paper for CEDA about water policy, with themes I and others have been writing on for some time, including the need to repurchase irrigation water rights for urban use and environmental flows, and some sceptical comments about the idea of a Federal takeover of water (then being pushed by Peter Costello, IIRC).

CEDA released the paper today (I did a briefing last week) and it’s had a fair bit of coverage (at least by comparison with most stuff I put out), including a nice mention from Andrew Leigh. I’ve posted the PDF over the fold. Comments appreciated.
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There goes that idea

I was thinking yesterday about a column for the Fin, on the subject of personal relationships between Australian PMs and overseas leaders (prime examples being Keating-Suharto and Howard-Bush) and arguing that such relationships weren’t in our long-term interest since they create a risk of conflict with the domestic opponents of the leaders concerned, who may themselves be in power in the future.

Somehow I suspect that, by the time my column runs on Thursday, that idea will look rather old-hat.

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.

Bush a byword

Driving in Brisbane the other day, I noticed an ad for, claiming their website was so easy anyone could use it. This was illustrated by a picture of George W. Bush, looking mystified by a laptop.

It’s striking that the advertisers thought no potential customers (or not enough to matter) would be put off by the assumption that the leader of the free world is a byword for stupidity.* This in turn raises the question of why the Australian government remains so supinely obedient to this lame duck, over Iraq, Kyoto, the Hicks case and so on.

* Strictly speaking, Bush isn’t stupid. He’s shown himself to be quite sharp in the pursuit of his own short term interests and those of his backers. But he’s ignorant, narrow-minded, intellectually lazy and unwilling to learn from experience, a combination that produces reliably stupid policy decisions.

Found not guilty, sentenced to life imprisonment ?

Now that charges have finally been filed against David Hicks, it occurred to me to wonder what would happen if the trial proceeds and he is acquitted. The answer, it appears, is nothing. More precisely, if acquitted, Hicks will go back to Guantanamo Bay unless and until the US Administration chooses to release him.

That at least was the situation in 2002 according to this article by Ronald Dworkin, stating that the Pentagon reserves the right to hold detainees indefinitely, regardless of the trial outcome. And a group of Chinese Uighurs were held at Guantanamo for more than a year after military review panels had determined that they were not enemy combatants. This Wikipedia article includes a statement by Rumsfeld to the same effect.

Maybe this has been changed by the legislation passed last year. But if so, I can’t find any evidence to this effect. In fact, by removing any rights for aliens declared as enemy combatants by the Administration, the Military Commissions Act appears to confirm the power claimed by Rumsfeld to hold Hicks (or any non-citizen) without any resort to habeas corpus and regardless of any trial outcome.

Science Wars: The Battle of Five Armies

Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science has joined forces with Alan Sokal, scourge of leftwing relativism and pseudoscience, in an LA Times op-ed piece on the current state of the Science Wars.

As Mooney and Sokal note, the decline of antiscience views on the left

frees up defenders of science to combat the enemy on our other flank: an unholy (and uneasy) alliance of economically driven attacks on science (on issues such as global climate change, mercury pollution and what constitutes a good diet) and theologically impelled ones (in areas such as evolution, reproductive health and embryonic stem cell research).

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