What I’ve been reading

Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. I’ve bought a lovely Folio edition of this, and have just got started on it. While I’m not a book fetishist, and am perfectly happy to do most of my reading on screen, the book does embody a great tradition of craft values, which will, I hope, never disappear.

Women in Art

I once doubted that user-produced video would amount to much. This beautiful montage is one of many on YouTube that prove me wrong. (Via Jeff Weintraub, via Norm Geras)

On the other hand, it remains to be seen whether I can make the necessary code work. In the meantime, go here

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.

The Oz loses it

Following the collapse of its delusionist position on climate change, and the manifest failure of the war in Iraq it pushed hard, and with contempt for anyone who warned of the likely results, The Australian had a lot of ground to make up if it was to regain its status as a credible participant in Australian public debate. A straightforward admission of error, unlikely as it ever was, would probably have been the most effective way of achieving this goal. The more traditional route, safe enough in the days before Internet archives would be to change tack and simply forget about past mistakes. It seemed, a week or so ago, that the Oz would go that way.

Instead we’ve had a series of increasingly bizarre editorials, in which the national daily reads as if it is on the losing side in a blogospheric flamewar. The editorial on Saturday (the headline Editorial: Reality bites the psychotic Left gives the drift) made no sense until Clive Hamilton gave the backstory in New Matilda, showing how the Oz did its best to squelch Clive’s justified criticism in Scorcher. The Oz has come back with even sillier responses, such as today’s odd little snark (end of the page)

Although the Oz has been happy to personalise this dispute, demonising Clive and dragging in the usual suspects like Robert Manne for good measure, I’d rather not do so. Quite a few people I’ve generally respected at the Oz have gone way over the top in relation to both global warming and Iraq. My attempts to warn some of them that the paper was in danger of discrediting itself fell on deaf ears.

The problem appears to be institutional rather than individual. On these and other issues, the whole culture of The Australian has become insulate itself from reality in the same way as the US right. Now that reality is rudely obtruding itself, the reaction has been thoroughly counterproductive.

Given the inevitable parochialism of the Sydney and Melbourne Fairfax papers, the narrow focus of the Fin and the poor quality of papers elsewhere, Australia needs a high-quality national daily. The Australian went a fair way towards meeting this need in the past, admittedly with a clearly rightwing orientation. But the last few years have been disastrous, and it’s hard to see how the paper can recover now without a radical shakeup.

More from Tim Dunlop inside the news.com.au tent at blogocracy.

Deluge of Dershowitz

For some reason, Alan Dershowitz has been everywhere I’ve turned lately. Until a few years ago, I knew of him, very vaguely, as a celebrity defence lawyer (OJ Simpsons, IIRC) with the civil libertarian views that generally go with this role. Then after 9/11 he apparently underwent a massive change in views, emerging as a supporter of torture, detention without trial and so on. I remember reviewing a book refuting his (very weak) case for torture. But shmibertarians of this kind are so common I didn’t pay him much mind.

Right now, though, it seems as if I can’t get away from him.
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BrisScience does comets, Stern does climate

I have to admit that comets have been mostly a source of disappointment to me. After waiting thirty-odd years for Halley’s comet and driving far out of town to look for it, I thought I saw a faint smudge on the horizon. Apart from that, there’s been Kohoutek and Hale-Bopp, both more notable for failed apocalyptic prophecies than for lighting up the sky. The lesson, I guess is that if you want to find out about comets, you should find an astronomer who has the proper equipment.

BrisScience is giving you the chance, this Monday 25 June at City Hall, with a lecture by Dr Paul Francis entitled WHAT WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT COMETS (ALMOST ANYTHING!) (details over the fold

For the net couch potatoes among us, Sir Nicholas Stern and other eminent figures (Christian Azar,Bert Bolin, Carl Folke,Karl-Goran Maler, Martin Weitzman, Barbara Wohlfarth) will be discussing climate change, live on the Web if you can work out time difference (it’s form 9am to 12 noon in Stockholm) (via Terry Hughes).
See the lecture on Friday 15th June. (Windows Media Player) mms ://wmedia.it.su.se/Nicholas_Stern

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To Al Gore and the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change for the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. This is the second time the Nobel prizes have honored work on climate change, the first being the award of the 1995 Chemistry Prize to Crutzen, Molina and Sherwood for their discovery of the chemical reactions that led CFCs to deplete the ozone layer.

That award came at an opportune time. Although the world had agreed under the Montreal protocol to phase out CFCs, US Republicans working through the aptly-named DeLay-Doolittle committee were working to undermine it, attacking the science and so on, with the support of a number ofleading delusionists (Sallie Baliunas, Pat Michaels, Fred Singer and others). The Nobel award took the wind out of their sails and most of the “skeptical scientists” involved went very quiet on the issue thereafter. That didn’t stop them using the same tactics and arguments regarding CO2 and global warming.

I hope the 2007 Peace Prize award will have a similar impact. While it’s not a science prize, it would certainly not have been awarded if there was any serious doubt about (rather than politically motivated opposition to) the science of climate change. And it rightly honors Gore’s role in solidifying public opinion on the issue.

Of course, for those inside the Republican bubble of delusion, it will have the opposite impact (since they are opposed to both peace and science, it could hardly do otherwise). But it will certainly have an impact in Australia, leaving those who have been scathing about Gore and the IPCC with (yet more) egg on their faces. Of course, that group includes John Howard who refused to meet Gore last year. Since he seems to be in the mood for changing his tune, he would be well advised to take this opportunity to ratify Kyoto.
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Where does academic freedom end?

This story about the suspension of two QUT academics is very worrying. I haven’t got full details yet, but the story so far is that a graduate student in the QUT Creative Industries faculty* produced, as part of his PhD work, a film entitled Laughing at the Disabled which was supported by some groups advocating for disabled people and criticised others. The two academics. John Hookham and Gary McLennan criticised the film in a confirmation hearing, then in correspondence with the Vice-Chancellor and finally in an article in The Australian, which also made more general criticisms of postmodernism, relativism and so on, including specific criticism of the dominant views at QUT (it seems to be behind the paywall now).The only result was that the title of the film was changed to “Laughing with the Disabled” and the academics were charged with ethics violations, though details don’t appear to be public.

The two have now been suspended without pay for six months, which is virtually dismissal.

This case raises concerns both in relation to academic freedom and as regards the implications for whistleblowing more generally.

update There’s lots of comment on this story all around Ozplogistan, including Andrew Bartlett and Kim at LP. Peter Black gives an excellent summary
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