When good spamcatchers go bad

Akismet, my spam filter, is going a bit wild at present, after a long period when it worked fairly reliably. I’ve rescued six comments from the spam queue just now, but I may well have missed some.

As noted in a previous post, I’ve also become much harder on trolls, so there’s more going to moderation. If you’ve been banned and want to be readmitted on a promise of better behavior in future, you can write to me and ask. If you’ve been banned and you think your previous postings were just fine, post them somewhere else – I’m not interested.

Videoseminar today at ANU

Sorry again for late notice, but I’ll be presenting a video seminar 1pm today at ANU on intergenerational equity. For details contact Ralf Steinhauser on ph: 61 2 6125 4667.

Report: This was a bit of a bleeding edge experience, though it worked OK in the end. The big problem was presenting slides at the same time as video of me talking. ANU was expecting a hardware solution (dual video) while UQ was expecting a software solution (NetMeeting or Bridgit). Fortunately, I had sent the presentation ahead of time, so someone at the ANU end was able to run it for me. But I’ll have to develop a standard procedure for this.

I’ve attached the presentation (in PDF format)here

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One less stupid idea to worry about

The Queensland government has abandoned the idea of piping water from the Burdekin to the Southeast corner. A $350 000 study by GHD concluded that the proposal would be ruinously (as in $14 billion) expensive. I could have told them that for free, just by looking at the studies on Colin’s canal. Still, the Beatty government originally announced plans to spend $3 million on a feasibility study, so the GHD study is a bargain. And the big news is that the proposal is dead, once and for all.

War crimes trials?

It’s not that surprising to read that former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad has called for an international tribunal to try Western leaders with war crimes over the war in Iraq, nominating Bush, Blair and Howard in particular. Mahathir is well-known as a provocateur, with a fondness for extreme statements, which have included anti-Semitic attacks on George Soros and others. So it’s unlikely that anyone will pay much attention to him.

Still, his views on Iraq as a war crime are widely shared. It scarcely seems beyond the bounds of possibility that someone like Baltasar Garzon might find a legal way to file criminal charges (Wikipedia says he’s already threatened a civil suit.

Such charges would have enough factual and legal support to make the outcome unpredictable if they ever came before a tribunal. Apart from the general question of the legality of the war itself, the US in particular has openly denied the applicability of the Geneva Conventions and has engaged in many actions (torture of prisoners, bombing of occupied civilian areas, reprisal attacks of various kinds) that at least arguably violate the Conventions.

On the other hand, the prospect of Bush, or any US official, for that matter, actually standing trial, let alone being convicted or punished, seems unthinkable. The only consistent inference that I can draw from this is that, if charges are ever laid in any jurisdiction, the governments concerned will find a way to abort the process without allowing the substantive issues to come before a court. Since most of the doctrines that might be used to achieve such an outcome (sovereign immunity, non-interference in internal affairs and so on) have already been repudiated, it seems as if such an outcome could only be justified in terms of a bald claim of “reasons of state”.

Are there any legal experts who can help me out here? I have two main questions:

1. Where if at all, might charges be brought against Bush and others?
2. How would the hearing of these charges be prevented?

We shall remember them (reposted from 2005)

On Anzac Day, there are two important things to remember

* Thousands of brave men died at Gallipoli and in the Great War and we should always honour their memory

* The Gallipoli campaign was a bloody and pointless diversionary attack in a bloody and pointless war. Millions were killed over trivial causes that were utterly irrelevant by the time the war ended. The 1914-8 War only paved the way for the even greater horrors of Nazism and Stalinism. Nothing good came of it.

From what I’ve seen of the last surviving Diggers they were fully aware of both of these things. At one time, it seemed possible that, as the generation who fought in the war passed on, we would forget the first of them. Now the danger is that we will forget the second. We should judge as harshly as possible the political and religious leaders who drove millions, mostly young men, to their deaths, and honour the handful who stood out against the War, including Bertrand Russell and Pope Benedict XV.

Keating haters

Throughout the days of the previous government, its media cheer squad denounced anyone who dared to criticise the government as a “Howard-hater”. This seemed to me to be either a silly piece of rhetoric or just plain wrong. To the extent that it was simply a label for anyone who disliked the government’s policies and therefore disliked the government and its leader, it was just a silly piece of hyperbole. A more natural reading is the claim that people who had no particular quarrel with the government’s policies opposed it because of a personal hatred of Howard. This seems to me to be just plain wrong. I don’t think I ever met anyone who liked the government’s policies but strongly disliked Howard himself (by contrast, other government ministers like Abbott and Costello were widely disliked on a personal basis). It’s notable that the only hostile nickname for him that ever really stuck (the Rodent) was due to one of his own backbenchers and didn’t emerge until 2004. The flipside was that very few people loved Howard in the way that many other political leaders have been loved. Liberal supporters stuck to him as long as he won elections, and forgot about him as soon as he lost one.

The only personal hatred that has any real force in Australian politics is hatred of Paul Keating. This emerged very clearly in relation to the 2020 summit but it’s true more generally that Keating has remained an energising figure for right wing culture warriors more than a decade after his departure. Whenever they go on about the chardonnay-sipping or latte-drinking elites it’s patently obvious that this stuff bears no relation to the current generation of Labor leaders. I have no idea what kind of drinks Kevin Rudd or Anna Bligh or any of the others favor, and Rudd is certainly more intellectually cultivated than Keating ever was, but the idea that they are members of some cultural class distinct from the ordinary Australians is patently silly.

Update: I posted this partly completed, there’s more over the fold now
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The flame of nationalism

As the Olympic torch touches down in Australia, it is hard to see how any good can come of the entire exercise.

After Kevin Rudd’s visit to Beijing, which seemed to herald a newly mature relationship between Australia and China, we’ve spent a week or more embroiled in a petty squabble, of a kind which is all too familiar in international relations, over the role of Chinese torch attendants/security guards, with the Australian government insisting that all security will be provided by our police and the Chinese saying that the attendants will “protect the torch with their bodies”.

George Orwell observed over 60 years ago that

Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

and history since then has given plenty of examples. It looks as if the 2008 Olympics will join them.
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RSMG blog back on air

After a period of quiescence, the Risk and Sustainable Management Group blog is back on the air. Some recent posts:

David on Monopoly Buyers and Market Based Instruments looks at the buyback of water from irrigators

David on Aus gets bigger but has funding increased? asks whether the expansion of our territorial waters will be matched by an increase in management capacity. (JQ notes:Certainly the responsible minister, Martin Ferguson, seems concerned only with the possibility of striking oil).

Peggy reports on the International salinity forum

Wander over, read and discuss!