It’s time once again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language.Slipstream divx
Month: February 2009
My column from yesterday’s Fin is over the fold
Recycling in a digital world
download It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive
The observation that most of the falsehoods in George Will’s notorious Washington Post column on global warming have appeared in many previous columns, some going back as far as 1992, raises some interesting questions. The obvious ones like “How does this guy justify getting paid” and “Why is this paper still being published” have already been asked, so I thought I’d look a bit more at the question of recycling.
As an opinion columnist, I certainly repeat arguments from time to time, and make no apology for doing so. There’s a lot of noise out there and if you want to be heard, you have to push your viewpoint reasonably hard. At the same time, I try pretty hard not to say the same thing in the same way more than once (at least without acknowledging that I’m doing so), and to update my arguments in the light of new evidence. I may not always succeed, but I don’t think I’ve ever sent the Fin anything as thoroughly dog-eared as Will’s piece (and this is only one of a dozen or more iterations).
To repeat the same tired collection of second-hand talking points decade after decade displays not only intellectual dishonesty but a basic lack of craft values. As an academic, I’m of course more upset about the first, but as an opinion columnist I’m almost as annoyed about the second. As Chris Mooney says, this guy isn’t even phoning it in, and yet he’s regarded as a star.
Will’s talking point “they were predicting an ice age in the 1970s” might have been reasonable back in 1992, considered as a suggestion that we should not jump to conclusions on the basis of limited evidence and analysis. But the factual basis of the claim has long since been shown to be worse than dubious, and after four IPCC reports and thousands of scientific papers, the case for anthropogenic global warming rests on much more evidence than some tentative papers and a few shock headlines in newsmagazines.
Moreover, the switch from newsprint to digital publication has changed things in a couple of important ways. On the one hand, self-plagiarism is now much easier to detect. Anyone with Google can check you it. On the other hand, the justification for repetition is much more limited. When yesterdays brilliant insights lined today’s bird cage, you could be forgiven for repeating them a few months later, for readers who might have missed them the first time. But now that every column is preserved for ever, there’s much less need. And when your column consists largely of a string of tattered talking points that anyone who wants to can already find on the Internet, it has very little justification for existing.
Someone should tell this guy about Godwin’s Law
As if it wasn’t already embarrassing enough to be a rightwinger, here’s Dennis Jensen.
Update Judging by the comments, rightwingers are pretty hard to embarrass (after eight years of Bush, and the complete collapse of their economic ideology, I guess this isn’t so surprising). No-one from the dexter side has showed any inclination to disown Jensen as a crackpot and a goodly number have solemnly refuted the jocular suggestion that a PhD in ceramics might be a little cracked.
When a car swerves sharply to avoid an obstacle, anything unsecured inside it continues travelling in its original direction, often with unfortunate consequences. We can see something similar happening with the Rudd government’s fiscal policy. The $42 billion stimulus package is as sharp a swerve as you can imagine, justified by the correct expectation that private investment and consumption demand, along with export demand, is about to collapse, leaving government to fill the gap.
Yet the noises coming out of the Budget process suggest that no one has even noticed this. Lindsay Tanner is still talking about spending cuts, as if the emergency measures of the last week can be put into reverse in only a few months time.
And, despite the disappearance of the forward surpluses that were to pay for them, and of any possible economic rationale for aiding high income earners, the government is still promising to proceed with the tax cuts promised in the utterly different world of 2007. Unlike many economists, I supported the government’s delivery of the first-stage tax cuts, on the basis that, while they were bad policy, nothing had changed since the election to justify repudiating a promise. But now, everything has changed. Like Ross Gittins, I hope the government will summon up the courage to say that tax cuts are off the agenda for the foreseeable future.
I spell out the rationale for this a bit more over the fold
Taking Penny Wong at her word
I watched Penny Wong on the 7:30 report defending the government’s emissions trading scheme against the criticism, made here and elsewhere, that initiatives such as the government’s home insulation scheme will have no effect except to reduce the price of permits and therefore the costs faced by large emitters. She did a very professional job, neither denying the criticism (which she couldn’t honestly do) nor conceding its validity.
In a long interview, she made only one substantive point, which has also been made elsewhere. By reducing the cost of reaching an emissions target, initiatives like the insulation scheme will make it easier for the government to set more ambitious targets.
I’m happy to take her at her word. The policy debate leading up to the choice of a 5/15 target was undertaken before the full severity of the financial crisis and the need for a $42 billion stimulus became apparent. So, having introduced a new measure to reduce emissions, the government is already in a position to tighten the target by an amount equal to the emissions saved.
If the package is passed unamended, there won’t be another opportunity until 2020, at least without hugely increased competition. So, I’m waiting eagerly for the announcement.
Exciting news from Glenn Milne
Apparently cut off the Costello drip, Glenn Milne breathlessly publishes some startling news from Sydney
Bound by Honor ipod . According to his anonymous source:
* The current leader of the NSW Right is trying to secure absolute control over the faction and crush his rivals
* The current leader of the NSW Right is keen to diminish the power of the Victorian Left.
In more breaking news, the traffic in Sydney is bad, but the beaches are great.
Washington Post: Opinions differ on shape of earth
In one sense, the blogosphere has reached a near-universal consensus on climate change. Everyone who follows the issue at all closely agrees that there is no real debate. Instead, it’s generally agreed, we have a situation where (1) a large body of people devoted to serious scientific research on one side is confronted by (2) pushers of silly Internet talking points who are ideologically motivated, financially driven or just plain delusional . The only disagreement is which group is which. Is group (1):
* The Australian Academy of Science, all other similar organisations and the vast majority of active climate scientists;
or is it
* The 650 “sceptical scientists” identified by Marc Morano (aide to US Senator Inhofe) including such Australian luminaries as David Evans, Louis Hissink, Warwick Hughes and Jennifer Marohasy (Morano’s list includes numerous genuine scientists whose views he has misreprented
but he’s right to include all those I’ve mentioned )
Broadly speaking, for anyone from politically left or centrist blogs the first answer is correct, and for anyone from the political right, the second answer is correct. As far as the mainstream media is concerned, Fox News, the Australian and some other outlets know where they stand.
But for establishment outlets like the Washington Post, the idea that either (nearly) all scientists or (nearly) all right-of-centre politicans and commentators are liars/hacks/self-deluded is rather hard to accept. So we get episodes like this one. (via Tim Lambert)
News from the Sunshine State
Two big news items from Queensland in the last 24 hours. Standard & Poors has downgraded the State’s credit rating to AA+ and Anna Bligh has called an early election.
The fact that these two events happened in this order is striking. Until six months ago, a government that had been downgraded in this way would be holding off an election until the last possible day in the hope of burying the bad news, or else would have gone early, before releasing the bad budget news that triggered the downgrade. Now, the government calculates:
* Everyone knows that the state’s finances are a lot weaker than they looked six months ago, and that this has very little to do with the government
* No-one who has been watching the news could possibly place any weight on ratings issued by Standard & Poors (or Moodys – Fitch has been marginally better). If credit rating agencies were subject to election, or to any kind of proper market test, these guys would be out of business. The fact that they aren’t is yet another indication that the global financial sector is in need of reform far more drastic than has been contemplated so far
* The policies ‘demanded’ by S&P to keep the rating (drastic cuts in infrastructure spending) would have been economically disastrous
Coming to the election itself, the uncertainties created by the global financial crisis are such that I’m not going to venture a prediction. Overall, the government has done a reasonable job, but not a great one, and it remains to be seen whether the cumulative impact the ethical troubles of numerous ministers, ex-ministers and backbenchers over the years will come back to haunt them. There are also a bunch of policy decisions (including some good ones, like fluoridation, and not-so-good ones like chickening out on water recycling) that need to be taken into account. And it remains unclear how much progress has been made, and perceived, in fixing the health system. The government’s performance on indigenous issues has been lamentable, but that probably won’t cost them many seats.
On the other side, the opposition moved from being unelectable to conceivably electable with the merger that created the Liberal National Party. But they remain deeply unimpressive. This election will be won, or lost, by Labor.
Hewson hits the mark
John Hewson’s public denunciation of Peter Costello “‘Lazy, disloyal, no balls, unelectable'” is one of the more effective examples of the genre I’ve seen*. At least, it is for me, since it’s exactly consistent with my own judgement. Money quote
I also doubt you have the skills, experience or self-confidence to have accepted the obvious job after losing the last election, namely shadow treasurer. You’d be lost without Treasury. You may have delivered 11 budgets but ask yourself honestly how many of them were actually yours, rather than Treasury’s. I am told Treasury is now drawing a sharp contrast between your little interest and involvement and that of Wayne Swan.
And Hewson gets in a very effective jab at Howard along the way
Both sides of politics know from painful experience that disunity is death- although, like you I’m sure, I found it a bit galling to hear Howard now saying so, having been disloyal to every leader he ever worked for.
* It would have been more effective without the gratuitous reference to testosterone, which doesn’t at all suit an academic/finance type like Hewson.