Washington’s Pattern of Military Overreach

That’s the headline for my latest piece in The National Interest. Opening paras:

On October 1, 1950, the forces of a U.S.-led coalition, acting under the authority of a UN resolution, drove the forces of the Korean People’s Army across the 38th parallel and back into North Korea. It was the culmination of a string of stunning military victories.

From the surprise North Korean invasion in June, U.S.-led forces had taken just four months to mount an amphibious landing at Inchon, break out from defensive lines around Pusan and drive the KPA into headlong retreat.

With the North Korean forces routed, the United States was in a position to dictate the terms of peace. Instead (with Russia absent) the United States secured a UN resolution demanding the reunification of Korea. By October 19, U.S. forces had occupied Pyongyang (the first and almost certainly the only time the United States captured a communist capital). Not satisfied with this, General Douglas Macarthur pushed on rapidly. By the end of October, his forces were close to the Yalu River, marking the border with China.

Census crowdsource

I’ve seen a bunch of reports from the census saying that the proportion of Australians reporting “no religion” has increased substantially, to around 22 per cent. I’d be interested to know if this is mainly a cohort effect (non-believing younger generations entering the population) or the result of people who previously reported a religious affiliation switching to reporting none. I’d be surprised if much of it was the result of people abandoning previous religious beliefs, as opposed to nominal affiliations, but I don’t think the data allows a test of this.

I just had a brilliant idea for how to motivate this effort. The first person to give a good answer gets to nominate the next topic for crowdsourcing. As a hint, the ideal way to answer the question would be to compare responses from a given age group in 2006 with the same group, now 5 years older, in 2011, adjusting, if possible for migration effects.

Update: The evidence, collected in the comments threads, suggests that cohort and conversion effects each account for about half of the shift.

The prize goes to David Barry, with honorable mentions to Aldonius and Luke Elford. I’ll give Dave first shot at proposing a new topic (in comments), but also invite suggestions from Luke and Aldonius. Meanwhile, I’m going to suggest something a bit more challenging for crowd-sourcing. If anyone would like to use the data to develop a simple model to project likely changes in stated Census affilations over the next two decades, with a specific focus on the question “When will (Census reported) Christian affilation become a minority response in Australia”, I’ll add a write up and send it as a joint post to The Conversation, the new(ish) academic-focused website.

Climate Change Authority

Some big news (at least for me). I’ve just been appointed as a member of the Climate Change Authority. I was pleasantly surprised by this – although I’m a strong supporter of the carbon price policy, I’ve been highly critical of the current government in other respects.

As regards the blog, the main implication is that I’m going to avoid posting anything that might constrain me as a member of the Authority (for example, views on policy issues) and also avoid polemical statements about climate issues. I’ll still post relevant information on the topic, and welcome debate in the comments section, but I won’t take an active part myself.

Pounds of flesh

In kindly sponsoring my effort in the Noosa Triathlon, where I’m supporting HeartKids (click on the button at the right to help) long-time commenter Jack Strocchi made a demand for a “pound of flesh” in return. Sad to say, I’m going to shortchange him. Based on past performance I expect to burn about 2500 calories (or about 10 Megajoules, just to make life hard for some of the computationally-challenged media figures we’ve been poking fun at lately). That corresponds to about 10 ounces (300g) of fat, most of which will be replaced in advance with a big pasta meal the night before the race. Of course, if I allow fluid loss, and weigh in just after the race, it will be more like 2kg.

One of the side benefits of taking up exercise is that I can now do all sorts of conversions of this kind. For example, a glass of red wine is about 150 calories (600 kJ)[1], and running uses about 75cals/km[2] so I have to run 2k to burn it, which seems like a fair deal. By contrast, despite their healthy image, a typical muffin is about 450cal/6km, definitely not worth it to me.

Perhaps I’m a bit too obsessed with numbers. But on matters of this kind, I’m with Lord Kelvin who observed

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.

Update A fun theoretical observation that just came to me, and which I don’t remember seeing anywhere else. It’s obvious and well known that, the heavier you are, the more energy you need just to move yourself about. In fact, a 50 per cent increase in body weight implies a 25 per cent increase in the energy intake needed to sustain a given level of activity (try this calculator). What this means is that there is a linearly increasing relationship between body weight and the energy intake consistent with maintaining that weight. Turning that around, any given energy intake is consistent with a unique stable weight, for given activity level. So, whatever your starting point, if you eat the amount consistent with your target weight, and change nothing else, you will end up there, sooner or later.

fn1. A "standard drink" is more like 100, but that's a small glass. If you are keeping count for driving purposes, two drinks of any kind usually amount to three standard drinks.

fn2. Surprisingly, so does walking. Energy consumption is determined mainly by distance travelled and body mass – the speed at which you go affects the rate of energy use, but not (much) the total over a given distance.

Oz out by a factor of 20

Today’s Oz runs the headline, “Carbon tax pushes Brisbane City Council rates up 40pc“, which, as a Brisbane ratepayer, I would have found alarming, if it had been printed in a newspaper, rather than a Murdoch rag. The story, bylined by Rosanne Barrett, reveals that the true number, according to Liberal Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, is 1.8 per cent[1], out of a total increase of 4.5 per cent. Blame for the ludicrous error must be shared between Barrett, who tried a beatup in her opening line, saying “AUSTRALIA’S biggest council has blamed the carbon tax for almost 40 per cent of its rates increase next financial year” and the Oz subeditor, who, not surprisingly, translated that into a 40 per cent increase in rates, not 40 per cent of a 4.5 per cent increase.

Update The headline has been (silently) corrected to read “Carbon tax helps push Brisbane City Council rates up $55”. Good to see the Oz reads me, though not, as a rule, vice versa. I picked the story up from the Making Environmental News digest service, to which you can subscribe here.

fn1. The numbers are disputed by the Labor Opposition.

Fundraiser update

Thanks to some generous donations, we reached the $500 target over the weekend, though the display is not updating (at least for me). As promised, I’ve put in $500, and Flavio has done the same. With some additional donations we’re now over $1600. It would be great if we could make the $4000 target before the end of the financial year.

In front of the world?

Coincidentally, Australia’s carbon price will come into effect on the same day, 1 July, as the new feed-in tariffs for solar PV, wind and other renewable adopted in Japan as part of the response to the Fukushima disaster[1]. The tariffs are incredibly generous (around 50c/kwh on a net feed-in basis) and supposedly guaranteed for 20 years. I can’t see it lasting that long, but it will certainly make Japan one of the world’s biggest markets for renewables, having installed almost none until now. China has also adopted feed-in tariffs, but at more realistic prices around 20c/Kwh. These policies will ensure continuation of the spectacular growth in installations of renewable energy and the associated reductions in costs.

What does this make of the claim that Australia is moving ahead the rest of the world with the carbon price policy. There’s a sense in which it’s true – our experience with MRET and various state-level policies have shown that these are second-best options compared to a comprehensive carbon price. The Europeans can teach the same lesson, but it seems as if everyone has to learn it for themselves.

But the belief among economic doomsayers that we are the only country doing anything about this is just nonsense. Even in the US, where nothing can be done through legislation thanks to Republican delusionists, a combination of regulation and low gas prices is leading coal-fired power plants to shut down at a rapid rate.

At this point, the global choice is not between doing nothing and doing something. It’s between sensible market-based policies and costly second-best options, of which the worst is the “direct action” in which Tony Abbott claims to believe.

fn1. Two nuclear plants are also to be restarted, and presumably most of the rest will follow eventually. The government still wants to build more,