Politics et al:

Bob Cole writes: Re. “Abbott’s Night at the Museum keeps the focus on the Libs” (yesterday, item 2). As I have previously indicated, if Tony Abbott sought out the cream of opinion from Liberal and National leaders from the past, Howard,  Costello and the other party dish lickers and this is the best they can do for a opposition front bench, then they deserve to be in opposition for the next parliament as well. Whether Rudd works or fails will be immaterial as Abbott and his team continue to lose creditability.

The one thing that Turnbull showed and that these duds don’t have is the balls of their convictions. He at least right or wrong, he did state and believe in the things he promoted.

Abbott has never and will not ever be a leader of this country — Australians are far too wise for that.

Ignaz Amrein writes: Here’s a conspiracy theory. Tony Abbott got recruited by Kevin Rudd to guarantee a Labor win at the next election, he will then join the Labor Party and replace Julia Gillard as Deputy Prime Minister. Being a committed Catholic, Tony Abbott has no problem at all to lie and cheat, he’ll go to confession when the deed is done and all is forgiven.

Craig Shulman writes: Firstly, as a relatively new follower, I must say I appreciate the non-mainstream yet mostly sensible coverage you provide for Australian news. Notably, I’ve been enjoying following your readers’ comments on the fall of Malcolm Turnbull, and after being reminded by Prospect Magazine of David Cameron’s moving Britain’s political right away from individualism that has been especially championed by free market philosophy in recent decades.

While I doubt that Turnbull would be as willing to go “wet”, Turnbull’s concern for social issues seems strikingly progressive compared to Abbott’s economic prioritization and knee-jerk traditionalism.

If Turnbull has an opportunity for leadership of the Liberal party again, I would suggest that he should reframe the Liberal’s priorities in a similar manner to Cameron; because, let’s face it — it’s working, and resembles a centralisation of policies from the left and right indicating an inevitability of movement that Commonwealth politics historically has shown.

John Shailer writes: Kevin Rudd has resurrected Ros Kelly’s whiteboard from the Keating broom cupboard, and is turning pork-barrelling into an art form. 71% of February’s job’s (slush) fund of $132m has been allocated with gay abandon to mostly marginal Labor electorates, and only 17% to  Coalition seats — lots more Julia Gillard style memorial plaques and opening ceremonies coming up before the next election!

Kevin is telling us that in approving these projects, everything was fair, square, and above board.  He obviously thinks we all still believe in the tooth fairy!


Angus Sharpe writes: Re. “No sympathy for British w-nkers … err bankers” (yesterday, item 19).

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called ‘The Pledge’. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t.” — The Prestige

I agree with Glenn Dyer.  All people who work in banks are indeed w-ankers.  Bankers are w-nkers. Hey, it even rhymes.  Isn’t that clever.  But why only slap a 50% tax on their bonuses?  Why not a 150% tax.  Or a 1050% tax.

“The second act is called ‘The Turn’. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.” — The Prestige

That is definitely a focused way to teach the banks to manage risk in the future.  The credit crunch is all the fault of the individual bank employees.  And the credit crunch has nothing to do with the failure of government oversight. So let’s go further.

“I’m gonna get medieval on your ass” — Pulp Fiction

I say put the bankers in the stocks.  Hang, draw, and quarter them.  Even the bank workers who have nothing to do with derivatives, sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps.

“I’m not finished. Before we let you leave, your commander must cross that field, present himself before this army, put his head between his legs, and kiss his own arse.” — Braveheart

And once we have punished all bank employees who get bonuses, everything will be fixed.  Do we all feel better now?

Conrad ‘Connie’ Brean: “What’s the thing people remember about the Gulf War? A bomb falling down a chimney. Let me tell you something: I was in the building where we filmed that with a 10-inch model made out of Lego.”

Stanley Motss: “Is that true?”

Conrad ‘Connie’ Brean: “Who the hell’s to say?”

— Wag the Dog

This banker bonus tax won’t help with the pain caused by the credit crunch.  It won’t help ensure that banks manage risk better in the future.  Gordon Brown has (and we have) just found an easy target for his mismanagement.  Found an easy form of misdirection.  A happy distraction.  Fire and motion instead of working towards fixing the financial mess caused by the banks.  Shouldn’t we instead try to fix the failure of regulatory oversight?

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist” — The Usual Suspects

The banks have not changed.  The risks have not changed.  Financial crises will happen again.  But hey.  Look over there.  A puppy!  It’s cute!

“But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call ‘The Prestige’.” — The Prestige

Victoria’s incorrect maps:

Jane Burke writes: Re. “Vic government goes missing on bushfire maps” (yesterday, item 1). Right. Blairgowrie map shows a “wharf” near Hughes Rd and Point Nepean Road intersection. What is the green square symbol at the same location? Cannot find it on the key. That’s actually Camerons Bight Boat Club Jetty. And PN Road with arrow — what does that mean … it points to a private road?

As there are numerous built structures on the coast here  i.e. jetties, wharfs, yacht club slips it is of no assistance to name them generically. Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron and marina not identified when it is a major landmark and a possible pick up point for people accessing marine craft.  In an emergency situation you need to be able to recognise your position when you are driving along Point Nepean Road in the dark.

Your bloggers are right, people who live near the coast will make for the beach if there is wildfire going rather than sit in gridlock on inadequate roads. Where the words Koonya Beach appear, that should be Camerons Bight. I checked all this in my old 1996 Melways … way more accurate!

Andrew Owens writes: “Cockerton confirmed that some data was up to five years old and that other maps including Melway sometimes contained fresher information due to direct site visits by cartographic staff.”

I have a 1995 Melway and map 167 (Koonya Ocean Beach) is exactly the same as my 2007 one. The “Stiggant Reserve” error appears in my 1995 and 2001 but not my 2003 one. So it would seem they’re a lot more out of date than five years.

Birth of Australian democracy:

James McDonald writes: Shirley Colless wrote (Wednesday, comments):

It is an historical miracle and mystery that Australia did in fact lead the English-speaking world in the development of a democratic parliamentary system, of a unionised workforce and of advances in public education for all children; but whether these came out of any sense of individual or national enlightenment rather than a pragmatic attempt to climb the economic and social ladder is debatable.

A recent book by Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom, draws together what we know about the development of liberalism and its related institution democracy, into a clearer perspective than we’ve ever had before. While the book doesn’t talk about Australia, it reveals enough patterns to make 19th century Australia a logical stage for its pioneering liberal democracies.

First, like America we inherited the ideas and institutions of the country that first formalised liberal theory. French and Spanish colonies have done poorly by comparison. The notion and the design of separated and limited powers, and of the freedom of individuals, were here from the start.

Second, also like America, Australia did not have any feudal order to dismantle. Land ownership was (taken to be) tabula rasa. These aren’t sufficient. The third and decisive factor is the economy. Zakaria draws on a 1997 study by Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi, which links per capita income in a country implementing democracy, to its chance of succeeding. (“Modernisation: Theories and Facts”, World Politics, 49, no. 2, Jan 1997.)

Zakaria summarises:

…in a democratic country that has a per capita income of under $1,500 (in today’s dollars), the regime on average had a life expectancy of just eight years. With between $1,500 and $3,000 it survived on average for about eighteen years. Above $6,000 it became highly resilient. The chance that a democratic regime would die in a country with an income above $6,000 was one in 500.

Once rich, democracies become immortal. Thirty-two democratic regimes have existed at incomes above roughly $9,000 for a combined total of 736 years. Not one has died. By contrast, of the 69 democratic regimes that were poorer, 39 failed – a death rate of 56 per cent … This … holds true even going back in history.” (pp 69-70)

According to Tim Harcourt, Chief Economist for the Australian Trade Commission, Australians were “the richest people in the world in 1860”.

Buzzled Bligh?:

Robert Bromwich  writes: The proposed listing of QR-National on the stock exchange has caused some reminisces about another listing that provides some salutary, quite possibly unwelcome, lessons for Anna Bligh, Andrew Fraser and Rachel Nolan.  The actions of these three provide, so far at least, remarkable parallels  to this technology listing.

First, some background.  During 1999, six Apple-branded computer dealerships decided to merge forces and list on the ASX to capitalise on the mania surrounding the technology bubble.  As with any merger and listing process, competing interests were at play.

At least one dealer wanted out of the industry for retirement purposes, at least one other dealer played fuzzy figures during the due diligence process, overstating the worth of the individual dealership to the merged entity and mutual suspicions over participants true motives plagued the entire process, resulting in one dealer withdrawing during the last stages of the process.  Even the name of the company — Buzzle — caused consternation and trouble.

Buzzle was aiming to list during the December quarter of calendar year 1999.  However, the internal problems described above delayed the IPO until the first quarter of calendar year 2000.  The technology crash (as part of a broader stock market decline), coupled with intransigence of Apple Inc over licensing issues, the introduction of the GST regime and the consequent softness of consumer sentiment until mid year, all influenced the ultimate destruction of the IPO.

The end result was that the individual businesses were wither divested to their respective owners at a substantive discount to their pre-float value or dissolved.  The episode also introduced a new word — Buzzled — to describe the loss of a business as part of the privatisation process.

If Bligh, Fraser and Nolan do nothing else on the QR-National privatisation issue, viewing the 2001 ABC documentary Going Public would serve to highlight the pitfalls of over-hyping a business to the market and potential investors.  Unexpected events do tend to happen in capital markets resulting in bruised ego and shredded reputations.


Neil James, Executive Director, Australia Defence Association, writes: Mike Crook (yesterday, comments) must have read a different letter to the one I wrote because his attempted criticisms revolve around things I did not say and his whole comment is based on putting mythical words in my mouth and various red herrings.

He simply ignores my main point about the practical ineffectiveness of the UN in stopping wars being because of politics rather than international law. Mike then trots out various myths and ideological positions, most of them thoroughly intertwined.

First, whatever the rights and wrongs of the 2003-2009 Iraq War, and whatever the (highly disputed) total casualty figures are, no serious study of the situation disputes that most of the Iraqis killed have been killed by other Iraqis not Coalition forces as Mike wrongly claims. Moreover, having served in Iraq with the UN during the Saddam Hussein dictatorship it was always clear to me (and most of my colleagues) that the regime would inevitably fall one day and that whenever or however this occurred there would be a major bloodbath as Iraqis of various religious, ethnic and political allegiances sought to settle decades of old scores going back to the early 1960s at least.

While not seeking to justify the 2003 US-led intervention one way or the other on the grounds of regime change, it has surely been clearly beneficial for Iraqis for the inevitable Iraqi internal strife to be ameliorated, to some degree, by a multinational military, political and legal presence rather than just let them get stuck into each other without international constraints.

This is why the multinational force in Iraq, after the intervention at least, has been fully UN-endorsed, fully legal under international law and why the UN and the Red Cross (when not bombed out of Iraq by extremists) have put so much political and moral effort into the rebuilding of Iraqi civil society. Attributing the tragedy of Iraq to just the US-led intervention is simply myopic in both moral and factual terms.

Second, the Taliban was created by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in the mid 1990s long after the US had stopped supporting any of the Afghan Mujahedeen groups that had opposed the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Whatever the faults of the USA in Afghanistan or elsewhere it is simply ridiculous to try and pin the formation of the Taliban (or indeed Al Qa’eda) on the Americans because the facts, timelines and commonsense are all against you.

Furthermore, the US only resumed support for the Northern Alliance (then recognised by the UN as the legitimate government of Afghanistan)  after the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington that were planned, directed, financed from Al Qa’eda sanctuaries in Afghan territory controlled and protected by the Taliban. Hence the full UN-endorsement for the 2001 US-led intervention in Afghanistan, and its indisputable legality, from the start (and the participation by 44 UN members).

Finally, as a national, community-based, non-partisan, public-interest guardian organisation the ADA’s members are those Australians from all walks of life who believe Australia should be adequately defended externally and adequately secure internally. And that a vibrant and informed public debate about such issues — not complacency, wishful thinking and ideological posturing — is a vital part of our democratic processes and way of life.

Why Mike oddly thinks that ADA members are somehow responsible for various wars throughout the world over the last half century is ill-informed at best and frankly quite bizarre.

Murdoch and journalism:

Mike Smith writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Crikey asked; “If journalism needs to be saved, is Rupert Murdoch the right person to save it? ” As in the village in Vietnam, if Rupert Murdoch saves journalism, he’ll end up destroying it.

Latte watch:

Tony Barrell writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). I was delighted to see that a noted right wing commentator quoted in the UK Guardian has revived the lost art of “latte-slurping” to vilify people who sit outside coffee bars wearing black — or rather the whole damned “mung-bean-flavoured-tofu-eating, latte-slurping political/academic/media class”.

Thank god I know who I am again — and needed too!


Bruce Hogben writes: Re. Buster Hogan’s “strong suspicion” (yesterday, comments) that the pollution photographed from our cruise ship between Exmouth and the Gulf of Carpentaria is “false coral spawn” rather than the aftermath of the 10-week oil rig leak in the Timor Sea that, by the rig owner’s admission, released almost six million litres of oil into our northern waters (sceptics suggest it was much more).

Buster’s theory is interesting, but not convincing. The photographs speak for themselves and are available to anyone, though with Internet access on Dawn Princess costing me 50 cents a minute, you may have to wait until I return home on December 17.

Any email to [email protected] will be answered.

Tiger (the golfer not the airline):

John Taylor writes: I think I’ve heard or read all the Tiger jokes over the last few days and I have to say that not one of them is funny in the way of being new or fresh. After much thought I put this down to there being no new golf jokes for at least 50 years. I’ve heard them all. Am I wrong? If I am tell me a new golf joke. Betcha can’t!

Climate change:

Matt Andrews writes: Tamas Calderwood (yesterday, comments) tries shifting the goalposts back to 1870, or to start with the giant El Nino spike of 1998, anywhere to avoid acknowledging the current underlying warming trend.

Given that we have long term records and trends, it is simple intellectual dishonesty to throw away everything before 1998, and to treat 1998 (the strongest El Nino in a century) as if it was a meaningful reference point.

The current period of warming, where anthropogenic greenhouse gas increases have been the dominant factor in temperature change, started around 1970; while human greenhouse gas emissions were a factor in warming for many decades before that, other significant factors (“forcings”) were at play — notably the growth in sulphate aerosols and a strengthening of solar radiation earlier last century.

Since the current warming period started around 1970, and the underlying trend has been steady since then, with other factors such as solar radiation and sulphate aerosols not changing substantially, it makes sense (when considering what is likely to happen in coming decades) to look at the time period since 1970 as our reference.

Tamas would do well to refer to the definition of the word “climate”.  To over-simplify, it’s the long term average of the weather — where long term is defined as at least 30 years.  As professional statisticians found in a blind-test analysis of temperature records [pdf], the recent natural variability (e.g. since 1998) is no different from earlier natural variability — all are consistent with the underlying warming trend of around 0.2 degrees per decade.  In other words, it makes no sense to look at just a few years or a decade when trying to analyse the underlying trend.

I don’t think anyone summarises this better than Tamino (professional mathematician) in his short article “Riddle Me This“.

Geoff Russell writes: Tamas, explaining where you are wrong is easy (but tedious because you average more mistakes per sentence than I thought possible).
For the record, neither Matt nor I said the planet had cooled since 1998, we said its peak hadn’t passed its 1998 peak. On average, as the met offices around the world are confirming, it has continued to get warmer.

Here’s something that you might understand. Imagine a summer with every day being 33 degrees except for one day which is 48. The next year we have a summer with every day being 37 degrees except one day which is 45 degrees.  Which is the hotter summer?  You would obviously say the first, and everyone else in the world would say the second.

Clothes don’t maketh the man and peaks don’t maketh the temperature.

Jim Ivins writes: On Tuesday, Tamas Calderwood claimed that Earth cannot be “receiving more energy than it is emitting” (i.e. heating up) because this “would breach the first law of thermodynamics”.  Let’s assume that Tamas is correct (a big assumption).  He then goes on to argue that the Earth is in fact “emitting more energy than it is receiving” (i.e. cooling down).

The phrase “total bollocks” springs to mind.  Why?  Because he can’t have it both ways.  Either the energy conservation principal applies both to heating and cooling planets, or it applies to neither.  (In fact, neither process would violate the conservation principle if the energy gained or lost was accounted for — e.g. by greenhouse gasses trapping more solar radiation to warm the planet, or by a change in planetary albedo causing more sunlight to be reflected into space during a nuclear winter.)

So Tamas threw in the high school physics to make his argument seem more credible.  But in doing so, he got it wrong, and shot himself in the foot so to speak.

I think this is what literary types call Situational Irony.  Cue Alanis Morissette..

Nigel Brunel writes: Pascal’s wager is actually defensible when talking about climate change Tamas — unlike religion where we only find out when we are dead if god is real — in this particular instance — there is no planet B.

I think we should get off the subject of whether AGW is real or not because it’s clear to me that it’s an 80/20 argument — we will continue to go around in circles arguing while a little planet waits.

In about 50 years–– there will be nearly 9 billion humans aboard this little spaceship — we MUST change our energy use otherwise — we will continue to pollute the only cradle of humanity we have ever known and if we still rely on fossil fuels — oil will be trading closer to $500 a barrel not $100.

Wake up and sniff the carbon Australia — we actually have been presented a great opportunity to reengineer the world.

The risk on doing nothing FAR outweighs the cost of doing something.

John Kotsopoulos writes: Tamas Calderwood you reckon the majority of Australians would back you against NASA which has reconfirmed it views on global warming as recently as this week on Lateline?  You are kidding yourself  buddy.

Tony Nagy writes: Re. Steven Evans (yesterday, comments). You have to be a bit cautious with this stuff because there are many critics of the theory of global warming who argue that global warming is basically a phenomenon caused by urban heat sinks, hence it’s not a real global problem and these higher urban temperatures distort the data.

By contrasting urban and rural temperatures they are able to show that there are definitely increased temperatures in larger urban centres over rural centres — all quite true, as far as it goes….

But as Jim Hansen, who kicked off the whole climate change debate in the 80s and operates the Goddard Institute at NASA, said the other night on Lateline when quizzed by Tony Jones on this point:

TONY JONES: Okay, can you tell us how the Goddard Institute takes and adjusts these global temperatures because sceptics claim that urban heat centres make a huge difference; that they distort global temperatures and they make it appear hotter that it really is.

So do you adjust, in your figures, for the urban heat zone effects?

JAMES HANSEN: We get data from three different sources and we now, in order to avoid criticisms from contrarians, we no longer make an adjustment. Even if we see there are eight stations in Alaska and seven of them have temperatures in the minus 30s and one of them says plus 35, which pretty obvious what happens, someone didn’t put the minus sign there, we just, we don’t correct that.

Instead we send an email or letter or a letter to the organisation that produces the data and say, you’d better check the Alaska temperatures, because we don’t want to be blamed for changing anything. But as far as adjusting for urban effects, we have a very simple procedure.

We exclude urban locations, use rural locations to establish a trend, and that does eliminate – though urban stations do have more warming than the rural stations, and so we eliminate that effect simply by eliminating those stations, but it’s very clear that the warming that we see is not urban, it’s largest in Siberia, and in the Arctic and the Antarctic, and there aren’t any cities there, and there’s warming over the oceans, there are no cities there. So it’s not urban warming, that’s just nonsense.

Bruce Graham writes: Damn that was a good science project for a sixth grade boy and his dad. I made my son learn electrochemistry with  zinc flashing and pool chemicals. This kid has picked up a useful introduction to survey sampling, and paired testing.  Of course, he does not claim to show global warming, or not.  What he has demonstrated is something which, last I checked, is  uncontroversial.

Cities are getting hotter, and they are hotter than the surrounding country. That is not GLOBAL warming because CITIES cover very little of the surface area of the GLOBE. – Cities are getting hotter because the have increasingly dense energy usage, less vegetation, and more (heat absorbing and heat retaining) exposed inorganic surfaces. That is one reason it is nice to have a garden.

There are a lot of controversies  this kid does not touch:  Is global temperature data biased by the gradual encroachment of cities onto previously rural measurement sites? (This is why satellite and ocean surface data is so important). Why are some parts of the globe getting warmer and others are not? (That is why complex climate models are needed to model what would otherwise be a simple matter of a ball with a hot core, an external heat source, and a gas cloud containing small amounts of infra red absorbing material). I assume that good guidance from his supervisor steered him away from such bear pits. There is no claim made about global warming.

Why  does Steven Evans think this video is relevant?

Stephen Luntz writes: Steven Evans asks us to watch the video he links to and to “explain to me how this is not manmade global warming”. The explanation is simple, Steven. The child (or more likely his father) is lying to you.

Underneath the novelty of having a child do the video and the not-bad graphics the whole thing rests on a simple claim: temperature measurements in urban areas of the United States are rising while those in rural areas are flat. This is simply untrue. While there are some rural sites that show no rise in temperature over the last century, most show clear increases. The phenomena of Urban Heat Islands has been studied in great depth for many years, and accounts for less than 10% of the observed warming.

If Steven really wants an answer he can read more here.

Steve O’Connor writes: I’m all for scepticism, and in fact it’s integral to the progress of science. Some of the best advances have come from people swimming against the tide of common opinion.

A great example of thoughtful scepticism was Steven Even’s video posting of the 6yr old (and his dad) who looked at the lack of warming in rural US weather data compared to a paired city environment. I don’t currently know the answer to that (perhaps a climate scientist could) but rural data in other countries do show clear warming trends over the century.

The problem with people like Tamas Calderwood, however, is that he speaks from a place of technical-sounding nonsense that may well confuse most lay-people. He seems incapable of digesting any information that is contrary to his viewpoint.

I am a passionate believer in free-speech, but enough is enough. This is too serious an issue to be messing around with, and it’s a serious distraction to what we need desperately to be discussing – how we’re going to minimise this looming crisis.

Greg Angelo writes: It is quite obvious that any carbon permit trading scheme involving Third World jurisdictions will be a governance nightmare, with the potential for an unholy alliance of carpetbaggers and corrupt Third World governments to create a situation worse than the GFC.

There has already been one scandal involving PNG and potentially $100 million of bogus carbon credits being packaged up for sale. We are now hearing that the global financial institutions at the core of the GFC are now moving in to carbon trading derivatives. The governance processes relating to international trade are still in their infancy, and it would be easy for unscrupulous conmen (including major financial institutions) to take advantage of the situation.

One of the sources of carbon credits is third world countries forgoing development. How many times will these credits be sold to unsuspecting buyers? Taxing carbon use at source is easier to administer and the most difficult to rort. Why is it that the Australian government is going down the path which is easiest to manipulate? Politics? Taxing consumption at  source remains within individual legal jurisdictions whereas internationally traded carbon credits will be subject to all of the misdemeanours associated with the GFC. I hang my head in despair.

Peter Fray

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