Archive for September, 2010

We can learn from Bhutan, oh, yes!

September 25, 2010

Some economists need a primer

I have just finished a book The Rational Optimist by the international best seller Matt Ridley. He was interviewed briefly by Mark Colvin on Radio “Notional” in May. At the time, it came as a shock to see such optimism about the environment and human progress overcoming problems like climate change being promoted by the ABC.

Ridley’s book is really an ideal primer for the economically illiterate. Just last Wednesday in The Australian there was a curious piece by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, about how successful Bhutan had been in the happiness stakes. Of Bhutan, he sees a “Himalayan kingdom of unmatched natural beauty, cultural richness, and inspiring self-reflection”. He seems to have a collection of the rose tinted glasses that Ridley talks about in The Rational Optimist, where so many of the rich from West are “in love with mud” and can only see good things in their visits to third world squalor and poverty, complete with smiling peasants. Sachs goes so far as to suggest that “the kingdom’s thoughtful attitude towards development should inspire the West”. It sounds somewhat like the advice that some of our home grown intellectuals gave to us about Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich, a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies is less convinced about this sort of “Happy Natives” nonsense. He gives us a reality check:

Perhaps the Bhutanese are not so happy after all because they are poor. According to the country’s National Statistics Office, 23.2% of the total population are living below the poverty line of Nu 1,096 (approximately $25) a month.

Or maybe they are unhappy about their press freedom, which was ranked as one of the worst in the world in the 2009 ‘Freedom of the Press’ survey. That is, of course, only relevant insofar as they can read because Bhutanese literacy is below the South and West Asian average.

It is well worth reading.

To better understand Professor Sach’s bent, it is important to note that he is also Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

PM’s quote of the week

September 18, 2010

What humbug and arrogance, Ms Gillard

Prime Minister Julia Gillard appears to either be naive and optimistic, or plain presumptive and arrogant. In a speech on Friday in Bathurst — her ‘Light on the Hill speech’ — she said she wanted the Coalition to put aside the “empty rancour of partisanship”. She is presumably asking the Liberals, in the national interest, to rubber stamp the ALP’s policies and to agree with “moy”.

What she dreams of is clear. She went on to say that “we might be a minority administration but I want our government to deliver outcomes and vision for Australia as though we had won a landslide”.

Well, I never. All this from a twice unelected Prime Minister. Dream on …

National hysteria on carbon warms up

September 16, 2010

BHP lemmings over the cliff, or self interest?

There seems to be an urgent rush towards the cliff of righteousness with everyone and his drover’s dog wanting to pay carbon taxes. Or is it clever strategic deals being made in the name of stupidity. Alan Moran looks closely at BHP Billiton’s Marius Kloppers’ intentions and crunches some numbers.

In seeking a price on carbon for Australia, Kloppers presumably is not advocating that BHP start to pay it immediately on the 103 million tonnes of coal a year it sells. If so, even with a tax set as low as $25 a tonne of CO2, he is advocating a payment from his shareholders of $5 billion a year.

The ABC does it again

September 16, 2010

Not a conspiracy, just wishful thinking and laziness

A few days ago there was an excellent analysis by Marc Hendrickx, a consulting geologist, of some of the problems that many have been raising about ABC bias in relation to climate change in The Australian. A more detailed version can be seen at his excellent and very valuable ABC News Watch site.

Hendrickx has had a close look at the ABC Online’s “A journey through climate history”, which purports to show “key events in the climatic history of the planet”. The problem is, according to Hendrickx, and unsurprisingly for us sceptics, is that it is riddled with mistakes.

Thirteen basic scientific errors were identified in the presentation, along with numerous mistakes that suggested a review of the content was warranted. ABC made seven corrections to the presentation. A subsequent Independent Complaints Review Panel report found against claims of bias on a number of the timeline pages. An independent review of the content was never undertaken and now 30 additional errors have been raised with the ABC, the most telling of these probably being the confusion between the chemical symbols for cobalt (Co) and carbon dioxide (CO2).

Again I ask, when will the ABC treat the important topic of climate change impartially and with a modicum of objectivity. A recent post of mine showed the slipperiness of Robyn Williams with his unrepentant record of bias on the global warming industry. Jo Nova has a similar plea about Williams’ abdication of responsibility as a science journalist.

Robyn Williams is a good man who would be horrified to know that he is not defending the planet, but standing up for corrupt scientists, plundering bureaucrats, and profit-taking bankers. I make no suggestions that he is profiting from spreading such poor reasoning, or that he is corrupt. He is simply working from devastatingly mistaken assumptions: He assumes the modelers are right; he assumes the peer review system is working; he assumes that science will work properly if only one side of a theory is fully funded, and he assumes that UN bureaucrats will publish recommendations that don’t support an increase in their own power and status.

In short, he assumes people will be honest despite massive temptations of all kinds to do otherwise.

I assume people will be people.

Look at the evidence, Robyn. Please.

Liberal hypocrisy with the Muslim bogy

September 9, 2010

Remembering Piss Christ

Through international pressure, the Miami pastor, the Rev. Terry Jones, has apparently given up his intention to burn a pile of Korans to protest the ninth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Centre. Whilst I agree with the comments condemning the idea of burning the Koran as being intensely provocative, polarising and insulting to Muslims — but more importantly, that it does not specifically advance legitimate and critical commentary about Islamism — I note that the Rev Jones had the honesty to admit his intention. “We are definitely probably insulting all Muslims.”

This is in clear contrast to the supercilious hypocrisy of Dr Timothy Potts, Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, in 1997, who defended the intensely provocative, polarising and insulting Piss Christ by Andres Serrano. At the time he said,

We have to live with the freedom of artistic expression. From time to time this will involve controversial displays, but it is not up to us to decide if anything should be excluded …to ban a photograph on the grounds of blasphemy was “an antiquated concept in a pluralistic society”.

It is understandable that Western leaders and the media are nervous in the face of systematic, orchestrated intimidation and threats of violence by Islamists. However, there appears to be an uncanny silence from everyone about this outrageous threat. It is as if we believe that it is quite a reasonable and understandable reaction to such blatant provocation. Contrast this with the comments of Victoria Premier, Jeff Kennett , when the Serrano picture of Piss Christ, was “attacked with a hammer”. According to the Age, he,

accused church heads of lacking leadership by failing to condemn the vandalism and violence quickly … Mr Kennett broke away from business talks with Asian leaders in Hong Kong to attack the churches’ role … Although he stopped short of accusing church leaders of inciting the violence, he said the churches should demonstrate greater tolerance … “It’s almost the 21st century. I feel as though the church has thrown a boulder back in time … While [the violence] is certainly not the churches’ fault, I think the church — and not just the Catholic Church — could have been a lot more forthcoming in condemning the violence when it first occurred.

In fact, both the Catholic and Anglican archbishops, Dr George Pell and Dr Keith Rayner, emphatically condemned the violence used against the picture at the time. Wouldn’t it be good if Islamic leaders in our country were more forthright about violent attacks by Islamists against our society.

Not satisfied with gallery director’s timidity and fear, when he took the picture down, Serrano, who had flown to Australia for the opening, branded Dr Potts “a coward and a loser” for cancelling the exhibition. Later in the week, still lingering in Melbourne, Serrano told The Age: “I want to stick around and watch Timothy burn a little. I think the more heat I put on him the better it is.”

One silver lining in all this, however, is that the self-censorship that has been invisibly imposed on us — through the dhimmi attitudes of politicians and anti-discrimination tribunals — of saying anything critical of Islam is gradually been broken down. This can only be a good thing.

A change of belief for Robyn Williams

September 4, 2010

What exactly was “One hundred metres” Williams talking about?

There was a very interesting excerpt from the first ABC Science Show with Robyn Williams from 1975 to celebrate the programme’s 35 years. In it, Williams was interviewing Peter Ritchie-Calder, father of infamous Nigel Calder, the internationally renowned British global warming sceptic.  I got the impression that Williams was making the point that all that long ago he was on the money, already talking about carbon pollution and the dangers of global warming. But, in listening carefully to what they both said, there is a strange feeling that something was missing.

Robyn Williams: Hello, this is Robyn Williams in Vancouver with the very first edition of The Science Show.

Yes, we’re 35 this week, and so today a brief look back to 1975. And what is really striking in Science Show number one is that even then we were talking about climate and energy sources. What have we learned? Just listen.

Lord Ritchie-Calder came to Vancouver to talk about energy problems, a subject he knows all about having sat on countless advisory panels over the years.

Peter Ritchie-Calder: In the course of the last century we’ve put 360,000 million tonnes of fossil carbon into the atmosphere. On the present trends the accumulated requirements between now and 2000 AD will come out as something like 11,000 million tonnes of coal a year, 200,000 million tonnes of crude petroleum and liquid natural gas, and 50 million million cubic metres of natural gas. Remember, this is coming out of the bowels of the Earth, and now we are taking it out and we’re throwing it back into the atmosphere, and into the climatic machine, into the weather machine, where it is beginning to affect the climate itself. Now this is a very serious matter, and to me there is no question that our climate has changed.

Robyn Williams: Do you expect the limitation to this ever-expanding use of fossil fuels to be due to either running out of them, or to this second question of climate effect?

Peter Ritchie-Calder: I think definitely that environmental factors…that you will simply be confronted with a situation which will make life virtually intolerable.

Robyn Williams: We’ve got these different possible techniques, there’s a nuclear fusion, nuclear fission, solar power, tidal power and so on. What do you think will happen to determine which of these will become the satisfactory energy source?

Notice that the issue for the discussion is energy. You can see, in the last two responses from Williams there is scant regard to the climate that Ritchie-Calder thinks is urgent. The programme was, after all, made barely a year after the first big and very damaging oil crisis of 1974, and Williams was only concerned with how to find an alternative “satisfactory energy source”. There was certainly no Robyn “100 metres” Williams jumping on the climate band wagon. Indeed, at that time, almost everyone was talking about global cooling and the prospects of an ice age due to carbon emissions.

Significantly, just after that show, in November 1975, the US National Academy of Sciences published a report, Understanding Climate Change: A Program for Action. In it was stated the fact that

we do not have a good quantitative understanding of our climate machine and what determines its course. Without the fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate.

Indeed, at the time most people were spooked by doomsday announcements of a runaway cooling of the planet. This comes from Newsweek, April 28, 1975

The Cooling World

There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth …

The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it. In England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by about two weeks since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain production estimated at up to 100,000 tons annually.

Of course, this alarmism sounds almost identical to what the media publishes today, except that it is for the opposite reason! The problem is that it is hard to know with the excerpt Williams gave on his Science Show promotion the other day, whether or not he and Ritchie-Calder were not referring to global cooling and the impending ice age, if indeed Williams was thinking much about climate change at all.

Maybe Williams could clarify that for us.

The right wing drum beat on the ABC, yeah …

September 3, 2010

“And Tony Abbott isn’t even Prime Minister yet”

Just the other day I received a very belated comment by an Alan Knight on a post I wrote in May about the ABC failing in its charter for balance.

Alan Knight, it turns out, runs a blog and sent me a link to an article of his, The right wing Drum beat at ABC News 24, about how the new 24 Hour news service has lurched to the “booga booga” right.

The evidence? In a recent Drum, he reports the “thinly stretched” 24 hour news service had the audacity to have on two conservatives, Imre Salusinszki, from “the left leaning (not)” Australian — just in case we had forgotten — and Jessica Brown, from the CIS “right wing think tank” —just in case we had forgotten.  However, it turns out that the third panellist was an ABC journalist, and the presenter was, well, an ABC journalist. That seems like good balance to me.

The problem for Mr Knight apparently is that Maurice Newman, currently on the ABC Board, is “no friend of the Labor movement” — just in case we had forgotten — and is “calling the shots at the ABC”.  So there you have it. This conservative “infiltration” just goes to show you that the ABC is not operated by and for the left. And, he explains indignantly, “Tony Abbott isn’t even Prime Minister yet”.

Maybe Mr Knight could explain to us why the chirpy Annabel Crabb, formerly at the Sydney Morning Herald, is now the ABC Online’s chief political writer. She also makes regular appearances on the thinly stretched 24 hours news service. According to J F Beck, after her inaugural piece on Malcolm Turnball on the new Drum website in November last year, the subsequest fifteen had mentioned Tony Abbott.   Beck’s conclusion:

So the ABC’s number one political writer, its top political analyst, continually ridicules the Liberals but can find nothing about the left deserving so much as a mention. No bias here, folks, none whatsoever.

Mr Knight could perhaps explain to us, if Maurice Newman is indeed calling the shots, in addition to the appointment of Crabb, why almost all panels for Q&A still have three representatives of the left and only one and half  on the right (if we’re lucky), Tony “I’m sorry, I’m not meaning to interrupt your flow” Jones,  as well  7.30 Report’s “Blue Eyes”,  who is still shamelessly continuing the way he always does: rude and aggressive with the Liberals, smarmy and obsequious with the ALP.

Oh, and by the way, Alan Knight was elected national spokesperson for Friends of the ABC in 2007 — just in case you didn’t know.

A delusion about Muslims

September 1, 2010

Moderate Islam. What exactly is it?

The debate over the mosque near Ground Zero in New York is taking wings. Largely a local concern for New Yorkers, it has ramifications for all of us. The dominant issue is about competing notions of tolerance and the centrality of  the concept of what exactly constitutes  a  “moderate”, and therefore tollerant Muslim.

A short piece by Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim appeared in The Australian today, extracted from a Wall Street Journal symposium on the question: What Is Moderate Islam?

Anwar made some very reasonable points; that “the quest for the moderate Muslim in the 21st century is akin to the search for the Holy Grail,” given that the association between Islam and terrorism is so wide spread and so constantly being reinforced by the fact of so many atrocities. He feels for ordinary Muslims, “whose identities have been drowned by events beyond their control.”

But some feel you cannot have the one without the other. Rod Liddle in last week’s UK Spectator, commented on the Ground Zero mosque debate. He dares to believe that there is a lot delusion on both sides when discussing issues of moderation and tolerance. Quoting from the illuminating 2006 Pew Research Centre study into Muslim attitudes throughout the world, he concludes rather pessimistically about those whom we in the West are eager to call mostly moderate;

The Pew study discovered that there was not a single Muslim country in the world where the majority of the population was able to accept that the 9/11 terrorists were Muslim, Arabic or anything other than part of the George W. Bush CIA-filthy Jew alliance. There is epic delusion on every side, in other words.