Saturday, February 17, 2007

The El Mincho effect

Further to my preceding remarks on Nick Minchin’s enthusiasm for a sceptical approach on climate change...

Senator Minchin’s background as a solicitor renders his claims about the science of climate change about as authoritative as the next thinking person’s. And of course his position as a high official in an historically ‘denialist’ government will have no bearing on his public utterances.

Interestingly, on the one hand we have Finance Minister Minchin casting doubt on human-induced climate effects; while, on the other hand, Environment Minister Turnbull has lately gone to great lengths to assure the public that the Howard Government has been working assiduously for the last ten years to mitigate such human-induced effects. On balance, I’d conjecture that there’s either a lot of wasted effort or a lot of hot air in this Government.

No doubt, as a man with a sceptical but open mind, Minchin will also draw comfort from recent findings that “the impact of cosmic rays on the climate could be greater than scientists suspect.”

Henrik Svensmark, a weather scientist in Denmark, said the experiments suggested that man’s influence on global warming might be rather less than was supposed by the bulk of scientific opinion.

  • The Australian, February 12 2007

Now there’s food for sceptical thought, eh?

I have no doubt that there are roughly cyclical patterns, and even irregular events, at play on the climatology of the planet. But if the best heads in climate science are saying that, in their best judgement, X is happening and that Y is the most likely cause, then it’s perhaps the height of arrogance for a Minchin to be denying the proverbial elephant in the room.

Well, of course, the overwhelming weight of authority has been wrong in the past — viz., the long dominance of Aristotelian/Ptolemaic cosmology — but I tend to think the checks and balances of our modern scientific culture are somewhat better these days as a guarantor of authenticity.

I could, of course, be entirely wrong about that — and undoubtedly the Ptolemaic philosophers thought they themselves were at the coalface of ‘truth’ — but I don’t think so. It’s also possible that El Mincho is the Galileo of climate science, but again I don’t think so.

Helen Clark: all class

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Helen Clark has been accused of “shielding” her Australian counterpart, John Howard, because she “shut down” questions over Howard’s position on Iraq, Obama and all that.

Now, I’ve been known to be as much a Howard ... um ... sceptic as anyone. But wouldn’t an equally valid interpretation of Ms Clark’s actions be that she was practicing deft diplomacy, and was being as gracious a host as any visiting dignitary would have a right to expect?

And why on earth would Ms Clark want a joint presser with her trans-Tasman counterpart to degenerate into some goddawful pan-Pacific shitstorm?

Clearly the Kiwi PM was determined not to allow those well-known political rifts to cloud an important state visit. And Ms Clark handled the situation firmly and articulately. And, dare I say, with characteristic ‘class’...

A revealing incident took place at New Zealand’s Parliament in Wellington [in mid-2005]. The country was hosting China’s third-ranking leader, Wu Bangguo, and was about to lay on the traditional Maori welcome challenge in the forecourt.

Then a Green MP, Rod Donald, unfurled the triangular snow-leopard flag of the Free Tibet movement on the sidelines.

Chinese officials asked the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, to have the objectionable protest pushed out of sight. Miss Clark, who was soon to visit Beijing to push a trade deal, had a quick and awkward decision to make.

To her credit, she told the Chinese that suppressing peaceful protest was not part of New Zealand’s political system. However, the Chinese delegation could enter the Parliament from a side door around the corner. To his discredit, Mr Wu took this cowardly option.

So Helen Clark, as some are wont to point out, is not a “hottie”. (Is John Howard?) I’m not a big observer of Kiwi political life, but from what I’ve gathered Ms Clark has considerable guts and integrity. (Does John How... — oh, never mind.)

Scepticism an Australian value

Australia’s Finance Minister, Senator Nick Minchin, has admonished fellow Aussies not to become swept up in global “panic” over climate change.

Minchin quite rightly notes that “there is never a finality to almost anything in the scientific world.” He goes on to urge that, therefore, the adoption of a “healthy scepticism” on the topic is warranted.

What’s more, “scepticism is one of the all-time great Australian attributes.” And furthermore, “it is more likely that those of a conservative disposition will have a greater quotient of inherent, and I think healthy, scepticism.”

Thus, according to Minchin’s line of reasoning, climate change “panic” is un-Australian, un-conservative, and almost certainly un-Liberal.

How are you doing with your scepticism quotient, Australian readers?

I’m happy to say mine’s doing just fine. I take every single word uttered by the Minister with a big fat grain of salt.

Where Senator Minchin is inclined to see “panic” in some quarters, I tend rather to see thoughtful concern, tempered perhaps with more than a little impatience at the glacial rate of response by the national leadership.

One also has to ask: Where was all this Government’s healthy, conservative, Aussie scepticism when it bought all those “Iraq has WMD” and “Saddam in league with Osama” lies back in 2003? Those ninnies accepted the “finality” of cooked-up intelligence, “panicked” and went to war because of it.

Ah, I can hear the sceptical Senator counter, but then we were dealing with a potential threat to the world as we know it. Whereas, with climate change, it’s ... um

Well, duh!!

Speaking of healthy scepticism, it’s reported here that news director Bill Dupuy of KSFR public radio in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has directed his staff to “ignore national stories quoting unnamed sources.”

Effectively immediately and until further notice, it is the policy of KSFR’s news department to ignore and not repeat any wire service or nationally published story about Iran, China, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia or any other foreign power that quotes an “unnamed” U.S. official.

What we have suspected and talked about at length before is now becoming clear. “High administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity,” “Usually reliable Washington sources,” and others of the like were behind the publicity that added credibility to the need to go to war against Afghanistan and Iraq.

Dupuy has urged other news outlets to do likewise. One wonders if Senator Minchin would approve of such a sceptical approach as this.

It may be a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Such a moratorium on carrying news citing unnamed sources would rule out a lot of the reporting of people like Seymour Hersh, who broke a number of big stories, from the My Lai atrocity during the Vietnam War, to the Abu Ghraib abuses in Baghdad, and much else.

In closing, my advice: Do your own thinking. And tell Minchin to rack off.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Goat Friday

image source

Did you know...

  • Each year, over 6,000 people are traumatized by goats in the United States alone.
  • If a child is traumatizsed by a goat before age five, he/she is five times more likely to become some form of social deviant. ...
  • The majority of goat traumas occur before age eight and after age fifty-two. ...

These disturbing statistics and more are asserted by the Childhood Goat Trauma Foundation.

CGTF is a US self-help group “created in 1982 by a small group that originally came together as an informal support group for problems that were the result of traumatic experiences at petting zoos as children.” This laudable group is another shining example of the infinite capacity of humans for caring and sharing.

Note that they also share some rather disturbing images of goat trauma, as above, regarding which the feint-hearted should consider themselves duly warned.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Site audit performed, mentions tallied

The Muftim of Blair has performed a site audit of Tim Dunlop’s Blogocracy blog, finding that John Howard is “currently mentioned” 115 times.

This is a surprising statistic, not least because one might wonder at someone actually going to the trouble of counting all those mentions.

One might also wonder at Tim D’s apparent preoccupation with Mr Howard ... until it’s remembered that Blogocracy is a left-leaning political blog, and that Howard has been the preeminent force in Australian politics for well over ten years.

Howard’s supporters are themselves to blame for bestowing such primacy on their Dear Leader. Why would anyone be surprised at a preponderance of Howard mentions anywhere, when the man’s maunderings on everything from climate change to the recent AFL deal are constantly shoved in one’s face?

Methinks the Muftim has become as stale as Mr Howard (oh damn, there’s another mention). Anyway, the Muftim evidently has “no interest in fairness”, so it’s rather puzzling that he should be so ‘concerned’ about all these mentions.

UPDATE: Almost forgot to own up that this site “currently mentions” Mr Howard 17 times — damn, make that 18. Oh bum, I didn’t count mentions in the Recent Posts pane — make that 19. Um, do references to “the Prime Minister” or “the PM” count as mentions ... ?

‘Crazy Bob Brown’ pillorying continues

Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane continues the Government’s misrepresentation of the Australian Greens’ position on coal exports.

“Greens leader Bob Brown wants to shut down the coal export industry in the next term of government,” writes Macfarlane (who is not the former Reserve Bank governor of the same name) in The Australian today.

Brown actually said, “Australia should develop a plan, in the next three years, to reduce and phase out coal exports...”

Brown’s position has been misquoted and pilloried by the Government, Opposition, the Murdoch press and many others since it was announced last week.

Sure, Brown’s is a radical, and perhaps unworkable, proposal; but is it too much to ask that public discourse on the vexed topic of climate change be grounded in fact and good faith?

That Howard ‘courage’

Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Tuesday called the Labor opposition leader Kevin Rudd “gutless” over Labor’s position on Iraq.

Challenged by Mr Rudd to a national televised debate on the Iraq war, Mr Howard retorted that Parliament was the appropriate forum for such a debate, and labelled Rudd’s challenge as a “stunt” by an evasive and desperate Opposition leader.

Then the following day, yesterday, Mr Rudd seemed to rise to the challenge of a parliamentary debate on Iraq, only to be silenced by a Government ‘gag motion’, moved by Veterans Affairs Minister Bruce Billson (see proof Hansard pdf):

Mr RUDD (Griffith—Leader of the Opposition) (9.00 am)—I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Prime Minister from immediately coming into the House and debating the Leader of the Opposition for a period of no less than one hour on Australia’s involvement in the war in Iraq including:

(a) the Prime Minister’s false basis for Australia’s decision to go to war in Iraq;

(b) the Prime Minister’s misuse of intelligence material to justify his decision to send Australian service personnel into active duty in Iraq;

(c) the Prime Minister’s failure to articulate a clear cut mission statement for Australia’s continued participation in the war in Iraq;

(d) the Prime Minister’s failure to develop a clear cut exit strategy from the war based on that mission statement;

(e) the Prime Minister’s refusal to explain to the Parliament and the people of Australia his strategy for winning the Iraq war;

(f) the Prime Minister’s attack on the alternate administration of the United States of America and majority party in the United States Congress as Al Qaeda’s party of choice; and

(g) the Prime Minister’s lack of guts and courage in refusing to accept the Leader of the Opposition’s challenge to a nationally televised debate on Labor’s plan to bring our troops home and the Prime Minister’s plan to leave our troops in Iraq indefinitely.

The Prime Minister said yesterday that parliament is the forum for debate. Come on down—

Mr BILLSON (Dunkley—Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) (9.02 am)—I move: That the member be no longer heard.

Question put.

The House divided. [9.06 am]

(The Speaker—Hon. David Hawker)

Ayes………… 79

Noes………… 58

Majority……… 21

Yep, there’s our big bwave Pwime Minister – dodging debate and hiding behind his Government’s superior numbers.

Makes you feel proud, don’t it?

Seriously, whatever can he be so afraid of?