Think of the landlords

Some people honestly just don’t care. This from the website of TICA – the Tenancy Information Centre Australasia.

Tenants do not deserve the right to impose their habits on innocent landlords by claiming that housing is a human right.

The framers of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights might have a point to make about that:

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(My emphasis.)

Of course, TICA is trying to justify their service. Landlords can now choose to be automatically notified when their tenants sign another tenancy agreement (with another landlord). Thus, the original landlord knows when their tenants are about to move out.

TICA’s managing director Philip Nounnis justifies it like this:

The service has been designed to cater for that small section of the marketplace that does the dreaded midnight skip and things like that.

They break their existing agreement. They apply to another property. They don’t tell the new agent who they were previously renting through and they get approved without the new agent knowing how much money they previously owe.

This is the general excuse for the existence of TICA’s enormous tenant database, but it doesn’t really cover this new service. The new service has nothing to do with scrutinising potential tenants – it’s about what happens when existing tenants consider moving out. It’s the old landlord that gets notified, not the new one. It’s difficult to see what possible legitimate use this could have.

As Chris Martin of the NSW Tenants Union points out, retaliation is the name of the game. The old landlord might decide not to carry out necessary repairs, or to try to scuttle the new lease agreement by contacting the other, prospective landlord.

This seems to be fundamentally about further entrenching the power relationship between landlords and tenants. TICA is selling other people’s information, benefitting one group by putting another at further disadvantage.

It’s hard to argue that TICA has an especially balanced perspective, when further up the web page there’s this:

We take this opportunity to advise that the TICA systems and its databases are only designed to impact on tenants who believe they have the right to create financial hardship on landlords whose only involvement in the rental arena is to offer affordable accommodation.

Financial hardship? Good grief – we’re talking about people who own at least two houses vs people who don’t own any. Which landlords, exactly, are concerned “only” with offering affordable accommodation? The entire purpose of putting up a property for rent is to make money, and that money is made from those less well off. This is nobody’s fault in particular – just the inevitable result of inevitable wealth imbalances. However, to speak of financial hardship as it applies to people with more wealth is a little, well, rich.

Update (2010-12-13, 2012-06-16): fixed a broken link.


I don’t pretend to know what goes on in the minds of people who despise multiculturalism. Do they hold to a fantasy in which multiculturalism is some sort of government construct that prevents people from adopting the same culture? Presumably they must start from the premise that the different cultural practices of other people are somehow detrimental to their lifestyle, or to the “moral fibre” of the nation, or some such nebulous phobia. Even so, do they honestly think that we can just ship all the immigrants and their descendants back to where they came from?

Angela Merkel has apparently decided to go down this sordid path:

At the start of the 60s we invited the guest-workers to Germany. We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn’t stay, that one day they’d go home. That isn’t what happened. And of course the tendency was to say: let’s be ‘multikulti’ and live next to each other and enjoy being together, [but] this concept has failed, failed utterly.

If multiculturalism has failed, answer me this: what else is there? On what basis do people of different races and cultures coexist, if not “multiculturally”? The Guardian article notes that Merkel didn’t bother to explain how or why multiculturalism “failed”, or what “failure” even means.

I would have thought that the utter failure of multiculturalism – if that’s truly what we’re talking about – would be marked by something akin to the Rwandan genocide. That is the inevitable, logical consequence of the total inability of people to live with each other.

Multiculturalism cannot be allowed to fail, because there is nothing else besides the abyss. Multiculturalism is not some adopted or invented concept – it’s the natural way of living in the modern world, where we are not isolated tribes but a global civilisation. It’s the alternative to crazed paranoia and ignorance. If multiculturalism fails, civil society fails.

Of course, Merkel wouldn’t be the first to suggest this sort of thing. What I would suggest is this: whenever someone argues that multiculturalism should be discarded, imagine how their argument would sound with “secularism” in place of “multiculturalism”. I suggest this because the two are very similar and comparable concepts. Whereas secularism is the means by which many religions and philosophies can coexist, so multiculturalism is the means by which many races and cultures can coexist. The alternative to secularism is state interference in your belief system, where religious laws effectively institute certain types of thought crime. The alternative to multiculturalism would likewise be a kind of cultural theocracy, with cultural laws mandating or prohibiting certain cultural practices.

There is a fantasy among some that multiculturalism is something imposed on them, as though it takes undue conscious effort to refrain from spitting (metaphorically or perhaps literally) on people they don’t like. They see “political correctness” as some sort of lead weight that stops them expressing their opinions. This is both laughably untrue and excruciatingly petulant. Opinions opposed to multiculturalism are expressed with scarcely-restrained fervour every day. These opinions are frowned upon by reasonable people not because they violate some arbitrary set of rules and conventions, but because they are ignorant and offensive. Yes, we will certainly uphold your right to express your opinion, but we can and will tear it apart with gusto if we see something wrong with it. If you think it’s unfair that people don’t give your views any respect, maybe it’s because you don’t have any respect. “Political correctness” is usually a label given to normal human decency, in order to attack it without seeming too inhuman.

But there’s more than an academic discussion here. There’s the rise of the far right in Europe, and in particular anti-Islamic sentiment. When concepts like multiculturalism are derided by a politician, the entire debate risks slipping off the ledge of sanity. Raving lunacy is ever present at some level in society, just waiting for a voice. As a result, politicians have a responsibility to be scrupulously reasonable – a responsibility that they often either neglect (because they need the votes) or were never aware of in the first place (because they are themselves part of that raving lunacy).

Merkel’s remarks might be defended on the grounds that they’re not provably wrong, but the academic in me twitches at the sheer indefensibly of such a standard. Ignorance does not need a voice – it needs an education.

False security, false feminism and false secularism

There seems to be a growing school of thought in Western countries that the burqa (or other forms of Islamic headdress) should be banned, with several European countries (including Belgium, France and Spain) debating or already having passed laws against it. There are murmurings here too, by the Liberals’ Cory Bernardi and the Christian Democrats’ Fred Nile.

The most ludicrous claim is that such religious clothing is a security risk. If that were so, we ought to ban all manner of clothing, including just about anything you might want to wear if the temperature drops below about 20 degrees C (as it has been known to do, on occasion), or even if it doesn’t. Bernardi and others claim that the veil obscures the wearer’s identity. This may be so, but implication is that none of us are entitled to anonymity – we must be readily identifiable in any public place to which we might venture. Why? We are not (yet) a police state, and I rather like the idea of being anonymous when out in public. I suspect most other people would as well, if they thought about it. Identifying specific circumstances in which the veil may cause problems does not justify a blanket ban. The security argument is simply designed to press the buttons of islamophobes looking for the most flimsy of excuses.

A marginally less ridiculous argument concerns women’s rights. It is argued that we ought to ban such clothing because it represents the submission of women to a male-controlled religious establishment. This is a little more plausible, but there are still two enormous holes in the argument:

  1. What about Muslim women who want to wear religious clothing, due to a genuine, freely-held belief that it’s the right thing to do? Any claim to be defending their rights through a ban on such clothing is completely nonsensical. If you’re not actually being oppressed, then the fact that some people see your clothing as a symbol of oppression is utterly irrelevant.
  2. Even in cases where religious clothing does indicate female subjugation and/or religious oppression, it’s only a symptom of the problem. A likely outcome of any ban might be to effectively prevent women in such an unfortunate position from going out in public at all. After all, it’s they who will be targeted under any ban, not their oppressors. They will face a three-way choice – violate the law, violate religious commandments, or stay at home. The law might be written to ban men from forcing women to wear religious clothing, but how do you enforce that? You can’t legislate to force people behave as if they aren’t at the wrong end of a power relationship, or as if their beliefs don’t matter. It’s the women in question who will miss out on attending university, getting a job, etc., and this lack of exposure to society would only entrench the problem. If there really is a problem, what on Earth could possess you to think that punishing the victims will solve it?

I worry that this argument has ensnared a number of feminists, which is disheartening because it’s largely anti-feminist. It appeals to one’s sense that one group ought not to impose standards on another, but the proposed solution is to hypocritically impose just such a standard while ignoring whatever religious/gender power relationship might be at the root of the problem – if indeed there is a problem. The argument probably arises out of the ancient reactionary instinct that “bad things” can simply be banned. It’s not always that simple. Whatever you think of the idea of covering yourself up in public, or even of forcing others to do so, surely it’s better that devout Muslim women feel they can at least be in public places.

The final fall-back argument is high-minded secularism. France, for instance, bans all “conspicuous” religious symbols from state schools. This thinking also annoys me. (The protagonists talk about values, which is never a good sign in political debates.)

I’m a great fan of secularism. I think it is, almost by definition, the only way that different religious groups can coexist peacefully. When I’m wearing my atheist hat, of course, I argue that religion and religious beliefs are unnecessary, that morality derives from human nature (far from being in conflict with it), the universe is inherently naturalistic, etc. I see those arguments as being largely of intellectual value, while the political arena presents an entirely different set of problems.

Secularism is essentially the separation of church and state. It is not anti-religious; it permits any type of belief system that does not infringe the rights of others. The state is supposed to be, as much as possible, agnostic.

So what, then, is the state doing making judgments of what constitutes religious clothing or symbolism? In theory, the state shouldn’t even be aware of the concept of religious clothing or symbolism, because such awareness in itself breaches state-church separation. The state should merely ensure that the rights of its citizens are being upheld.

To impose a ban on religious clothing or symbolism (except perhaps for those people who symbolise the state itself – but that’s a side issue) is not a secular idea, but an anti-religious one. I have no love of religion, but government intervention isn’t how atheism wins. It is far more important that everyone in society be able to get along. Militant secularism is not secularism at all.

One belief does not a religion make

There’s nothing like a righteous religious leader for a good dose of stagnant inanity. Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen doesn’t let us down (SBS, ABC, News Ltd):

As we can see by the sheer passion and virulence of the atheist – they seem to hate the Christian God – we are not dealing here with cool philosophy up against faith without a brain.

One should immediately be suspicious of the phrase “the atheist”. Those two words alone give Jensen away, if you think about it for a moment. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, it brings to mind whinging complaints about “the Jew”. The reason he does it, I imagine, is that it carries more weight than just “atheists”. He’s not referring to the group overall, but to each and every member of it. They’re all the same, so nuanced reasoning is not required.

The “passion and virulence” of atheists was picked up on earlier by Monash University Professor Gary Bouma, who accuses atheists of stoking sectarian conflict. This is a convenient rhetorical device used to turn “arguing the point” into something negative. I haven’t heard of any atheist mobs hurling bricks through church windows. It’s really just hypocritical invective.

“Atheists hate God” has been a long-running mantra in certain religious circles, voiced frequently by those who apparently see no contradiction in the idea of hating an entity that one does not believe to exist. Christians do not generally “hate” the various supernatural entities of other religions (as far as I’m aware), so why would atheists “hate” the Christian God? I find it incredible that this misconception continues. Jensen clearly suffers from an acute lack of imagination.

Atheism is every bit of a religious commitment as Christianity itself.

This is a manifest falsehood, made all the more dishonest because Jensen uses such emphasis. Christianity posits an entire volume of miracles, historical events, prophecies, commandments, virtues, vices and assorted supernatural beings, not to mention the church’s additional evolving beliefs, rituals and systems of authority over the last two millennia. What dogma does atheism have to compare to all this? Atheism merely states that there is no God, and even that is argued over within the atheist community. (Is it right to say that God doesn’t exist, or merely that we cannot substantiate the concept of God?)

As a general remark, it’s curious that religious leaders choose to describe atheism condescendingly as a religion. They have no problem describing as religions their own institutions, which purport to offer the most important truths that you can possibly know. Surely, if their world view has any merit, calling atheism a religion would be elevating, not denigrating it. This is a hint that our protagonists don’t truly believe what they’re saying. I suspect they know at some level, perhaps subconsciously, that religion cannot compete with science or higher philosophy; that in fact it does not offer the absolute truth of the universe. Instead, they merely resort to suggesting (without a hint of justification) that atheism also suffers from the same fundamental problems.

It represents the latest version of the human assault on God, born out of resentment that we do not in fact rule the world and that God calls on us to submit our lives to him.

It is a form of idolatry in which we worship ourselves.

The notion of a “human assault on God” is rather amusing. Is Jensen really saying that rebellious atheists are ganging up on the Supreme Being? The force that supposedly created time itself and brought into existence a trillion galaxies is under “assault” from the electrical impulses of a bunch of organic molecules on one tiny rock? Forgive me if I don’t show overflowing concern for His well-being. Even if I believed in Him, I’d expect the Creator of the Universe to be a little more resilient than that.

As for resentment and idolatry, I suspect this is just part of how Jensen justifies his own faith. The notion that it might be possible to not worship anything at all seems alien to people who make these sorts of arguments. They don’t truly believe that atheism is even possible, so they translate it into something else more amenable to their understanding.

Jensen might reflect on the company in which he finds himself. Among the other religious commentators of late is Catholic Bishop of Parramatta Anthony Fisher:

Last century we tried godlessness on a grand scale and the effects were devastating: Nazism, Stalinism, Pol Pot-ery, mass murder, abortion and broken relationships – all promoted by state-imposed atheism.

This is why I think I’m safe from Godwin’s Law. It’s pure self-parody. I’m happy to see that, in a list containing Nazism and Stalinism, Fisher found room to bemoan the tyranny of broken relationships.

Climate reporting – compare and contrast

There’s a subtle difference here that I can’t quite put my finger on.

An article in The Register (by Lewis Page):

Agricultural brainboxes at Stanford University say that global warming isn’t likely to seriously affect poor people in developing nations, who make up so much of the human race. Under some scenarios, poor farmers “could be lifted out of poverty quite considerably,” according to new research.

The Stanford University report on which it was (purportedly) based:

The impact of global warming on food prices and hunger could be large over the next 20 years, according to a new Stanford University study. Researchers say that higher temperatures could significantly reduce yields of wheat, rice and maize – dietary staples for tens of millions of poor people who subsist on less than $1 a day. The resulting crop shortages would likely cause food prices to rise and drive many into poverty.

But even as some people are hurt, others would be helped out of poverty, says Stanford agricultural scientist David Lobell.

(My emphasis.)

The Register’s article is a transparent and spectacular case of selective reading. The Stanford report briefly discusses a complex set of effects, some of which are actually positive. The rose-tinted spectacles at The Register apparently have a problem seeing the opening paragraph, and instead treat the report as though it were some sort of vindication of climate inaction.

Climate researchers really can’t win in the face of such wilful distortion. If their research shows that the effects are all negative, they are portrayed as “alarmists”. If their research shows some mitigating factors, then these will be trumpeted as proof that climate change is a “scare”.

The title and subtitle of The Register’s article hint at the underlying attitude:

Global warming worst case = Only slight misery increase

The peasants aren’t revolting – they’ve never had it so good

The world’s poor have “never had it so good”, eh? I’m glad to see such overflowing concern for the less fortunate.

Peer review

I’ve stumbled across yet another “ClimateGate” article (by way of James Delingpole), this one going right for the jugular of science: peer review. The author is journalist Patrick Courrielche, who I hadn’t come across until now.

Courrielche argues that peer review is kaput and is being replaced by what he calls “peer-to-peer review”, an idea that brings to mind community efforts like Wikipedia. This has apparently been catalysed by “ClimateGate”, an event portrayed by the denialist community as something akin to the Coming of the Messiah.

Courrielche asserts that peer review is a old system of control imposed by the “gatekeepers” of the “establishment”, while peer-to-peer review is a new system gifted to us by the “undermedia”. Courrielche has very little time for nuance in the construction of this moralistic dichotomy, and clearly very little idea why peer review exists in the first place.

It should be noted from the start (and many an academic will agree) that peer review is a flawed system. It’s well known that worthwhile papers are rejected from reputable journals from time to time, while the less reputable journals have the opposite problem. Nevertheless, there is a widely-recognised need for at least some form of review system to find any weaknesses in papers before publication. It seems obvious that the people best placed to review any given piece of work are those working in the same field. Peer review acts both as a filter and a means of providing feedback (a sort of last-minute collaborative effort). The reviewers are not some sort of closed secret society bent on stamping their authority on science, as Courrielche seems to imply. Anyone working in the field can be invited by one relevant journal or another to review a paper, and it’s in a journal’s best interests to select the best qualified reviewers.

Courrielche sticks the word “review” on the end of “peer-to-peer” so that it can appear to fulfill this function. The premise seems to be that hordes of laypeople are just as good, if not better, at reviewing a given work than those who work in the relevant field. This is really just thinly-veiled anti-intellectualism. How can a layperson possibly know whether the author of a technical paper has used the appropriate statistical or methodological techniques, or considered previous empirical/theoretical results, or made appropriate conclusions?

That’s why papers are peer-reviewed. Reputable journals get their reputation from the high quality (i.e. usefulness and scientific rigour) of the work presented therein, as determined by experts in the field. Barring the very occasional lapse of judgment, the flat earth society, the intelligent design movement, the climate change denialists, and any number of other weird and wonderful parties are prevented from publishing their dogma in Science, Nature and other leading journals. There’s no rule forbidding such publication; that’s just what happens when you apply consistent standards in the persuit of knowledge. Ideologues are frequently given an easy ride in politics, and it clearly offends them that science is not so forgiving.

However, Courrielche appears to be more interested in describing how the “undermedia” is up against some sort of vast government-sponsored conspiracy to hide the truth. His tone is one of rebellion, of exposing the information to the media, and doing battle with dark forces trying to prevent its disclosure. Even if such a paranoid fantasy were true, it has nothing to do with peer review. Peer review is not a means of quarantining information from the public, but simply a way of deciding the credibility of that information. In reality, the information is already out there, and in fact it’s always been out there (just not necessarily in the mass media). The problem is not the lack of information, but the prevalence of disinformation. We are all free to ignore the information vetted by the peer review system, but we don’t because it’s intrinsically more trustworthy than anything else we have.

Courrielche makes mention of the “connectedness” of the climate scientists, as if mere scientific collaboration is to be regarded with deep suspicion. Would he prefer that scientists work in isolation, without communicating? This is quite blatantly hypocritical, because his peer-to-peer review system is based on connectedness.

Well, sort of. I also suspect that most of the many and varied denialist memes floating around have not resulted from some sort of collective intelligence of the masses, but from a few undeserving individuals exalted as high priests by certain ideologically-driven journalists. There is nothing “peer-to-peer” about that at all.

From my point of view, what Courrielche describes as the “fierce scrutiny of the peer-to-peer network” is more like ignorant nitpicking and groupthink. There are no standards for rigour or even plausibility in the many of the discussions that occur in the comments sections of blog sites. Free speech is often held sacrosanct, but free speech is not science.

The denialists are up against much more than a government conspiracy. They’re up against reality itself.

Climate: ‘mission accomplished’

I read with ever growing fascination the comments that continue to flood into climate-related blogs. Deltoid has collected a few truly astounding ones. I’ve also discovered the UK’s very own James Delingpole, who’s a riot. As mentioned in my previous post, there seem to be a veritable army of those convinced that the climate sceptics are not merely right (and righteous), but that this time they’ve actually, truly won. This, based on an assortment of stolen email.

In the long run, reading these comments is probably a recipe for the development of psychological issues, but for the moment it’s like a spectator sport. While ignorance regarding the climate change science is merely frustrating, the euphoric surety of ultimate victory that so many commenters share is hilarous. As a general rule, I don’t like laughing at other people, but when so many start running at full pelt toward the cliff edge, convinced that it is they who are to inherit the Earth, I cannot help but anticipate schadenfreude. I can’t do anything about it, after all, so why not laugh?

(Doubtless, to someone not familiar with the issue, I myself might be sounding a little overconfident. To assuage such doubts, you would do well to remember that the reality of climate change is propounded by the world’s scientific community, which is constantly engaged in critical self-examination. By contrast, the opponents of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have very few actual scientific results to draw from in support of their arguments. Having long since been consigned to scientific irrelevance, they resort to reading other people’s email in search of conspiracies.)

But why are so many stampeding over the edge all at once? My theory is that so little motivation or desire exists for critical thought that commenters feed on each other ad infinitum. They come to believe, for instance, that there has indeed been widespread scientific fraud, based on existing angry comments, which themselves were derived from still older comments, etc. Eventually we find ourselves back at the source of the allegations – the use of the phase hide the decline in one of the emails (which in reality has a much more innocent explanation*). The newer commenters aren’t aware that these three little words are the entire basis of the supposed fraud. They think their arguments are much more solidly grounded, simply because everyone is talking about it.

The other piece of the puzzle is the ideology of those who spread the word in the first place. Opposition to action on climate change – as put forth by Andrew Bolt, and of course many others around the world – starts to make some kind of twisted sense if you accept the following fact. There are people out there for whom the greatest and most insideous evil in the world is not war, poverty, disease, starvation or tyranny, but simply the fact that you are required to help fund public services. This is their antichrist – taxation – the worse imaginable horror that the universe could bestow on us. My intuition fails me here, but however untenable the premise, the logic thereafter seems to hold. It is an article of faith that none of the consequences of climate change can outweigh the evil of taxation. Indeed the proposition that we should deal with climate change by introducing emissions trading schemes – seen by some as a form of tax – must place the issue firmly in the socialists-taking-over-the-world basket.

I sense that this deeply-held belief serves to justify intellectual dishonesty in the minds of climate change deniers. This might be analogous to the obligation felt by creationist pundits to argue against evolution, not because they feel the evidence is in their favour (as their followers do), but because they perceive the science to be a moral challenge to their beliefs.

* The “hide the decline” hysteria is one of my favourite pieces, actually. I shall attempt to summarise, based on some very patient explanations by Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA. The “decline” refers to the “divergence problem”, where temperature reconstructions based on tree-ring data show a spurious decline after about 1960. This needs to be “hidden” simply because it’s not real. Several important points to note are:

  1. The comment cannot possibly be connected to the fabled “cooling” of temperatures this decade, since the email was sent in 1999.
  2. The collection of tree-ring data is a relatively peripheral issue to climate change, since other data sources are available (including actual temperature measurements).
  3. We know that the tree-ring data is reasonably accurate before 1960 and inaccurate after 1960, because we can compare it to other sources of data. Actual temperature measurements, for instance, certainly do not show a “decline”. The reasons for the divergence are the subject of debate, but may be a result of climate change itself.

Update (7 December 2009) – A couple more points, for the sake of completeness:

  1. Nothing has actually been “hidden”, in the lay sense, anyway. All the data is out in the open and the problem has been discussed in the peer-reviewed literature over a decade ago.
  2. According to the email (which you can Google for yourself), the only action taken was the addition to the data of real temperature values. The sources of these values are even described in the email.

Climate conspiratology

Climate denialism has taken a turn for the worse. I say this with great trepidation, of course, because it was never an especially pretty sight to begin with.

A substantial number of private emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia have been retrieved and published online without permission*. One hardly needs to read between the lines: the hackers were presumably looking for the “smoking gun” that would prove some kind of conspiracy on the part of climatologists. Real Climate are methodically refuting all the miscellaneous scraps of hysteria that seem to have been whipped up over this.

However, observe some of the comments at the bottom of this blog post and you’ll get a feel for the way this incident is being perceived. Many of the denialist fraternity (and it’s still early days) have apparently decided that this is it; that this is the clincher. They feel confident that it’s all over, that even the dreaded “mainstream media” (MSM) can’t ignore it, and generally that the tide of history has swung in their favour. (This is the result of some interpretation on my part.)

It’s not the hubris that bothers me particularly, but where this is leading the public debate. The IPCC, the world’s other scientific institutions and science in general will all carry on as if nothing had happened, because of course in reality it hasn’t. The notion of a climatologist conspiracy is extraordinarily bizarre and improbable, and as such would require an extraordinary body of evidence to demonstrate its existence. If there was to be a “smoking gun”, it would need to be strong evidence of the systematic fabrication of evidence on a scale that would beggar belief. It would also beggar belief that such a venture could have been kept secret up until now, considering how widespread it would need to be. This is the same problem that most conspiracy theories face. Nothing remotely approaching the requisite level of evidence has been discussed so far, and yet there is a sense in some quarters that the conspiracy has been cracked wide open.

What happens when the denialists realise that nothing is going to change, having already convinced themselves that “The Truth” has been well and truly exposed? Will they then perceive an even greater global conspiracy, with the power to make the world ignore what is sitting in plain sight (as occurs in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four)? How far down the rabbit hole will they go?

More importantly, how will the world’s politicians react, particularly with Copenhagen around the corner? Will they see this stunt for what it is and ignore it, or will they perceive some increased political risk in taking action? Or will more be sucked into believing the conspiracy themselves?

* I haven’t downloaded the emails for myself, because frankly I don’t believe I have either a legal or moral right to do so.

Also note: as you’ll be aware, I’ve not been keeping up with my regular blogging, owing to other commitments. I hope to become more prolific with my postings in the future, but that may be several months away.

The Liberal war

Costello is quitting politics, Wilson Tuckey isn’t quitting politics, Peter Dutton (the shadow health minister) has had politics quit on him. Turnbull is the voice of (relative) sanity in the Liberal Party, but not many – either in the Party or in the wider population – seem inclined to listen to it.

Some seem to be in the market for a new messiah in Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott, to save them from the horror of endorsing an emissions trading scheme and thus actually doing something constructive for humanity. Perish the thought that the Liberal leadership should be driving at such things. Better bulldoze them aside and continue squabbling over interest rates before anything useful happens. I’m not convinved that Hockey would be any more popular or politically savvy than Turnbull, and Abbott I think would be a disaster.

On a somewhat different track, Howard isn’t giving up the ideological game either. On motives for victory in Afghanistan, from an ABC article:

What we’ve got to ask ourselves is, what is the consequence of failure in Afghanistan? And that would be an enormous blow to American prestige, it would greatly embolden the terrorist cause.

This is predictable Howard rhetoric, and it gives some insight into his mindset. He actually does see American “prestige” as a commodity worth fighting for. Not freedom, democracy, security or any other desirable facet of society, but image, and not even the image of the country of which he was the second-longest serving prime minister. This is a war, not a beauty contest. There are real people dying out there – how many innocent lives is one country’s “prestige” worth?

I think there is probably a grain of truth in the idea that a withdrawal from Afghanistan could be used in Al Qaeda propaganda, but an “enormous blow”? Since Obama came to office, the world hasn’t seen America in quite the same slight belligerent light. Of course, Obama hasn’t actually done that much yet (a rather premature Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding), but even so he has helped redefine America’s image. I think that people throughout the world are probably far less inclined now to view the US as a conquering power. Consequently, there is less propaganda value in a US defeat as there would be if the hawks were still running things.

I actually happen to agree that, on balance, the Afghan War is an important one to win, but my argument has more to do with the prospect of the Taliban condemning society (especially women) to live in the dark ages. Yes, it’s certainly true that Western military might cannot solve all the world’s problems, and in many situations can be a problem in itself. However, it would be encouraging if we could solve just this one, to help Afghan society back from the precipice.

The problem with that argument, from Howard’s general nationalistic-conservative point of view, is that it’s not our society hovering above the precipice. To argue this case might be to admit that human rights and civil liberties are worth fighting for. If we start saying things like that, where does it end?

The hardliners of the Liberal Party might ask themselves why the election is worth winning. For the prestige of the Party?