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catallaxy in technical exile

Archive for December 2005

Welcome to Catallaxy — one of Australia's least unpopular leftoid blogs

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Tim Blair has produced a list of "Australia’s top ten lefty blogs" along with their Alexa rankings. Catallaxy comes in at number 4.

As regular readers would know, Catallaxy’s contributors all have their own views — all of them to the left of orthodox Right Wing Death Beastism. Rafe Champion is a closet Hoxhaist, Jason Soon votes Labor (sometimes), Andrew Norton is a member of the Liberal Party, Samuel McSkimming isn’t exactly politically neutral (whatever that means) and Eric Kodjo Ralph is an economist (enough said). Heath Gibson has written for the notoriously left wing Policy magazine.

A few of Tim’s readers questioned whether Catallaxy really was a ‘leftoid’ blog but he held his ground:

Well, you’ve got Latham supporter Jason running the show, and Don Arthur posting frequently … maybe Catallaxy ain’t leftoid, but it sure is leftish.

The controversy continues at Larvatus Prodeo (ranked at 3).

And before anyone gets too excited about the Alexa rankings you might want to read the fine print "Traffic Rankings of 100,000+ should be regarded as not reliable because the amount of data we receive is not statistically significant." Even the top ranked Tim Lambert couldn’t crack 100,000.

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December 31, 2005 at 7:13 pm

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Rosemary Neill — (Culture) War Correspondent

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In today’s Australian Rosemary Neil reports on the “American war on Christmas”. Just in case any of you have been hiding in a cave over the holiday season, the war on Christmas is a traditional part of America’s culture wars. This year the Fox News Channel’s John Gibson devoted an entire book to the fray — The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. Fox has been promoting the conflict particularly enthusiastically this year.

In her piece for the Australian O’Neill runs through a list of this year’s atrocity stories and denounces the enemy — political correctness and the ACLU. What she doesn’t do is balance her commentary by explaining where all this noise is coming from.

Hostilities in America’s war on Christmas began as far back as 1959 when the John Birch Society exposed anti-Christmas subversion as a communist plot. According to the Society’s Hubert Kregeloh

One of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our own country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas—to denude the event of its religious meaning. And as in so many of their undertakings, the conspirators have been able to enlist the aid of many non-Communist allies and dupes.

Neill may have avoided being duped by the Reds at the ACLU, but a major source of her information seems to Fox News and conservative Christian activist groups. Let’s take a closer look at Neill’s Christmas atrocity stories.

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December 31, 2005 at 5:29 pm

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Good Night, and Good Luck

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George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck, about the conflict between journalist Ed Morrow and anti-Communist Senator Joe McCarthy, is getting some rave reviews. Locally, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton both gave it five stars, their highest possible rating (“I’d give it more if we had a bigger scale”, added Margaret). Indeed, there are things that are good about it. Aided by black-and-white photography, it convincingly looks like the 1950s, with its feeling of authenticity enhanced by the use of archival footage of McCarthy, rather than getting an actor to play him. For the characters who are not playing themselves, all the acting is good. But for me it was a 3 or 3.5 star experience; I did not feel I had wasted my money, but nor would I see it again or recommend it to others.

The problem is that it lacks tension and character interest. Anyone with a little knowledge of post-war US history will know how it ends – with McCarthy being censured by the Senate. That McCarthy over-reacted and falsely accused many people of being communists is (rightly) the conventional wisdom, surviving in the term ‘McCarthyism’. The film is not advancing any unusual or controverisal proposition. None of the characters in the film experiences any serious doubt that they are right, the kind of internal tension that may have made up for the lack of historical tension in the narrative. The only dilemma they deal with is how far they can go in attacking McCarthy before CBS, which broadcast Murrow’s show, loses its nerve.

A much more interesting film would have tried to explain why McCarthy behaved the way he did. By coincidence, I had been reading Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 in the days prior to seeing Good Night, and Good Luck, a useful reminder of how frightening communism was in the 1940s and 1950s. The widespread communist use of front organisations and infiltration helped create suspicion around people who were left-of-centre, though not communists. As was subsequently discovered, a few of the people McCarthy accused of being communists were in fact Soviet agents (though McCarthy lacked evidence for this at the time). But Good Night, and Good Luck doesn’t even give us this context, let alone explore McCarthy’s psychology.

The film’s popularity among critics owes something to the historical parallels. Communism then, Islamism today. Witch hunts then, suspicion of Muslims today. As Pomeranz said, “and it’s so important, because it’s about things that are really vital today”. Certainly, when liberal socieities are faced with murderous, totalitarian political movements we must do our utmost to protect civil liberties while protecting ourselves from external and internal threats. But surely it would be odd, in fifty years time, to make a film about the Howard government’s terror legislation without mentioning September 11, Bali, Madrid or London?

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December 30, 2005 at 4:03 pm

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Hangover cures?

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If there’s a magic bullet for hangovers, researchers have yet to find it. After combing through the scholarly research on the subject Max Pittler, Joris Verster and Edzard Ernst report that:

No compelling evidence exists to suggest that any conventional or complementary intervention is effective for preventing or treating alcohol hangover. The most effective way to avoid the symptoms of alcohol induced hangover is to practise abstinence or moderation.

What about the claim that pale spirits like vodka and gin are less likely to cause hangovers than red wine, whisky or brandy? According to Ian Calder there is some evidence that substances called congeners make hangovers worse. Darker spirits like whisky have more of these than pale spirits like vodka. Calder cites a 1973 study by Pawan which found that "The severity of hangover symptoms declined in the order of brandy, red wine, rum, whisky, white wine, gin, vodka, and pure ethanol." Does this mean that you ought to switch to dry Martinis? Not according to Calder: "Even moderate amounts of ethanol can be damaging, so a penalty for consumption is in our interests."

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December 30, 2005 at 2:07 pm

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The Adventures of Dutch Laroo

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Did you hear the one about the Pennsylvanian politician who wanted to be a comedian?

"The Legislature’s public reputation is getting hammered for the pay raise vote, and one of their number is writing blue humor on the Web? Don’t they have PR classes for this sort of thing?" asks John Micek. Maybe not. Earlier this year Daylin Leach — Pennsylvania legislator and one time stand-up comic — got himself into a jam by making fun of local journalists on his blog — Leachvent.com.

The trouble started when Pennsylvania legislators voted themselves a 16 per cent pay raise. Columnists at the Philadelphia Inquirer condemned the vote as a ‘travesty’ and a grassroots movement formed to sweep the politicians responsible out of office. The Inquirer followed up this story with an expose of the 2005 National Conference of State Legislatures, held in Seattle:

… over the last week, Cohen, D., Phila., Curry, D., Montgomery, and three dozen other legislators from Pennsylvania have been treated like royalty here in this coastal city, even as they are under siege at home for voting themselves a huge pay raise. They’ve been wined, dined and entertained. They’ve ridden to the top of the Space Needle, gone to a Mariners game, and partied in penthouse-level restaurants, usually on the dime of big business and special-interest groups.

According to the Inquirer, there were a few tedious seminars for the legislators to attend but, "Almost all made plenty of time for fun."

One state legislator, Daylin Leach, thought the criticism was over the top. Leach had already complained that the media were more interested in reporting political salaries than they were in reporting poverty or problems with the criminal justice system. Now he turned to the web and threw the switch to comedy.

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December 30, 2005 at 9:36 am

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Around the blogs

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The hyperactive Peter Boettke at The Austrian Economists has maintained his output despite my appeal for relief through the festive season. There are pieces on economics and ideology, the departure of yet another economics adviser in Russia, a link to a recent interview with Milton Friedamn (still sharp in his nineties) and much more.

Matt McIntosh has provided a feed to some really excellent pieces, one on setting priorities (good and bad procrastination) and another (linked from that), an inspiring address from Richard Hamming (who worked alongside some of the great names in modern science – Shannon, Feynman, Fermi, Teller, Oppenheimer, Bethe) on lifting your level of effectiveness in research.

The Club Gruen blog has moved to new lodgings courtesy of the tireless and mercurial Ken Parish (no offence Ken, I just like the phrase). Check this out for a great human interest story about a Christmas present, an old painting of Gruen senior. Take the next step to this site for some moving and inspirational tributes to one of the really fine Austrian/Australians of the last generation.

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December 30, 2005 at 9:04 am

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Whirlpool's Annual (dubious) Australian Broadband User Survey

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Whirlpool’s annual Australian Broadband User survey is on again, and once more it looks like falling into the ‘dubious’ research category, The survey has high ideals, promoting the fact that “the survey is not about advertisers or company research — it’s designed to capture your opinions on important issues like download limits, pricing, contracts and reliability of service.” And “giving the consumer a strong voice to say how they feel about the general state of broadband in Australia, and specific experiences with their provider.” Unfortunately for Whirlpool, I can think of a few reasons why their survey won’t be the ‘strong voice’ they are hoping for.

Firstly, there are design issues with the survey. Within hours of the survey going up, a number of Whirlpool users were posting their concerns with the wording and responses offered to several questions. I’ll spare Catallaxy readers an extended analysis of the questionnaire flaws and instead simply suggests people take the survey themselves or read the discussion on Whirlpool.

Secondly, the respondents to the survey aren’t likely to be representative of the general broadband using population. In last years survey, 40% of respondents worked in IT or Telecommunications, and nearly 48% of respondents where under the age of 25. Tech savvy users can be an interesting group to study, especially for their opinion influencing ability. However I’d suggest that most ISPs and policy makers will be more interested in what the mass market has to say, as this is where the money (or votes) are.

What these factors boil down to is that this survey will probably have the most influence on the small ISPs in the market. Large ISPs (and presumably government departments) will continue to engage professional researchers to provide better quality answers to the important questions shaping the industry – leaving the smaller players to rely on the current fads and whims of Whirlpool users.

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December 30, 2005 at 8:36 am

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