The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

World leaders, partying in Pittsburgh

Wednesday 30 September 2009 at 10:47 pm

Briefly — for I am spending more time in airports this week than I should — I wanted to comment on the curious instance last week of the Group of 20 industrialised nations meeting in Pittsburgh.

Not that long ago, the G20 seemed like an irrelevant organisation, and Pittsburgh an equally unimportant city (though I know people who’d say it still is!). But even if last Friday’s announcement was made up of “unenforceable vague standards”, in the words of one US Senator, it’s remarkable because at least there are standards being drawn up. Merely five or ten years ago, it’d have been extraordinary to see twenty nations agree to even try to harmonise policy in this way. But thanks to its right-place-right-time luck in the last 12 months, the G20 has managed to earn some cred, and all eyes seem to be on it.

And thus, in comparison to things like the freak-show last week at the UN General Assembly, the G20’s future suddenly looks filled with promise.

Obama’s stated aim of showing how the country’s “rust belt” is being transformed worked to the extent that plenty of articles were published, and there seems to be a media consensus that something significant happened in Pittsburgh (a changing of the guard, as it were, between the G7/8 and the G20). These stories are all obviously a bit contrived — but I can’t help but feel that maybe they’re onto something.


Fail!, Facebook, and pillows …?

Thursday 19 February 2009 at 10:55 pm

A few anecdotes before the more serious political post to follow:

San Francisco Pillow Fight 2009!

  • The Valentine’s Day pillow fight was fun!
  • My favourite quote from last night’s FAILparty (at a surprisingly cosy bar hidden behind SF’s Federal Building): “I love how the Internet has made ‘fail’ a noun, but I’m sad for ‘ure’. I feel like we should throw a ‘ure’ party, to mourn its loss.”
  • Tonight’s Facebook developer event was cool for explaining how the news feed will become first-person and more about sharing, but also because Mark Zuckerburg dropped by to say hi to everyone …!
  • And okay, I couldn’t resist some politics. I suppose it was necessary for the US to pass an enormous bailout bill, right after Australia’s parliament enacted our own mini-version, but even though both went through with amazing speed I’m surprised at how much party bickering there still was (in both cases). In WA, for instance, observe how the Premier supported the plan at first, only to fall in with his party and question it two days later!

A little catch-up post

Wednesday 15 October 2008 at 11:38 pm
  • Blog, woe! I honestly didn’t mean so much neglect, although in my defence the Real World has been throwing me a fair few curve-balls lately.
  • As a result of said curve-balls, I have a chance to travel! Thus I’m in Washington DC and just left the neighbourhood bar where I was watching the last presidential debate (oh, and pretending to be an American). This was particularly entertaining for the jeers that spread through the room when the candidates spoke about the school system here! Both candidates did a decent job, although Obama didn’t really address the terribly unbalanced federal budget and McCain struck me as more than a tad hypocritical. My favourite quote from the locals: “I don’t care about the parties, I’m voting for DC statehood!”
  • A few weeks ago, I jumped on the tram to Santa Clara for the PHP developers’ event ZendCon, which was awesome! I scored a book because no one else knew about JAWS (tsk, tsk), and spent too much time at Yahoo’s party writing a solver for their Sudoku puzzle with Shaddy of! (Here’s a few thousand solutions). My favourite sessions were Jay Pipes on databases (“never assume anything about the MySQL optimiser“) and Terry Chay’s uncon session with its gratuitous excrement references :-)
  • The economic crisis that started in America and suddenly gripped the world had me quite startled! I mean, it was obvious that it was coming, but I’d have never predicted when or how bad (and the red arrows on my meagre NYSE portfolio demonstrate as much!). I am surprised by the measures that have been taken by governments (particularly the Americans!) in the hope of prompting a recovery — and yet John McCain still speaks of small-government conservatism! So much for laissez-faire.
  • Last week, Victoria formally decriminalised abortion! This is pretty cool.
  • And finally, the Western Australian government has held together, hooray! although I’m yet to see them actually do anything, other than make threats like cutting the budget a la John Howard’s first term.
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Comparing some recent global warming policies

Wednesday 6 June 2007 at 11:48 am

Smokestack near Werribee, Victoria

There’s been quite the flurry of stories about global warming in the news of late.

It reached a peak with last week’s report from the PM’s emissions trading task force, a document that doesn’t embrace science so much as hold it at bay except when absolutely needed. The report does at least acknowledge that the uncertainty of not planning for global warming delays investment in some areas, and therefore argues that Australia shouldn’t wait for a global system to be decided. But while it suggests committing immediately to an emissions cap, it doesn’t say what that should be, and Howard’s not made any suggestions (though he is already misquoting it).

Aside from the fact that the proposed cap-and-trade model starts very slowly (with free licences to pollute for “existing businesses identified as likely to suffer a disproportionate loss”), the report also suggests it should be one policy to rule them all — that “less efficient government policies need to be phased out”.

In this light, consider two State policies announced on Sunday against the climate change tokenism of the WA government: NSW shall be buying clean-fuel buses (done here years ago), while Queensland will spend $300 million on research and set a measly 10% target for renewable energy (although they will commit to cleaning up government buildings). Neither is all that great, but they don’t deserve to be sacrificed; Queensland’s policy at least puts some effort into much-needed research.

And at least it’s better than the Chinese government’s plan for climate change, an English version of which is here (hat-tip to David Reevely, who has an excellent overview). It basically repeats the subtext that can be seen in the Australian report (“waaah! it’ll hurt the economy!”) and focusses on things like improving efficiency and imposing regulations on manufacturers (not that I believe them; consider how easy it is to get local officials to look away). But of course, these are all things that need to be done anyway.

Australia hasn’t ratified Kyoto but has kept to target of 108% of 1990 emissions, while the Chinese failed on the self-imposed goal of 4% reduction in energy use divided by GDP (though that has decreased in the longer term). But even if they get to Western levels of efficiency, they’ll still be ramping up the number of polluting industrial facilities, which is why they should be embracing low-emissions technology now in areas like steelmaking and electricity generation. Indeed, theirs is a situation where nuclear power seems a decent solution: they need lots of energy, and can’t wait for solar panels to become cheap, but nobody wants them building hundreds more coal-fired generators that’ll pollute for decades.

And as an aside, given the concern in some quarters about WA’s boom coming to an end: I do believe that if the State government were to lift its silly ban, selling uranium to China would keep us prosperous for quite some time …

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