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Archive for October, 2002

The end of warblogging?

October 23rd, 2002 Comments off

Given the centrality of warblogging* in the growth of the blogging phenomenon, particularly in the US, I am fascinated by the question of how the blog world would adapt to a resolution of the Iraqi crisis based on weapons inspections rather than war. So far, all I’ve found in warblogging circles is denial. I think it’s clear though, that such a resolution would be the end of warblogging in the classic sense. Of course, there’s still the real war on terror, that is, the struggle against al Qaeda and its offshoots, but this won’t serve as a basis for warblogging for two reasons:
(a) news is too infrequent and sketchy; and, more importantly
(b) everyone’s in favour of it.
Of course, there are disagreements about tactics, and more serious issues about civil liberties, but warbloggers are as divided as everyone else on these questions.
The big question then is, what, if anything, will replace warblogging at the centre of the blogosphere? My best guess is that we will see a breakup into a large number of intersecting spheres with no obvious centre. This has already happened here to a limited extent as “Ozplogistan” has become a distinct virtual reality rather than a possible label for the Australian minority of the US-centred blogworld.

*Warblogger, like ‘economic rationalist’, is the kind of term most people rightly dislike, but find to be inescapable in talking about a large and more or less likeminded group. And, in both cases, the group concerned used it first.

Categories: General Tags:

Eponymous verbs

October 22nd, 2002 Comments off

I just gave Tim Dunlop an award for coining the term “Steynwalling” and now I’m hoist by my own petard, as Don Arthur presents a great post on “Quiggling the factoids on poverty”. The only consolation is that Don likes my explanation of the Instapundit factoids on this topic, so I guess “Quiggling” is one of those rare eponymous verbs that reflects favourably on the original source.
PS No one has yet pointed out my use of the proverbial phrase “hoist by my own petard”, which is, originally, due to Shakespeare (though I had to look this fact up), so I’ll do it. If anyone still has the patience, I’m happy to explain why this is legitimate, and would be in a newspaper article, whereas stealing lines from Oscar Wilde usually is not.

Categories: General Tags:

Dunblane all over again

October 22nd, 2002 Comments off

I’ve just seen the news that the Monash killer had licenses for all four of the guns he used. If the danger of terrorist attack had not already settled the issue of gun prohibition in Australia, this ought to do it. No one in an Australian city (or country town, for that matter) ought to be allowed to own a gun. Security guards and police should be able to take guns from an armoury for work and return them at the end of the shift, and I suppose some similar arrangement could be made for the ‘sport’ of pistol shooting. Farmers (and professional shooters) need rifles and obviously have to keep them on-farm. But possession of a firearm (or gun parts, or bullets) outside these limited exemptions ought to be treated as evidence of intention to murder, in the same way as possession of a ‘traffickable quantity’ of drugs is sufficient to convict someone of being a drug dealer, and similarly with housebreaking implements for burglary. There is, after all, no real use for a gun but killing, and no real use for a handgun but killing people.

Whether or not this would reduce the use of guns by professional criminals, I don’t know. But the Monash killer was, until yesterday, a perfect example of the ‘ordinary law-abiding gun-owner’ represented by bodies like the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia. He would probably not have been able to obtain one firearm illegally, let alone four. When the SSAA has worked out a foolproof plan to keep potential murderers out of their ranks, I’d be happy to give their guns back.

Categories: General Tags:

Disarmament = Regime Change

October 22nd, 2002 Comments off

I think Tim Dunlop already noted the new White House line from Ari Fleischer that Iraqi disarmament is equivalent to regime change. But now the NYT has it from Bush himself. So far, things have gone as I predicted after Bush’s first UN speech, and I’m feeling happier about the Iraq situation than I have done at any time since the “Axis of Evil” speech. The worst-case outcome, a unilateral US war with no clear aims, now seems much less likely. If Saddam disarms, Bush will have scored a major victory without compromising the war on terror. If he refuses, it should be possible to get unified world support for his overthrow. The dangerous case is where Saddam engages in foot-dragging just enough to justify an attack as far as the US is concerned, but not enough for others. This is his past form, but he may well realise that it’s his own neck on the line this time.
A peaceful resolution in Iraq will be a huge benefit to us in hunting down the Bali bombers. We need the full co-operation of the Indonesian government and civil society and this will be much easier to get if we are not engaged in what can be represented (in the terms of praise used by leading warbloggers) as ‘a new imperialism’ or ‘cultural genocide’.

Of course, from the viewpoint of unilateralist warbloggers, the reverse of the above analysis applies. If Saddam complies totally, they don’t get a war at all, and if he is totally defiant they get the ‘wrong’ war, one with UN authority and a multinational coalition that will run the postwar nationbuilding, if not the actual fighting. The optimal outcome from this viewpoint is the one where Saddam promises to comply, then drags his feet.

Categories: General Tags:

Steyn does it again

October 22nd, 2002 Comments off

Even when he has a strong case, Mark Steyn can’t resist lying to make it look better. His piece in today’s Oz is a rehash of earlier criticism (his own and others) of those who are trying to blame the Bali bombings on some ‘root cause’ such as the Israel-Palestine dispute or support for war in Iraq. This is a pretty easy case to make – it’s done nicely by Alexander Downer in response to Archbishop Carnley (thanks to Ken Parish for this quote)
“If we don’t know who did it, then it’s pretty hard to know what their motives were and obviously if Archbishop Carnley’s Diocese has some information that can assist with the investigation then we would obviously appreciate that information.”
Of course, Steyn pushes the argument much further than it can run. It’s silly to present bin Laden as some sort of crusader (I use the term advisedly) for Palestine, but it’s equally silly to suggest, as Steyn does, that the support bin Laden has received is entirely the product of irrational hatred.
More importantly, Steyn throws in this aside: ‘But, if even this most elastic of root causes can be stretched halfway around the globe to a place conspicuously lacking Jews or Americans, then clearly it can apply to anyone or anything: my advice to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness is to put down the Omagh bombing as an understandable reaction to decades of frustration at Washington’s indulgence of the Zionist oppression of the Palestinian people. ”
I assume Steyn is aware that the Omagh bombing was carried out by a group calling itself the Real IRA (its jailed members just confessed the crime and announced the dissolution of the group) seeking to derail the peace process in which Adams and McGuinness were taking part. However, given Steyn’s ignorance of basic historical facts, this may be an unsafe assumption. The same point could have been made without lying if Steyn had named the Real IRA instead of Adams and McGuinness, or if he had referred to a crime in which Adams and McGuinness were actually complicit, like the bombing of the Conservative Party conference in Brighton . But Steyn can’t resist a lie if he thinks he can get away with it.
This is as good a time as any to announce the results of my Steyn competition, in which I asked readers to nominate a Steyn column that didn’t contain either a gross error or an unattributed and/or distorted quotation. Of course, there were no entries, but Tim Dunlop wins an award for coining the term “Steynwalling” (Definition: A failure to respond to repeated demonstrations of error, especially by right-wing bloggers).
Just to finish with Steyn I decided to go back to the eponymous ‘Fisking’ that made Steyn’s name in blogging circles, in which he recounted the famous incident where Fisk was set upon by a mob of Afghan refugees. It was a pretty lame piece of abuse in general, but there was one memorable line I wanted to check on:

You’d have to have a heart of stone not to weep with laughter.

This seemed well above Steyn’s usual standard and, sure enough, it was. Oscar Wilde, referrring to Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop said “you would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh” at the death of Little Nell. This quote is widely cited on the web (with attribution), but not, I think, so well known that Steyn could claim he didn’t need to acknowledge it.
Steyn’s plagiarism of Wilde gave rise to one final thought. If Oscar were going through his legal troubles today, who do you think would be at the head of the pack baying for his blood?
Update: Be sure to check the comments thread, especially Tim’s “acceptance speech”.

Categories: General Tags:

Change of address

October 21st, 2002 Comments off

The Parish Pump has moved to this new site, abandoning Blogspot. In addition, Ken has abandoned Blogger for a manually coded weblog. I’ll watch this brave experiment with interest.

Categories: General Tags:

Sweden and Mississippi

October 21st, 2002 Comments off

In a recent post, I mentioned Paul Krugman’s demolition of what I referred to as the “Instapundit factoid” that Sweden is poorer than Mississippi. Don Arthur gives some useful background to the dispute, but questions whether Krugman’s critique constitutes a demolition.
There are a couple of ways we might interpret the claim. The first is that there are relatively more poor people, relative to some objective poverty line, in Sweden than in Mississippi. This not true. In fact, as Krugman shows, it’s not even true when you compare the US as a whole with Sweden. There are a higher proportion of (absolutely and relatively) poor people in the US than in Sweden or other West European economies. This is not offset by ‘dynamism’ or ‘social mobility’. Poor people in the US are more likely to stay poor than poor people in European countries – this is why the notion of an ‘underclass’ originated in the US.

The second interpretation is that the ‘average’ Swede is poorer (or less rich) than the ‘average’ Mississippian or American. This raises two more definitional questions. What is ‘average’ and what does ‘poorer’ mean.

On the first point, virtually everyone who has studied the subject seriously agrees that the most useful notion of ‘average’ is the median, that is, the midpoint of the income distribution. Krugman uses this definition when he says ‘Sweden may have lower average income than the United States, that’s mainly because our rich are so much richer. The median Swedish family has a standard of living roughly comparable with that of the median U.S. family’ By contrast, Reynolds wrongly relies (implicitly rather than explicitly) on the assumption that the correct measure is the arithmetic mean.
To see the difference, suppose that Kerry Packer makes $1 billion (To simplify things suppose he makes the profit on overseas transactions and keeps the money there so no other Australians are affected). There are two possible ways you can look at this
(a) The average Australian is $50 better off
(b) This makes no difference to the average Australian
If you believe (b) you should go with Krugman and the median. If you believe (a) you should go with Reynolds and the mean. You might also start wondering why you are not producing a ton of wheat a year like the ‘average’ Australian household.

The other point raised by Krugman and others, but ignored as far as I can see by Reynolds, is that, on average, Americans work longer hours than Swedes (or anyone except people in quite poor countries). In economic terms, leisure is a good and there is no reason to ignore it in comparisons of wealth and poverty (I’ve published journal articles making just such comparisons between Australia and Japan).
The correct economic interpretation of the claim “the average Swede is poorer than the average Mississippian” is “The median person in Mississippi could work the same hours as the median person in Sweden and afford a higher standard of living” In fact, the reverse is true. As Krugman says, the average American is about as well off as the average Swede (the same goes for other West Europeans). Rich Americans are a lot richer than rich Europeans and poor Americans are a lot poorer.
Of course, in terms of the arithmetic mean, very rich people pull the average up a lot more than very poor people pull it down. But that just reinforces the point that the mean is not a useful measure of average wealth.
Update Rob Corr has a bit more on this

Categories: General Tags:

Close to home

October 21st, 2002 Comments off

Tim Dunlop had already blogged this, but I just got the following email

“The Vice-Chancellor has asked for the following message to be drawn to the attention of all staff:

You may already have heard on the radio news of a fatal shooting incident at Monash University.

Two people have been shot dead and eight others injured in a shooting incident on the sixth floor of the Robert Menzies Building at Monash University earlier this morning. Two of the injured have been taken to the Alfred Hospital’s trauma unit.

A man has been arrested following the incident and the Homicide Squad is investigating.”

This kind of thing (not as bad as this) has happened at other universities. I don’t have anything much to say about it, but I feel that I should record it.

Update: This won’t be news for Australian readers, but I felt I should record it anyway. The gunman was stopped by the heroic action of an econometrics lecturer, Lee Gordon-Brown, who tackled him, with the assistance of three students, and was shot in the process. He’s currently in hospital. University lecturing is not normally a job that calls for heroism and I doubt that any of us could say for sure how we would react in such a situation, but Gordon-Brown is an inspiration to us all. There’s a full story here.

Categories: General Tags:

More about oil

October 21st, 2002 Comments off

I was thinking about doing an economic analysis of reductions in oil consumption today and happened to receive the latest issue of Resources, a magazine put out by the US-based Resources For the Future institute, probably the leading advocate of market-based solutions to environmental problems. It included an article on the topic, Is Gasoline Undertaxed in the United States (Note: PDF file). The conclusion, not surprisingly is “Yes”, basically because of congestion, pollution and accident “externalities”. The author, Ian Parry, suggests an optimal tax of $1/gallon compared to the current tax of about 40 cents/gallon.
Assuming current demand is based on a ‘normal’ price of around $1.20/gallon, the implied price increase is 50 per cent. With a long-run elasticity of demand of 0.7, this implies that the long-run reduction in demand would be 35 per cent. The implication of Parry’s analysis is that the US, acting in its own self-interest, and regardless of foreign policy concerns, would be better off reducing gasoline consumption by 35 per cent. Broadly similar arguments apply to other transportation uses. Since transport accounts for about 60 per cent of total petroleum consumption, this implies a reduction in total oil consumption of 20 per cent, and a reduction in net imports of around 40 per cent or about 4 million barrels per day. This is more than the likely amount of additional production that would arise from overthrowing Saddam, even assuming an American occupation or an Iraqi puppet government acting in the interests of the US, as is explicit in the arguments of Steven den Beste and implicit in any oil-based scenario.
Rationing would achieve the same reduction in demand more rapidly, although less efficiently in an economic sense. If reducing reliance on Saudi oil is a strategic objective of the US of sufficient importance to justify war, then the US government is morally obliged to take whatever peaceful and unilateral action it can towards this goal before resorting to military means.

In the comments thread, Steven den Beste asserts that “Your entire idea is based on the fallacious assumption that the refining process can be adjusted to produce all outputs in whatever proportions are desired. That isn’t how it works. ”

Actually, the refining process can be adjusted, though not without limit, and, more importantly, there is trade in petroleum products as well as crude. The US uses more gasoline relative to other products than the fractionation process produces, and therefore trades other refined products for gasoline as well as importing crude. As this graph shows, transportation (mainly gasoline) is indeed the dominant use of petroleum in the US. In any case, I picked gasoline precisely because this is the petroleum product for which attempts to reduce consumption would be most politically unthinkable. If the US government could grasp this nettle, it would have no trouble in cutting back on other uses for oil.

The idea of a war based even partly on promoting a flow of Iraqi oil doesn’t stand up either economically or morally. A war with Iraq may be justified for a number of reasons, but oil isn’t one of them.

Categories: General Tags:

US abandons 'regime change'

October 21st, 2002 Comments off

This NYT report is the clearest statement yet that the US has dropped its demand for regime change in Iraq
“All we are interested in is getting rid of those weapons of mass destruction,” Powell said. “We think the Iraqi people would be better off with a different leader, a different regime, but the principal offense here is the weapons of mass destruction, and that is what this resolution is working on.”
Obviously, the war faction is assuming and hoping that Saddam is going to obstruct the inspectors. One argument, put to me by Steven den Beste in email is that he has no choice, given that he actually has WMD programs going on. This, like much of the discussion about inspections, is refuted by the history of the first series of inspections following the Gulf War which found and destroyed Saddam’s nuclear weapons program, using calutrons to enrich the uranium. It’s clear that Saddam has the option either to destroy the weapons himself or to ‘fess up and let the UN destroy them, and unless he’s crazy, that’s what he will do. On the other hand, as another NYT report pointed out, Saddam’s fear of assassination means that he’s thoroughly isolated from the outside world, so he may well think he can get away with obstructing the inspections.

Categories: General Tags:

A modest proposal

October 20th, 2002 1 comment

Bloggers as diverse as Ken Parish and Steven den Beste have argued that the real case for an invasion of Iraq is ‘about oil’ in the sense that it will provide a way of breaking the OPEC stranglehold on oil, and therefore allowing the US to deal with the real source of Islamist terrorism: Saudi Arabia. For those who support such a rationale, and regard the threat posed by Islamists as calling for American sacrifices comparable to those made in World War II (not to mention the thousands of Iraqi civilians and unwilling conscripts whose lives will be sacrificed as ‘collateral damage’) I have a proposal that is simple, cost-effective,unilateral, foolproof and unthinkable.

The proposal is petrol (gasoline) rationing. If the US reduced its consumption of oil (used primarily for gasoline) by half, it would reduce its import dependency to zero and Americans would still be able consume more, per person, than the rest of the OECD. OPEC would be out of business. The proposal is:

Simple:

Nothing could be simpler than this

Cost-effective:

In financial terms, the US would reduce its trade deficit. In economic terms, there would be a loss of consumer welfare, but it would be well under the 3 per cent of GDP that has been estimated as the cost of a serious war effort

Unilateral:

An invasion of Iraq requires the co-operation of at least some middle Eastern oil states and preferably Saudi Arabia itself. In addition, it requires at least passive consent from the Russians, who have apparently already secured guarantees that their oil interests won’t be affected. Rationing can be implemented without going near the UN or any foreign government.

Foolproof:

Unlike war, which is always chancy, rationing is something at which governments have always excelled. And if black marketeers managed to slip around the edges of the policy, even a 25 per cent reduction in US demand would push the Saudis into bankruptcy

Unthinkable:

Just think about it

Categories: General Tags:

For Richer

October 20th, 2002 Comments off

Paul Krugman documents and analyzes the growth in inequality in the US, attributing it, rightly in my view, to changes in social attitudes and the distribution of political power rather than to underlying forces. In passing, he notes that median incomes in the US have risen by only 10 per cent in the past 20 years, and demolishes the Instapundit factoid claim that people are better off in Mississippi than in Sweden.
For those who prefer striking examples to statistics, check out the latest from Arianna Huffington

Categories: General Tags:

DAY OF MOURNING

October 19th, 2002 Comments off


No more posting from me until Monday. I’ll be observing our national day of mourning of which the wattle above is the symbol.

Categories: General Tags:

Bali and the Blogosphere

October 19th, 2002 Comments off

In commenting on the Bali bombings, I’ve avoided linking to the writings of others, either bloggers or other commentators (with the exception of a brief response to one US-based critic of my comments). I didn’t want to have the difficult task of clarifying my own thoughts and emotions made more difficult by arguments with others.
But now that the immediate aftermath is behind us, I thought I’d record my views on the way in which bloggers and other dealt with these awful events. On the whole, I thought Australians responded pretty well – showing sympathy those injured and bereaved, grief for those lost, and anger at those who would do such a thing, but not giving way either to panic or to calls for indiscriminate revenge on Muslims or Indonesians in general.
Thus far, at least, our political leaders have responded both decently and sensibly. I was disappointed by reports that Bob Brown had said that the bombing was a result of our possible involvement in an attack on Iraq (and I said so in a comments thread somewhere) but as Don Arthur notes, these reports turned out to be false. And while I don’t suppose they are blind to the possibilities, neither Howard nor Crean has gone after political advantage as yet.
Nevertheless, some people, including deplorably, Archbishop Carnley, have tried to use the bombing to make a political point about Iraq. It will be a long time, if ever, before we know if the Australian position on Iraq played a role in the decisions of the terrorists about who should be targeted (I doubt it, but I have no more evidence than anyone else). But regardless of what we might or might not find out some time in the future, the important fact was that many Australians and others were murdered by evil criminals. Any attempt to exploit that for political purposes, especially in a way that might be seen to mitigate the guilt of the killers, is wrong and offensive.
Coming to the blogosphere, I’ll begin by agreeing with just about everybody else that Gareth Parker‘s contribution has been superb. Gareth’s conveyed all the emotions Australians have felt about this atrocity, while remaining reasonable and balanced in his determination that we should bring those responsible to justice.
The negatives are much harder to find. Fortunately, as far as I know, no Australian blogger has taken the line that ‘we are to blame for all this’. The main blogging fault has been on the other side, with people so eager to sniff out heresy that they were happy to make it up if they couldn’t find it. An example was James Morrow’s beat-up about the way the SMH rewrote the Reuters feed they got.
Tim Blair gave us a mixed bag – some great, impassioned and obviously sincere writing on the victims of the bombing mixed with a lot of petty point-scoring and heresy-hunting. His American audience loved it, but most of the Australian commentary I saw was more ambivalent and rightly so.
Between the extremes, the majority of bloggers struggled to come to terms with the bombing but managed to make valuable contributions in the end. I’d particularly mention Don Arthur, Bargarz, Tim Dunlop, Ken Parish and Scott Wickstein. I won’t say anything about my own contributions, but the comments thread on this blog has plenty of interesting ideas from among others, Jason Soon and Jack Strocchi. And there are lots of others I haven’t listed – readres could start by checking the links on the left .

Categories: General Tags:

110 percent evil

October 19th, 2002 Comments off

From the NYT, the best comment I’ve yet seen on the Iraqi election. It’s Saddam Hussein, by a Whisker
Teaser: “Mr. Hussein won 100 percent of the vote, but Mr. Hussein’s aides claim that the real number was probably closer to 110 percent.”

Categories: General Tags:

Junk science

October 19th, 2002 Comments off

As a result of the Washington shootings, there are increasing calls in the US for gun ‘fingerprinting’. The idea is guns would be test-fired and records of the bullets kept for matching with those retrieved from crime scenes. As both opponents and critics have acknowledged, this would, in effect be a registration system, something that is anathema to the National Rifle Association and other supporters of an unrestricted right to bear arms.

However, I didn’t want to comment on this debate but on an article in which it is argued that such fingerprinting won’t and can’t work. This piece, linked by Instapundit.com:, was published at a site called Junkscience.com which purports to refute “”Junk science” defined as” faulty scientific data and analysis used to used to further a special agenda. ”

The publisher of Junk Science is Steve Milloy, who is an adjunct fellow at the Cato Institute. So, one might ask whether Milloy’s definition of junk science applies to his own site. Since scientific truth is always provisional it’s hard to prove that any particular piece of scientific work is ‘faulty’ (alternatively, if you apply a sufficiently high standard of rigour, all work is faulty). So the obvious question is whether the work is being used to ‘further a special agenda’. After all, scientific facts being as awkward as they are, anyone who pursues objective research is sooner or later going to come up with results that have political implications they don’t like.

This has, however, not happened to Milloy, as far as I can see. I went through his site, and failed to find a single instance where the results he reported weren’t in line with the poltical agenda of the Cato Institute. On some issues, such as global warming, his claims are clearly inconsistent with the views of even the most sceptical scientific commentators. Milloy says
“Global warming is a silly controversy that should have faded long ago. But gullible youth, a corrupt bureaucracy and biased media may keep it alive for years to come.”
Among serious scientists, even strong Kyoto opponents like Richard Lindzen agree that the balance of evidence favors the existence of some human-induced global warming, and argue only that the uncertainty surrounding the issue is too great to justify immediate action. Milloy would be hard-pressed to find any credible scientist who would endorse his claim.

But more to the point, even when Milloy’s facts are right, what he’s doing is advocacy disguised as science. He selects the facts that support his political case, and ignores those that don’t. Does anyone seriously suppose, for example, that if a new and improved method of gun fingerprinting were developed, Milloy would publicise it? What he does is rightly described as “junk science”.

This kind of thing is done on all sides of politics, particularly in relation to environmental issues. What makes Milloy particularly dangerous, however, is that he engages in advocacy while purporting to defend scientific objectivity. Quite a few others, often claiming to be ‘sceptics’, do the same thing. The right word for someone who believes scientific evidence will always confirm their preconceived views is ‘credulous’ not sceptical’.

A good test on this relates to environmental and food safety ‘scares’. There have been a great many of these over the past thirty or forty years, relating to such diverse risks as acid rain, aluminium saucepans, Alar (a pesticide used on apples) and asbestos, to name only the first few on my list. Anyone who investigates them honestly will find some where the scientific evidence of danger is overwhelming, some where it is non-existent and some that are in-between. It follows that someone who always finds that scares are justified, or always finds that they are not justified, is not a scientist but a lobbyist.

Categories: General Tags:

The Axis of Mass Destruction

October 19th, 2002 Comments off

The revelation that the North Korean government, the second member of the Axis of Evil (and it seems pretty clear that Iran was only thrown in to make up the numbers) has been trying to build nuclear weapons has forced rethinking of lots of positions. At this stage, it appears probable though not certain that no bomb has actually been built and also probable but not certain that the Pakistani government gave assistance in return for missiles. What is clear is that the North Korean government has violated a range of agreeements it made with the US under the Clinton Administration.

The big rethinking is going on as various people try to adjust their positions on Iraq or use this news to justify their earlier positions. I’m in the latter category myself, and I suppose most others will be also, human nature being what it is.

The North Korean news indicates a need for a much sharper focus on weapons of mass destruction and the abandonment of the idea of regime change for its own sake. It’s clear, despite the Axis of Evil rhetoric, that the US Administration has no real desire to launch an invasion of North Korea, even though its (the Koreans, I mean) rulers are every bit as evil as Saddam. And despite the rhetoric of hyperpower, the idea that even the US can run wars on four fronts (Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Al Qaeda) stretches credulity.

What is needed now is a really serious focus on weapons of mass destruction everywhere, not just in Iraq. This means
(i) continuing the push for unfettered inspections and destruction of all weapons facilities in Iraq
(ii) demanding the same in N. Korea. Clearly agreements without verification are worthless. This should be pushed through the UN with whatever bribes are needed to prevent a Chinese veto
(iii) a really serious effort to denuclearise the fragment states of the former Soviet Union
(iv) pressure on France and the UK governments to abandon their nuclear weapons. These are pure status symbols with no remaining strategic role, and set an immensely bad example to prestige-seeking governments in the Third World
(v) more cuts in Russian and US arsenals
(vi) the US government recanting its opposition to germ warfare and other treaties (as I pointed out earlier the US objections are the same as those of Saddam
(vii) Pushing hard for a settlement of the Israel/Palestine dispute, then offering the Israelis incentives for nuclear disarmament

This is a long and dishearteningly difficult agenda. But step (i) is looking good and several of the others seem a lot more possible than they did when Reagan and Brezhnev were in office.

The biggest and most difficult issues relate to India and Pakistan. Someone in the comment thread referred to the idea that since S11, Americans focused on the ‘worst case scenario’, and that this justified an invasion of Iraq. But the most plausible worst case scenarios I can think of involve Pakistan – beginning either with a nuclear war between India and Pakistan or with Pakistan’s bombs getting into the ‘wrong’ hands (worse than those they’re already in, that is). If someone could persuade India and Pakistan to take $100 billion apiece in return for agreeing to a settlement in Kashmir and giving up their nuclear weapons (or even scaling back to half a dozen apiece), it would be money well spent.

As an aside, I try when blogging to distinguish governments from the people they rule and, in some cases, represent. For example, I talk about whether Saddam* will comply with UN resolutions and how the Bush Administration will respond. On the other hand, an invasion of Iraq, since it is the country that will be invaded and occupied. This isn’t always a simple distinction to draw, and I haven’t been entirely consistent, but it’s worth remembering, particularly when we think about countries like Indonesia.

* I have formed the impression that ‘Saddam’ is the least respectful form of his name, and therefore use it at all times.

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How to fail in e-business with a record effort

October 18th, 2002 Comments off

Jack Kapica has a nice take on the music biz.

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Grasping at straws

October 18th, 2002 Comments off

In one of the first warblogger responses to the proposed compromise resolution on Iraq, Stephen den Beste at USS Clueless confesses himself confused, reaches the obvious conclusion that crucial allies (he names Kuwait and, interestingly enough, Qatar) wouldn’t go along with a unilateral war without UN approval, then contradicts himself by saying:

Given that the Bush administration now has the ability at any time to kiss off the UN entirely and move if it becomes necessary, then as long as we’re marking time anyway, there’s little danger in this.

One possibility is that the US “agrees” to the two-stage approach, and when the time comes it will go back to the UNSC and say, “It’s time for that second resolution. Oh, by the way, the bombing began fifteen minutes ago.”

Are these strikes supposed to be launched from Kuwait and Qatar? And while den Beste is confident that the US can do without the ‘Europeans’, he doesn’t clarify whether this includes the British, who would certainly be unable to countenance this kind of thing, and whose forces are operationally integrated with those of the US.

But the best clue to how den Beste really sees things is in the filename link to his post, which is “Knuckling under.shtml”.

The fact is that, if the proposed resolution is passed, and the inspectors are admitted and do not report Iraqi obstruction, the US government will find it virtually impossible to launch an invasion unless it is willing to violate the sovereignty of numerous allies in both Europe and the Middle East. den Beste and others should admit this and start thinking about the consequences, rather than grasping at straws.

Stephen den Beste replies “I guess I wasn’t as clear as I thought I was. Publicly, Kuwait and Qatar are saying they need UN approval. Privately, I suspect they don’t, but they want to be seen saying “No” right up until five minutes before the bombing begins, launched from their territory. (Launched from Qatar. Kuwait will be holding some of our troops preparing for ground assault.)”

I still don’t think this analysis stands up. The presence of UN inspectors, operating under a resolution agreed by the US, is going to impose incredible costs on any country that participates in an invasion, unless of course, Saddam obliges by obstructing the inspectors to the point where they report noncompliance back to the UNSC. Why put Qatar and Britain in this position just to please the French?

If the US were really committed to an invasion, surely it would be far more sensible to have proposed a resolution that was vetoed by the French or Russians. Then Bush could denounce the UN and present the US as the only real opponent of terrorism. Of course, the “veto” part of the story assumes that the US resolution would have obtained a majority, which doesn’t seem likely, but that isn’t crucial.

I conclude that the Powell faction in the administration has won, even if the hawks haven’t yet realised it. And of course, there’s still the possibility that Saddam will give Bush the war he wants.

Further update Powell is now engaged in desperate spin to conceal the fact that the compromise he’s agreed to will make a unilateral US decision to go to war with Iraq almost impossible. But they can’t go without Britain, so it’s useful to read what the Brits have been saying:
“Britain, the United States’ only ally so far in its campaign for military action against Baghdad, stepped in to try to bridge the persisting gap between Washington and Paris, assuring France and other wary Council members that London would insist on another round of “detailed discussions” before any military assault.”
and
“Even Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s ambassador, felt forced to insist that “our first preference is a peaceful solution.

He said that whenever Mr. Blix or weapons inspectors reported that Iraq was not cooperating, Britain would insist on a new Council meeting to “hear the view” of other members.”

In other words, once the compromise resolution is passed, the issue is in the hands of Saddam and Mr. Blix. No negative report, no grounds for war.
Update Powell’s spin has kept some warbloggers happy. But remember that only a couple of months ago, the US position was an unconditional demand for regime change. All that’s left in the reported draft resolution, and in the statements of the UK and US governments, is that, if inspectors report obstruction to the UNSC, the US and UK will not necessarily accept a veto on military action cast by, say, France. This keeps the pressure on Saddam to comply, which is good, but concedes defeat on the original US position, which is also good.

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Very good news

October 18th, 2002 Comments off

At least for those of us who favor unfettered weapons inspections rather than war with Iraq, the news that the US is to offer a deal for a U.N. Resolution on Iraq is very encouraging. If Saddam rejects this, there will be no alternative but to send in troops. But the global consequences of an attack on Saddam backed by the entire world would be totally different from, and far more favorable than, those of a US invasion with no clear casus belli or war aims.

Facing strong opposition from dozens of nations, the United States has backed down from its demand that a new U.N. resolution must explictly authorize military force if Iraq fails to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, diplomats said Thursday.
Instead, the United States is floating a compromise that would give inspectors a chance to test Baghdad’s will to cooperate on the ground. If the inspectors report that Iraq is obstructing their work, the United States would agree to return to the Security Council for further debate and possibly another resolution authorizing action, the diplomats said

(As an aside for any remaining Mark Steyn fans reading this blog, it appears that none of the countries he claimed were “on board” for an invasion stepped up to support it, and several explicitly opposed it.)

This outcome is going to be very helpful to us in getting full co-operation from Indonesia in the hunt for the Bali bombers and their backers. The last thing we need in this context is a reminder of the ‘deputy sheriff’ and similar episodes. So far the Indonesian response has been much better than I expected, but a lot of goodwill is going to be needed over coming months and years.
No amount of good news for the world as a whole can offset the continuing sadness and anger of Australians seeing bereaved survivors returning from Bali, and families here being forced to give up hope. But the prospects of a united world fighting against this evil are better than they have been at any time since the immediate aftermath of September 11.

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Dust

October 17th, 2002 Comments off

We had a big duststorm in Canberra last night and when we woke up everything was covered in red dust. It makes you think about what’s happening out in the bush. Of course, I know that drought is part of the natural cycle, that a lot of the problems are caused by overallocation of water, that Farmhand is just a front for the privatisation of Telstra, and so on. But when you see people not only washing their cars but hosing down their drives to get rid of that nasty dust, you begin to think that criticism of farmers can only go so far.
To be fair to my fellow Canberrans, only a minority engaged in conspicuous water waste. Driving to work, the 4WDs all looked as if they’d been off-road for once, and the average motorist looked like a rally car driver.

Update: As is so often the case on this blog, the comments add more value than the original post. Be sure to click on the comment link, and read a lengthy and thoughtful comment from Gary Sauer-Thompson

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Steyn fact check

October 17th, 2002 Comments off

In this post last week, I pointed out that the following claim by Mark Steyn

“Just as a matter of interest, how many countries does George W. Bush have to have on board before America ceases to be acting ‘unilaterally’? So far, there’s Australia, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Qatar, Turkey”

was false, at least as regards Australia. I meant to check on the other countries listed but have been focused on the Bali bombing and its consequences. Today I did a Google search on “x support Iraq invasion”, substituting each of the listed countries in turn. Here’s what I found:
Qatar opposes U.S. invasion of Iraq
Denver Post.com – Turks oppose U.S. invasion of Iraq
Spain Urges Easing of Sanctions Against Iraq
Italy confident of Bush consultation before any Iraq action. 24/8/2002. ABC News Online
NetworkOfMinds.com: Regional: Czech Republic and Slovakia news: 08/29/2002
“Czech Cabinet opposes military invasion of Iraq”

The Spain reference is pre-S11, and the Italy story refers to Berlusconi as an “instinctive Bush ally”, which is obviously also true of Howard and Blair, neither of whom have declared themselves “on board” for an invasion without UN authorisation. But it’s clear that Steyn has misrepresented both countries.

In summary, Steyn is wrong on every count. He is either one of the most incompetent journalists ever to be published by a major newspaper or a shameless liar. Any assertion he makes should be assumed false in the absence of independent confirmation.

Update: See two posts up for more direct refutation of Steyn’s claims. Also, be sure to check the comment thread for an erudite and entertaining discussion between Jason Soon and Jack Strocchi regarding Baathist ideology. It’s great to be able to publish this stuff, but given the flakiness of commenting systems, I endorse Jason’s suggestion that Jack should publish his own blog.

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The lights go out at Dynegy

October 17th, 2002 Comments off

The news that Dynegy is to abandon its energy trading business must cast grave doubt on the future of the entire US electricity market, which replaced vertically integrated regulated monopolies in the 1990s. The earlier collapse of Enron was seen by some optimists as the product of firm-specific fraud, but it’s now clear that the whole energy trading market was based on underestimation of the risks involved. And without energy trading those risks are shifted either back to generators or forward to retailers and consumers. I say a bit more about this here.

Update: Another nail in the coffin
Further update: And another

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Tim Blair on the European way to fight terrorism

October 17th, 2002 Comments off

As I did earlier this week, Tim Blair draws on the successful European fight against leftist terrorists like the Red Brigades in the 1970s and 1980s as a model for the fight against Al-Qaeda. As he notes, similar groups like the Weathermen (later the more PC Weather Underground) and the Japanese Red Army operated in the US and Japan, but on a much smaller scale. There were also right-wing groups who while less prominent were more like Al-Qaeda, going in for indiscriminate attacks like the Bologna railway bombing of 1980 which killed 85 people and injured 200. In nearly all the main cases of terrorism, the perpetrators were eventually caught and brought to trial (A closer look at the European evidence has led me to revise my earlier assessment, that we are unlikely to identify individual perpetrators in most cases).
Blair is right to point to Europe as a model, but I don’t think he’s fully absorbed the implications, and certainly his subeditor hasn’t. Blair says ‘Killing and jailing terrorists wipes out terror’ and his piece is headlined ‘Killing terrorists wipes out terror’.
As a corrective to the kind of nonsense being spouted by people like Bob Ellis this is all well and good. There is no point in being nice to terrorists – they must be hunted down remorselessly and brought to justice.
But the European model has a lot more implications, and Blair doesn’t mention these. Unlike many countries that tried and failed to fight terrorism, such as Argentina and Uruguay, the Europeans stuck to legal strategies. Many more terrorists were tried and jailed than were killed. Suspicions have been raised about the prison suicides of Baader and Meinhof, but there’s no good supporting evidence, and these were isolated instances.
There were, at the time, plenty of calls for a less scrupulous response, and suggestions that what was needed was a ‘man on horseback’. Countries in Latin America and elsewhere that heeded those calls paid a high price. The Europeans, with their annoying legalism succeeded where advocates of ‘direct action’ failed.
Blair is also missing the point when he says:

The only major European terrorist group from that era to survive in any significant way is the IRA, which tells us something: attacking terrorists doesn’t breed terror. Negotiating with them does.

Negotiations with the IRA only began in a serious way when attempts to crush it had clearly failed. For two decades, the British government steadfastly refused negotiation and condoned a wide range of extreme measures, including torture* and internment without trial, aimed at suppressing the IRA by force. The failure to beat the IRA had a number of causes, to which I will return in a later post, but excessive willingness to negotiate was not one.
(* Routine use of sensory deprivation, and illegal but widely-known insances of physical torture as well as a number of assassinations)
I’d like to end on a positive note. The tone of right-wing US commentary on the way to fight terrorism has been anti-European, often venomously so. Particular scorn has been poured on European legalism and hostility to vigilante action. It’s good to see someone like Tim Blair recognising that the European model is the one to follow.

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More good news

October 17th, 2002 Comments off

The collapse of the Dutch Government and the implosion of the xenophobic Pim Fortuyn List is welcome news, though cautious evaluation of future prospects is needed.
Update I dashed this off very quickly, and didn’t take the time to point out that I was referring to the Pim Fortuyn List political party, and not to the late Pim Fortuyn himself, as “xenophobic”. Quite a few people in the comments thread picked me up on this. Fortuyn was a complex character, certainly not a right-winger in the mould of Le Pen or Haider, but in my view, politically irresponsible. (I shouldn’t have to spell out that this does not in any way mitigate the guilt of his assassin, but I will spell it out anyway). The PFL was a very mixed bag, including some people like Fortuyn himself and some very nasty types indeed, but its overall political position was, as far as I can see, the standard anti-immigration agenda pushed by Hanson, Haider et al.
I’m glad the PFL is (apparently) gone. The crucial question now is whether the official conservative parties will repent of the deal they made, and repudiate the racist right (as, for example, Bush and Chirac have done) or make a play to pick up the votes that are now floating, as happened in Australia. Whatever the short-term benefits of the latter strategy, I am convinced it will prove disastrous in the long run for the countries and parties that pursue it.

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Message from Ken Parish

October 16th, 2002 Comments off

Ken Parish has now debugged his site, removing some nasty code that was serving up popunder ads without his knowledge. The problems were exacerbated by an apparently unrelated Blogger failure. Bloggers who want to maintain alertness should read his account here.

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If I had a hammer

October 16th, 2002 Comments off

Paul Krugman and I think alike a lot. In this piece on Bali (one of relatively few useful Op-Ed pieces on the bombings in the US press) he looks at the proposed war on Iraq in the light of a metaphor commonly used to describe economists.

Meanwhile, plans to invade Iraq proceed. The administration has offered many different explanations, some of them mutually contradictory, for its determination to occupy Baghdad. I think it’s like the man who looks for his keys on the sidewalk, even though he dropped them in a nearby alley, because he can see better under the streetlight. These guys want to fight a conventional war; since Al Qaeda won’t oblige, they’ll attack someone else who will. And watching from the alley, the terrorists are pleased.

I prefer another metaphor. “To a man who has only a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. For the last decade, Americans have been told that their armed forces are more powerful than the rest of the world put together, that they are the only superpower and so on. Although S11 shook this faith in some ways, the aftermath reinforced it in others. Bin Laden imagined himself safe in his caves in Afghanistan, backed by the Taliban fighters who had beaten the Red Army and the Northern Alliance. Within a few months, the Taliban had been destroyed and bin Laden himself was either a fugitive hidden in a cellar somewhere or (more likely I think) a corpse buried under tons of earth. In the whole process, the American casualties could be numbered on the fingers of two hands.
What is more natural, then, than to want to repeat this success? But the fragments of Al Qaeda have learned the lesson of Afghanistan. They are hiding in cities around the world and behind the skirts of people like Abu Bakar Bashir, who defy the authorities to produce the evidence of their guilt. Carrier battle groups and predator drones are of no use against this kind of enemy. So attention is focused on Saddam Hussein who is at least a plausible nail to be hit with the hammer of US military superiority.
It’s taken me a while to reach this analysis. I’ve never been satisfied with the idea that the US push for war on Saddam is ‘about’ oil, or imperialism or Bush family vendettas but I haven’t been sure what it is about. Now I think I understand it. I still think the advocates of war with Iraq are wrong, but this is the kind of error everyone is prone to, and one which I hope may be amenable to reasonable argument.

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A small piece of unequivocally good news

October 16th, 2002 Comments off
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I'm not a Windows user, I just play one on TV

October 16th, 2002 Comments off

Microsoft Pulls Ad After Web Flap

This is an amusing story and a good example of the weblog community at work. The geeks at Slashdot caught Microsoft faking a riposte to Apple’s “Switch” ads.

BTW, when I last wrote on this topic, I received from the Bitchin’ Monaro Guide some very amusing parodies of the Apple ads, unfortunately not suitable for publication on this (so far) G-rated site. I imagine those interested could get the parodies if they asked.

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The ICC and the Bali bombers

October 16th, 2002 Comments off

Just before the Bali bombings, I posted a piece on US use of ‘military contractors’ (mercenaries in plain language) and threw in what seemed like an academic aside on the implications for the International Criminal Court. Responding in the comments thread and then on his blog, Bargarz raised the suggestion that terrorists such as Hamas could commit their crimes with impunity as far as the ICC is concerned.
This question is suddenly one of real relevance to Australia. If the Indonesian legal system fails to bring the Bali bombers to justice, as seems all too likely, could accused suspects be tried before the ICC?
Based on this article by Geoffrey Hills I conclude that the answer is, provisionally, “Yes”. Like Bargarz, Hills is a critic of the ICC, but his complaint is that the jurisdiction of the court is too broad, covering ‘crimes against humanity’ as well as traditional war crimes. This is the opposite of the criticism made by Bargarz. It seems clear that the Bali bombing fits the ICC criteria regarding the nature of the crimes covered by the Court’s jurisdication.
The other question is whether crimes committed in Indonesia, by Indonesians or others, are covered. According to this link supplied by Bargarz, Indonesia has not signed or ratified the treaty. I am not clear as to whether this would protect the perpetrators. The US which has signed, but not ratified, and has sought to revoke its signature, clearly does not think that this is sufficient to protect its nationals from prosecution, since it is trying to negotiate bilateral treaties with as many other countries as possible to exempt is nationals.
I’d be interested to from Ken Parish, Kim Weatherall and any other legal bloggers on this issue. In particular, I’d like to know whether, if Indonesia ratifies some time in the future, the jurisdiction of the ICC covers crimes like the Bali bombing, committed after the Treaty came into effect but before Indonesia became a party. I’d also like to know whether there is any way suspects could be tried in Australian courts.

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