Archive for December, 2003

State of Ozplogistan

December 30th, 2003 17 comments

Looking around Ozplogistan, I have two contradictory impressions. On the one hand, the place is so busy and exciting that it’s impossible to keep up with everything that’s going on, let alone to keep the blogroll up to date. For example, I only just realised that I’d left out Tim Lambert and Chris Sheil.

On the other hand, I look around and wonder “where is everybody?”. In the last year or so, most of those I regarded at the time as constituting “my corner of the blogosphere” have moved on. Don Arthur was the first to give the game away, and despite some incisive comments here and there, he hasn’t been lured back. Jason Soon and Ken Parish have both taken a back seat in the collective blogs they founded – I still read both regularly, but with less occasion for cross-linking and debate. More recently, Gareth Parker and Scott Wickstein have taken indefinite breaks. Of my old inner circle, only Rob Corr and Tim Dunlop are still going strong (Rob Schaap continues his tradition of erratic, but often brilliant, blogging).

I guess this says something about the time and energy required for blogging. When big life events come along, or when you just get tired, blogging is an obvious candidate for cutbacks. It looks as though the average lifespan for a blog may turn out to be something like eighteen months (coincidentally or not, almost exactly the combined age of this blog and its predecessor).

However, I’m still having fun, and plan to keep on blogging. I’m still thinking about changes in the setup, maybe including a change of name, and I may make more contributions to group blogs, but the basic pattern isn’t going to change any time soon.

I realise I haven’t mentioned commenters yet, but you are a vital part of blogging for me, especially as the blogosphere becomes more diverse and diffuse. So thanks everyone for another great year of comments

Happy New Year (a day or two early) to everybody!

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Monday Message Board

December 29th, 2003 14 comments

At this time of year, I tend to lose track of what day it is. But I belatedly realise it’s Monday and time for your comments on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please).

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December 28th, 2003 11 comments

Elaine Showalter is, as far as I can tell, the US equivalent of Germaine Greer, so it would be foolish to take anything she says too seriously. Still, I was struck by this observation, in passing, in a piece claiming that the notion of “public intellectual” has passed its sell-by date (a typical metaphor for this shopaholic feminist)

Anybody can complain, blog and find fault; the real intellectual might try to solve problems.

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December 27th, 2003 10 comments

Kevin Drum sees the deal with Qaddafi as a victory for the ‘Bush doctrine’, saying

there are downsides to the Bush Doctrine, lots of them, and that’s why I don’t support it. But there are also upsides, and Libya’s transformation appears to be one of them. Acknowledging that doesn’t make you soft on Bush, it just means you’re willing to acknowledge the obvious.

As I hinted a few days ago, I don’t see this at all.

The Qaddafi deal is a win for what might be called the Blair 2002 doctrine, namely that governments that hold WMDs and threaten the world should be forced to disarm, with the threat of invasion, and to submit to unrestricted inspection. As applied to Iraq, this produced UN resolution 1441 and Saddam’s capitulation, admitting the UN inspectors and declaring (truthfully as we now know) that he had destroyed all his weapons. According to the Blair 2002 doctrine, Saddam should then have received the same treatment as Qaddafi is getting now. The war, according to the Blair 2002 doctrine, was at best, an honest mistake.

The Bush doctrine, usually referred to in terms of pre-emptive action, is that governments hostile to the US should be overthrown. According to this doctrine, a deal that left Saddam in power, but contained, was never acceptable. (This point has been pushed harder since the failure to find WMDs.) But of course, this is precisely the deal that Qaddafi has been given.

It’s true that Bush briefly embraced the Blair 2002 doctrine. But this was a purely tactical move, based on the incorrect expectation that Saddam would supply a satisfactory pretext to secure UN support and cover Blair and the correct calculation that even a patently bogus pretext would be enough to drag Blair along in the end.

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Other-regarding preferences

December 27th, 2003 2 comments

(A repost from my visit to Crooked Timber).

In a couple of recent posts, Matt Yglesias has raised the question of how consequentialists should handle “other-regarding” preferences. He gives two examples. The first is about the possible execution of Saddam Hussein

My own take on the punishment issue leads to a somewhat paradoxical result. … If Iraqis would feel better with him executed, then go for it…
I like to think of this as a wise and sophisticated point of view, but the trouble is that my preferences depend on other people’s preferences. As long as not very many people agree with me, that’s fine, but if some huge portion of the world were to decide I was right, then you’d wind up with an unfortunate self-reference paradox. Sadly, consequentialist attitudes tend to have these kind of results and I think that if I were smarter I would dedicate my life to resolving the problems.

The second is about the preferences of people who are repulsed by overtly gay behavior. Matt concludes that their preferencesmust be counted, although they should be argued against.

This is an issue of considerable practical interest to resource and environmental economists, because of the popularity of stated preference methods for evaluating public goods such as environmental preservation. I find these methods problematic and one big problem is the treatment of other-regarding preferences.

This is why I have an article on the topic in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, (PDF and algebra alert). Not, I imagine the kind of journal that philosophers like Matt read with any regularity
Read more…

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Christy on global warming

December 26th, 2003 23 comments

Via David Appell, this statement from the American Geophysical Union confirming the reality of global warming. The statement says

that human activities — most notably the greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other industries — are warming Earth’s climate at a faster rate than ever.

A particularly noteworthy signatory is John Christy. director of the University of Alabama’s Earth Systems Science Center. While noting that he is

“still a strong critic of scientists who make catastrophic predictions of huge increases in global temperatures and tremendous rises in sea levels.

Christy says

It is scientifically inconceivable that after changing forests into cities, turning millions of acres into farmland, putting massive quantities of soot and dust into the atmosphere and sending quantities of greenhouse gases into the air, that the natural course of climate change hasn’t been increased in the past century.

Christy’s statement, the strongest I’ve seen from him, is significant because he’s been one of the handful of reputable scientists whose work (on satellite measurements of temperatures in the upper atmosphere) and public statements have tended to support the denialist position that is propagated by the legion of “junk science” sites in the blogosphere. Over time, corrections to interpretation of the satellite data have produced a rising trend, similar to that found in measurements of temperature on the ground, rather than the declining trend reported in Christy’s early work.

That leaves Richard Lindzen as, to the best of my knowledge, the only reputable climate scientist still willing to say that the reality of human-caused global warming hasn’t been proved beyond reasonable doubt, and even Lindzen has been pretty quiet lately.

Of course, that’s not a problem for the global warming denialists. They don’t need reputable climate scientists to create the appearance of disagreement; they’re happy to accept the claims of anyone with a PhD after their name, or even without, as long as it supports their position. Currently their leading authorities on the recent history of the global climate are two astrophysicists (Baliunas and Soon), an economist (McKitrick) and a retired mining executive (McIntyre), but they’re happy to rely on astrologers if they give the right answer.

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Hegemony or Empire

December 26th, 2003 12 comments

This is a piece I’m working on for the Fin. Comments much appreciated

It has long been commonplace for critics of American foreign policy to describe the United States as an ‘imperialist’ power. In the last couple of years, however, the term has come to be used more favorably, notably by the British historian Niall Ferguson. The positive view, that America needs to act more like an imperial power has been accompanied by a positive reappraisal of earlier imperial powers like Britain and Rome.

Despite the increasing attention given to imperialist views like those of Ferguson the United States is more accurately described as a hegemonic rather than an imperial power. The United States does not seek to expand its territory, or even, in general, to exercise direct control over the governments of other countries.

On the other hand, particularly under the Bush Administration, the United States has sought to be more than ‘first among equals’. The Administration’s view is that, on any important global issue, the United States is entitled to determine the outcome, with the support of allies if possible, but unilaterally if necessary. This is the viewpoint of a hegemonic, rather than an imperial power.
Read more…

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The ghost of Christmas past

December 24th, 2003 2 comments

CP Snow once said that most ancient British traditions dated back to the second half of the 19th century. The same idea recently popped up in the London Review of Books, with Stefan Collini referring to the

second half of the 19th century, the palaeolithic age of so many British cultural institutions

. Christmas provides an ideal illustration of this.

All the central features of Xmas date back, more or less exactly, to this period, including Christmas pudding, mince pies and cake, Christmas cards and Santa Claus. Although Dickens’ 1843 Christmas Carol, tiresomely readapted every couple of years since, presents a ‘traditional’ Christmas, it is much more accurate to see him as The Man who invented Christmas and his book as a work of invention.

If Christmas was pretty much fixed by 1900, its become immovably solidifed since then. Even the complaints about Christmas (commercialisation, losing the true meaning, secularisation, the loneliness of people with no family, the misery of people forced to endure family gatherings and so on) haven’t changed in decades.

The Australian Christmas is, of course, a bit different, but it’s equally stable as one merges into another and no-one can recall if it was 104 in the shade in 1966 or 106 in the shade in 1964 (I’m quoting from memory from The Complete Book of Australian Verse

The only new(ish) complaint has been about multiculturalism, with the inclusion of the Jewish Hanukkah in a generalized ‘holiday season’, particularly in the US, and the downplaying of explicitly Christian aspects in various public celebrations. But even this is old stuff by now.

Its arguable that Christmas is the rule rather than the exception. Despite the claims of postmodernism and the breathlessness of books like Future Shock, increasingly large areas of opur culture seem to characterized by stability amounting to stasis rather than change. Trends in popular music, for example, used to have a half-life measured in weeks; now, it’s more like decades. Men’s clothes have changed only in subtle details in the past century (take a look at a picture from 1900 and the men are wearing a slightly more formal version of what they would wear today. Go back to 1800 and the change is dramatic).

I’ll have more to say on this general topic in the New Year. But having celebrated the Solstice in a seasonally appropriate way with seafood and cold beer, I’ll be tucking in to the Christmas pudding and brandy sauce tomorrow, so don’t expect anything more from me until at least Boxing Day.

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Rules of evidence

December 23rd, 2003 3 comments

The NYT has an Op-ed piece by Ruth Wedgwood supporting the detention of Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant and criticising an Appeals Court decision that he should either be charged or released. Wedgwood doesn’t mention many of the more disturbing aspects of the Padilla case such as the fact that he is being held incommunicado and that the government disclaims any obligation to announce the arrest/disappearance of enemy combatants, even US citizens on US soil.

But what struck me was the central claim that such processes are necessary because

Federal rules of evidence do not permit the consideration of intelligence reports as proof for criminal convictions, no matter how reliable the informant

. Wedgwood doesn’t spell this out, and it seems surprising to me that there exists such a general principle. I’d be interested to hear from anyone better informed regarding the US legal system on this topic.

Supposing this is correct, my immediate reaction is that it would be better to relax the rules of evidence in terrorism cases than to accept indefinite detention without trial. However, I’d be interested to hear the views of others on this.

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Objectively anti-WMD ?

December 22nd, 2003 8 comments

My natural inclination is to say that the agreement on WMDs between the Libyan, British and US governments is good news. But wouldn’t that leave me open to the accusation of being ‘objectively pro-Qaddafi’ ?

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Political correctness at the PC

December 22nd, 2003 7 comments

Nick Gruen alerted me to this piece by Ross Gittins, excoriating the Productivity Commission’s report on housing affordability. I had only seen the press reports and was struck by the absence of any reference to the cut in capital gains tax, the biggest single factor in converting a boom to a bubble. Ross says

Despite all the fine words and careful analysis in the body of the report, it was no accident that the media’s headlines focused almost exclusively on the recommendation that the premiers abolish stamp duty.

It was no accident because the report was structured to produce that response. And it was no accident the Boss [Costello] exploited it for all he was worth.

After the PC had shut down any talk of doing something about negative gearing and the half-rate capital gains tax, and excused away the federal tax system’s $18 billion annual subsidy to owner-occupiers, its brave call for the abolition of stamp duty was the only significant proposal left. ….

This report is intellectually dishonest and cowardly. It’s idle for the economic rationalists to keep carrying on about the politicians’ “reform fatigue” when, in the face of someone as terrifying as Peter Costello, the bureaucratic leaders of the movement have lost their bottle.

It’s a great read, and I know the economists of the PC well enough to recognise that Gittins has hit them where it hurts most, particularly in that last para – it will be interesting to see if there is a public response.

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Monday Message Board

December 22nd, 2003 22 comments

It’s time as usual for your comments on any topic? My starter question: is there anything new that can be said about Christmas?

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Jefferson and Thurmond

December 21st, 2003 10 comments

One of the most striking historical facts I’ve learned this year is that George Washington freed all his slaves in his will despite opposition from his family, including his wife Martha. It’s surprising and revealing that this fact has never been part of the standard account of Washington’s life.

It is also one of the facts leading me to an increasingly negative view of Thomas Jefferson. The parallel between Jefferson’s unacknowledged slave children by Sally Hemings and the more recent case of Strom Thurmond is striking. (Jefferson was, quite literally, the first Southern Democrat). Until now, I’ve tended to vaguely excuse Jefferson’s actions here as a case of personal inability to resist the thinking of the times, but Washington’s example undermines this.

I think you can go from the personal to the political here as well. The course leading to the Civil War was set when the Northern States adopted emancipation around the time of the Revolution and the Southern states did not. Jefferson advocated gradual emancipation in Virginia at this time (1783), but he didn’t fight hard on the issue after this. Given Washington’s personal evolution on the issue, it seems plausible that a determined effort by Jefferson in the years after Washington’s death, during which he was president for eight years, could have achieved a peaceful end to slavery.

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Trial by combat

December 21st, 2003 1 comment

The Australian courts, tiring of incomprehensible economic and legal arguments about competition law, have reinstituted the ancient and honourable tradition of trial by combat, and they want it a l’outrance.

At least that’s what I infer from this para in Saturday’s Australian Financial Review.

The judgement showed it is very difficult to prove the substantial lessening of competition needed for a breach of Section 50 – blood literally has to be spilt on the floor (emphasis added)

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Guest post from Brian Bahnisch

December 20th, 2003 9 comments

The discussion of The Flynn Effect and the Bell Curve had at least one positive effect on me. I finally took my copy of Howard Gardner’s “Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences” down from the shelf and looked inside. In a former life I worked in the area of policy development and service provision to schools, and hence tried to keep up with the main themes and issues in education. While psychometrics, IQ and such was not my field, Gardner became big news. Shortly after buying the book, however, I left education and was quite allergic to reading about it for a number of years.
Read more…

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Terrorism futures, again

December 19th, 2003 Comments off

The idea that speculative markets can be used to forecast political events hit the headlines a while ago with the furore over terrorism futures. This idea is still around and the general claim that political events can be forecast by futures or betting markets is still being pushed hard. The main source of data is at the Iowa Electronic Markets, but there’s plenty more. Reader Jack Strocchi sent me this report on a study of Australian betting markets and elections.

As it happens, I’d already looked at this and come fairly rapidly to the conclusion that the betting markets weren’t much good, so I was struck by the money quote from author Justin Wolfers

The data suggests the Australian betting market is extraordinarily efficient. And why not? There’s a huge incentive for participants to do their homework, collect reliable information and make sure the price is right.”

Looking at the report and also the Iowa studies, the evidence in support of this claim still seems very weak to me. In 2001, for example,

The night before the election, Howard was ahead in two of three major polls ….[on Centrebet] Howard was the favorite with odds of $1.55, suggesting a 64 percent probability of his winning the election,”

That is, on the crudest possible use of the polls, two out of three suggested a Howard win, giving odds almost identical to Centrebet. In fact, I doubt that any serious analyst would have given Labor even a 25 per cent chance by election night.

To be fair, Wolfers doesn’t put much weight on the election-night market. He says

data from Centrebet, Australia’s largest bookmaker, demonstrated the impact of current events on the betting odds throughout the nine months leading up to the election, reflecting immediately the electorate’s seesawing response to such events as leaders’ televised debates and the Sept. 11 attacks in America.

In fact, however, the betting markets reacted more slowly than the polls. In this piece written in September 2001, Wolfers and his co-author Andrew Leigh rated Labor a 55 per cent chancebased on the Centrebet data.

But enough of this ad hoc discussion. What test should we be applying here? It’s not appropriate, as nearly everyone in this field has done to treat polls and betting markets as separate predictions. Punters in the betting markets have access to the polls. So they should always do at least as well as any mechanical rule based on poll data. The test “have the markets done better than the polls” implicitly compares the actual betting strategies to the rule “at even money, bet on whichever candidate is ahead in the polls”. Even compared to this simple-minded rule, the improvement shown by the markets is marginal at best.

The real issue we should consider, before rushing to embrace terrorism futures and the like, is how betting markets would perform in the absence of information from polls. You’d have to go back before World War II for this, but it’s my impression that predictions of election outcomes in this period were often way off the mark.

Categories: General Tags:

The third bubble

December 19th, 2003 1 comment

Once there were three bubbles. The one that attracted everyone’s attention was the dotcom bubble, of which no more needs to be said. The second bubble, noted by plenty of economists was the glaring overvaluation of the bubble. Given chronic deficits in both the budget and current account, and the fact that the US dollar was trading at a value well above purchasing power parity, anyone who gave any credence to the view that markets eventually reach equilibrium could conclude that the US dollar was bound to fall, and it has duly done so. (this only leaves the question of why putatively rational investors did not sell earlier)

The third bubble seemed, until this year, like part of the second. Rates of interest on 10-year US government bonds are amazingly low, currently around 4.25 per cent (the price is inversely proportional to the interest rate, so low interest rates mean a bubble in bond prices). Most economists would, I think have assumed that, as the US dollar declined in value, long-term interest rates would go up. But, apart from a brief panic a few months ago, this hasn’t happened.
Read more…

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Superannuation rorts

December 18th, 2003 8 comments

I usually agree with my blogtwin Tim Dunlop, and one of us often beats the other in posting a given idea by a matter of hours. But this time I’m well ahead. Tim endorses Mark Latham’s criticisms of overgenerous Parliamentary superannuation, making the point that

Now that the sort of neo-liberal policies that Latham favours, and that successive governments have championed, have improved the job market so that nearly everybody’s job is as precarious as that of an elected federal politican, it does seem that some adjustment is in order

I had my say on this in 1998.

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Turning tide

December 18th, 2003 7 comments

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, talk of a four-day working week was commonplace. But with the growth in working hours and work intensity during the 1980s and 1990s, even a five-day week was viewed more as a nostalgic memory than as a realistic proposition.

I’ve been arguing for some time that the tide has been turning on this issue, and the news that ETU secretary Dean Mighell has launched a new push for a four-day working week fits neatly into this story. Of course, Mighell is very much on the left of the union movement, and this is a personal view rather than an official ETU claim. Still, the fact that the idea is being discussed at all is significant in the same way that the kind of discussion of the “24/7 economy” popular a few years ago mattered more than the fact that the idea itself was chimerical.

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Handy or erect ?

December 18th, 2003 51 comments

Talking of the Scientific American, the November issue has a very interesting article on the discovery of some early human fossils in (the former Soviet Republic of) Georgia, generally assigned to Homo erectus but having a lot of characteristics in common with the earlier Homo habilis. One scientist quoted in the story even uses the phrase “missing link”.

This should be a big problem for scientific creationists, who generally argue that fossils classified as Homo erectus are just Homo sapiens and that Homo habilis is an extinct ape.

But, as we’ve seen from the debate over global warming, it’s unlikely that the accumulation of evidence will change the minds of those whose commitment to a particular viewpoint wasn’t based on empirical evidence in the first place.

Update Bargarz has more.

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Thought for Thursday

December 18th, 2003 7 comments

My column in today’s Fin (subscription required) continues my efforts to debunk the generation game. (So far these efforts appear to be pretty much as futile as a campaign against astrology, but I persist anyway). I’ve extended my range of targets from the general pop sociology on this topic to the Treasury and its analysis of intergenerational equity.

This reminds me that I really ought to say something about the Auerbach-Kotlikoff idea of generational accounting, which had something of a vogue in the early 90s and is still helping to justify generational chatter. Auerbach and Kotlikoff tried to systematically assess the impacts of government fiscal policy on members of different generations. In my opinion, what they produced was a complicated way of answering the question “Are the present settings of tax and expenditure policy sustainable in the long run”. If there’s interest, I might try a more detailed post on this some time.

In the meantime, here’s my article:
Read more…

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December 17th, 2003 7 comments

While I read more online than anywhere else, I still like magazines, and subscribe to quite a few of them. Most are fairly well-known, like Prospect, Scientific American and the London Review of Books; you can find a lot of the content of these online also.

I wanted to mention a few less prominent Australian magazines which I subscribe to and find worthwhile. There’s Australian Options, published in Adelaide, Eureka Street from Melbourne and Dissent from Canberra. If you’re looking for a Christmas present for a leftish friend/relation, you could do worse than a subscription to one of these.

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Outcomes and opportunity

December 17th, 2003 29 comments

Among the many comments lost (temporarily I hope) in the great database disaster was a discussion of the old distinction between equality of outcomes (like life expectancy) and equality of opportunity. This distinction has long been a staple of debates between market liberals and social democrats, and now defines a central point of distinction between supporters of a Third Way (such as Blair) and modernising social democrats (such as Gordon Brown), who may be indistinguishable on issues like privatisation that formerly acted as litmus tests.

A look at the evidence suggests that a position supporting equality of opportunity while accepting highly unequal outcomes is not sustainable. The most important observation is that, contrary to popular belief, there is less mobility between income classes in the United States than in European social democracies. A good, and fairly recent study in this is The Real Worlds of Welfare Capitalism by Goodin, Headey Muffels and Dirven, which I reviewed here, along with Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed.
Read more…

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Another year, another move?

December 16th, 2003 18 comments

Following the great database disaster, I’m thinking about alternatives to the current setup, kindly provided for me by Robert Corr and mentalspace. The problem is that there are too many levels, and a disaster like this puts an unfair burden on Robert. So I’m thinking about moving to another hosting service.

But, if I’m going to move and make everyone to change their bookmarks, update blogrolls or just forget about me, I need to think about more radical changes. One would be to use TypePad, the easy version of MT. If anyone has tried this, I’d be very keen to hear about it.

Then, on the providential theory, the fact that my invitation to guestblog on Crooked Timber came at the same time as the database disaster must be telling me something. Maybe I should get with the Zeitgeist and join a group blog.

Anyway, here’s a nonbinding poll where you can express your views. Please leave comments also, especially if you choose “Other” (I thought about “stop altogether” as an option, but decided that would be tempting fate and spam).

<script language="javascript" src=" You must turn on JavaScript to view the PulsePoll. For tech support: co-laboratory

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December 16th, 2003 11 comments

Saddam’s capture has all sorts of implications.

The biggest is that it will greatly accelerate the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. This is obvious enough if the resistance fades away and large numbers of troops aren’t needed. But suppose this doesn’t happen. It’s hard to see the US public putting up with a continued stream of casualties when the main objectives on which they were sold the war have either been achieved (get Saddam) or proved illusory (WMDs). The instant reaction Good. Can we go home now, is going to be fairly widely shared as time goes on.

On the Iraqi side, as Juan Cole points out, this will only strengthen the Shia demand for proper elections and a US withdrawal. Now that the fear of Saddam’s return is gone, the dependence of a future Iraqi government on the US is significantly reduced. Shias might well judge that they could do a better (because more ruthless) job of suppressing the insurgency on their own.
Read more…

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Crooked Timber guest spot

December 15th, 2003 Comments off

Although I’ve been watching group blogs with a lot of interest, I haven’t been willing to make the shift so far (I expect it’s that sturdy individualism we social democrats are noted for). If I did join a group blog, though, it would certainly be Crooked Timber. It’s a great blog, always thought-provoking and with excellent discussion in the comments threads.

So, surveying the (hopefully temporary) dishevelled state of the blog following the great database disaster, I was pleasantly surprised to get an invitation from Henry Farrell to be Crooked Timber’s inaugural guest blogger. I’ll be posting there for the next week or so.

I’m still thinking about how to handle this. For the moment, I plan the following
(i) Items of purely local Australian interest will be posted only on this blog
(ii) Items of general interest will be posted on Crooked Timber first, then reposted here

If you haven’t checked CT out, this is a good time to do it. If you have any thoughts on individual vs group blogs, feel free to post them

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December 15th, 2003 17 comments

From almost any viewpoint, including that of opponents of the war such as myself, the capture of Saddam Hussein, represents good news, made better by the ignominy of his surrender. When the Iraq war and its justifications , spurious and otherwise, are forgotten, the image of the great dictator being dug out of the hole in which he had hidden will remain, along with the inglorious ends of Mussolini, Hitler, Ceausescu, and others, as a warning to those who might plan to follow the same path.

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Monday Message Board

December 15th, 2003 3 comments

It’s time for your comments on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language please). I’ve already posted briefly on today’s big news, the capture of Saddam Hussein, and will probably post again, so comments on that topic might best be placed in those threads.

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Is Saddam the key (repost)

December 14th, 2003 21 comments

Here’s what I had to say about the possible capture of Saddam a month or so ago.

Back in early April, I observed that the Iraq campaign was a war of absences. Some of the mysteries posed by those absences have now been resolved. For example, everyone now knows that the Weapons of Mass Destruction did not exist. But the big remaining mystery is Saddam. It seems pretty clear that he got away from Baghdad safely, and likely that he’s still alive.

On thinking about it, I have the feeling that Saddam is, in a sense, the key to the entire situation. On the one hand, suppose Saddam is caught or (more likely) killed. Whether or not this led to a reduction in terror/resistance attacks, the pressure for a quick American withdrawal would, I think, quickly become irresistible. For most of the Americans who still support the war, this would, I think, count as “Mission Accomplished”, whatever happened in Iraq afterwards.

On the other hand, as long as Saddam is at large, and the security situation remains anything like it is at present, a US withdrawal will be seen as “cutting and running”, and will therefore be resisted with great vigour.

Now we’ll see if this analysis stands up.

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Once bitten

December 14th, 2003 3 comments

I notice even those who would like it to be true are holding off from endorsing this Telegraph report of an Iraqi memo proving not only that Saddam Hussein arranged the training of S11 terrorist Mohammed Atta and planned the attacks, but that the Niger uranium story was true after all.

The Telegraph seems to have a unique capacity to discover Iraqi memos proving whatever would be convenient on any given day. In the world of Telegraph memos, ties between OBL and Saddam are old news.

Then there’s the memo that supposedly showed that pro-Saddam MP George Galloway received large payments from Saddam. This is currently the subject of court action, but similar documents published by another newspaper have already been discredited.

Update It looks as if this kind of speculation may be irrelevant, if, as reported, Saddam has been captured

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