Archive for March, 2004

Bunnies vs bilbies

March 31st, 2004 9 comments

In Australia, as Easter approaches, the big question is: Bunny or Bilby? To give as fair and balanced a presentation as possible of the main issues, the rabbit is a voracious alien pest[1] marketed in chocolate form by greedy multinationals, while the bilby is an appealing, and endangered, native marsupial made available for Easter celebration by public spirited Australians, helping to raise both awareness and much-needed funds. We report, you decide.

fn1. Matched only by the fox

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Word for Wednesday: contrarian

March 31st, 2004 23 comments

At the suggestion of James Farrell, I’m reviving this regular feature, beginning with a word I’ve used critically on a couple of recent occasions. The following is an extract from my review of Cristopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian You can read the whole thing, including a review of Mark Lilla’s Misadventures of Reckless Minds here

Of all the awkward squad, none is more awkward than Christopher Hitchens. His recent Letters to a Young Contrarian sets out his credo

Hitchens reflects both the best and the worst of the Socratic gadfly. On the one hand, there is the temptation to cynical sneering and the desire to epater le bourgeois. It is almost impossible for a contrarian to avoid this temptation completely, particular since it is often necessary to treat the conventional wisdom with derision. Hitchens himself concedes that he is particularly prone to this vice, noting that ‘a beloved friend once confided to me that my lip — I think he said the upper one — often has a ludicrious and sneering look, and my wife added that it takes on this appearance just when I seem to be least aware of it’. This unattractive tendency also mars the writing of Gore Vidal, whose contribution to the blurb of Unacknowledged Legislators nominates Hitchens as his ‘successor, inheritor, dauphin or delfino.’. But anyone who contributes more to the public debate than reiteration of one of other of Orwell’s ‘smelly orthodoxies’ will recognise this fault in themselves to some extent or other.

A more serious version of the same fault is found in the tendency to pursue intellectual vendettas. One does not need to be an admirer of Bill Clinton to feel that Hitchens’ attacks on him (and Hillary) went way over the top. Clinton may have been venal and sleazy, but he was far from being America’s worst president and he ended up on the right side of most of the issues Hitchens cares about, notably including Bosnia and Kosovo.

On the other hand, the great Socratic virtue is the unwillingness to accept easy answers. Hitchens rightly denounces, for example, the evasions with which many supposed advocates of free speech responded to the Iranian fatwa against Salman Rushdie. The same insistence on hard truths, is evident in a fascinating essay, originally presented as a Raymond Williams Memorial Lecture, defending George Orwell against the attacks made on him Williams. Since Hitchens clearly admires both men, it would have been easy for him, not to mention his audience, to pass over this topic in a few sentences, and devote his time to aspects of Williams’ work for which he felt more sympathy.

The popularity in Australia and elsewhere of the term ‘pseudo-intellectual’ echoes the ancient frustration of the Athenian courts that condemned Socrates. Like the Athenian demos, the talkback commentators of today are aware that intellectuals are important, and are keen to find examples of the genus worthy of their respect. All that they want in return is that they should not be asked to think.

Socrates would have been a pain to live with, and it is difficult not to feel that his allegedly shrewish wife Xantippe had the worst of the bargain. Nevertheless, as these books show, we need Socratic gadflies to protect us both from bourgeois complacency and from the pretensions of Platonic philosopher-kings.

Coming out of this, I have a question as to the best collective term for critics of the global warming hypothesis. I used “sceptic” for a while, but decided it was inappropriate since, with a handful of exceptions, the people I’m talking about are anything but sceptical when it comes to anything that supports their preconceived views. Then I switched to “contrarian”, but that suffers from many of the same problems. I toyed with “denialist”, but that comes too close to a violation of Godwin’s Law for my liking. I suppose I could just say “critics of the global warming hypothesis”, but that seems clumsy and “global warming critics” means something else altogether. Any suggestions?

Categories: Dictionary, Regular Features Tags:

Happy hooker ?

March 30th, 2004 5 comments

I’ve been nominated as hooker for the Crooked Timber First (and only) XV .ct-lineout
So far my suggestions that we switch to Australian/Gaelic rules, consistent with the most prominent ethnicities in the group have been ignored, but I’m still hoping to be rover. But until that happens, I need some suggestions. With ten years as a columnist and two as a blogger behind me, I’m naturally familiar with the squirrel grip. But presumably there’s more to the position than that. Can anyone give me any advice?

Categories: Life in General Tags:

A minor gloat

March 30th, 2004 15 comments

I hope readers will indulge me in a minor gloat regarding the defeat of Michael Lee, the Labor candidate for Lord Mayor of Sydney, despite rule changes designed by his mates in Sussex Street[1] to guarantee his success. Fortunately, the voters didn’t feel like being dictated to and went for Independent Clover Moore instead.

Lee wasn’t the worst Communications Minister in Australian history (no prizes for guessing who was), but he certainty didn’t cover himself with glory in this or any of the other ministerial positions he held. I crossed swords with him in the early 1990s over his claim that it was a good thing for Australian to have two (incomplete, but almost exactly duplicate) optical fibre cable networks, rather than one network with proper coverage – perhaps the high point of microeconomic reform-related stupidity in Australia. As far as I can tell his only qualification for public life is that he looks good in a suit, but that seems to be enough to ensure that his patrons keep on promoting him.

fn1. NSW Labor state headquarters and base of the rightwing machine ( the terms ‘right’ and ‘left’ have little ideological significance in the ALP these days, so the word to focus on here is ‘machine’).

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Birthday bash

March 30th, 2004 Comments off

The (slightly apocryphal) tradition in our dojo is that the birthday boy or girl gets to spar with everyone else in succession. Fortunately, this didn’t happen. In deference to my advanced years, however, we all did 48 squats at the end of the training session last night,

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Monday Message Board (birthday edition)

March 29th, 2004 31 comments

Once again, it’s time for the Monday Message Board. It’s your chance to comment on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). It’s my 48th birthday today, so I’m too relaxed to propose a discussion-opener.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

The Zarqawi scandal

March 29th, 2004 19 comments

As Richard Clarke’s unsurprising revelations continue to receive blanket coverage[1] around the blogosphere and elsewhere, I’ve been increasingly puzzled by the failure of the Zarqawi scandal to make a bigger stir. As far as I can determine, the following facts are undisputed

* Abu Musab Zarqawi, leader of the group Ansar al-Islam is one of the most dangerous Islamist terrorists currently active. He is the prime suspect for both the Karbala and Madrid atrocities and the alleged author of a letter setting out al Qaeda’s strategy for jihad in Iraq. Although he has become increasingly prominent in the past year, he has been well-known as a terrorist for many years
* For some years, until March 2003, Ansar al-Islam was based primarily at Kirma in Northern Iraq, in part of the region of Iraq generally controlled by the Kurds and included in the no-fly zone enforced by the US and UK. In other words, the group was an easy target for either a US air attack, a land attack by some special forces and/or Kurdish militia or a combination of the two
* Nothing was done until the invasion of Iraq proper, by which time the group had fled

These facts alone would indicate a failure comparable in every way to the missed opportunities to kill or capture bin Laden before S11. But the reality appears to be far worse.
Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

What I'm reading, and more

March 28th, 2004 3 comments

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding. It doesn’t quite match Bridget Jones Diary but it’s a good read. Notable for adhering to the romantic convention that the heroine should remain chaste throughout the novel even though it’s made clear this was not the case before the action began.

I also went to see Goodbye Lenin which I thoroughly enjoyed. This charming film says more about the social construction of reality than a shelfload of postmodernist tomes. For those who’ve missed it, the hero’s mother, a devout Communist has a stroke/heart attack and misses the fall of the Berlin Wall. When she awakes from her coma, her son maintains the pretence that the German Democratic Republic is still in existence, eventually fabricating for it an ending far nobler than the one that actually took place.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Blogroll update

March 27th, 2004 21 comments

I’ve been putting off updating my blogroll, but I’ve finally had a first go at the task. I’ve finally accepted that the “hiatus” of some of my favorite sites is permanent, and removed them. I also deleted a few blogs that I can no longer be bothered with, and updated lots of broken links. I’ve added a number of new ones, but I’ve been fairly lazy about this, so I’m inviting anyone (particularly in Oz/NZ) who thinks a link would make sense to email me. In addition, if anyone reading this still has links to my old blog(s), this is the time to update them.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:


March 26th, 2004 14 comments

I had my first blogging brush with fame today. I was presenting some lectures to a very interested/interesting group of students at the Australia-NZ School of Government , held at the College of Art which is part of Griffith Uni’s Southbank campus. Not only had several of the students (senior public sector people) read the blog, but someone came up to me in the cafe, asked “Are you John Quiggin?” and introduced himself as a reader.

It’s puzzling to me that, although the stats say the blog has far fewer readers than the Fin Review (where I’ve been writing for ten years) my daily experience is the opposite. Far more people in my circle of friends and acquaintances seem to be aware of the blog than have read the column.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Time to pull out

March 26th, 2004 16 comments

In a recent comments thread, Derrida Derider asks about views on Latham’s proposal to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq. Like DD, I’ve been an advocate of the “you broke it, you own it” view, that, having invaded Iraq, the members of the Coalition had an obligation to stay and restore order. However, in the light of US plans to maintain the status of an occupying power indefinitely, I think the time has come to pull out, unless some more legitimate basis for the presence of our troops can be fashioned.

The central requirement is that the Coalition forces in Iraq (including US forces) would be answerable to some combination of an Iraqi government and the United Nations. Since I see no prospect that the US would even contemplate such a possibility, I think it’s time for our troops to leave.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Is Elvis hiding in Iraq ?

March 25th, 2004 13 comments

Although there’s been a fair bit of discussion about the Newspoll showing that 65 per cent of people thought the war in Iraq had increased the danger of a terrorist attack in Australia[1], the really striking result was ignored. This concerned the proportion of people who accepted the government’s stated belief that the invasion of Iraq had reduced the danger of terrorist attack. Only 1 per cent of respondents said that the invasion had made a terrorist attack less likely, and less than 0.5 per cent said it made an attack a lot less likely. You can read the details here (PDF file). This is substantially less than the proportion of people who are reported (in other surveys) to believe that Elvis is alive or that aliens are controlling government policy.

fn1. The question doesn’t distinguish between the interpretations “the Iraq war has raised Australia’s profile as a target” and “the Iraq war has increased the risk of terrorism everywhere”. I have previously argued that the latter view is the right one.

Update By complete coincidence, this story in the Oz reports that, in polls for the mayoral election in the Gold Coast, an Elvis ‘tribute artist’ has 8 per cent support. OK, it’s in Queensland, but 8 per cent is still a lot more than 0.5.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Some pleasant news

March 24th, 2004 7 comments

I’m happy to say that I’ve been selected as an Australian Citation Laureate for 2004. This is more or less the equivalent of a high rank in the blog ecosystem, something which I have certainly not attained – perhaps this is a signal that I shouldn’t give up my day job.

To push the analogy a bit further, a citation is the academic equivalent of a link from one paper to another (these days, with electronic publication, citations may actually be hyperlinks). As in blogging, it’s better to be cited adversely than not to be cited at all. Citation counts are even trickier than blog hit counts (do you count all authors in multi-authored paper, self-citations etc etc). The Technorati of the citation business is Thomson ISI who publish citation indexes for the sciences, social sciences and humanities and who give the “citation laureate” awards.

I’m in Canberra to collect the award right now, but it’s a flying visit so no time to catch up with fellow-bloggers. Maybe next time.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

What I'm reading and more

March 23rd, 2004 8 comments

I’ve been reading the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O’Brian and was struck by an episode in Post Captain . The hero, Jack Aubrey has been given command of a ship but is being pursued by his creditors and faces indefinite imprisonment for debt if they catch him. Reaching Portsmouth and his crew, he turns on the bailiffs who have been pursuing him and routs them. Several are knocked down and, in a marvellous twist, Aubrey presses them into service on his ship.

It struck me on reading O’Brian that this kind of thing would happen routinely in a libertarian Nozickian utopia. On the one hand, bankruptcy and limited liability, the first great pieces of government interference with freedom of contract would be abolished, and imprisonment for debt presumably reintroduced. On the other hand, since Nozick envisages a minimal state with no real taxing powers but a continuing responsibility for defence, reliance on conscription would be almost inevitable. From Nozick’s viewpoint, any form of taxation constitutes slavery, and fairness is not a proper concern of policy, so there can be no particular objection to the press gang as opposed to, say, voluntary recruitment financed by involuntary income taxes.

Also, at the weekend, I went to watch the final day of the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships. Apart from a brief stint in Sydney, I’ve never lived close enough to a surf beach to watch this archetypally Australian sport. Very exciting, though you need a big screen to see what’s happening in the middle stages of the race, particularly in the swim legs.

Update 26/3Libertarians come in many different flavours, and quite a few have objected to the characterization above. To my mind, the combination of “libertarian’ and “utopia” leads irresistibly to Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia. For clarity, therefore, I’ve referred specifically to Nozick rather than to libertarians in general.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Monday Message Board

March 22nd, 2004 9 comments

A bit late again, here’s the Monday Message Board. It’s your chance to comment on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please).

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

A regular repost

March 21st, 2004 30 comments

This piece has already been posted a couple of times since I started blogging, but the issue of GM food keeps coming up, this time in the comments thread to a recent post. This is what I had to say about GM food and ‘golden’ rice a year or so ago.

On this issue, I’m a big believer in the principle of subsidiarity, that is, letting the people directly affected make the decisions. Speaking for myself, I’m convinced by the scientific evidence that GM food is as safe as the ordinary sort, that is, not perfectly, but safe enough that I have plenty of bigger things to worry about. On the other hand, the idea of tomatoes with fish genes makes me a bit queasy, and I think I and others should have a choice about whether or not to eat them. Hence, I’m in favor of labelling and I think the producers of GM foods, as the innovators, should bear the cost of this.

Taking it a level higher, I think that this is an issue that is within the competence of individual countries to decide. If Australians, contrary to my preference, decide to ban GM foods altogether, then that is our decision to make and we should not be subject to punishment by bodies such as the World Trade Organisation. To paraphrase our beloved leader, we will decide what foods we eat and under what circumstances. Similarly I think the Americans are showing some chutzpah in taking Europe to the WTO. The Bush steel tariffs are a far more fundamental breach of free-trade principles than food-safety laws which, whatever their scientific basis or lack of it, have no obvious discriminatory impact. Obviously the same freedom should apply to poor countries that want to take advantage of GM foods – they should not be subject to bullying from anti-GM Europeans.

My only dispute with the pro-GM side on the latter point is that I haven’t seen much evidence of GM foods that are actually useful in feeding the poor. Rice with added Vitamin A sounds nice, but it’s scarcely the next instalment of the Green Revolution. Most of the effort seems to have gone into making crops like soybeans “Roundup Ready’, which is not much use in poor countries. I have a bit more to say in this 1999 article entitled, The pros and cons of labelling are food for thought

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:

The Fin on blogging

March 21st, 2004 6 comments

The weekend Fin has an “introduction to blogging” piece by Trevor Cook. Quite a good, example of the genre, I thought, with evidence of reasonably extensive reading of blogs. Perhaps picking up on the BlogGeist , Cook devotes several paras to a head-to-head comparison between this blog and Tim Blair’s (I assume the piece would have been written before our recent falling-out)

Blair and Quiggin represent two strands of commentary blogging. Blair is tabloid and provocative, something more akin to a blogging shock jock, while Quiggin, though not dull, tends to stick more strictly to his academic and policy orientations.

Blair’s audience is much larger than Quiggin’s. Audiences online, like those for traditional media, are attracted in greater numbers to provocative, even outlandish, viewpoints.

In addition to this one, he Australian blogs listed for Economics and Business included those of Stephen Kirchner and Peter Gallagher, then a number of overseas blogs. Australian blogs listed for politics and commentary were the two Tims, Gary Sauer-Thompson’s Public Opinion and Graeme Young’s Online Opinion (an online journal rather than a blog, but this distinction is being eroded pretty quickly).

(Post updated 22/3 to correct minor errors and omissions).

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:

Against equality of outcome?

March 20th, 2004 2 comments

Since I’ve argued previously that there’s a lot of confusion in discussions about equality of opportunities and of outcomes, I was interested by this story that UK Home Secretary David Blunkett has hired as special advisor on race someone named Matt Cavanagh, most notable for writing a book called Against Equality of Opportunity which says that employers should be permitted to engage in racial discrimination.

This interview with Cavanagh in The Guardian does not seem very promising – he comes across as the worst kind of contrarian[1] – but is not really enough to go on. So I was hoping someone with a subscription to the London Review of Books might send me a copy of Jeremy Waldron’s apparently favorable review. In case you’re worried about the sanctity of intellectual property, I am a subscriber but I’ve never registered with the website and don’t have the required address slip to hand.

Meanwhile, I’m confident that lots of readers will be well ahead of me, so I’d welcome comments, particularly setting me straight if I have misunderstood Cavanagh (or Waldron).

fn1. That is, one who makes great play with contradictions in the conventional wisdom, does not put forward a coherent alternative, but nonetheless makes authoritative-sounding pronouncements on public policy.

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:

Elections and the general will

March 19th, 2004 7 comments

Looking back at the debate over the Spanish election outcome, it struck me that many of the contributions to this debate suffered from a confusion between electoral outcomes and notions akin to Rousseau’s “general will”. My own contributions weren’t entirely free of this fallacious reasoning.

To clarify my point, suppose purely hypothetically it could be shown beyond doubt that, in the absence of the terrorist attacks, the PP would have won, and that those who changed their votes did so in the hope that this would appease terrorists and induce them to direct their attacks elsewhere. Much of the debate has taken it as self-evident that, if this were true, then it could justly be said that the Spanish people had displayed cowardice, given in to Al Qaeda and so on. But even in this hypothetical case,k this would not be true. It would only be true that the 5 per cent or so who changed their votes had done this.

To take a marginally less controversial example, one way of interpreting the results of the most recent presidential election in the US is that the voters couldn’t make up their minds between Gore and Bush and decided, instead, to leave the choice up to the Supreme Court. Stated baldly, the claim seems evidently silly, at least to me, but when I checked, it wasn’t hard to find exactly this analysis being offered by Time Magazine
Read more…

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:

My new blog is growing up

March 19th, 2004 1 comment

Like teenage acne, the arrival of comment spam, with the corresponding need to install MT Blacklist, is a sign that a new blog is making its way into the world, being noticed by search engines and, inevitably, by spambots. So, Morse Michael, while I won’t be ordering your viagra and phentermine, I’m not entirely disappointed to say “Hello and Goodbye!”.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Reference hyper-inflation ?

March 19th, 2004 3 comments

The phenomenon of recommendation letters for students being written by the student was discussed a few months back, but, as recommendation letters aren’t a big deal here in Australia, I didn’t pay much attention. Today, however, I met a new version of this. I got an email from someone in the US, previously unknown to me, attaching a CV and a draft recommendation letter, and asking me to sign it. I declined without reading the CV, and without formulating a precise reason. Has anyone else encountered this?

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Thanks to commenters

March 19th, 2004 21 comments

A variety of recent events, leading to the need to read comments threads at other blogs more than I usually do, have reminded me of the contribution made to this blog by commenters[1], regular and occasional. On almost any issue, I can count on getting incisive comments, both critical and supportive. And even though some of us get bad-tempered from time to time, the tone of debate has remained civilised and constructive. I’ve been pulled up from time to time by my commenters when I’ve lost my own temper, or tried out arguments that seemed clever to me, but turned out to be too-clever. Equally, I’ve been pleased to see, in recent disputes, that commenters who rarely agree with my position on the issues have supported my view of what constitutes legitimate debate as opposed to misrepresentation.

If you’ve been reading for a while, and thinking about posting a comment, why don’t you try it now? Anonymity is assured if you want it, and you won’t get an aggressively hostile response unless you deliberately set out to provoke it.

Anyway, thanks again to all the commenters who make such a big contribution to this blog, and thanks also to all my readers!

fn1. “Commenters” or “Commentators”? I’m not sure.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

No consensus in Copenhagen (updated)

March 18th, 2004 16 comments

Via reader Gangle, I came across this Disinfopedia entry, which indicates that three of seven board members of Lomborg’s Environmental Insitute Assessment have resigned in protest at the Copenhagen Consensus conference he is organising. Two others resigned at the same time “to take up other assignments”. The original story is from the Copenhagen Post

Lomborg’s renewed expression of concern with development issues, and belief that they should take priority over responses to global warming, is of interest in view of the fact that the Danish government that set up the Institute, and installed Lomborg as its head (despite his lack of any relevant qualification) has repeatedly cut foreign aid. As a political appointee of the government, Lomborg can be presumed to endorse its policies unless he dissents from them publicly.

Last time I pointed this out, a number of commenters argued that Lomborg could not fairly be accused of hypocrisy, since the Institute was concerned only with environmental issues, and Lomborg could not be expected to agree with the government on issues outside his area of responsibility. I felt that, at the very least, I had failed to make my case convincing, and decided instead to take Lomborg at face value (start here and work back).

It now appears, however, that development and aid issues are within the Institute’s remit, though the departing board members apparently disagreed that they should be. The Copenhagen Post story cites Environmental Minister Hans Christian Schmidt saying “It is regrettable that the board members cannot stay at their posts and work on with the project,” said. “I am surprised as the conference seems to fit in perfectly with the institute’s aims.”

Categories: Environment Tags:

Influencing Al Qaeda (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

March 18th, 2004 23 comments

Much of the value of a blog like Crooked Timber is in the comments threads, but the signal to noise ratio is inevitably low, especially when flame wars erupt. I thought this point by Donald Johnson responding to Chris’ post on the Spanish election (and disregarded in subsequent comments) was valuable enough to justify more prominence.

If al Qaeda has the capability to plant bombs and kill hundreds of people, they’re going to do it however they interpret the Spanish election. They might plant their bombs before elections if they think they can influence them, or they might plant their bombs where there are large crowds on some special date, or they might choose some big symbolic target again, like the Pentagon or the WTC. The point is to stop them, not to worry about how they might read election results except to the extent that understanding what they think might give clues on what their next target is going to be.

Exactly right. The idea, that by doing what al Qaeda (supposedly) wants[1] we are sending a message that will influence them to do more of the same directly contradicts the overwhelming evidence that al Qaeda is unconditionally committed to terroristic war against us, and cannot be dissuaded from it (evidence that has been stressed more on the right of the blogosphere than anywhere else). They cannot be influenced, only incapacitated.

fn1. This applies equally to the Spanish election result and to Bush’s decision to pull US troops out of Saudi Arabia.

Categories: World Events Tags:

The mental health crisis

March 17th, 2004 15 comments

Along with children’s welfare, mental health seems to be the chronic disaster area of our social services. It’s not hard to see why – the problems aren’t amenable to simple one-size-fits-all bureaucratic solutions (let alone the market solutions beloved of so many policymakers), and those most directly affected rarely get heard. Still, it’s one of the tests of a civilised society how well we respond to the needs of those who can’t voice their own demands, and it’s not a test we’re passing at present. Regular reader Graeme Bond has written the story of his own family’s tragedy and the policy failures that contributed to it. Well worth reading and thinking about.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

False advertising

March 17th, 2004 15 comments

I bought one of those CDs that promises “explicit language”, but it was even harder to understand than usual. All I could make out was a lot of swearing. Can I take this to the ACCC?

Categories: Books and culture Tags:


March 17th, 2004 14 comments

I was a bit distracted from the news yesterday by my own concerns, as a result of being verballed by Tim Blair and his goon squad. So I missed the more important fact that much the same thing was being done to AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty, who was accused by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer of “expressing a view which reflects a lot of the propaganda we’re getting from al-Qaeda”.[1] Under this attack, and more pressure from Howard, Keelty buckled and said his remarks had been taken out of context. Meanwhile, Downer put in a truly pathetic performance on Lateline trying to back away from his smear of Keelty (link via Chris Sheil).

A point of minor interest is that the Oz buries the entire story deep in a feel-good piece headed “Terror war gets $400m budget lift”. Clearly, Murdoch is in full campaign mode.

UpdateThis is truly pathetic

fn1. As readers should be aware by now, I don’t in fact agree with the view, imputed to Keelty, that our participation in the war in Iraq raised the risk of a terrorist attack because it offended Osama bin Laden. But Howard, Bush and Blair have increased the risk of a terrorist attack in Australia. They have done this by failing to fight terrorism effectively, preferring instead to go after Saddam Hussein, alienating much of the Islamic world in the process. It is they, and not Keelty who have assisted Al Qaeda’s propaganda machine. (I have scanned the preceding as carefully as possible for any source of ambiguity that might leave me open to (Tim) Blairing. I can’t find it, but no doubt Blair will).

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

What part of "NOT" doesn't Tim Blair understand?

March 16th, 2004 61 comments

My posts on the Spanish election outcome have generated plenty of discussion and trackbacks, both here and in the crossposting at Crooked Timber, but nothing as bizarrely obtuse as this piece from Tim Blair. He quotes (without the emphasis I’ve added[1]) the final para

“The key element of the case against Blair, Aznar and Howard is not that they’ve stepped to the forefront of the war against terrorism when prudence would have dictated leaving the Americans to fight it by themselves,” writes Australian economist John Quiggin. “Rather it’s that they’ve aided and abetted the Bush administration in its decision to use the war against terrorism as a pretext for settling old and unrelated scores.”

then, after a long digression on the Spanish Caliphate, comes back to my post, reading as if the word not had been omitted, saying “leaving America to fight this war by itself would be “prudent” to the point of shame.”

With sufficient ill-will, it would be possible, as one of Tim’s commenters suggests, to read this as not only. But no-one who read the entire post could possibly sustain this.

Update In a long and tedious comments thread to his post, Tim Blair stands on his right to misrepresent anyone whose words he finds ambiguous, and is backed up by his inane cheer squad. I used to wonder how Blair could believe in the WMD story, not only before the war, but as recently as October last year. Now that I’ve seen the reality filter in action, I don’t wonder any more.

fn1. The emphasis was included in an email I sent Tim, protesting about a previous similarly bizarre episode in which he put up my Monday Message Board notice (posted, as it happens, before I’d heard the outcome of the Spanish election) as my “reaction” to the election outcome. He changed this (before reading my email – reader “warbo” had already protested) but then proceeded to compound the offence in this way.

Categories: World Events Tags:

A couple of points

March 15th, 2004 12 comments

The warblogosphere has gone into a predictably frenzy over the Spanish election results. In my previous post, I argued, from an antiwar position, that it was a mistake to interpret the result as punishment for Aznar taking a prominent stance in the struggle against terrorism. Now, following Micah’s advice I’ll present a couple of points that might be more convincing to those on the other side of the fence from me (or at least the subset who are open to argument of any kind).

First, it seems to be universally agreed, and was certainly believed by the PP government, that it would have electorally beneficial had it turned out that the bomb was planted by ETA. But the Aznar government was notable for its hardline stance against ETA. If the Spanish people were the cowards painted by their erstwhile admirers, this would make no sense.

Second (as far as I know), there has been no suggestion from the Socialists that Spanish troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan[1]. If the Spanish people are terrified of bin Laden and want to appease him, it seems strange to show this through continued backing of attempts to capture or kill him and prevent the restoration of the only government that’s ever openly embraced him.

fn1. Of course, the same point applies to most opponents of the war in Iraq. The great majority supported the overthrow of the Taliban. Of the minority who opposed the Afghanistan war, most did not do so on prudential grounds but from a position of general opposition to US foreign policy (eg Chomsky).

Categories: World Events Tags:

The war on terror and the war in Iraq

March 15th, 2004 12 comments

The unexpected defeat of the Spanish Popular Party government has been attributed in part to the belief that by joining the US in the war in Iraq, Aznar raised Spain’s profile as a target for Al Qaeda ( which now seems most likely to have set the bomb)[1]. The same claim is being debated in Australia.

While there’s probably an element of truth in this, it misses the main point. Australia, Britain and other US allies were wrong to participate in the war in Iraq, not because it made us more prominent participants in the war on terrorism but because the Iraq war was irrelevant, and in important respects actively harmful, to the struggle against terrorism, represented most prominently by Al Qaeda.

fn1. This isn’t the only way in which the handling of the Madrid atrocity affected the outcome. The government’s rush to the judgement (seen as politically more favorable) that ETA was responsible was criticised by many, and contrasted with the refusal of the Socialist leadership to score political points.
Read more…

Categories: General Tags: