I finally got around to

I finally got around to checking out the International Democratic Union, of which our own John Howard was recently elected president. I was mainly interested in the repeated use of the phrase “centre-right” to describe someone who is, on his own assessment, the most conservative major party leader Australia has ever had (given his embrace of radical economic reforms, ‘right-wing’ would actually be more accurate than conservative).
The IDU goes further, claiming to embrace parties of the ” centre
and centre right”, and the meeting of the IDU was accompanied by lots of triumphalist rhetoric about the recent electoral successes of the centre-right.

To my mind, the term “centre-right” suggests people like moderate Republicans in the US, Tory and Liberal Party “wets” – all endangered species, if not extinct. The only Liberal “moderates” I can think of are Marise Payne and perhaps Amanda Vanstone, both peripheral figures in the Howard government. The few remaining Republican moderates are either defecting (Jeffords) or being replaced by hardliners.

Admittedly George Bush ran as a “compassionate conservative”, but his government has clearly been a coalition of orthodox rightwingers (Cheney, O’Neill) and the far-right (Ashcroft, Wolfowitz). Colin Powell is the only senior figure who could remotely be described as “centre-right”, and his influence on policy has been modest.

The swing to the right in Europe has followed the same pattern. The striking feature is the disappearance of the old centre-right and its replacement by coalitions of the right and far-right, notably in Austria, Italy and Denmark . This followed the move by parties of the Left to take over the ground formerly occupied by the centre-right, both in substance and in style.

What I'm reading: The Consolation

What I’m reading:

The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius. This work, written when the author (a 5th century Roman noble in the service of the Gothic king Theoderic) was imprisoned and awaiting execution, is the inspiration for the recent popular book by Alain de Botton. Is philosophy really a consolation in times of suffering? I don’t know, but I also don’t know of anything better.

It's interesting to compare US

It’s interesting to compare US and Australian coverage of the ballooning US current account deficit. The ABC ran the deficit as the story, noting the reaction on the currency markets ABC News – US account deficit reaches record blow out

NYT buried the deficit blowout in a business story about the dollar. Dollar Hits a 2-Year Low Against Euro And, following its standard practice, it assumed that readers of its business pages would not know what the current account deficit means, glossing it as eA broader measure of the country’s international financial standing’. Even the WSJ does this.

Most of the US media don’t even cover the trade deficit to any extent, let alone the current account. A search on Moreover :: Business Intelligence & Dynamic Content reveals mostly non-US coverage.

So the average American, even an assiduous reader of the newspapers, is basically uninformed about what would anywhere else be regarded as a balance-of-payments crisis. By contrast, the foreign affairs coverage of the NYT has always been excellent and, since September 11, the same is coming to be true of other US media. Perhaps they’re right not to worry, but the currency markets don’t think so.

Steyn contest


Mark Steyn tells his British audience that Australia is “on board” for a US invasion of Iraq without the authorisation of the UN. Writing in The Spectator he says

“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”

As far as I know, none of the countries listed by Steyn have made commitments to support an invasion, and certainly Australia hasn’t. It’s possible to weasel out of this by quibbling about the meaning of “on board”. But the position and statements of the Australian government have been copied, almost word-for-word, from those of Tony Blair. So why doesn’t Steyn list Britain as being “on board”? Because, of course, his readers would know that he was talking nonsense.

But just when I was getting really annoyed, I came across this piece of light relief “…. Romania has offered the use of its airspace to attack Iraq.” Does Steyn think that Iraq is part of the former Yugoslavia?

I know I’ve been going on a bit about this guy. But he seems to me to be symptomatic of a lot of what’s wrong with thinking on the pro-war side of the debate, and the enthusiasm with which our local warbloggers cite him only confirms this.

Anyway, I thought I’d liven things up by announcing a contest. If anyone can show me a Steyn column* that doesn’t contain
(a) an unattributed or distorted quotation;
(b) a serious factual error; or
(c) a distortion of the truth comparable to that cited above,
I’ll promise not to mention him for the rest of the year.

As is appropriate in a debate about unilateralism, I’ll be judge and jury in my own case. I’ll do my best to give at least an email response to everyone, and to post the results at an appropriate time.

* I have seen a few purely humorous columns from Steyn, which are actually not too bad. Its only when he comes into contact with facts that the trouble starts. So I’m confining the contest to “serious” pieces like the one I’ve cited here.