Enemy combatants

Via Brad de Long I recently saw this post from Jim Henley on the failure of Appeal Courts to impose significant constraints on the US government’s policy of secret detention of terrorist suspects. Henley says

For those of you reading these words I have one request:


What has the appeals court authorized?

Secret detentions.

Please say those words aloud. “Secret detentions.” Now use them in a sentence:

The US government engages in the practice of secret detentions.

The US government has broadly asserted its right to engage in the practice of secret detentions.

A federal appeals court has affirmed that the US government may engage in secret detentions.

The biggest single step in this regard is the creation of the category of “enemy combatants” applied both to people taken prisoner in Afghanistan and elsewhere (for example Pakistan), allegedly in the course of the war aagainst terror. More significantly the category has been applied to Jose Padilla, a US citizen arrested in the United States allegedly after returning from a meeting with Al Qaeda.

Until recently, I haven’t been too alarmed about all this. It seemed likely that as with most wartime excesses, the Administration would moderate its claimed powers, and, if not, that the courts would constrain them. In particular, I thought that the actions in the Padilla case would ultimately be declared illegal and that the Administration would be happy enough having had a couple of years to operate outside the normal limits.

But this optimistic view looks increasingly untenable.
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FTA vs Kyoto

I’m planning on putting the following argument in a piece on the proposed Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Can anyone confirm or refute my understanding of the implications of the FTA?

Under the Bush Administration the United States has, to an ever-increasing extent, rejected the whole idea of multilateralism on the basis that it fails to recognise the special position of the United States. In place of multilateral negotiations in which the United States is, at most, first among equals, the Administration has pursued bilateral agreements on a wide range of issues. The most notable case is that of the International Criminal Court, where the United States has pursued bilateral agreeements exempting Americans from prosecution.

Inevitably these agreements involve an element of ?pattern bargaining?. The United States proposes the same set of terms to each of its negotiating partners, generally on a ?take it or leave it? basis. While adjustments may be made in particular cases, the end result is inevitably that the terms of such agreements are those set by the more powerful party.

The most important multilateral agreement to be boycotted by the United States is the Kyoto protocol on climate change. It is noteworthy that the most prominent advocate of the FTA, Alan Oxley of AUSTA, is also a leading critic of Kyoto, and bases his arguments against Australian participation primarily on the argumentthat Australian industries will lose competitiveness against non-signatory countries such as the United States.

It is easy to foresee the possibility of the Kyoto agreement coming into conflict with an FTA. For example, an effective emission credit trading system will require some form of taxation of carbon dioxide emissions embodied in imports from nonsignatory countries. Applied by Australia to imports from the United States, this would, on the face of it, conflict with the requirements of the FTA.


A classic poser that first arose in debates over creation vs evolution is the notion of ‘apparent age’. The idea is that, if God created the earth, He would necessarily have done so in a way that gave it an apparent natural history. For example, even though Adam had never been born, he would, on this account have been given a navel. As (I think) Bertrand Russell observed, once we start on this, there’s no way we can stop. Perhaps the universe was created 10 minutes ago, containing us, our memories and an apparent history going back to the Big Bang.

Anyway, a couple of commentators on my first anniversary post noted that they imagined I’d been blogging for years. I had exactly the same perception when I started, with respect to people who’d only been going for a few months or even weeks. Obviously if there are any cues that distinguish newbies from old hands, they are too subtle to be picked by someone who is, by definition, a newbie themselves. More generally, the social conventions of the blogosphere are such that newcomers are absorbed very rapidly, cross-linked, added to blogrolls, and, before you know it, seem like part of the furniture.

Perhaps this will change. Blogging in the US seems much more dominated by ‘first movers’, though there’s still room at the top for high-quality entrants like Kieran Healy and Kevin Drum at Calpundit .

Academic relativism

Just when we thought Windschuttle had been blogged to death, the issue has been taken up on the other side of the Pacific. First, Erin O’Connor posted a long piece derived from an uncritically pro-Windschuttle source, taking at face value his claims to be a critic, rather than a practioner, of cultural relativism. Then Henry Farrell at Gallowglass responded with some of the many critical links including mine, and O’Connor posted an update (Thanks to Ehud Rostoker for the alert).

There’s a lot of other interesting stuff on O’Connor’s blog, Critical Mass. In the same post, there’s a link to Eugene Volokh, who links to and slams this (nearly six months old) press release from Gun Control Australia attacking the University of Adelaide for “supporting” pro-gun academic John Whitley. As Volokh points out

the group is essentially trying to pressure a university to shut up a faculty member who is making law reform proposals with which it disagrees.

(Obligatory Voltaire (mis)quote and allusion to JS Mill On Liberty here). I haven’t heard anything about this and Whitley is still at Adelaide and still involved in the debate. Still, statements of the kind made by Gun Control Australia have a chilling effect on debate and are always to be deplored.

Back at Critical Mass, O’Connor gives a personal account of how she came to be so down on academic relativism, after spending eight years becoming a “resident Body Critic” (every top English department must have one, she informs us). Great reading.

Finally, a little quibble. I know the spelling of my name is not obvious from its pronunciation, and I always take care to spell it out when I’m talking to someone. But how can people get it so consistently wrong when they’re taking it from a printed source? O’Connor has it right in one sentence and wrong in the very next one, and she’s not alone in this.

Monday Message Board

It’s time for the regular Monday Message Board when you have your chance to have your say on any topic whatsoever (as always, civilised discussion and no coarse language, please).

Although I begged off this job in my birthday message, I’ll probably end up doing a “state of the blogosphere” piece before too long, so any suggestions/opinions/predictions of imminent collapse will be of particular interest to me. But, as always, anything goes!

Update I wasn’t sure if there would be much interest in the new GG. But judging from the Message Board there’s heaps, including Rob Corr’s brush with fame.

What I'm reading

Drawn from life by Stella Bowen, kindly lent to me by reader and fellow-economist, Nick Gruen. Bowen was an Adelaide-born painter who, like most artistically inclined Australians before the election of the Whitlam government in 1972, left for Europe at the first opportunity and never returned. She took up with the American writer Ford Madox Ford and sacrificed her career to what she perceived to be his greater talent. I haven’t read any of Ford’s books, and I guess we can’t know what Bowen would have produced given a free run, so I’m not going to make a call on this for the moment.

Inevitably, I’m also reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. My son Daniel devoured it on the afternoon of its release and now I have to read it as well if I’m to remain au courant with the younger members of the literary world. As always, JK Rowling does an excellent job, and its a pleasant read, with the trend to ever-longer volumes seemingly having levelled out after The Goblet of Fire.

One year on

Today marks the end of my first year of blogging. Although I didn’t note it at the time, I started on the winter solstice, which in Canberra means something. The year has seen a lot of changes for me, most of them positive. I’ve moved from Canberra, where I lived most of my life from 1970 onwards, to Brisbane, and, correspondingly from ANU, my alma mater, to the University of Queensland. I’ve finished up an ARC Research Fellowship and managed to land the best job available in Australian academia, a Federation Fellowship. I’ve become a father-in-law, and am looking forward, in due course, to becoming a grandfather. All of these transitions have involved some breaking of old and familiar ties and the beginning of new adventures

In blogging terms, a year is still long enough to go from newbie to old hand. I’ve moved from the training wheels of Blogger to the Mac-like elegance of Movable Type, and have established myself in a fairly satisfactory corner of Ozplogistan (this term based on ‘plog’ for ‘political weblog’, was coined by Bright Cold Matt in a comments thread, and popularised by Ken Parish. Matt gives more etymological details in the comments thread for this post). I was going to list the people who play a central role in this virtual universe, but I realised I was sure to omit someone, and you all know who you are anyway.

I was also going to do a “state of Ozplogistan” assessment, but I see my blogtwin, Tim Dunlop, has already written one. I’ll just make two observations. The first is that, after a period of explosive growth, blogging seems to have entered what economists call the “mature phase” (this refers to industry structure, not to the content of posts!), with roughly equal numbers of entries and exits. Among those most missed, I’ll nominate Don Arthur, whom I keep on the blogroll in the forlorn hope that he’ll finish his thesis and resume blogging. My other observation is that the political makeup of Ozplogistan now resembles that of Oz, whereas, when I started, the echo effect of American-inspired warblogging was still a dominant factor.

My big problem, coincidentally mentioned by Homer Paxton in one of today’s comments is “How in heaven’s name do you combine Uni work, blogging, family time, reading etal.” I’m still trying to figure that one out. If I find the answer I’ll tell you. If I join the legion of departed bloggers, you’ll know I haven’t managed to crack it.

Finally, thanks to all who have linked to my posts, commented in my comment boxes, or just read and enjoyed the blog. A particular thankyou to Rob Corr, who provided hosting for the new site.