How Democracies Lose Small Wars

Below the fold is my draft review of Gil Merom’s How Democracies Lose Small Wars. Comments and criticism much appreciated.

UpdateAs regular readers will know, I have a habit of making small mental slips, and this post had two, with a reference to the downfall of Charles II following the English Civil War and to Saddam’s actions following the First Gulf War. Within hours of this post going up here and at Crooked Timber, four different people pointed these errors out to me in email and comments, in the nicest possible way (they’re fixed now)

It’s really great to know that I have so many attentive readers for a long, and rather academic post. And of course, it’s very helpful to have these errors picked up in Ozplogistan where errors are rife and correction is easy, before committing them to the unforgiving permanence of print.
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Paddy packs it in?

This piece in Crikey includes what purports to be PP McGuinness’ resignation letter from the Sydney Morning Herald. I can’t say I regret this. While McGuinness still does good stuff occasionally, the defining characteristic of his columns for the past decade or so has been sprays of vitriol, directed at a large, but predictable, range of targets. Even if you like this kind of stuff, the blogosphere supplies more, and purer, vitriol than any newspaper columnist, rendering the contributions of people like Paddy largely obsolete.

Parish backs Kyoto

Hot on the heels of Vladimir Putin, Ken Parish throws his weight behind Kyoto. As Ken says, the evidence of the last few years leads to a very strong presumption that the world is warming, at least at the surface[1].

There are still a lot of uncertainties to be resolved. But it’s better to take the low-cost measures required by Kyoto now, and prepare for more substantive action if current trends continue, than to do nothing and hope that things will turn out to be better than we now expect.

Since Ken and I are now in fairly close agreement, our long debate on this issue seems to be at an end. I enjoyed it and learnt a lot, and, although we both got bad-tempered on occasion, I think this was, in general, an example where blog debate worked the way we might hope. Certainly Ken has shown the kind of willingness to change his mind in response to new evidence that we should all seek to emulate.

fn1. In addition to climatic evidence, Ken cites superstitious fear as a reason for his change in position.

Where we should be looking

While the world’s attention (and mine, I admit) has been focused on Iraq, events that matter far more are happening elsewhere. As regards weapons proliferation, it’s obvious that North Korea and Pakistan are far more dangerous than Saddam ever was. And for a problem that cries out for some sort of humanitarian intervention, there’s none more urgent than that in Sudan. Although I’ve been aware of this for a while, it’s very hard to get the kind of information needed to motivate action, even as little action as writing a blog post. A new website Sudan: The Passion of the Present helps to fill that gap (link via Chris at CT).

The point of paradox

Suppose you have encountered Zeno’s Achilles paradoxfor the first time. Zeno offers a rigorous (looking) proof that, having once given the tortoise a head start, Achilles can never overtake it. Would you regard this as[1]

# A startling new discovery in athletics;

# A demonstration of the transcendent capacity of the human spirit – although the laws of logic forbid it, Achilles does in fact catch and overtake the tortoise; or

# A warning about how not to take limits?
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Productivity takes a breather

That’s the headline the Fin gave to an Op-Ed piece by Dean Parham today. This is, as far as I know the first acknowledgement from official sources of the productivity growth slowdown of the last four or five years. It’s significant because Parham is the most prominent advocate of the hypothesis that microeconomic reform has generated a new economy.
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Bilious

Ken Parish has inaugurated his “Blog bile” awards, a category that should not lack for entrants. The first winner is Chris Sheil appropriately enough, since he notes that Howard’s 30th anniversary bash made him “puke all over my keyboard”.

At least according to regular commentator Observa, writing in the comments thread, I’m not in the running, and am in fact notable for “serenity”. This word always reminds me of the holiday shack scene in The Castle

, with the high-voltage transmission lines crackling in the background, and not at all of blogging, but there you go.