A challenge, an opportunity and a test

When we’re faced with a catastrophe like the one still unfolding in Asia, any response seems inadequate, and it is perhaps inevitable that there have been complaints about weak responses. In the short run, the issue isn’t financial commitments: the main problem is the logistical one of getting help to where it is needed as fast as possible. In the longer term, however, dollars will matter. The record of the developed world on this kind of thing is good. Big promises are made during the initial outpouring of grief and sympathy, but when the time comes to deliver on those promises, the ordinary processes of politics push foreign aid to the bottom of the priority list. People in Bam, the Iranian city destroyed by an earthquake last year, are still living in tents because the aid promised to help them rebuild their homes hasn’t arrived. Meanwhile, with or without disasters, poverty, preventable disease and malnutrition kill people by the million every year.

If all the rich countries gave only 1 per cent of their income to development and emergency aid, there would be enough to pay for huge improvements in living standards, like those set out in the Millennium Development Goals and to have a standing response to disasters and emergencies. For Australia, the cost would be an extra $5 billion per year, about the cost of a “sandwich and milkshake” tax cut, or a couple of days worth of the promises made during the last election campaign.

It’s sadly unlikely that the rich countries will, in fact, do anything on a collective basis. But with Indonesia being the country hit hardest by the disaster, Australia in particular is faced with a challenge, an opportunity and a test. We can, if we want, send a few emergency missions, then return to business as usual. Or, we can make it a major policy priority to help our neighbours, and particularly Indonesia, rebuild over the next few years.

For various reasons, our relationship with Indonesia has been fraught with tension ever since that country achieved independence. We have the chance to put that history behind us and work together now. In this context, it’s worth looking at the example of Turkey and Greece, two countries with a long and bitter history of conflict and war. The positive response by the Greek government and ordinary Greek people to the terrible earthquake that hit Turkey in 1999 began a process that has seen much of that bitterness dissipated, even though problems like Cyprus remain unresolved. Helping our neighbours won’t eliminate all sources of disagreement with them. But it offers the chance for a relationship much better than we have had in the past.

Of course, we should help because it’s the right thing to do, and not just because it will do us good in the long run. But when the disaster has faded from the television screens, it’s worth remembering that it’s in our own interesting to keep on helping.

Weekend reflections

This regular feature is back on line. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Creative giving

Especially in the aftermath of Christmas, not everyone has ready money to give in response to a disaster like that which has struck our region. But there are lots of different ways to help My Crooked Timber colleagues, John Holbo and Belle Waring are donating the proceeds from their Amazon Associates Account for the quarter[1], and Henry Farrell is doing likewise.

If anyone has seen any other creative ideas on positive ways to respond to this crisis, or has any suggestions of their own, I’d be glad to link to them. Meanwhile, the default option of sending money is a good one.

fn1. I have started an Associates account, but I don’t think it has made any money yet. When it does, I’ll look around for a good cause, perhaps something related to reading or literature. Suggestions welcome.

I’m working on it!

Thanks to everyone who’s suggested possible changes to the WordPress layout. I’m working on them, in between other things. So there won’t be much in the way of substantive posts for a few days.

In any case, the awful news of the tsunami leaves me without a lot to say for the moment. It just keeps getting worse. Please do whatever you can to help.

Update 30/12 I’m going very slowly on this stuff, but I’ve managed to implement a live preview function, which has been the most requested feature so far.

Layout improvements are proving problematic. If there are any WP fans out there who can suggest layouts I can simply copy, I’ll be glad to take a look at them

Australian appeals

Here’s the address of the CARE Australia appeal for aid in the earthquake and tsunami disaster. Via Tim Blair, some more links here

And, thanks to Andrew Bartlett, here’s the address for Community Aid Abroad

Remember that all donations are tax deductible. So, if you’re in the top tax bracket, work out what you can afford to give, then double it – you’ll get half back at the end of the financial year. If you’re in the 30 per cent bracket, you can give half as much again as without the deduction.

Welcome to WordPress!

Hi everyone! Welcome to my new WordPress blog. I’ve switched from Movable Type because of the problems it was causing to my hosts, Textdrive, notably in dealing with comment spam. In addition, WordPress is much less intensive on servers.

I’m now on my third blogging system, my fourth blog and my fifth host, but I’m hoping to stabilize things at this point. I’ve got my domain name for the next ten years, I’m very happy with Textdrive’s service and I have high hopes that WordPress will prove to be the software I’ve been looking for.

As usual in a shift of this kind, some comments have been lost. I had to run in parallel for a little while to get things working. In addition, I’m still dealing with the blogroll. On previous occasions, I’ve promised an attempt to retrieve comments, but not delivered. This time I’m not going to make that promise, but I will try and find a way that those who’d like their contributions accessible can retrieve their comments and repost them.

I welcome comments, particularly from other WordPress users, pointers to designs I could pinch and plug-ins I should adopt, and so on.

UpdateThe MT version of the blog is still accessible here. As Tom DC/VA, the first commenter on the new version observes, mindless reposting of comments could cause trouble. For example, if your comment points out the fundamental logical flaws in a previous comment, reposting it alone may not be helpful. But I’m going to leave that up to the good judgement of my readers. If you think your comment should live a little longer, and makes sense on its own, feel free to repost it (or not).


Another terrible disaster, an undersea earthquake triggering tsunamis that have killed thousands of people in many parts of SE Asia. Although it’s no doubt an illusion, it seems to me as if such tragedies are more common at this time of year than any other. No doubt there will be a relief appeal of some kind: I’ll post details when I can find them.

Christmas as usual

Since Christmas never changes (and a good thing too!) I’m reposting my Christmas Eve post from last year. I did plan more work on it, but haven’t done any. Posting will be erratic at best from now until mid-January. There may be nothing at all. On the other hand, I may get sick of my summer torpor and write ten posts in one day. No promises either way. In anticipation of at least a short break, let me wish a merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and a happy New Year to everyone (at least everyone who uses the Gregorian calendar).

Read on for my unchanged Christmas message

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Social capital and end-oriented networks

I’m just about to knock off for Christmas, but I have to get ready for a conference at Queensland Uni of Technology early in the New Year where Larry Lessig will be the main speaker. I’m giving a very short presentation, and struggling to improve my understanding of all this, in particular the relationship between the technology of the Internet and notions of social capital. I haven’t come up with anything earthshattering, but I have had some thoughts on which I’d welcome comments.

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The bleeding edge

There’s a new version of the MT Blacklist program out, fixing a critical error in which deleting one weblog could cause you to lose another. Users of MT & Blacklist will be pleased to know that, in the process of fighting off comment spammers and abusive morons, your intrepid host discovered this critical error the hard way. Jason Hoffman at Textdrive not only saved my bacon with a near-perfect backup file, but reported the bug which Jay Allen has now fixed. I think the grip of the law is gradually tightening on comment spammers, but no doubt they’ll be with us for some time, and morons will be with us always.