Beazley on Gallipoli

I was just getting vaguely reconciled to the idea of Beazley as Labor leader when he came out with the following claim in a speech at the Lowy Institute (PDF):

We cannot understand the decisions of 1914, and we cannot understand Gallipoli, if we do not understand that Australia had compelling direct and distinctly Australian reasons for being there, he argued. Australia recognised that Britain would become increasingly less able and willing to guarantee Australia’s future security. So it was in Australian interests to become an active participant in imperial security, to ensure British power was not eclipsed.

This is wrong in just about every way a historical claim can be wrong
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Back on air

I foolishly decided that I would do the upgrade of WordPress to v1.5 myself, rather than getting it done for me by someone who knew what they were doing. Four or five hours of frustration later, the upgrade is done, though I still have to reconfigure the template. Enjoy the default layout for the moment.

Update Well, I can get the main page working fine with the old layout, but the comments are a mess. The header is displayed in a botched form, when it shouldn’t be there at all. If anyone can give me advice on what to do, that would be great. Otherwise it’s the default layout for the moment.

We shall remember them

On Anzac Day, there are two important things to remember

* Thousands of brave men died at Gallipoli and in the Great War and we should always honour their memory

* The Gallipoli campaign was a bloody and pointless diversionary attack in a bloody and pointless war. Millions were killed over trivial causes that were utterly irrelevant by the time the war ended. The 1914-8 War only paved the way for the even greater horrors of Nazism and Stalinism. Nothing good came of it.

From what I’ve seen of the last surviving Diggers they were fully aware of both of these things. At one time, it seemed possible that, as the generation who fought in the war passed on, we would forget the first of them. Now the danger is that we will forget the second. We should judge as harshly as possible the political and religious leaders who drove millions, mostly young men, to their deaths, and honour the handful who stood out against the War, including Bertrand Russell and Pope Benedict XV.

What I’ve been reading

“Singularity Sky” (Charles Stross) and The Algebraist (Iain M. Banks)

I enjoyed Singularity Sky very much and am looking forward to getting hold of Iron Sunrise, which has been nominated for this year’s Hugo awards, along with The Algebraist and two books I’ve reviewed earlier Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Iron Council, plus River of Gods, which I haven’t seen yet.

I had planned to spend the afternoon in front of the TV, but it was so depressing (50 points down at haftime) that I went back to work on my review of Freakonomics An incomplete draft is over the fold: comments appreciated as always.
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NHS & PFI

The latest London Review of Books has a great review article by David Runciman (subscription only, unfortunately). The books covered are Restoring Responsibility: Ethics in Government, Business and Healthcare by Dennis Thompson , NHS plc: The Privatisation of Our Healthcare by Allyson Pollock and Brown’s Britain by Robert Peston.

Of these, I’m most interested in the book by Pollock, who’s been a prominent critic of the Private Finance Initiative, particularly in relation to health care. I think the biggest problems with the PFI are going to emerge ten or twenty years into the contracts, when any safeguards written into the original contracts will be obsolete, and the private party will have an incentive to extract as much rent as possible from the remaining life of the deal.

The whole idea of governments signing these long-term contracts is dubious in many respects. It’s bad public policy for a government to bind its successors in this way. And it’s bad commercial policy to sign 30-year contracts for services where ordinary principles of risk allocation would suggest a term more like five years. The PFI and similar initiatives have already run into plenty of problems, but I think the worst is yet to come.

A particularly egregious example came to light in Australia recently. The late, and not much lamented Kennett government signed contracts giving monopoly rights monopoly rights to operate gambling enterprises to two firms, Tabcorp and Tattersalls.

It now emerges that, if these contracts are not renewed, obscure clauses entitle the monopolists to compensation of up to $1 billion.

Darfur again

Via Jeff Weintraub, I got this link from Harry’s Place on possible actions that can be taken to pressure the Sudanese government into calling off the continuing campaign of terror in Darfur. Things have improved somewhat under international pressure, but a lot more needs to be done. A good source of up-to-date information is Passion of the Present

Having opposed the war in Iraq, I should perhaps explain why I support intervention in Sudan. There are two aspects to the issue. The first is simple costs and benefits. A few tens of millions of dollars and some modest military force could save thousands of lives in Darfur. By contrast, the war in Iraq has cost tens of thousands of lives (quite possible more than 100 000) and hundreds of billions of dollars, for prospective benefits that have not yet been delivered.

Second, I think it’s necessary to strike a balance between the extreme claims for national sovereignty, defended, for obvious reasons by the Chinese Communists, and the US doctrine, backed by Howard and endorsed in blood by Putin, that any sufficiently powerful government should be able to do what it likes in response to perceived threats. Where a government engages in war against its own citizens, the international community should be willing to step in, starting with sanctions and going on to safe areas protected by no-fly signs and peacekeepers with rules of engagement that allow them to defend themselves and refugees against any attack. If this leads to the downfall of the government, as it did with Milosevic in Serbia, so much the better. The step of overthrowing a government, even a brutal and dictatorial one, and imposing rule by an occupying army is one fraught with danger, which should be an absolute last resort.