Peace in Aceh

The long-running guerilla war in the Indonesian province of Aceh is finally over. Indonesian troops (other than those recruited locally) have been withdrawn, and the military wing of the Free Aceh Movement has been disbanded and disarmed. The pointlessness of this long war was brought home to both sides by the catastrophic tsunami a year earlier, which killed 170 000 people and forced everyone to co-operate in rescue and rebuilding.

Sadly, a similar impetus towards peace in Sri Lanka, appears to have faded. And of course the slaughter just goes on in places like Iraq and Darfur.

Overall, though, it’s Aceh that is representative of the trend. The number and severity of wars and conflicts has declined greatly since the end of the Cold War.

It would be a salutory effort to look over the wars, revolutions and civil strife of the last sixty years and see how many of the participants got an outcome (taking account of war casualties and so on) better than the worst they could conceivably have obtained through negotiation and peaceful agitation. Given the massively negative-sum nature of war, I suspect the answer is “Few, if any”.

Terrorism and Cancer

I just received an email drawing the (far from original) comparison between terrorism and cancer. It struck me that, to make this metaphor exact we’d need

* attacks on cancer researchers for seeking to ‘understand’ cancer

* even more attacks on anyone trying to find ‘root causes’ for cancer in the environment, such as exposure to tobacco smoke

* lengthy pieces pointing out that the only thing we need to know about cancer cells is that they are malignant

* more lengthy pieces pointing out that criticism of any kind of quack remedy marks the critic as “objectively pro-cancer”

I guess Steven Milloy and other “junk science” types come pretty close to providing the first two. Has anyone seen examples of the third and fourth?

Man of Middle Eastern Appearance

In the right light, I certainly am, as has been noticed both by commentators here, and In Real Life. As far as actual ethnicity goes, I’m a mixed bag, but mostly Celt. Quiggin is a Manx name, and my ancestry on my mother’s side is mostly Scots.

None of that signifies anything much except the arbitrariness of distinctions over which a lot of blood has been, and is still being, shed.

Xmas in Oz

This year, I had as close to a classic Oz Xmas as I can remember. At the beach, in Sydney, with prawns and pavlova for Xmas dinner. The atmosphere at the beach was great, with no hint of the troubles a couple of weeks ago, and no-one interested in much more than getting wet, grabbing a wave or two and soaking up some sun.

Admittedly I was staying at Avalon, about as far from Cronulla as you can get and still be in Sydney, but the scene was just the same all up and down the coast as far as I could tell. And even in that fairly Anglo stretch of the coast, the beach crowd was diverse, including a sprinkling of hajibs along with more traditional beach attire (or lack thereof).

Great prezzies too. I got a facsimile version of the last incomplete voyage of Aubrey and Maturin from my younger son, and, from my older son and his wife a high-tech corkscrew, guaranteed to uncork the old Black Stump Bordeaux at a rate of three seconds per bottle. Came in very handy as you can imagine. Plus A Hundred Years of Solitude, which I’ve never read, from my wife, along with more from Margaret Atwood and Shirley Hazzard.

A great time was had by all, and a slow return to normality is indicated.

Back to the Future

Offering the converse of a point made here not long ago, the Economist observes that

France quarrels with America not because the pair are so different but because they are so alike

What struck me most about the article was a reference to the appeal in France of US culture, epitomised by “Harry’s American Sandwich Shop”.

Thinking about this, it struck me that this kind of reference to American culture always, for me, brings the the 1950s to mind – Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, diners, Corvettes, the Mickey Mouse Club (OK, mainly Annette Funicello). And the same is true for France. I think of Sartre and existentialism, Bonjour Tristesse, Truffaut and so on.

By contrast, the 1950s in Australia are pretty much a blank for me – there was plenty happening before and after, but nothing then that made an impact. Culture at that time, and for most of the 60s, was something that came from overseas (this was true of both ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture). Is all this something generational, a personal idiosyncrasy on my part, or do particular cultures have defining decades?

Very long weekend reflections

The blog seems to have been running itself very nicely during my summer slowdown, and with a big and lazy four-day weekend coming up it will have to.

Best wishes to all readers and commenters for Christmas and New Year, summer solstice or whatever other feast and holiday you plan to celebrate.

As usual, please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in lengthy contributions suitable for holiday reading.

Cash for comment in the US

In a US case reminiscent of our own cash for comment scandal, Cato Institute Senior Fellow Doug Bandow has resigned following the revelation that he wrote (for pay) articles promoting the interests of Jack Abramoff’s clients, including the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands and the gaming interests of the Choctaw tribe. This is disappointing – I liked Bandow best among the Cato crew (unless you count Julian Sanchez). And the amount of money involved was piddling – $2000 a pop or about $24K all up. A few quick-and-dirty consultancy jobs could have brought in a similar amount, without raising the same conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, Peter Ferrara, a senior policy adviser at the Institute for Policy Innovation is sticking to his job despite taking Abramoff’s cash. No surprise there.

But the question that really strikes me is this: If Bandow’s relatively minor ethical lapse is a sackable offence, how can Cato continue to harbour Steve Milloy? He’s not only a corporate shill of the worst kind, but a walking offence to civilised standards of behavior. Cato Institute President Edward Crane, who has failed to sack Milloy, ought to resign before Bandow.

Update IPI responds, confirming the basic facts noted above, but criticising other aspects of the Business Week story I linked.

What I'm reading and more

Civil Passions by Martin Krygier. An interesting set of essays on a wide range of subjects. I was particularly struck by his observation on Keith Windschuttle’s claim to be a fearless seeker after truth, as opposed to the ideologically-driven history of his opponents. Writing in 2003, Krygier observed that Windschuttle had not yet done the research for his promised volumes on Queensland, and asked ‘Who can even conceive Windschuttle saying after a few more years in the archives “Whoops. Got it all wrong. Hats off to Henry.” Unless of course he has yet another across the board ideological conversion’. This, I think, says everything that needs to be said about Windschuttle*. Krygier (a second generation Cold Warrior) also has some fascinating things to say about the collapse of communism

I also went to see Red Dust, a film about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, from a novel by Gillian Slovo, which I found compelling. I saw it at the Schonell theatre, a Uni of Queensland institution that is under threat of closure as a result of voluntary student unionism. If you live in Brisbane and have been vaguely thinking about going, do so now while you still have the chance.

* As my last sentence implies, I don’t feel like engaging in another long debate about Windschuttle. I’m going to delete (or, at my discretion, disemvowel) any comments defending him, or criticising his opponents, unless the author is willing to state that they think it reasonably likely that Windschuttle might reach, and publish, the conclusion that Henry Reynolds and others were broadly correct in their assessment of the situation in Queensland. The same will apply to any meta-discussion about my position on this. I’d ask those who agree with me not to feed the trolls by piling on.

Update Since readers have been unwilling to abide by my requests, I’m closing comments on this thread.