Saturday, September 28, 2002

A "beefed up" Iraq resolution

I opined recently that existing UN Security Council resolutions appeared to be sufficient to enable renewed weapons inspections to take place. What I had overlooked was that in 1998 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had acquiesced to Saddam's demands that so-called "Presidential sites" be either exempt from inspection or subject to a 'softly softly' regime requiring substantial prior notice of a demand to inspect such sites. See Memorandum of Understanding of 23 February 1998. The MOU recited that these amazing concessions, which would effectively render weapons inspections utterly ineffective, were being made because "UNSCOM undertakes to respect the legitimate concerns of Iraq relating to national security, sovereignty and dignity". Kofi Annan's MOU was then endorsed by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1154 of 2 March 1998. So far as i can see it remains in force. Having ensured that its own weapons inspections would henceforth be a complete joke which Saddam could flout with impunity, the Council, in inimitable Orwellian doublespeak style, recited that it remained "determined to ensure immediate and full compliance by Iraq without conditions or restrictions with its obligations under resolution 687 (1991) and the other relevant resolutions".

Rather clearly, a new resolution is needed to spell out that there must be no exemptions (whether for "Presidential sites", mosques or whatever) from any renwed inspection regime. Of course, the fact that Russia and France are apparently refusing to consider any revised resolution (the former arguably because, according to Matthew Bates anyway, it suits its economic interest as a major oil exporter to do so) makes it unlikely that we will need to puzzle over this question for much longer. It does, however, make it clear why Saddam was prepared (however misleadingly) to profess to agree to renewed weapons inspections under the existing resolutions, while refusing pointblank to countenance any possibility of acceding to any new "beefed up" resolution.

I still think it is important for the US to go through the process of seeking UN agreement to a new resolution and Iraqi compliance with it. If nothing else, it serves to remind Dubbya and his advisers that, despite being the world's only remaining superpower, it is not completely a law unto itself. Nevertheless, one would be stupid and naive to expect any other outcome than frustration, followed by an inevitable (and on balance desirable) US-led military strike.

Finally, I was interested to discover while Googling for this piece, that Democratic Presidential spokespeople were singing a very different tune from that of current Democrat Congresional leaders in 1998, while Kofi Annan was busy gutting the weapons inspections regime. Here is an extract from a piece putting the Clinton spin on the UN's gutless actions:

"Bill Richardson, the United States representative here, brushed aside questions about why the Clinton Administration was not able to win Council support for military action, which Administration officials were confident last week that they would get. He put a positive spin on the result, saying it did not bar military strikes, which the United States believes it already has the power to carry out. "This resolution reinforces the U.S. policy, President Clinton's policy, of diplomacy backed by force," he said. "It does not restrict the US of force as a response of an Iraqi violation of the Secretary General's agreement." "
Parish Pump Picks
Pick of the ploggers

  • Suckering the left - The Citizens Electoral Council does it again - from Don Arthur (Australian leftists, including Jim Cairns,  jump into bed with American loonie right front group - in fact quite a few of the obsessions of the left coincide with those of the loonie right - e.g. globalisation, banks, Israel)

  • Left Brain - Right Brain [Oh No! … Again?] - from Alan McCallum (I'm linking this one against my better judgment - no more on this topic!!)

  • Stanley Gudgeon administers a richly deserved fisking to Julian Burnside QC for his unbearably sanctimonious piece on refugees in yesterday's Age.

  • Vaclav Klaus admits defeat - from John Quiggin (not only on VK, but also John's definition of social democracy, with which I take issue, and on which I'll plog later).

  • Is it Candygram time yet? - from Silent Running (about an alleged seizure of uranium allegedly heading for Iraq - haven't evaluated this stuff yet, but interesting)

  • What the Fuck's a Cakewalk Anyway? - Bernard Slattery delivers a well-merited rebuke to the ozfootie bloggers.

  • Paul Wright has a good piece on Margo Kingston's (SMH Web Diary) selective use of 'public opinion' to support her arguments.

  • Tim Dunlop, the Left and the edge - from Bargarz (contains a good extract from Camille Paglia. I wonder why lefties are slagging leftism. Maybe they've forgotten about solidarity in the class struggle. Then again maybe some of them have realised it's a blind alley).

  • Uncle from ABC Watch has been quick off the mark in publishing a review of ozplogger John Quiggin's appearance this morning on Terry Lane's program on Radio National. I can't help wondering why Uncle spends all his time listening to Auntie ABC if he detests it so much of the time. Maybe he's an intellectual masochist, or seeking to atone for heinous sins in a previous life.
  • Friday, September 27, 2002

    Science and Christianity

    Phillip Adams' column in today's Australian is an interesting but fairly shallow discussion of whether Christianity and science are compatible, and indeed whether the former gave birth to the latter. This is apparently the proposition advanced by an American bible thumper who recently debated Phil (I don't know which one to feel sorry for, really). The bible thumper apparently asserts that "although it isn't necessary to be a Christian to make a profound contribution to science, that contribution is nonetheless made possible because of the Christian ethos, with its tradition of encouraging open inquiry."

    Phil has trouble with this proposition, and I suppose I do too. Galileo certainly didn't find his scientific endeavours greatly assisted by Christian open-mindedness, and the Scopes case in the US (about Darwinian evolution) also isn't obviously consistent with the bible thumper's hypothesis. Indeed the bizarre American fundamentalist insistence on the oxymoronic "creation science" might reasonably be regarded as a denial not only of any tradition of open scientific inquiry but of rationality itself.

    On the other hand, the scientific method is largely based on the thought of French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, especially mind/body dualism. Descartes was indubitably a Christian gentleman, although it isn't all that obvious that either dualism or the scientific method are necessarily grounded in Christian culture and thought. I wonder whether Adams' American bible thumper interlocutor would agree with these observations by Descartes:

    "I shall then suppose, not that God who is supremely good and the fountain of truth, but some evil genius not less powerful than deceitful, has employed whole energies in deceiving me; I shall consider that the heavens, the earth, colours, figures, sound, and all other external things are nought but the illusions and dreams of which this genius has availed himself in order to lay traps for my credulity; I shall consider myself as having no hands, no eyes, no flesh, no blood, nor any senses, yet falsely believing myself to possess all these things; I shall remain obstinately attached to this idea, and if by this means it is not in my power to arrive at the knowledge of any truth, I may at least do what is in my power [i.e. suspend my judgment], and with firm purpose avoid giving credence to any false thing, or being imposed upon by this arch deceiver, however powerful and deceptive he may be."
    Apologies and treaties

    Robert Corr queried my attitude towards a treaty with Aboriginal Australians and an apology to the "stolen generations", following my linking of a piece by him as well as the Australian's editorial on the same subject, in an earlier Parish Pump Picks. I posted this reply under comments, but have decided it is worth a place on the main blog.

    It would take a lot more time, energy and space than I have right now to detail my attitudes to a treaty and an apology. In very short terms, I favour both, but doubt that either will bring the sorts of benefits some Aboriginal radicals clearly hope. In that sense, I agree with the Australian editorial that the more important issues are developing better resourced, co-ordinated and culturally appropriate programs for dealing with Aboriginal health, housing, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and child sexual abuse. All these areas require Aboriginal people, as individuals and communities, to take responsibility for their own behaviour and decisions (although that doesn't absolve governments, which is the implicit line of some Howard government thinking).

    The main concern I have always had with the interminable treaty and stolen generations apology debates is that they distract attention from these real and urgent problems. Getting both steps over with might help to clear the decks so we can all concentrate on the REAL problems. Neither an apology nor a treaty will do anything to solve those problems in themselves, although their symbolic significance probably shouldn't be underestimated. I have spent much of the last 20 years working with Aboriginal communities, and my wife, who is an English as a Second Language teacher working in a predominantly Aboriginal urban school, has spent almost her entire working life working with Aboriginal people. It therefore shouldn't surprise you to learn that we both feel pretty passionately about these issues, and have some well-developed views (although we don't always agree with each other). I'll blog at more length about them when I have the time.
    Parish Pump Picks
    Pick of the ploggers

  • Jason Soon and John Quiggin on 'fisking'. Bargarz also has a good piece on the same topic. And a final word on the subject from John Quiggin. I reckon we've probably just about exhausted this one now.

  • Matt from Bright Cold Day has really excelled himself, with no less than 3 posts eminently worth reading. First, a piece on Christopher Hitchens' departure from 'The Nation'; then one on a dubious statue commemorating September 11; and a piece on the recent pro-fox hunting etc. demo in London. Unfortunately, Matt doesn't seem to have a permalink facility, so you'll just have to scroll down his blog to find them.

  • Oh For God's Sake - from Tim Dunlop (deals with increasingly silly US attempts to claim an Iraq/Al Qaeda link.

  • Democrat Watch Part I - from Alex Robson (some useful points on Democrat positioning on the Congress resolution to authorise military action against Iraq.

  • Andrew Sullivan Finds Another One - from Silent Running (on conservatives, liberals etc - with a commenting skirmish involving yours truly).

  • Groan Time - a joke from Bernard Slattery.

  • Pick of the Pundits coming later in the day.
    Fair go Jason!

    Jason Soon reckons John Quiggin is building a "strawman" in the latter's critique of 'fisking'. He might be right. The trouble is, Jason is making a strawman of me, and I object! I thought I had made it clear that I rather like a well-written 'fisk', and I have been known to link good fiskings from time to time (although my personal writing style might usually be a bit more 'genteel', as Jason puts it).

    I think one of the great strengths of the ozplogosphere is the diversity of styles, approaches and interests of participants. I would hate to see only restrained academic-style writing. In fact I couldn't think of anything more boring. On the other hand, I do have distinct reservations about ploggers whose entire repertoire consists of incessant fisking of predictable targets. Angry young men are alright, I suppose, but only in moderation. I get testosterone-resistant after a while.
    Update - Jason has deleted my name from his piece. i'll leave this up anyway, so no-one else unjustly labels me a fisking-hater
    A notable plogger welcome

    Welcome to another new-ish plogger, Jozef Imrich. Jozef is a veteran of Margo Kingston's Web Diary, and a discussion forum of which we are both members. Jozef keeps a close eye on the wonderful world of European op-ed pundits, and has kindly offered to make occasional selections for the Parish Pump Picks.

    More importantly, Jozef is an escapee from communist Czechoslovakia, and his political views are stongly informed by that experience. His views, I think, are essentially classical liberal, as befits someone who saw what doctrinaire socialism can do. But Jozef is far more subtle and thoughtful than any such oversimplification could ever hope to capture. I am sure he will make a welcome contribution to the ozplogosphere.
    Fisking invitation

    Mike Carlton's latest column in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald richly deserves a 'fisking'. Those with talents in that direction might want to start warming up the vitriol. I'll happily include a well-written fisking of Mr Carlton in the Parish Pump Picks.

    Thursday, September 26, 2002

    Parish Pump Picks
    Pick of the ploggers

  • Bleating for Keating - from ABC Watch (an entertaining spray about Keating, Don Watson's book etc)

  • Australia rejects 170 East Timorese visa applicants - from Bitchin' Monaro Guide

  • Professor Bunyip analyses the letters page of the Sydney Morning Herald on the Iraq issue, and reaches the predictable (for him) conclusion that Granny is irretrievably leftist. Only trouble with Stanley's hypothesis is that the balance of SMH readers' letters appears to equate fairly well with current Australian public opinion.

  • Left Brain - Right Brain? - from Alan McCallum (a good left brain analysis - I also see Alan is a global warming skeptic - someone else to keep John Quiggin on his toes!)

  • Outdated assumptions - from John Quiggin (muses about relative military might, foreign aid etc)

  • The Balance of Payments Balances Everywhere, Except in Fairfaxville - from Alex Robson (takes issue with Kenneth Davidson's analysis of IMF neo-liberal prescriptions for Australia - Quiggin riposte awaited - and here it is)

  • Wickstein on 'fisking' (he likes it - sometimes I do too). Also see Bargarz on 'fisking' (very left brain)

  • Treaty, yeah? - from Robert Corr. The Australian's editorial writer has a different view.

  • Pick of the pundits

  • The Sydney Morning Herald op-ed pages are a wasteland this morning (except for an article by Richard Ackland titled 'Justice is lacking in the yearly silk cut' on appointment of Senior Counsel in New South Wales)

  • Longford's lesson: workers must take responsibility too - by Jim Ward (The Age)

  • Fraser's African legacy becomes Howard's foreign mission - by Louise Dodson (The Age) (sinks the boot into Malcolm, so worth reading)

  • Why America doesn't need UN approval by Avigdor Haselkorn (The Age) (warbloggers will love it)

  • Ministers do staff a disservice - by Paul Barratt (The Australian) (sacked Defence CEOs find solidarity)

  •  Yesterday's men should stay there by Neil Brown (The Australian) (hear! hear! -deals with the Silver Bodgy, Malcolm etc on Iraq. Only problem is that Neil is one of yesterday's men as well).

  • International picks

  • Post-communism: victory or lost illusions? by Vaclav Klaus (Prime Minister of the Czech Republic from 1992–97)(OpenDemocracy) (courtesy Jozef Imrich - more international op-ed recommendations are welcome )
  • Judicial inquiry on SIEV X?

    It seems Labor's Senator John Faulkner is pressing for a judicial inquiry into the SIEV X sinking (with the loss of 350 lives), following an alleged admission by an Australian, being paid by the Australian Federal Police, that he had been involved in organising Indonesians to sabotage refugee vessels. In one sense it isn't surprising that Faulkner should be calling for an inquiry given such allegations. In another sense, it's breathtakingly cynical.

    It's barely a month since Faulkner and other ALP members were complicit in winding up the Senate enquiry into the "children overboard" affair, which had begun investigating SIEV X as well, despite the fact that neither former ministerial staffers nor former Defence Minister Peter Reith had been subpoenaed to give evidence. Liberal members of the Committee specifically conceded that the Senate had the power to subpoena witnesses. It was clear that Labor didn't want to create a precedent of executive accountability which might come back to hanut it when in government.

    Obviously, the current Federal government has no intention of convening a judicial inquiry, and Senator Faulkner must know this very well. The dreaded Margo Kingston has previously speculated that Faulkner may actually be sincere about wanting to get to the bottom of the SIEV X affair, but got rolled in shadow Cabinet by colleagues more concerned with future realpolitik issues than with whatever further embarassment to the government that could be extracted. No doubt some remained mindful of the fact that the whole Tampa/Pacific solution/mandatory detention policy retains strong public support, so that any mileage extracted by Faulkner from the Senate enquiry might be a double-edged sword in a political sense. Compared with that, 350 lives mean little!

    For readers interested in the political and constitutional bases of the accountability to the Senate of ministerial staff, ex-ministers and the like, and their interaction with the doctrine of responsible government, all these issues are covered in an excellent Commonwealth Parliamentary Library research paper by Ian Holland titled "Accountability of Ministerial Staff?" (published 18 June 2002) . There really isn't very much doubt that staffers and ex-ministers are compellable as witnesses before the Senate. It's just that the political will tends usually to be lacking. One of many examples of advice to that effect is an opinion given by David Jackson QC (probably Australia's leading constitutional law barrister) in 1993. He said that 'there is no reason why [such a witness] might not, by the procedure of Standing Order 34, be required to attend to give oral evidence'. Politicians from both main parties are invariably complicit in not pushing the issue so far as to create an unequivocal precedent they might find inconvenient in future.

    Interestingly, a relatively isolated exception occurred in 1995 when then Democrats' leader Cheryl Kernot agreed with the Coalition Opposition that officers of the National Media Liaison Service (quaintly known as "Animals" because of its acronym NMLS) should be subpoenaed to give evidence before a Senate Committee. Senator Kernot was at pains to stress, however, that Animals was an exceptional case, because it supposedly didn't give 'political' advice (although manifestly it did), and therefore was in a different category from ministerial political advisers. I say interestingly because, as we now know, Cheryl was bonking Gareth in 1995. I wonder whether she received a quiet tip-off that subpoenaing Animals wouldn't cause Labor any political pain. Certainly Kernot's care to restrict the precedent value of her agreement to the subpoena decision to "non-political" staff is strange given the Democrats' much-vaunted "keeping the bastards honest" role, especially when you consider that the Senate's consistent legal advice was that its powers were subject to no such constraint.

    Eddie's a communist

    Tonight is a dark night of the soul for Tim Blair. Earlier this evening, appropriately enough on that hotbed of pinko activism the ABC 7.30 Report, Collingwood Football Club President Eddie Maguire called for "football socialism" to help out struggling brother clubs like North Melbourne and Western Bulldogs.

    Tim, I know it's hard mate, but you know what you have to do. Tear up the grandfinal tickets, fire off an email to Collingwood resigning your membership, then pick up that phone and ring big John Elliott right now. He's waiting for your call. Yes I know Carlton are a bunch of pathetic losers, but their Tory credentials are impeccable. Tim, this is your conscience speaking. You know I'm right. This isn't Sam Kekovich.

    Wednesday, September 25, 2002

    Parish Pump Picks

    Best of the ploggers

  • Is Hell Endothermic or Exothermic? - from Silent Running (I'd be tempted to give that student an A as well)

  • Warblogging
    - from Catallaxy - Jason Soon on left brain/right brain - worthwhile muse about blogging)

  • Discretion is not a one-way street - from John Quiggin (criminal sentencing - with a "law and order"-ish comment from yours truly)

  • Ideological profiling - from Tim Dunlop (Tim's take on left brain/right brain; his ideological position - a libertarian leftie)

  • The Chief Fisk™ Is Cruising For a Bruising Again - from The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler (I usually can't stand this guy's stuff, it's so one-dimensionally abusive, but his demolition of Robert Fisk's latest piece of stupidity is too good to overlook)

  • Best of the pundits

  • Alternatives to the Bush plan, anyone? - Jennifer Hewitt (SMH).

  • Silly con has cost NSW millions - Miranda Devine (SMH) (why the NSW south coast charcoal plant was a good idea - bound to get John Quiggin going).

  • The Australian op-ed pages are a wasteland today, although Tim Blair's column is a good laugh, even for those (like me) who dislike Collingwood even more since Eddie McGuire took over.

  • IMF report card fits nicely with Liberal view - Ken Davidson (The Age) (debunks IMF neo-liberal prescriptions for Australia - Davidson is correct).
  • Layout changes

    Readers may notice that I have just made some changes to my Blogger template. I have eliminated the links to the index pages I created, because I discovered I just don't have time to keep them up to date. To compensate, however, I have moved the search engine query box to the front page, and set it to re-index every day automatically. This should make old archive articles reasonably easy to find.

    I'm also thinking about implementing a daily "Parish Pump Picks" listing, which would link the best few ozplogger pieces and the best mainstream media op-ed articles of the day (IMHO). Of course, only those with any faith at all in my taste and judgment will be interested, and that's no doubt a pretty select group. However, at least I'm neither a doctrinaire leftist or rightist, so I won't be selecting exclusively from one side or the other of the ideological divide (simplistic though it may be to look at the world purely in those terms). My current plan is to post the "Parish Pump Picks" around 9 o'clock each morning Darwin time. That means the listings would pick up the current day's op-ed articles, but mostly the previous day's blogs.

    Finally, I am also contemplating instituting a weekly "Legal Picks" service, probably publishing each Sunday. It would link interesting legal articles, both in the general media and in scholarly journals published on the web. I monitor those publications anyway for my Australian Public Law website, so publishing a weekly update shouldn't involve much additional work.

    Feedback on either of these ideas would be welcome.

    Iraq and the Blair dossier

    Obviously the Blair dossier doesn't detail the exact intelligence sources for its assertions about Saddam's weapons capabilities. Moreover, intelligence sources fairly frequently turn out to be wrong, as nuclear weapons expert David Albright pointed out on last night's ABC Lateline . Albright is the president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, and seems to be a fairly sober analyst rather than a real-world warblogger.

    Nevertheless, Albright concludes, like the British government, that Saddam is continuing to develop a nuclear weapons capability, and that he will probably have nuclear weapons within 2 years or so. That's worrying enough, given his demonstrated propensity to invade neighbouring countries and to use weapons of mass destruction against them and his own people. What is even more worrying is that the Blair dossier also asserts quite convincingly that Saddam (1) already has substantial chemical and biological warfare capabilities which were not eliminated by previous weapons inspections; and (2) has the delivery mechanisms for nuclear, chemical and biological WOMD, using medium range missiles, aircraft, helicopters etc.

    The combination of these factors provides a compelling case for taking effective and decisive action. I see that the US is still trying to bolster its case by asserting a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Frankly, I haven't seen anything so far that suggests that is true, and I really think it's a red herring. Saddam's track record and pursuit of WOMD provides a sufficient basis for action, the question is what sort and when. Should weapons inspections be given a good faith chance to work, or is immediate miltary action (with or without UN sanction) the better option?

    Until now, I have tended to the view that the best option was weapons inspections backed up by the unequivocal threat of force in the event of any Iraqi obstruction at all. However, reading the Blair dossier in detail has caused something of a personal re-evaluation. The Blair dossier paints a compelling picture of a dictator hell-bent for more than a decade on acquiring nuclear and other WOMD capabilities. UN weapons inspections, sanctions, and even the Gulf War have not deflected him from that objective even for a moment. You can't help but ask the question: what is likely to make him change now? Even if weapons inspectors go in, meet with full co-operation (however unlikely that may be), and manage to destroy all Saddam's current capabilities, his track record tells us that he will simply start rebuilding his capacity as soon as they leave again. I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion that "regime changing" military action is going to be needed sooner or later, and the 1-2 year time frame for Saddam's likely acquisition of nuclear capability suggests that sooner is the better option.

    The only thing that makes me hesitate is the horrendous prospect of mega-thousands of civilian casualties. However, I assume the Americans have devised tactics that won't involve house-to-house fighting through the streets of Baghdad. Apart from anything else, despite the American public's increased tolerance for military casualties in the wake of September 11, I still doubt that the casualty levels US forces would sustain in prolonged house-to-house fighting would be regarded as tolerable. I also assume that both the US and the Israelis have contingency plans to eliminate Saddam's capacity to lob missiles into Israel very early on in the forthcoming war.

    Given apparent US resolve to pursue the military option come what may, and with or without UN approval, I suspect all we can really do is pray that the war is short and casualties light.

    Left-Right-About Face!

    Jason Soon and Tim Dunlop both have soliloquys on the left brain/right brain left wing/right wing. All very interesting, and then I remembered that it was triggered by my passing observation that there were lots more right wing than left wing ploggers. I didn't really intend it as a deep and thoughtful analysis. However simplistic that sort of labelling, though, my observation was clearly correct, and it served to stimulate an interesting discussion.

    BTW, I received an email from one of the ploggers I had idly labelled right wing, John Ray. He proudly wears the label, so I'm not insulting him by attaching it. John explains the predominance of rightist bloggers as follows:

    "No mystery about why bloggers are Rightist. They cannot get a hearing in the orthodox media -- which is all Lefty."

    That sort of paranoia also seems a common thread among many rightist ploggers. I don't intend embarking on a lengthy analysis to prove John wrong. You only have to look at the list of op-ed columnists in the SMH, Age or Australian to see that they all make at least some effort to provide a right/left balance in their opinion pages. Moreover, I haven't noticed an obvious leftist bias in the selection of letters to the editor either. Even the somewhat left of centre Margo Kingston happily publishes contributions from the right.

    Maybe John's impression is a manifestation of John Quiggin's left brain/right brain dichotomy. Although the "quality" newspapers tend not to edit in a heavy-handed way for ideological content, they do look for thoughtful, analytical contributions that aren't too long (except Margo, who happily publishes long and self-indulgent diatribes all the time). A typical "right brain" shoot from the lip, emotive "spray" (or 'fisking') is unlikely to be published in any newspaper. If your favoured writing style runs in that direction, you're likely to be frequently rejected by the mainstream media, and feel that starting your own blog is the only way to get your point across. By comparison, "left brain" analytical writers more often have their letters published when they feel moved to write, and so feel less need to join the blogosphere (unless they're as verbose and opinionated as me).
    Sturdy commonsense at granny Herald

    That much execrated haven of leftist bleeding hearts, the Sydney Morning Herald, today (Thursday - SMH op-ed pieces get uploaded to the web around 10pm the previous evening) publishes an excellent commonsensical analysis of the current Iraq situation by Jennifer Hewitt. Some might even call it mildly right wing, but certainly not right brain.
    Left brain, right brain?

    John Quiggin has been musing on a parallel track about the apparent preponderance of rightist ploggers. Like the immediately preceding item on the Parish Pump, many of the comments attached to John's piece are also worth reading. John argues that it's more a case of left brain v/s right brain than left wing v/s right wing thinking. But that still begs my question. Why are more of the blighters attracted to blogging? John's hypothesis also doesn't fit with Jason Soon's idea that bloggers tend to be IT people, who in turn tend to be more libertarian in orientation than the rest of us. You wouldn't think a good IT person would be a right brain thinker. Moreover, most of the rightist bloggers, from what I can see, have minimal technological abilities anyway (Gareth Parker is a notable exception but, like Jason Soon, he's clearly a left brain thinker).

    This thread seems to have attracted the attention of "Uncle" from ABC Watch. Uncle has posted a quite strange piece about an Aboriginal woman sitting in business class on an aircraft he recently travelled on. I don't think I could really classify it as either left brain or right brain thinking, just weird. I wonder if anyone can be bothered reading it and explaining to me the point he is trying to make. Is it just that he thinks the woman in question should have been making a gesture of solidarity to her impoverished black brothers and sisters by travelling in the baggage hold? Or that it proves Aborigines really aren't disadvantaged at all? Or is there some more subtle point that I'm missing? Does he think I'll launch into a typical leftist diatribe about Aboriginal oppression so he can neatly pigeonhole me? If that's the angle, he'll end up disappointed. Few would classify my views on Aboriginal issues as leftist (although hopefully they're not racist or ignorant either). I just haven't reached that particular hobbyhorse in my blogging agenda yet.

    Tuesday, September 24, 2002

    Another plogger welcome

    I have just discovered (courtesy James Morrow) another relatively new plogger, ABC Watch. It does exactly what the title suggests. However, like the other 2 new ploggers I linked yesterday, ABC Watch approaches its task from a markedly right of centre perspective. When you look down the list of ozploggers, I think it is beyond argument that there is a huge skew to the right. I wonder what it is about the blogosphere that it disproportionately attracts right wingers. An interesting sociological phenomenon.
    Another pundit sprung

    Stanley Gudgeon (alias Professor Bunyip) seems to have done a sterling job of sleuthing in unearthing an apparently clear case of plagiarism by Age columnist Kenneth Davidson. I wonder when mainstream journalists and op-ed pundits will learn that, while the Internet and search engines make it easier to gather the raw material for a weekly column, it is just as easy for others to uncover their sources by the same means.

    The honest way of dealing with the problem, of course, is to expressly acknowledge one's sources. However, there are a couple of problems with that strategy from the pundit's viewpoint. If most of the article was stolen from a single source, it might suggest that the pundit is not as wise and omniscient as he/she would like readers to believe. With increasing frequency, it seems, the single unacknowledged source is a blog. I guess that isn't all that surprising, because 'ploggers' to an extent are wannabe op-ed pundits themselves. There's nothing wrong with with real (i.e. paid) pundits panning through the dross of the blogosphere searching for that elusive piece of journalistic gold, provided that when they find it they give due acknowledgement. Then the 'plogger' at least gets his 14 seconds of fame.

    On the other hand, if there are several sources for a pundit's piece, acknowledgement within the text might make the article a bit turgid and academic, not necessarily desirable stylistic features in a general readership newspaper. However, I can't see why a single footnote providing all sources and links should be problematic. I suppose one reason is that articles are predominantly written for the 'hardcopy' version of the paper, where footnotes and links would look a bit strange.

    I guess the real reason why they don't bother about rigour or honesty is twofold: (a) it takes a certain amount of time and effort; (b) the audience doesn't give a rat's arse either way about journalistic honesty, except for a handful of bloggers and the sorts of anally retentive people (like me) who tune in to Media Watch every week despite knowing that David Marr is a pretentious wanker with double standards. Even the majority of ploggers only impose honesty scrutiny on pundits of an opposing ideological viewpoint.
    Plogger welcome

    Welcome to 2 new(ish) oz ploggers (term for political bloggers stolen from Matt of A Brght Day in April), Alan McCallum and John Ray. Both seem to be a touch to the right of centre (with due acknowledgment of Bargarz's admontion that the right/left dichotomy can be misleading). John observes that my ozplogger list is longer than most others. That's because I try to list all ploggers that I know about, not just those with the same ideological slant. I might draw the line if Fred Toben every started a blog, though.

    I also see that it's Gareth Parker's 20th birthday today. Actually it's my birthday today too, but unfortunately I'm well over twice as old. Come to think of it, "unfortunately" isn't the right way to put it. I'd hate to be 20 again. Then again, I wouldn't mind having a 20 year old's body, with the hormones capable of being toned down at will, but have my present attributes in every other respect.

    Monday, September 23, 2002

    The case against Saddam

    Saddam has not done himself any favours by announcing that he will not co-operate with any beefed-up Security Council resolution on weapons inspections. His stance certainly bolsters the US case for pre-emptive action on the basis that Saddam is just playing his usual delaying games. Personally, I am awaiting the release of Tony Blair's dossier with great interest.

    An even more interesting aspect is provided by a link from Silent Running to a fascinating 2001 article (i.e. published prior to September 11) on possible Iraqi complicity in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. It's a long way from conclusive, but it also can't easily be dismissed as the usual paranoid warblogger nonsense. Worth reading.
    Global trade stances predictable

    The Reserve Bank of Australia has just published a series of conference papers dealing with globalisation, trade and the effects on the developing world. They derive from a conference recently hosted by the RBA titled "Globalisation, Living Standards and Inequality: Recent Progress and Continuing Challenges". The papers make an important contribution to the globalisation debate, and are worth taking the time to read for anyone seeking an informed view and not just reinforcement of existing prejudices. I especially recommend a paper by Australian Treasury Head Ken Henry, which takes a refreshingly balanced view of globalisation. Henry stresses the benefits of globalisation, but also points out the negative effects for developing nations of European, US and Japanese cynical rorting of global trade, by protecting domestic rural producers while insisting that no-one else is allowed to protect manufactured goods. Henry does this by citing figures from the African nation of Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest nations which has nevertheless benefited from following globalising recipes, but which has also been screwed by first world agricultural protectionism.

    A couple of ozbloggers have also essayed views on this question. Scott Wickstein takes a predictably pro-globalisation view (with which I mostly agree), while failing to acknowledge the hypocrisy and unfairness involved in the rural protectionism of Europe, the US and Japan. Nevertheless, Scott makes a critically important point about opponents of globalisation who argue that one should ignore the success of India and China, who have both made spectacular progress both in increasing net wealth and decreasing poverty and inequality through embracing globalisation. Anti-globalisers point to increasing poverty and inequality in Africa and many Middle Eastern countries. However, as Scott (and many others) have observed, those failures have everything to do with endemic tribalism, clan warfare and religious extremism, and little or nothing to do with globalisation. Ken Henry says:

    "But progress against poverty has been much broader than just China and India. The World Bank has identified 22 other success stories (subsequent to the original globalisation successes of Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong SAR and the like) that have enjoyed strong real income gains in the post-1980 wave of globalisation, mainly through successfully entering the booming global trade in manufactures. Unlike China and India, many of them are not sufficiently populous for their success to make a notable statistical impact on the global measures.

    Sala-i-Martin (2002b) singles out Indonesia’s performance for special mention, noting that in 1970 almost half the population fell below the US$1-a-day poverty line. But by 1998, less than 1 per cent fell below that line, while the income distribution had narrowed as well."

    Of course, Indonesia has had a rough trot since 1998, but that doesn't invalidate the enormous progress made through embracing globalisation. Moreover, almost certainly Indonesia would have done even better but for endemic corruption and cronyism.

    Finally, Tim Dunlop also takes a predictable line:

    "For mine, one thing that should be abandoned forthwith is the term "free trade". This is a propaganda label, nothing more. All successful economies are highly managed but this label implicitly places emphasis on an ideological desire to minimise any interventions, even useful and necessary ones such as labour standards and environmental controls, rather than on good outcomes. Why can't we just talk about "trade" or even "international trade"? Then maybe we could assess various agreements on their merits (that is, on how they benefit participants) rather than on how they conform to a pre-designed set of prescriptions."

    I agree with Tim's argument that international trade rules should make allowance for labour standards and environmental controls, and perhaps (at least in some circumstances) permit WTO members to discriminate against imports from countries with poor standards in those areas (while assisting them with foreign aid to improve regulatory standards). The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) already does this to some extent, although one can argue whether they got the balance right. But I think Tim is missing a critical point. "Free trade" means free of protectionist burdens, not free of any regulation at all. That is, the type of regulation that the global free trade recipe seeks to prohibit is that which has a substantial protectionist intent and effect. Laws dealing with labour and environmental standards etc. can easily be used as flimsy pretexts for disguised protectionism (something Australia's trading partners often accuse us of doing with quarantine regulations).

    Australian constitutional law provides an excellent domestic case study in disguised protectionism. Constitution section 92 is Australia's domestic equivalent of the WTO agreements. Together with some other sections, it creates a domestic free trade zone whereby protectionism is constitutionally prohibited. Castlemaine Tooheys v South Australia involved South Australian regulations prescribing a 15 cent refund required on return of non-refillable glass beer bottles versus a refund of only 4 cents applying to refillable bottles. Castlemaine Tooheys produced all its beer in non-refillable bottles, whereas all the local South Australian producers used refillable bottles. The South Australian government argued that its regulations were "appropriate and adapted" to a legitimate legislative objective, namely protection of the environment by encouraging consumers to return bottles. However, there was uncontradicted evidence that a much lower refund amount than 15 cents would have been equally effective in creating the desired consumer behaviour. As the High Court said:

    "... the fact that a law regulates interstate and intrastate trade even-handedly by imposing a prohibition or requirement which takes effect without regard to considerations of whether the trade affected is interstate or intrastate suggests that the law is not protectionist... On the other hand, where a law on its face is apt to secure a legitimate object but its effect is to impose a discriminatory burden upon interstate trade as against intrastate trade, the existence of reasonable non-discriminatory means of securing that legitimate object suggests that the purpose of the law is not to achieve that legitimate object but rather to effect a form of prohibited discrimination... The fact that a law imposes a burden upon interstate trade and commerce that is not incidental or that is disproportionate to the attainment of the legitimate object of the law may show that the true purpose of the law is not to attain that object but to impose the impermissible burden."

    For those reasons, I don't think there is anything wrong with having an international regime (like the WTO) which takes a sceptical approach to domestic laws which have an ostensibly legitimate purpose but a protectionist effect.

    Finally, I think WTO rules should permit developing nations to nurture export industry sectors (by things like short-term subsidies, tax breaks etc). As far as I can see, all nations which have successfully moved towards first world status (of which China and India are just the most recent examples) have done so by using these nurturing strategies. However, WTO rules prohibit such policies, and mandate a "sink or swim" approach which experience suggests simply will not work. Along with continuing first world rural industry protectionism, that aspect of WTO represents the greatest barrier to developing countries achieving prosperity. Interested ozbloggers might do better to concentrate on those aspects, and avoid mouthing unhelpful and simplistic S11 slogans like "fair trade not free trade".
    Hate speech

    I'm starting to get worried. Angela Shanahan has actually written a column with which I mostly agree.

    Jason Soon and Teresa Fels have also been having an extended discussion over at Catallaxy (I won't say collective, because the joke's worn a bit thin), where they compare the arguments for and against banning hate speech (like Toben's holocaust denial website) with child pornography. After lots of to-ing and fro-ing, Jason and Teresa seem to have finally agreed between themselves that child pornography should be banned, but that hate speech, however obnoxious, shouldn't (unless it incites violence). They achieved this in part by applying economic cost-benefit analysis. It's nice to know that economics occasionally coincides with commonsense.

    Sunday, September 22, 2002

    Educating for values

    Federal Education Minister Brendon Nelson reckons schools should be inculcating values in our children. To the extent they don't do so already, I agree, although precisely which values are commonly held by the community is less clear. Nelson says:

    "Surely we want children to become adults who are caring, persistent, tolerant, fair and imbued with a deep sense of compassion. We should teach them to do their best, to be just, reasonable, loyal and trustworthy. Imperfect though we all are as human beings, we must surely aspire to see these attributes as the foundation on which we build young lives."

    Brendon would be more convincing on tolerance if he wasn't a member of a government that has recently been re-elected on the back of a merciless and utterly cynical beat-up of the refugee issue in a manner that calculatedly inflamed bigotry and intolerance for electoral advantage. And his "trustworthy" point might have more resonance but for the blatant lies told by his colleagues about "children overboard", SIEV X etc. Not to mention earlier scams like the GST we would never have, "core" and "non-core" promises and so on. Of course, the other mob were just as bad. But does Brendon really think Australians have collective Alzheimer's Disease or something? Maybe we should start by sending the politicians back to school to learn the basic values they prize but don't practise.