Saturday, October 19, 2002

Peripatetic Parish Pump?

Readers may have noticed that the commenting function at The Parish Pump (and other blogs using the same commenting provider called Enetation) has been inoperative all day. Enetation is the third commenting provider I have tried so far. The first one went broke and disappeared without warning or trace. The second, Haloscan, exhibited prolonged and serious unreliability. The third is Enetation, which has been "down" for prolonged periods over the last week or so. It also has numerous other technical deficiencies not worth discussing.

It appears, however, from idle observation that Haloscan is now functioning rather more reliably than it was when I deserted it. I would welcome feedback from bloggers still using Haloscan (e.g. John Quiggin). Please email me.

I'm also thinking of biting the bullet and giving away Blogger completely due to its chronic unreliability. It seems to me that it should be possible to operate a manually coded blog with little or no net loss of convenience or functionality e.g. permalinks, archiving etc. Haloscan even appears to offer a commenting script that can be manually inserted at the foot of each post. Again I would welcome feedback from any bloggers who have tried maintaining a manually coded weblog (e.g. Alan McCallum).

Friday, October 18, 2002

Don fesses up

Don Arthur this morning upholds a developing fine tradition of intellectual honesty in the moderate ozplogosphere. Don acknowledges that he was wrong to accuse Greens Senator Bob Brown of jumping on the disgraceful Archbishop Carnley's bandwagon. You know: "Bali was Australia's punishment for John Howard daring to support the Great Satan's Iraq invasion plans". The wily Senator probably thinks that, but he was politically smart enough not to say so in the present situation.

As a self-appointed member of the moderate faction, I can't help being reminded of that old joke about political centrists. Crowd chant at a moderates demo: "What do we want? Gradual change! When do we want it? In due course!"
Parish Pump Picks

I think I'll take a shortcut with the PPP today. Don't want to kark it in front of the computer screen like Korean Kim (see immediately below). I compiled a listing yesterday under the title Race Around the Plogosphere, which hits most of the high spots of the last couple of days. Before that, this week in the ozplogosphere (as elsewhere) was dominated by reaction to the Bali bombings. I think I've linked to most of the interesting responses: scroll down and look for yourself.

There are, however, two additional ozplogging efforts worthy of mention. First, Bargarz blogs another long-ish soliloquy on the week of the Bali bombings, under the title Appeasement, crystal balls and a road to perdition. Excellent.

Secondly, Tim Dunlop blogged an item that I missed when it first appeared on Thursday. The title is Clive James is a Big Fat Idiot, so I shouldn't need to summarise it too extensively. Essentially, Tim makes the reasonable point that Clive (and other right wing pundits like Barry Humphries etc) are every bit as elitist and condescending as the leftist pundits he (Clive) attacks in his Guardian article (which I also mentioned earlier this week). There are also numerous extended and well-argued contributions in Tim's comment box.

Finally, a short whinge/humble request directed at Tim Dunlop. Tim, having your Blogger preferences set to only archive your front page every month or so makes it almost unworkably slow to load, especially for a prolific blogger such as yourself. It isn't so bad for those of us with fast Internet connections (although long enough to be irritating), but for those with dial-up modems it must mean an interminable wait to read your words of wisdom. Despite Blogger's hopelessly unreliable archive function, I suggest that the search engine on your blog makes older items sufficiently accessible, and obviates any need for keeping huge amounts of material on the front page.
Bloggers beware

Yesterday's NT News also contained a story which may serve as a salutary warning to obsessive bloggers. Under the headline "Weird News" it records:

"A 24-year-old South Korean man died after playing computer ganes nonstop for 86 hours.

The jobless man, identified by police only by his last name Kim, was found dead at an Internet cafe in Kwangju, 260 Km southwest of Seoul, they said.

Quoting witnesses, police detective Oh Myong-Sik in Kwangju said the man had been virtually glued to the computer since late last Friday and had no decent sleep and meals.

The man collapsed in front of the counter early yesterday but soon regained consciousness. He then went to the toilet where he was later found dead.
Ex-Maid from Maningrida supported

Yesterday's Northern Territory News recorded that the NT Director of Public Prosecutions has decided to appeal (on the basis of manifestly inadequate sentence) against the 24 hour imprisonment imposed on Jack Pascoe Jamilmira, following his conviction of unlawful sexual intercourse with his 15 year old "promised" wife.

The previous day's NT News contained a letter from Labor Attorney-General Peter Toyne, assuring Territorians that the Martin government did not intend legislating to provide for 2 separate systems of law (one for Aboriginal Territorians and one for everyone else), and would under no circumstances legalise any conduct which is a crime under the NT Criminal Code (including sexual intercourse with a minor). He specifically mentioned ritual spearing as something that would not be regarded as legal. The world, it seems, hasn't gone completely mad. Overall, I think the Martin Labor government in the Northern Territory is doing a pretty good job in difficult times.
The Young Oracle Has Spoken

Words of wisdom from Gareth Parker: balanced, succinct, and absolutely correct. As another plogger remarked the other day, it's time someone gave this young bloke a job in journalism. Margo, are you there?

However, a story I just heard on ABC News titled Anglican head blames bombing on Aust alliance with US over Iraq suggests that Archbishop Carnley hasn't read Gareth's words of wisdom, or for that matter those of Don Arthur:

"The head of the Anglican Church in Australia has blamed the Bali bombings on Australia's outspoken support for the United States in planning military action against Iraq. In an address last night to the annual synod of the Anglican Church in Perth, the Most Reverend Dr Peter Carnley stopped short of blaming the Prime Minister, but says he was warned.

Dr Carnley says he and other church leaders wrote to John Howard on August 8, questioning the Government's strident support for a US led war in Iraq."

I guess we were just asking for it, like the 15 year old priestly sexual abuse victim for whom Carnley's former colleague Peter Hollingworth exhibited such a complete lack of Christian compassion.

In contrast to the good Archbishop (and I use the adjective loosely), Alexander Downer's response on behalf of the Federal government was a model of restraint (if slightly tinged with sarcasm):

"If we don't know who did it, then it's pretty hard to know what their motives were and obviously if Archbishop Carnley's Diocese has some information that can assist with the investigation then we would obviously appreciate that information."
Rob's riposte

Rob Schaap has responded to my hypothesis about ultimate American motivations on Iraq (see Iraq really IS about oil and Iraq, the Saudis and Rob Schaap) by making the very reasonable point that it's very likely Saddam would be replaced by another tyrant of similarly obnoxious disposition (if a pro-American one) rather than anything resembling a liberal democracy.

Rob may well be right. After all, democracies aren't exactly thick on the ground in the Middle East or Africa. In fact, I can only think of two off the top of my head: Israel and South Africa. Thus, if the US wants to form an alliance in this region, or sponsor a new regime, there's a fair chance it will be somewhat autocratic. Left-wing cynics would characterise this as the "he may be a bloodthirsty dictator, but he's our bloodthirsty dictator" school of diplomacy.

There's a certain force in the observation. However, given that there aren't any liberal democrats in those countries with whom to form alliances, whether it's morally justifiable to ally oneself with autocrats depends on how serious is the threat you are banding together to meet. I have no doubt that communism was a grave threat to world peace and liberal democratic freedoms, and that the scale of that threat justified expedient US alliances with some fairly nasty regimes. The same situation now exists with Islamic fundamentalism. The fact that there may be some unintended negative consequences (like sponsoring a leader who eventually becomes another Saddam) is a risk we have little effective choice but to take. The alternatives are either passivity in the face of Bin Laden's butchers, or confronting the Saudis over their sponsorship of terrorism without any contingency plan to avoid massive economic disruption through interruption of oil supplies.

However, as I also observed earlier today, that would not be the case if the West accepts the inevitability that weapons inspectors and peacekeepers will need to be stationed in Iraq semi-permanently. War could then be avoided, but the chances of Saddam accepting such a situation are pretty remote.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Margo fights back!

Margo Kingston has emailed me about my piece on Web Diary's publication of the LPG gas bottle story by SMH journo Juan-Carlo Tomas (see Margo's mess-up). Here is Margo's reply:

"Hi Ken. I published Juan Carlo's piece before the C4 news came in. I can't remember the exact time, but it was before I got to the AB radio studio in Sydney at 9.30pm to do Late Night Live, where I discussed the C4 revelation, and its implications. I'd read the report before leaving work and after publishing Webdiary. My colleague's piece was about getting all the facts before making judgments about how we should respond to the Bali bombing. Hugh White made a similar point in the SMH oped page yesterday.

Margo Kingston

PPS: Gee it would be nice if commentators I respect, like you, would return the compliment and at least do me the courtesy of not jumping to conclusions which find me disgraceful, incompetent etc etc. I don't know what I've done to deserve the vitriol and hate I get from many webloggers, especially as I'm meticulous in not playing that game.

And as for your patronising comment that the mainstream is at last adapting to the Web, I began Webdiary in July 2000, long before any Australian bloggers hit the scene."

Fair comment, I concede. I hadn't realised that SMH Web Diary was published so early in the evening (the rest of the op-ed section of SMH doesn't go on the web until around 11pm). However, I fully accept Margo's assurance that she wasn't aware of the C4 story when the Juan-Carlo Tomas piece was published. The immediacy of web publishing (like blogging) means that things like this will inevitably occur. It still would have been nice, however, if Margo had added a post-script once she became aware of the C4 discovery (just as I did once I became aware that the terrorists had apparently packed a Bimo with both C4 and LPG gas bottles).
Race Around the Plogosphere

Tim Dunlop blogs on North Korea's reluctant admission that it has a nuclear wepaons programme. This is contrary to previous promises to Bill Clinton, who may have hoped that if he professed to believe them, then Americans might extend similar generosity to his own denials about Monica Lewinsky et al. Unfortunately, the blow-job the North Koreans could effect is a quantum leap away from the ones Slick Willy had in mind. Scott Wickstein also blogs on North Korea. Tim's piece has an interesting comment box discussion that is worth reading.

Tim Dunlop also blogs on the latest developments in the sniper killings, which understandably pre-occupy Washington residents.

Scott also fittingly keeps the focus on mourning the Bali victims, as does Bargarz (who must be sacrificing as much productive worktime to blogging as I am at the moment). Scott's piece also rightly maintains the rage against Muslim fundamentalist scum.

Rob Corr also has a speculative piece pushing one of the favoured leftist conspiracy theories, namely that Indonesian military forces were behind the Bali bombings. A bit unlikely I suspect, although not completely out of the question that rogue elements might have been involved in some way. Rob has one comment with which I agree completely. Australia should under no circumstances resume training (or having any relationship whatever) with the Indonesian special forces Kopassus. These guys are murderous terrorists themselves. Nevertheless, I think the Bali outrage gives Australia no choice but to resume a significant level of co-operation with Indonesia (e.g. intelligence-sharing), because it is a focus of fundamentalist terrorist activity right on our doorstep.

Finally, Jason Soon blogs on some psychological research:

"People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. "

This observation struck a personal chord with me. I generally set undergraduate final exam papers containing one question that is particularly challenging, involving subtle issues that most students won't be able to deal with effectively. It's designed to allow the top High Distinction students to show off and sort out their intellectual "pecking order". It's also designed to ensure that the less able students can at least pick a problem which they should avoid (or seek help with). That too is an important skill in professional practice. You need to be able to recognise issues which require specialist expertise you don't possess, so you can brief specialist counsel or take other appropriate action. I always tell students that there will be a question of that sort in the exam, but I don't tell them which one. Invariably, two things occur:

(1) The top 2 or 3 students rise to the challenge and tackle the question;
(2) Everyone else leaves it severely alone, except the 4 or 5 worst students. They unerringly choose the question, seemingly drawn hypnotically to their own destruction like moths to a flame. They don't have enough knowledge even to realise that they don't have enough knowledge, so to speak.
Iraq, the Saudis and Rob Schaap

Rob Schaap (who I'm pleased to see making a slow return to the blogosphere) responded in my comment box to yesterday's article Iraq really IS about oil. I think it's worthwhile reproducing part of his comment, and my response to it, on the front page of The Parish Pump, because it seems to me that the exchange in many ways encapsulates the differences betwen the pro- and anti- positions on possible military action in Iraq.

Rob said:

"I also have a problem with the idea of puncturing, disintegrating and incinerating a heap of Iraqis because you're cross with a few Saudis. If I may speculate, I think Ken's description of what our besuited betters have in mind for Iraq as 'liberation' is speculation of a most spectacular order."

I responded as follows:

"The reason why the US, I speculate, is "cross" with those few Saudis is that they without question sponsored, funded and organised September 11, not to mention Nairobi, USS Cole and lots of other atrocities. Very likely they played a similar role in the Bali bombings (speculative). To label this with the diminutive term "cross" suggests that Rob is rather dismissive of the whole situation, and regards US reaction to it as illegitimate. That is, of course, a fairly typical radical left position, but one which is IMO utterly contemptible.

As for the line about incinerating Iraqis, my article (and previous ones) have been predicated on the basis that a regime-changing Iraq invasion could only be justified if military tactics were used which keep civilian casualties to a minimum. That DID prove to be the case in Kosovo, the first Gulf War, and the recent Afghanistan operation. I see no reason why it should not also be achieved in any Iraq invasion. Obviously there will be some mistakes and some innocent deaths. But you have to contrast that with the number of innocent deaths the entire world will certainly endure on an ongoing basis if Muslim fundamentalist terrorism isn't curbed. In the real world, Rob, difficult moral choices have to be made, and the typical pacifist leftist response may in practice lead to far greater misery, death and oppression than resolute action by countries committed to democratic freedom."

I should also add that, despite strong arguments to the contrary from the left, I think the Nazi appeasement analogy is quite valid in the current situation. Fundamentalist Muslim terrorism, in its present virulent form, poses a threat to western civilisation that is every bit as great as that of Nazism/Fascism in the 1930s. There is, of course, the complicating factor that we need to be careful to differentiate between the fundamentalists and the great bulk of ordinary moderate Muslims, lest we inadvertently propel them into the radical camp and create the Islam versus the West world war that Bin Laden is clearly trying to engineer. However, the 1930s involved a not entirely dissimilar problem, namely that western countries themselves contained a substantial proportion of people who potentially sympathised with quite a few of Hitler's aims and methods. That was a significant reason for the vacillation and appeasement that characterised European response to the Nazi menace right up to the outbreak of WWII. The lesson we learn from that situation, IMHO, is that appeasement does make the situation worse, that resolute action is essential, and that potential supporters of the tyrant will miraculously vanish once that resolute action is taken. Nevertheless, western leaders need to be careful, both in rhetoric and strategy, to differentiate between fundamentalist extremists and the great bulk of ordinary Muslims.

Update - Don Arthur blogs on a similar theme, via quotes and links to several disillusioned lefties sickened by the kneejerk selectively pacifist anti-Americanism of large parts of the American Left. One might reasonably have the same response to Phillip Adams, Margo Kingston, Bob Ellis et al, as "Uncle" from ABC Watch does (although I doubt he could be described as a disillusioned ex-leftie).

Update 2 - John Quiggin is still pushing the "tough weapons inspection with invasion if Saddam doesn't co-operate" option (which was my own position until very recently). Certainly it appears from developments over the last 24 hours that this may well be the way things will go. However, the problem I have with that option is that it says nothing about what happens after the weapons inspectors depart (assuming they are successful). Saddam's consistent record over more than a decade indicates that he would simply resume his WOMD programmes as soon as they flew out. The only credible basis for a strategy based on weapons inspections and containment is one which explicitly accepts that weapons inspectors/peacekeeping forces will need to be stationed in Iraq semi-permanently. If that fact was explicitly acknowledged and accepted by the Security Council, I would agree that this is a preferable option to military action.

Update 3 - Tim Dunlop has chastised me for failing to recognise that Rob Schaap was using the word "cross" in an ironic sense. Tim might be right, although I must say it isn't obvious to me even on a re-read. However, on re-reading my own article, I have to concede that it comes across as rather more vitriolic towards Rob than I intended. I was essentially using Rob as a cypher for generic radical left opinions that I find particularly offensive, especially in the wake of the Bali bombings. Although I think the comment to which I reacted does exemplify those opinions, Rob is in some ways an unfortunate choice as a vehicle for conveying my self-righteous wrath. He is IMHO one of the more thoughtful ozploggers, and his blogs (though very infrequent of late) are always worth reading.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Just a step to the right?

I fear the Bali bombings may be causing me to lurch a little further to the right than my normally scrupuloulsy centrist instincts allow me to feel comfortable about. I found myself just now agreeing heartily with this piece from "Uncle" of ABC Watch. In essence, it urges readers to lodge complaints with the federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, alleging unlawful racial vilification by assorted Australian Muslim extremists, including the unlovely and supposedly "moderate" voice of Islam in Australia Keysar Trad.

Readers may recall that I blogged on this topic a couple of days ago, as did several other bloggers. My own liberal democratic position (like Uncle's, I suspect) finds suppression of free speech at least as dangerous as the sort of poisonous, hateful nonsense spouted by Keysar Trad and his mates. However, maybe it's not such a bad idea to highlight the selective focus of the anti-discrimination thought police, especially in the wake of the Bali bombings, by complaining about Keysar's anti-Australian (and anti-Indian) hate speech.

The only slight problem with Uncle's plan to incite readers to complain is that section 46PH(1)(b) of the HREOC Act allows the Commissioner to dismiss a complaint if lodged more than 12 months after the allegedly discriminatory conduct occurred. From what I can see, most of the material Uncle is referring to was published in 1997. Nevertheless, Fred Toben's website had been around for quite a while as well, before Jeremy Jones lodged a complaint against it. It wasn't dismissed under this section. Interesting!
Bargarz blogs a beautie

Bargarz has just posted an excellent piece dealing with Israel versus Palestinians. It's based on various articles from The Economist and, as Bargarz observes, the coverage of the issues is very balanced. Compulsory reading.

I do have one quibble with the Economist article, however, and it's quite a serious one. That is, the claim that Israel's invasion and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is somehow much more justifiable than Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, on the blindly legalistic basis that the respective UN resolutions condemning both actions were made under different Chapters of the UN Charter! Of course, the only reason the resolutions are under different Chapters is that Israel's US sponsor is a permanent member of the UN Security Council enjoying a veto right. The fact that the West Bank and Gaza Strip were not in themselves sovereign entities at the time Israel invaded them may have some technical legal significance in international law. It has ZERO moral significance. Can you imagine how most Australians would react to someone who tried to make a similar point about Indonesia's bloody 27 year annexation of East Timor (which also wasn't a sovereign entity at the time of invasion). This is cynical Israeli propaganda at its worst.

The Big B also observes that some leftie media types (e.g. Wendy Harmer) are trying to paint themselves as victims of suppression of their viewpoint in the wake of the Bali bombings. Ironically, two other ozploggers, Scott Wickstein and Paul Wright, both carry laudatory mentions of an article by Clive James, in which the chubby, bald expat pundit expounds (albeit very elegantly) the standard rightist line that the Australian media is a left-liberal consiracy which suppresses right wing opinion. It tends to suggest to me that the Australian media isn't doing too bad a job.

That certainly seems to be true by comparison with the notoriously inward-looking, parochial American media. According to Silent Running's Wind Rider, who has been monitoring it, the US media has bugger-all op-ed and similar coverage of the Bali bombings or their ramifications, and even less in the way of outpourings of sympathy for their Aussie allies. I'll take Wind Rider's word for it; I haven't had time to check for myself. However, judging by the reactions of Silent Running's apparently sizeable American audience in the comment box, they couldn't find much either. The best they could come up with as an apologia was to suggest that maybe there'd be more next week. Yeah, sure! it didn't take the Australian media more than a week to start analysing the crap out of September 11, or to express a deep outpouring of sympathy for our American cousins. As Wind Rider (who I deduce to be of the yankee persuasion himself) observes:

"It (American compassion for Australia's loss and grief) may not be adequately reflected in those venues that claim to chronicle our daily lives, but it is present, and extended to you in this hour of grief most assuredly. It is little wonder the world finds us to be a self absorbed, dense, and utterly clueless people. In some respects that may be an accurate assessment, I fear. "

Returning to Clive James' article, I was disappointed to see the tubby pundit uncritically (if obliquely) recycling the false Israeli propaganda line that the Camp David peace offer was a fair one which should have been accepted by Arafat:

"To the extent that they are concerned with the matter at all, the terrorists epitomise the extremist pressure that had been so sadly effective in ensuring the continued efforts of the Arab states to persuade the Palestinians against accepting any settlement, no matter how good, that recognises Israel's right to exist."

James' quoted remarks also completely ignore the current Saudi peace proposal, which almost all Arab states have formally agreed to support. It guarantees Israel's right of existence, and requires the creation of a geuninely independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian state, and a return to the 1967 borders on Israel's part (and removal of illegal settlements). All eminently reasonable propositions, I would have thought. The only aspect I think Israel would be entirely justified in rejecting is a Palestinian right of return to Israel itself. That would be a recipe for perpetuating civil strife and suicide bombings.

Despite those reservations, I found much of value in Clive's article. It too is well worth reading.
Iraq really IS about oil

John Quiggin has blogged a piece which summarises his conclusions about US motivations for wanting to invade Iraq. John's views are:

"To a man who has only a hammer, everything looks like a nail". For the last decade, Americans have been told that their armed forces are more powerful than the rest of the world put together, that they are the only superpower and so on. Although S11 shook this faith in some ways, the aftermath reinforced it in others. ...

But the fragments of Al Qaeda have learned the lesson of Afghanistan. They are hiding in cities around the world and behind the skirts of people like Abu Bakar Bashir, who defy the authorities to produce the evidence of their guilt. Carrier battle groups and predator drones are of no use against this kind of enemy. So attention is focused on Saddam Hussein who is at least a plausible nail to be hit with the hammer of US military superiority. ..."

There may be an element of truth in John's hypothesis, just as a contributor to his comment box may be partly right when he suggests that the Iraq invasion plan is an example of the precautionary principle: "For years, imagining "worst case" scenarios was just that - imagination. After Sept. 11, the US realized that dreams aren't the only thing that can come true, nightmares can come true too. ... Unfortunately for Saddam, he is the next big target among those who analyze "worst case" scenarios."

However, I think there is a much more compelling argument for taking effective steps to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Here is my contribution to the debate on John's blog:

But here is an alternative proposition. It really IS about oil, but not in the purely economic dominance sense the Left typically implies.

First, although the Bush government has made occasional efforts to assert a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda, they haven't done so seriously, presumably because there is no evidence for it. But, the enthusiasm of some Administration figures to make the link is understandable, and does not of itself prove that they are merely looking for any excuse to attack Iraq because they have a "hammer" and want to use it, as you put it.

It isn't all that likely that Saddam would arm terrorists with nuclear or other WOMD, but the possibility can't be ruled out. However, Saddam DOES pose a real and serious threat to his own people, to regional stability (including the possibility of again invading a weaker Arab neighbour), and to Israel.

However, none of these factors, separately or together, appears adequate to explain the extent of US enthusiasm for invading Iraq. Nor does Dubbya's "he tried to kill my dad" excuse.

BUT, here is the possible link with the war against terrorism. Almost all the recent expansion of Muslim fundamentalist extremism emanates from "madrassa" (if that's the correct spelling) created, funded, sponsored and directed by prominent, wealthy Saudi Arabians. That was certainly true of the expansion of extremism into Afghanistan and Pakistan, and several African countries. I suspect it's also true of the rise of extremism in Indonesia (Jemaah Islamiah etc).

At present, access to Saudi oil remains sufficiently important to America and the West that Bush can't afford to move too aggressively against the Saudis, despite their obvious sponsorship of terrorism. However, Iraq has oil reserves not much smaller than Saudi Arabia. If Iraq were liberated and governed by a western-friendly (and hopefully democratic) government, so that availability of its oil on ordinary commercial terms was assured, America's hands would be freed to insist much more aggressively that the Saudi Arabian government take effective measures against its own citizens who are the REAL sponsors of most international terrorism. That insistence would, implicitly, be backed by the threat of US force if effective action was not taken. Given the probable role of Al Qaeda and Saudi money in the Bali bombings, such a US strategy might reasonably be argued to be very much in Australia's national interest as well.

On this theory, the reason why the US has not spelled out its real intentions more clearly is that they can't afford to admit that Saudi Arabia is their real ultimate target until they have secured Iraq as a reliable alternative source of oil supplies. Thus, they have no choice but to dissemble and trot out whatever vaguely convincing rationales that may be available. That may be why the Bush administration's explanations for its enthusiasm for regime change sound so partial and unconvincing to many people. For me, the combination of this scenario, and the fact that regime change would rid the world of a dangerous tyrant who clearly aspires to nuclear weapons capacity, provides abundant justification for military action, as long as the objective can be achieved without massive Iraqi civilian loss of life. In the real world, pacifist solutions aren't always the best option, as September 11 graphically demonstrated.
Update - In essence this is the Ralph Peters position stripped of the macho rhetoric which is apparently compulsory for American right wing columnists and their Australian wannabe counterparts. Don Arthur also has a good analytical piece on all this. Don makes the valid point that most op-ed columnists of all ideological hues are positing explanations for Bali with totally inadequate supporting data, and are really doing little more than using Bali as a pretxt for recycling their personal prejudicies.

However, although Don is right, I don't agree that we should all eschew speculative efforts to make sense of Bali until all the facts are available. Democratic civic dialogue in the media and the blogosphere are important parts of the process of eventually reaching a viable shared understanding of the significance of catastrophic events, and a viable plan on how to respond. Stupid and prejudiced statements are bound to be made along the way, but that's a necessary part of the process. Talking through a catastrophe that has deeply affected all of us is also an important aspect of the grieving and healing process. It can't and shouldn't be postponed merely because some people fear that dangerous and ill-considered decisions might be made in the heat of the moment. I don't think that happened in the US in the wake of September 11, and I see no sign of it happening in Australia either. In any event, exhorting bloggers or op-ed pundits not to talk about Bali has a rather Canute-like flavour IMHO.
Parish Pump porn pawn

Now that I'm back online and able to blog again following Blogger's latest (and increasingly frequent) bout of dysfunction, I have an apology to make to Parish Pump readers. It appears that The Parish Pump has, unbeknownst to me, been serving one of those extraordinarily irritating "popup" windows to readers whenever they open my blog. Apparently some of them are advertisements for porn sites. How embarrassing! I do consider myself a liberal democrat, but not quite that liberal or democratic.

The only way I discovered this problem is that John Quiggin kindly drew it to my attention. Popup windows don't appear for some reason when I open my own blog. It's only when someone else does. According to John and a couple of other bloggers, my blog has only been exhibiting this behaviour for the last 2-3 days. That coincides with when I completely redesigned my Blogger template. The only thing I changed during that exercise that could conceivably serve popup windows was a new hit counter script that I added (because I inadvertently deleted the old one and forgot which provider it had come from). Thus, I strongly suspect that the new hit counter code I inserted had some hidden code which served popup ads without my knowledge. I have now deleted it and substituted a hit counter by Bravenet, which is used by numerous other bloggers (so hopefully it's safe).

The provider of the apparently dodgy hit counter was called Real Tracker. I can't prove that they have been engaging in this grossly unethical (and probably unlawful) conduct, because I don't have enough knowledge of Javascript to be sure. However, there really isn't any other possibility that I can see. Apart from the Freefind search engine script (which I've been using for 2 years with no problems), it was the only piece of scripting code in my template. Otherwise the template remains essentially a Blogger standard one, albeit with extensive changes to the HTML code for colours, fonts etc. I strongly suggest that other bloggers avoid using Real Tracker as a matter of abundant caution, unless you aspire to be a purveyor of porn. Even if you do, however, you would probably want to make money out of it yourself rather than just help Real Tracker to do so.
Fascism test

Following on from the recent Ozplogistan craze for the Political Compass (for which Rob Corr has much to answer), Jason Soon has a link to an analogous quiz which purports to test for fascist tendencies. It's completely meaningless, of course. However, unlike the Political Compass test, it doesn't take itself too seriously. The quiz assigns marks from 1 to 10, with higher marks denoting fascist tendencies. Jason reports that he scored 1.93 and that the quiz engine ranked him as a "whining rotter". My own effort was 2.66, and the engine told me "You are a liberal airhead". I' m beginning to suspect that this quiz was compiled by Tim Blair. Many of my students, on the other hand, would predict me to score around 9.9 or thereabouts on a fascism test. Law students should, however, be put under pressure, I think. It builds character!!

Update - Jason Soon has an explanation (courtesy John Ray) of the quiz. Apparently it's really an 'old fashioned personality' test rather than a 'fascism' test. For what it's worth, that makes a lot more sense to me. I couldn't really see what quite a few of the questions (e.g. attitude to astrology) had to do with the extent to which one instinctively aspired to be ruled by Mussolini or Hitler (or indeed to be them). Obviousy I'm just a thoroughly modern Aussie bloke, although not quite as trendy as Jason or Tim Dunlop. That's probably why I feel no guilt when I scream at my daughter to turn down the bloody rap music before the neighbours attack with billy clubs.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Skeptical science links

While I'm on a scientific skeptic theme, here are some links to recent skeptical articles I think are worth reading:

The Frauds of Scientific ideologues by Natalie and Gerald Sirkin - global climate computer models have little or no predictive capability; the DDT scare was a fraud (don't know about that claim, I'll have to do some more reading).

Selling Something, Dr Suzuki? by Rex Murphy (Globe and Mail, Canada) - gently fisks (oops! deconstructs - I wouldn't want to upset T1 again) Canadian pop scientist David Suzuki.

Kyoto cost hidden from Cabinet by Alan Toulin (National Post, Canada) - "Government figures showing that implementing the Kyoto Protocol on climate change will cost Canada about 200,000 jobs and up to 1.5% in lost economic growth by the year 2010 were expunged from a presentation to senior Cabinet ministers yesterday." The Canadian economic modelling appears to find a much greater adverse economic effect from ratifying the Kyoto Protocol than the relatively benign studies John Quiggin prefers to rely on.
The cycle of horror?

In an earlier post this morning, I observed what a seemingly unparalleled period of horror the world seems to be enduring at present. John Quiggin responded in the comments box with this sober analysis:

"I don't remember a week as awful as the last one. But sadly the individual events, with the exception of the Washington shootings, are all examples of crimes that have been around most of my life. And on any reasonable scale, the first half of the 20th century was a thousand times worse."

That prompted me to think about the issue of horror and large-scale bloodshed and anarchy a bit more broadly. John is quite correct to observe that World Wars I and II both involved more bloodshed, horror and anarchy than the current period. However the period since World War II seems to have been characterised by fairly long periods of at least relative calm, interspersed with a couple of notable outbreaks of global madness. Apart from the current period which commenced with September 11, there was a concentrated burst of lunacy in the late 60s and early 70s, which included the Vietnam War, the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars and the global terrorism which surrounded them (e.g. the Munich Olympics massacre), the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, and the broader international anarchist terrorism of groups like Baader-Meinhof, the Red Brigades and the like.

It suddenly occurred to me that these concentrated outbreaks of global madness occur at intervals of around 25-30 years: World War I (1914-18); World War II (1939-45); the Sixties/early 70s mayhem (1963-73); and the current wave starting on 11 September 2001. Of course, the periodicity isn't perfect, and horrible events occur outside these concentrated outbreaks: eg the Korean War; the horrors of Somalia and Bosnia. Nevertheless, there does seem to be a tendency for bloodshed and anarchy on a global scale to cluster around peaks. Then again, maybe I'm just trying to impose some sort of terrible order on the random chaos of human existence.
Bushies get the finger

Ross Gittins has a solid piece in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald, dealing with drought; the "Farmhand" appeal; the Telstra-orchestrated campaign to "drought-proof" Australia by shock-jock Alan Jones and others; and most of all the long-standing propensity of Aussie cow cockies and farmers to engage in expedient agrarian socialism.

Of course, the latter tendency isn't confined to Australia. American, European and Japanese farmers are even more adept at persuading politicians to let them put their hands in taxpayers' pockets. The uniquely Australian contribution to this phenomenon, however, is drought. Every decade or so, when the predictable drought arrives to blight one of the driest continents on earth, the rural sector cranks into action with stories of drought-ravaged misery and unparalleled and unforeseen human suffering. These protestations are always met with credulous acceptance by the media, politicians and public. This time, it's gone even further, with the Farmhand Appeal staging well-publicised TV benefit concerts etc, all sponsored by Telstra. There's nothing like a good human tragedy for a bit of positive corporate marketing (a strategy that seems also to have penetrated the ozplogosphere, judging from this story by Tim Dunlop).

Ross Gittins trenchantly criticises the time-honoured rural habit of sucking on the public nipple/capitalising profits and socialising losses:

"Farming must be the only for-profit industry in the country that passes round the hat whenever profits slip. ...

Mention the word Drought and the cities fill with people who like to imagine they're soft-hearted, but are actually soft-headed. ...

We've got to stop acting as though drought is some utterly unexpected act of bastardry on the part of the Deity - that it's as unpredictably devastating as the Newcastle earthquake. ..."

"Hear! hear!" I say. I might watch the Farmhand benefit concert next week, but I won't be dipping into my notoriously cobweb-lined pocket.

Sequing gracefully onto one of my favourite hobbyhorses, if only the rural sector would join the ranks of global warming skeptics, they might have been much better forewarned about the current drought. Scandinavian solar scientist Dr Theodor Landscheidt predicted the current El Nino (and therefore the Australian drought that inevitably accompanies it) with uncanny accuracy almost 4 years ago. His theoretical work confirms the views of other solar scientists, like Dr Sallie Baliunas, that changes in solar activity play a much larger part in climate change generally (and in the current warming spell) than human activities like CO2 emissions. As none of the mainstream IPCC scientists with their mega-million dollar computer simulations have had any predictive success whatever with climate change, one might reasonably give Dr Landschedt's views quite a lot of respect. Certainly, had our farmers done so they could have been preparing for the current drought since early 1999. Nevertheless, as Ross Gittins points out, drought is such a regularly recurrent feature in Australia that farmers should be doing that anyway.

Update - Robert Corr also blogs on this topic. His piece also attracted a couple of worthwhile comments, including one from yours truly (see the right hand column under "Talkback").
Bargarz' Bali update

Bargarz has a great summary of the current state of play with the Bali bombings. Highly recommended. Along with the ABC's Bali bombing website, this is the best way to keep abreat of developments IMHO. Other bloggers continue to carry good material on the bombings, as this piece from Tim Blair highlights. In particular, Gareth Parker has a time-saving linked summary of what all the mainstream op-ed pundits are saying about the Bali bombing (October 12?) and related issues.
Margo's mess-up

I don't usually subscribe to the obsession of some rightist bloggers with ridiculing Margo Kingston. Her Web Diary in the Sydney Morning Herald online is a worthwhile adunct to blogging, and shows the mainstream media is trying to adapt itself. However, her efforts (or rather those of a colleague) in today's Web Diary are disgraceful enough to warrant it.

In her introductory piece, Margo says:

"To end, Herald journalist Juan-Carlo Tomas does the journalist's job. He asks questions to which we must get answers before we decide our next step as a nation."

When you scroll down to Juan-Carlo's "journalistic" effort, you find that one of the questions he is asking is whether the Sari club explosion was caused by a LPG gas bottle accidentally exploding, rather than a terrorist attack. Well, I would have thought the answer to that question is fairly easy. First, there were three explosions, first a small one at the rear of the Sari club, then the huge one on Legian Road, and at about the same time another explosion outside the American consulate at Sanur on the other side of the island.

Now, I suppose it's theoretically possible that there were 3 separate gas bottles that all happened to explode around the same time by sheer coincidence. But why would you retail such a theory in a supposedly responsible mainstream newspaper, especially given the distress such nonsense could cause to any grieving families who happened to read it?

However, there is an even more compelling reason not to run this item from Juan-Carlo. ABC radio PM programme ran an item shortly after 6pm last night (Tuesday), reporting that Indonesian police had found traces of the powerful C4 explosive at the Sari Club ruins. This is the same explosive used by Al Qaeda in the USS Cole and other bombings (including the very recent attack on the French oil tanker). The C4 story was up on the ABC's website by 8.42pm Eastern time. Margo's column isn't published until just after 11pm. The Guardian online now has a similar story reporting the discovery of traces of C4 explosive (although not published until after Web Diary). Great investigative journalism Margo. When can the victims' families expect an apology for this disgraceful piece of mischief-making?
International Criminal Court

Bargarz has a good long-ish piece on the International Criminal Court (a logical thought if they ever catch the Bali bombers - the latest story is that Indonesian police have detained 2 people for questioning).

Here is a link to an interesting (negative) article on the ICC by Geoffrey Hills.
ABC's Bali bombing website

The ABC now has a Bali bombing website (link courtesy Uncle from ABC Watch). It includes a section containing op-ed/expert analysis of bombing-related issues.
Latest casualty figures

The most recent casualty count (as at 8.43pm Eastern Time) is 30 Australians confirmed dead, with 180 still missing. Compare that with this morning's figures: 20 dead and 220 missing. The missing figure is coming down as I predicted, but nowhere near as fast as we might have hoped. It's beginning to look like my estimate of close to 150 Australians dead might even be conservative. Moreover, it's likely that a number of the critically ill victims airlifted to Australia over the last 24 hours will not survive. The whole thing is even worse than most of us imagined.

Tonight's news was a catalogue of horrors, what with another sniper murder in Washington; South Australia's Director of Mental Health gunned down by an unknown assailant as she stepped out of the elevator in her office; a young Finnish man's suicide bombing, taking 6 colleagues with him; and the discharge of the jury in the Snowtown serial killings trial shortly after it was empanelled. Apparently one of the jurors concluded that she was unable to cope with the graphic nature of the evidence. I'm not surprised. These were multiple murders, apparently involving torture and dismemberment of the bodies, followed by their storage in barrels in a disused bank vault in Snowtown, SA.

Is the world becoming more bizarre and evil by the day, or am I just getting old? I don't recall living through such times when I was my daughter's age, or at any time since. What does it mean?
Cooper on Toricelli

Fellow academic lawyer Jeff Cooper has blogged on the Toricelli case in the US (where a somewhat dubious New Jersey Supreme Court decision permitted the late substitution of a Democrat Senate candidate after the incumbent Senator Toricelli began losing support after impropriety allegations). Essentially Jeff agrees with my conclusions about the case, but adds lots of whimsical detail. This includes observations about retired Senator Bill Bradley, who was once mooted as a Democratic Presidential candidate, and was apparently contemplating a comeback as the replacement for Toricelli. Bradley seems, unlike Toricelli, to have been a morally upright representative (no small boast), but he was also one of the most boring politicians in recent US political history

Monday, October 14, 2002

Uncle versus Quiggin

John Quiggin blogged an interesting piece this morning titled Bali and moral equivalence. Uncle from ABC Watch has just responded. To be honest, I think Uncle characterises John's arguments a little unfairly. However, I did like his parting shot:

"John, you're trying to nuance us into your own functional pacifism. It's not working."

I'm not too sure what it means, but it sounds good.
Profile of the Bali bombers?

This morning's Age newspaper carried an excellent article profiling Jemaah Islamiah, the Islamic terrorist group suspected of responsibility for the Bali bombings. One of the main accusations levelled at Megawati's government is its failure to arrest and charge virtually any Jemaah Islamiah operatives, particularly JI's leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, in contrast to the far more effective action taken against JI by Malaysia and Singapore. Indonesian police detained Bashir at one stage, but were forced to release him for lack of evidence. Bashir sued for defamation, but his case was recently thrown out of court. This is said to have provoked him to remark that ‘‘Infidels run this world. We will fight until we run out of blood.’’ Many disappointed litigants would know how he felt, but it now appears Bashir meant it.

When quizzed about their failure to hold Bashir, Indonesian police explained that "they lacked hard evidence to charge him for terrorist activity. They said that tough public actions against suspected Muslim militants without solid legal support and proof would reap a strong backlash even from the moderates, and shake the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

On these grounds, Bashir has enjoyed apparent immunity.

In one sense it's difficult to criticise police for this attitude. However, Indonesian authorities haven't always been so respectful of the rule of law; just ask the East Timorese. That contrast leads cynics (including me) to suggest that the political consequences for Megawati may have more to do with police inaction than a new-found respect for the rule of law.

Nevertheless, I was interested to hear on SBS news last night that former presidential aide, Professor Wimar Witoelar claims that the reason why Indonesia has been much less successful than either Malaysia or Singapore at taking effective action against terrorist suspects is that Indonesia does not have an equivalent to those countries' Internal Security Acts. This, he argues, would have allowed authorities to detain terrorism suspects for prolonged periods even without sufficient evidence to prove a charge in court.

This explanation interested me greatly. The lawyer responsible for drafting Malaysia's Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1957 was an Englishman named Hugh Hickling. He is now 82 years old, and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Northern Territory University (and elsewhere). Two years ago I had the great privilege of co-teaching an undergraduate unit in Advanced Constitutional Law with Professor Hickling. He delivered a lecture on Malaysia, including his observations on the ISA. Despite the fact that its provisions have played a considerable part in allowing Prime Minister Mahathir to stifle dissent and imprison political opponents like Anwar Ibrahim, Professor Hickling remains unapologetic about his role in drafting the ISA. He argues forcefully that it was essential to combat large-scale communist insurgency and terrorism in the late 1950s, and that it arguably remains necessary because "You've got a multi-racial society in which emotions can run high very quickly."

I don't think I agree with Hickling, but the contrast between Malaysia's success against Jemaah Islamiah and Indonesia's almost complete inactivity is certainly a stark one.

Update - ABC Online reports that the Indonesian government has announced that it will issue an Emergency Decree (not requiring parliamentary approval) conferring additional powers to deal effectively with terrorism: "No details are available, but the Defence Minister has said it would include safeguards such as regulations to prevent arbitrary arrests."

This would be in contrast to Malaysia's ISA, one of whose central features is long-term detention of terrorism suspects without charge or trial. An earlier ABC news bulletin had reported that soundings among Indonesian parliamentary leaders had indicated they would not support a bill containing Malaysian-style detention-without-trial provisions. It appears that parliamentary democracy in Indonesia is beginning to develop as one might have hoped it would. That makes Australia's moves against terrorism, in the wake of the bombing, even more critically important. The wrong move could precipitate an increase in fundamentalist Muslim influence, or destroy a fragile democratic system in our nearest neighbour. At the same time, decisive and effective action is vital. No doubt that is why US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has been downplaying the extent of the terrorist threat in Indonesia and the degree of the Megawati government's inactivity, as this story from Don Arthur reveals.
Israel and the Palestinians: Endless Blood and Retribution?

An issue of more than passing relevance to the war against terrorism is, of course, the Israel/Palestinian conflict. I have had some things to say about it over the last few weeks, but I just noticed an excellent Commonwealth Parliamentary Library research paper by Peter Rodgers (title as above). It contains a balanced coverage of the Camp David negotiations and all the other big issues in this seemingly intractable war.

I don't think the Middle East confllict has in any sense caused Bin Laden and the fundamentalist jihad. Their war is against western civilisation; Israel's actions and US support for them are at most irritants in the mix (although these factors could still easily derail Arab co-operation in Bush's Iraq plans). I recommend Rodgers' article, because it tries to take a balanced view, and substitute facts and careful analysis for polemic. Here's a short sample:

"The Mitchell Report commented that despite their long history and close proximity 'some Israelis and Palestinians seem not to fully appreciate each other's problems and concerns'. Israelis did not comprehend Palestinian 'humiliation and frustration' over the continuing occupation and Palestinians did not comprehend the extent to which terrorism 'created fear amongst Israelis and undermined belief in the possibility of co-existence'. The terrible imagery of recent times—especially the killing of very young Palestinians and Israelis—has reinforced stereotypes built up over decades.

With a few important exceptions, the meeting points between Israeli and Palestinian are mostly negative—Palestinians experiencing Israelis as occupiers, employers of cheap labour, interrogators and gaolers, and Israelis experiencing Palestinians as menial workers, demonstrators and terrorists. The media has played an important role, especially the Palestinian media which lacks both the democratic traditions and vitality of their Israeli counterpart. Late last year the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, warned against the 'endless messages of incitement and hatred of Israelis and Jews that pour out of the media in so much of the Palestinian and Arab worlds'. ...

Israelis and Palestinians are now locked in a conflict that neither can win. The Palestinians do not pose an existential threat to Israel. They can cause grievous hurt to individual Israelis, can demoralise the country and severely undermine its economic well-being. But they cannot conquer it. Conversely, as much as a few Israelis might still cling to the idea of a 'Greater Israel' swept of Palestinians, that will not happen. For all its military superiority, Israel cannot expel the Palestinians, cannot silence them and cannot achieve reasonable security for its people. One Israeli commentator wrote recently that although Israel had destroyed 'virtually every vestige of Palestinian sovereignty, and bombed almost every target of value … Palestinian quiescence has not been achieved.
More lists and morbid speculation

Here is a partial list of the Australian dead and missing from the News Limited website (link courtesy several ploggers).

Bernard Slattery also has a list containing the estimated numbers of dead and injured from each of the 12 nations that appear to have sustained casualties.

Australian confirmed deaths now stand at 20, with around 160 still on a missing list. We can probably expect that figure to come down quite a bit, because it's likely that some people previously reported missing have actually turned up safe, but their friends and family have forgotten to notify authorities of that fact. A similar phenomenon, though on a much larger scale, occurred in the days immediately after September 11.

Slatts' list of non-Australians killed or missing appears to total about 46. The confirmed body count is now 188, although it is strongly suggested that some people may have been incinerated or blown to bits to an extent that nothing resembling a body is evident. If we assume a total death toll of around 200, and that the list of non-Australian nationals is fairly complete, it seems quite likely that the great majority of those bodies are Australians. As I suggested earlier, somewhere between 100 and 150, probably more towards the top of that range than the bottom. And you don't think this is Australia's September 11?
Update - Bali Indonesia Travel portal has lots of useful information, including a partial list of injured victims admitted to hospital in Bali, and in some cases notations on where they have been evacuated to (link from Gareth Parker).
Update - Bargarz has blogged in reply to this piece, on the issue of the possible undesirable effects of making simplistic comarisons between the Kuta bombing and September 11. He also deals with other issues - a worthy article.
A sleepless night

I didn't get much sleep last night. Planes flying in and out of Darwin airport throughout the night kept triggering thoughts. C130 Hercules bringing in the remaining seriously injured victims for urgent treatment at RDH; other planes, mostly pure jets by the sound of them, flying the stabilised victims out again to burns units at hospitals "down south".

It's not that our house is all that close to the flight path; 3-4 km or thereabouts, but sound carries on still nights across water. Every time a plane arrived or left, I couldn't help but recall the images burned into my brain by last night's TV coverage. As with September 11, TV engenders a weird sort of hyper-reality. A whole block of Kuta on fire in the middle of the night. Razed buildings the next morning, with dazed tourists still wandering around. Lists of missing friends and relatives posted at the local hospital, just like S11. People searching through makeshift morgues for missing loved ones, among piles of body bags stacked between blocks of melting ice, the stench said to be overpowering. Anxious relatives waiting at airports across Australia. Badly burned victims trying to sound brave and laconic, but mostly failing. Retired rugby league international Craig Salvatori finally found his wife's body at a morgue.

Various ploggers have scoffed at media hype to the effect that this is Australia's September 11. But why is that just hype? The scale of deaths on a per capita basis is likely to be not far short of S11 for the US: somewhere between 100 and 150 dead in a population of 19 million (about 1/14 of the US). Moreover, the dead come from every State, so grieving loved ones are spread across the continent. The nature of the killing, and the youth of most of the victims, adds to the shock. Just as S11 struck at the heart of America's capitalist ethos, so Bali struck at the heart of the Australian psyche. Young footballers, surfers and ordinary holidaymakers in the archetypal tropical paradise. Redgum singing I've Been to Bali Too before John Schumann squandered his talents and became a wannabe politician with the Democrats.

Tim Blair's dickhead correspondent Frank Lucy thinks that "If all it takes for a person to change from a Phillip Adams position to a Tim Blair one is one horrific bomb blast, then that person really has shit for brains. Not saying that your or Adams' position is better or smarter, but for a bomb blast to radically change a world view is stupid". He's talking about my wife (because that's who Tim was talking about). To be charitable to Frank, which is more than he deserves, he forgets that most people don't have a sustained interest in politics and current events. Their views are formed impressionistically when news grabs their attention. Most people supported the actions against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan because they were in no doubt that it was a just response to the horror of S11. Until now, there hasn't ben the same visceral reaction to Iraq. Logically, that shouldn't change, because it's highly unlikely that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with Bali. But logic has nothing to do with it. Ordinary Australians now understand instinctively, in a way many didn't until now, that fundamentalist Islam really has declared war on western civilisation, and that nowhere and no-one is immune. Saddam isn't a religious fundamentalist, but I doubt many Australians will now be in any mood to make the distinction. "Vox pop" interviews with ordinary Americans suggest most don't draw a distinction between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Whether that is a result of ignorance or some deeper psychic force I don't know. What I do know (or strongly suspect) is that we are now witnessing the same phenomenon in Australia. Given my hesitant conclusion that a regime-changing military operation in Iraq is necessary, it wasn't one of the reasons for my lack of sleep.
A need for prejudice?

Rob Corr took me to task for peddling no less than 10 racial or national stereotypes in a single joke (see the comments box to the item immediately below). At least I thought he did until I read his subsequent posting. Anyway, it was a good hook for this item. Compare my fairly gentle, good humoured racism with that of the charming people who bring you Nida'Ul - The Call of Islam, a magazine published by the Islamic Youth Movement. Their views are highlighted in this post from Chris Textor. Now I wouldn't suggest that the poisonous opinions of these people are representative of Australian Muslims, but it isn't unreasonable to suspect that they do reflect the views of a significant minority. The IYM's website states that its activities include "study circles in Lakemba Mosque (the largest mosque in Sydney/Australia), in addition to classes for youngsters.The IYM also runs At-Taqwa Saturday School for Arabic and Islamic studies, hosting over 120 male and female school students."

In the wake of the Bali suicide bombing atrocity, I've been trying to work out whether, in what circumstances, and with what safeguards it might be morally permissible (even necessary) for Australia to implement some national security measures of a racially or religiously based nature. There's really no doubt that the West (including Australia whether we like it or not and whether we participate in any Iraq invasion or not) is engaged in a full-scale global war with fudamentalist Islam. What does that imply/necessitate? During WWII, Australia interned most German civilians on the off-chance that some of them might be enemy spies or saboteurs. It was very unfair to the vast majority of German-Australians, but the Curtin government took the pragmatic view that national survival required it. Correction - Scott Wickstein points out that interment of Germans mostly occurred during WWI. It was the Japanese, and some Italians (Corowa) who were interned during WWII.

I certainly don't suggest that we should intern Islamic Australians. However, it might well be necessary to re-examine some of the parameters of Australian multi-culturalism in the light of fundamentalist terror attacks. Immigration criteria, for example, including for asylum seekers, might need to be further tightened. Most "boat people" arrive with no identification papers of any kind, brought here by Indonesian-based people smugglers who are unlikely to have any compunctions about transporting Jemaah Islamia or Al Qaeda terrorists to Australia if there's a buck in it.

Most Muslim Australians, and no doubt most prospective Islamic immigrants, present no security threat to Australia. They're not fundamentalists. However, Muslim faith is a factor of undeniable relevance in terms of protecting against terrorist risks. The members of Al Qaeda and its affiliates like Jemaah Islamia are, to the best of my knowledge, all Muslims. The High Court mused about this issue not so long ago in a refugee law decision called Chen Shi Hai:

"If persons of a particular race, religion or nationality are treated differently from other members of society, that, of itself, may justify the conclusion that they are treated differently by reason of their race, religion or nationality. That is because, ordinarily, race, religion and nationality do not provide a reason for treating people differently.

... There may be groups - for example, terrorist groups - which warrant different treatment to protect society. So, too, it may be necessary for the protection of society to treat persons who hold certain political views - for example, those who advocate violence or terrorism - differently from other members of society.

As McHugh J pointed out in Applicant A, the question whether the different treatment of persons of a particular race, religion, nationality or political persuasion or who are members of a particular social group constitutes persecution for that reason ultimately depends on whether that treatment is "appropriate and adapted to achieving some legitimate object of the country [concerned]". Moreover, it is "[o]nly in exceptional cases ... that a sanction aimed at persons for reasons of race, religion or nationality will be an appropriate means for achieving [some] legitimate government object and not amount to persecution.""

There are many potential problems with implementing policies with racial or religious discriminatory overtones. It may be seen as giving tacit approval for very toxic feelings of racial hatred harboured by some Australians. It might alienate Indonesia even more than is already the case. We could inadvertently help the fundamentalists to get a stronger toehold in mostly moderate Muslim Indonesia (see this item from Don Arthur). We might even help to bring about the cataclysmic Muslims versus the West jihad that Osama Bin Laden has been tryng to provoke. These are very good reasons for caution. But they're not reasons for behaving like rabbits caught in a spotlight. The Bali outrage demonstrates, if that was really needed, that we are engaged in a life or death struggle with evil terrorists hell-bent on wiping out "decadent" western culture. Some very difficult choices are called for, and they necessarily involve questions of race and religion. How we tackle them without in the process ceasing to be a tolerant, democratic multicultural society is by no means obvious.
You have to laugh, don't you?

After watching 2 hours continuous TV coverage of the Bali suicide bombing (as it appears to have been), it seems impossible to find anything even marginally wise to say, or that could even begin to do justice to such awful events. Moreover, when you're bitter, angry and in grief, as I think all Australians are, you're probably not in a fit state to think rationally. Nevertheless, I'm going to get a few bitter thoughts off my chest a bit later. Consider it therapy.

In the meantime, a joke. It'll probably get me in trouble with the thought police, but at least it defames just about all nationalities without fear or favour (well, except Aussies - see the comments box).

On a chain of beautiful deserted islands in the middle of nowhere, the following people are stranded:

  • Two Italian men and one Italian woman

  • Two French men and one French woman

  • Two German men and one German woman

  • Two Greek men and one Greek woman

  • Two English men and one English woman

  • Two Bulgarian men and one Bulgarian woman

  • Two Japanese men and one Japanese woman

  • Two Chinese men and one Chinese woman

  • Two Irish men and one Irish woman

  • Two American men and one American woman

One month later, on these absolutely stunning deserted islands in the middle of nowhere, the following things have occurred:

  • One Italian man killed the other Italian man for the Italian woman.

  • The two French men and the French woman are living happily together in a menage a trois.

  • The two German men have a strict weekly schedule of alternating visits with the German woman.

  • The two Greek men are sleeping with each other and the Greek woman is cleaning and cooking for them.

  • The two English men are waiting for someone to introduce them to the English woman.

  • The two Bulgarian men took one look at the Bulgarian woman and started swimming to another island.

  • The two Japanese have faxed Tokyo and are awaiting instructions.

  • The two Chinese men have set up a pharmacy/liquor store/restaurant/laundry, and have gotten the woman pregnant in order to supply employees for their store.

  • The two Irish men divided the island into North and South and set up a distillery. They do not remember if sex is in the picture because it gets somewhat foggy after a few litres of coconut whiskey. However, they're satisfied because the English aren't having any fun.

  • The two American men are contemplating suicide, because the American woman will not shut up and complains relentlessly about her body, the true nature of feminism, what the sun is doing to her skin, how she can do anything they can do, the necessity of fulfilment, the equal division of household chores, how sand and palm trees make her look fat, how her last boyfriend respected her opinion and treated her nicer than they do, and how her relationship with her mother is the root cause of all her problems, and why didn't they bring a goddamn cell phone so they could call 911 and get the all rescued off this god-forsaken deserted island in the middle of freaking nowhere so she can get her nails done and go shopping...

Sunday, October 13, 2002

Quiggin on the bombings

John Quiggin has posted various analytical pieces on the Bali bombings and the proper approach in the wake thereof. This one in particular has numerous interesting comments attached to it, including a couple of thoughtful ones by Jack Strocchi. Those familiar with Jack's prose style will suspect me of an oxymoron, but they really are (especially on Israel versus Palestinians).
Sending Frank a card

If only I knew his address, I'd send Frank Lucy a card from the right-hand side of the display rack. Who's Frank? No-one of any significance at all. Have a look at this post from Tim Blair.
Slack about Slatts

Geelong journo and ozplogger Bernard Slattery has also been blogging away busily on the Bali bombings. He has a couple of very useful lists: (1) all recent terrorist attacks (since September 11); (2) all major terrorist attacks over the last 25 years. Sorry, Slats, I was too busy with the template to look at all the ozplogs.
Tim versus Tim not for the timid

Tim Dunlop has just posted a fisking of Tim Blair's approach to the Bali bombings. The latter's response should be quite entertaining, though not for the faint-hearted (or those whose tastes run more to restrained, polite debate).

Tim (Dunlop) also provides a useful link to's coverage of the media coverage of the tragedy (if you can follow that).
New template!

Well, here it is. Feedback/criticism on the new-look Parish Pump blog would be welcome (preferably constructive, but feel free to be abusive or sarcastic if it makes you feel better). Because I created the template using Microsoft FrontPage and saved it, it should be relatively easy to make adjustments from now on, leaving aside the fact that the Blogger tags all get corrupted whenever you mess with any of them. Fortunately, I think I've worked out how to fix that problem fairly quickly and easily.

Another innovation I'm contemplating, next time I get an urge to devote time to style rather than substance, is to use Yahoo!Groups email discussion list service to deliver the weekly "Parish Pump Picks" by email to readers who want to subscribe to it. It would be sort of a poor man's RSS. Any feedback on this idea would also be welcome. There's not much point in doing it if no-one would be interested in utilising it.
Byron re-incarnated?

While I was preparing my new blog template, I found this quote from an article by Christopher Hitchens titled "The Misfortune of Poetry" in The Atlantic Monthly:

"One of the very few 'modern' things about Byron was a life-long obsession with his weight and his silhouette, both of which tended to fluctuate alarmingly. He once wrote that he had two fears, of getting fat and of going mad, and there were times when he was both."

Fortunately, as far as I can tell it's my only similarity to the dead poet.
She deserved it?

Times Online has this very short but eloquent item: "The sign on the noticeboard in Bali’s Sanglah hospital is stark: 'R you looking 4 a young girl. Approx 10-14 years old; Western? In ICU (Intensive Care Unit)'".
Bali Personal

Every morning around 6 am I go for a 20km cycle on my trusty treadly (you know, one of those bikes us "snerds" allegedly never ride). This morning, the peaceful silence of the foreshore cycle path was shattered by the roar of a RAAF C130 Hercules flying in low over my head, bringing the second load of injured survivors of the Kuta bombings here for treatment. It reminded me of the situation in September and October 1999, when we Darwinians got used to a continuous airlift to and from East Timor.

Living in Darwin makes it impossible to forget that this really is Australia's "front door", and very close to some of the world's more troubled and heavily populated places. Another plogger (I can't remember who) remarked yesterday that we should consider stationing more military forces in Australia's Top End. I agree. We now have a fair number of army personnel based here, but the presence of the more pampered navy and air force is much lower. A few patrol boats, but no capital ships. A squadron of FA18s and a couple of reconnaisance aircraft. That's about it.

The reason why the Hercules relief flights only started arriving here in Darwin just after midnight is that they had to fly all the way from Richmond in Sydney to get to Bali in the first place. The old cliche that we're not likely to be invaded by killer fairy penguins from Antarctica remains true. Any threat to this country will almost by definition come from the north (leaving aside New Zealanders, of course, but there are more cost-effective ways of dealing with them; mandatory vowel pronunciation tests at all customs barriers, for instance).

My wife and daughter holidayed in Bali only a couple of months ago, and we were all seriously contemplating having another couple of weeks there in January. Kuta is almost Darwin's local surf beach. Rebecca, a 14 year old incurable shopaholic, is a daily visitor to the Matahari Department Store, about 100 metres from the epicentre of the bomb blasts in Legian Road. She has lots of Balinese friends, and spent part of last night emailing them to make sure they were OK (3/4 of the casualties were western tourists, but that means there were around 45 dead Balinese, and lots more injured).

I also see there is an ideologically predictable divergence in Ozplogistan about how Australians will/should react to the Bali bombings. I don't know whether my good lady wife provides a valid microcosm, but she has undergone a remarkable attitudinal transformation in the space of 24 hours, from a Phillip Adams-ish peacenik stance (although without the pomposity) to a passable imitation of the most rabid warblogger you could imagine.

Update - Tim Blair, Bargarz and Don Arthur all have extensive coverage of the Bali bombings, with lots of links, quotes and analysis. These links are just to their respective front pages, because Tim and Bargarz in particular have multiple posts on the bombings and seem to be updating them almost continuously (especially Tim). It's better than Google News IMHO, because you have a human editor (although some of Tim's ideological opponents might dispute that last proposition). I think I'll leave the detailed Bali coverage to them for the moment. I have other things to do. Scott Wickstein has shamed me into re-writing my Blogger template, something I'd always intended but never got around to doing (like painting the house, really, but the chances of my getting shamed into that are much lower, although spousal threats and intimidation might eventually bring a change of perspective). So far I've spent about 4 hours on the template re-write, and I still have a fair way to go. You'll see the result some time today.
Update 2 - When I checked just now, the SMH letters page contained 8 letters about the Bali bombings. One of them was very short, simply saying "OK, who will be the first idiot to suggest that "we" somehow deserved that terrorist attack?" Well, you don't have to look very far for the answer. Five of the 8 letters said pretty much exactly that. One of them was written by a Mr. P. Ness. Just thought I'd share that with you. Mercifully, however, Margo Kingston still seems to be mysteriously missing in action. I hope she's not seriously ill or something, because for all her faults I think Web Diary is a worthwhile experiment. Nevertheless, I think I'd vomit if I had to read Margo's insight-challenged anti-war rantings today.
Update 3 - At Catallaxy, both Jason Soon and Heath Gibson have several thoughtful, analytical pieces on the Bali bombings, their wider significance, and whether they should be seen as militating for or against an attack on Iraq (or having nothing to do with that question one way or the other).