Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Peripatetic Troppo Armadillo

This may be some sort of blogosphere record (although not one I urge others to emulate). I've just moved my blog for the 4th time since I started blogging almost exactly 6 months ago. The ongoing problems with Blogger (and more recently Haloscan commenting - which I see is now finally back in action, at least for the moment) have spurred me to expedite the big move to a Movable Type blog. The new blog isn't complete, in the sense that I've only copied across blog posts for the last few days, and I haven't done any customising of the template yet. Nevertheless, I've decided it's worth announcing the move now, and directing readers across there, so you can start using the new inbuilt commenting facility.

Change your bookmarks and blogrolls (yet again -sorry!) and migrate to the new Troppo Armadillo. No new posts will be made here, and comments posted here won't be answered (at least not by me). In fact I've just deleted the Haloscan code, so you won't be able to do it by mistake. I'll re-install the Haloscan code in a few days, so people can still view old comments.

PS Just in case anyone thinks I'm some sort of instant Movable Type guru for getting the new blog up and running in less than 24 hours, I have a confession to make. It was set up for me by new-ish blogger Mark Gallagher. Yes Virginia, there is a blogosphere Santa Claus, and his name is Mark! Mark runs a fascinating and eclectic blog called Cyberfuddle! (add it to your list for regular visits), and Troppo Armadillo is now a sub-domain of Cyberfuddle (which some will unkindly suggest is more than appropriate).

Rats and the sinking ship

It seems the gloves are off in the war to decide who replaces Simon the Unlikeable as federal Labor leader. Genteel Labor foreign affairs spokesperson Kevin Rudd (who I thought was very impressive on the Nine Network's Sunday program a couple of days ago) appears to have leaked to Janet Albrechtsen (of all people) an email sent to him by the distinctly un-genteel Mark Latham, in which Latham addressed Rudd as "Hey, knucklehead". I can see this getting very entertaining. Of course, it won't do anything for Labor's presently non-existent electoral prospects, but them's the breaks. Anyway, if Iraq turns into a protracted bloodbath (which I think is unlikely), Labor will probably be able to win under the proverbial drover's dog. On the other hand, if Crean was a dog it would be a kindness to have him put down.

Trading off copyright term extension?

Scott Wickstein (posting again, and about time) utters a heresy (at least John Quiggin and Kim Weatherall will certainly see it that way) about the possibility that Australian negotiators might trade off an extended copyright term of 70 years in order to win a free trade deal with the US:
"In doing free trade negotiations, it is necessary to do cost/benefit analysis on a regular basis. Is extending copyright protection for 20 years worth easy access to US markets for our farmers? Seems like a good deal to me."

Is this really a heresy, though? Certainly the concept of the IP "commons" on which copyright law is based is critically important to intellectual freedom and technological development. The Copyright Act attempts to strike a balance between the legitimate interest of the creator to be able to make a financial return on his/her creation, and the public interest in learning, freedom of communication, speech, comment, criticism etc. Giving the copyright holder absolute control would prejudice these equally important rights. Thus the rights holder can control copying for 50 years (for corporations), but even during that time anyone has the right to make "fair use" of the work. "Fair use" (or "fair dealing") includes copying a reasonable portion of a work for research or study; criticism or review; reporting the news; judicial proceedings or the giving of professional advice.

The much-discussed recent US Supreme Court decision in Eldred v Ashcroft, though mostly based on US constitutional arguments not worth reprising here, also rested on the express assumption that the "fair use" defences were adequate to protect the public interest in preserving the intellectual "commons"; extension of the length of protection did not undermine the fundamental nature of copyright as a limited bundle of rights. The argument by American constitutional law academic Larry Lessig (who led the team in the Supreme Court arguing against the validity of the US copyright extension) was essentially a "slippery slope" one. If an extension to 70 years is constitutionally possible, then logically an unlimited series of later legislated extensions would also be constitutional, so that Mickey Mouse (and all other works including computer programs etc as well as movies, music and the like) would potentially never come out of copyright protection.

Lessig's concern is a reasonable one. Major music/movie industry corporations certainly have the lobbying muscle to achieve further extensions if they see commercial advantage in it. On the other hand, the "fair use" exceptions do allow quite a bit of scope for using copyright works. Moroever, one of the most important genres of copyright "work" for commercial purposes is computer software. In that area at least, you can mount a respectable argument that the copyright term, whether it's 50 or 70 years, is almost irrelevant. At the software application level, software is usually completely out of date within 10 years at the most. Even at operating system level, Microsoft gains most of its power not from copyright protection of its Windows operating system, but from leveraging market domination and the fact that the range of available Windows applications is so much greater than for any other operating system that no-one other than a geek would choose anything else (even though arguably Linux is a better operating system).

In many ways, I think the continual expansion and increasing sophistication of electronic rights management systems (and ancillary legislative protection of them) poses a much greater threat to the intellectual commons than a 20 year copyright term extension, because rights management systems potentially allow rights holders to exercise de facto complete monopoly power over a work. If free trade agreement with the US just involved trading off a 20 year copyright term extension for free access to American markets, I think I'd be inclined to agree with Scott Wickstein. However, we're being pressured to bring all our IP laws into line with America, and that includes provisions which further enhance the ability of rights holders to leverage rights management systems into an effective perpetual monopoly. Laws of that sort potentially stultify intellectual and technological progress. In the long term, they may ironically turn the United States into an inward-looking intellectual backwater where innovation no longer occurs. It would be a really bad idea for Australia to follow suit: the short-term benefit of agricultural trade access to US markets would pale into insignificance beside the long-term damage.

Don't tinker with the Senate

John Quiggin blogs an interesting short piece on the virtues of Australia's Senate and its proportional representation voting system. I agree 100% with John's observation that "the system we have evolved with a constituency-based lower house that can generally provide stable executive government, combined with an upper house, elected on the basis of proportional representation and having a veto on legislation is a pretty good compromise." In fact, I think the institutional legislative review role of the Senate, together with the High Court's constitutionally-entrenched judicial review jurisdiction over any decisions of the federal executive government, go a long way towards making up for Australia's lack of a constitutional bill of rights.

John suggests, however, that State-based Senate elections (i.e. electing 6 Senators from each State in an ordinary election and 12 in a double dissolution) are less than optimal. Although he thinks changing it would be more trouble than it was worth, John opines that a "proportional representation system with the whole nation as a single electorate would be preferable." I disagree. Constitutional design in this respect requires a careful balance between, on the one hand, fostering democratically diverse representation, and on the other, stable and workable government. I think Australia's existing system gets that balance just about right.

The quota for election of a Senator in an ordinary half-Senate election is 14.3%. That is high enough to ensure that we don't get huge numbers of ratbag fringe candidates elected (causing legislative gridlock and making the country ungovernable), but low enough to ensure that reasonably well supported minor parties (like the Democrats, Greens and One Nation) and Independents will get some candidates elected. The result is that governments rarely control the Senate, but will usually be able to enact most of their legislative program by intelligent compromise with minor parties and Independents. The outcome is invariably better legislation and more accountable government.

However, with a Senate elected by the whole nation as a single electorate (John Quiggin's suggested ideal) the proportional representation quota for election would be around 1%. Huge numbers of fringe candidates would be elected, and unstable government and Senate gridlock would inevitably result. I think tampering with the current Senate model in any major way would be potentially very dangerous for Australia's highly evolved and very successful democracy.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Another Schaap reply

Rob Schaap has responded to my piece yesterday on purity and consequentialism in the context of the Iraq debate. It's a discussion that would have been more accessible in comment boxes, but that's a choice we don't have at the moment.

Rob assumes that my advocacy of a consequentialist approach (preferably utilitarian - this being a subset of consequentialist approaches) to the Iraq debate "seem(s) to imply (if I may try to lend coherence to all you have written on the subject) that a consequentialist outlook would recommend the invasion of Iraq." Leaving aside the gratuitously offensive remarks, I imply nothing of the sort. Certainly I would argue that a utilitarian assessment of the options would lead (though not conclusively) to that position, but I don't imply or assume it in any sense. What I was seeking to argue (but obviously didn't express myself clearly, because Rob failed to understand the point) was simply that a "just war" approach, involving inherently menaningless assertions about purity of motive, was a waste of time, and that we'd all be better off trying to assess likely/possible consequences of the various options.

Rob then proceeds to trot out the standard anti-war argument - gross exaggeration of likely consequences of the military option, while conveniently ignoring the consequences of inaction (=continued ineffective inspections):
"Rational consequentialist that you are, you're supporting the extermination of tens of thousands (by way of 'Shock and Awe' [PNACese for 'Blitzkrieg']) the starvation of millions when their oil-for-food rations are cut off for the duration, and a million-strong tide of refugees (by the UN's own reckoning) on the grounds that all involved will be better off afterwards than they would have been by a magnitude greater than this heinous cost (in 'units' of 'utility') of invasion. "

First, and as British Prime Minister Tony Blair eloquently pointed out, "tens of thousands" of deaths would be much less than Saddam has murdered, and will continue to murder on an ongoing basis if not stopped. That's the issue the peaceniks assiduously avoid confronting: - not taking decisive, efective action also has consequences in terms of human life and misery, so we're in the arena of assessing comparative consequences whether we like it or not.

Secondly, there is already a strong and ongoing refugee flow out of Iraq, and it's been going on for decades. No doubt there will be a much larger short-term "tidal" flow as the military action takes place but, as in Afghanistan, it will reverse itself when the country is liberated from tyranny (although Rob would bridle at that language, because he is determined to see the US and not Saddam as the real tyrant).

Higher-range estimates of likely civilian deaths are based on the proposition that there will be large-scale destruction of infrastructure (water, electricity etc) and a prolonged war creating mass starvation. There probably will be large-scale destruction of infrastructure (judging by some of the leaked tactical reports - although they may involve disinformation), but majority expert opinion says that the duration of war is likely to be short. If that proves accurate, then the high death counts being asserted by the Left simply won't occur, and aid agencies will flood in to help as soon as liberation is complete. Only US military planners are really in a position to make reliable assessments of probable war duration and casualties, and even they are necessarily dealing with a lot of uncertain variables. That's why I was interested in Hugh White's article (linked in a post earlier today). He gives a lucid account of some of the key factors likely to influence the duration of any conflict, and hence the number of casualties. It's those sorts of discussions and assessments that I think we need to have, rather than sterile philosophical debates about "just war". It's manifestly just to get rid of an evil bastard like Saddam and liberate the Iraqi people, if it can be done without mass slaughter. If the balance of sober, independent expert assessments (of which Hugh White's is one) suggested a high probability of a massive casualty count, I would oppose the military option on utilitarian grounds. So far, that's not the way the picture looks. As Hugh White observes:
"If Saddam tries to meet US forces in open country, or if US targeting intelligence is good enough to find him and his top commanders, or if new urban warfare doctrines give the coalition forces a decisive edge, or if Iraq's soldiers will not fight, then the war will be short. That is quite probable, but far from certain."

Eternal childhood

Stewart Kelly has posted a thoughtful response to my recent rant about "black armband" history and the present day plight of Aborigines. Stewart plausibly observes that the reason why Aboriginal issues elicit little or no public response is that:
"That would actually require the broader public to truly give a shit and they clearly don't. This lack of interest is not a result of racism or because the people have no heart, it's simply that Aboriginal problems don't affect them on a day to day basis."

Stewart may be right, although Australians showed themselves able to get interested enough back in 1967 to pass one of the few successul referenda in Australian constitutional history, giving Aboriginal people citizenship and the Federal Parliament power to override racist state laws. More recently, similar numbers of people marched for Aboriginal reconciliation as turned out for world peace last weekend. Moreover, the reconciliation marchers included the Federal Treasurer and probable next Prime Minister Peter Costello.

I'm by no means defeatist about the prospect of getting reform on these issues. As I recently blogged, a 'stolen generations' apology need not be a 'black armband' exercise, and could serve as a catalyst for true reconciliation if handled intelligently. Similarly, issues surrounding treaties and recognition of traditional law are also capable of being handled in a constructive rather than divisive manner if the political will exists (as it might with Costello as PM).

On the other side of the ledger, there's also a need to confront gross, chronic and very widespread irresponsibility in Aboriginal communities, leading to huge levels of drug and alcohol abuse, community violence, and serious sexual and physical abuse of women and children. It's in that area where I think the exclusive focus of 'black armband' advocates is actually counterproductive for Aboriginal people. It encourages and perpetuates a "poor bugger me" attitude; an almost universal assumption that everything is the balanda's (white man's) fault, and that the answer lies in the balanda apologising, and atoning by handing over endless supplies of money and land. In fact, whatever injustices took place in the past (including the recent past), real improvement can never take place without Aboriginal people and communities themselves taking responsibility for their own choices and behaviour. That requires devolution of power by governments, with negotiated but clear accountability and performance benchmarks, involving real consequences flowing from continued irresponsible behaviour.

At present, virtually all bureaucratic and informal dealings with Aboriginal people are blighted by an automatic assumption that responsible adult conduct isn't to be expected or required. They assume we are dealing with eternal children from whom no better behaviour is possible. That assumption is born of long and frustrating experience (and in some cases, though only a few, may be generated by an overtly patronising attitude on the bureaucrat's part), but it's also self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. I could recite scores of examples from my own long experience in Aboriginal affairs, but just one very personal one should suffice.

A few years ago, only weeks after her mother was murdered, my wife was assaulted by a nationally prominent Aboriginal activist (who was also a parent at the school where Jenny taught). The offender (without provocation) violently pushed Jenny against a wall, held her by the throat and called her a "white cunt". We were later told that the offender had a long history of low-level violence against colleagues and acquaintances, but had never been held to account for it. There were numerous witnesses to the incident, and all of them gave sworn written statements. A complaint was made to the school principal and Education Department. Nothing happened. A complaint was made to the teachers' union. Nothing happened. A complaint was made to the Anti-Discrimination Commission. Again nothing happened. Of course, if it had been Jenny attacking an Aboriginal parent and calling them a "black cunt", rather than the other way round, she would have been instantly (and justifiably) dismissed and probably charged with a criminal offence. No doubt the incident would also have made headlines given the prominence of the Aboriginal activist involved. Different standards, however, apply to the conduct of Aborignal people. Nothing better can be expected of them, it seems, even when they are highly educated and moderately wealthy (as the offender in this case was).

I'm not suggesting that Aboriginal people are in any sense a "privileged" class, or that "it's all their own fault". What I am suggesting, however, is that along with treaties, apologies, customary law recognition and adequate service levels, we must also address society's habitual failure to expect and demand of Aboriginal people the same mature, responsible behaviour we demand of everyone else. Our failure to do so is a prime cause of the seemingly intractable nature of Aboriginal disadvantage. The fact that we don't demand it, and that these issues are seldom publicly discussed, is in part due to a fear that one might be labelled a racist if any causative factors other than white guilt are even mentioned. When Haloscan is eventually restored, I fully expect a comment box reaction along those lines from the usual suspects.

Postscript - Enetation is still as hopeless as ever, and is slowing down the blog and causing error messages. I've deleted the code and re-inserted the Haloscan code. Any would-be commenters are welcome to send in their responses by email. I promise to post them as soon as Haloscan is working again.

Iraq opinion roundup

Gerard Henderson has an interesting article in today's SMH highlighting the illogicality (not to mention lack of commonsense) inherent in much of the peacenik rhetoric.

Hugh White (also SMH) has a fascinating analysis of the sorts of contingencies that may dictate whether US victory in Iraq will be quick and clean or protracted and bloody. Obviously, the political consequences, both for the Middle east and the electoral futures of Bush, Blair and Howard, will depend in large measure on how close actual events come to one of those extremes.

American legal blogger Jack Balkin has an interesting piece suggesting President Bush might be better advised to plan for an October war instead of rushing in now. I'd been thinking about an essay along those lines myself, but Balkin has saved me the trouble. Here's an extract:
"Suppose instead that Bush called France's bluff and allowed for several more rounds of inspections to dog Saddam through the summer. Then, assuming that Saddam is still playing cat and mouse, he could press for an attack in October, when the weather turns cold. After six months of inspections, the other members of the security council might well be fed up with Saddam and Bush would have his U.N. support. This would keep the Atlantic alliance together, prevent NATO from unravelling, and bolster the idea of using the U.N. as an international forum for identifying, deterring and punishing rogue states like Iraq. And, one other thing, Bush could fight all fall and winter long without worrying about the weather.

Finally, although this has little to do with the geopolitical interests of the United States, the October strategy would also have political advantages at home. Bush could insist that he was not rushing to war, but gave inspections as much time as our European allies wanted. This would completely undermine Democratic criticisms that he is being unilateral. And he could begin the war in October 2003 and conclude it at the beginning of 2004. This would boost his poll ratings when they are needed most-- just before the 2004 campaign begins. Ending a successful war at the beginning of 2004-- instead of the middle of 2003-- could do wonders for his chances at reelection in 2004."

Finally, Tim Dunlop blogs an essay which expresses the widespread fear that American hubris could lead to a succession of imperial invasions of countries the US doesn't like. Frankly I think that's extremely unlikely, despite the bellicose rumblings of some Bush administration figures. Neither American public opinion nor the US economy could withstand that sort of campaign. On the other hand, it's very likely that the US will leverage the credible threat of force flowing from an Iraq victory to put much greater pressure on oppressive, dictatorial regimes like Iran, North Korea and Libya (not to mention Saudi Arabia) to moderate their behaviour. Personally I don't think that would be any bad thing.

Tim's position, like that of most thoughtful lefties, is primarily based on the conviction that it would be far better to have a credible security guarantee from an international body like the United Nations, with its inbuilt checks and balances, rather than rely on the goodwill and good judgment of US liberal democratic hegemony. I agree, but the trouble is that the UN has conclusively demonstrated that it simply is incapable of providing any such guarantee, at least in its present form. That incapacity is further underlined by the recent appointment of Libya to head the UN Human Rights Committee, and Iraq to head the UN Disarmament Committee. As I've argued before, we need to separate the question of whether (and when) military action in Iraq is the least undesirable option from the longer term question of how to secure credible international security guarantees and counterbalance US hegemony.

Google buys Blogger

I see (courtesy Michael Jennings) that Google, the world's leading search engine provider, has just purchased Pyra Labs i.e. Blogger. Hopefully that will soon mean an improvement in Blogger's reliability, as all of its 1.1 million blogs are moved to Google's huge bank of servers. Apparently Blogger has been operating until now with just 5 employees, so it's hardly surprising they had trouble coping with the explosive expansion of the blogging phenomenon.

I suspect that the Google purchase won't mean any increase in attempts to charge for Blogger services. Google is the leading exponent of making a buck out of the Internet without charging ordinary consumers for using its services. Moreover, as others have already speculated, Google may well apply their aggregation technology (used in Google News) to make the blogosphere readily accessible to a much wider audience. A link from Google Blog News would make the hit "spike" generated by a mention on Instapundit look like a tiny blip.

Another possible downside some have already discussed is the possibility that Google might (whether deliberately or otherwise) discriminate against non-Blogger weblogs (e.g. Movable Type or Radio Userland). I suspect they won't do so in any extreme way, but they might well sell higher positioning in the Google search engine or premium listing in "Google Blog News".

Finally, I see Michael Jennings' wish list includes a hope that Google will create an easy-to-implement search engine for Blogger blogs. In fact they already have, and I'm using it on this blog. Anyone interested in following suit should go here and follow the prompts. It's very easy, and allows you to offer both a site search and web search on your own blog using the Google search engine. A slight downside is that Google only re-indexes comprehensively every 6 weeks or so, although if your blog gets lots of links from others it's likely it will in fact be re-indexed more often. My own wishlist would be for an integrated commenting facility. The lack of a reliable commenting facility is my main gripe with Blogger, and the factor that might still tempt me to move across to Movable Type. I regard commenting interaction as one of the most important aspects of blogging.
Update - Haloscan's website now carries the notation "We found that the cause of the recent problems was a hardware failure in the database server. We are currently working to replace the server and will have everything working by Tuesday at the latest. Sorry about the problems and thanks for your patience." As they're talking about US time, it looks like Haloscan commenting will out of action for at least another 24 hours. Consequently I've re-implemented the old Enetation commenting facility I used once previously. Feel free to post comments on current debates, because I promise I'll copy across all comments to Haloscan if/when it comes back online.
Update 2 - For some reason, inserting the Enetation code has made the drop down navigation menus work inconsistently. Sometimes you have to refresh the screen to get them to work. Sigh!! I suspect it's some sort of clash between the Enetation javascript and the one that makes the menus operate. Hopefully it will be fixed when I re-instal Haloscan tomorrow. Of course, in the long run it's another reason to consider the big MT move - it's an integrated package, so you shouldn't get these sorts of compatability and reliability problems.

A mixed report for Media Watch

As Uncle from ABC Watch fearlessly predicted earlier today, the ABC Media Watch program conspicuously failed to make any mention whatever of ABC TV News' outrageous fabrication of a claim that the Indonesian government had warned Prime Minister John Howard that military action in Iraq would be seen as a war on Islam. It hardly inspires confidence in the program's self-proclaimed impartiality. On the other hand, the story only reared its head late on Sunday, which might have been running close to Media Watch's production deadline. If David Marr doesn't mention the fiasco in next week's program, however, I'll certainly draw the obvious adverse inference (namely that the ABC is "a festering pit of incompetence, malice and political bias", as Bernard Slattery succinctly puts it).

On other fronts, however, Media Watch ran a couple of useful items. First, there was a piece exposing blatant hypocrisy (if not outright dishonesty) by both Federal Communications Minister Richard Alston and the golden tonsils of radio John Laws in relation to their shared enthusiasm for payola.

Then David Marr ran an excellent item highlighting the disgraceful beat-up by Daily Telegraph journalist David Penberthy in falsely writing up Australia's immigration detention centres as 'five star hotels'. Blogwatchers may recall that Gareth Parker and Rob Corr had a heated debate about this very story 2 or 3 weeks ago. I made some comment box contributions at the time. The DIMIA-inspired characterisation of the centres as luxury hotels is anything but new. In fact, it's become so hackneyed that the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Migration published a report on detention centre standards a couple of years ago titled ?Not the Hilton?. It broadly confirms what I observed in Gareth and Rob's comment boxes, namely that the evidence showed that standards of centres were generally acceptable but a long way from luxurious. Here's a summary of the report's findings that I found at the Refugee Council's website (although I've copied it across to my own site and enlarged the font, because it nearly sent me blind trying to read it).

A not commonly known fact about asylum seekers is that illegal arrivals whose protection visa applications are unsuccessful generally have cost recovery charges levied against them of around $139 per day spent in immigration detention. It's not quite a 5 star hotel room rate, but then they're not exactly 5 star hotels. In fact the DIMIA cost recovery rate is exactly the same as my entire family paid to stay at the Novotel in Canberra a few weeks ago (generally classed as a 3.5 star hotel). It has gym, spa, indoor heated pool, sauna, inhouse video movies, minibar facilities, IDD telephones in all rooms etc etc. Woomera and Port Hedland don't!! Incidentally, in most situations the imposition of this extortionate daily charge for the privilege of being imprisoned is never actually recovered (because the debtors have no money and are deported). However, on the rare occasions when Minister Ruddock is persuaded to exercise his personal ministerial discretionary power to grant a humanitarian visa notwithstanding the failure of a refugee application, the $139 per day charge is imposed and enforced. These lucky people emerge from Woomera owing a fortune to the Federal government for the cost of their imprisonment, which they have to pay back over a period of years!

Finally, while I'm dealing with discretionary decisions to allow failed refugee applicants to stay, I'll take the opportunity to point out a further fairly unflattering comparative aspect of Australia's performance on asylum seekers. Regular readers will recall that I've often pointed out that Australia's performance in terms of percentage of asylum seeker applications approved is a very respectable one: around twice the European Union average and consistently better than any other western nation besides Canada. However, that's only part of the picture. Several European nations (including the UK) have a fairly extensive practice of allowing significant numbers of failed asylum seekers to remain in the country on an informal de facto basis (i.e. without any legal visa entitlement). Australia has no such program. Generally, just about all failed asylum seekers are deported, or kept in detention where their home country refuses to take them back. When you take the European de facto refugees into account, Australia's total performance is significantly worse than the UK, Sweden and Denmark (as well as Canada). Here's a bar graph showing the comparative picture. Thus, a fair assessment of Australia's overall refugee record is that it is respectable but not outstanding, and blighted by our imprisonment of children and arguably excessively harsh general detention regime.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Purity of purpose

John Quiggin's stance on Iraq has until now been a relatively moderate and rational version of leftist opposition to military action. He has at least professed that military action might be justified, just not yet. However, John's latest post suggests he's been overcome by the chanting of "Kumbaya" and "Give Peace a Chance" at the peace rally he attended in Brisbane yesterday, not to mention the pungent gunja fumes (a greatly under-appreciated passive smoking risk). John seems to be trying to play Margo Kingston off an even break in the "away with the fairies" stakes. His latest preconditions, before he would even consider supporting military action in Iraq, are: ... Read more (another long-ish blog)

Update - John has responded promptly as an update of his original post. His rejoinder comes down to making the point that my consequentalist position leaves the US free to be the sole determinant of whether military action is justified. I agree, and that's why I recently raised the issue of how one could reconstruct some workable system of international checks and balances in the wake of what I see as the self-evident and seemingly terminal failure of the UN to provide any credible security guarantees at all. Given the length of this post, I'll have to chase that rabbit down its burrow at some later time.

Still cactus

As readers may have noticed, while most (but not all) existing Haloscan comments have now reappeared, the commenting facility itself remains disabled. Thus you can't post any new comments. Please save up your observations and arguments, and add them when Haloscan eventually comes back into full operation.

I'd like to be able to tell you that the problem will soon be fixed permanently, but unfortunately I can't. Although I've had vague aspirations to switch over to a Movable Type blog for some time, a realistic appraisal of my commitments from now on suggests I'm just not likely to get time to set it up. I'm afraid I'll be sticking with Blogger and Haloscan at least for the immediate future. I hope commenters will continue feeling it's worthwhile making a contribution to the debate on issues raised at Troppo Armadillo. Recent discussions have been very interesting IMO.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Warnie's Darwin connection

Like all parochial newspapers, Darwin's Murdoch-owned Northern Territory News and Sunday Territorian specialise in highlighting local links in just about any national or international story. Mostly the link is so trivial as to be just plain silly, but this item in today's 'Sunday Terror' is worth recording:
"Shane Warne's ignominious exit from South Afrcia was not the first time he had been sent home. In 1990, when the spin king was a 19 year old member of the AIS cricket academy side, he was ordered back to Melbourne from Darwin after using "inappropriate language and behaviour" to female Northern Territory University students who were sunbathing at the old NTU campus at Myilly Point. Warne made his test debut in 1992 and said after the match that being expelled from Darwin had shocked him into knuckling down."

The story is accompanied by a cartoon showing Warnie being interviewed by a reporter who's saying "What?! You got kicked out of the capital of inappropriate behaviour?!"

Stroppy Strocchi

Jason Soon is hosting a fascinating debate on the ubiquitous Iraq invasion issue between guest blogger and economist Jack Strocchi and reader Tim Makinson. Jack has deployed some logical/philosophical tools to analyse potential Iraq options (coming up with a pro-war conclusion, which is predictable given that Jack has been a strong military option advocate in John Quiggin's comment boxes for months before graduating to full bloggerness). Tim argues (not without force IMO) that Jack is playing fast and loose with logic. Worth reading even if you're heartily sick of the interminable arguments on Iraq.

BTW it seems that Jack Strocchi is another Bunyip fan.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Uncle on song

Just to add a bit of variety to my laudatory linking of right wing bloggers, I should mention that Uncle from ABC Watch has an excellent piece today on "Islamophobia", a nascent offence against political correctness apparently under development by the good folk down at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. I'd been idly contemplating writing something similar myself, but Uncle has done a better job than I ever could.

One of the things I'm still finding it hard to get my head around is how we can preserve our tolerant multicultural society when a significant subset of recent migrants is vehemently opposed to those values, and at least a few of them are sworn to overthrow that society by violence. It seems that if HREOC gets its way, we won't even be able to talk about such issues, let alone actually do anything to protect ourselves.

Maybe Uncle is an incognito senior academic as well, and I'm just currying favour again. Or maybe my judgment is just "clouded" by my bloodlust for war in Iraq. Being patronised by lefties is such a privilege. Then again, maybe I'm actually Uncle (as well as Bunyip)! It's mighty confusing being a political schizophrenic, but at least you're never lonely.

Multiple realities

As I've mentioned before on this blog, every Saturday morning my wife gets up early and goes up to the local service station to buy the morning paper, preparatory to her weekly fix of lawn sales. A couple of weeks ago a white "gin jockey" had bled all over the forecourt of the servo, after being bashed with a blunt instrument by a young Aboriginal woman.

This morning the service station was closed and surrounded by police. The young counter attendant who always serves Jenny had been stabbed by a drunken Aboriginal woman. I don't know whether he's still alive. I'll keep you informed.

Gary, you may be correct that there are "multiple historical truths" with indigenous issues. But most of them are negative, and they pale into insignificance compared with the "multiple realities" of the present day. Moreover, musing about whether Keith Windschuttle is dodgier than Lyndall Ryan doesn't have much connection with any of them. Maybe we need to have some understanding of the "multiple historical truths" (at least if that means trying to gain insight into how indigenous people may have perceived and experienced events), and we certainly need to have a grasp of the "empirical history". But mostly we need to start a serious search for solutions, instead of metaphorically shrugging our shoulders and focusing on sterile historical debates.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Saudis are the big threat

Bargarz blogs a timely piece about the ongoing activities of Saudi Arabia in brainwashing their children with almost unbelievably poisonous and ultra-violent anti-western propaganda. Moreover, the Saudis continue to fund "madrassa" (I'm not sure of the plural) which spread the same hateful Wahabbist message throughout the world. They are calculatedly creating the next Bin Laden and the next generation of obedient suicide bombers.

As the National Review article Bargarz extracts observes, the Saudis are continuing to deliberately turn children into anti-western terrorists despite American requests to cease and desist. The Americans have so far taken a low key approach with the Saudis, however we should all be hoping they take the gloves off once the immediate threat of Saddam is removed. Whether the prospect of greater freedom to deal resolutely with the Saudi threat forms part of US calculations on the desirability of forced regime change in Iraq (as I have previously speculated) is impossible to know, but it will certainly be a major collateral benefit.

Moreover, there is a direct and critical security link for Australia in this consideration. It's very likely that Abu Bakr Bashir's madrassa, where the Bali bombers were brainwashed and turned into terrorists, was partly Saudi-funded and inspired. The Financial Times reported that "Omar al-Faruq, an al Qaeda-trained Kuwaiti arrested in Indonesia in June, has told U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan that the spiritual leader of the radical Indonesian group Jemaah Islamiah, Abu Bakr Bashir, was given $74,000 by a Saudi to buy explosives from Indonesian army officers earlier this year." (link not available).

Do Yourself a Favour

There's been a lot of poorly written, ill-considered nonsense written about the Iraq situation (conceivably even by me - although I don't really think that - I'm just striking a pose of mock humility). This morning's SMH, however, carries an article by Tony Horwitz that everyone should read. Several leftie bloggers have recently professed willingness to be persuaded that military action in Iraq is justified and necessary. If any of them were genuine (rather than just striking a faux rhetorical pose), they'd be persuaded by the case Horwitz puts.

Michael Costello in The Australian puts the obverse side of the coin. He acknowledges that the case for military action in Iraq is strong, but observes that the "Bushies" are their own worst enemies in terms of persuading the rest of the world. Their gauche, flag-waving jingoism grossly antagonises many non-Americans who are not necessarily lefties. No doubt that's part of the reason (along with half-baked calculations of domestic political advantage) why Labor frontbenchers were so scathing in their public comments about the US President. However, they need to be much more disciplined and restrained in their language because of the positions they hold (and that's putting it mildly).

Lotts of support

Those who've been following the John Lott Jnr saga (as to whether he fabricated a 1997 survey on defensive gun use) will be interested in this item on The Volokh Conspiracy. I think it puts it pretty much beyond doubt that Lott did experience a major computer hard drive crash at that time. I still find it strange that no-one other than an extreme gun nut has come forward to provide any direct corroboration, and the Mary Rosh stuff is just plain weird, but confirmation of Lott's hard drive crash makes it significantly more likely that he's telling the truth. It's still badly flawed research, as are his concealed carry studies, but my best guess at this stage is that there was no fraud.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

They're both wrong

There appears to be a consensus (leaving aside predictable figures like Tim Blair) that American Ambassador Tom Schieffer acted in an ill-advised manner by giving an interview to The Bulletin's Maxine McKew in which he criticised the Federal ALP in fairly strong terms:
"Yeah, and you don't get the same feeling now. And we certainly didn't get this rank appeal to anti-Amercanism ... to anti-George Bush feeling. It's all gotten very personal in the last few days."

I think I agree that Schieffer spoke inappropriately, but I must say I hadn't realised, until I watched Red Kezza O'Brien interview Simon the Unlikeable on the ABC 7.30 Report last night, just how extreme and, yes, anti-American, Labor's rhetoric really has been. Here's Kerry trying (ever so gently) to get Crean to concede that his frontbenchers' language might have been just a tad more than ordinary robust political debate:
KERRY O'BRIEN: Lindsay Tanner, one of your senior frontbenchers, likened President Bush to Dr Strangelove -- a megalomaniac scientist in a film about nuclear madness.

Is that kind of terminology wise or necessary? ...

But perhaps it's another thing for your colleagues, for instance, in this country, like Martin Ferguson, one of your most senior colleagues, referring to George W. Bush as a "well-known warmonger", and Joel Fitzgibbon, another frontbencher, ridiculing the President for wanting to play cowboys and Indians.

SIMON CREAN: And one of the Liberals referred to President Bush as a clown. ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: Mark Latham -- "President Bush the most incompetent and dangerous president "in living memory". ...

Crean belatedly conceded that he had told his colleagues their language was "inappropriate", but it's much more than that. Crean doesn't appear to understand that there is a difference between ordinary backbench members slagging off at Australia's closest ally, and members of the Shadow Cabinet doing so. They are Australia's alternative government. They simply shouldn't have been talking in that way, and Crean needs to do a lot more to repair the damage. Crean says he's going to get Schieffer into his office when he (Schieffer) gets out of hospital, so he can protest at Schieffer's improper interference in Australian politics. Crean would be better advised to apologise for his Shadow Ministers' disgraceful and damaging behaviour. There are clearly ways to engage in vigorous political debate about whether Australia should be involved in military action in Iraq, without descending into ad hominem attacks on George Bush. That might be acceptable for bloggers or yobbos down at the local pub, but it's grossly inappropriate and irresponsible for members of Australia's alternative government. I never imagined I'd start thinking seriously that Kim Beazley should make a comeback, but the rest of them don't seem to have even an ounce of commonsense between them.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!

Australia beats England 3 - 1 at soccer! Could this really be true? And they scored 2 of the 3 goals in the first half, when the Poms had their top team on the field. I can't help having 2 negative thoughts, though, along with the patriotic joy. Why couldn't it have been against Uruguay when it counted? And will this victory allow the hopelessly corrupted administration of Soccer Australia to avoid the wholesale reform the game so desperately needs?