Saturday, August 24, 2002

ISP ASAP

My monthly ISP bill came about a ten days ago and is well due. Yesterday, the phone rings and in the saccharine tones we have come to expect from the corporate world, a woman asks me, "Is this is Tim Dunlop, a customer of Starpower?" I knew what was coming: a quick shift to "stern voice mode" (they have a button) and some closed-ended question and a warning to the effect that if I don't write the cheque NOW I can expect a visit from Guido and Knuckles who will gladly accept cash and a small gratuity.

But no. Instead:

"Would you mind answering a few questions that will better allow Starpower to provide you with the best service possible? It will only take a few minutes."

Phew. I was truly going to pay the bill that very day (truly) but it always sounds so lame to say that and so I was just relieved that I didn't have to offer my usual list of pathetic excuses. And I was truly going to pay it today anyway.

"Love to answer some questions," I say, trying not to sound relieved.

"Does your Starpower account regularly arrive on time?" is the first question.

"Is it clear what services are being charged for?"

"Is it clear when the due-by date is?"

"Have you ever experienced any ambiguities on your Starpower account that make it difficult to interpret?"

"Is there anything at all confusing about the layout of the Starpower account?"

"Is it clear what payment methods are accepted by Starpower in settlement of you account?"

"Then what exactly is that is stopping you from writing the cheque right now and sending it to us, you moron?"

Actually, she didn't say that last bit. But then again, she didn't need to.

So what a great new bill reminder service they have, I thought, almost managing some admiration for their cunning. The rest of the questions she asked me, which I'm sure were just inserted to make it look like a real survey rather than the passive-aggressive debt collecting technique it actually was, were all of the type: "On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is neo-liberalism and 10 is an economic system that doesn't require you to eat your children, how would you rate the following Starpower services?"

She also asked me what the primary language spoken in our household was and even laughed a bit when I said Australian, proving she either wasn't a robot at all as I had started to suspect or was a very good one.

Actually, the best bit was when she asked me for my email address. Um, you're my ISP, but anyway: tinota at Starpower dot net.

"Tinota at where?" she asked, convincing me it was all a hoax.

I paid the bill.

Friday, August 23, 2002

EMAIL me


MANY TIDES to STEM

Robert Corr makes a brave attempt to stem the tide of abuse probably coming his way from the thinking wing of the Australian blog world, by which, of course, I mean the right. Robert had made the tragic mistake of giving a suspected illegal immigrant the benefit of the doubt and it turns out the guy was actually not from where he claimed. So I reckon Robert has a illegal immigrant's chance in Woomera of staving off the gloating. Robert, if they're willing to see kids locked up in desert camps, I don't expect they'll think twice about giving you a bit of grief.

The man involved in the case is Ali Bakhtiyari. What does his case tell us about immigration policy? Precisely nothing. Does it justify Australia's mandatory sentencing of any and all people claiming refugee status? How? Does it show that it's now okay to lock up children, such as Bakhtiyari's? How could it?

Precisely what are the grounds for gloating?

Mr Bakhtiyari's crime was to have claimed he was from Afghanistan when he wasn't. He apparently came from the luxury playground of Quetta in Pakistan where he was a millionaire playboy and family man waited on hand and foot by tag-team bands of women dressed like Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie. His aim, perhaps unusual when you consider his aforementioned living arrangements, was to be accepted as a refugee when he wasn't. He has failed.

Ken Parish says:

I have acted for quite a few asylum seekers over the last decade, every one of them on a pro bono basis. However, frankly, that makes me even angrier about the Ali Baktiaris of this world. Public support for Australia's continuing commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention is already fragile enough without a revelation of this sort of scam.

Well, I can see that what they did was illegal, but I don't quite understand the accusation of "scam". I'm more inclined to agree with Rob Schaap's assessment in this regard:

So what I wanna know is why is escaping a country benighted by poverty,
internecine warfare, nuclear threat, and externally orchestrated attacks
on its every attempt to run itself democratically not the act of a bona
fide refugee? If I were Ali, and if I discerned no likelihood that the
rest of the world might help Pakistan (if only be leaving it the hell alone),
I'd want my family out of there, too. Because I love my family. If I were
Ali, I'd probably conclude that the possibility of escape to a western
country is so important to the future of my children that even a year or two
in a desert rat-cage is a price worth paying. Obviously, if he thought otherwise,
he wouldn't do it, would he?


You can diminish the argument all you like by calling me (and Rob and Robert) "bleeding hearts" or whatever else, but that doesn't alter the fact that there are, as Ken points out, "a seemingly permanent worldwide refugee and displaced population of around 35 million people." And we need a better way to deal with this than "border controls" based on vilification, self-satisfaction and the mandatory detention of children.
EMAIL me


TEARS OF A BLOG

Back in 1986 a painting by Picasso, called Weeping Woman, was stolen from the National Gallery of Victoria (in the world's most livable city of Melbourne, Australia) by some group who then tried to ransom it in return for increased arts funding.

The interesting thing was, when word got out, the gallery filled up with people who went to see spot on the wall where the painting no longer was. In fact, more people came to see the absence of the painting than had ever come to see the painting itself.

I mention all this by way of saying hi to the many people who have come to this blog via the excellent Electrolite site. They were kind enough (as it turns out) to mention the fact that my blog may be hard to read and it seems a good number of people have come over to examine my absence of legibility. In which case, they will not be able to read this. So I'll just wave. Or make a noise.

UPDATE: So now I've fiddled with a lack of expertise that is truly breathtaking. Is that any better? Hello?
EMAIL me


THE IMF'S VERY OWN GROUND ZERO

Nathan Newman links to this NYTimes article about rebuilding the WTC site in New York. While the broader debate about this is interesting, I just wanted to take up a small point that arises from the article, which in part, says this:

Two troubled agencies of postwar global economics, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, in fact were supposed to be in New York City, beyond the influence of Washington politics. We should invite them back from Washington — warts, demonstrations, leadership and all — and give them a home and put them to work in the context of a cosmopolitan city wired differently into the globe.

Well maybe. But if the object of the game is to put the World Bank and IMF " beyond the influence of Washington politics", then I'm thinking that a NY City location doesn't really help that. You're still inside the Beltway, so to speak.

But the idea has merit, so why not take it a bit more literally and relocate the IMF and World Bank to say, Lagos, or the Aceh Province in Indonesia, or some other developing nation location? That way, the guys who make all the decisions about "rescue packages" and impose "conditionalities" on such countries would not only be away from the direct influence of any Beltway lobbying, they would be much more accessible to their actual clientele, and more importantly, would get a much clearer view of the effects of their policies.

A three year post at IMF headquarters in Abuja or Lilongwe might be an interesting conditionality in its own right.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

EMAIL me


PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS OR PUBLIC AS INTELLECTUALS

John Quiggin blogs a brief comment about Richard Posner's lame book, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. Quiggin notes that "Although we are allegedly living in a globalised world, it is evident that the market for public intellectuals remains nationally segmented. Each country, it seems wants to hear its own policy problems discussed in its own accent."

I would agree with this up to a point: right up to where we reach an understanding of the implicit definition of a "public intellectual". The ramifications are interesting, especially for bloggers.

Posner's argument, almost identical to the one made by Russell Jacoby nearly 15 years ago, is that there has been a decline in the quality of public intellectuals and it is largely because of the professionalisation of the "thinking and talking" set within the contemporary university. As Quiggin sums up Posner: "Posner argues that the growth of the university system has provided a natural career path for intellectuals, but one that is inimical to the set of qualities required of a public intellectual. According to Posner, academics are too specialised in their knowledge, and lack the orientation to a general audience required."

Part of the problem with many discussions on this topic is the difficulty people have in defining "public intellectual". Even where a formal definition is given, rather than just presumed, it is often misleading, inadequate, or embodies a number of assumptions that speak to the biases of the writer that are left completely unexamined. Nonetheless, most discussion presume the public intellectual to be some sort of iconic figure, or "famous" person, or maybe an expert who either speaks in the public sphere about their specialised topic or uses the cache of their expertise to speak more generally on a range of social issues. Read enough books on the topic and an actual definition of an "intellectual" or "public intellectual" (a distinction that itself highlights a particular tension within our understanding) becomes something of a phantom, not unlike Walter Lippmann's idea of a "phantom public".

My approach has been to come at it from a different angle.

Most accounts of intellectuals over-emphasise the role of certain charismatic individuals in defining the requirements of intellectual practice. By de-emphasising the role of these charismatic individuals who participate in the production, distribution and interpretation of ideas or knowledge, and who might through the public sphere or civil society perform a broader, public “intellectual function”, we are able to a focus on the idea of an “intellectual practice”, an involvement with knowledge—social knowledge—that is available to everyone. And I mean everyone.

John Dryzek, an Australian political scientist once wrote that “one might argue that political education, participatory action, and successful social problem solving could together help constitute a community fully capable of steering its own course into the future. The distinction between citizen and expert would lose its force.”

What I am saying is that there is a strong overlap between the idea of a "public intellectual" and an active citizen, and if we stop concentrating on "the" intellectuals and think instead about intellectual practice, then the distinction between the two melts away - or at least somewhat.

I'm not saying that this means "we are all intellectuals" in some Monty Python sense. But I am saying that the distinction between "the" intellectuals and the citizens is often overstated and tends to be anti-democratic, assigning the vast mass to the passive role of spectator in most societal debates.

And here's what I'm really getting at. Blogging changes all that, to an extent that wasn't imaginable even a year ago. By giving an increasingly legitimate forum to anyone who can hold the attention of an audience (are you still there?) blogging has provided at least one of the technical means of dissolving the division between intellectual and citizen.

Rather than being in decline, as it is fashionable to suggest, the category of "public intellectual" in this sense is exploding.

Put simply, bloggers are the new public intellectuals. You heard it here first.
EMAIL me


CRIKEY IS WRONG AND MIRANDA WON'T BE HAPPY (OR GAY)

The Australian Democrats have installed Brian Greig as their new leader. Online watchdog journal, Crikey, who played a part in breaking the story that led to the turmoil that led to the change of guard at the Dems says this:

Can you believe it folks? Rupert's London Sun 20 years ago might have
called the latest Democrat fiasco as follows: "P*of prevails as B*ong
Blackballed". Just joking...


Well, they might have. But Crikey just did. But were joking. See? It's how to get a poof-and-boong joke in without actually making one. Sort of. Just joking. See? Wasn't us. Might've been them. Twenty years ago. Wasn't. Just joking. See?

Then they say: "Well, we were going to have a first either way and rather than having
Australia's first Indigenous political leader we've got our first openly
gay political leader."


Actually, we got neither. Still no Indigenous leader and Bob Brown would surely take the title "first openly
gay political leader."

So now we have two openly gay leaders of federal political parties. Don't tell Miranda Devine.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

EMAIL me


FAITH BASED BLOGGING

The exemplary Rittenhouse Review (RHR) offers a spirited and spiritual defence of Pope John Paul II. Now I acknowledge, it's hard to get into this without being seen to malign somebody's religious beliefs or without being thought of as being unfair to an extraordinary person. So noted, but here goes anyway. RHR was responding to this fairly unexceptionable assessment of the Pope written by Matthew Yglesias:

The Pope is in Canada bringing a message of hope and love to the youth of the world, but one thing he won't be helping the children out with is not getting raped by their priests:

His journey here brought him within a few dozen miles of the United States, where revelations of the sexual abuse of young people by Catholic priests have thrown the church into crisis. But the pope made no mention of this, and Vatican officials did not offer any predictions about whether he would do so at the events that he planned to attend between today and Monday, when he departs for Guatemala and then Mexico.


Other point: Why does World Youth Day last a whole week? What kind of crazy religion is this?

Pretty stock standard stuff, but RHR over-reacts and as a result undermines his point, though not his faith:

Let’s see, now. A man of faith, love, hope, and conviction tirelessly supervises his flock, the largest single organized religious body in the world, for nearly a quarter-century.

Well, as Jesus himself might have noted, size doesn't matter and has no bearing at all on how we are to assess a person's faith, hope or love. True, it's a big organisation and I guess you could argue that this "says something about it" but only if popularity is your measure of truth and worth. As to "tirelessly supervising his flock", some would argue that this has amounted to an almost dictatorial control over his followers, on occasion amounting to a narrow-minded zealotry that borders on obsessive. His "adminstration's" treatment, for example, of Australian priest Paul Collins amounts almost to persecution and it saw Collins leave the priesthood. In his resignation letter, Collins wrote: "After thirty-three years I have decided to resign as an “active” priest to return to being an ordinary Catholic believer. Many people will justifiably ask: Why? The reason is simple: I can no longer conscientiously subscribe to the policies and theological emphases coming from the Vatican and other official church sources. While the reason is straight forward, the decision to resign is the result of a personal and theological process. This, of course, is not a step that I have taken lightly and I have been considering it for some time. I will try to outline the reasons in detail. The core of the problem is that, in my view, many in ecclesiastical leadership at the highest level are actually moving in an increasingly sectarian direction and watering down the catholicity of the church and even unconsciously neglecting elements of its teaching.

It was such views, developed in books and articles that brought the Australian priest to the attention of the Vatican and drew their wrath.

RHR: He is the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years.

This might indicate something extraordinary about the incumbent, though it sounds more like it says something about the prejudicial nature of the office. Though, if that's true, it might indicate something extraordinary about the incumbent. Maybe it says more about the declining number of choices for the top job and about the declining number of priests in general.

RHR: He overcomes a dramatic assassination attempt three years into his pontificate and later meets with the deranged gunman to express his forgiveness.

True, not every crime victim is so forgiving, but doesn't this pretty much come under the heading of doing his job rather than indicating anything exceptional? To have not forgiven would have been exceptional. But good on him, I guess.

RHR: He authorizes the first catechism in English since the 16th century.

Good, but also pragmatic and certainly not great. We might as well add he authorised the first Vatican website. And as the Pope himself acknowledged, the idea of making "Christian doctrine...more accessible to the Christian faithful and to all people of good will" is something that dates at least to Vatican II.

RHR: He authors numerous profound encyclicals and groundbreaking documents, including (followed by longish list).

Again, part of the job description. Not to be under-rated, but not over-rated either. Personally, I'd like his research staff.

RHR: He writes a dozen or more learned apostolic letters and other documents, including.....(followed by longish list).

Bit of a fudge to give this a separate dot point. See previous point.

RHR: He plays a critical role in undermining communism in Poland.

Here's a nice little account of the sort of contribution he made: "On June 2, 1979, one year after being named to the papacy, John Paul II returned to Poland. Despite Communist prohibitions against religious worship and public assembly, the Pope led Mass for a million people in Warsaw's Victory Square, inspiring the crowd with calls for religious freedom for all. The Pope's aim in Victory Square and in countless other pronouncements and deeds until the fall of Communism was to inspire the masses to believe in their intrinsic power to return Poland to democracy. With the simple words, "Don't be afraid," he gave them faith that they were not alone, the courage to stand firm, and the strength to press for change. Said one observer of that historic speech, "He suddenly turned up amongst these people and said, "Look, don't be afraid." And suddenly people stopped being afraid. It was like the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire. It was like the pinprick that burst the bubble. And that gave the strength for Solidarity and for the destruction of the whole Communist system."

RHR: He works closely with western leaders to help facilitate the demise of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire.

Ditto again.

RHR: He displays a consistent, unwavering, and heart-felt concern for the poor, and unequivocally and vociferously supports social justice not only in the Third World but in the developed world, in the heart of Europe and even in the United States, where he chastises greed, selfishness, intolerance, and the indignity of the lives of the poor.

I hate to be narky, but would you honestly expect anything less? And really, to open this up is to open up a whole lot of questions about his role in demonising homosexuality, actively arguing against birth control, actively arguing against protection from sexually transmitted diseases, most obviously AIDS. And I'm always seriously troubled by claims about being against greed when I consider the absolute splendor within which the Pope lives. Vows of poverty look decidedly shaky and insincere, even for first-world Archbishops, let alone the Pope himself. I know many Catholics find this argument unconvincing, but for others it has been a reason to move away from the Church. I think of people I know like Nathan Sterling, a former Catholic brother who couldn't reconcile his "poor" institutional lifestyle with his vow of poverty and left to form his own teaching and charity ministry. Such areas could be the Pope's greatest failings rather than a particular triumph.

RHR: He holds a doctorate in philosophy.

Me too!

RHR: He is fluent in eight different languages.

Always admirable.

He is a best-selling author.

No jokes about holy ghost writers, but what about his publicity department? Not to mention the ready-made audience.

RHR: He is named Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1994.

Well, it's more than I could ever hope for in terms of recognition, but it puts him in some company that sort of takes the shine off the title. 1936 wasn't a great year. Nor was 1938.
The year after John Paul II it was Newt Gingrich.

RHR: He visits more than 125 countries and his very presence draws millions almost everywhere he goes.

This is the size matters argument again. And it just overlooks the fact that it says nothing much about the bloke himself, though maybe something about the office, the publicity machine and the captive audience.

RHR: Approaching death he canonizes two of the most worthy of the blesseds, now known as St. Pio of Pieltricina and St. Juan Domingo, traveling all the way to Mexico for the latter event.

These two worthies not withstanding, JP II has canonised more saints than any other Pope, I think more than many others combined (from memory), and has thus devalued this particular coin of his realm. Standards have been relaxed in the interests of "providing worthwhile examples." Sort of like what has happened with the honours list in Britain, where even Mick Jagger and Alan Greenspan have been deemed worthy of dubbing. This, to my mind, is a substantial failure of his Holiness.

RHR: Nearing death he travels to Canada for World Youth Day, an event of such significance and filled with so much activity that it lasts a week.

I know this is a direct response to Matthew Yglesias, but it's not much of a comeback. The "near death" appellation seems designed to add a bit of gravitas to a pretty stock standard Papal gig.

RHR: Is there another religious figure alive today whose accomplishments even approach those of John Paul II? To ask the question is to answer it.

Well maybe, but the competition isn't fierce. I really don't want to diminish a man who is genuinely extraordinary in some ways, but this sort of OTT one-eyedness does his cause no good. As Matthew Yglesias clumsily suggested, the Pope's handling of the current sex-abuse scandal involving the Catholic Church in the US (and most recently, Australia) has left a lot to be desired and suggests an organisation out of touch with many of its own followers and hopelessly mired in an outdated and positively dangerous mindset that is driving even believers away in large numbers. For all his achievements, JP II will leave a Church weaker and more divided than when he took over 25 years ago. It's not all his fault, but you have to accept some of the blame when you are installed as the infallible (or pretty damn nearly infallible) head of such a powerful organisation.
EMAIL me


ONE MORE TO ADD TO THE LIST OF CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

First it was SUVs that had to be banned NOW! And now it's gays. Miranda Devine is starting to seriously undermine my faith in the stricture that says the left is the home of oppression and the right is the undying champion of individuality and personal choice. Still, it's hard to fault her logic. Consider this spectacular example of why the right (however inconsistent it may be) always gets the smartest people to articulate its causes (even when they contradict its other causes):

It is perhaps a sign of the times that last Sunday, The New York Times announced its world-famous Weddings page would include homosexual unions for the first time, under the title: "Weddings/Celebrations".

"In making this change, we acknowledge the newsworthiness of a growing and visible trend in society towards public celebrations of commitment by gay and lesbian couples," said Howell Raines, executive editor of the Times.

In that case, why not make the Obituaries page for dead people as well as almost-dead people? You could call it: "Deaths/Close Shaves". It makes as much sense.


You may need to read that a few times to fully appreciate not just the wit with which it is laced, but the wisdom too.

Miranda also enhances her credentials as a lover of freedom with this list of problems with bloody gays:

After all, the modern society that Greig likes to cite is already benignly tolerant of homosexuality. There is no longer any stigma attached to homosexuality, no discrimination, not even a raised eyebrow.

Dreadful, isn't it. How did we come to this? Tolerance! The very idea.

Homosexual relationships already have almost the same legal protections as heterosexual marriages, with automatic inheritance of a partner's assets if there is no will and couples living together able to sign the equivalent of a pre-nuptial agreement to divide property in the event of a break-up. Increasingly, even the stuffiest corporations are recognising the same-sex partners of their employees and conferring privileges that used to be available only to spouses.

Gays kiss on prime-time TV shows without protest. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has become so mainstream that it's unfashionable. Society's attitude is basically that what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms is nobody else's business.

But that is not enough, it seems. Activists will not rest until homosexuality is treated as just another sexual preference in life's infinite smorgasbord, just as desirable as heterosexuality, if not more so. Failure to go along with the equivalence argument will result in heavy penalty, as Archbishop George Pell has discovered.


I guess that's the same George Pell who has been charged with child molestation? So speaking of "equivalence arguments", I guess we are meant to infer a connection between paedophilia and homosexuality? Or is the point of this non sequitur to imply that the Archbishop has been set up by "gay activists"? George Pell deserves a presumption of innocence, but the accuser in the case also deserves not to be dismissed as merely vexatious long before any evidence has been heard. I guess this would be another example of the conservative right's much vaunted respect for the rule of law.

And truly, I love that line: "Activists will not rest until homosexuality is treated as just another sexual preference..." As opposed to......?

She is also far too modest when she asserts: "There are no heterosexual activists..." apparently forgetting the subject of the column she is the process of writing. The same absent-mindedness is apparent in this line too: "Against such fervour who has the energy to resist?" Well you do, Miranda. Remember?

And she is not nearly thoughtful enough when she says: "Anyone who believes that marriage should remain a union between a man and a woman primarily for the purpose of nurturing children is branded a bigot, a religious zealot or a far-right-wing conservative/fascist responsible for inciting gay hate crime in the community."

I mean, she's completely left out hypocritical, populist journalist, heterosexual activist sucking up to the powerful factions in the Coalition.

Yes, we lefties have a lot to learn about individuality, freedom and keeping big government out of our faces.

EMAIL me


CATALLAXY'S GUEST WORKERS

One of the admirable things about the Catallaxy blog (and there are many) is their habit of having guest bloggers, turning the site into the perhaps paradoxical creature we might call a Hayekian collective. No doubt they would argue that it's not a collective, just a group of individuals, but as I am sure they must also think that there is some added value in having a range of writers that improves the site as a whole, then I would suggest that their practice lends weight to the idea that a society, or even a multi-person blog, is something more than a mere quantum of participants.

Anyway, good on them and bless their latent socialist hearts.

Nonetheless, there are guests and guests and I think in the case of Mark Harrison they ought to apply the well-known fish/guest rule, namely, that guests, like fish should be tossed out after three days. Or if you prefer, three posts. In which case Mark is past his use-by date. As both Robert Corr and John Quiggin have suggested, he's letting the team down (or should I say, he's letting the aggregation of individuals down).

Put this under the heading: gratuitous advice from a well-meaning admirer.

BTW: when are you guys going to get a comment facility? Or is that getting just way too communal?
EMAIL me


NEW BLOG TO WATCH

They say that a new blog is put up every 40 seconds at the moment and in the last 40 seconds the one that went up is by Ken Parish. He kicks off with a great piece on Sydney Archbishop and accused paedophile, George Pell (a story even the NYTimes picked up on). Ken's comments about the prime minister's intervention are spot on.

I suspect Ken will be claimed by both left and right in the ongoing blog-debates but he will rightly eschew both labels. I know his work from a discussion list we were on together and can safely say he'll be a great contributor to any discussion regardless of where you think he falls on the left-right axis. Go have a read.
EMAIL me


THE CASUAL LOOK GOES OUT of FASHION? PICTURES from the GOLF WAR

Thomas Friedman makes the following observation today that a number of others have made (most hilariously, The Daily Show):

Two weeks ago I was in New Delhi watching CNN, when on came President Bush talking about the need to deal with the threat from Iraq. I had no problem with what the president was saying. What bothered me, though, was that he was saying it in a golf shirt, standing on the tee with his golf clubs. Up to now Mr. Bush has conducted the war against terrorism with serious resolve. But he shows real contempt for the world, and a real lack of seriousness, when he says from the golf tee, as he did on another occasion: "I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive."

I tend to agree, but if memory serves me right, the previous President Bush was often filmed on golf courses during the Gulf War and this was regularly interpreted (by the likes of the NYTimes) as an indication of how in control, relaxed and on top of things he was. Admittedly I don't think he ever juxtaposed war plans and his golf swing quite so starkly, but still. Is Friedman's comment just another indication of the low regard in which Junior is held?

Monday, August 19, 2002

EMAIL me


THEY LOVE ME; THEY LOVE ME NOT

I can imagine Saddam Hussein pulling petals off a flower and becoming a little confused.

While Cato reports: "In the first tangible signs of a logistical buildup around Iraq, the
Pentagon is sending weapons and other supplies to the Middle East that
could be a critical part of the war stocks if President Bush decides to
attack President Saddam Hussein..."


others are reporting the Russia/Iraq economic agreement:

The five-year agreement will deal with cooperation in a variety of fields -- foremost oil, but also electrical energy, chemical products, irrigation, railroad construction and transportation, according to officials here. Soviet or Russian specialists built much of the infrastructure in Iraq, and so Baghdad wants Russian expertise to help repair or upgrade it.

And I think the WaPo is way understating the case when they write: "Russia's apparent refusal to abandon its longtime ally, despite vigorous U.S. efforts to isolate Iraq, could make it even more difficult for the United States to rally Russian and other skeptical world leaders behind any invasion."

With Russia being widely touted as America's new best friend, including visits by Putin to W's dude ranch etc, it must be a bit more than a bummer for the US to see Russia signing up to such an agreement.

Bugger Saddam being confused: so am I. Can't imagine Russia being too pleased if Iraq is now leveled. Perhaps some weblog general could explain.
EMAIL me


A PS FROM CRIKEY

After my very temperate remarks about Crikey.com.au the other day, I emailed Stephen Mayne on the off chance he was interested. No word back, but I did notice this in today's update: CRIKEY'S GLOSSARY OF NICKNAMES which at least addresses one of my concerns. Sort of.
EMAIL me


TALKING ABOUT THEMSELVES TO THEMSELVES

The IMF Institute had a three-day seminar recently on the topic of Globalization in Historical Perspective. No, correction, that's a "high level seminar".

In the interests of a full and open debate, and in keeping with their new transparency "The seminar is open to all Fund staff and invited guests from IMF member countries. Staff from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank are also welcome to attend."

As Anne O. Krueger said in her opening remarks: "Modern globalization has been a recognized force around the world for at least three decades. Academic journals, newspapers, TV specials, and political discourse are dominated by globalization events, and their impact seems to be ubiquitous. For most it is a good force, but for a very angry minority it appears to be very harmful."

Well, we can see why they didn't invite any critics: they've already decided what the critics think and have decided to be condescending towards any dissent. Either that or they couldn't find anybody who would fit this strawman description who was willing to show up and argue it.

Nonetheless, you can find out what lines the boys and girls who were invited were thinking along by checking out some of their background reading (pdf alert).

PS: Given Jason Soon's recent comments about neo-liberalism and views on immigration, it might be interesting to chase down some of what was said along these lines, as expressed in Krueger's opening remarks:

For labor markets we can ask: when migration is open and free, who does the migrating and why? What are the economic and demographic conditions that matter most in source and destination? What impact does the migration have on the sending and receiving economies? Which residents gain and which lose with a rise of foreign immigration and domestic emigration? What happens to migration flows when restricted by policy; and what is the source of the policy restriction? It should be clear that many of the questions raised about trade and commodity market integration apply here to migration and labor market integration. Indeed, how do the two interact? Is trade a substitute for or a complement to migration?

The reading list seems to have a few related articles (eg).
EMAIL me


DON is ON

Don Arthur over at A Hail of Dead Cats is having a good week. Go and read some of his stuff if you have a moment; it's worth a visit.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

EMAIL me


HIS FOOT, INSTEAD OF THE TARGET

Thanks, at least, to Paul Wright for linking to this. In it, Robert Manne is pilloried for saying Kissinger is a "hawk":

In addition to dishonesty, Robert Manne (see the post below) demonstrates another failing in the opening sentence of his SMH column: In calling Kissinger an "old hawk", he parades his ignorance.

Then Manne is pilloried for saying that Kissinger has argued against attacking Iraq:

Kissinger says: "The imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the huge dangers it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system, the demonstrated hostility of Saddam combine to produce an imperative for pre-emptive action."

Yes, let's repeat what Manne's nominated naysayer actually believes: There is "an imperative for pre-emptive action."


It's a bit hard to reconcile the argument that Kissinger isn't a hawk with the argument that he wants a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, ain't it? Then again, consistency should never get in the way of a good rant.
EMAIL me


THE WAR about the WAR that isn't yet a WAR CONTINUES

The Australian Democrats have written a letter to The Australian outlining their take on any war on Iraq and Paul Wright, predictably, condemns it:

Since Saddam has the proven ability to reach Tel Aviv by missile, Stott Despoja is condemning the people of Israel to death, because there is no way that any strike at that point could stop a missile getting through. She is prepared to have third party civilians incinerated, rather than have the nerve to say "this regime is unacceptable for these reasons, and more civilised nations have the right and obligation to remove them".

This line of thinking seems to be reasonably representative of those weblog generals who want a war now, no waiting. It is a mixture of the now-standard rightwing hyperbole without which no rightwing blogger is allowed to proceed--"Stott Despoja is condemning the people of Israel to death", "She is prepared to have third party civilians incinerated"--the now-standard equivocation without which no rightwing blogger feels he/she can mount an argument--that is, the elision between Iraq is a threat to Israel therefore "civilised nations" can attack it whenever they want, defying the international and local laws that define the very civilisation that weblog generals claim to be defending--and the complete lack of recognition that the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes they are endorsing may well be a green light for other, potentially worse encounters, such as that, most obviously, between India and Pakistan. The only thing missing is an actual argument.

By coincidence, The Washington Post has published this piece by Bruce Ackerman that addresses some of these issues and oddly, I found it more compelling than Paul's if-you-say-it-loud-enough-and-often-enough-it must-be-true approach, which is the now standard rightwing doctrine without which they are not allowed to proceed. Ackerman writes:

American support for restraint was tested most famously by the Israeli attack on an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. The Israelis claimed the right of preemptive self-defense, but the United States joined in a Security Council resolution condemning the raid as illegal. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was characteristically blunt: "Armed attack in such circumstances cannot be justified. It represents a grave breach of international law."

But do such Thatcherite certainties make sense against the current terrorist threat? Law evolves, and it is certainly arguable that international law should now recognize a right of self-defense in certain unprecedented cases. Let's assume a repeat of the 1981 scenario, with the Israelis offering compelling evidence of an Iraqi threat to their very survival as a nation. Shouldn't they be authorized to preempt such an attack without the prior authorization of the Security Council?

Perhaps, but it is a big stretch to expand this doctrine further to include America's present complaints against Iraq. It is not just a question of establishing that in fact Hussein has developed weapons of mass destruction (and we haven't proved that yet); it is also a question of what he could do with such weapons. While Iraq's missiles can reach Israel, they can't touch American soil. Before the U.S. government can claim to be acting in self-defense, it must present compelling evidence that terrorist groups linked to Hussein, or Hussein himself, are both willing and able to launch an imminent attack on the American homeland.

Unless the administration can make this showing, it will create a devastating precedent for India or Pakistan or China when they, too, seek to evade the Security Council by invoking an open-ended and fact-free notion of "preemptive self-defense." If the president's new doctrine is acceptable at all, it is only after making a compelling factual demonstration to Congress that there is a clear and present danger and that there is no practical alternative to a preemptive strike.


The weblog generals, before they go ballistic and start bashing up the leftwing pacificist strawman with whom they have been "debating" of late, might like to note that none of this rules out an attack on the abhorrent Iraqi leader. It just asks that those doing the attacking provide a reason and some evidence for their claims. And it asks that they consider somewhat more fully the ramifications of what they are so gung-ho for. If it's such an open-and-shut case, why don't they just make it instead of yelling at everyone all the time?

Anyway, the article is worth a look.
EMAIL me


LIAR, LIAR

Back in the days when I was a poor lefty--instead of the five-bathroomed, SUVed jetsetter of legend--I sometimes had to choose between books and food. One cold Melbourne morning, back when Robert Holmes a Court was the darling of the Australian business pages, I chose to buy a secondhand book by Laurens van der Post instead of my three day supply of two-minute noodles. The book included the stories that formed the basis of the movie Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and even now I can't think why I chose it over noodles, or perhaps even another book. Anyway, at the time I wanted to read it and coughed up the money. A little later a friend lent me van der Post's book about Carl Jung, which was pretty turgid writing, though there was an interesting bit about Hamlet in it.

So I was never a big fan of Sir Laurens, though for some reason I felt that I should've been. The fact that he was best mates with the jug-eared heir to the Australian throne, HRH Prince Chuckles, wasn't a big point in his favour. Seems that wasn't the least of it.

In a nice review in today's WaPo of new Van Der Post biography, Matt Steinglass reveals that apart from living one of the most interesting lives you could imagine, Sir Laurens was actually a pathological liar of a grand order:

Handsome and charming, van der Post honed his storytelling skills by spinning Munchausen-esque whoppers. He fantastically claimed to be a seasoned whale hunter, to have served as military governor of Indonesia, and to have personally negotiated the transition to black rule in Zimbabwe. A captain in the British army, he spent his entire time in the POW camps pretending to be a lieutenant colonel; amazingly, he got away with it. Worst of all, the man whom admirers dubbed "the white Bushman" seems to have drawn all he knew of Bushman culture from a single two-week encounter in 1955. In the 1980s he parlayed his half-invented tales of Bushmen and Zulus into a role as Margaret Thatcher's unofficial South Africa adviser, and very nearly ran England's Pretoria policy off the rails.

Other tidbits include:

Why would someone blessed with a range of experiences that most writers would kill for nonetheless feel compelled to embellish them? Was it not enough that his father had fought the British in the Boer War; did he have to claim his grandfather had fought them as well? Was it not enough that he spoke Afrikaans, French and a bit of Japanese; did he have to claim to speak fluent Japanese, plus Malay, Russian, Zulu and several African languages? Was it not enough that he led a camel train from Sudan into Ethiopia to fight the Italians; did he have to claim he personally escorted Emperor Haile Selassie into Addis Abbaba?

Not surprisingly, he was also a womaniser:

Van der Post seems to have seduced them without a moment's difficulty, and with as little hesitation. He left his wife, Marjorie, and their two children for Ingaret Giffard, the wife of a good friend. In between and on the side there were countless affairs: with the poet Lilian Bowes Lyon, who became his literary mentor; with his secretary in Indonesia; with a lawyer's wife who cast him a glance in a courtroom. On the boat between Capetown and London, having just divorced Marjorie to marry Ingaret, he somehow managed to become secretly engaged to the 17-year-old daughter of a wealthy South African industrialist. Nothing came of it, but he later seduced her 15-year-old sister. And had a child by her, whom he refused to recognize.

As to that book about Jung that I read:

...van der Post was a cherished friend of the great quasi-mystical psychiatrist Carl Jung. Maybe. That, at least, was what van der Post claimed. . . . •

Later today I might go and buy the biography and some two minute noodles.