Saturday, October 19, 2002

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DAY 16 -- UPDATE 2

Over dinner tonight I suggested that this guy will break his "never on a weekend" pattern and sure enough, unfortunately, he has. A man has been shot outside a restaurant in Virginia. He is in hospital being operated on:

ASHLAND, Va. (AP)--A shooting at a Ponderosa restaurant Saturday night was being investigated for connection to the string of sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C. area. The victim, a 37-year-old man, was rushed to a hospital and undergoing surgery, authorities said.

State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said portions of Interstate 95 were immediately shut down as police set up road blocks. She said it was too early to tell if the shooting was related to the sniper.

Maryland State Police Sgt. William Vogt said troopers were on the lookout for a white van with a ladder rack. A sniper task force was on its way to the scene, said Montgomery County police Capt. Nancy Demme.


This has all the lements of the other killings, including, unfortunately, the clean get away.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 16 -- UPDATE

Matthew Dowdy was arrested yesterday for giving false evidence to the police about seeing the sniper, his gun and his van at the site of the last murder. Is Dowdy an accomplice to the sniper or, indeed, actually the sniper?

The evidence is pretty circumstantial. OrificeWorld suggests:

I now see a link between the holding of Matthew Dowdy [and the new information about the shell casing found in a rental van]. He is due to appear for hearings on Monday. We are also now told that we'll get information on the forensics of the recovered shell casing on Monday. Could that be one and the same time?

There's also the fact that there have been no more murders since the one Dowdy "witnessed", which is actually more compelling than the Monday morning coincidence mentioned by OW.

Unqualified Offerings speculates: Could Dowdy be the shooter? The driver? Just malicious toward cops, who, after all, have been a baleful presence in his life? Or did he think there might be a little money and fame in appearing to be closer to the action than he really was?

Well, you could answer yes to all of them. UO's Tentative Theory? "Dowdy is an accomplice of the shooter and they're hoping he'll give the killer up over the weekend."

My tentative theory: Dowdy has nothing to do with it and was just looking for his fifteen minutes (blog equivalent: 1500 hits via Instapundit). Why do I think this? Because Dowdy's involvement looks way too amateurish for what so far has been a fairly meticulous operation. Still, isn't there a police saying to the effect that there's no such thing as a coincidence?

What I want to know is why no-one is mentioning the tarot card any more?

BTW: a pox on Blogger which has been down for hours. Also, here is Dowdy's police record.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 16

Put me down as sceptical about this new evidence regarding a shell case found in a white rental van. I'll be glad to be proved wrong, but what are the chances of this meticulous, well-organised murderer renting a van and then returning it and conveniently leaving a shell case lying around in the back?:

Bethesda, Maryland - Authorities have seized a white box truck in which a shell casing was found, a possible lead in the 17-day hunt for a sniper terrorising the American capital, police said on Saturday....Police were alerted to the truck on Friday afternoon by an unidentified rental car agency near Dulles International Airport in suburban Virginia, said police captain Nancy Demme of Montgomery County, Maryland....She said it was too soon to say whether the truck or the casing had anything to do with the sniper killings of nine people and wounding of two others in the Washington this month.

As Unqualified Offerings notes, it hasn't even been confirmed as .223 calibre. I guess this could be something, but we should discount the Matthew Dowdy explanation at this point either, Dowdy being the guy arrested yesterday for giving false evidence after the last shooting.

Anyway, let's hope it's the clue that busts the whole thing open; I'm just not holding my breath. BTW: Although we ostensibly inhabit opposite sides of the ideological divide, Unqualified Offerings is a great site and worth a look if you haven't already. Sure, there's not nearly enough liberal stuff there for my money, but I'm still adding him to the permanent links.

Friday, October 18, 2002

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SHOOTINGS DAY 15

First the good news and the bad news: No shootings. No arrests.

Well, actually, that's not quite right. They have in fact arrested the guy who gave them false information after the last shooting:

Virginia authorities on Friday arrested and charged a witness accused of intentionally misleading investigators by falsely claiming he saw a cream-colored van with a burned-out taillight at the scene of a sniper shooting.

Matthew Dowdy, 38, of Falls Church, Va., was charged with making a false statement, said Isabel Benemelis, spokeswoman for Fairfax County, Va., police.


Good news, and I don't really see that they had any choice. Here's his mugshot.

As I dropped my son (Noah, aged 6) at school this morning he said, "I hope we can play outside today." He remains blissfully unaware of the reason for this "lockdown" but he sure is sick of it. So, too, are the teachers at his school, as you could imagine. And today was a particularly beautiful autumn day here in DC. Even over this weekend I will be reluctant for us to spend too much time outside, in a park or a playground or whatever. Even the front yard seems dangerous.

AMBITION

If we get through this weekend without another person shot, without another bomb going off in a nightclub or a childcare centre or a federal building somewhere in the world, without opening a letter filled with anthrax, or another country revealing it has nuclear capabilities, without the President or the Prime Minister or the Grand Wazoo of some country or other telling us that war is inevitable, that freedoms must be curbed, then most of us will count it a good weekend.

Of course, we can count on none of these things, whether we live in the suburbs of Canberra or an apartment in Manhattan. We are all connected by the universal grammar of fear, revenge, hate and disappointment. And mostly, of uncertainty. No-one really knows what to do about the problems that confront us. For the all self-righteous proclamations by politicians and commentators no-one on earth knows what to do.

The only thing worse than that sort of uncertainty is, of course, certainty itself. The fundamental conviction that some have that they know what is best for all of us. They're the ones who really scare the crap out of me.

Still, what Dickens said: the best of times and the worst of times. It applies. And we in the west are better off than most. We're better off than anyone in history, most ways you look at it. Who'd trade it? Who'd even say we don't deserve it? But ultimately, it has to be big enough to go round.

A fellow Australian, the novelist Patrick White, once wrote that courage is just fear running in the right direction. He gave the thought to a character fleeing a hail of debris during the Nazi Blitzkreig on London. A time that must have seemed like the end of the world. Or the end of a world. Which it was. Who'd have thought any semblance of civilisation could survive that second world war? And who'd trade what we have now for some other time? Not me. But we have to make our fear run in the right direction.

This is as far as my thoughts go on this Friday evening. My ambition extends no further than a trouble free weekend for you and yours wherever you live on this planet of zero degrees of separation. It's a start.
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TWIN CITIES SPIN

Read this article and I think you'd get the impression that this candidates debate in Minnesota last night was dominated by foreign policy issues, specifically, the proposed war against Iraq. Here are the opening paragraphs:

The major party candidates for U.S Senate talked about a variety of terrorism-related concerns at a League of Women Voters debate in Rochester. For the first time since the State Fair, all four major party candidates were on the debate stage....A sports arena at Rochester Community and Technical College served as the venue for the fifth U.S. Senate debate. About 1,000 people listened as DFL incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone, Republican challenger Norm Coleman, Independence Party candidate Jim Moore and Ray Tricomo, from the Green Party talked about several issues....Many in the crowd were students. Wellstone supporters easily outnumbered Coleman backers.... When the issue of war with Iraq came up, Coleman drew jeers as he explained his support for the recently passed Congressional resolution that allows President Bush to take action against Saddam Hussein outside of United Nation's channels.

However, I just spoke to a friend who was at the meeting and he assures me that Iraq only came up as the last question asked. Before that, three journalists on the stage each got to ask a question. The first asked about the meat industry; the second asked about civil liberties in the wake of 911; and the third asked about gun control. Then it was questions from the audience. There were nine of these over the course of the next half hour and they included a question about transportation funding, one about education, one about prescription drugs and one about corporate responsibility. The sole question about Iraq was, as I say, the last one asked, and the discussion went pretty much as the article describes.

Two things strike me about this: the first is the extent to which certain media can be perfectly factual in their reporting and still give a completely misleading impression, perhaps to suit their own agenda. The second is simply to notice the extent to which, in this very tight and important race, domestic issues dominated. It is doubly interesting in that the Democratic candidate, Paul Wellstone, has been outspoken in his opposition to the war (which in turn, as Ruminate This and Les Dabney report, has done his poll figures no end of good). This all flies in the face of most media reporting and perhaps doesn't bode too well for GW Bush and co. come election day.

On the subject of GW, Daily Kos has an interesting graphic showing a "poll of polls" graph, suggesting Bush ain't travelling as well as you might think. Nothing too conclusive, but interesting trends.
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DOUBLE STANDARDS

As readers of this article will realise, I've never held with the idea that the Australian government's current approach to refugees and asylum seekers speaks to a deep-seated racism within the electorate. As much as I hate the policy and would like to see it replaced with a more humane, less frightened approach, I have not seen it as pointing to fundamental moral flaw in our makeup.

What I want to pick up on is something that I don't think has been mentioned. In the wake of the Bali massacre, pretty much the same people who tell us now that it is cowardice to back down in the face of terrorism, that we have to be internationalist and join the US in all its wars and endeavours, are the self-same people--from John Howard down--who not twelve months ago were telling us that we had to lock down our borders and keep out a handful of asylum seekers who threatened our very way of life. These "boat people", we were assured, had jumped queues. They might be terrorists. They threw their children off boats and weren't the kind of people we wanted here.

It is fair to say that, however unreasonable some of this was (the children overboard thing has been shown to be a government lie, for example), it was at least explicable in terms of legitimate fear. In the wake of September 11, everyone suddenly felt a whole lot more vulnerable, and what was beaten-up by a government desperate to hold onto power as an influx of unstoppable numbers of illegal immigrants, perhaps rightly caused people to pause and to want to put up the barriers. The right was utterly contemptuous of anyone who dared to question this reaction.

It is the same right now who, in the immediate aftermath of Bali, wish to dismiss any calls for disengagement because of fears of further attacks as some sort of leftwing pandering to unappeasable terrorists. Having previously argued that there was a legitimate fear from what turned out to be a handful of boat people, they will not give an inch to those who wish to disengage from international involvement in processes that might bring us to the attention of the kind of murderous thugs who blew up the nightclub in Bali. This strikes me as the sort of double-standard from which the right likes to think of itself as immune. Clearly it isn't.

The fact is, while the events themselves are in no way commensurable, the reaction to the "boat people" and the reaction to Bali are both part of the same sort of concern and neither is to be dismissed lightly, let alone with contempt. Elements of the left did it at the time of the Tampa incident, and elements within the right are doing it now. Both are wrong.
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A FEW QUICK NOTES

For some reason, traffic to this site has increased markedly over the last few weeks. This is great, and I hope people stick around and continue to find stuff of interest. With the increase in site traffic has come an increase in email traffic too, and I just wanted to say that I will respond to everyone over the next few days. I appreciate people taking the time to write thoughtful responses to what I scribble here. A final point is to note some new additions to the links list, all worthy of your attention:

Tapped (which I really should've had up earlier)

TBogg (if I haven't already mentioned him)

Alas, a blog

Newsrack

Mad Musings

Thinking it through

Daily Kos

Avendon Carol

Thursday, October 17, 2002

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SHOOTINGS -- MATTERS ARISING cont'd

Here's a pretty fascinating interview with the family of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, who talk about their growing suspicion that it was a member of their own family responsible for a series of bombings that occurred over an 18-year period (18 years! Doesn't bear thinking about). The article is basically suggesting that some family member of whoever is responsible for the Washington murders is going through the same thought process that they went through. Probably true. But the article is interesting for a number of other reasons, not least this:

David Kaczynski (Ted's brother) lives outside Albany with his wife, Linda Patrik, a philosophy professor. After many years as a youth counselor, he is now executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, an issue he cared about even before it entered his life so directly. He's been following the Washington sniper story closely and wondering who might know what.

He said he bristles when he hears officials, like Attorney General John Ashcroft, talking up the death penalty, even before an arrest is made. That goes against the whole concept of American justice. And there's also a more practical problem with the death-penalty talk.

"It would have a powerful chilling effect on any family member who might be out there," Kaczynski said. Sending a loved one to prison is tough enough. "But no way will a loving family member ever say: 'He'd be better off dead.'"


Pretty compelling argument against gung-ho politicians and commentators mouthing off the usual "tough on crime" slogans for the usual self-serving reasons.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 15

No more shootings in almost 48 hours now. Obviously this is great, but with the guy/s still not caught it raises the spectre of one of the more disturbing scenarios: what if he just stops? How long do we keep schools locked down and ducking and weaving as we fill up our cars? Any extended cessation would simply increase the tension, not reduce it. The fact is, the shooting hasn't stopped because he's thought better of it; it has stopped because of something like the police getting too close or simply as an attempt to ratchet up the anxiety, as part of a ploy in this hideous game he is playing.

Meanwhile, forget everything you've heard. Forget about cream coloured vans and men with olive complexions. This information, all emanating from one witness to the most recent murder, has officially been deemed unreliable:

Fairfax County Police Chief Tom Manger said an earlier witness report about a cream-coloured van spotted at the Home Depot where the latest shooting occurred is not credible. Compounding the troubled probe, Manger also said descriptions of the weapon used and a possible suspect also turned out to be unreliable. The gunman was variously described as dark-skinned, olive-skinned, Middle Eastern and Hispanic.

I just heard head of the investigation Chief Moose say that punishing the guy who gave them this dud information was not at the top of priority list. As well:

Asked if the witness may have intentionally misled investigators, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, who is heading the investigation, at first said: "I'm moving forward." When asked the question again, Moose simply said, "Yes."

Well, taking action against the phony witness wouldn't be top of my list either, but I reckon it might be second. As would an investigation into this "witness" as some sort of accomplice.

More than any other clue, the "fact" of an olive skinned person being involved has ignited or reignited the idea that this is Middle Eastern terrorism. Now, of course, it might be Middle Eastern terrorism--we can't rule it out--but all things considered, this was one of the less likely explanations. One of the more likely is that this is some gun nut with a chip on his shoulder about not getting in the Marines or something. I know this is as potentially prejudicial a conclusion to jump to as the terrorism one, but I haven't jumped to it as a conclusion. I just think it's more likely. Needless to say, phony information is less than helpful.

As it stands, there is still some credence in the reports that there is a white van of some sort involved. However, this has always struck me as problematic, simply because it is such an unlikely get-away vehicle. Much more likely is that the van is a decoy driven off by an accomplice. The sniper then either walks away or jumps into another vehicle. All of this, of course, speaks to a level of pre-mediation and planning that is truly disturbing. It even lends credence to the idea of some sort of professional operation, that is, a terrorist group. I mean, who knows? But too much doesn't really add up and as the police have really clamped down on the information they are giving out, we are all just guessing. But guessing is one of the few things we can do to calm the nerves, so I'm not knocking it.

BTW: Saw some of the ramifications of all this outside Noah's school this afternoon. I was there a little early and was sitting in the car on the street outside. Suddenly a police car stops on the other side of the road, the blue lights start flashing and the cop gets out. He walks over to the vehicle that had just pulled into a spot three spaces behind me. It was a white Chevy Astro with ladder racks. The owner was asked to get out (yes, he had an olive complexion, but I'd hate to have to guess his ethnicity) and present his licence. The cop took down the details and looked inside the van, rather too cursorily for my taste. All the time, the olive skinned man was laughing and shaking his head, being very good natured about it all. Eventually the cop left and the guy went about his business, but this confirms, I guess, that the "white van" evidence is still in play as far as the police are concerned.
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TWO POINTS ABOUT IRAQ AND NORTH KOREA

I know I'll muddy my honest lefty credentials with this, but I reckon Hitchen's was right the other night on Hardball (about this anyway - some of the rest of the time he was near to incoherent, but who could think straight with the Chris Matthews thrashing machine bleating in your ear everytime you tried to speak). Anyway, here's what he said:

MATTHEWS: Who started the fight between us and Iraq? Iraq or us?

HITCHENS: Well, I think that we encouraged Saddam Hussein to become an overly mighty subject. He’s another of the clients who turned upon us like Noriega, like Milosevic, like all these other people. They’ve ruined our first cold war era.

MATTHEWS: It’s blow back.

HITCHENS: It’s blow back, sure, but I think most people on the left use that as a copout saying we were so wrong then, we are bound to be wrong again. I would say first, it doubles our responsibility to the Iraqis and the Kurds and the people who we let down in that time. It means we’ve inherited a responsibility to them.

This is about the only good and absolutely pressing reason for invading Iraq - because we (I use the royal, or should I say, the imperial 'we') put Hussein there in the first place when it suited our interests and we therefore should do something about getting him rid of him. In this (installing, encouraging, ignoring Hussein) the right is probably more culpable than the left and it just makes all their moral self-righteousness of late sound more pathetic than usual. No-one has clean hands in this.

The second point has to do with North Korea and their recent admission of having a nuclear weapons program. This is an obvious point and has already been pointed out by, for example, Daily Kos and Hesiod: since all the reasons for invading Iraq RIGHT NOW also exist in North Korea, doesn't it mean we have to invade North Korea RIGHT NOW too?
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A NOTICE for AUSTRALIANS in WASHINGTON D.C.: re BALI COMMEMORATION

The Prime Minister, the Hon. John Howard has said Sunday, 20 October will be a National Day of Mourning for those who died in the terrorist attack in Bali on the 12th October and the many injured, bereaved or otherwise affected by this evil event. A minute's silence will be observed in Australia at 12 noon.

The Australian Ambassador to the US has invited Australians living in the Washington DC area to join him and Mrs Thawley at the Residence (3120 Cleveland Ave NW Washington DC) for a cup of tea or coffee at 11.30 am this Sunday 20th October. A minute's silence will be observed at 12 noon.

ALSO This seems to me like a better way to commemorate this disaster than sending flowers: The Australian Red Cross are coordinating an appeal.

UPDATE: A friend just phoned in after signing the Australian Embassy Bali condolence book. He noticed the name Colin Powell already in there and heard a whisper that Senator Clinton was on her way. After me giving the Administration a small serve about their lack of acknowledgement, this is all good too see. As is the fact that US Senate will pass a motion of condolence either this afternoon or tomorrow.
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CLIVE JAMES is a BIG FAT IDIOT

A number of people have linked approvingly to this Clive James article in The Guardian. One of the things they seem to like is that Clive has some disparaging words for Australian intellectuals who have been less than complimentary about their nation of birth. Clive writes, for instance: "I couldn't resist caning the Australian gauchiste commentators for their persistence in representing Australia as racist, exclusionist, illiberal and immature."

Now I agree one hundred percent that some Australian intellectuals need to be caned in this respect. In fact, I built my entire PhD around examining the proposition and devoted a chapter to documenting examples of the behaviour and analysing how they had come about. But there are two points I'd like to make about Clive's attack. The first is that he suggests very strongly that this is a behaviour of the left, that it is/was leftist intellectuals who had this superior, down-the-nose attitude to the "ordinary Australian". The particular people he quotes (seemingly plagiarising Gerard Henderson's list from an earlier article) are all considered to be of the left: Ellis, McCalman, Leunig, Pilger.

But this is bogus. Holding "ordinary people" in contempt is a practice finely honed by intellectuals on the right as much as on the left. People like Frank Knopfelmacher, Vincent Buckley, Keith Hancock, Leonie Kramer, not to mention Barry Humphries have written at length and with blinding, boring repetition about how dumb, anti-intellectual, unsophisticated and, to use James's word, gauche "ordinary Australians" are. In fact, their ire was not limited to "ordinary Australians" but was often directed at intellectuals themselves. It was an absolute standard of Australian social and political discourse that "Australian intellectual" was an oxymoron. And the reason it was was because, how could expect such a hopeless bunch as the "ordinary Australians" to produce anyone worthy of the title?

So let's make this clear: if you are going to disparage Australian intellectuals on the grounds that have denigrated their compatriots then you are nothing but a liar unless you choose your examples from across the political spectrum.

The second point to make is that one of the worst offenders in this regard is Clive James himself! I find it absolutely hilarious to read him now purring softly about the wonders of his homeland and chastising the naysayers. This is a guy who has made his career out of being the official spokesman of educated Australia, returned to the "mother country" (a phrase that James is quite comfortable with) to make fun of the poor saps he left behind. This is a guy who is the living embodiment of the superior Australian intellectual who was so disgusted by the "gaucheness" of his country of birth that as soon as he was old enough, he got on a boat and moved as far away from it as he could and has stayed there for the past forty-five years. He only comes back if we pay him, a practice he makes constant reference to through out his self-serving article. This is a guy who owed his acceptance within British society to his willingness to tip buckets on the country he left behind.

I lived in London for three years and got sick and tired of the likes of Germaine Greer and Clive James being wheeled out by the media every time they needed a view on something that had happened in Australia. The media used these guys cause they gave good copy: they were "real Australians" who were willing to say disparaging things about their homeland. They fulfilled that role in British society that all countries need: someone from somewhere else who was willing to joke about, insult or belittle the place they came from. Having such people is useful because it means that, rather than making fun of other cultures yourself, you can get someone from that culture to do it for you: it's just as funny and it rescues you from being labelled "insensitive" or even racist. James fulfilled this role with relish. In the process he became the worst sort of self-aggrandising pommy suck-up you can imagine, returning to Australia, for instance, to lecture us about the wonderfulness of the monarchy and how we should not reject the Queen in the republican referendum, and writing embarrassing, adolescent poetry declaring his undying love for the likes of Princess Di.

If Clive has finally seen the light and realised that what he fled all those years ago has actually turned out to be one of the better places on God's earth in which to live, that's great. But to come over now as the hero of "ordinary Australia" and write such paeans to its quotidian wonderfulness and scold leftist intellectuals for doing now what he has spent his whole professional life doing is hypocrisy of a grand order.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

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ONE FOR THE COMPATRIOTS BACK HOME

Matt Welch recommends Tim Blair's website for "passionate and intelligent" coverage of the Bali bombing. Each to his own, I guess. Australian blogworld might be interested, however, in this reflection the post attracted in its comments box: I've also been reading Aussie reaction but aside from Blair the literatti POV appears to be, "if we weren't such bad boys in supporting the U.S. this wouldn't have happened". The U.S. reaction to an attack is "Let's Roll"; the Aussie reaction is "Let's Roll Over".

Ooh ah - cuts like sandwich. Anyway, is that how you would characterise reaction back home, fellow bloggers? Be honest now. No silly point scoring. We some distance away would be interested to know.
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SHOOTINGS -- SIDE EFFECTS

Apparently Hollywood has decided not to release a new film about a sniper:

"Phone Booth," which centers on a man who answers a ringing pay phone and learns he will be shot by a sniper if he hangs up.

I'm glad they're pulling it because it sounds less like a movie plot and more like a phone company promotional campaign. Don't want to give them any ideas. More interesting is the new film, "Tuck Everlasting, in which Alexis Bledel stars in an adaptation of Natalie Babbitt's novel about a mysterious spring." Yes folks, the long-awaited movie about the discovery of the pogo-stick.

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BLOGGING CRYOGENICS

A few people are making an admirable effort to save blogging from the curse of instant obsolescence. Ken Parish does his weekly picks of Australian blogs, and for the last few weeks Bigwig over at Silflay Hraka has been posting and hosting Carnival of Vanities - a compendium of the best of last week's posts on various websites, running the gamut from here to there, as Skippy puts it. Such projects are a great idea and worthy of support.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 14

We have gone another twenty-four hours without incident, mercifully. Are the shootings causing people in my neck of the woods to change their habits? Well, here is one bit of completely anecdotal speculation that suggests maybe they are. I often use the Peapod internet grocery service--you place your order online and they deliver. Normally, I can choose a delivery time for any time the day after placing the order. Yesterday when I placed an order, all the delivery slots were taken right through till Friday afternoon. Might be other explanations but I wonder if more people than usual are using this service to avoid walking through carparks?

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

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HOT BUTTERED ABSOLUTELY CORRECT

James Russell provides a bit of balance and stocktaking about what's important in assessing the ramifications of the Bali atrocity. No-one "owns" this tragedy and there are plenty of valid reactions within the general sense of despair and outrage. (BTW: permalink seemed dodgy so I replaced it with a site link: scroll down to "Blair's sniping at The Age.")

Meanwhile, I went in and signed the Condolence Book in at the Australian Embassy today. I resisted the urge to write: Condolences from the writer of The Road to Surfdom website (see post below). Lots of flowers are arriving and displayed in the foyer area. Spoke briefly to someone there and they said they were waiting on word from Australia about an appeals fund and they would provide information on the website about how people in the US could contribute. Having thought about it a bit more, seems to me flowers are a nice thought but they're a bit token. Might be better to wait for the appeal fund and donate the cash.

Speaking of cash, tenured Murdoch journalist at The Australian, Mark Day, found the inevitable silver lining on the cloud that hangs over Bali:

If there is a silver lining to this tragedy -- a hard call at this time -- it perhaps exists in the Australian tourism industry. Since September 11 the entire sector has been flat. Air traffic has been slow to build again after the Twin Towers attack, and it will fall away again after Bali....But the obvious reluctance of Australians to now travel to offshore holiday resorts should translate into more people travelling within Australia. We will, quite reasonably, believe we are safer here than overseas, even though we recognise that terrorism itself recognised no borders....The lure of places such as Bali has been the exotic. Yet, in this great continent, we have resorts, holiday places, and adventurous things to see and do, which are more exotic than anything Bali could offer....Perhaps it is time to return to one of the slogans of the Cold War '50s and '60s -- Go See Australia.

Well, someone had to say it, right? Wrong.
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THE RIGHT ARE ALWAYS SO...RIGHT

Glenn Reynolds, the brain behind Instapundit, seems to think that expressing sympathy for Australian deaths in Bali should be an opportunity to promote his fellow rightwing bloggers. He suggest that people might like to send flowers to the Australian Embassy here is Washington, which is a nice idea. Unfortunately, he then decides that this is an appropriate sentiment to write on the card: "As a reader of Tim Blair's website I wish to express my sincere condolences in response to the Bali bombing."

Not that it is ever likely, but had he used my blog in that way, I'd ask him to remove it. You express sympathy for the dead: you don't even mention something completely irrelevant to the moment.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 13

Police have confirmed what everyone suspected--and what I rather hoped--that the latest murder is linked to the previous shootings. Ballistic evidence confirms it:

Virginia police have confirmed that the woman killed Monday night is the ninth fatality in the Washington D.C. area sniper attacks. Fairfax County Police Chief Tom Manger says ballistic evidence has conclusively linked the murder of 47-year-old Linda Franklin to the series of shootings that began October 2. Ms. Franklin was shot dead by a sniper in a Fall Church, Virginia shopping mall parking lot as she loaded packages into her car with her husband.

It is worth making some attempt to keep in mind the very particular individual tragedies involved in this larger event, so here is a list of all the victims:

James Martin

Martin, 55, was killed Oct. 2 at a Shoppers Food Warehouse in Wheaton, Md., as he was picking up food for his church's youth group. Married, and the father of an 11-year-old son.

Sarah Ramos

Ramos, a 34-year-old Salvadoran immigrant, was one of four people fatally shot on the morning of Oct. 3. She was killed as she sat on a bench waiting for a ride to another job.

James 'Sonny' Buchanan

James 'Sonny' Buchanan was a landscaper, and was mowing the grass as a favor to an old customer when he was shot dead early Oct. 3.

Premkumar Walekar

Like Sarah Ramos and Sonny Buchanan, Premkumar Walekar, lost his life to a sniper's bullet on the morning of Oct. 3. Walekar, a 54-year-old taxi driver from Olney, Md., was shot and killed as he pumped gas at a station in the Aspen Hill area. Walekar came to the United State from Bombay, India, in 1968. Walekar's wife was returning from working a night shift at a nursing job when he passed her as he headed for work, driving a cab in Washington, according to Walekar's brother, Vijay Walekar. They waved to each other, and then went their own ways. Walekar then stopped to get gasoline at the service station where he was shot.

Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera

Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, was a graduate of the Northwest Nannies Institute in Oregon. She found the work she sought in the Washington, D.C.-area, and had just dropped off her 3 ½ year-old daughter at day care on the morning of Oct. 3. She then stopped to clean her car at a gasoline station when she was killed.

Pascal Charlot

Charlot was a 72-year-old retired handyman who also liked to do favors for people, according to a neighbor. Charlot was killed on the night of Oct. 3 as he stood on a street corner in the nation's capital, just making a trip to the store. He suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the chest.

Dean Meyers

Meyers, a project manager at an architectural engineering firm, was killed Oct. 9 at a Sunoco gas station near Manassas, Va. Meyers, 53, was a Civil War buff who loved the outdoors-hiking and canoeing-and who also gave rides in his classic Chevy Corvette, family members said.

Kenneth Bridges

Bridges, 53, was shot to death on the morning of Oct. 11 at a gas station in Fredericksburg, Va. A family friend remembered him as a man who would take long walks with his wife, and celebrate birthdays with his four daughters and two sons.

Two other people, a woman and a thirteen year old boy, have also been wounded. The woman has been released from hospital, but the boys remains in a critical condition.

UPDATE

It turns out that the woman shot to death last night outside a Home Depot store in Virginia was an FBI agent. No-one is making anything of it as she was off duty, not in uniform and it seems unlikely the sniper would have known about her occupation.

There's also some pretty mixed reports on the radio and telly about new clues etc. Seems police might have a witness who saw the killer actually pull the trigger, get in the van and drive away. They might also have a partial licence plate number. Might, might, might.

Monday, October 14, 2002

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DAY 12 - ANOTHER SHOOTING

So much for suspects? Another woman has been killed by a single shot in an incident in Fairfax County, Virginia. More to follow.

UPDATE: Have just been watching the CNN coverage. Nothing much is known with certainty but all the elements are there: a single shot; a white van; road blocks; no-one caught. Police are speaking to 2 witnesses. The latest victim is a woman who was getting into a car in the parking lot at a strip mall, coming out of a Home Depot store (like a Mitre 10, for the Australians in the audience). No obvious connections with any of the other victims. Interesting to note that this one is at night and somewhat closer to DC than each shooting since the first day. This guy is certainly not getting scared off.
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A SUSPECT

Baltimore police are questioning a man after being called to a domestic dispute on Saturday. The man was shot by his girlfriend. He drives a white Astro van. He is an ex-Marine marksman. He works as a two-way radio repair guy with a route through MD, DC and Virginia:

As police staged a huge manhunt, stopping many white vans after such a vehicle was seen at the site of some shootings, police in Baltimore about 35 miles north of Washington said they were questioning a 38-year-old former U.S. Marine.

The man, identified only as a white male from south Baltimore, drives a white Chevy Astro van. Investigators found him in possession of a high-powered rifle, ammunition of the same caliber used by the sniper and a book on snipers.

He was not charged or arrested and police did not immediately draw a link between him and the shootings. Baltimore police spokeswoman Ragina Avarella said, "There were suspicious circumstances which alarmed police."


No way can we jump to conclusions. If this is the guy, then hopefully the police will not take shortcuts and a conviction can be had. If it isn't the guy, then hopefully he can be released quickly and genuinely eliminated from inquiries.
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WASHINGTON SNIPER A DEMOCRAT ELECTION PLOY

I got this story via Thinking it Through, run by Thomas Spencer, another new addition to my links. He mentions this article in the Chicago-Sun Times that quotes a pro-gun group who have suggested that the sniper shootings in the Washington DC area are part of a ploy to get gun-control advocates re-elected. The newsletter of the Illinois State Rifle Association says this:

"Of course, most of you have heard about the sniper killings in Maryland this week. And, as expected, the gun grabbers are blaming law-abiding firearm owners for the carnage. Squawks include demands that centerfire rifles be placed under Class III jurisdiction," states the Roundup.

"Far be it from us to advance conspiracy theories, but the timing of this sniper activity is unsettling,'' the newsletter continues. "Maryland has one of the hottest governor's races in the country, certainly hotter than that in Illinois. The central theme of the Maryland race is gun control. Things heat up. There is this off the wall series of sniper killings. Murder made to order for the antigunners. Hmmm, weren't there some other high-profile mass gun killings at strangely convenient times?"


I'm sure you think there were. There is also this choice bit from another rifle association article. In it they are upset that a gun control group is having a writing competition:

"The state's largest gun-grabbing group will hold its yearly group-grope on the Federal Plaza on Monday. Certainly all the antigun politicians will be there tripping all over each other to see who will portray themselves as being the most antigun. Intermixed with all the damning statements about the NRA (most of the folks in the crowd can't even spell NRA) will be silly awards for silly poems and a sappy story from some mom whose honor student kid was gunned down at 3 a.m. on his way home from the library to choir practice.

"Of course, we'll hear how the little angel wanted to be a doctor. Question, how come all these dead kids wanted to be doctors? Obviously, wanting to be a doctor is the problem, not guns."


Well, you can't accuse them of not having a sense of humour. What's funnier than a dead kid?
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THE GOSPEL OF ANGELA SHANAHAN

Can someone explain to me the logic of this article by Angela Shanahan about the Bali bombings? She begins with this observation:

Kuta Beach has become almost a byword as a hang-out for the ugly Western tourist, particularly the Australian variety. You couldn't find anywhere that better represented all the nasty aspects of Western cultural imperialism. No wonder fundamentalist Islamists chose Bali to set off a few bombs.

Cruel, isn't it? But wait! She was only joking. She was lulling us into a false sense of outrage so she could turn the tables on those wicked people who are not completely gung-ho for a "war on terrorism" and an invasion of Iraq:

At this point there will be some readers shaking their heads in dismay at this callous elitism. But, ironically, it's a view unwittingly shared by many who have, until now, taken the "softly softly" approach to terrorism and to a possible war with Iraq. The attacks on Western institutions from September 11 onwards are often seen as a sort of reasonable payback for the evils of US foreign policy and cultural hegemony.

Let's forget for a minute her own moral equivalence here. Let's forget her attempt to smear those reluctant to engage in wars with the accusation of "blaming the victims", as if the two inevitably go together. But let's get this straight: she has pointed out the godless, hedonistic behavior of Western tourists in a foreign land as an explanation for Islamic outrage, but she has done this only to make the point that some people in the wake of September 11 also suggested that Americans "had it coming". Therefore, we can presume that any such "blaming the victims" behavior is understood to be abhorrent.

Okay, she's made her point. So what does Angela think is at the heart of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism? Let's go through it:

Until Sunday I was also sceptical that a case had been put for a strike against Iraq.

Wait a minute. Doesn't that make her one of the people "who have, until now, taken the "softly softly" approach to terrorism and to a possible war with Iraq"? Did anyone get the impression she was talking about herself in tricky reverse-logic accusations quoted above?

She goes on to say:

If I were a US citizen, I'd probably have no hesitation in going to war against Baghdad. But was there such a threat, as the US President puts it, "to all freedom-loving peoples" to satisfy the concept of a just war? Sunday convinced me that there is.

The possibility now is not that young Australians will be killed fighting Saddam Hussein but, as the carefree, freedom-loving young internationalists most of them are, they are more likely to end up targets of fundamentalist Islamic terror groups, as did Australians in Bali and in the World Trade Centre.


Okay, so she's allowed to change her mind, with no accusations of moral equivalence against her. But why exactly does she think fundamentalists are targetting "carefree, freedom-loving young internationalists"? She says:

AUSTRALIA is not a bellicose nation. As a traditional conservative in a nation full of traditional conservatives, I believe that the Islamic-Western polarity is not just a result of US cultural and foreign policy dominance. It's also a result of our abandonment of values and core institutions such as the family and the church. Since World War II, which in Churchill's words was fought for "Christian civilisation", we've witnessed the decline and derision of that solid core of belief and values that underpins liberal democracy.

So apparently, even though she has already condemned some for suggesting it, "US cultural and foreign policy dominance" is part of the problem. It's just not the only part. The other part is the decline of Christian values (let's forget the nonsense about "liberal democracy" being underpinned by Christianity: it is in fact underpinned by a secularism that arose in opposition to Christian influence over government - she needs to dust off her Adam Smith). To repeat, she says:

As a traditional conservative in a nation full of traditional conservatives, I believe that the Islamic-Western polarity is not just a result of US cultural and foreign policy dominance. It's also a result of our abandonment of values and core institutions such as the family and the church.

And she reinforces and extends the point by calling in a quote from authority:

As Anglican social affairs writer Melanie Philips has declared: "The further Western society retreats from its core morality, the more it opens the way for Islam to fill the gaps left by Christianity in full flight from its own beliefs. If enfeebled Christianity no longer identifies itself as the spiritual pastor of the culture it founded, then Islam will move into the vacuum."

So apparently, all those "carefree, freedom-loving young internationalists....[who] are more likely to end up targets of fundamentalist Islamic terror groups" have their abandonment of Christian values to blame. This, according to Shanahan, is the problem: the very western secularism and hedonism that she had previously suggested it would be wrong to blame. She ends up being too clever by half and gets caught in her own lack of logic, and, some might say, her own particular fundamental beliefs.

Besides, consider the craziness of the idea that what is happening is that Islam is moving "into the vacuum" created by a weakening of Christian values. Islam is not "filling the gaps" in a society bereft of faith as Shanahan is suggesting: its extremist, fundamentalist loopy wing is blowing holes in buildings because, apparently, they too are appalled by this godlessness. Can you honestly think of a time when Islam was less appealing to most Westerners and less likely to fill any spiritual gaps?

Let's be clear about this: personally blaming John Howard or Alexander Downer for people being killed in Bali is offensive. But so is blaming people for not being good Christians in the way that Angela Shanahan defines the term. Not only does she contradict her own argument as the article progresses, she manages to hold a whole society responsible for the action of criminals because it no longer conforms to her particular interpretation of The Bible. Seems the conservative Australian right is well capable of producing its own unfounded slurs when it feels the need.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 12

Today is Columbus Day in Washington DC, and many businesses are closed. The schools are closed down too, but my son is out with a friend and his family visiting a dinosaur exhibition. My wife had to work, as did I. This is what we have come to mean by "continue with your normal life": you do it, but there is no comfort in it, let alone courage. At least there have been no more attacks.

William Safire has an article about the killings in today's NYT. He makes a number of very good points about media coverage:

Our media megaphone heightens the fear. A free press cannot be ordered to play down the news — and a manhunt for a serial murderer has always been news since Jack the Ripper — but now this local murder spree is national news, and the time and space to cover it sustain a nationwide tension.... We in the media should cover serial crime without being overwhelmed by it, pulling in leads from alert tipsters without putting out panic and without elevating thugs to antiheroes.

Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have read his own article, and the rest of the piece has the dubious distinction of being the first mainstream media article to actively canvas an al Qaeda link plus to point out (in a non-fear-heightening sort of way, you understand) that even if al Qaeda aren't involved, "and even if, as expected, the relentless rampage turns out to have been the work of one or two crazies, the example will not be forgotten in the cells of Al Qaeda. People in and near the world's great cities will be in danger of similar sieges instigated by terror networks."

So in trying to calm us with gratuitous advice such as, "It's undeniably worrisome; but if worrying is our thing, we have much else to worry about," (which is right up there with "don't put the camp fire out with your face") he then puts forth the idea that hey, even when this is over, and you're feeling a bit more secure, you'd better watch out cause al Qaeda have been watching and learning. Funny, his "half-dozen thoughts about countering pervasive fear" don't really seem to survive the rest of his article.
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BLOG COVERAGE of BALI BOMBING

Just about all the Australian blogs listed in my links section on the righthand side have good coverage of this latest atrocity. However, check out Zem for a comprehensive and well-organised list of links to various stories dealing with all aspects of the attack.
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US COVERAGE OF BALI

The first twenty-four hours of television coverage here in the US was pretty disappointing I'd have to say. Although you'd expect it to concentrate on American casualties, there has been almost no recognition of how serious and devastating this has been for friend and ally Australia. Whether Australians were specifically targeted or not, the majority of those killed were Australians and I think it is worthy of a statement from the President, or at the very least, some senior member of the Administration. As far as I can see, no such statement of sympathy for the appalling loss of life has been issued. At least the media, though, has started including a few statements from John Howard in their coverage.

Just speaking to my brother, and he has friend in Bali at the moment and has no news on his well-being. I would imagine this kind of connection is being repeated ad infinitum back home.

In the meantime, there are some responses around to my post below. I guess it was inevitable that some would decide it was a fisk of Tim Blair. Such interpretations do make it difficult to have the necessary discussion about these issues. But then again, they are so predictable and so knee-jerk that you'd almost be disappointed if you didn't get them. Almost. Given that I basically agreed with Tim's conclusions, though not his approach, I can only recommend that people read what I said again.

I'd also recommend people read John Quiggin's thoughtful posts (start here and scroll up) on the topic. Like me, he seems to be looking for some breathing space in which a useful discussion can occur: "For me, the most depressing feature of discussion of the Bali bombing (apart, of course, from the images of the event itself) has been the eagerness of partisans on both sides to score points on the Iraq issue. Opponents of war were ready to blame Howard even before there was any good information on the likely perpetrators of the crime. Meanwhile supporters of war had their counterattacks in print (or posted on weblogs) without even waiting for the other side to start."

I think Jason Soon makes a good point too, about not forgetting the effect on the Balinese themselves. And thanks to Hesiod for his comments and for posting the Australian flag on his site, which I take as a memorial to those who lost their lives.

But I keep thinking of Gareth Parker's post about how we are watching history happen rather reading about it later. Seems about right to me.

Sunday, October 13, 2002

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ON ONE LEVEL, PREDICTABLE

Well, so much for appeals to better natures. It took about two minutes for Ken Parish to come out with this unedifying comment on my post about Tim Blair's coverage of the Bali bombing.

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).

Excuse my anger here, but give me a break. It was not a fisking and I tried to pose it in such a way so as to avoid that particular knee-jerk response. It was an attempt to keep the discussion on a level above the usual tit-for-tat garbage that can infect these debates. I'm truly surprised that Ken of all people couldn't see that.
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PLEASE EXPLAIN

Who can't understand Tim Blair's outrage at the senseless killing of people in Bali. The trouble is, he seems to be directing his anger in the wrong direction. I don't make this point to belittle anyone's concerns or even as some lame attempt at fisking. But this event, the bombings in Bali, require something beyond disgust at people who write letters to newspapers.

Tim quotes a couple of letter-writers:

"Instead of using our advantage of isolation from the world's trouble spots to counsel for peace, he has squandered it."

"The Bali blasts could be a consequence of the constant bellicose statements by Mr Howard and Mr Downer on their war against terrorism."

"Their desire to be seen as world statesmen, farewelling the troops, lecturing other leaders on international strategy, has made each one of us a potential target."

"Stop making us a target. Don't involve us in a war which can only create great suffering in the short term and antagonism towards us for decades to come."


His response?: LETTER WRITERS to the Sydney Morning Herald – Indymedia's print edition – have decided that Australian Prime Minister John Howard is to blame for the Bali attacks. Why? Because he opposes terrorism, and supports moves to destroy terrorism.

Their wise counsel: Say nothing. Do nothing. Better to cower than to speak.


Even allowing for his outrage, this is just nonsense. No-one is blaming John Howard for the Bali attacks, as Tim asserts. Even the letter that ostensibly comes closest to such an interpretation merely asks if John Howard's comments "could" have played a part. Why is this such a criminal question?

What's more, Tim even makes a tacit acknowledgement that the letter writers are correct in their assessments. He himself acknowledges Howard's position, and the thrust of his "analysis" is that Howard is right to oppose terrorism and that we just have to stand up to such attacks. So he actually agrees with the letter writers who obviously make the same connection between the bombings and the wider "war on terrorism" of which we are part. The difference is in how each decides to react to this connection. The letter writers seem to want--as far you can tell from such brief pieces--some sort of distancing of Australia from the US "war on terrorism" and its associated concerns. Tim wants to go all the way with the USA and "stand up to" terrorism.

I'd suggest that both are valid positions and Tim should acknowledge the fact and engage in the arguments rather than simply trying to belittle anyone who dares to think differently from him. Sure he can get angry in the process, but this "I'm gonna get you" stuff is just silly. If he's got arguments, let's hear them rather than this confected outrage at a few people who wrote to the SMH (note: I am not saying his outrage at the bombings is confected.)

His ire is aimed at a SMH editorial as well

STOPPING TERROR breeds terror, according to a typically disgusting editorial in today's Sydney Morning Herald:

The question is whether external actors are manipulating nascent, radical Islam inside Indonesia, or whether international events - in particular US war plans for Iraq – are, themselves, creating a new breed of Indonesian terrorists.

Kind of like the way WWII created wave after wave of German and Japanese militants. Or the way communism thrived after it was confronted in the late '80s.


The historical comparisons are invalid. We are talking about terrorism versus imperial expansion. Still, I'm happy to see him try and offer some sort of historical context. That is all the SMH is doing too. In fact, The Australian editorial does it too--it makes the explicit link between the 911 attacks, Australia's support of the US and our involvement in the war on terror.

The fact is, trying to stop terror will breed more terrorism, at least in the short term. This doesn't mean we should accept it or not respond or not be outraged, but surely if the Bali bombings prove nothing else they prove this? The Bali bombings are awful proof that trying to stop terror breeds terror. Why does Tim think this happened now? Just coincidence? So why is the editorial disgusting? It is just starting a truth than is almost banal in its obviousness.

In fact, compare these two statements, the first from the "disgusting" SMH editorial and the second from the editorial in The Australian which I'm pretty sure Tim approves of:

The destruction of the Sari Club, and a large part of the adjoining nightclub district, has shattered any illusions Australians may have had of their immunity to the heightened tensions of the post-September 11 international environment. There was also a potent message in the simultaneous explosion at the nearby US consulate. The attacks appear linked to the war on terrorism, albeit in a form which is not easily understood or addressed. As such, they have brought terrorism to Australia's doorstep.
...................
The Bali bombings expose the lie that September 11, 2001, was simply an attack on America AUSTRALIA is in mourning. The sense of sorrow mixed with disbelief, outrage and fear that followed the September 11 attacks last year in New York and Washington consumes us again. Except this time terrorism has come to our doorstep, to the holiday home away from home that is Bali.

The words mirror each other; the sentiments are identical.

Nonetheless, the editorials do ultimately diverge. The SMH is more speculative, considering possible options rather than recommending a definite answer:

But with no group claiming responsibility it is almost impossible to formulate an effective response. Some will argue the bombings strengthen the case for Australian support of Washington's war on terrorism. However, we must also question whether the present, aggressive direction of US foreign policy is, in itself, proving counterproductive. While Australia and other Western governments must intensify pressure on Jakarta to shut down radical Islamic groups, this is easier said than done.

The Australian, like Tim Blair, is in no doubt:

We must resist the pressure that is already building for Australia to withdraw from its alliance with the US against terrorism, to "protect" ourselves from future attacks. This would be both disloyal and against our national interests. We are involved in a war against terrorism not because we are the US's allies but because we are a Western democratic country.

For what it's worth, I think there is good sense in The Australian's (and therefore Tim's) conclusions. We are involved and a response is warranted. But doubt is not a crime. Considering alternatives is not reprehensible. God forbid that we ever live in a culture that blindly adheres to one line of thought and disparages all dissent. The SMH editorial and letter's writers are not handing Australia over to al Qaeda. They are just not convinced by the certainty of the editorialists at The Australian or of Tim Blair.

And if Tim was outraged by a few letters to the SMH and an editorial, then I think he's going to be really angry about what Crikey has had to say about the matter. There's no link, so I'll reproduce the whole piece from their free email newsletter:

Our war correspondent, Hugo Kelly, assesses the PM's response:

John Howard underlined yesterday just how fundamentally weak is
Australia's plight in the war on terror. With the nation reeling from
the Bali attack and looking for leadership, Howard could offer no real
hope that justice would be done. "We're going to find out who did it, if
we can," he told Richard Carleton on 60 Minutes, looking upset and
powerless. Howard knows who did this - religious fundamentalists linked
to al-Qaeda from the country with the world's largest Muslim population,
and our immediate neighbours to the north, Indonesia.

But he is in no position to do anything about it. Compare Howard's
wimpish words to the pugnacious pronouncements of George Bush Jnr after
September 11 that the US would get Osama Bin Laden "dead or alive" and
that in the war on terror, the rest of the world was "either with us or
against us". The difference, of course, is that the US can back up its
rhetoric with force. Howard and Downer, in ignoring Lyndon Johnson's
maxim to "talk softly and carry a big stick", have set Australia up for
this terrible retribution.

Howard is the PM whose campaign platform at last November's election was
how secure we would be under his leadership during turbulent times. Now
the terror has hit the fan, just how safe do we feel? Howard has no pull
in Indonesia - President Megawati barely talks to him, and has been
effectively harbouring the chief suspect in the Bali attack, Abu Bakar
Bashir, spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group. It's
ironic that the man who would have been PM, Kim Beazley, had developed
much closer relationships with key Indonesians in the security
apparatus, especially during his term as defence Minister, and would
have been far better placed than Howard and Downer to get results with
Indonesia in the fight against terror.

Howard yesterday refused to acknowledge the obvious fact - that his
government's bellicose war talk has led to the deaths of scores of young
Australians. Take his bizarre rationalisation that this could happen to
any country - and that citizens of anti-war Germany had been killed in
terrorism attacks, therefore the terrorists were undiscriminating in
their targets. All the windy talk by Downer of leading the fight against
terrorism has now been exposed as empty, dangerous and self-defeating
rhetoric.

Yesterday, Howard at least had the chance to acknowledge that the Bali
disaster was a price we paid for taking the lead in a war that must be
won. His weak attempt to deflect responsibility underscored Howard's
tragic lack of moral and intellectual leadership.


This, it seems to me, is all perfectly valid speculation. I want to to know why it is considered by the pro-war-on-terror people like Tim Blair as out of bounds, worthy only of contempt.

Tim will probably ignore this post. It's not his usual style to engage in cross-blog discussion: it's generally a quick, sharp put-down. That's fine. But I've actually got more respect for Tim than people might suspect, so here's a challenge. If you do respond--in fact, if any of the usual rightwing head-kickers respond--instead of trying to fisk me into the middle of next week, calling me an appeaser and anti-American and unAustralian and all the rest of the lame arsenal of personal insults, try and respond to the substance of the points made, which is: without giving an inch in terms of our outrage against terrorist attacks like this, isn't it incumbent upon all of us to also examine the circumstances under which such things happen? What is wrong with saying that it is our involvement on the American side of the "war on terror" that makes us vulnerable to such attacks? Isn't that actually what you yourself said? What is wrong with questioning that involvement and wondering if we can insulate ourselves against such attacks? What is wrong with pointing out the inadequacies and hypocrisies of Howard and his minister's responses?

Keep the discussion fierce and committed, but let's not turn this latest act of terrorism into another excuse to unpack the usual ideological baggage. It's more important than that. Australian blogging had a good week last week. Let it continue in the face of this latest atrocity.

BTW: Crikey has an excellent piece up on the media coverage of the tragedy.
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ONE SWASH YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY BUCKLE

Australia doesn't produce many heroes (too self-effacing we are) but it seems we sure like to play them in movies. The NYT reports on a new bunch of movies with heroic overtones, all with a large Australian presence (or the presence of large Australians):

[Russell] Crowe, 38, is playing Capt. Jack Aubrey — Lucky Jack, to the Surprise crew — in "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," an adaptation of Patrick O'Brian's widely beloved 20-volume cycle of seafaring sagas set during the Napoleonic Wars....Hollywood is on a binge of epic moviemaking at the moment. Baz Luhrmann is working up an "Alexander the Great" with Leonardo DiCaprio. Brad Pitt and Eric Bana will play Achilles and Hector in "Troy" for the director Wolfgang Petersen.

And don't forget, Peter Weir is directing the Russell Crowe movie.

Incidentally, if ever a person was born to play a role, it is Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey. (I just hope the rest of the cast, particularly Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin, are up to the same standard.) I don't think there is any other actor capable of portraying Jack's combination of physical presence and finer intellectual sensibilities. Crowe is just so right for this part.

Most of you probably know that the movie is based on Patrick O'Brian's series of books, one of the masterpieces of twentieth century literature. The books effortlessly combine (yeah right, effortlessly) an investigation of the ideas of the Enlightenment with a history of British imperialism and wrap it all in page-turning yarns about the quasi-piracy of the imperial navies of the nineteenth century, and the exploits and foibles of two main characters, Jack Aubrey and his friend Stephen Maturin.

If the movie captures a tenth of the excitement and depth of the books, then it will be well worth the price of admission. Can't waiting.
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SHOOTINGS DAY 11

So far, this murderer seems to be sticking to his "policy" of taking weekends off. On day 11, there is nothing new to report: no deaths, no capture. The coverage and the information available, however, seems to me to be becoming confusing and maybe even contradictory. I will blog about this later, after doing some more research, but having just listened to an interview with the various leaders of the investigation, I'm more confused than ever, not to mention a bit annoyed. In particular, the information about the "white van." Is it a van? Is it a small truck? Is it even white or even relevant? More later.

In the meantime, the world is dealing with another outrage - the death-by-bombing of tourists in the Indonesian resort of Bali. Many of those killed are Australians. As John Quiggin suggests: "Between the horrific bombings in Bali and Finland, and the shootings in DC, not to mention all the places where this kind of thing never stops, the world is a pretty gloomy place at the moment, and Australia is obviously not immune. There's no easy answer to any of this."

And isn't there a strong element of recognisability in this brief exchange recorded by Gareth Parker? There's a kind of everyday profundity in it of the sort that too often goes unrecorded. The tectonic plates of history are grinding against each other even as we speak.