Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, March 22, 2003
    Payback time or a case of Mistaken Identites?

    It is really bad luck for Saddam Hussein to have been a Bad Arab with Big Bombs in the Gulf Oil Region, since the US appears to hold him responsible for 911.
    Still he can't complain, he is guilty of other crimes and the US gave him a chance to split but he has chosen to stick it out till the end. A true believer of the Stalinist model.

    New York City 911-2001

    Ordinance: X 2 planes. Casualties: 3,000+ dead.

    Baghdad 213-2003

    Ordinance: X 300+ missiles. Casualties: < 1,000.

    If any city deserved the Baghdad treatment it is probably Riyadh, from whence most of the terrorists were financed.
    It cannot be denied that the American Way of War is more humane, and effective, than the Saudi terrorist one.
    A study in contrasts

    Left: An American protests the Liberation of Iraq.

    Right: An Iraqi celebrates the Liberation of Iraq.

    Link via Tim Blair.

    This is probably a propaganda picture set up by US media spin doctors. Still, it's composition reminds me of the photos of the cast of Giligan's Island, rejoicing in their long-awaited imminent resuce, which is kind of comforting.

    Lets hope that, in order to minimise casualties, the terrorists, the Iraqi armed forces and eventually the entire nasty or uncivilised world gets the message: Resistance is Useless
    Pity the Kurds

    Unconfirmed at this stage, but there are reports coming in that Turkey has sent troops into areas of northern Iraq and

    "Turkey's armed forces would also enter the Iraqi Kurdish enclave to prevent "terrorist activity", Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters at a news conference"

    The US is trongly opposed to this action and I guess this was one of the major risks. Lets hope Turkey smartens up and pulls back it's troops before it muddies the waters too much.
    And So it begins...

    The war with Iraq is now well and truly under way so I thought it would perhaps be appropriate to share some of my thoughts on it.

    First off - the "decapitation" strikes with cruise missiles. These were reportedly launched (on CIA advice) with the aim of killing senior Iraqi leaders and thereby shortening the war. So far no luck in eliminating Saddam or his sons, but of course we don't know if the hits actually took out other key figures. My take on this is that the US was gambling on perhaps inciting an overthrow of Saddam or some other form of quick surrender, with minimal damage and casualties. The big risk of the 'shock and awe' bombardment is that it carries a massive risk of destroying any evidence that might justify the war

    Now on to the ground war. In the 1991 war, allied forces did not attack until there had been quite an extensive aerial bombardment. As a consequence, there was virtually no resistance to allied ground forces. I suspect this time around the US/UK don't believe they can't afford to wait weeks before sending their ground forces in to action. AllieI don't doubt they will overpower Iraqi forces, but not pulverising the Iraqi ground forces prior to infantry and armour assaults is going to mean higher casualties for the USUK.

    Perhaps the one good thing that might come of the early ground assault is that Iraqi ground forces will have an opportunity to surrender to advancing USUK forces - an opportunity you don't get when you are being carpet bombed or hit by wave after wave of A-10 or Apache attacks. (though in the previous Gulf war - it was reported that an Iraqi unit surrendered to an Apache helicopter ). As a portion of Saddams army is conscripts I do feel they should be given every chance to surrender. It is one thing to efficiently obliterate a professional military force that has chosen to fight - another to obliterate a conscript force without giving them a fair chance to surrender or flee.


    In an ominous sign, Iraq has expelled all the CNN journalists. I say ominous because if Iraq is making sure that it only has 'friendly' journalists in Baghdad, then I would suspect some major propaganda coming up.

    Friday, March 21, 2003
    Shocking and Awful

    Machiavellians have traditionally gotten a bad press from moralists for sacrificing moral ideals to political realities. This is unfair as the value of their ideas depends on whether the machiavellian is working for an apparatus that will either increase or reduce human happiness. This criticism is justified when the objective of state violence is simply the maintenance and extension of state power used to enrich and empower the powerful. But when the bad means (force) is used to promote a good end (freedom) the criticism loose force. Certain bloggers have issued grave warings of the moral fraught and political blowback from the US's purported plan to "shock and awe" the enemy. Apart from ignoring the fact that SH has spent 25 years shocking and awing his hapless subjects, with little effective external moves to stop the oppression, these critics seem to discount the attempts of the US to minimise casualties by targetting military-political installations and improving the accuracy of ordinance delivery.
    Although I am not a big fan of George Will, the chin-stroking retro-Tory neo-con, his machiavellian construction of the Just War doctrine in the context of GW III is woth quoting:
    Five hundred years ago Machiavelli acquired a reputation for amorality by saying, among other uncomfortable truths, that it can be moral to use violence to economize violence. America's critics will credit neither: 

    • the probability that a war of disarmament will purchase a large reduction of future violence nor 

    • the fact that American war plans reflect remarkable attempts to use military technology to minimize violence

    If, as I expect:

    • the US military holds civilian casualties down to low four digit levels, 

    • the US polity keeps it's promise to increase the amount of Iraqi civil freedom   

    then I would hope that the doom merchants and naysayers will have a nice word to say about President Bush.
    Islam's caste system
    Razib of Gene Expression, who is from a Bangladeshi Muslim background, gives an at times hilarious account of the 'Islamic caste system' practiced by some Arab Muslims:

    When I was a child in upstate New York, the local mosque had sponsored a visit by a learned man from Yemen to give us a sermon. The mosque was 3/4 non-Arab [1]. All the non-Arabs had headphones because he was going to give the sermon in Arabic and someone would translate for us. The sheik looked a bit confused & annoyed. Before he gave the sermon, he decided to give us a long lecture (30 minutes) about how "all true Muslims know Arabic. It is the tongue of the prophet, the language of God." He was positively distraught and seemed like he was going to shed tears as to the blasphemy of it all (in hindsight, how learned could this guy be to be shocked that non-Arab Muslims didn't know Arabic fluently???). I was 9 or so, and rather confused. My father and all the other non-Arabs were stoic about it. After he was done bitching us out he gave us his sermon, though grudgingly... No one complained about the outburst except for the big black burly guy who drove the bus for the "Sunday School"-I could hear him bitching out our iman about why we spent money on this guy when he totally disrespected us. In Mauratania & Sudan, states with large non-Arab indigenous populations, the Arabs enslave those not genetically destined to rule (the Berbers of Morocco and Algeria aren't quit treated the same, though there must be a reason that they tend to oppose Islamists). In the Gulf Arabs treat the Indians, Filipinos & other non-Arabs (and Arabs from non-oil countries to be fair) like indentured servants. ... a Saudi student came up to me in college and explained to me how he liked Bangladeshis since we cleaned ourselves, and weren't dirty & lazy like the Filipinos who needed to be beaten to get work out of them. I think we can understand why the Kurds are one of the few philo-Semitic Muslim groups-they have lived under Arab domination [2].
    Internationalists and the war
    I had dinner with ex- guest blogger Charles Richardson on Wednesday evening while he was visiting Sydney. He is avidly opposed to the war (and is busy polishing off his book on the Liberal party). However he made the interesting comment that this was a war which internationalists could be strongly divided on. I suppose my own change of mind on this issue reflects the split this issue throws into the internationalist camp. In addition to my concerns about destabilising the Middle East, my reason for initial opposition to US invasion was that as a good liberal internationalist I wanted the UN inspections to work and the UN process to work. On the other hand, constantly gnawing at this preference was the dawning realisation that it was only US intervention in the first Gulf War which led to resolutions against Iraq on WMD proliferation. And it was only the threat of US bellicosity in the months leading up to the war that forced Iraq to make the concessions it did to inspectors. In between these two events there were 12 years of Iraq making a mockery of the spirit if not the letter of the law regarding resolutions on WMD proliferation. And now with invasion some people seem hung up over the possibility that the US and its allies may have breached the letter of the law. Are the dangers opened up by the US breaching the letter of the law really more serious than that of Iraq breaching the spirit? Is the Allies' intervention vigilantism or really about helping maintain international law and order on WMD proliferation? Well, I suppose one man's vigiltantism is another's idea of stepping in when there is a deficiency in formal institutions, a point ably made by Scott Wickstein.

    Really, people, get your priorities straight.

    I'm all for as much legality as possible and have expressed many times that Iraq be tackled through UN troops - but really how likely was that prospect given the recalcitrance of parties asserting their own power politics over the US? Agreed, there is no hurry with the disarmament but the principle is what matters. Chirac was stalling for time saying let's have another month but after that month is up, there was a strong possibility that Saddam would have stalled for another month and then another and then another, inaction perpetuated by the power politics plays against the US. Then what? As for the selectivity over other breaches of resolutions like Israel, again this harks back to the issue of there being a greater danger to *all* nations from the precedent set by letting a recalcitrant Iraq go unpunished. Let's be frank. The plight of the Palestinians matters - most of all to the Palestinians. The Jewish fundamentalism of the settlers in the occupied territories and the conflicts it provokes is as much of a threat to civilised values in the Middle East as OBL's venom and we have to eventually deal with it. However, the dangers of a 'one gunshot' regime holding WMD affect us all a lot more and more immediately.

    I'm straying from my main point but it's this - one can be a good internationalist and oppose this war because one is sufficiently optimistic that the system can handle Iraq through inspections and containment or one can be a good internationalist and support this war because one thinks the system still has a long way to go ans US bellicosity supplements the gap and gives it teeth.

    The war is a good testing arena to compare the political acuity of media versus financial analysts.
    Most pundits have predicted a US victory, but have warned of the danger of a Baghdad Stalingrad strategy. The markets appear to have discounted this possibility to a negligible probability.
    Certainty craving stocks are up , Safe havening gold prices are down and OPEC-power senstitive oil prices are at three month lows.
    I would rate financial markets as superior to media pundits as political analysts. Sure the markets screwed up big time on the tech boom, but that was where the insiders were calling the tune. Where markets are attempting to analyse outsiders data, they have a reasonably good record. They bounced back pretty damn quick very soon after GW II.

    Multiple reports from various media organs have indicated that Scud missiles were used by the Iraqi military in a counterattack against Kuwait. If so, the use of these constitute a material breach of the conditions prohibiting missiles with ranges in excess of 150 km. Hans Blix, you are fired.
    But it seems that these press reports are most likely misleading, since the New York Times, the paper of record, reports that the missiles are not Scuds.
    In Kuwait, the four missiles fired by Iraq were not Scuds, but shorter-range weapons. Two were Ababil 100's, which were shot down by Patriots. Another was a tactical ballistic missile, but no name or type was made available. The fourth was an antiship missile, which landed near the marines at Camp Commando.

    The Kuwaiti defence ministry confirms that the ordinance were short-range missiles And the Iraqi defence ministry denies that they were Scuds.
    Non-use of Scud WMD delivery systems vinidicates the war-skeptics, such as Pr. Quiggin, who argued that US charges that Iraq was in breach of UNMOVIC disamament conditions were a trumped up to justify military Regime Change (mRC). Non-use of Scuds also vindicates Real Political war-fidelists, such as this blogger, who believed that the disarmament was a complement, not substitute, for mRC. SH'scontrol over half the world's cheap crude oil is an intolerable security risk, given OBL's attempt to take over the other half.
    How ungrateful
    Traces of deadly risin have been found in vials in a train station locker in that warmongering imperialist power, France. 'Root causes' theory, anyone?

    Thursday, March 20, 2003

    Hugh White is at it again. He regularly uses the opinion pages of the Fairfax stable of papers to share his strategic wisdom with the world. This time he takes time out to warn the General
    Tommy Franks that he is seriously undermanned for the military task ahead: 
    "what strikes me is how small the forces available to him are compared with the scale of his tasks." 

    White has been been Wrong about the War on several occasions, but that has not stopped him from confidently setting forth is views. 
    Attack Iraq and save the world? Bush is dreaming
    "I seem to be the only person I know who doesn't think that an invasion of Iraq by the United States sometime this year or next is more or less a certainty." 

    The week the world went back to normal
    "This week, George Bush decided not to go it alone and invade Iraq" 

    Iraq: the tough talk is almost over
    "the odds are that a deal is in the making - a deal that will not necessarily prevent military conflict, but will limit its scale and the risks"
    White may have a point about the US's manpower requirements in maintaining Iraq's  post-war security. But I think that White is not Right about the US military's capabilities.
    Congrats to Institutional Economics
    On a lighter note, congratulations to Oz blogger Stephen Kirchner for making it into the top 5 econoblogs according to Forbes magazine (the other winners were John Irons, Arnold Kling, Lynne Kiesling and Zimran Ahmed).
    Last thoughts on this mess
    For what it's worth and in the interests of open disclosure, I should say that in the last few weeks leading up to current developments, I have become reluctantly pro-war. I now support this war with a heavy heart, knowing full well that I am not one of those who has to be involved in the fighting. I support it now because on balance (and I realise ultimately this is all a matter of judgement - almost gut feeling - anyone who thinks there is some formula-precise logically airtight 'proof' of one or the other position being the verifiably correct one is plain deluded) I have come to see the 'indefinite containment' option as diluting any credibility of the anti-proliferation-of-WMD aims of the UN. Eventually something would have had to give, the UN would have had to declare war for the system to work. That would have been a preferable development.

    I didn't think it was worth saying anymore than this - essentially the reasons that convinced me are the ones ably written about by my co-blogger Heath Gibson, who has been following Saddam's history of recalcitrance and 'stringing along' of the UN apparatus for 12 years in much more detail than I have. Great minds think alike and Scott Wickstein has a recent post which makes many arguments that intersect with Heath's writings on this.

    There really isn't much more to say now except what everyone else is saying. Let's hope this is a quick war and when it's over, if the two sides that have been at each other's throats (and I don't mean the US and Iraq) want to show they can transcend partisan sniping then their first priority should be about putting the pieces back together again, not scoring points at each other's expense.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2003
    Stossel v PETA

    A great example of Stossel's "Give me a break": segments, as he serves it up to animal rightds activists.
    Censorship proposal slammed.

    Previously I blogged about some research by TAI that was being used to push the argument for tighter controls on the net. In particular, the TAI was advocating the introduction of ISP level content filtering so as to 'protect the children'. The report got a LOT of media coverage, especially in the SMH and 'The Age' A lot of people would have read those articles I suspect. Unfortunately, mainstream media being what it is, the SMH and Age probably won't give much more than an article in the IT section to this report by EFA, which demolishes substantial chunks of TAI proposal and raises some serious questions about the research itself.

    Some key points from the EFA report.

    "The Australia Institute's report provide no evidence to suggest that mandatory filtering would be effective in protecting youth and yet seeks to over-ride parental rights to decide on the best means of protecting their children. Research conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Authority ("ABA") during 2000-2001 found that "eighty four per cent of parents supervised their children's Internet sessions and felt they could trust their children to respect family values in their use of the Internet" and challenges the popular belief that parents lag behind their children in their interest and proficiency with online technology."


    "As stated in an article by Michael Flood, one of the authors of the Australia Institute report, in The Age on 5 March 2003:
    " computer users could opt out of filtering, to gain access to websites classified as X-rated using the same system now used for videos and magazines." (Flood, 2003)

    In summary, adults would have their access to all content on the Internet filtered, and would only be permitted to opt out of blocking of access to the extent of being permitted to access a miniscule proportion of content on the world-wide Internet that had been pre-classified "X" by the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification ("OFLC"). As discussed later herein, there will never be more than a miniscule proportion of classified content due the size of the Internet and the costs of classification"

    While Dr Clive Hamilton of The Australia Institute remarked on ABC Radio National on 6 March 2003 that it is easy to find pornographic material and one only needs to type sex pictures into a search engine, it should be noted that blocking all 3,200,000 pages that result from such a search on e.g. Google (as at 17 March 2003) would also block, for example, newspaper articles reporting Dr Hamilton's remarks"

    And perhaps most damaging of all for the credibility of the TAI proposal.

    Although the Australia Institute's report does not provide any information to suggest the authors have investigated or understand the technical issues, an article in the Australian Financial Review on 11 March appears to shed some light on the background to some of The Australia Institute's opinions:
    "Hamilton [Executive Director of The Australia Institute] has undertaken his own technical review of filtering software with the assistance of IT software company Telnet Media, the developer of a filtering software package that had one of the lowest failure rates in recent tests by the ABA.

    A letter sent to Alston and Prime Minister John Howard by a product manager at Telnet, Fraser Larcombe, challenged the view held by many ISPs that making them responsible for filtering all internet content would slow down the internet for everyone." (Osman, 2003)

    Telnet Media are the developers and vendors of the "Internet Sheriff" censorware product. ..., the recent tests by the ABA did not investigate whether or not products such as "Internet Sheriff" had a low failure rate in blocking access to pornographic material on the Internet, as is suggested in the above article. Telnet Media (previously Clairview Internet) were prominent in the debate concerning mandatory filtering by ISPs in 1999. They appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Information Technologies on 3 May 1999 during the Committee's public inquiry into a Bill involving mandatory filtering by ISPs. During testimony before the Committee, the representatives criticised various aspects of the CSIRO's findings and report and demonstrated Internet Sheriff. The bulk of their testimony appeared designed to give the Committee the impression that Internet Sheriff was an ideal product for mandatory installation by ISPs. "

    I think this last section might just make it in to my thesis on the section of private interests trying to dress themselve sup in public regarding language to get from government what they can't get from a free and open market.
    Fingers and beauty
    The UK Telegraph notes some rather curious research into the relationship between finger length and beauty:

    Scientists have discovered a surprising link between the relative size of fingers and the shape and attractiveness of a face.

    Men whose ring fingers are much longer than their index fingers tend to have irregular, masculine features, such as the singer Lyle Lovett.

    But men whose index and ring fingers are roughly the same length are more likely to have symmetrical faces, such as the even-featured Brad Pitt.

    In women the opposite was found. Those with index fingers longer than ring fingers tend to have asymmetrical faces ...

    "Both characteristics are related to testosterone in men, so the finger ratio could be an honest signal of masculinity." In women, facial asymmetry is linked to high oestrogen exposure, he said.

    In other words, higher than average testosterone manifests itself in both longer index fingers and less 'pretty' faces i.e. 'pretty boys' like Brad Pitt are more likely to be moderate or low testosterone. This seems to make sense in conjunction with other findings in evolutionary psychology though at first glance it *seems* counterintuitive that females might prefer moderate testosterone to high testorene males (as indicated by the correlation with 'prettiness' ). Men with above average testosterone (and therefore less 'pretty' faces) may be perceived as good opportunities for adultery but not necessarily for long term reproductive investments.

    Monday, March 17, 2003
    I'm baack
    Thanks are due to Heath and Jack for their excellent posts and for keeping this blog reasonably active during my unannounced brief hiatus. I was on holiday for the last two weeks, with a valued reader - and that's all that needs to be said. Regular posting will resume from today so keep your eyes peeled.
    Credo of a "War-Blogger"

    I believe that the US created the UN and should lead that body  to enforce it's lawful commands:

    • UN Resolution 1441  - threatening "serious consequences" to Iraq for failure to comply with provisions of the GW cease-fire agreement

    • UN Resolutions 242 - demanding that Israel quit Palestinian territory occupied in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day war

    I believe that the UN is an ineffective enforcer of it's own Resolutions, and that the EU is content to play a spoiling role to the US in the UN, so that the US is the only effective law-enforcer.
    I believe that Enlightened people, in particular serious Leftists, can best oppose Unfreedom Irrationality and Insecurity by supporting the Anglo-American war against:

    • militarists in the process of accumulating WMDs to enhance fascist power

    • terrorists in the process of delivering WMDs to enhance fundamentalist power

    I believe that the US is, and ought to, go into the Gulf to increase the security of the civilised world by establishing temporary hegemony over the region, as the key Gulf states are no longer to be trusted with unsupervised self-rule.
    I believe that a US military Regime Change of Iraq will occur, and have steadfastly maintained this belief from the beginning of this confrontation.
    I believe that a US Regime Change will increase the utility of the Iraqi people, given that:

    • the Tikrit faction regime set up to secure SH's power of is opressive and exploitative to the mass of Iraqis

    • the UN Sanctions/Partitions/Inpsections/Attritions regime set up to contain and disarm this regime creates additional suffering Iraqis

    I believe that the Anglo-American "Special Relationship" is all the multilateral legitimacy that Anglo-American globo-cops will ever need. Sans the SR, the US and UK individually tend to foul up:

    • UK went into Suez in 1956 without the US and got it's fingers burnt

    • US went into Vietnam in 1963 without the UK and got it's fingers burnt

    I believe that the "Special Relations" can, and ought to, let their Rules of Laws rule the world by promoting constitutional democracy and contractarian capitalism in Iraq, the Middle East and anywhere in the Rest of the World where there are "huddled masses yearning to be free".
    I believe that the US's stated justification forceful RC-I is false. SH does not have any:

    • substantial or effective caches of WMDs

    • significant links to fundamentalist terrorists

    I believe that the UN disarmament process was always a complement, not a substitute, for US military action, weapons inspection was cover for US agents to prep the battlefield:

    • spike the enemy's guns 

    • recce the enemy's targets

    I believe that the forceful Regime Changing Iraq is none the less Real Politicly justified:

    • exemplary - pour encourage l'autres who backslide on deals with the US hegemonial state

    • strategic - to ditch the Saudis/hitch the Iraqis as US military clients in the Gulf

    • prophylactic - to deny an aggressive tyrant the oil revenue for financing WMD proliferation

    I believe that a forceful Regime Change is also Ideal Morally justified:

    • provincial federation - to grant self-governing autonomy to the Kurds

    • national liberation - to remove a democidal despot from power

    • regional democratisation - to provide a model of progressive democratisation of the Middle East

    I believe that SH will not voluntarily quit Iraq prior to the commencement of military hostilities. He is a Stalinist, and Stalinists don't quit. Like the Us admin. I hope against hope that he does. Only a gratuitous psychopath wants war for it's own sake, but sometimes war is the lesser evil.
    I believe that the US administration intends and will prosecute the Regime Change in such a way as to minimise civilian casualties consistent with sucessfully completing the mission and preserving it's servicemens lives.
    I believe that the US remains the last best hope for mankind to defend and extend the values of the Open Society from it's enemies., given an:

    • impotent UN

    • ineffective EU

    • iniquitous PRC

    Has any one got any better ideas?




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