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The Daily Briefing 28/10/05
1 Journalism takes on the anti-terror laws
Journalism does get (at least) 365 chances a year to insult your intelligence, as TDB observed recently, and then you come across those classic stories and columns that rekindle the deep commitment you have to what is now a sorely degraded profession in Australia. In The Age, Tom Allard reports that Bilal Daye is about to sue ASIO Director- General Paul O'Sullivan seeking damages of up to $750,000 for a bungled swoop by ASIO agents and heavily armed police on his home at Mascot. The kick in the story though is the fact that Allard highlights the fact, that "by coincidence, the case will be heard on the day the Federal Government had slated to introduce legislation for new anti-terrorism measures, including control orders and preventive detention based only on intelligence, as well as the secrecy provisions that could prevent such stories being reported." Enjoy it while you can.
It may not amount to much, but TDB will go out of its way to publish everything and anything that is banned by the new laws if they come into effect, to oppose the restrictions they impost on free speech. And it may just be that the anarchic nature of the internet can be put to good use in this way.
Richard Ackland in the SMH as usual provides not just some important analysis of the bills, but some hugely enjoyable writing. He says the laws are "so badly conceived and designed that it has now turned into a lawyers' picnic"; that "what is at stake here is something as important as the Communist Party dissolution case of 1951 or the bank nationalisation case of 1948"; and that they have "a heart of darkness" - "If one of Papa Doc Howard's tonton macoutes points the bone at you, basically you're a goner." Ackland goes on to wonder aloud if the High Court might "save us", and seems none too convinced.
And then there is Tony Parkinson (link below) who is singled out for showing some good old fashioned, intellectual honesty and freedom. Parkinson takes a conservative stance on most issues, but unlike the thoroughly predictable troop of boring and tedious Howard/Bush lackeys in the commentariat (Ackerman; Bolt; Blair, Albrechtsen, Devine and even of late - sad to say - Henderson) he does not toe the party line on this issue. More importantly, he thoroughly disagrees with John Pilger's views on most things, but defends his right to express them in a free country - something that would be in doubt under these laws. And he ends his column with a nice touch of humour. "I have no time for Pilger's crude polemics. Nor does he belong at the centre of a crucial national debate. But freedom of speech is a long-established principle in Australia, and an open marketplace of ideas has flourished. Any law impinging on that is to be viewed with profound suspicion. To prosecute and jail Pilger for sedition, whatever his opinions, would be a travesty: a cruel and unwarranted punishment. If nothing else, spare a thought for the other inmates."
Ah, it's Friday, the Goddess is in her heaven and journalism lives! Thanks chaps.
TONY PARKINSON/THE AGE
2 Iraq and the incompetence dodge
The focus of serious debate about Iraq has suddenly shifted beyond any hope that things are going well, to how can things be made to work out best from here, and to what lessons can be learned from why it went so horribly wrong. Owen Harries in today's Australian (see round-up below) argues it was doomed from the start. That belief underpins the article in American Prospect linked to below, in which Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglesias take on the growing number of liberal supporters of the war now arguing that it was bungled by the incompetence of the Bush administration. "The incompetence critique is, in short, a dodge -- a way for liberal hawks to acknowledge the obviously grim reality of the war without rethinking any of the premises that led them to support it in the first place. In part, the dodge helps protect its exponents from personal embarrassment. But it also serves a more important, and dangerous, function: Liberal hawks see themselves as defenders of the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention -- such as the Clinton-era military campaigns in Haiti and the Balkans -- and as advocates for the role of idealism and values in foreign policy."
And in what is arguably the most important analysis anywhere on the aftermath of the war, Peter Bergen and Alec Reynolds at the New America Foundation look at the long-term problems the invasion is likely to create. "The current war in Iraq will generate a ferocious blowback of its own, which--as a recent classified CIA assessment predicts--could be longer and more powerful than that from Afghanistan. Foreign volunteers fighting U.S. troops in Iraq today will find new targets around the world after the war ends. Yet the Bush administration, consumed with managing countless crises in Iraq, has devoted little time to preparing for such long-term consequences. Lieutenant General James Conway, the director of operations on the Joint Staff, admitted as much when he said in June that blowback "is a concern, but there's not much we can do about it at this point in time." Judging from the experience of Afghanistan, such thinking is both mistaken and dangerously complacent."
Conservative miliatary historian at the American Enterprise Institute, Frederick Kaplan, writing in The Weekly Standard, gives long analysis of what has gone wrong (and some things he thinks have gone right) and says the key to success remains in managing Sunni Arab resistance. "The problem is within Iraq and specifically within the Sunni community. The coalition and the Iraqis are creating the political preconditions for success and have largely confined the military problems to the Zarqawi network and the Sunni Triangle (where that network is, for the most part, based). But until we, working with our Iraqi partners, have persuaded the Sunni community that violence is counterproductive and cannot improve its political position, the insurgency will continue. That persuasion will require political incentives and military pressure. If we and the Iraqi government apply both in judicious measure over the course of the next few years, there is no reason we cannot win."
The LATimes reports that another former US administration official has criticised the conduct of the war and occupation. "Robin Raphel, the State Department's coordinator for Iraq assistance, said that the invasion's timing was driven by "clear political pressure," as well as by the need to quickly deploy the U.S. troops that had been amassed by the Iraq border. Soon after the invasion, Raphel said, it became clear that U.S. officials "could not run a country we did not understand…. It was very much amateur hour.""
Fred Kaplan in Slate takes recent critics of the Bush administration, Lawrence Wilkerson and Brett Scowcroft, to task for not speaking up sooner. "Which leads to a larger question: Why do so few U.S. government officials do what Wilkerson might now wish he had done-resign in protest and announce their reasons publicly? Dozens of officials and probably hundreds of military officers will speak privately, to their families and friends, about their fundamental disagreements with this administration's foreign and military policy. But none has spoken publicly."
Michael Tomasky in American Prospect thinks there is one, even more significant former official, who should now speak out - that "good soldier" Colin Powell. "Powell needs to follow Wilkerson and Brent Scowcroft and come clean. I know he won't; Wilkerson acknowledged at the New America lunch that Powell was upset with him for speaking out. But if Powell has any sense, he'd spill whatever beans he's got, and soon."
And The Daily Telegraph recently reported the disturbing findings of an opinion poll taken in Iraq by the UK Ministry of Defence: "... up to 65 per cent of Iraqi citizens support attacks (on Coaliton forces) and fewer than one per cent think Allied military involvement is helping to improve security in their country."
SAM ROSENFELD & MATTHEW YGLESIAS/AMERICAN PROSPECT
3 Behind the lines with the insurgents
The last time TDB encountered Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in this article for The Washington Post he was on the Syrian-Iraqi border, reporting on the foriegn fighters joining the insurgency. This time around he has spent time with a group of Sunni insurgents for a first hand account of their methods, their reaction to the constitutional referendum, and to report signs of a split between the nationalist resistance and al-Qaeda fighers. Who can know for sure from this distance, but it looks like another great piece of reportage. "I spent five days with Abu Theeb and his people last week, and I witnessed a very curious thing: a bunch of mujahideens talking politics and urging restraint. "Politics for us is like filthy dead meat," Abu Theeb told me. "We are not allowed to eat it, but if you are passing through the desert and your life depends on it, God says it's OK." This is a profound shift in thinking for these insurgents, a shift that might just change the way things develop in Iraq."
GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD/THE GUARDIAN
4 The La Repubblica translations
Further to the links yesterday about the "Niger yellowcake forgeries", the blog Nur al-Cubicle has now translated all three instalments of the investigative piece (link below) by La Repubblica. TDB can not vouch for either the translating skills or the journalism involved, but it is a riveting read, that links together many, many pieces of the giant jigsaw puzzle that was the elaborate campaign to convince the world to go to invade Iraq. (In the end it was, of course, an unsuccessful campaign - the people of the world opposed the war as evidenced by opinion polls and mass rallies. The only ones fooled into invading Iraq were the Bush administration.)
And following yesterday's piece, one reader who apparently still believes that making war in Iraq was a good idea, pointed to this Daily Telegraph article and said it gave "the true story". Whatever.
5 Meeting the challenge from Asia
The leaders of the EU 25 member states are meeting to work out how to respond to the rejection of the proposed constitution, and - more importantly comtemporary historian Timothy Garton Ash argues - how to retain the "Eurpoean social model" while meeting the economic challenge posed by Asia, China and India in particular. Garton Ash argues that the answer lies in co-operating in some areas, while allowing each of the members to take their own path in others. "Not content with cornering the world market in low-skill manufactures, China is set to overtake the EU in research spending by 2010, while Indian universities already produce more than a quarter of a million engineers each year. Within a decade there will, on present trends, be two Europeans of working age for every elderly citizen, compared with four to one today. Yet we allow ourselves the shameful indulgence of close to 20 million unemployed in the EU."
TIMOHTY GARTON ASH/THE GUARDIAN
6 Harriet Miers steps down
Where to now and what will be the fall-out? Battered and bruised, mainly by hits from the right, Harriet Miers has stepped down as George Bush's nominee to fill a US Supreme Court vacancy. In the short-term it will add to the impression that Bush is incompetent, and that is a non-partisan issue that really hurts. But the nomination of John Roberts was seen as such a success that maybe a nomination in a similar mould will help him turn things around. It is arguably a better outcome then trying to push ahead with such an obvious dud - at least it gives Bush the chance to mend fences with his conservative base by appointing someone they are happy with.
The Times' also has this round-up of immediate reaction in the blogosphere.
7 Climate sceptics under fire
Good for the Wall Street Journal to be running this article, and it will be interesting to see if some of the conservative climate sceptics in Australia who championed the original pick up on it also. Though not given much credence in the real world, in February the WSJ gave great prominence to the work of Stephen McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick who the "hockey stick," a widely publicized graphic showing that temperatures during the late 20th century were likely higher than at any time in the past 1,000 years. Their work also prompted an attack on climate change scientists by Republican congressman, an issue TDB has highlighted previously. Anyway, the WSJ (link below) is now reporting that "two global-warming skeptics who questioned an influential climate study and prompted a congressional inquiry are now facing critics of their own, as a pair of new research papers take issue with their results."
In other climate change news, the NYTimes reports that the Arctic thaw is gathering momentum. "Many scientists say it has taken a long time for them to accept that global warming, partly the result of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, could shrink the Arctic's summer cloak of ice. But many of those same scientists have concluded that the momentum behind human-caused warming, combined with the region's tendency to amplify change, has put the familiar Arctic past the point of no return." (The "hockey stick" debate has been followed in great depth at the RealClimate blog.)
The LATimes reports that the warm waters that have fed the record Atlantic hurricane season are also Caribbean Coral Reefs. "Coral bleaching started showing up in the Florida Keys this summer and has spread throughout much of the Caribbean. Puerto Rican scientists report that 85% to 95% of the coral reefs there were bleached, as were 70% of the reefs in Grenada."
George Monbiot in The Guardian, one of the great warrior-writers on the climate change issue, reports that Tony Blair's change of tack on the issue (he is now more closely following the US line) appears to have impacted on UK chief scientist Sir David King. "As if to prove that his nerve has gone, on Friday King made his clearest statement yet that he sees nuclear power as the answer to climate change. With the right carbon taxes, he said, nuclear power would become cheaper than coal. "It's important we do take the public with us on the environmental debate," he said. "That is why I'm trying to sell it." He may have political reasons for "trying to sell" new nuclear power stations - at the Labour party conference Tony Blair said he wants to re-examine the nuclear option - but King would, I suspect, have as much trouble identifying a scientific case as he had at the meeting last month. The figures leave him stranded."
And after you have read all of that, you may like to look at yet another climate change denial piece by Bob Carter in The Australian and wonder why any newspaper based on sound editorial principles would bother running such tosh.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
8 The price of a lap dance
Let's talk about s*x shall we? (And hope that those pesky firewalls don't get too upset.) This column linked to below has been hanging around in the "unpublished articles" queue for a few days, a victim of those technical glitches. Robert McCormick is being sued by American Express after refusing to pay a $241,000 bill he and some friends ran up at Scores, a New York lap dancing club. Author Elisabeth Eaves, "Bare: The Naked Truth About Stripping", a former worker in such establishments, has no sympathy. The massive bill is not a case of "bill padding" - the exhorbitant costs are all part of the game. In short, she says you have had your fun, now cough up.
Then there is the must-read tale in Salon of the great condom patent battle centred on the work of Dr Alla Venkata Krishna Reddy, here described as "the Leonardo of condom design" and responsible for the Pleasure Plus, the Inspiral and the Trojan Twisted Pleasure, we will have you know. "The story of how Reddy lost control of his creation but returned to his native India to continue his quest for the perfect condom, only to find himself enmeshed in half a decade of litigative vituperation centered on prophylactic design, is a tale with more twists than any condom on the market. But there's more at stake in this legal battle than simply shelf placement at Walgreens. Reddy's great contribution to the universe of condom design, say his admirers, was to change the traditional perception of prophylactics. Instead of seeing them solely as barriers designed to block sperm from getting to the promised land, or to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, Reddy viewed them as devices that could help enhance male pleasure."
In Slate, Meghan O'Rourke takes on Harvard government professor Harvey Mansfield wo told students that the s*xual revolution may not have served the best interests of young women. Why is it, she wonders, that older men feel the need to tell young women how to behave. "There's something slippery about the "s*x will make you unhappy" position. It relies on a retrograde notion of female vulnerability while pretending to take women's side. It's offered in the name of an open-mindedness that is something of a pretense: Professor Mansfield does not exactly wish that s*xual freedom had panned out for us-or recognize the extent to which it has. He presumes, for example, that all women have similar experiences and want the same things: love and marriage, the baby in the baby carriage, and so forth. Finally, this position holds women responsible for the supposed unwillingness of American young people to get with the marriage program and settle down."
John Naish in The Times looks at the history of s*x advice through the ages, taken from his book "Put What Where?" "These odd beginnings set a trend: weird tips from strange authors, many of whom became manual martyrs. Ovid, the Roman poet, advised women on the best positions to suit their bodies in his poem Ars Amatoria. For example: "If you are short, go on top/If you're conspicuously tall, kneel with your head turned slightly sideways." The prudish Emperor Augustus banished poor Ovid to a chilly outpost of empire (a small town on the Black Sea in modern Romania)."
And in Nature, the tale of one very busy boy. "About 1.5 million men in northern China and Mongolia may be descended from a single man, according to a study based on Y chromosome genetics1. Historical records suggest that this man may be Giocangga, who lived in the mid-1500s and whose grandson founded the Qing dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 to 1912."
9 On science and religion
At a time when religious fundamentalism is on the rise and scientific quakery is given more credence than it deserves, this 1941 speech by Albert Einstein might be worth giving some time to. "If it is one of the goals of religion to liberate mankind as far as possible from the bondage of egocentric cravings, desires, and fears, scientific reasoning can aid religion in yet another sense. Although it is true that it is the goal of science to discover rules which permit the association and foretelling of facts, this is not its only aim. It also seeks to reduce the connections discovered to the smallest possible number of mutually independent conceptual elements. It is in this striving after the rational unification of the manifold that it encounters its greatest successes, even though it is precisely this attempt which causes it to run the greatest risk of falling a prey to illusions. But whoever has undergone the intense experience of successful advances made in this domain, is moved by profound reverence for the rationality made manifest in existence."
And the Kansas Board of Education has suffered a set-back after its decision to challenge evolution in the teaching of biology. "Two leading science organizations have denied the Kansas board of education permission to use their copyrighted materials in the state's proposed new science standards because of the standards' critical approach to evolution."
10 Where have all the utopians gone?
Long time passing. Dylan Evans, in a short essay, mourns the lack of purpose in Western societies and thinks it is part of the reason "for the repugnance with which Muslim extremists view" them. "But if idealism without a dose of reality is simply naive, realism without a dash of imagination is utterly depressing. If this really was the end of history, it would be an awful anticlimax. Look at the way we live now, in the west. We grow up in increasingly fragmented communities, hardly speaking to the people next door, and drive to work in our self-contained cars. We work in standardised offices and stop at the supermarket on our way home to buy production-line food which we eat without relish. There is no great misery, no hunger, and no war. But nor is there great passion or joy."
DYLAN EVANS/THE GUARDIAN
11 How sleeping on it works
If you care, this article will let you know how 'sleeping on it" works. "Brain imaging has shown that the brain works in a different way after a good night's sleep. In an experiment where people were asked to learn to tap simple numerical sequences on a computer keyboard they improved significantly after a night of sleep. The brain images showed that different regions of the brain were activated before and after sleep. "Sleep seems to nail down the information we have and reorganise the way it is stored in the brain," Prof Stickgold added. Which perhaps explains why sleeping on a problem often provides the best solution."