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The Daily Briefing 9/11/05

Your round-up from today's newspapers plus the best writing, analysis, critical thinking and humour from around the world.

In today's email:
1    Theodore Dalrymple on the suicide bombers among us/City Journal
2    Report on the impact on anti-terror laws on academics/Guardian
3    Emilie Rutledge on the dollar, oil and Iran's market/Aljazeera (link below)
4    David Aaronovitch on the source of the French riots/Times (2 links below)
5    David Halberstam on the social lessons of Hurricane Katrina/Vanity Fair
6    Nicholas Kristof on Mukhtaran Bibi/NYTimes
7    Report on the accidental release of intelligence costs/NYTimes
8    Brandon Keim on using nanotechnology to cure cancer/Wired
9    Sasha Frere-Jones on the rise of Houston hip-hop/New Yorker (link below)
10    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

1 The suicide bombers among us
TDB is aware from feedback that Theodore Dalrymple is not to everyone's taste, but the conservative retired prison psychiatrist is a writer and thinker who almost always makes an important contribution to any debate he enters. Given that we now allegedly have evidence of would-be home-grown suicide bombers in our midst, this essay on the same phenomena in the UK has even more relevance. In it, Dalrymple ranges over subjects that include the difficulty Muslims may have integrating into Western society, their attitudes towards women and Western society's culture of complaint as he tries to get inside the mind of jihadists. "Muslims who reject the West are therefore engaged in a losing and impossible inner jihad, or struggle, to expunge everything that is not Muslim from their breasts. It can't be done: for their technological and scientific dependence is necessarily also a cultural one. You can't believe in a return to seventh-century Arabia as being all-sufficient for human requirements, and at the same time drive around in a brand-new red Mercedes, as one of the London bombers did shortly before his murderous suicide. An awareness of the contradiction must gnaw in even the dullest fundamentalist brain."
2 Academics turned into criminals
In keeping with our promise to look for reports on the impact of anti-terrorism laws around the world, and because Australia's proposed new laws are said to be modelled on those in the UK, a look at how they might affect universities in Britain. "The day after Kelly issued her edict, it emerged that Middlesex University student union was planning to host a debate with Hizb ut-Tahrir, the controversial Islamist group that is proscribed in several European countries and banned from events organised by the NUS under a "no platform for racists" policy. The university ordered that the debate be banned. The student union's president, Keith Shilson - insisting that, as Hizb ut-Tahrir was not illegal in the UK, no law had been broken - refused and was suspended. He was escorted from the campus. The university confirmed his suspension and refused to comment further."
3 No dollars for oil?
This is one of those internationally contentious issues that gets scant attention, despite the fact that many believe it has great significance - what currency should be used for international oil transactions. There are those firmly of the belief that Saddam Hussein's shift to the euro instead of the dollar in 2000 was one of the factors that motivated the US invasion. In the article linked to below, economist Emilie Rutledge looks at Iran's decision to set up an oil and associated derivatives market next year and speculation that this could "unseat the dollar's dominance as the de facto currency for oil transactions" in that context. "Needless to say, the current petrodollar system greatly benefits the US; it enables it to effectively control the world oil market as the dollar has become the fiat currency for international trade. In terms of its own oil imports, the US can print dollar bills without exporting commodities or manufactured goods as these can be paid for by issuing yet more dollars and T-bills."

On the more threatening issue of Iran and its nuclear program, Trita Parsi from Johns Hopkins University draws on ancient history to argue that the most reasonable offer from the European Union to Iran was unreasonable, destined to be refused. "The solution to the Iranian dilemma lies in recognition of the current power realities. Before it is too late, the asymmetry in the EU-3 offer must be shelved and a new EU-American proposal made based on the successful formula in the North Korean case: permit Iran to save face by retaining the right to enrich uranium, while agreeing not to exercise that right in return for American security guarantees, European economic incentives and a "road map" for Iran's reintegration into a regional security arrangement for the Persian Gulf."

4 France and generation jihad
For just one article on the French riots, with links to a range of commentators and reports, this Slate round-up should do.

Otherwise, the David Aaronovitch column linked to below seems to capture the views espoused by a range of the best informed observers closest to the action - yes, there are a number of issues involved, but the underlying cause is economic deprivation. Nonetheless, Aaronovitch devotes some time to considering the extent to which immigrants, many who happen to be Muslims, are excluded from French society. "The refusal properly to discuss and admit the existence of minorities, the physical separation of races and beliefs, and the determination to talk about France and Frenchness as a defensive and exclusive proposition seems to cast people out of society rather than allow them to join. It's the French fear of the Polish plumber again. When there's the choice between open and closed, the French preference has been for closed. Thus the absurdity of the hijab ban which, for whatever the good secular reasons it was introduced, could only be construed by many Muslims as an act of denial."

Der Spiegel also dismisses the view that the riots are the product of "Generation Jihad", but worries that the causes of the riots are so deep-rooted and widespread that they are a glimpse of Europe's future. "The combat zone is expanding, mirroring the scenario pale author Michel Houellebecq described in his latest bestseller. And it seems as if Europe's rootless immigrants are changing life on the Continent in dramatic ways, with Birmingham and the Paris suburbs providing a taste of what may well be in Europe's future."

5 What have we become
Experienced author and journalist David Halberstam ("the Best and Brightest") turns his abilities as an observer and writer onto American society post-Hurricane Katrina. "We have, it seems to me, become less competent at the things that are elemental in a good society and that matter greatly to our long-range future. We are less generous with one another, especially with the vulnerable among us. We are too prideful of things that all too rarely reflect our better qualities. As we have become a more successful nation based on G.N.P., we have become a harder people, more arrogant, caring only about a certain kind of material success, the norms of which seem to me increasingly excessive. We value only the kind of success that will make us wealthy, and we do not honor the qualities we would want in a neighbor."
6The new Rosa Parks
Nicholas Kristof brought Mukhtaran Bibi to world attention by championing her courageous response to the culture of rape and violence in parts of Pakistan. Along the way he has described the plight of oppressed women in the third world as the great moral challenge of our time and Mukhtaran as the most courageous woman alive. This column reports on her receiving Glamour magazine's "woman of the year" award. "While Mukhtaran is being feted here, it's easy to think that her problems are over. But they aren't. President Pervez Musharraf allowed her to make this visit, after blocking a trip by her in June and then kidnapping her when she protested, but Pakistani intelligence agents still follow her everywhere. Agents open or confiscate her mail and spread lies about her in the Pakistani press, and she is reported to be on a death list. At some point, her luck may run out - and her fame won't stop a knife or a bullet."
7 $44 billion on spooks
Say that again? $44billion! That's what I thought you weren't supposed to say. And for that you get a lot of guff about WMDs and the failure to predict the September 11 attacks. A 27-year CIA veteran has inadvertently released what has been an impossible to obtain figure - the total cost of intelligence gathering in the US. "In court and in response to inquiries, intelligence officials have argued that disclosing the total spying budget would create pressure to reveal more spending details, and that such revelations could aid the nation's adversaries."
8 Nano to the rescue
Something has to kill you, as the saying goes, but does it have to be cancer. In this report on the possibilities that nanotechnology apparently holds for curing cancer, Brandon Keim notes that the US National Cancer Institute has a goal of "eliminating suffering and death from cancer by 2015." He reports that nanotechnology is increasingly become central to meeting that target. "To anyone familiar with the long, often fruitless search for cancer's cure, or the unfulfilled promise of nanotechnology, this may seem far-fetched. But in recent years, scientists have learned more about how cancer works at the cellular level. They have also learned to build molecules that could detect and destroy cancer cells, making today's painful and often-ineffective treatments a thing of the past. Though the jump from lab to patient is long, scientists are confident that it can be made."
9 The Houston sound
A reviewer TDB has come to trust, Sasha Frere-Jones says Houston hip-hop is "enjoying a musical hegemony that happens only occasionally in pop", and one not seen since Seattle and Nirvana. Frere-Jones traces its roots and looks at some of its best exponents. "The Houston sound is, above all, slow, a perpetually decelerating music that is equally good at conveying menace, calm, and grief. (The sound was taken to a logical extreme in the early nineties, when a Houston native named DJ Screw found a way to play hip-hop records at nearly half speed, creating a genre that was eventually named after him-screw. Skillfully executed, screw music turns hip-hop and R. & B. back into blues and gospel.) The city's heat seems to encourage both languor and soul-spilling; Houston m.c.s rap charmingly about their possessions but are comfortable singing about death, racist cops, and life in prison."

And related only because some of the subjects are musicians, Vanity Fair has a great portfolio of photographs by Mark Seliger, Stars in my Stairwell, all taken at the same location - against a brick-wall in his New York apartment.

10 IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

Coverage of the counter-terrorism raids understandably reaches the clich├ęd "saturation" levels, followed not far behind by the call that John Howard has been vindicated, notably in The Australian from Dennis Shanahan and Matt Price, who perhaps sums it up best by saying that the cynicism "to a point, was entirely understandable" but that the "smart money was always on Howard acting in good faith". Which might mean that commentators like himself and Steve Lewis yesterday who said it was still too early to judge, were the ones who got it absolutely right. But did Howard have to use a "megaphone" to announce that a minor change was needed to current laws - which was the basis of TDB's "stunt watch"? Labor's Arch Bevis suggested there were other ways of doing it on the "Insiders", and not all criticism of that approach has been silenced. Experienced Melbourne police reporter John Silvester in The Age says the PM "tipped off" the group and Tom Allard in the SMH says the raids could have gone ahead without a change to the law and that "how Mr Howard's comments affect the lengthy operation remains to be seen". Which again makes the point that "too early to tell" (as Zhou En-lai reportedly said when asked about the French revolution) is always a good call. There is also the distinct possibility that this was one of those occasions where there is nothing more than a cigarette paper between an appropriate response and a response that works for political advantage - a situation in which a certain canny operator does well? There is of course, more on all of this in opinion below, and Paul Kelly draws some important conclusions on the whole matter - that political consensus on national security is important, as is getting the right balance with the laws. Peter Hartcher, opinion below, makes the point that yesterday's raids were conducted under existing laws and that the case for the new "draconian" legislation still has not been made.

Back onto the coverage, The Australian opens the throttle and pins back its ears, throwing restraint and the presumption of innocence out the window lest it slow them down. Its lead reports that a massive terrorist attack ... has been narrowly averted after sweeping raids across Sydney and Melbourne led to the arrest of 17 members of a suspected terrorist cell. (That surely is a matter for the courts to decide now, and local reporters might do well to remember the great UK ricin terrorist conspiracy of 2003 in which all defendants were acquitted. But hey, why let the rule of law and notions like a fair trial get in the way of a good story.) The paper also reports that the incident has prompted calls for Howard to stay on as PM. The Fairfax papers abide more conventional reporting rules, with the lead in The Age saying that in one of the biggest counter-terrorism operations ever mounted in Australia, police have arrested at least 16 men in Melbourne and Sydney over an alleged plot to attack civilians in the name of jihad. There are reports of more raids this morning, and you'll find more from The Australian here and the Herald here.

Briefly, in part because of some problems with our site this morning, the Federal Government's new welfare-to-work rules requiring single parents with children aged between six and eight to look for a job were opposed yesterday in a Coalition party meeting; all the papers report the extraordinary case of flamboyant millionaire businessman Harry Gordon, pronounced dead by the state coroner after he was believed to have drowned in 2000; business productivity has suffered its biggest fall since 1987 after companies over-invested and over-employed last year; Labor will allow a conscience vote on the controversial abortion drug RU486; a lawyer will file a complaint with the United Nations, alleging that the execution of Melbourne man Nguyen Tuong Van would be a serious miscarriage of justice and violate Singapore's constitution; no new roads can be built - or existing routes expanded - for 34 years in a corridor along the 40 kilometres of the city's next toll-road, the Westlink M7, according to documents tabled yesterday in the NSW Parliament; domestic airline Jetstar warned yesterday that rising jet fuel costs could force it to raise ticket prices early next year; and a row erupted in the Coalition party room yesterday between Qantas supporters and MPs in favour of exposing the national carrier to more competition.


The Age: Michelle Grattan says the raids have vindicated John Howard, but worries about the impact terrorism is having on the community; Michael Thawley (former ambassador to the US) says Australia's relationship with the US is important and not as one-sided as critics suggest (including on Iraq, unfortunately though without giving examples of that independence); Tony Smith (Liberal MP) responds to a recent column by Colin Hughes and Brian Costar and defends proposed changes to electoral laws; and Michael Shmith maintains his rage at the ABC's decision to replace local sports coverage with a national segment presented by Peter Wilkins.

The Australian: Sally Neighbour continues her excellent series of reports on Australians who have trained at overseas camps run by al-Qa'ida; Dennis Shanahan says the counter-terrorism raids have vindicated John Howard and Kim Beazley; Peter Edwards dismisses the theory that the CIA had an involvement in the dismissal (an interesting look back on the history of some reporting of it); Emma Tom (who rides a motorcycle herself) longs for the day when women will get involved in the sport and liberate themselves from being nothing more than eye candy; and Janet Albrechtsen berates Western feminists for failing to support oppressed women (and gets in a few cheap shots at Germaine Greer along the way).

The SMH: Peter Hartcher gives the PM a clean bill of health on his "megaphone announcement" of a terrorist threat last week, but says the raids are dramatic proof that the current laws are adequate; Peter Martin argues that the industrial relations changes push the pendulum back too far from the bad old days of compulsory union membership; Lesley Head looks at the what is required for people to make the cultural shift towards sustainable living; Peter Newman says we are about to find out if the Federal Government is serious about sustainable cities; and Judith Ireland considers some of the mixed messages she says are coming towards young women, including from Maureen Dowd's recent book, without coming to anything like a firm conclusions about it all.


The Age leads on the story all the commentators are talking about, Telstra, reporting that it has muted its angry personal attack on ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel, and has said it is not trying to have him removed. If you want a simple explanation of what it is all about, Alan Kohler is the man to read as he explains why "Telstra is ridiculous and Samuels is intrepid". Stephen Bartholomeusz and Elizabeth Knight are more kindly disposed toward Telstra, while Malcolm Maiden thinks it is on a loser.

Back at The Age, it reports that Patrick Corporation has copped a caning in its dispute with Toll Holdings over rail giant Pacific National, with an independent arbitrator backing Toll's position and ordering Patrick to pay the costs of arbitration; brown coal will be the mainstay of Victoria's energy supplies for decades to come, but only if the Government invests heavily in technology to soften coal's impact on the environment, according to mining industry veteran Sir Rod Carnegie.

The Australian's lead says more than $1 billion of retail assets are now up for sale as merchants wilt under the pressure of shrinking margins and declining consumer spending. The paper also reports that National Australia Bank boss John Stewart is expected to signal the end of the bank's program of job cuts today, as well as a return to strong revenue growth in the second half of the 2005 financial year; and that Coopers is expected to value itself at more than double Lion Nathan's hostile $352 million takeover offer when the brewer releases its target statement rejecting the bid next week.

The Herald leads on what looks like the end of a local icon, reporting that Gowings lurched closer to oblivion yesterday after its operator, G Retail, threw in the towel and appointed administrators. It also reports that industry super funds appear to be winners from the Government's choice-of-super fund legislation, with early data suggesting the industry funds are attracting more an equal share of new members; and that time is running out for Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest to dig up the $2.3 billion needed to fund Fortescue Metals' massive Pilbara iron ore project if it plans to ship its first ore on schedule.

Bryan Frith continues his vigil watching the Coopers-Lions takeover battle (and still hasn't found a kind word to say about Coopers).


The Daily Telegraph: Seventeen suspected terrorists raided in Sydney and Melbourne allegedly planned to wage a holy war using hundreds of litres of explosive chemicals; A millionaire businessman who was believed by a coroner to have drowned off the mid-North Coast town of Port Stephens five years ago has been charged with faking his own death.

The Herald-Sun: Home-grown terror cells in Melbourne and Sydney accused of plotting a "catastrophic" chemical or explosive attack were smashed during early morning raids yesterday; Australia's corporate watchdog will investigate revelations that 10 millionaires plunged money into a company shortly before the release of news that sent its share price soaring.

The Courier-Mail: Plans for a holy war in Australia, including suicide bombings and other catastrophic attacks, were smashed in early morning police raids, a Melbourne court was told yesterday; Disgraced surgeon Jayant Patel has now been linked to the deaths of five American patients and his incompetence resulted in multimillion-dollar payouts.

The Advertiser: The 16 members of an alleged terror cell raided by police in two states yesterday were in "pursuit of violent jihad to kill innocent women and children", a court has been told; The State Government says widespread flooding across Adelaide should serve as a "wake-up call" to councils that have failed to deal with stormwater management issues.

The West Australian: The WA Government will rely on architectural expertise from the US to ensure its proposed $160 million multi-purpose indoor stadium is built on time and on budget; Thousands of residents in the northern suburb of Stirling have been told to stop using bore water and have it checked because tests have revealed arsenic many times above the safe level for drinking and irrigation.

The Mercury: Government disability homes damned in a series of reports will be closed; The Premier Paul Lennon stayed at the PBL-owned Crown Casino hotel in Melbourne for the five days before announcing his Government's controversial granting of a licence to Betfair.


Socceroos coach Guus Hiddink has given the strongest hint yet he may risk Harry Kewell in the first leg of Australia's World Cup qualifying clash with Uruguay; The Australian Football League has vowed to rip up player contracts and impose hefty fines if women are paid hush money to prevent making an official sexual assault complaint; Australian opener Mike Hussey is hopeful of a second chance after fellow West Australian Justin Langer yesterday ruled himself out of next week's second Test against the West Indies in Hobart.

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re: The Daily Briefing 9/11/05

I love the whole 'petro euro replacing the US as the global currency of choice' scenario. Paul Krugman gets it right for once (because in his article, he doesn't try to go outside economics 101) when he says that while having oil dealt with in dollars adds value to the economy, it is in the tens of billions of dollars, barely a fart compared to the size of the US economy.

re: The Daily Briefing 9/11/05

Have you noticed the relationship between the need for governments to pass legislation restrictive of people's rights and the sudden appearance of "terrorist" threats real, imagined or (in most cases) wholly manufactured by the government de jour.

The Reichstag fire in 1933 set the ball rolling in Hitler's Germany. More recent examples include September 11 2001 when the US government was looking to expand its empire into the Caucasus and the Middle East quickly followed by the anthrax scare when the Patriot Act was running into opposition, the Bali bombings when Australia needed encouragement to enter into the Iraq war, July 7th 2005 when Blair was in deep domestic trouble over his proposed anti-terror legislation and the lies surrounding the justification for war were getting a lot of coverage, and now a "home-grown jihad" when the Howard regime were wanting to pass the gravest assaults on Australian civil liberties in recent memory.

All of which also serves as a handy distraction from the revelations of continuing war crimes in Iraq (depleted uranium, napalm, denial of medical services, bombing of civilian centres etc etc) and the on-going revelations arising out of the Fitzgerald inquiry.

How much longer are the people of Australia going to tolerate being taken for ill-informed fools by the so-called mainstream media.

re: The Daily Briefing 9/11/05

For a supposed journal of record, the Australian's "narrowly averted" lead was a joke. Followed by five pages of coverage from every conceivable angle, and then some more. And so the cult of the terrorist grows...

re: The Daily Briefing 9/11/05

Michael de Angelos, higher quality than The Age, that is for sure. Go to both websites, look at the talent lineup. Then get back to me about jesting.

re: The Daily Briefing 9/11/05

The Herald Sun is high quality? Surely you jest Stuart Lord.

re: The Daily Briefing 9/11/05

By the by, Wayne, are you going to start recognising The Herald Sun as both the higher quality and much higher selling newspaper in Melbourne by paying attention to it? Or will it just be the Big Two (The Aust and the SMH) with The Age thrown in simply due to the fact that it used to be a decent newspaper?

I know it's a loaded question, but it might get your attention.

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