Saturday, March 29, 2003

I play football without a helmet

Tip for tomorrow at Football Park (AAMI Stadium my arse): Crows by 11 goals. For pete's sake, it's Freo and we're at home!
"We Shouldn't Be Here in the First Place"

Open letter to Robin Cook:

Robin, give me a break. Wanting to avoid a war before it starts is one thing. Calling, within the first two weeks, for the cessation of hostilities is consistent with your original anti-war views but completely ignores the changed circumstances in the region. The amount of extra anti-American and anti-British sentiment in Arab countries from the war so far is far greater than any extra sentiment from continuing it. The only way to reduce that ill-feeling is to finish the original objectives and then to ensure that the Iraqi people have benefited from the regime's end. True democracy in Iraq (regardless of whether or not it means an independent Kurdistan) coming out of the invasion is the only way we are going to see tensions calmed from here on. Leaving now will leave behind both angry civilians and an angry regime.

Responding to 'where do we go from here' with 'we shouldn't be here in the first place' is an argument you can make, but it can never be a helpful argument.
Delays, Delays

Anyone who at least occasionally comes here (thanks Adam) will be wondering where the hell I've got to. Simple answer is that work has taken too much priority for the last couple of weeks. From a warblogging point of view, this definitely sucks. The defining moment for a large number of popular bloggers is going to be how they respond to the now 10-day old war.

As I may already have told you, I'm a management consultant. This means I'm typically putting in 55-65 hours a week (any doctors, investment bankers out there blogging who want to tell me to 'suck it up' are welcome to do so - I enjoy my job but I have other hobbies besides blogging). I'm also on the road a lot - currently I'm out of town between Monday and Thursday most weeks, which doesn't make for a blog you can visit weekly.

So, here's the deal. I'll try to keep writing a couple of interesting articles (or getting my brother to write them) each weekend. If you keep coming back week after week and nothing is happening, send me a nasty flaming email - I could use the additional impetus. The last thing I want is to turn into a kind of blogging-Piro when it comes to punctuality.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Viewpoint From Home

As promised, this particular episode comes from my younger brother Toby. Give him a hand, folks.

'Yesterday, Howard raised the stakes for the missile defence shield. It
should be looked at, he said, because of the threat of a possible
missile attack from North Korea. And he attacked Labor as being

"The Labor Party has been jumping up and down and saying 'Do something
about North Korea' . . . and the Defence Minister says 'Well, we are
willing to talk to the United States about the possibility of this' and
the Labor Party says 'No, don't do that'," Howard said.

He is trying to portray the Labor Party as wishy-washy on defence in the
same way'

Great. I'm just waiting for John Howard to disband the entire Union
movement, then attack Simon Crean for "not being seriously committed to
the defence of this country" when he complains. It's a nice catch-all.
Considering the missile defence system currently requires a beacon to be
placed on the missile it's trying to shoot down, I don't think it's
particularly serious about the defence of its country.

Though to John Howard's credit, he's only continuing the longstanding
Australian tradition of spending the major part of the defence budget on
projects that either fall apart or don't exist. Some background for
those people unused to the Australian military's fiscal ineptitude:
When the Australian Air Force wanted a bomber, there were two choices:
A perfectly working bomber from Britain, or the F111 - at that time only
on the drawing board, and using a technology (swing-wing) that hadn't
been tried yet. Guess which one the Australian Air Force bought, then
pumped millions of dollars over the years rebuilding and trying to fix
the numerous defects.

Last year, the Australian Air Force was up for another major upgrade of
planes. There were a number of choices for the new fighter/bomber that
was going to be the centre of our air force, including planes such as
the Saab Gripen that are relatively cheap, new, effective, and already
in wide use in Air Forces the world over. Or there was the Joint Strike
Fighter concept (repeat, CONCEPT) that was still only in the prototype
stage, and would require Australian money for R&D even before we started
actually spending money on the planes. Again, god forbid Australia have
a fighter/bomber that's already working.

And who can forget the Collins Class Submarine. The Australian Navy
wishes they could. Australia needs submarines. We could buy a German
design that's already been built overseas, is proven to work, and
Australia could assemble with the same kind of difficulty as a Tamiya
model kit. Or, alternatively, we can try BUILDING OUR OWN SUBMARINE.
And lets be clear on this. Australia has never built a submarine
before. It's not exactly one of our core competencies. And from the 1
or 2 mechanical engineering subjects I took at University, I can guess
that building a submarine is really, really hard. And it's not like
something you can just screw up the first time and refine, either.

But what does Australia do? It tries to BUILD ITS OWN DAMN SUBMARINE.
A country with the population of New York tries to build a damn
submarine. It was a limited success - in that it doesn't leak, and
actually comes back up again - but in all other respects is, generally,
crap. We're still pouring millions of dollars into refitting the
things in the vain hope that some day they'll actually be good for
something. Radio presenters Merrick and Rosso had the best vision for
what could be done with the Collins class submarine when they
suggested:"Australia's first submarine... then Australia's first Rocket."

Now I don't want to criticise our armed forces on the whole. The
operation in East Timor showed how effective our men and women can be in
the field. In a fight between five armed Taliban members and an
Australian SAS member with a broken beer bottle, I'd bet on the SAS
member. And since I'm a Computer Engineer living in the City which is
the hub of Australia's military R&D, I don't want to denigrate other,
laudable, up-and-coming Australian defence expenditure, like Project Pay
For Toby Richer's New Convertible, or Project Pay To Put Toby Richer's
Children Through University. But I don't see why Australia can't, just
once, wait until a project actually shows some signs of not sinking,
exploding in mid-air, or having bits fall off it until we ante up the

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Revenge is a dish served with pinto beans and muffins

Well, it was the Aussie Rules pre-season competition, not the real deal. It was arguably a game that neither side really needed to win. Still, it was a match no-one expected the Adelaide Crows to win. The Colli-wobbles came through to set up the pre-season final as a replay of one of last year's proper competition semis, only to fall flat on their face, 73 to 104.

Andrew McLeod adds the Michael Tuck medal for a typical best-on-ground performance to his two Norm Smith medals in the real Grand Finals.

Does this suggest another good quality season for the Crows? Or does it merely indicate that the South Aussie teams have become the pre-season specialists (the 2001 and 2002 trophies having gone to the Evil Teal Bastards).

For those of you in the blogosphere who have no idea how the game works or what I'm talking about, don't worry. You're in the great majority. I randomly bumped into another Australian in London last night (not hard, I know) after a few drinks with some work colleagues (he also works for my company, but we've not met before), and within 30 minutes he was admitting to me that he grew up as a Fitzroy fan. Poor guy (for you Americans, this is like being a Cleveland Browns fan before the franchise was re-created). Anyway, the Poms we were talking across from made a very strong point of not knowing the first thing about the game - so feel free to consider it your public duty to feign ignorance whenver an Aussie mentions it.

Oh: Competition - Name the TV show (mid-'90s) from which the title of this piece is quoted. We're working on the Honour System here (please don't Google for it - you'll take all the fun out of it). The winner gets (a) blogrolled, if they have one, (b) free kudos, and (c) a gratuitous mention in a future posting.
Eating My Words - The Brett Lee Post with a twist of bile

Yes, it was against Kenya.

But it was a hat-trick. Not involving the tail. As part of an 8 over spell which only conceded 14 runs. Brett Lee, take a bow. Even if you did get upstaged for MotM by one of the Kenyans who produced an even better analysis than yours.

You have now earned yourself a place in the Aussie ODI Hat-trick Pantheon, beside Bruce "he's split in half!" Reid and Anthony "I moved to Canberra to increase my exposure to top level cricket" Stuart. Let's hope, for the sake of the Aussie side, that your career will continue somewhat more successfully than theirs.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

Keep Crowing

OK. It's still only the pre-season "Wizard Home Loans Cup" (geez, even back when the old airline sponsor was around it sounded better). Still, the signs are looking good for the boys in the red, yellow and blue. Adelaide knocked off West Coast on Friday night, through to the quarter-finals to play the Kangaroos in the first of the semi-finals. Starting the season with a win over the true enemies, Port Adelaide, was great, but continuing on to win the whole thing would be better.

Especially if it involves beating the Colli-wobbles in the Final. It's about time we got revenge for the 2002 preliminary final loss - and I would pay to see the look on Tim's face should it happen.
Sorry mate, not seeing much progress

And now the next instalment in the police conflict of words that is the discussion between myself and Kenan Malik. Kenan, as you will no doubt recall, is the guy who is concerned about the anti-democratic impact of morally-driven external interventions in a country. The key point of evidence supporting his theorem was Bosnia, I countered by examining the situation in East Timor. Kenan's latest piece is up, so it is clearly time for my latest rebuttal. To cut to the chase, I think Kenan has made the point successfully that internal democracy achieves more appropriate human rights than external intervention. However, this does not do anything to prove his claim that all external intervention from a rights point of view is bad.

Given my reliance on the existence of a 'sensible minimum standard of human rights', Kenan's first question is interestingly not to determine whether such a standard exists, but rather to question the validity of traditional bases for moral values and human rights per se. This involves demolishing the classical use of God and then Nature as sources of moral values - I will let him have that. He then claims that the evolution of human rights doctrine has provided a substitute base for the definition of 'acceptable' human behaviour in the absence of general belief in rights defined by a Creator. Again, fine. I also don't doubt his claim that there is a tendency to alienate human rights from the political discourse, by making them sacrosanct (even though in some cases they come into conflict with one another).

However, even granted all these premises, this does not imply that humanitarian interventions are necessarily destructive of local democracy. The reason: without at least certain minimum human rights being respected (whether or not they are enshrined in ordinary statute or in special human-rights legislation) no democracy exists. If the authorities are permitted to use torture on suspects under arrest, if the courts are willing to enforce statutes which prosecute people on the basis of political or other association, if the electoral laws make it easy for the ruling party to rig future elections, then there is no democracy to be squandered by the human rights restrictions.

Kenan denounces those who intervene because they "take upon themselves the mantle of the external authority whose pronoucements are unimpeachable". He's right, from the point of view of the country being intervened in. However, if they haven't got democracy to start with, what they're going to have forced on them is actually going to improve democratic conditions (hey, they might get a vote!) Putting an American in charge in Iraq isn't very democratic - agreed. But why does an external intervention actually have to do this? Just because the US wants to do it now doesn't mean that this has to be the plan for all intervention (after all, East Timor went from 'little country being invaded by Indonesian militia' to 'new democracy with an elected Parliament' in less than 2 years!)

Kenan's last paragraph is a very good explanation of the benefits of democracy as opposed to external intervention:

One can see why America might be wary of democracy in Iraq. The democratic process is unpredictable, can create instability and often leads to unpalatable results. In the long run, though, values that emerge through a democratic process are likely to be both more humane and more robust than those imposed from without. Democracy allows us to get away from the idea of values as eternally fixed, and yet to see them as potentially universal. It also allows us to dispense with the necessity for an external authority in which to invest our hopes and desires.

All very well, but this only works when you can start with a democracy. If you don't have one to start, having somebody intervene, enforce the rights of the populace to security and freedom from arbitrary arrest / execution, and then structure an initial set of elections looks like an improvement to me. For example, we should be intervening in Zimbabwe right now, not wringing our hands while the cricket continues and Mugabe is feted in Paris. The 'policy' of starving opposition supporters has effectively been endorsed by a member of his Cabinet - these guys would be willing to let 5 million of their countrymen die if they would stay in power - and you say that because internal democracy would place fewer restrictions on the political process than external intervention you would leave them alone?

Frankly, Kenan, I think you've dodged the key question. When democracy is in place, I will not argue with you that it should be left in place. However, I still haven't seen any convincing arguments from you that the people in a dictatorship are better off when we leave them alone to find their way to democracy than when we intervene and enforce the start of the construction of a democratic state. Tell me why the US and UK were wrong to rebuild Japan and Germany and enforce new and different democratic structures. Tell me why all the non-military support in Afghanistan should be withdrawn.

In summary,
  1. You can't have enough of a democracy to have genuinely broad political rights without the regime in place recognising and protecting certain human rights which are part and parcel of the democratic process.

  2. When starting with a non-democratic country, waiting for internal change can (a) take decades, and (b) cost millions of lives and impair the rights of millions of others when compared with intervention.

  3. Just because the Americans want to put one of their own placemen into the leadership position in Iraq does not mean that the whole concept of intervention can be thrown away - you still haven't told me what particular reduction in East Timorese political freedoms resulted from the UN coming in and stopping the Indonesians slaughtering them.