26 July 2003

Scientific American: Genetic Analysis Revises Tally of Past Whale Populations
"The new analysis only gives a long-term population; essentially, it shows that at some point there must have been enough whales to account for the genetic diversity seen today. 'One of the limitations is that we can't say that in 1600 there were 240,000 whales,' Roman points out, and adds, 'We don't see evidence that they went through a population bottleneck any time recently.' In fact, he and Palumbi checked their results with specialists in ecological computer modeling at the University of British Columbia. Those models suggest that even in 1950, the first year when data is available, the oceans had sufficient resources to support these vast numbers of whales. 'There's food enough,' says Villy Christensen, one of the scientists who conducted that study.

A high historic whale population could have an impact on how scientists presently view the status of whales as an endangered species. The current humpback whale population of around 10,000 is roughly 50 percent of the pre-industrial whaling numbers determined from logbook records. Using the genetic analysis, however, the current population is only 4 percent of what it once was. Palumbi says that with the revised historical estimates, it could be 'on the order of 50 to 100 years' before whales can again be hunted. "

This is very bad news for whalers. If our population estimates have been this wrong then the IWC will just be strengthened in its attitude that further whaling is too dangerous to the existing populations. It's also bad news for the recent meme against the precautionary principle. The population estimates were not understated because of bad science, but because we did not have the scientific and intellectual tools to get it right.

Dropping the Bonds:
"Their theory goes like this: Mr. Greenspan must know that his legacy is in tatters _ at the rate things are going, history will remember him not as the maestro of the new economy, but as an accomplice in America's descent into debt. For his own self-esteem, he has to believe that things will somehow turn out all right. Thus his sudden, destructive outbreak of optimism.

It's only a theory. What isn't a theory is that Mr. Greenspan has a lot to answer for."

I know Krugman's comments are specific to Greenspan and that the chair of the US Federal reserve is not strictly a member of the administration, but I have to ask how many senior Bush advisers are driven by the same mentality? To keep smiling no matter what in the face of the Iraq disaster?

gone to the blogs

From Forceful and Moderate

Now, one of the big arguments that would be levelled against this system is 'well, surely you'll end up with loads of people who just want to hang about the Commons bar having orgies'. But, no, for Big Brother 4 has shown us that people vote out the mad ones first leaving the dull ones until last. Thus, although 'Big Parliament' will start out with three-on-three sex romps on the dispatch box, by the time the 4 years are up, we'll be left with a teetotal fish trader talking for 5 hours about the pressing need for reform on halibut futures. Participation will drop and everyone will moan about how we need more alcohol (not a problem we have with the current House of Commons, I suspect). That's before we get to the issue of who chooses the people to go into Parliament and if we use a computer who writes the algorithm and who implements it... Blah... After all, with multiple competing parties, one thing you're not short of is scrutiny over the election process, but who would be the stakeholders here?

I can see John Howard speaking about the pressing need for reform on halibut futures. He would tell us that someone told him that al-Qa'ida is trying to corner the halibut futures market and that these evildoers are a direct threat to Australia on such a fantastic scale that we must send in the troops to fillet them immediately. Simon Crean would accuse the prime minister of turning the halibut into red herrings. The prime minister would say that Crean is soft on halibut. The opposition leader would flounder some more.

When later we discovered that there was no terrorist threat to the halibut Howard would gently explain that he was never told whatever he told us someone told him. Crean would say that sounds fishy. The electorate would swallow it hook, line and sinker.
Biased? Pig's bum, says Triple J comic
The ABC isn't biased: Richard Alston's just saying that 'cause he's a right-wing pig rooter.

The speaker, breakfast announcer Wil Anderson on the ABC youth network, is talking here about Senator Richard Alston, the federal communications minister. Altson has been alleging bias in ABC war coverage.

Anderson said it would have been "petty" of him to attack Senator Alston personally.

"It's not a joke about Richard Alston, it's a joke about the left-wing cardigan wearing complainers at the ABC," he said.

Anderson said he was sure Senator Alston had "better things to do" than worry about the joke. A spokesman for the minister refused to comment.

Hmmmmm... Maybe it just proves we're free of the excessive deference some nations offer their political leaders.
UPI retraction on 9/11 Report
WASHINGTON, July 23 (UPI) -- On July 23 2003, United Press International published an article about materials believed to be in a report to be released July 24 regarding investigations into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. UPI cannot further stand by this story as originally filed and will have a corrected version soon.

I quoted the UPI report extensively below. And I'm still reading. More later.
Operation Helpem Fren II

Mike Carlton writing on the Solomons exercise in the Sydney Morning Herald:

The hype is ridiculous. The bloody fight for Guadalcanal began with 11,000 US marines and ferocious sea battles which saw five Allied cruisers sunk, including HMAS Canberra with the loss of 84 lives. It ended, three months later, with some 25,000 Japanese dead.

Helpem Fren, by comparison, is a police operation to restore law and order which, with any luck, will not see a shot fired by the 1500-odd defence personnel sent in support. The Prime Minister has properly and peaceably committed us as the foremost power in the region.

So what, then, prompted his Foreign Minister, Lord Downer of Baghdad, to write the following for the News Ltd papers back in January? "Sending in Australian troops to occupy the Solomon Islands would be folly in the extreme. It would be widely resented in the Pacific region. It would be very difficult to justify to Australian taxpayers. And for how many years would such an occupation have to continue? And what would be the exit strategy?

"The real show-stopper, however, is that it would not work - no matter how it was dressed up, whether as an Australian or a Commonwealth or a Pacific Islands Forum initiative. The fundamental problem is that foreigners do not have answers for the deep-seated problems afflicting the Solomon Islands."

I think Lord Downer should tell us what has changed in six months. Or does he simply spout whatever nonsense enters his silly head?

I've already blogged about how Howard is clearly getting his jollies bestriding the small pond of the South Pacific like a colossus. Bloggorhea bags the whole project comprehensively. While I accept much of their argument about the causes of the collapsed civic order in the Solomons I do not see any way to restore that order without foreign police assistance.

25 July 2003

9/11 Report: Joint Congressional Inquiry

Findlaw has made the full report available for download.

It's taken over 6 months to declassify those sections that have been released. I'm still reading...

Operation Helpem Fren
Just after 9.40am, Australian infantrymen stepped off a landing craft from the Manoora and sloshed through the last few steps to Red Beach, which is dotted with rusting war refuse.

Businessman Peter Aufiu was among a small crowd of well-wishers meeting the troops.

"The public is excited. For too long we have had to look around before we talk because of a few people with guns who rely on intimidation," he said.

Mr Aufiu said former ethnic militia members who had engaged in crimes such as extortion, theft, murder and rape were likely to face payback after they were disarmed.

"They are more afraid of revenge from years of boxed-up anger by those they have harmed than they are of the intervention force," he said.

The Solomons Prime Minister, Sir Allan Kemakeza, thanked Australia and the other countries contributing to Operation Helpem Fren, saying he would pray for the safety of all involved.

The intervention force, including civilians to help the Solomon Islands provide basic services, is to be be built up to about 2500 in coming weeks.

Red Beach is where US troops first landed for the Battle of Guadalcanal.
9/11 report: No Iraq link to al-Qaida

WASHINGTON, July 23 (UPI) -- The report of the joint congressional inquiry into the suicide hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001, to be published Thursday, reveals U.S. intelligence had no evidence that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks, or that it had supported al-Qaida, United Press International has learned.

"The report shows there is no link between Iraq and 9-11," said a government official who has seen the report.

Former Democratic Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who was a member of the joint congressional committee that produced the report, confirmed the official's statement.

Asked whether he believed the report will reveal that there was no connection between al-Qaida and Iraq, Cleland replied: "I do ... There's no connection, and that's been confirmed by some of (al-Qaida leader Osama) bin Laden's terrorist followers."

The revelation is likely to embarrass the Bush administration, which made links between Saddam's support for bin Laden -- and the attendant possibility that Iraq might supply al-Qaida with weapons of mass destruction -- a major plank of its case for war.

"The administration sold the connection (between Iraq and al-Qaida) to scare the pants off the American people and justify the war," said Cleland. "What you've seen here is the manipulation of intelligence for political ends."

The inquiry, by members of both the House and Senate intelligence committees, was launched in February last year amid growing concerns that failures by U.S. intelligence had allowed the 19 al-Qaida terrorists to enter the United States, hijack four airliners, and kill almost 3,000 people.

Although the committee completed its work at the end of last year, publication of the report has been delayed by interminable wrangles between the committees and the administration over which parts of it could be declassified.

I seem to remember being told that Iraq should be invaded, without UN sanction, because 1. they possessed weapons of mass destruction, 2. they were allied to al-Qa'ida, 3. the Iraqi WMDs were likely to be passed to terrorists.

The WMDs existed or they did not. Any WMDs which did exist have not been found. If they did exist then we have to assume they are now in the hands of terrorists and that is very bad news. If they did not exist the coalition of the willing was built on a lie.

Now we learn, from the US Congress that there was never any evidence for the Saddam/al-Qa'ida link.

They told us about Nigerien yellowcake and we now know that is untrue.

They told us about aluminium tubes and we now know that is untrue.

They told us about poison camps and (because no such camp has ever been found) we now know that is untrue.

They told us about trailers of mass destruction and we now know that is untrue.

They told us about the link to al-Qa'ida and we now know that is untrue as well.

The other thing they told us was that action was urgent because of the clear and serious danger.

Was anything they told us true?

The conclusion fast becoming inescapable is that the only danger was that the tapestry of lies was about to fall apart before they could fight their war, a war to which most senior figures in the Bush administration had been committed long before 11 September 2001. It follows the Bush administration exploited the death of almost 3000 people from 14 nations in a grab for power. Blood exploited for spin.

24 July 2003

snark of the week

From the Guardian suggesting that a George Bush doll would make an ideal Xmas gift for Tony Blair:

Toypresidents has been founded upon the principles of education and discovery of the American political system," the blurb reveals, adding that the Bush doll (of which half the 100,000 made have already been sold) utters "authentic phrases" when you push his stars and stripes lapel badge. This seems a dodgy claim, since the lines we've heard are in something close to English. But we hope to have the Blair Christmas gift modified to include such familiar presidential blandishments as "fetch!" and "how do you reckon I'll get on with Gordon Brown?"
Part 1: The race toward barbarism

Gunpowder remained unknown in the West until the late 10th century. However, Europeans abandoned outmoded rules of chivalry after the Middle Ages and enthusiastically incorporated firearms and artillery into the lexicon of their military arts after the late 15th century. In contrast, thanks to the Confucian aversion to technological progress, Chinese military planners did not modernize their martial code, basing foreign policy on the principle of civilized benevolence. They continued to suppress development of firearms as immoral and dishonorable up to the 19th century, much to China's misfortune.

As a result, European armies arrived in China in the 19th century with superior firearms. They consistently and repeatedly scored decisive victories with their small but better-armed expeditionary forces over the numerically superior yet technologically backward, sword-wielding Chinese army of the decrepit Qing Dynasty (1636-1911).

China's most influential revolutionary, Mao Zedong, proclaimed in modern times his famous dictum:

Political power comes from the barrel of a gun.
He was in fact condemning the obsolete values of Confucianism (ru jia) as much as stating a truism in barbaric modern realpolitik.

As with most of Liu's articles the entire thing is worth reading, not just for the way he gives cultural context to the Mao quote.

23 July 2003

Howard on the Solomons: he just cannot help himself

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

If Australia had failed to intervene in the Solomons Islands the Pacific nation might have become a haven for terrorists or drug runners, Prime Minister John Howard said today.

The vanguard of an Australian-led military and police peacekeeping force will arrive in the Solomons tomorrow as part of an effort to restore law and order in the troubled pacific nation.

Mr Howard said Australia was sending the force at the request of the Solomons parliament, and had a responsibility to help countries in its own backyard.

"If we do nothing and the country slides into further anarchy, and then it becomes a haven for evildoers, whether they're involved in terrorism, or drugs, or money laundering, or anything else, we will rightly be condemned, not only by the Australian people, but also by countries around the world," Mr Howard told the Nine network.

"This is our patch and we do have a special irresponsibility here, and we're doing it in a very careful deliberate cooperative fashion.

"We're not throwing our weight around, but we're willing to do our fair share of the heavy lifting in an area that the rest of the world sees as very much Australia's responsibility."

Note the use of 'evildoers' imported directly from the USA. Note also the attempt to conflate the Solomons intervention with Iraq despite the clear differences. Oh yeah, and the typo of the year in boldface.
To prevent Medicare hit, senators must not fall for the myths

"Subsidising the private system takes the pressure off public hospitals." This is a Howard favourite. Despite its commonsense appeal, it's rubbish. Private hospitals carefully cherry-pick the most profitable patients, services and locations. Howard's 30 per cent health insurance rebate is wasting $2.5 billion dollars a year on the private health-care industry.

Poor people's taxes are subsidising wealthier people's private treatment. The Government and the private sector tell us the rebate is worthwhile by repeating how busy private hospitals are, but the pressure on public hospital emergency departments and operating lists hasn't fallen. Let's hope the senators aren't fooled by these myths.

Far better than destroying Medicare, they could focus on the Commonwealth and state governments developing a national health plan to provide high-quality, publicly funded health services for all Australians; increasing bulk-billing by GPs by increasing the Medicare rebate; encouraging the development of primary health-care centres where GPs work with other health professionals to provide a comprehensive service; increasing the funding for Aboriginal health; residential care for older people; dental care; community health services and health promotion; and also possibly public hospitals.

This sounds expensive but much of it could be funded by abolishing that ineffective private health insurance rebate. Perhaps we also have to increase the Medicare levy, something surveys have repeatedly shown Australians would be happy to do.

Howard's Government wants low taxes so you'll vote for it again. The private health-care industry cares more about its profits than your health. A strong, well-planned, adequately funded Medicare is the best and cheapest way to provide first-class health care for all Australians.

My only disagreement is that I think calling the non-Medicare health industry 'private' is ridiculous. They are entirely dependent on federal subsidies and without those subsidies they would disappear. Now the Howard government allegedly believes in the market, but not if it means allowing the non-Medicare funds to go under.

The real solution to Medicare's problems is to increase the bulk-billing rebate paid to doctors by Medicare. The current plan does not do that and merely offers a top-up far short of what the medicare rebate should be.

Further, by introducing categorical payments the Howard plan drives a wedge through medicare as a universals service and that wedge will presumably allow them to campaign on the future on overuse of medical services by evil dolebludgers. It's wedgefare not welfare - social policy as a campaign tool.

22 July 2003

Statement by Lord Hutton on the range and nature of his inquiry into the death of David Kelly

The government has invited me to conduct an investigation into the tragic death of Dr David Kelly, which has brought such great sorrow to his wife and children.

My terms of reference are these:

Urgently to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Kelly.

The government has further stated that it will provide me with the fullest cooperation and that it expects all other authorities and parties to do the same.

I make it clear that it will be for me to decide as I think right within my terms of reference the matters which will be the subject of my investigation.

I intend to sit in public in the near future to state how I intend to conduct the inquiry and to consider the extent to which interested parties and bodies should be represented by counsel or solicitors. In deciding on the date when I will sit, I will obviously wish to take into account the date of Dr Kelly's funeral and the timing of the inquest into his death.

After that preliminary sitting I intend to conduct the inquiry with expedition and to report as soon as possible. It is also my intention to conduct the inquiry mostly in public.

This will be the first independent judicial inquiry (although I suspect not the last) to touch on the question of distorted intelligence in the lead-up to the war. That makes Lord Hutton's determination to assert his independence crucial.
O tempora! O Mores!

I should never visit LanguageHat. Ever. All that happens is I find about a dozen new things I want to read, followed by dozens of blogs and references I want to subscribe to, followed by a severe case of blogostipation while I try to read more text than is humanly possible.

I will just have to while away my unproductive hours by reading the T�in B� C�alnge which comes (miracle of miracles) with an Irish pronunciation guide you can actually understand. I will never make it into the blogeoisie at this rate.

Gareth posts about the most recent allegations against David Hicks by the foreign minister, who tells us Hicks received training from al-Qa'ida. I think the government should stop this practice. Hicks should be charged and tried under Australian law, not by press release. However I congratulate Homer Paxton for his comment to Gareth's post:

Was his training completed in Niger?

21 July 2003

United Nations in Iraq

Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Baghdad, said Thursday that he hopes to hold elections next year and that he's asked a U.N. expert to come advise him on how to set up voter registration. While he's at it, he should ask a few more U.N. experts to come advise him how to do peacekeeping.

It is becoming increasingly clear that, at some point, the United Nations will have to take over the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. The only question is whether Kofi Annan ends up rushing in on his own terms to fill the gaps of a desperately overwhelmed American occupation force�or whether President Bush comes to his senses, realizes that the task is much harder than his advisers had predicted, and admits that he can't manage it by himself. If he reaches this conclusion in six months or a year, it will look like a mortifying retreat; if he does so much sooner, like now, he might still be able to look courageous and wise.

The chance of such a swift switch is remote. Secretary of State Colin Powell, meeting Wednesday with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, acknowledged that some nations "have expressed the desire for more of a mandate from the United Nations" and added, "I am in conversation with some ministers about this." But Powell is famously out of synch with the rest of this administration on the question of unilateralism versus multilateralism. And, notice, even he owned up to being merely "in conversation" with "some ministers," as opposed, say, to arranging action with pertinent U.N. agencies.

Elsewhere in the article Kapaln, not by any means an opponent of the war, notes that various high officials of the Bush administration seem unable to identify the nations or numbers involved. According to Anne Summers, in today's Sydney Morning Herald, the numbers are 13 000 allied troops out of 160 000 all told, which hardly represents a triumph of multilateralism.

More on Montreal

Billmon has more on the Montreal Protocol

This may seem like a relatively minor issue. Methyl bromide, after all, only accounts for about 7% of all ozone layer depletion, according to the Times story. But, like most multilateral treaties, the Montreal Protocol is a delicate tissue of compromises and concessions. Bush's environmental Visigoths are not only trying to use that tissue to wipe their own rumps, they're actively encouraging other countries to do the same.

This conceivably could bring about the collapse of the entire agreement, as each country tries to avoid being stuck with the treaty's obligations while the others enjoy its benefits. The classic prisoners' dilemma.

The Montreal Protocol has probably been the most successful environmental treaty in history. It was that very success that encouraged the community of nations to try its collective hand at drafting a similar compact to deal with global warming. The administration, of course, has already deep-sixed that one. Now it's setting its torpedo sights on the original. Which leads one expert to ask a question:

Dr Joe Farman, the Cambridge scientist who discovered the Antarctic ozone hole, added: "This is madness. We do not need this chemical. We do need the ozone layer. How stupid can people be?"

I don't think anyone who's watched Shrub in action will find it too hard to provide the answer.

Note the restraint. I say nothing about Bush's environment policy consisting of the usual bromides.
Sinking in the mire of a messy peace
In other words, there is no end in sight. There is no exit strategy. Rumsfeld and his fellow cowboys in the Pentagon not only spurned the UN, insulted "old" Europe and generally wrought diplomatic mayhem in the lead-up to the war, they also ignored the (Colin) Powell Doctrine, articulated by the man who used to head the US Armed Forces, who supposedly learned the lessons of Vietnam and who is now Secretary of State.

The Powell doctrine says that a country should avoid intervening in international conflicts unless there is a vital interest and a clear, achievable goal.

If the clear goal in Iraq was to get rid of Suddam Hussein, that has only partially been achieved. His government is gone but he appears to be still around, distributing inflammatory tapes and, for all we know, orchestrating the guerilla resistance from a bunker somewhere.

When you look at the costs, the lack of end in sight and the likely need to bring in more and more troops, the war they said would never become "another Vietnam" has all the hallmarks of already being another Vietnam. The US has been desperate to increase the presence of soldiers from other nations, as only 13,000 of the 160,000 troops in Iraq are not American. It has tried to get India to commit 17,000 but they, like Russia, France and Germany, refuse to do so unless there is a new UN mandate.

Australia had no such inhibitions before the Iraq war, and as our thinking is unchanged this could clear the way to our troop commitment increasing further if the Prime Minister's good friend George Bush requests it.

It is a new and unsettling trend for this country to have so many military engagements of this scale and risk. Have we been adequately prepared for it? No. How much consensus is there that it's what we should be doing? Very little.

I guess the US really is dependent on the decisions of others, after all. If only Powell had followed his own doctrine.

20 July 2003

snark of the week

From Greg Palast (bold face mine, to separate the snark from the contextual material):

Faced with having to unmuddle the President's inchoate response, Blair hiked up his eyebrows then fetched up this stunner: "People don't generally know� in the 1980s that Iraq purchased 270 tons of uranium from Niger." Indeed, people don't know that, Tony, because your government and the US government did its damned best to cover it up. In the 1980s, Saddam was OUR butcher in Baghdad, a buddy of Ronald Reagan and Bush Senior. During my investigations for BBC television, I discovered during the Reagan-Bush years, Saudi Arabians gave Saddam, with a wink and nod from the US and UK, $7 billion to build a nuclear weapon so he could incinerate his enemy, Iran. However, that was back before there was an 'Axis of Evil' and Iran was the Unicycle of Evil.
Forceful and moderate

This is an excellent plog and includes the following quote from the plogger's placard:

'George Bush's World Tour 2003. Visiting:

Iraq March 2003

Iran ?

N. Korea ?

Syria ?

Further venues to be announced soon

Featuring: Tony 'Poodle' Blair on guitar &
George 'Dubya' Bush - singing from the same hymn sheet

Playing 'He's got the whole wide world in his gun sights'

Blair should resign
says MP Glenda

REBEL MP Glenda Jackson has swung behind Hampstead Labour members to call for the resignation of Tony Blair.

The Hampstead and Highgate MP says the Prime Minister led Britain to war under false pretences and wants him to step down before the end of the year if troops fail to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Her call comes five months after members of the Frognal and Fitzjohn�s branch of the Hampstead constituency Labour Party demanded �the resignation of the Government and the election of a new Labour Government that respects international law, Labour Conference and the UN Charter.�

At the time, Ms Jackson stopped short of calling for Mr Blair�s resignation.

But this week, she told the Ham&High: �[Tony Blair] took us to war on the arguments that these weapons existed and could launch in 45 minutes.

�He didn�t give the United Nations weapons inspectors much time to find them but there are now between 1,300 and 1,400 people in Iraq looking for the weapons.�

Ms Jackson added: �My colleague (Claire Short) said that he should have until the end of the year, but I don�t think he needs that long. If they are there, they will be found before that.�

I'm old enough to remember Elizabeth R. I have to ask if Blair will pull a finger from his mouth and snap: 'Not yet, Master Secretary!'

Follow the Yellowcake Road
What began as a minor Italian mystery is now a drama testing Bush�s credibility as never before. Inside the Iraqi intel wars.

The article is a good overview, but the headline is brilliant.
Bush ready to wreck ozone layer treaty
New US demands - tabled at a little-noticed meeting in Montreal earlier this month - threaten to unravel one of the greatest environmental success stories of the past few decades, causing millions of deaths from cancer.

The news comes at a particularly embarrassing time for the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who pressed the President in their talks in Washington last week to stop his attempts to sabotage the Kyoto Protocol which sets out to control global warming: one of the few international issues on which they differ.

Now, instead of heeding Mr Blair, Mr Bush is undermining the ozone treaty as well, by seeking to perpetuate the use of the most ozone-destructive chemical still employed in developed countries, otherwise soon to be phased out. Ironically, it was sustained pressure from the Reagan administration, in which Mr Bush's father served as vice-president, that ensured the treaty was adopted in the first place. It has proved such a success that environmentalists have long regarded it as inviolable.

The Montreal Protocol actually works. Naturally this administration therefore opposes it, we cant have any example of international treaties that function as they are designed, it might give people ideas.