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catallaxy in technical exile

Archive for April 2006

Are the Alan Clark Diaries satire?

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I’ve just enjoyed the first instalment of the TV version of the Alan Clark Diaries. It was certainly funny – laugh-out-loud funny, in fact – but was it, as the ABC announcer said, ‘satire’?

It’s easy to see why he might have thought that. If we take the Macquarie Dictionary’s definition of satire, ‘a literary composition … in which vices, abuses, follies, etc are held up to scorn, derision or ridicule’ then this apparent send-up of a Tory toff in politics, a partisan version of Yes, Minister, is ‘satire’. But the difficulty with this is that Alan Clark was a real person and much of the programme was quotations from his own famous diaries (just randomly opening my copy, I find a sentence I just heard on TV: ‘How ruthless women can be – far worse than men.’, 4 August 1983). Was Clark satirising himself?

I’m not sure that he was (though from my vague memory of the Diaries, he doesn’t always take himself seriously), though perhaps they can be read (and the TV version watched) as satire. As my hero Swift said, ‘Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own…’ And there is an element of self-parody, whether this was Clark’s intention or not.

Clark’s closest equivalent today (he died in 1999) is probably former Spectator editor and currently Tory Shadow Minister for Higher Education Boris Johnson. They were both educated at Eton and Oxford, eccentric Establishment types not content with just their wives. I enjoyed the newspaper description of cyclist Johnson’s latest affair as him having been caught ‘parking his bicycle in the wrong rack’. Clark was cited in a divorce case as having had affairs with the wife and her two daughters. It’s hard to imagine either Australian or American conservatives getting away with anything like it.

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April 30, 2006 at 10:33 pm

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Galbraith RIP

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One of the most widely read but misleading writers on economics of all times has died. Should he be called an economist? Discuss.

Peter Boettke has an interesting post on Galbraith, including his recollection of dinner with Galbraith.

It was an amazing evening and it was one of the important moments which taught me that you cannot divide the world neatly into those who are stupid, those who are evil, and those who agree with me. Instead the world is full of charming, brilliant, and good hearted individuals who just happen to hold opinions opposite of the ones I do. Understanding results from delving into those reasons for differing opinions without succumbing to the cheap tricks of attributing disagreement to bad motives and to lack of intelligence among opponents.

BTW, my very first professional paper in economics (first written in 1984, but published in 1989) was inspired by reading Galbraith and attempting to negotiate between Galbraith and the institutionalists on the one hand, and the Austrians on the other.

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April 30, 2006 at 6:06 pm

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Iran and the UN: stepping up a gear

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At the end of March the UN gave Iran a month to cease its enrichment. Iran has defied that request.

1. The IAEA report (a summary of the news)

International Atomic Energy Chief Mohammed El Baradei yesterday released a report to the UN on Iran’s enrichment programme. He said that tests carried out at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on 13 April confirmed that Iran had enriched 110 tonnes of uranium hexafluoride gas to a level of 3.6 per cent, and that in March Iran had completed a 164-machine enrichment cascade, and had commissioned two more such cascades.

El Baradei’s report said there had been little progress since a previous assessment and gaps remain in the IAEA’s knowledge with respect to the scope and content of Iran’s centrifuge programme. There were also gaps regarding the role of the military in Iran’s nuclear program, work with high-tech P2 centrifuges, and possible military research to put nuclear warheads on missiles. The report also said the IAEA was unable to rule out that Iran may have received plutonium from abroad.

The report clears the way for the dispute to move to the next level of diplomacy. The US and Europe will seek Security Council agreement to a resolution obliging Iran to meet IAEA and Security Council demands. Iran’s ignoring this demand would allow the UN to impose sanctions on Tehran.

2. What conclusions can we draw from the report?

At risk of stating the obvious, the IAEA report makes clear that Iran is determined to pursue uranium enrichment. The report also indicates that Iran is deliberately hiding or withholding information from the IAEA about the military aspects of the programme. The Iranian responses that I’ve read say nothing about this aspect of the report – it’s not that they won’t deny it, but that they won’t even mention it. This is what the world community ought to find disturbing, I believe.

Another conclusion that we can draw is that Iran seems to be accelerating its enrichment.

3. What might happen now?

It is now impossible for Iran to cease its enrichment programme voluntarily, I believe. It has talked itself into a corner. The population, from all reports, is intensely proud of the Iranian technicians’ achievements. Given the state of Iranian society at the moment, the Government would have difficulty surviving such a backdown.

The US has said that it wants to resolve the dispute ‘diplomatically and peacefully’. This seems to be the wish of the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese. The test will be bringing the Russians and Chinese into the Euro-American consensus.
To work, and to be credible, any such consensus will have to carry the threat of sanctions, and possibly of military action. Given continued Russian and Chinese talk that any solution should fall short of sanctions, I wouldn’t be confident of there being a united resolution from these powers.

Of course, something may happen in the interim – some sort of delaying or holding procedure, while the Security Council members work out what they’re doing. But at some stage, they will have to bite the bullet.

4. A grand bargain?

One report that I read (I can’t find it now – it popped up on a Google news search, and was very good – sic transit Gloria etc.) said that Iran might be prepared to enter into a ‘grand bargain’. Were the US – Tehran’s bogeyman in chief – willing to allow Iran to enter the community of nations, then Iran might accept the Russian proposal, which it rejected earlier this year. The Russians proposed that they enrich Iran’s uranium at Russia’s facilities, giving Iran the end, so to speak, without allowing it the means. Sweetening this proposal with diplomatic recognition, and the possibility of Iranian scientists working with the Russians on the enrichment, might defuse the crisis.

This is how I hope the Iranians are thinking: that the Ayatollahs are using the enrichment programme, not just to gain access to nuclear technology, but chiefly as a bargaining chip, to give them leverage in negotiations with the US. Were this to be the case, they would likely be prepared to compromise – ‘sacrifice a pawn’ – in order to gain the prize of diplomatic recognition and an end to isolation.

But I can’t live in lollypop land, and there are signs that we aren’t yet close to this outcome. The Bush II administration are real tough eggs. They are inheritors of a political tradition that brought down the Soviet Union. They defied a good part of the world, including long-time allies, to invade Iraq. Just a few hours ago the US State Department released a report naming Iran as the world’s most active sponsor of terrorism. They don’t seem ready to compromise.

Nor do the Iranians. Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei has said that Iran was ready to strike back at US interests around the world, should Iran come under attack. He doesn’t usually come out and speak, so his appearance in the debate is significant. Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad has dismissed the IAEA report.

Strategic analysts – get out the popcorn, settle back into the comfy chair and tune into the news channel. I reckon that you’re in for a lively time.

5. Other considerations

The Europeans’ minds are likely to have become rather focussed following reports from Israeli military intelligence that Iran has taken possession of missiles capable of reaching Europe.

The missiles apparently come courtesy of our old friend Kim Jong Il. Keep an eye out for more mischief from the hermit kingdom – with the world’s attention focussed on Iran, Kim may seek to maximise his leverage in matters concerning North Korea.

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April 29, 2006 at 3:08 pm

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Open Forum

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It’s soapbox time.

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April 28, 2006 at 6:51 pm

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Mystery solved

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Ever wondered what an economist looks like when he’s just got out of bed? Wonder no more (link via Stephen Kirchner).

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April 28, 2006 at 1:16 pm

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Bizarro world politics

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John Quggin has a guest post by James Farrell on the Hungarian elections. What struck me was this bit:

In most countries, at least Anglo-Saxon ones, your average person in the street is averse to characterising his politics as left or right. Hungarians, however, if they divulge their views at all, will tell you they vote for ‘The Left’ or ‘The Right’. The left means the Socialists, who are essentially the party of European integration, trans-national capital and tax churning. The right means FIDESZ, which, depending on whom you talk to, is either a conservative party, a radical right party, or the only real left-wing party. The last characterisation seems mainly due to the party’s opposition to privatization, especially recent government proposals for hospitals. But as far as I can gather, this was pure opportunism, in line with most of their policies. The one element of their platform that is consistent is nationalism

Also see this summary from a Hungarian reader at Crooked Timber:

1. The red party: Mr. Gyurcsany is one of the richest man in Hungary. He was one of the last leaders of the communist youth organisation, and was very very “clever” to turn his political connections into monetary gains. As a great reformer of the leftist politics, he declared that elites have to be assisted. Despite the the looming financial crisis he managed to lower the tax-burden of the richest.
2. The blue party: An interesting alliance. The far-left (human rights, identity politics etc.) of the Democratic Party and the far-right (economic and social policy) of the Republican Party in one party.
3. The green party: Financed by the socialists (800 milliom forints in cash). Heavily backed by a former socialist politican/businessman. Ideological munition provided by two members of the Hayek Society of Hungary (close allies of Mr. Gyurcsany).
4. The orange party: Originally they have a clear strategy. They spoke about a work-based society, about christian socialism and humanism, and against extreme capitalism, against luxus profits. (Targeting socialist voters). At that time their party had a 20% lead. But their campaign turned into other directions, targeting right-wing voters

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April 28, 2006 at 9:21 am

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Has there been a cover-up on Private Kovco's death?

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Judy Kovco is furious, and it is not just because her son Jacob is dead. She says:

“I want the truth and it’s not coming out and they will do one big cover-up because they want more boys to go over there and they don’t want Australia’s perfect record of no boys being killed in battle – of any boys being killed in battle. It doesn’t take a lot to work out what’s going down here.”

Are our political leaders trying to cover-up what was in fact a combat death? The case against:

1. The scandal surrounding an exposed cover-up would be much worse than the scandal surrounding a death. Some deaths would have been factored into the decision to go to Iraq in the first place. We have just been very lucky that this is the first.

2. If the politicans were trying to cover-up, they would have taken advice to get a better story than that Private Kovco died cleaning his gun. Crikey was quickly running commentary from gun experts saying that this was unlikely, and by yesterday Brendan Nelson had changed the story to

The pistol was “near him in his vicinity” …. “He made some kind of movement which suggests that it discharged. There was obviously a live round in it.”

3. There have been no claims from Iraqi insurgents that they have killed an Australian, which presumably there would have been to capitalise on it. The insurgents know they can’t win a conventional military battle; their strategy is to use domestic political pressure in the West to secure the withdrawal of foreign troops.

In her upset and confusion, Judy Kovco has resorted to the “all politicians are liars” heuristic. As the wrong-body-in-the-plane fiasco suggests, the politicians are also victims of stuff-ups, and possibly cover-ups, in the Middle East.

The possibilities:

1. It was suicide. In the confusion in Baghdad on finding Private Kovco dead, someone went for an explanation more bearable for the family, an accident.
2. Kovco or Kovco and his mates were fooling around with the gun in some stupid game, which unsuprisingly the others don’t want to admit to.
3. Brendan Nelson’s latest explanation, if it is not just some version of (2).
4. He was murdered.

Solving this one will keep us intrigued for quite some time, I think.

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April 28, 2006 at 7:30 am

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