Elvis and bin Laden

by John Quiggin on March 25, 2004

The idea that the war in Iraq is a necessary part of the struggle against terrorism is probably the biggest single factor in the case supporting the war. Both political leaders and pro-war bloggers have made repeated claims that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein constitutes progress in the “War against Terror”. A variety of arguments in support of this view have been proposed, most notably the ‘flypaper’ or ‘bring ’em on’ theory that, by encouraging terrorists to fight in Iraq, the war made the rest of the world a safer place.

The most widely reported opinion poll in Australia is the Newspoll, which provides results for Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited papers (he has about half the Australian market). There was widespread discussion recently about a Newspoll showing that 65 per cent of people thought the war in Iraq had increased the danger of a terrorist attack in Australia[1],

However, the really striking result was ignored. This concerned the proportion of people who accepted the claim, made repeatedly by the government here, that the invasion of Iraq substantially reduced the danger of terrorist attack. Only 1 per cent of respondents said that the invasion had made a terrorist attack “less likely”. The view that the war made an attack “a lot less likely” got an asterisk (less than 0.5 per cent). You can read the details here (PDF file).

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Bloggers incarnate

by Kieran Healy on March 25, 2004

Laurie and I had dinner last night with “Kevin Drum”:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ and his wife Marian. Kevin’s as engaging as you’d expect from his blog, only taller. Thanks to this dinner, Kevin has now met as many Crooked Timberites (Timberoids? “Timberteers”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001378.html?) as I have. I have this image of all the CT members finally gathered around a table for dinner somewhere someday, staring at their starters and sipping their drinks in awkward silence. I hope to increase my network score in the next few days by tracking down Brian, who like me is here for the Pacific APA, except he’s a real philosopher whereas I’m only married to one. As it happens, I did accidentally have a job interview at the Eastern APA a few years back, when I sat at the wrong table in one of the ballrooms. Sadly, I made the mistake of admitting that I wasn’t the guy they were looking for. I should have stuck it out and tried to get a campus visit out of it.

Markets versus Politics – The Real Choice: … Too often policy arguments proceed as follows: A) politics “fails” because it does not produce the theoretically optimal result, therefore B) market processes are necessary. But B does not follow from A. The failure of government to produce an optimal result does not ensure that market processes will do a better job. From a social democratic perspective – or any perspective that is inherently suspicious of privatization – the burden should be on those advocating market processes to explain why the marketplace can be expected to produce a better result than the political process. In such an inquiry, the theoretical virtues of a basic equilibrium model of perfect competition are no more relevant than Pigouvian theories of government intervention. Both are blackboard abstractions that often have little bearing on what occurs in the real world. What matters is how privatization — and make no mistake, the subordination of political decisions to the marketplace is always political — is likely to affect the status quo ante, and whether the consequences of such intervention (and the attendant rent-seeking, transaction costs, etc.) constitute an improvement in the real world.

The introduction of market mechanisms into politics may be well intentioned, but that does not make it any more likely to generate positive results. Indeed, insofar as noble intentions leave the likely consequences of such interventions unexamined, such policies may make us all worse off.

(see “here”:http://volokh.com/2004_03_21_volokh_archive.html#108022995813874684 for original).

Europe and the War on Liberty

by Maria on March 25, 2004

Today, European leaders meet to wave through a raft of measures purported to fight terrorism. The public story is that the bombings in Spain have galvanised EU member states into wider and deeper cooperation to prevent and detect terrorism. The reality is that many of the measures to be agreed have little directly to do with fighting terrorism, and much to do with increasing police powers and budgets.

Update Thanks to Maurice Wessling for the correction that the ‘anti-terrorism co-ordinator’ is actually Gijs de Vries, and not Klaas de Vries. Reuters had a mix-up between the two and I followed along. Gijs de Vries’ biog is here in dutch. He was secretary (under-minister) of the Interior from 1998 to 2002, an MEP from 1984 to 1998, and the Dutch representative in the EU Convention negotiations. Maurice reckons de Vries’ appointment still signals a lack of seriousness in co-ordinating European intelligence agencies, saying ‘he has little experience in counter-terrorism and he will have no powers to force any policy. His task will be to write a report. So the name ‘counter-terrorism tsar’ is way over the top.”

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The Miracle of Life

by Henry on March 25, 2004

Kieran “suggests”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001576.html ” that people who subscribe to Intelligent Design theory need to have the perverse mechanics of childbirth explained to them.” Carl Zimmer “goes one step further”:http://www.corante.com/loom/archives/002449.html, and asks why the intelligent design crowd doesn’t embrace “one of the most successful, intricate examples of complexity in nature” – the cancer tumour.

bq. Cancer cells grow at astonishing speeds, defying the many safeguards that are supposed to keep cells obedient to the needs of the body. And in order to grow so fast, they have to get lots of fuel, which they do by diverting blood vessels towards themselves and nurturing new vessels to sprout from old ones. They fight off a hostile immune system with all manner of camouflage and manipulation, and many cancer cells have strategies for fending off toxic chemotherapy drugs. When tumors get mature, they can send off colonizers to invade new tissues. These pioneers can release enzymes that dissolve collagen blocking their path; when they reach a new organ, they can secrete other proteins that let them anchor themselves to neighboring cells. While oncologists are a long way from fully understanding how cancer cells manage all this, it’s now clear that the answer can be found in their genes. Their genes differ from those of normal cells in many big and little ways, working together to produce a unique network of proteins exquisitely suited for the tumor’s success. All in all, it sounds like a splendid example of complexity produced by design. The chances that random natural processes could have altered all the genes required for a cell function as a cancer cell must be tiny–too tiny, some might argue, to be believed.

Chomksy Blog

by Brian on March 25, 2004

I’d be more excited if he had started posting to “Language Log”:http://www.languagelog.net/, but even if we won’t be seeing flashes of linguistic brilliance, it’s still newsworthy that “Noam Chomsky has started a blog”:http://blog.zmag.org/ttt/. The introductory post is a little hard to decipher.

bq. This blog will include brief comments on diverse topics of concern in our time. They will sometimes come from the ZNet sustainer forum system where Noam interacts through a forum of his own, sometimes from direct submissions, sometimes culled from mail and other outlets — always from Noam Chomsky.

bq. Posted by Noam Chomsky

I wouldn’t have guessed that Noam Chomsky calls Noam Chomsky “Noam Chomsky”, but if it’s good enough for Rickey Henderson I guess it’s good enough for the Noam.

Hat tip: “NicoPitney”:http://www.dailykos.com/story/2004/3/24/223959/120 over at Kos.