Lancet roundup and literature review

by Daniel on November 11, 2004

Well, the Lancet study has been out for a while now, and it seems as good a time as any to take stock of the state of the debate and wrap up a few comments which have hitherto been buried in comments threads. Lots of heavy lifting here has been done by Tim Lambert and Chris Lightfoot; I thoroughly recommend both posts, and while I’m recommending things, I also recommend a short statistics course as a useful way to spend one’s evenings (sorry); it really is satisfying to be able to take part in these debates as a participant and I would imagine, pretty embarrassing and frustrating not to be able to. As Tim Lambert commented, this study has been “like flypaper for innumerates”; people have been lining up to take a pop at it despite being manifestly not in possession of the baseline level of knowledge needed to understand what they’re talking about. (Being slightly more cynical, I suggested to Tim that it was more like “litmus paper for hacks”; it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves whether they think a particular argument is an innocent mistake or not). Below the fold, I summarise the various lines of criticism and whether they’re valid or (mostly) not.

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Bad National Leader! Bad!

by Belle Waring on November 11, 2004

On the occasion of Arafat’s death, I am going to share a very personal reminiscence. When my older daughter Zoë was about 14 months old, she could not talk reliably, but she could make her preferences known with gestures. Naturally enough, given the interests of very young children, she liked to pretend that various people (dolls, stuffed animals, photographs) were nursing. This was all well and good, until she presented me with a folded page from the Economist displaying side-by-side photographs of Sharon and Arafat, and then held them up to my breasts to suggest that I nurse them. It was a little difficult to explain why I was fine with the random dude in the Gulf Air ad, but resolutely opposed to nursing either gentleman in the Middle East Politics Article. Zoë’s political acumen has increased in the intervening years, however. (She is now 3). I tried to explain to her why I was so dismayed about the recent U.S. elections, telling her of the great powers of the presidency, the relative merits of the two contenders, and so on. She thought for a moment, and then said, “you think George Bush is too stupid to have so much wesponsibility?” Yes, child. Exactly that. Plus malice.

Allawi the thug

by Chris Bertram on November 11, 2004

With so many of the usual suspects showering opprobrium on the still-warm Arafat, it is perhaps worth raising the issue of consistency. If Arafat’s past included some of the items on Iyad Allawi’s _curriculum vitae_ then those acts would certainly have been added to the bills of indictment that feature on so many blogs. [1] Andrew Gilligan (formerly of the Today Programme, Hutton Report etc.) has “an article on Allawi”:http://www.spectator.co.uk/article.php?id=5239&issue=2004-11-13 in the latest Spectator. A snippet

bq. With a friend, Adel Abdul Mahdi, he arranged to kidnap the dean of the university to publicise the Baath cause. ‘We took Iraq’s first hostages,’ recalls Mr Abdul Mahdi, now Iraq’s finance minister, nostalgically. The two men did time for the offence, until a Baathist coup got them back out again.

And later ….

bq. The INA’s most controversial operation during this period was a campaign of what can only be termed terrorism against civilians. In 1994 and 1995 a series of bombings at cinemas, mosques and other public places in Baghdad claimed up to 100 civilian lives. The leading British Iraq expert, Patrick Cockburn, obtained a videotape of one of the bombers, Abu Amneh al-Khadami, speaking from his place of refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, claiming that the attacks had been ordered and orchestrated by Adnan Nuri, the INA’s Kurdistan director of operations — an account that has not been seriously disputed.

He may be a bastard, but at least he’s our bastard?

fn1. Of course Arafat’s biography does include many disreputable actions.

The greatest of crimes

by John Quiggin on November 11, 2004

November 11 marks the armistice that was supposed to bring an end to the Great War in 1918. In fact, it was little more than a temporary and partial truce in a war that has continued, in one form or another, until the present. Hitler’s War and the various Cold War conflicts were direct continuations of the first Great War, and we are even now dealing with the consequences of the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot agreement.

The Great War was at the root of most of the catastrophes that befell the human race in the 20th century. Communism, Nazism and various forms of virulent nationalism all derived their justification from the ten million dead of 1914-18. Even the apparently hopeful projects that emerged from the war, from the League of Nations to the creation of new states like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia ended in failure or worse. And along with war, conquest and famine came the pestilence of the Spanish Flu, which killed many more millions[1].

And yet this catastrophe was brought about under the leadership of politicians remarkable for their ordinariness. Nothing about Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Bethmann Holllweg or the other leaders on both sides marks them out for the company of Attila or Tamerlane or Stalin. How could men like these continue grinding their populations through years of pointless slaughter, and what led people to follow them? In retrospect, it is surely clear that both sides would have been better if peace had been made on the basis of any of the proposals put up in 1917 on the general basis of of “no annexations or indemnities”. The same was true, in reality, at any time from the outbreak of war in 1914 until the final collapse of the Central Powers, and even then the terms of 1917 would have been better for all than those of Versailles. We should think about this every time we are called to war with sweet-sounding slogans.

War is among the greatest of crimes. It may be the lesser evil on rare occasions, but it is always a crime. On Remembrance Day and always, this is what we should remember.

fn1. It’s not clear whether the War exacerbated the pandemic, for example through massive movements of people and widespread privation. But it seems right to consider them together when we remember the War.