Iraqi sniper

We went to see American Sniper when it first came out and I would have written on it right at the time but there was something about it that remained suspended in mid-air that I couldn’t quite pull down. Today I discovered that Clint Eastwood had opposed both the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan (which I found out here in a really excellent take on the film). I now see the movie more clearly, and also see why it did not blow me away as I had been by Unbroken.

The movie is the Iraqi war without the politics. There are two sets of soldiers, each side fighting for the values it believes in. Chris Kyle, the American sniper, is matched by an Iraqi sniper who is equally committed to his own side, and is as patriotic as Kyle. There is no difference in bravery on the two sides. If anything separates them, it is technology. It is a patriotic film in the tradition of “my country, right or wrong”.

Except that it is Chris Kyle’s country that is right and not wrong, although that would not be the view of the soldiers on the other side, nor of the thousands of young Muslims going off from their homes to fight in the Middle East.

It is welcoming to see a film in which the bravery and honour of the American soldier is shown so clearly. And I have to assume that Kyle is more or less as he is portrayed, which is brave beyond any possibility of my ever understanding how someone can do what he did. And he is no more brave than the others who fight along side of him. But then he is no braver, either, than the Iraqis who attack him in numbers even though the American army is armed with technologies, such as armoured cars and helicopters, unavailable to their side.

What the film surprisingly did not do was dwell on why we are fighting this war, but perhaps that wasn’t its purpose. It did show 911, and it identified some barbarities by the Iraqis. But without the purpose, without an explanation about why the fighting is and was necessary, there was little in the film to make it clear why Chris Kyle and the others had been putting their lives on the line, and what difference it would make if we lost and pulled out. I, of course, bring this understanding along to the film on my own. I only wish there were more of it in the storyline. It seems that most Americans already understand the point which is why the film has broken box office records. But since the reason why this war is necessary never seems to get explained anywhere else, it’s a shame it was not more fully explained here. It is not a film designed to change anyone’s mind. The only marker for me is how much the left hates the film. It may therefore be a better film than I have been able to understand for myself.

The trailer, by the way, shows the opening sequence of the film. You will have to go yourself to see what happens next. As for the ratings, as per usual in a film like this, the audiences have liked it more than the critics.

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 72% and Audiences 88%
IMDb: 7.6

I hope he didn’t stick it under his chair

It’s in Hindi, but every so often you hear the words “chewing gum” and there’s no doubt what it’s about. Is he still a smoker? Does he need Nicorettes even after at least six years? Is the media in the US covering up even about this too? In India, apparently, it is GWB they prefer, which may be why this bit of disrespect was reported on.

“Indians are pro-Bush,” said Gurcharan Das, a prominent writer. “He saw that with China rising, America needed a big country to be an ally. He hyphenated India with China and de-hyphenated it with Pakistan and Indians loved that.”

Whatever the view may be of him elsewhere, in India the 43rd president is seen as a straight-talking statesman. In 2008, Modi’s predecessor as prime minister, Manmohan Singh, assured Bush: “The Indian people deeply love you.”…

The things that drive other foreigners nuts—the unshakable certitude, the folksy language—Indians like.

“George W. Bush occupies a special place in the minds of many Indian foreign policy elites,” Sadanand Dhume, an India-born specialist on the country at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. “In a nutshell, Bush took India seriously.”

Meanwhile, Obama takes nothing seriously, other than his amour-propre.

As odd as it may sound, Australia has the best industrial relations system in the world

I have an article at The Drum, Industrial reform: ignore fairness at your peril. There are many political traps for a right-of-centre government in trying to improve the operation of our industrial relations system, but the most dangerous is thinking that the most important reform is the removal of the role of our system of industrial tribunals. This was the central point in my article:

All too often, the core issue about industrial relations reform is not about outcomes, but about the structure of the system itself. Australia has developed its own unique and largely successful system of tribunals that has been the perennial target for elimination by economists since it was first formed.

And so it worries me that we are there once again. This is the basic outline of what is being investigated according to the Productivity Commission website:

In undertaking this inquiry, the Commission has been asked to review the impact of the workplace relations framework… [my emphasis]

If the continuation of industrial tribunals were off the PC agenda, and instead the issue was how our existing industrial relations system could be made to function for the better, I would be much more confident that the PC inquiry might come up with something of genuine value.

So my prime recommendation to the PC is this. If you start from the premise that industrial tribunals are here to stay, there is a possibility that the inquiry might do some serious good. But if that is not your premise, I would expect little good to come from this inquiry.

I, of course, go much farther. I think that industrial tribunals are a positive benefit to the smooth operation of this economy. I don’t think trying to remove them would be bad only because the politics are wrong. I think they should be left alone because the economic consequences of trying to remove them would be so damaging.

In the UK, The Times required Fortress Wapping to introduce new technology. At The Australian, it was IR as usual and a relatively smooth transition. Recognising the nature of the difference will help you understand how important our industrial relations system is to our economic prosperity.

Toronto the Good in the 1910s

toronto ferry 1910

Next month it will be forty years since I arrived in Australia but nothing will remove the warmth I feel for my first home and where I grew up. These are photos sent to me under the heading A 1910s Toronto photo extravaganza, each one of which brings with it distinct memories of the city I grew up in. My thanks to David Kwinter – whom I have known for almost 60 years – for sending these to me. Two more because they have such meaning to me.

First the picture of the Toronto main library which was something like a seven minute walk from the house I grew up in. The caption says it’s at the corner of College and Beverly but it’s actually at College and St. George.

toronto library

There is then a picture of a pharmacy in the middle of “Kensington” which is as far from the London version as you could get. But that was still how it looked when I was around. In fact, if anything, it has a much more orderly look than it had later, and even now. The owner of the shop is E. Rutherford, but the first wave of Eastern European immigration is shown by the Yiddish above the door, which is not a translation but a transliteration of “Cut Rate Drug Store”. The signs today are as likely to be in Chinese as anything else.

toronto kensington

OK. One more, taken at the corner of Yonge and Richmond. These are Toronto streetcars at the start of the last century, but the ones in the picture were still on the road when I was just growing up. In 1948, GM offered to give buses to any city that tore up its streetcar tracks. Toronto was amongst the few in North America who turned the offer down.

toronto streetcars yonge and richmond

LATEST NEWS: And now Toronto is officially the best city in the world, according to the Economist. Melbourne remains the most liveable, but Toronto wins overall even though it did not win in a single category. Just overall excellence. Therefore a picture of something more recent:

toronto fort york

OK. It’s not so recent, but Fort York is an actual frontier fort that you can find in the heart of the city, surrounded by skyways and highways, and which no one ever goes to, except me. But it’s the genuine article, and if they had any sense, would make it a major feature, not some almost-embarrassment that you get taken to when you are in Grade V and never go to again. So I will finish with this, which is a video put together for a condo at Yonge and Richmond, as in the photo above. What I had not heard, but must be a Toronto cliche, is that this is the area of the Yonge & Rich, get it? Well you will, but only if you know how to pronounce “Yonge”, and it’s not Yon-Gee.

Greece opts for spending 120% of domestic output

One more experiment in Keynesian economics. The politics of living within your means are what they are. The Greeks have reason to believe that they can blackmail the rest of the EU into funding their debts. But literally in this case, where will the money come from?

Syriza’s demands for a debt restructuring have raised the prospect of a stand-off between Athens and other European leaders that might lead to “Grexit” although financial markets were treating that as a marginal risk on Monday.

The potentially disastrous consequences of such a move for Greece and Europe were likely to force policymakers to find an agreement, analysts said.

So they’re beggars? So what do they care? You want to save your precious Euro, this is what you got to do? However as Daniel Hannan notes:

It would, indeed, be very difficult to make an economic case for euro membership.

The past six years have seen a greater depression in Greece than that of 1929 to 1935. Output is down by an almost unbelievable 25 per cent. A quarter of all Greeks – half of all youngsters – are unemployed, and tens of thousands more have emigrated in search of jobs.

Their currency is overvalued and market disciplines are almost invisible. If they leave the Euro, there are actually things they might be able to do.

Abusing our tradition of tolerance

This is by Henry Ergas, Australia’s finest economist, in an article today in The Australian on Australia Day. It is titled, Islamists cannot be permitted to abuse our tradition of tolerance.

THE French love the idea of France, Americans their country’s shining ideal of liberty.

Australians simply love their country as it is. And nothing is more integral to the achievement we celebrate on Australia Day than the easygoing tolerance of difference.

But tolerance was hardly on display at the demonstration Hizb ut-Tahrir organised last Friday night in Lakemba, which refused to condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo. And though the organisation is on the fringe of Australia’s Muslim community, its views, and those of other fundamentalists, find a broad and growing echo in the Islamic world.

Whether our model of pluralism can remain unchanged as religious hatred spreads, including into Australia’s suburbs, is a problem that demands honest discussion. At the heart of that problem lies the fact that Islam finds it difficult to accept religious freedom and the freedom of expression that goes with it.

The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines religious freedom in terms of each person’s ability to “change his religion or belief” and to manifest that religion or belief “in teaching, practice, worship or observance”. But data from the Association of Religion Data Archives shows that while they endorse that declaration, severe restrictions on religious freedom are imposed in almost 80 per cent of Muslim-majority countries with a population of two million or more, compared to 10 per cent of Christian-majority countries.

Those restrictions have dramatic consequences, with serious religious persecution more than twice as likely in Muslim-majority countries than in their Christian-majority counterparts. What were once large Jewish populations have almost entirely disappeared; increasingly, Christians are targeted too, with their numbers plummeting, while Christian proselytism is commonly prohibited and routinely punished. As for the Baha’is and Zoroastrians, repression is their daily fate.

That is not to deny that many victims are themselves Muslims: in 70 per cent of Muslim- majority countries, governments persecute other Muslims, typically from minority sects. But that merely betrays a fanaticism which continually breathes fresh life into centuries-old doctrinal disputes.

Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland may fight, but their quarrels never invoke 16th- century differences on transubstantiation.

Every day, however, Sunnis and Shi’ites slaughter each other over the rightful successor to the prophet Mohammed.

That fanaticism breeds a demonisation of enemies, apparent in Islamists’ portrayal of Jews, that encourages religiously-inspired violence. Muslim-majority countries have a relatively low incidence of conventional homicide; but even excluding the conflict in Chechnya, Muslims account for more than 60 per cent of all high-casualty terrorist bombings since 1999, with most of those bombings targeting civilians in Islamic lands.

As Muslims comprise less than a quarter of the world’s population, the thesis Montesquieu advanced 250 years ago — that “the Mohammedan religion, which speaks only through the sword, continues to act on men with the destructive spirit which founded it” — retains its element of truth.

That truth grates against Australia’s founding principles. It wasn’t by accident that the founders of the federation ensured it would accommodate religious diversity, not favouring one faith or denomination over any other. Rather, the Constitution’s reticence on matters of religion was a conscious choice, made despite what might readily have been overwhelming pressures.

Just on its first day, for example, the 1897 Constitutional Convention received a petition with more than 17,000 signatures asking for the constitution to state that “God is the Supreme Ruler of the world and the source of all law and authority”; and in the next three days alone, that petition was joined by 16 others, signed by 140,000 people. But though they were deeply religious, the founders rejected those requests, convinced that the expression of faith had to be a private matter. That position, abhorrent to the Islamists, remains vital to the “feeling of free citizenship” Henry Parkes exalted. The issue is how it can now be defended.

To that question there are no simple answers: just as Jonathan Swift wisely observed that “it is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he wasn’t reasoned into”, so the abject failure of costly “deradicalisation” programs shows the intolerant cannot be lulled into tolerance. What is clear, however, is that religious neutrality can no longer mean indifference. It is, in other words, an illusion to believe “tolerance for the tolerant, Islamism for the Islamists” makes any more sense as a policy than “liberalism for the liberals, cannibalism for the cannibals” (to use Martin Hollis’s phrase): for like all plans to appease wolves by throwing them carcasses, what begins with other people’s bodies invariably ends with one’s own.

Rather, a response is needed that measures up to the threat. Yes, the fanatics will smoulder with rage; but no Islamist should qualify for Australian residence or citizenship. And if the government sees merit in retaining section 18C, it should see even greater merit in enforcing longstanding prohibitions on incitement to violence, which have played too little role in dealing with the Islamists and their fellow travellers.

All that raises many legitimate questions. How can it be, for example, that the government blocks access to websites suspected of breaching copyright, but allows jihadi websites to flourish? And how can it be that SBS, using taxpayers’ funds, helps subsidise Al-Jazeera, whose executive producer called “I am Charlie” an “alienating slogan” while suggesting the Paris attacks might only be a “targeted” response to Abu Ghraib and to French action against Islamic State?

That is not the country today celebrates. Nor should it be that our children inherit. Australia’s “indissoluble Federal Commonwealth”, the Constitution tells us, was achieved “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God”. It will take all our human vigilance to keep those blessings intact.

From the comments at Henry’s thread, there is this, which is correctly subtitled “a non-racist, unbigoted inquiry into the core teachings of Islam and what it all means (if anything) for non-Muslims”. These are the 28 headings. Detailed explanations for each of the 28 are found at the link.

1. A standardized version of the idea-collection is written down.
2. The Quran includes instructions for its own spread.
3. The idea-collection includes instructions for its own preservation, protection, and duplication.
4. Islam commands its followers to create a government that supports it.
5. Permission to spread the religion by war.
6. Lands must be conquered.
7. The idea-collection provides new soldiers by allowing polygamy.
8. It is a punishable offense to criticize Islam.
9. You can’t leave Islam once you’re in.
10. Islam must be your first allegiance.
11. Dying while fighting for Islam is the ONLY way to guarantee a man’s entrance into Paradise.
12. You must read the Quran in Arabic.
13. You must pray five times a day.
14. The prayers involve moving together in time.
15. A woman is in a thoroughly subordinate position.
16. The only way a woman can guarantee her passage into Paradise is if her husband is happy with her when she dies.
17. Allah gives Himself permission to edit his own work.
18. The Quran uses the carrot and stick to reinforce behaviour.
19. Islam provides a huge and inspiring goal.
20. Non-Muslims must pay a large tax.
21. A Muslim is forbidden to make friends with a non-Muslim.
22. The Quran counsels the use of deceit when dealing with non-Muslims.
23. Islam must always be defended.
24. Islamic writings teach the use of pretext to initiate hostilities.
25. The explicit use of double standards.
26. It is forbidden to kill a Muslim (except for a just cause).
27. If Muslims drift away from Mohammed’s teachings, Allah will end the world.
28. The message in a standard Quran is difficult to decipher.

Not horrible but rather unpleasant and threatening

This is Scott Johnson’s description of the experience of a Swede who went into the Muslim area of Malmö “disguised” as a Jew:

John Howard Griffin famously enlisted the assistance of a dermatologist to have his skin darkened so he could pass as a black man traveling in the deep South for six weeks in late 1959. He reported his experiences in Black Like Me. Based on the journal he kept, the book has sold more than 10 million copies and remained continuously in print since its publication in 1961.

Swedish journalist Petter Ljunggren had a similar idea, though he didn’t have to go to Griffin’s lengths to conduct the experiment. Replicating the experiment conducted by journalist Patrick Reilly in October 2013, Ljunggren donned a kippah and a Star of David to walk the streets of Malmö, Sweden, with its large Muslim population. Captured with a hidden camera, the experience depicted is not horrible, but rather unpleasant and threatening (at 17:50 and 29:30 or so in the video below).

The Algemeiner reports on the results of the experiment here. Elder of Ziyon follows up here. . . .

The comments at YouTube indicate that accurate English subtitles are forthcoming; the current English subtitles were generated automatically via Google. They have the quality of Ezra Pound’s translation of Anglo-Saxon poetry into modern English without the imposing rhythms or alliterative lilt. You sort of get the drift.

Whether Christian or secular, this is your fate as well unless dealt with as a matter of some urgency.

I’ve completely changed my mind

I went back and watched a bit of the game between the Patriots and the Colts and everything about it sickened me. I know it’s only football, but Brady was cheating and the game’s the thing. And while it is true that “It’s not ISIS – No one died”, it’s not for him to say it. In fact, by using one of the most horrific aspects of international politics today as a means to distract attention from his own grubby conduct, his behaviour is even more grubby than it was before.

Whatever success he has had on the field, it is all ashes now.

Plain speaking on IR reform

It’s opaque, not all that clearly stated, somewhat roundabout in getting to its point, written mostly in tongues in the form of an analogy, 100% ironic in its tone, but if you ask me, Grace Collier’s opinion piece in The Australian today – Fair work lessons in the real world – was written in defence our current industrial relations system. It describes a projected guided tour to the land of free enterprise with specific focus on its industrial relations system. And while it is hard to find a straight out quotable quote, let me mention just this one [bad language alert!]:

I am delighted to announce my “Harden the ­F–k Up Industrial Relations Discovery Luxury Extravaganza” to the industrial relations leader (and top shopping destination) of the world, the United States of America. This tour, in March, is aimed at the high-end traveller who thinks the main reason for Australia’s productivity and union problems is the Fair Work Act. It should be noted — and this limits the target market somewhat — the tour is strictly “no grumps allowed”.

There are then a series of vignettes about various aspects of the American IR system, with this the last one which is her grand finale:

Since 1973, union officials have enjoyed exemption from the Hobbs Act, a law that makes obstruction of commerce by robbery or extortion a crime. Union officials can use union violence free from criminal prosecution provided they are seeking to advance “legitimate union objectives.” Union violence is reportedly, since this time, responsible for at least 203 deaths, 5689 incidents of personal injury, more than 6435 incidents of vandalism and tens of millions of dollars in property damage.

The point she is making, but written in code so as not to upset her readers at The Oz who, she suspects, are unanimous in their desire to rip the present system down, is that we have a pretty good industrial relations system already, and we would be mad to try to put in place something like the system they have in the United States. That is exactly so. With every other national government literally the political wing of the union movement, we would be mad to pull down the one piece of social machinery we have designed to contain union power. It’s not perfect, and it can be made better, but there are a lot that are far far worse.

MORE ON THE AMERICAN INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS SYSTEM: It’s titled, “Superman Joins a Union” which gives you some idea about labour relations in Metropolis. At least if he were here he might be able to take his case to an industrial tribunal. The union official you see here is a universal type, known to one and all. It’s funny, but it’s no joke.

Anyone who invokes aggregate demand as part of an economic argument is wrong

A market economy in recession, left more or less to itself to adjust to circumstances, will find its way back to growth and full employment within a year, a year and a half at the outside. That same economy, under the administration of managers unsympathetic to the market, may travel in the desert for a very long time before coming good, assuming it comes good. I would like to come back to a post put up yesterday, The Next Phase of Economic Stagnation, which contains the transcript of a debate between a defender of Quantitative Easing in Europe and someone who thinks it is a very bad idea. But what I particularly wanted to comment on was this, stated in defence of QE:

If you’re in a situation where aggregate demand is very weak and that’s a position I think the eurozone is in and you are in danger of slipping into the sort of deflation which I at least and some other judges think is pretty damaging, then this is a mechanism for fending that danger off. And I have to say, I don’t think that there will be much impact from quantitative easing within the Eurozone, apart from through the exchange rate. In driving the exchange rate lower that’s going to help to boost eurozone net exports. It will boost aggregate demand. It will tend to keep up the price level. On balance I think those are pretty good things to be aiming at.

Anyone who invokes aggregate demand as part of an economic argument is wrong. Once universally understood, now universally disregarded, there is no independent force in an economy called aggregate demand. You can shift who gets to do the spending – and in every case where aggregate demand is invoked it is the government that gets to do the extra spending – but you cannot increase the rate of growth or employment. In fact, over time, it weakens an economy’s structure so profoundly that you are frequently worse off than when you began.

Recessions are inevitable, and there are actions a government can take, but increased public spending and higher levels of public debt are not amongst them. The sad part is that economists have so comprehensively invested in this nonsense theory, governments find it perfectly in tune with their basest political desires, and the public cannot understand why it shouldn’t work and like to see more spent on them by government. So here we are, a perfectly constructed downwards spiral based on the latest most up-to-date theories, in which no one can ever quite see the way out again.