Archive for October, 2009

Retired Major-General Jim Molan was chief of operations of the multinational force in Iraq in 2004, and criticised for orchestrating a repressive push into militant territory at Fallujah resulting in violent battles and civilian dead. He’s no shrinking violet, so his thoughts on Australia’s role in the Afghanistan war are worth quoting in summary form.

“Counter-terrorism is only part of our justification (meaning alliance politics)…Being in a war is about achieving a result in the conflict…Our minimalist approach means our soldiers will perform brilliantly until the war is lost…The coalition failed to deliver on aid promises and training of local police and military…So Afghanis see no benefit from the presence of foreign troops”.

“Australia’s contribution has been cloaked in rhetoric and confusion. It is delusional to think that, even in Oruzgan province, the coalition (in this case 3150 Australian & Dutch troops) can protect the people, develop institutions of state, provide jobs and education, create Afghan battalions and police and hunt those that need to be captured or killed, with the resources that we have allocated. But that is what we have to do”.

“Recent presidential election results raise doubts about whether the war and our small part in it are being run well…Australia’s actions show that we intend to do the least we can…Our greatest vulnerability is lack of resolve”.

While Molan therefore calls for “strong strategic decisions and resourcing”, he also concedes that “apart from practical military problems, we face a deep moral question of continuing a conflict that we are not serious about resolving”.

We cannot accept any longer to just be there, to satisfy US alliance perceptions. Our presence can in fact have deleterious effects on the local scene – it is not necessarily positive, even on a small scale. Broad Australian acceptance of long-term nation-building in Afghanistan with many more troops and mounting Australian dead is not going to happen. So the general’s analysis and assumptions lead us to logically (and morally) conclude that it’s time to leave!

Previous reports on Afghanistan are available here.

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Penile Circumspection

A recent report by pediatric experts at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians changes its official stance on ‘unnecessary’ circumcision for boys, acknowledging that it does have medical benefits, such as protection against urinary tract infections in infants, HIV transmission and penile cancer. But it recommends against universal circumcision for newborn & infant boys, and hedges its bets by suggesting the procedure may be delayed until a child is old enough (unspecified!) to make an ‘informed choice’. However later operations are riskier, often under general anaesthetic and more costly. Circumcision rates have fallen from 90% in 1950s to 10% now.

Meanwhile evidence is growing that significant engagement with video games, social networking and TV promotes infantile brains. A gamer’s world is filled with violence without empathy and behaviour without consequences. If these qualities are learned and transferred to the real world, the risk of these brains agreeing to late circumcision or even self-mutliation must be considered, so that cock-ups can be avoided.

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Pathetic Packer

A new biography of James Packer, inheritor of Australia’s biggest fortune, apparently reveals little of uplifting value to the community, only inside stories and celebrity voyeurism.

The pathos of a grown man willingly bullied by his father during tycoon apprenticeship is leavened by his own greed, predilection for extravagant ‘boys toys’ and that juvenile 80s expression about he who dies with the most wins. His toys are excessively gross, including a 50m super-yacht burning 400 litres of fuel per 10 km. Female partners are good-looking models and his entourage of hangers-on macho sycophants.

Financial dealings revolve around ‘selling off the farm’ of the PBL media empire, carefully exploited by his father & grandfather, and getting into casino developments overseas, while losing two-thirds of his $6.2 billion fortune. Observing his father’s gambling losses, James apparently decided that gambling business by definition must be money-making. Motivated by ambitions to pile up even more, his energies have concentrated on this sole objective.

That such a vacuous and uninspiring life story would interest fellow citizens is testimony to the shallow celebrity zeitgeist of our times. Signs of Packer’s benevolence, community concern, philanthropy, or interest in environmental and social issues, are not apparent. Consider the contrast with an inspirational Bill Gates’ rise from garage start-up to global benefactor applying his considerable skills, intelligence and personally-made fortune to eliminating major illnesses in the developing world. 

Money definitely talks, but how pathetic the story can sometimes be!Outback cliff holes

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Devilishly-cunning Norwegians know how to apply the blowtorch to Obama’s behind or feet or wherever, with a ‘premature’ award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the US President. Those sophisticated Scandanavians (Europeans?) know how to boost an ego with old-fashioned flattery and prestigious awards. He’s bound to fall for it, stop all US wars and deliver world peace any time soon.

US critics hit out at those pesky Europeans for ambushing their President, giving him unwarranted plaudits for only talking the talk, etc.  Norwegians are not usually considered machiavellian but their famous poet & playwright Henrik Ibsen knew plenty about irony (‘The Wild Duck’ and other works). And of course, when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize despite his key role in mass killings by US bombing in S.E. Asia during the Vietnam war, Tom Lehrer famously said that his job as a satirist was obsolete.

Ibsen said:   “The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone”.


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Killer Kokoda

Another Australian has died walking Kokoda Track in the footsteps of our soldiers fighting in WWII against Japanese invaders heading towards Australia through PNG’s mountain rainforest; making a total four dead this year.

Despite tabloid-style headlines, the track did not kill anybody! That is actually impossible. Debate about whether they were fit enough for such an arduous adventure is naturally muted by respect for their families. Discussion turns around whether they had proper medical checks beforehand and so on. Responsibilty for one’s own actions is diffused.

Terrain on the track is difficult & muddy, humidity and temperatures are high, mossies are plentiful. Unsurprisingly walking conditions are beyond the capacity of some of our suburban citizens and described as a ‘tropical nightmare’. But this information is readily available, so when adventure calls, would-be walkers must evaluate their own ability to endure.

Are some foolhardy, unprepared, unthinking, unrealistic, unaware of their own limitations or underlying medical conditions? No doubt. Or simply unlucky. In 2001 there were 70 walkers and last year 6000, becoming a $50m business with substantial impact on isolated village communities.

While showing sympathy for those whose loved ones met an untimely death, we should also recognise their deliberate decision and responsibility for embarking on an adventure with some danger. The risks are extant.

Sentimentalising of Anzac ‘legends’ gives literal meaning to that mis-used word ‘iconic’ for this jungle pilgrimage, with the increasing spiritual vacuum of Godzone conjuring up new forms of worship. Kokoda walking seems like more mawkish nationalism than historical reflection.

PNG crash

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Beef eaters have some new revelations (SMH 10-11 Oct) about their meat choice to chew on. Apparently up to 30% of beef sold in Australia is old cow repackaged as prime produce, and allowed under a Voluntary Beef Retail Agreement, which only requires labelling as “budget”. Old cows are referred to in the meat industry as ‘eight tooth’, since their last teeth erupt only from about 39 months of age. Normally this meat is considered suitable for mince only.

Large retailers not signatory to the agreement have old meat days and shelves are stacked with “specials” of rump, scotch fillet or T-bone, so poor punters think they’ve snagged a bargain. The budget euphemism for old cow meat is of course used all week by signatory retailers. Strangely the Red Meat Advisory Council does not support truth-in-labelling legislation put to NSW parliament.

This beef scam really tickles KC meat correspondent’s funny bone, and the wonderful Orwellian use of consumer key words ‘special’ and ‘bargain’ to perpetrate it, says it all. Ain’t that the udder truth! To consider a healthy beef alternative, check out the benefits of eating kangaroo meat, before you start mooing too.

roos in scrub

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Afghanistan has rocks and hard places galore, and the U.S. and its allies are firmly stuck between them, including Australia. We are waiting for President Obama to make up his mind about where to now, after eight years of war, and nil progress. Death tolls mount and both sides of Congress are resisting the commitment of more US troops, following General McChrystal’s call for 40,000 on top of the 68,000 already deployed.

Despite those years of seemingly futile effort, a clear and consistent statement of the overall mission remains elusive. Originally, after 9/11, it was about tracking and destroying al-Qaeda. Then we were bringing democracy and stable government to the Afghan people. And controlling the source of opium on world markets. And protecting or promoting human rights. Now talk is of counter-insurgency, with the local population to be won over, with more civilian aid. After killing or alienating so many of them, this is a hard call. Taliban are of course everywhere in their own country, like the Vietnamese were in their war. 

Peter Galbraith was deputy head of the UN mission monitoring recent presidential elections until fired for pushing his boss to release detailed evidence of widespead electoral fraud. The Afghan Electoral Complaints Commission, according to Galbraith, is biassed towards incumbent President Karzai, who benefitted most from the fraud. If deemed re-elected his legitimacy would be highly questionable. But the US & allies have so far backed him, despite his government’s record of corruption and dealing with warlords. Unfortunately that system constitutes the backbone of what passes for local government and civil society in Afghanistan.

Galbraith points out that successful counter-insurgency requires a legitimate government to act as a solid base for capacity-building and winning hearts & minds. References to Obama’s Vietnam are not too far-fetched and renowned US historian George Kennan’s quote from that era resonates: “Our country should not shoulder the main burden of determining the political realities in any other country. This is not only not our business, but I don’t think we can do it successfully”. Plus ca change.

Very big rocks, very hard places and very stuck!

Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan under Rudd, as under Howard, is driven entirely by our traditional US alliance preoccupation. Government parrots US lines while trying to keep our troops on safer ground. Bilateral support of them conflated with patriotism stifles critical debate of Australia’s war aims and likelihood of success, with Federal Opposition silent.

See ‘More Afghanistan Truths’ and ‘Afghan Home Truths: Malalai not Malcolm’

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