ashthomas//blog: January 2004


Tuesday, January 27, 2004

BBC's The Office picked up the Best TV Comedy at the Golden Globes. Great line from the show's creator/writer/star, Ricky Gervais: "I'm not from these parts... I'm from a little place called England. We used to run the world before you."

Friday, January 16, 2004

Josh Marshall over at TalkingPointsMemo has a rather touching story about meeting one of his idols, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Being an historian myself and an admirer of Schlesinger's work, I can imagine the sort of excitement Marshall had in talking to one of the most important American historians of the 20th century. Marshall met Schlesinger at the party held recently for the The Week's first annual awards in opinion journalism, where TalkingPointMemo won for the best blog.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Fred Barnes, editor of the Weekly Standard, writes about the similarities between the current war in Iraq and the First World War, in "War and History". He makes some interesting points about the way history has excoriated Wilson as a idealistic failure, but as he notes, the real similarities are not to be found in a comparison of U.S. policy in 1917 and 2003, but between German policy in 1914 and current U.S. thinking. Certainly Wilson is one of the intellectual ancestors of neoconsersative thinking, with its emphasis on democratisation at the global level and the U.S.'s active participation in that enterprise. But the other side of the neocon coin is a doctrine of preemptive war that bears a lot of resemblance to German thinking in the lead up to the War. As Barnes says, the motives of the two are almost identical: to go to war in order "to prevent a fate worse than a short war".

Australia follows US on passport measures. Frankly I think that any increase in border security and identity checks is a good thing. Despite the criticism of the Australian Civil Liberties Union, including extra features in passports does not seem that much of an infringement on personal liberty. The new technology, that takes a "biometric fingerprint" of your face, will supposedly make it harder for people to fake a passport or enter the country using someone else's identity.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

There is an interesting article in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, City on Fire by Lynn Eden, that argues that current military strategists underestimate the damage that would be caused by the explosion of a nuclear warheads. Given the present US administration's willingness to employ military force, and proposals that the use of limited nuclear weapons be reconsidered, this is an important issue. If the use of nuclear weapons is going to be seriously considered as a possible course of action, then a full understanding of the nature of the destruction it would cause is needed. In the recent Iraq War, the use of small bombs, sometimes without an explosive, were used because of the concern of limiting the damage to the intended target. Now that we have the technology to do so, minimization of collateral damage is an essential consideration in modern warfare.

As Lynn Eden, the associate director for research at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, writes,
Because fire damage has been ignored for the past half-century, high-level U.S. decision makers have been poorly informed, if informed at all, about the extent of damage that nuclear weapons would actually cause. As a result, any U.S. decision to use nuclear weapons almost certainly would be predicated on insufficient and misleading information.

The effects, she notes, not only in the physical sense, but also politically and socially, will be far greater than the White House or Pentagon had planned on. The theoretical example that she elucidates in the article, that of a near-surface explosion of a 300 kiloton warhead above the Pentagon, is sobering and frightening reading.

Monday, January 05, 2004

I guess it is fitting to start a new blog with reference to what came before. My wife's online diary, which ended some months ago, has had one last addition: a memorial to my father, who passed away on the 27th of December 2003 from an unexpected and sudden heart attack.