Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Inauspicious

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  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    James - the numbers in the links you cite appear to be very different from the ones you provided in your previous post. The murder rate in NO is given as being between 60-80/100000, not 105/100000 as you claimed. It also points out that New Orleans is ten times more violent than other cities of similar size in the US.

    In the past few days in Iraq:

    Police found 47 bodies in the streets of Baghdad on Thursday.

    Guerrillas set off two car bombs in the al-Mansur district, killing 13 persons and injuring 22

    Sunni Arab guerrillas launched a mortar attack on the Shiite Shu'la district of Baghdad, injuring 9 civilians

    Police found four bodies in Hilla, in the mixed Sunni and Shiite province of Babel

    Gunmen set up a phony checkpoint in the Shiite holy city of Karbala and stopped and killed Shaikh Akram al-Zubaydi, an important cleric and aide of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

    A bombing wounded 3 Iraqi policemen in Kirkuk.

    Political violence left about 10 persons dead on Tuesday.

    Googling around I can find no stories about New Orleans suffering from car bombings, assasinations, or police discovering dozens of bodies showing signs of torture.

    As far as Iraq being worse now than it was before March 2003, as the UN's former Thief in Chief Kofi Annan said in his departing address, I saw the Iraqi UN Ambassador asked that exact question on CNN the day after Saddam's rope dance. The Ambassador didn't have too much time for that view!!

    So the ambassador didn't feel his own government was worse than Saddam Husseins! Sounds like they picked the right guy for that job . . .

    Iraq is not pretty, but I think the Pottery Barn rule applies. The US and the UK and the other forces broke it, so now they have to fix it. I think that the UK, the US have an obligation to stay and support in whatever way necessary the Iraqi government as long as is necessary.

    The problem is, the government is probably responsible for the lions share of the murders currently occuring in Iraq. Do the US and UK REALLY have an obligation to stay and help the Shia ethnically cleanse their country of Sunnis?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    OK, am I the only person who is detecting copious crocodile tears and faux outrage about the 'botched' execution of Saddam Hussein? (Perhaps I'm a wet pussy, but I don't think there a nice way to break someone's neck so they'll choke to death.)

    Now, I'm one of those people who thinks state-sanctioned executions are repulsive, sadistic and have precisely zero deterrent value full stop - even for a bad bastard like Saddam Hussein. (OTOH, I don't recall any other country offering to keep the miserable prick locked up until he died a miserable but natural death.)

    AFAIC, if the Iraqi Government were going to hang the man they should have cleared the room, put a single camera in there and offered a feed to anyone who would have broadcast the whole squalid mess live and unedited. The people who wanted to wrap the thug in a martyr's shroud would have done so regardless; the sad bastards who wanted to get off on the spectacle (however understandably) could have done so too.

    Meanwhile, let's see if the armchair moralists here in New Zealand have the balls to be as vocal in their opposition to state-sanctioned murder when it comes to our major trading partners - not least China, who execute more people behind closed doors every year than evil Amerikka has managed in the last thirty.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,



    Could you translate this for me?


    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1447 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    If it was such an obvious consequence Neil, why did you never think to mention it when we argued on the merits of an invasion in 2002 and 2003? Why didn't anyone think to mention it?

    I'm not saying it was obvious, I'm just pointing out the dynamics behind the present conflict. The current violence has its origins in the 30 years of Saddam's rule.

    I'm not trying to by a fight, I admit that the war has not been worth the cost, but that is no reason to consider what would have happened otherwise.

    We simply don't know what might have happened if history had taken another course, because there were so many potential courses.

    The last time the Shiites rose up against Saddam in 1991 they were decimated. Any challenge to Saddam's rule was ruthlessly suppressed. It's hard to imagine that his rule would have just faded away

    Sure, we don't now for certain what might have happened but given what we now see - the intensity of the ethnic/religious conflict - it’s hard to see that the end of Saddam's regime was ever going to be peaceful.

    That's not a justification for the invasion, but it's certainly a major consideration when thinking about what should have happened. And it's also recognition that what is happening in Iraq is a product of many local causes which need to be addressed for there to be any solution. Which is large part of what Allawi is saying. And which is where we are now.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Points for finding your own sources James (and, as ever, for maintaining a civil tone), but there's a pretty obvious like-for-like problem with those two references. One is the rate for a single, particularly violent (as much as 10 times the national average) urban centre, the other is an estimate for an entire country, including relatively peaceful regions such as Iraqi kurdistan.

    An earlier version of the murder rate meme debunked by the WSJ's pro-war conservative James Taranto.

    A different tack from Kung Fu Monkey.

    There are quite a few more.

    Here's the interview with the Reporters Without Borders correspondent - conducted by an avowedly conservative citizen journalist:

    And while he has significant criticisms of Saddam Hussein's regime, if forced to simply categorize his perspective, I'd label him an educated Sunni who believes Iraq was better off under the former dictator, and one who greatly fears the Iranian and Shiite militia influence in Iraq's politics and current violence. Despite the domestic horrors and wars of aggression stemming from Hussein's rule, Raazzaq's wistful reminiscence for a pre-war Iraq is not exactly irrational, given his frame of reference.

    And from the conclusion of part two of the same interview:

    And there you have it. After an hour of "wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean, know what I mean," we'd finally built his plainly stated belief that the current Iraqi government is run by Shiite parties backed by foreign influences, which have no interest in stopping the violence. Is this merely the perspective of a Sunni who is nostalgic for Saddam's rule? I'm not sure, because to some extent we know that revenge killings are happening; we know that Americans arrested Iranian agents and were forced to release them by the current Iraqi government, we know that Iranian-trained Sadrist splinter groups are behind many of the murders and that the government has failed to reign them in; we know that Maliki halted a cordon of Sadr City during the search for a missing serviceman.

    The key themes are Raazzaq's rejection of the idea that sectarian hatred was pervasive in Iraq pre-2003, and his contention that Sadrists have a dangerous and destructive presence in what passes for Iraq's government. Given that Sadrist militiamen infiltrated even Saddam's execution, he would appear to have a point. If I were a Sunni, I think I'd be pretty scared too.

    This isn't a liberal blogger writing, and the interviews have been linked to by the likes of Instapundit and Malkin.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Lea,

    Translation for AFAIC = As Far As I'm Concerned
    Though given the subject matter it might have been a typo and he was trying for AFFCO

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 30 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    What exactly was your Christmas whisky? Inquiring minds want to know. I assume it was single malt but from which distillery?

    Delighted to answer. We did a little contra with Whisky Galore, which allowed me to order something a cut above what I could normally afford.

    I originally plumped for a 13 year-old Talisker (I'm a big fan of the standard 10 year-old Talisker) and an 18 year-old Longmorn. Michael Milne congratulated me on selecting two "fine whiskies", but reported that both were out of stock, so I asked him to pick replacements.

    He came up with a 20 year-old BenRiach (Speyside) and Adelphi's Breath of the Isles, a 13 year-old single-cask bottling (309 bottles) from an unnamed island distillery - substituting for the Longmorn and the Talisker respectively.

    The BenRiach is insanely drinkable, with honey and nougat tastes. The Adelphi is more spicy, grunty and phenolic (ie more like Talisker, but much paler in colour) and, at 53.4%, needs a splash of water to bring out its complexity.

    So, two different whiskies; both bloody lovely. I must say, it's nice being able to go up a notch from the usual <$100 malts - but I still wonder what that 13 year-old Talisker tastes like ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • James Bremner,


    The following para was in the article from wafb.

    "If the figures remain steady, Peter Scharf, executive director of the Center for Society, Law and Justice at the University of New Orleans notes, that would mean a June-to-June rate of 105 killings per 100,000 residents."

    I said in my original post that the comparison is not perfect, and as I live here I am well aware that there are no IEDs or death squads etc. in NOLA. But if you are dead, you are dead. How you died doesn't change the fact that you are dead.

    To reiterate my previous post, the point was that you can have a lot of mayhem going on in a city or country and the city or country and its people can still function and go about their daily lives. I think that is a fair enough point.

    I live here in NOLA and don't like the violence but it doesn't impact me or my family or our lives. Yes, we do live in a reasonable part of town, but we live in a regular house, not a gated community with guards and some of the murders have been only a couple of miles away (as people here have the right to bear arms and defend themselves, we don't have home invasions in the US. The deaths are mostly crack heads and dealers shooting at each other in the 'hood. As we don't buy or sell crack, we are not in any danger)

    So in spite of all the carnage in Iraq, the country could still be functioning and moving forward, however haltingly (as the Newsweek article shows) to a better future than is has now or had under Hussein.

    As for the Iraqi UN Ambassador, rather than disparage him, what parts of his comments do you think are unreasonable or inaccurate?

    It seems that most of the estimates of the number of people that Saddam murdered range from 1m to 2m. It depends on whether you include soldiers in the Iran/Iraq war etc. Let’s take the low number of 1m. Saddam was in power from 1979 to 2003, 24 years or 288 months, so 1m dead equates to 3,472 dead per month, each month every month for 24 years. Or 41,667 dead each year, every year for 24 years, or twice that if you take the high estimate of 2m. And many of the deaths were after horrendous torture and brutality, the guy was a monster of extraordinary proportions. The world should be celebrating his death, not worrying about the last few minutes of his life and a bit of lip from a few Shites.

    NOLA • Since Nov 2006 • 353 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    I read the Raazzaq interview above. His denial that there was any sectarian conflict in Iraq prior to 2003 is hardly credible, from Ali Allawi above -

    ...the invasion of Iraq tipped the scales in favour of the Shia, who are now determined to emerge as the governing majority after decades, if not centuries, of perceived disempowerment and oppression.

    Saddam's rule was indeed Stalinist - he oppressed anyone who opposed him but the Shia and Kurds came in for particular attention and it was the Sunnis who benefited the most from his rule. If you listen to them, they say they were oppressed which is an opinion worth considering as much as the opinion of Sunni's like Raazzaq who say they weren't.

    I would also take Raazzaq's view that its mostly Iran's fault that the Shiites are acting as they are with a grain of salt as well. Making ones opponents all pawns of foreigners is the best way of avoiding dealing with the very real ethnic/religious tensions that have long standing causes.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Raffe Smith,

    He came up with a 20 year-old BenRiach (Speyside) and Adelphi's Breath of the Isles, a 13 year-old single-cask bottling (309 bottles) from an unnamed island distillery - substituting for the Longmorn and the Talisker respectively.

    Nice. I came across the BenRiach (10yo) as the 'mystery malt' at a tasting once, and it threw a few people because of the peat used in the maltings - many thought it came from Islay! The 20yo sounds intriguing.

    The 25 year old Longmorn is well worth investigating (despite the higher price), a wonderfully smooth, soft and complex whisky. A real Highland gent, and fantastic as an aperitif.

    I love the 10yo Talisker too, but have never had the fortune to try anything else from the distillery, so am also very curious as to what the 13yo is like...

    My entry into single-malts was through the heavily peated and phenolic whiskies of Islay, and I am only now beginning to discover the lighter and more fragrant highland whiskies, which I had originally dismissed as a bit 'boring'. It's a bit of an expensive hobby, but there is a whisky out there for every mood and moment one might have.

    Mount Albert. • Since Nov 2006 • 40 posts Report Reply

  • James Bremner,

    I read the Raazzaq and Hitchens articles, which were both fascinating, they added interesting specifics to the familiar narrative. It is a mess that only continued time and effort will resolve.

    I find his "the Shites turned out and smiled and waved whenever Saddam went to the south" a bit hard to take at face value. Probably one of those "turn out and smile and wave for Saddam, and we wont shoot you or rape you wife and children" type of celebrations.

    Neil, I disagree that Iran is not a major player in Iraq. Iran has been behind the Shite militias from the beginning and I read last week that Iran has been supporting the Sunnis as well. Their game plan is to create enough chaos to get the American public sick and tired of Iraq to get the politicians to pull out the US troops (a la Vietnam), but not so much chaos that Iraq implodes and pulls them into a regional conflict. So far you have to say that the Iranians are playing their hand very well, they are clever, make no mistake. Being able to create even more chaos in Iraq at virtually a moments' notice is a high cost the US has to consider if it wants to put more pressure on Iran over its nuke program as well.

    It is one complicated ball of wax, that is for sure.

    NOLA • Since Nov 2006 • 353 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    James, I don't deny Iran is a major player I'm just suspicious of the Sunni narrative that if it wasn't for Iran everything would be happy families between Sunnis and Shiites.

    But as RB points out its understandable that many Sunnis would be pretty scared by what the Shiites are up to. At present it is only US troops stopping the Shiite militias from ethnically cleansing all of Baghdad.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    This looks a bit off topic placed here - so by all means drop it in another thread if you like but it is connected to that Listener front page.

    Yes self help does sell well off the news stand and so has it always been. My wife has just been looking through a 1970’s copy of “know your own IQ” by Hans Eyesenk -who was in his day a respected academic. There was a time when some, though by no means all self help books were indeed written by academics. This is less the case now because many of those in a position to do so rarely have time or support write for the wider community. This is what makes the stuff by Dawkins et al. so valuable. No, this isn’t self help, but it is Science written by people who have looked at the evidence and probably know more about science than selling ideas. I digress…….

    The self help thing really doesn’t bother me. The self help thing with no sensible evidence to support it bothers me somewhat. The self help thing with no evidence being adopted by teachers and policy makers - makes me want to rant a lot and use the c word. It upsets me most because it highlights a failure of education and the triumph of marketing. I’m sure this will sound like a an oft repeated bleat but the “dumbing down” of higher education and the desire for more “vocational content” comes at the expense of teaching people how to obtain, evaluate and use evidence (research). I’m not saying everyone needs this training or indeed that this should constitute the backbone of higher education (I wish), but a few people outside of academia that can do this might be of use. We certainly could do with fewer government advisors and teachers who don’t fall for the Mobiles and Mozart bullshit. But lets face it, in a world of expedience if you can buy Mobiles, play Mozart and feel like you are doing good, then why bother reading to your kids ?

    The funny thing is that I have some sympathy for the Left/Right brain, VARK stuff, not because it does what it says on the cover, but because it makes people put more effort into what they do (how they teach). Just think if the right information was put into the right hands what a difference this would make.

    * As a footnote I should add that I view most IQ/psychometrics in the same way as moviegoers probably view Terminator movies - difficult to kill and there will always be the possibility of a ridiculous sequel.

    P.S. The moral marketing of drugs being another case in point but that’s for another day. I think John Key has finally found some truth to cling on to. The Herceptin decision probably was a money driven one and quite rightly so. I’ll be a little more generous about this when drug companies put as much effort into supporting campaigns to reduce the needless prescription of antibiotics so there !- yah boo sucks I’m off to mow the lawn around the base of my Ivory Tower.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Hamboy,

    I managed to post as anonymous and as other.
    It's just the google thing that wasn't happening.
    It seems that if I log on using my gmail password, non of the options work.

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 162 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    i'd be keen to see a link for your contention that the Iranians have links to the Sunni insurgency. It certainly runs counter to anything I've read.

    And, without going into another long running battle over the figure, your dismissal of the Johns Hopkins research on Iraqi deaths bemuses me....can you you back it with research that counters it. As far as I know the arguments against it don't usually move beyond "it's wrong". There has been no serious attempt to counter it's methology (the "Main Street" bias allegation has been refuted), it was peer reviewed and until we have another survey, it's conclusions must stand as the most reliable available

    You also mention a figure of 1m dead under Saddam, excluding the Iraq-Iran War (the launching of which and the continuation of which was heartily encouraged and physically supported by several western nations). My understanding is that both Human Rights Watch and the US Government have both touted the figure of 300,000. Now that's an awful figure but I'm unsure how it was tripled.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • James Bremner,

    I have seen the 1 million figure in a few places, I will dig around and try to find some links. The last time I heard the range of 1 to 2 million depending on who you count, it was from James Woolsley, the former head of the CIA (1992 to 1994 I think).
    I think I read the Iranian - Sunni insurgent link with reference to the 2 Iranian intelligence guys who were captured in Iraq last week or the week before.
    I'ill dig around on the other stuff too.

    NOLA • Since Nov 2006 • 353 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    I think I read the Iranian - Sunni insurgent link with reference to the 2 Iranian intelligence guys who were captured in Iraq last week or the week before

    I think you'll find these guys were, as it turns out, actually in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi govt. They have since been released in something of an embarrassing moment for the US military. Especially after the extravagant claims made by Centcom and Washington

    story here

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    long forgotten rapper Redhead Kingpin

    How can anyone forget Redhead Kingpin and his F.B.I. crew and their 1989 hits "Do the Right Thing" and "Pump it Hottie"?

    Oh, I keep forgetting. Not everyone was a 14-year-old girl in 1989.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    In the week since Saddam Hussein was hanged in an execution steeped in sectarian overtones, his public image in the Arab world, formerly that of a convicted dictator, has undergone a resurgence of admiration and awe.

    On the streets, in newspapers and over the Internet, Mr. Hussein has emerged as a Sunni Arab hero who stood calm and composed as his Shiite executioners tormented and abused him.

    “No one will ever forget the way in which Saddam was executed,” President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt remarked in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot published Friday and distributed by the official Egyptian news agency. “They turned him into a martyr.”

    Yesterdays NYT.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • reece palmer,

    cheers for that robyn, limewire's so hot right now.

    the terraces • Since Nov 2006 • 298 posts Report Reply

  • reece palmer,

    but don't forget "we rock the mic right"

    the terraces • Since Nov 2006 • 298 posts Report Reply

  • James Bremner,


    Here is a link to an article that discusses an Iran Sunni insurgent link.


    "One example of a mindset that may hinder analysis of Iranian involvement is the belief that Iran would never have any dealings with militant Sunni Arabs. But they allowed hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives to escape from Afghanistan across their territory in 2002," he said.

    Iran has also harbored Bin Laden's eldest son and many of the top Al Qaeda leaders since 9/11. My enemies enemy is my friend!!

    Why wouldn't Iran support Sunni insurgents at this point in time? Iran's goal is to get the US out of Iraq and hopefully the region by making the US public tired of the daily chaos of Iraq, so the politicians pull the troops out (al la Vietnam), and things are moving in their direction at the moment. The US mid term elections were a win for Iran and this strategy. The last thing Iran wants right now is for Iraq to settle down and make progress, what better way to keep the chaos going than to support both sides? Makes perfect sense.

    NOLA • Since Nov 2006 • 353 posts Report Reply

  • James Bremner,

    I read some of the report you linked to about the production sharing agreements that apparently some US and UK major oil companies are negotiating with the Iraqi government. Interesting report although one has to factor in the authors' point of view, which is not the least bit favourable toward any of the participants in the prospective deals. I also saw aa article based on the report in today's Independent.

    The deals seem reasonable to me for the following reasons:

    Iraq needs massive (tens of billions of $) investment and expertise to develop its oil fields in a hurry so they can get more oil revenue flowing to fund Iraq's reconstruction. Who else but the super majors has the financial resources and technical expertise required? No one.

    If you were an Iraqi, which companies would you want to deal with? Companies of the countries that liberated you from the nightmare of the Hussein regime (US, UK Aust etc) or companies from countries that either did nothing to support your liberation or would have left you to Saddam's tender mercies or even worse, done deals with Saddam (Russia, France China etc)?

    Bearing in mind the risk of making multi billion dollar investments in an environment as uncertain as Iraq is now (will the US bail out of Iraq, will Iran get a nuke and use it etc?), the terms of the agreement do not seem onerous to me.

    The oil companies get 75% of the revenue until their capital expenditure is recovered (hardly unreasonable), and get 20% thereafter, which conversely means that Iraq gets 80% thereafter.

    The article and the report state that a 12% rate of return is more normal for this kind of deal, but 12% is barely twice the Fed funds rate (one of the numbers that could be used as a proxy for the "the risk free rate of return" in financial calculations).

    An additional 6 and a bit% for all that risk? Are they kidding? Twenty % seems fair to me bearing in mind all the risk the oil companies will be bearing. There is a real risk that the whole thing will go up in smoke and they will lose all their capital investment. That risk has to be factored in to the return or you wouldn't do the deal. Also, consider what has happened to western oil companies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Russia recently. Bad shit does happen.

    Based on my understanding of the contracts currently being negotiated between Iraq and US and UK major oils, my original point stands. Iraqis are in charge of and will benefit from their own resources. Good on them and good luck to them!!

    NOLA • Since Nov 2006 • 353 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    I guess I'll wait for a more reliable source than the good Old NY Sun and a few unnamed sources. I remember this rag's touting of the WMDs a few years back with unnamed sources and evidence. They were spot on with that, no? The amount of disinformation in play in the American right wing media is incredible and its terrifying how easily its treated as verbatim.

    The NY Sun is often seen as a voice of Israel in NYC and, maybe its time to start racking up the disinformation if the report in the Timestoday is any indication of where we are headed.

    Blaming Iran for the mayhem in Iraq is a total copout. Of course they have a strong voice in Iraq but. they certainly have more right be there, interacting with governments and groups in their region than the USA and I get the feeling, as polling indicates, that most Iraqis would agree with that statement.
    As to the root causes of the current bloodshed in the country and the civil war, I would suggest you also look a little closer to home.

    To date your great decider has been happy to apportion the blame for the blood and mayhem in Iraq on virtually everybody else apart from himself.

    So is Iran involved with Al Qaeda now? Is that the new theory, supported by "intelligence" and unnamed sources no doubt....WMDs and Al Qaeda? It sounds familiar. I bet its on Newsmax already, no?

    The thing is, you've already cried wolf about all these things and have been found wanting. The lies, fabrications and twisted intelligence, let alone incompetence have, by the best estimates to date, cost the lives of over half a million souls. And now you are trying it again, And it won't work this time, so I guess any strike will need to be pre-emptive when it happens.

    And I'm having a few problems dealing with a post that has both "The US mid term elections were a win for Iran and this strategy" and "makes perfect sense" in the same paragraph too.

    Thankfully it seems that most Americans don't agree with you...

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • James Bremner,

    So you think it is perfectly fine for Iran to support Shia death squads?

    NOLA • Since Nov 2006 • 353 posts Report Reply

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