Tim Haslett's Blog

Older, wiser, grumpier

Defeating ISIS: some suggestions

The accepted wisdom at present is that more sending troops into Syria to fight against ISIS would be counter-productive.  The experience of almost every invasion since the Second World War bears out this proposition.

The French have decided to increase the bombing of ISIS positions but this has the effect of increasing civilian casualties as ISIS is well entrenched amongst the civilian population. In fact, the RAAF will often not bomb positions where there is a likelihood of civilian casualties.

Any increased military intervention is inevitably going to cause  increased civilian casualties.

The total number of civilian casualties is staggering.

This chart shows range of estimates from human rights organisations for the time period 2011-2015.

Source Civilian deaths
United Nations 220,000
Syrian Network for Human Rights 215,454
Center for Documentation of Violations 143,153
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 395,000

It would seem obvious that one way to stop the civilian deaths is to stop the fighting rather than to increase it by sending in more troops or more aeroplanes.

One highly effective way of limiting ISIS military capability would be to cut off the flow of funds that enables them to purchase arms.

A good proportion of the funding of the ISIS’ military capability comes from the sale of oil and the French have begun to step up their raids against oil installations.


But why wasn’t this done earlier? It seems like such an obvious way of limiting ISIS.

Could it be that there are some vested interests in the supply of oil from this region?

Another tactic could be to limit the supply of arms to ISIS. It beggars belief that the Western allies do not know who is supplying arms to ISIS. It also beggars belief that they do not know who is manufacturing those arms.

Surely the Western allies can bring pressure to bear on both parties, suppliers and manufacturers, to severely limit the military ability of ISIS.

this is where the hard work of finding a peaceful solution to the crisis in the Middle East will begin.

There needs to be an honest and open confrontation with the vested interests, arms manufacturers and the purchases of cheap oil, to ensure that we move away from this humanitarian disaster.

Turnbull slaps Abbott down

In his first national security interest to Federal Parliament Malcolm Turnbull said

“We should grieve and we should be angry, but we must not let grief or anger cloud our judgment.

“Our response must be as clear-eyed and strategic as it is determined. This is not a time for gestures or machismo. Calm, clinical, professional, effective – that’s how we defeat this menace.”

It was a statement that pointedly distanced him from the rhetoric of his discredited predecessor Tony Abbott.

It’s a marked departure from Abbott’s florid rhetoric of “ISIS is coming for all Australians.”

It must be galling for Abbott to have to sit on the backbench and endure this kind of attack. But no matter how galling for Abbott, it’s offset by the many Australians who think he had it coming.

It must be even more galling for the playground bully to have no right of reply to what the Prime Minister said.


Tony Abbott hopes for a message from above

Abbott and his minions (Abetz and Andrews) seem intent on demonstrating their political irrelevance.


Kevin Andrews struggled for credibility as Defence Minister. Why should we be listening to him now he is a backbencher?

The longer they continue to pursue the international policy directions from the previous administration, the more it appears obvious that Australia was heading in the wrong direction under Tony Abbott.

There is a case to be argued that this is not Australia’s war and that our participation in the conflict in the Middle East is the largest factor in making us a target for terrorist attacks.

Perhaps Malcolm Turnbull will put that case soon.





Scott Morrison really isn’t a very good treasurer

In his column in The Age, Ross Gittings writes

Morrison hadn’t been in the job long before he began repeating a line Hockey had belatedly stopped repeating that, with the budget, “we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem”.

He then asks

Why would any treasurer in his right mind say such a patently stupid thing? Because he’s allowing ideological preference to override the plain facts.

Actually there is another answer, well two answers, given the question.

The first is that he is stupid.

The second is that he is not a very good treasurer.

He is the last a long line of less than inspiring incumbents: Joe Hockey, Wayne Swan, and before them Peter Costello. (Chris Bowen not included as he only spent three months in the job). We then go back to Ralph Willis and John Dawkins.


An uninspiring lot: Hockey, Swan, Costello, Willis, Morrison and Dawkins

It is probably a commentary on how little effect the Federal Treasurer has on the economy when you think the economy did fairly well during the tenure of the six men.

But it would be nice to have a treasurer who knows what he’s doing.

Don’t Reclaim anything for me, Thanks

Over the weekend, The Age published this photograph from the demonstrations at Melton.

Wintons favourites.jpeg

This man is one of a number of the members of the anti-Islamic group Reclaim Australia who attended the demonstration wearing a mask to hide his identity.

In using the Australian flag as his mask, he wishes to give the impression that the views of his organisation are somehow representative of the views of the people who recognise the national flag, namely all Australians.

He’s wrong to wear the flag in this context.


Sometimes wearing the Australian flag on public works. 

And he is most certainly wrong to delude himself that his views represent those of the majority of Australians.



A Middle Eastern solution without recognition of a Kurdish homeland will not succeed

One of the central tenets of Chaos Theory is that systems, social political military organisational, demonstrate “sensitivity to initial conditions”.It’s also known as the Butterfly Effect coined by Philip Merilees who wrote Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?


What this means is that if you wish to intervene in systems that are highly unstable, small changes or differences, at the very beginning of your intervention can lead to wildly different results.

In terms of an intervention in the Middle East, this means that any given form of intervention (boots on the ground, peacekeeping troops, diplomatic negotiations) is likely to have highly unpredictable outcomes simply based on the time when the intervention begins.

In practical terms, chaos theory says that in a situation like the Middle East it is almost impossible to be certain, beyond a set of generalities, what the outcome of any intervention is likely to be.

No one would have forecast that the Western allies invasion of a Iraq would have produced a highly militarised ISIS.

There has been increasing talk after the Paris bombings of a diplomatic and pragmatic solution to the problem the civil war being waged by  the Syrian government. This is certainly an improvement on Donald Trump’ssolution of “bombing the shit out of them.”

There seems to be a growing consensus that the solution to the Syrian situation would not include President Bashar al-Assad. Yet, chaos theory would tell us that replacing Assad would be unlikely to produce the desired outcome of bring peace. Replacing the man at the top will produce changes but they are likely to be very difficult to predict and highly unstable.

Simply replacing Assad is unlikely to change the political and military power of the people who are backing him


If Assad is removed, the army elite is likely to replace him with someone of very similar political views.

If you replace the whole power elite,  it will be very difficult to predict, and much more difficult to control, the political factions that fill the vacuum.

And there is one other element that no one is talking about: the  US funded and armed Kurdish Peshmerga.


For the Kurdish Peshmerga, the war in Syria  is part of a decades long struggle for independence. Finding a political solution in Syria will be of little avail if the Kurds  are not granted an autonomous homeland.

And they’re not going to be easily satisfied.


They are going to want parts of Turkey, Syria Iraq and Iran and quite large parts of that. Failure to recognise Kurdish sovereignty over these areas will make the problem of the caliphate insignificant. ISIS is currently exercising political and military control over significant amounts of territory in Syria but nothing like the territory that is controlled and populated by the Kurds.

And the Kurds will rightly feel that they deserve some recognition and reward for being the most effective fighting force in the battle against ISIS.

It’s a difficult problem and one where simple solutions, such as a regime change in Syria, are not likely to be the answer.


From the men who would lead the free world

It’s been a bad week in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. In the light of the Paris attacks, candidates have joined in a ferocious race to the bottom in their sickening vitriol against the Syrian refugees.

Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon who is coming second to Trump in national polls joined in on Thursday chose a simple course into the discussion, likening Syrian refugees to dogs.

“If there’s a rabid dog running around your neighbourhood you’re probably not gonna assume something good about that dog,” he said.

 Presidential candidate Ben Carson completely fails to understand the plight of Syrian refugees.

And from the Trumpster  “I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration,” he told an audience in New Hampshire. “If I win, they’re going back. They’re going back. I’m telling you. They’re going back.”


 If elected, Trump will send the Mexicans back to Mexico and the Syrians back to Syria. And that’s just for starters.

 The candidates also had some views on bringing peace to the Middle East

Trump said in a speech last weekend his plan was to, “Bomb the shit out of them.”

Carson said in an interview he would forge a coalition of American allies in the region, but given three opportunities he could not name a single one.

The political and military situation in the Middle East is complicated and complex beyond belief. It will require political and diplomatic skills beyond anything seen so far to bring any measure of peace and stability to the area.

In spite of this the world is being treated to the unedifying spectacle of two men who would be president demonstrating that they have absolutely no grasp of the nature of the situation and are prepared to pander to the worst elements of US society in their bid to gain the Republican nomination.

If elected, either of these men would have within their power the ability to wreck carnage on the Middle East beyond anything that ISIS is capable of.

It’s a frightening thought.

J M W Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire

Perhaps one of J M W Turner’s most famous paintings is The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up

The painting hangs in the National Gallery, London, having been bequeathed to the nation by the artist in 1851. In 2005 it was voted the nation’s favourite painting in a poll organised by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

At the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October, the ship went into action immediately astern of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory. During the battle Temeraire came to the rescue of the beleaguered Victory, and fought and captured two French ships, winning public renown in Britain.

TurnerThe Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up.jpg

The symbolism of the painting is obvious. The sun is setting on  a glorious chapter of English naval history. Steam driven vessels are replacing sail and here one of the iconic battleships is being towed the wrecking yard by a fairly grubby little tug boat.

The tugboat and the Temeraire form one of the major structural elements of the painting. The battleship already a ghost, is linked to the dirty brown tugboat by the plume of smoke coming from its smokestack and by a sailing ship that the two vessels are moving past.


At the top of the painting, this image is framed by a patch of blue sky in the background and the reddish-brown reflection of the sunset on the river.

At the bottom, the fiery sunset bleeds into the dark browns that fill the water around the two ships.

The fiery red sunset modulates into a cloud which hangs over the Temeraire in much the same way as the smoke from the smokestack does, but it’s purer and cleaner and tonally related to the hues. of the ghostly battleship.

Like most of Turner’s sunsets, the one is like no sunset you will ever see. It is part of Turner’s genius to turn even the most glorious of scenes into a work of art.

In the sky, directly above the setting sun, hangs the spirit of the Temeraire, trailing clouds of glory.


The painting has immense emotional impact. The might and beauty of the sunset dominates the painting which is suffused with a sense of loss. The ghostly grandeur of the battleship dwarfs the stocky utilitarian tugboat.


The painting is also typical of many of Turner’s major works with its major theme of the overwhelming power and beauty of nature.

It’s not the work of the devil, Prime Minister

Politicians are well aware of the way in which language can be used to shape public perceptions, particularly of themselves. They are also aware at times of national crisis such as the terrorist attacks in Paris are times when  politicians can transform themselves  from run-of-the-mill politicians into national leaders.

Malcolm Turnbull is no exception. To date, he has proved to be a master of the electronic media. His soaring popularity, and that of his party, is more due to his media presence than significant policy initiatives.


And he is handling himself particularly well in Europe. So far Turnbull has resisted being drawn into the fear mongering that typified Tony Abbott’s prime ministership “So I have every confidence that our security environment, while challenged of course, in this context of terrorism, is nonetheless being well managed by the best security agencies in the world.”
But there was a disquieting element to his early statements.The terrorist attacks in Paris provided Turnbull with an opportunity to send a very strong message to Australia’s allies and to the Australian public. But he made a little bit of a mess of it.

“It’s the work of the devil.” is the way he described the attacks in Paris. Why he would want to frame this atrocity in strictly religious terms is difficult to understand. It smacks of the approach of the recently deposed prime minister whose religious views, while often not overtly on display, shaped many of his utterances.

There were a large number of ways that Turnbull could have positioned his opposition and abhorrence to this act but he chose to use religious imagery.

The first disadvantage of this is that is  massive oversimplification and one that is not helpful in leading to some kind of solution. The second disadvantage is that it continues to frame the debate as a religious phenomenon rather than a social and political one.

A thoughtful discussion of the problem of ISIS  appeared in The Atlantic: Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned.

This article is a far more nuanced discussion of the nature of the problem in the Middle East.

Turnbull continued by saying that he would continue to pray for the victims of the attacks. Praying is not going to fix the problem. And if all the Prime Minister can do is fall to his knees and raise his eyes to Heaven, then we’re in a lot of trouble.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is taking a far more diplomatic and thoughtful approach.


The Age reports that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has left the door open to committing Australian ground forces to military efforts in Syria and Iraq if the government received a request from the US-led coalition.

But Ms Bishop stressed that efforts to end the Syrian crisis should be focused on finding a political solution as the United States and Russia resumed talks that the government hopes will lead to a “single coalition” of countries taking on Islamic State.

Advocating that part of the solution to the problem of the Middle East is stopping the civil war in Syria and that this may be possible with a coalition of Western allies, Russia and some of the Middle Eastern states is a long shot but  it is ultimately the only way to begins solving the problem.

Writing in The Age David Wroe says there is no point in going in with guns blazing

In the meantime there will be calls for more intense bombing and “boots on the ground”, both of which may play well to domestic audiences, particularly in France, but will actually do very little to solve the problem.

Certainly the call by A senior member of the NSW Coalition government to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to “close our borders” to refugees from the Middle East in response to the terrorism attacks in Paris  is going to do nothing to help the situation.

To make things worse  US President Barack Obama is facing an insurrection from state governors who are declaring they will refuse to accept refugees from Syria in the wake of the Paris attacks by Islamic State militants.

At least 15 state governors have declared they are unwilling to accept any of the 10,000 Syrian refugees that Mr Obama had said the US would accept over the coming 12 months.


The problem with complex international situations, particularly when they produce highly emotional responses, is that local politicians always seek to make political mileage. Almost inevitably by being exceptionally unhelpful.

There is an onus on the nations that created the problem of ISIS in the first place to help solve the problem ISIS was a direct result of the allied intervention in Iraq Australia and America must bear some of the burden of resetting the refugee.

While it seemed like a bad idea at the time, the Australian decision to resettle Christian Syrians may be a useful way of allaying fears at home and dealing with the humanitarian problem in the Middle East.

It’s unlikely that Christian Syrians are going to be ISIS sympathisers.

Wendy Squires-Magoo and driving statistics.

Disclaimer: the writer of this article is 71 years old.

The Age journalist Wendy Squires writes  Get Mr Magoo off our roads  an article based on the experience she had with her rathe who was still driving at 95.


This follows a report that some 50 senior (aged 49 to 85) Victorian drivers died behind the wheel of a moving vehicle in 2013/2014, most as the result of medical conditions or slow-speed incidents. About 10 per cent of drivers in Victoria are over 70. More than 13,000 are in their 90s.

Squires does not give details of the report so it’s difficult to check the figures. They do seem at odds with the figures given by the TAC which tend to indicate that the problem is more serious, worth 103 fatalities in total of 230, but this means that drivers below 50 (the other half the demographic)  were involved in 117 fatalities.

Interpreting these figures needs to be done in the light of the number of drivers in each age demographic and the amount of driving each age group does which may give a more complex picture.

Age Group
Age Group 2013 2014 Change % change 5 year
0 to 4 0 4 4 400% 4
5 to 15 5 10 5 100% 8
16 to 17 3 4 1 33% 6
18 to 20 16 15 -1 -6% 29
21 to 25 22 31 9 41% 31
26 to 29 17 18 1 6% 20
30 to 39 29 40 11 38% 37
40 to 49 31 24 -7 -23% 35
50 to 59 29 31 2 7% 33
60 to 69 31 32 1 3% 28
70 and over 59 40 -19 -32% 48
Unknown 1 0 -1 -100% 0

Source TAC Annual road toll Calendar year to midnight 31 December 2014

But you always need to be very careful with figures. One of the arguments for keeping older drivers off the road is that their medical conditions may make it difficult for them to drive safely, they are more likely to die behind the wheel and that their reflexes are slower, making them more accident-prone.

But it’s also worth remembering that if drivers over 70 are more likely to have accidents, they are also more likely to die as a result of complications arising from existing medical conditions, weak hearts etc either after all immediately before an accident.

it’s a question of causation. We don’t know whether the accident brought about the medically related death or whether the medically related deaths brought about the accident. And finding out will be very difficult.

It is also  important to remember that while these statistics report the number of people have died in road accidents, they do not provide any information about who was at fault or predominantly at fault.

it is also useful to look at the statistics involving hospitalisation as result of road accidents.untitled

if we combine the to statistics for the 18 – 39 age groups (so that they cover roughly 20 years making them comparable with the 40 – 59 group), the total number of people in hospital in that eage group is 573 which is 50% of the total. The drivers over 60 by comparison constitute 26% of the total, roughly half that of the younger age group.

Nonetheless this does still mean that the older age group is disproportionately represented but the younger age group while constituting a greater proportion of the population does constitute a more significant risk to the general population.

But again, the demographic is older and the medical condition is not as good on average as the younger demographic, so you would expect a higher rate of hospitalisation.

There are undoubtedly horror stories of the kind Wendy Squires relates In her article and many families are faced with a difficult decision getting an aged parent to give up their driver’s license.

It’s a difficult issue which will require a more modulated answer than a blanket restriction on the driving activities of older citizens, particularly as the insurance company that was presumably behind the report that Squires quotes classifies a senior driver is one over 50.

Why the rule of law is so important

The Age reports that The accused ringleader of an alleged gang rape of a 14-year-old girl in Geelong has pleaded for protection while he’s held in custody.

Suddenly, this alleged scumbag, is pleading for the protection of the law.

Something that he, his brothers and his mates did not extend to his alleged victim.

Many would think that the retribution he will receive while on remand is justly deserved.

But our system says that the presumption of innocence means that he is entitled to the protection of the law, despite what it is alleged that he did.

The irony is that while we are appalled by the protection that this man is given it is a sign of the great strength of our legal system that he can be given.

A justice system is only as strong as protection it provides for the weakest and the least deserving


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