Osama bin Laden:

James Burke writes: Re. “America wrestles its conscience post-bin Laden” (yesterday, item 1).The predictable eagerness of pundits to rain on the victory parade can’t outweigh the genuine success that the killing of bin Laden represents. These are the reasons why I toast the mission:

  1. One of the worst perpetrators and inspirers of violence in history has been brought down. There are a number of people we can blame for the horrors of the past decade, but surely bin Laden was the prime architect.
  2. After their betrayal and exploitation by Bush and his cohorts, the victims and their families — in all countries — have a measure of justice at long last.
  3. The myth of bin Laden as the fox of the mountains, using his wiles and God’s protection to escape retribution, should die with him. He may be a hero and a martyr to benighted fanatics, but he will not achieve the demigod status that threatened. His end was too tawdry and suburban.
  4. The lies of Pakistan’s military terrorists have been exposed in a satisfyingly humiliating way.
  5. There is a poetry of sorts in Obama being the President who finally brought about the demise of America’s worst enemy. The US now has a President who understands his duties and tries to fulfil them, in contrast to the neo-con idiots who abandoned their responsibilities in pursuit of a corrupt fantasy. Bush and Howard did what bin Laden wanted them to, embarking on a Crusade in the Arab lands while he was left alone to put up his feet and watch. Obama has to clean up their mess, and he’s tidied one corner this week.

This is enough to justify celebration, however fleeting. And for those quibbling at the attack’s legality, morality, messiness etc, well it’s a war (a war which bin Laden started). And as acts of war go, this was far less bloody and more precise than the celebrated victories of the World or other wars.

Benjamin Lee writes: Re. “Rundle: by the time Osama died, he had already died” (yesterday, item 2). I would like to comment on the death of Osama bin Laden, particularly to respond to other commentary which seems to criticise the killing and the reaction to it in the United States.

Assuming he could have been captured alive, I agree that putting Osama on trial would have been the most civilised thing to do. However, it should be noted that the rule of law is based on the concept that the protection of individual rights is essential to the efficacy of a uniform legal system. This would require Osama to be afforded the same rights as any other individual.

Yet, as an individual, Osama was one of the most hated men on Earth. A trial would almost certainly have lead to a guilty verdict and his probable execution. As repulsive a thing as it is to say, and notwithstanding its extra-judicial nature, the Americans probably calculated that killing him would save them a lot of legwork for little reward. I don’t excuse this decision, but I understand it. Considering the gravity of the decision that President Obama ultimately needed to make, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sympathise a little.

As for the celebrations in New York and Washington D.C, it is certainly understandable how they could come off as distasteful to some. However, 9/11 psychologically brought the United States to its knees, not to mention the thousands of civilians murdered, billions of dollars in economic and property damage, and a decade of unending war. Having to endure this, as well as an economy in the doldrums, it is unsurprising that Americans are rejoicing at Osama’s death, which is valuable symbolically, if not strategically. Is it not a little unreasonable to begrudge Americans this catharsis?

This is the reality of human nature. It is ugly, but let us not forget the ugliness in Osama’s heart as well as our own. While we should always aspire to rise above our pettiness and embody the values inherent in our laws, we often need others to bring out the best in us. Osama, even in his death, did the opposite.

Avatar Polymorph writes: Re. “Cowboys, Indians and printing the legend of bin Laden’s death” (yesterday, item 3). As we reflect on new and corrected information which is being made available the circumstances of bin Laden’s shooting and US actions have the potential to generate a portrayal of bin Laden as a martyr. Questions need to be answered:

  • Why was bin Laden unarmed at the end of a noisy 40 minute fire fight involving room to room fighting, following on, by some accounts, a rooftop RPG attack by bin Laden’s men against the American helicopter approach?
  • How many total fighters were in the compound?
  • Was bin Laden holding the unarmed woman who died (not one of his wives) in the room with him (and presumably before he died) or was she voluntarily trying to shield him?
  • Was a motion made or words uttered to indicate to bin Laden that he had an opportunity to surrender?
  • At this stage in the military operation under CIA command, what constituted bin Laden’s “resistance”?

In view of declarations by the Administration that the intention was not simply to execute bin Laden, the central problem is that, currently, bin Laden is implied to be the last person to die after the fire fight is over and when he is unarmed in a room with an unarmed woman.

It is unfortunate that the Administration did not understand the need to concentrate on producing a quick and detailed account of bin Laden’s exact circumstances of personal death within the first 24 hours.

I would also note that bin Laden could have been tried before the International Court of Justice for participating in war crimes under the legal de facto authority of the then de facto Taliban Government of Afghanistan.

Although he could additionally be charged with terrorist crimes the ICJ and charges of war crimes would have been the politically appropriate because charges could have been heard relatively speedily and the trial would have taken place outside of the US and forestalled any necessity for the US to exercise the death penalty or  to request the Afghan Government to try and execute him. The ICJ does not involve juries, only judges.

Zachary King writes: Re. Yesterday’s Editorial. Your editorial (which included the source link) stated that 20% of Americans knew someone who was injured or killed in 9/11.  I find this to be an incredible (as in, not credible) stat.  Let’s look at the numbers:

Wikipedia states Deaths 2998 (excluding the 19 hijackers) and Injured 6291 for a total of 9289.

There are 308 million* people living in the US and so 20% of this gives 61,600,000 who were reported as knowing someone hurt or injured.

Using the figure of 9289 and even allowing for the outlandish proposition that there was absolutely no overlap in their social network (and OK yes, also the fact that I don’t know any network theory) each of the affected individuals would have to have known 6631 unique individuals.

Given that the average number of people found in a personal network of known individuals which is 611 (McCormick et al, How many people do you know?: Efficiently estimating personal network size, 2009), and the fact that the majority were bankers, I call bollocks.

Now sure, you might say that you have better things to do with your time than to nitpick little details like this, but I didn’t want the grammar pedants to have all the fun in the comments section.

As the origin of this figure, I have two theories:

  1. Everyone wants to be associated with an event like this, and so when polled most everyone said they knew someone.
  2. And my preferred theory, is that as everyone knows 87% of statistics on the web are made up.

*This is census data, so no “illegals” included, but even Trump will now agree that Barack is included in this number.

Jim Hart writes: Listening to ABC Radio National’s continuous news reports on Tuesday morning, I was struck by the repeated references to Osama bin Laden’s “luxurious compound” and the “million-dollar” haven. All that time we thought he was holed up in some remote mountain cave there he was living it up in beautiful downtown Abbottabad. The cheek of it – he deserved to die simply for being a class traitor.

And anyway isn’t Abbottabad the capital of Gillardistan?


Luke Johnson writes: Re. “The great big giant housing spruik, care of our papers” (yesterday, item 13). “Delusional Economics” of Macro Business references that Luke Johnson works at Nexus Real Estate. Unfortunately not. I am that Luke Johnson in the article. Photos different.

Luke Johnson of Nexus.

Luke Johnson (me).

Minor difference, as I am sure the other references to real estate employees was correct, but I admire Crikey for its accuracy so felt compelled to point it out…


Michael R. James writes: Re. “Chinese housemaids, tofu dregs and a building boom” (yesterday, item 17). In his article John Addis (and the earlier article by Adam Schwab) still does not shed much light on the issue of how big the alleged China property bubble really is.

The linked article (a translation from the Chinese), describing the original report that sparked much of this panic, i.e. “the 64 million empty homes”, is not very clear. It kind of agrees with the ballpark figure but from back-of-an-envelope calculations employing all kinds of assumptions (averages of house areas etc). Its more informative conclusion is:

“…the NSB [National Bureau of Statistics ] has stated that obtaining a precise vacancy rate must await the release of the National Housing Investigation or on the housing date [data] collected in the National Population Census.”

As to the suitability of other economic statistics cited by Addis, such as:

“…the housing affordability ratio, calculated by dividing average property prices by average annual disposable incomes, was nine times. In Shanghai that ratio is now 12. In Beijing it’s 14.”

Who knows? Deploying averages in a country like China has to be one of the most misleading things one could do. It is the equivalent of talking about the ratio of average house costs in Point Piper to average Australian incomes. Would you do this for, say, Hong Kong versus China? No, so one should not do it for city-states like Shanghai which is the richest area of China (outside HK) with ten times higher GDP per capita than many other provinces.

Even in Shanghai averages (instead of means) could be misleading given its reputed 300,000 dollar-millionaires. Nationwide the average that might make more sense is of the middle class of 400 million people, or perhaps the 620 million urban dwellers. This also tells you that there are another about 800 million rural poor all clambering to climb into the next social strata, especially modern home ownership.

Even if the 64 million empty homes (mostly apartments) is correct, once put into the proper China context perhaps it is not as scary. Well, ok, it is pretty scary. But growth on the scale in China is a historic memory for most of us in the West. Shenzhen (the SEZ on HK’s border) was rice paddies and fish ponds in 1979 and now is a city of 11 million people. No one is not going to worry about China’s economy but arguments based on dodgy or inappropriate statistics do not help anyone.

Peter Fray

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