Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, April 20, 2002
    Alan Jones: New Web celebrity: Alan Jones finally gets the recognition he deserves (link via Crikey).
    Quote of the day: "You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You'll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing - that's what counts."
    ~Richard Fenyman

    Friday, April 19, 2002
    Afghan refugees save rural business: Greg Barns (yes, that Greg Barns whom those narrow-minded idiots at the so-called Liberal party turned down for preselection) has an interesting, upbeat and enlightening story in the Herald Sun on how Aghan refugees saved a meat processing business in a country town:

    THE country town of Young nearly lost its major business recently -- the sheep and lamb processor Burrangong Meats.

    But the operation is again booming thanks to 90 Afghan refugees who have taken jobs there.

    Apparently the Afghans Burrangong employs came to the New South Wales town when the company approached the employment agency of the charity Mission Australia.
    Burrangong was desperate to get staff and was heading into a financial brick wall unless it could find them.

    Mission Australia provided the answer to the company's prayers when it placed the 90 Afghans at the meatworks nine months ago.

    Since then, the community in Young and the company's managing director, Tony Hewson, have learned to admire and respect these unexpected arrivals.

    According to Mr Hewson, they are incredibly hard-working and very dedicated. They have integrated into the town and many of Young's small businesses are helping the workers with furniture, white goods and education classes.

    When will people learn that treating refugees as human capital rather than potential dole bludgers or threats is profitable as well as humane, that one can be economically rational and humane? (for starters letting the refugees out to pick fruit or whatever while their applications are being processed will cost a lot less than locking them up)
    Esteemed development economist wins Friedman prize: The great development economist Peter Bauer has been awarded the first Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty by the libertarian Cato Institute:

    The prize carries a $500,000 cash award that will be presented to Professor Bauer on May 9, 2002, in Washington, D.C., at the Cato Institute's 25th Anniversary Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel. The prize, named after Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, will be given every other year to a single individual for significant achievement in the advancement of liberty. Friedman will be present at the award ceremony.

    Professor Bauer has been chosen for his pioneering work in the field of development economics, where he stood virtually alone for many years as a critic of state-led development policy with its emphasis on central planning and external foreign aid.

    From 1948 when The Rubber Industry was published to the publication in 2000 of From Subsistence to Exchange, Bauer wrote books that challenged the prevailing development orthodoxy, including the myth that poverty is self-perpetuating.

    Through a half century of scholarship, Bauer has been an outspoken champion of global economic liberty. Like classical liberals before him, Bauer recognized the dynamic gains from trade and emphasized that countries that fail to establish commercial contacts will inevitably perpetuate poverty.

    Bauer demonstrated that the so-called Third World was not immune to wealth accumulation. He wrote that economic achievement was well within the reach of poor societies, a view that was contrary to that of development officials who argued that there was a "vicious circle of poverty" and that poor countries on their own were not capable of sufficient capital formation. Bauer's study of small holdings in the Malaysian rubber industry and the importance of small-scale traders in West Africa convinced him that wealth accumulation was possible, notwithstanding the experts.

    The collapse of the Soviet Union and the worldwide movement toward more open markets have changed development economics and vindicated Bauer's market-liberal vision. In 1997 the World Bank conceded as much in its development report: "State-led intervention emphasized market failures and accorded the state a central role in correcting them. But the institutional assumptions implicit in this world view were, as we all realize today, too simplistic."

    Bauer's adherence to the liberal principles of free trade and free people reflects his deep respect for the dignity, rationality, and capabilities of poor people around the world. It stands in sharp contrast to the patronizing undertones of the development experts who made up "the spurious consensus."

    More articles about Professor Bauer can be found here.

    Thursday, April 18, 2002
    A qualified defence of Israel: This site is advertising an Israel Solidarity Rally this Sunday at noon, Wynyard Park, to support Israel's right to exist. I'm certainly tempted to turn up. The site has a link to this piece by Andrew Bolt written on March 18 - rather dated now but it still makes perfect sense and is crystal clear in its logic. It expresses my sentiments perfectly:

    The Israelis were wrong to build settlements in territories they seized for security reasons while winning their wars for existence. Some of their retaliatory raids after terrorist attacks have accidentally or even recklessly killed too many innocent Palestinians.

    Far more should have been done to build economic links with the Palestinians, not least by letting their farmers get easy access to Israeli markets.

    BUT faults on both sides do not mean both are as bad as each other. A man who hits too wildly in self-defence is not as bad as one who shoots your wife's head off to make a point.

    Israeli soldiers shooting terrorists -- and, yes, civilians in crossfire -- are not to be likened to men sent with a wink from Palestinian authorities to blow up teenagers dancing at a disco.

    And to help see the difference, compare what both sides in this war want.
    What is Israel fighting for? For the right to live. That's why almost every peace initiative has come from the Israelis or their friends.

    That's why the previous Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, offered to give 97 per cent of all occupied territories -- plus land to make up the difference -- back to the Palestinians, and let them share Jerusalem, too, if only they'd make peace.

    Yasser Arafat, the terrorist who now heads the Palestinian Authority, refused. So what does his side want? Well, they say they want at least this and the return to Israel of up to five million ``refugees'' and their descendants -- mostly of the generation that left in 1948 to get out of the road while the armies of Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq tried to blast the new Jewish state off the map.

    That's five million hostile Palestinians ``returned'' half a century later to Israel, a land of just 4.9 million Jews and 1.2 million Arabs. This would mean the destruction at last of the Jewish state that Arab armies failed four times to achieve. And it is this destruction of Israel and its Jews that seems to be the real aim of many Palestinian leaders.

    Anyone who agrees with the above should turn up at the rally and show their support, Jew or Gentile.

    It is a sad irony that Israel, where so many Jews now live in a state of danger, was founded in part because of the Holocaust, the justified sentiment of 'never again'. The Jews looked around and they saw that various peoples had their own States and came to the conclusion that if they had one too, there would be some final guarantee of shelter if their people were ever persecuted again. No one could blame them for thinking that - restrictive immigration laws during the Holocaust had a hand in killing the Jews. The Jews expelled from various Arab countries sought refuge in Israel. Does anyone remember the Jewish exiles, expelled from Arab lands? It seems they are now forgotten - if the Arab countries expelled them and Israel took them in, then wouldn't it be a fair bargain for the Arab countries to help resolve the problems of their brethren who left their homes in Palestine to join an attack on Israel - and now want a 'right of return'? But no, the Arab countries gain more from using them as suicidal fodder to destroy Israel, the country that took in the Jews they forced out.

    I have regarded nationalism as an abhorrent ideology all my life and it is undoubtedly true that the state of Israel was founded in part because of nationalist sentiments. The Jews had been condemned by the people they lived among as 'rootless cosmopolitans' and 'internationalists'. Yet cosmopolitanism and internationalism is the only hope of the Jews, traits they should have proudly affirmed, and the only hope of humanity. The Chinese have their own State - it is called China. China has not been good for the Chinese. Nor has India been good for the Indians. The Chinese and Indians have been much better off in countries like the US,UK, Australia and Canada than they ever would have been in their 'homelands'. The Jews made a mistake in listening too much to their persecutors. Today anti-semitism is resurgent in Europe once again, and the Jews in Israel are in greater danger than ever. Where are the Jews safest? In the great Anglo-American civilisations - once again, the US, UK, Australia, Canada. The only hope of the Jews, not just of the Jews but of all of humanity are in multi-ethnic, pluralistic liberal democracies with constitutionally enshrined liberties and the rule of law. Let us have more, not less, 'mongrelisation' and 'rootless cosmopolitanism'. Israel is a lot closer to this ideal than its neighbours but it is not perfect - because part of its founding ideology is nationalistic. This cannot be denied.

    Despite all this my sympathies are with Israel and the Jews. For them nationalism after the Holocaust, after all the countries that turned them away, was a matter of life and death, not just romantic 'fatherland' nonsense. And the Jews are entitled to make mistakes, like everyone else. And in the Middle East they now face their toughest test of survival. My sympathies are with them and the organisers of the rally. When victory comes to them, let it be the victory of the magnanimous. Shalom.
    The 'public liability crisis' myth: My employer Henry Ergas has a new column out on BRW reproduced on the NECG website here putting a second boot into the hysteria disseminated by insurers keen for higher profits through State intervention that there is a 'public liability' crisis i.e. too many lawsuits, too many outrageous awards of damages and consequently public liability premiums that are 'too high'. It's a follow up to an earlier article.

    Is myth too strong a word? After all, lots of small businesses and community organisations are feeling the pressures of premiums jumping 100% or more over a very short period of time. I don't think it is too strong a word - the proponents of the claim that there is a public liability crisis are relying on the theory that 1) public liability premiums are outrageously high; 2) premium levels are caused by too many lawsuits, too much legal advertising encouraging too many lawsuits and too high awards for damages.

    The first claim has never been established. Indeed, as Ergas points out:

    research commissioned for the ministers' liability insurance meeting found that after adjusting for inflation, public-liability premiums are actually 10% lower, on average, than they were in 1993. In contrast, car insurance premiums have risen 32% over the same period. Why has there not been talk of a car insurance premium crisis?

    This is not to deny that many small businesses and community organisations have been harmed by a blow out in premiums but it seems more likely that the problem is that premiums have been unsustainably low for many, many years and then when S11 and other disasters came along, the market was ripe for a correction. In the earlier piece on liability, Ergas notes:

    The collapse in May last year of HIH Insurance, which used to be the biggest public liability insurance provider, and mergers between other big insurance companies, have reduced competition in the insurance market. The general economic volatility following September 11, and lower investment returns by Australian insurers, have forced insurers to reassess their policies. In the aftermath of HIH, Apra has required insurers to reserve $1.09 for every $1 received in public liability premiums, compared with 52 cents previously.

    The recent premium increases may have been an attempt to regain revenue lost in bouts of discounting and further reduced by recent economic instability.

    The fact that many businesses feel an increase and yet prices have actually gone down by 10% since 1993 merely underlines how unsustainably low past premiums were. is this surprising? No. To accept that markets work better than government in general one does not have to accept that markets are without any flaws. Obviously the insurance companies have not been doing that good a job in their premiums pricing. As to why small businesses and community organisations are suffering from a cost shock, to ask that question is already to answer it:

    Community organisations, unlike businesses, have fewer opportunities to pass on costs resulting from sudden premium rises and may have little choice but to cancel their activities.

    And one might add for obvious resource considerations, small businesses are equivalently more vulnerable to cost shocks than bigger businesses.

    What of the second claim that there is some relationship between claims and litigation? Well, we've more or less demolished the first claim on which the second rests. But how about the possibility that premiums would be a lot lower if not for trends in litigation? If we reframe the second claim in this manner, the evidence is still deficient. In particular it has not been rigorously established that litigation claims in public liability cases have increased substantially and more rapidly than litigation trends in other insurance categories. There are lots of reports in the press about absurd damages awards but a few anecdotes do not make for a trend:

    Recently, a representative of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority told the Senate estimates committee that statistics over a long time were needed to establish meaningful trends in public-liability because of the "long tail". By contrast, the figures being bandied about to demonstrate an alleged trend are from 1998 to 2001.

    To the extent that there is a problem, it seems to be one caused by volatility in the insurance market. If so, measures aimed at 'tort reform' are ill conceived, measures to bring back the 'old boys' club' in the legal profession by prohibiting advertising and measures to prohibit 'no win no fee' arrangements even more so. And what more can one say about suggestions being made with great chutzpah by the insurance companies and being taken seriously by the government that governments should subsidise the insurance companies by pushing more of the burden of compensating accident victims onto the welfare state rather than via payouts in legal action? Such measures go well against the highly successful deregulatory policies of the past decade, as well as restricting access to legal services for those on low incomes.

    Wednesday, April 17, 2002
    More government guidelines for ISPs.

    Government intervention in the economy is generally not favoured by libertarians. But where the government is going to intervene, most would probably prefer that the intervention is in the form of direct legislative action. Direct legislative intervention at least represents open government.

    The recent trend towards government encouraged 'self regulatory codes' and government issued 'guidelines' for industry is thus moving in the opposite direction to open government. Sadly, the Australian government has developed a real zeal for this approach. More depressingly, most industry players in these regulated-by-stealth industries have been all too willing to go along with the government. The Internet industry, especially the larger players, have been amongst the worst offenders.

    In 1999, the Internet Industry Association put up only token resistance to the government's censorship plans. The government introduced legislation requiring the Internet industry to develop a 'code of conduct' that effectively put the censorship scheme into practice. True - the code manages to avoid including the more onerous and absurd elements of the government scheme. None the less, the Internet industry's compliance adds an element of credibility to the censorship scheme.

    In this context, it is going to be interesting to see how the various ISP's in the Australian market respond to the latest guidelines issued by the Australian Communications Authority (ACA). The ACA issued 'guidelines' requires ISP's to make available to customers, and potential customers, information about - price, performance, help desk support, customer communication, security and other information (such as whether they subscribe to the censorship code).

    In other words, information which for the most part ISP's are already providing, and which a discerning consumer should seek information on. But the ACA wants ISPs to publish this information according to a specified proforma. Although they are only 'guidelines', it is interesting to note that

    " ISPs should place information in response to the guideline on their web site and register their responses with the ACA. This will allow the ACA to monitor compliance."

    Note - "Monitor compliance". This hardly suggests the guidelines are voluntary. In effect, the government is running more red tape about the ankles of the Internet industry and increasing the regulatory burden - for little real gain except to the least discerning consumers.

    Lets hope this time the Internet industry puts up some stiffer opposition and ends this creeping regulation-by-stealth before it goes any further.
    Yay for GM (not General Motors): Did you know that Brazil has prohibited the commercial cultivation of GM food? I didn't and was shocked to read about this. The decision is reported and critiqued in this piece on Spiked Online - a magazine that used to be called Living Marxism. If these are Marxists, sign me up, they certainly make more sense than this US Libertarian Party candidate who is apparently a campaigner against the 'dangers' of GM. Getting back to the serious piece on Spiked Online, the author, Tony Gilland, notes that the reason for Brazil's decision is its acceptance of the flawed 'precautionary principle':

    This emphasis on potential risk - also known as the 'precautionary principle' - has become widespread in recent years. As Professor Anthony J Trewavas of the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Edinburgh told me, the precautionary principle can be seriously detrimental to scientific investigation, effectively meaning that: 'Whenever it is acknowledged that a practice (or substance) could cause harm even without conclusive scientific proof that it has caused harm or does cause harm, the practice or emissions of the substance should be prevented and eliminated.' (4) The Brazilian government has effectively adopted the precautionary principle in its regulation of agbio.

    One by one this excellent piece demolishes the arguments against GM.

    On the idea that GM can lead to a high threat of allergies in human beings when genes are transferred from one organism to another:

    However, our ability to use agbio to identify and engineer allergens is now being used to prevent allergens being expressed in both agbio and non-agbio plants. The US Department for Agriculture recently discovered the allergen in non-agbio soybeans that affects some babies, and eliminated it. Chimeraplasty - a new and very precise method of genetic modification - could be used to halt the expression of allergen in peanuts.

    The problem of horizontal gene transfer and the creation of 'super weeds' and 'super pests':

    For gene transfer between plants to occur there must be wild relatives nearby, there must be a degree of sexual compatibility between the plants, they must be close enough for the pollen to reach the relative, and they must be flowering or fertile at the same time - a complex set of circumstances, but not an impossibility.

    But even if horizontal gene transfer happens, the resultant 'super weed' may well die in the wild, as a gene that may help a crop could be detrimental for a weed. And if we did need to control the spread of genes from a plant, we could always employ 'Terminator' technology - making plants that the carry the problematic genes infertile.

    Another point ignored by anti-GM campaigners is the concept of relative risks versus the benefits of GM:

    It should be remembered that within nature itself, plant DNA elements jump around all the time, between species and particularly between plants and bacteria. Each time this happens it can have unexpected results. But the danger of unexpected results from genetic engineering is negligible compared to how genes naturally jump from species to species.
    Inserting genes into a plant is akin to taking sand to a beach. We don't exactly know where a gene lands in a chromosome, but genomes are constantly rearranging themselves anyway and successive crop breeding eliminates most of the useless or risky placements of genes in the chromosomes. We absorb millions of genes every day, but nature's species safeguards prevent us from turning into mutant, half-human/half-what-I-ate-for-breakfast monsters.

    This is a very long and well research article. Read it in full to do it justice.
    Handguns 'R' Us

    There are few things in life you can really rely on. But one thing you can count on is that the Daily Telegraph (Sydney-Australia) will take the easy way out and blame the latest social problem on the Internet. Drugs, terrorism, pedophilia - the Internet is responsible for all of it according to the Telegraph.

    So today's "Click on Crime" headline was really no surprise. Blog readers are sadly deprived of the front page headline and accompanying step by step diagram of how to use the Internet to buy a handgun.

    After an unusually bad weekend for shootings involving handguns, the Telegraph's contribution to uncovering the source of Sydney's "gun crisis" was visiting

    "numerous websites before ordering a 9mm handgun over the internet in less than three minutes."

    Leaving aside the issue of Australia's incredibly restrictive handgun laws, the source of crime and the activities of organised crime, the attempt to blame the recent spate of shootings by gangs on the ability to purchase handguns over the Internet is absurd. If all but a very, very small number of illegal firearms were on the streets due to the Internet I would be very surprised. Let's look at the steps which the Telegraph had to go through to order their handgun.

    "The Daily Telegraph followed the simple steps outlined on the site, paid by American Express and received a confirmation of the order"

    So far starters, you are creating an audit trail by using a credit card for payment. And before you say - what about fake credit card… well that is an option, if you wish to start another investigation by the credit card issuer.

    "After choosing a weapon the next step involved the application form. Names, credit card and email details were required along with a shipping address for pick up from a freight forwarding company."

    So now there is a more detailed trail to the buyer, via the shipping address. I'm no criminal genius, but for my mind gun sales via the Internet doesn’t seem like the most plausible explanation for the increase in gang shootings .

    What sounds a far more realistic explanation is left to the second last paragraph.

    "Internet sales are only one battlefront, with firearms manufactured in China flown down from South East Asian countries to unpatrolled north Australian borders."

    With our Navy and maritime surveillance assets busy enforcing human-capital quotas, smuggling seems a far more likely explanation for increased handgun availability, at least to this blogger. And that, as pointed out at the start, is ignoring all the other factors around gangs, crime and gun laws.

    Knock-down pro-therapeutic cloning argument: The clever and profound Will Wilkinson refutes the silly 'potential human' argument that gets trumpeted around the therapeutic cloning research in a few sentences which does more wonders for clarity of thought than the tons of verbiage and fairydust written about the issue by bioethicists:

    To say that something is a potential x is a way of saying that it is NOT an x. I am a potential brain surgeon. But I CANNOT sever your corpus collosum. Because potential means not actual. I'm a potential serial murderer. I'm a potential father. I'm a potential car crash victim. But I'm not hunted by the police, don't get deductions for dependents, and haven't been eulogized. Potential persons are not actual persons, that is, aren't persons at all, just as I'm not a corpse at all. Rights are something persons have. Things that aren't persons don't have them. Potential persons aren't persons. So potential persons don't have rights!
    God and evolution - leave well alone: The Skeptics website has reviews of two new books which attempt to make the 'new creationism' i.e. 'Intelligent Design' theory respectable. Let's dispense with the detailed biological arguments which you can read at your leisure in that article and related links and cut to the chase. Why do the Intelligent Design people think that saying that at some stage of an evolutionary process a step can only be explained by Design means or explains anything? It seems to me that this is the essence of the issue - the ID argument seems to me to be analogous to someone who, unable to explain in detail how a car engine works, fudges that bit of the explanation by saying 'invisible fairies do that'. Isn't it more honest to say that I don't know what that step involves but perhaps someday we can explain it, or perhaps not?

    On purely pragmatic grounds, the 'Design' bit creates a sort of cocoon which is inviolable of further explanation into smaller steps - it just *is*. Isn't posting 'Design' at gaps in one's explanation tantamount to foreclosing it from further analysis? Why not just say, 'we don't know yet but we're working on it' - which is in essence what evolutionary theory does.

    And on theological grounds, just what does a belief in God gain or lose from attempts to insert Him into gaps in our understanding? I should point out that I'm an agnostic myself but looking at this objectively I just don't see what theological benefit is gained from this new strategy to insert God into the gaps in a manner which undermines the scientific enterprise. Will more people believe in God if ID 'wins' the intellectual debate? Martin Gardner, the great sceptic is a fideist - he doesn't have problems believing in God despite his scepticism. If anything the ID movement would only bring religion into discredit by linking it to a clearly philosophically dubious view of explanation. But don't listen to me - I'm not a believer.
    The capital of European anti-semitism: According to this clear headed despatch by the New Republic's Marty Peretz:

    The headquarters of anti-Semitic Europe today, just as during the Third Republic, is Paris. Every day brings news of another violent crime against French Jews and Jewish institutions, a wave of violence that most of the French oppose, but which the government of Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin has tolerated, even indulged, for far too long. Paris is also the headquarters of anti-American Europe. The latest expression of French anti-Americanism--aside from books claiming that the United States blew up the World Trade Center itself --is concern for the life of Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen and, according to the Justice Department, the would-be twentieth September 11 skyjacker. The U.S. government has charged him with six counts of conspiracy and will request the death penalty, which France abolished in 1981. The prospect of citoyen Moussaoui's execution has driven official Paris apoplectic. Yet the French are not exactly evenhanded in their hostility to capital punishment. After all, what have they said about the execution of suspected "conspirators" by France's ally, the Palestinian Authority

    Bear in mind that TNR is the magazine of US liberals (i.e. left-liberals), albeit the intelligent and non-ideological ones - thus the following comments by Peretz (a close friend of Al Gore)_on suppression of alternative views is quite interesting:

    In the 1930s an old teacher of mine, Max Lerner, wrote an essay called "Freedom in the Opinion Industries," making the then-heretical point that freedom of the press was the freedom of the capitalists who owned it. I don't think this is any longer the case. The media corporations are now quite varied, and liberal orthodoxies predominate in many of them. In his essay, Lerner proposed a remedy for capitalist domination of radio: "Two major airways reserved for the government and run for it not by its bureaucrats but by the guild of radio artists." Lerner got half his wish: We have one such network, and its audio incarnation is called National Public Radio (NPR). So, whose freedom does NPR represent? Certainly not the public's. Rather, NPR is the virtual property of a bevy of journalists responsible only to themselves and their orthodoxies--orthodoxies far more stringent than those imposed by the corporate networks. In fact, I don't know of a capitalist-run radio network that has a blacklist. But NPR has one, and the anti-terror expert Steven Emerson is on it--NPR confided as much to an Arab lobby in 1998. Emerson's sin (and my own as well, I believe--for I am not welcome either) has been writing and speaking for years about Arab and Muslim terror support networks in the United States

    Monday, April 15, 2002
    Biotech Hoax Exposed

    The Centre for Global Food Issues has some interesting news on GM food and the less than exacting science of some of its critics

    In November, the (usually) respectable journal Nature, published an article alleging that GM corn was popping up in fields near Oaxaca in southern Mexico, fuelling fears that genes from genetically modified crops could “jump” into regular plants and destabilize their genetic makeup.

    Greenpeace of course were quick to jump on the findings,

    "labeling the so-called genetic invasion “a worse attack on Mexican culture than if they had torn down the Cathedral of Oaxaca and built a McDonald’s over it" [and that]… “there are over 300 local and wild varieties of Mexican maize, which stand to be lost . ”

    Now it is being reported that Nature has decided to retract the article.

    At least three leading groups of scientists sent separate letters to Nature challenging Quist and Chapela’s [ the article authors] conclusions; one includes more than 100 names, several of them from the pair’s home base UCal/Berkeley. Another scientist, cited by Quist and Chepala, wrote the scientific journal to say they misinterpreted his work. A leaked internal memo from an independent scientist appointed by Nature to review the challenges says, in part,

    “I am in complete agreement with the common theme in all four [critical] letters, which is that the … data presented is simply not sufficient to warrant ANY of the conclusions of the authors. Simply stated, the authors have not demonstrated that transgenes or parts of transgenes from industrially produced maize have become incorporated into the genome of the maize landraces they studied.”

    The retraction by Nature is a case of better late than never. But as the CGFI article points out, allowing these sorts of dubious claims to gain even the hint of credibility is incredibly damaging. By the time the claims are dismissed, they have already been perpetuated widely by GM food critics. The general public has grown to accept the claims as fact to the extent that they may be skeptical when the claims are shown to be false.

    It is therefore crucially important that the media report GM advances accurately - resisting the urge to

    " succumb to the political passions of the moment. "

    New entry in the English dictionary: 'Shoeicide' bomber as in this report:

    Sri Lanka: Tamil Tiger rebels who see the chance to stage a suicide bombing as a privilege have protected their leader from potential "shoeicide" bombers.

    A hardcore group had to methodically remove shoes worn for at least nine straight hours by journalists and sniff the socks for any hidden explosives.

    The arduous drill was carried out on all 200 local and foreign journalists who attended Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran's first press conference in 12 years on Wednesday.

    Our good friends the Saudis: The Saudi ambassador to Britain who is apparently regarded as a great poet by his countrymen and women has had this piece of verse published in a pan-Arab daily in the UK, according to this report in the Australian:

    Tell Ayat, the bride of loftiness . . . She embraced death with a smile, while the leaders are running away from death. Doors of heaven are opened for her

    It sounds like a piece of crap no matter what language it's published in. No prizes for guessing what it's about. More excerpts as reported:

    "May God be the witness that you are martyrs . . . You died to honour God's word. You committed suicide? We committed suicide by living like the dead," Ghazi Algosaibi writes in The Martyrs, a short poem published on the front page of the London-based daily al-Hayat.

    In a clear reference to the despair of Arab leaders looking to the US for support in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr Algosaibi, who has served as ambassador in London for more than a decade, writes: "We complained to the idols of a White House whose heart is filled with darkness."

    Anyone could have told him that didactic poetry doesn't really work.

    If you can tell a person's state of mind from the sort of poetry they like, then a great part of the Arab world seems to be caught in a demented otherworldly fetish for death.

    Quote for day: 'Requisite for disputation.- He who cannot put his thoughts on ice should not enter into the head of dispute.' ~Friedrich Nietzsche
    Media bias vs intelligent critique: There was a particularly hilarious episode of Lateline last week that involved journalist Greg Sheridan responding to allegations of widespread media bias against PM John Howard made by the Liberal party's federal president Shane Stone. The other side was represented by Michael Baume who frankly I thought was pathetic. As Virginia Postrel has observed in the context of US political life, the Right has committed the cardinal sin of adopting the sort of victimology it usually accuses the Left of -'oh we're so oppressed by all this free speech criticising us'. I favour the Keating approach - take as good as you give. Here is the transcript. I think Sheridan put up quite an excellent defence against Michael Baume to make the point that these allegations are overblown. For instance, he observed that:

    TONY JONES: Is the press gallery or prominent members of it actually questioning the legitimacy of the Howard Government?

    GREG SHERIDAN: Of course not.

    This is a hilarious and ridiculous charge.

    Nobody is questioning the electoral legitimacy.

    I think having followed federal politics for 25 years, I've seldom seen the government get such a soft run as the Howard Government generally gets.

    But it has decided as a matter of policy in its media relations to make this constant charge of bias even though it has scores of dedicated columnists who support it 100 per cent of the time.

    I think it's rather quaint and sweet that I'm being called a loyal follower of the left.

    That rather took my breath away as an old Cold War warrior of many years' standing.

    The SMH has reproduced an extract of Shane Stone's speech here and Sheridan's point stands up well. There is nothing in this speech but vague allusions, and no names are named. Tim Blair has done an excellent job of documenting the frequently irrelevant Howard bashing one can find even in the TV review pages of the Herald, but that's a different matter. Is there a lot of gratuitous Howard bashing in the media? You bet there is. Are there a lot of stupid critics of Howard government policies out there? You bet there is. But by the same token there is also a lot of intelligent criticism of the Howard government being made by the likes of Ross Garnaut, Greg Sheridan, Gerard Henderson and, dare I say it, Robert Manne and others. Greg Sheridan and Gerard Henderson have the conservative credentials and the substance of their arguments to show that they aren't just taking ideological potshots. And if you want to indict one side for being ideological biased and lack of critical thinking, then the other side doesn't look too good with its slavering lapdogs such as Piers Ackerman, Alan 'The Parrot' Jones and Stan Zemanek.

    Memo to the right wing victimologists - 1) Grow a thicker skin or get out of politics; 2) John Howard is not infallible.
    Therapeutic cloning research: Among the many April posts that vanished in our recent disaster was one linking to a petition in favour or thereapeutic cloning research. Here it is again. If you are a US citizen please consider adding your name to it.

    Sunday, April 14, 2002
    Catallaxy Files meltdown: Apologies to readers for the truncated blog. Catallaxy Files is experiencing some severe technical problems. My co-blogger Heath Gibson and I logged in this afternoon to find that the normal Blogger interface had been inexplicably replaced by a Blogger Pro interface and our April posts vanished. This will teach me to save a backup version of postings somewhere! I don't know if they can be recovered but for the moment please bear with us. We will resume posting as normal but wait and see what the good people at Blogger can do about recovering our losts posts. The archives for previous months are thankfully, still available.

    Meanwhile if any Bloggers reading this post have experienced similar problems or have any inkling of what happened could you please email me or Heath.
    Testing the template
    Stand by - editing of the template is underway.




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