Catallaxy Files
 

 
polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

email: jasonsoon AT mail.com

 
 
 

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    Friday, May 24, 2002
     
    John Galt Breakfast
    CapitalistToys.Com has hit upon a great idea.

    "On June 1st every year John, Francisco and Ragnar ate breakfast in Galt's Gulch. I believe that is a worthy tradition; and I invite Capitalists to join with me in a Celebration of a Trader's Life breakfast in San Francisco on Saturday June 1st, 2002. This is an opportunity to chat with fellow Capitalists about your past achievements and future adventures, and be in an environment that is honoring, and conducive to trading ideas and values."

    Whilst those of us based in Australia probably can't get to SF, I think this is a great idea that should be replicated around the world. So I put the following proposal up - breakfast in Sydney (venue t.b.a.) on June 1st. Any takers? Any interest? email if you are available and interested.



    Thursday, May 23, 2002
     
    Hitler is dead but anti-semitism isn't
    As Tim Blair points out staid Australian academia has awakened from its sleep with the recent ruckus over an anti-Israeli petition among Australian academics which has already elicited a counter -petition (the anti-Israeli petition is here and the counter petition is here). He also notes that though the anti-Israeli one seems to have the numbers, it has, shall we say, lower standards (i.e. the counter petition at least consists solely of actual academics).

    The amazing aspect of the anti-Israeli petition with its call for an academic boycott is its bluntness plus the implications for academic freedom. Big deal you might say, what about the Iraqi sanctions? Well, for one thing I fail to see the purpose of the petition even though some of its supporters have compared it to sanctions against apartheid in South Africa. No massacre in Jenin has been proven and just how has the Israeli response to terrorism been any less proportionate than the American one given that they face a zealous enemy intent on making no discrimination between military and civilian targets, an enemy which is literally just a few steps away from their border? I am sure there are some ultras in Israel who see the West Bank and Gaza as territories in need of annexation and who have not thought ahead about what it means for the current residents - but the majority of Israelis, according to a recent poll are more than happy to give up this troublesome piece of real estate and the current leadership would too if the suicide bomber flow could cease and security concerns were addressed.

    Concern has been expressed that the petition will lead to an uprising of anti-semitism in Australia and I can see the point of this - it is not that criticism of Israeli policies is necessarily anti-semitic but that the kinds of criticisms levelled in the form of advocacy of this boycott, like the facetious comparisons with South Africa seem to be calculated to incite such sentiments. Of course the majority of the Israeli academics who are to suffer this boycott also happen to be the same ones who have been most vocal in their community in calling for Israel's withdrawal from that overvalued piece of real estate. And if Israel is South Africa what does that make the Palestinian suicide bombers? How many Israeli Arabs would prefer to live in other countries in the Middle East? I wonder what a dignified gentleman like Nelson Mandela would think to be compared to a common thug like Arafat who authorised among other things, throwing a disabled man with his wheelchair off a cruise ship?

    The thoughtful New Republic has recently published a piece by Leon Wieseltier which counsels his fellow Jews to calm down because Hitler is dead. However Israel's fight for its survival has certainly brought the Islamo fascists out of the closet as exhibits like this show. Hopefully we won't see similar things in Australia but it's too soon to tell.
     
    Short note on copy protection
    As Heath points out below, it turns out that Sony's copy protection can be circumvented using a felt tip pen. Now the thought occurs to me - one of the major rationales for copyright (though not the only one) is essentially a transactions cost based argument.

    That is, in the absence of statutory copyright protection, and other intellectual property protection, creators might try to make money from their creations using contractual provisions such as trade secrets laws but the transaction costs and resources wasted on circumventing and reacting in an ad hoc manner to these contractual provisions involve greater efficiency losses than defining and enforcing standardised IP rights - in this sense IP rights aren't really 'infringements on tangible property' as some natural rights libertarians want to argue, they're just a de facto starting point which can be contracted out of in most cases where efficiency dictates that it's worthwhile to do so, which is when private parties think it's worthwhile to do so (moral rights are an exception to this but I'd argue moral rights are a silly idea to begin with).

    However the point is that the social value of having property rights decreases with the enforcement and administration costs. If the copyright complex is going to be so goddamned recalcitrant about the way they treat their customers they might as well give the game up because they'll have swung the social calculus too far in the other direction.

    Wednesday, May 22, 2002
     
    Copy Protection Cracked (again)

    A bit over a month ago Jason poste don here my take on the latest moves by the major music industry firms to develop and sell CD's which couldn't be played on CD-ROM drives . It was a move designed to reduce the incidence of piracy, but the copy protection technique not only rendered it impossible to copy the CD, but meant that the CD's wouldn't even play on PC's and some portable and car CD systems.

    Now it has been revealed that there is a decidedly low-tech workaround to the Sony copy-protection. It involves simply using a normal felt tip pen or texta to black over the first track on the CD. I kid you not! I wonder how many millions of dollars Sony have wasted on this round of the copy-protection v piracy battle.



    Tuesday, May 21, 2002
     
    Quote of the day: Neatly sums up current debates in various developed economies -

    It is important to recognize that general education is not solely and perhaps not even mainly, a matter of communicating knowledge. There is a need for certain common standards of values, and, though too great emphasis on this need may lead to very illiberal consequences, peaceful common existence would be clearly impossible without any such standards. If in long-settled communities with a predominantly indigenous population, this is not likely to be a serious problem, there are instances, such as the United States during the period of large immigration, where it may well be one. That the United States would not have become such an effective "melting pot" and would probably faced extremely difficult problems if it had not been for a deliberate policy of "Americanization" through the public school system seems fairly certain

    ~Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty

    Monday, May 20, 2002
     
    Virtual Worlds and Real Money

    Parents - don't tell your children they'll never survive in the real world if they spend all their time playing net-games. Research by Edward Castronova, of the California State University, reveals that dedicated players of Sony's "Everquest" can make a few hundred dollars ($US) a week from their game playing. What's more, the per-capita income of residents of Norrah (the fantasy world setting for Everquest) has been estimated at about $US2266, which places it's residents on a par with those of Russia and Bulgaria.

    "But how can a computer game create more wealth per person than a European country? Castronova tracked thousands of EverQuest transactions on Internet auction sites to determine the economic value generated by the inhabitants of Norrath. This allowed him to calculate how much each character is worth if sold on the open market. If telecommunications costs were not so prohibitive, it would be more productive for your average citizen of Sofia to play EverQuest than go to work."

    Ironically (or perhaps not so ironically) the biggest barrier to growth in the income of the full time residents of Norrah is the government of Norrah (i.e.Sony). Gamers make their money by earning platinum pieces, the currency of Norrah. They then sell these platinum pieces on online auction sites for $US, thereby establishing a exchange rate between platinum pieces and the $US.

    Sony has decided this is a breach of it's intellectual property. In an effort to stop the trading of platinum pieces (and other game items and characters), Sony has pressured E-Bay and Yahoo into forbidding the sale of Everquest related goods and services. E-Bay and yahoo have complied, Sony having achieved a capitulation from Yahoo that the French courts couldn't.

    Not surprisingly, citizens of these virtual worlds have decided to revolt.

    "In the Dark Age of Camelot, a consortium of professional players is suing the game's owners for the right to sell the game's currency on the open market. In a twist that could almost belong to Jorge Luis Borges' The Lottery in Babylon, the players have even issued a bill of rights for citizens of all virtual worlds."

    And hurrah for them too! Once again we have old-economy thinking at play here from a traditional media player. How about a little creativity. If there is a demand for a virtual-to-real currency market, why not support it by creating a marketplace and providing brokerage services (for a small fee). If there is a demand for pre-developed characters and items, then why not create a place to buy these.

    I'm sure initial player resistance will melt away when existing players realise that they can actually make something from their playing. I could go on with more detail about how such a system would work and the various pitfalls and opportunities such a system entails. But maybe I'll hang onto those ideas until some game designer knocks on my door.




     
    Fanning the flames of exaggeration: Anne Summers has an op-ed in today's SMH titled 'Fanning the flames of racial hatred' which begins:

    It's open season on Muslims around the world and no-one seems to give a damn. In fact, the reverse seems to be true as politicians in Europe and elsewhere gain surprising support for their unabashed anti-Muslim attitudes ..
    Fortuyn's anti-immigration platform included an explicit anti-Muslim position, attacking Islamic attitudes to gays and women.


    Memo to Anne Summers: Perhaps I'm being a little pedantic here, but could I start by pointing out that Muslims are not a race? Does this make a difference? Well, yes, I can there is a huge difference between criticising aspects of cultures which people can freely choose to modify or accept or reject on the one hand, and condemning a whole group of people as inferior due to their ancestry. This is not to excuse unjustified criticisms of cultures or excuse criticism with a wrong factual basis, much less excuse physical incitement to violence based on such criticisms.- however it does mean that even wrong-headed criticism of a culture is not morally equivalent to racism. Yet in her writing, Summers does not seem to recognise that there is such a distinction.

    It looks like Summers must be finding herself in a bit of a dilemma here. She acknowledges that Fortun's positions were provoked by Islamic attitude to gays and women then shuts up on this from thereon, instead choosing to imply, or at least it seems from the juxtapositions here, that there is some sort of lurid comparison between the horrific communal slaiughters in India:

    nowhere has it been worse than in India, in the western state of Gujarat, where a brutal and systematic orgy of violence was unleashed against Muslim communities earlier this year in what many Indians are calling an act of "genocide".


    and the more or less minor breaches of bad taste in Australia:

    In Australia there were attacks, sometimes physical, on Muslims after September 11, and also during the Gulf War. Generally, our politicians have been quick to condemn such bigotry but we cannot be certain our political system is any less vulnerable than those of so many European countries. We have experienced the success of Pauline Hanson with her attacks on immigrants and it is arguable that her demise was only due to the Howard Government stealing her political clothes.

    As a nation we need to learn to live with difference, and to be tolerant of religious and other customs that we may find difficult to agree with. So long as no group seeks to impose its views on the majority, it ought not to be difficult, given our history of absorbing so many nations and cultures, to tolerate such diversity. But the political rules have suddenly changed, and begun to reward the haters and the intolerant. It is a frightening state of affairs.


    Have they? Have the political rules suddenly changed? I have been vocal on this blog in condemning the stuff-ups at Woomera and arguing that mandatory detention is not the miracle cure that the government seems to think it is .. but have the political rules suddenly changed to sanction the slaughter of Muslims across the country (which was what happened in Gujarat).

    Incidentally I should note that Summers has a very novel explanation for the recent synagogue attacks in Europe:

    Is there a connection between what happened in India and what has been happening in Europe where the established political parties, most of them left-of-centre, have seemed incapable of repudiating these attacks on their own immigrant populations? This in turn has escalated into Muslim attacks on synagogues in France and Belgium. It is a very nasty spiral and one that, if not contained, is likely to get completely out of hand.


    At least she's acknowledged that the synagogue attacks were by immigrant Muslims, which is an improvement on Glenn Reynold's lame arguments that France should be boycotted because it's an anti-semitic country. However to suggest that Muslims attacked synagogues because governments in Europe didn't repudiate attacks on Muslims in other countries is certainly no improvement to their reputation compared the more common-sensical explanation that they attacked synagogues because of latent anti-Jewish hatreds sparked by the clashes in the Middle East.

     

     
       
       

     

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