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polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

email: jasonsoon AT mail.com

 
 
 

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    Saturday, June 22, 2002
     
    Update 2 on embryonic stem cells
    Am I going on about this topic too much? I think its future importance for human well-being merits it. Here is a very timely article by a distinguished scientist that gives further backing to John Howard's common sense position on not banning embryonic stem cell research just because of the purported breakthrough on adult stem cells. The article notes that similar excuses for the new Inquisition by elements of the Christian Right have been made in the US:

    Until two years ago the dogma among biologists was that stem cells in the bone marrow spawned only blood, those in the liver spawned only hepatocytes, and those in the brain spawned only neurons—in other words, each of our tissues had only its own cadre of stem cells for upkeep. Once again we appear to have been wrong. There is mounting evidence that the body contains some rather unspecialized stem cells, which wander around ready to help many sorts of tissue regenerate their worker cells.

    Whether these newly discovered, multi-talented adult stem cells present a viable alternative to therapeutic cloning remains to be proved. Many of the claims about their capabilities have yet to be subjected to rigorous testing. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of these claims have also reached the public without careful vetting by peers. Senator Sam Brownback, of Kansas, an ardent foe of all kinds of cloning, has based much of his case in favor of adult stem cells (and against therapeutic cloning) on these essentially unsubstantiated scientific claims. Adult stem cells provide a convenient escape hatch for Brownback. Their use placates religious conservatives, who are against all cloning, while throwing a bone to groups lobbying for new stem-cell-based therapies to treat degenerative diseases.

    Brownback would have biologists shut down therapeutic-cloning research and focus their energies exclusively on adult stem-cell research. But no one can know at present which of those two strategies is more likely to work. It will take a decade or more to find out. Many biologists are understandably reluctant to set aside therapeutic-cloning research in the meantime; they argue that the two technologies should be explored simultaneously.


    The article also notes that scientists at the forefront of this research have had various base aspersions cast on their motives:

    For their trouble, the scientists were accused of financial self-interest by Steven Milloy of Fox News, who said, "Enron and Arthur Andersen have nothing over the National Academy of Sciences when it comes to deceiving the public ... Enter Bruce Alberts, the Wizard of Oz-like president of the NAS ... On his own initiative, Alberts put together a special panel, stacked with embryonic-stem-cell research proponents and researchers already on the taxpayer dole ... Breast-feeding off taxpayers is as natural to the NAS panel members as breathing."


    However what is a scientist to do if even the alternative to 'breastfeeding off taxpayers' - i.e. working for a profit making pharmaceutical company is worthy of impugnment, as it is to the likes of the self-appointed journalistic ambassador from the Vatican, Angela Shanahan, who regards any go ahead for research as the result of a Big Pharma conspiracy?

    BTW Here is the transcript of yesterday's 'debate' between Mark Latham and Chris Pyne which touched on stem cells among other things. Good old Latham was back in his best 'straight talking' form:

    TONY JONES: Alright, Mark Latham, does the latest research that adult stem cells may be all that you need to conduct serious research, does it change your position?

    MARK LATHAM: Well, the researchers at Minnesota University are not saying that.

    Chris is relying on these researchers, but just today they were saying that their potential breakthrough does not justify an end to research with embryonic stem cells.

    So Chris's own source has shot him down in flames today.

    They're saying continue the embryonic stem cell research and if you like, have parallel research proceeding across the globe.

    I think that's wise advice.

    We should follow the advice of scientists and people who want to bring religious belief and social conservatism into this debate, well if they want to do that they should go down to church, they shouldn't try and inflict their religious beliefs on the Parliament.
     
    Men Running Women’s Sport – Double Standards?

    Either Jessica Halloran has done some shiftty editing or else Anita Keelan really needs to start thinking about engaging her brain before her mouth when talking to the media.

    Keelan is coach of the Sydney Sandpipers, one of the two national netball league teams from Sydney. In an article by Halloran that accompanied the round nine match previews, Keelan takes a shot at men in the netball establishment and I think, manages to shoot herself in the foot in doing so.


    “Some male administrators among state netball ranks are holding back the game, according to Sydney Sandpipers coach Anita Keelan. Keelan believes such men do not have the right motivation to help the game develop.

    ‘We are getting more men in there that just see it as a job and regard [netball] pretty poorly,’ she said yesterday. ‘They have no background of the culture and of where [netball] is coming from - vision to me is really important.’

    Keelan said some were more focused on the business aspect of the sport than the game itself. "


    My immediate response to reading these comments was to wonder what sort of backlash they would have generated had they come from a male coach in a male dominated sport (like rugby) and had been directed at criticising women administrators who didn’t understand the culture of the game. I can well imagine the population of Margostan coming out in force to denounce the patriarchal oppressor!

    Not knowing any men involved in the administration of netball (besides the guy who runs the social netball competition I play in), I can’t really comment on what sort of job they are doing. But later in the article, Keelan starts talking about the national league and after saying how great it is to have a national competition comments that:

    “ the national league had an amateur image compared with other weekly sporting events.

    ‘ Sport must not only be enjoyed as a contest but it must be entertainment as an entire event,’ she said. ‘ Netball could learn a lot from other sports in its presentation of the game to make it more of a spectacle.’

    The coach also said an amateur outlook had held back netball's growth at a professional level - women needed to be proactive to help the sport to become more professional.

    ‘Netball needs to look at a much bigger picture,…’ management at amateur levels was dedicated but needed to change if the game was to become truly professional. “


    It was at this point I paused and thought “hang on – isn’t this exactly why you need people (female or male) with a business outlook!”. Commercially oriented people are the type of people you need to transcent the amaetur status and make the sport more professional. Interestingly it is revealed by the head of netball Australia, Pam Smith, the reason men are filling the sports administration ranks in netball is because:

    “There is a very strong feeling of disappointment that there are not the number of women coming forward for sports administration roles.”

    So it seems that we have men filling roles that women, for one reason or another, aren’t filling. If it were women taking on more control of a male sport, no one would dare raise the issue of their gender - so similarly, why should it matter in netball. If these men aren’t doing their job, then fire them for not doing their job, not because you think only women can do the job.
     
    Update on Aussie stem cells debate
    Here is a more recent story on internal Liberal party debate on the embryonic stem cells issue:

    Days before the legislation legalising embryo research is introduced in Parliament, 18 Coalition MPs, including the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, issued a statement saying that a new United States study, published yesterday, was clear evidence that adult stem cell research was capable of achieving, or working towards, satisfactory treatments, meaning research using embryos was unnecessary.

    The statement was also signed by two of John Howard's strongest allies, the Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Abbott, and the Finance Minister, Senator Nick Minchin.

    Other signatories included the Special Minister of State, Senator Eric Abetz, and the National Party Senate leader, Senator Ron Boswell.

    Their statement came hours after Mr Howard had knocked back a call from his backbench for a rethink of the legislation sanctioning embryo research.

    Mr Howard said that, from what he had been told, the latest promising research, "does not of itself, remove the need for embryonic stem cell research and it won't be altering my own personal view".


    Go, Johnny, go!
     
    Libertarian Purity test

    Apparently I’m a medium-core libertarian (84 points), which puts me in the same category as Jason though I am not far off being a hard-core libertarian. Although I think this is neither the most accurate or revealing of these political identify quizzes, it was quite interesting to see that I was roughly 20 points more ‘libertarian’ than Jason. I guess it must be the Ayn Rand influence that made up those extra points.
     
    IQ, the moral sense and individual responsibility
    There has been much trumpeting of the ban on executing criminals with low IQ. Some things strike me as odd in all this. Now, before I'm accused of being a bloodthirsty monster, let me say that my concerns relate to wider rule of law issues. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with capital punishment the point is this - if X commits murder he (and let's assume it's a he which is probably true in most cases) the rule of law says that if he can be held properly accountable for his actions, then penalty Y should apply to him as it applies to others who commit murder. If X cannot be properly held accountable for his actions then an exception is made to the general rule of applying penalty Y. The question is then whether low IQ is a sufficiently extenuating circumstance. We know why insanity is for obvious reasons. If for instance you take the retributivist view of criminal law it doesn't seem fair to apply retribution to someone who is totally wacked out and doesn't know what he's doing. If you take the deterrence view of criminal law (which I do) then it seems pointless to apply usual penalties to lunatics since other lunatics, given their distorted perceptions, will not be deterred by this 'signal'. Does a similar argument apply to people who score lower than 70 on IQ tests?

    What about teenagers, you may ask? Well I think there are perfectly sound physiological reasons for treating maturing teens differently under the criminal law but with low IQ people what you're effectively saying is that these people should almost never be held fully responsible for their actions.

    Granted, the proponents of the low IQ exception never go as far as to say that low IQ people will never have the same moral sense as the rest of us:

    Justice Stevens said it was "not so much the number of these states that was significant, but the consistency of the direction of change". Mentally disabled people "frequently know the difference between right and wrong" but often cannot "understand and process information, communicate, learn from experience, control impulses".


    However even the argument by Justice Stevens is one I find to be intellectually flawed. *If* there were a case for making an exception for IQ then from a rational deterrence perspective this would justify *tougher* and not more lenient penalities for low IQ people since they put a lower evaluation of the costs associated with these penalties - that is, unless the argument is that such a decision-making framework is completely out the grasp of low IQ people altogether, which would really put them in the same category as the psychotically disturbed. (Note I am not in fact arguing for such differential treatment at all because I think the administrative costs involved far exceed any additional benefits in deterrence but merely drawing out the logical implications of this line of thinking). I would suggest that the logical implications of this differential treatment based on IQ are that people with IQs below 70 should effectively be wards of the state - maybe to some extent most of them are and should be. Caution is also necessary on this front as it is substantially easier to fake a low IQ than to fake a high IQ. See for instance, this

    The change comes too late for Oliver Cruz, who was executed in 2000 for violently raping and murdering a 24-year-old woman.

    The defence argued that Cruz had three times failed seventh grade and had been rejected by the army because he could not read the application form. The prosecution said he was a violent thug whose IQ was 83 when he entered prison, but appeared to drop below 70 on tests taken for use in sentencing.


    Sidenote - it is rather ironic that the very same people (generally on the left) who take IQ test scores so seriously in this context are opposed to their use in other contexts even if this is to the detriment of the financially deprived but gifted:

    Opposition to the use of i.q. testing goes back as far as testing itself. Its practitioners have been accused of, among other things, misusing science to justify capitalist exploitation; allowing their obsession with classification to blind them to the huge variety of human abilities; encouraging soulless teaching; and, worst of all, inflaming racial prejudices and justifying racial inequalities. To this school of thinking, The Bell Curve was a godsend. Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein succeeded more effectively than even Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin in linking i.q. testing firmly in people's minds with spectacularly unpopular arguments: that different racial groups have different i.q. averages; that America is calcifying into rigid and impermeable castes; that the promise of American life is an illusion. The more society realizes the dream of equal opportunities, the more it breaks down into incommensurate groups, segregated not just by the accident of the environment, but by the unforgiving logic of genes.

    But there is another, more enlightened tradition in the history of i.q. testing, a tradition that was once the darling of liberals. It linked i.q. testing with upward mobility, child-centered education, more generous treatment of the handicapped, humane welfare reform and, above all, the creation of a meritocracy. Indeed, it could be argued that it is this enlightened tradition that reflects the real essence of i.q. testing, uncontaminated by local prejudices and unscientific conjectures. In ignoring this, in demonizing the purveyors of i.q., liberals have betrayed their own political and moral tradition.


     
    Paul Wright right on target
    I haven't been blogging about recent events in the Middle East because ... what can I say? Paul Wright hasn;'t hesitated to let loose however, and his ruminations are worth reading. A spot on sample:

    I want to be clear about a few things. Killing children is CHOSEN as the best path to take. There is not a single Palestinian who can’t lay their grubby paws on an AK-47, and more ammo than they can carry. They physically can’t get more than an hour’s walk from an Israeli checkpoint, which come conveniently supplied with ample targets. Any of these cretins could make their way right up close to all the enemy soldiers they want, and start firing. Guaranteed martyrdom, paradise facilities, would you like a Virgin with that?

    So why don’t they? Two reasons:

    One, because it will hurt like hell. Soldiers are rude people, they tend to shoot back. You’ll probably still make it to the Garden, but only after you bleed out for an hour or two. Worse, you might not die, which in the litterbox that is Palestinian values, means your family gets less approval.

    And two, because they think it’s preferable to murder women, kids, houses and villages. Someone told them it’s acceptable. There is no difference to jumping on a school bus and pulling the detonator cord, than to taking an entire school hostage, and shooting the children one by one until your demands are met. None. The only reason Hamas and their fellow statesmen don’t do it is because they’re afraid of alienating their Western support base.
     
    PM Howard on the side of common sense
    Yes, you heard it here, despite my constant sniping at Howard these past few weeks. The Prime Minister is resisting pressure from within his own party to defer legislation that would allow research on embryonic stem cells. The latest excuse being used by opponents of stem cell research is the recent discovery by University of Minnesota scientists of a rare stem cell in adult bone marrow that can turn into all the types of tissue needed to repair damaged bodies. In other words, a finding that suggests that eventually adult stem cells can be just as good for treating degenerative diseases.

    All well and good and certainly a welcome discovery but what does this have to do with banning embryonic stem cell research? Surely two research methods are better than one and any addition to the knowledge base is welcome. Even the leader of the University of Minnesota researchers has this to say:

    Professor Verfaillie also believes it is critical that research on embryonic stem cells continue, because the two types of cells may have different benefits for different diseases.


    while other scientists urge we don't count our chickens before they hatch:

    ... Professor Martin Pera, of the Stem Cell and Tissue Repair Centre of Excellence, at Monash University, said this conclusion was premature. "We think research on adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells should be pursued in tandem."

    The findings were "very striking", but repeat studies were needed to assess how similar the new cells were to the embryonic cells.


    Not surprisingly, leading the internal 'Liberal' party dissent against embryonic stem cell research is none other than Tony 'Mad Monk' Abbott. However along with other usual suspects like the reliably reactionary Nick Minchin, the Mad Monk is joined by supposed Liberal 'moderate' Chris Pyne.

    Friday, June 21, 2002
     
    Libertarian Purity test
    Political compasses seem to be the hot thing among Aussie bloggers at the moment. Try the famous Libertarian purity test by Bryan Caplan. I scored a 62 which gives me this:

    51-90 points: You are a medium-core libertarian, probably self-consciously so. Your friends probably encourage you to quit talking about your views so much.

    Note to Australian readers - the test is quite American specific and you will have to translate to equivalent terms in Australia to answer properly for some questions.

    For instance, in the US, Social Security is a non-means tested old age pension, not what we call Social Secuity in Australia which is targeted payments for the poor and unemployed.




     
    Lew Rockwell idiot watch
    Lew Rockwell is one of those sites that claim to be libertarian and that give us libertarians a bad name. As Charles Oliver argues it is in fact anti-government rather than pro-freedom. They have hit new heights recently, publishing an article that compares John Gotti and Adolf Hitler favourably to Winston Churchill and Harry Truman:

    Now, when it came to murder, Churchill made Gotti look like a piker. And at least Gotti probably only ordered people killed who snitched or were in a turf war with his "family," in other words, combatants. When Churchill ordered the fire bombing of Dresden, in order to impress Stalin with Anglo-American military might, the city was without military targets and was inhabited mostly by women, children, and the elderly. Even rescue vehicles coming to help the survivors of the first wave of planes were targeted for destruction.

    So Gotti was a murderer with a sense of style, while Churchill was one who killed artistically. Other than the fact that Churchill killed perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands times as many people as Gotti, the praise sounds pretty similar.

    And it occurs to me that Hitler was handy with a brush as well. He was also pretty nice to cats and Aryan children. Perhaps NRO will run an article on the many overlooked charms of Adolf.


    Were the bombings of Dresdent and Hiroshima horrific events? If circumstances were different would we want to avoid them? Yes, of course. But what shred of evidence does the writer provide that Churchill and Truman came to their decisions frivolously? Well, actually the first question I suppose was whether World War II was a just war. I believe it was, certainly more so than World War I. World War II would also have been eminently justifiable simply on pro-active defence grounds. The equation of isolationism with national self-interest is merely an assumption, and it seems from history, a very weak one. Given the conflict that Churchill and Truman were engaged in, given the inevitably 'collateral damage' the sole issue is whether their decisions put enough weighting on attempts to minimise collateral damage while also minimising casualties on their own side. There were a whole range of reasons why Truman was forced to drop the bomb. Equating these man with a mobster like John Gotti brings out the pure juvenilia element of anarcho-paleo-libertarian thought as does this equally silly remark:

    Derbyshire might answer that while Americans do not have complete political freedom, relatively speaking they have more than most people. We can grant his point, while insisting that it does not change the fundamentals of the situation. A slave who only has to work two days a week for his master is still a slave. He is still a slave even if his master allows him a range of occupations for his servitude. The master may try to convince him that he is not a slave by pointing to the slaves down the road, whose master makes them work seven days a week and gives them no choice of occupation. Certainly, most people would prefer to be owned by the first master rather than the second. But they would still be slaves if owned by either.


    In other words, even if we lived in a society where we only paid, say, 10% income tax, we would still be slaves according to Callahan. The fact that the framework of government enhances freedom of action in other ways is simply irrelevant to such calculation. Any trace of government and we are slaves.

    Fortunately the likes of Lew Rockwell will be of zilch relevance to our lives. But may I suggest that to spare the rest of us libertarians embarrasment Lew Rockwell stick to homeopathy, creationism and anti-vaccination paraonoia?
     
    Yeah .. what they said!

    Cicrumstances have conspired against me contributing this week, despite a lot of issues coming up this week that I woud love to have commented on. First of all it has been "one of those weeks" at work. Then one of the system files on my PC decided it didn't want to play nice anymore and so my main PC refuses to boot up or even accept a boot disk. Fair enough - I pull my old PC out of hiding and then it too decides to be un-cooperative , for similar but not identical reasons. In short - until I can fit a new hard drive I won't be making much of the way of new posts.

    So I'll keep this brief. Jason has said pretty much what I was wanting to say on the articles by Miranda Devine and John Anderson. I particualrly couldn't believe John Anderson's article. Here he is blaming all that social freedom and lack of family values for high youth suicide rates - yet rural areas which pride themselves on their sense of community and 'family values' are also the areas with the highest suiside rates. Could he not see the contradiction?

    As for Miranda Devine chipping in...I'll have to reread it but again I'll go with Jason on this one. Miranda seems to be writing quite a few 'conservative' articles these last few weeks. I'm starting to wonder if she is trying to prove her conservative credentials or something.

    On uni fees I have my own views, and depending on when I get my PC fixed I might even post them.

    But till then, thats all folks.
     
    Against a Bill of Rights
    Law professor Larissa Behrendt would like Australia to have a Bill of Rights but it doesn't sound like anything I'd call a Bill of Rights:

    When Larissa Behrendt stood on the land her Aboriginal grandmother was taken from at the age of 12 to work as a domestic, and realised that her family could never claim it under native title, she became convinced the legal system needed fixing.

    Eight years later and now a head of law at UTS, Professor Behrendt believes the only way forward for Australia is a bill of rights ...

    ... she believes the approach of the United States, which includes "a right to bear arms and an overzealous freedom of speech", would be unpalatable to most Australians. The Canadian model, she feels, is more acceptable, arguing that Canada's bill of rights protects against faith-fracturing laws.


    Alright so I'm not so keen about a right to bear arms either but 'overzealous freedom of speech?', 'protect against faith-fracturing laws?' Behrendt's idea of a Bill of Rights was motivated by the passing of laws against native title which is really a sort of politically correct Clayton's property rights for Aborigines anyway.

    In essence a constitution isn't worth the paper that it's written on - that is, if there is no prevailing culture of commitment to liberty in a country that it doesn't matter how you draft a Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights is a manifestation of a country's political culture rather than something that creates a political culture. Britain with its common law has more of what liberals recognise as freedom than a handful of Third World countries with grandly written constitutions. Once a Bill of Rights is passed. judges can read all sorts of things into it. In Australia, what you'd probably end up with given the likes of Behrednt and Michael Kirby is a Bill of Rights which regards robust freedom of speech as an infringement of rights because it constitutes blasphemy for some parties, and judicially enforced regulation of workplaces as some sort of 'right' against exploitation.

    Thursday, June 20, 2002
     
    The Spam paradox
    Here are some excerpts from the latest version of the Nigerian scam spam I've received - note that it's even personally addressed to my full name:

    Dear Jason Soon


    BUSINESS PROPOSAL AND INVESTMENTS PARTNERSHIP (US$
    23,690 MILLION DOLLARS)

    First, I must Solicit your strictest confidence in this transaction, this is by virtue of it’s nature as being utterly confidential and top secret as you were introduced to me in confidence through the Nigerian Chambers of Commerce, foreign trade division . I am Dr. tunde momohh the Foreign Liaison Officer of the board of trustee of RWA Agency (Relief West Africa). We were empowered to administer a trust fund of well over five hundred million United States dollars ( US$500,000,000M) for the provision of relief
    materials to troubled areas in the West African Sub-region and her environs ...

    My group is very much ready to effecting the remittance of the fund into a well secured or corporate foreign account ( individual or corporate ) operated by a trust worthy person, as all logistics are already in place and all modalities worked out for the smooth conclusion of the transaction within seven to ten working days upon commencement on receipt of your company name, address, company’s details & activities & your direct confidential telephone and fax line for correspondence.

    This information will enable us make the necessary applications and lodge claims to the concerned authorities in favour of your company and it is pertinent to state here that this transaction is entirely based on trust as the solar bank draft or certified cheque drawable will be made in your name and we wish to commence an importation business of agro-allied machineries in conjunction with you. Your assistance or partnership will certainly, be rewarded with a 20% share ratio of the total sum of (US$23,690M). We shall have 70%, While 10% will be used to reimburse both parties for any expenses incurred in the course of consummating this deal. It is important to state here, that no risk of any sort is involved, now or in future since both parties will be protected by a legally signed agreement.


    Now here's the $64,000 question. How many people are smart enough to understand all that and yet stupid enough to be fooled by it? And who is smart enough to write this and not be aware that it simply won't work?
     
    Marxist Plan B
    Miranda Devine goes into rhetorical overdrive, labelling every dissenter from the 'traditional family' Right a Marxist and seemingly endorsing the ludicrous John Anderson claim that the 60s spelt the destruction of Western civilisation:

    why is so much of the media so keen to put a nail in the family coffin? It comes from the same antagonism to family values displayed in this newspaper's Letters page on Tuesday in response to National Party leader John Anderson's comments that the permissive '60s and subsequent family breakdown are to blame for today's social ills.

    The furore unleashed by his speech suggests that hostility to what seems to be a self-evident truth is high in a vocal, but not necessarily representative, part of the population. Barry Maley, senior fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, and author of Family and Marriage in Australia, explained yesterday why the family is under attack. The cultural revolution that began in the 1960s had as its centrepiece the idea that families are a "hotbed of bourgeois morality", says Maley, and it was bourgeois morality which sustained capitalism.

    This idea, which stemmed from Marxism, became one of the most influential ideas of our time thanks to the writings of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who died in a fascist prison in 1937. His theory was that to win the world over voluntarily to Marxism and destroy capitalism, you had first to destroy the family, "and stop parents teaching their children despicable moral lessons", says Maley ..

    In his book Wedlock and Wellbeing, Maley summarised worldwide research which is almost unanimous in declaring that, on every measure - juvenile delinquency, child abuse, criminality, suicide, educational attainment - children do better in general when they are raised in intact families by their married biological parents.


    Geez, Miranda, you would've thought the Marxists were already dead and buried after their attempts at statecraft failed (e.g. the USSR, North Korea). But perhaps desperate times call for desperate measures - cuckold a husband and hasten the coming of the People's Revolution!

    Yes it seems like common sense that two heads are better than one. Two parents have more resources, both financial and 'human capital' than one. But how many children would be scarred for life if their parents *didn't* divorce? And if resources and commitment are what matters, then why do conservatives have a problem with gay and lesbian families?
     
    Debunking the baby drought
    The Sydney Morning Herald, as Australia's staple left-liberal paper can always be counted on to expose conservative myths, right? Not so, at least not this piece by Jennifer Hewett which discusses the so-called 'baby dilemma' facing working women and cites the controversial US research by Sylvia Hewlett on female executives and their regrets at placing career before family:


    All those years of delaying having children until the time or the person was right - suddenly, too late. All those worries about when and how we could find time for families and a career, not to mention ourselves. Sorry, too hard. All that pressure to strictly limit the number. Did I hear you say one or perhaps two? ...

    The fashionable book in the US today is Sylvia Hewlett's Creating a Life: Professional Woman and the Quest for Children, which details her research on female executives - many of whom now greatly regret never managing children as well as corporate success. Of the more than 1600 high achieving women over 40 interviewed for her book, 42 per cent were childless, a figure rising to 49 per cent if they earned more than $US100,000 ($177,000). The male executives usually managed to have children and a career. Odd that.


    Is it ironic that many left-ish feminists like NY Times and SMH writers have also cottoned on to this pro-natalist, 'woe is me, no babies at 40' rhetoric that one would think at first glance a conservative 'family values' obsession? Not really. Though it is clear what the 'family values' nostalgist Right agenda is - a yearning for the good old days, what is the left's take on all this? Quite simply, because it allows ample opportunity to make the point that the world still isn't fair, that capitalism isn't fair because men don't have to sacrifice having a family while women have to and therefore every workplace needs to be regulated. They are both right in a way. Capitalism, globalisation and social change are all very much connected and they lead to various changes that both left and right don't like because it doesn't fit their respective agendas - whether these agendas take the form of arresting society at some particular period of history or resulting in certain numerical outcomes that are supposed to represent fairness. Capitalism, as Marx would have recognised, is a profoundly revolutionary force, and if we want the benefits we sometimes have to take the costs too (so call me a Marxist if you must, Miranda).

    However, getting back to the research cited uncritically by Hewett, it seems to be thorougly debunked by this piece in the left-leaning American Prospect. The piece starts out by pointing out a certain pattern in Sylvia Hewlett's work:

    At the center of this ruckus was not only a centuries-old antifeminist saw but a figure who has spent two decades fixated on proving that feminism hurts women and families. Since the mid-1980s, Hewlett, an economist, has repeatedly attacked feminism for undermining the traditional family and forcing women to make painful choices between childbearing and professional work. Wrote Hewlett in her 1986 A Lesser Life: The Myth of Women's Liberation in America: "The chic liberal women of [the National Organization for Women] have mostly failed to understand that millions of American women like being mothers and want to strengthen, not weaken, the traditional family structure. For them, motherhood is not a trap, divorce is not liberating, and the personal and sexual freedom of modern life is immensely threatening."

    Although you wouldn't know it from the credulous reception of Creating a Life, Hewlett's first book was roundly criticized and debunked by feminists, including Betty Freidan, who called it a "deceptive, backlash book." In her 1991 bestseller Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, Susan Faludi recounted how Hewlett's work, which approvingly cited the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly, was to become a cornerstone in the antifeminist edifice. "For the next several years," wrote Faludi, "hundreds of journalists, newscasters, and columnists would invoke Hewlett's work whenever they wanted to underscore the tragic consequences of feminism." And the pundits would have no shortage of material to point to: Hewlett's 1991 book, When the Bough Breaks: The Cost of Neglecting Our Children, and her 1998 volume, The War Against Parents: What We Can Do for America's Beleaguered Moms and Dads, co-authored with Cornel West and Eric West, would promote a bleak message nearly identical to the one in her first book. The only difference was that by the time she'd teamed up with West and West, Hewlett had managed to reinvent herself as a pro-family centrist, winning accolades from liberals and conservatives alike.


    Now let me repeat - one should almost never, I repeat - almost never - discount the validity of another person's research solely because of their ideological affiliations or their motivations for doing the research (my exception is for obvious loonies like members of the Aryan Liberation Front and such like - time on this earth is limited). Nonetheless that doesn't mean it's unfair to point to their previous work and the context in which it was written. It is probably also worth pointing out that if this were some sort of research (say on economics) that was thoroughly unfavourable to the left consensus, it would undoubtedly have been labelled as 'right wing' by now. But not here.

    Anyway, here's the rest of the article which goes on to describe the debunking:

    Hewlett's attack on young women's "obnoxious" "sense of entitlement" does not appear to have had an empowering effect on many readers. New York's Vanessa Grigoriadis summarizes another message that comes through loud and clear: "husband hunting, settling for less, trading in a high-powered career to maximize the returns to our ovaries."

    That message is dangerous, and not just because of its antifeminist provenance. If young women take Hewlett's advice seriously, more of them may have kids -- but so, too, will more get divorced, become single moms, or opt not to become high achievers in the first place. Why? Because Hewlett isn't just ideologically motivated -- her predictions are just plain wrong.

    The problem with Creating a Life begins with Hewlett's data. She compares high-achieving women with high-achieving men, then blames differences in life patterns on women's high-powered, baby-hostile jobs. But the variables that determine people's life choices are infinitely more complex. How do high-achieving women compare with other working women? How do married women compare with single women? Had Hewlett asked even these simple questions, she would have found a very different set of answers to the question of why high-achieving women have fewer children.

    I had Heather Boushey, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, rerun Hewlett's analysis on a larger sample of women. Whereas Hewlett relied on a 520-person National Parenting Association study of women between the ages of 28 and 40, we used the March 2000 and 2001 Current Population Survey (CPS) data representing 3.8 million high-achieving women and 29.8 million other women working full-time in this age group. Jointly conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the CPS is routinely used by social scientists to get up-to-the-minute snapshots of American work and family life. Just as Hewlett did, we counted as high achievers women who worked full time and either earned more than $55,000 per year or had a graduate or professional degree, such as an MBA, Ph.D., J.D., or M.D. But we also did something Hewlett didn't do: We compared high-achieving women to their less accomplished sisters, instead of to men, so that we could distinguish the effect of achievement from the simple effect of being a working woman.

    The CPS data yield a much more optimistic picture than the one in Hewlett's book. High-achieving women between 28 and 35 are just as likely to be successfully married as other women who work full time, according to the national data. Fully 81 percent of high-achieving women between ages 36 and 40 had married at least once, as had 83 percent of all other working women, though only 62 percent of high-achieving and 60 percent of all other working women remained married, thanks to America's high divorce rate. In other words, there is no achievement-related marriage gap. When Hewlett writes that "the more a woman succeeds in her career, the less likely it is she will ever have a partner," she is dead wrong.


    The article goes on to discredit the rest of Hewlett's claims and sometimes arrives at some interesting implications in the process

    The so-called baby bust thus has far less to do with female accomplishment or age-related infertility than it does with the persistence of traditional values among economic elites. For high-achieving women, it might as well still be the Eisenhower era, which was the last time the nation as a whole had such a low rate of unmarried births. Because of high-achieving women's greater behavioral conservatism, it is marriage -- not degree of professional success -- that is the single largest determinant of whether they will have children.

    So why don't these women just get married? The answer is, they do. Remember, high-achieving women are just as likely to be married at 28 to 35 and at 36 to 40 as are all other working women. And once they marry, they are just as likely to have kids, though they tend to do so somewhat later in life. The difference is that the ones who don't marry rarely have kids ....

    This new research suggests a tantalizing proposition for single women listening to a loud biological ticktock: To boost their odds of childbearing, they should date men their own age or a couple of years younger. Instead, most women marry men about two years their senior. Though your average 36-year-old female executive might not find it socially acceptable to date a 29-year-old man (or vice versa), she could still very happily work things out with, say, some nice, stable 34 year old. In the end, this could make a world of difference for her childbearing capacity -- and make her marriage more egalitarian to boot.
     
    Quote of the day
    Alright, so it's not really a quote and I have posted this before - but it's one of my favourites because it's guaranteed to offend the Islamo-fascists, radical multiculturalists and isolationists all at the same time:

    I had dinner with the critic and television commentator Clive James and his assistant. The assistant was an able and well-educated young woman who could not be convinced by Clive that in the matter of moral values there was such a thing as a superior culture. "They cover their women in the ballroom drapes!" Clive said. "Your dad can have you stoned to death for not marrying some old goat!"

    "I wouldn't call it an inferior culture," his assistant said.

    "What about Somalia?! What about clitorectomies?!"

    "Of course I'm a feminist," his assistant said. "But I resist the idea of an inferior culture."

    It's usually Clive and I who have the arguments. He's a liberal democrat. But he's my age; he remembers when the whole point of being on the left was the effort (alas, misplaced) to forge a superior culture.


    from Squishier than thou by PJ O'Rourke.
     
    Religious conservatives find compassion 'offensive'
    The United Nations does occasionally do some good things. As long as it sticks to Peace Corps-like stuff I don't have a problem with it, but some Christians and Muslims do, surprise, surprise:

    Conservative American Christian organisations have joined with Islamic governments to halt the expansion of sexual and political rights for gays, women and children at United Nations conferences.

    The alliance, which has coalesced over the past year, has received a boost from the Bush Administration, which appointed anti-abortion activists to several key positions on US delegations to UN forums on global economic and social policy.

    But it has been largely galvanised by conservative Christians who have set aside their own doctrinal differences, cemented ties with the Vatican and cultivated fresh links with a powerful bloc of more than 50 moderate and hard-line Islamic governments, including Sudan, Libya, Iraq and Iran.


    I find this particular comment revealing:

    "The main issue that brings us all together is defending the family values, the natural family," said Mokhtar Lamani, a Moroccan diplomat who represents the 53-nation Organisation of Islamic Conferences at the UN ...

    Liberal Western activists and governments, he said, had offended the religious and cultural sensitivities of Islamic countries by proposing that a final conference declaration include references to the need to protect prostitutes, intravenous drug users and "men who have sex with men" from contracting AIDS.


    So much for compassion. And how interesting that an Islamic fundie appeals to wishy-washy multiculturalist relativist arguments to support his case.

    Tolerance, yes! 'Sensitivity', no!

    Wednesday, June 19, 2002
     
    The legacy of Berlin
    Prospect (the more high-brow UK one, not the US Prospect) damns with faint praise the legacy of the anti-utopian, liberal social democratic thinker Isaiah Berlin:

    There is nothing in the resurrected Freedom and its Betrayal, however, to plug the notorious gaps in "Two Concepts." Berlin anticipates himself with an allusion to "the two notions of liberty," the French and the German, but when the philosophical action ought to begin, he calls it off, decreeing that "to ask which of them is true, and which of them is false, is a shallow and unanswerable question." Even at the time of his greatest intellectual self-confidence, Berlin allowed himself no theoretical resources beyond appeals to "human experience" and the opinions of "the average human being" and "all morally sensitive persons." The familiar cardboard cutouts are there too. The "great German romantic philosophers" of the 19th century are still doing their best to destroy the 18th century, while Hegel, Helvétius and the rest persist in imagining that they have discovered "a vast, single, all-embracing reason" or "a single principle which was to define the basis of morality." Anyone hoping for a confrontation between history, philosophy and politics will be disappointed: they pass like ships in the night. But if Freedom and its Betrayal has nothing new to say about political philosophy, it is a nice relic of intellectual life in Britain in the 1950s, and a fine memorial to Isaiah Berlin's remarkable good luck.

    The article is more or less spot-on. Berlin is one of the philosophers I like to read but his style can be top-heavy in an excessively 'literary' way and fuzzy at times. He was one of the few philosophers without an off-puttingly dry style and he had a few important things to say but they could have been said far more rigorously. If you're looking for a contemporary philosopher whose eloquence is matched by his insight, read Michael Oakeshott. (Unfortunately my all time favourite Hayek doesn't fit this template because his insights far exceeded his ability to be eloquent).
     
    Why Lefties are as bad as conservatives (2)
    Australian Islamo blogger and antipodean defender of Islamic fundamentalism Amir Butler sees 'Holy' Mary Delahunty's bid to ban sexually provocative advertising as a step in the right direction. Nice to see that he's so concerned about women's rights, I guess. Congratulations, you idiot 'victim' feminists - you have found an issue that you, the Islamic fundies and the Christian Right can have a love-in over - now why don't you just leave the rest of us alone?

    Tuesday, June 18, 2002
     
    Why Lefties are as bad as conservatives:
    According to this report Holy Mary wants to protect us from un-sacred images which demean the human spirit:

    COMPANIES producing blatantly sexist and provocative images could be blocked from gaining work from the Bracks Government under a crackdown on revealing advertising.

    Women's Affairs Minister Mary Delahunty will today reveal plans to make advertisers more accountable for producing sexual images of women and men ...

    Ms Delahunty said the Government wanted the industry to regulate itself but it was time tougher action was taken to stop the gratuitous use of demeaning images.

    The crackdown will also affect demeaning images of men but it is widely accepted that women are more frequently used in revealing ads.


    Tim Blair asks:

    I wonder if the same people who whined about the banning of the film Baise-Moi will complain about Mary's billboard censorship.


    Well you've heard this libertarian whine, but fair point, Tim, fair point indeed. The left's defence of freedom of speech and expression does not extend to what is known as 'commercial speech' you see, which is vulgar and all and designed to make us buy new products, whereas things like Baise Moi are supposed to promote navel-gazing by goateed Arts students and therefore more worth protecting.

     
    Credit cards and Crikey's slapdash economic analysis
    The Herald reports that the banks have effectively cut a deal with the RBA to allow retailers to 'surcharge' credit card users. I have been reluctant to blog on this issue because like the Telstra one, the firm I work for is directly involved and in this case I am even more knee-deep in it, having been one of the authors of this report which systematically refutes on economic grounds all the charges made by the Reserve Bank against credit card practices. However I can't continue to let the confused terms of debate revolving around this issue be systematically perpetuated. I will make the following brief comments and promise a longer post in the near future if I can find the time:

    1) the so-called entry restrictions into credit card issuing and acquiring are no more entry restrictions than if one were to say that in a factory which consists of people manufacturing widgets and then putting them into boxes, there is an 'entry restriction' into the market for putting widgets from that factory into boxes. Organisational forms in businesses come in all shapes and sometimes a 'joint venture' form of organisation is more efficient than what is known as a 'vertically integrated firm' (i.e. one that has its own division for putting widgets into boxes rather than searching in the market each time and choosing among competing suppliers of this service). This is not to imply that the efficiencies of such practices are not amenable to scrutiny - thus in extreme market power cases there are calls for even divestiture of traditional 'vertically integrated' firms. Nonetheless there is frequent conflation of 'removing entry barriers' in this debate with removing statutory entry barriers. This is about government intervention into organisational forms which should be presumed efficient unless proven otherwise, not deregulation.

    2) most people do not know what they mean when they talk about 'interchange fees' in card networks. They are not final prices to the consumer which are fixed but internal transfer mechanisms for sustaining the viability of the card network.

    3) restrictions on surcharging are a consequence of essentially a private contract between card associations and retailers - the condition that in entering these associations retailers do not surcharge card users. They are not government price controls. The 'cross-subsidy' argument (that card users are subsidised by cash users) certainly needs addressing (which I think the NECG report I linked to does) but frequently in the debate no such distinctions are being made between contractual conditions and price controls in general.

    A typical example of the muddled analysis is this long and pointless fulmination by Peter Mair on the Crikey website. I have yet to see a properly structured point by point logical analysis and provision of a coherent conceptual model by Mair and he has written volumes on the credit card issue. Just endless populist rhetoric about big banks and how greedy they are. He does not even bother to separate the differing interests of the banks and card associations. Mair also sets himself up as an arbiter of what 'should' be the most efficient payment systems for Australians to adopt. Mair the Social Engineer would have us use debit cards. How is this different from a socialist utopian planner that tells us we should all be driving environment-friendly cars and who regards competition and choice as wasteful?

    Peter, first demonstrate the market failure and the substantiality of the market failure, then we can see whether the regulations you so avidly support on emotive terms are justified by the market failure. No market failure, no regulation. I like Crikey but they have had lots of blindspots lately such as - their fervour for regulatory intervention and their blindspots on the Michael Gawenda/ anti-Israeli cartoon issue.

    Monday, June 17, 2002
     
    Why I am not a conservative (2)

    ... one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such, while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead. There would not be much to object to if the conservatives merely disliked too rapid change in institutions and public policy; here the case for caution and slow process is indeed strong. But the conservatives are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rate to whatever appeals to the more timid mind. In looking forward, they lack the faith in the spontaneous forces of adjustment which makes the liberal accept changes without apprehension, even though he does not know how the necessary adaptations will be brought about. It is, indeed, part of the liberal attitude to assume that, especially in the economic field, the self-regulating forces of the market will somehow bring about the required adjustments to new conditions, although no one can foretell how they will do this in a particular instance. There is perhaps no single factor contributing so much to people's frequent reluctance to let the market work as their inability to conceive how some necessary balance, between demand and supply, between exports and imports, or the like, will be brought about without deliberate control. The conservative feels safe and content only if he is assured that some higher wisdom watches and supervises change, only if he knows that some authority is charged with keeping the change "orderly."

    This fear of trusting uncontrolled social forces is closely related to two other characteristics of conservatism: its fondness for authority and its lack of understanding of economic forces. Since it distrusts both abstract theories and general principles, it neither understands those spontaneous forces on which a policy of freedom relies nor possesses a basis for formulating principles of policy. Order appears to the conservative as the result of the continuous attention of authority, which, for this purpose, must be allowed to do what is required by the particular circumstances and not be tied to rigid rule. A commitment to principles presupposes an understanding of the general forces by which the efforts of society are co-ordinated, but it is such a theory of society and especially of the economic mechanism that conservatism conspicuously lacks.


    from Why I am not a conservative by Friedrich Hayek

     
    Why I am not a conservative (1)
    According to young fogie John Anderson, people are falling over each other to kill themselves because their elders had lots of sex and smoked dope

    Soaring crime and suicide rates could all be traced back to the permissive society created by the era of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

    Abandoning his written speech to be delivered to his party's state conference in Broken Hill at the weekend, Mr Anderson embarked on another passionate call for a return to old-fashioned family values.

    Australians, he said, had to put aside their hedonistic ways and start bringing up their children properly.

    "The permissive '60s and everything that flowed from it has seen a massive erosion of traditional family values in Australia. All of the old, traditional views about the importance of secure environments for families were right ...

    The worst symptoms of the excesses of the '60s were being felt in rural and regional areas, Mr Anderson said.

    "We have the highest youth male suicide rate in the world," he said. "The rate would be similar among young girls if suicide attempts were successful.


    A few questions, Mr Anderson
    1) if the 60s are to blame for high suicide rates then why are its worst excesses being felt in rural and regional areas which are supposed to be where most of the 'non-hip' traditional-minded salt of the earth presumably live? Could it be that the high suicide rates in the bush have more to do with a lack of economic opportunities and people being ill-equipped to cope with changes in the economy? Sounds like he's passing the buck, more like it.
    2) Why is it that Japan has such low crime rates despite the widespread availability of some of the wildest porn in the world in that country?
    3) Have you taken into account other factors such as demographic factors and changes in 'crime and punishment' policies ? For instance, populations with a higher proportion of young males, will, all other things being equal, have higher crime rates. The lower the proportion of police to the general population, the higher the crime because the disincentives to crime fall. The less strictly that penalties are enforced, or the 'softer' the penalties the lower the disincentives to crime and the higher the crime rates. How have sentencing policies changed? Have all these factors been taken into account? Why should what consenting adults do be restricted because you fail to enforce a rational criminal sentencing policy?
     
    Petititon of 69 poseurs
    Well, whaddya know, the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia's wannabe Guardian, publishes the petition of the 69 poseurs against the war on terror. Reading it, you'd think they were on their way to the Gulag already, and then there's this clincher towards the end:

    We draw on the many examples of resistance and conscience from the past of the US: from those who fought slavery with rebellions and the underground railroad, to those who defied the Vietnam War by refusing orders, resisting the draft, and standing in solidarity with resisters.


    Helping to free the slaves and dissenting against the US's anti-terrorist policies and military interventions - all equivalent according to this lot.

    Sunday, June 16, 2002
     
    What's in a name?
    Tim Blair notes that an exchange of fire has broken out between Islamo-whinger Amir Butler and Diane of Letter from Gotham. Butler, who makes a snide reference to Diane as a 'female of some sort' linking to a picture of Golda Meir (that's racist, Amir! racist! off you go to the Human Rights Court) accuses Diane of making a big poo-poo because she wrongly translates 'dirty bomber' Islamo-Hispanic Abdullah Muhajir's name. Well, Diane admitted her mistake and then she checked to see how she made her error - and it turns out it was because she was relying on literally lots of other news sources which had made the same mistake of misnaming the 'dirty bomber' as Mujahir including Islam Online. Well if Islam Online can't get the name straight, what do you expect from the rest of us? So this is what the other side calls Fisking?

     
    There is a spectre haunting the West ... but it isn't the far right
    The fearless and independent minded lefties at Spiked Online debunk the hyped up claim that the far right is on the rise in Europe. This piece is worth reading in full but here are some choice excerpts:

    Consider the list of far-right parties that are supposed to be 'plaguing' European democracy. Many of them are so small they are insignificant. The Hellenic Front in Greece is, according to one report, 'a tiny party that didn't even register on the electoral radar in the 2000 elections' ...

    As for the British National Party, it might be the subject of numerous hand-wringing editorials and documentary exposes in the UK media, but it wins next-to-no support at the ballot box. The BNP's best-ever electoral showing was in this year's local elections in May, where it won three council seats (out of a national total of over 6000) in the deprived and racially tense north English town of Burnley.
    ...
    The supposedly fascistic Berlusconi is in fact a close political ally of Tony Blair. In February 2002, Blair and Berlusconi formed a British/Italian alliance to 'champion economic liberalisation in Europe' - with Berlusconi declaring that he and Blair had 'an absolute convergence of views' ...

    Many of the larger European parties that are said to make up the 'new Nazi threat' seem to be little more than right wing. According to one report, the Swiss People's Party, which won 23 percent of the vote in the 1999 general elections and is described by some as 'Switzerland's BNP', is 'best described as hard right', not 'extreme right' (9). The Popular Party in Portugal, which has nine percent of the vote and is accused by its critics of trying to 'resurrect Franco's politics', is 'not particularly extreme', but wants to 'introduce tight immigration limits and prevent the transfer of further national powers to the EU' (sounds like Britain's Tories) (10) ...

    The British National Party has a transport policy ('more investment in public transport') and an environmental policy ('clean parks for everyone'), and has an 'ethnic liaison officer' who communicates with blacks and Asians who want to find out more about the BNP. BNP members are certainly racists, yet they seem to recognise at some level that there isn't a broad audience for their racist politics, so they have toned things down. But what kind of hardcore fascist party tries to win support by pretending to be a community-friendly organisation that is concerned about 'ethnic issues'?


    The article goes on to argue that if there is any group that has been making a meal out of immigration issues it is the mainstream parties. I'm not sure I agree with all of this completely but it's certainly worth asking if this has been a 'chicken and egg' issue:

    In fact, it is mainstream parties that make immigration into such a big issue in the first place. Take Britain, where there is little public racism today, and where people are far more accepting of immigrants than at any time in recent history. Immigration only becomes an inflamed issue in British society when the New Labour government brings in a new policy, or issues a statement about the problem of Sangatte, or builds a new detention centre for immigrants .

    Politicians increasingly justify anti-immigration policies as a way of 'calming people's fears' on the issue. In reality, anti-immigration policies put immigration centre stage and stir up people's fears. Mainstream politicians have only themselves to blame when extreme right parties then run with the immigration issue and play on society's fears in an attempt to win support


    Then there are these damning indictments:

    Listening to European politicians discuss the 'threat of the far right', you soon realise that they are talking about themselves and their own sense of insecurity. Tony Blair claims that the best way to tackle the far right is to 'make society more secure' and to increase people's feelings of 'safety' - reflecting his own sense that society is spinning out of control. Likewise, Schroeder responded to the Le Pen vote in France and the assassination of Fortuyn in Holland by promising to put 'law and order' centre stage in European politics, and to 'ensure European security'

    The European elites' fear of the far right also captures their fear of strongly held political views - whether far right, far left, or far anything. Blair's response to the Le Pen vote was to call on voters 'to stand together in solidarity against extremist policies of whatever kind'. For Blair, Schroeder and co, 'extremism' is the enemy - by which they mean hardcore belief in anything. In a political age where consensus has replaced conflict, and where the clash of opinions that was once the lifeblood of democracy is frowned upon as outdated, Third Way politicians don't like the look of anything that smacks of conviction.

     

     
       
       

     

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