Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, August 10, 2002
    SMH behind the times
    The Sydney Morning Herald has finally cottoned on to the fact that there are 'camgirls' on the web and devotes a tree or two to this piece of academic windbaggery which agonises over the issue of whether Camgirls are being exploited and concludes:

    It's too easy to point to which practices are "good" (empowering) and which are "bad" (exploitative). It's harder to understand how these practices actually work by connecting with girls' wishes, ambitions and desires. We know our chances in life can be determined by how we appear to others. Like it or not, in this media age, appearance is power. And in many cases there is a significant return for investment in the image economy. The Camgirls are not to blame for this. Nor are they helpless, docile victims. Like the rest of us, they use the cultural resources that are around them to do the best they can. These girls have taken on patriarchy - and beaten it at its own game. The real crime is, they were never given a desirable alternative.

    Firstly, isn't our prestigious broadsheet being somewhat waaay behind the times? The Camgirls craze started years ago and has petered out since. How is all this Camgirl stuff different from all the other trivial porn-related stuff you find on the web? Aren't there more interesting issues that the SMH could have commissioned a piece about, like, say blogs and, say, how a 19 year old journalism student by his daily vigilant scanning and summary of, and commentary on news items has created - with the help of a comments facility on his blog - a far more substantial Australian forum for public affairs discussion than anything thrown up by well-endowed media players?

    Secondly, who really gives a shit whether Camgirls are exploited or fighting the patriarchy? It's comforting to see our tax dollars for universities are being put to such good use ...

    Friday, August 09, 2002
    Why some libertarians make the rest of us libertarians look like losers
    (Ad hominem post)

    Neo-confederate windbag and paleo-libertarian hysteric Karen De Coster now has her own blog. Her first post is relatively sane and boring but almost anything looks sane and boring in comparison to one of her recent efforts :

    We are not free. Not in any sense of the word. We don’t own property that is free of decrees handed down from governments, and in fact, we pay taxes for the "privilege" of such ownership. We need permission to build our own ponds or porches, paint our fences, and install a furnace. Permits of all sorts are necessary to make improvements and changes to property that we allegedly own ..

    For instance, as the hot summer weather and high humidity creeps upon us here in Michigan, my community dictates to me when I can water my lawn. They dictate on what days I can water and for how long. In fact, threats abound as communities everywhere exhort that not only can we not water our lawns except for when given permission, but they hand out mammoth fines to those that don’t fall in line. Each community exercises its own set of rules for using water, and actively campaigns in the media to gain support for its edicts. I pay for the water that I use, yet I am not free to purchase and use it as an unrestricted consumer. ...

    I own my phone and pay for the service to access the phone lines, but the government taxes me for the "privilege" of bargaining with a private contractor for these services. In fact, government forces its way into my private contractual agreement and imposes its welfare redistribution scheme upon me by way of my necessity for owning and using a phone. Along with my monthly phone bill comes a 911 fee imposed upon me, instead of that service being paid for by those that actually use it.

    Believe it or not, this goes on and on and on for countless paragraphs. All I can say is I'm glad I'm not her next door neighbour. From this litany of complaints, many of which arise from living in a world where particles collide, she draws the conclusion that:

    we Americans are not free people. We are captives of the State, its institutions, and its bureaucratic elite. We are denied political and economic freedom, and we are denied the ability to make choices guided by our free will.

    If we get more of this stuff on her blog, well, what can I say? Fun & games! De Coster of course writes for Lew Rockwell. One great libertarian who draws daily sustenance from reading Lew Rockwell is Taliban groupie Amir Butler. I believe that tells you all you need to know. But if you want to know more, this is how De Coster describes herself:

    I am a paleolibertarian CPA/freelance writer who is devoted to the causes of liberty, individualism, and the free market. I embrace the right to keep and bear arms; recognize the superiority of the Articles of Confederation; subscribe to a motley assortment of conspiracy theories; and believe that government is evil, immoral, corrupt, and unnecessary in a free society. I am also an ardent lover and student of Austrian economics, the pro-market, anti-statist school of economics which exalts the accountant as being necessary to capitalism.

    Do I want this accountant doing my taxes? Err, no thanks.

    Speaking of Austrian economics, the Grand Old Man, Ludwig von Mises had more bullets in his chamber than "government is evil, immoral, corrupt, and unnecessary in a free society". As for me, my view of the State is heavily influenced by this learned tome. I suppose that makes me a State-worshipper.
    Close encounters
    Tim Blair has a phone conversation with the rumpled sasquatch of Australian journalism, Bob Ellis, and lives to tell the tale. Creepy ...
    Quiggin's issue with warblogs
    John Quiggin gets overexcited and thinks he has stumbled on an expose of warblogger bias:

    Four or five days ago, I was waiting for an explosive response to the TIME Magazine piece "Before Sept. 11 — The Secret History", which showed that bungling and infighting in the incoming Bush administration caused a Clinton administration plan for a concerted attack on al-Qaeda to be shelved. Apart from brief mentions in a few lefty blogs, there's been nothing. Apparently, if it doesn't fit the warblogger world view, it doesn't get mentioned

    Firstly if I'm not mistaken that stuff is old hat. It was floating around the web a long time ago, as far back as just a month or more after S11 itself and I remember first reading about it in Instapundit. I didn't pay much attention to it then and I didn't pay much attention to it even when Quiggin noted it again. It's something which interests some more than others as bygones are bygones.

    Secondly on Quiggin's accusations of warblogger bias. Well, I can only speak for myself - am I considered a warblogger or no? I only write about stuff that interests me and I'd think any other blogger feels the same way. If you're looking for up to date news, go to a news website. You might have an intellectual obligation to blog on this if you've had a history of condemning Clinton and praising Bush to the skies. So I'd argue only warbloggers who have done this are obliged to blog on this report notwithstanding the fact that bloggers are entitled to blog on whatever they find interesting. Now as for me you will find hardly a word of praise for George W Bush on my blog aside from saying that I thought the US military action in Afghanistan was justified. Hell, Quiggin has praised Bush personally once more than I have. Nor have I said one thing in condemnation of Clinton's foreign policy or his record. I'm sure you'll find lots of warbloggers have been nasty to Bush too. So what 'warblogger view of the world' is Quiggin yammering on about?

    Thursday, August 08, 2002
    New links added
    I've been fairly remiss in my reciprocal linkage lately but hopefully this is now fixed. I've added links under 'Recommended blogs' to people who've recently linked to me and the list is quite eclectic ranging from the commie Robert Corr (so alright he's a commie but at least he's not a Taliban apologist) on one end to the controversial but always thought provoking "Evol-con' Steve Sailer on the other. If I've missed anybody, speak up or forever hold your peace.
    The Iraq obsession
    The Left and Right each have their sacred cows. On the Left, this sacred cow at the moment seems to be the idea that any form of mandatory detention of asylum seekers is inhumane and unacceptable. On the Right among warbloggers it is the idea that the case for going to war with Iraq is basically cut and dried and 'simple'.

    Like Tim Blair and Miranda Devine I was also at Banco Court when Daniel Pipes gave his speech on the clash between militant Islam and moderate Islam and offered up his thoughts on the 'necessity' of going to war with Iraq. As Tim Blair relates:

    That evening Pipes and Fukuyama spoke at the New South Wales Supreme Court. A smear of Leftists was present. One asked Pipes why Australia should join the US in attacking Iraq. Pipes answered (I'm summarising) that Iraq was armed, dangerous, and shaping to move against the West. He concluded (to applause): "You want to be a freeloader? There are plenty of freeloaders around. You can join them."

    While I cringed at the sophomoric attempt by the anti-war Left speaker to 'engage' in a debate with Pipes about the impending war on Iraq, I also cringed at the applause in response to Pipes' 'freeloader' comment. It isn't that simple, goddamnit! The anti-war Left offers a silly kneejerk rejection of all US military plans as Yankee imperialism fueled (no pun intended) by the greed for oil. The pro-war Right paints this compellingly frightening picture of Saddam Hussein stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. What could be scarier than that, you ask? I'll tell you what's scarier than that

    1) the US needing to promise its Arab allies that after its invasion Iraq will be kept in one piece if it is to get their support
    2) regardless of whether the US needs to keep this promise, the sheer prudential necessity of ensuring that Iraq is in one piece anyway.

    Why? The alternative is utter chaos and civil war.

    Kurds in the North, Shiites in the South, the US and its allies in the middle trying to hold things together - with the risk that the many groups within Iraq will want to leap at the opportunity to form their own homelands, fighting each other and the US for the spoils - such spoils including the facilities for manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Would the Southern Shiites be Iran's trump card for expanding its sphere of influence? However you draw it - a complete mess ... is this something the US can handle?

    So what's scarier than Saddam Hussein in charge of weapons of mass destruction? Everybody or nobody in Iraq being in charge of weapons of mass destruction, that's what's scarier.

    Even Fukuyama - who to his credit had the far more nuanced position at the forum - conceded the point that the US had better damned well have the nation rebuilding capacity if it really wants to get into this war.

    So I'm with the Left on this one until more details are in, not because I share the Left's sophomoric anti-Americanism or even because I believe in multilateralism or because anything that involves some collateral damage should be automatically ruled out. The only rule for foreign policy is the most Machiavellian Realism - of the sort that would make Kissinger blush. But so far I haven't seen any evidence of that among the warbloggers for Iraqi invasion.
    Coming up
    On the 6th of August I attended the CIS Forum featuring Francis Fukuyama and Daniel Pipes at Banco Court, Sydney. I have been remiss in not blogging about this sooner but have been busy. Fukuyama presents his John Bonython Lecture in Melbourne tonight. Unfortunately I'm not attending this. However I will be blogging specifically about what Fukuyama had to say at the Forum later this week. To the point, he defends his 'End of History' thesis and I agree with him. More later.
    Some recent Google searches which found this site

    I don't like the gay scene

    Tommy Hilfiger and racism

    definition old growth forest Labour Party

    I must admit the last search sounds oddly evocative, almost poetic.

    Wednesday, August 07, 2002
    Those arrogant Americans
    Read this which I found via Instapundit:

    Duong, a former refugee from Vietnam who came to the United States in 1975 and studied science in Maryland's public schools and universities, it would fulfill an obligation that she had pledged to repay her whole adult life.

    When she settled in Maryland 27 years ago, Duong promised herself she would fight for the principles of her adopted homeland. And now, if all went as planned, the BLU-118/B would slice into a tunnel in the Afghan mountains, unleash the chemically engineered hell that she and the rest of the country's top explosives experts had wrought, and America's enemies would die ...

    A slight woman with a broad smile, Duong becomes fiery when she talks about America and opportunity, and the history that has made her appreciate her home with such passion.

    "I had this ideal of mine, and I wanted, in some way, to get involved in the fight for freedom, to preserve this great country that had taken me in," Duong said. "Working for the U.S. Defense Department seemed like the right thing. I felt like I could do something good there."

    No doubt Tim Dunlop would regard this as another piece of evidence that those nasty Americans are so arrogant as to regard their country as 'great' and regard fighting for America as 'fighting for freedom'- even if the speaker in this case is a female Vietnamese scientist who came from a country napalmed by the US in the past. She probably should be joining hands with her oppressed brothers and sisters in the Third World, right? Oh, and how inhumane that they seriously want to kill their enemies!
    The ultimate test
    There has been another media beat-up in the stem cell research debate. Suddenly it has come to people's attention that stem cells from aborted fetuses may be used in research. Whoopy do! As if we didn't know that before. Though this may be offensive to some people, the fact remains - people are always going to have abortions. No matter how much preaching is made against abortion, unless you want to criminalise this act, abortion will always be with us like relative poverty. If some good can come of this act why not? The Church fears it may marginally increase the incentive of people to have abortions because the evil of the act as perceived by people will be reduced. Well, yes, perhaps. People on the margin of deciding whether to have an abortion or not may well be swayed towards having one by this additional factor - just as they may be swayed by an infinitesimal increase in the opportunity costs they face from not having abortions. Will suppressing this marginal effect by suppressing research on aborted fetuses matter in the great scheme of things and is it worth the costs of not allowing such research?

    I would contend that the only people who would think so are people who really literally believe that an unborn human being should be treated as any other human being - and I'm sure that not even the loony and predictably outraged Angela Shanahan believes this? If she does then she should be *outraged* that funerals aren't being held for aborted fetuses, she should advocate the application of homicide laws to people who perform abortions. Few people seriously hold these views yet they are the logical implication of weighting foetal interests equally with other human interests. Think how grotesque it would be to hold a funeral for every abortion *and* miscarriage. Are miscarriages really treated the same way as a death in the family?

    John Anderson puts some questions to the dreaded 'secular humanists' and 'utilitarians' which I am happy to answer briefly:

    Would we not be wiser to concentrate all our efforts in researching adult stem cells, which are already producing cures?
    Ever heard of the saying 'Don't put all your eggs in one basket'?

    Are we prepared to accept human cloning or embryo farming, given that embryonic stem cell research will almost certainly lead to calls for either or both?

    Prove this. In any case I personally would be prepared to accept such developments.

    And is there any sound reason for our not regarding each human embryo as a unique human life deserving our care and protection?

    I think I've answered this. It seems to be a revealed preference of almost all humans not to treat embroys equally with humans which have emerged from the womb. If alternatively, Mr Anderson thinks that embryos deserve such protection on the basis of some measure of sentience then why isn't he a vegetarian?
    Blast from the past
    Who said this?

    Obviously there are people all around thr world who have a strong case for entry into this country and successive governments have said we have an obligation but we also have an obligation to people who are already here ... Of course we should have compassion, but people who are coming in this way are not the only people in the world who have rights to our compassion. Any sovereign country has the right to determine how it will exercise its compassion and how it will increase its population

    drum roll ....

    Robert J Hawke, the then ALP Federal President to a media conference in Hobart on 28 November 1977, calling on the Fraser government to make it clear that Vietnamese asylum seekers had no right to land in Australia
    (uncovered by Gerard Henderson and quoted on p. 5 of the July issue of the Sydney Institute Quarterly)

    Tuesday, August 06, 2002
    Better red than dead
    Chris Textor picks up on the fact that Amir Butler is accusing RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) of "peddling lies" about the oppression of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Amir's proof? The fact that RAWA may have Communist ties. He links to this article which does an expose of some of the dodgier practices by RAWA. Fair enough and the link is to the left-leaning American Prospect who are not exactly 'reds under the bed' paranoiacs. I am willing to give credence to what the American Prospect says. Note however, what Amir Butler who is an Australian Muslim community leader actually writes:

    Remember RAWA? The Afghani Maoist woman's group that appeared everywhere from the ABC to the Oprah Winfrey show, peddling lies about the condition of Afghani women and life under the Taliban.

    As Chris Textor says, does Amir have no shame? RAWA are not the only group to expose the oppression of women under the Taliban. There is ample documentation of the fact that if you happen to be born a woman you would be a fool to want to live under the Taliban. A movie called Kandahar which is based on a true story (if you haven't seen it, you should for it is also an artistic masterpiece) also documents this and it was made by an Iranian film-maker - one who was thrown into prison for joining an Islamic organisation to overthrow the Shah of Iran - hardly someone who would wish to vilify Islamic regimes without justification. There are numerous Afghans out there happy to document that most of what RAWA were claiming about Afghanistan were not lies. That Amir Butler, a Muslim community leader in Australia has such a blase attitude towards the Taliban, does not augur well in many ways.

    And frankly do I give a shit that RAWA may be a Maoist organisation? No, I don't. Let me say it here and now - the help provided to the mujahideen was indeed a big mistake, one of the biggest in US foreign policy. I regard Islamic totalitarianism as an evil akin to Nazism. By contrast not all forms of Communism inevitably leads to the Gulag - at least Communism is a child of the Enlightenment. A Communist Afghanistan would have been a lesser evil which over time might have had a chance of evolving towards a moderate democratic socialist civil society. Yes, I would rather barrack for the Commie than the Fundies. Even more so if I was born a woman in Afghanistan. Better red than dead.
    Correction: Pushtuns not the only one with nasty customs
    A knowledgeable reader corrects me on a previous post I made regarding the exotic punishments doled out in certain Pakistani tribes:

    ... regarding your assertion that the gang-rape of the unfortunate Pakistani woman (and, by extension that of her teenage brother prior to the offense against her) took place in a Pashtun area; most sources reported that it occurred in Punjab. I believe that the confusion arose when a Pakistani Female-Rights group mistakenly referred to the village council which "sentenced" the rape-victim as a "jirga". Most such groups hail from Islamabad and are overwhelmingly staffed by ethnic Punjabis, some of whom are not averse to deflecting Pakistani bad news onto the Pashtuns( The victim was sentenced by a Panchayat, a Punjabi village council).
    Any casual observer of the Pakistani scene knows that Punjab and Sindh provinces are riddled with debt slavery, child labour,rape, Honour Killings (so-called), persecution of Christians and Hindus etc, etc, etc. Pashtun culture is harsh, but does not suffer in comparison with the other cultures of Pakistan and Afghanistan (I spent,respectively, six and eighteen months in those countries).

    Monday, August 05, 2002
    Oh puhleez
    "My name is John Howard and I am sorry for these wretched of the earth and these orphans of the sea. Let the word go forth, from this time and place to all nations of the birth today of a new social order in a country that can be proud again."

    That's John Howard the actor apologising on behalf of his namesake as the SMH reports. Perhaps you can apologise for making the rest of us barf? Or even better come up with some workable alternatives to detention of refugees whose claims are being processed? What will it be? Here are some possibilities
    1) Introduce a national ID card system for all Australian citizens and then allow asylum seekers appealing decisions on their refugee status to be released into the community
    2) Impant a trackable microchip into each asylum seeker and then release them into the community. Does it blow up if they decide to disappear? How will all the civil libertarians feel about this?
    3) Detain the adults and then take the children away from them to be released into the community
    4) Just take the risk that many asylum seekers facing appeals will decide to disappear into the community. Encourage more of them to come on leaky boats and take the risk.

    Quick, you sanctimonious poseurs - which one will it be?

    Or how about this one
    Sharply reduce avenues for appeal. By all means if that means revamping the whole structure so that appropriately independent and well resourced refugee tribunals are set up and are sufficiently resourced to reduce the scope for erroneous decision making but each asylum seeker has only one shot - and is deported if his or her claim is not satisfactory - so be it. This would minimise time in detention. At the same time, by all means have appropriately trained mental health professionals and other facilities in these centres to make up for the disutility of detention.

    Or is all the emotional symbolism of keeping children out of detention altogether so important - much more important than balancing the needs and imperatives of a well managed immigration policy against humanitarian considerations?

    Sunday, August 04, 2002
    Australia – The Easy Target

    Q: Why are we copping so much UN attention over our detention centres whilst there are far more disturbing breaches of human rights taking place? A: Because we are an easy target. At least that’s what I’m left to conclude after reading this excellent piece of blogging by Paul Wright. After pointing out a shopping list of countries where far greater abuses of human rights are taking place, Wright goes on to deliver the final blow.

    “Instead, [of investigating this shopping list of abuses] Bhagwati thought his time was better spent here, telling a democratic country what it can and can’t do in pursuit of its border protection. A country with an acknowledged leadership in human rights, where race or religious crime is a virtual unknown, despite over one quarter of the population being born overseas.

    I can’t imagine the local Australian Refugee Liberation Army keeping quiet if an Australian judge went to, say, France, and ripped into them for their detention policies. So why should we listen to a judge from a country where 5000 women die each year because their parents didn’t stump up enough dowry, where child marriage is common, and where Human Rights Watch estimate child labour at between 65,000,000 and 115,000,000.”

    Ouch! I think this last paragraph is going a bit far, unless Wright is implying Bhagwati should clean up his own country before criticising others. But the main point of his article is spot on. Australia has been given so much heat because it’s considered an easy target relative to actually doing something about the serious abuses going on elsewhere in the world.




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