Catallaxy Files
 

 
polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

email: jasonsoon AT mail.com

 
 
 

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    Saturday, September 21, 2002
     
    Questioning Saint Mandela

    Paul Wright is a braver man than I am.
     
    Philip Adams - anthropologist extraordinaire
    Scott Wickstein points out this piercing piece of journalistic analysis attributed to Philip Adams - NOT:

    On international issues, Adams said it was madness to side with the US against Iraq when we lived next to Indonesia, the biggest Muslim nation on earth.

    One-fifth of the Muslims in the world lived in Indonesia and by supporting the US against Iraq Australia was reminding them of the racially-based White Australia policy that was in force in Australia for 70 years.


    If this is indeed what Adams said then he's got a lot of chutzpah proclaiming his intellectual superiority to various politicians as he is wont to do. Memo to Mr Adams

    1) Indonesians are Asian, Iraqis are predominantly Caucasian (except for some traces of the Mongol invasion). See this for instance.
    2) Quietist Sufi-influenced Indonesian Muslims have little in common with a hypocrite pragmatist Baath Socialist militarist regime. There will be some idiots in Indonesia who will play up any pressures against Saddam as an offence to their faith but this proves nothing. And anyway it seems that Muslims have done a better job of warring against each other (Iran and Iraq, Northern Alliance and Taliban) than we could ever do. Did those kinds of Muslims who accuse the West of being against Islam when pressure is put on a nominally Muslim regime beat themselves up when Iran was fighting Iraq?
     
    Quote of the day

    The chief contribution of Protestantism to human thought is its massive proof that God is a bore.

    ~ HL Mencken
     
    Media double standards clarification
    Tim Dunlop ridicules my co blogger Mark Harrison's suggestion that one evidence of media double standards was 60 Minutes' interview with John Hewson's wife and kids. He argues:

    Australian 60 Minutes left wing? The Packer family a hotbed of leftist insurgency? If only!

    If such shows have a bias it is more likely to be towards sensationalism: easy bums-on-seats TV. Mark might have to find another lettuce with which to flail the unforgivable left.


    Tim is missing the point as he is wont to do when double standards among his ideological soulmates are pointed out. The motivation behind 60 Minutes journalists may have been pure sensationalism and perhaps Mark didn't make his observation specifically enough. Mark pointed out the 60 Minutes interview because it was the spark that set off the various murmurings in the media against Hewson's family values - however the point is the media did subsequently pick up on this and run with it for all it was worth whereas there have been no attempts to do so against other politicians similarly tarnished but of a different ideological hue.

    I regard 60 Minutes as crapola and don't ever watch it, nor do I much give a damned for what politicians do with their willies as long as it doesn't involve force or children, but even I recall that at that time even I couldn't help but have this stuff drawn to my attention and pushed in my face.
     
    Media double standards (continued)

    Wayne Carey: Leaves football club.

    Media response: saturation coverage of Carey’s affair with team-mate’s wife, including front pages of Sydney Morning Herald for days. Both were married at the time of the affair. Media set up outside house where Carey lives. Commentator on The Fat (can’t remember her name) announces that the Swans risk losing their female fans if they take on Carey.

    Carey response: I take responsibility for my actions but she led me on.

    Cheryl Kernot: Leaves political party. Published a book which she claimed to "tell all" details about her political career and involvement with Labor party. Laurie Oakes reveals that she had a five year affair with Gareth Evans. Both were married at the time of the affair.

    Media response: Did Laurie Oakes behave ethically? Much cant about the right to privacy, the effect of publicity on the families and the irrelevance of adultery for public career.

    Kernot response: I'm always treated unfairly because I’m a woman; it's all a vast right wing conspiracy.

    Thanks to Alex Robson for reminding me about the Kernot scenario.
     
    GrepLaw
    A friend has alerted me to the existence of a new blog-style site worth checking out called Greplaw. The 'About' section of the site speaks for itself:

    Greplaw is a production of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. The Berkman Center for Internet & Society is a research program founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development. Greplaw's goal is to create a frequently updated, highly interactive forum for the dissemination and discussion of legal news concerning information technology. We aim to bring together the top legal minds in the field and the technology-oriented individuals and organizations whose activities are the subject of IT law.

    The idea for Greplaw was born when some bright folks at the Berkman Center decided that the concept behind the popular Slashdot technology news site would also work well for legal discussion. As you may or may not have guessed, Greplaw.org runs on the opensource software called Slashcode, which also drives Slashdot.


    Ken Parish, who has an interest in documenting legal blogs might also want to add this to his list.

    Now, if only David Post's Cyberspace Law Institute which has been under construction indefinitely since god knows when, would get its act together as well.

    Note to myself : remember to update links.

    Friday, September 20, 2002
     
    Helping the poor
    Not wanting to pick a fight with Tim Dunlop etc but isn't Oxfam's campaign to raise coffee prices a prime example of charities adopting the wrong approach when it comes to helping the poor?

    In an earlier posting I suggested that charities should focus on market mechanisms, such as agitating for free trade, to alleviate poverty. Oxfam has picked a good cause. It wants coffee producers in poor countries to secure a better deal for their crop of coffee beans. Oxfam argues that the multinationals who buy the coffee make profits while farmers receive only 5% of the retail price.

    Its campaign consists of asking business (and lobbying govt to urge business) to destroy surplus stocks and guarantee a fair price for farmers.

    It's very unlikely that this will work. There may be a few benefits in raising awareness of the issue but asking for a higher price won't result in one. Even if it did work, this would merely attract new entry into the growing business and hence be counterproductive.

    The root of the problem is that coffee beans attract very low tariffs if imported as a raw product into Europe (not sure about US) but, once processed, attract high tariffs. This means that farmers in poor countries can't go up the value-added chain of roasting and processing where there are quite high profits to be made. Oxfam should focus on this as the root cause of the problem.

    Alternatively Oxfam could try to organise a seller's co-op of sorts so that sellers have more bargaining power vis a vis the large processed food companies. This is another 'market' way of improving the farmers plight.
     
    Family ties (continued)

    I’d forgotten about the classic use by the media of disgruntled family members to attack right wing politicians – the interviews with John Hewson’s bitter wife and kids on 60 Minutes after he had left them. I guess those on the left are such paragons of virtue it is just not worth the media’s effort to dig up and publicise family problems and criticisms by disgruntled family members.

    Quite the opposite actually. The speed with which certain ex-Labor Prime Ministers’ marriages broke up when they left office indicates that all was not as portrayed in the media while they were in the Lodge.

    Just to be clear, I’m saying such interviews are wrong. Which aspects of a politician’s personal life should be exposed to voters is a difficult question. I’m just saying that whatever rules the media adopts should be the same for those on the left and the others.

    The usual response from the likes of Mike Secombe is that it is alright to expose family problems from those on the right because they are hypocrites who espouse family values. In other words, we limit criticism those we disagree with. The problem is that nearly all politicians claim to support family values (even when they support policies that undermine them) and parade out their families when convenient.

    Another double standard:
    Geoff Clarke: allegations of rape made by 3 victims who go to police.
    His response: Denies allegations
    Media response: the story on the ABC is about whether the story should have been broken at all.

    George Pell: allegations of groping by one victim who refuses to take it to the police.
    His response: Denies allegations, stands aside, Church organises inquiry.
    Media response: church criticised for not paying legal fees of accuser.

    Thursday, September 19, 2002
     
    Does concern about relative status support income redistribution?

    Peter Martin claims that concern about relative status means “redistribution of income is a good idea”.

    But concern about relative status may comes from some people seeking status. Some people do get benefits from distinguishing themselves from the crowd. Martin himself, in a 4 line biography mentions he is “married to the award winning journalist”. (Perhaps the award was for Mother of the Year or Miss Australia?)

    If this was the only reason relative status was important, leveling the successful down by redistribution appears to be all costs and no benefits. They are made worse off, and so is everyone else who benefits from the effort they put in to excel in order to gain status.
    But another reason relative status is important to people is envy. Even worse is resentment. In that case the someone doing well (and often doing good at the same time) makes the envious worse off. Hence the call for income redistribution. At least this argument makes it clear that many calls for redistribution are based on envy rather than compassion – spiteful egalitarians.
    But there are dangers in letting such preferences determine public policy.

    Some preferences are illegitimate. For example, just because some bigots feel disgust at mixed race marriages does not mean we should ban them.

    Further, trying to overcome envy through redistribution is unlikely to work. Envy is based on differences with other people. If income is equalised, people will focus on some other dimension and the process will repeat itself.

    More importantly, when people have these preferences, we should set up institutions that limit the damage they can do.

    Consider the old story about two Russian peasants, Boris and Ivan. Both are poor as dirt, the only difference between them being that Boris has a goat and Ivan does not.
    One day, a good fairy appears at Ivan's hut and tells him that she can grant him just one wish -- but that it can be anything he wants. Ivan says, "I want that Boris' goat should die."

    When envy, resentment and lust for power are common preferences, a powerful redistributive state is likely to make society is worse off. Here is an article by Tom Sowell on why. Here are the concluding paragraphs.

    Just as Ivan missed a golden opportunity to help himself because of his preoccupation with hurting Boris, so we lessen the benefits that the whole society could get from letting success be rewarded, because of our resentments of those who have earned those rewards. After all, if the money was not gotten from crime, consumers paid the money because they found the benefits they got to be worth it.

    The very idea that third parties ought to decide how much money someone should get or keep is as dangerous in practice as it is wrong in principle. Putting that kind of power in the hands of politicians is risking everyone's freedom. However limited that power may be at the outset, it is sure to grow over the years until we are all supplicants of those who hold power, because we can then earn or keep our earnings only as they see fit.

    This has all been tried before. The idea of redistributing wealth has usually ended up redistributing poverty. Worse yet, resentments of others blind us to what the power-holders are doing to ourselves. When Hitler was able to get Germans riled up against Jews, the end result was that Germans became subject to his dictatorial power.

    Political demagogues here use similar tactics to gain more power. We all pay a very high price to lash out at Boris' goat.


     
    Family ties

    Miranda has a good article on the Ruddock Australian Story. For mine, she doesn’t go deep enough into the disgraceful way the left in the media uses the families of people they don’t like to try to undermine and punish them. Who would think Tim Costello at all interesting except for the fact he is the brother of the Treasurer with some contrary views. Same with Chris Corrigan and his brother during the waterfront dispute (although that mainly showed what a no-hoper his brother was and demonstrated what an upwardly mobile society we are). When was the last time the media thought it was worthwhile publicizing some criticism of a left wing figure by a family member?

    When Malcolm Turnbull spoke out on maternity leave, the Herald thought it a good thing to ask him, and publish, all the details on how his own kids were brought up – but we never got the details on Simon Crean’s family life or Pru Goward’s when they proposed it.

    Anyway, it has reached the pages of the National Review in this article by John O’Sullivan, who writes

    It is not even clear that an "open door" policy would be truly compassionate. For the Tampa was a test case. If it had been able to trade on the goodwill of Australians to make them accept the migrants, then the people smuggling business would have targeted Australia in earnest. An armada of leaky old tubs would have set out and some would have sunk. Some migrants would have suffocated in container ships; others would have been murdered or thrown overboard when their ships were pursued. And even those who succeeded in sneaking in under the radar would find themselves working outside the law for years, some as prostitutes, in order to pay off their debts to the smugglers.
    Of course, such deaths and struggles would have remained unknown and anonymous. No one would have traced them to the compassion of Ms. Ruddock. Nor would her father be likely to upbraid her with them.


     
    Redistributing income


    Alex Robson takes a swipe at Peter Martin for the idea that redistribution of income would increase happiness. An important point to keep in mind is that well-being gaps between rich and poor are already quite small. The Australian Unity Well-being Index, carried out by the Australian Centre on Quality of Life found about 6 points difference, on a 100 point scale, in well-being between those who earn under $15,000 a year and those who earn over $90,000 a year. For the left-leaning economics writers telling us money won’t lead to happiness the flip side of the argument is that redistributing income won’t make much difference.
     
    WarNow resurrected?
    Bruce Hill has an update on his now almost threadbare site which I'll reproduce in full here:

    To those of you who have sent me private messages, thank you all. I'm very touched.

    In the meantime, my brother Murray and mate David Bisman will continue the struggle at a new blog, Silent Running, which is located in a completely diferent national jurisdiction. I may pop up there from time to time, who knows? Stranger things have happened.

    You can e-mail Murray at coyote451@hotmail.com, and David at dbisman@hotmail.com.

    Anything those two totally separate individuals write in a blog utterly unconnected to me, in an entirely different country, cannot possibly come back to bite me in the bum.

    And I mean that in a very real, and legally binding sense


    We goyim are right behind you, Bruce. Take care of yourself.
     
    Google search of the month

    Google search term of the month which found this site must go to [drum roll]:

    Opportunities and threats in the Shoe Industry in Zimbabwe

    Wednesday, September 18, 2002
     
    In his post on positional goods Jason suggests that education is a positional good and asks ‘Should we ban education?’ Education is not necessarily a positional good. The thing about positional goods is that they are inherently limited, which education is not. However, some forms of education, such as tuition at certain high prestige schools and universities, are positional goods. These institutions keep their enrolments small, which preserves their positional value. The Australian Left does want to ban this kind of education, because it creates inequality. In my soon to be released CIS book on markets in higher education, The Unchained University, I have a chapter on how the Left prefers the current centralised control of universities partly because it greatly limits the positional power of the ‘sandstone’ universities. By keeping their enrolments large and their funding down, the sandstones are kept close to the mediocre norm of Australian universities. Having lost the battle to destroy private schools, the Left will fight to the end to stop elite universities emerging.
     
    Nietzsche: prophet or madman?

    Only sick music makes money today

    ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, The case of Wagner
     
    Copy Fights
    The Cato Institute has an excellent new anthology out called Copy fights: The future of intellectual property in the information age which I'll be reviewing for the next issue of Policy. Can't wait to get stuck into it, should be a great read - lots of contributors from both sides of the debate, usual suspects such as Tom Bell, Tom Palmer, Jessica Litman, Stan Liebowitz and David Post.
     
    RIP WarNow
    Farewell to Bruce Hill. Have a good life, mate.
     
    The Albrechtsen Affair
    I'm busy but couldn't resist chiming up here. My take on the Albrechtsen Affair

    1) It is undeniable that Albrechtsen made some serious mistakes in her column. Get over it, Janet. People who live by the pen die by the pen;
    2) It is undeniable and has been known to any fair-minded commentator for some time that there is a level of smarmy insularity and bigotry against right of centre opinion in the Australian media that is almost unparalleled in the world, against which Andrew Sullivan's complaints against the New York Times seem like so much nitpicking.

    Members of the open-minded Left in the US (Chris Hitchens, Michael Walzer, Mickey Kaus, the New Republic crew generally, the Progressive Policy Institute) would be vilified as feral neo-liberals/pro-war 'intolerant of other cultures'/pro-Zionists in this country. MediaWatch is but one example of this smarmy insularity in the Australian media.
     
    The Tobin case
    Kim Weatherall reports that Justice Branson of the Federal Court has ordered one Frederick Toben to remove material from his site on Holocaust denial. I have blogged against racial vilification laws in the past and won't repeat my arguments here. Needless to say, decisions like this make me more supportive of a Bill of Rights even though I am also aware of the potential problems involved with such proposals. In brief, freedom of speech and political discussion is one thing which as a liberal-constitutionalist-democrat I believe no majoritarian vote should be allowed to restrict. I strongly recommend Voltaire's sentiments:

    "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.".

    To his credit, even lefty Philip Adams is against racial vilification laws.

    The only caveat is where speech leads to incitement to violence and disorder (i.e. the 'shouting fire in a crowded theatre' scenario) it should be appropriately punishable but fall under tort and have nothing to do with discouraging the expression of views, no matter how abhorrent their content.
     
    Textor on Arthur
    Whacking Day pretty elegantly takes apart Don Arthur's latest screed against Right-wing non-relativists. Don is usually a pretty thoughtful bloke but his latest screed is just a bit precious. He attributes things to right-wingers that either they have never said before or that are perfectly obvious and non-controversial and makes a brouhaha over them.

    Tuesday, September 17, 2002
     
    Robson on hap-o-nomics
    Since I'm bloody busy this week I'll link to a few good posts.

    Alex Robson has a good and substantive post that takes issue with some of the more far-fetched policy implications that are being drawn by commentators from the recently cited research into the economics of happiness. I can agree that on the level of general detail this research insofar as it is accepted prima facie (and Alex has some comments and alludes to a future post on why it shouldn't) forces economists to take a closer look at redistribution on utilitarian grounds. However given problems of imperfect governments vying with imperfect markets it does not give us carte blanche to do such things as 'ban positional goods'. Incidentally education is a positional good too. Should we ban education? What about after-school tuition? What about efforts at self-improvement? How does one decide what are legitimate attempts at self-improvement? Surely these all involve positional goods too. Do we trust the powers that be to decree that certain forms of self-improvement through purchase of positional goods are legitimate and others aren't?

    One reason this example shows up immediately the vacuity of such policy implications is that in the case of some positional goods such as education there actually are benefits accruing to society from individuals' attempts to gain more of these positional goods even if they may feel after some period of striving that they are no better off than before. How does one juggle all this and decide whether to ban particular positional goods and not to ban others? It seems too much of an ask to me. And furthermore isn't the logical implication of this line of thinking involve creating an envy free society which involves abolishing all sources of envy? Or could an argument be made that the momentary happiness of the envy inducer each time outweighs the happiness of the envier even if the envy inducer is subsequently unhappy himself when he becomes dissatisfied? How do we know? How does one decide such matters? Or can a principled rule-utilitarian case be made for excluding such sources of disutility from calculation altogether? That's an equally tough question which I am undecided on.

    Monday, September 16, 2002
     
    Australia's claim to fame

    TARIQ ALI:

    George W Bush as a leader of vision and creativity, give us a break!

    People all over the world laugh when you say that.

    One of the most noticable things is the quality of leadership in the United States at the moment is at a very low level.

    And having Tony Blair licking up to you doesn't particularly help either.

    I have to say it, even though I disagree with him, your PM is probably the most intelligent right wing leader in power today.

    Mercifully he's completely marginal.


    ~Tariq Ali being interviewed on Australia's Lateline on 14/9/02
     
    Robert Manne on the 'New Racism'
    Robert Manne seems to think that we can make up words to mean whatever we want them to mean. In his latest column in the SMH he writes:

    On the far right of the political spectrum something sociologists have come to call "new racism" seems to be taking hold. Old racism argued that the intractable differences between human groups were rooted in biology and blood. This form of racism was discredited by Hitler and the Holocaust. A new racism took its place. It argued that differences between human collectivities were based on incompatibility not of blood and biology but of culture and religion

    Has Manne considered looking up the word 'racism' in the dictionary to work out what it means? According to Manne a culturalist (which I am proud to be) is a racist. How can this be so unless race is permanently entwined with culture? In my dictionary that makes Manne a racist. For example, I am of Chinese descent and I believe Lee Kuan Yew's prattling on about 'Asian values' is pure self serving bullshit. People are capable of switching cultures just as they are capable of switching football teams and cultures are not inextricably tied to race.

    I also firmly believe that certain cultures are incompatible with others and that there are certain cultures I'd prefer not to have flourish in this country - which is not to say that promotion of such cultures should be banned, but it does mean that if people from these cultures flout the law then their culture should not be an excuse for not prosecuting them. This does not mean in anyway that Islam is a culture incompatible with Western society - it depends precisely on what sort of Islam one is talking about. Critics of Islamic immigration can be accused of painting too broad a brush of Islam - what they cannot be accused of is being invalid in their analytical presumption that some cultures are incompatible with others. Does Manne not believe that head-hunting cultures are incompatible with Western societies? Or Islam of the Taliban variety?
     
    Amir Butler responds

    Amir Butler writes in to insist that when he called Pamela Bone a 'rabid feminist' (see my posting below) he did not mean that to refer to the fact that she found Wikkan's statements to be too preposterous to have been said by a woman. That was genuinely not the way I read what Butler wrote. What Butler wrote in his original posting was this:

    The professor concerned is a one Professor Unni Wikan. Unni Wikan is not a 'he' has Bone calls him, but rather a 'she'. If you don't believe me, click here. Of course, it is possible that rabid feminist Bone couldn't accept that a woman could say such things and knowingly changed the Professor's gender in her account

    However, I will take his word that the following is what he meant in his post since he is after all the actual author of the post:

    My terming of Bone as a rabid feminist was not in reference to her opposition to what that professor said, but rather in respect of some of the positions Bone has adopted in the past with regards to Muslim women. For instance, she has used her column to attack Muslim schools who allow teachers to wear a veil because of the wrong message this will give to children. "I don't like to see women with their faces and bodies shrouded in black because of what it seems to say about women - and, for that matter, about men. But you don't often see this in Australia.", she hissed in August 13, 1998. Despite having admitted receiving emails from angered Muslim women each time she claims they are oppressed, she continues to make the claim that all Muslim women who wear the hijab are just crying out to be emancipated from the shackles of a religion imposed on them by husbands and fathers. Despite having been shown evidence to the contrary, Bone continues to charge Islam with supported female genital mutilation and honour killings. And so on. According to Bone, women are either forced to wear it or are so hoodwinked they just can' see what is good for them. That Bone's blinkered view assumes all women hold similar values and aspirations to her was part of the reason why I half-jokingly wondered if that was the reason she had termed Wikan a 'he'. Nowhere did I say that Bone was a 'rabid feminist' because she opposed the professor's idea that women's dress contributed to rape.

    I don't believe that a woman's dress is any excuse for rape - no matter how provocative. In fact, I don't believe there is any excuse for rape whatsoever, and I would even go so far as to suggest that Muslim men have even less excuse (if that is possible) - because their religion is so vehemently against anything that could even lead to sexual misconduct. Of course, you knew all that already. I just think it is somewhat unfair that I am now being held up on your website as being an apologist for rape when, as you admit, that would mean I have gone against everything I have ever said in the past.
     
    Quote of the day

    Religion, of course, does make some men better, and perhaps even many men. There can be no doubt of it. But making them better by filling their poor heads with grotesque nonsense is an irrational and wasteful process, and the harm it does greatly outweighs the good. If men could be made better--or even only happier--by teaching them that two and two make five there would be plenty of fools to advocate that method, but it would remain anti-social none the less.
    ~ HL Mencken
     
    Amir Butler's idea of rabid feminism
    Apparently Mullah Butler regards poor Pamela Bone as a "rabid feminist". Why? Because according to Mullah Butler, she can't accept that a woman can say things like "Muslim men may find the dress of Western women provocative and they should change their mode of dress to suit this cultural sensitivity" i.e. the notorious Uni Wikkan statement. So what the fuck is Mullah Butler saying? Is he now saying that Western women should change their mode of dress to be more culturally sensitive in order to avoid getting raped? This just undermines everything he has argued in the past. So now Pamela Bone, who, incidentally figures on the right wing New Australian's Media Wall of Shame is a rabid feminist for saying things like this:

    In Norway, where according to the newspaper Dagbladet, 65 per cent of rapes last year were performed by "non-Western immigrants", a professor at Oslo University told women they must take their share of responsibility for the rapes because Muslim men found their dress provocative. "Norwegian women must realise that we live in a multicultural society and adapt themselves to it," he said. It is in such ways that long-fought-for freedoms begin to erode.

    Last October in Britain's Guardian newspaper, columnist Polly Toynbee castigated the "limp liberals" who fail to protect their most profound values. Hard liberals, she said, hold basic human rights to be non-negotiable and worth fighting for. They do not respect the culture of others when it comes to breaching human rights - or women's rights, which are the same thing. Limp liberals, she said, are always on the side of peace because it is more morally comfortable.


    Listen up, Mullah Butler, you are not doing your co-religionists a service by identifying Muslims with your crazed Wahhabisms. Lots of people in this country will be justifiably alarned that such basic rules as 'provocative dress does not justify rape' are regarded by you as 'rabid feminism'. And Robert Corr if you are reading this - the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend. Not all right wing critiques of Mullah Butler are rants. People like you on the Left will have to choose between defending Stone Age fundamentalism in the name of 'multiculturalism' and other causes such as feminism and gay rights.

    Sunday, September 15, 2002
     
    What I've been reading
    I just bought Tariq Ali's The Clash of Fundamentalisms this evening and am already halfway through it. Hope to finish it before I go to sleep because it is damned compelling reading (yes this is the book with the cheeky cover of George Dubya in Bin Laden's head gear and beard). In short Tariq Ali is a brilliant and incisive writer. There's a touch of the 'America is a bad imperialist' element to his analysis (I haven't got to the part where he discusses S11 yet so I don't know how far he takes it) which I take with a grain of salt, and when I saw him speaking on Lateline I thought he was very insensitive about what Americans went through following S11. And I didn't accept his spurious comparison in the Lateline interview between numbers killed in the US and possible civilian casualties in Afghanistan which are unvoidable in any military response. However his arguments are (so far, mostly) calm and rational in this book and he is as harsh on the failings of Islam as he is on 'Western imperialists'. He is at least one of the few from the Islamic culture (though an atheist himself) willing to face up to the deficiencies of Islamism as an appropriate response to problems in the Arab and broader Islamic world.

    The book starts off with his recollection of his childhood in Pakistan, verges on to discuss a bit of the history of Islam followed by the Israel-Palestinian mess. This is where I'm up to so far. He also includes as an appendix an interview in the New Left Review with his late friend, Isaac Deutscher, a principled Marxist internationalist who lost most of his family in the Holocaust but, as revealed in the interview, was critical of the hyper-nationalistic element in Zionism. Ali writes with sensitivity and rationality on this issue, and proves that it is possible for at least some people to be anti-Zionist without being anti-Jewish (of course Karl Popper was an anti-Zionist too), unlike, say, Indymedia nitwits. Anyway this is a book which even right wing warbloggers should read - but perhaps I'm saying this partly because anyone who still thinks that Enlghtenment values matter, and was an atheist from age 5 despite being brought up in Pakistan is alright by me.

    Also reading Unended Quest: An intellectual autobiography by Karl Popper and re-reading Where I'm calling from: The selected stories by Raymond Carver who chronicles US suburban angst in spare, almost minimalist prose in powerful packages.
     
    My two cents on Iraq
    Lefty bloggers are not the only ones who can end up ranting thoughtlessly on matters war-related. There is a lot of thoughtless rhetoric running loose in the right hand side of the blogosphere including the Oz blogosphere lately on the matter of Iraq. I won't name any names but will post my own thoughts here.

    t seems to me that the case for regime change now rest on one of two arguments. Either that
    1) Saddam is producing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and supplying them to Al Qaeda OR
    2) Saddam is producing WMD combined, with other aspects of its past behaviour which suggest that a regime change is now the only way to make credible any attempts to stop the proliferation of WMD which may otherwise in the long run pose even greater threats to international order.

    Now if (1) is true then I think the case for an immediate regime change by invasion can be made. However there has so far been little evidence of this with the exception of that one encounter between Atta and the Iraqi intelligence officer. Not one unless you count the story in the paper the other day about one of Saddam's mistresses saying he had met Osama. All hearsay so far. If there is a possibility that (1) is true then I am willing in fact to entertain a lower burden of proof than I would for (2) but thus far nothing.

    Now (2) at its strongest is made by Kissinger and I can understand his logic.

    WMD have been produced by Iraq for a quite a while so why only now do we want a regime change immediately? What has changed? Has the magnitude of his breach become greater? But of course we don't know for sure until the arms inspectors come in so this leads us nowhere - unless there is some other additional killer evidence by the Bush Administration and so far there is none.

    Let's assume this evidence exists. Can a case be made for regime change? Note the ultimate objective is not regime change for regime change's sake but to make credible a rule against WMD proliferation. Other countries like Libya and Syria also may have WMD in future - does this mean to be consistent we should seek regime change there? What is so special about Iraq? To this Kissinger makes the point that Iraq has been characterised by a pattern of recalcitrance in the past which altogether adds up to a case for singling it out - because as the outlier 'bad boy' if it can get away with this pattern of extreme recalcitrance then the credibility of preventing WMD expansion in future is weakened. In future other offenders can say,'Iraq got away with this much- why not us?" This increases the costs of enforcing compliance in future. Thus it should be made an example of - to increase the deterrence value of the convention. Therefore there is a good reason for singling out Iraq which does not demand for consistency that we go on to topple Syria, etc. I can appreciate this argument insofar as it supports the contention that there is a reason for singling out Iraq.

    But underlying it is the fact that the aim is not regime change for the sake of regime change (and I don't think it should be because it's simply not feasible) but to stop Iraq building WMD and getting it to give up its WMD. If so, the following conclusions go together
    - the US should send the very clear signal that it would invade Iraq if it doesn't comply with UN conventions and so on;
    - but by the same token it must send the signal that if Iraq complies then regime change won't happen.

    Why? Because if Iraq is going to get regime change anyway regardless of whether it starts making noises to comply then it won't comply. That is why I think Bush is being inept - he is mixing up signals and creating the impression that he wants regime change regardless which reduces the otherwise strong incentive the threat of invasion may give for Iraq to start complying. Saddam is not a madman I believe. If he is ultimately forced to choose between giving up power and complying with the UN there is a chance he might prefer to comply. Given the costs of the alternative scenario (war) this should be the first best to aim for.

    All this requires a delicate balancing act - it must be made clear that there will be an invasion without compliance but there won't be an invasion for other reasons (unless (1) holds). I don't think Bush has done this. The alternative should be a last resort because if there is WMD and finally there is an invasion all bets are off. Saddam's position is not made any worse whether he responds to an invasion by lobbing a nuke at Israel or not. This may trigger off other events and the resulting carnage will be the likes of which we've so far never had the misfortune to see.

     

     
       
       

     

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