Catallaxy Files
 

 
polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

email: jasonsoon AT mail.com

 
 
 

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    Saturday, November 23, 2002
     
    Experiments with camera
    A techie friend of mine is looking to sell his still newish digital camera to get an even newer one and I expressed interest so he's loaned it to me for a week to play around and familiarise myself with it to see if I want to buy it. So here are a couple of shots I took from my balcony this cloudy Sydney morning -.View 1; View 2 (View 1 is much better).

    Update
    Here is another view from my balcony, here is a very different view of the Harbour Bridge from just across the road, here is a picture of the apartment building I live in from the side my balcony is on (it's the old one in the middle, the building has 8 floors and I'm on the 4th which is just obscured by the trees), and this is where blogging is done.

    Given that I've been traipsing around taking lots of pictures of the Harbour Bridge this morning, I hope no one's mistaken me for a JI terrorist and called ASIO - if there's no blogging for an extended period you know what's happened.
     
    Security Paranoia

    I accept that now that we are at higher risk of terrorist attack, we have to be more vigilant. But is anyone else out there getting as worried as I am about the creeping powers of the government, police and security agencies?

    Take for instance Bob Carr’s announced new “anti-terrorism” laws for NSW. These extra government powers were tolerable during the Olympics because they were of a fixed duration. Not so the new laws announced this week, whereby the police minister can invoke the new search powers pretty much at will.

    According to the report in the SMH, the new powers relate mainly to the ability to search people, vehicles and places. The example provided is somewhat frightening.

    “The police minister Michael Costa said in a terrorist incident involving a large van, such as the Oklahoma bombing, police would have the power to search all large vans without a warrant.

    ‘If that's the information that has been received - that a large van is likely to be used on a particular terrorist attack- they could for a period of seven days before or 48 hours after the event have those powers of search.

    'Under normal circumstances they would only be able to search the vehicle if they had reasonable suspicion of that specific vehicle ‘."


    This is a fairly broad power and could easily be abused. I haven’t had the time to read the fine detail of this law however I would be hoping that anything found during these searches that is unrelated to terrorist activity (such as drugs, stolen property, evidence of fraud etc) will be inadmissable as evidence in cases relating to those matters. At least this way there is some reassurance that the laws won’t be used for anything other than counter-terrorism. Sadly I suspect this won’t be the case.

    The other thing which has disturbed me is that the recent security warning seems to have turned Australia into the kind of citizens spying on citizens security state that we used to mock during the cold war. “The Partys Over” is the headline of quite an interesting article in today’s SMH discussing our new found fear and security paranoia.

    “The pulse of suspicion in Sydney has quickened. Security guards have assumed the right to question anyone with a camera and neighbours have started watching each other. On Wednesday morning one man saw six containers dumped in a park near Kirribilli. Rather than complain to his local council he rang the police, describing the incident as highly suspicious.

    Half an hour later two large bags were found left behind a noticeboard outside St Stephen's Church in Macquarie Street. Not long before noon, Manly police were called out because a Middle Eastern male was spending a long time filming the wharf.

    At Petersham station a man was waiting for his train. He looked dishevelled, carried a small bag and was bothering no one. But it was enough for him to be searched and questioned by two police officers. Yesterday morning city train services were interrupted while police searched for an "object" in Town Hall station.”


    Yes – we need to be more security conscious. Yes – we should take the threat of terrorism seriously. But I’m also going to get pretty sick and tired of this “security-state” crap pretty quick too unless the government does more to make sure that all these security powers aren’t abused or over-used.

    Friday, November 22, 2002
     
    Coffee

    In a post entitled ‘The Americans still don't get expresso’ John Quiggin sneers at Americans for not understanding coffee – yet can’t even spell espresso. A friend who used to work at one of Canberra’s best cafes used to wonder whether customers who ordered ‘expresso’ wanted it quickly or wanted her to pull out a tit and express some milk into it. She concluded they were just ignorant about coffee – a bit like the customers who wanted ‘a cup of chino’.

    I don’t know when Quiggin last spent some time living in the US or whether he has ever visited Seattle. When I lived in Chicago in the late 80s it was impossible to buy decent coffee or beer (my two staples). How things had changed by 1995. Beer from micro breweries in every liquor store (is Zimmermans, the self proclaimed ‘World’s Greatest Liquor store’ still going?), brew pubs and a Starbucks on every corner. The coffee was great – just the plain old drip coffee packed plenty of punch. The beans were superb. I used to mail order them when back in Australia.

    I was delighted when Starbucks opened in Canberra. What a disappointment. I can handle the poor service and dirty tables, but the drip coffee was weak, the lattes too hot and no creamy head on the espresso. The beans are not the dark oily ones you get in the US.

    So back to the trusty Italian cafes. If you are ever in Canberra and want a decent cup of coffee – go up to Red Belly Black at the Observatory on Mount Stromlo. You also get a nice view to go with it.

    Thursday, November 21, 2002
     
    More on the smiling bomber
    Stephen Dawson, who is, among other things, an ex-cop, writes in with an interesting perspective on the smiling bomber incident which suggests that I and others may have over-reacted. I'm willing to admit I'm wrong especially when someone with first hand experience of matters I write I about thinks that I am:


    Sometimes I think that perhaps I'm deficient in the emotion department, but I couldn't understand why people got so het up about this. Here's my take (and I'm speaking as a chap who spent five years as a cop in the early 80s, one year of them as a body guard, a couple of them in plain clothes investigations).

    1. In conducting an interrogation of a suspect, there is only one goal: getting the guy to talk truthfully. Everything else falls not to second
    place, but falls away completely.

    2. The investigator's range of techniques is limited -- appropriately in most cases -- so that physical inducements are not permitted.

    3. The standard interrogation technique that is taught, consequently, is to form some kind of bond with the person being interrogated.

    4. The nature of that bond depends upon the nature of the person being interrogated. If the bad guy enjoys respect, then you respect him. If he wants to share a smoke, you give him one. If he wants to sob his confession on your shoulder in a funk of remorse, you pat his back. And all the while, you have the tape running or the assistant writing down everything that's said (depending on the technology available).

    5. If anything in point 4 makes you feel like vomiting, then you repress it and throw up later, after the job is done.

    As to the "happy little police chief", he has apparently got *everything* out of Amrozi. He has time lines, contacts, identities of the co-offenders, even history going back many years to foreign contacts. He (or his staff) has done his job, and done it very well.

    The mistake seems to have been to allow the media to film the controversial segment. Was it a mistake? Or did it achieve the claimed aim of showing that Amrozi's confession was uncoerced? The latter, I believe
     
    A mind wasted
    This article suggests that Bobby Fischer's descent into madness is 'full on':


    even the Fischer apologists had to throw up their hands when he took to the Philippine airwaves on September 11, 2001. In an interview broadcast this time by Bombo Radyo, a small public-radio station in Baguio City, Fischer revealed views so loathsome that it was impossible to indulge him any longer. Just hours after the most devastating attack on the United States in history, in which thousands had died, Fischer could barely contain his delight. "This is all wonderful news," he announced. "I applaud the act. The U.S. and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians, just slaughtering them for years. Robbing them and slaughtering them. Nobody gave a shit. Now it's coming back to the U.S. Fuck the U.S. I want to see the U.S. wiped out."

    Fischer added that the events of September 11 provided the ideal opportunity to stage a long-overdue coup d'état. He envisioned, he said, a "Seven Days in May scenario," with the country taken over by the military; he also hoped to see all its synagogues closed, and hundreds of thousands of Jews executed. "Ultimately the white man should leave the United States and the black people should go back to Africa," he said. "The white people should go back to Europe, and the country should be returned to the American Indians. This is the future I would like to see for the so-called United States." Before signing off Fischer cried out, "Death to the U.S.!"
     
    Free press and economic growth?
    According to this article (subscription required) by Joseph Stiglitz and Roumeen Islam, the World Bank has released a new book that argues that a free press is an important component of a viable economic development strategy. Most people would have heard the by now familiar argument made by Amartya Sen that a free press in India for instance, forced the Indian government to tackle famine problems better than it otherwise would have. So to some extent this makes sense but I wonder whether this isn't a bit of wishful thinking.

    As someone whose father used to work as a journalist in that bastion of press freedom, Malaysia, I too would like to believe that all good things come in pairs, but the argument doesn't seem that convincing in light of the successes of China and Singapore. (And arguably China's economic development is looking better than India's despite the former coming out of disastrous Communist policies). It will be interesting to see how much China can sustain its economic development without developing anything approaching a liberal civil society. As I said it looks like it's doing very well so far and its trajectory has swiftly moved from Marxism to a sort of pragmatic nationalistic fascism which encourages private enterprise.

    Update To anticipate one potent argument against my scepticism, there is a substantial body of research from Barro onwards that finds strong correlations between measures of 'rule of law' and economic growth. However this is a slightly different matter from measures of press freedom or personal freedom generally. Singapore's rule of law at least when it comes to commercial transactions (let's ignore libel law for the moment) is probably one of the best in the world, yet it probably has substantially less press freedom than India or even most of Latin America.

    Wednesday, November 20, 2002
     
    Shooting from the mouth
    Tory Blair comes out as a gun nut, though the analogy he draws with toasters is drawing a long bow, so to speak.

    Tuesday, November 19, 2002
     
    Not another silly online quiz!



    "What a mystery is this, that Christianity should have done so little good in the world!
    Can any account of this be given? Can any reasons be assigned for it?"
    You are John Wesley!

    When things don't sit well with you, you make a big production and argue your way through everything.
    You complain a lot, but, at least you are a thinker and not afraid to show it. You are also pretty
    liked by people, and pretty methodological about your life and goals. You know where you're going.
    Some people find you irritating, so watch out for people leaving you out of things they do.


    What theologian are you?

    A creation of Henderson

     
    Weatherall awakes
    Not much posting from me this week but go check out Kim Weatherall who, after a long period of quiescence has suddenly erupted into commentary on a whole list of issues (she must have finished marking exams or something).
     
    Adelaide vs Sydney
    Adelaide-dwellers can say what they want about us Sydney-siders but I've been to Adelaide once and I was underwhelmed to say the least (which is probably all you can say). Not that I'm a gung ho Sydneysider. I think my favourite city is Melbourne, I'm probably a natural Melbournian at heart and I'd move there if I had the opportunity.
     
    Caught between a rock and a hard place
    Ian Buruma has a short but moving piece about the West Bank and an encounter between liberal Jewish peace activists and Palestinian villagers.


    Aqraba is an Arab village on the west bank of the Jordan River. These stony hills, beautiful in a rugged, sun-blanched way, formed the heartland of the Jewish tribes in biblical times. Here they picked their olives, just as the Palestinians would do today, if they could. But the Palestinians in Aqraba cannot, because modern Jews, settled in the hills around them, won't let them. These Jews, from the US, Russia, or Israel, won't let them because they claim the Old Testament as their deed of ownership to the land. They are followers of the fanatical rabbi from Brooklyn Meir Kahane, the one who advocated the expulsion ("transfer") of Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank.

    The Kahanite settlers are the gunslingers of the Wild East. Fifteen-year-old thugs from Brooklyn or Odessa or Jerusalem, armed with guns, run riot in these parts, and the Israeli army is either unable or unwilling to do anything about it. The Kahanites are so wild that even the other settlers regard them with disgust. When a Jewish academic came to Aqraba not long ago to offer help to the Arabs, he was shot.

    I was there last week with a group of Israelis who wished to express their solidarity with the Arabs by helping them to pick olives ...

    The way the Palestinians are treated is of course indefensible, but there was something sad, even tragic about their well-meaning sympathizers, too. For they are the remnants of the old liberal-left elite, the Labor-voting Ashkenazi intellectuals who had hoped to build a decent, tolerant, democratic, secular society in the Middle East. Some were born in Israel, others came later. But all had fought for the survival of their country and lost friends in several wars. And now, stuck between fanatical settlers, Palestinian suicide bombers, and a right-wing government supported by poor Oriental Jews and hard-nosed Russians, it was as if they lived in a foreign country.


    What particularly resonates is this paragraph


    The hard right gets plenty of help from Jewish chauvinists, neoconservative dreamers of a pax Americana, and religious fanatics, both Jewish and Christian. The left gets almost none, because liberals in the worldwide diaspora tend more and more to regard the Zionist enterprise as an embarrassment, a nightmare that gives Jews a bad name. To stay aloof from Israeli politics might seem like the enlightened thing to do, but we should know that once the crazies take over, we will all feel the consequences.


    Personally I have no sympathy whatsoever for the settler movement. Not only do they place themselves in a dangerous situation but they probably do inflame an already dangerous situation that spills over to the rest of us as well as the Israelis because the likes of OBL and Hamas can recruit Palestinian sympathisers and Palestinian refugees as cannon fodder. The clearest message that the enlightened Israeli majority which voted for Barak many years ago can send is to cut off all funding *and* security for the settlers and tell them that they should fend for themselves if they insist on their foolhardy claims.

    What Buruma says about the settler movement spoiling the image of Israel is unpleasant but true and is partly the answer to why so many on the Left who used to support Israel have turned against it. And what of anti-semitism? This aspect cannot be ruled out but it seems plausible that disappointed expectations are equally important in the swing against Israel by the Left- remember that most of the heroes of the Left (and of liberal humanists in general) are Jewish. Speaking for myself, though I am not of the Left, I can identify with the latter aspect somewhat. I am, if anything, a philosemite and have long admired the Jews as a scholarly people who have produced many great thinkers. The Western intellectual tradition would be significantly diminished without the contribution of the Jews. They were also disproportionately active in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the US civil rights movement. However as Robert Corr notes, some of the settler movement are an unworthy and despicable rabble who do not do justice to the heritage of their people.

     

     
       
       

     

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